Knock on wood

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To quote myself a few weeks ago:

My estimates were all based on having $340k-$350k in my accounts by my birthday, and I'll still be in that window even if the market slows down significantly (I'm currently getting 15-20% returns and budgeting for 9%).

Of course, the world has to throw a curve ball.  The recent stock market "corrections" over the last couple of weeks have, of course, knocked off something like 10% of the value it had.  I haven't taken quite that much of a hit, but I'm now down $15k in my accounts than I was about a month ago, about a 5% loss.  Now, that's not huge, but it throws off the numbers I was looking at.  It also isn't necessarily done: the markets are down 300 points at the moment, though that's less than they were down a few hours ago.

I'm probably still okay.  I mean, I'm making a lot of assumptions about the future - there's no choice - but most are fairly reasonable.  I always assumed a 7% average annual return over decades; individual yearly fluctuations don't matter much.  I also have to assume I'm keeping my job part-time for two years of school and forking over $22k twice (what a UC would cost, roughly and accounting for taxes and deductions).  I also assume that, coming out of college, I can get a job making slightly more than my part-time here would pay.

Based on all that, I'll still have over $2m in the bank at 65.  But that's assuming the market settles down and has something close to a 7% average growth for the rest of the year; that's not guaranteed, but it's also not unreasonable.  If things get worse, well, I'll still be okay to a point, but it might mean having to pump in even more money once I come out of school.

Come, my friends

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... t'is not to late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die. ...

-- Ulysses, Alfred (Lord Tennyson)

It's in

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Just submitted my app to Caltech.  Still have to submit the test proctor form and take the tests (due by mid-March), but the app itself is in.

It's a long shot; I know that.  Hell, even if I'm accepted, I can't afford to go unless I get some significant financial aid (and *not* loans; thanks, but I'm not going to be a 44-year-old with $200k in fresh undischargeable student loans).  But, as they say of the lottery, you can't win if you don't play.

Part of submitting it is being willing to accept what everyone's been telling me: that I'm actually almost an ideal candidate for such a school.  I don't see it, but I'm also looking at my life through the filter of having lived as me for decades.  I know my perceptions of myself tend to be biased downward, and so I'm willing to accept that I may be wrong here.

It's also essentially a no-risk situation.  All I'm out is the $70 for the app itself and maybe $10 in the cost of transcripts.  So, we'll see.

I've started looking at housing prices near various schools.  Even if I keep my current job part-time, I'll need a roommate or subsidized housing.  That's one of the bigger deals when (think positive, right?) I get an acceptance from anyone.  I mean, tuition coverage would be great, but in some ways it's the housing that is more important.  Like, for a UC, I've got the money in IRAs to pay for tuition, but I can't use that money for housing - actually, as I write this, I'm not sure that's true.  I remember seeing something about expenses for tertiary education including housing costs.  I'll have to look that up.

I don't mind having a roommate, though winnowing down my stuff (or putting a lot of it in storage) would be more necessary with a roommate than living on my own.  But subsidized housing would just be easier overall.

Another angle on that is that my gay-couple friends who just bought a house live about 16 miles down the street from one of the private schools.  They've been nudging me about coming and living with them if I get in there.  Now, honestly, I'm not sure how serious that nudging is, and they've got a significant amount of their own stuff to deal with.  But it's a potential option.  It's far enough I'd likely have to drive (there's a bus, but the ride is about an hour) or get a bike (which wouldn't be all that much faster and, well, LA drivers and bikes aren't a good combination).  I'd rather be in walking distance, but that's when things get expensive.

Oh well, baby steps.  I've started cleaning my apartment.  I need to figure out how to get rid of my guest bed, since nowhere I'm going to go will have the space for it.  The only other major furniture items are my dining room table (which I like but, frankly, didn't cost that much and probably wouldn't work out anywhere) and my bed (which is probably also not going to fit wherever I go, but there's more likelihood of that).  oh, and my bookshelf, but that's modular and could be used for a lot of things in a lot of spaces.  Everything else either comes apart easily or could fit in the back of my Eclipse.

Not having bought a ton of furniture may end up being in my favor.

Spending money sucks

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So, $3700 in car repairs and maintenance, but this should get the car into great shape for the next few years.  I know, it's a lot, especially for a 12-year-old car.  But I do *not* want to take on a car payment right now: my finances for the next two-three years are completely up in the air.

I've got some money saved to cover it (though I wasn't expected it to cost quite that much; they'd estimated $2500), to it won't hurt quite as bad.  But I've also made a financial decision that I think is smart at this point.  I think.

I've stopped my voluntary contributions to my retirement funds.  That was at 9%, which will mean (after taxes) another $300 or so per check.  I was already setting aside $200 specifically for new expenses, and with the changes in the tax law and my recent raise, I should be getting an additional $200 a check.  So, that's $700 every two weeks that I'm going to explicitly set aside for this expense and future expenses.  With my tax refund (which is usually at least $1000 and sometimes a lot more), I should be in decent shape by my birthday.

I did the math, and stopping my contributions doesn't change my overall totals much.  The account is already growing more from internal returns than from contributions, and the company still puts in 6% on my behalf regardless of what I do.  Plus, I'm planning on pulling out chunks for school anyway.  My estimates were all based on having $340k-$350k in my accounts by my birthday, and I'll still be in that window even if the market slows down significantly (I'm currently getting 15-20% returns and budgeting for 9%).  And paying off debt and having actual cash available penalty-free for moving or other expenses seems like the more responsible thing to do at this point.

... I know, this sounds like rationalization rather than reasoning, but it's actually something I've thought a lot about.  Paying off debt *does* make more sense than investing, since the debt is at higher interest than I'm getting on the market (though only barely right now).  Really, the issue is the withdrawal penalty later: for school fees, it's waived, but I should save up for moving and deposit and such as well.  I'll probably draw a financial "line" and budget around that: if I hit the line early (higher tax return, manage to spend less in general, etc.), I'll start contributions up again.

Basically, I'm at $324k right now.  With the company's 0.06% contribution only and an assumed 9% annual growth rate, I'll be at $341k just after my birthday (end of June).  If I transition to part time at that point (20 hours a week at the same wage), and assuming I go to a UC and end up paying for everything, I'm counting on about $20k taken out at the end of August each year for two years.  I should still be at $370k by my 43rd birthday, which is still over 3x my current annual salary and still 2 years ahead of schedule - and again, that's with just the company's contributions and nothing from me.

If I switch back to my 9% contribution when I go to part time (in addition to the company's 6%), I'll be at $382k at 43 - so the difference isn't all that much: about $10k in contributions and $2k in interest.  I know, it adds up over time, and so it's worth it to start back up again as soon as reasonable.

But I do think this is the responsible decision for where I am at the moment.  I just hope I'm right.

Not saying it

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So, I've interacted with a pretty broad swath of folks through various mediums - blogs, gaming, specialty forums, etc.  Even a few times face to face.

I also tend to isolate and siphon different aspects of my life pretty well.  It's not generally a matter of shame or fear or protecting people or any actual conscious effort; I'm just private by nature and tend to include in that privacy a lack of talking to people about things that happen in my life when they aren't around.  Honestly, that's part of the reason why the whole blogging thing never really took off with me: it just feels counter to my nature.

The one place where many of these different branches of life come together for me is on Facebook.  Now, I don't post much on FB myself - at least not on my own wall (see my above blogging comment) - but I like to read what everyone else is doing and offer brief comments or even just know that my friends are (largely) okay and content.

If I could, I would restrict things so that friends couldn't see what I'd posted on other friends' walls (at least not through me), but that's not an option.  So, occasionally, a conversation somewhere will randomly pull in a friend from a different circle.  Usually this is okay or at worst a moment of slight discomfort; only once or twice has it erupted into a downright argument.  But in general, I'm able to keep the groups separate without conflicts.

To make things even more complicated, however, some of those specific groups have had their own internal rifts and issues - sometimes over legitimate problems, often over just growth and change of personalities.  It seems that ever year or so, there will be another kerfluffle of telling people to unfriend over some wrong (real or perceived), and the battle lines get drawn and the schism is had.  I got so many "I have mutuals with this person; please unfriend them or I'll have to unfriend you" that I finally hid my friends list (which makes such knowledge impossible).

A year or two ago, one such schism happened when one friend H pointed out that another friend E was narcissistic and abusive.  E was a closer to certain circles of various underprivileged and unprivileged groups, while H was closer to some of the more formal or professional types, and the schism took the form of  E saying "H is a -phobe and their friends are all as bad", and the two sides parting over this.

I'm still "friends" with both (H I've interacted with more, including some work-related stuff, while E is someone I only know through forums and online) and kept out of it.  I think H was right, but E looked to be changing/trying to improve.  I wasn't really risking anything on a friendship with E, so I had no reason not to keep the communications line open, as they say.

Well, there's been another kerfluffle.  A whole bunch of the people who sided with E over H and defended E have, due to some recent events, started calling out E as - get this - a narcissist and abuser.  De-friending has started, and I'm expecting the warring posts here shortly (one is already up).

I'm watching this happen, and there's a part of my brain screaming, "H said this years ago, and you all demonized H for it.  I don't suppose any of you are going to remember and actually apologize?"  But I know it wouldn't be productive - not at the moment, and perhaps not ever.  H can be rather tactless, and part of the problem I think was *how* H said things rather than what was said.  What came afterwards has probably burned any hope of a bridge there forever, so bringing H back into this would likely just make the mess worse.

But when the "we told you so" is so fucking obvious, it's really hard not saying it.

Changing pace

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Palm Springs was pretty relaxing; I actually slept a lot, which I didn't realize I needed to do, and certainly took advantage of the hot tub.  No hookups, though I had a few offers - mostly from people to whom I wasn't attracted in the slightest, but that's pretty typical -

[Lest that sound really snobby, my "type" actually *isn't* muscled up or gym bunnies or models.  I tend to find myself most attracted more average or slightly lean guys, what many people would call "cute" faces but not strikingly good looking, and pretty basic everyday types all around]

- this time there appeared to be a lot of older guys who were either new to being gay or new to clothing optional resorts, and one of my big turn-offs is someone who explicitly has a major insecurity or unresolved self-image conflict and wants me to help them fix it or figure it out.  I'm totally willing to help, but that immediately kills any possible chemistry for me (which is generally a good thing, I think).

My hair is blond(ish) again, after even just the three days in the sun.  And even then I was being judicious about staying in the shade as much as reasonable.  I keep feeling like I should get back into working out or doing yoga, even just a little, but I know that as soon as school starts up in February, I'm liable to run out of time again.  This semester should be a little light - only 12 units, and 7 of those are programming classes - so maybe I could sustain it.

Also just got my raise, effective yesterday.  I was expecting about 3%-4%, to put me around $118k, and I got 3.77% and am at almost $118,700.  With the performance of my IRAs and my current contribution rate, I should almost hit $350k by my birthday.  Since that would be just under 3x my annual salary when I'm 41, that puts me 4 years ahead of schedule.  Depending on what happens with school, I should be good: to hit 3x my salary by 45, with no additional contributions added and a reasonable return, I should have about $272k in my IRAs by 41.  So, that'll give me $70k-80k to play with for school, which is more than I'd need for UCs and even a significant portion of a private school's cost.  Still hoping for scholarships and funding, though.

Speaking of school, working on the last two applications this month; they're due in February.  One of the guys in the hot tub actually wrote our programming book and was really pushing for me to apply to MIT; that's not on my list right now and something I'd have to do separately (actually, looking at their site, they have standardized tests I would have had to have taken by the end of December, so that's that).  But the other two are almost done: I have a couple of forms to have schools fill out, and I need to nudge two of my instructor recommendations, but everything else is basically done.  I'll probably do a last pass on the essays (or maybe two).

This is hopefully going to end up being an exciting and good-scary year for me.  I have no idea how it'll all end up, but I'm looking forward to it.

Oh, and just cuz, the Earth passed perihelion on January 2nd at 9:35 pm Pacific.  We're now in the process of slowing down for 6 months, until just before the 4th of July when we'll reach aphelion and start speeding back up.  Hope everyone had their seat belt on at the time.

Damn the torpedoes, and full steam ahead

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So, ended up with straight As.  Got a 90% exactly on my engineering final, which means I got a 90.4% in the class.  Squeaked by.

I've already registered for next semester, which doesn't start until mid-February.  I'll be taking two programming classes (second part of the C++ classes, and Matlab) and the second half of Chem 001 (which is mostly analysis, so a lot of lab work).  Two of my three profs are ones I've had before and enjoyed, so that'll be nice.  The third - Chem - I couldn't get into the class with the professor I had last time, so I'll just have to see how this one is like.  However, since I did Chem 1A over the summer without any issues, I'm not too worried about doing Chem 1B in twice the time.

I still have two applications to finish, both due in February.  I'm almost done with one - just waiting on a recommendation, but I also need to talk to a counselor about getting an academic report for them (as well as a few other things).  I'm going to try to do that Tuesday, as I'm heading to Palm Springs for a bit of a break Wednesday and not coming back until Saturday.

I'm also still looking at financials.  It feels a bit weird to be 40 and doing retirement planning, but I suppose it shouldn't.  Anyway, assuming I have to pull the full cost of UCs from my IRAs (~$50k for two years, including taxes), I should still be more than fine as long as I can keep this job part-time while in school (which my boss is pretty adamant about having be the case).  Now, that's not realistic - even if I have to pull that amount out, it would be in several chunks over two years - but it at least provides a realistic baseline.

Using that, continued contributions, a conservative view of the average rate of returns for my accounts, and estimates of salary that I think are realistic, I should still be well above my targets for retirement.  In fact, I should theoretically (without factoring anything else) be a millionaire by 50, at least by the numbers.

With all of next week off, I'm trying to decide if I want to head down to the Abbey at all this weekend.  I haven't been down there in ages, and I'm certainly not going on Sunday (it'll be a madhouse), but maybe tonight or tomorrow night for dinner or something would be nice.  That raises the prospect of having to talk about why I've been away and what I've been doing, however, and I'm not sure I want to go there just yet.

Shields at 20%

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So, I'm fucking up (by my standards) my Engineering class.

I just got my second quiz grade back, which was 7/10.  Now, it's a quiz, so that shouldn't be much of an issue, but I also made an idiotic mistake on the midterm and got an 80% (like, literally, flipped one sign on one problem and, as a result, lost 20% of the exam).

So, right now, I've actually got a B in the class.  88.33%.  Since I came back to school, I've never been this low in a class.  Further, the grading scale doesn't have much room for leeway: the midterm, quizzes, and final are, combined, 70% of the grade.  With only three quizzes, we only have one left (I got 100% on the first one).  I'm already at 95% with the homework itself, but that's also only 10% of the grade, so there's not a lot of leeway there.

If I get 100% on everything remaining until the final, I need an 88% on the final to get a 90% in the class.  Chances are that I'm not going to get 100% on everything.  So, really I need to get a mid to high A, if not a perfect score, on the final, or I get a B.

The class average right now is a 79.2%, so it's not like everyone's doing badly.  I'm just doing much, much worse than normal.  I think a big factor is simply that so many of the tests and quizzes are 2 or 3 problems: if I make even one mistake somewhere, that's a huge portion of the test down. Also, there is zero partial credit for anything; her philosophy (which is understandable) is that it's either right or its wrong.  So, for example, the one errant + sign for the midterm meant that my x-value was wrong but my y-value was correct; it doesn't matter that I then knew how to correctly calculate the total force and resulting angle for those given x and y; because the x-value was wrong, the force and angle were wrong.  So, out of 20 points, I lost 15 (3 out of 4).

With so few points per test or quiz, any mistake is magnified.  If I get another 7/10 on my third quiz, then I need a perfect score on the Final to get an A, even if everything else is perfect.  And chances are the final and the quiz will also be only a few questions each, which means even one small mistake will mean getting a B.

Heck, even the 88% on the final means likely missing only one part of one problem out of three or four.  For someone with ADHD and dyslexia, having essentially no tolerance for potential errors is essentially a recipe to fail.

The shitty part is that I'm usually the one helping everyone else get things right.  Conceptually, I understand this stuff more than most people.  But one errant plus sign and now who knows what I did on the quiz mean that I may blow my 4.0.  This quiz thing is even worse - I explicitly double-checked my answers.  The only thing I can think of is that a value she gave was meant to be for diameter rather than radius, which obviously would change a lot, but I swear she said it was radius in class (and the diagram itself was completely ambiguous).

This isn't the end of the world.  Life would go on.  But I really, really don't want to get my first (and even then hopefully only) B in a class that is intrinsic to my future career.  That's kind of a bad sign.  There's also a huge, huge impact psychologically to losing the "straight As" rank, not to mention what kind of impact it may have on transferring (my app is already in, but they still consider classes prior to actual admission).

I'll keep working for the A.  I just don't have much confidence in myself to get it at this point.  If I screw anything else up in the class at all, it won't be possible - and the odds are (especially based on history) that I'll screw something up.

Half way there

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So, cute guy has a girlfriend.  Oh well :)  Also found out he's from South Africa, which may be part of the "sending me weird vibes" thing.

It's midterms now.  I have a test in every class next week, one Tuesday and two Wednesday.  I'm taking Wednesday off, not to study necessarily but just to make sure I'm relaxed and will have slept well.

Business Law should be easy; there haven't been many ideas or terms that I haven't encountered before, even if only in a vague way.  Statics will be "easy" in the difficulty sense, but I need to be sure to double-check my work whenever possible and be very careful not to make calculation mistakes.

Differential Equations is still the big issue.  I earned a 91% on the last test (but got a 98% due to curve), so I'm not at all doing badly.  However, there are a lot of complicated details for the class that don't necessarily mesh well with my kind of thinking: less about how to apply and execute, more about names and memorizing theorems.  I'm not worried, per se, and I plan to spend the weekend reviewing material.  But I'd like to get as high a grade on the test as possible, preferably over a 95%, just so that I'm better buffered for later tests and the final.

I've also got to get finished on my personal statements for my applications.  My UCI "tag" is still in review (I wouldn't expect anything about that until Monday at the earliest, but it might not be until next month), but the UC apps in general are due by the end of November.  The essays are short and the two I've written already are, I feel really good at getting across what I want to say.  I just need to hammer out the other two and then have someone review them.

The applications for CalTech and Harvey Mudd aren't due until next year, which is good for a variety of reasons.  One, I have more time to work on them (and they require a lot more than UC does).  Two, my GPA should be a lot better by then.  Right now, I have 54 units of As and 12 units of Fs (from 20 years ago) still on my transcripts; 3 of those F units don't count for UCs at all, which is what gives me the 3.42 for that application.  However, 2 of my classes this semester are "replacing" two of those Fs, so by December I should (hopefully) have 68 units of As and only 6 units of Fs left.  I can't really re-take those last two classes, but I'll still be at 3.67 at that point (and, the real hope, a 4.0 if the schools decide to ignore those way-older grades, none of which are at all relevant for my transfer).

... Ironically, I'm applying for those two just for fun.  It'll be fiscally irresponsible for me to attend either of them unless I get significant financial assistance from somewhere, and so far none of the (granted, tiny) scholarships I've applied for have panned out.  But I have to apply, nonetheless.

I've been playing the heck out of XCOM 2, though.  It seems to be a decent blend of 10- to 15-minute pieces but enough coherence that I enjoy playing longer.  Also, the random nature of the missions and some of the character aspects (especially with the expansion) keeps it interesting.  I find I have far more fun going from the beginning to just before the final missions than I do playing the final missions; by that point, I've got everything running so smoothly that it's almost no longer a challenge.

First Class

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School's going well.  Three classes at the moment with an 8-week class starting in late October.  So far, the only class that has been problematic for homework is math (Differential Equations), and that's not even been that bad.

On a different tact, though... there's a cute guy in my engineering class.

I randomly sat next to him the first day - honest, it was random.  It's mid-day, and I have to leave work to head over.  Depending on traffic and how long it takes to find a parking spot, I'm often getting to class just a few minutes before it starts.  The first day of class, I was there about 5 minutes early, and one of the few spots left was next to him. It was also at the front of the class (which I almost always pick for ADHD and glasses reasons), so it was the logical choice.

Anyway, we've pretty much kept the same seating.  We chat before class, goof off a little during (there's a lot of group work), and chat a little afterwards as we're leaving.  If I have a physical type, he's probably it (kind of, mid-western "corn fed" or California surfer look; could go either way), but really he's just got that "thing" in his personality that I click on.

No clue if he's gay, so of course the odds are against me there.  He doesn't wear a wedding ring and hasn't mentioned dating life at all, but then neither have I.  We just progressed to barely talking about work yesterday, so maybe we'll get more into that tomorrow (class is two days a week).  I think he's closer to my age than not - he has one degree already and something he said made me think he's mid-30s.  Yes, I looked him up on Facebook, but his profile is locked down (which is a good thing; too many people expose too much); that's also an indication that he's likely older, as most college-students I know don't restrict access very much.

I've briefly tossed out the notion of getting together outside of class to work on homework if he wants, but he works on weekends whereas that's pretty much the only time I'm not working.  So, not sure if that will happen.

In all likelihood nothing will come of it, but it's so rare that I meet someone I'm actually attracted to that that in itself is kind of fun.  There's no danger of me making him uncomfortable - quite the opposite, the danger is in me not pursuing it enough to even give it a chance.  But there it is.