Mission:Nontrivial

30 March 2006

Trip to the Range

Today was a good day. Or at least I thought it was when I started writing this post. Work restructured the way it does time, so I was able to switch from the 9/80 schedule (work 9 days, for a total of 80 hours, every two week pay period), to a first-80 schedule. Maxing out at 10 hours per day has given me a four day weekend! And, after being on travel myself for 3 of the past 5 weeks, Mrs. Random is finally out of town herself. I have the house to myself. It's like a mini-vacation.

It was a great day in DC. I got some chores done, studied some Chinese, and got to participate in one of my expensive vices. I went to the shooting range. It was great:
I flicked about 400 dimes downrange (the average price of a round works out to about 10 cents). Shooting's great that way. Although guns don't depreciate much after the initial drop when they're first fired, nearly everything else about the hobby is pure consumption. A book of targets, gone. Cleaning swatches and chemicals, used up. And cartridges are expended, leaving little more than a pile of brass an the scent of cordite. It's worth every penny, and dime.

As I'm blogging this, in front of the TV, of course, I've just found out that today is the 25th anniversary of John Hinckley Jr.'s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. The story on the local news started out well, interviewing the cameraman who captured the footage everyone has seen. But then it ended as little more than a Brady Campaign press release.

So, while I'm all for background checks for [legal] gun purchases, and have nothing but good things to say about the felons that have been prevented from purchasing guns [legally] from [legal] sellers, I do have one nitpicky thing to point out:

Hinckley used a 6-shot, .22 cal revolver. And not even a good one, but a cheap piece of trash. Nothing the Brady Campaign has managed to do, even the background checks that I support (especially in their current "instant" form) would NOT have stopped him from buying it. The rest of the provisions in the so-called Brady Bill, now expired, wouldn't have stopped him.

BTW, the other provisions in the Brady Bill would have cost me some time at the range today. Limited to 10 round mags, I would have had to reload, like, 5 more times, costing whole seconds! And without the flash suppressor or bayonet lug on the AR15, I'm not even sure the gun would fire! It's a good thing the DC Snipers weren't able to stab anyone.

So, as it turns out, today is a bit of a sad day. As much fun as I had at the range, I just spent the past hour remembering a tragic event in American history. And like all tragic events, it ultimately lead to well-intentioned but ultimately pointless and inconvenient legislation.

I did have a lot of fun at the range, though.
UPDATE: Looks like I spoke too soon. The Brady Campaign has now admitted that a few of their proposals were mistakes, bringing them more in-line with what I consider to be the reasonable position. Good.

29 March 2006

China Blogs

And speaking of China, here are a pair of griping blogs: TalkTalkChina and ChinaRant. The comments are the best parts. I can't wait to try the worst restaurants in Beijing.

And for a good (though no longer updated) photo blog, try The Beijing Observer.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention one website that has been a great help: On-line Chinese Tools. And just like most Chinese restaurants, grocery stores, etc, the Chinese name URL is different than the English name.

Also, I really do mean griping, since they are blogs, not trashy paperbacks.

Online bank comparison

As part of the preparation to go oversees, Mrs. Random and I have started to break our reliance on brick and mortar banks. Already we have two online savings accounts (HSBC and ING Direct), and about 90% of our bills are paid online through our other banks' online billpayer services. Still, thanks to some great offers, we decided to give two fully online banks a try, EverBank and NetBank. The conditions of the offers both dictated an initial deposit of $1500-

So far, EverBank appears to be the keeper. Mrs. Random completed the setup, funded the account, linked in other accounts, and has nothing but good things to say about the service and the website. With the linked accounts, EverBank acts like a junior version of MS Money. Plus, all the info is stored remotely, so you can log in from any computer and have access to all your accounts. They sent us a free book of checks, and the online billpayer service appears to be a breeze. EverBank deal is that you'll pocket $50- if you cancel the service. I seriously doubt we will.

NetBank, on the other hand, has not been so easy. They did send us some deposit slips, and though it is possible to link accounts, I was not able to do so in such a way that I could make transfers to fund the account. I have to actually (gasp!) write a check and mail it. Most annoyingly, the website is NOT compatible with my copy of Firefox. I had to use (gasp #2!) Internet Explorer to access the website. One more gasp, and I would cancel this service for the cancellation bonus. But NetBank is clever. Their bonus is based on keeping money in their bank for a set period of time. (I chose the NestEggz bonus, linked, but to find other bonuses, try doing a Google search for site:https://secure.netbank.com/cgi-bin/fulfill?p=pro).

So far I've set up the services, and initialized the funding that should qualify me for the offers. In a few weeks, the first of the direct deposits should go through, which will give me money beyond the minimum to start cutting checks. I'll let you know how it goes.

26 March 2006

Don't buy stuff you cannot afford

You've probably already seen this, but it's still funny. Good advice from SNL.

Travelin'

I've been on travel for three of the past five weeks. With no internet access. But, I'm done with that for a while. Yay.

14 March 2006

Living the lifestyle

So I was completing the PF blogger/perfect husband trifecta:
  1. Dye Mrs. Random's hair (saving LOTS of money).
  2. Watch SATC and take notes while Mrs. Random rinses in the shower.
  3. Continuing to sit on the couch with her during SATC, while writing a blog post.
So it's no great secret that Carrie's lifestyle is unsustainable. Carrie is the perfect counter example for any responsible person who wants to spend less than they earn. (Did I really just write that? And did I really just ask "Is that a Burberry blindfold?" while watching the show? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?). But that's old news.

What really struck me, or perhaps it was the ammoina fumes, was an ad for HGTV's "I Want That":
I Want That! showcases innovations for the home that are so new they almost haven't happened yet. Be the first in the know about the latest high-tech gadgets and new design trends.
All I can say is, wow. HGTV has closed the loop. Now the ad is the show, the show is the ad. The spice is the worm. It's like an issue of Lucky Magazine (or SkyMall) in a half-hour televised format.

I hope they do an episode on the 2006 versions of all the things mentioned in Cake's Italian Leather Sofa, my favorite song about income-limited spending.

Microsoft product packaging

This video was actually created by Microsoft to illustrate their overpackaging. It's hilarious.

I'm impressed that Microsoft has such a knack for intentional self-parody. Though you couldn't tell by visiting my house, I can appreciate that an empty space can be as meaningful as a filled bookshelf. Apple clearly gets the less-is-more concept. And whoever commissioned the video does too.

13 March 2006

Income gap narrows?

This article from CNN/Money shows that no good news goes unpunished.
The evidence is in a new Fed study of family finances, the latest in a triennial series. It shows modest but clear signs of incomes converging rather than diverging. Between 2001 and 2004 (the most recent year for which data are available), incomes of the poorest 20 percent of families increased while incomes of the richest 20 percent fell. Basically, the poorest families' share of total incomes grew, and the richest families' share shrank. Incomes became just a little less unequal.
No problem with the shrinking of the income gap, right? Well, maybe.
As for income inequality, pretty much everyone has always hated it, and its growth was a certain cue for handwringing and brow furrowing. Well, it's not growing anymore. Because our best-educated workers are earning less, and the incentives for higher education may thus be declining, the result could be a more uniform--and lower--standard of living. Be careful what you wish for.
I love this article. Lot's of handwringing, and little data to back it up. Short answer, you're still better with a college degree. A LOT better.

09 March 2006

Online wine sales? Great!

I really shouldn't complain. When we moved to VA, getting our wine club deliveries became such a hassle that we ended up cancelling, savings us a few hundred bucks a year. Then the Supreme Court comes out with a ruling that makes it a bit easier, and cheaper.

Don't worry, Arizona's on that. I have no doubt that they will enact a law that will protect the (tax-generating) in-state middlemen, rather than permit direct shipments. I guess alcohol/tax laws are insane everywhere (I grew up in MA, I should know).

US and China at opposite ends of the savings spectrum

I stole the title of this post from this article. But, that's just because they stole the idea for the article from my blog post from two months ago.

But that's okay, because the article does show some of the ramifications of China's thrift, and America's spendthrift.

Another update of cashless experiment

While on travel, I did find a few places that only take cash:

1. Taxi cabs. While it is possible to pay with a credit card, it is still a hassle. And when your plane comes in late, and you catch the last cab out of the terminal, it's probably best to pay cash, and tip well. Fortunately I had hit the ATM by this point.

2. Airplanes! The airlines have stopped providing free meals, and they only accept cash. This lead to a very long plane trip. I'm glad I had a backpack full of granola bars.

3. Also, though not encountered on travel, Toll Booths. We only have one EZ-Pass in the family, so I keep some change in my car.

07 March 2006

Networth IQ update for March

A few days late, but my net worth has been updated on NetWorthIQ. Despite a slight drop in stocks, I show an increase of over $5100- since last month, or 1.4%. That's more than 50% more than last month.

For the second time, I used the median balance in our primary checking account, rather than the end balance, the mean, the lowest point, or any other way. For all other accounts, the end balance was used.

End of month savings report, Feb '06

I'm a bit late with my monthly updates, owing to spending two weeks on the left coast with no internet access. Here's my monthly savings report:
Mrs. Random and I both increased our 401(k) contributions to match our raises. As a result, we beat last month's savings rate quite handily, 24.57% to 30.84%. This means we actually beat my long term goal of 30%. I figured a savings rate of 30% would be something we might be able to pull off for the last few months of the year. Now the trick will be to stay at this rate. In the meantime, I'll set my new monthly goal at 33 1/3%.

BTW, the graph represents the initial disbursement of funds (which is the actual savings, usually money that is sent off as a direct or automatic deposit). Transfers after the fact, from savings to investments for example, are not shown in the graph, nor are they double-counted, I hope.

More firewood

We visited my parents over the weekend, and came home with another load uncut logs. After sharpening my chainsaw, I turned the pile of logs into about half a cord of firewood. With that, and the pine tree that came down in the snowstorm, I should have enough wood to last through the end of the year. And according to the latest gas bill, we're on track with the proposed savings.

It looks like Free Money Finance could use a woodstove, too.

06 March 2006

Family Free-Riders?

This post by Shannon Love on the free-rider problem of childless couples has a lot of points to ponder. Basically, Love argues that the costs of raising children is borne primarily by the parents, yet everyone (especially the economy as a whole) benefits from the next generation. If too many people chose not to have kids for short term financial gains, the economy would collapse.

It's worth reading the whole thing. The comment thread is also amusing. I would like to comment on one of her points, though:
(2) Except for some trivial income tax deductions, parents pay all the taxes that the childless do plus all the significant cost of rearing the children. Children provide no economic return to their parents. The entire population benefits from the productivity of the next generation but only parents pay the very real economic cost of creating the next generation.
Well, kids provide no economic return to their parents while they're still kids, sure. And while Mrs. Random and I may pay the same taxes as our neighbors with kids, they actually get something for that money. Their kids get a free-ride of sorts. The vast majority of taxes I pay to the county get used in the schools. One of the only reasons to have kids would be to stick it back to the county. ;)

I'm only half kidding. I'll let you guess which half.

03 March 2006

Snakes on a Plane!

I'm back from my trip. There were no snakes on the plane. Samuel L. Jackson was not a passenger. And, there was no sleeping. I picked the exit row, but the flight was so empty that I would have otherwise gotten an entire row to myself. Instead I got armrests that didn't flip up, and a seat that only reclined two inches.

I had no internet, so I'm only now getting caught up. Somehow, I missed this when it first came out. Fark has been all over it for the past few days. I can't wait. Be sure to watch the trailer.

If you still have no idea, try Wiki.

UPDATE: Somehow I missed these trailers.