Archive for 2017

Pay Your Property Taxes NOW!

December 27th, 2017, 7:25pm by Jake

A reminder that next year, state & local income taxes are only deductible up to $10K. If you’re going to be over that cap in 2018, it makes a load of sense to pay your assessed taxes now. In California, the second installment isn’t due until February, but if you pay before December 31, you can deduct those payments from your 2017 federal income taxes.

Also, if you anticipate owing additional state income taxes (due to, for examples, capital gains taxes), you should pay those estimated taxes now.

I thought everyone knew this, but at work today 2 people had no idea until I told them. Act fast!

Last Night Before (From Here)

December 24th, 2017, 11:34pm by Jake

Twas the night before Christmas, and on our website
We had an absence of posting, no comments were in sight
WordPress is running Pyslent with due care
We may seldom write, but we still come & stare

Seven children were nestled, all snug in their beds
While visions of gadgets danced in dads’ heads
The Pats kept on winning, the Niners look like they’re back.
The Rams & Bolts are cooking, good teams we don’t lack.

Out on the internet arose such a clatter
I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter
Grabbed my Apple Watch, working so fine
Like the Apple gadgets, will age like fine wine

The internet was crazy, I’d never seen such a flurry
But I must be quick, I must be in a hurry
Then I just saw him, almost did not catch it.
It’s Rotiveo– the patron saint of gadgets!

Rotiveo wore Mobile Pants, size extra tall
And his clothes were vibrating, must be a phone call
Brought a load of gadgets, and even a game
And he whistled, and shouted and called sites by name

“Now Netflix! Now Target! And Amazon too!
To Best Buy! To Costco! And Kickstarter woo-hoo!”
All over the web, he searched high and searched low
To find all the stuff, now it’s ready to go!

All across the internet, Rotiveo he flew
A storm of traffic he did see in his rear view
He found the best deals, on the very best gear
It’s so cutting edge, it will still be good next year.

The net’s overflowing with really good stuff
Getting it to work might be kind of tough
With all sorts of cords and fifty kinds of plugs
(For us early adopters, we’re used to the bugs)

Rotiveo’s got the stuff to make us all gloat,
No Cable, Juicero, nor ‘Galaxy Note
Instead it’s Google Home and Amazon Echo,
If that Nest is listening, we’ll never know!

Joanie and Mike are extra super cold
Adam and Emma on the Disco never gets old!
Lucas on violin and climbing a roof,
Kelvin and Serena raising their prince is no goof!

Jake and Jen finished Hanukah Tuesday night,
This year with Jordan, what a festival of light.
Soon to be moving in a house all their own,
And they need it as they baby has grown!

How could Brandon be twelve and Lucas be ten?
They’ll still love their presents, all over again
Tiffany, Evan, Adam, Emma & Jordan
All seven amazing, I’ll say it again!

Happy in doggie heaven, looking down with such glee
There is Montana, merrily running free
She still sleeps and when she does she still dreams
Mostly of eating, people food I believe

Rotiveo sprang to Roomba (hacked years before)
And away they went, after cleaning the floor
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

Best Free Hotel Ever

April 13th, 2017, 12:02am by Jake

This was a scheme a full year in the works. Last year, we went on a family vacation to Hawaii & stayed at a resort Jen visited since she was little. And reminisced about another resort, the Mauna Kea. Old school Big Island resort, the kind where people once flew to Oahu, then Hilo, then drove on a dirt road across the island to take in the amazing beach resort. Seriously amazing. My photos don’t do it justice. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So the Mauna Kea we thought was independent. But turns out they have a deal with Marriott of some kind, and it’s eligible for reward points & stays. Normally $500/night, it was 40,000 Marriott points/ night. 5th night free, so that’s 160,000 points. What would any rational churner do? Find the branded credit card! I got 80,000 points, already had 40,000 sitting in my account and spent most of the next 6 months earning those next 40,000 points. Really awesome, no way I could have stayed there otherwise.

To cut to the Chase, they are now offering a 100,000 point sign-up bonus. Plus 7500 points for adding an authorized user. That’s 2/3 of the way to an amazing stay! Plus, if you sign up with my link, I score 10,000 bonus points, which will help me get back there in 3-4 years.

First Place Madness!

March 18th, 2017, 6:28pm by Jake

I figure I better post fast before things change. Right now, I’m in first place among the 400+ entrants in Lance’s pool. Not so shabby! Picking Wisconsin over Villanova catapulted me from 20th to #1.

 

Home Wifi Re-engineering

February 12th, 2017, 11:44am by Mike

What do you guys have going on for home networking these days?

I spent the better part of yesterday moving modems and routers around and reconfiguring to try to get good coverage throughout the house. I think I’ve settled on something that’s working for now. Curious what you all have, whether it works, and a side question of what, if anything, you do for parental controls on your home internet (we’re still a ways away, but interested on your take).

We have cable internet.

  • We currently still have 25Mbps down / 5 up, which sounds totally crappy, but speed tests say this is what we’re actually getting, and I’m not sure we need more (Netflix says we can get HD at 5 Mbps, and we need 25 for UHD — we have a 4k TV, but there’s not much 4k content). 
  • Comcast has a deal where we could probably upgrade to 200 Mbps for about the same price (assuming we give up our basic cable TV, which we don’t use at all), but we’d have to upgrade our cable modem for $100, so I’m not sure it’s worth it. 

Our main router is an Asus RT-AC66U.

  • Our TV, AppleTV, and an old Apple AirPort Extreme (working as a switch only, no wireless) are hooked up via gigabit ethernet.
  • About 20 other things are connected via wifi — this is a combination of laptops, desktops, phones, iPads, AppleTVs and an old Airport Express, two Echo dots, wireless speakers, Nest thermostats and smoke alarms, IoT light switches and plugs, and even an Amazon Fire Stick. Our two desktop machines (one of which is this server) are connected to the AirPort Extreme via ethernet.
  • The Asus router is running only the 2.4GHz band — running the 5GHz network in parallel was causing issues with some devices staying attached when moving to a range where the 2.4GHz band was actually better. 
  • After moving things around the house, messing with channels, and turning various radios on and off, we get over 75% signal strength from the basement to the 2nd floor, and a pretty steady 130Mbps internally. Since we only get 25Mbps into the house, it seems like upgrading the wifi won’t buy us anything at this point. When we stream stuff off our server internally, everything from the server to the TV is over ethernet, not wireless.

In the future, there are a couple upgrades I’d like to make, but if things keep working now, I think I have some time:

  • Upgrading our cable internet is a no-brainer except for the $100 modem. It kind of pisses me off that I could get 8x the speed at the same monthly cost, but then again, I don’t think I actually need the speed. 
  • I foresee a time when we’ll want to have pretty robust parental controls on personal devices for the kids, but we’re not there yet. I want to make sure we have some router system that can implement at least device scheduling and per-device web filtering. We’ve heard horror stories.
  • Finally, I’m interested in this new mesh networking gear, like the systems from EeroGoogleNetgearLinksys, and a bunch of others (and I know some of these aren’t technically “mesh”). They seem to simplify all the crap I went through yesterday, have the potential for good parental controls, and promise easy, centralized network management. But honestly, my ideal state is to have this all set up and never have to worry about it again. 

Credit Card Strategy

January 11th, 2017, 9:18pm by Mike

amazoncard

I’m a fan of credit cards that get points. When I was consulting, I was all about travel and hotel points, but now that I’m not traveling so much, I need to think through how to maximize my return. So here’s where I am, with the cards I currently have:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: $95 annual fee, 2x (=2%) points on travel and restaurants, 1x elsewhere. The points are “Ultimate Rewards” points from Chase, which can be transferred to airline/hotel programs or used directly for travel through Chase. Also can be used at Amazon, but not a great point redemption. 50,000 points signup bonus. This is my main credit card.
  • Chase Freedom: $0 annual fee, 5x points Ultimate Rewards points (=5%) in rotating categories every quarter, 1x otherwise. Right now it’s gas stations and local commuter transport (trains and Uber, basically). Since it’s free to have, it’s basically a no-brainer — only really used in the current 5x categories. I think this had 25,000 point signup bonus.
  • SPG Business Amex: $95 annual fee, 5 qualifying nights and 2 stays toward status, Gold status if you spend $30k per year, lots of extra points if you use at Starwood properties. Importantly, the Business card gets Sheraton Club access, which is key for family vacations (and my favorite SPG perk anyway). A holdover from the consulting days, where I really did well with this one. I think this had 30,000 point signup bonus.
  • Citi Prestige Mastercard: $450 annual fee, but great benefits. I got it when they still gave Admirals Club access from American, along with $250 in travel credit per calendar year (=$500 for the first annual fee payment — since I got in August 2016, I used the 2016 credit and now have a 2017 credit to use before August — more than pays for the card), Global Entry Fee waiver, complimentary 4th night at hotels, Priority Pass lounge access. Gets 3% for air travel and hotels, 2% dining and entertainment, 1% elsewhere. 50,000 point signup bonus. 

 

So here’s what I’m going to transition to:

  • When the Citi card comes up for renewal, cancel it (before the fee). So I have to spend my Citi points before that, and make sure I use the travel credit.
  • When the Citi card is cancelled, apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is Chase’s version of the Citi Prestige. Same $450 annual fee, but gets Ultimate Rewards points, $300 travel credit (again, per calendar year, so 2x the first year), Priority Pass lounges but no Admirals Club access. It gets 3% on travel and dining, 1% elsewhere. Through today, they have a 100,000 point signup bonus (falling to 50k tomorrow and beyond), but I don’t want to have both the Citi and Chase megacards at the same time, seems a little exorbitant. With this, I’ll cancel the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
  • When the SPG Amex is due for renewal, cancel it. Gotta do the math, but I think I’ll qualify for lifetime SPG Gold with another 7 nights of stays, so canceling the card won’t hurt me there, but I guess I lose Sheraton Club access. Have to figure out whether that’s worth the price of the card or not. Considering we spent about 4 nights a year in DC visiting family, that’s 4 family breakfasts, easily would cost over $95 without the Club. So maybe I’ll keep it just for that.
  • Sign up for the Amazon Prime Visa card. Gets 5% back on Amazon purchases, 2% at restaurants, gas stations, and drug stores, 1% back for other purchases. No annual fee, and $70 gift card signup bonus. We spend several thousand dollars per year at Amazon — certainly on par with what we spend on air travel, and more than hotels) so definitely worth it. (Update: Decided to go ahead and get this card now.) 

So after this transition is over, I’ll save at least $95 in annual fees, and consolidate all my point collection to Ultimate Rewards, since I won’t use the SPG card for much of anything. I’ll be getting 5% back on all Amazon purchases, 3% on travel and restaurants, 2% at gas stations and drug stores (doesn’t amount to much for me), and 1% everywhere else. Among categories, the only meaningful one left is groceries, I think. 

Do you guys have a credit card strategy?

 

 

 

The Board App!

January 10th, 2017, 8:20pm by Mike

No, not an app of the blog, but rather one for the original Board. I think it’s seriously exactly The Board algorithm put into a modern iOS app

It looks pretty good!

Tires

January 5th, 2017, 3:41pm by Jake

Yesterday I discovered my tire was completely flat as I started to drive home. Got a lift, and returned this morning to survey the damage– sorry I forgot to nab a photo. Tire looked like it was toast. Called roadside assistance, put on the spare (but didn’t have air to inflate it– so now I have to drive on a mostly flat spare a couple miles to add air). Tire definitely toast, huge nail in it but the killer was the wear on the sidewall from driving with a partial-mostly flat 4-5 miles. Turns out, my car is at 45,000 miles and probably due new tires regardless.

My question for The Board is: where’s the best place to buy new tires, and what’s the best brand/type to buy? Should be all-season since there’s the chance we’ll drive to the mountains at some point.

CES 2017

January 4th, 2017, 3:24pm by Mike

I’ve heard that you can keep people coming to a blog if you keep giving them new content. We’ve obviously proven the converse (no new posts = no visits), so let’s give it a try. I’m checking out the news from CES — here’s what I see that’s interesting:

Smart watches. I don’t know why, but I just don’t like the Apple Watch, for me. It’s too big in every dimension (you could say my wrists are too small). But with the demise of Pebble, my Pebble Time Round isn’t long for this world, so I need to start looking around. Today at CES are a couple of cool contenders:

      • Garmin Fenix 5S: Unofficially, this is the ladies version of the watch, but it’s 42mm diameter, so on the same order of size as the Apple Watch, but round. It’s definitely more of a fitness/sports watch, but I think it looks more like a normal watch. Unfortunately, it starts at $599, so no way that’s going to happen. You can read all about it here.
      • A much more compelling-looking option is the Withings Steel HR. Looks like an analog watch, but does activity tracking and as the name suggests, measures heart rate. Also has a small inset screen that does notifications, HR, steps, etc. And has a 25-day battery life. And it’s round, and either 40mm or 36mm. And costs $180. I’m nearly sold.

Antenna. Not the most exciting space, but Mohu (maker of the famous Leaf HD antenna) has a new product that’s pretty cool. According to Engadget:

The AirWave promises free TV “everywhere” across a variety of mobile and connected TV devices, since it catches the OTA signal and turns it into an IPTV stream for its app, sort of like a localized Aereo (RIP).

Aereo was pretty cool, and worked well for me until it was shut down. I’m excited that I could potentially get HD channels, since I haven’t found an antenna yet that works in my living room. With this one, I could put it somewhere else in the house, since all it needs is to connect to my Wifi network to stream video. $150, so probably not the first thing on my wish list, but cool nonetheless.

Anybody else paying attention?

The Rogue One Post (CONTAINS SPOILERS!)

January 1st, 2017, 3:33pm by Mike

I know we’re all busy with real life these days, but a new Star Wars movie, especially at the holidays, is something that we’d probably all be psyched about. If life has gotten in the way, stop reading here unless you’re OK with spoilers! By the way, if you accidentally see the images below, they’re from the trailers or past movies.

 


 

We saw Rogue One in 3D IMAX on Friday — I’m not sure what others think, but I thought it was totally entertaining, probably more so than The Force Awakens. The highlights for me:

  • The tidbits they throw in for fans. They went a little far with reusing exact lines (like the Cantina guys in Jedha city (“You better watch yourself.”), and the Gold squadron attack on the planetary shield generator (“OK, boys, keep it tight and keep an eye on those towers.”). I later learned that some of the space battle scenes, particularly cockpit scenes, were actually unused footage from A New Hope.
  • Seeing Darth Vader at his biggest and baddest, slicing up rebels, being the evil guy we’d always heard about but never really seen.
  • Answering the “Why was the Death Star so easy to destroy?” question
  • While there were no Jedi fights, they guy with the staff was pretty cool.

There were some plot holes that I caught, and a couple that I didn’t and read about before. For me, the biggest one is the end of the movie. It’s pretty clear that A New Hope starts within minutes of the end of Rogue One. Darth Vader watches Leia’s ship pull away, then he’s boarding it at the start of Episode IV. So, how does Leia claim that she’s “on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan?” You could say that that was just a line, but it was the same line that the rebel guy that Vader force-chokes says — how did they coordinate their stories?

Taking a step back, why was Leia there anyway? Either the Alliance was going to get the plans transmitted to them (in which case they could just re-transmit to lots of Rebels, and not need Leia), or they were going to get a flash drive (in which case, they should have uploaded it to the Rebel Cloud as soon as they got it, and wouldn’t need Leia). The only way they need Leia is in the extremely slim chance case that was the one that happened — and again, it still doesn’t really make sense. Why didn’t they jump straight into light speed on leaving the command ship? Others have certainly made the jump without calculations in an emergency (Han did it in the Millennium Falcon from inside his freight ship in Episode VII).

And of course there are other questions: How did R2 and C-3PO get on the ship, since they apparently missed the boarding announcement back at the Yavin 4 moon base? How did the Cantina guys escape Jedha, get to Mos Eisley within days, and act like they hadn’t just barely escaped the biggest weapons test in the history of the galaxy?

 

But these really didn’t take away from the fun of the movie (in fact, they’re a big part of it). I’m curious what you guys thought.

 


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