Since finishing my dissertation and getting back from our trip, I’ve been in “cleanup mode”: not only physically cleaning up my desk which looked like it had been through a tsunami, but also ridding my life of all those things which had accumulated like barnacles over the past few years but which I don’t really need.
Like e-mail lists. I had subscribed to dozens, especially during the election year. A lot of lists could simply be eliminated — I’m no longer a Temple student, so I no longer need weekly announcements about how their basketball team is doing. But with the other lists I decided to move everything to Gmail. In Gmail it is possible to set up filters to move messages from each list to its own label/folder, bypassing the “inbox”. That way I can easily see how many messages have accumulated from each list and read them at my leisure, without letting my Luxsci mailbox build up.
Another category of barnacles consist of receipts, statements, official correspondence, etc. — none of which I’ve had time to file away properly over the past year or two. For those I used my Epson sheet-feed scanner and WorkingPapers. Then I had the pleasure of shredding tons of documents and filling up big plastic bags with shredded paper.
Academic journals are another source of unnecessary refuse in my life. Fortunately, the American Anthropological Association recently introduced AnthroSource, making all the standard anthropology journals you get when you join up as a member available online (with your annual AAA membership). This allowed me to throw out about 30 lbs of journals that were weighing down my shelf — most of which I would never need. It has even let me throw out a lot of the journal articles sitting around in my file cabinet, since I can easily download them from AnthroSource if I ever need them!
Slightly less intangible are all those financial barnacles that build up over time: monthly bills that seem small enough when considered by themselves, but which add up over the course of the year. For instance, from Time Warner Cable we get a package which includes digital cable television and a cable modem. Together with our TiVo, this has been amazing, allowing us to watch almost whatever we want to watch whenever we want to watch it. However, while we got our TiVo used (and beefed up) over eBay with a lifetime subscription, we do pay a hefty chunk of change for cable television — especially the premium channels. But looking at our bill I realized that we almost never watch things on HBO, Cinemax, Starz, etc. most of what we watch (other than broadcast channels) is on Comedy Central, BBC, Sundance, TCM, and (I admit it) E! Cutting out the premium channels immediately saved us $25 a month! ($300 a year.) More than enough to pay for Netflix or Blockbuster if we feel we aren’t getting all the movies we want. Right now we have so many movies lying around on DVD, VCD, and TiVo that it will be a while before we need to sign up for anything. It is also rumored that Amazon will be entering the DVD rental market later this year, and so we are waiting for the ensuing price-war!
Next up is our phone bill. You’d think that with family and friends all over the world international calls would be the bulk of our bills. Not so. At least half is sunk in basic services, such as dial-tone, caller ID, taxes, etc. We could easily save an additional $300 a year by switching from our landline to a VoIP service. We already use Skype for many of our calls, and since we also have cell phones, it seems like a waste to pay so much for a landline. The two I’m looking at most closely are VoicePulse and BroadVoice. The latter has much better international rates, but only VoicePulse currently offers number portability in our neighborhood. I’m waiting a little to see if BroadVoice expands to our neighborhood, otherwise I might go with VoicePulse.
Another area we could probably save money is in all our web hosting services. We pay quite a bit for all this, but I am reluctant to change anything simply because HostingMatters and Luxsci have both been 100% reliable and offered great customer support. One option might be to merge everything on to one account. The larger Hosting Matters accounts allow for multiple domains, so I could move Shashwati.com onto the same server as the one I’m using. And they also offer IMAP e-mail — although not with all the bells and whistles offered by Luxsci. Still, such a move might end up saving as much as the other changes.
Thinking about how much all these $5 and $10 monthly fees add up to hundreds of dollars at the end of the year, I was very disturbed by reports that the New York Times might start charging a subscription. To be honest, I rarely read the Times any more — not with so many alternatives on the internet. I also think the Times has really gone downhill over the past few years. All that aside, I simply don’t need more financial barnacles. Moreover, I think Dan Gillmor is correct to suggest that newspapers have their subscription models all backwards. Here is Cory Doctorow’s summary:
Dan Gillmor’s got a great post on what’s wrong the the major newspapers’ approach to their Web archives. I’ve long been mystified by the way the newspapers have approached the Web. Papers like the New York Times have decided that their archives — which were previously viewed as fishwrap, as in “today it’s news, tomorrow it’s fishwrap” — are their premium product, the thing that you have to pay to access; while their current articles from the past thirty days are free.
I would be perfectly happy if I could simply read archived news articles linked to from my favorite blogs without having to read the papers themselves the day the story breaks. I would add one thing that bugs me is that so many newspaper and journal subscriptions require that you receive a print subscription as well. Even when they offer electronic-only subscriptions, the price is rarely discounted. If my bank saves money by not mailing my statements each month, surely newspapers save money by not delivering the paper to your door?
UPDATE: Just changed the ceiling bulbs to compact florescent. Hopefully that will not only be more energy efficient, but require me to get up on a ladder somewhat less often. (Seems like our bulbs blow every day!)