Thursday, July 31, 2014

100 Happy Days part 10

For my own mysterious reasons - which are plainly laid out here- I'm taking photos of things that make me happy. One a day for 100 days, in the style of the 100HappyDays project.

Day 64

I've become too expository - always explaining everything to the Nth degree. I've lost that air of mystery.

So today I started a mini-project aimed at rediscovering the sexy enigma I used to be.

"Jen," I said, "I've decided I need to be more mysterious."
Her whole body seemed to sigh. She had a pleading look in her eye as she said, "No you don't."
"So I'll be randomly refusing to answer some of your questions. I'm thinking thirty percent."
"This is not a good plan."
"Ask me some questions."
"Do you want to know the nice thing I said about you in class today?"
"I'm not playing. Leave me alone."

Later, I pretended to be on a phone call when Jen came into the flat. "Yeah, they're back together!" I said into the receiver. "I know! But he really, really apologised." I let that hang in the air. It's pretty much the most fascinating thing you could ever hear. "Yeah. Jen's back. Gotta go."
Jen's eyes were wide. "Who's back together? Who apologised?"


Day 65

Today was the World Cup semi final. You know what happened. Germany beat Brazil 7-1. As the following graphic shows, that's like scoring 107 points in the Superbowl.

Watching the spectacle unfold made me feel good. Why? Well, I'm partly responsible for the dominant state of German football.

Most of the beer I buy is German. That fuels the Bavarian economy, makes more cash available for workers to buy season tickets at Bayern Munich etc, which helps clubs invest in young players, who develop in a stable environment with great coaching. Then they produce one of the most complete sporting performances of all time.

You're welcome, Germany.

(Here's a picture of some beer.)

(No, look again. There really is beer in that picture.)

Day 66

TV serves one of two purposes - familiar background noise, or a sedative for Jen (she's a bit more docile when asleep).

There are very few shows that deserve and demand full attention - The Wire is one. Another is Jeeves and Wooster.

A typical episode involves Bertie Wooster trying to help a chum marry a girl by hatching a scheme which ends up with the girl engaged to Bertie, then turning to his valet's ingenuity to extract him without lasting damage.

It's very silly, very British, and perfectly performed by Stephen Fry and House Laurie, for whom was created the phrase 'born to play the role'.

And the very best thing is that Jen loves how they talk, so her English is now peppered with delightful phrases such as 'toodle-pip' and 'what-ho!'

Day 67

The best part of today was eating Spanish food prepared by my gourmand friend Josu (he who fathered a baby on Day 15). It was really delish and nice in every way.

"You know what my favourite part of the meal was?" I asked Jen on the way home.
"No. What?"
"Ah, it doesn't matter," I said, before sighing and staring into the distance.
"Tell me tell me tell me."


Day 68

The World Cup final. Germany won. Thanks mostly to me, it's fair to say.

(Meanwhile, Jen learned to stop asking me about the cryptic notes I'd been leaving around the flat. They said things like 'student electrodes' and 'the higher, the fewer'. Jen has developed a nervous twitch in one eye from all the mysteriousness.)

Day 69

So, the World Cup was over and I could get back to writing my book. Fame, fortune, and millions of happy children!

I opened my laptop to get started but found that Nick had sent me a link - the same link he'd sent me twice before. What was so damned urgent? I clicked it and stared at my screen, puzzled.

What was it? A Harry Potter fanfiction written by someone with a stupid name. And the story had a stupid name, too. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Lame. Lame as.

Just to humour Nick and say 'yeah I tried it but it didn't grab me' I started reading the first chapter.

The next time I blinked, four hours had passed, and my eyeballs were dry as sandpaper. The story is Harry Potter, but reimagined so that Harry was raised by a scientist. It's hilarious and brilliant and if Nick wants me to write a classic children's book he should stop sending me these excuses to procrastinate.

Day 70

When I was about 6 years old, my mother sat me down and initiated a 'serious talk'.
"Andrew, remember I told you where babies come from?"
"Yes. You told me that Santa brings them once you've grown a cake in your belly big enough for him to eat. A spurious claim which I soon debunked."
"Right. Well, you're going to have a baby brother or a baby sister."
"Am I to understand," I said, "That I'm supposed to share all the affection and attention I presently get with some undeserving newcomer?"
"Sort of."
"And when will this event take place? For how long have you been gestating?"
"Your baby brother or sister will be born in a few months. I was thinking you could choose a toy."
"Oh you're bribing me to accept a division of my birthright. Your strategy is obvious, but commendable."
"Have a think about what toy you want if it's a baby boy and what toy you want if it's a baby girl."
"Sigh," I said. "It's futile to do anything but accept your proffer. And I know what I want. I want a TRANSFORMER."

This memory came to my head while watching the premiere of the new Transformers movie. Bang! Crash! Explode! Autobots transform! Yeah!

Progress after 70 days:

Mood: Enigmatic.

Compliments: "I read your blog. It's funny." "Your blog was funnier last week." "I like coming to your English lessons. It's much more relaxing than real life."
Optimism: Hmm. What? Oh, I was thinking about something strange that happened to me today. What? Oh, I think I probably don't want to talk about it. Sigh. (Stare into the distance.) 


Friday, July 18, 2014

100 Happy Days part 9

For my own inscrutable reasons - which you can scrutinise here- I'm taking photos of things that make me happy. One a day for 100 days, in the style of the 100HappyDays project.

Day 57

Exciting times! First lesson with my new private student, and a tiny but important step towards financial freedom. I got up early, filled a thermos with hot, sweet tea and hopped on a train.

The thermos is my favourite recent acquisition, for three reasons. First, it was free (swag for helping a friend move). Second, it keeps drinks hot for an infinite amount of time (because of science). Most importantly, it's from Starbucks.

Starbucks may be tax scallywags but they do have convenient locations and comfy chairs. With the thermos I can sit there, pretending to be consuming their beveripoffs, for hours.

This guy's taken it to the next level

Anyway, I got to Starbucks a couple of minutes before the lesson was due to start, couldn't see my student, and made myself comfortable. Knowing that I'd soon be earning money while stealing warmth and shelter made me feel great. Ten minutes later he still wasn't there.

I checked my diary and realised I was a week early.

That put a dent in my mood, but at least one person I know is happy to hear tales of my stupidity. "Jen," I texted, "I did a spaz." "Yay! Details details details!" Typical me: always spreading happiness.

Day 58

My friend Kevlar Vezt (not a pseudonym) is always trying to drag me to dangerous places to do dangerous things. "Andrew," he'll say, "let's go and strap sticks to our feet and slide off a mountain!" Or "I'm going to run about four times farther than humans are designed to run. By the end, my body will have started digesting my gums in a desperate bid to stay alive. Would you like to join me? They give you a hotdog at the end."

Or most recently: "Have you ever swum in Lake Zurich? It's safe - no-one has seen a giant squid there for ages!"

Weirdly, I didn't say no. (Possibly because the happiness experiment has altered my brain chemistry in a detrimental way?) And after checking the weather forecast, I thought, 'why the devil not?!'

So there I was, my foot hovering about a foot above the lake. "It's cold!" I whinged. "The water's 21 degrees," said Kevlar, "way higher than what I normally swim in." 21 did sound like a lot. That's like Tenerife in September, right? I touched my toe against the surface and it froze into an ice block and fell off. "My toe! I need that for counting."

"Look," said Kevlar. "See that platform? That's about 30 metres away. Swim to there, and if you're still cold, I'll buy you a nice hot tea."

So I nearly got hypothermia, but scored a free drink. On balance, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Day 59

My school is one of the few institutions in the world which understands and respects the concept of the Birthday Month.

All the June-born teachers are invited to lunch at the end of the month. (It's the same in other months, but for people who are not me, so I don't consider it noteworthy.)

It was my first restaurant meal since I started saving for retirement. My boss chose to bring us to Bar Basso, which is really nice and does superb pizzas. All washed down with lashings of prosecco.

"Ahhh," I said after a post-meal burp. "That was very heaven. And to think there are people in third world countries who don't even have a birthday."

Day 60

Today I started an online course from a top Russian university. The course is called Neuroeconomics, which is a word you've never even heard before. That's just the kind of thing I do. No big deal. Whatever.

What? You're in awe of me and my insatiable desire to learn new things? Oh, you're too kind. But why don't you go and learn something new, too? Don't let me hoard all the insufferable smugness. I'll put a link at the bottom.

Meanwhile, here's a neuroeconomics joke, which I understand because I study things like neuroeconomics.

Day 61

Recently it feels like I got a lot of stuff for free, and when I counted up the results of my 'Best at Savings' game I had saved about 200 francs compared to what I normally spend. In about ten days. With zero drop in quality of life. Quite eye-opening!

July is one of my worst months in terms of income. At best I break even. But what if I didn't spend anything at all? I decided to make it into a project and put it on the blog. Projects are fun!

I'm calling it 'My Miserly Month' unless I think of a better name by then.

Day 62

Jen was extremely supportive when I told her I planned to slash my spending in July. She showed her supportiveness by becoming furious and walking around in a stress bubble for an hour. (No, I don't understand it, either. I guess she thought I wanted to spend a month in the woods foraging for mushrooms while growing flax in a bum bag.)

The effort of raging at me seemed to tire her, and she collapsed, spent, on the sofa. To show there were no hard feelings, I began piling things on her. I got this far before I lost my nerve:

Day 63

Remember I joined the library? Today I went to get some books. They have so, so many books! And you're free to choose whichever ones you want. (Although as you know from neuroeconomics, you have to choose the one your brain chose for you 8 seconds ago. LOL.)

"Sir would like to borrow Harry Potter... again?"

As I was looking around - get this - I found a whole aisle full of audiobooks. New ones, too!

I borrowed one book that seems fun, and one audiobook, which I instantly ripped into mp3 format for me to listen to anytime I want! Ever!

By the end of the year I'll have mp3s of about 150 audiobooks. AhahahahahHAHAhahaha!

Progress after 63 days:

Mood: Good.
Compliments: "I dreamt you died so I went to the South Pole to live with the penguins." "I don't hate you." "That was a very nice thing to do, Andrew. Jen is lucky to have you."
Optimism: High.

Learn something for free.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Andrew's Wedding Gift Calculator

Wedding swag

Webster's dictionary defines a wedding as 'an occasion where two people ask their friends and family for kitchen utensils and cash.' If one is invited to such a gathering, how much should one give?

It's actually easy. All you have to do is appraise the past, present, and future value of your friendship. I'll show you how by doing a case study on Cecile and Nick1.

(Amounts have been calculated in New Zealand Dollars because of reasons.)


At first being friends with Cecile was entirely beneficial. She was enthusiastic about my blog and encouraged me to write more (+NZ$50), helped me buy some stylish clothes (+50), and made me laugh with her antics (+100). Things got even better when I met her fiance. Not only was Nick the only person I could talk to about movies with giant robots (+100) but also he was the perfect badminton opponent (slightly worse than me), contributing to my health, fitness, and self-confidence (+200).

Cecile then gave me her old, broken iPhone. It couldn't do much but it worked well enough for me to appreciate the benefits of having a portable games machine/atlas/conversation-ruiner. Because of Cecile I've spent 840 dollars on phones and contracts. She did save me about 300 dollars by getting me banned from a cool but expensive cafe I used to frequent.

At that point they were in the red by 40 dollars, which might have been a factor in them deciding to leave Zurich and go to New Zealand. Just as I'd got used to having them around and started to depend on them as a constant, uplifting source of mental well-being, they skipped town. Cecile gave me a teapot and whatever tea she had lying around her flat, plus some wine glasses. So let's say that's worth 40 dollars and call it even.


Every time I write a blog post or a chapter of my book I email it to Nick and promptly receive lucid, detailed feedback . After making some changes I send the new draft to Cecile, and gain the benefit of her weeks of experience as a journalist. The end result is text so vivacious it hosts garden parties, and so stimulating truck drivers read it to keep awake.

Any writer will tell you this is incredibly valuable, so I'm awarding them a bonus of 25% of all my writing income from the last 2 years (+0).


Finally, we should consider the wedding itself. It will be held in Nice, meaning I have to take a flight and book a hotel (-255). That will be offset by all the free food and drink at the reception, right?

Wrong. While I'm sure there'll be flowing wine and prosecco (+50), I don't expect to eat much. Cecile has decided to only offer fish, with no meat or vegetarian options, because SHE likes fish and people who don't like fish (e.g. me) can fly across the world to her wedding and then eat breadsticks in a room that reeks of fish. 

Medium rare, please

So after we deduct 10 dollars for the burger and fries I'll have to sneak out and scoff, we can calculate the final total.

Cecile and Nick, your wedding gift will be an invoice for 215 dollars2

1 If you are going to use my methods, note that at Chinese weddings the gift amount is written down in a book, and at Turkish weddings the amount you give is announced to everybody via microphone. You might want to keep that in mind if you care what other people think about you.

140 Euro, 190 USD, 110 pounds


Thursday, July 03, 2014

100 Happy Days Part 8

For my own inscrutable reasons - which you can scrutinise here - I'm taking photos of things that make me happy. One a day for 100 days, in the style of the 100HappyDays project.

Day 50

There's likely to be a financial theme this week because I've become obsessed with the concept of 'extreme early retirement'. (I can't remember how I stumbled upon it because although I'm pretending to be writing this entry today, it's actually a week later. Oh, and when I said there's 'likely' to be a financial theme, I know there definitely is, because, like I said, the week is over.)

What is extreme early retirement? You slash your spending, raise your income if you can, and invest heavily. Thanks to the magic of compound interest, in 10 or 15 years you should have enough to 'retire' on.

Today I was happy to score a point on the 'increase your income' side of the equation. I met a prospective new private student and after an hour of my charm and modesty he was very motivated to learn English and give me his money. If I can meet ten more guys like him I'll be as out of work as Edward Snowden.

Day 51

Today was haircut day. I know that a lot of the Extreme Retirement community save money by cutting their own hair. As part of my early retirement plan, all expenditure must be questioned.

As I explained to my hairdresser, who has chosen the pseudonym 'Crazy Ice-Water-Swim Girl', it takes me quite a long time to get to her flat and she's slightly more expensive than the Turkish guys who cut hair in my local train station.

"But I give you a free magazine and a cup of tea," she said. "And a bickie."

True! She's also extremely tiny, so paying for the haircut feels quite like a charity donation.

Cutting my own hair isn't really an option - here's what happened last time I tried:

Day 52

Today I learned that my blog is huge in Slovenia. I got this message from a fan: "Your happiness project is the only thing keeping the country together after the JanÅ¡a Scandal. The willowy, ethereal women of Slovenia thank you."

Here's a picture of a Slovenian woman clothed in money. What are the odds of this happening to me in my lifetime?

I've calculated those odds - they're 3 to 1.

Day 53

If she doesn't have to work early, Jen pops round to the local bakery and picks up a couple of sandwiches. She eats hers with a weird hippy coffee made of hemp or something, while I devour mine in bed and wonder where all the crumbs came from.

Today Jen went to the bakery as normal, but came back with a couple of rolls which she made into sandwiches. "It was only 2 francs," she said.
"What do the ready-made ones cost?"
"10 or 11."

Instead of falling back asleep, I did some maths. Making our own sandwiches four times a week would save two thousand francs a year. 2,000! 

Proud of her frugality, I invented a competition called 'Best at Savings'. The rules aren't clear and the prize uncertain, but I went ahead and stuck it on the fridge.

(Photo shows the state of play a few days into the future, about Day 58, or as you know it, 'the past').

Day 54

While my head was fizzing with savings schemes and scams, Jen was out buying the most expensive riding helmet in the world. Why so expensive? Because she has a head so tiny the helmets have to be made by a specialist. (The sad part is, I'm not even joking.)

Jen's new riding helmet - safety first, everyone.  Safety first.

She insists it shouldn't count against her in the game because it's necessary for her job. A dubious claim, but I've come to realise that lots of the fun of 'Best at Savings' comes from bickering about which items can be included and which can't.

Example: Today a former student gave me a container of high-grade saffron worth 20 francs. She bought it for me a year ago but we hadn't been able to arrange a time to meet and then we'd both forgotten it. I bumped into her near her flat, took the saffron home and awarded myself 20 francs. Jen argued that a) I wouldn't have bought it if it wasn't free and b) I don't know what saffron is, so it shouldn't count in the game. A totally fallacious argument, I'm sure you'll agree.

But she lost the fight about my new financial innovation. Given that I recently bought 2 books for 35 francs, I thought that was an area of spending I could cut back on. I had a brainwave and joined the local library. Six rows of English books! Every time I take one out I'm going to credit myself 17 francs. Here's the reeeeaaaalllly clever bit - I'll get books for Jen to read too!


Day 55

More reading-based savings!

Imagine the following scenario. You are male and have money to buy things. Someone describes the following graphic novel to you. How much would you pay to read it?

"What if baby Superman had crashed on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain and grew up to become Stalin's right-hand man? And what if insane genius Lex Luthor was employed by the US government to develop their own countermeasure against the Man of Steel, turning the Cold War hot?!"

Communist Superman? How much would you pay? A billion dollars? Me too!

Fortunately such a comic exists - it's called Superman: Red Son, and my friend Kevin lent it to me. For zero roubles!

(In case you're wondering, Jen didn't allow me to claim a billion dollars - or anything - in the Best at Savings game.)

Day 56

Jen's mother - who I always said is a very angel - bought us a top-of-the-line blender, just like the one I mentioned on Day 40


The last section of an almost endless wall of text on a blog she doesn't read seems the most appropriate place to say thank you.


Progress after 56 days:

Mood: Really enjoying trying to find creative ways to save money.
Compliments: "You should get out more." "You whinged a lot less than I expected." "You made it wet."
Optimism: High.