Off-Year Elections

November 10, 2009

Election week!  This past Tuesday, we had off-year elections.  Not presidential, not mid-term, but off-year.  Chances are you didn’t vote since about 40% of people actually vote in even midterm elections.  This isn’t so unusual and like many people I know (even my close friends), not knowing about local politics makes sense.  After all, not having kids going through public school, not using social services like medicare, and generally not seeing much local government in action makes people complacent.

Local issues may not seem worth your effort, except that low voter turnout misrepresents what people actually think.  A few couple of local election issues that you may care about:

  • Same-sex marriage has been rejected in all 31 states where it’s been put up for vote.  Polls show that something like 40% of people think it should be legal and it was defeated most recently this past election in Maine.  So if you’re gay or lesbian or have any gay or lesbian friends and care about them maybe you’ll care to be acknowledged by your government to be equal to everyone else.
  • Do you care that American education is so backwards that we still have people pushing to teach creationism as science in schools?  This is a local issue, that is decided by school boards and other local officials.  Quick aside – I recently heard a story of a friend of mine who was buying a drink from a concessions stand and the girl manning the cart had to go for a calculator when making change for a $20 on the $3 drink.  And apparently this girl was in high school.
  • Taxes are frequently put up to vote.  And even if the tax measures themselves aren’t, anything that mandates a service provided by the government has tax implications.  A good example of this is New York’s $50 billion medicare tab (almost $8K per person) which comes from decades of local politics.

So it’s time to go all after school special on everyone and remind everyone to take some time out and vote.  In my case, I went after work on Tuesday after spending an hour reading about the candidates up for election in my city and listening to recordings of them speak from local meetings.  If any readers are from Sunnyvale, I recommend http://www.radiosunnyvale.com/ as a good local resource.  In general, http://www.smartvoter.org/ covers every election in the country.

Some good reasons not to vote:

  • If you don’t care about what’s being put up for vote, don’t bother.  But like RT has said before, once you do this, you really have no right to complain about the outcome.
  • If you don’t care enough to research what the pro and cons are of each item, don’t vote.  This one may be more controversial, but I think turnout for turnout’s sake is stupid.  It just perpetuates shallow, short advertising that either ignores issues and anything of substance or plays up a single emotional issue with no pretense of neutrality or nuance.  Youtube has plenty of examples of such sound-bite ads.

Some bad reasons not to vote:

  • Too busy on election day.  This is a terrible excuse.  Many employers will give time off to let their employees vote.  And if you think that if we made the day a holiday so there was no dependence on a kind employer, check out this study that showed that making an Election Day holiday doesn’t really increase voter turnout.
  • Didn’t register in advance.  This was almost my excuse this year since I recently moved into town and haven’t registered locally yet.  It turns out that you can vote provisionally even without previously being registered.  The only catch is that your vote isn’t counted till later.  One neat thing about this process is that you get a stub that lets you check if your vote counted (or if they caught you on fraud).

-Tim

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Last Minute Halloween Costume Tips

October 30, 2009

In all fairness, these tips are only last minute because I’m posting them last minute. Many of them actually revolve around planning to make your own costume. These tips can (dare I say, should?) be used every year. There really is one overarching theme for these tips: Think outside of the Halloween store box.

Halloween Costume 2009

Green Belt and Sewn Tunic-like shirt

Plan ahead.
The best part about planning ahead is that if you’re buying a costume you may well have more options to choose from. Also, Halloween stores will have sales toward the beginning of October every year and those stores will be jam packed with latecomers the closer you get to Halloween. That means you’ll waste a lot of time in line when you want to buy something. They also have huge sales right after Halloween. If you’re a perennial costume buyer and want a cheap one for next year you shoulder consider this option. If you’re building your own costume planning ahead will save you a lot of stress and probably time. There are invariably more things on store shelves at the beginning of October than at the end. Plus, if you can’t find what you need for your costume you have to time to go to plan B… or C… or D. Plan D being the plain white sheet ghost.

Build your own costume.
It’s really not that difficult. The first time you do it will probably be daunting, but with a little planning you can come out with a much better looking and more creative costume than you’ll find at your local Halloween store. And for less money! Full on costumes at stores will cost you at least $40-$50. That’s a lot of money considering they can be terribly uncomfortable and don’t look that great. You’re clearly paying a premium for convenience here.

Learn to sew or find a friend who does.
This directly follows-up on the “Build your own costume” idea. If you’re buying a costume, skip to the last item. Sewing really helps for building your own costume because then you don’t need to find the exact right piece of clothing for your outfit. For example, the tunic pictured above is a combination of two t-shirts; one of which is cut up to make the jagged ends. Amazingly, the t-shirts were the most expensive part of my costume aside from the shoes I bought, which can and already have been re-worn as real world shoes.

Look for costume items in smaller shops.
I needed a belt for my costume this year. Preferably a green belt. Do you know how much belts cost? In the tens of dollars, which doesn’t seem like a lot except depending on your fashion style the belt may or may not be re-wearable. On top of that, I’m trying to keep the cost of my costume under a retail store’s cost, so $10 would be a quarter of my imaginary budget. So where did I get the green belt in the picture? Daiso Marukai. For $1.69! Can you say, “WINNER?” Little shops can have surprising bargains and better selection for the more randomly colored and shaped items and accessories you might want to use this Halloween, so keep them in mind. I also recommend thrift stores, charity shops, and if you must shop in retail stores then Wal-Mart, Target, Marshall’s and Ross are good ideas. You know what you’re getting at the first two – namely, semi-cheap everyday stuff. At stores like Marshall’s and Ross it’s a complete toss up. You never know what you might find, like the women’s vest I turned inside out last year for my 80s Hair Band look because the inside of the too-tight vest had a leopard-ish print to it. And it was cheeeeap! (I forget the exact price, but I was pretty dang happy). So happy bargain hunting!

Your costume can be a take on a regular costume.
For example, almost any good character costume can be turned evil, and vice versa. Like an evil angel or evil [insert Disney character here]. Or you can be an off-color Where’s Waldo. This will allow you to pick different colors and kinds of clothing to still match what you want to be. For example, if your character normally wears bright colors, you can pick a darker shade that’s easier to find and then call that character Dark Halloween Character. It’s just that easy!

Lastly, and this is legitimately a last minute tip: Ask around and see if you can’t re-use a friend’s old costume, or even one of your own from 2+ years back. Who’s going to remember anyway?
If you’re really hard up for a costume at the last minute remember that this happens every year. Your friends must have dressed up in previous years and probably don’t want to dress up as the same thing again. So maybe you can borrow a costume or even swap old costumes with them.

Did I miss something? Have tips of your own? What ideas and tips do you have for buying or putting together your Halloween costumes? Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

-RT


Gardening Made Easy, in Any Space

October 29, 2009

One hobby I have taken up is gardening.  I live in a condo with no backyard so my “gardening” is limited to a small balcony.  Maintaining a garden may seem far from hassle free, however I have experimented with different ways to make it work, and have along the way learned some inexpensive ways to keep my plants healthy while helping the environment along the way.

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Mint in the top left, Green Onion on the top right, Basil in the front

In the above picture I have mint, basil, and green onions; all of which are very easy to grow.  Here are some things I’ve learned about growing them.

1) On the bottom left corner you may see a basil stem in a jar.  That jar is filled with water, and since then has grown roots and I’ve successfully planted it as its own basil plant.  The cutting had originally come from the big plant and using cuttings is an easy way to grow basil.  I’ve also read you can do this with fresh basil bought from the store.

2) Pruning basil properly is essential to encourage growth.  Snipping basil leaves one by one will quickly diminish the basil plant to nothing.  Doing a little research on how to properly harvest basil goes a long way.

3) Mint grows like a weed.  Make sure to plant mint in a pot and not a backyard garden.  It is otherwise very easy to grow and it grows very plentifully.

4) Green onions are great plants.  After I used up a bunch of green onions I purchased for 50 cents at the grocery store, I stuck the ends in dirt and in the summer I watched it grow about an inch a day.  It grows so fast and it is so useful.  There are other things that can be planted using this method.  I believe chives are one of them.. anything that resembles scallions can probably be grown this way.  Leeks are another that comes to mind.

5) You may notice that the white containers that the green onions are in may not match the flower pots.  This is a great tip I learned.  Many bakeries, pool supply stores, restaurants, etc. often get various materials in these buckets and then throw them out.  All you have to do from saving them from going to waste is pop into your local bakery and ask them if they have any of these plastic buckets that they were going to otherwise throw out.  Oftentimes they have some to spare and it works great as a planter.  5 gallon buckets are perfect for tomatoes and if you want a fun DIY project,  you can make your own Self Watering Container out of some 5 gallon buckets.

6) Some of the best fertilizers for these plants are very accessible.  Coffee grounds, tea leaves, and egg shells are great fertilizers.  Starbucks is required to provide their used coffee grounds to anyone who asks for them, so it is easy to just pop into a Starbucks and get some (this comes in handy for me since I’m a non coffee drinker).

IMG_9299

Arugula grown from seed

I have tried to take the easiest approach when it comes to gardening in my limited space.  If you have more time on your hands, you may find inspirations from things such as this “Salad Bar” or making your own self watering containers, both of which take a little more time but are good in small spaces.  Some have even taken on experimenting with maintaining a compost pile in their apartments.  I’m currently trying to grown a basil plant in a “Pop Bottle.”  Pop Bottles may be a quick and easy way to start up your herb plant.  Enjoy!

-Debs


Thinking of Buying a House?

August 26, 2009

blog_house

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or over a rainbow, you’ve surely noticed that the global economy has suffered a massive bout of what I like to call EPIC FAIL. But you might also have noticed that the month of July just posted a 9.7% increase in sales of new houses since June. I’m sure this is in no small because the government is giving $8,000 to first time homebuyers that I’ve heard can even be counted toward your down payment.

A lot of twentySomethings have been working for a few years and have stockpiled a good sum of money while not having enough of it in the market to be squandered. Many of us also are points in our lives where we’re looking to settle down, maybe buy a house and start a family. It’s only natural to follow the mold and think of buying a house these days if you still have a job and money in the bank. After all, housing prices haven’t looked like this in years!

If you’ve only recently begun thinking of buying a house, don’t forget that the price of the house is not the only thing that matters. HOA (Homeowners Association) fees are imposed on many condos and apartments, and some housing neighborhoods as well. In California, cities, counties and districts can impose Mello-Roos taxes on your property on top of the state property tax. Then there are maintenance fees that renters don’t have to think about, like when your toilet breaks or your shower leaks or your dishwasher breaks. Oh, and if you’re not paying monthly utilities for water and trash, those will officially become your responsibility. Those are all landlord problems, and you’re thinking of becoming a landlord! On top of all those there are the fees you’re going to pay just to buy the house, which may include closing and escrow fees (and buying fees if you eventually sell the house somewhere down the line).

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not own a house and I’ve never purchased one. That really means there may be even more costs I haven’t considered or mentioned, like costs associated with taking care of your lawn. But for many people this is a worthwhile investment, if not financially then just because people take pride in owning their home. For those of you looking to buy, I advise you to make use of this Rent vs. Buy Calculator provided by the New York Times website.

Happy Hunting!
-RT


Following the Golden Rule is Not Enough

July 21, 2009

How often do you find yourself completely unable to communicate with someone? You’re trying to make a point, get something done, but interaction with the other person is about the same as interaction with a brick wall. No matter what, you can’t see eye to eye, even though individually, you each think you are “right.”

We all remember our first days of school, when the first rule we learned was the “Golden Rule” which sounds a bit like “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” This may work like a charm for children who are each still developing their own behavioral styles and treating peers with or without respect is a lot more black and white.

As you find yourself in your twenties and beyond, the reality that treating others “right” and “wrong” is not so black and white anymore. You can both be treating each other “right” and still find yourselves butting heads. I will be first to admit that I’ve found myself in many frustrating situations, because I feel that I am making perfect sense and I’m interacting with someone who thinks the same of him or herself.. but we are not in agreement with each other. Unless you live in complete isolation or under a rock.. you have most likely found yourself in these situations. This is when it is very valuable to realize that the Platinum Rule® should really be the rule to follow. The platinum rule reads, “Treat others the way they would like to be treated.” I am all in favor of somehow incorporating this rule in college courses..

At first look, it may sound like this rule is advising you to “give in” to the other person. However, this is not the case. This rule involves a deeper understanding of different behavior styles that people possess, and how to work with those styles. For example, say you have a strong, dominating personality. If you are interacting with someone, “Bob” who is a little more reserved, would you really treat him or her the same way you would treat someone like yourself? Probably not. You would likely end up stepping all over “Bob” and over time, “Bob” would not appreciate it and probably harbor negative feelings towards you. This concept seems simple, but I bet it isn’t something you actively think about. Most of us, by habit, just think about what we think is right, without realizing that different types of people will have a different reaction to our actions as we would. And we just spend the entire time, irritated and thinking to ourselves, “Why is _____ just not understanding??!!!! I can’t make myself any clearer!” I’ve been there, numerous times and I am willing to bet you have experienced this as well. I will dig deeper at some different behavioral styles at a later time, but the next time you find yourself frustrated with someone, I very strongly urge you to think about the “Platinum Rule” and then think about what you can do differently to remove the brick wall between the two of you.

-debs

The Platinum Rule® is a registered trademark of Dr. Tony Alessandra. Used with permission. All other rights are reserved in all media.


CA Fights Against Poor Health and Bulging Waistlines

July 15, 2009

As results of America’s Fattest Cities are being released, California is taking action to fight against climbing to the top spot.  It’s being reported that an alarming 44.4% of children in Mississippi, America’s “fattest state” are obese.  When I read that, I wondered how such a shocking statistic was possible for a single state.  I suppose CA leaders asked themselves the same thing too, because as of July 1, three new diet laws are in effect in California.

Starting July 1, all restaurants will be required disclose nutritional information in either indoor or outdoor menus, or in the form of a brochure that will be offered to customers.  In 2011, restaurants will be required to disclose nutritional information in all three forms.

Starting July 1, the current ban on trans fat has been extended to include food offered in school vending machines and by vendors on school.  Trans fat has already been banned in school cafeterias.

Lastly, while soda has already been banned at elementary and junior high schools, the new legislation also includes a soda ban on high schools.  The new restriction on drinks also restricts schools from selling drinks with added sweeteners, and whole milk.  This will hopefully encourage students to gravitate towards healthier choices and live an overall healthier life.

Whether or not this new legislation will make a true difference is still up for debate.  In some ways, I think those who make poor diet choices may still continue the same lifestyle, and students can still easily access their favorite trans-fat laced snacks and unhealthy drinks outside of school.  However, there are also plenty others who will think twice when the nutritional information is laid out in front of them, and students who have become used to drinking and eating healthier due to restrictions on campus will naturally carry the same healthier habits outside of school.  In any case, it is important to make sure that California stays away from becoming one of America’s “fattest states” and hopefully this legislation helps the cause.

-debs


Sick Days or Vacation Days?

July 9, 2009

sick_boy

I came down with a *mild* case of food poisoning this week. Mild, meaning I was more or less useless for only one day as opposed to several days. One thing I didn’t realize growing up is that when people say they have food poisoning they usually just assume it’s something bad they ate because they can’t imagine what else could leave their stomach in such agony. And in pretty much all of my food poisoning cases I’ve been reasonably certain that I could pinpoint just which piece of dietary death led me to it.

The question I’m posing here is this:

How many of you guys actually use sick days because you’re sick?

This question is moot to those of you who have separate vacation and sick days. My sick days and vacation days are all lumped together in the form of PTO, or Paid Time Off. As a result, I hate using my PTO when I’m sick because that’s really just one less vacation day that I get that year. If it’s just a cold or a cough, I’ll try to tough it out, but if it gets much worse than sometimes I just suck it up and take the day off. In case you’re wondering, I went to work every day this week, but I was very close to leaving half way through Wednesday.

So do you actually use sick days when you’re sick, or do you power through them so you can have one more day of vacationing freedom? Or do you have some other sort of ingenious scheme to balance these things out?