Roastin’ the Turkey

Last night in my guitar class, my teacher Vinnie talked about practicing and how, to be most effective, we’ve got to “roast the turkey.”

A properly roasted turkey takes about 3.5 hours to cook at 425° F. If your goal is a golden, juicy, well-cooked bird, there’s no way around this. Say you want to save on gas, so you put the heat at 200° F. You’ll have to leave the turkey in the oven a very long time to bring it to the right temperature for cooking, and even then it won’t be very good. Or say you want to cook it quickly, so you turn the heat to 600° F. Your bird will cook unevenly, burnt on the outside and not quite done on the inside.

So it goes with practice. If you do a little here and there, you’ll get better. But it’ll take a long time, and you’ll probably feel that your skills atrophy between practices. If you’re cramming by practicing hours and hours a day, you will see quick progress, but you’ll likely burn out.

I’ve been posting on here weekly, on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. I’m trying to return to a practice of writing, and having some output each week feels right. Gotta roast my turkeys.

Life Lessons in the Mojave Desert

This summer, my sister Kell and I crossed an item off our bucket list when we took a three-day kayaking trip on the Colorado River at the base of the Hoover Dam. That part of the river goes through a desert, and that harsh terrain was a stark reminder of some of the principles I try (but sometimes fail) to follow in my day-to-day life back home.

1. A good guide can be the difference between fun and misery. 

Kell and I went with a tour company, Desert Adventures. We could not have done this trip without our guide, Gary. He knew the trails and kept us comfortable and well-fed. I’ve camped and kayaked before, but I didn’t have enough experience to do a trip like this without a guide. Sometimes back in my “real life” it’s hard to ask for help or say I need guidance, but while following Gary on the trails, I wondered why I’ve been so stubborn about this. Having someone who has been there, done that makes the path so much easier. My takeaway: Seek out guides!

2. Good preparation improves your ability to improvise. 

Our guide, Gary, had planned out all our meals and brought enough tools, supplies and amenities so that we could live three days in the desert very comfortably. Even though there was a plan for the trip, we felt free to be flexible every day. For instance, we passed an afternoon soaking in a 98º hot spring and stayed well past sunset because we had flashlights and towels. Being prepared gives you opportunities to wing it when something really good comes along (like the chance to while away the day and night in a natural hot spring!).

Kell sitting on our "front porch" at our camp site
Kell sitting on our “front porch” at our camp site

3. It’s sometimes easier to do difficult things when you don’t see the risks.

One night, we decided to hike to the single public “bathroom” in the area. It was after dinner, and well after dark. The hike was a little under a half mile. We had headlamps and good shoes and followed Gary. We scrambled up jagged rocks, through a crevasse and down slopes littered with tiny, unstable pebbles. At one point we stepped carefully over a gap in the trail – a black hole that we stepped over one at a time. We made it to the bathrooms and back without incident. The next day we made the same hike in the daylight on our way to a trailhead. I slid down a rocky slope and Kell lost her footing twice. “People always have a harder time with this trail when they can see it,” said Gary. We knew it was an uneven trail, but in the dark we couldn’t focus on the drop to the water or the crack we’d have to shimmy through. We just moved forward. This isn’t a call for carelessness; it’s a reminder to not get bogged down in the uncertainties. And see Lesson 1: Have a Good Guide.

4. You get to awesome places by taking small steps.

This is a lesson in self-care, one that is so easy to dismiss when I’m in my daily routine and deciding to skimp on sleep or skip a workout. On a searing hot day, we hiked to petroglyphs (rock carvings). The trail was a dry riverbed. Though it was a short hike – only about three miles roundtrip – each time we found some shade, we took a seat, sipped some water and chatted. Taking our time was the only way we would make it to the petroglyphs and back. We had to rest, to care for ourselves and not get overheated. We made it there, got great photos, and took a well-deserved swim in the Colorado back at camp. Take good care of yourself along the way!

On the trail from the petroglyphs
On the trail from the petroglyphs

5. Journeys are more fun with others.

The environment we were in was rugged and gorgeous. I’ve never seen such a big sky. I had lots of time to myself, to unplug and reflect. The greatest memories are the ones with my sister, though. It was amazing to have that experience together, to push ourselves during the day and then gather around the campfire at night. When the trip was over and we were dropped off in Las Vegas, we made a beeline for the Buffet at the Bellagio and spent the whole night rehashing stories.

We had a great time in the Mojave Desert and I can’t wait until the next outdoor adventure!

Inside Reddit: No Salary Negotiations!

Reddit’s been in the news nonstop lately. First interim CEO Ellen Pao’s failed sex-discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins. Then Pao’s shutdown of Reddit’s r/fatpeoplehate in June. And now, the dismissal of a key Reddit employee, Victoria Taylor. Reddit’s voice on the web is huge, thanks to its volunteer moderators. The company itself is small, however, with around 60 employees and a business model that still doesn’t turn a profit.

That’s why I was interested in Pao’s comments on pay in her conversation with WSJ in April. Pao said one way Reddit addresses gender inequity is by eliminating salary negotiations. Studies show that salary negotiations are a touch point for some of the inequalities we see in the workplace. Men are more likely to negotiate, women may see more blowback from negotiating, and studies have shown in so many ways how the game is rigged from the start – male names atop resumes are more likely to be chosen than female names with similar experience and men are hired on potential while women are hired on past experience. Eliminating salary negotiations may seem like a salve for uneven compensation, but I’m happy to see that this is not a widespread corporate practice.

First of all, salary negotiations are only one of many negotiations in the workplace. People negotiate benefits, work assignments, promotion paths – even the day-to-day of work life involves small negotiations. “Can you do a favor for me?” – that can be an opening to negotiate for resources and power. Eliminating salary negotiations doesn’t wipe out inequality.

Secondly, negotiations can be mutually beneficial. Some employees may want more equity and less salary. Some employees may want flexible schedules. Some employees may take on additional responsibilities over time and ask for more. How does that work when the employer dictates the terms? In an environment without negotiations, the employee has only two options – take the offer or leave. This kind of black-and-white scenario doesn’t work for either side of the negotiating table. 

A better move is to aim for transparency. Few companies get behind this, but companies with pay bands and levels give employees a sense of appropriate compensation in their role. Transparency is a key driver of employee engagement. And knowledge is power. Did you know men are more likely to talk about compensation among their friends than women? A completely unscientific poll among my friends show this to be anecdotally true.

So what’s the way forward? For companies, it is taking risks in being transparent. For individuals, it is knowing the market and gathering knowledge from your peers. Negotiation isn’t a thing to be avoided – it’s a dance, in which both parties can find mutual satisfaction. A Review

As a kid, I had a wooden piggy bank and loved dropping any spare change into it (and later sorting it with the plastic coin sorter on my mom’s desk). I have found the digital equivalent in Digit.

I joined Digit on January 30 after reading this post on Lifehacker. It has a great premise: link it to your bank account and it applies its special algorithm to find untapped savings. As a personal finance hobbyist, I was happy to take the bait.

In the first month, I saved over $100 with Digit and have since saved about $650. I recommend it, as long as you understand a few things about its operating model (or what I’ve gleaned from Google searches).

First, Digit holds your “savings” in an interest-free account. I’ll come back to this because it’s a key to the Digit business. But for the consumer, that means my “savings” are essentially stuffed under a digital mattress until I’ve moved the money out of my Digit account and into an interest-bearing savings account or investment. The catch to this is that so far, Digit only links to one account, meaning to “save” the $100 Digit pulled aside in month 1, I had to transfer that money back into my checking account and then into my savings account. I’m fine with this as an experiment, but this would get really annoying over time.

Second, Digit operates primarily through SMS. This feels like a novelty these days, and the simplicity makes it so enjoyable to use. Every day I get a text with my checking account balance and then I get texts when Digit makes a withdraw. I also got some gif action when I hit $50 and $100 in my account. All in all, a very pleasant and simple user experience.

I was hooked after using it just a few days. I’ve noticed the amounts drawn taper off – sometimes to <$1 – as my checking account lowers with bills, rent, etc. It hasn’t landed me any overdraft fees and even if it did, if offers a guarantee to repay them.

And now Digit: the startup. I am intrigued by this company. The founder, Ethan Bloch, has started a few other companies and the last one, Flowtown, was acquired by Demandforce. Why is this company so interested in helping little ol’ me save some bucks? Which brings us back to the no-interest point at the top. Your miniscule interest on your checking interest (mine is 0.05%) is Digit’s gain. When I defer my money to a Digit account instead of my checking, I forfeit only pennies in interest earnings, if that. This becomes a win for Digit if they put everybody’s money together to collect the interest or invest or do whatever they want to do.

For now, I’ve put a reminder on my calendar to transfer my Digit account back into my checking account the first of each month so that I actually put the money into an interest-bearing savings account. I’ve automated a lot of savings already – I have a set amount pull out of my checking account the day after my paycheck hits each pay cycle. It feels good to use Digit because I feel like it’s a little bonus, finding incremental savings where I thought there was none. But if it ends up being a similar amount each month, I’ll just up my savings rate and deactivate my Digit account.

If you have trouble automating savings, Digit could be for you. I’m enjoying it so far.