It's been a little while since I put out a post of random thoughts and things that caught my attention. I'm hoping that you'll find some of them some them useful, and others entertaining.
Amazon Glacier Provides Cheap Backup for Media - I love Amazon Web Services quite a bit. It brings very cheap computer power individuals without the buying power of a big company. They created a service called Amazon Glacier that allows people to back-up information for a penny a GB a month. This is idea for those pictures and music you want safe from fire or flood in your home. Sure you may have your photos on some web service (Picasa, Facebook, Flickr, etc.), but often they are compressed.
The biggest problem with Amazon Glacier is that they didn't provide a user-friendly graphical interface to it. It was made for software engineers. Third parties are stepping in and creating tools to fill that gap. I've used FastGlacier and it works well.
Looking for the Ideal Ultrabook - My 16" Dell Studio XPS is still performing well, but I have to say that I like the idea of a lighter, faster machine. Two Ultrabooks almost seem to have it right, but I want them to merge their features.
The VIZIO Thin and Light has the right size and weight, 15" at under 4 pounds with the full HD screen. It has a Microsoft Signature, which means that it doesn't come with a lot of apps that only hurt slow down your computer. Now for the bad... if you want to get the fastest processor, you have to get the much more expensive and larger SSD hard drive. That drives up the price a bit for me. There's no option to get more than 4GB of memory, which is less than what came in my Dell XPS more than a year ago. There is no SD card reader, which is something that I use frequently. Lastly, many reviews say that the keyboard is below average and the trackpad is essentially unusable.
The ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A tops out at 13 inches which is too small for everyday use for me. It lacks the Microsoft Signature version of Windows that the Vizio has. It is also limited to 4GB of memory like the Vizio. It is also more expensive than the Vizio by a few hundred dollars (when comparing as many apples-to-apples as possible). On the plus side, it has an SD card reader and keyboard and trackpad with good reviews. So at least it works.
Looks like I'm waiting until Vizio fixes a few things. By that time, Windows 8 and touchscreen laptops and tablet-hybrids will be all the rage.
Sports I: Boston Red Sox - It's been about a full year since I've much on the Boston Red Sox, one of my favorite teams. They haven't earned the any positive words for me in that time with the September collapse and this year's debacle of a season. At least the blockbuster trade of three high salary players allows them to rebuild. I watched fewer games than usual this year, but still caught dozens.
We saved about $300 in not going to the series this past weekend in nearby Oakland like we usually do. We didn't go because the Red Sox weren't good, but because with my wife full-term and a baby due any day now, we want to stay as close to the hospital as possible. Maybe junior knew something we didn't as the Red Sox got swept, losing by a combined score of 33-4, the biggest differential since the Boston Massacre in 1978.
Sports II: New England Patriots - As bad as the Red Sox are performing the optimism is the exact opposite for the Patriots' season that starts in less than a week. One analyst played out the Patriots season and have them winning every game... except the Super Bowl. As implausible as it sounds, Las Vegas will probably have them favored in every game. They have one of the easiest schedules. The toughest game may be at the Baltimore Ravens. They have games at home against Denver, Houston, and San Francisco. Those are tough games, but having them at home makes them favorites.
It would certainly be something to win 18 straight games and then lose the title. You have to feel for anyone rooting for a team that does that.
Rare Political Thought - I don't deal with politics or religion very often in this space. I probably mentioned each one about once before. However, I saw this from Chris Rock: "If you vote against Obama because he can't get stuff done, it's like saying, 'this guy can't cure cancer. I'm gonna vote for cancer.'"
I've been pretty clear about my thoughts about MLMs and pyramid schemes in this space and this Mother Jones article, Pyramid-Like Company Ponies Up $1 Million for Mitt Romney, pretty much seals the deal on who isn't right to lead America. We need people who shut down these companies from scamming American citizens, not people who take their bribes.
While on the Topic of MLM - I liked this article about MLMs by Free From Broke. The Financial Blogger chips in with a great Primerica review. I liked the part where he points out the people's cars in the parking lot. Simple, but effective way to show that the people in Primerica weren't making big money.
The Money-Saving Power of Cloth Diapers - Hat tip to my wife for this article on cloth diapering. Few things are more important to her right now. She's researching them in the same way that I research Ultrabooks. Ignoring that and getting to the article, cloth diapering can save over $1000. Save the environment and money at the same time? That's a no-brainer... at least that's what I'm saying until I actually have to use them.
The Disappearence of Middle Class Jobs - Flexo at Consumerism Commentary had a great article about Five Tips for Dealing With the Job Shift Away From the Middle Class. This is one of the reasons why I got into blogging. I saw a lot of software engineering jobs go overseas. It got me thinking that I need to take care an active role in preparing my finances and look at alternative ways to earn an income.
Moving on from those thoughts here are some other personal finance artices that I like:
Arrive Late to the Farmer's Market - My wife and I were running errands when we drove by a farmer's market that was ending in 10 minutes. In the time we were there, the prices for the peaches and pluots went from $2 a pound to $1 a pound. Some may want the first choice of the produce, but the quality was still great, especially for the price. By the way, if you are wondering what a pluot is I don't blame you. I had no clue before moving to California.
If you disappoint consumers give them something useful to make up for it - I offer this business tip to MLB.TV. They had an outage on Friday preventing people from watching the games that they paid for. Each game comes out to be a little less than a dollar a game to watch, so it's a little difficult to expect too much compensation. MLB.TV offered a 40% discount at it's store as restitution. Most of their products are 40% more than I find it for at TJ Maxx. I'm sure that MLB.TV still makes a profit on the sales, because the cost of producing the products are very low.
Meeting with Safeway about their Just For You Program - A couple of years ago, I got to review the Safeway’s Just For U Program with some representatives from Safeway. This week I get the opportunity to do it again... hopefully with something new to report. If you are a Safeway junkie (do such folks exist?), and you have something you want me to share with them, leave a comment. If you've never heard of Safeway, I understand it's a regional grocery chain.
Crashing Credit Karma's Open House - Crashing is probably the wrong word, but I'm going to drop by and check out their new office space this week. I went to their old office around 4 years ago and they were just moving in with boxes everywhere. I'm expecting a big upgrade this week. For those unfamiliar with Credit Karma, check out my review: Free Credit Scores from Credit Karma
I got my first Klout Perk - Klout measures your social media impact by looking at your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts and giving you an influence score. Influential people can be given perks by businesses. I received two packs of gum from a company called Hi-Chew. (Yes, I'm a high-rolling, social media mogul.) It is from Japan, which my wife guessed from the package. Against her better judgment I just gave it a try. It's not gum after all, it's indistinguishable from a Starburst. Now, the wait to see if I go blind or die begins.
I have the most handsome dog (of a small sample size) - My dog is officially the New England Patriots of my town's annual dog pageant. He's pulled out three first place awards in four years including most handsome twice. He can show up with C- game and still dominate the competition, which this year consisted of 10 other dogs. Okay that might not mean too much, but when we took him to a city event in the park a few days later, 5 separate people came up to me and asked if they could take their picture with my dog. This was an event where there at least 50 other dogs in the park.
Some start-up in Silicon Valley, must want a hire him as their mascot. I honestly looked into getting him into show business, but he's geographically challenged by not being in LA and he also isn't trained to the level they require. Still, he's a very unique mix of yellow lab, husky, and chow that looks like a purebred. The spotted tongue will get you every time.
How Consumers are Screwed by the Cell Phone Carriers - One of the best articles that I've read in the past couple of weeks is Five years after the iPhone, carriers are the biggest threat to innovation. It tells of the story of how the carriers killed Palm and routinely create nonsensical headaches for those making cell phone hardware. More and more technology companies are doing whatever they can to avoid them (which isn't much).
And now for the links (which are a little delayed since I haven't done one of these articles in awhile.
I hope all the fathers out there had a good day yesterday. My wife took me out for a combined father-to-be and dad-to-our-dog lunch yesterday. We went to Fleming's Steak House, but we didn't fully take advantage of them, with gift certificates from Costco as they haven't been offered near us in months.
They lured fathers in with the promise of a $25 coupon to a future visit. Unfortunately we found out that money expires in a month. Our receipt came with another $25 off for taking a short survey, but the two specials can't be combined. I'll give Flemings some points for being crafty in luring people in with free money they usually give people anyone in the form of that receipt survey.
While on the topic of Father's Day, my wife, dog, and I went to the drive-in on Saturday night to see That's My Boy, the new Adam Sandler - Andy Sandberg movie about fatherhood. We saved some money at the drive-in by packing our own drinks and snacks. While the critics panned the movie as being terrible, my wife and thought it was hilarious. It probably has something to do with being from Boston and knowing a friend who is a dead ringer for Adam Sandler's character.
Transitioning to movies in general, I caught Too Big to Fail, which is an HBO movie about the bank collapse in 2008. I took a lot of comfort in knowing that it wasn't entirely due to my trip to Australia. The movie went into great detail about how things fell apart. If you are looking for a movie that is educational, give it a look. The cast consisted of all names you will recognize. My favorite quote was the following:
"What do I say when they ask me why it wasn’t regulated?" asks a Treasury Department official, who is to answer questions for a press conference explaining bundled home loans and the potential collapse of AIG.
"No one wanted it," Hank Paulson replies. "They were making too much money."
This reminds me of the hundreds or thousands of MLM companies that are operating today who meet the FTC's guidelines of being illegal pyramid schemes. It is exactly the same question and answer.
On that topic, I noticed that the Direct Selling Association (DSA) put out some guidelines on legit multi-level marketing (MLM) companies and pyramid schemes. If you didn't know that 95% of the members of the DSA are MLMs, you would probably wonder why they'd do such a thing. After all, direct selling to most people is Ebay and the Girl Scouts and has nothing to do with some kind of multi-level marketing business. I took a little time to analyze their recommendations and contrast that with the FTC's recommendations on the exact same topic. The result is: Myths from the Direct Selling Association (DSA). I think it is an interesting exercise on how some clever marketing can change a few subtle points to make something that looks clearly illegal seem legit.
Here are the personal finance links for this week:
This past weekend I've been more focused on health than I have been in some time. It wasn't a conscious decision, but just something that seems to have happened.
There's been a lot of media on health of late. For one, there's the New York and the attempt to ban of soda over 16 ounces. I find it interesting. On one hand, I get what people are saying about personal freedoms. On the other hand, I see the point about the government intervening for the welfare of the nation. I heard somewhere that it is the government's job to solve problems that we can't solve individually. After watching the fantastic documentary, The Weight of a Nation, on HBO, I have to say that obesity seems to qualify. I highly recommend watching the documentary. You don't need an HBO subscription, it seems that HBO made it available on YouTube. Here's part one.
One of the episodes had a great focus on sugary drinks. While it's easy to put soda under the microscope, the episode pointed out that juices are potentially equally as bad. In fact, they made the point that the juice was nature's way of getting us to eat the good stuff in the fruit itself. This is a huge blow for MonaVie, a juice that I've written about before. They claimed that their $45 juice was healthy, but it is clear that government agencies are suggesting that they are selling only the worthless part of the juice. While on the topic of MonaVie, this past weekend the post had its 6,000th comment. That's a lot of discussion.
Before I get to the personal finance links, I had one more health exposure. I bought a Fitbit Ultra, which is essentially a glorified pedometer. It is the size of a thumb drive and you wear on belt or put in your pocket and just live your day. At the end, you find out how many calories roughly you burned. You get metrics like how many steps you took. You can earn badges for climbing lots or stairs or taking a lot of steps. It's very motivating to try to beat your previous day's totals. Anything that ties health and motivation in a good way gets me excited. In fact, I'm going to end this now and go out for a quick run...
I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day. I would wish everyone a happy one, but it just doesn't seem to fit the occasion. I'm pushing back my typical Memorial Day BBQ plans to go to a friend's house to watch the Celtics-Heat game later this evening. (Update: I was a little slow in getting this out, the game didn't go as well as I hoped.) Tomorrow, I'll catch up on the missed BBQ opportunity by making some pulled pork from my friend's recipe at GenXFinance. In the meantime, here are some things that I'm thinking before I get to the personal finance links.
Looking into Green Cars - My car is currently 11 years old. I'm going with the Tom Brady school of optimism that it has just as many years left. Since that may not match reality, I'm preparing myself by looking into what my next car would be. This time, I'd like to buy something that is lightly used depreciated rather than new. I really like the idea of the new plug in hybrids often abbreviated (PHEVs). The Chevy Volt is one example that is aleady on the market. The Ford C-Max Energi is coming out later this year and that has caught my eye as a good mix of energy efficient savings with a family size car. I hope to expand on this with a more complete article in the coming weeks.
Ultrabooks in Focus - When I'm not thinking about those green cars, I'm looking into Ultrabooks. Those are the thin and light laptops that Intel is pushing. Asus has a Zenbook Prime coming in a month or so that looks to be leap-frog anything else out there by a significant margin. I got a chance to look at a earlier version at the Microsoft Store in Palo Alto yesterday and it was impressive. The Microsoft Store itself was impressive. At twice the size of the Apple Store next door, it was packed.
The Mess that is Hewlett-Packard - This article on how crazy HP's management is simply amazing to me. It's amazing that a company with dozens of billions in revenue would have employees bringing home their trash because they cut back on the pick-up. No wonder webOS couldn't advance smartphones and tablets - it didn't get a shot.
In a few minutes I'm off to learn infant CPR... and I think some adult CPR as well. I should have done this long ago, but at least I'm getting it in now. I've been told that the cost of this one day training is usually around $60, but in Silicon Valley that's $110. Yikes! I'll put that in the category of baby insurance. Not sure if that makes it feel any cheaper.
Lately I've been consumed by HerbaLife, and the pyramid scheme questions around it. It looks like a lot of people are finally starting to learn about MLMs. There are three great articles that I really think are must-reads: Barron's (part of it may require subscription, sometimes it worked for me and other times it didn't), CNBC, and Fraud Files. The last one is from an MLM expert, so it is quite in-depth and informed. The Barron's one is a popular business journal. It is rare to see mainstream media write about MLMs being pyramid schemes nowadays - the threat of lawyers usually make the article not worth it.
Finally, here are the personal finance links (some of which may be old as I've fell behind in publishing these):
For the first time in 5 years, I decided to be un-Lazy with Finovate and look at the companies presenting in advance. I couldn't be more disappointed. I went through 48 of the 64 companies presenting last night and did not see much for consumers to get excited about. One of the few exceptions was WattzOn a company that helps you save money on electric bill by analyzing how much you are spending and where you can spend less. (I apparently would be well served asking my landlord for a new fridge, because the current one isn't very energy efficient.) Other than that, the vast majority of companies seem to be those that are providing services to other financial institutions or small businesses. I'm all for mom and pop shops getting access to technology to help them take payments anywhere, but it isn't that noteworthy and solutions are already in place.
I hope that by setting my expectations low, there will be some pleasant surprises.
Here are a couple of quick hits before some personal finance links of the last week.
SoapBoxers has a fiction writing contest and you can win money by voting - I'm probably not going to write for the Soap Boxer's Fiction Writing contest, but I may vote for a chance to win $5 - that's the right amount of effort for me. However, I could surprise some by writing about how Justice Jake thwarted the Evil SpiderBird. It was a dream from a couple of years ago, but my dog was pretty cool... and you never want to run into SpiderBird.
It's been a busy last few days around here. The lack of posts probably doesn't really tell the story. Here are a few things that I'm working on:
MLM awareness - When I was wrote about MonaVie being a scam, I really had no idea that what they were doing was common place in the world of MLMs. Many MonaVie distributors accused me of just being against anything MLM. At the time, I wasn't. However, after reviewing something like 50 companies, I've found zero redeeming value in the entire industry. And this isn't a new thing. You can go back to 25 years to this Money Magazine article and read: The Mess Called Multi-Level Marketing With celebrities setting the bait, hundreds of pyramid-style sales companies are raking in millions, often taking in the gullible. Back then they claimed: The multilevel marketing mess must be contained, if not halted. 25 years later... not much has changed. I hope to change that by exposing the MLM industry at MLM Myth.
Earth Day Freecycle - My city had a great Earth Day Freecycle event again this year. You donate anything that you don't want and others pick it up. Someone donated a Gringott's "piggy" coin bank from Harry Potter. I was able to scoop that up and make my wife very happy. She's a big Potter fan, so our child will be growing up with the stories. This buys me a little leverage to get some Buffy stuff. I'm sure this Gentlemen Bust is going to be too scary. Most importantly we cleaned up a lot of space without devoting a whole day to a yard sale.
Best Baby Stroller Debate - While on the topic of the upcoming baby, the discussion has turned to the best baby strollers. I was a supporter of the BOB Revolution, while my wife likes the Baby Jogger City Mini. After taking them both for a test drive, I think I agree with the wife. The one hand fold is pretty amazing.
Red Sox Bad Week - If you ever have had a bad week at work, chances are at least you didn't have as bad a one as Bobby Valentine, manager of the Red Sox. He started of the week with saying something that construed as criticizing one of the fan favorites for his lack of effort. The team lost the next 4 games, one of them by an embarrassing 18-3 score. It lead to this quote from the Valentine, No one has tried to run me over... yet. The day that article was published the Red Sox blew a 9-0 lead in the sixth to their biggest rivals, the Yankees losing 15-9 - one of the worst losses in franchise history. The Red Sox now have a road trip. I hope Valentine got out of Boston without being run over.
NFL Draft is Thursday - Up until then, I think my time will be split with 1/3rd going to my MLM site, 1/3rd going to this site, and 1/3rd reading about what the Patriots might do. It won't matter, because the Patriots always do the least expected thing and it somehow works out for them.
I'm Going to be a Father - I think I confused a lot of people last week, when I announced on April Fools that I was going to be a father. That was by design. I was wondering if people would discount any news coming on that day as some elaborate hoax. I think most people did. It would have been a terrible hoax, because there was no way anyone could verify it.
I Want the Belcourt Castle - I think one of the best values in the real estate market, if it's still for sale is the the Belcourt Castle in Newport, Rhode Island. I know that $4 million seems like a lot of money, but at around 27,000 square feet, it is a bargain at less than $150/sq ft and that square footage includes a lot of ornate stain glass windows and chandeliers. Also, since it is a museum, you've got income generating possibilities.
What a Sapp! - I think the news of Warren Sapp filing for bankruptcy is pretty sad. For those who don't him, he's a former NFL star. He owes hundreds of thousands in child support to four different women, and a total of 6.7 million to various creditors. He has my dream job of NFL analyst making $540,000 per season. Unfortunately the contract is up before the start of the next season and he was recently reprimanded by the NFL Network. I'm trying to find some sympathy, but I keep coming back to made his own bed, so now he has to lie in it.
My Wife Agree that This is an Amazing Video - I think we don't agree on too many videos when it comes to technology, but we did here. I think Amazon should give everyone these 3D printers and charge for the designs. Confused? Watch the video:
The Car that Drives Itself - I think this could solve a lot of drunk driving problems as well as allow seniors a new level of freedom. Watch this car drive a blind guy to Taco Bell and back home.
Has Baseball Started Yet? - I think that I'm still trying to get into baseball. I missed the Red Sox start of the season last Thursday as I was learning about military retirement (a topic to be covered this week or next). On Saturday, the Red Sox was blacked out by the Fox rendering my $120 season subscription useless. Sunday, I watched the Red Sox fall behind 4-0 early only to catch up and blow leads in the bottom of the 9th and 11th innings to lose the game. I saw this stat. The Red Sox closers have an ERA of 63. It's early and all the small sample size disclaimers apply, but it's not a good start.
MLB.TV on Windows Media Center - I think MLB.TV needs to work . I can click to Hulu, Netflix, just about anything on my Windows Media Center, but I can't use my remote to watch my MLB.TV subscription. You support a bunch of substandard hardware and operating systems like Roku, Boxee, and AppleTV and yet I have to pull out a keyboard and mouse to access streaming video on a full-fledged computer. It's an odd over-sight.
NFL Draft Coming Up - I think that with the Red Sox season is going, I'm looking forward to the NFL draft in 17 days.
Last night I caught up with SVB of The Digerati Life and a few other people for dinner and a game of Settlers of Catan. There I took the opportunity to tell her, as one of my closest friends, the big news. The wife and I are expecting a little bundle of tax deduction later this year.
We are beginning the process of learning all the new things that new parents need to learn. Financially, we've got a lot to figure out as well. I'm looking forward to documenting the financial aspects of this journey.
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