Books: A Simple Plan

September 8, 2015

I read A Simple Plan by Scott Smith because it was recommended by a co-worker. He usually spends his lunch hour reading history books in the break room, and we have discussed them briefly. When he mentioned a novel that he said was “perfect” in the way the story developed and concluded, I decided to get it from the library without even reading any reviews first.

I disliked it from the beginning, because I disliked the narrator’s character. Which is to say, I disliked the narrator as a character precisely because he lacked “character” – moral integrity. But I pushed myself to keep reading, because my co-worker had said it was such a good book, so I thought if I kept reading I would find what was so good.

I eventually got to a point where I kept reading because I was far enough along that I might as well know how it turned out, rather than keep wondering. By the time I neared the end, I was in a hurry to get to the end, see what happened, and then be done with it and not have to think about it again – once I had written this blog post.

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Do most people cheat?

May 25, 2012

Yes, most people are dishonest, according to Dan Ariely. Not all the time, or in big ways. It’s the widespread minor lying and cheating that really hurt society, however, he says.

Ariely is a professor of behavior economics (a field I never heard of before), and his examples tend in involve cheating for monetary benefit. I suppose a large amount of cheating is done for that reason, and certainly it would be easier to measure if you’re trying to quantify people’s tendency to lie and cheat.

I wonder whether his results would change any, however, if he were dealing with lying that was aimed primarily at influencing others’ opinions. I assume it would be even more widespread, but would it show the same patterns in terms of what does and does not dissuade people from lying?

And what about lying that does not affect us directly, but affects someone else? Do people lie more readily to gain something for themselves, or to make someone else look bad? (And of course we don’t usually think of it as lying, just selective use of the truth.)

I also can’t help wondering whether Ariely’s results are skewed by the fact that his test subjects are usually college students. I can’t imagine that I would have cheated on his matrix test then or now, because I just don’t cheat on tests. But I know that in other areas, I was less honest at that age than I am now.

As a college student, I would keep extra change that a store clerk gave me by mistake. Now I promptly return it. As a young adult in the workplace, I would not intentionally cheat but I would not readily admit a mistake as I would now.

I don’t know whether it’s having children and feeling a need to be a role model, feeling more responsibility to society in general, or just the overall process of maturing. But I would not think that the behavior of college students can be fairly extrapolated to the population at large.

It’s not that I find it hard to believe that most people cheat in little ways from time to time. That’s just one manifestation of people’s fallen nature. If I am scrupulously honest with money now, it is in part because of a couple of instances of minor dishonesty as a college student that convinced me that the guilty conscience was not worth whatever small benefits my dishonesty had gained me.

I think his studies show some interesting insights into what measures are more effective in preventing cheating. I have read elsewhere about the effect of being reminded of moral codes, whether by directing seeing/hearing them, or simply by talk about God or the Bible. I am somewhat surprised that the prospect of getting caught doesn’t have more of an effect – I think it would for me.

JA BizTown

March 21, 2012

I’ve been a Junior Achievement classroom volunteer for several years, but today was my first experience with JA BizTown. I agreed to volunteer mostly because my son wanted me to, but now I’m glad I saw firsthand what it was all about.

When I was a junior in high school, I got my first exposure to business operations, as part of a Junior Achievement company called Vendex. We sold $1 shares in our company to raise capital, then manufactured denim tote bags, and sold them. My mother used her Vendex bag for years, and I wish I still had one now as a memento of that experience.

At the time I had no interest in the administrative side of business. I had to help sell shares, and later tote bags, but other than that I stuck to working in production. I learned about the problems it created when workers were absent, or when they sat around talking instead of working, and the station I was working at had nothing to do because one of the previous stations on the line had gotten behind.

That was a year-long program (meeting weekly), so we got a good look at what it took to have a successful business. (We did earn a profit, though I don’t remember how much of a dividend we were able to distribute at the end.) Our adult volunteers (from Stanley Tools in New Britain, CT) had already procured the product idea, design, and production machinery (sewing machines), but we did the rest – under their excellent guidance.

BizTown, on the other hand, is a one-day simulation (though some businesses do make and sell simple products), giving students less in-depth but more breadth in terms of what goes on in the “real world” their parents work in. They each have a job (for which they had to interview in the weeks of preparation back at school before the actual event), they receive two paychecks which they deposit at the BizTown bank, and during breaks from work they go out into the “city” and spend money at other businesses.

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Going paperless

August 22, 2011

Good-bye, check registers. Good-bye, printed bank statements.

At least two years ago, I signed up to “go paperless” with the bank (actually it’s a credit union, but it functions the same as a bank as far as I’m concerned) that I use for most of my payments. I was never waiting until the paper statement came anyway – I’d go online occasionally to check my account balance and add any transactions I had missed to my checkbook register. So by the time the statement came, all I did with it was add it to a stack of papers to eventually store in a box somewhere.

It worked fine as long as I made most of my payments by check. But as I made more and more payments online or using my debit card, the job of keeping my check register up-to-date became increasingly tedious. Having the bank data all online was great. Having to writing it all on a paper register, just so I could do the bank reconciliation (where the errors were always mine, or else too small to spend time tracking down when they were most likely mine anyway), was a pain.

Now and then I thought about the possibility of getting a computer program to record all my finances. That way I’d not only take care of the bank records, I’d also be able to run reports showing me what I was spending my money on. For a while I had tried to track details of my spending in a spreadsheet, but it was a pain to do all that data entry. I don’t know if I’d dislike the chore as much if I had lots of money, but looking at the numbers is always an unpleasant reminder that I wish I were in much better shape financially – but don’t see that happening anytime in the near future.

Paying money for a program to do what I could do manually didn’t appeal to me, though, even if I didn’t like doing it manually. And while there may be freeware out there for that purpose, I wasn’t keen on relying on a program without customer support. (I did decide to pay for money a program to do my taxes this year, but that was because I was pretty sure it would save me money by making sure I didn’t miss any deductions.)

I finally have a solution I’m happy with, however. In recent weeks I’ve been working on using Visual Basic for Applications, together with Microsoft Access, to simplify keeping track of software licenses for my company. I really enjoyed the project, and I started looking for other ways to use my VBA skills. What about making myself a nice little application to record income and expenses and track my bank balances, I thought. Since I would be dealing mostly with numbers rather than names, I decided this time I would work in Excel instead of Access.

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Books: Radical

April 17, 2011

 I finally finished David Platt’s book Radical yesterday. When I started it, back on Super Bowl Sunday, I couldn’t put it down. (Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to distract me from watching a football game.) Once I was offered the chance to take it home, and finish it at my leisure, I couldn’t seem to get interested in picking it up again.

That’s perhaps not too unusual a reaction. As one of the editorial reviews at points out,

“Sometimes people will commend a book by saying, ‘You won’t want to put it down.’ I can’t say that about this book. You’ll want to put it down, many times. If you’re like me, as you read David Platt’s Radical, you’ll find yourself uncomfortably targeted by the Holy Spirit. You’ll see just how acclimated you are to the American dream.” (Russell D. Moore, dean, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

Most days I read for relaxation and intellectual stimulation. I like to sit in a comfy armchair, often with a snack or at least a beverage handy. Picking up a book that makes me feel guilty for time or money I spend on my own comfort doesn’t quite fit the picture.

When I did finally pick it up again yesterday, I had another surprise. Most of what I remembered about the book was the emphasis on American Christians needing to be willing to give up at least some of their material comforts and give to people elsewhere in the world who have so much less. Apparently I had pretty much finished that part of the book, because when I started reading again, it was all about needing to take the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to people who have never heard, so that they will not all go to Hell.

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Don’t try to guilt me into giving

January 8, 2010

I’ve often thought I’d like working for a non-profit organization whose work I could enthusiastically endorse. I’d want to do back-office work, however (e.g. computer systems, writing newsletters, accounting). One job I would never want is fundraising.

I don’t like selling at all. I tried selling Tupperware, but couldn’t bring myself to twist arms to get friends to book parties. When I worked as a bank teller, I got more or less comfortable having to interact with the public all day (it helped that it was a small town and I got to recognize regular customers), but I hated having to do sales pitches (for loans, credit cards, etc.) I am unlikely to ever try to become self-employed, because it would require selling my services to people.

I don’t know if I don’t like selling because I don’t like people trying to sell something to me, but I know I do prefer to be simply given enough information to just make up my own mind. I admit I sometimes take a long time to make it up, but pressuring me to decide just makes me less inclined to do so. And one kind of decision I particularly dislike anyone trying to pressure me into is to donate to charity.

I’m sure it’s in part because I’m a saver, not a spender. I want to hold onto my money, and it’s not easy to just pull some out of my pocket and give it away. I need to be convinced that I’m giving a reasonable amount (considering my budget) to the right organization, and making that decision is something I want to do in private, at my leisure. Try to get me to fork over the money right now – or even a commitment to give it later – and you’ll go on my list of organizations not to donate to.

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