Sunday, May 25, 2008

What I'm Reading Now ...

I decided to start a new feature, where I list over on the side "What I'm Reading Now."

I think it's a fun glimpse into "me" and what I'm doing at this moment.

Given that I'm almost always reading, what I'm reading is a pretty good indication of my mood.

Sci-Fi / Fantasy is my preferred reading, (as you can see, right now I'm reading A Darkness At Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist), but I also read fun things, like Janet Evanovich and her "By the Numbers" novels featuring inept bounty hunter Stephanie Plum.

We'll get to everyone in time ...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Vampires Give Way To Elves

Well, not exactly.

Laurell K. Hamilton writes not only the Anita Blake vampire hunter novels, she also has a series about elves.

These are not your touchy-feelie, short, pointed ears, feel-good elves. These are a bit darker, but fun nonetheless.

Meredith Gentry is really Princess Meredith of Faerie, but she ran away after her father was killed during the normal course of Faerie politics. Meredith, or Merrie, has been hiding in Los Angeles, posing as a human with a little bit of Fey blood, and makes her living as a member of an elite detective agency, specializing in supernatural problems.

Merrie's aunt is Queen of the UnSeelie Court of Faerie. The UnSeelie Court takes in all the darker members of Faerie, what most of the Seelie Court would consider monsters. Merrie's cousin, Prince Cel, wants to kill Merrie, and is trying to take over the court.

In this story, elves do not have children often, and generally do not marry without a baby on the way already. Because Merrie and Cel are the only members of the royal family left, and the elves' powers are tied to the health (and fertility) of the ruler, the aging Queen declares a contest: whoever gets pregnant first, Cel or Merrie, will become the next King or Queen of the UnSeelie Court.

Merrie's world is rather bloody, and again she's not afraid of sex (Merrie is descended from elves who were worshiped as sex goddesses and gained power through their worship). All the time spent in the bedroom is somehow more acceptable to me (even though there's a LOT of it). Maybe it's because it was presented as a "normal" part of Merrie's supernatural powers, evolving and also growing in strength as her character develops.

A very good read, and I am anxiously awaiting more from Merrie's world.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vampires

I love vampire stories, and I almost always enjoy stories about them. Plus, as I said, I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, so I'm open to even modern day vampire stories.

Ask someone about vampire novels, and you're almost guaranteed to hear about Dracula. He was probably the first vampire I ever heard of, when I was in 5th grade or so. I couldn't figure out why it was supposed to be such a great story. My problem was probably due to an abridged version of the novel.

Vampires are lots of fun. Different authors have different ways of presenting them, and the various vampire hunters. Sometimes the vampires are true villains, as Dracula was presented, and sometimes the vampires are almost human, like in the next series I'm going to talk about.

If you limit yourself to Dracula, you're missing out on a great variety of vampire novels. Laurell K. Hamilton writes a really great series about a character named Anita Blake.

Anita lives in one of those altered realities. In her case, just a few years before the first novel opens, vampires and other creatures made their presence known to humans, and the Supreme Court of the US declared them legitimate citizens.

This, of course, presents a number of problems for humans. In Anita's world, people who rise as vampires sometimes face difficulties with inheritance issues - specifically the vampire's heirs don't want to give the money back.

A major problem though, stems directly from the fact that as citizens, vampires cannot be killed without it being considered murder. This lead to vampire hunters needing a warrant to kill vampires, and also the hunters are now legally "executioners." It also semi-legalized the vampire hunters, who had previously been more or less bounty hunters.

Their new legal status doesn't stop vampires from being evil though, and the books are very entertaining. They really draw you in as Anita tries to stay alive and live through the various vampire politics.

Laurell K. Hamilton has done a good job with Anita. I really enjoy her world, although I feel the need to warn you: as Anita's story progresses through multiple novels, she starts to reallly like to have sex. So if you don't enjoy that, you probably will give up on Anita's later novels. Fair warning.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Historical Novels

As I've said before, I really love fiction. My library runs heavy to Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

I do have some 'historical' novels. At an early age my mom started me on the "Little House On The Prarie" books.

When I was 7 or so I was given the whole box set, and pretty much devoured them. From then on, I read them over and over again. Never liked the TV show, though.

This love actually came in handy in 5th grade. That year, we had to do a report on some person in history, and then we had to give an oral report, in character, to the class. That meant you had to dress up like the character and everything.

Let me tell you, this was the easiest assignment I had to do yet. All I had to do was hit one encyclopedia (no internet then) and find out when Laura Ingalls Wilder was born and died, and I wrote that essay in no time.

Dressing up was actually kind of fun. My mom sewed Halloween costumes for us for several years, so she found a pattern to make a sun bonnett and a long skirt, and she used a calico fabric. White shirt, mary jane shoes, and presto: Laura Ingalls Wilder lived!

I don't know that the "Little House" books are actually historical novels. They're not exactly gospel for what went on during that time in history. I would almost call them "historical fiction," except that implies a more entertaining type of story - usually some sort of altered history, à la Anita Blake the vampire hunter, and the altered reality there.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pursuing Passions (part 2)

In 10th grade, we were reading "The Adventures of Huck Finn," one of those required reading things. The teacher was actually pretty understanding of the fact that this was not a book any of us would choose to read for fun, so she departed from what was the norm in previous grades. Instead of assigning us multiple chapters to read by a certain date (and then the whole class cramming right before class starts) she took time each day and had the class read out loud. This was popular, since it meant no (or at least very little) homework, so nobody complained.

In Huck Finn, there one of the characters is a slave named Jim. Now, being a slave, he was uneducated, and Mark Twain saw fit to write Jim's dialogue with lots of apostrophes and missing consononts. Jim's dialogue read as an uneducated black man of the time would have sounded. So, when reading Jim's part out loud, many of my classmates had a great deal of difficulty reading his lines.

I remember one day in class, reading ahead as usual, with my finger marking my place. Suddenly I hear a girl named Kim saying, "Oh, this is too hard. Have LadyCiani, read it. She's better at it." From then on, it somehow became my job to read out loud when other people were having difficulty with Jim's dialogue.

Maybe I should have been resentful of gaining extra work, but all I can remember is feeling relieved. Now I wouldn't have to listen to people butcher the story any more!

And I guess that's what it comes down to. I love stories so much, I'll read most anything. Give me a good book, and I'll plop myself down in a chair and not see the light of day until it's done.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pursuing Passions (part 1)

Books have always been a passion of mine.

I don't know exactly when I learned to read. I don't actually remember anyone reading to me and being unable to follow along with the words. That suggests I learned at a fairly young age, I think.

In Kindergarten (age 5), I remember already knowing the alphabet, and knowing that 'lmnop' was not actually one word, but separate letters. Maybe that put me ahead of the curve?

Our first 'book' in Kindergarten was a story about a king, who cried many tears. So many tears that his country filled up with water, and in the pictures the people were always climbing higher and higher to stay out of the new 'sea' created from the King's tears.

Somehow this book was to teach us Kindergarteners our letters, because each chapter began with a new letter. Or maybe featured a letter, I don't really know anymore.

In first grade I remember being able to write. I distinctly remember one of the room moms (somebody's mother was always volunteering time in the classroom, helping the teacher) saying to me, "Oh, you already understand the difference between 'would' and 'wood.'" This, to me, was strange, because obviously they were different. They were spelled differently, so of course they meant different things!

I think my early love for reading gave me an edge in school. In second grade we all had to take turns reading out loud. I always hated this, because most of my class sounded incredibly stilted, and listening to them was frustrating to me, because by the time it was my turn to read out loud I had always skipped ahead and finished reading the story.

In 10th grade this advantage to reading out loud came back.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Loving Nifty Features

Just a quick note to say I really like this "Schedule a post" thing Blogger just started.

It's really convenient, easy to use, and it has made it possible for me to update semi-regularly so far.

Keep these cool features coming!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Finishing Richly

Now, I'll say right off the bat that I'm not writing about this particular book because I'm paid for it. As I wrote previously, I have a bit of a passion about the topic of women and their money, and I think this book deserves recognition.

I'm cynical enough to recognize that David Bach has an empire that he's building based on his "Finish Rich" books. And I'll also admit that if you've read one of his books, you've probably read them all. They do get kind of repetitive, with the people only changing names from book to book, but the situations remaining much the same.

However, I specifically mention this book in regards to finance because I tried to read several other books on women and money, and his was the only one that didn't read like a text book.

Smart Women Finish Rich is quite entertaining. It raises a lot of good points, about the state of finances in America today. Think about it: when was the last time you had a discussion with your mom and dad about how much money they make? Are you squirming just thinking about how that conversation would go? You're not alone. A lot of Americans are deeply in debt, even in foreclosure on their homes, because they never learned how to handle their money. We think our parents are supposed to teach us everything, but honestly, most parents don't talk to their kids about money, which means the kids don't learn how to handle their money, and end up in financial trouble.

Are you already in debt up to your eyeballs? This book gives you a new outlook on money. It really teaches you that money is a tool, and how powerful that tool can be when you use it correctly. This book encourages you to pay down debt, pay cash for things, and teaches you how to be in control of your finances, so you can make a better life for yourself.

The way I describe this book to people is: "It talked about things I didn't know I didn't know."

Did you follow that? What I mean is this: before I read this book, I knew I should have life insurance, if for no other reason than my family could afford to stick me in the ground someday.

What I didn't know before this book was how to determine how much, or what kind, to buy. Heck, I didn't know there were different kinds of life insurance! So, like I said, this book told me something I didn't know that I didn't know. And here's another thing, too: If you don't know about something, you don't know what questions you should be asking.

So what did I learn from this book? I learned what types of checking accounts I want to avoid - the kind with high fees - and that I should look for free checking accounts.

But that's kind of obvious, isn't it? What's the harder stuff I learned?

I learned that if I don't have dependents (children, family) who rely on me to provide for them, I probably need only a small amount of life insurance to take care of the costs of my final resting place.

I learned that when buying life insurance after you get married, consider that the surviving spouse will be grieving, and is probably not going to want to go back to work for a while. And no working means no income. So when buying life insurance at that point in time, consider buying enough insurance to replace not just ONE income, but enough to replace TWO incomes for about a year, so the surviving spouse has time to get his or her life back together, without worrying about how to pay bills. And while carrying life insurance on a child is controversial, if a child dies, the parents will want to have time off to grieve, and they can't do that at work, so it might be worthwhile to purchase life insurance on a child too.

I learned tha Prof. Bennett was right, and it was possible to retire a millionaire at 55, using the power of IRAs and compounding interest.

After reading this book I committed to myself that I wasn't going to rely on some else to take care of me. I was smart enough to realize that David Bach's words applied to me, too, and that if I relied on a man (dad, husband, son) to take care of me, I was in trouble, because people die, divorces happen (not to mention I wasn't married at the time, and still don't have any kids), and I was leaving myself open to financial ruin if I didn't address my future financial needs myself.

I went out and opened an IRA, started on my way to finishing rich.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Finance Takes Hold

Following up on my previous posts about work, I really should admit to being disappointed in myself for still being employed by a company that is trying to walk all over me. I'm committed to actively looking for a new position elsewhere.

Why am I disappointed in myself? For a number of years, I've advocated to the women around me that they should be in charge of their own financial situation. Their lives, their jobs, their careers. Women, in general, make less money than their male colleagues. While this is unfair, it is rooted not necessarily in blatant gender discrimination, but in the circumstances of a woman's life. Women tend to take time off of work during their careers, while men do not.

What do you mean? Men take vacations too, I can hear you say. But that's not the type of "time off" I'm talking about. What I'm talking about are the years that women stay home to care for their children, for their parents as they age, for their in-laws, etc. Few men do this.

These are noble causes to take time off from their career, and worthwhile causes. However, the fact remains that women are paid less because during the number of years they spend taking care of others, the men who are their colleagues are continuing to work, and continuing to get raises and cost of living increases. Meanwhile, when a woman goes back to work after an extended absence, she hires in at close to what she was making previously - which is now less than the men around her.

What brought about this need to advocate for women and finances? A class in college. The teacher was very good, she was the reason I went into the Marketing field. But what happened was that one of her class lectures really changed my perspective on work and money.

Prof. Bennett was a very interesting teacher. She had a semester long project, where we picked stocks at the beginning of the semester, and tracked their performance for about 10 weeks. We were to pretend we had $2,000 to buy stock, and then record how many shares we "bought," and their closing prices each day. At the end of the semester, we all wrote extremely boring essays on how our stocks performed. Then, Prof. Bennett talked to us investing for retirement.

I remember she started off talking about the math behind compounding interest, and the point that stuck with me had to do with IRAs. If you invest $2000 per year in an IRA from now (age early 20s) until you're 55, and you earn 10% to 12% interest, you can retire a millionaire by the age of 55.

What stuck with me was how she turned it around on us, saying, "I know you're thinking, what bank is going to pay me 12% interest? But here's the thing: your stock game? Most of you made 8% to 10% on your investments."

And that was how she related it back to me, that you can't rely on a bank, but because we were young enough to ride out the ups and downs of the stock market, we could eventually retire.

I wasn't ready to invest right at that point, but about 2 years later my dad retired at 50, because he had done exactly what Prof. Bennett talked about: he invested in a 401(k) plan from the time he was young, and he was actually able to retire comfortably, while still young enough to enjoy it.

This is when I decided I needed to expand my reading beyond fiction. I did some research, then went out and bought some books on women and investing. The best one, in my opinion, was a book by David Bach, called Smart Women Finish Rich.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On Work, and Why People Suck (part 2)

In spite of the salary freeze, I attempted to negotiate a pay increase to a Webmaster’s salary anyway. (This, I don’t regret. Nothing is hurt by asking. What I do regret is the person I had to deal with.)

When I began negotiations with the President of my company, I started by pointing to the value I bring to the company. In truth, I'm uniquely positioned. It really would take 2 people to replace me, because I have both product knowledge that is somewhat specialized, and the web knowledge (HTML, XHTML, and CSS) this company needs. I pointed to the value I bring, pointing out that the whole of the company's internet image (5 separate websites) comes out of my computer.

I asked for what I specifically said was not a cost of living increase, but an increase to reflect the duties and responsibilities I have been doing for the company. The President of the company (who is so technologically challenged it’s ridiculous) informed me in no uncertain terms that the company doesn’t need a Webmaster. And also, “I’m sorry if I was laughing and smirking while we were talking about the title, but until two weeks ago I had never heard of Webmaster. All I can think about is Dungeons and Dragons.”

Peoples of the interwebs, I kid you not, that is a direct quote. The man had never heard of a Webmaster before a month ago.

Huh? What? You’re going to give me a title, but because you don’t understand how the internet works you think it's nothing more than an empty title? And now you’re going to change my job description to Marketing Associate / Webmaster, but you’re not going to pay me to do two jobs?

Furious, trying (and failing) not to cry from frustration, I said I would discuss further with my manager other options instead of increased compensation, like reimbursement for classes, etc. President proceeded to tell me how he's so happy that people stay with this company. That unfortunately companies have to freeze salaries sometimes, but that he's proud of the loyalty people have to this company. He told me about one of the workers in the warehouse, who is the company's very first employee, and how that man is compensated far above what a warehouse packer should be, but he (the president) was not about to fire him and hire some kid who could be paid minimum wage, because that wouldn't be right.

I said I was disappointed, and that I would consider what the President said about the salary freeze, and decide whether or not I wanted to accept his title while gaining no additional compensation to match my responsibilities. I would decide whether or not to continue doing the website updating, etc., which I have been doing for the last year.

So, apparently that touched a nerve, because he told me he didn’t appreciate "having a gun held to his head," and he hopes I can be professional, and he’s sorry if I feel the need to leave and find another company, but he hoped if I did I would be professional and give them notice.

Uh huh. Right. We went from, “you can have a title, but the company doesn’t need a webmaster” and "we're so proud of our people we wouldn't consider laying someone off just to save costs" to “don’t you dare stop doing what you’re doing on a daily basis, because nobody else here can do it” and "if you need to leave, go ahead, but you're not getting money out of me."

Yeah, I feel the love around here.

As it stands now, I don’t have a pay increase. And, because my direct manager had a family emergency, I’m still doing Webmaster duties, with no pay increase in sight.

Why am I doing this? I feel bad for my manager. It’s not his fault the President doesn’t know how to do anything the least bit related to technology and computers. Plus, he is a good manager, and it is a legitimate family emergency. His infant son has been hospitalized off an on for most of a month. I'm trying to be patient. It’s just that meanwhile, my title, and my career with this company, are still up in the air.

And so, I am taking this whole scenario as a lesson. Don’t wait to ask for the money, because when you’re stupidly expecting everything to take care of itself, crap like salary freezes happen.

I'm also polishing my resume and starting the job hunt. I can't work for a President who is a so unwilling to negotiate that he's willing to hurt his company, and let talent go.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

On Work, and Why People Suck (part 1)

And just what took my attention away from my blog, and from reading in general?

Well, partly it’s work issues, and partly it’s a class I’m taking to help me with my chosen field.

The class is actually quite interesting. My job – well, that’s a bit of a sticky situation. I'll explain, but I'm not naming where I work, because that would probably be really stupid on my part.

I work in marketing (by choice!) but not sales. Most people would equate what I do with advertising, but that's not really accurate. I don't create ads or buy ad space in magazines. In general, I work with the rest of the marketing department to reach out to a sales field and increase sales. I don’t actually go out and close sales myself (thank goodness!).

I have been with the same company for three years now, and my position has evolved beyond the “Marketing Assistant” position I was hired to do. About 6 months ago, our Vice President asked me to build two websites for the company to use.

Now, “Marketing” doesn’t necessarily spell out “Web Site Builder,” but this is actually well within my skill set. And the Vice President knew it was, because I had built one site for the company already, about 2 years ago.

Naive me, I told him, yes, I can do this, but I want the title of Webmaster at my next review. Ok, great, fine.

The websites are released, with a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing from the sales field, a lot of “great job” pats on the back.

Review time rolls around. Now, I was not denied the position of Webmaster. But I feel stupid for not negotiating a pay increase that was directly related to the website production, instead of tied to “review time.” What happened? A company-wide salary freeze, right before my review.

(more tomorrow)


Friday, May 9, 2008

Respect for Bloggers Everywhere!

So, this blogging thing is much harder than I expected!

I turned around and suddenly realized it’s been almost a month since I last posted.

Apologies all around. I really thought I was doing well – I had a couple of written entries, and I had them saved in Blogger’s queue, all ready to go, and I was even going to keep to a sort of schedule. Except I didn’t.

The problem hasn’t been writing the entries. It’s been that once I used up the couple of articles in my queue I didn’t put any more in the queue, ready to go. Hmm, lesson learned, I think.

At the very least, I have a great deal more respect for the people who manage to update every day, or even every week!

Edit: I'm really excited! Blogger now has an option that allows you to write and save a post that you want to release in the future at a scheduled time. Cool!