Category Archives: Uncategorized

Comparison

Food for thought:

In March, I spent $494.20 on “food,” broken down as follows:

  • $233.62 on Groceries
  • $260.58 on Restaurants, Coffee Shops, and Fast Food

In April, I spent $336.27 on the same category, broken down as:

  • $283.98 on Groceries
  • $52.29 on the rest

So, a savings for $157.93. Nice! I want to track this over the next several months so I can compare the monthly average over time. I also need to see if I can cut out a little bit more, since I’m a bit over my desired budget of $300 for the month. I should be able to feed myself for $10/day or less, so we’ll see how things go in May.

Oh by the way… Mint rocks. It finally convinced me to keep better track of where all my money goes.

Why I need to stop eating out

Recently, some friends and I visited a local restaurant. I had a tasty rigatoni with vodka sauce and sausage dish. The cost for that alone was $16, not including tax, tip, drinks, etc. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even if I cheat and buy off the shelf stuff, I could easily make this for a lot less at home. So, last night I did. Here’s the breakdown. Note that this was meant to be fast and using current pricing. Sales and making the sauce myself might have saved a bit more. I’ve rounded all values up to the nearest dollar.

  • Box of Rigatoni (on sale) – $1
  • Jar of Classico Vodka Sauce – $3
  • Package of 6 links of poultry sausage – $5 (pork sausage in a club pack would have been about 40% cheaper)

So, total cost for the above items is $9. Now, I’ll admit my idea of portion size is probably a bit bigger than those they expect. But realistically, the above items give me three servings. That means my cost per serving is $3. That’s… astounding. A $16 meal for $3 at home. Yes, I really do need to cook at home more often.

In addition to this one example, I really need to start bringing lunch with me more often. I’ve been buying lunch way too often, and it adds up. For the typical “lunch special” here at work you pay around $6 (plus tax). Add to that a large coffee and dessert, and it’s another $3. For a lot less than that (say $2-3), I could bring a sandwich or left over dinner if I’d just cook more often. I also have an old single-serve coffeemaker in my office, so I could easily make my own coffee for another 40 cents. So say lunch made by me was $4/day, that’s a $5 savings per workday. Multiply that by an average of around 22 work days per calendar month, and that’s $110 per month. Wow! That’s significant.

In short, times are tough, and a lot of us have to watch our budgets. By making some simple changes to my lifestyle, I can easily save hundreds of dollars per month. Now I just need to force myself to stick to the plan.¬†This post isn’t meant to bash any restaurants. They deserve to make money, and I’m not saying you should stop visiting them — heck, I’ll probably still eat out on occasion. That said, this is a bit of an eye-opener when you’re trying to stick to a budget.

I’m going to try and post on this next month to see how I’m making out, and for some before and after numbers comparing March (an average month) with April (a month where I’m trying to cook at home more often). Stay tuned.

iPod Apps

After seeing SRHuston’s list of what iPhone/iPod apps he finds most useful, here is my list. I think this list is a bit unique, since I don’t have an iPhone, but rather an iPod Touch. Not having phone/3G on the device does curb the usefulness a bit, but I do still use it often; hotspots are plentiful, and it’s fairly easy to create a mobile hotspot on my Nokia E63. The list is in no particular order, just that which popped into my head.

  • Bewjeweled – Absolutely addictive game. This is one of my favorite ways to kill time.
  • PopStar – Yet another really addictive game. I’ve actually been using this a lot more than Bejeweled lately.
  • TweetDeck – I already use TweetDeck on Mac, Windows, and Linux, so it made sense to use it on the iPod too.
  • MobileRSS – I use Google Reader for my RSS feeds, and while Google does have an okay mobile web interface, MobileRSS is significantly nicer and easier to browse on the iPod.
  • Mint – If you use Mint.com already, this is a natural add-on.
  • Clock – Okay, this is the built in application. Since I threw out my age-old alarm clock when I moved a few months ago, I’ve been using the iPod Clock application as my alarm clock.
  • Facebook – As with Mint, if you already use Facebook, this is a natural extension. A lot nicer than the web interface, IMO.
  • Now Playing – I use Netflix Instant Streaming extensively. This is a great way to manage my queue, especially when friends mention new shows/movies to check out.
  • TouchTerm – This app isn’t as useful as it could be, mostly because it can’t run in the background. As a Linux sysadmin, though, it’s invaluable when travelling and I have to ssh into a machine to check it out remotely.
  • Palringo –¬†Obligatory¬†Instant Messaging application. So far it’s the only one which has worked well enough to use on a regular basis, though I’ve been wanting to check out Meebo.
  • Dropbox – Very useful for viewing files on the go. Example of a recent application: I travelled to Philly and kept copies of the Septa subway and rail schedules in my dropbox so I could view them offline.

That’s the majority of the apps I use on a regular basis. I’ve got lots more on the iPod, but rarely use them, so they’re probably not worth mentioning. Mostly small games and other things which looked neat at the time, but turned out to be less than useful.

Mobilized

Thanks to the WordPress Mobile Pack plugin and the Carrington Mobile theme, this website is now available in a scaled down form for mobile device use. It should detect your device automatically, but if you want to explicitly use the mobile-optimized site, you can go to http://m.blog.leighbert.net and opt to use the mobile edition. If you are using the mobile edition and want to view the full desktop site, there’s a link at the bottom to switch to it. I’ve tested the mobile edition on my Nokia E63 and Apple iPod Touch and it looks great on both. Thanks for looking, and have fun!

I will update this; I promise!

I figured it was time for some changes. I’ve got entirely too many domains and too much social sprawl. So, I’ve created a new About Me page with links to my usual hangouts. What’s there now is the beginning, but I hope to add more as I see fit. I’ve gotten rid of some excess pages on other sites and redirected some of those old urls to their corresponding pages in this blog. I’ve also gotten rid of my stand-alone Gallery install and now refer to my Flickr account, since I’ve been using that for quite some time anyway. Hooray for consolidation!

While I was at it, I figured it was about time to move to a different theme in WordPress and perhaps at least post something to the blog. The problem is, while I was never good at updating my blog, it’s been even worse since I’ve been using Twitter and Facebook as my primary outlets for what’s on my mind. I hope to change that, since Twitter is too small for some things, and Facebook is limited only to my friends. I’d still like to use this as a means to say what’s on my mind in more than 140 character chunks. I also want to completely rebuild my Links to other blogs and interesting sites,

Compact Fluorescent Reviews

Inspired by Don Klipstein’s CF Top Page, I figured I’d briefly share my own experiences with CF bulbs thus far. When I moved into my current apartment back in 2005, I decided right away that I’d go with CF wherever possible for my lighting needs. It just makes sense to me; 14 watts is less than 60, and if I can do my tiny little part to save power, so be it. In September of 2005 I purchased two 6-packs of Commercial Electric 60 watt equivalent 14 watt CFLs at Home Depot for around $12-14 or so (don’t recall exactly how much) and so far I’ve only had one failure. I’m assuming this particular bulb was defective because even though I had it in an enclosed fixture in the kitchen, it’s been about a year or so since it failed and the other bulbs in the same fixture are running fine. While all the bulbs didn’t go into service immediately — I put them in my lamps right away, then slowly replaced the overhead lighting in the kitchen and bathroom with CFLs as I discovered how well they worked — I’ve been running completely CFL since at least mid-2006. Running the 14w Commercial Electric bulbs I have: 4 table lamps, 3 in an enclosed kitchen fixture (normally a death sentence for CFLs), 2 over the vanity in the bathroom (they’re so bright that if I used all four sockets, it was blinding), and 2 of the 3 sockets in the overhead bathroom fixture.

When I ran out of the C.E. bulbs, I picked up an 8-pack of Philips 13w CFLs from Costco. These work just as well as the C.E. bulbs, and, to my eye, are just as bright or even a tiny bit brighter. So far I haven’t deployed these as much. I have one in the bathroom and one in an enclosed overhead hallway fixture which I almost never use.

I have two 3-bulb ceiling fan fixtures in my apartment. At first I tried the 14w C.E. bulbs in them, but they were entirely too bright. I finally ended up purchasing 9w GE CFLs at Lowes (no recall on how much I paid, but they were a bit expensive compared to the relatively cheap 14s). These are more than bright enough when I want to flood the rooms with light, but honestly, I prefer using my lamps instead; I still find overhead lighting to be entirely too bright. I don’t think I’m photo-sensitive, I just like dark rooms :)

Finally, I have one other bulb to mention. I picked up a small package of 23w Commercial Electric bulbs around the same time as the 14s because I got myself a torch lamp for the living room — mainly for use when I have guests. It works well, but it seems more noticably dimmer when initially turned on. I don’t notice it quite as much with the 14s. It does seem to get to full brightness in well under a minute, and I wouldn’t consider it too dim to be usable initially.

In all, I’d say I’ve been pleased with the bulbs I’ve purchased so far. With the exception of the one early failure, all that I’ve deployed are still in service after 2-2.5 years. This is with the abuse the electrical grid can throw at them (we have some odd power issues here several times a year), as well as abuse I and the cat can dish out (she’s knocked over a few lamps with the lights *on*). If anything noteworthy happens, I’ll post another entry to the blog.

Gas Station Shit List

Several months ago, I pulled into the local Valero station. It’s the same thing I’ve been doing for a while now, ever since I moved here. It’s the closest station to me, only a quarter mile away or so. This day was a little different, though. I handed my credit card to the attendant, same as always, ask him to fill it up with regular, and away it goes. I took a few minutes to look around and notice something strange. There are two rows on the gas price sign over the pump. I take a closer look. Son of a bitch… there are two prices now, cash and credit. I vaguely recall gas stations charging extra for credit a long time ago, but that was when I was kid. Gas companies don’t seriously charge more for credit these days, do they?

Apparently they do. After the incident at my local Valero, I began to take a closer look around the area. It seems like every Valero in my part of the state is charging seven cents more per gallon for credit card purchases. What a rip! I don’t have numbers to back it up, but I know that their merchant fees can’t be nearly as much as they’re charging. I, personally, would think that it’s well worth the fee not to have to deal with cash; it’s a much quicker transaction. It would be one thing if they discounted the cash price, but it’s the same as all the other local stations.

I have, therefore, put Valero on my shit list. I refuse to buy my gas there given the number of competitors in the area who don’t charge the credit card premium. For a while, I thought this was going to be the only one. That is, until yesterday.

I was south of a quarter tank and heading home from a shopping expedition. I came across a Gulf station on US 130 North and stopped for fuel. I handed my card to the attendant, same as always, and after he’d already ran it and started pumping did I notice that they too were charging a seven cent premium for credit. What the fuck?! So, yet another gas company on my shit list.

So, the moral of the story? Pay attention at the pump. In these days of close-to-three dollar gas it’s easy for them to try and squeeze even more out of the consumer. Be weary, and make sure you’re paying what you think you are. I’m going to complain to the companies involved for what little good I think it’ll do. Perhaps if consumers en masse started boycotting these stations, they’d get the hint. For now, however, it’s just my little protest.

Cats are Strange

I’m sure the cat-owned out there read the title and thought “Well duh. Thank you Captain Obvious!” This post isn’t for you. Instead, it’s for those who haven’t had the, ahem, joy, of being cat-owned.

That’s right, cat-owned. The cat owns you, not the other way around as I was naive to think when I first got Andromeda. She has graced you with her presence and, in return, you get to feed her, clean up after her, and maybe, just maybe, pet her.

So how are cats strange? I think a few of the things my cat does are great examples. After all, how can you not be strange if your idea of fun in the morning is to do figure-8s between my legs while I prepare your breakfast — a disgusting looking mush of an unidentified nature. It’s supposedly good unidentified mush, but how can she possibly be that excited to eat this?

After breakfast she likes to, for no apparent reason, get a nice run in. She’ll start doing laps of the apartment, stopping only to look at me and meow every now and again. Once she tires of that, she might hop up onto the DVD cabinet. After meowing to get my attention, she’ll begin to chase her tail. I never knew cats chased their tails!

I think overall it’s the seeming randomness of their actions which has me wondering. Maybe it’s just because I have a kitten, but Andromeda can go from sleeping to running circles, to jumping into the sink and then back to sleep all in the span of around 10 minutes. I’m just left shaking my head and muttering ‘fricken cat’ under my breath; however, it does keep life interesting and in the end, I think that’s all that matters.

Personality Type

After seeing this on a few blogs, I figured it was my turn. I don’t really know how true this is of me, but it could be when I answered the questions I was fooling myself. I suppose this is the problem with most of these self-taken personality tests; you really need a third party to take them for you.


You Are An INTP

The Thinker
You are analytical and logical – and on a quest to learn everything you can.Smart and complex, you always love a new intellectual challenge.

Your biggest pet peeve is people who slow you down with trivial chit chat.

A quiet maverick, you tend to ignore rules and authority whenever you feel like it.

In love, you are an easy person to fall for. But not an easy person to stay in love with.

Although you are quite flexible, you often come off as aloof or argumentative.

At work, you are both a logical and creative thinker. You are great at solving problems.

You would make an excellent mathematician, programmer, or professor.

How you see yourself: Creative, fair, and tough-minded

When other people don’t get you, they see you as: arrogant, cold, and robotic

What’s Your Personality Type?

Verbal Diarrhea

This morning I’ve been browsing the Amazon and Barnes and Noble music stores. I’m on a quest of sorts; I found Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil, and Nightwish and I like what I hear. Now I just need more! But that’s not what this post is about. I’ve been reading a lot of user reviews, and quite frankly, it has gotten annoying. Is it asking too much to at least use proper spelling? Maybe I’m a spoiled Mac user, but even if my browser didn’t underline misspelled words, I’d look up those I was unsure of. Proper punctuation would be nice too. Perhaps just a comma or period now and again to break up the monotony? I refuse to become a grammar nazi. When it comes to making stupid mistakes, run-ons, and general bad writing, I’m guilty as charged. However, some of the verbal diarrhea I’ve read — gushing non-punctuated, non-spellchecked reviews — makes me want to vomit. What good is a glowing review of a band if I can’t understand the words you wrote? What good are recommendations of other bands if you can’t be bothered to spell names correctly? Evanescence is a good example; if I’d never heard of them I’d be in trouble if I searched solely on the spelling in a number of reviews.

The moral of the story? I don’t expect formal essays when you write a review. I do want to see intelligible comments, which I don’t have to read five times to understand what was written. Abbreviations such as “u” and “r” are fine in real time chat or text messages, but not in a paragraph out there for the whole world to see. Whenever I make an obvious blunder, I’m embarrassed. I just wish other people would take some pride in what they write, because you never know who is reading it.