Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Paying the price for it....

How many of you shop at any of the following stores? I'm not sure if these stores exist in other countries but this is a list of US electronic stores:

Best Buy
Circuit City
CompUSA
OfficeMax
OfficeDepot
Sony/Toshiba or other official sites of electronic manufacturers.

If you do, please I beg you to stop and compare prices online before purchasing from these stores. For what it's worth, just put your wanted item on my blog as a comment and I'll help you find it for a lower price. If I can't find it cheaper, then by all means go buy them at these stores. But in general, I'd say stop paying over-inflated prices for merchandise at these stores. The same stuff is available online at various outlets at sometimes much much lower prices. I am all for supporting local businesses, but these aren't businesses that need your support. They are stealing from you anyhow so don't even bother feeling bad about it. Most electronics you buy are from China and/or Taiwan. You are still paying heavy prices for it. Your best bet is to try and reduce your damage as much as possible.

I just had a guy at work who bought RAM for his computer from Toshiba website. He could've bought that same memory cheaper at a different online outlet but I guess he couldn't wait for it. That's another thing I don't understand - when it comes to electronics, how can you not wait for it? I mean, why does a DVD player have to be bought this evening if you can save about 30 or 50 dollars online and get it shipped free of cost after three or five days. Most of these electronic retail stores contain non-critical systems without which your life would go on at least for the next five days. So what is the rush to go and buy something that will conveniently reach your mailbox free of cost.


Please please please, just post it here and I'll try to find you a cheaper deal on things that are available in these stores. A lower price is, of course, not guaranteed but if you can save some money, please do it and make sure you don't pay these price gouging retailers.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I don't own a Macintosh 'yet' because...

The Mac OS is one of the most stable operating systems out there and this is "the" machine for multimedia development. You will often find advertising agencies, animation creators and other such graphic development houses using Macs for their work. A few years ago the designs were revised to make the Mac more aesthetically appealing and jazzy. It does look breath-taking. Go to www.apple.com to check it out.

My problem is it still continues to be unaffordable for me in comparison to the service it provides. I am a software developer who develops server solutions on Microsoft development platform. You can see why this isn't doable on a Macintosh. I need to have something that can work on a Microsoft Operating system with an Intel chip. At home, I use my machine mostly for browsing, documentation and miscellaneous tasks which might include some hobby software development.

So if you ignore the software development side, I suppose I could use a Mac at home. But just look at the portability issue and the cost of operation. Today, I use a laptop that gets used at home, gets into my car in the morning and half an hour later, becomes my work machine for the next eight or nine hours. I cannot do that with a Mac thus rendering it a machine that can only be used exclusively at home. That's where I run into a disproportional usage vs cost calculation.


Things are changing though. With Apple's move to include an Intel chip base, it shall become more commoditized and that is always going to bring value down in a free market. Once it's on an Intel chip base, companies that develop software or hardware peripherals for the Mac OS will be able to do so more cheaply than today, which means it will actually be competing with a Windows machine when you go to buy a new laptop at Circuit City a few years from now!!


The Mac Mini is beautiful and affordable but again the same issue - I need portability. I need it to be my work machine or at least in some way usable at work. Currently, that's not the case. If you're not in the software development profession, a Mac Mini might actually be a reasonable choice as a home computer for common tasks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why I can never buy a brand new car

This is something that I have given serious considerations to. Everytime we go car shopping and end up on a dealer's lot, the new car smell and shine entice us. Then we look at the sticker price and it still doesn't look too bad. So for every passing moment that we are on the dealer's lot we keep thinking it's probably not a bad idea to get one of these shiny things.

And that's when we walk away.

Once we're out of the lot, our normal thought process kicks in and we realize why we aren't interested in brand new cars. Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with brand new cars, it's just that we're not the kind of people who can ever own one, mostly due to our mentality and thought process about vehicles. More explanation follows:


Normal people make money in two main ways - you have a job that pays and secondly, you invest part of that pay into an investment account(s) which would give you a reasonable (and hopefully positive) rate of return. Your hope and goal is that your income and investments grow faster than inflation so that your money is not just worth a can of soda by the time you're 65. In other words, $10 that you own today should become $50 after 30 years to retain it's buying power.


So that's about money growing i.e. incoming moolah. Now if you look at the outgoing dollar drain pipe, you've got things like mortgage, credit card debts, kids upbringing and education. All these take money away. But note one thing - you are either going to spend on appreciating assets or depreciating assets. If you spend on appreciating assets such as a house or a piece of land or a rental property your money that you're putting into it isn't really lost because the value is appreciating. On the other hand if you put money into a depreciating asset then you lose the money you're paying and your asset loses value as well - double whammy!


That's where brand new cars come in. They are one of the fastest depreciating assets in the world. A car loses somewhere between 15-30% value the moment you drive it off the dealer's lot. If the time it took you to make that car deal was 4 hours, you better show me a way to grow my money at that rate within 4 hours. Here's the kicker - your monthly payments on the car are not going to go down as the vehicle drops in value. So in other words, for a brand new car that cost you $30,000 you are paying $30,000 plus interest on a vehicle that is dropping in value every single day and will never ever be $30,000 again. At the end of say five years, you would have paid off your car and your total payment including interest is, say, $38,000. At the end of five years a good Japanese car would be roughly 50-60% of it's cost so that would put your vehicle at 18,000. Check Edmunds.com if you don't believe me. So in five years you lost $20,000 on this purchase (although you have to account for the fact that you had usage benefit). Now, if you can make your investments grow by that much amount plus rate of inflation, then you will come out even (just even, not profitable). If not, then well you lose whatever it is that you lose.


With all that said, some people just want to enjoy life without thinking about these petty money matters. They want to live it up. In that case, a new car is for them. Like I said, I will never ever say that a new car is a bad idea - it's just something that we (Noddy and I) personally would never do but it works for millions of people because it's something that they really want. And if it's something that you really want and you think this whole appreciating/depreciating business is for penny pinching losers, then don't hold back.... go for it!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Recommended for US Residents ONLY!

Two big things to be careful in the US:

Credit score/ Credit report - They affect your ability to get credit (car, home etc) and they tell you about any identity theft or false charges on ALL your accounts in one shot.

AND

Free pre-approved credit offers - these are annoying junk mails but more importantly they often include blank checks that could be misused if they fell into the right (wrong) hands.


On the first one - US residents of most states are entitled to a free credit report once every year from the credit reporting company of your choice. I go with Equifax because I like them. You may pick any. In order to get your free annual credit report, please go to www.annualcreditreport.com and they will redirect you to the credit reporting company that you choose. You can then get your free report. One thing to bear in mind. It might be a good idea to fork out the extra measly eight dollars to get a FICO credit score along with your free credit report. Reason is that lenders DO NOT go through your credit report line by line if your score is awesome. So if you get your score and it looks bad, you need to take corrective action immediately so that your credit line does not suffer adversely. Credit repair is fairly straightforward if you've got the discipline to do so. So go to this website, get your free credit report, pay the small amount for your credit score and analyze it thoroughly for any mistakes. You will see clear directions on how to file for a dispute if you think something is incorrect. By the way, some people will tell you that running a credit report against your credit will adversely affect your score. This is true ONLY if the credit report is run for the purposes of qualifying for credit. So in other words, if a car dealer wants to sell you a car and runs a credit report, that counts against you. But if you want to find out where your score stands, that's your personal business and does not affect your credit history or score. Let me know if you need advice on how to read through a credit report. Some terms were confusing to me and I had to go "google" them to fully understand their implications.


On the second one - either you're tired of getting these preapproved credit offers in the mail or you're afraid that if you simply trash the envelope, some of these contain blank checks for balance transfers etc that someone else might misuse. Both are very valid reasons to stop these offers from reaching your mailbox. Luckily there is a very convenient way to do so. Go to www.optoutprescreen.com and opt out of receiving such offers. This is a website that is run by the four largest credit reporting agencies in the United States - Equifax, TransUnion, Experian and Innovis. They want to give consumers the choice of receiving or not receiving such offers. Of course at a later date, you can choose to opt in if you're on the lookout for some good credit offers.


The second one is really a matter of convenience. The first one is definitely recommended. It's for your personal safety and peace of mind.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Firefighting @ work

Wow, what a week this has been. Work was hectic and I was trying to extinguish quite a few fires. Thursday and Friday ended up as "emergency" days when lots had to be done for various customer deadlines and it was like digging in there and helping out others who were working on projects that weren't mine. That's what shows mettle ... your ability to multitask and help out on all projects when it really counts. It's very satisfying when you get work done like that.

On another very different note, Shama, who is the wife of a friend of mine had more good news. This lady is proving very exceptional in utilizing her abilities in this land of opportunities. She's never been out of India before. She came to this unknown and alient country not eight months ago as a housewife and this week she's going on professional training to Carnegie Mellon University. That's like zero to sixty in no time. Her bachelors degree education has something to do with something (don't ask me details!!). Within these few months, she's managed to get admitted to Wright State here, get a fellowship with research grant and now this research assistantship with training at Carnegie Mellon University. So kudos to her!!

Anyway, back @ home I helped my neighbors who are trying to build a deck. It's a strange predicament. They are building their decks by themselves because labor prices are over-inflated and they don't want to pay those rates. They are saving at least four grand per deck by building it themselves. That's quite a lot of money. However, I saw them go through hell to get the groundwork done. I also four hours yesterday and today mixing and pouring concrete. Those 80lb bags don't feel light at all. So now I'm thinking ... hmm should I build my deck (with help from these guys) or should I just fork out the extra money (4 grand or so) and get it made? My neighbors will help me out for sure but it's a LOT of work and I really am not sure if I want to subject myself to it. See this is where my previous post about the barter system would be well worth it. I could provide software consulting services worth four grand and someone would just build my deck. How convenient would that be. Bloggers, do y'all have any suggestions on what route I should go with this deck thang?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Barter skill for skill

In India, during the old days there was a system that governed the market known as the Barter System. The principle was simple. Goods and commodities were exchanged and nobody paid anything for anything. For example, if you grew cabbages then you would exchange those with someone who grew potatoes. Or if you were a blacksmith, then you would make tools and exchange with a farmer or a horse rider and you would get something in return that you needed.

Why can't we do something similar to that system right now? For example, if I am a computer professional, why can't I offer computer services (such as support, hardware and software installation, virus checking etc) to someone who is good at, say, building a deck. Another example is me offering tutoring services to children of someone who is great with fixing cars. Would this work? If yes, then why hasn't someone already done so? If no, then why not?


Get creative bloggers!!!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Support Local Folks

We went to the Yellow Springs Street Festival today. Yellow Springs is a community where the 70's have still not ended. It is an ultra-liberal town with small shops and handicrafts, artisans, musicians, singers and no real corporate presence whatsoever. That's what makes it a great place to visit once a while. We contemplated staying there but weren't sure if we could handle living in that community 24/7.

Anyway, the street fair is always awesome but the one thing I do like more than anything else is that everything is local. The street fair consists of local people trying to sell handmade wares. No mass produced goods are encouraged - the town folk frown upon it. I like this concept a lot because I support local artists, talents and people trying to make a living out of their abilities outside of the corporate environment. The street fair had hand-made wicker baskets, children of the age 2-10 selling hand made lemonade and local artists performing live on stage. These are people you will never hear about in the news or electronic media. And I support such people. The work that these people produce is expensive because their talents are worth it. If I could carve a statue out of wood, I'd be pretty proud too. Most of it is beyond my affordability but what I can afford, I do buy. For example, this time round I ended up buying an Audio CD of this local singer whose guitar playing abilities were outstanding. We also bought lemonade from cute little girls (probably 4 or 5 years old) with a tiny lemonade stand between cars parked on the grass.


Back home at around 5 pm, I did some more work in the yard. It's pretty strange - most men don't do that around my neighborhood. They are engaged in much bigger projects such as building a deck or creating something else to turn their homes into large fortresses of masculinity. I, on the other hand, can be found in my backyard being a lawn curator and taking care of the grass or plants. This is something that old people engage in, but I enjoy the peace and quiet. The birds and small animals that show up in the backyard are worth it. Of course, a rabbit tried to eat all the tomato and cucumber plants this evening and will probably be back for them tonight. We might not have those plants by tomorrow. We'll see.


So did y'all do anything special over the weekend.? BTW, I am now the proud owner of a big collection of Tom and Jerry cartoons. Am I insane? Naah....TJ is fun!!!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

INS BCIS USCIS

Immigration is a big deal in the United States. Many people from many countries come here legally or illegally for what they are seeking. Illegal immigration obviously needs less paperwork than legal immigration. I have learned this by personal experience. My legal immigration paperwork sits on someone's dusty desk while they gobble up a quarter pound cheese burger with large fries and a diet coke. Whether or not it helps the general population, federal bureaucracy has always generated jobs for people who would otherwise be mugging you and me on the street at night. I think I would rather have them handle my immigration paperwork.

Anyway, prior to September 11th 2001, immigration was handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). After September 11th, it was reorganized and renamed to the Bureau of Consular and Immigration Services (BCIS). This only made them slower and more wound up and severely backlogged in their processing. So they tried a different name. Their latest name is United States Consular and Immigration Services (USCIS). That name is not working out very well either because the backlog continues to increase. We might have another name change in store but who knows.


I was explaining immigration to an American co-worker and she asked me some questions which brought some very interesting facts to mind. I list them herein. Note the consistency of the system:

1) My work visa is valid till January 2008. That means if I don't get permanent residence in the US by then, I need to leave the country or file for an extension based on the fact that my permanent residence application is still with the guy eating the cheese burger. Sounds great.

2) After September 11th, Ohio has a law which states that non-permanent residents shall receive drivers licenses only till such time as their work visa is valid. Citizens and other permanent residents can have 4 year renewals. In short...that means I don't get a 4 year renewal. I have to take my visa papers to the motor vehicle bureau and get the renewal for as long as my visa is valid.

3) They won't give me a drivers license unless my visa is valid but they will give me a vehicle registration and a vehicle title for as long as I want. No checks there on whether or not I should own that vehicle - a vehicle title is permanent unless you sell it and vehicle registration is renewed online. So let me get this straight... I can't have a drivers license after my visa expires but I can have a vehicle registration for as long as I have a computer and online access.

4) Mortgage lenders will gladly provide me a 30 year mortgage on a home that may cost a quarter of a million dollars. Okay so to further be consistent, my vehicle that is registered in my name can stay parked for 30 years in this house of mine which I can own as long as I pay mortgage (doable even if you're working abroad). Again, no connection with visa expiration there. It would be awesome if the mortgage expired when the visa expires. Instant homeownership.

5) Credit card companies encourage new international students at colleges to tick the "Permanent resident" box on the credit card application form anyway. This is because they want to snare these new visa holders into the US credit system instantly. These students do get credit cards so obviously nobody bothers to check on visa validity or any such thing there. Ah ... that means a person can have a $10,000 credit line and max out all credit cards just before the visa expires and then leave this country's citizens with that debt. Hmm...this is getting better and better.


Such consistency, eh? Don't get me wrong... I continue to stay completely legal and I have never ever been on the wrong side of the law (unless you count my speeding ticket). Noddy hasn't either. We're both legal and that's how it should be. But what I don't understand is that how this enormous piece of machinery called immigration services in the US makes it harder by the day for legal residents and much much easier for illegal ones. California is thinking of passing a law where an illegal alien has to be granted a drivers license...no questions asked. Compare that to my sad plight in Ohio where I have to find the motor vehicle bureau lady's reading glasses for her so that she can check out my visa papers umpteen times before she thinks I look cute enough to qualify for a drivers license renewal. I have no idea where the paperwork for permanent residence sits but it's actually gotten to a point where finding humor in the system is your best bet.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Surprise !!

Ahh ...this is so relieving. I'm back to Blogging. Believe it or not, I was forced to not blog since my last post. That's because we were planning a surprise bridal shower this weekend for our friend Smita, who is an avid reader of my blog. So I wasn't at liberty to talk about the biggest thing we were looking forward to on this weekend.

The bridal shower was a smashing success. I picked up Smita in the evening under the pretext of a simple and humble dinner invitation. I dropped her off to my home and said I'll be back because I gotta go to the gas station. She didn't suspect much but these ladies were waiting at the door inside our home and Smita was very pleasantly surprised to see friendly faces including some of her best friends from out-of-town. The party itself was a lot of fun. Since some teenagers read my blog, all I can say is that the girls played several fun filled adult games with some very exciting answers from unexpected quarters. It was a women-only gig so I was out for the entire duration helping my friend move and then off for a dip in the pool.

By the time I got back after 10 pm, all festivities were over and we ended up with a smaller group that was interested in knocking their senses out with some nice alcohol. Shultz was trying to get drunk for the first time in her life. That was the deal we had with her when she was planning to come to Dayton from Chicago for the bridal shower. So we went shopping close to midnight and bought some Vodka and a Margharita mix and some Rum. The rum went unused but the Vodka was plenty used in margharitas, lemon-drops and other drinks made by Kathi.

Things started getting more active as we all resorted to dancing with loud music. I'm sure we were being a perfect pain in the behind to our neighbors but I'll make up for it by mowing their lawn or something like that. I'm sure they didn't appreciate the strong bass sounds at 2 am. It was a whole lot of fun. The best part was that everyone had brought lots of food for the party and I got all the leftovers. There were about three desserts (read cakes!), a main course and some appetizers. The food continues to be consumed as of right now.

Tomorow is back to dreary work. I am still working on a super secret formula that will eventually result in making Mondays as fun as Fridays or even Saturdays. I'll post the formula once I hit the right combination. The only thing I can reveal right now is that using the current formula I can simulate the feeling you have when a wild boar is trying to run you down (which is pretty much what work feels like on Monday). As you can tell I have much progress to make. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I have artificial intelligence

It all started about a week ago when I was innocently chewing gum. Not that there is some other evil way of chewing gum but the word "innocently" is supposed to emphasize on the suddenness of this incident.
Suddenly, I felt a big CRUNCH in my mouth. Now, ordinarily, you don't expect that sound from chewing Hubba Bubba Original Bubble gum which is as straight as gum gets. Naturally, I sent my tongue on a reconnaisance mission to zoom off to the back of my mouth and check out the suspicious activity. The recon mission pulled out what was apparently a piece of my tooth. Aargh!!! I was losing teeth just by chewing gum. This is bad bad bad. So the next step was to pick up my nearest phone and dial 911-DENTIST. The receptionist shouts into my ear, "You are overdue for a cleaning and cavity work. It has been over six months blah blah blah...". Yes ma'am I believe I just got a grim reminder of that. I am overdue for some serious cavity work. The earliest appointment I could manage was this morning at 8 am.
So there I was at the dentist this morning, the first patient and the most eager one they've ever seen in a while. I didn't tell them the chewing gum incident to avoid any snickering by the already sneering old receptionist lady. Old receptionist ladies have underground networks and news travels fast. I wanted to play safe. The first part was cleaning, which went relatively smooth. I was trying to create as good an impression as possible on this girl who was staring into my mouth and checking out the broken tooth which needed desperately repaired. Somehow I think you can never get a date while getting your teeth fixed at the dental office. Women there know exactly what they're getting into (literally speaking), if things proceed ahead that is. Anyway, I didn't have that issue since I'm happily married and my lady has no choice but to live with a toothless hag.
The doc came in after the cleaning and looked very determined and challenged by this cavity of mine. He revealed to me that the tooth that had decayed and thus chipped off a bit was my wisdom tooth. Most of it was still there but will need cleaning and then shall be filled. Sounds good, please proceed. He gave me enough novacaine to numb my entire right side of the mouth so that he could laugh at my drooling speech attempts while working on my wisdom tooth. This is how he makes his job entertaining. The next two hours were followed by some serious drilling and shaping. Apparently, the wisdom tooth is harder to tackle since it comes last in the jaw line. The ever so determined dentist finally managed size the tooth down to his requirements and proceeded to fill it with white stuff that is supposed to stay on for another 10 years at least. I said, "Since you've taken off so much of my wisdom, I shall sue you if my career heads south from today onwards". His reply, "Ha ha ...so basically you're half as intelligent as you were before you came here". My thought, "Ha ha...so basically you're saying I'm twice as dumb as I was before I got here. Why do I pay for this?".
Anyway, my mouth feels better, the teeth sound happy (clack clack) and because my wisdom tooth is now filled with dense silicates, I have, what you may call , artificial intelligence? Hmm... pondering over this lame joke. Please hold.....