Sundog

This evening at work Paul was visiting a couple of the groups and looked out my window at the sunset. He pointed out a sundog. I usually kind of ignore stuff like that, but he asked if I knew what a sundog is. I didn’t. He said I should look it up, so I went to Wikipedia really quickly and found an article about them. Only then did I actually look out the window, and there in the clouds about 20 degrees to the left of the setting sun was a bright spot. He said that was the sundog and it was caused by ice crystals in the cloud refracting the sunlight back towards us. The hexagonal shape of a snow crystal bends the light, similar to a rainbow (except rainbows are on the other side of the sky from the sun). Today’s sundog showed a little bit of color refraction, reddish on one side and bluer on the other side. He said there was probably one on the other side of the sun too, so we walked around to another side of the building to go look. Not quite as bright, but there was a spot in the clouds on the right also.

Heroes

I’ve been looking for stuff to watch on Netflix and one neat thing is they have lots of TV series on DVD. Two shows I’ve been thinking about are the Sci Fi channel’s remake of Battlestar Gallactica and NBC’s Heroes, which I never watched despite good reviews and word of mouth (I remember Kathy saying she liked it). I watched the first part of BSG this weekend, which was the opening miniseries (3 hours). It was good, so I’ll go ahead and get the rest of the disks. But this Sunday Target had Heroes on sale for $20, so I figured that was a pretty good deal. There are 7 disks and 23 episodes, so that’s less than a dollar an episode and now I can watch them on the train if I want. I watched the first two episodes and it seems like it could be pretty good. Season 2 was available as well, but because of the writers’ strike there were only 11 episodes, but it was the same price. So maybe eventually I’ll get those disks from Netflix.

Not worth it’s own blog entry, but this weekend I watched a documentary online from Netflix called Helvetica. Yes, it is a whole feature-length film about the font Helvetica. Made in 2007 on the 50th anniversary of the font, it covered the origins of the font in a modernist Swiss workshop, the impact it had and still has, and different graphic designers’ opinions about it. Some like its simplicity and the fact that it doesn’t draw attention to itself, others hate its ubiquity and how generic it is.

End of Year Scheming

Despite a catastrophic year on the stock market, I would like to contribute my 2009 Roth IRA limit of $5,000 in January. Since I don’t have cash lying around for that, I’d like to sell some other investments and take as big a loss as possible for 2008 and then use those proceeds for my Roth contribution in January. If possible, I don’t want to miss any trading days by having money in a bank account, given that any day could possibly be a big rally that I would miss. But I can’t take a loss on something in 2008 and buy something in 2009 without missing a day. Or can I?

One fund that I want to sell is Fidelity Small Cap because it has huge distributions each year (despite losing 40% of its value this year, it still distributed 1% in gains this year) that I then pay taxes on. So I want to sell all of that for $2,100 and realize a $1,500 loss. What I will do is sell it before the end of the year and move it that day into Fidelity Diversified International, a non-Roth fund in which I already have more than $2,100 (important later on). I will have to pay a short-term redemption fee of 2% to Fidelity on Small Cap’s December reinvested distribution of $8 (not a big deal) but all of the other shares have been held long enough not to incur such a charge (though a reinvested June distribution of $16 will incur a short-term instead of a long-term loss, not that it matters much since long term losses will cancel short term gains and/or regular income).

Then, in 2009 I can sell some of Diversified International directly into my Roth IRA. Diversified International has a short-term redemption fee as well, but Fidelity says that as long as I have enough older shares in the fund (which I do since I have more than $2,100 there right now), those will be sold first and I won’t pay a short-term redemption fee. Even better, because there is a loss there too, I will take a small loss (diluted by the shares bought at the end of December) on that sale for 2009 since I am using the average cost of the shares (I did the calcs today and figured a loss of $129 if prices don’t change until then).

For the rest of my $5,000 contribution limit I am going to sell some Nasdaq Powershares (QQQQ) that I have with Scottrade. In order to avoid sitting out of a rally, I am going to get some cash I have with Scottrade in check form right now and then sell the Powershares by the end of the year to replace that money. If I sell those shares on Dec 31, I won’t be able to buy anything in the Roth until Jan. 2, but I’ll only be missing a day. If I sold the shares and then waited for Scottrade to mail me the proceeds it would take a week or more.

So here’s the plan: before the end of the year, move Fidelity Small Cap into Diversified International (taking an ’08 loss), move cash in Scottrade to my bank account, and sell my Powershares at Scottrade (taking an ’08 loss). Then, on January 2, move $2,100 from Diversified International (taking a small ’09 loss) and $2,900 from my bank account into the Roth IRA.

The only question now is would it be to my advantage to sell some other mutual funds just to realize a loss and then reinvest that money in 2009? The IRS will let me offset up to $3,000 in income with capital losses and right now my net realized losses will only be around $300. If I sold about $8,000 of Vanguard 500 Index, I would realize about $3,000 in losses, which would be taken off of my income and earn a $930 tax rebate (25% federal plus 6% state). I see no reason I wouldn’t do that. If I reinvest it immediately into another Vanguard fund, I wouldn’t be out of the market for any time either and would not be subject to wash rules for selling something at a loss and then buying the same thing back in less than 30 days.

Opting Out

Recently I got a revised credit agreement from my credit card company, Citibank. Generally I don’t look real closely at those agreements because I pay off the card every month and don’t pay fees. So when they raise the fees or change the interest rate, it really doesn’t affect me. But it does make me mad that Citibank has gotten itself in a huge financial mess of its own making, has borrowed billions from the taxpayers, and now is going to take advantage of people during an economic slowdown by raising their interest rates. With interest rates on government bonds hitting new lows, an adjustable credit card interest rate based on the federal prime rate also goes down. But Citibank wants the rates to go up. Again, it doesn’t really impact me, but a lot of people are getting pay cuts or being laid off and those interest rate increases will really hurt them when they are down.

By the rules, you can opt out any time a credit card changes the terms on you. This is because you never agreed to the rules when you got the card. However opting out means that once the card expires, it will not be renewed. Today I called Citibank and they said that my rate would be going from 8.99% over the prime rate (currently 3.25%) to 14.99% over the prime rate. I opted out. My card doesn’t expire for almost two more years, so it’s not a big deal right now and I was thinking about switching to a Capital One card anyway.

Tuba Christmas

This morning Bill told me that Paul wanted to go downtown for lunch at the Chinese place we used to go to. At our new office we have to take MARTA 3 stops down to Five Points to get there, so we don’t go that often. But Bill had an idea that it wasn’t just about Chinese. We got to Five Points and Paul walked us over to Underground where there were a bunch of chairs set up. Within a few minutes a line of casually dressed musicians starts walking up, starting with a bunch of tubas (technically sousaphones since they’re the type used in marching bands). Bill figured we were here to see a concert. I said “This band has a lot of tubas!” Paul said there was more to it. As we watched more people with horns walked in and sat in the chairs. Paul asked if I noticed anything else. I said it must be an all-brass band. He said no, wait a little. After about 50 people walked in with tubas I realized this was an all-tuba band. The event we were about to see was Tuba Christmas, a 30-year tradition, but one that I had only heard about before (from Paul, of course). Paul looked at all of the tubas and said “You don’t see that every day!”

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Gas Buddy

I’ve used the website www.atlantagasprices.com to find out where the cheapest gas is (it is part of a nationwide system called gasbuddy.com). When there were shortages, it was very helpful just to find out where any gas was. It is one of those great internet collaborations where a few people making small contributions of information can create a treasure trove. From time to time I might enter a gas price into their database, but nothing much. However I have a couple of gas stations near me that are never listed in their database and sometimes they have cheaper gas than anywhere I know about. But the only way to add a station to their database is earn a certain number of points. My thinking from reading the complex rules is that would happen if you had 10,000 points. The way you earn points is by entering gas prices, but you only earn 150 points at a time that way. I figured I would never get there. The people that enter prices regularly seem to be the same over and over again and you can tell roughly how many points they have by how their car icon. The red icons mean they have the most points, millions of points. I did find out that you get 150 points for every price you enter (and you could enter 4 prices for one stations: regular, midgrade, premium, and diesel), so if you enter a lot of prices you can earn points a lot faster. It’s still not that easy for me because I only pass one gas station on my way to MARTA (actually two, but the other isn’t in the database!). I also found out that if you answer their weekly poll you get 100 points. So I started doing it.

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After a couple of weeks of entering prices fairly regularly, I’m getting the hang of it. One key is to set up favorite stations because these show up on your home page and are ready to be filled in right away. So I have about six favorites. I also need to write down prices in the car because I quickly forget them (try remembering prices from three different stations, then try doing different grades of gas too). So I’m up to 5,000 points so far, halfway to getting a bronze car icon. The max you can earn is 750 points a day for gas prices, but I’ve only done that twice.

FastAccess Isn’t Either One

This weekend my DSL account started having problems holding a connection. It isn’t that uncommon for the connection to drop once a week or so, but it was dropping every 15 minutes. I was watching a movie online from Netflix which was grainy anyway because I have the slowest speed of DSL, but then it would just freeze. Sometimes the connection would come back on its own and sometimes I would go and unplug the modem so it would restart (the modem would re-initiate on its own, so really it was the same process either way).

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Sell It on eBay – The Sequel

Last year I bought a 4 GB SD card that it turned out was incompatible with my Palm, so I decided to sell it on eBay and actually wound up making about $10 profit. This year, I bought some new memory for my laptop computer so I had two 1 GB memory boards that I no longer needed. I figured I would try selling them on eBay.

The process was much the same as last year but the price had gone up from 20 cents to 35 cents to post an ad. That’s still less than a stamp. I took a picture and wrote up an ad and decided that a 5-day ad would be appropriate (last year I did a 7-day ad which was probably too long except that I ended up revising my ad a little). That was Wednesday evening, so the 5-day period would cover all of the big Thanksgiving shopping weekend but still give people who shop from work or school a chance to see the ad on Monday before it closed out.

Still, I didn’t get any bids until tonight, when the first bid came in at the minimum of 99 cents. That’s good because that means that at least I will sell it and somebody else will be able to use the memory. Also I am charging $4.60 for shipping and handling like I did last year. I told Mom that if I got a second bid, the price would probably go up pretty quickly to $5 or so because the first bidder probably bid more than the minimum of 99 cents. A few hours later, the price had jumped up to $7.20 when a competing bid was entered. I don’t know how much higher it will go, but it would be great if it would get up to $20 because that’s how much I got the upgraded memory for (after a $40 mail-in rebate, so I’m also out $4.20 in sales tax) and that would pay for itself!

Here’s the listing.

Blu-ray

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got a Blu-ray DVD player. I was psyched when I first heard about the new high-definition DVD’s that were planned. But then Sony introduced one standard and a competing standard called HD DVD was being developed too. So there was a long format war with studios lining up on different (sometimes both) sides. Buy the wrong technology and you’d be stuck with a dinosaur. That’s ultimately what happened to those early adopters who bought the lower tech, more affordable HD DVD players.

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Fantastic Contraption

My old roommate, Rich, sent me this website. He has a Master’s in Physics and another one in Engineering Science and knew I would like it. I can’t really explain it, so you will just have to visit. Basically you build mechanical contraptions to move an object to a certain spot.

http://www.fantasticcontraption.com

It starts out easy, of course. Then it gets harder and harder and the contraptions required get more and more complicated. I started out by always building a little car that would take the object wherever it needed to go. Once you finish a level you can save it or you can look at other people’s solutions. If you buy the program, then you can rate people’s solutions. There are thousands of solutions, but the really good ones are the 4 and 5 star solutions. The 5-star solutions are just amazing. There are catapults, chains, spear throwers, cranes, lifts, and so on. Some solutions just stumble along, some are just beautiful. Mine are usually cars.

Try the game out first. The tutorial is pretty short and you can do the first few levels in a few minutes each. After you check things out, you can look at some of the ones I did, with links below. Feel free to share your own designs too.

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