August 1, 2005

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Home economics

I wish I paid more attention in my home economics class. I have an
excuse, though. I was 10 years old at the time! Now that I’m 21 and
puzzled by everything from bike grease stains to the proper storage of
food, I’m making up for my lack of common sense by buying thick,
expensive books talking about stuff I really should have learned
during my education.

Over the past two weeks, I have come to firmly believe that home
economics should be taught throughout high school and college. It
would have been a lot more useful than my social studies or history
classes. (Indeed, a lot more useful than my computing classes…) What
if arithmetic was taught in the context of budgets? What if critical
thinking was tested through on-the-fly recipe substitutions? What if
learning about life was an essential part of the curriculum?

I’m not just talking about exclusive girls’ schools, mind you, but
across-the-board education for everyone. I think the world would be a
lot more peaceful if people learned how to manage household disputes
and a lot more financially stable if they learned how to balance a
checkbook or make a budget. I know _I_ would feel a lot better
out as I go along.

Bring back the lessons on washing clothes and folding fitted sheets,
planning menus and shopping for groceries. It may be old hat to you,
but some of us here are figuring things out for the first time!

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Spending plan

Whether you call it a budget or a spending plan, an idea of how much
you can spend on what each month is a remarkably liberating thing.
After you’ve put aside money for savings and important expenses such as

I keep my monthly spending plan on a ruled 3×5 index card labeled
“Budget for August 2005.” I divide the card into three columns:
category, estimate, and remaining budget. At the beginning of each
month, I write down the categories and estimates in ink, and the
remaining budget in pencil. Throughout the month, I’ll regularly
update the remaining budget entries. If I want to spend more for
something, I can reduce the budget of another category.

Let’s see how well that system works this month!

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Lessons learned from the past week

• I’m very finicky when it comes to organizing. None of the popular
organizing forms quite fit the weekly schedule + TODO list that I
want to use. Custom letter-size forms are easy to make. I’m not sure
how well I can translate to a smaller size; maybe if I do one week
per page and then have the TODO list on the next page…
• Last week was find-a-group week. I tried Toast IT, Zero Gravity
Circus and JCSA. Toast IT was the best in terms of social
interaction, self-improvement and networking. That’s something
that’s earned a fixed place on my calendar. I can join the other two
groups maybe once a month.
• I’m pretty good at impromptu speeches and networking, but not really
social small talk. I work best when the context is well-established
and I feel I have something to offer people. That’s why Toast I.T.
works very well for me, but social chats like JCSA language
exchanges don’t really do the trick.
• Keeping track of my expenses is a breeze with Gnucash, a free and
open source program that makes record-keeping fun and easy. I just
sent my mom a summary of my credit card transactions and a detailed
transaction report for everything involving a credit card. Whee!
• Working out my finances is scarily fun. I’ve just finished drawing
up yearly and monthly spending plans based on a general guide for
international students and my expenses for the past two weeks. I
used OpenOffice.org Calc to recalculate remaining monthly
budget automatically as I put in my initial estimates and then
adjusted them based on my spending goal. I’ve decided to allocate
more money to groceries and books than I had previously spent, and
I’ve built in a small splurge allowance for little things I want.
I’ll test that spending plan this month and post additional
reflections in September.
• The calendar I’m using right now really works for me. I should look
into making an electronic version of it so that people reading my
website can get a better feel of how I like to plan my day. I also
need to work on a good contact management system to keep track of
all the people I meet (and it turns out that I meet quite a number
of new people each week)…

ÃƒÂ¤Ã‚Â»Ã‚ÂŠÃƒÂ¦Ã‚Â—Ã‚Â¥ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â»ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â¨ÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â‚Ã‚Â“ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â©ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â®ÃƒÂ¥Ã‚Â­Ã‚ÂÃƒÂ¤Ã‚Â¾Ã‚Â›ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚ÂŒÃƒÂ¦Ã‚ÂŒÃ‚ÂÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â£ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â¦ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â„ÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â‚Ã‚Â‹ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â“ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â‡ÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â‚Ã‚ÂªÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â‚Ã‚Â²ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â¼ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â ÃƒÂ¦Ã‚Â©Ã‚ÂŸÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â§ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â•ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚ÂˆÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â‚Ã‚Â³ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â³ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â”ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â¥ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂƒÃ‚Â¼ÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â‚Ã‚Â¿ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â§ÃƒÂ£Ã‚ÂÃ‚Â‚ÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â‚Ã‚Â‹ÃƒÂ£Ã‚Â€Ã‚Â‚ Even videogame machines owned by most children today are computers.

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Divergence

Knowing how I wanted to practice my Japanese, Mark Chignell told me
about a couple of Japanese-related events this weekend. (Isn’t it nice
to have a research supervisor who keeps track of your extracurricular
interests?)

The first event was a language exchange session held last Saturday, at
which I ran into no other than Baryon Posadas. Come to think of it, I
shouldn’t have been that surprised. Of course he’d be at a
Japanese-language event.

Everyone was heading off to Starbucks to chat over coffee. I wanted to
ask how he had been, but I needed to go to Clarkson Station to meet
Tita Sol. We tried to work out some other time to meet, but he had
promised to help someone move and he needed to find an apartment, and
a lot of other things. Technically, I think I’m supposed to e-mail him
if I want to meet him for coffee (or hot chocolate), but now that I
think about it, I don’t have much to chat with him about. Except
perhaps for general settling-in questions, like where’s a good place
to open a bank account or get a credit card, and I already sorta know

Anyway, I went to the barbecue today because it meant a free lunch. I
didn’t get to practice my Japanese, though, as I didn’t feel up to
making small talk in a foreign language—not when there was a
perfectly good conversation to have with Mark about research plans and
what I should do while he’s off in Japan. (Yes, we were talking about
work. On a Sunday! During a long weekend!)

During a lull in the conversation, we wandered around in search for
non-MSG chips. Baryon was there at the table with the unflavored
chips, so I briefly introduced them to each other. Mark got drawn into
a conversation with a bunch of Japanese girls, so I was left on my
own. I asked them if I could sit there. I sat there for maybe a
minutes, idly munching on chips. Got bored, found it difficult to
break into a clique, eventually thought of a question to ask Mark and
left the table without a word.

Anyway, the entire thing prompted a reflection on divergence. I’d
borrowed a number of books from him before (speculative fiction,
mainly), and that was our common interest. Now my reading tastes have
changed (non-fiction and children’s lit) and our worlds are really
very different now.

Mark’s a pretty good judge of character, and he picked up on the
differences too. <laugh> In fact, he thought Baryon was strange.
I shrugged and said, “He’s from humanities.” (Nothing against the
humanities, of course. Hi Marcelle!)

I think that energy makes a big difference to me. Mark’s a positive,
high-energy kind of person, which is one of the reasons why I get
along with him very well. Baryon and a number of other people I know
don’t show that kind of energy often. They’re more reserved and
detached.

If you take a look at the people I love hanging out with (Hiya, Just
Geeks League! ;) ), they’ve all got positive energy. One of the things
I like about chatting with Dominique is the way his smile comes
through so well in his voice, and you know his face shows it too! Even
Sean’s deep and serious voice hides playfulness and wit. (You should
watch his Hulk impression… It’s hilarious!) Even though they have
problems like everyone else, their upbeat personalities make the tough
times easier to weather.

I don’t know if Baryon’s like that, and I somewhat remember that he
laughs and joke about some things. Although it would be nice to pick
his brains about stuff I need to know as an international student in
Toronto, I think it would be a fair bit of work to get to the point
where conversation’s comfortable. I’ll probably focus on developing
new contacts instead, at least for now.

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