Monthly Archives: April 2012
First things first: watch Middle Men. It isn’t always easy to pick a movie for two, and our areas of interest don’t often converge: my boyfriend likes historical/epic/adventure/Fast and Furious and I like gritty/dark/foreign language. But we have a few common themes we can always agree on. So when we saw the Netflix description of Middle Men that included “entrepreneur” “billing for online porn” “FBI” and “Russian mobsters”, we knew we had a winner for the night. The comedic timing of Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht is brilliant (“Tell that to the judge” “Judge, we’re not pedophiles!”), Laura Ramsey has the screwed-up but outwardly smooth and confident young porn star down to a t, and you’ll be rooting for Luke Wilson to make it. The backstory on this “almost true story” is just as interesting, and it’s surprising it made less than $800,000 at the box office, when much worse movies have done so much better.
On to education: I often
preach talk about how important it is to educate oneself. A self-directed education is the best way to open new paths for your life. I never got passionate about learning and understanding new ideas until after I graduated college. I liked learning but only in a general, passive way. I was usually thinking more about when class would be over, who I needed to strategically run into, whether the snack bar was still serving french fries and other weighty collegiate matters. But in any case, I learned what I was taught. I did not go out and seek new things to learn, study subjects I knew nothing about and find out things about movements or industries that continue to shape our society. But after college, it was up to me to decide what I needed to learn. And I have been learning: at work, in discussions and meetings with leaders of the industry, through classes and a lot of reading.
But I am in a place where I need to take my education and professional development to the next level and I want to take advantage of the online resources that put entire courses, complete lectures and some of the greatest works of man online, making them free and available to all. I am still amazed and grateful for the vastness of the internet. I want to devote some time each day to personal development and these sites are all great places to start.
Websites for Learning Skills, Topics and Languages Online
Khan Academy is great for quick learning episodes you’d like to insert into your life. No signup required, just find a video you like and start watching. How about an introduction to the income statement? Over 3,000 free videos on topics from finance to the humanities are online.
Mango Languages offers language learning online for 22 languages, and each languages has at least one college semester worth of material available. The County of Los Angeles library system offers free access to the site for all residents, as do many other libraries and local governments. Request it at your library if you don’t already have it!
Coursera is a new initiative from Stanford with Penn, Princeton and University of Michigan also joining to create high quality online courses that are free to everyone. It’s pretty incredible to think you can take a free Computer Science 101 course from Stanford, right now and be watching the video less than two minutes after signing up. There are videos, assignments and exercises. I have signed up for CS 101 but also have my eye on Game Theory and Greek and Roman Mythology.
MIT Opencourseware has nearly complete resources on actual MIT undergraduate and graduate courses. You can view the syllabus, lectures, assignments and videos for courses. While it may not cover all of the course contents, you can work through the materials at your own pace and take the course on your own.
Skillshare is an online resource for finding offline classes. This one isn’t free, but the cool concept is that anyone can take any class or teach any class. You could set up a 2-hour session in a park to teach technical writing, sewing, conversational Mandarin or whatever you wanted. You can charge any amount (I’ve seen classes from $20 to $1495) and you just need to get people to sign up for your class. What could you teach? Check the site to see if Skillshare is in your city – if it’s not, they are still a small startup and are looking for ambassadors to begin initiatives in new cities!
Those are just a few that I’ve stumbled upon. I know there are hundreds more out there–what’s your favorite online resource that makes you feel smarter? I’d love to hear them!
Another slip-up month. I was going to cheat and not post until next month, but I realized I have to be honest with myself (since the updates are mid-month now, I skipped March and went right to April). I have to post regularly scheduled updates. Between the big East Coast trip and taking care of a few annual expenses, I fell behind by quite a bit this month. My goals for the month were under $32,000 in debt and $500 in savings. Well, I missed the debt mark and have just over $400 in savings. The cool thing has been transferring little amounts of money to my savings. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything and I don’t want to make any withdrawals from savings again, which I haven’t done since January.
I have been working a lot, which is why I haven’t been writing as much, but I’m happy to be working. However, it’s still painfully obvious to me that I do not have enough income. I am not ungrateful for what I have, but I see a dizzying stretch of sameness if I do not push myself to the next income level. I’ve cut expenses as far as I can: I track my spending, I don’t drink or smoke and I spend most of my extra time feverishly working on something that could be big. But right now I’m just tired. I’ve been at this for a year and I still feel like I can’t get ahead. The worst part is that while my overall debt level has gone down, my credit card balances have stayed high, and the high balance card just stays in the same thousand-dollar range.
I could have said no to my friend and not been a bridesmaid in her wedding. That would have saved me around $1,000. But then I would have spent the rest of my life seeing my friends’ pictures and remembering that I wasn’t a part of that wedding. Just another snapshot in the alumni magazine of someone else’s joy. But I shared in that joy and this is one couple who I am not worried about making it. Their relationship and friendship has been a source of strength for our little circle and I love them and I wouldn’t have missed that wedding unless I’d gotten shot, and even then, I would have tried to make it if the bullet hadn’t hit any vital organs. I only have a handful of friends that would ask me to be bridesmaids in their weddings, and this was the first of those. And let’s be honest, the other three have all told me they’re either not having a wedding or are going to ask me to be present with them when they go to a Justice of the Peace (and maybe a Denny’s afterwards). So was this a once-in-a-lifetime event? Probably!
So right now, right in this moment, I’m a little tired of all the hustling and tracking and planning and managing. But if I let myself relax and just do them anyways, they don’t seem so stressful. So my goal for May is to get under $32,200 in debt and work on increasing my income. I’ll report next month on specific things I did to increase my income and how it turned out. I’m not going to set any savings goal for the month because I am comfortable with my savings rate. With my income just barely meeting my expenses, I have been committed to saving whatever I can and will continue with that until I break this threshold. That’s what I have been seeing this as: I’m hovering at a certain income level and I need to break this threshold to get to the next level where I envision that small cushion between income and expenses as the most comfortable, microsuede-upholstered chaise lounge ever. I’ve been here for nearly six months (at this income level) and I’ve been telling myself to keep going and not get discouraged. I have to believe that and believe in myself. I have the skills, the enthusiasm and the ability to make more money. It’s going to happen. But if I get down on myself, I won’t be able to figure out how. A wise rapper named Too $hort once said:
I know you tired of being broke just hanging out
You gotta lot a dreams but you can’t get out
The first thing you need to do is set yourself some goals
Think positive, everything else is old
and work hard, never stop hustlin’
I will be gettin’ it! On with the bad news:
Smallest Debt (February/March 2012): $4,169
Smallest Debt (April 2012): $4,343
Next month will be better.
Total Debt Update:
April 2012: $32,872
% Change from February/March: 1.0% Increase (Bad Girl!)
I’m not beyond reproach, but I don’t pretend to be that way.
As the second-largest public school district in the country, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has one of the worst reputations around in nearly every respect. There’s the dismal graduation rate (around 56%), poor academic performance, way-too-easy teacher tenure (most other school districts in California have a more comprehensive evaluation process) and an insane $19 billion construction bond program. That $19 billion (spread across several bond measures) has created some impressive architecture (like the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools that cost $578 million and looks like it belongs on the Las Vegas Strip or the Visual and Performing Arts School at a comparatively cheap $228 million) but little in the way of academics.
In fact, I’ve never seen a school district care so little about academics as LAUSD. They proved it again this week with their announcement that the Board will seek to lower graduation requirements in the number of credits required (from 230 to 170 units) and eliminate requirements to take elective courses. Some of the news was misreported, as their Facebook page points out. The current passing grade for college-prep courses at LAUSD is a ‘D’ and the proposal would raise the passing grade to a ‘C’ in 2017, which is well overdue as I seriously doubt the value of being a high school “graduate” with a GPA between 1.0 and 1.9. But under the new proposal, students could theoretically be done with all of their graduation requirements sometime around junior year. Unless we’re questioning the entire system and shortening high school by a year (which I have nothing against), this new proposal will solve little: it makes an already easy curriculum easier for the above average students, and it coddles the below average students who would benefit from better instruction and a focus on developing critical skills, like reading comprehension, critical thinking and maybe even some basic personal finance skills. As a product of a California public school myself, I can tell you one thing: it’s already way too easy. I graduated among the top 50 in my 900-student senior class, and I’m not that smart. To quote Joe Rogan, “I know I’m stupid, but yet I’m smarter than almost everybody I meet.”
California public schools mean well, they really do, but dumbing it down and lowering requirements will just send graduates into the real world or college completely unprepared for the normal rigor and pace of things. Take the CAHSEE (California’s high school exit exam) for example. It was implemented the year after I graduated so I never had to take it, but the thing is frighteningly simple. Parents have described it as being at the 6th-7th grade level. Let’s look at its description straight from the California Department of Education website:
Students first take this test in grade ten. If they do not pass the test in grade ten, they have more chances to take the test. In grade eleven, they can take the test two times. In grade twelve, they have up to five times to take the test.
Yes, you read that right. You can take the “exit exam” beginning your sophomore year and you can take it EIGHT TIMES to get a passing grade. Come on! It’s just another requirement that was implemented by the state that meant well but ended up becoming more bureaucratic nonsense. Hey everybody, here’s a high school exit exam that is neither timed to be an exit nor much of an exam because you can retake the same damn test seven more times to pass it. This goes to the heart of my love-hate relationship with California. California wants so desperately to give everyone an equal chance and I admire that because I want that too, but it doesn’t happen like this. You either give the test or you don’t. You either have graduation requirements or you don’t. Don’t water it down.
LAUSD is claiming the new classes will be more rigorous, but only time will tell. The district is a behemoth that serves 900,000 students, has 80,000 employees and more than 1,000 schools. It’s just too big and unwieldy to manage effectively. The Board is a huge power play and its members are career politicians. I want the best opportunities for these students and not just improved statistics. Smaller districts with more focused priorities would make a greater difference for the students. $19 billion is an awful lot to spend on a school district with a less than 60% graduation rate and plans to set the bar even lower for its students.
“Cressida has smoothed everything over in the creative department with her gesture. Praised Fulvia for what is, in fact, a really good idea, and cleared the way to continue her own on-air depiction of the Mockingjay. What’s interesting is that Plutarch seems to have no need to share in the credit. All he wants is for the Airtime Assault to work. I remember that Plutarch is a Head Gamemaker, not a member of the crew. Not a piece in the Games. Therefore, his worth is not defined by a single element, but by the overall success of the production.” -Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Plutarch Heavensbee, strategic planner extraordinaire! I like getting big ideas from dystopian children’s novels. But seriously, this was about the deepest thing I’ve come across in the Hunger Games books. I love this idea. It can apply to everything from how you work, to how you see your role in life and all the way to how you manage your money.
Even though getting out of debt gets you caught up in the details, it’s even more challenging to move on from the details and visualize your bigger picture. For a while, you have to focus on the little stuff because that IS a part of changing the patterns and attitudes that got you into debt in the first place. But it’s not about being petty, it’s about building good automatic habits so that you don’t have to focus solely on details. Every now and then you can ask yourself, “What would Plutarch Heavensbee do? Am I still winning the game or am I just fighting to take home scraps (or not get killed in the arena)?”
I’d like to think I’m moving towards pulling the whole production off as a big success and not as worried about getting credit for my every move. But I know I get caught up in wanting credit for lots of things I do and feel like I’m spending way too much time on petty stuff. If I can remember I’m doing that, if I realize just how narrow my focus is, I can usually take a step back and reassess the situation.
What’s the goal of YOUR production? It definitely doesn’t need to be money-related (although money might help you get there!)