Interspecies Friendship: An Elephant’s Best Friend

It’s been nearly two years since I posted something new at Animal Intelligence. One of my goals is to share that stuff here Foldedspace. I’ve done a pretty poor job of that, but I want to change that. I’ll try to make it a habit to share things as soon as I see them instead of putting them off.

Let’s start with the story Tarra and Bella, a dog and an elephant who are best friends:

For those who are new to my obsession with animal intelligence, I’ll summarize: I think animals are, on the whole, far more intelligent than we give them credit. I think they’re capable of a wide range of emotion, psychological, and, yes, intellectual activity. No, there are no dolphin cities (to quote Rush Limbaugh), but since when are cities a measure of intelligence? Anyone who believes that animals are only acting on instinct has never spent a lot of time with them.

Anyhow, one of my favorite aspects of animal intelligence is interspecies friendship. That is, stories like this one about Tarra and Bella, when two different kinds of animals work together or form close bonds. There are plenty of these stories to be found, and I think they’re great.

If you find a good story about animal intelligence, please send it my way. I promise to post it here in a timely manner instead of waiting to revive my animal intelligence blog…

Timbers Army

It’s been an intense couple of weeks around the Roth-Gates household. Kris and I don’t fight often, but we’ve had a couple of rows lately, which should give you some idea of the stress level at Rosings Park.

Why so tense? Well, Your Money: The Missing Manual is finally in bookstores, and the public-relations push as begun. Between the PR, writing my personal-finance blog, and trying to squeeze in Real Life, there just hasn’t been much time for anything resembling a normal life.

Fortunately, the worst is behind us. Last week, I was a guest on 17 radio stations around the country, and I gave a presentation at Powell’s Books. (About 50 people came out to hear me, which was awesome. Thanks, everyone.) There’s still a bit of work ahead of me, but for the first time since last September, there are days at a stretch with nothing scheduled. Woohoo!

So, Kris and I are now much more relaxed. We’re able to spend time together working in the yard — and watching The Amazing Race.

I’m happy, too, because I can start hanging out with friends again. I knew this day would come, so I planned ahead. Though I’ve never done anything like this before, I decided to purchase two season tickets for the Portland Timbers, Portland’s pro soccer team. (The team will move to the MLS, the top U.S. soccer league, next year.) I’m hoping that I can rope one friend per match to join me.

Last Saturday was the first match of the year as the Timbers faced the Rochester Rhinos. (Say what? Are there a lot of Rhinoceroses — Rhinocerii? — in New York?) For this first match, I was joined by Michael Hampton and his nine-year-old son, Ethan. We met early to dine on pastrami and root beer at Kenny and Zuke’s, and then walked about ten blocks to the stadium.

There, I briefly said hello to Rich M., who first took me to a Timbers match back in 2008. (We also used to play soccer together as part of the woeful FC Saints.) Then Michael, Ethan, and I met up with Sinan and Nadir, who had saved seats for us in the midst of the Timbers Army.

Part of the fun of a soccer match (at least in most places around the world) is the fervor of the crowd. The folks who crowd the north end of Portland’s Civic Stadium do an admirable job of recreating this fervor. They chant and cheer and curse and sing. They wave flags and blow horns and set off smoke bombs. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, actually. (Sinan, who is from Croatia, loves Timbers matches.)

This photo from Oregonian photographer Thomas Boyd captures some of the fun:

I’m fairly certain this photo was taken in the 85th minute, after the Timbers scored on a penalty kick. Portland won the match 1-0, which was a lucky result. Though neither side played exceptionally well, the Rhinos were the better team, especially in the second half. But during the last ten minutes, Portland mounted a series of attacks, and finally found the back of the net after a Rhino hand ball.

And if you look very carefully, you can actually see me in the midst of these 15,418 fans. I felt very conspicuous in my rust-orange sweater Saturday night (Timbers fans dress in green and white), but it sure makes it easy to spot myself in the upper-right corner of the photo:

Anyhow, this was a perfect end to a tense week. And now I’m looking forward to a summer of Timbers matches with various friends. If you’d like to join me, drop me a line. I’m booked through the end of May, I think, but open for the games in June, July, and August. The only caveat is that you have to be ready to stand for 90 minutes, and you can’t have any compunctions about singing rowdy songs.

The Amazing Race

If you wonder why I haven’t been writing much around here, it’s not because of my personal-finance blog, and it’s not because I’ve been spending time promoting my book. Yes, I’ve been doing these things — and I’ve even begun to exercise again — but the real time-suck in my life lately is The Amazing Race.

Kris and I aren’t really fans of reality shows. Yes, we watch The Biggest Loser, but that’s because it’s about fitness, and because the first season we watched featured Tara Costa, who, quite frankly, kicked ass. We loved watching her outcompete the other contestants every single week. The Biggest Loser is actually pretty lousy television, for the most part. It’s excruciating how the show repeats stuff over and over and over again. (And I hate how they always show contestants doing stuff while there’s a voice-over describing exactly what’s going on — as if we cannot see.)

Anyhow, around Christmas, I read a rave review of The Amazing Race in some mainstream publication like Newsweek or The New York Times. The article mentioned something that piqued my interest: Since the Emmy Award for reality show was instituted, no show other than The Amazing Race has ever won it.

Now, I concede that “best reality show” isn’t exactly high praise. Still, I decided to take a look. I found some clips on YouTube and was intrigued, so I bought a season from iTunes. I watched the first three episodes and thought, “Wow! I love this.”

When Kris got home from work that cold December day, I suggested that she watch the show with me. “I don’t want to watch it,” she said. “It’s going to be lame.”

Fine. I continued to watch the show myself. Eventually, she watched part of an episode with me. When the show was over, she asked sheepishly, “Can we watch the first episode of the season?” And so we did. And we haven’t stopped watching since.

Note: For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, here’s how The Amazing Race works. Around a dozen teams of two gather at the starting line in a major U.S. city. Each team is composed of members with an existing relationship: best friends, sisters, “dating long-distance”, and so on. (There are certain “stock” couples every season, such as the gay couple, the Christian couple, the geeky couple, the black couple, the models, and the loudmouths.) Teams are given clues to find their next destination, which could be anywhere in the world. They have to figure out where they’re going, booking their own travel. Along the way, teams have to stop to perform certain challenges, such as bungie jumping or building a bicycle or eating raw octopus. At the end of (nearly) every leg, the last-place team is eliminated. At the end of about a dozen legs, the final team wins a million dollars.

We watched the three seasons that we could buy from iTunes (seasons 13, 14, and 15) between Christmas and New Year. Then we used Netflix to get seasons 1 and 8 (the only seasons available on DVD).

“I want to watch more,” Kris said when we’d finished.

“There isn’t anymore,” I said. “Only those five seasons are available to purchase. If we want the rest, we’ll have to get them illegally.”

First up, we asked Chris G. if he could check for bootleg copies of the other seasons as he traveled through southeast Asia in February. He checked, but couldn’t find them. Meanwhile, Kris and I watched seasons 13, 14, and 15 again.

“I want to watch more,” Kris said when we’d finished.

I sighed. “You know, there’s a guy online selling all fifteen seasons on DVD, but it’s surely not legal,” I said.

“Is there a legal way to buy the other seasons?” Kris asked.

“No,” I said.

“Then we don’t have any other choice. Buy them.”

And so I paid $150 to get all fifteen seasons on DVD. For the past two weeks, our evenings and weekends have been spent watching our favorite teams (and less-than-favorite teams) race across the world. We’ve watched seasons 2, 3, 4, and 5, and are now on season 6. (Man, Jonathan needs to put a cork in it. We’re hoping he and Victoria get eliminated soon. He’s an ass.)

So, that my friends, is why there hasn’t been much to read about here during the month of March. It’s not because of the book. It’s not because of the other blogs. It’s because of The Amazing Race.

Confessions of a Gadget Junkie

Ah, April Fool’s Day. Such a special day at Get Rich Slowly. Every year, I share a story of my own foolishness with money. And there are so many stories to choose from! Stories like The $1500 Frisbee and How to Turn $500 Into $7 the Hard Way. This year’s story is about my love for computers.

When I graduated from college and went to work for the family box company, I had no concept of setting financial goals or saving for the future. I spent each paycheck as it came in — and more. I liked the idea, though, of investing my money. In my naive little mind, I imagined that the stock market made people rich.

So, when my cousin Nick — who is five years older than I am — took the time to explain what he was doing with his money, I did my best to listen. (I didn’t listen well, though, and didn’t really understand what he was saying.)

Nick told me about mutual funds, pools of stocks and bonds that made it easy for small investors to own a lot of companies at once. He told me that he was investing his money with a company called Invesco, buying funds of medical stocks and technology stocks. “I’ll do that, too,” I said.

Investing made stupid
This was back in 1992. I had the beginnings of a credit-card problem (about $12,000 in debt), no savings, and was making $30,000 a year. I was also spending more than I earned. To find the initial contribution to my mutual funds I had to — no joke — take a cash advance on my credit cards. It never even occurred to the 23-year-old J.D. that he was paying roughly 20% to chase uncertain returns in the stock market. This just seemed like the thing to do.

I sent in my $1,000 initial deposit, and then signed up for $50 automatic monthly contributions.

Sometime soon after, my Apple Macintosh SE died. I can’t remember why, but I know that I was convinced I needed a computer, so I did the only thing I could. Because my credit cards were maxed out, I cashed out my mutual funds to get the cash I needed to buy a Macintosh Classic II. (Kris contributed half of the funds, which she simply pulled from her ample savings.)

Looking back, I weep at how stupid I was. But there was plenty more to come.

How not to spend a windfall
My father died on 21 July 1995, ten days shy of his fiftieth birthday. When he died, he left each of his sons $5,000 in life insurance and 10% of the box factory.

By this time, my credit-card debt had grown to just over $20,000. If I’d been smart, I would have taken the life-insurance proceeds and used them to immediately pay off $5,000 in debt. But I wasn’t smart. I’m sure you can guess what I did.

I used $1,000 to pay off debt (and patted myself on the back for it), but took the rest to purchase a Macintosh Performa 640CD DOS-compatible personal computer. The machine was awesome. And expensive. And because it ran both Windows and Mac OS, that meant I spent twice as much money on computer programs.

My father had gone to a lot of trouble to set aside a bit of life insurance for us (he didn’t obtain the policy until after he discovered he had cancer). He wanted to give each of us a little boost so that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes he had. It was a nice idea, but it didn’t work.

Cash is king
I could go on and on, of course. For instance, after I’d cut up my credit cards in order to avoid new debt, I still found a way to buy a new computer on credit. I applied for a consumer loan directly from Apple, which gladly gave me the rope to hang myself. In 2003, I borrowed $3,000 to buy a brand new Power Macintosh G5 tower.

But eventually, as I started my financial turnaround, I learned to resist the lure of the money-saving gadget. In fact, when Apple first released the iPhone, I was in full debt repayment mode. As much as I wanted one, I resisted. It wasn’t until I’d paid off the last of my consumer debt that I finally gave in. But when I bought the phone, I paid cash.

Now, of course, the Apple iPad is just days away from launch. And yes, I’ve ordered one to be delivered to my door on Saturday morning. Is this just as stupid as all of my other tech purchases? Perhaps. But there’s one key difference. This time, instead of cashing out my mutual funds or using a windfall to fund my purchase, I’m using money I’ve put in my savings account for this very purpose.

It may be that I’m paying a penalty for being an early adopter, but one thing’s for certain: Because I no longer finance these sorts of purchases on credit, there’s no compounding on my stupidity. What I pay is what I pay. Now if only I could learn to be satisfied with last year’s model…

Okay, it’s your turn. I know I’m not the only April fool out there. Tell us about the stupid things you’ve done with money. What’d it cost you. What’d you learn? How you turn things around?