Alex's Alliterative Adventures

Thoughts on Programming, Life, and Travel

Archive for March, 2009

Saved from the jaws of shame

From the mouth of a fool:

Hell, I even wrote a blog post to create LIMITLESS SHAME if I don’t sign up for a bank account by the end of the month. Now, I don’t have to read those webpages, but I’ll sure feel pretty dumb if I don’t.

Last week I submitted an application for a DKB account after reading the last of the poorly-translated pdf’s, and gave myself a pat on the back for meeting my deadline of March 31st. For bonus points, my roommate delivered the mail with an hour left in the day: Read more

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With a little help from my friends

A bike trip can be strengthened or destoyed by your relationship with your friends. You’re all in this together, so when they suffer, you suffer. You’ll never be able to block out their whining for an entire week. That’s why I need to make sure that my friends ride in comfort.

This is why it’s critical to invest in a few good pairs of bike shorts. They let your friends breathe, and keep friendly friction to an absolute minimum. If the internet is to be believed, quality shorts are one of a cyclist’s most important pieces of gear.

That’s not all the internet has to say about the matter. I’ve been doing a lot of questionable googling recently, and apparently it’s very important to let your friends have an intimate, trusting relationship with your shorts. No barriers, no judgement, and most importantly, no underwear.

I’m not the jealous type, so that’s fine with me. I know that my friends need room to breathe. But like a protective mother, I’m worried about my friends. A speed dating session in a sports-store changing room seems like a great place to meet interesting shorts, but what about safety? Those sports store shorts get around. I don’t like thinking about how many other men have pulled this very pair of shorts over their sweaty, hairy friends.

I guess meeting new shorts always comes with risks. I just have to let my friends run free, and live life on the wild side.

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More potential for public humiliation

A Canadian has promised to pay me a visit in June, and we’re currently smoothing out a plan to bike around Germany. I’ve always wanted to do a proper bike trip, I can safely file this in the Pretty Damn Awesome category. We have our sights on Germany’s Romantic Road, a chain of cities that ends at the castle that inspired Cinderella. We’ll cover around 350 km (dreihundertfünfzig) in 10 days. We’ll cover around 50 km on the longest day, with racks loaded with enough equipment to survive ten nights in hostels.

I have no idea of how to properly plan a bike trip, but my gut is telling me that if I want to pedal a weighted bike for 10 straight days, I’m already behind in my non-existant training schedule. My legs enthusiastically agree. The internet tells me that my ass should be screaming in terror, but it’s currently passed out, beaten and bruised, from the first day of real biking in months.

To prove (or disprove) the motivating power of public humiliation, I’m going to let the entire internet judge my training. I’ll log my workouts in a public google spreadsheet. You can use it for drinking games, you can forward it to all of your friends (you’ll have good luck if you send it to at least five people!), or you can just feel sorry for how badly I’ll embarass myself when I fail. Or maybe, just maybe, you could even give me some advice. Who knows, maybe I’ll even listen.

Oh, and to make it interesting, my bike is in Canada.

Until May.

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Controlling your barriers

I currently pay €2.50 in bank fees every month for an account that earns almost no interest. I’m used to free Canadian bank accounts which earn 2-4% interest, so paying money for nothing drives me crazy. I want to open a free, high interest account as soon as I can, but I’ve hit an active barrier: all of the legal text is in German. It’s an easy barrier to overcome: I can translate the documents online, and there are only a few pages to read. But just the thought of all of that work has made made a simple task stick around for weeks while I keep losing money.

Ramit recently wrote a fantastic guest post on get rich slowly about barriers, like these German webpages, that influence the way you think. I’m a notorious procrastinator, so I know that this roadblock will always make me want to read “later”. So I make the roadblock smaller: I keep the translated pages open on my work machine, so they’re always in my face when I’m waiting for my machine to build. I also emailed them to myself, and they’re sitting ugly and bold in my inbox. Even if I only read a couple of paragraphs a day, at least I’m reading something and getting a little bit further.

Ramit focuses on how barriers can get in the way of doing what you really want. But since barriers have such a shockingly strong effect on our beheviour, why not use them for good instead of evil? This is why I launched my secret weapon: I run my mouth. I create a passive barrier for myself when I tell everyone who will listen that I’ve found these awesome banks, and that I’m signing up right away. Once I’ve told people I’m about to do something awesome, fear of looking bad gives me all the motivation I need. Hell, I even wrote a blog post to create LIMITLESS SHAME if I don’t sign up for a bank account by the end of the month. Now, I don’t have to read those webpages, but I’ll sure feel pretty dumb if I don’t.

Schedule a homecooked meal with your friends to avoid eating out. Put a bowl of fruit on your desk, and put the chips and chocolate in a box behind the washing machine in the basement. Put your workout clothes on top of your laptop. Record your impulse buys on a public webpage for all of your friends to see. Make it physically or emotionally taxing to slack off, and make it painfully easy to stick to your guns.

All of us are lazy procrastinators. We’ll get tempted, we’ll forget our priorities, and we’ll just make bad decisions. So accept it, plan for it, and use your weaknesses to achieve things you used to only daydream about.

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My home gym

My roommate installed a chinup bar in the hall. It challenges me every time I leave my room, begging for one quick pull. When I shower, when I get home, when I brush my teeth…

When I pass under the gauntlet, I’m usually in a rush, or I’m dead tired, or I’m just particularly fascinated by yet another hole in my dwindling supply of socks. But it catches my eye once a day or so, and I become locked in gravitational combat with my unyielding foe. He drops me to the ground, a lifeless husk, my arms reinforcing the stereotypically geeky physique I so rightly deserve.

But I’m gaining ground. A month ago I was shaking after one pull. Yesterday I did 10 after showering and 5 more with a backpack before heading downstairs for breakfast. I’m still not in shape, but it’s a great way to regain the strength that parkour demands.

When my roomie and I eventually part ways, I gotta get me one of these:

Chinup bar

Picross is no more

I finally beat Picross DS.

My life’s to-do list just got a little bit shorter.

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Counting in German

One of the strangest parts about German is counting. Things start out simple enough: Eins, zwei, drei…

Like most other languages, German has a system for the two digit numbers above twenty (zwanzig), only the Germans decided to mix things up a bit. Instead of saying twenty-one, you flip it around, and say one-and-twenty (einundzwanzig), like some ancient founding father whose car got 40 rods to the hogshead.

Things get worse when you start using larger numbers. German’s notoriously long words are usually compound words on steroids, since German encourages you to pair up any remotely related words, like some kind of redneck singles club. If you ask a English salesman about the price of a new car, he might tell you that it costs twenty-four thousand three hundred ninety-five Euros. A German would say this:

“Das Auto kostet vierundzwanzigtausenddreihundertfünfundneunzig Euro.”

word by word, that’s four-and-twenty-thousand-three-hundred-five-and-ninety. Simple, no?

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Not yet the b-word

I’ve always been relatively carefree with money. Not only do I pay my bills on time, but I graduated from university with no debt to speak of. I even managed to sneak in a couple of flights to Europe without breaking the bank. My mom always told me to floss and keep a balanced checkbook, but since I can get by without keeping my money on a tight leash, I figured that budgeting is like studying: a good idea that’s probably more effort than it’s worth.

But a few months ago, I started flossing. I don’t mean the half-hearted, weeklong fling I’ve done so many times before. My name is Alex McCarthy, and I’m a Daily Flosser. It’s been something like 4 months now, which crosses the line from new years resolution to bona fide habit.

My old way of life was crumbling down around me, with firm gums opening the floodgate of full-blown fiscal responsibility. My head was spinning when I renegotiated my bank fees (in German, no less). My heart still pounds with excitement whenever I think about my monthly cell phone bill (15 Euros a month for unlimited landline and network calls). But it wasn’t until I started hanging around with the pushers (personal finance blogs) that I started to think about hitting the hard shit: budgeting.

At its core, budgeting is about planning where you want to spend your money, and keeping yourself in line. The trouble is, I know that I pay rent every month, but after that it gets a little hazy. I created a Wesabe account to figure out exactly where my paycheck disappears to every month:

Wesabe - my spending breakdown from November 2008 - February 2009

I started by uploading a list of transactions from Deutsche Bank using XL2QIF, and I’ve recorded my cash transactions for the past few weeks. A few hundred Euro crawled out of my wallet before I started tracking what I was spending, so I’ve flagged the missing funds as MIA.

Here’s where Wesabe gets interesting:


Now, these numbers are pretty rough, since I extrapolated my lunch costs for January and February. But I’m spending around 60 Euro per month on lunch alone, which seems shockingly high. I’m not ready to actually make a budget, but it’s definitely time for the home-made sandwich to make a comeback.

And the earnings (green) vs. spending (blue) graph makes me feel all warm and fuzzy:

Wesabe - Earnings (green) vs. Spending (blue) from 2008 - 2009
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