Sunday, December 21, 2008

Refinancing Calculator

I'm actually pretty proud of the utility of this calculator. I hope you find it as helpful as I have in finding the interest rate needed to make refinancing make sense.

Loan Balance: $
Lender Fees: $
Fixed Costs: $
Total Closing Costs: Your javascript is disabled.

Finance Closing Costs:
Final Loan Balance: Your javascript is disabled.

Current loan information:
Monthly payment: $
Current rate:

Show rates:
Your javascript is disabled.

First off, I apologize for any style issues. Using blogger has it's drawbacks, especially when putting scripts or styles in a post - the formatting has to be unreadable or the automatic line-breaks-to-br-tags conversion makes them not work at all. I also can't make the table any wider without really screwing things up, apparently. Now, on to the explanation:

Hopefully all the columns are self-explanatory except the last few. The "Monthly Savings" column refers to the difference in total payment amounts. The adjacent "Months to Recoup Costs" column uses this value to figure out how many months it would take before your out-of-pocket costs are back in your pocket. Thus, this column is best used when you are NOT financing your closing costs as part of the new loan.

The "Monthly Interest Savings" column is how much less (or more) interest you pay per month as part of your monthly payment. When you finance the closing costs, then, the last "Months to Recoup Costs" column shows how many months it will take to get the new loan balance back to your current loan's levels.

Any comments or suggestions on how to improve this post? Barring blogger limitations, I will do my best!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mortgage Refinancing

I submitted my info to a couple days ago and have been talking with mortgage people all yesterday. At the moment, the best rate I can get is 5.125% with 0 points. My current rate of 5.75% is already a decent rate, but refinancing would lower my minimum monthly payment by about $100, while increasing the amount of principal I pay each month. I would recoup my refinancing costs inside a year, but I'm still not sure if it's worth it.

The worsening economy hints that interest rates may fall further, but every month I wait, I'm effectively adding $100 to my closing costs. I'm not sure if refinancing works the same way as a first mortgage, but with my first one, it was best to close at the very end of the month to reduce the amount of prepaid interest you have to pay. Sometime next week I think I might be going to the Community Home Lending offices and discussing the timing of everything. It may be that I have a few weeks to think about it just waiting for an optimal closing date.

What are other people's thoughts on refinancing? Any questions I should definitely ask?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chase Freedom Rewards

My Chase Freedom credit card gives me an extra $50 bonus if I save up my rewards until I get $200. I'm quite close, and after this month, I may just hit the $200 mark. I've been putting tons of stuff on my credit card, including buying gifts online on behalf of my parents as a method of paying them back the money I borrowed earlier. I also purchased a new TV for the living room; a Sharp Aquos 42" LCD 1080p.

All told, I've got $1300 in purchases racked up over just two orders. Since I get at least 1% back on that (plus 2% of the ~$500 I spent at, I'm estimating a healthy reward for doing my part in helping the economy recover. Oh, and I'm thinking of spending another $350 or so to get a second 24" monitor so I can be more productive during my online TV watching. In fact, I may just do that tomorrow...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New Furnace

A couple of weeks ago, I was forced to buy a new furnace. As it turned out, the warm weather in the following week and a half meant I probably could have postponed the purchase by a week or so, at least. But, as that turned out, the check I wrote that Wednesday was not cashed until just this past Friday - over two weeks. Generally speaking, checks are deposited very quickly by companies. They like to earn interest on money, if nothing else. Thus, this delay had me slightly worried about lost checks, claims that I didn't pay, having to cancel payment on said check after writing a new one, fighting collection agencies, cancelling business with what I had thought to be a trustworthy HVAC company, etc. Turns out they just take their time collecting their pay.

Anyway, it would have cost ~$500 to fix the furnace, so I figured that was the equivalent of ~$500 off the purchase price of a new furnace. Since the condenser coil above the old furnace wasn't installed properly (the drain pipe was too narrow and clogged), the old furnace was rusted out, and I think dripping water had fried the electronics in the broken component twice already. I was tired of that furnace. Incidentally, A.B. MAY fixed it the last time and did nothing to even investigate the rust. Plus, they incorrectly installed a new water panel in my humidifier, which caused it to leak water all over the back part of the basement. Needless to say, I was not happy with A.B. MAY.

Still, I had Neal Harris and A.B. MAY out to give me quotes on a new furnace, just for kicks. Neal Harris started their furnaces at $2775 for a standard 80% furnace, and an 80% 2-stage variable speed furnace was $4180. Not what I was hoping to spend. A.B. MAY's prices were $1790 and $3593 for the same type of furnaces. Still a bit pricey, really. My friend, Brian, recommended ISSA Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, and their prices were $1650 and $2550. What they lacked in professionalism (and there was a definite lack, there), they made up in price, confidence, personality, and trust-inspiring behavior.

So, I ended up spending $2550 to fix something A.B. MAY should have fixed last year, but the new furnace will allow me to get a high-efficiency heat pump next year or so. Overall, I haven't had too much stress over spending that money, so I'd call it a good purchase.

My Cell Phone

I've known for a long time that my cell phone is old and out of date. I've taken pride in my ability to talk to people on such an ancient device. I've even learned to text on it! I still don't think a phone needs a built-in digital camera, mp3 player, or whatever else is available on cell phones these days - all I do is talk (and now a bit of text) on it!

However, the other day I was fiddling with it absentmindedly. One of the things I do is to flick the antenna out and back in. Well, my phone has gotten so old that one of the people I was with laughed that my phone even had an antenna. I realize that extending the antenna likely never had any effect, and was their to make previous generations more comfortable with the high-tech devices, but it has served me well as a little doodad to twirl and otherwise play with. It pains me ever so slightly to know that my next phone will almost assuredly not have such a useless game included in its construction.

I have no deeper point to make - I just thought it was a rather amusing situation/observation. Also, my cats are still adorably cute.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Elect Barack Obama

Holy fuck; he is inspiring.

Edit @11:16PM: I completely forgot about Biden during that speech, and was surprised to see him walking out on stage.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wal-Mart Lost

Today, I wore one of my Tech-Ed shirts. It has the word "LOST" printed on the front in the style of the TV show, but it's actually talking about "OnPath For SharePoint" being "Never lost." I had wondered a couple points during the day as to what people thought about me based on a first glance at my shirt.

When I went to Wal-Mart tonight for my regular grocery shopping, I found out. As I was exiting the store, the greeter girl commented on the fact that she never understood the show "Lost." I replied that my shirt wasn't actually about the TV show - that it was referring to some technology or other, so I didn't know what Lost was about. She then finished her previous thought, apparently, saying that it was a "Lost show" for her. I concluded the exchange by saying that I didn't really know what the technology was, either, so I was "lost" on both accounts.

Anyway, it was a puntastic conversation, even if it really only used variations on just the one pun. For next time, I suppose we'll have to work on our creativity. Mostly, I was just impressed with the enthusiastic outgoing nature of the new girl.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My failure as a homeowner

So, a couple weeks ago, my failure as a homeowner became official. The neighbor across the street came over and rang the doorbell one Sunday morning while I was asleep. Carrie answered the door, and the neighbor gave her some local church material, then asked if she (Carrie) would mind if she (the neighbor) weeded the front landscaping. Of course Carrie didn't mind, so I woke up to a weeded front garden!

Obviously, this worked out well for me - I got some free yard work. However, I still do feel bad about the whole thing. I asked my dad what the appropriate response was - do I offer computer help in return? Do I pretend nothing ever happened but take better care of things in the future? Do I send a fruit basket? He agreed that not making a big deal out of it was probably the best course of action for now.

And of course, this is just one of my many failures in homeownership. I will skip the documentation of those for now...until they reach ridiculous proportions.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New computer specs

I've begun purchasing components for my new computer! I'm getting very excited. It will end up very similar to this one: Ultima. I've purchased the ram and power supply in order to take advantage of mail-in rebates that expire on the 15th or so. I will purchase the rest in my next credit card billing cycle, most likely.

Qty. Image Product Description Unit Price Savings Total Price
Thermaltake W0116RU 750W Complies with ATX 12V 2.2 & EPS 12V version Power Supply
Thermaltake W0116RU 750W Complies with ATX 12V 2.2 & EPS 12V version Power Supply - Retail
$189.99 -$20.00 Instant, $50.00 mail-in
1 SAPPHIRE 100243L Radeon HD 4870 512MB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFire Supported Video Card
SAPPHIRE 100243L Radeon HD 4870 512MB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFire Supported Video Card - Retail
2 OCZ Reaper HPC Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model OCZ2RPR800C44GK
OCZ Reaper HPC Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model OCZ2RPR800C44GK - Retail
$99.99 -$8.00 Instant. $35.00 mail-in
1 Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 Yorkfield 2.66GHz LGA 775 95W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80569Q9450
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 Yorkfield 2.66GHz LGA 775 95W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80569Q9450 - Retail
1 LITE-ON 20X DVD±R DVD Burner Black IDE Model DH-20A4P-04
LITE-ON 20X DVD±R DVD Burner Black IDE Model DH-20A4P-04 - OEM
1 LIAN LI PC-7B plus II Black Aluminum ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
LIAN LI PC-7B plus II Black Aluminum ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail
$119.99 -$30.00 Instant $89.99
1 Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM
$94.99 -$5.00 Instant $89.99
1 DFI LANPARTY DK X48-T2RS LGA 775 Intel X48 ATX Intel Motherboard
DFI LANPARTY DK X48-T2RS LGA 775 Intel X48 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
$234.99 -$20.00 Instant $214.99
Subtotal: $1,265.91

Update: The HD4870 has fallen in price to $284.99! $25 saved so far just by waiting!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Things I want to buy

I still haven't fully recovered from that string of expenses, and I still haven't gotten my Kansas tax refund, but once I have the money, there are a number of things I want to buy. I really do want to do everything I can to help the economy.

First, I think I want to get this stringing machine: Gamma Progression II 602 Stringing Machine. The sooner I buy it, the sooner I'll be able to save ~$20 every time my string breaks. This should pay for its $339 price in a couple years...

Second, I do need a new primary computer if I am to keep up with today's gaming rigs. Since I haven't fully picked out every component, it's hard to estimate the cost of my new computer, but I'm guessing between $1500-$2000 to be safe.

Third, I plan on making my next lawn mower an electric one. I'm still hoping my current lawn mower lasts through the summer, but sometime in the relatively near future, $100-$200 will be spent on an electric lawn mower.

Fourth, I need to get my deck repainted/stained sometime in the near future. It's quite ugly, and having bare patches probably isn't very protective for the wood (or, more accurately, only having patches of paint).

Any other recommendations for things to buy? Leave a comment!

Monday, June 16, 2008


Before I left for San Diego, my fileserver's northbridge fan and heatsink became separated. It's really worse than a divorce, in many ways, because things are all fucked up, but there's still hope, which means uncertainty, lots of work, and very careful handling of electronics. OK, so I don't know much about divorces.

The lack of heat transfer away from the chip kept my fileserver from booting. Since I've already complained about my loud northbridge fan, I chose to take the opportunity to replace that noisy piece of hardware. I already had a spare fan from somewhere, so I went to the hardware store to find screws long enough to secure it. At the hardware store, I had the bright idea of comparing the screw holes of the two fans and found that they didn't line up. That's when I made the coolest discovery of the week: Krazy Glue comes in a small bottle with a tiny brush built into the lid! I glued the fan to the heatsink, and it stuck almost immediately.

When I got home, I couldn't find my isopropyl alcohol. I was able to get some last Friday night, though, and I set out to clean the bottom of the heatsink and the top of the northbridge heat spreader. I remember isopropyl alcohol working much better than it did. I had to cut the thermal paste off the heatsink, for the most part. Perhaps thermal paste is just that horrible compared to thermal grease. The important thing is that I could now keep my northbridge chip cool.

Doh! The power cord for the fan doesn't reach! I had to pry the fan off the heatsink and re-glue it, rotated ninety degrees. A little thermal grease later, and I was ready to plug my motherboard back into the rest of the computer.

Everything is working mostly. The only weird things are related to mdadm and the raid, I think. The automatic resync operation seems to fail. The first night, I had "watch -n 1 cat /proc/mdstat" running, but I woke up to stack traces being dumped to the screen every second instead of the nice md status. I tried again, but came back later to find the same stack traces showing up every once in awhile. So, I loaded the graphical interface to try and catch more information - but the error stopped. The resync also stopped at 8% and refused to go any further.

I decided that some write activity might wake it up, and started up some bittorrents. They worked well for a few tens of MB, but now my fileserver seems to have rebooted to an initramfs prompt and automatically started a resync. It's currently at 6.9%. I'll see what happens at 8% before I go to bed, and will update as things progress.

Update: 1:49 AM: resync is at 9.6% and going strong.
Update: 9:21 AM: resync is at 64.9% and going strong.
Update: 12:14 PM: resync is at 85.9% and going strong. I'm getting bored waiting for this.
Update: 3:16 PM: resync is done. Things have rebooted, and I will begin some bittorrent stress testing shortly.
Update: 10:23 AM: Fileserver is still up after a couple days of heavy I/O. I'm happy!

Microsoft Tech-Ed: Friday June 6

My last day at Tech-Ed was fairly uneventful. The morning started out well with the final Data Dude session, which included the full demo of the DB2 support that was announced. Only about ten people showed up to that presentation, but that's pretty much expected for early Friday morning. Still, it was nice to have my software displayed in it's full functionality. The keynote presentation really didn't show much.

That brings up another point. I never really thought about the personal honor in having my software in the keynote presentation of one of the biggest technology conferences, and featuring Bill Gates. I had only looked at it from a task point of view - it was something to do and something to get done. One Microsoft employee commented on how it was pretty amazing to have only been working at IBM for under 2 years and already have my software in the Tech-Ed keynote. Apparently, most Microsoft employees would kill for that. I didn't know what to say, so I made some comment about watching my back.

I guess I felt like I had achieved a slightly higher level of maturity, having accomplished this. I think I felt even more mature at the airport waiting for my flight back home, though. I was able to keep up a conversation with a stranger (who had Tech-Ed in common) for a full two hours. It was fairly amazing, from my perspective.

It's time for the most important part of this post: a full cataloging of what I got in Orlando:
  • 14 t-shirts
  • 1 slinky
  • 1 squishy basketball
  • 1 flying, howling monkey
  • 1 foam dart flinger
  • 1, 1GB flash drive
  • 1 medium-sized notepad/binder w/ pen
  • 1 mechanical pencil
  • 1 water bottle
  • 1 backpack
  • 1 LINQ pocket reference book
  • 1 luggage tag
  • 1 key chain compass

Friday, June 6, 2008

Microsoft Tech-Ed: Thursday June 5

Once again, we'll start with what's important. Breakfast today had nice crisp bacon, good sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy, and bagels. I overate slightly, but that's not too much of a problem.

My early morning session involved adding indexes to objects queried through LINQ, and would be interesting and useful if I had to do that for actual applications. It's just not something that can be worked into a generic data provider, near as I can tell. It was still a good talk, if a bit light on content (there was half an hour left out of a 75 minute presentation time slot).

My next morning talk was on DataDude and the new features in the GDR release (8 weeks after SQL Server 2008 is finished, apparently). There were a lot of cool features presented in the talk. It will be interesting to learn more about DataDude's capabilities as I move forward on my work project.

Lunch was pretty standard, but wasn't my favorite. There was some good Mongolian beef dish, but I probably should have skipped the rest.

For my 1:00pm session, I attended another DataDude talk on database references. It was a bit strange just because we spent 30-40 minutes talking about a few workarounds and random other stuff, then talked about the upcoming VS2008 GDR release which will apparently remove a lot of those situations. It was unclear exactly when we'll need the information we acquired once the new release comes out, but knowledge is good for its own sake, sometimes.

The next session was also on DataDude, but was a basic overview of functionality, which I've seen before a few times. The presenter was a non-Microsoft consultant, though, and it was interesting to hear what he found to be the coolest aspects, and then hear the questions and concerns from current and potential developers and DBAs.

The main happening on Thursday was the Attendee Party, though. Everyone was bussed over to Universal Studios for a three-hour exclusive party. All food and drinks were free, and the pool of people waiting for rides was limited to just the 6,000 people attending Microsoft Tech-Ed this week. Of course, that's still a lot of people, and the wait for the new Simpson's ride was 45 minutes during the first half or more of the party. When we were leaving, we saw it had dwindled down to about 20 minutes. The wait for all the other rides, like Jaws and Men In Black, was about 10-15 minutes. E.T., being rather sucky, was a very short wait, but I knew from a previous visit to Universal Studios in L.A. that E.T. sucked, so I didn't even have to waste that amount of time. The Disaster ride apparently broke, because people were leaving the short line an hour before the party ended.

Now, when I say food and drinks were free, I mean that the were included in the conference price of ~$1995. If I had lost my wrist-band and still wanted to attend the party, I would have to pay $110. Additional guest passes for those that brought their family along were also $110 each. That's really quite a lot of money for a three-hour party. But, since I didn't have to pay, I'm glad I got to go.

I've been trying to think of the single word that best describes the combination of extravagance, phoniness, gaudiness, cheesiness, chaos, and consumerism that makes up those types of amusement parks. I think I may end up getting TiVo when I get kids just so they can skip the commercials for all the crap out there, and minimize that influence. I don't want my kids begging me to go to these places, then beg me some more to buy random souvenir crap. It's all a bit depressing, really.

But the party was fun anyway.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Microsoft Tech-Ed: Wednesday June 4

This morning, the bus line was extremely long - one of the cons of being the second hotel on the route. Breakfast's bacon was much better today, though, so I was quite happy with the morning.

My morning talk was on managed to native interop best practices, which turned out to be a slight waste of time. C++/CLI and COM interop don't really apply to my current programming tasks, so I plan on remembering the keywords to look up when/if I actually need them. I will continue to use PInvoke, is what it comes down to. The second talk on LINQ and VS2008 IDE tips and tricks (combined and how they relate) was an excellent session. The speaker was Amanda Silver, so if you ever have the chance to attend a presentation of hers, I highly recommend it.

Lunch was a bit on the mediocre side, but the baked macaroni and cheese was surprisingly good. The conversation was better, and just as informative for me as most of the talks here. Which brings me to a surprising fact: Attending conferences can be tiring, even when you're just sitting in rooms learning. I guess my brain is working harder than I think sometimes.

I missed the afternoon sessions in order to prepare a virtual machine for a DataDude talk on Friday morning. It is nice to see all my work over the past few months start to come together for something practical, even if it's just a presentation, rather than a functional product. But, at one point, the press releases seemed to indicate that I need to have something done by the end of the year, so we'll have to see what happens. My busy work schedule may continue for awhile...

Dinner this evening was at SeaWorld in one of the pavilions. It was a bit awkward at first, because there was a live band for background music and very few people. The food was nothing to write home about, but I guess I'm doing that anyway, in a way. We left dinner on the earlier side in order to enter the rest of the park. We saw the Shamu Rocks show, and a ski show, then walked around until the 10:00pm fireworks Mystify show. The word cheesy comes to mind. I was only there for a couple of hours, and I'm just glad that I didn't have to pay, and that I didn't have to be there longer. If there's one thing recently that would keep me from having kids, it's attending this amusement park. I do not look forward to having to be at one again, and keeping track of kids in that chaos can only make such an experience even more taxing. And you all should know by now how much I hate taxes.

Needless to say, I'm going straight to bed tonight.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Microsoft Tech-Ed: Tuesday June 3

The keynote presentation was fairly enjoyable. Bill Gates had a "last full day at Microsoft" video which had some funny appearances from multiple celebrities. The demonstrations were interesting enough, too. IBM made an appearance in one, and that can be read about on an MSDN blog: DataDude goes multi-platform. It was nice to see some of my work make an appearance in front of thousands of people, but even better was that the demonstration worked!

Anyway, breakfast was pretty decent. The bacon needed to be crisper in order to be really enjoyable, but luckily, I only grabbed 7 pieces. I spent the rest of the day attending talks on LINQ, data binding in Windows Presentation Framework, DataDude, and parallel programming.

Probably the coolest part of the day was the dinner/party thing for the various sponsors. There was good food all around the booths and most booths were giving away some cool stuff. I got 6 new t-shirts, so I don't have to go shopping for shirts this year, plus a key chain compass, a squishy basketball, a noisy monkey toy, a LINQ pocket reference book, and a slinky! Free stuff rocks!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Microsoft Tech-Ed: Monday June 2

I woke up at 4am in order to get cleaned, packed, and off to Orlando by 7am. I arrived at the gate as they called for final boarding - just in time! 2.5 hours later, I was in Orlando with a stiff neck. Despite the stiff neck, I still think Midwest might be my favorite airline to fly. Although...I'm not sure if I slept through the fresh-baked cookies, or if they don't serve them on early morning flights. I wanted cookies!

As long as I'm reviewing things, I might as well talk about Enterprise car rentals. So far, I've been fairly happy with my two rentals with them. The cars have been clean and functional, the staff has been courteous, and their shuttles to/from the airport have been frequent and pleasant. This week, I'm stuck in a Chevy Cobalt. I cannot give that a positive review. There is no way to lock/unlock all the doors at once. Even my powerless locks in the Altima could be unlocked with a double turn of the key. The window reel thing is also placed too near to part of the door, and so I scraped my hand at the TWO toll booths (in under 10 miles - inefficient!) I had to go through to get to my hotel. Perhaps most annoying, between the front seats is an empty space. There's no arm rest, and it's very unbalancing. The only positive thing about it is it's phenomenally small turning radius, which came in handy a few times, unfortunately.

I got to the hotel and checked in about noon, but my room wasn't ready. I caught the shuttle to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) and registered for Tech-Ed. It was a painless process, and they gave me a backpack with water bottle and a t-shirt. Free stuff! I'll have two carry-on pieces on the return flight, though, which I dislike. That's another good thing about Midwest: Their large seats reduce the number of people on the flight which leaves plenty of overhead bin space.

I still had 3 hours to kill, so I went to Subway. Based on that experience, I can't recommend Orlando Subways. It just didn't taste right. I then headed over to Wallgreen's to pick up fingernail clippers and a small tube of toothpaste. I still had a couple hours to kill, though. I went back to the hotel to look through the packet of stuff inside the backpack.

That was a boring 15 minutes finding out it was all stuff like MSDN Magazine, sample software from random companies, and a few advertisements. Perhaps if I worked more with Microsoft technologies as a developer, instead of as a partner, I'd be more excited about the sample packs of grid forms and whatnot. Still, I'm definitely looking forward to the conference stuff. It should be a lot of fun and hopefully a bit educational, too.

Deep Sea Fishing

I've also never been a huge fan of fishing. Unlike my day at the beach, my day fishing didn't really change that. We got up and were on the road by 4am. We arrived at the check-in building at 4:45, left dock at 5:30, left the bait barge by 6, and were on our way. It was cold. I was cold. But the sun was coming up, and by the time we started fishing at about 7, I wasn't too cold anymore. The first place we stopped, my older brother, Brian, and I dropped our bait fish into the water and they were almost immediately snatched up. I found myself wrestling a yellow-tail tuna, and he struggled with a barracuda. We reeled them in and each thought to ourselves (at this rate, we'll each catch like 10 fish!).

I didn't catch anything else worth keeping, but Brian caught one other fish, I think. Aimee, Brian's fiancée (congratulations!), caught a bass near the end. My little brother, Jake, was the big winner, catching a tuna, two barracuda, and a bass.

Overall, I was a bit bored moving from location to location, hooking bait fish after bait fish, throwing back 8-inch mackerels, and in general just standing around. Perhaps it would have been better if there was a nice sink that I could wash my hands in, so I could cleanly eat my lunch and snack food. Or if I used a lure instead of having to sacrifice tens of tiny sardines and anchovies. It was slimy, wet, hot, and boring. But I'm glad I went.

One lesson learned was to fish early in the week, rather than at the very end. Having caught so many fish (and I have the feeling the average day probably results in a better haul), Friday was spent eating fish. Fish for lunch, fish for dinner, and Brian even ate fish for breakfast on Saturday morning. Now, I've never been a huge fan of eating fish, but this was downright tasty. Perhaps it was the freshness, perhaps it was the bread crumbs and frying, perhaps it was just my taste buds changing since childhood, but I like fish! Not enough to go out and buy it on my own, but enough so that I won't be upset when I have to eat it.

Not a bad trip, all in all.

The Beach

I've never been a huge fan of the beach. It's sandy, hot, the water is salty and cold, and there's sharp things to cut your feet. Wednesday's trip to the beach, however, was thoroughly enjoyable. We hiked from our car up some trails and then back down to the beach, where we made our way back to the car. The sand was very fine, the sharp things were easily avoidable, the water wasn't too cold, and since I only went in up to my calves, for the most part, the saltiness didn't matter. Except for the cuts on my legs - saltwater is not comfortable on cuts. Luckily, I have nothing against pain and even enjoyed trudging along through it.

We had some fairly decent Mexican food for dinner, and then made our way home for a quiet evening. It was by far the most relaxing day of the vacation. I'd be up for another beach excursion, so long as I wasn't expected to swim. Fun times.

Climbing a mountain (and golf)

Tuesday morning, my little brother, Jake, and I went to an hour-long golf lesson on the full swing. I got to touch a 3-iron, but no golf balls, and no full swings were taken. It was just a guy talking about golf grips and hip movement. Not very exciting.

To liven up the day, Jake and I decided to climb the mountain behind our resort. I didn't have a whole lot to wear with me, so I chose shorts and a short sleeve shirt. It was a bit hot out, so I thought I was well prepared. The movies never prepared me for climbing a real southern-California mountain, though. The steepness, the rocks, the loose dirt, those aren't the problem. The problem is plants. Burrs. Pokey things. Thorns. Surprisingly, even though there was always a bee within a couple feet of me, I wasn't stung at all. But, I was still left with plenty of cuts and scrapes.

Getting up the mountain took about 2.5 hours and was a lot of fun. I'm a little bit afraid of heights, but I found that I could control that - sometimes with an effort of will (DC 10). Often, I would be in an uncomfortable position with one foot tenuously perched on a small toehold a few feet away from my other foot. I wouldn't be at all comfortable with staying still or moving forward, but invariably, once I threw my weight toward that foot, it supported me and launching up to the next resting point was easy. I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere, but at the moment, I'm just happy to know that I can climb a mountain as long as it's not too steep or too tall.

There was a road to the left of the mountain as we climbed up. It was our plan to take that back down. Unfortunately, getting from the very top back to the road (maybe 100 vertical feet down after ~1000 feet up) took a full 2 hours. There was a solid covering of thick bushes on that side and we had to tear them apart with our feet and hands. It was very slow going, not at all helped by our encounter with a rattlesnake and what Jake said was a sand boa. We got down without getting bitten, and without too much other trouble. It was just slow going - and after we were already tired and thirsty from our climb.

Even including all that, I had fun that day and would recommend climbing a mountain at some point. I suppose it gave me a bit of confidence or something.

Monday, May 26, 2008

3 Days in San Diego

It's my third day in San Diego, and so far the trip has been pretty fun. I'm glad I have my work laptop here - I don't think I could relax as much if I weren't able to keep up with work a bit. Internet wasn't included in the package, so I'm going to try and expense the $40 connection charge for the week. It really is a legitimate expense, though, since I wouldn't have gotten it except for work.

Anyway, Saturday was spent flying to San Diego via Chicago (seems out of the way to me, too). Sunday was a relaxing day at the beach. We walked a few miles along a boardwalk spanning Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. We ate lunch at a nice pizzeria, then picked up hamburgers to cook on the grill outside our building at the resort (which we've agreed to call "The Compound" even though it doesn't resemble a compound). We didn't spend all that much time on the beach, though, because it was chilly enough that the water was uncomfortable cold. I had fun kicking sand around, so it wasn't a total loss.

Today was spent at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park. I'm not a big fan of zoos, but it was pretty enjoyable. I learned first-hand that lions have round pupils as opposed to the slits my cats have. I haven't looked it up yet, but I have a couple theories as to why they might have evolved differently. There were plenty of cute baby animals, and the petting area was nice enough.

The best part of the trip so far would probably be the Vietnamese restaurant we ate dinner at today (Royal Pho Vietnamese Restaurant). I was thoroughly impressed. After some order confusion, they brought out our spring roll orders. They were large, had whole shrimp, some beef, and were accompanied by my favorite: peanut sauce. My rice noodles, shrimp, charbroiled pork, egg rolls, and other miscellaneous things were comparably excellent. I'd be happy to go back again this trip, and if there was a place like it in Kansas City, I would patronize it frequently.

Tomorrow, I have plans to attend a free golf lesson. This will be my first introduction to golf outside of putt-putt-style places. Wish me luck!

Saturday, May 24, 2008


So, I've been contemplating submitting some youtube videos for a year or two. Now, I don't have a video camera with which to create said videos. If I did have one, I still don't think I could subject the world to that kind of horrible content, even if it is optional viewing.

I guess I like the idea of being loved and adored by thens of thousands of people like some of the vloggers out there. But, then I realize that I'm not nearly as creative as most of the loved and adored vloggers. I'm happy to talk at length about many topics, but I don't ever do so in a unique and/or funny way. I list facts, build arguments, and forget what I want to say. At least with that last one, I might have an endearing quality, if done right.

The lovable and adorable Natalie from Australia is the one who deserves the most credit for inspiring me to join the ranks of youtube vloggers. The problem is that she also deserves the most credit for intimidating me away from that course of action. I could never hope to be so lovable/loved nor adorable/adored. Ah well. Because my vacation next week keeps me from viewing the early-round action of The French Open, I decided to share Natalie's tennis video to show what I aspire to. Well, I might also aspire to this.

One year

I've been in my house for a full year now. I officially bought my house on April 30, 2007. The anniversary went by only vaguely recognized until today. I don't have any deep thoughts regarding homeownership, but I figured I might as well recap what I've learned about it in roughly 366 days (leap year!).
  • Maintenance expenses can be higher that you think. There is insurance, lawn care, pest control, utility bills, and property taxes.
  • Furnishing a house can be expensive. After a year of payments, even, I'm still ~$5000 in debt to Nebraska Furniture Mart (thankfully at 0% interest).
  • When you opt not to escrow your insurance and property tax payments, they can catch you by surprise.
  • Living in a house is more fun when someone else is around, too.
  • Mowing the lawn sucks, even when it's your own lawn.

I had more, but I forgot about this post until now. Add to it in comments!


I'm leaving for San Diego on a week-long family vacation. After that, I'm headed to Orlando for most of a week for Microsoft's TechEd. You can blame TechEd for my recent lack of posting. I've been crazy-busy at work getting ready for that. But, if I have internet access in San Diego, I will do my best to do a couple posts from the road, if for no other reason than to say I've blogged from San Diego.

Have a good week, all!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Taxes - What I learned

So, I know I posted a couple entries ago about how I already completed my taxes. Well, that's the first thing I learned.

Always wait until the last day to file your taxes because you never know when your dad will call you up saying that he found one of your tax forms that got delivered to your old permanent address.

Thankfully, I had waited a long time and hadn't actually sent anything off yet. The form in question was a 1099-INT from Bank of America. It took me a minute to realize that my 0% interest checking account did indeed process interest (as opposed to earning it) when I cashed in a bunch of savings bonds my grandfather bought for me in the 80s. In case you were curious, I used it to help pay for the down payment on my house. Anyway, the new final tally (and I really hope it is final, since I sent them off): I owe $3015 to the federal government, and $1416 to Missouri, but get $1117 back from Kansas.

As a side note, the above situation wouldn't have happened if the IRS prepared your taxes and sent the completed forms for you to verify or add addendum forms to.

I also reasoned out a couple of things that always struck me as ridiculously unfair. First, I figured out why state refunds can sometimes be taxed as income the following year. When you itemize your deductions, one of those deductions is the taxes withheld during the year. So, effectively, that refunded money was held by the government for a year, deferring taxes owed on it. It had always seemed to be a double tax on that money, but it does work out to be more fair than I had originally figured. Plus, the same logic applies to deductions: the check to Missouri that I wrote on April 15th will be a deduction on my taxes for 2008.

I actually can't remember what the second thing I reasoned out was. Instead, I'll open it up to comments: Does anyone have any interesting tips, information, or anything else they want to say about taxes?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mortgage fun

My mortgage is a standard 30-year fixed. I have the option to pay extra against the principal at any time, and I do so every month. I don't prepay a lot, but I do round my mortgage payment up to the nearest hundred. One of my favorite things is seeing my loan period drop by an extra month. That is, while I have 29 years and 1 month left in the 30-year period, I will have fully paid for my house after 28 years and 11 months. This month's extra payment finished off another month's worth of mortgage interest.

It's a small victory, I know, but it makes me happy. As my income increases, I do hope to increase my monthly prepayment further. As fun as it is to watch my mortgage figures every month, I definitely look forward to not having to make that payment. Maybe I'll finally win the lottery tonight.

Taxes and budget

I'm pretty much officially done with taxes, now. It's quite the good feeling.

What's even better is that taxes were much simpler this year than last. TurboTax got their shit together and improved the importing feature to make it actually useful. I had to manually enter in all my options trades from E*TRADE, though, because those aren't required to be reported to the IRS (by E*TRADE), so it's up to me to do it. Still, things went much smoother this year. I only cursed once or twice!

The final tally is that I owe $1527 to the federal government, and $1416 to Missouri, but get $775 back from Kansas. Unfortunately, this comes at the same time as both my auto and home insurance policies need to be renewed. I'm talking with my insurance agent next week, but it's going to be around $2000 for the year. My server upgrades and some clothing purchases, plus discounted software purchased as part of my Microsoft trip (in addition to all my regular spending) results in an ~$1300 credit card bill this month. Then I have to pay my second half of 2007 property taxes (~$2150) by May 12. It's all hitting at once, and I'm down to my last $1-2000 in cash, which is below my comfort zone. I was so looking forward to buying a new main computer!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Multiple E*TRADE accounts

A couple posts ago, I commented on my spending discipline. I just took a step to help me maintain that discipline. I opened up a separate bank account just for emergency funds.

I used to have a E*TRADE Bank Complete Savings account. It has solid features and a high yield - beating Bank of America CDs, for example. The interest rate applies to every dollar in the account - it's not tiered. Now I have two! E*TRADE is kind enough to allow people to open as many as they want, it would seem. The interesting thing is that this basically eliminates the limit of 6 withdrawals a month because you can always transfer money over to another savings account and withdraw from that.

I have never hit the withdrawal limit, so that didn't enter into my thinking when I set up the account. I was just thankful to have the option to create a separate bank account with just as high of an interest rate. I can rename it to "Do not touch" or "Emergency Funds" or whatever else will make sure I'm not tempted to spend it. I then set up an automatic transfer from my old savings account (which gets my direct deposits) to my new one. Now I'll always have enough cash on hand in case I otherwise forget to set aside cash (say, for property taxes or insurance). Thanks, E*TRADE!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Seattle - Microsoft trip

On Sunday, March 16, I left for Seattle on business. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip. You want to hear more? Oh, OK.

Flight out

I was a bit nervous about the flight out because my dad made a comment over the phone about having the option of crashing the plane and collecting on my insurance if my brother were to get in financial trouble. I figured the NSA flagged the conversation and would have me put on the no-fly list. Well, I got on the plane just fine, it turns out, and had a lovely 4 hours crammed between two random guys. I got my rental car without any problems, but did have to search for the hotel a bit (the sign from the road is tiny, so I drove right past it the first time).

The hotel

I don't have very high standards when it comes to comforts and amenities. I admit that the hotel didn't have anything to wow guests, but the bed was of the new comfort-top variety, the sheets were soft (as opposed to being heavily starched), and everything else worked as it should. The free continental breakfast was above average and I enjoyed the OJ immensely.

The best part had to be my noisy neighbors, though. They kept me up on Monday night, but they were entertaining for a few 15-minute periods. I think they spoke Spanish, as I recognized a few words, but they seemed to speak English quite a bit, too, such as: "But I was almost there!"

Microsoft food

In addition to the free continental breakfast provided by the hotel, Microsoft also included a virtually unlimited supply of food during the three days of work. They had breakfast items, midmorning snacks, a full lunch, and afternoon snacks available each day. Plus, there was another kitchen with a freezer full of ice cream treats, and both areas had various beverage options. Monday's lunch was salmon, followed by sloppy Joe's on Tuesday, and deli sandwiches on Wednesday. I had a few muffins, a glazed twist donut, a couple cookies, a couple cake-square cookies, a fudge brownie, a bag of Sun Chips, and probably a few other miscellaneous items I am forgetting. Basically, I was very happy in Building 20.

I went out with my architect for Monday's dinner, which was nice. We just went to Red Robin, but had good conversation and I was happy to meet him after a full 18 months of working with/for him. Tuesday, the Microsoft people took both of us to a nice Italian restaurant. It was rather expensive, in my opinion, but it did taste good. The conversation was excellent, again.

The trip wasn't just about food, though. In addition to being filling, my trip was actually productive. I just can't talk about that - it's top secret. I can say that everyone was very eager to help out. Every question we had prompted a new expert to appear in Building 20. The freezer full of ice cream was raided proportionately, according to my informal observations.

A close second to the food in terms of favorite Microsoft experiences was the accent of one of our primary contacts. She was from Ireland and so had an Irish accent (amazing how that works). I could listen to her talk all day. Thankfully, she had the pleasant habit of mumbling/humming to herself.


I was able to meet up with my uncle on Wednesday evening. He picked me up from my hotel and gave me a tour of the city. I have to say, Seattle is simply a beautiful city. There was a lot of traffic, but the drivers all seemed very courteous. Everyone I talked to had a long list of potential activities, whereas Kansas City has enough to keep its population sane, but little more. Throughout my trip, I found myself thinking "I could live here," or "I could work here." There's still a lot keeping me in Kansas City, but if someone wanted to drag me out to live in Seattle, I wouldn't be terribly opposed to it.

I drove by/across various lakes/sounds/rivers/bodies of water, the space needle, the sports arenas, the first Starbucks, some house boats, places that my uncle has kayaked, and quite a few other things. We ended up in a parking garage and then walked to a mall. I was told by a trusted source that I had to eat at a World Wrapps, and so we did. It was quite good, and it was also nice to get to talk to my uncle as an adult (mostly).

Flight back

The flight back was much better than the flight out. First, I had an aisle seat, so I had a bit more room in which to sit. Second, a very attractive young woman sat in the middle seat and was interested in entertaining me, for some reason. I did not object, naturally - she gave me her Travel Snacks, after all. She also loaned me a book by David Sedaris. I read the first story only, but it was highly entertaining. I did my best to be funny and entertaining myself, but she had extra food, books, and magazines. I had a pen that she was able to use for Sudoku (in case she ever finds and reads this, the bottom left square of the upper right block is a 4 [of puzzle #4]), and offered the novel I had been reading, but that's much harder to pick up and read than a collection of short stories. I'm afraid I just didn't have a whole lot to offer in the way of boredom relief. Anyway, it was a pleasant flight, and trip, for me.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Managing debt

I grew up thinking that debt was a bad thing. Why buy a car when you can't afford it outright? I understood that houses required mortgages, but why put things on credit cards when you can pay cash? Managed properly, debt, even in credit card form, can be a good thing.


A lot of proper debt management depends on a realistic assessment of your spending habits. I, for example, don't tend to buy things. Or, I didn't until I bought a house and needed to put things in it. I have no expensive hobbies (compared to my brother who buys guitars and related equipment quite often) and I keep my monthly spending constant within a couple hundred dollars, in general.

In short, my spending habits are well defined and I track them informally. I also have a pretty stable job. IBM is a $160B company and people seem to like what I do there. Thus, I have a demonstrated discipline when it comes to spending and a pretty solid income. The risk of me not being able to pay my monthly bills is fairly low, so debt shouldn't be an undue emotional burden.

Interest Rates

The rest of debt management is interest rates. Most debt is pretty simple, actually. The interest rate is advertised directly. Some interest is tax deductible, though, in which case you need to multiply the advertised interest rate by (1 - your tax rate). For example, if you're in the 25% tax bracket and have a 6% mortgage, you're effectively only paying 4.5%.

If you can beat the interest rate determined above through investing, you can actually make money by going into debt. Even with the recent downturn, The S&P500 index has seen annualized growth of 9.516% over the last 5 years. That pesky tax rate works against us a bit, here, though. Interest income and short term capital gains are taxed as regular income, while long term capital gains are taxed at a 15% flat rate. For a worst case scenario, we can assume everything will be taxed as regular income. We need to now divide our effective interest rate from above by (1 - your tax rate) to get an rate of return goal. That 4.5% becomes 6% again. An 18% credit card interest rate becomes a 24% goal. Whatever we invest in, we need to beat this final rate in order for the debt to be profitable.

Over the long term, an 8% annualized return is fairly achievable. If you can invest money borrowed at 6% (effective) or lower, it is likely that you will be able to make money on money you don't actually have. This whole argument only applies if you have the money available to invest, though. If you borrow money to buy things, then that money isn't working for you.

Credit Cards

When there is something you need to buy, credit card debt can still be a good thing (even a card with an 18% interest rate!). The key is to not keep an interest-bearing balance. Pay the credit card off completely each month and you've basically borrowed money for 30-50 days interest free. You can keep that money in a high interest savings account and earn an extra few dollars by using a credit card instead of cash. Even better, you can get a credit card with additional cash back like the Chase Freedom card and/or Citi Dividends card.

Keep in mind that interest-free financing isn't a free pass to go on a spending spree. You still have to pay the purchase price. However, a store's 0% financing credit line can actually be better than cash back credit cards. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine a formula based on bank account savings rate, b, financing period, t, and cash back bonus, c, that calculates the break-even surface.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fileserver drama

It's been an exciting few days here in Geekland. I successfully installed my two new hard drives. That involved routing cables in an ugly manner, but was otherwise uneventful. I was not able to replace my north bridge fan, though - the wiring for the current one goes under the heatsink, but to remove that I think I need to remove the motherboard from the case. Anyway, at that point, I was all ready to grow my raid5 array.

But wait! How could this be? My 4-disk raid5 array is only running with 3 active disks1. It would appear that sometime on December 17, a power outage or similar caused a hard drive to be marked as failed. I should really set up some sort of notification. Well, I took the opportunity to learn all about recovering a dirty raid array. Good ol' mdadm was marvelous!2

With a fully functioning, clean, 4-disk raid5 array, it was time to grow the array. I called upon mdadm once again3 and got my two new drives added as hot spares. Just one more command4 to grow the array --

What's this? Linux and mdadm require versions 2.6.17 (2.6.19 according to some) and 2.4.1 and later, respectively, in order to grow a raid5 array? Surely Ubuntu, the most user-friendly linux version available will have a convenient upgrade mechanism - well, sort of. Upgrading reported a few errors, but I was running 2.6.20 and mdadm4 wasn't throwing an error anymore. Huzzah, my raid array was growing!

Kernel Panic? Aiee! Oh god oh god oh god. 2TB of data lost! Please let this reboot erase this bad dream... Eep! /dev/md0 no longer exists! There has to be a way to fix this - it's linux! Why, of course! I can always rely on mdadm. Why, once you reassemble the array5, it goes right on growing! Kernel Panic, again? Screw this.

After tiring of kernel panics and screaming "Aiee!" I downloaded an installation CD for the latest Ubuntu distribution. I had to reformat /root and /boot (and opted to format /home while I was at it), but I had a clean installation. In fact, it made everything easier. Once I reinstalled the mdadm package, /dev/md0 magically reappeared and was growing once again. It's now 56.7% done growing. After that, I need to resize the ext3 file system6, but I think that will go smoother.

At least I know the data is still there (at least mostly). After another while reinstalling and configuring samba and mounting /dev/md0, I have successfully watched an episode of TV. Indeed, I can still use my 2TB of file storage while it's growing into 3.5TB! If it weren't for a faulty upgrade, I probably wouldn't have had to reboot except for the hardware installation (and I admit that can even be avoided given proper cable planning in the case). I'm still amazed that mdadm can handle a bad disk, adding two disks, a faulty OS upgrade, kernel panics interrupting a reshape, reassembling unclean disks and making them clean again, resuming an interrupted reshape operation from a different version, and almost all while allowing the drive to remain accessible. Simply amazing.

Commands to remember:
  1. cat /proc/mdstat
  2. mdadm --add /dev/md0 /dev/sdd1
  3. mdadm --add /dev/md0 /dev/sde1 /dev/sdf1
  4. mdadm --grow /dev/md0 -n 6
  5. mdadm --assemble /dev/md0 /dev/sda1 /dev/sdb1 /dev/sdc1 /dev/sde1 /dev/sdf1
  6. resize2fs /dev/md0 (theoretically)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Google Analytics

My brother (babaBrian and Internet Video of the Day) told me to add Google Analytics to this here blog and I'm glad he did. It's a lot of fun to see what brings people in. I don't particularly care how long they stay or what pages they visited, but the Google search information presented is fascinating.

For instance, since I've added Google Analytics, there have been 9 Google search referrals. In all the following, the quotes mark the keywords used and are not included in the actual search box. If you type in "earnings strategy" as a search, my blog is miraculously #1! I'm also the #1 result for "how to profit when option assigned." I'm #2-#5 on the rest so far ("google share implied volatility," "grmn strangle earnings," "implied volatility profiting earning seasons," "options assigned," and "svnt blog"). The financial posts are evidently the most popular. Perhaps I should get back to that topic again.

I can see how Google Analytics would be helpful for a serious website looking to bring in advertising revenue, track the sales process, or something similar. Mostly, though, I think it's just fun and interesting to see which random searches find you.

Dungeons and Dragons

I was featured in yesterday's Internet Video of the Day, which was quite fun. I am indeed playing Dungeons and Dragons for the first time on Saturday. I'm really looking forward to it. My friend's wife helped me create an initial character and told me about some of the basics. Since then, I've been reading up in more detail on the D&D Wiki.

I still have quite a few questions, and I'm sure some things will end up being like the Free Parking in Monopoly - things aren't always done according to the rules. It should be a fun experience regardless.

In other nerdy news, my hard drives arrived! I think I will install them on Sunday. I'm quite excited. I just hope I don't lose all my data when I try and expand the raid array.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Computer Upgrades

I placed an order on Newegg yesterday for two more 750GB hard drives for my fileserver. I'm very excited because they arrive tomorrow! Newegg is fast! I'm thinking of making a trip up to Microcenter at some point in the next couple of days to get a new north bridge fan. I figure as long as my machine is going to be off while I add new hard drives and the like, I might as well get rid of the one loud fan that's in the box. I still need to figure out exactly how to expand a linux raid5 array, but that should be fun. Also cool: my hard drives were each part of a combo deal, so I get two free USB drives - one is 2GB and the other is 4GB. Perhaps I'll actually use one sometime.

I also did some research for my next primary machine while I was shopping. I've picked out a likely case and memory, but beyond that I ran into some troubles. There wasn't any clear best choice on processor/motherboard/graphics combinations. In the end, I decided that since I won't be buying a new machine until at least June, that I'll postpone any research until then, too.

The only lasting decision I made was to name my new computer Nora. In fact, this will be the first computer I will have named. I chose the name when it immediately popped into my head when Newegg asked me what I should name the wish list of parts I'd created. So, I'm not sure what the significance is yet, but Nora has some potential to be special.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thoughts on Prostitution

Let me start this by saying I have no plans to ever pay for sex. I've been watching Boston Legal recently, and this has gotten me thinking about laws and arguments. Thus this post.

My thought process started by looking for a good defense. First, it may be possible to characterize the transaction as paying for time during which sex just happened to occur. Undercover police officers would word things to avoid this possibility, though. Then I wondered if it were legal to hire someone to keep you company (an escort, which seems to be legal) only with the understanding that sex would be a recreational activity. A clever prosecutor could still charge you with sexual discrimination or harassment (do these crimes require the apparent victim to file a complaint?), but at this point you'd be paying for someone's time, rather than paying for sex.

This got me thinking about general hiring restrictions. If I pay a woman to spend time with me and perform sexual acts, I am hiring someone to perform a service, just like any other employer. Where does the restriction on purchasing some services come from, then? It is illegal to hire someone to kill, but killing is already illegal. What other services, that aren't already illegal themselves, are illegal to hire for?

Perhaps I should actually read relevant laws and case studies. That just seems like a large waste of time to devote to something that will have no practical application in my life, though. Oh well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Republican Caucus

On Saturday morning, I woke up early (before my alarm went off, even!). I went to Blue Valley Northwest High School at about 9:30 am for the Republican Presidential Caucuses. I learned in line that this was the first time Kansas has had caucuses in 20 years and that they were seen as a cheaper alternative to full primaries. Unfortunately, this resulted in 1/600 as many voting locations. They had to hold two sessions because there were so many people, and you have to wonder how many didn't stick around to hear that everyone in line would be allowed to vote. I got there late enough that I had to stand in line for about an hour, but I was able to vote in the second session.

Standing in line was actually more fun than participating in the caucus. There was good conversation in front of me and behind me, a crazy old man, and a conspiracy theorist right next to me. The crazy old man kept saying I was the future of the Republican party and that I have to write letters supporting the candidates for various offices. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I'm mostly Democrat. One of the guys in front of me was an old official in the Republican party, too, and had some interesting facts about what was really happening. And then there was this lady that brought her husband's voter registration card hoping for a second ballot because he just had surgery and couldn't make it. I really hope she wasn't given a second ballot, but if she was, I'm definitely going to be stealing a few voter registration cards next election!

All in all, it wasn't as great an experience as I'd hoped, but it was still an enjoyable Saturday morning. I got to show my support for Ron Paul while reminding myself of why I hate most politics. Has anyone been to a major Democratic event? Did they question the patriotism of Republicans? This was the part that annoyed me the most: We started the caucus part with the Pledge of Allegiance, after which the guy on stage quipped, "Do the Democrats even do that anymore?" Thankfully, he got a few upset howls among the applause. Ugh.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Voter registration

I recently updated my voter registration. I changed my address to my current residence, but I also changed my party affiliation from UNAFFILIATED to REPUBLICAN. This allows me to participate in the Republican primary caucuses. I'm very excited about this. It will be my first primary election activity.

The bad news? I won't be allowed to vote in the Democratic Party Presidential Caucus. Between the two, I'd rather vote in the Republican one. For one, I can usually live with any Democrat better than I can with many of the Republicans out there now - I can better ensure a workable candidate by choosing the opposition. In this particular case, I'm also more passionate about my support of Ron Paul than I am for any of the Democratic candidates. There's a picture I saw where a supporter was wearing a T-shirt or holding a sign that said "Dr. Paul cured my apathy." I agree with that.

So, at 9:00A.M. on Saturday, February 9, 2008, you should be able to find me at Blue Valley NW High School, 13260 Switzer. Are you registered Republican in Kansas? Find your caucus location!

Dining room art

I've been shopping for the past week or so for artwork and/or a mirror to go over the dining room buffet/sidebar. Carrie has expressed annoyance at my selection of stuff so far, so hopefully whatever I get will break that trend. Her mom tells her she will bring some of her father's old paintings the next time she visits, too. I'm interested to see what they are like.

But, so far I have found a couple paintings and a mirror that could work. One place has a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale going through the end of January. I'm only really interested in one painting, there, but my brother has found another one or two that he says would have a place in my house no matter what. I do have plenty of basement walls to fill eventually, after all.

It's been an interesting process. I've had to develop my tastes all in the last year, for the most part. It really has been one fairly major decision after the next. Once I bought the house, I had to pick out a refrigerator. Then I had to get a washer/dryer set. Later I had to get a kitchen table. Then I had to pick out a TV. I made sure my house had room for a ping pong table when I bought it, so then I had to pick out a ping pong table. Most recently, I had to pick dining room furniture. I thought I was done for awhile, but I now apparently need artwork.

So, I've been gathering opinions and analyzing my personality. I don't think most people are as intellectual about it as I am. I feel more like a dream interpreter than anything. Where most people would say "I like that," I look at it and make up a symbolism matching my personality. "The frame is simple, which goes along with my practical nature." I do recognize that there are colors, shapes, and overall styles that I don't particularly care for, though, which is a major step for me. Still, there doesn't seem to be anything that represents the side of my personality that largely doesn't care and that can live with pretty much anything, or nothing, on the walls.

Yet to be decided: my new set of clothes for the next few years. The decisions never end.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Plea for help

In case you haven't noticed, the stock market hasn't been doing so hot in the last few days/weeks/months. But you know what's cool? You can help! You can go out and buy something right now and improve the economy. You want to help even more, you say? Well, you're in luck! You can go buy something, break it right away, and buy it again!

Recommended products to buy: Garmin GPS devices, AMD/ATI computer parts, E*TRADE financial services/products.

Thanks guys!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New Dining Room Furniture

My dining room furniture has arrived, so I thought I'd share a couple pictures for no particular reason.

Table and Sidebar from the front entryway (and Fiona).

China hutch thing from entryway.

As you can see in the second picture, there's not a whole lot of extra room between the end chair and the china hutch thing. I'd like to put the leaf in the table, but in order to have workable room on both ends the table couldn't be centered, and I'm not sure how good that would look on a day to day basis.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Financial Woes

I was having a conversation with a friend this afternoon about how money appears to be tight for the next few months. I mentioned how I have to figure out how to make mortgage payments, pay property taxes and regular income taxes, make an IRA contribution, continue to make contributions to my 401(k), renew homeowners and car insurance, and continue to make all my utility payments and the like.

My huge spreadsheet indicates I'll have a surplus of about $2000 this year. But if that surplus is accumulated throughout the year (or mostly in the second half of the year, like in 2007), I could be in trouble in the first half. On a side note, my spreadsheet also indicates I severely missed my goal of 8% net worth growth last year. I have a 0.76% growth rate for 2007 (dismal), but that does include mortgage closing costs and some unrealized losses in my E*TRADE account.

Anyway, at the very end of the conversation, I remembered that my maximum house price was determined based on being able to afford it even without renters, that I don't have to max out my 401(k) every year, and that I have a large reserve of capital currently invested in mutual funds and the like. In other words, money is only tight because I save so much and I have a lot of cushioning built into my budget if I need it. I need to be reminded every once in awhile that I really don't have much to complain about, financially.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Why can't Congress get anything done?

I had a conversation last night about the difficulty in fixing anything in politics. We often ask ourselves why Congress can't get anything done. I think part of the problem is this: What the fuck does Congress have to do with baseball?