Keychain Swiss Army Knife

For years I’ve kept a small Swiss Army knife on my keychain. I use it almost every day, using the scissors probably the most. I lost my favorite which had a pen instead of a toothpick, but recently my backup to that broke (I sent it back under its lifetime warranty, we’ll see what happens). So I hastily bought another one, also without a pen (the stylus for my Palm TX has a pen in it, so usually I have a pen wherever I go). I regretted it almost immediately because I quickly discovered that Victorinox has a huge number of variations on a theme at Amazon. First, you can get all kinds of colors. I got a dark green one, but you can get the standard red, black, blue, purple, white, pink, yellow, or gray. You can get translucent colors which are called ruby, emerald, amethyst (purple), citrine (yellow), and sapphire (blue). You can get several colors of tie-dye (orange, green, purple, and pink) or you can also get a flowered pattern called Edelweiss with background in red, violet, blue, lime green, or pink.

Like I said, my older one had a pen. I found out this is called the Signaturewhereas without that it is called the Classic SD. If you get a Classic and swap the toothpick for a red LED light, it is called the Swisslite. If you want both the light and the pen (losing the toothpick and tweezers), it is called a Signature Lite.

You can also get a bottle opener with a Phillips head screwdriver, which would come in handy at times. You can trade in your scissors for a bottle opener (a bad idea since the scissors are one of the most useful things on there) and that is called a Rally. Alternatively you can just add a bottle opener, in which case you’d have a Rambler. Take the Rambler and put a pen where the toothpick goes, and it becomes a Manager. Take out the tweezers and put a light and now you have a Midnight Manager. By this time it is about twice as thick as the Classic, but the same length. This is what Jeb has, but he says he doesn’t use the light much, making me think the Manager might be ideal.

If you want something really thin, you can get the metal Alox classic which doesn’t have the toothpick or tweezers. It comes in red, black, green, and blue.

A Little Too Greedy

I’ve been buying stocks lately and sticking to my 20% rules. This worked great for Suntrust which has been oscillating up and down, but my other picks have only been going down, so I keep buying more. I bought Google earlier in the year, then again when it dropped 20%, then sold when it went up, then bought some more when it went back down. Then this month it went down even more, so I bought some more at $319 per share. My target sale price was $389 and change, so I dutifully entered a sell order at that price. When the stock market skyrocketed Monday, Google went up to the low 380’s, but not high enough for my order to execute. The next morning before the markets opened, I saw that pre-market trading had Google at $391. Even though a limit order will sell for at least the limit and more if the market supports it, I thought this would be a good chance to up my limit order. I noticed that European stocks were up by about 6% already, so if Google went up 6% from the previous day’s close, it would hit $402. I didn’t want to mess with the $400 barrier, so I changed my sell order to $397 which, on my 3 shares, would only have given me another $24. But sometimes you get big bumps at the start of the trading day, so I hoped for the best.

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Know When To Walk Away

A guy I know bought a townhouse several years ago near me. He is very responsible and has never missed a payment, but he is on the verge of walking away from his house and mortgage. Like most townhouses, the neighborhood association charges dues, and maybe unlike a lot of townhouses, those dues pay the water bill since the units are not individually metered and can’t be retrofitted due to the water supply lines being shared among units.

The homeowner’s association went through some bad leaders, at least one of whom was stealing money or hiring family to do work at exorbitant prices. At some point, some people stopped paying their dues. Then they had a water leak which was at first identified as a natural spring until someone noticed their water bill was completely out of hand. This is when the trouble starts. The association was low on funds already from the theft, mismangement, and dilinquent dues and didn’t have the money to pay this huge water bill due to the leak. Over time the water bill got larger and larger and fewer and fewer people were paying their dues. They put liens on people’s units for not paying dues, but these were ignored and the liens expired. In order to evict people, lawyers would have to be hired, requiring more money that they didn’t have. Instead they paid what they could to the water company who at this point was threatening to shut off their water if they didn’t make good on the bill. People started to leave the complex or were foreclosed. Today only 20% of the units are occupied and there are only a handful of people still paying their dues. The water will be shut off soon and there will be no way to get it turned back on short of coming up with tens of thousands of dollars to pay the water bill. So after paying on the place for years, he’s just going to leave and rent an apartment. He knows his credit history will be trashed for walking out on his mortgage, but he can’t live there and he can’t sell the unit either. Even if he could pay off the water bill for the whole complex, they would soon be in debt again due to people using water and not paying dues. Soon all of these different mortgage companies will own all of these different units (or the water company will) and be stuck with nearly worthless property with no water service.

This guy loses all of the equity he had in his home. The mortgage company loses the money they lent out. And the water company still won’t be paid. Everyone loses.

Tapped Out

As the stock market has spiraled downwards the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to buy shares while they were on sale. This worked pretty well with Suntrust during its ups and downs. I had cash sitting in a number of different places: the credit union, PayPal, ING, and a money market fund with Vanguard. I had bought some Google after it dropped way off in February, bought some more in March after it dropped 20%, then sold some after it went back up. In September it was back down and I bought some more. Then Dell and Intel released bad forecasts and dropped a lot, so I bought some of that. As the rest of the market went south, those stayed around the same level until this week when they were both down 20% again, so I bought some more Google and some more Intel. Meanwhile, this week Suntrust was back down again, so I got some of that earlier in the week. Last week I put some money in Vanguard Index 500 and used last week’s Suntrust proceeds to get some Apple, seemingly cheap at $98, but could have had it for $89 this week easily enough. Foreign markets were really hammered lately, so I bought some more Janus Overseas this week, then with the last of the cash I was willing to put at risk, I bought a little more today. Now I’m on the sidelines and the market is on its own. I’m tapped out.

I still have money that isn’t in the stock market, like my Washington Mutual CD, my Series I Savings Bonds generating 5% and 6% returns, and a reserve in my ING account drawing 2.75%. The website Savings Bond Advisor has a chart comparing investing one dollar a month in the Vanguard 500 index fund or one dollar a month in Series I Savings Bonds since those inflation-indexed bonds were introduced in 1998. They also show the total amount invested and the Index 500 is about to go below the accumulated principle. This means that putting your money under your mattress would outperform the S&P 500 over the last 10 years. Accordingly, my deferred compensation account went below the level of the principle just today after 16 years of monthly contributions going to stock mutual funds (not quite true, see graph in comment below). Oh well. The good thing is that with my Roth IRA I can’t take out any earnings without a penalty, but right now I can take out all of it if I want. In fact, it could go up about 40% and I could still take it all out.

I think the market has to be oversold, but it could also drop further. And the recession in general seems to have a while to go before it is over, many are saying a year or more. The total I’ve put back in the market this year roughly equals my losses on what I already had invested, so I think that’s probably a decent strategy from an active timing approach. Today the market seemed to find a bottom and recover a little bit, so maybe things will start going back up. That Goldman Sachs stock looks like a really good buy though . . .

Q3 Report

After things started getting a lot better last quarter, things started to slow down and get bad all over again this quarter, hopefully temporarily. The big problem was that Speedfactory’s webservers were taken offline in September and, despite talking to their tech support people about getting it back online, nothing has happened. So after a decent July and August, things were terrible in September and I’m still only getting about 100 visitors a day. For instance, Amazon commissions went from $26 in July to $28 in August to $5 and change in September. AdSense was similar: $19 in July, $9 in August, and only $4 in September. So far my advertising deal is still generating about $50 a month, but with the page rank and traffic down, that may not last.

The most popular item remains the Maxell battery pack, with 16 sales (after 2 were returned). I also sold 5 of the cheaper Turbo iPod charger and 3 PAC unilink adapters for Sony car stereos. The most expensive item that sold was a solar-powered gadget charger for $73 (a 4% commission yielding $2.92). I also was able to sell a pair of Nikon binoculars which for some reason also qualified for the lower 4% commission for electronics (instead of 6.5%) despite the binoculars being completely not electronic. The most unusual thing was probably the Mattel Matchbox Mega Rig Shark Adventure.

Lexar vs. Kingston

A couple of weeks ago I went to Fry’s to buy a copy of Trend Micro Internet Security which would be free after two rebates. I really try not to buy anything else at Fry’s because if it isn’t on sale, it usually isn’t a good deal. However I have been looking to upgrade my Lexar Firefly jump drive that I raved about a couple of years ago. My rule is I don’t like to spend more than $10 on a thumb drive. They had a bin of Kingston Data Traveler 110 thumb drives with 2 GB of memory for only $9.99, so I bought one. That’s four times as much memory as the Firefly. It’s a decent drive, but bulky compared to the Firefly. The USB part slides out so it doesn’t need a cap, but it has to be connected to my keychain when I plug it in and it blocks adjacent USB drives due to the large size.

Naturally, the following weekend Fry’s advertised a 4 GB Firefly for less than $10 after rebate. I looked up the Firefly on Amazon and there were a lot of complaints about it being slow. If I was going to be moving 4 GB of data, I didn’t want that data to move slowly. So I decided to run a test. I moved a 344 MB video file (appropriately enough, an episode of the TV series Firefly) to the Firefly and timed how long it took: 129 seconds. Then I measured how long it took to copy the file back to my computer: 40 seconds. So the write speed was a lot slower than the read speed. Next I tried the Kingston drive and got 57 seconds for writing and 19 seconds for reading. That’s more than twice as fast. At work I have e-mail archives that are about 2 GB and I need to bring them home for a backup. That would be 12.5 minutes on a Firefly and only 5.5 minutes for the Kingston. That’s a big difference. It seems like these speeds should be posted somewhere. So here they are (in megabytes per second) [USBDview results in square brackets]:

Drive Write Read USBDview
Lexar Firefly 512 MB 2.67w 8.61r [ 2.39w 7.48r]
Kingston Data Traveler 110 2 GB 6.04w 18.12r
Corsair Flash Voyager 8 GB 5.17w 22.40r
60 GB Archos 0.98w 7.65r
20 GB HD Enclosure 7.83w 18.13r [11.29w 18.06r]
Microcenter 4 GB 3.51w 19.13r [ 2.80w 20.07r]
OCZ Diesel 8 GB 6.62w 19.13r [ 9.68w 17.56r]
Emtec C400 16 GB 9.83w 14.96r [ 9.14w 15.64r]
Kingston SE9 16 GB 6.43w 14.02r [ 6.43w 16.97r]
Simpletech 320 GB hard drive 22.96w 22.96r [19.01w 31.82r]
32GB SanDisk removable

22.96w [10.81w 21.82r]

I decided that as much as I like the form factor of the Firefly, I didn’t want to wait so long and so I didn’t get the 4 GB model.

Austin’s E-Collar

Austin had a growth removed from his backside last week. So that he won’t pull the stitches out, he has to wear an e-collar for 11 days. I already had one that I had gotten for Clio, but it was too hard for her to use, so I didn’t make her wear it. Thursday Austin had just come back from the vet and was pretty out of it from the anesthesia, so it wasn’t a big deal. Friday he kept running into things and would get the edge of the cone stuck on door jambs and just stop, waiting for me to get him unstuck. But by Saturday he was wandering around the house like a champ and avoiding (for the most part) running into things. By Saturday night, he actually broke it when I let him outside (I wasn’t supposed to let him out without a leash, but it was the middle of the night, so I just let him out; mistake). I was able to make repairs though and he wore it all day today while I was at work without a problem. I don’t make him wear it all the time, just when I can’t watch him and at night. The vet said a dog can pull the stitches out in a minute, so I don’t want to take any chances.

ecollar.jpg

He looks kind of miserable in the picture above, but he actually doesn’t mind. The cone attaches to his collar so when I take it off, he gets concerned, just like he does when I normally take his collar off. And then he wants it back on, just like normal. Wikipedia tells me that the E is short for Elizabethan since apparently Queen Elizabeth also could not be trusted not to pull her stitches out.

ecollar2.jpg

Gas Switch

I got a card in the mail from Georgia Natural Gas the other day saying I could switch to them and get natural gas for 99.9 cents per therm for 12 months. I found out that is only a temporary price for new customers and after 12 months it would go up to a more normal rate (though rates have dropped lately and currently the rate is 105.9 cents per therm). I visited Clark Howard’s website and saw an ad to get a $75 gift card from GNG for new customers, but at the 105.9 cent rate. Since I only use 400-500 therms in a year, this still represented some pretty good savings over current Walton EMC Natural Gas prices. However, the small print said the $75 gift card was available from May to December and only available to the first 500 customers. That’s not many.

I called the number (866-665-9464) and asked if that deal was still available. They asked what the promo code was and I gave it to them: GLOC-1-080-000. They said the gift card was still available and I would get it after November 1 when the switch took effect. Additionally they gave me the 99.9 cent rate and also waived the switching fee (I found out later you can switch once a year without a fee as long as you aren’t locked in). Also, this plan has a monthly fee of $3.99 instead of $5.75 at Walton. As long as competing prices elsewhere don’t fall below 85 cents, I should see some savings from this plan.