Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Net Worth (aka, I love Personal Capital)

Coming in a close second for the title of most boring post, everyone really should know their net worth.

I admit I was lazy up until 2ish years ago. We had plenty of money coming in and being invested, but I wasn't really paying attention to where it was and how it was being invested. I played around with Mint, but that was really focused on budgeting. Then I discovered Personal Capital. It pulled everything together and let me see in one picture where our money was and what it was doing (or not doing as was my case).

Their advisor tools, available for free, are great for you to peer into your investments. One thing that really hit me was the Investment Checkup tool, which shows the pretty impressive amount of fees (and also showed me how how over-invested we were in a variety things (man, was I overweight in the Tech arena)) from my Mutual Funds. This has motived me to do a serious rebalancing of investments (though my biggest one, the Thrift Savings Plan, doesn't offer a lot of options to rebalance. This is mitigated by the impressively low fees (0.02%)), pulling out of a lot of mutual funds (particularly important to me now is the fact that those big distributions at the end of every year? not the best thing from a tax perspective).  It also let us see the most effective way to remove some "bad" (aka, non-deductable. Realistically the only "good" debt is mortgage interest, but there are some exceptions depending on income level) debt (though then I set up a plan to replace that money that was allocated to immediately remove that debt).

BTW, we are also clients of Personal Capital's wealth management, so if you are interested in that check out this link:  That and I have been flirting with Robo-Investors (Betterment) Give this link a try

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Constant struggle

I am a big guy. Lately I have been having some success (over the past 6 months I have managed to shed 20+ pounds)...

So the picture on the left is depressing to me. I came back from Afghanistan nice and lean (245lbs, which is a good weight for me). Made for some pretty good wedding pictures, though even by that time I was inching back up.  But now through a combination of renewed commitment to working out, cutting back my soda consumption (and replacing it with coffee, which finally is palatable to me) less eating out (side effect of the budgets post) and a few things I have been trying (adding MSM to my diet, fish oil, less carbs, occasional (once or twice a week) fast (or partial fast) days, vinegar in water before every meal)) I have been able to slowly drag my ass back down to a more acceptable level. 

I like it and now if there are any trendable upticks (since the app I use, Withings, which is tied to my electronic scale will normalize the data set) I take strong action to get it back to normal. I am looking forward to start flirting with the 250 zone shortly (it shows up occasionally after a really good workout).

This post was somewhat inspired by buddy F, who has been tracking his efforts (our battles of the bulges) on his blog at:  I don't know about the 700 calorie a day thing though that he was doing for a while, that is crazy to me, but it did have some good effects on him.

Monday, April 25, 2016


It is ironic, given my site's name, that my consumption of "media" has taken a nosedive. I mostly blame it on the whole "being a responsible and caring parent" thing.
I mean, really, no one (I know there are exceptions) went to their grave going, "man, I wish I hadn't wasted so much time interacting with my children." BTW, this is my favorite recent picture... because, yes, that is the Medal of Honor hanging around my daughters neck (though she was probably more excited about the dog to her left). That is Army COL Crandall, MOH awardee (of "We were Soldiers" fame, he was the aviation guy who returned multiple times with supplies and to get the wounded)

But I still find some time to watch a few shows. Right now we seem to be in a new golden age for comic books, not just in the movies (everything from the Avengers to Superman seems to be doing well) but also on TV (and off TV, Netflix has been dropping some awesome stuff as well), which pretty much is taking up most of my viewing cycles. These are about the only shows that I am caught up on:

  • Arrow - because the world seems to love moody rich people with no super-powers kick butt. And well.... Felicity....
  • The Flash - much less moody and more bright, with bigger and more extreme bad guys.
  • Supergirl - still on the edge on this show, not quite caught up on
  • Walking Dead - smaller set and way more spoilers floating around
  • Fear the Walking Dead - even though I find myself rooting for the zombies against these guys
  • iZombie - pretty novel take on zombies and very different from other zombie shows
  • Jane the Virgin - what can I say, it is entertaining and I watch it with my wife (interestingly the only one on this list that didn't derive from a comic book)
  • some miscellaneous sitcoms (everything from 2 Broke Girls to Big Bang Theory)
Ironically since if I had to describe myself I would say that I was a Marvel Comics guy (vs a DC Comics guy) but overall the DC stuff has been producing a better/more watchable set of shows (I want to like Agents of SHIELD, but it doesn't have the same level of watchability that the DC set does.  Agent Carter is much more watchable (as well as the Netflix shows Daredevil and Jessica Jones) but is a much smaller commitment.

The only other thing I am really watching is a re-watch of Babylon 5, because I can have it on in the background and do other things while I go through the show. Somewhat dated but overall it held up well (JMS did a great job writing this show).

And of course I still make a pretty good dent in the reading pile (based on my other posts). 

Friday, April 22, 2016


Aka, the most boring post I will make. But it really is important.

Sometimes it takes a shock to bring about change. A layoff and a new baby on the way can definitely shake one up. Luckily my wife is very organized and a hard worker, so she finally got a new job a month before the arrival of Sean.

But that still forced a re-evaluation of things. You need to make sure that money coming in isn't exceeded by money coming out. When you have 2 kids in daycare (at 16-17k per kid, the DC area costs are insanely high) lots of churn in the budget become important to analyze. Some things just plain old lose (eating out every day for lunch at 10-12 per day, per adult? That adds up quick when you look at it ($120 * 52 weeks = $6240)).  You can buy a lot of bread, lunch meats, and leftovers when you are talking about that much money.  As you narrow things down (there are lot of things you cannot directly control (child care, mortgage) and a lot you only have minor control on (electricity, water, food)) you can see if there are things can be either dropped or that you can get a better deal on (I was paying how much for web hosting?!).

The best side effect of a budget? It has helped both of our waistlines (we know women gain weight during pregnancy, but a little known psuedo-fact (because I said so) is that so do men). Collectively we have probably lost 40lbs+ in the past 6 months.

Friday, April 01, 2016

March "Reads"/Reads

Long books plus long runs seems to even's out my audiobook listening. 

Hell's Foundations Quiver (Safehold #8) by 

  • Long book, long series. I think things are slowly coming to a head. Weber's villians, in this case Clinton, are always appropriately hatable that you feel sorry for the people on their team. Almost. David Weber is wordy but the sheer concept of this story keeps me coming back, the combination of "older" tech being aided by futuristic capabilities to help the good guys win really does make this a fun series to read. 4/5 (AB)
  • Disappointing. I have been a fan of Harry Turtledove for most of my life so I bought this on his name alone. And while the concept is interesting (The Yellowstone Supervolcano erupts!) it just doesn't feel like his other books. I get it, the idea is to abstract this massive, world changing event and put it up against a personal perspective of the people who are being affected. But this felt more like the disaster films I grew up on in the 80's and early 90's, right down to the corny characters. I don't think I can bring myself to get the next book of the series. I was bored. 2/5 (AB)
  • Good start to a series. Overall this book entertained (always the highest praise from me). The near future looks somewhat bright (at least there is star travel, though Earth itself is looking pretty grim). Following the story of someone from the modern equivalent of the projects (and on the dole) who earned the right to enlist, it is always interesting to me as someone who went through basic training in the USA to compare. Nothing too egregious leapt out at me and the progress of Andrew to first the local Army and then eventually to the Navy was entertaining (I like how when he showed up on his first ship the XO accuses him of being a PX Ranger (bought some awards at the PX that he didn't earn), though I suspect any real XO worth his salt wouldn't have given him the the chance). Overall I was excited to get started on the next book. 4/5 (AB)

  • If there is ever a book I have read that most clearly got started over a few drinks, this book is it. I imagine it went something like: "I bet you I can write a story where the nominal good guys wear Sigruden (the Lightning bolt of the SS)" "Hah, good luck with that"  And with that we have this book, which started as a short story and became this full length novel. Where the fricking remainder of the SS is rejuvenated to help Germany fight off the oncoming Posleen horde. Now I share some convictions with the author, Tom Kratman, a retired US Army Officer, so the way that certain parts of Germany are handled came off quite satisfying to me, but overall, like all the Posleen (Legacy of the Aldentia) world this is a grim world. Overall it was a solid addition to the the universe that was created by John Ringo. 4/5 (DB)

Lines of Departure (Frontlines #2) by 

  • Continuing a solid series. The storyline flashes forward 5 years to the re-enlistment of Andrew and his Girlfriend. The fight against the against the aliens is going not so well. Andrew has shifted from being a regular swabbie (after converting from being a regular grunt in the first book) to becoming a Combat Controller (basically a JTAC from my military experience. Still part of the space service but down in the mud coordinating air and space support). The best part of this was the humanizing of his relationship with Mother when he is down on leave, taking her out of the PRC and letting her experience some of the world around her). And after getting engaged to his girlfriend (and promising to be back in 6 months) he heads off to fight... not the aliens but the other part of humanity that has colonized deep space (Russian/China coalition). And then things get worse. Finally he is basically exiled (with a whole bunch of other people) onto some ice world.  And then things get worse again. 4/5 (AB)
Angles of Attack (Frontlines #3) by 
  • Surviving the trials of the last book, Andrew is now stuck out on the ice world. With a ragtag group of ships from both sides they finally start working together against the enemy menace. After going back to Earth-space, coming back to the ice world and then finally returning to Earth (and linking up with his fiancee) things of course take another bad turn. Looking forward to the next book to see where things go from there. (4/5) AB

Rock and Roll Half Marathon

After a long break from 1/2 Marathons (I had been sticking with my 10 Milers) my siblings caused me to sign up for one. Interestingly I have sort of run this one before (during the short period it was the National Half Marathon). Overall I was quite pleased, finishing with a pace almost 1:30 per mile faster than my Army Ten Miler times in October 2015. Runmeter report of the race.
 Fat Fingered Shoe Shot. It amused me to find it on my phone.
 Pre-Race. There was some mockery since we too the photo in the porta-potty's direction, but unless you look really hard the geometry makes it hard to tell.
Requisite post race shot with medals. 

Overall the race was pretty solid. I even partook of some of the adult beverages offered along the course (beer, prosecco and a margarita shot). It was pretty and not too cold.

Continuing my trend of weird side effects from this particular race, I had several blisters on, of all places, both my hands after this race. Maybe it was some weird reaction to sweat and holding onto the race gummies for 2-3 miles in my hands? Though I will say that even though I am 7 years older from the last time, I look better in these pics than I did in 2009....

My one complaint? The spiffy new shirt I got for the race tore when I wore it later that day after a much deserved shower.

I am already signed up for the next one (they had a great deal right after the race to sign up for 50 dollars).

Thursday, March 03, 2016

No really, I mean it

Please stay home if you want to vote for Trump...  For the love of God and this Country. 

Apparently the people in my hometown, the (only half-heartedly) People's Republic of Arlington, listened to the whole voting thing (I think a lot of Democrats crossed the line to have the chance to vote against Trump), but not enough people are listening.

I am voting for the Libertarian candidate if the Republican's cannot figure out a way to not nominate Trump (I admit to mocking the Democrat's "super-delegate" concept for being undemocratic (part of the reason that no one really expected Bernie to get nominated, when you are as plugged in and part of the system as Hillary is, that is a heck of a windmill to tilt to challenge her), but it is looking like a good idea now....). 

I just... can't..... vote for Trump or Hillary.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

February "Reads"/Reads

Even more miles for my training equals even more miles for me to listen to books. Though it is a slightly (less so than normal) shorter month.
Valhalla (Lexy Vaughan & Steven Macaulay #1)
  • Valhalla (Lexy Vaughan Steven Macaulay #1) - 
    • Not a bad book. But not interesting enough to keep going. It was interesting how the author tied in the airplane recovery into a recovery effort for, of all things, the Vikings and secret cults. Felt like a mediocre Dan Brown novel.
Brothers in Valor (Man of War, #3)
  • Brothers in Valor (Man of War #3) - 
    • Continuation of a fun series. I enjoyed the interesting situations and the clever ways that the captain was able to escape. Based on the ending I am interested to see where this goes.

The X-Files: Trust No One

  • The X-Files: Trust No One - edited by 
    • With a new "season" of The X-Files on tv, it was hard not to buy this anthology to get into the mood and revel in some nostalgia. So I didn't resist and was quite happy with the set of stories. The X-Files feels like returning to your childhood and most of these stories captured the feel of the show. While not every story completely engaged me, the overall set made me feel like I got my money's worth.