Mar. 29, 2010

When I heard about the 2010 Census making the rounds, I tried to recall the previous one that took place in 2000. Back then, at the age of 25, I was working at Vanguard in my second job after college, and I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in West Chester. Hard to believe that it’s been a full decade since those days. I can’t quite remember sitting down to fill out the form, but I’m almost certain that I dutifully mailed it in.

It’s not very surprising that the 2000 census wasn’t available online — after all, e-mail and browsing the Web were still novelties for many people 10 years ago. But after a subsequent decade of increasingly digital everything, it’s quite puzzling that the arduous task of counting 309 million people is still entirely paper-based.

The Census Bureau does have a Web site, but its online FAQ doesn’t specifically explain why the census remains offline. Instead, they only offer a flimsy promise that they are “experimenting with Internet response options for the future.” Gee, I certainly hope so. If we can balance our checkbooks and pay our taxes online, then there’s simply no reason why we can’t have a Web-based process for the next national headcount in 2020.

I’ll acknowledge that everyone doesn’t have Internet access in this country. But the medium has been widely available for about 15 years, and you’d think that an online form should at least be an option. Surely there must be a more automated approach — a simple telephone-based system, perhaps? — that could save all of that tedious work, enormous costs in printing and postage, and countless trees. (I feel the same way about voting; by now, we can do better than forcing people to stand in long lines at the polls each November.)

In addition, while the 2010 Census is certainly important, the process is full of too many reminders. In the space of a few weeks, I received no fewer than three notifications — an introductory watch-your-mailbox notice, then the census form itself, then a follow-up postcard reminder. This reminds me of hyperactive, disorganized colleagues at work who ask absurd questions like, “Hey, did you get my voicemail about that e-mail I sent you?”

So, if the Census Bureau is listening, I have two items for their suggestion box: (1) bring the process online, and (2) cut down on the nagging.

[ No. 570 ]

Mar. 24, 2010

Joined a large group of friends at the Helium Comedy Club in Philly to see a stand-up performance by Tom Wilson, who is best known for playing Biff Tannen, the villain in the Back to the Future trilogy.

There are many actors who become known for an indelible character in pop culture, and Biff is definitely one of them. But while many actors would do everything possible to distance themselves from such a well-known role, Wilson has gained a large following by embracing his past (sarcastically, at least) and poking fun at the countless predictable questions that people ask him.

After his hilarious set, we had a chance to chat with Tom in the lobby and take a few pictures. He was extremely friendly and gracious to all of us, and I’m really glad we all had a chance to meet such a great entertainer.

Jeff, Tom Wilson, me, and Pete

And with that, we made a like a tree and got outta there.

[ No. 569 ]

Mar. 15, 2010

In late 2008, I fretted about massive losses in the stock market, including a single-day 8.8% drop in the S&P 500 and the loss of $19 billion in six days. And things just kept getting worse — the S&P 500 continued to hemorrhage value until it hit a sickening 12-year low of 676.53 on Mar. 9, 2009.

I didn’t do anything about it, of course. My “stay the course” philosophy from my days at Vanguard never wavered; after all, I won’t actually need those retirement funds for about 30 years, and the stock market has a way of straightening itself out over the course of decades. But those dark days of late 2008 and early 2009 were still pretty scary, and my investments took a severe (albeit temporary) beating.

But now, I can celebrate the market’s improbable return to form. Exactly one year after its historic low, on Mar. 9, 2010, the S&P closed at 1,140.45 — a truly impressive return of 68.6%. Granted, the market index is nowhere near its all-time high, but I’m still grateful that the market has recovered so much value over the last 12 months.

[ No. 568 ]

Mar. 6, 2010

After three successful St. Patrick’s Day parties in 2007, 2008, and 2009, it’s time for a fourth!

St. Patrick's Day Party / 3.6.10

This year, I threw the big bash a week earlier than usual to accommodate several friends who had already committed to my friend Carolyn’s bachelorette party. Thanks to my expanding circle of friends from work, the total of 62 guests was my largest-ever attendance by a wide margin. And a few shopping items really came in handy, including nested glass bowls and colorful wine stoppers from Crate & Barrel and a four-foot folding table from Target.

The sheer volume of food and beverages was simply amazing — I won’t need to buy a bottle of wine for several months!

[ No. 567 ]

Mar. 3, 2010

Took Joan to see one of my all-time favorite artists, Bob Mould, perform at the wonderful venue World Cafe Live, where we enjoyed some delicious sandwiches and drinks in addition to the show.

Bob took the stage with his signature blue Stratocaster and informed the audience that his set would be entirely electric, since his acoustic guitar had fallen victim to baggage handlers earlier in the week. The unexpected change might have flustered a lesser musician, but Bob actively embraced the different format. He smiled broadly throughout the evening, and mentioned more than once that he should consider playing all-electric shows more often.

Surprises included the scorching Sugar B-side “Needle Hits E” and an impromptu version of the anguished ballad “Thumbtack” in response to a request from the audience. Between songs, Mould candidly discussed the painful side effects of writing his autobiography (which is due out next year) and his recent move from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. And toward the end of his blistering set, he graciously thanked the Philly crowd for their consistently loyal support at his shows over the years.

[ No. 566 ]