Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Veruca Report

I've been busy today with my financial accounts working on interest rates and credit limits and the like. Here's the new rundown:

Major Credit Cards:

BankAmericard Cash Rewards VISA
Credit Limit: +$2,000 to $6,000
Opened 8/11
Current Balance: $644.18
APR: 18.99%
Annual Fee: $39

Fairwinds Credit Union Platinum Rewards VISA
Credit Limit: $5,000
Opened 3/12
Current Balance: $1,418.37
APR: 18.00%


Chase Amazon.com VISA Rewards Card
Credit Limit: +$1,200 to $2,000
Opened: 6/12
Current Balance: $64.98
APR: 21.24%


DISCOVER Card
Credit Limit: + $1,500 to $4,500
Opened: 9/12
Current Balance: $413.90
*New* 12 mo. 0% rate ending 12/2015
with 3 mos. payoff grace ending 3/2016
then back to APR: 22.99%

Citi Simplicity Card VISA
Credit Limit: +$1,100 to $3,100
Opened 12/12
Current Balance: $910
All under a Balance Transfer 0% until 7/2015
then APR: 16.99%


First National Bank of Omaha AMERICAN EXPRESS
Credit limit: +$2,000 to $5,000
Opened 12/12
Current Balance: $387
APR: 0% on current balance, new purchases: 15.99%


Barclay Bank Choice Rewards VISA
Credit Limit: +$2,000 to $4,000
Opened: 2/14
Current Balance: $895
APR: Intro 0% until 2/15
Still waiting on adequate resolution on points problem and a 24-48 hr credit for fraud charges...we'll see. Horrible customer service and lousy rewards redemption value. :(
New Card:

Citi Double Cash Rewards MASTERCARD
*New Card As of Today*
Credit Limit: $1,500
Opened: 11/14
Current Balance: $0
APR: Intro 0% until 3/2016
Going to balance transfer remainder of Barclay balance come Feb.

Merchant Credit Cards/Lines of Credit:

Walmart Credit Card
Credit Limit: $3,300
Opened 11/11
Current Balance: $1,015.66
APR: 22.9%


Dell Financial Services
Credit Limit: $3,000
Opened 11/11
Current Balance: $0
APR: 0% if paid in 12 months.



Auto Loan:

Fairwinds Credit Union Auto Loan on 2013 Chevy Spark
Initial Amount Financed: $8,000
Opened 10/13
Current Balance: $5,400
APR: 8% (currently working to reduce)



Current Debt: $5,600
Credit Limit Total: $37,400
Credit Utilization: 14.97%

EDIT: The credit for the fraud charges on the Barclays card was in fact applied within 24 hours and a week later I requested and received an increase of $2,000 on the credit limit for that card. This amount is reflected above and the totals given above were adjusted accordingly.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Moral Dilemma


As an atheist, I've at times been asked, with varying degrees of intelligence, how I can have morals without a belief in a higher power representing good triumphing over evil. The simple answer is that morality is not the sole purview of theists but is a touchstone of an individual's maturity and acknowledgement of the most effective practices to maintain a healthy community. In essence, it's a vital part of being a thinking human. This is where there's a disconnect in regards to people who consider themselves moral only due to their religion. They don't think about morality, they just act on guidelines set down by people (but they think "God") before them without questioning those rules. That's why some of the most heinous crimes against humanity have been perpetrated by people who believed they were adhering to the wishes of their god or gods. Bringing you hits like: "The Inquisition, what a show!" and "Allah Akbar...KABOOM!!"

Tonight I discovered something that has me in a bit of a quandary but I know that because I am a moral person I'll do "the right thing."

Last week I reviewed my paycheck and noticed it was off from my estimate. I glanced at the allocation of hours worked on the stub and there was a block of over 10 hours attributed to my standard rate which is paid only if I work hours outside of my regular overnite hours since those get a differential. I knew I had attended a couple of mid-afternoon meetings that payperiod but not ten hours worth...should only have been a couple of hours. My assumption was that the finance director had made an error and paid my regular rate instead of the differential rate for some of my overnite hours. Determined to point out this error and get my pay corrected I asked for a tally of the hours worked in the payperiod. (This tally used to be printed right on the stub but for some reason it isn't anymore as of a couple payperiods ago.)

But when I computed the hours according to the tally, I found the error. I had actually been overpaid.

During one of the afternoon meetings, the building experienced a brownout and when the meeting adjourned, none of us hourly employees who were not regularly scheduled for that time were able to clock out. So the timeclock still had me on and, for some reason, hadn't clocked me "out" when I clocked "in" at 11pm later that day. So I got paid for about 7.5 hours I hadn't worked.

Now we have a system for exceptions to the time clock punches in the form of a, well, form, that we write on to indicate such things and I did indicate my correct clock out time at the end of the afternoon meeting on it. But it musn't have been reviewed, lest the time clock accounting of my hours would have been adjusted. What's more is the likelyhood that this error affected at least 2 other staff who attended the meeting, thus overpaying them as well.

So here's the dilemma in a nutshell.

When I tell Christine, the Finance Director, about this not only will I be looking at reimbursing the company for the overpaid hours, but since it put me in overtime for that payperiod by an additional 7.5 hours, the OT would have to be included in the equation as well. Altogether we're talking over $150. Ouch!

But it could expose 2 other staff to the same debt of repayment if they too got overpaid.

And it would put egg on the face of our new Financial Director as she'd have to fess up to her mistake to the CEO.

But, in order to protect herself, Christine might lie and say that the exception report form hadn't indicated the inability to clock out thus putting blame on me (and the other staff) making it look like we committed time clock fraud and this could get me (and my co-workers) fired.

Oh my.

Makes me wonder if it'd be better to just forget all about this and ignore it altogether.

Hmmm.

WWRDD? (What Would Richard Dawkins Do?)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Interstellar

I went to see this movie today, thankfully in IMAX since I think it was made for this format. Any other would be a travesty.

I'm feeling 100% confident, just a few hours after seeing it in saying this is the BEST sci-fi movie I've ever seen. Period.

That's right "2001: A Space Odyssey" you have been usurped.

This review I found is exactly what I would have said had I been asked:

It's oddly strange, and yet somehow comforting, how tales of space travel capture our imaginations. I suppose it's that sense of curiosity, that need to explore and to feel. Humanity has never been one for standing still, so it makes a certain level of sense. Think Manifest Destiny, if you will.

That being said, films about space always seems to dredge up something deeper than simply exploring the unknown. Think back to the epic that was "2001: A Space Odyssey" or even the original "Star Wars" trilogy. These films manage to reflect the mood down here on our little blue ball in the sky in a way action flicks or thrillers just can't.

"Interstellar," though, goes deeper than that. Directed by Christopher Nolan, it's not enough for this tale of space travel to sate our need to explore. This time, it's a personal tale wrapped in the premise that if we don't find a new home somewhere out there in that vast, dark expanse, soon there won't be anyone left to do it. This tale is one of regret, a marvelous adventure mired in the deep pain of sorrow, dread and a desperate, yearning need for forgiveness.

They say no one can hear you scream in space. I guess the same could be said for crying.

But fighting back against that near-impossible weigh is the glimmer of hope, that humanity may find a way to save itself from the ruin inflicted on Earth. Some sort of message is making its way to the planet, sent through a wormhole near Saturn by an alien race we believe is trying to help us save ourselves. That data, having made its way across galaxies and time itself, forms the plot structure for most of "Interstellar," where scientists on Earth are rapidly try to solve the coded message's riddle in a bid to prevent the extinction of the human race.

You see, Earth isn't doing so well. A global environmental epidemic has ravaged the planet, which we first see as we're introduced to a scene that would remind you of pictures from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. It's a rural stretch of America, farmland as far as the eye can see. At this point, nothing seems out of the ordinary, until a laptop shows up and reminds us that all isn't what it seems.

This family holds central characters in "Interstellar," particularly Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a single father who lives with his two kids and father-in-law (John Lithgow). A man "born 40 years too late, or 40 years too early," Cooper was once a NASA pilot who now grows corn. Which, by the way, is the only crop that will grow after a blight has destroyed nearly everything else. (Even okra!) Humanity has shrunk to a mere pittance of what it once was, but that doesn't stop those who are living from going about their days with some sense of normalcy. (Good to know beer will be available even when the world is dying.) Still, a sense of conclusion, that the end is near, doesn't hide far beneath the surface.

In fact, humanity for the most part has just about given up. Gone are the days of us going big, of ambitious dreams. Now, we've returned to our agrarian roots, at odds once again with science and technology and simply trying to survive each day. All the while, though, everyone knows not many days are left.

But director Nolan (and writer/brother Jonathan) doesn't do small. He's all about the ambition, and he goes for the throat when it comes to going big. His vision in "Interstellar" is grand and risky, fighting every second to "rage against the dying of the light."

That famous Dylan Thomas villanelle fits Cooper well, who we can easily see doesn't belong tethered to this planet. This disconnect opens the film's first act, a haunting, emotional tone that establishes a premise for why he does what he does, and why those whom he loves do what they do. The stakes are made clear, especially when it comes to Cooper's children. A loving and protective father, he shares a love of learning with his daughter, Murph (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult). When he leaves as part of a NASA mission to find suitable worlds for which humanity can relocate, it creates a schism between father and daughter, one that leads Murph to pursue a career working for NASA. Some might consider it tribute, others an act of defiance. Take your pick.

But that's not the only father-daughter plot we have going on. Enter Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), a scientist traveling with Cooper whose father, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), is the one responsible for developing the theories used to send them through time and space to find a new home.

But thanks to relativity and the massive effects of gravity, those traveling through space are aging far slower than those at home. The effects are acutely felt during video transmission being the pairs, especially after the time differences start becoming noticeable.

What happens in the deep reaches of space will remain a mystery in this review, as saying just about anything more will ruin the suspense and surprise the Nolans embed in their story. (Even the casting was a surprise.) The two other astronauts on the Endurance are played by Wes Bentley and David Gyasi. Oh, and there's an awesomely witty robot voiced by Bill Irwin.

And music. Oh, the music. The score, by the talented Hans Zimmer, is brazenly and over the top, but somehow, even as close to pretentious as it gets, manages to succeed in capturing your attention. Even when it's unnecessarily screaming at you.

In the end, "Interstellar" is more than just a tale of space exploration or of trying to save humanity. It's more personal than that, finding its home on a raw emotional level. It uses the magic of cinema to sweep us into this epic of regret and grief, of time moving inexorably forward despite the best intentions of our adventurers. But, even against all the noise, despite all the mistakes and ego and good intentions gone awry, "Interstellar" reminds us that hope -- nay, optimism -- has this funny way of springing eternal. If nothing else, let's hope we never lose that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

So Lo Koyo?

So does the new apartment signal a so-long to the lingering remnants of Koyaanisqatsi? (Why I abbreviate it Koyo I don't know. I started coining it that cute nickname and it stuck. Even though it really should be Koya, Koyo it is.)

Koyo began (arguably) in late 2002/early 2003 as my comfortable and somewhat secure middle-class life in which I was finally rising in my business career dramatically came unraveled in a devastating financial and psychological collapse. The details of this tumultuous epoch can be read in the Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles on this blog.

One of the most observable things I lost during this time was the standard of living I'd enjoyed prior to the commencement of Koyo. Now don't get me wrong. I was in no way well-to-do or even near it. I was still using payday loans and my credit was shit. My income was only in the lower middle class range as well. But I don't measure the comfort level I had then solely by raw financial numbers. In fact, to be honest, I look back at my Microsoft Money files from those days and I was as vulnerable then as anytime during the Koyo years. (And that financial vulnerability was exposed right quick once the winter of '02-'03 set in, believe you me.) But the one thing I had which was destroyed during the Koyo years was confidence. I tacitly acknowledged my paycheck-to-paycheck existence but it didn't worry me...I thought I was on the verge of greater things and nothing was going to stop me.

This cocksure mentality had its pros and cons. I pushed limits and acted quite entitled which I'm sure caused more grief than good. But at least I didn't live in constant fear.

Chief among the tangible assets that I felt was a symbol of my security then was my apartment at Park Central. Though small by many peoples' standards, being a 600 sq. ft. one-bedroom, it was condo-like (later to actually become a condo) and in the heart of a beautifully landscaped resort-style gated community of similar young professionals.

Now, some twelve years later, I finally am back in a very eerily similar place. How similar? Well let's see:

THEN
  • Large living/dining room in a vaulted ceiling top floor unit with an open floor kitchen/living area plan.
  • Kitchen: White stick-built cabinets with European hinges and brushed nickel pulls. Faux-granite laminate counters.
  • Dark brown living room seating.
  • Large European-style bed with extra firm mattress.
  • Light oak TV stand.
NOW
  • Large living/dining room in a vaulted ceiling top floor unit with an open floor kitchen/living area plan.
  • Kitchen: White stick-built cabinets with European hinges and brushed nickel pulls. Faux-granite laminate counters.
  • Dark brown living room seating.
  • Large European-style bed with extra firm mattress.
  • Light oak TV stand.

Eerie, huh? Well, I'll admit some of those similarities are due to my own unchanged design sense and others due to the construction standards of the late eighties when both complexes were likely built.

But it does feel like I'm "back" in a sense. Comfortable job I like, okay pay, and this "young professional" apartment. Though I'm certainly no longer young and not quite professional, many of my neighbors are so they conduct themselves accordingly. A very much appreciated difference from the recent Bellagio apartments milieu.

So to get back to my original question...is Koyo over?

Maybe the best answer would be to make an analogy to a cold. After the initial symptoms of the onset of a cold and then the coughing and congestion and body aches and such give way to the waning affects and the return to good health, are you then done with your cold? The answer is, of course, for now. Your body has successfully fought off this variant of the cold virus and would be immune to repeated incursions of this specific variant. But the cold virus is ever-changing and there's no guarantee regarding contact with another variant on down the line.

So I guess the last chills and sniffles from my original bout of Koyo are just now a memory.

But it doesn't mean I can't catch a new variant again. To be honest, unlike a cold virus, there's actually no immunity against the same exact thing happening all over again.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Another Apartment Video

Can you tell I'm lovin' my new place? Here it is pretty much finished except for some minor pieces and a wall hanging. Not sure about the accent chair in the living room but it'll do for now. The Goldfinger tally is up to about $1,200 or so with every card in my wallet (except Chase) sharing some of the burden.