Archive for September, 2011

Well, I’m married now

Yep.  I’m married now.  Occurred this past weekend.

You know, one thing people said that was that the wedding day happens so fast that you don’t remember anything about it.  While it does happen quickly, i.e., stuff moves on schedule with little breaks in-between, I still remember a lot about that particular day.

But in case I don’t remember anything later on, I’m going to write what I do remember in this blog post:

  • I got up around 7:30 am, showered, and then had breakfast. I poked around a bit and then got in my car and headed down to the church for 9 am.

  • I got to the church and set up a few things including the basket in which to collect cards/gifts (which doubles as my magic props suitcase) and then wandered around for a bit, waiting for people to show up.

  • The make up girl arrived before anyone else, so I had some anti-shiney-stuff put onto my face so it wouldn’t reflect in all of the photos.

  • Speaking of photos, the other groomsmen arrived and had their make up put on, and while we were waiting for the other half of the bridal party, we went outside and had our pictures taken with the rest of the groomsmen.  The bride and her bridesmaids came by about 10 minutes before the service started and we took as many pictures as we could, but we didn’t get them all done.  We were going to have to take a few more after the service.

  • We were waiting around in the lobby for a couple of minutes and the girl who did the opening announcement made everyone in the audience laugh.  I couldn’t really here what was being said but it was nice to see everyone laugh like that.  Finally, the party started to walk in.  It was at this point that I got a little bit nervous.  But as soon as I got to the front and watched the bridesmaids come in, the nerves vanished.

  • We went through the ceremony, biblical passages were read and then the pastor gave a brief sermon.  I have to be honest here, I wasn’t really paying close attention.  I just couldn’t focus.  Oh, well.

  • I put the ring on the wife’s finger and then kissed the bride.  At this point, the exit music that we had discussed the previous day began to play and I strutted down the aisle, exiting as everyone cheered.  As I got to the back of the church, they told me that we weren’t done yet and I had to go back.  Rather than take a look around and see if that were true, I made a split second decision to continue strutting like it was all part of the plan.  It wasn’t, but it sure looked that way.  But I can hardly be blamed; the music playing was my cue to exit.
  • We went through this a couple of times more and finally I was allowed to exit from the front, at which point I once again strutted down the aisle.  We immediately met up and signed the wedding papers and exited the back of the church to finish off pictures.

  • After we finished pictures, we noticed that pretty much everyone had left the church (they did wait around for a bit but were told that we would meet them at the reception).  This was disappointing because we had hoped to have a receiving line.  Oh, well, it was a time constraint.  When you have a wedding on short notice and the day was as compressed as ours was, sacrifices had to be made.

More in my next post…

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And so the great exodus begins

When the beta wife and I first started planning invitations, we were told that only 80% of the people we invited would show up and therefore we could “over-invite”.  That turned out to be entirely wrong because 100% of the people we invited in the Seattle area said yes.

However, where it has started to even out is the amount of people who are subsequently backing out.  I’ve heard estimates that 10% of the people wouldn’t come… and that is turning out correct.

I’m not sure what to do with that information.  Do we invite more people to make up the difference (since we already paid for their seats at the reception)?  Or do we say “Meh, we still have a lot of other people coming?”

Not sure what to opt for here.

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I have gotten some rather fortunate luck come my way through no effort of my own.  Credit is being given to me where it is not deserved.  But hey, I’ll take it!

My beta wife’s mother thinks that I have given her flowers on a couple of occasions. This is only partially true.  Apparently I gave her an orchid last Christmas (2010) because she mentioned to the beta wife sometime a few weeks ago that I had done so.

“What?” I asked.  “I don’t recall doing this.”

Both of us searched through our memory banks but neither of us recall me doing this.  What may have happened is my beta wife had one (or bought one?) and gave it to me to hold in the car, and when I got out of the car and entered her parents’ place around Christmas time, I handed it to her mom.  Thus, her mom did receive it from me although I was not the originator of the gift.

But hey, I’ll take credit for it.

Fast forward to this past week and the beta wife’s co-workers threw her a wedding shower.  They gave her a bunch of flowers in a vase, and last night we visited her parents’ place for dinner.  I was given the vase of flowers on the ride over there, and once again I walked in the door and claimed I had a present for the beta wife’s mother.  And once again, I now have credit for giving her something even though it is technically true although I am not the originator.

But once again, I will take credit for it.  Or rather, I will not give the credit back unless specifically requested (I’m still not entirely sure that I am indeed fully getting the credit… but I’m not going to bring up that awkward conversation).

I’ll take all the brownie points I can earn.

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A few weeks ago, I said on our website that we were not going to do party favors at our wedding between myself and the beta wife.  Instead, we planned to give $5 to charity for every person that attended.  Since we have ~150 people coming, that’s $750.

I’m pleased to announce that I have now completed that goal and even exceeded it.  Rather than giving $750, I have given $1000. The one to Doctors Without Borders was put on my credit card so I still have to pay the bill, but that will occur in the next few days.  Furthermore, I will log on to my employer’s website and get them to match the donation.

Below are the screenshots of the payments:




Isn’t that so much better than party favors?  I think it is.

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Recently, I picked up Ken Fisher’s book The Ten Roads to Riches.  Fisher runs Fisher Investments and has been writing a column in Forbes magazine for over 25 years.  He’s also on the Forbes 400 list as one of the richest people in the United States, with a net worth of somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion, and is a financial manager.  Because he is so successful, he is someone with credibility who I should listen to (free advice to anyone: if anyone gives you financial advice, you should only consider following it if they are more financially successful than you or have way more experience doing something than you do).

The book is an entertaining book but the one chapter I focused on is the last one because that’s the road that I am going to follow that leads to my riches – Save and Invest Wisely.

Fisher has a formula for determining how much money you need to retire with.  He advises clients to withdraw a maximum of 4% of their retirement portfolio per year in retirement.  So, if you have $100,000, 4% of that is $4000/year.  This is to keep pace with inflation and making sure your balance doesn’t go to zero (i.e., when you withdraw money, the market will keep going up so you will replenish what you withdraw and even if you don’t, you will most likely outlive your withdrawals).

Let’s assume that you want to live on $50,000/year.  This sounds high but remember while your living expenses go down as you get older when you pay off your mortgage, your medical expenses will go up.  But what about inflation?  How much in tomorrow’s dollars will you need to live on equivalent of $50,000 today?

The mathematical formula for that is the following:


If your time window is 30 years (n) and the rate of inflation, i, is 3% (which is the historical average, then plugging those numbers into the above equation (Present Value = 50,000), then you would need $121,363/year to live on.

How much do you need to save up in order to live on that?  Well, if you only withdraw 4% per year, then you need:


All you need to do is save $3 million.


Calm down, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  You need to take advantage of compound interest.  If the market’s average rate of return is 9.9%, and you want to live on $50,000 in today’s dollars per year, in 30 years, the formula for how much you need to save is the following:


Using the above numbers, your payment PMT is $18,797 per year, or $1566 per month.

Unfortunately, $18,797 per year sounds like a lot of money to save and invest per year.  It is.  That’s why you have to be very aggressive about your savings and investment plan or make different assumptions about how you want to live in retirement. 

But at least now you can’t say you weren’t warned.

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Where was I ten years ago?

Today is the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States (in the US and Canada we say 9/11 and the notation is month/year, but the rest of the world says year/month which is why I say Sept 11, not 9/11).  Other people have been posting where they were during the attacks that day, almost like my generation’s version of the JFK assassination.

I was living in England at the time.  I had been informed, along with the rest of my team, that I was laid off, effective at the end of September 2001.  I was on a train ride home from a job interview in the town of Oxford.  I didn’t have a cell phone at the time.  But I was on the train and the guy in front of me got a phone call and I could kind of overhear it.  He answered it and I didn’t hear everything, but I could hear his reaction.  Something awful had happened, and he was saying things like “Oh, that’s terrible!  I can’t believe that happened!  How horrible!”  It sounded pretty serious.  I remember thinking that it did not sound like a personal tragedy like a family member dying, but instead something far worse.

I got home but I didn’t turn on the TV right away.  Instead, I went to the post office to pick up a package of new magic supplies that I had ordered a few days before.  I went to the office, picked it up, brought it home and began to finagle with it.

After a bit of time, I remembered the phone call and turned on the TV.  There, on every channel, was footage of what was going on in the US that day.  I was stunned, I just watched it over and over and over again.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

I don’t remember much else from that day, but I definitely remember that train ride and hearing the guy pick up his phone and expressing horror at what had just transpired.

I remember that part clearly to this day.

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My beta wife has the most strange perspectives.

She goes hiking all the time and drags me along.  A couple of weeks ago we went on a ~9 mile hike where the elevation gain was 3800 feet.  I don’t care who you are, that’s a difficult hike.  Here’s me at the top, exhausted:


Yet the beta wife wasn’t feeling that bad at all, it’s generally me who has to ask for all of the breaks on all of these traverses.

Furthermore, she goes on vacations for the express purpose of going hiking every day or nearly every day.  When we went up to Vancouver last year in late 2010 (I had a conference, she tagged along), she would go on 10-15 mile treks.

Combining all of this, it makes her a hardcore hiker.

But the part that puzzles me is the following:

  • The fact that she takes the elevator at work.  To up one single flight of stairs.  It is “too long” (and I quote) to walk around or take the stairs.
  • When I said I needed to go to the dry cleaners to pick up some clothes I dropped off there, and that I wanted to walk (it’s not even a quarter mile – all flat) she asked me “Can’t we drive?  It’s so far!
  • Today we were at a shopping store (Target) and needed to cross the parking lot to go to the next store to get some stuff (Fred Meyer).  I asked if she wanted to walk there, maybe 200 feet.  Taken completely aback, she was surprised I would even pose the question and insisted we drive over.

So let me get this straight – a 10 mile hike is perfectly acceptable, but a 500 foot walk (on flat terrain) is too far?

I don’t get it.

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The Great Wall of China

Here’s some interesting factoids about The Great Wall of China.

Here in the west, we view the Great Wall of a symbol of China’s greatness.  “Wow!” we exclaim.  “This wall is huge!  Only a truly committed and dedicated, sturdy people could have built such an architectural wonder!  After all, it runs 2000 miles!  Absolutely incredible!”

I’ve been to the Great Wall, and it is pretty cool.  But I don’t have any pictures of me on it because I lost my camera a couple of days after I was there.  Still, the Great Wall is impressive.

However, it wasn’t always seen that way, especially to the Chinese.  Rather than seeing it as a symbol of Chinese strength, they saw it as a symbol of oppression.


For starters, the Great Wall was not built all in one go by one emperor. 

We’ve all been taught that the reason the Chinese built the wall was to keep out the Mongols, but that’s not how it happened.  Instead, way back in the day, China was divided into several smaller kingdoms ruled by local rulers.  Because they kept invading each other, each kingdom built its own wall.  They built it to keep each other out rather than foreign invaders. 

Even the original name for China means “walled city” (something like that).  Ancient drawings of China show the country within walls.  Indeed, in ancient times, nobody excelled at building walled cities like the Chinese.  Even the capital city of Beijing used to have a wall until it was demolished to make way for roads and freeways (the city of Xi’an still has a wall and I biked around it; that’s where I lost my camera).

The wall didn’t do that great a job and keeping kingdoms secure.  Eventually, one kingdom invaded all the others, swallowed them up and then completed the remaining sections.

Remaining sections?

Originally, the wall was in several sections; there were many gaps in the wall.  After one Chinese kingdom conquered the others, the first emperor (I think) of the Ch’in dynasty (from where we get the name China) completed the remaining gaps in the wall.  This emperor is also the one that had the Terracotta Warriors built (look it up if you don’t know; it’s seriously awesome and I had no idea about it until I actually visited the site).

Speaking of the Mongols and foreign invaders, even the idea that the wall kept them out is wrong.  The wall was never very good at repelling outside armies.  They either went around the wall, found gaps in it, or paid people “guarding” it to let them through.  It’s really not that much better than the border fence in Arizona and New Mexico at keeping the Mexicans out.

But the worst part of the wall was when it was built.  In order to fund such a massive project, various emperors employed slave labor.  It is said that one out of every three men was conscripted.  They were sent to remote parts of China to build it.  And of the men who went to the middle of no where, 70% of them didn’t return.  70% of 33% is 23%, so nearly one in four men died building the Great Wall!  Yikes!

The Wall follows the landscape and is not in a straight line.  In fact, it was designed not to be straight.  Why? The first emperor who united the country who completed the wall was very superstitious, believing in demons and frequently consulting witch doctors.  The reason he had the wall constructed in zig-zagging patterns is because it was thought that demons traveled in straight lines and because the wall was curved, demons couldn’t cross it.  The Wall was built in part to keep out demons!

The Wall fell into disrepair throughout the centuries.  Even today, there are large sections that are covered by sand or have weathered away (believe it or not, the entire structure has never been studied by archaeologists).  During China’s economic expansions under Chairman Mao, sections of the Great Wall were dismantled in order get construction supplies to build roads and other infrastructure.  The Great Wall was not that big a deal.

That finally started to shift in the latter half of the 20th century.  After Richard Nixon visited the country in 1972, he said that only a great people could have built such a great wall.  The Chinese realized that they had a pretty good tourist attraction on their hands, and then the Great Wall became the real deal.

So you see, because of the history of the wall at providing security and employing slave labor where you had a good chance of dying while building it, the Chinese weren’t thrilled about it (similar to how people wouldn’t be thrilled about the Berlin Wall).  Yet over time, people capitalized on it and now it has become a symbol of China’s greatness.

Pretty cool stuff, I’d say.

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There’s an old saying of a very wealthy land baron: I don’t want all the land in the world, only what touches mine.

One of the blogs that I read from time to time is Mini Microsoft.  This is a blog by a long time Microsoft employee who is a manager and writes about how Microsoft as a company has gotten too big and not very agile.  Because of this, the company is a slow behemoth whose stock price is going no where.  He wants the company to become smaller (through layoffs) and more resemble a startup.  He wants to “miniaturize” Microsoft, which is where the title of the blog comes from.

He doesn’t post very often, only around major events – earnings, annual reviews, buying other companies (Yahoo, Skype, etc).  His latest post is about the annual reviews that just happened, and the commenters all write about their review – how much they got and where they were rated.

As I read through the comments, I am taken aback at how greedy some of the people at Microsoft are.  While I can understand feeling undervalued, the fact is that some people think they are seriously underpaid and there are greener pastures elsewhere.

I say this because people (anonymously) post their reviews and bonuses.  I have read some where people make a base salary of $150,000 and a bonus of $25,000.  They then say “Pfft, going to look elsewhere.  This stinks.”

Really?  That stinks?

The unemployment rate in the United States is over 9%.  In 2003, the median household income was $45,018 per year.  If we assume 3% inflation per year, this brings it up to $57,027 per year.  Making the total salary of $175,000 per year puts you 97th percentile.  That means you make more than 97% of the population.  What exactly are you unhappy about?  That’s enough money for you to live comfortably, although it isn’t enough to live extravagantly.  But you will never get super wealthy anyhow.

As for me, I am at a stage where I have a surplus thanks to a well paying job and a simplified lifestyle (low mortgage payments compared to people who own multi-bedroom houses with yards).  I’m not unhappy with what I have.  Even had I scored an average rating in my review, I still would have been happy because I’d have enough for myself and even a surplus that I could give away to charitable causes.  If I can give money away, then I really can’t complain.  Indeed, I am more fortunate than most.

I’m not sure what some of these people are hoping for in their reviews.  Rather than complaining about how underappreciated they are, they would do better to look around themselves and count their blessings.  97% of the population would trade places with them.

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Sometimes when I go over to my Beta Wife’s place before she has gotten there, I see dishes in the sink (a more common occurrence at my place than at her place).  Most of the time these dishes are pots and pans, or Tupperware containers. When I feel so inclined, I wash them (and put them in the dishwasher, an oddity she has that I have written about earlier).

However, I have to wash the dishes when she is not around.  Why?  Because she does not like my style of dishwashing.

Forgive me for thinking this, but I was under the impression that most wives/women would love it if their husbands/boyfriends washed the dishes and would be thankful that they do it at all, let alone the proper way.  Yet I have learned from painful experience that either I wash the dishes by hand when she is not there, or I do it when she is in another room and not paying attention.

What’s wrong with my style?

She accuses me of leaving “soap” on the dishes.  I fill up the sink with water and dishwashing detergent and it makes it kind of soapy.  I proceed to wash the dish, scrubbing it hard with a sponge and making sure it is clean.  However, since there is only one sink, sometimes the dish has a little bit of soap residue.  What am I supposed to do, take it to the bathroom and rinse it off?  I guess I could rinse it off in the sink but I never do.  I take it and put in on the rubber counter thingie next to the sink where clean dishes go.  I plan to get rid of the soap later.

Afterwards, when all the dishes are done, I drain the sink and then dry the dishes.  If the dish is too soapy, I rinse them off quickly.  But I don’t inspect every square inch of the dish.  If there’s a touch of soap bubbles on there, what’s the big deal?  It’s just a bit of soap, I get it off anyhow when I dry the dishes with the dish towels.  So what?  Maybe I miss a bit of it but it’ll dry eventually.  It’s not like it will kill anyone (I don’t buy poison soap from the grocery store, after all).

This lack of attention to dish detail annoys my Beta Wife and causes her to criticize my lack of finesse when doing dishes.  “There’s still soap on there!” she cries out.  I roll my eyes as if to say “The only ones who care are the ants who can actually see it, seeing as how the soap residue is that small.”  Yet bother her she does.  Rather than my being more careful to remove all the soap from the dishes, my tactic has been to do them when she is not around.

It works pretty well.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, I was doing the dishes at her place and she came home.  She said to me “Thanks for doing the dishes!”  I said no worries, but cursed myself for not finishing faster.

I then said “I wanted to finish them earlier because when I leave soap on them, it drives you crazy!”

“Oh, it doesn’t bother me,”she replied, as if to say that my dish washing was good enough and nothing more was needed.  I knew she was lying, so I decided to call her bluff.

“Oh, really?”  I then took a clean dish with no soap on it, dipped it into the water so that there was lots of soap on it and then proceeded to put it into the dishwasher.

“NOOOOOO!” she cried out.

Heh, heh.  I proved my point.

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Annual review time

Last week, I had my annual review at Microsoft. Two years ago, after I had it I wrote on this blog that it didn’t go so well and I was thinking about changing roles or divisions, or both.

Well, fast forward two years and things have changed.  I have twice tried to leave teams in that period, and each time my management comes to me and (more or less) begs me to stay.  Obviously they want to keep me around. 

While I won’t go into details exactly how my review went, suffice to say it went much better than two years ago and much better than I thought it was going to go.  I was shooting for an average review (same as last year) and this year was definitely above average.

I managed to get a lot of stuff done at work this year.  Yet I can’t take all the credit for it:

  • The division is more stable. We used to go through a re-organization every 6-9 months.  The last one was more than a year ago (which is a miracle at Microsoft).
  • The internal processes have remained constant and I have memorized them.  Getting stuff done used to take forever and whenever I figured it out, things would change.  They’ve now been pretty constant for while and I have used them enough times that I understand the corridors I have to take in order to accomplish things.

  • Because of those two realities, I was able to get a lot of things done and follow the process at the same time.  Microsoft values those two things.

I got a little pay upgrade and obviously it will improve my financial picture somewhat.  As I have said elsewhere, I plan to split some of that additional capital with charitable organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, and Engineers Without Borders.

It’s nice to be able to turn things around.

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