Last night was my mother's birthday. I won't say which one, but she's doing remarkably well for having put up with a pair of young whippersnappers like me and Jason for 20 (or 18) years. Apparently, my family's finally found my blog after months of me telling them they ought to read it if they want to find out what's happening in my world. Huzzah! (And hello to my cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, brother, and whatever other kin may be out there.) I plan on writing the same stuff I've been writing; I'm not good at censoring myself at all, so I won't.

Lunch took several hours, partly because it was smoothie day but mostly because of a long conversation with Allison and Emma from the Admissions department about staff innovation at Olin. Of all the people at our school, staff have the least encouragement and free time to try out and do wonderful things; they're so busy triaging the daily grind that it wears away and their innate awesomeness doesn't get much of a chance to shine through. We need to give them more space. In order to allow all staff members to devote one-fifth of their work hours towards personal projects they think will improve Olin (yes, this is an echo of Google's 20 percent time) we need to make their workloads achievable within 32 hours a week, no small feat since most of them are probably pulling over 40 hour weeks now.

I believe that one possible answer is investing in better information management tools for staff so they don't spend so much time wrestling with data, and will be talking with Admissions in the upcoming weeks about simple ways we can make this start to happen. I told her about my side project last summer at Design Continuum where I looked at the usability and efficiency of timesheets (which I started after hearing so many people complain about them) and came up with a report on the financial costs of timesheet inefficiencies and how the company could save thousands of dollars a year by streamlining the process. "Olin students can do this," I told her. "You mentioned you don't utilize your student workers fully over the summer - well, what if you had this be one of their projects?" Basically, act as an efficiency consultant for the Admissions department... and then branch out into other departments if time allows. So we're going to see if we can make this happen. If any Olin students are reading this blog and looking for something to do over the summer, let Allison know.

Why aren't we changing as much? "Why do you think we have so much bureaucracy?" Allison asked. "I think we've become too damn smart," I told her. Risk-taking is inherently a stupid thing to do. You want to minimize it, cut your losses, know pretty much what you're going to get. Starting a brand-new engineering school with no buildings, no faculty, no students - expecting the best faculty and students to come, expecting people to give credibility and support to something that wasn't even a raw patch of ground - that's really dumb. Smart people would never have started Olin. Only brilliant people brave enough to be stupid could have taken the risk to make this place.

And now we've gotten too smart, in many aspects, and need to teach ourselves how to be stupid again.

On a completely separate topic: Gui got his folding bike today. It's a Dahon Boardwalk, about $200 on Amazon. It's awfully shiny. I still need to figure out what I'm doing for transport this summer; I want a bike, but don't know where I'm going to get an utilitarian city bike I can afford and maintain. It would be nice to have a Brompton, but the kind I'd want costs over $1,500, well beyond any budget I'll ever have for the next couple of years. All the same, I wasted an hour today looking at folding bikes that I can't afford, agonizing about what the "best" one would be. I need to stop doing that; sometimes it's best to just make a decision, live with what you have, and improve it when you get the next good chance. Why do I care about the best $1,500 bike when I don't have $1,500? I shouldn't.

Or I should somehow obtain $1,500. I've had a number of good friends yell at me over the past few weeks because I'm undervaluing myself to the point where it cripples what I can do. I feel bad about asking for money, for a decent salary, and I need to convince myself that I'm worth more than $10/hr. Trouble is, I want to be available to help whoever needs helping without expecting much more than some food and a roof in exchange. I wish I could retire young and be able to spend the rest of my life pitching in on wherever I think I'll be helpful without having to worry about the economics of having enough money to survive. Trouble is that in order to do that, I need money first, and the way I'm going, I'm not going to get it.

Anyone have any suggestions for how to get over this? Is there anyone I can go to and sit down with for a couple of hours to (for lack of better words) "figure out what I'm worth" so I can justify not being ashamed of asking for decent compensation?

And as I type this, I feel ashamed, because $10 an hour is amazingly high compared to what many adults around the world are making. People have to support families on a dollar a day, and here's this college kid complaining about making ten times as much in an hour and I certainly don't have kids to feed. But still; my getting a higher salary won't make them get lower ones (at least not directly), and the best way for me to help people is to ground myself in a position of stability first, and financial stability will be a big part of that.

So if you have any suggestions for this, please let me know. And if you're interested in joining me in a personal finance marathon day on May 8th, let me know. I plan on setting up money management software, starting a retirement account (index funds!) for investments, making a budget, creating an emergency fund, and figuring out my bank accounts and credit card. If other people are interested, we can have a little party.