My 2015 goals

Posted: 9th January 2015 by Seth Killey in Life, Saving Money

Studies show that by doing something for 30 days in a row, it quickly because a habit that requires very little thought.  So commit for 30 days and then it frequently becomes autopilot!


Groceries

  • Bulk rolled oats for breakfast – super cheap and filling
  • Simple lunches…more beans and rice vs pre-packaged crap
  • Cook more homemade meals with basic ingredients for dinner
  • Less packaging / more bulk in general
  • Move garden beds for better sunlight / better results



Consider going to liability insurance only for auto with our cars fully depreciated

  • Might switch once weather improves and reduced risk of ice / snow incidents



Bike to work twice a week

Remove distractions

  • Uninstall Twitter app (already removed FB) – done
  • Avoid news channels, political noise, FB clickholes
  • Read more books and watch more documentaries
  • Limit FB to 1 nightly check (gulp) – 30 day rule to make it a habit
  • Invite friends over versus just following their feed on FB
  • Reduce clutter – sell stuff on Craigslist & FB
  • Get the family outdoors more during summer – maybe camping?



Running

  • Continue running, BUT limit the races I do.  Focus on a couple ultras and avoid the big crowd races



Continue churning credit cards

  • Chase Freedom for $100 / bonus months



Reduce home improvement costs overall

  • Paint outside trim / possibly hire out for back part of house
  • Finish sealing basement
  • Use mastic paste to seal ducts in garage
  • Revisit  energy efficiency home report



Cell phone

  • When my phone dies, switch to Republic Wireless (or possibly do it now and sell Nexus)
  • Try $10 a month options with downloaded GPS data.  Use Comcast Wifi when around town



Evaluate each purchase in terms of…

  • Recognizing every “thing” is a lifetime burden with depreciating value and takes up space making us less mobile if we want to move down the road
  • Let most purchase simmer and see if the need dissipates
  • Weigh the value of the purchase vs additional freedom / reaching financial independence & early retirement
  • Spend less / save more – stretch goal 50% savings rate

Filing this one away for future reference.  I noticed my SharePoint application search functionality wasn’t working properly when running a full crawl.  Naturally the solution was an obscure registry entry.  http://sharepoint-live-authentication.shetabtech.com/documents/windows-server/how-to-enable-sharepoint-2010-search-in-sharepoint-web-application-with-claims-based-authentication

2014 frugality / investing goals and ideas

Posted: 14th February 2014 by Seth Killey in Saving Money

The last few months I’ve kind of went crazy getting into frugal living ideas and investing with the hope of reaching complete financial independence.  For me, financial independence would be reaching the point where my passive income replaces my day job and I reach a point where I could theoretically “retire” if I wanted to.  The magic formula for this being that you save 25 times annual spending.  Once you reach this point, you can withdraw 4% annually which allows for inflation to create a sustainable flow of income from passive investments.  I’ve always considered myself somewhat frugal, but some areas of my life I’ve admittedly become complacent like dining out frequently, getting lazy about price comparing stuff like insurance, and spending too much on groceries.  A lot of this was kick started by reading some motivational bloggers and authors including:

Rich Dad, Poor Dad – This book probably deserves some disclaimers because it’s been pointed out by others that some of the advice may be suspect and the author himself filed for bankruptcy on one of his corporations (although I would argue this demonstrates his point of incorporating to protect personal assets).  For me, this book is meant to serve as a motivator to get out of the rat race with inspirational ideas and quotes which point out the folly that most Americans follow…namely investing in liabilities (stuff that depreciates like electronics, cars, etc) instead of assets (stock, bonds, real estate, notes, etc).

Mr. Money Mustache – This excellent blog is a must read on ideas for frugal living with a eye towards early retirement.  The author quit his day job at 30 and retired.  He’s gotten some flack for saying “retired” because people get bent out of shape thinking retired must mean sitting at home eating pudding in your PJ’s and watching The Price is Right.  He still does construction jobs here and there, makes money from the blog, etc but people who nitpick are missing the point.  Of particular interest from his blog:

A Random Walk Down Wall Street – Tremendous book discussing the efficient market hypothesis.  Also, replete with examples of past stock market bubbles and busts.  Ultimately, another book demonstrating how low fee index funds really are the way to go.

As for me, here’s some steps I’ve taken in my journey towards financial independence:

  • Signed up for the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.  I’ve never been one to pay attention to new credit cards.  I always thought signing up for credit cards would hurt credit, but if used wisely and used responsibly it can actually provide some nice cost savings.  I chose this card even though there is an annual fee because it included a bonus of $100 (after you spend a certain amount on the card) and has a very nice 6% cash back at grocery stores and 3% cash back at gas stations.  So we’ll be using this as a gas and groceries card (it gives 1% cash back on everything else).  It should be noted that this card will not give 6% cash back at a place like Costco so you may want to check which businesses are eligible.  We still have Discover for their 5% promo of the month deals and MasterCard where businesses don’t accept Amex or Discover.  Ballpark figure, the new credit card will save us around $500 a year.
  • Speaking of Costco, we just got a membership.  We ran the numbers before and didn’t see enough savings to warrant the membership and extra gas to drive to Costco, but Living Social recently had a deal which effectively made our membership $17 so we figured we’d give it a shot.  We’ve started a file where we record prices for some of the food we regularly buy to determine which store we should buy it at.  We cycle between Kroger, Costco, Amazon (subscribe and save 20% discount), Azure Standard, and the occasional trip to the small local organic grocery store.
  • Switched auto insurance to Geico.  For some reason I felt irrationally nervous about switching from our old insurance agent.  At the end of the day, Geico is going to save us hundreds of dollars.  This process also involved switching home insurance once we got the Geico auto insurance, and used the Geico affiliate program to tack on home insurance from Liberty Mutual.  All said and done  this will save us over $600 per year for apples to apples coverage.
  • Cell phones – getting off the “subsidized phone price in exchange for oppressively high monthly prices” phone plans.  I’ve made the switch to Net10, and once my wife ends her contract, I’ll put her on Republic Wireless for a super affordable unlimited talk, text and 3G data plan at $25 a month.  I also considered switching from Net10 to Ting because Ting now supports my Nexus 5, but they do not offer roaming data which is kinda a deal breaker since I use my phone for a GPS and Sprint coverage is not a guarantee everywhere.
  • The newly initiated dining out rule – Only 2 meals dining out per week…max.
  • For investing, I now manage all my accounts thru Scottrade and after some initial nervousness I absolutely love it.  When you research the history of the stock market and understand how it ebbs and flows over time and invest primarily in broad market index funds, self-guided investing is pretty simple actually.  You could make a strong argument that by simply investing in a few Vanguard index funds you will do better than most actively managed accounts where brokers and high expense mutual funds eat away at gains over time.  I’ll just need to recalibrate asset allocations (lots of easy calculators online to help you determine a good allocation based on age, and tolerance for risk) periodically and let the market do what it’s going to do with dollar-cost averaging.
    • Now having said that, before I saw the brilliance of simplifying my portfolio with index funds for complete diversification and low stress investing that will beat most people’s returns over time, I started dabbling in individual stocks.  I got a subscription to Stock Advisor with Motley Fool when they were running a promo and I’m currently managing a list of individual stocks.  Overall, I do enjoy investing, following the market, and researching companies I find interesting so I consider it a hobby.  I’m using Google Finance to track my individual stock performance vs a mirrored portfolio where I would have instead investing the same amount in a Vanguard index fund (VTI).  After my subscription ends, I’ll see where I’m at in terms of beating the market (so far…losing).  If I prove to have some acumen for picking stocks (read, I get lucky) then I may continue.  If I crash and burn, I’ll just redirect it towards index funds and sleep well at night.
  • One other area that I plan on investing is peer to peer lending via LendingClub and Prosper.  Not all states are eligible but the returns are pretty darn good.  I have a friend that’s using Prosper currently so I’ll be checking in with him.
  • Started having regular conversations with fellow independent investors as a way to network and talk each other off the ledge when the market takes turns for the worse.  I think most people prefer a financial advisor not only because of their knowledge they provide but also as a shrink to help keep people from doing something stupid or acting irrationally.
  • I’ve also been doing a fair amount of research on real estate investing.  Right now I’m just collecting information with an eye towards one day owning a multi-tenant apartment building.  There are a fair amount of tax advantages of real estate investing, but I’m not sure how active or passive an investment this would be relative to gains that can be realized with the stock market or peer to peer lending.
  • Other past posts discuss cutting the cord on cable TV and trimming the power bill

 

Nexus_5_Front_ViewDespite getting some nifty Sprint discounts, I’ve officially moved away from the 2 year contract, subsidized phone system and over to the world of MVNO.  I had been not-so-patiently waiting for the Nexus 5 to be released so I could also obliterate another long held irritant, the carrier / manufacturer bastardization of Android.  Also, Sprint doesn’t allow you to unlock a phone to take with you to another carrier so the decision was pretty easy.  Side note: my old Motorola Photon will still live on thanks to the multimedia dock as a Netflix player for the downstairs TV.

In terms of selecting a MVNO, the choice narrowed down to StraightTalk and NET10, both owned by Tracfone.  StraightTalk seems to have more customers, or at least people I know using it, but NET10 has the potential to lower the bill down to $85 for unlimited talk, text, and data for 2 phones when you are enrolled for auto payment, whereas StraightTalk is $90.  I’m not sure if there will be little fees here and there that negates this whopping $5 savings, but I figured I’d give it a shot and see how things go.  It’s not super intuitive from the website the order of operations needed to get from a Sprint customer to a NET10 customer who wants to bring their own new phone, and transfer their existing cell number.  Ultimately, all I needed to do was order a micro SIM for the Nexus 5 and select which network I wanted behind the scenes (AT&T or T-Mobile).  Since AT&T has better coverage I chose an AT&T micro SIM and added 1 month of service.  Later I realized that I should have just got the micro SIM and then signed up for auto payment during the activation process to save an extra $5 the first month.  In the mail I received the SIM, an activation card with the instructions which added clarity to the situation, and my airtime card for getting my first month of service.  The activation process was fairly straightforward, although there was some ambiguity when requesting information from our old carrier since we had 2 phones on the account.  For instance, do you want my SSN or the SSN number of the primary account holder? At the end of the activation I was provided with the Assess Point Names (APN) needed for LTE data speeds (Sprint is just now finally rolling out 4G in my area and it was spotty at best).  Much to my surprise, my old number transferred to NET10 in like 15 minutes.  Kudos to NET10 AND Sprint for making that transition so smooth.  I’ve grown accustom to carriers jerking you around when porting numbers that I just assumed there was going to be some shenanigans.  The only real gotcha I encountered is the APN provided at the end of the activation wizard did not work.  I then went back to my activation card  I received in the mail and instead went to the APN link provided and it gave a totally different set of settings to add to my phone.  Once I did that and rebooted, I was getting LTE data (10 mb down, 4.5 mb up).

As for the Nexus 5 and KitKat, it’s been a joy to use, the UI is buttery smooth.  I’m not a screen / camera hardware junkie (I’m more concerned about CPU / memory performance) so I don’t get all concerned about pixel density or extreme details over the camera.  From my untrained eye, the graphics seem top notch and vibrant and the camera is already a marked improvement over my last phone with plenty of features I’ll probably never use.  In particular, the image stabilization really helps prevent blurry pictures. The biggest bug I’ve noticed so far is that both my work and home WiFi didn’t work initially.  My WiFi settings ported over from my Google account, and when I would attempt to connect the first time I would bomb out (show “connecting”, but ultimately fail).  Each time, I would remove the WiFi network, add back in, and then reboot the phone and WiFi would be working, so hopefully I don’t have to do this for every WiFi connection.  The phone feels super light in my hand and I’ve had to make some adjustments because I’ve almost had it flip out of my hand due to it being lighter than my old phone.  I had also grown use to the superior curved and beveled edges of my old phone which made it more comfortable to grip.  My old phone was running Gingerbread so in terms of a technology leap KitKat is a massive upgrade.  I’ve used Jelly Bean on my tablet so the differences are more subtle there, but I look forward to familiarizing myself with all the new features.  I’m already a regular Google Now user.

In short Nexus 5…good, KitKat…good, NET10…good so far

Initial thoughts on Chromecast

Posted: 8th August 2013 by Seth Killey in Nerdy Stuff

marquee-productI was one of the lucky ones who bought Chromecast right away so I got the promo for 3 free months of Netflix.  Without that promo, I’m not entirely sure if I would have bought Chromecast.  I mean for $35 the bar is pretty low for getting a return on investment, but even when clicking add to cart I wasn’t sure where this little thing would fit in my cord cutting collection.

I first tried Chromecast via my 7″ Acer Iconia tablet.  YouTube video quality was pretty good actually.  There is a bit of a delay before it pops on my TV, but that could be because my tablet and Chromecast were not exactly in close proximity to my wireless router.  Netflix worked OK, but it took longer to load versus YouTube.  Also, it didn’t fill the screen as nicely as my Roku.  Unfortunately, the Google Cast extension is not available on my Chrome browser loaded on my Android tablet for playing other online content.  Basically on my tablet the only useful thing is playing YouTube.  Really, I personally would only use it to play long YouTube videos like short films and documentaries.  Others may find more use on a tablet if they buy music and movies via Google Play.

Next up I tried the Google Cast extension via my Windows 8 laptop.  Now this was a bit more exciting because it opens up a whole host of content not available via a Roku channel.  Granted, before Chromecast I could just hook up my laptop to my TV via HDMI, but this makes for a bit more untethered experience.  I’m sure Hulu and other online content providers are not happy about this development because this seems to squash one of the main tenants for getting Hulu Plus.

Overall, I’ll stick with Roku for my primary cord cutting device.  However, Chromecast could fill a few voids for YouTube and other online content.  Prior to Chromecast I achieved this by running Plex on a desktop computer via Roku.  I still like Plex as a nice consolidated page of select channels, but Chromecast has the potential to replace Plex because it has fewer moving parts and uses less power, but Google really needs to get a Google Cast extension available for Android devices to make this a more agile option.  I can also see Chromecast being a nice travel companion, but really how hard is it to “lug” a Roku with you (especially when certain Roku models are not much more expensive than Chromecast)?

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a way to cut the cord, stick with a Roku.  If you’re looking for a really mobile travel companion or a complimentary cord cutting device, the Chromecast may fill a void in your collection.

logo

For the uninitiated, the duck race is an annual event where supporters of The Center adopt rubber ducks that will race along the Peoria Riverfront on August 24th.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, you may even win a pretty cool prize (see this link).  This year the goal is to have 30,000 ducks adopted, so we’re REALLY putting ourselves out there and hoping the community helps us reach that number.  In a few months, it will mark 4 years since I started working for The Center, which has been an absolute honor.  Most of the community recognizes The Center for their work in domestic violence by providing shelter to battered women, and that’s certainly true, however The Center does so much more than most realize.  We are the ONLY agency in Illinois that provides the breadth of services that includes support for victims of elder abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  We also have a presence in the courthouses by providing orders of protection as well as programs for perpetrators of abuse.  Finally, we have a growing prevention education department which includes anti-bullying programs that reach schools in Tazewell, Woodford and Peoria counties.

I was recently reminded how far we still have to go when it comes to issues like bullying.  A guy I was having a casual conversation with said he thought bullying was just a part of growing up…sort of a rite of passage and the media is just making a bigger deal out of it now.  However, the world we live in with technology, social media, etc has taken bullying to new levels where victims feel like threats are inescapable.  They face a barrage of physical and verbal abuse at school which is only continued once they leave school through text messages, Facebook, Twitter.  So no, it’s not OK for this to continue.  We need to change the culture of bullying being a part of growing up.  I know when I look back at my childhood I remember plenty of opportunities where I wish I would have stood up to bullying or was bullying others through action or inaction.  Let’s help gives kids the tools necessary to stand up to bullying and sway the tide, where standing up to bullies is the more attractive option for kids.  Think how powerful a moment it could be if just a few kids saw a kid being bullied and had the courage to stand up for them.  That act can impact a person’s complete outlook on life!

Here are some ways you can help
================================

Adopt a duck for the annual duck race.  Here’s a link to adopt under my “team”

adopt

Share this post with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.  If you do this, please tag me in the post and I’ll adopt a duck in your name

Keep up to date with various events posted on our Facebook page

Want to help, but short on cash? You can volunteer and donate gently used items.

Do you like to run? Cool, come run the first ever 5k duck dash with me on August 17th along the Peoria Riverfront.  Oh, and if you do run, let me know and I’ll adopt a duck in your name too.

When I first setup my standard desktop image, I struggled with weather or not to include Java by default.  Ultimately, I included Java with my standard image, but with the continual battery of security flaws and mid-week patch deployments I’ve decided to take a more aggressive approach to limiting threats.  With the latest exploit announced a few days ago, I created a security group (DisableJavaPlugIn) which included all computers except those I knew needed the Java plug-in.  I then created a group policy under Computer Configuration –> Preferences –> Windows Settings –> Registry.  The policy is rather straightforward in that I just create a new Registry Item that deletes HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\JavaSoft\Java Plug-in.  If you are working with a 64-bit version of Windows the path is HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Wow6432Node\JavaSoft\Java Plug-in.  I also have a separate entry that disables automatic updates because I push those out via SCCM.

In the group policy management console (gpmc), I linked this group policy to my various computer OU’s **as well as my OU which contains the security group**.  I then specify my security group (DisableJavaPlugIn) under security filtering in the gpmc so that this policy does not disable the plug-in for computers that need it.

Now if a user hits a website that tries to fire up Java it will display the following error:

If you later discover someone needs Java, you can easily re-enable the plug in by going to the control panel –> click the java icon –> security tab.  It will likely show “Enable Java content in the browser” checked.  If you un-check, click apply, then re-check the checkbox Java will have the appropriate registry keys restored and plug-ins will work without needing to reinstall Java.  You’ll also need to remove that computer from the security group that determines which computers have the plug-in disabled.

Hopefully, this little test will give me further insight into who actually uses Java.  At a later date I can then deploy a batch script to uninstall Java completely for those who truly have no need for Java.  You’ll need to double check your environment, but for me it will look like this:

@echo off
MsiExec.exe /x{26A24AE4-039D-4CA4-87B4-2F83217004FF} /quiet /norestart
exit

I was busy today setting up a scheduled tasks to reboot all computers before deploying a security patch for Java, see http://www.zdnet.com/oracle-patches-multiple-java-zero-day-holes-increases-default-security-7000009736/.  Luckily I decided to verify my scheduled task was setup properly on a client computer before assuming all will go to plan.  Turns out scheduled tasks through group policy preferences is rather unreliable so you have to do some tweaking to make it actually run at the correct time…especially when running the task near midnight where you can be off a whole day versus just one hour.  There is a hotfix for this type of issue on Vista / Windows Server 2008, but I’m on Windows 7 / Server 2008 R2 and evidently this issue was never fixed.  Also, I double checked and my server and clients were in the same time zone.

As an example, today is January 15th and I wanted to reboot all computers at 11:30 PM tonight.  In order to get this correct date / time for my client computers I actually have to set the scheduled task for January 16th at 11:30 PM.  Confusing…you bet! Here’s visual proof:

Here’s how the schedule tasks is inputted using the Group Policy editor

schedtsk1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what the task looks like in the Group Policy Management Console.  Notice how the date says 12:30 AM

schedtsk2

 

Finally, this is what the task looks like in the client, Windows 7 scheduled tasks window.  Notice how the date is 1/15/2013 now instead of 1/16/2013

schedtsk3

It took some time playing around to figure out that if I wanted the task to run on 1/15/2013 at 11:30 PM, I had to schedule the task for 1/16/2013 at 11:30 PM.  I also have a weekly scheduled task that I set to run at 9 PM and 12 AM, but client-side it actually is scheduled for 10 PM and 1 AM.  So word to the wise, check your clients to make sure they really are going to run when group policy says they are going to run.

A fix to have MyMedia run in the background

Posted: 10th January 2013 by Seth Killey in Linux, Nerdy Stuff

The MyMedia python script stops working as soon as I close my SSH session.  Since I’m running this on my tiny Pogoplug which is always on, it defeats the purpose if I have to keep my SSH session running on my desktop computer.  I’ve played around with creating a startup MyMedia service script, but couldn’t get it to work quite right.  This is far from elegant, but I have a cron job run the following:

@reboot /usr/bin/python2 /root/roku_media_server/server/mymedia.py

In my case I’m running this under the root folder but this may be different in your install.  Also, I needed to change a couple variables in mymedia.py.  I specified the full path to the config_file, and log_file. Otherwise the script places the config files in the wrong spot.

Starting at line 7:
# this file contains the configurable variables
config_file = “/root/roku_media_server/server/config.ini”
log_file = “/root/roku_media_server/server/my_media_log.txt”

Also at line 982
return open (“/root/roku_media_server/hosted-server/stylesheets/main.css”).read()

So if my server reboots it should be back online.

10 movies, books, and music from 2012

Posted: 3rd January 2013 by Seth Killey in Music-TV-Books

Too many to list, but I narrowed it down to 10 things that I loved in the entertainment realm in 2012

1) breakingbadBreaking Bad – A show I heard a lot about and then went on a binge when I added Netflix.  My favorite show going right now!
2) The Hunger Games – Page turner isn’t doing it justice, but I burned through the entire series in 1 week.
3) Frightened Rabbit – Not even sure how I discovered this band, but glad I did
4) Born to Run – I’m a runner so that probably added to my enjoyment, but even if you aren’t this book was a phenomenal read
5) Battlestar Gallactica – Another show I’d heard lots about.  Such a good show that scratches my Star Trek / LOST itch
6) The Heartlanders – I seemed to go through a major folk phase this year and this band was one of my favorites
7) Arrested Development – I know, I know…what took me so long?  Really looking forward to the binge Netflix release this year
8) Florence + the Machine – Absolutely love Florence’s voice
9) American Pickers – I’m not much of a junker, but I love learning about American history through this show
10) The Head and The Heart – Became a fan after their song Rivers and Roads graced the finale of Chuck