Sunday, February 24, 2008

And we're OFFer

Thank you, friends, for all your remarks. I was very comfortable with our agent, who was referred to us by the rabbi of the local synagogue. He was honest and straight-forward, conscientious and industrious, sorting through all the listings, picking those in neighborhoods, as he put it, that he'd feel comfortable living in himself. He's spent his whole life in the area.

To clarify, the area comprises two small cities, about 10 miles distant from each other. The synagogue is located in the larger and more progressive of the two (which in general has a better economy, and thus commands about a 15% premium in housing). A) & B) were located in the smaller (slightly less desirable) of the two, C) a foreclosure in a nice part of the larger. We had also been considering other communities within a 1-2 hour radius of there, but after our first day of looking (and after the Home Shabbat, establishing rapport with the re@ltor, and making new friends) we decided to stick with these two cities.

To answer then the questions I had raised in Community vs. Home, which were recalled in comments, we were not forced to make the choice, in part because we were willing and able to raise our target home price. We bid on B). Their asking price was the price they paid for it two years ago. We bid about 10% below that; They countered with a 5% price reduction. Considering how much the renovations and such would likely have cost in A) or C), we figured it was pretty much a wash. We accepted. Now it's just a matter of getting the financing all wrapped up, arranging for our move, and heading off (at the end of March!). HR at Rocket Central will be sending a letter confirming Rocket's non-leave employment and salary, which should be enough to satisfy certification for financing (let's hope!).

While there is great appeal to being able to design a kitchen to my liking, there is also something to be said for turnkey condition. I might like to put in new counters in this one down the road, maybe even a center island, but everything is clean, and in great condition. It's a nice size at 10 x 13. The cabinetry has been updated in the past few years.

We'll still have some work to do (by choice not necessity), we'll be able to move in right away and get settled. Near-term projects will include finishing off the basement (making ourselves an entertainment/play room), and likely building a greenhouse in the backyard.

The next few weeks will be a whirlwind, I'm sure. Now it's purging and packing, tying up loose ends, preparing for the changes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My three sons

The Composer, at three weeks old. Getting cuter everyday.

The Inventor
, showing his mischievous side.

The Painter
, looking more and more the schoolboy.

Back from the trip

I hesitated to title this post "Back Home". We're not home here. This has just been a landing pad, a stopover on our journey. I think we're ready to get back on the train.

All told, we spent three full days with an agent, looking at about 30 homes, several more than once. Some were quite forgettable; others rather unforgettable, for good and bad. What's amazing is the realization that housing where we're looking is without exaggeration 1/5-1/6 of the cost of comparable housing here. On, our current area rates a 325 for housing costs (U.S. average=100) vs. the prospective community's 53-60.

We had set our priorities: a nice-sized and well-laid out kitchen; a good-sized yard (big enough for a vegetable garden, and running around room for the boys); a decent neighborhood; priced under $150k; 3+ bedrooms (at least two of good size); we need space for our books and piano, space for a home office, space for our entertainment center, and space for the boys to play.

In the end, we were down to three under consideration.

A) Listed at $124,000. Wood exterior, needing paint in the next year or two. Two car garage is a tear-down. Kitchen on the small side, but possible to remodel into the dining room (maybe a rather large eat-in). Large yard, corner lot. 10x10 sun room could be home office); fireplace; hardwood floors throughout; central air, fairly new furnace; unfinished basement; good neighborhood.

B) Listed at $150,000. Three bedrooms upstairs. Large yard, corner lot. Office room on main floor. Nice kitchen (everything updated, new cabinets and stone floor). Hardwood throughout; carpet in living room. Newer furnace; central air; programmable thermostat; vinyl siding; 5-year old 2.5 car garage; unfinished basement; large yard; same neighborhood as above.

C) Listed at $135,000. Great neighborhood. Lots of cosmetic work needed (including new kitchen). Hardwood throughout. Aluminum siding. Partially finished basement. Medium yard (but two houses down from a nice park and playground). 1.5 car garage needs work. Across the street from new friends from the synagogue with two kids. (They had us over for dinner on Saturday).

What are your thoughts? More coming soon...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Community vs. Home

I've been struggling with a post, which keeps becoming longer and more complicated than I'd like.

Here is the essence: Which is more important community or home?

Here's what I mean: our current first pick locale leads in part because of the prospect to become part of the local Jewish community there. I've never been an active member of a synagogue before. But I'd like to pass along to my boys a sense of my heritage, which in today's America seems impossible without such a connection. (When public schools send children home with countdown chains for Christmas, teach them to sing "the Lord is come" in the winter pageant, have them write letters to Santa, and insist that Christmas is a secular holiday, how is a child not to become confused?)

But I fear we may be forced to choose between being near such a community or finding a place that satisfies our housing requirements. Which is more important? If I'm to be working at home, and Rocket has no work outside the house for a time, that leads me to think those requirements are more stringent.

Community is hypothetical, potential. A home is where we'll spend our lives, but for the few spare hours each day or week that we go elsewhere. The point is, doesn't it seem where and how we spend most of our time should weigh most heavily on our decisions?

If the choice is between being near a possible community and having a home that fulfills our expectations (sufficient land for a garden and running around space for the boys, a sizable kitchen, space enough for a reasonable home office, and costs that allow us to survive for 2-3 years), I think I lean toward the latter.

Assuming I succeed in turning these ideas into self-sustaining support, we can always move nearer to community then, eh?

Off to Nether-Somewhere Land

Tomorrow we fly. I wonder what we'll find. I've been in touch with several real est@te agents this week. Can't be certain we'll find what we're looking for, where we're looking, in the price range we can afford. Much is still up in the air. But we've got some time. We could move in March. We could move in June.

Where would you live? What constitutes a good neighborhood or a bad one? What makes a good school or an excellent one? Everything is subjective.

So, we'll go, and we'll look, and we'll see. This week should give us a sense of many things. What'll work? One conclusion we have come to is that size of a house matters a great deal when you expect to spend most of your waking hours there. People who don't work inside the home have no idea how cramped it can feel.

We're not talking mansion here (though there is one property we're interested in seeing, a repo, that's about 2800 sqft!). I measured up our current house. It comes to about 1400 sqft (+ a two car garage, no basement). That's about as small as we can make do. I tell agents 1500-1600 sqft minimum. They send me listings 1100 sqft. You wonder... I know a basement is space... but it's a basement. We'll fill it with storage, trust me. Or a play area, and toys, a work area for projects. But unless it's finished with heat and lighting, I'm not likely to make it my office.

4 bedrooms/2 baths. They send me 3 bedrooms/1 bath. Um...

We've got a piano, and three 4' x 7' bookcases. They've got to go somewhere! Why do we need 4 bedrooms? One for us; One (largish one) for the boys; a guest room/play room... and a home office. That's four. So... we'll see.

Wish us well.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Out of the stupor

These past couple days I've been absolutely and utterly exhausted. Frequently interrupted sleep is a nasty condition. Yesterday, I came home around 4:00, and promptly hit my pillow for about an hour. Then, I went to bed before 10:00 and slept until nearly 7:00. Today, again, I was drowsy. I picked up my mom at the airport, after getting the Painter from kindergarten, and picking up the Inventor (who wanted to join us) from home. I narrowly escaped a few very bad judgments on my part while driving home. I chalk it up as sleep deprivation. That's a good reason not to drive more than necessary.

Somehow, out of the stupor of the past couple days, I've made admirable progress on my major unresolved issue. Sure, it takes me a while. But, time is something I have in abundance. My white board has remained uncluttered since I wrote about it in that earlier post, except for the addition of the words breathe and smile. They help I think.

I know about myself that I work most productively in spurts, long seemingly uninspired periods of mulling, then bam. It's nice to have hit a spurt on this issue, since it is a fulcrum of sorts on which much of the rest of my proof-of-concept work depends.

But, there still remains this little matter of mastering C++. [SIGH]

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hearing Silence

Hearing silence: deafening.
There is no shame in deafness.
Not in hearing lies the fault.

I strain my eyes at silent walls,
dull with grey, speckled by doubt,
and wonder if vision's gone awry.

Why do I look?
Walls will not change of their own.
They have no voice to speak.

Yet there is a voice that speaks.
No use wondering why I don't hear it.
Perhaps all I need ... is listen.

Anxiety, Self-Doubt, Courage

Rocket recently put it rather astutely: Right now, I'm just a bit overwhelmed. Indeed! Echo that for me.
  • Three boys at home.
    • Delightful they are, but exhausting.
    • The youngest, now a mere two weeks alive, still in that stage of "WOW! The World!" [SNORT SNORT SNUFFLE GRUNT] [Grimace]
      • For those with kids: you forget this stage, but there he is, completely dependent upon us, and with little to do but flop and observe.
      • For those without kids: This stage of life is like having a very precious, demanding, and wonderful pet, whom you know, you just know, will grow very suddenly into something even more remarkable. But you wait.
    • The middle boy trying (I know he's trying) to leave behind diapers and enter the world of the potty-trained (but our patience gives out at times, when all the training pants and clothes are dirty).
    • The oldest is ready for the new move. He couldn't understand why we'll only be spending five days on our upcoming trip.
      • I thought we were going to move to a new house?
      • Um... but we've got to find a place, we've got to be sure we'll like the new town, we've got to put an offer on a house, then pack, and figure out how we're going to move, and... Come here, give me a hug.
  • A wife on leave, with vanishingly little intention to return to her job.
    • I'm proud of her courage.
    • I just fear I won't provide for her the way she has for me these past several years.
  • A small horde of savings that may last us about two years.
    • A jittery economy and financial markets don't settle my worries, though I'm glad I started moving a chunk of funds out of equities into cash and bonds last September. My hunch was right.
  • A world of possibilities.
  • Will I succeed in building my ideas into marketable products?
    • Will I retain myself, will I maintain my commitments to bettering the world?
    • Will I remember my research while I need to find ways for it to pay for itself?
  • I try to remember that I am me, no matter what.
  • I try to recall that none of the important things in life (my family, my self, my mind) are at risk. Only money, and time.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Už jsme tu kde jsme byli

--as they say, where I did my Fulbright (or "back to square one" as we say in these parts).

I find myself once again delving into the realm of computer programming. This week has begun with a return to where I was in the summer, before I (foolhardily, as it turned out) sought the support of experienced programmers to aid me on my journey to setting up my proofs-of-concept. Foolhardy, because it wasted a great deal of my energy and time, and netted me nothing but frustration. Truth is, I have no desire to become a programmer first and foremost. That said, I need to know enough to direct the efforts of those whom I expect eventually to hire. Nothing better for that than getting my feet wet.

If I were able to find a kindred soul, someone passionately interested in what I'm trying to accomplish, not terribly entrenched in the status quo of the field, eager to try something new, and who just happened to have a complementary set of skills to mine, well... I'd be in heaven. For now, I'll have to stick with planet earth, which means if you want it done (whether right I can't yet say) you've got to do it yourself.

In some ways, this is familiar territory for me. I've described myself (academically) as multidisciplinary to my core. The bane of the interdisciplinary is that one needs (all too) often gain at least a modicum of expertise in multiple areas. One needs to be conversant in multiple dialects and methodologies to be able to find the linkages between otherwise disparate fields of inquiry, linkages that have been overlooked or yet undiscovered. The trick (and it's no small matter) is to maintain a focus on the core of your inquiry so you don't bogged down too easily in great breadth with no depth. Properly done, I think it's like meandering through a woods, rather than sticking to a given path. I wrote a fable of interdiscipline on my old blog a while back that fills out this view.

There is always a balance to be struck. There are great rewards in being self-reliant in this way. But there are also more chances to stumble. Finding the balance, learning enough to carry on the conversation, enough to know when, where, and how to delegate is key. What I'm programming now is simply the tools to prove my ideas work. Once I can drum up interest in what those ideas can accomplish, I can safely hire programmers to make those tools better, and more broadly usable. For now, I'll settle on clunky, as long as I can maneuver it.

I did find a project (by a group of astro-physicists) that may be of great help. They've put together a template library for scientific computing in C++ that can be found here.

Wish me luck.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cleaning my plate

No house guest at the moment. My mom arrives on Friday. This is the first day Rocket had to pack the two younger boys into the van, and drive to pick up Painter from kindergarten. I'm at the office. This is new. She seems to have survived. I called to check.

And we're both surviving our latest push to get the Inventor fully potty-trained. It's a struggle. But we seem to be making progress. At least, there are a few successes to accompany the daily accidents.

That is one part of my life: being a parent. A part, which I have chosen freely, and which (despite its frustrations) I fully embrace.

Having finished and submitted the promised biography (of the protagonist of my dissertation) last week, I find myself essentially with a clean plate. Sure, I have this book chapter to write, but the deadline is at the end of October. While I'd like to get working on it long before that deadline, my priority just now is figuring out the next few months that intervene.

We'll be taking the boys on a trip in a couple weeks, to scout out the territory we're considering for our new homestead. Rocket has been trying to sort out her conflicting emotions and desires regarding the possible move. Importantly, this trip will allow us to take it out of the realm of hypotheticals, and into the realm of considerations. Will we find this place to our liking? What of the houses we might look at? Will they seem acceptable to us? Suitable? Could we see ourselves living there? And thriving?

If all those answers are affirmative, then we've got the logistics of the move to tend to. Are we ready to put an offer on a house? When should we plan the move? How are we going to go about it? How much will it cost?

And, just as importantly, I need to get cracking on my research, building these proofs, getting ready for client and investor demos.

Suppose you find yourself essentially free (but with a deadline some couple years out). I think of the computer graphics unit of early Lucas Films. That was their lives for several years (indeed for several employers). I'm trying to model my work on what they did (there are parallels, in an odd sort of way). Only, I don't have anyone bankrolling my research. We've got to cover it all ourselves, and come up with marketable intermediates along the way to keep funds coming in.

I'm a different sort of entrepreneur. My motivation is the work, and solving the research problems. The money, the marketing... they're just means to the ends. I'm not looking to cash in on a good idea. I've got a lifetime's worth of work set out. My goal is to find ways to sustain myself in that work. The fun part is getting the business to work for me, while I work for the research.

How do you get there from here? That's my task of the moment.

Super what?

It is possible to lead a fulfilling life without the least concern as to the plight of sweaty, oversized, overpaid, overhyped athletes.

I am thoroughly ignorant of what it's all about, and perfectly content in that state. Really, there are so many other things for me to get excited or agitated about.

Enough said!

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Searching on for housing information, I saw an ad for New Zealand Now, a website touting opportunities to immigrate to New Zealand. We both qualify under their list of "needed skills" giving us bonus points in an application. And they wish to encourage people starting businesses there.

Adventure. I filled out their contact page. (Do you want to work in NZ? Yes When? Not sure of timing.) Rocket and I look at each other... You know, there is an appeal!

Perhaps we'll go live in the Midwest for a while, then see.

Friday, February 1, 2008


I have to finish up the formatting (and bibliography) for this brief bio I'm writing. FINISHED! Yes, the deadline was last Friday, but after the Composer arrived early, I wrote to the editors to say my schedule had been waylaid by his intervention. They ceded me a week's extension. I worked on it this week, and have it mostly complete.

I volunteer in the Painter's kindergarten class for about an hour on Fridays. His teacher had said she'd understand (what with the new baby and all) if I couldn't make it. Priorities. I said I'd be there. I expect to get this bio done this afternoon. DONE! If not, I'll send it in a few days.

Still have a little plate of things to clear. After this bio, I have the book chapter (which I had initially shirked) due in October. My mother-in-law departs on Saturday. My mother arrives to visit and help out for a few days next week. After she leaves, we pack up the five of us for a trip to see about a new home.

I've been spending a bit of time online checking out real estate sites. There are some bargains out there if we're willing and able to do our own fixing. Looks like there are quite a few houses that have been rentals for a while, which need a good deal of cosmetic repairs, but hopefully their fundamentals are sound.

I even found a house (4 bd/2 ba) for under $25,000! It was a repo, but seemingly in fair shape. No telling about condition until we actually see them though. In any case, we've identified a few areas where we'll likely be able to find a house we can afford (looks like buying would beat renting in that area, so we're hoping to be homeowners again). We're willing to do some work, fixing up and remodeling, as long as the house is livable in the interim.

For the moment, I don't see this next home as an investment. Rather, I'm looking to buy us 2-3 years to spend on building my firm, and raising our boys. The only question is how to arrange that purchase with our current pot of savings, and how can we come out the other end with nothing lost except perhaps some money. The impending move (and its associated logistics) will be a bit of distracter for a while, though I'm hoping not to give it more than necessary of my energy and time.

Two to three years! I gave the PhD six, and my faculty job search three. I think I can afford a couple years on my ideas (and my family).