Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Post-Birthday Photos

I went out and spent more birthday money yesterday. First for a haircut, which given our local temperatures I should have done a couple of months ago. My neck is much cooler now, thank you.

I hate spending money and time in the hair salon, and I have yet to find a stylist I can stick with. As a result, my hair will look really good for one day - pretty much until I wash it. Plus, I'm impatient about my hair, and I hate taking the time every day or every other day to dry and then style it. It just seems like a waste of time to me.

I've had the same hairstyle for a couple of years now, just so I could get the same look pretty much all the time. I more or less like to have smooth, pretty much straight hair. Last time I went with the hairdresser's suggestion to thin out my hair. Yeah, big mistake. When you have curly hair, don't agree to this! It made my hair wave in really odd places, and I was left feeling like I couldn't do anything with my hair, so I just stuck in in a ponytail and waited for it to grow out and recover from the terrible cut.

This time, I enjoyed myself a bit more. The cut went pretty quickly, and I didn't have to make small talk with a stranger/hairstylist for too long. My hair is still a bit longer than I would have liked - I couldn't convince her I actually wanted to go shorter. Next time I'll be a bit more insistent. Overall, though, I liked how it turned out. A good cut can do a lot for you.

The hairdresser had a nifty tool - a flat iron with ceramic plates. I liked the effect so much that I went out and bought my own. I swear it looks like my hair is glossier now. I've been fighting my hair the last few years with a round brush and curling iron, trying to tame the frizzies. The flat iron was really easy to use, and gave me the straighter hair that I've been aiming for. Totally worth the money.

I don't always like shopping, because it seems like I try on a lot of stuff and come home with very little, but I was actually in the mood to shop! After my haircut I went and spent some more birthday money. I had a gift card from my birthday last year that I needed to spend, so I took advantage of the shopping spree.

splorp! and I cook a lot, and I've been fighting our 8" skillet for a couple of years. It's one of those issues where the Teflon® coating got damaged, and now everything sticks to the pan. Technically, we shouldn't use pans with these coatings when we have a pet bird, because if the coating is damaged and burns it can give off really toxic fumes that can kill the bird. So, I replaced the pan. Voila: my new skillet!

We own a roasting pan and a griddle by the same company, and absolutely love them. The non-stick coating is integrated in the pan, so it's much harder to damage, and cleaning is so much easier. No more toxic fume danger.

And last but best, while I was out spending money, my dad came by with his tools and helped splorp! hang my floating shelves!

Desk and Floating Shelves
My Office Space Now

I told you I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! splorp! is the one who kindly arranged my pictures on the shelves. I liked the effect so much that I kept them.

Dad's visit had another effect: I had drywall dust all over my desk (the shelves are supported by screws drilled into the walls). Thus, I had to actually clean my desk, not just declutter. I like it a lot. It makes me feel like a grown up or something. Let's see how long it stays clean!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Webdesign Not Any Tme Soon

So, I mentioned that I put in a bid on developing a website for a guy who royally screwed up by using the wrong programs to develop his own site. Last time I spoke to him (over a week ago) he said he was going to consult with his wife/business partner the next day, and they'd call me.

Haven't heard back.

Now, the good little marketer and industrious business person in me is saying, "Hey! You need to call that guy and follow up with him!" because that's what the over-trained salesperson in me would do. The part of me that's tired of dealing with morons says, "No way! if he wants to try to haggle over a couple hundred dollars, it's his loss."

Because my job through college was in retail sales, and those people we call customers? They suck.

I've decided not to pursue this lead. Mostly because I have a bad feeling about the whole deal. When my former classmate called me about this job, she warned me that he was particularly frugal about this type of  all types of expense. And, yes, frugal is good, and yes, keeping costs down is good, and all that. But, that being said, this guy needs me and my skills much more than I need his lousy few dollars.

Also? I'm tired of business people who think they can do everything themselves and end up screwing it up, then don't want to pay to fix it. The president of my current company is famous for this, and it annoys me to no end. Just like this website guy wanting to negotiate my fee because he did the lay out already - never mind that his work is terrible and unusable, and I would still have to start from scratch to make his site work properly. Oh no, he doesn't want to pay full price because HE invested time and effort already. The implied statement being that my time and effort are worth less than his.

Now, I'm college educated (Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with the option of Marketing), and my point of view is that it's worth spending a little bit more money and getting it done right in the first place. Time is money in business, and if you waste a lot of time doing something wrong and then spend more time fixing it, you waste a lot more money than if you had paid someone to do it in the first place. This guy? Originally we went from, "How soon can it be done, because we want to get the website up quickly to attract customers quickly. A week would be ideal," to a delay of over two months now, half of which time the website he created has been sitting on the web, useless to most visitors and thus losing customers.

Oh, and you know how I have a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration? In the process of earning that important piece of paper, I learned that any type of expense for your business, like, I dunno, web site design, is an expense you can write off on your taxes.

And anyway, why would I want to do contract work for someone who doesn't understand or appreciate what I can do to improve his website's search rankings? Work that's included in the bid I put in, and which will make a world of difference in his website's outcome? It would mean taking time away from my husband, my family, and my life, just for a couple hundred dollars.

Yeah, I'm not desperate enough to put up with another moron, just for his money.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Miscellaneous Post-Birthday Thoughts

Book-shopping on my birthday was successful in that it resulted in the book I was missing from the Raymond E. Feist collection, so I'll finish off the review of that series soon.

Since I bought the book I was missing (Talon of the Silver Hawk), I went ahead and continued reading the rest of the series. Um, somehow I owned books two and three of that set, but now that I'm reading book three I don't remember any of it.

I definitely remember splorp! giving me book two for Christmas, but what's annoying is that I can't remember buying or getting the third book at all. I'm going to guess splorp! bought it for me at some time. Yea splorp!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Web Design In My Future?

I mentioned that as part of my desire to advance my career (and someday move on from my job) I took some Photoshop classes.

Well, back in late June, one of the women I met in class tracked me down through the teacher. Her boss was looking to create a website for a product he invented, and she immediately thought of me from our conversations in class (I have to admit I was a "bit" vocal in class about the benefits of Photoshop for website creation). Boss-man wanted a landing page website to advertise and attract customers for a product he created, and he didn't want to pay a whole lot of money.

Great! A landing page is a fairly simple website, it means extra money, and also something professional to build my portfolio, it's all good!

Anyway, I asked questions about images, number of pages, media content, who provides marketing text, and other stuff like that. Then I put in a bid to develop the website for them. I think my bid came in higher than boss-man was hoping, because they "decided to pursue other options at this time." Hey, when you prospect someone to develop a website, and ask "can it be done for about $100?" You should know that when you describe something as a "landing page," it is ONE page, not the five you actually want for the price of one. Guess what: the more pages you have me create? the further away from $100 you get.

So, they turned down my bid and opted to try to create the website themselves using Microsoft Publisher and FrontPage. Incidentally, these are programs that were so not designed to do what they tried to do with them.

Tuesday I got a call from the boss-man about the problems they are having. The result of their tinkering with programs they don't understand? A web page that works only in Internet Explorer, and which contains only broken links and text boxes in other browsers. And when I say other browsers, I mean ALL other browsers. Hmm, you think Microsoft (who owns Internet Explorer and Publisher and Front Page) could possibly be at fault? Nah, never!

I am sympathetic to their problem - by having a web page that only works in IE they're losing a third to a half of their internet-users-slash-potential-customers. Being in the marketing field, it's hard to sit by and see someone between a rock and a hard place, especially when they put themselves there.

So even though they called me, do they want to pay my fee? Still not so much. Boss-man is definitely hoping to negotiate a lower rate because, you know, he has "all this work done already, what with the layout being done in Publisher and all."

Uh huh, problem is that by going through two different Microsoft programs to lay it out and then "save as" and convert it to an HTML page, the two programs inserted a whole crap-load of proprietary code that works only with Internet Explorer - proprietary code which is the root cause of the website not displaying in other browsers. There's no hope I can salvage the existing code. It would actually be faster to re-create the page from scratch.

So, if I'm doing all the work of re-creating and re-coding the page from scratch anyway, tell me again why exactly should I drop my rate? Yeah, thought so. Especially when you would pay half again or double my rate for the same website from another freelancer. (Admittedly another freelancer might have a more impressive portfolio, but still, he doesn't want to pay my discounted rate - is he really going to pay the higher rate to get the same end result?)

Right now, that's the question: does he want to pay or not? I made it clear that I could use the images they created, and the colors they chose, but I'm not dropping my rate. Now he is conferring with is wife/business partner, and we'll see in a couple of days. Cross your fingers for me.

PS. Since I still might get the job, and I'm sort of making fun of them, I'm not naming the company. Bad taste, yaknow?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Photoshop Pro - of sorts

Just for fun, I wanted to show you what knowing some Photoshop can do for you.

Here we have the photo I showed the other day, of splorp! and I on my birthday.

LadyCiani and splorp!

It looks pretty good. Smiley people, looking at the camera, showing teeth, and everything.

For comparison, here's the original with a slightly different crop:

LadyCiani and splorp!

This is not so fun - yes it's the same photo, but we're amazingly red here, and very shiny on or cheeks, nose, and foreheads! We're not actually sunburned, it's just what the "auto" setting on a camera will do to you when you're in poor lighting, and the camera is actually held by one of the photo's subjects. splorp! was elected tripod duties, as his arms are a bit longer than mine. Compare not just our faces, but the color of the wall in the background, and you'll get a good idea of how much I cleaned up this photo.

Basically what I did was color correction to get rid of the worst of the red, and and a little bit of cloning to remove some of the shine on my cheeks. I left the shine that was buried in my eyebrows. Not because I wanted to look shiny there, but more because I couldn't remove the shine from that spot without removing part of my eyebrow. Yeah, that would be an attractive look - a half-missing eyebrow. I'm naturally a little red all the time - kind of like I'm blushing or warm, so I didn't want to over-correct. Doing that would make me look greenish or bluish.

You can see that some of the glare on splorp!'s glasses is gone in the second picture, though most of it is still there. There are ways to remove it entirely, but not with the format I shot in with my point-and-shoot camera.

Can you correct for glare in Photoshop? Enh, somewhat. Some people recommend shooting two photos - one of the person wearing the glasses, and a second of the person in the exact same position, but with the glasses removed. Then the process involves cropping the eyes from the photo without the glasses, and pasting them into the rims of the glasses, and blending the edges to make it look like it was always one piece. Time consuming to the average Photoshop newbie, but effective, and it goes faster if you've done it once or twice already.

For most people (people not taking their own photo), it's easier just to prevent the glare in the first place. Position the lighting source (usually the camera flash) above the subject's head, and aim it down at the subject, trying for a 45 degree angle. Since the camera flash is usually attached to the camera, this may involve stepping back away from the person, standing on a chair, and then using the zoom feature to zoom in. Usually the person in the photo will instinctively look directly at the camera, but you want to make sure it looks natural (no craned neck), so by standing fairly far back and zooming, you accomplish two things:

1) Person's neck isn't bent at an unusual angle to look up slightly at the camera.
2) Putting the flash further away and shooting down at about a 45 degree angle removes a lot of the glare from the person's glasses.

Trust me, it works quite well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Electrical Therapy

As I said last time, splorp! is somewhat injured. Mostly his neck hurts, but the doctor said it is actually his trapezius muscle - the one that connects the back, the neck, and the shoulder blade in a big triangle.

By the way, if your neck hurts for two weeks, and you finally go to the doctor and he gives you muscle relaxers, but they just make you loopy and don't really help you heal? Electrical shocks work!

splorp! does not tolerate anything stronger than over-the-counter ibuprofen very well, so the combo of muscle relaxers and strong pain meds his doctor prescribed not only made him kind of spacy, he would slur his words a little bit, and then he would sleep for hours at a time. While funny (to me), that worked ok while it was the weekend, but it's not like he could take that cocktail and go to work. Plus he couldn't drive. We were not sure how he would manage working through the pain.My sister came to the rescue. She loaned splorp! the TENS Unit she got after her shoulder surgery.

splorp! wired upShe showed us me how to attach it to him, and how it works. She helped me wire him up the first time and then we turned it up kind of high - just short of making muscles jump.

I'm telling you, it's like night and day. If you've never used one and you have constant pain, you need to call your doctor or physical therapist. As near as I can tell, you don't need a prescription for it to buy one, but there are a few cautions, and it's not appropriate for some people (pacemakers are not recommended). Plus, not only can your doctor or PT help you use it properly, and show you where to place the pads for the most benefit, if you get a prescription for it, insurance may reimburse you for all or part of the cost.

And, ok, it's not exactly electrical shocks, but (depending on the setting) it kind of vibrates the muscles, and interrupts the nerve transmissions that say "pain here!" and "keel over in pain now!"

It's a great little device, the relief can last several hours, and it can really help you cut down on pain medicine, which is a bonus. It seems to be well-designed, able to run either on batteries (and be portable) or the regular wall plug.

Using the TENS Unit, splorp has pain relief for several hours - enough to get through work, and then at night we're relying on that menthol-y smelling Icy Hot stuff.

Birthday fun!

Yes, I am now another year closer to the big 3-0. splorp! is quite happy about this, as it means he is no longer 10 years older then me. See, our birthdays are fairly close together, but for about 3 weeks he's officially 10 years older than me. Apparently for those 3 weeks it really bugs him that I'm more of a "trophy wife" than normal.


This year I finally qualified for a paid day off of work for my birthday, and since it fell on a Friday, I had a 3-day weekend (woo-hoo!). splorp! took the day off too, so we were going to enjoy a nice weekend away ... somewhere. But somehow we never planned anything, so we ended up having a nice time home together.

On my birthday we lazed around most of the morning, then went to see a movie at the cheap seats theater. We got what we paid for, because the sound kept cutting out during the movie, but oh well. Then we went to ... wait for it ... a bookstore! splorp! helped me buy a bunch of books ...

(some were his!)

... and then we went to dinner with my family, where my sister gave me a gift card to the store we just visited. Guess we have to go back again!

We had a nice time, and splorp! got me some fun stuff. I have mentioned that I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Well, the show was canceled before Joss Whedon was done telling his story, so season 8 came out (is still coming out) as graphic novels. splorp! got me all the available titles, and they're coming out at a rate of about one per month, so I'm sure I'll have a few more at Christmas.

Also, he has gifted me with floating shelves for over my desk!

Ok, so they're not floating yet. He is somewhat injured, so I made him promise not to hurt himself further by installing them himself. Plus, we need to borrow tools from dad, so it all works out.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rambling About ... Well, Not About Books

Starting this blog, I was going to talk about my favorite books. Which I started to do! Which I didn't keep doing.

I thought for sure I would be able to keep it up, and I even wrote out of list of topics, for which I would come up with a semi-corny sounding blog title, and proceed to make recommendations.

Uh huh. That's working oh so well.

I started off ok, but I guess I got mired down in the Riftwar books when I discovered I was missing one. I read it long ago, but I guess I only borrowed it from the library, not bought it.

Libraries are sooooo useful. If I go there, I don't spend money on books. And I can spend a lot of money when I go to a bookstore. Have you seen how many books I have?

one bookcase
One of my bookcases

Gift cards are a great! I can usually stick to my budget at a bookstore if I have a giftcard. ::hint hint:: Like for my upcoming birthday. (almost here!)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Magic Mailboxes, and We're Really Rolling In It ...

I don't know why, but in my family it seems that the first year of marriage is good for the new couple.

My parents talk about how during their first year of marriage, they had what they called "The Magic Mailbox." It turns out that when you get married, and you move to a place considered "safer" (read: less crime), then insurance companies send you a bunch of refunds. Mom says it seemed like every month they were getting money back from something.

splorp! and I have been married almost 2 years, and we find this "Magic Mailbox" thing to be true as well. Car insurance and renter's insurance both decreased, and they sent us a refund check. splorp! got money from a class action suit at his old corporate job (hint, major mortgage company recently bought by BofA) for unpaid overtime. Yesterday, I, too got money from a class action suit at my old job (hint: major rental car company, named after an aircraft carrier), for unpaid lunches.

Not to say that either splorp! or I ever was unpaid by those companies. We were both aware of what we should/should not be paid for, and we checked our paychecks for accuracy (I actually informed HR when I was not taxed on a bonus, and had the money declared properly). But we qualified for settlements because we were employed by those companies during the time period specified by the suit. And we both thought we were underpaid during our time at our respective jobs, so no, we're not going to return the money.

Magic Mailbox aside, splorp! and I try to live by some of the principles advocated by financial help books, like the Smart Women Finish Rich books I have mentioned previously. We don't necessarily try to increase our income - that would involve working a second job, and we enjoy actually seeing each other. It's more that we try to reduce our expenses and not incur new debt.

We have had luck this past year by shopping around for our renter's and car insurance. In spite of the discount we received last year as a result of being married, this year our insurance costs increased. By shopping around, we saved approximately $100 from what we paid last year, instead of our costs increasing by $200. Does that mean we saved $300 overall? I'll let you decide.

We also moved apartments last year. Our old apartment was nice - tall ceilings, included the major appliances, washer and dryer included in the unit, and it had AC and heating. However, the management office was mostly terrible, and included very rude people who had no concept of "open hours." We had minimal maintenance requests during our 2 1/2 years there, but it often took two attempts for the repair to be done correctly, and they insisted that one of our major repair requests could not be done at all, though the actual maintenance supervisor commented (on the day we moved out! while doing our final walk through!) that, "Oh, that's an easy fix. All you do is ... " Uh huh, why didn't that happen two years ago? Seems the management office doesn't ask the maintenance supervisor's opinion before declaring repairs unrealistic. Stupid people.

Anyway, moving apartments was a big deal. We're now closer to grocery stores, and more centrally located in town, gained a bit more square footage, gained a parking space and small garden area, but we lost some comforts. Like, we had to acquire our own refrigerator, we have no AC, our washer and dryer are gone (now we pay quarters for the laundry room), it is a much older building so some of the "decor" is dated and very dark, and one of our "full" bathrooms actually only contains a tub (really - the tile surround stops a foot above the tub ledge and there's no shower head, so no shower). Also, our major annoyance is that our master bathroom is partly in our bedroom. The shower and toilet are in a small room, but the sink, lights, and outlet (and hairdryer!) are in the main part of the bedroom. No, there is not a wall (nor a door) dividing the two rooms.

So, while the Magic Mailbox is a nice concept, and we put those insurance company refunds and other "found" monies right into our slowly growing housing fund, the largest impact on our checkbook balances has come from the downgrade in living arrangements.

How big an impact? Our old 2 bed 2 bath apartment (tall ceilings) started out at $1496 for 17 months, then went up to $1550 for 12 months, and then wanted to charge over $1680 for another 12 months, or over $1800 if we went month-to-month. That's when we said "bye-bye" and downgraded to our new (dated decor) apartment, and pay $1430 for a 2 bed, 2 bath, with the various inconveniences I mentioned.

Those amounts sound astronomical, don't they? It's a mortgage payment in most places. Yeah, we think so too. But our current rate is actually LOW for our area (gotta love Southern California - beautiful weather, can't afford to live there).

The sacrifices in comfort will be worth it in the long run, right? When I own my own home I'll be able to look back on these funky apartments and miserable apartment managers with good humor, won't I? ... Won't I?

Well, for now, we'll laugh all the way to the bank.

PS. This is not meant to imply that I suffer more than EGE did, living without drywall in her kitchen. No, she wins that round!