Educational Wage

It takes money to make money.
It takes money to make money.

I got my first real job in 1992 just after graduating high school. Prior to that I’d done baby sitting and lawn mowing and other odd jobs for cash, but with my diploma in hand and heading to college, I needed a real job. I applied at a few places but I ended up taking a job at Kroger, a grocery store, for two reasons. First, it was a night stock position and for some reason I liked the idea of working 3rd shift. Second, as a 3rd shift job I was offered a rate of $3.55 an hour. Technically it was a minimum wage job, and the minimum wage at the time was $3.25, but Kroger offered 30 cents per hour “premium” to 3rd shift employees. When the summer came to an end and I was preparing to start college, I needed to kick 3rd shift, so I got a transfer to day stock in the “non-foods” department (which also included the video store – yes, Kroger used to rent movies). At the time, I’d done a good job and they let me keep my 30 cent “premium” as a raise. About eight months later I would take the position of “Lead Video Clerk” and wind up making $4.25 an hour.

I told you all of that to tell you this… My parents paid for my first year of college, which I royally screwed up. After that, they stopped paying and I had to take over if I wished to continue. I took the Lead Video Clerk position and my 40 hours a week, moved out with a roommate and paid for my own college. The college I went to cost around $500 per Quarter for a full load (12 credit hours) of classes. At the time, they were on the Quarter system, so 3 Quarters for a standard year, but you could also attend the summer session. The school says it was $1,500 a year, which is about right. The summer session was short, 8 weeks, so I usually skipped it as a break from school and to allow myself the summer to do other things. I was making around $8,000 a year, give or take, after taxes and then my refund. So, 8000 – 1500 = $6,500 per year for “everything else”. 6500 / 12 = $541 a month. In 1993 I could live on that. I believe my share of rent and utilities was around $300 a month, then food and gas (average of $1 a gallon, or less) and stuff… I wasn’t saving much money, but I wasn’t living on credit. By the time I graduated in 1998, I’d upgraded jobs through the school’s intern program and was making $7 an hour as a PC technician/Tech Support guy (minimum wage in Georgia was still $3.25), tuition was up to a little over $2,000 a year (though 2 Semesters now instead of 3 Quarters), rent and utilities had gone up too, but I was doing quite well. (It wasn’t until after college that I screwed up my credit – but that is not germane to this story). Even so, had I still been making minimum wage, or close to it, I could still have afforded college. I probably would have needed a another roommate or two, but still.

Now, before I go on, keep in mind that the fees I listed above weren’t really just “tuition” but the final out-of-pocket price, including other school fees. So, my $1,500 a year was actually around $400 tuition a Quarter plus some administration fees, parking pass, etc. Currently, my alma mater boasts a tuition of about $5,000 a year for local students, but they also tack on about $1,600 in fees. A year there will cost a student about $6,600 just for the school. On top of that a student will need an apartment, food, car, etc…

Problem. Minimum wage right now in Georgia is $5.15 . Don’t worry though, thanks to the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, a state can’t be lower than federal except in certain circumstances, you’ll get $7.25, so working full-time will earn you about $14,500 a year – if you can get full-time. Lots of people are having trouble getting full-time work these days, so you’ll either need multiple jobs or settle for less. So let’s say you’ll get $12,000 a year as a fresh-faced kid out of high school with no experience. Most anything you get taken in taxes you’ll get back in your refund. 12000 – 6600 = $5,400. Divide that by 12 and a minimum wage making student going to my old school will have to figure out how to live on about $450 a month. You would need like 5 roommates, live in a shit hole apartment and eat nothing but rice, potatoes and other bulk foods. I mean, a decent cell phone plan is going to run your about a fifth of your budget if you want a smart phone. Oh, wait… we haven’t even bought textbooks yet! There goes another fifth of the budget! Hope you live real close to the school and have a car that gets good mileage, gas prices are more than 3 times what they were when I was putting myself through college! In fact, everything is more expensive now than back in the 1993 to 1998 time frame of my college days, and I had nearly $100 more a month to live on.

It has become all but impossible for a minimum wage earner to put themselves through school without help. And yet in 1993 I was doing it, without running up a bunch of debt. Twenty years later and you almost require financial aid of some sort – scholarships, grants, loans or parents. This is not good. When the people at the bottom cannot afford to better themselves, everyone loses. I don’t want to get all political, but people on the Right always talk about self-starters and people picking themselves up by their bootstraps and making successes of themselves without the help of anyone else… those stories are more rare these days, and crushing debt from getting a college education is a large part of it.

I’m not sure what needs to be done about it, but it’s something that I don’t think can be ignored for much longer.

Sneakin’ Around: The Newbie Experience

From the very first moment, the humans asked me to fight.  But I have put aside my weapons, and I turned my back on the abbey and walked away.  This was a very hard decision, because the entire starting area for humans is locked behind that first quest.  Most of the quests, if I recall correctly, involve fighting anyway.  As I left, I was given the quest that pointed me to Goldshire, but everything there is too high level, so I decided to spend some time in the inn to earn exp bonus, that way what little I do manage to find will be used to the fullest.

The inn in Goldshire is a wretched hive of scum and villainy… or rather a wretched hive of people who will ERP scum and villainy with you for the right price.  I was aware of ERP.  I knew it existed.  But on other servers you mainly find people hiding in the tram tunnels speaking sex to each other.  But Goldshire is filled with naked people, or people as naked as the game allows them to get.  Bare chested men and women in bikinis abound, and calls fill the air looking for people of all sorts.  What the hell is a “college RP group”?  Are they teaching people to RP or are they RPing that they are in college?

The following day I decided that perhaps only humans were so demanding of violence and I headed for dwarf town.  Also, some of the ERP chat was creeping me out.  From both the dwarves and gnomes, they expected the same violence.  But like the journey to Goldshire, they provided quests to get to Karanos.  The night elves would be a little more forgiving… or not.  The Draenei?  Ah, yes!  They wanted me to collecting things (that weren’t in the hands of others) and give out medicine.

At some point along the way, I also managed to get mining and herbalism, and sometimes I even earned experience from using them (I suspect there is some powerleveling code in there because at one point I got 50 exp from a plant, then later after I leveled in the same area I got 54 exp).  And once I attained level 5 and got sneak, I was able to even take on some more quests that had finally opened up.

So, it seems my early levels will be filled with travel, not exploration (because I know there is a level floor on those, I wouldn’t get any exp visiting higher level zones), but making a rotation of the starting areas, harvesting and questing.  I’ve made level 7 so far, as it’s actually getting easier.

I also learned I have to be very careful of quests.  Things that appear to be something I can solo sometimes result in the game giving me a “pet” who will kill things.  Sadly, Kaens now has a single kill on his stat sheet because of one of these.  We’ll have to see if I can keep it at one.

Dragon*Con 2009: The Aftermath

I don’t remember which year was the first time I went to Dragon*Con.  I’m not sure if it was before or after I got out of college.  I think before, so it was probably 1996 or 1997.  The first couple of times I went down it was for concerts and people watching and the dealers hall.  At some point, probably 5 years ago or so, I started actually going to panels.  Not just one or two, but spending pretty much all my time in them.  From year to year I would go to new tracks and see more stuff…

Before I go further, I want to say that everyone should take some time and see the panels.  They cover great topics and the people are very passionate.  Just think about the things you are interested in and track down a panel or two and go.

… that said, after five years, many of the panels are content stagnant.  Hey, if you’ve never been to the Star Trek author’s panel, go, but if you’ve been before, unless there has been some big shakeup in the publishing or some game changing new book released, they are more likely to just discuss the same things they discussed the last time.  Much like I wrote about in this year’s daily posts concerning the Art Show, Exhibitors and Dealers halls, once you’ve gone through a track’s panels in full once or twice, you can skim them in later years and just pick up the new stuff.  After five years, you are pretty much skimming all the tracks, and some tracks, while being full of awesome people and awesome content and perfect for people new to the track, there is so much less “must see” items on their schedule.

When you get to this point, you will find out which items you are really interested in by which tracks you continue to visit.  This year, I spent most of my time in the MMO Track, with a few trips off to the Writer’s Track and Apocalypse Rising, and those side trips were only to see those “skimmed” panels of content either new or deeply interesting to me.

So what do you do when attending the panels is winding down?  For me, it means I’m thinking about getting involved.  Why just go to Dragon*Con when you can help bring it to be?

Beyond that revelation, I also discovered that being in better shape physically makes for a better weekend all around.  Four nights in a row of getting 3 to 5 hours of sleep at best and I wasn’t exhausted.  Even now, in the aftermath, I’m more mentally tired than physically so (though I did get about 9 hours of sleep last night).  Getting healthier is having all sorts of cool benefits.  I even managed to go through the whole weekend without gaining weight.

All in all, Dragon*Con was as good as ever, and I’m really looking forward to next year.

Unrealistic Requirements

Back in 1998, I had just graduated from college with a degree in computer science and was looking for a job.  I had previously worked in technical support and hardware installation.  I had also done some Novell network administration.  What I really wanted was a programming job.  There was a job posting that I recall quite vividly.  One of their requirements for the position was “5 years experience with Java”.  The problem was that the first public release of Java was in 1996, 1995 if you worked on Sun boxes.  In order to have 5 years of experience with Java (1993), you would have had to have worked at Sun.  There was another posting that asked for 10 years with Java, a feat not possible unless you had a time machine and repeated a few years since the project that would one day become Java began in 1991.

In the last ten years, things really haven’t changed.  Really.  I just saw a posting today asking for “20 years experience with Java” … 2008 minus 20 equals 1988… so they want someone with 3 more years experience than the guys who invented Java.  Its frustrating to be looking for work and have to deal with crap like that.

Even more exasperating, however, is having positions require samples of your work.  Seriously?  I’ve been a programmer for the past 6 years, and in those 6 years I have worked on exactly ZERO projects where I was not under and NDA and taking code samples with me couldn’t be prosecuted as theft.  I have 6 years of experience, but I have no samples of my work because it would be against the law for me to have them.  Sure, I could send them samples of things I have done for myself, but I honestly don’t think WordPress themes and a party invitation managing webpage I wrote are going to be all that impressive to someone who is considering me for a senior level .NET/C# position.

I can only say… would you really want to hire someone to work for you under an NDA if in order to get the job they were willing to break the NDA of their previous job?  That’s like being the other woman who’s lover leaves his wife and then being surprised when he cheats on you too…

Some times I really wish I could put aside my morals for personal gain.  It would make getting a new job so much easier.

An MMO You Could Take To The Bank

This all begins over on Raph Koster’s blog, with his post about the RPG Piggy Bank.  Then David McDonough ran with it.  Now here are my thoughts which began over on Nerfbat

I think someone really needs to do this.  It could be a revolution on two levels.  First, it could actually interest more people into saving money.  Second, it would finally put a game with a huge real world impact out there and “people” couldn’t just say that games are for kids or are just for entertainment anymore.

I would start with two different games.  The first would be kid focused.  Build an MMO with puzzles and educational things, while also including an adventurous “hack and slash” type game.  Some times you would go out and fight monsters and save the world, and some times you’d stay in and play mini-games for various reasons.  And not just the Tetris-style mini-games from Puzzle Pirates, but steal games from Brain Age, games that might actually help with learning while also still being (for the most part) fun.  The money invested into the game, either by monthly fee or by a microtransactions model (one where you buy items, game cash or points for real dollars), goes into a trust fund style account for the child.  The trust would be set up so that nothing can be spent until the kid gets out of High School, and that drafts from the trust after that would have to be approved, mostly to ensure the money is going to a college or other educational program, and perhaps have a monthly stipend paid out to a checking account for the kid (college expenses and what not).  When the kid turns 25, the remainder of the trust is turned over to the kid.  (And of course, if something happened to the child, the trust would be released to the family.)

The second game would be aimed at adults.  And I don’t mean that in a “blood and boobs” sort of way, but just that the game would need to appeal to more than just kids.  Only this time, instead of money invested going into a trust fund for college, the money goes into a retirement 401k or some other similar plan, the kind that begins payouts at 65.  Think of it as Social Security by way of an MMO.

If you really wanted to get crazy, you could allow people to set up any kind of saving fund they wanted and pay into it through game play.  Say you want to buy a new car and you need a minimum of a $3,000 down payment.  Set up a savings goal with the bank of $3,000, then direct your gaming account to desposit all funds into that savings goal.  Then a few months (or whatever) later while you are playing… “DING! Car Down Payment Achieved!”  What?  Oh!  Sweet!!  You could even set up multiple goals and split your payments into different funds, you want 30% to go into the new car fun, 30% to go into the vacation fund, 20% to go into the big screen TV fund, 10% to go into the house down payment fund and 10% into the retirement fund.

Of course, you’d need some way to fund the game… which could be done by advertisement partnerships and things like that, or even just shaving a tiny percentage off money deposited through the game as a service charge.  But seriously, I think this idea has merit.  I wonder what it would take to pull something like this off… hmm… where did I put those example business proposals? …


I went out and saw a sneak preview of Accepted the other night. The story: A kid gets rejected from 8 colleges and rather than disappoint his parents more, he invents a college, makes a webpage and fakes an acceptance letter… then his dad wants to drop him off, so he uses the tuition money to lease a building to fake a school… then dad wants to meet the dean, so they hire a friends crazy uncle to play the part… then it turns out the webpage works, and a couple hundred kids also got accepted… you can see where this is going, right?

The movie was completely predictable in just about every way, but that didn’t stop it from being hilarious. Justin Long already has a decent career going, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead in comedies. All the rest of the cast is good too, and they work well together. And the college they invent is a place I would have rather spent my learning years because I might have actually learned something useful.

I recommend the movie, so when it opens, go see it.