Misc


While this is a personal finance blog, I do on occasion stray into a few tangent subjects.  I hadn’t thought too much about the whole Edward Snowden fiasco but as I watched Edward Snowden tonight on NBC, I began to see this guy as more of a HERO than a ZERO.    I don’t know the full details of what he did other than to reveal the incessant spying the U.S. Government has on its own citizens taken from a page of the old Soviet Union “how to spy on your citizens” manual but he seems to have done the right thing.

The most important thing I learned was not to google Rangers scores or more importantly don’t use any google products at all.  This guy definitely deserves some level of clemency.  Let’s face it, he’s already done hard time by living in Russia!

The real question now is which politician will stand up for liberty and which ones will continue to carry water for the gestapo state.

I called up AT&T Uverse on Monday and was put on hold for about 10 minutes.  When I finally got through I advised them I wanted to cancel my service.  The girl on the phone put me on hold for a minute then came back with some scripts to read me.    She started by stating that she was “sorry to hear you want to disconnect” then proceeded to start playing 20 questions like “how exactly do you use your service?”

Yes, I called to say “disconnect” and they started playing games trying to keep me as a customer.  It seems AT&T pulled this script from AOL if you recall this hilarious fiasco from 2006 here.

Fortunately, I learned from that incident and using Google voice began recording the call.  I politely told the AT&T rep that I was recording the call and I didn’t want to have to post it on YouTube.   She said, “You can’t be recording me” and I quickly responded, “well you’re recording me for ‘quality assurance’ so why can’t I record you?”

She put me on hold for a second then came back and told me she was processing my disconnect right away.

So if you want to disconnect AT&T right away follow these 3 steps.

1. Record the phone call

2. Announce you’re recording the call and won’t hesitate to publish their games to YouTube unless you get your account cancelled right away.

3. Sit back, relax and enjoy the disconnect.

I was reading Money Beagle’s sad story about not being able to find a roofing company to rebuild their roof.   Just this week, I’m getting a brand new roof installed on my house.    Fortunately for me however, I have had great success because I drafted a 4 page list of specifications I wanted on my new roof.

I’m posting a copy of the bid letter I sent out to various contractors I found on Angie’s List in my area.  Perhaps it will help others, sorry the word numbering formatting got messed up when I copied and pasted the doc into WP.   I only selected those contractors with many positive reviews then checked the Better Business Bureau for complaints.   Please note that these specifications are for my roof in the area I live in and you need to do your own homework on the best materials/type of roof for your living conditions.   It makes no sense to install radiant barrier if you live in an area with little sun as an example.   While I sympathize with Money Beagle I also see the roofer’s point of view.   The roofer is going to have to spend hours explaining to the client what kind of roof he/she could get and with 3 to 5 other bidders it makes no sense for the man running a business to waste that time!  I know that sounds counter-intuitive but I spend at least 10 hours researching my own roof.  If I use a rough estimate of $100/hour for labor of my time x 10 hours then I’ve already invested $1000 in my roof selection before I’ve even selected a roofer!

If the roofer has 100 people calling him and he needs to invest 10 hours per client, he’ll go broke in no time.  Why is anyone really surprised by this anymore?  We used to get our gas pumped for us at gas stations and we now all do it ourselves.   We used to have an operator connect our calls but now we dial it ourselves.  This is what our society is all about now – do the leg work yourself and have a vendor provide the finished solutions.

I had the entire 20 year old roof removed and installed radiant barrier, new decking, new underlayment and new shingles.  Total cost is $13k and the work has been exceptional.

Roof Replacement – Request for Bid

The following request for a competitive bid to replace the roof of residential property located at XXXXX  (“the property”) is being solicited to licensed roofing contractors.   The following criteria are requested to be incorporated into your bid.

Bid deadline is February 28, 2013.
Bid award will be no later than March 3, 2013 or sooner.

Home owner available for site visit and inspection of property as scheduled in advance by contacting  XXXXXXX at XXX-XXX-XXXX to schedule time for site visit.

PAYMENT:  Payment will be made with American Express Credit Card on a pro-rated basis.  *Home owner will be happy to procure and stage all materials needed for roof replacement.

BID PROPOSAL:  Roofing contractor can bid on a labor only basis or labor and materials basis provided contractor provides itemized material listing and bills of lading during work activity daily and/or weekly.
1 Contractor Selection Criteria
The roofing contractor should be licensed to operate in the State of XXXXXX and provide copies of the following documents:
General Liability certificates from Roofer’s insurance company
Workers compensation certificates
Be in good standing with the Better Business Bureau
2 Scope of Work
The scope of work will consist of the complete roof replacement of  “the property” and incorporate requirements of the items listed in sections 2.1 thru 2.15 below:
Roofing contractor will complete all required city, state and home owners association (HOA) permits & forms.
Roofing contractor will be responsible for ALL required inspections.
Roofing contractor will provide list of ALL suppliers with name, phone, fax.
Roofing contractor will provide list of ALL materials and bills of lading used in the roof replacement of the property.
Roofing contractor will assure that ALL materials for roofing should meet ASTM E-108 Class “A” rating or better for fire and ASTM D 3161 for wind.
All nails used in roof replacement should be stainless steel or galvanized stainless steel nails.
Roofing contractor will replace ALL roof decking
Roofing contractor will utilize 3/4″  (23/32)  plywood or better for roof decking, No OSB will be accepted!

Roofing contractor will install Radiant barrier as part of the roof replacement and bid should incorporate labor cost for this activity.
Home owner prefers Enerflex ($289 per 1000 sq ft roll) radiant barrier materials for roof replacement

Roofing contractor will install synthetic waterproofing underlayment (W.R Grace Tri-Flex Xtreme preffered by home owner)

Roofing contractor will assure adequate ventilation is considered when replacing roof.
Roofing contractor will install ALL new shingles
The home owner prefers
GAF Lifetime Timberline Natural Shadow Weathered Wood Shingles $30/bundle (general estimate)
Home Depot Model # 0603737 Store SKU # 775940

Number of bundles per 100 sq. ft.   3
Number of pieces per bundle     21

Roofing contractor will install ALL new flashing with preferred material to consist of stainless steel or copper in all areas including
Chimney (replace all)
Vents (replace all)
Soffits (replace all)
Drip edge (replace all)
Ridge vents (replace all)
Galvanized Steel Drip Edge Flashing is preferred on roof edges.
Roofing contractor will remove Guttering System however is NOT required to re-install system.  Home owner will retain gutters.
Roofing contractor will replace ALL Fascia but only Soffits as needed.  For clarity
Replace ALL fascias
Replace sofffit as needed
Roofing contractor will facilitate ALL disposal and removal of ALL refuse and discarded materials on a daily basis
Note: Home owner will retain guttering system.
Roofing contractor will provide ALL lien releases from all parties (e.g., sub-contractors, material suppliers, consultants) involved in roof replacement and must be submitted before final payment.  Homeowner desires to limit suppliers to one or two suppliers if possible to facilitate this request.   Homeowner will be happy to source ALL materials.
Roofing contractor will adhere to appropriate safety protocols and standards in conducting all work activities on premises.

So my oldest child is beginning the journey to enter high school and I’ve never been so stressed in my life.    I had no idea how many different entrance exams existed to get into high schools!    Fortunately, the last of the exams, interviews, tours, and site visits are finally over.   You see my child is exploring some pretty high end boarding schools and private schools, the cost of which range anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 per year.   It’s a turkey shoot as to which school he may or may not get into as the competition is very fierce for these schools.

Worse yet are some of the financial aid forms that we’ve had to fill out for each school as there is no apparent standardization and each school has varying criteria for who gets aid and who doesn’t.   The most surprising thing of all however was how many students were attending some of these open houses – literally thousands of prospective students.

So now we’re waiting until end of March to get all the acceptance/rejection letter in and we can’t wait to see what happens.   Ironically, in the worst case scenario if we get rejection letters from the schools we’ll likely end up having to move and relocate for the prospect of better schools.   How ironic that education has become the main motivator for relocation versus a career or lifestyle for us this year!

I took a family poll to see what my peeps want for Christmas.  So far I have a request for a Macbook Air, iTunes gift cards, and not much of anything else.  My wife got braces to the tune of $5,000 so I’m not exactly soliciting her for what she wants this year.   My son may be going to one of the country’s most expensive boarding schools (high school) next year so I think that’s why he’s staying low key -the tuition runs about $40k per year!

What do I want for myself?   Well the past few years I made up for my 2009 career derailment when I got laid off.   I was only out of work for six months in 2009 but the “mandatory vacation” left a bit of uncertainty in my life.  I’ve since increased my emergency cash reserves to 20k and cash secondary savings reserves to 50k.   But from 2010 thru 2011 I bought iphones for everyone in the family, I bought all new LED TV screens for the home, I bought a storage array for our videos, music and photos, and other items we splurged on for the sake of the economy.

Lately, I’ve been stock piling firearms (more on this later) and ammunition as my new hobby but there is only so much weaponry that will fit in a gun vault.  Honestly, I don’t have anything to spend money on.  I am exploring some charitable options like Kiva.org or vittana.org to try to make a difference in the third world.   The good news is that I’m almost done with my dual MBA program so I’ll be able to get some more free time to enjoy leisure activities.   I might just get a kindle so I can read book outdoors.

Well I spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out why I have been getting this error message on my new Apple TV 2 and I think I’ve traced the problem.  I’m writing about it here to hopefully save people a lot of headaches trying to resolve this issue.   There is a thread here about the topic as well.

First, I read various threads on the issue and no one really had an answer that seemed to make any sense.  Most of the solutions were around resetting the HDMI cables, rebooting, resetting or re-syncing the Apple TV device, libraries, or flushing the cache by pushing down the menu button on the remote and pushing the down arrow on the wheel.   None of these things worked for me!

Second, I have four iPhone 4s devices and two iPad 2 devices which helped me troubleshoot the problem.   I also have 3 wireless routers in my home (don’t ask) configured in various firewall configurations.

The equipment in my solution:  I have a Cisco Linksys E3000 router with firmware 1.0.04 (I had to upgrade from 1.0.03).

I painstakingly replicated this problem on three iPhone 4s and most of the time the issues related to videos rented or purchased from iTunes since I didn’t have any problems with any other type of media stream in my library.

The solution:  My wireless router had been configured for both dual 2.8 GHZ and 5 GHZ bands in mixed modes.  After a lot of trial and error, I finally concluded that iDevices have some sort of problem jumping from band to band and cannot properly stream the video data from iDevice to Apple TV 2 in this multi-mode multi-band router setting.

The easy solution is to simply disable the 2.8 GHz band altogether and run all iDevices on 5 GHz band ONLY.  I’ve included a photo of the settings in the event you are using a Cisco E3000.

I could not get the iDevices to play nicely on an older Linksys router running Tomato firmware so if you have this setup, good luck getting it to work.

Cisco e3000 wireless configuration

(click for larger image)

I can’t believe April 21 was the last time I wrote a post.   I have been gone so long that I hadn’t realized that the domain had expired and I needed to get that fixed so that took a while to get fixed.    I have been literally flying every where since my last post.   I’ve flown from the east to the west and north and south.

With work, travel, school (yeah still in the MBA program), and family life, I have not had a moment to write a post.   I have accumulated quite a bit of material from observations, experiences, and other activities but I have not had the time to write.

The one comfort in my life at the moment is my iPad 2 which has made travel and life a whole lot easier and better for me for the things I mentioned above: work, school, family.    I love FaceTime and the ability to video chat with friends and family…it is simply amazing!

I will be writing a few posts for distribution over the next few days but tomorrow is my last final for a class and I’ll take a breather.

So I’m a few weeks into my return to MBA classes and the arguments with the professor have already begun.   It’s funny but the professor was warning about “groupthink” in business and the perils it holds and I couldn’t agree with the professor more but when it came to thinking there *might* be some groupthink in academia the professor would have none of it!   The fact that most universities have nearly the same identical curriculum, use nearly the same textbooks, use nearly the same grading system, request the same APA formatted papers,  and have almost everything else in common except the rate of tuition doesn’t seem to phase anyone in academia that they have a serious case of groupthink.

I am thrilled however to be back in school for the free student loan money (more on that in a future post) and I am also thrilled that I won’t be doing any group projects this semester and both of my classes don’t seem to have any on the syllabus.  I hope that doesn’t change because today’s students are complete and total idiots.

It seems like travel is my new way of life.   I have been on the road every week for the last six weeks with only this week as a reprieve in my travel schedule.  I’ll be on the road again at least the next two weeks then I’ll be taking a vacation which will entail travel.    I’m not taking any courses this summer and I wrote that I would likely not return to the MBA program in the fall but I’m beginning to change my mind about that.    My job is fairly secure but this economy is starting to fall off the cliff again and anything can happen.

It  isn’t out of the question that layoffs arise in the near future so it’s best to be prepared.   I’ve also received a juicy award of low interest rate student loan money and it’s just too hard to pass that cheap money up.  We’ll see what happens over the next couple of months.

Although this blog is primarily focused on finance related topics, I have mentioned my side hobbies on occasion, one of which is the study of mythology, prophecy and astrophysics.   Perhaps it’s a crazy coincidence that the day of the big oil spill, a large field telescope named LUCIFER was brought online to see distant stars and galaxies.   You can read about it here.

Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) partners in the U.S, Germany and Italy announced April 21 that the first of two new innovative near-infrared cameras/spectrographs for the LBT is now available to astronomers for scientific observations at the telescope on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona. After more than a decade of design, manufacturing and testing, the new instrument – dubbed LUCIFER 1 – provides a powerful tool to gain spectacular insights into the universe – from the Milky Way to extremely distant galaxies.

So a new powerful telescope will allow humanity to see distant stars.   Perhaps one was found that will be named Wormwood soon?   Why Wormwood?  Because according to end of days prophecy, a passage reads that a star in the heavens named Wormwood will be the harbinger of 1/3 of the water on earth becoming bitter.

Although the passage reads, “And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;  And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

Often, something gets lost in the translation and it may be that simply seeing the distant star’s light land upon earth’s telescope is sufficient to reveal the silliness of the things man does on the planet to seed his own destruction.  It is ironic that the new telescope is named LUCIFER after all.

Read the prior two verses and you’ll easily see global warming fit in nicely along with the recent rash of volcanic eruptions in Iceland, Guatemala and the Pacific.   I could relay more correlations but that would be too spooky…

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