I Still Social Network Manually

My religious background is well known to most of you. I posted the story on my blog back in 2009. But if you don't know it, here is the abbreviated version: I was born Jewish, then my parents converted to Mormonism when I was two years old, which is the only religion I knew growing up. I stuck with it until I was not allowed to go on my mission at age 19. I didn't attend any church for a while after that, until I felt compelled to join a Pentecostal church. I felt extremely out of place, but ended up meeting my first wife. We moved to Virginia in 2000, and didn't attend any church after relocating. Then I got divorced in 2005 and remarried to my current wife in 2007. When she got pregnant with our first child in 2009, we decided to go back to church to raise our kids in religion. She was raised Catholic but had a 'been there, done that' mentality about Catholicism so we decide to attend an Episcopal church, The Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, VA. I didn't really care, as I was disillusioned with religion anyway. We've been attending ever since. At the same time I started my study of Dudeism and I became an ordained Dudeist priest.

I remember my days of going to Mormon services and trying to figure out why people diligently went to church. There were a handful of people who believed in the Mormon dogma and was the reason they attended, but I felt most were there to socialize with like-minded people. There was an air of artificial credence. The kids were there mostly there because their parents made them go, but the social aspect also compelled them to return a couple times a week as many had church friends. I grew to despise the social aspect of church attendance. I felt people should go because they believe in the doctrine and not to hang out with their friends. I felt it was disrespectful to the institution and the leaders, like those socializing were wasting the true believers time and using up the church's resources. I felt it gave the church a bad name.

It took me a long time to get over my negative feelings about the social aspect of religion. The turning point was when I realized why I eagerly go to church now-I want to see my friends! I've made some great friends through the Young Family Ministries group (YFM) at Good Shepherd. If the social aspect of church is what gets a dude like me to go to church, not to mention the primary reason why many go to church, then I say more power to it. It's better for me and my family to embrace the social aspect then to demonize it.

The Dude Abides.

Reverend Shock


S**t is getting healthy up in here, a.k.a. Shock v13

hers and his sick [running] kicks
***UPDATE 7/29/12: I'm officially calling this upgrade a hardware upgrade since I'm working on my exterior a.k.a my body, as well as my interior, e.g. my mind. Previous upgrades have been software updates, completely ignoring my hardware. ***

Turkey burger on a wheat bun. Light butter popcorn. Meditation classes. Couch to 5K (C25K) exercise program. Why am I listing these things? Because up until recently, the author of this blog would never think about partaking of or participating in such things. I scoffed at "healthy lifestyle" changes. But I've turned over a new leaf. Shock version 13 (v13) is born! Some people know I jokingly refer to significant changes, or as I like to call them "upgrades", in my life as new "versions". I don't remember when I started keeping track, but it was 13 iterations ago. What was the catalyst to the v13 upgrade? I weighed myself and didn't like the number. It's as simple as that. I had been planning to take meditation and yoga classes to help me chill out and relax. My wife found a free meditation class at a local yoga studio that happened to coincide with the exercising and diet changes. The best part about my exercising is that Jennifer is doing it with me. It was actually her idea, and I unexpectedly jumped on board. To celebrate our completion of the eight week C25K program, we're planning on running in a local 5K. Jennifer has also embraced the dietary changes. On her last grocery trip, she bought wheat bread and buns. Her text to me was "bought wheat bread. s**t is getting healthy up in here". :)


Happy Raging Against the Machine

In my ongoing series Rage Against the Machine, I explore my love/hate relationship with technology. This installment is in the love category. My wife's Macbook laptop recently died. I've seen how this scenario plays out-and the outcome is usually bad. She took it to the local Mac store for a quick and dirty (and also free) diagnosis. The genius said it needed a new hard drive. We had some Amazon credit and ordered a new HDD for the laptop. Low and behold replacing the hard drive fixed the computer! My wife was back in business. She didn't lose much since our important files are stored on an external hard drive. The OS and applications needed to be re-installed, but that was it. Happy ending.

I'm a Google junkie. I use almost all their cloud apps and I even have some of their Nexus hardware - a Nexus S smartphone. When they released details about their new 7" tablet - the Nexus 7 - I pre-ordered immediately. I actually ordered two. I can't have any gadget without my wife also wanting one. :) Two Nexus 7 tablets cost less than one iPad, so it was a no brainer. It's better than the Kindle Fire in my opinion - Nexus 7 has Bluetooth, Kindle Fire doesn't. It's supposed to ship in mid-July, which is now, but no word yet. The anticipation is killing me.


In the Buffer Zone

Last month we reached a goal that at times and to many seemed unreachable - we stopped living paycheck to paycheck. We obtained our buffer. Our awesome budgeting software "You Need a Budget" commonly referred to as "YNAB" defines buffer as "Your YNAB Buffer is the equivalent of one month’s income which, once saved, will allow you to use paychecks received during the current month for the following month, removing you from the “Paycheck to Paycheck” cycle." It's part four of YNAB's four rule methodology. Rule four "Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck" is "A money management methodology that removes you from the paycheck to paycheck cycle and allows you to live on last month’s income. Income earned in the current month is not budgeted or spent until the following month." To learn more about YNAB's methodology, check out the method page. Rule Four will explain how to use YNAB to stop living paycheck to paycheck.

Obtaining our buffer wasn't easy. It only took 26 months!  It took that long because of various reasons- I didn't understand how to use the software properly until I started taking the classes (YNAB has killer support). That put me on the right track after a few months. But my balances were off, until the error checking feature was introduced and that fixed my balances. Then I was unemployed for 5 months and spent all my emergency fund savings to pay my bills and feed my family. Finally, with a tax refund and three instead of two paychecks in March (thank you bi-weekly pay periods), I was able to finally get a buffer.

Two months in and it ain't all flowers and kittens. We've overspent our budget the past couple of months. But we're still living on last months income. The best part is we never look at our bank account balance anymore. We use our budget to determine if we can buy something. However we are constantly moving money around categories to balance the budget, something YNAB users affectionately call "whack a mole".

Few people like living on a budget. It's a struggle, but once you get in the "buffer zone" it's liberating. The monkey is off my back.


Four years of car free living

Last Thursday, April 5 marked the fourth anniversary of being a one car family, give or take a couple of months. ;) I look forward to marking the anniversary every year. This is one anniversary that is truly earned and I am proud of. Living in the DC metro region makes it easy, with it's ample public transportation. But it's not without its challenges. Having gone back to school to earn my certificate in Certified Financial Planning, my class meets on Wednesday evenings from 7pm until 10pm. The campus is right off one of the subway stops on my commute, which is convenient, but the class ending so late at night means I miss the last bus that I take from my subway stop to my neighborhood. On non school days, my wife picks me up from the subway. But my son is in bed by the time I get out of class. So I drive to my subway stop on Wednesday mornings to ensure I have a ride home. That leaves my family with no car. My wife has made the best of it, deeming it "pajama Wednesdays". She and my son make it a lazy day. Other than that, we are never really in need of two cars. We've made the best of the situation for four years. Here is to four more. :)


The Year of the Dragon

Enduring a lengthy unemployment stint and the subsequent job search last year got me thinking long term about my career. I had become burned out working in information technology as a web developer but make a good living doing it. You hear lots of people saying they don't like their jobs for one reason or another. But you also hear about dream jobs and "doing what you love". Jennifer got a degree in a field that she loves - art education. It doesn't mean she's automatically going to find a job , but it got me thinking "what do I love and can I make a career out of it?" Back when I first started college I thought I wanted a job in broadcasting, but found out it's only fun as a hobby, not as a career. I jumped on the IT bandwagon and never looked back-until now. The reality is most hobbies don't translate well into careers. Having a family, being the sole income earner for the next few years, having a mortgage and facing the reality of paying Jennifer's student loan debt for at least the next decade presents a massive roadblock to a career change. But that doesn't mean I can't prepare for it. I read the free daily news publication Express on the subway on my commute. Most of the ads are for higher education institutions touting their graduate degree and certification programs. The majority are MBA or international relations programs that don't interest me. But one caught my eye - the University of Virginia's Certificate in Certified Financial Planning. It's a classroom instruction program taught during the week in the evening at their satellite campus in Falls Church, VA which is just a few subway stops away from my house. Personal finance is one of my two main hobbies (the other being poker) and the only one of the two that I could legitimately turn into a career. One of my close friends did it. The program is a pay-as-you-go program and reasonably affordable so I can pay for it out of my pocket and not have to get financial aid. The program consists of seven classes that can be completed in 18 months. I applied to the program and registered for my first course, the intro fundamentals class. I had my first class last night.

To become a CFP one must:

  1. Complete the education requirement - complete a CFP Board registered education program and have a bachelors degree from an accredited university. The UVA CFP program is registered with CFP Board. I have a bachelors degree from Georgia State.
  2. Pass the CFP Certification Exam - that's what I'm taking the courses for!
  3. Meet the experience requirement - At least three years of qualifying full-time work experience are required for certification. Qualifying experience includes work that can be categorized into one of the six primary elements of the personal financial planning process. I don't have any work experience in any of the six primary elements, but I hope to start gaining that experience later this year.
  4. Pass a background check - It shouldn't be a problem for me as I've held multiple government security clearances over my career.
  5. Pay the certification fee - of course!

I'm looking forward to my new career in financial planning. However, I'm not letting my IT career fall by the wayside while I'm still in the industry. My company has a great education and training program. Every employee gets $3000 per year towards work related training. I signed up for two ColdFusion courses last year but both were cancelled due to low enrollment. Turns out I was the only one enrolled in both! This year I've signed up for a Java programming class. Hopefully that won't be cancelled. I'm going to be busy learning this year. I haven't been busy learning in a long time. I'm up for the challenge.