An Invisible Girlfriend Update: Our Predictions Were Correct

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Last week we wrote about Invisible Girlfriend (and its brother site Invisible Boyfriend), a startup designed to provide people with the fake significant other of their dreams for only $25 a month.

In that post, I made two predictions: first, that the Invisible Special Friends, who give you 100 personalized texts per month as part of your $25 package, would be staffed by gig economy freelance writers.

Second, that people would inevitably fall in love with these writers who are being paid to simulate affection and interest.

Are we surprised that both predictions came true?



Hot Takes For A Snow Day: “Idle Hands Spend Money,” Sandra Day O’Connor, Jennifer Senior, & More

Black-ish kids and money+ Do you like shopping online? Lots of people do! As my mom put it to me this weekend, “Idle hands spend money.” The best one can do sometimes is spend wisely. In that vein, Racked was super excited to report — in what they called maybe the best Monday news of all time — that Reformation has just launched a new, more affordable collection called “Obvious.” Considering how hipster-y the clothes are, they seem to have missed a golden opportunity to call it “Obvious Child” but whatevs. If you like backless bodysuits and crop tops, insert money here.

+ Speaking of my mother, she told me a story about the time, back in the ’80s, when she and the other government lawyers who were also young moms went to hear the newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor speak. They were so eager to hear her explain how she managed it, how she managed to be a wife, a mother, and one of the most prominent judicial figures in the land.

O’Connor’s answer? Outsourcing.

Hire help, she advised the audience. Hire someone to do everything you don’t have time to do. The women nodded dumbly and left. “As if it had never occurred to us,” said my mom. “As if all we needed was to be more creative in our problem solving. We were government lawyers! O’Connor came from a wealthy family, but most of us didn’t have money to hire help. It was just so tone deaf.”  READ MORE


Fixing the Hiring Process


It’s been nearly six years since I’ve had to go through the job-hunting and interview process and hope I don’t have to do so again for a very long time (if ever again). On Backchannel, Deborah Branscum examines why the way we typically hire for jobs is all wrong.

For one, employers are often flooded with hundreds of resumes, so they often narrow down choices by searching for keywords:

Sheeroy Desai, CEO of Gild, a company with a platform that matches employers with candidates, has observed those biases in person. “You see filters like, ‘A lot of the people at our company came from Ivy League schools, so we are only going to look at people from Ivy League schools,’” Desai says. “It seems reasonable, but it’s actually really arbitrary.”

And then there’s the whole “cultural fit” aspect that’s become highly popular:

Max Levchin, co-founder and former CTO of PayPal, tells a story of a time when PayPal rejected a candidate who aced all the engineering tests but who said he liked to play hoops. “No PayPal people would ever have used the word hoops,” Levchin told a class of would-be entrepreneurs. “Probably no one even knew how to play hoops. Basketball would be bad enough. But hoops?”

I mean, how mad would you be if you discovered that the reason you weren’t hired was because you mentioned that you played basketball during an interview. READ MORE


Socialism: The Sharing Economy I Want

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

Recently, I was considering the logistics of getting 13 members of a brass band from Hartford to New York City as cheaply and expeditiously as possible. While everyone involved is a firm believer in the magic and romance of rail travel, and secondarily, in the unassuming utility of bus travel, we had to concede that it would be much more economical to drive. But driving in the city? And parking? And playing once in Manhattan and then, shortly afterward, in Brooklyn, and then crashing on sundry couches across three boroughs?

No, we would have to leave cars somewhere peripheral, and then take the subway. Plus, when you are an itinerant brass band and the public transit authority in your city has explicitly told you that you cannot play on a moving public bus, the New York subway is where you want to be. But what to do about alternate-side-of-the-street parking, aka, New York City’s brutally efficient car ownership disincentive? We would have to park in a lot, and parking two or three cars in a lot overnight gets expensive.

Then I remembered that some people I barely know who run an arts non-profit in a city near Hartford have a little school bus that they sometimes use as a mobile art gallery. Expecting nothing, I emailed them and asked whether I might borrow the bus for a day, offering to pay with a performance, because that’s all we have to offer. These people had met me exactly once, when my band played at a fundraising concert they organized. Yet they seemed delighted to help.

They dug the benches out of storage and put them back in the bus and bought new bolts to secure them. When I arrived to meet one of them, harried by traffic and half an hour late, he met me and my bandmate with a smile and invited us into his studio for a beer. Did he want me to leave the keys to my truck with him as collateral, or even just so he’d have a hauling vehicle to use while I had the bus? Nope. Just take the bus. Oh, and see how it’s matte black? Feel free to decorate it with chalk. Call if you need anything. Have fun! READ MORE


The Costs (and Potential Costs) of Flying to NYC During a Blizzard

juno hamburger phoneOn Sunday night, I got an email from United Airlines to let me know that my Tuesday evening flight to Newark had pre-emptively been canceled due to Blizzardy Storm Juno.

(This’d be the flight that I had planned to take for The Billfold LIVE.)

At that time, they weren’t offering any other flight options; however, this morning they did offer to rebook me on another Tuesday flight: UA302, scheduled to arrive at LaGuardia at 11:26 p.m.

They also rebooked me on this flight for free, which I appreciate.

However, if I were a betting person (which I am not because THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS), I would bet that this flight gets canceled this evening.

This also means I will very likely miss The Billfold LIVE, which is crushing my heart. But I won’t feel those feelings until I’m absolutely sure that I’m going to miss the show.

Instead, let’s look at how much money I’m likely to lose.



I Gave My Cat to a Robot

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 10.14.23 PM

Rob! So what happened here?

Like anyone afflicted with toxoplasmosis, I care about my cat. His name is Fernando. We share a one-bedroom place, and I felt like he was getting bored with his small arsenal of feather wands and self-articulating lasers. He used to do these huge, four-foot X-Games backflips going after the feather thing, but those kind of stopped once he realized climbing up a chair would give him most of the benefits of jumping.

He was getting a little lazy, and I wanted to get him back some edge, you know? Fernando was a rescue but not like a mean-streets rescue; someone had left him and his littermates in the basement of a nice Upper East Side building before calling the Upper East Side of animal shelters. It wouldn’t shock me to learn they’d nursed him on tiny bottles of almond-butter smoothie, like the protagonist of a children’s book sold exclusively at Barneys.



The Best Restaurants In America Are Not That Expensive

eat-drink-man-woman chinese food screenshotAt least according to Yelp, the best food in America is, generally, Food You Can Afford. And a lot of it can be found on or near the west coast.

Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2015

1. Copper Top BBQ – Big Pine, CA
2. Art of Flavors – Las Vegas, NV
3. Soho Japanese Restaurant – Las Vegas, NV
4. TKB Bakery and Deli – Indio, CA
5. Ono Seafood – Honolulu, HI
6. Shark Pit Maui – Lahaina, HI
7. Gaucho Parilla Argentina – Pittsburgh, PA
8. Bobboi Natural Gelato – La Jolla, CA
9. Golden Bear Trading Company – San Francisco, CA
10. Little Miss BBQ – Phoenix, AZ
11. Dat Cajun Guy – Haleiwa, HI
12. Sweet Dogs – Miami, FL
13. Aviva by Kameel – Atlanta, GA
14. Sweet Spice – Savannah, GA
15. Royal Taj – Columbia, MD
16. Arun’s Indian Kichen – Coral Spring, FL
17. Hall’s Chophouse – Charleston, SC
18. Bronze Cafe – Las Vegas, NV
19. Saffron and Rose Ice Cream – Los Angeles, CA
20. Buddha Thai Bistro – Vacaville, CA

Wait, there are BBQ joints in the top twenty, and they’re not in Texas? Or St. Louis?  READ MORE


How a Legal Secretary Who Paid Off $38,000 in Debt Does Money

The most expensive cookies ever.

The most expensive cookies ever.

Alison (not her real name) is a 27-year-old legal secretary who lives outside of Philadelphia.

ND: So, Alison, tell us a bit about your finances.

Alison: Well, I’m 27 years old and I’m a legal secretary, which is both a fancy name for “secretary” and shorthand for “I do everything in a law firm except sign the actual legal documents.” I’ve been at my job for 4 1/2 years and I made about $45K last year. I live in a smaller city outside of Philadelphia and am completely debt-free, after managing to pay off both my undergrad loans, brief graduate school loans (I dropped out shortly after enrolling, which is another story), and my car last year.

That’s fantastic! I briefly considered living in Philly once—it has a reasonably low cost of living compared to other large cities, correct?

Yes, it’s definitely a lower cost of living than in New York or San Francisco, though it’s getting a bit pricier now and it’s not as cheap as the Midwest. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia (about 35 minutes outside of Center City) and the cost of living is moderately low, though I live near the Main Line (one of the ritziest parts of suburbia) which makes things a bit pricier. I’m around a lot of rich people by proxy.

About how much debt did you have? Did you have to drastically adjust your style of living, or were you earning enough that you automatically had extra money every month to pay the debt?

I had roughly $20,000 (plus interest) in undergrad loans, which seems like a small amount in comparison to some horror stories I’ve read, but I had a sizable scholarship to my university and my parents contributed a portion (about $10,000/year) as well. I had less than $1,000 in grad school loans (I legitimately dropped out after one class!). The final bit of debt was my 2008 Volkswagen, which I bought in 2011 for $17,000 and got hosed on the interest rate (7%) because I had no credit at that point. READ MORE


How Much Do Vendors Earn Selling Merch at Geek Conventions?


As many of you know, I occasionally earn extra money performing geek music at conventions and selling CDs, T-shirts, and hoodies in the dealers’ room when I’m not onstage.

So I was very interested in a new survey put out by The Devastator and The Beat that takes a look at exactly how much money dealers earn at these conventions.

When I wrote about my experiences at convention dealers’ rooms for The Penny Hoarder, I noted that I earned “anywhere from a few hundred dollars to around $1,000″ selling merch at conventions. Well, turns out I’m on the low end of the average: the Devastator/Beat survey reports that the average convention dealer earns $1,000 per convention. Of course, they also note that if it’s an indie con (as opposed to what they call a “comic con”) the average dealer earns $615, which is more on line with my experiences.

These income reports represent gross earnings and not net profit; it would have been nice to include information on what each convention is charging for a dealer’s table, and it would have been interesting to ask the dealers surveyed whether they came out ahead after the costs of travel, lodging, food, etc. were subtracted out. (One of the reasons I play many fewer conventions than I used to is that I rarely came out ahead, cash-wise.)

But now let’s look at the fun part: which individual conventions perform the best.



The Playing Field Isn’t Level But That Doesn’t Mean Don’t Play

James-Baldwin-motivational-quotesHow honest is too honest, when it comes to money? This weekend, author Ann Bauer caused a digital snowicane with a piece in Salon called “Sponsored” By My Husband: Why It’s A Problem That Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From.

I attended a packed reading (I’m talking 300+ people) about a year and a half ago. The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. In other words he’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour.

None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece — What had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time? — he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon. …

In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

Reactions ranged from “At last!” to “WTF?”  READ MORE