Thursday, June 23, 2016

Weekly Weight (6/23)

262.5

Worse than I hoped, better than I expected or deserved. I am back from 16 days of military duty, which was done in fairly hot heat and humidity. I definitely wasn't walking as much as normal (not too much mind you, just less than normal and decreasing the hotter it got) and my workouts and diet took a significant hit (I got to the gym 3 times and ate out way too much). Stepping up the workouts as well as the steps (15000 a day from Sunday to Wednesday).
  • Day 0
    • 260.9
  • Month 0 (May)
    • 257.8 - 263.1
  • Month 1 - Week 3 (June - now)
    • 262.5

Looking forward to some good workouts, lots more walking and solid dietary (with some fasting.. this is made easier by the sheer effort it takes to get a 3yo and 10mo kid out the door in the morning.  If I tried to eat too I would be catastrophically late, I just make a cup of coffee and start moving) in the next week. Only complicated by the fact that I am single parenting for the next 10 days.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Modest proposal for the President of United States

American Offices are dreadful places overall in Summer in the United States. American men are forced to wear outfits that do not conform to weather outside (and hence suffer on their commutes to and from work) and American women, who often do dress to the weather (at least during the Summer) are comfortable on their commute and many have to wear sweaters/jackets when indoors. It creates a lot strife in the Office and even causes some to cry "sexism." In general our European allies think we are a bit weird in our fierce AC obsession.

Japan should be our role model for this. In the wake of the loss of generation capacity due to the shutdown of nuclear reactors following the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami, Japan doubled down on their previous "Cool Biz" campaigns with their "Super Cool Biz" campaign. Temperatures in offices were encouraged to raised and workers we asked to adapt (even their President threw in with it, wearing short sleeves in numerous public appearance). While I admit that I have ulterior motives since I often have to wear long sleeve button downs with ties at work, this really is something that we should consider.

As President, I would request that you implement some of the policies and actions that are similar to the Government of Japan's action. With Executive Orders alone you could order the entirety of the U.S. Government, some 2.7 million people (almost 2% of the entire US work force), to adopt a more reasonable approach to the AC dial and to the expected attire from the government employees (drop the suit, drop the tie... wear short sleeve shirts, either button up or polo's). Specify a new standard (75 degrees?  Maybe allow for a phased approach do that people don't go into shock over this and overreact?) and direct D/A heads to address appropriate business attire, at least from May to October. This would also be very consistent with your positions on Climate Change (since this has been proven to decrease energy consumption in Japan) and perhaps spark similar actions in State/Local governments as well as industry.

Now mind you, I am not saying turn it off. Buildings need ventilation and, in places like the Washington DC Area, humidity really is the worst consideration. I will hit you up in another 6 months to address the other "cool" thing Japan has tried to do, the "Warm Biz" concept.

Yeah, I petitioned the White House on this item.  To sign go to https://wh.gov/iHaWD

My Daughter Turns 3!

Sydney, you live in a magical age. Never will you have to worry about staring out the car windows with nothing to do and boredom is but fleeting moments from being fixed. I hope (and will try to help) you develop Daddy's love of reading in the face of so much other electronic stimulation.

3 years ago you entered my life (actually a bit more than that since the moment that the pregnancy test came back positive I was planning to meet you IRL (In Real Life... old people techie speak)). My life has been enriched by your (very) willful presence. You have a very strong personality and know what you like, and are not afraid to tell us what you don't like. This year (and the next) of your life will be fairly stable, a few trips, maybe a promotion to the next class in daycare, then life will come whirling at you. I am so happy to be there with you and help you (when you are willing to accept) along with each stage of your life.



You (and your brother, as well as your mother) are the center of my life. 

I apologize for the fact that for at least the next 8 years or so the odds are very likely I will not be there on the day of your birthday (side effect of Daddy being part of the Army National Guard, which always seems to have annual training right around your birthday). I was so excited that I was able to get a few minutes with you on your birthday this year!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

May Reads


  • Kill Switch (Joe Ledger #8) by Jonathan Maberry (Goodreads Author)
    • Ever read a book that is part of a series that you are so excited about and enjoying so much that you had to push back and take deliberate action to read in smaller bites? Yeah, that was this book (given my druthers I would have zipped through this book but I decided to spread out my entertainment). The book starts slow with some pretty clear foreshadowing that like a lot of the Joe books everything isn't going to be all-right in the end and that the country as well as the main characters aren't going to get out of this un-scarred (happens in a lot of Jonathan Maberry's books). I am proud of my self control to have taken two whole weeks to listen to this book (and really, this is a series where I seriously recommend the audio book. Ray Porter, the narrator is awesome. Even Jonathan has admitted that now he hears his characters as though narrated by him, as he is writing new stuff! His skill at presenting these stories is a significant enhancer).

      As to the story? What if the lights went out? What if everything that runs on electricity other than the tiny bit used in brains/hearts stopped working? (side note, this is the basis on a global scale for at least one TV show and one really good book series) What else could you do to make that worse? Well if you read this book you can come up with some idea's. The Ledger series has been delving more into the paranormal (vs the Science gone bad from the first couple) the past book or so, and this keeps it up. I really cannot think of much more to say that doesn't potentially spoil the story.

      BTW, there is a great little scene in this book that is a treat if you have read some of Maberry's other series's (beyond the fact that those other story-lines all have similar characters and names in them).

  • Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson (Mercy Thompson 0.1/0.6/0.8/1.5/4.5/5.5/7.4) by Patricia Briggs
  • So somehow this book ended up on my pile (Audiobook) and to pace myself with Kill Switch I decided to give it a try. Overall the stories stood up well even accounting for the fact that I am effectively unfamiliar with the Mercy Thompson world. It actually may motivate me to try at least first book of the main series. 
  • Welcome Home / Go Away (Kris Longknife #9.5) by 
    • A short little palette cleanser from some of my recent books. This novella fills in a little of the backstory of the Kris Longknife series. Told from a different perspective than normal, mostly from her grandparents point of view (mostly General Trouble). It was interesting to see how the events of the latest book played out from another perspective. Nothing significant happens in this book but it was fun to spend a little more time in this world.

  • Chains of Command (Frontlines #4) by Marko Kloos
    • Another interesting continuation of the story of Andrew Grayson. Like the other books there is another fast forward that leads to rejoining Andrew and his wife a year after the events of the last book. Desperately rebuilding the military, Andrew has been co-opted to become a Drill Sergeant, pumping out new recruits into a military that is desperately short handed. But Andrew is not fated for that career for too long as his skills as a successful leader are again called for. Tasked to support a special team to go after the leadership of their confederation who fled just prior to battles of the last book, Andrew picks up a promotion (to the amusement of his wife) and is tasked to put together and lead a team to see if some of those ships that disappeared can be put retaken and put to use in their upcoming campaign to retake Mars.
  • A Shrouded World - Whistlers (A Shrouded World #1) by Mark Tufo (Goodreads Author), John O'Brien
    • So I am much more familiar with Mark Tufo's Michael Talbot character (I actually read the first book of John Obrien's Jack Walker series last month), but this seemed like a fun little collaboration between two characters (+ Trip from Talbot's world). Each of the characters got to interact with the other's main issue (Talbot's zombies and Jack's nighwalkers) and introduced a new bad guy to this world (the Whistlers). It took a little while for the characters to meet up finally, but it was worth it. I am looking forward to the next book to see what happened to this world.

  • The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent by Larry Correia
    • So it was free. And I got a lot of enjoyment from it. So win for me. This short story/novella was offered free on Audible so I couldn't pass on a free story from one of my favorite authors. Goofy? Yep. Chock full of pop culture references? Check. Overall it feels like this was a collaboration of a bunch of drunks (I can see it now.... "hey! hey! Put in Chuck Norris"), but not just any drunks but a bunch of SF/Fantasy/Mil-SF Con drunks. This story made my run fly by.



May Shows

Still keeping up with
  • The Flash
  • Arrow
  • Supergirl - Catching up on
  • Babylon 5 - On Season 5 (of 5) - I feel like I may have not seen most of this. It was around here that I first started my post-college jobs
  • Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt - Finally some quite time to watch with my wife
  • Amazing Race - Though we just aren't digging this year (YouTube stars, of which I was aware of one and my wife zero..... way to make us feel old)
  • iZombie
  • Jane the Virgin
  • Fear the Walking Dead
  • Chelsea Handlers new Netflix show! Yeah, just a bit excited about it. Though the wife and I cannot watch it in the mornings anymore like we did when we just had our daughter, Sydney, at almost 3 she has a remarkable ability to soak up words.

Movies (yep, I see so few now, even on DVD. I used to see 1-2 movies in the theater every week!):

  • The Martian - A nice adaption of the book. It was interesting to see where they cut out from the book. I am glad I "read" the book first.




What my Daughter is obsessed with:
  • Octonauts - Cannot complain too much, at least there is some bit of learning/science involved.
  • Team Umizoomi - Which I really like since it focuses a lot on shapes and colors.
What my Son is obsessed with:
  • Anything his sister has
  • Anything he can eat
  • Trying to walk (and he may still make this benchmark this month)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Weekly Weight (5/26)

260.0

Course correcting back to the right direction. Stepping up the workouts as well as the steps (18919 a day from Sunday to Wednesday).
  • Week 0
    • 260.9
  • Week 1-2
    • 257.8-260.1
  • Week 3 
    • 263.1
  • Week 4 (now)
    • 260.0

Things are going to get weird (and I will skip two weeks in June as I will be off for my yearly military service obligation) for the next two couple of weeks.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mortgages

Aka, why I will not be paying down my mortgage down (except to get to parity before I refinanced) anytime in the near future. Yep, I am addressing the holy war item of the personal finance world, "Should I pay down my mortgage?" In my case? No. *mostly

As a veteran (key since I have a 10% disability which allows for no cost refinancing) I have refi'd a number of times (and this is the third property that I have owned). I think I may be done for while now, since I am down to 3.25% APR. Now I love spreadsheets, so I spent quite some time crunching numbers. Because of the refinance I got back my escrow and skipped a payment, so I ended up with a fairly nice cash reserve (that I parked in a Betterment Safety Net account (40% stocks, 60% Bonds)) that I will slowly draw down over the next 4.5 years to get the principle down to the same amount I would have left on my old loan (and ends a month earlier than my previous loan). Did I mention that I really, really love using spreadsheets (and as a good husband I make sure that my wife has access to them and understands them)?

But then? I am going to stop (for a long time most likely). Why? Because mortgages are "good" debt. Right now even when I pull out the standard deduction and itemize, I come out ahead. And while the end result of an early paydown is nice (no payment other than insurance and Taxes!) you also have an asset that is mostly non-liquid (maybe a bit by HELOC, but those are tightening up like mortgages have) asset that, when you look at the historic return on property falls into the lowest category, below even bonds (note I said historically, this period seems to be an anomaly). I personally have set the goal of not letting my home equity represent more than 25% of my family's net worth (and at no point exceeding the amount I have in my cash/taxable accounts, like it does right now).

My "net" cost

  • P+ I + T + Insurance (no PMI, as a VA loan there is no PMI, even if I didn't already have 20%+ equity)
  • I + T is deductible (whatever your top marginal tax rate is, in my case that is ~33% for both Federal and State)
  • So gross cost is P + (I+T) * 2/3 + Insurance (but wait, if you look at it as I see it)
  • However, remember that P is increasing your share of the asset (increasing equity, lowering the overall loan... effectively an investment (a bad one, since in general property that you live in is among your worst asset classes historically)), so really, the big question is can you get similar housing for the cost of 2/3 * (I+T) + Insurance? In my area? You can probably hear my laughter from wherever you are reading this.
Now there are some additional costs. Maintenance is another factor (HVAC's die, Roof's rot, painting needs to occur) but relative to my mortgage payment (and like a good saver I even have a special account for home maintenance that I automatically stuff money into every month (I need to do more but what I have it at is barely twice the cost of the insurance... which is 1/60th of my payment)) it is fairly low. Because I have a townhouse there is an association fee (we have a shared garage so there is some value from that on top of landscaping and snow removal) and there is always the hidden risk of an assessment in the future.

On a final note there will be a point in the far (15-20 year range) that this situation changes. As your Interest component decreases there may come a point where the mortgage slips into the "bad" debt category, where the net cost makes a standard deduction viable again, which removes the tax advantage from the mortgage. And by that point, based on my portfolio it may make sense to start piling on to the mortgage again. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Weekly Weight (5/20)

263.1

A little bit of concern but it has been a weird week (Drill this past weekend, where I passed my annual PT test (18:07 2 mile run, 60 push-ups in 2 minutes, 55 sit-ups in 2 minutes) and height and weight, then off to Florida to "vacation" with the kids/wife/parents (I had all the intentions of running every day, hitting the gym, etc. but those plans did not survive the enemy, I only got one run in and no other workouts, other than a lot of walking). With a 2 week trend I am a little annoyed (but I am doing a partial fast day today to set me back on the right course).
  • Week 0
    • 260.9
  • Week 1
    • 257.8
  • Week 2 
    • 260.1
  • Week 3 (now)
    • 263.1

I got a new Fitbit HR (to replace my Dead Basis Peak) so I am getting used to that again.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Betterment

So in addition to Personal Capital the other investing tool (other than my legacy accounts at USAA, which I have been reducing to limit my capitol gains exposure and to lower my overall cost (which I figured out from Personal Capital's Fee Analyzer and Investment Checkup ) is Betterment (https://www.betterment.com/) or better yet betterment.com/invite/danielbuchholz (since that is a win-win link, you get the cool features of Betterment for a 6 month for free, so do I (for a month), not that their fees are bad). Betterment is one of several "Robo-Investors" that have little to no personal contact, using questionnaires to determine what the ideal risk is for the investor and then giving them the tools to execute a portfolio based on that risk profile.

So there are always going to be people out there that will tell you that any fee's are bad and to avoid them at all cost, putting the entire sum into market tracking ETF (the current main love of most PF people is Vanguard, with their low entry cost, low fee on the ETF's). But I think that there are a few features of Betterment that offer some value to everyone but the most motivated investors:

  • Tax Loss Harvesting:
  • Automatic Re-balancing
    • In addition to spreading your investment across multiple assets (to give you an acceptable level of diversification) they will also re-balance your portfolio if it strays significantly from your ideal ratio (if it hits more than a 3% aggregate difference). It will also invest any additional money you put in to bring the investment ratio back to your target. 
    • https://www.betterment.com/portfolio/
  • No transaction fee (but there is a cost)
    • While they do charge a baseline fee (currently .35% for 0-10k, .25% for 10k-100k, and .15 for any amount above 100k) any additional costs for the features above (and for putting new funds in or pulling them out) is rolled into that baseline fee.
    • https://www.betterment.com/pricing/
I think this Robo-Investor trend is pretty neat (I am a technologist after all) and it makes getting into investing a lot easier for the novices to journeyman level investors.

The one feature that is lacking and may cause me to defect to another Robo-investor is a lack lack of options for UGMA/UTMA (Uniform Gift/Transfer to Minors Act) to put my kids money in. I do use a 529 for my kids (my state plan allows for me to deduct from State taxes so that works for me) but outside of some initial large gifts to my kids that went into the 529, the rest goes into their personal account. But savings accounts are a joke so I have at least some of their money now as "sub" accounts on my Betterment account (another neat feature, you can create multiple investing goals, all with different target portfolios).