Sunday, December 18, 2016


We recently were in a minor car accident. The kids were in the car but we are all fine. We hit some black ice approaching an intersection and slid through it into a car that was turning left in front of us, which then hit a third car. It was slow enough that there were no injuries, but it was kind of scary - I had never been in that kind of an accident before, and while that part of me was quietly freaking out, the rest of me had to stay calm for the kids and make sure that they were okay and staying warm (it was -14 degrees out, but we couldn't leave the car running in case of exhaust leaks).

At any rate, this accident came less than a week after we paid almost $600 to have the wheels aligned and a bearing replaced after we hit a curb on a different patch of ice in the last snowstorm.

In other words, this winter has been expensive for us! It's also an anomaly, because in a combined 38 years of driving, neither of us have ever had any kind of winter driving situation requiring car repairs.

Luckily, we do have insurance which should cover the repairs and also a rental car if we need it. Our deductible is only $500 although I guess our premiums will probably go up a bit. We might raise the deductible to $1,000 if we can (I think our lender might require a lower deductible, because typically we always set higher deductibles). We may not need the rental car because we've been intentional about reducing our need for a car - Peanut walks the kids to preschool and I take the bus, so really we only need a car for visiting family in the 'burbs and grocery shopping.

As always, I'm thankful for the situation we're in that mean that something like this is unfortunate but not a disaster. It'll be an expensive month but our savings can cover it, and most important, no one was hurt. The kids are asking a lot of questions about what happened (and it might be a while before they want to watch Cars again!) but we're all okay.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I'm practicing right now!

Are you an expert computer user? If you're reading this post, likely you are in the top 5% of computer users in the world.

 I was surprised by that article, but perhaps I shouldn't be. It's said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, and I use a computer in some form probably 90% of my waking hours and have done so for, hm, between 15-18 years? I've definitely got my practice in.

The interesting lesson to take away from this is that expert experts are the ones designing software and writing code, and they literally cannot see things from the most elementary users' point of view. They can't un-know what they know, or lose the understanding or assumptions they have about how software works.

I think actually this goes a long way towards explaining my frustration when dealing with a digital tool that is badly designed - the coders didn't even stop to think whether the end user would have different assumptions than they do.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Amazon Go (Away)

So Amazon is opening a new store where you don't have to pay for anything; you just go in, pick up what you want, and leave, and your purchases are automatically charged to your Amazon account via an app on your phone.

I think this is a terrible idea. I have documented previously why I am anti-Amazon, but I would think this was a bad idea no matter who came up with it.

First, the system relies on extensive surveillance, more than I am comfortable with experiencing in a public place. A series of cameras and microphones as well as tracking software is needed to make this experience seamless for the end user, but surveillance technology is still not perfect, and I see this system as rife for abuse. (Good information about that technology here, but be warned that video and audio autoplay when you load the page*.)

Second, all of this technology replaces real, actual jobs that could be employing human beings. And at least in the beginning, that technology is going to be more expensive than humans, so there will not be any real savings to pass along to the consumer. I expect that Amazon will operate as it has before and take a loss on products to establish itself, then take a monopolistic approach to its vendors, forcing them to operate on its terms.

Third, and most important from a personal finance point of view, is that removing the barrier of paying means removing the psychological understanding of what has transpired in the transaction. We already know that paying with a credit card causes us to buy more than when we spend cold, hard cash. What will happen when it doesn't feel like we're paying anything at all? I presume the app would allow you to see your total as you shop, but the video makes it look like you don't need  to think about what you're spending at all, and that's dangerous territory.

*Which was a good incentive for me to install a browser extension that blocks that from happening. It worked so nicely that I'll be installing one on all the browsers on all the computers that I use regularly.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Book Review: Essentialism

Essentialism is, well, an essential little book. It could be summed up as "less, but better". I liken it to The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying-Up for its inspiring but still very implementable message.

Author Greg McKeown offers insight and advice on how to change your entire mindset from scarcity and FOMO to determining what is essential for you and ruthlessly (but politely) carving out that which is not. Most of us, I think, are aware of when we are getting stretched too thin, and we can even identify the causes - bosses who pile on the work, friends and family whose feelings matter to us, an expansive desire to have it all. But we don't know how to deal with being pulled in all of these different directions in a way that allows us to keep our jobs, our relationships, and our contentment intact.

Essentialism answers those difficult questions and more. As a rallying cry, as a practical manual, as a manifesto, a call to action, and a muse, this one is highly recommended.

I got my copy from the library, but am keeping an eye out for a copy to own as well. Support your local library, indie bookseller, or brick-and-mortar bookstore!