Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cell phone service for about $40 per YEAR

Yes, that is per year (not per month) – it is not a typo.  I will admit from the start that $40 per year will not get you one of those “all you can eat” buffet style cell plans.  $40 per year is about what I’ve paid for the past year for very infrequent voice, text and data – yup, that $40 is even using a smart phone.

I’ve posted previously of my disenchantment with both AT&T and T-Mobile and introduced my migration to a MVNO, Airvoice Wireless.  Well, it’s been about a year now and I can tell you it has been terrific!  In fact it has been so good that I also opened cell phone service for my son so that he can make occasional calls from school for pick up, etc.  Here’s why I’m loving it (it’s pretty simple)*:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Tai Chi Walking

Like many I have a desk job, but I enjoy walking during a break or lunch.  I’ve walked regularly for years, but the years have taken its toll on my body.  Despite regular walks I was still experiencing significant stiffness (I suspect a combination of prolonged sitting and arthritis) and just wasn’t feeling as refreshed as I thought I should from taking a walk.  This has lead me to explore ways to enhance my regular walks and among these was to explore Tai Chi.

First, I want to make perfectly clear that I make no claims of Tai Chi expertise; in fact to the contrary I characterize myself has an extremely rudimentary beginner.  I realize that there will be many Tai Chi professionals (and those that think they are) who are rolling their eyes with a doubtful smirk when a novice such as myself expresses ideas deviating from the purity of the discipline.  Regardless, I tend to think that more often not, it is far better to try to do something new than to continue to do the same thing and get the same results.

Here are my reflections in regards to applying Tai Chi principals to walking:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Decrapify your laptop with Windows 10

The “free” Windows 10 offering from Microsoft to current Windows 7 and later users is likely old news to most.  While many are pondering “should I do it,” if you have a computer that has become bogged down – maybe from the start with all the “extras” that computer manufacturers load onto a new system or maybe just by years of adding assorted programs – it may be a good time to consider making the move.  I recently purchased a Toshiba Satellite A665.  It seems to be a good machine which shipped with a 64 bit version of Windows 7.  I even have the system restore disks… but… Toshiba is notorious for loading “crapware” on its computers so that means even if I use the Toshiba restore disks all I do is re-add a lot of stuff I don’t want, such at their “Tangent” games and utilities that confuse me more than help me.  And so it was that the coming of Windows 10 triggered the thought that maybe I could free myself of all the unwanted extra software from Toshiba.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rape, Murder and Mayhem

This past week, I was walking through Crossings Park and encountered a friend-walker and her small dog, Heidi.  Since the passing of Mick the Wonder Dog, I relish these encounters to socialize with dog and dog owner.  On this occasion my friend expressed having a rough start to her day and in the mix of the conversation she expressed a note of distress regarding the savagery of the latest terrorist incident.  This lead to my expression to her that what I find most disturbing is the inability to block (or at least filter) unwanted news.  It seems like much like the weather, “news” is pushed on you whether you want it or not.  I noticed in the most recent iOS for the iPad / iPhone, news feeds are being pushed as the default.  It also seems that network stations will cut into scheduled programming more often than in the past.  I recall a recent episode of “Storm Tracker Weather” that went on for about an hour or so which was neither needed nor welcome – I could easily look from my window to see that a storm was in progress and if folks are able to watch TV chances are they are sheltered from the storm… so could you please return us to Jeopardy?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Consumer Driven Health Plan?

Imagine going grocery shopping where the price of none of the items was marked and you went to the check out counter and they scan all your items but still don't identify the prices and then a week or two later you get a bill showing what you spent for each item.  Of course these being consumable goods you have likely eaten them by the time the bill arrives so when you find out that the bag of chips that you thought would cost about $2.00 actually was priced at $35.00 you have little recourse as those chips are long gone.  A family member recently had some sinus issues and went to a physician where she was prescribed 3 medications.  The local pharmacy happily filled these prescriptions and in addition to the myriad amount of drug related information the receipt joyfully reflected "You Owe:  $0.00".  Well that sounds good... until you get the full story...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

COLA Reflections

I read recently with mild amusement that Retirees will not be receiving a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to their Social Security income this year.  Apparently the measure that is used did not indicate that an increase was warranted.  The article went on to speculate that perhaps this measure didn’t adequately measure the cost of living for seniors and so forth.  I opened my remarks with noting my mild amusement.   I suspect some may not find a lack of a raise amusing, but I also suspect that many would agree with me that the infamous COLA is seldom all that it is cracked up to be.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Lunatic Fringe

After the first round of debates, the clear question for both parties is, “Where are the moderates?”  The Donald would be heralded by some as the poster boy for lunacy… and he’s the front runner.  To quote Michael Moore, “Dude Where’s My Country?”  For many years I worked with the mentally ill and I very much enjoyed their company.  They often saw the world in a different way and even the most disturbed schizophrenics would sometimes stumble on things that somewhat would make sense.  So it is with the Donald – when he makes comments such as “we don’t like ISIS and Syria & Russia don’t like ISIS so let them go at it”, it makes good sense to me.  Let me be clear, I’m not a fan of the Donald and I have a hard time imagining a situation where I would vote for him, but let’s give the devil his due.  Sometimes this politically correct diplomacy makes zero sense… it’s our place to tell Russia which countries to stay out of while we (the U.S.) seem to have to have a presence everywhere?  It’s not wise to throw stones at a glass house after you’ve accidentally bombed a hospital…

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Chair saga

Yeah, I’ll fess up; I do a lot of sitting.  And in my case, it tends to be in one chair; TV viewing in The Chair, work (from home) in The Chair, reading often in The Chair, iPad or laptop usually in The Chair.  The Chair is about 8 years old and has developed a chemical like stink to it – I’m blaming it on the microfiber material and right or wrong I’m not interested in buying another microfiber chair.  Yet, here I sit blogging from The (stinky) Chair…

My quest began with my old standby, Craig’s list.  As reflected by past posts, I’m a fan.  I’d much rather buy quality used than piece of junk new.  My wife isn’t so enamored; she’d prefer I stick with quality new.  Quality new is an elusive character.  I have no doubt that you can easily spend $500 or so thinking you’re buying a quality chair only to quickly lose that loving feeling a year or so down the road.  In my frame of thinking, I’d rather gamble $200 on used.  Even if the gamble doesn’t pay off you won’t feel too bad about shopping around in a year or so.  Thus, despite risking the wrath of wife, my initial focus was on finding a quality used chair.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I fired my insurance agent

...and I'm so happy I did!

No, I don't enjoy firing people as much as Donald Trump but sometimes you need to do the deed.  I had the same agent for 8 or so years.  The first hint of the relationship changing came about 3 years ago or so when the smaller independent agency that I used was gobbled up by a larger agency.  The changes weren't immediate but there was a feel that things were different.  Then about a year after the acquisition we received a scary letter from the new company.  The short of it was that our existing insurance company, Adirondack, didn't meet whatever new criteria the new company had.  I spoke with the agent who reassured us that Adirondack was still a good company but that the new company just had different criteria.  We were glad to hear this as we like Adirondack; we had experienced a claim and we thought they handled it very professionally.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Muffler underpants with odor protection

Ok, I'll admit it; I've been experiencing a creative slump.  The only good thing about a slump is when you have that euphoric moment when a good idea suddenly ellipsis your path.  For me it was a quick walk through Crossings Park... I started to think about how I could break free from my slump, maybe try something new that might bring some value to my routine.  I thought about a recent mailing from the South Colonie Continuing Education which included offerings of Yoga.  I've never tried Yoga, but have started to read Yoga Self Taught.  I believe Yoga may have some promise in regards to providing both a new experience for me and some long term value.  Specifically, I believe Yoga may provide an additional tool to address stress and anxiety.  Well then, signing up would seem to be a no brainer, so what's stopping me...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Windows 10 Install and first look

I received the ominous tidings of joy from Microsoft, titled, "You’ve reserved Windows 10 – what’s next?"  This message was sent out to apparently reassure those waiting for their promised free upgrade - in my case from Windows 7 to Windows 10.  Being a techno-sadist, I read the email and felt my pulse quicken when I reached the bottom of the message which stated "Absolutely can't wait? You have a couple of options to get your upgrade sooner".  The second option was to "Use the Media Creation Tool to install immediately on one or more devices (recommended for tech-savvy users only)."  Upon further reading, I learned that you could burn the ISO and then use that to perform your install.  This got me excited as I'd much rather do a "clean" install.  Yes, I realize that by doing the standard "upgrade" install Microsoft has advertised the ability to set your computer back but my trust level is low and I'd much rather giver it a whirl using a spare hard drive so in the event of a debacle, I could simply swap back my working Windows 7.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Complain

I was tempted to create a splashy title such as "Earn over $100 in 60 days by complaining," but I didn't feel "earn" was the appropriate word.  Yes, I've been on a bit of a complaining streak and my complaining has yielded a little over $100 in value but I pause at considering it as "earned" and while I appreciate the gift cards and credits received it is not the same as cash.  First there was the chain seafood restaurant that was experiencing substantial service issues which I would likely have overlooked... until I visited the restroom that was being renovated and found no door for the toilet... yup, if you had to do a number 2, hopefully you don't mind an audience.  Then there was the local pizza joint that repeatedly cannot get their own signature pizza correct.   On another occasion, we had a great meal at a chain restaurant but when the credit card arrived it was charged an additional buck - that wouldn't be much of a deal if it were simply a mistake, but you never really know.  Was it a mistake or is someone skimming a little off numerous customers figuring it likely won't get a reaction?  Most recently, it was a trip to the nearby grocery store where I experienced a bit of a runaround while returning empty beverage containers which had been purchased at that store.  Their response that they hired a company to handle their bottles and that they had nothing to do with it anymore didn't fly with me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Next Bubble to Bust

Happy days are here again - housing is working itself out of its doldrums and stocks have been surging for the past several years.  I know my retirement accounts are looking much healthier so with my cup half fully, why do I worry about the half that is empty?  Perhaps it is from recently reading Michael Lewis’ Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World or maybe it was a recent Facebook posting chirping an explanation of the fiscal cliff or perhaps it was Greece coming around to the brink of default once again.   The convergence of these 3 events lead me to wonder, "what if the housing meltdown is merely a prelude to a larger event?"

One of the interesting tidbits that are provided in our (United States) annual tax (1040) instructions are 2 pie charts reflecting major categories of Income and Outlays for the federal government.  I thought it would be interesting to grab some of these charts from the past 15 or so years to see if I could spot any warning signs.  After a quick internet search, I was able to produce the following charts for 1990, 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2013.  (This was purely an unscientific grab, trying to space out years and avoid years where there may have been an atypical event such as in 2001...although in thinking about the past 15 years and the "tech wreck, 9-11, 3 wars, the housing melt down and government bailouts who knows what a "typical" year looks like).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

IT super user training

It is strange how one is sometimes able to recall a seemingly innocuous conversation years after it taking place.  For me it was around 1998 (which I mark due related work involving Windows 98… good thing they didn’t call it “Purple Leopard”) and it was with Bill, who expressed to me that he believed we had a window of opportunity that was quickly closing to make a career change to the work of information technology (IT).  Bill was a registered nurse (RN) and I was a licensed social worker and we were working in the world of substance abuse and mental health.  At that time, many technologies were still in their infancy.  Microsoft was close to delivering the death blow to products like Word Perfect, Lotus 123 and Netscape Navigator and someone would more likely say “what’s a google” than “Google it”.  There were not an abundance of “experts” because much of the exciting stuff was too new to have experts.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cruise 2015 on Renssellaer Lake (Six Mile Waterworks)

I've been a bit stressed and cranky as of late and instead of writing a tempting social commentary quip on any one of many sources of irritation, I've elected to offer a brief quip to share a few photos and thoughts from my recent yachting cruise to the great (ok local) Renssellaer Lake (also known as Six Mile Waterworks).  As I've noted in my prior posts, my "yachting" is done on a budget - using an affordable inflatable boat purchased from a Dick's Sporting Goods sale, a hand air pump from Big Lots, a life preserver from a lawn sale and an affordable kayak paddle from the Sports Authority.  This is married with my usual cheap sunglasses, my flap hat, swimsuit, flip-flops, bottle of water and spare quart jug.  Yes, with imagination and the Barney bag, you too, can afford a fabulous cruise.  For those who are less adventurous, I would recommend going to the Colonie Mall and booking an excursion with LL Bean as has been suggested in my prior posts.  This is a great way to sample the lake and not have to haul a lot of equipment.  If you find that you really enjoy it, go a second time and if still enthused then consider purchasing some equipment.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

In defense of the Duggars

Now there’s a title post I never thought I’d be writing… no, I’m not a fan; I’ve never watched their show and have no desire to start.  Truth be told the whole idea of 19 kids sort of makes me nauseous… and I’ve had more than one inappropriate thought about what should be done with Jim Bob’s active organ.  (Currently, I'm torn between either a date with Lorena Bobbitt or a pay per view vasectomy...ok, maybe Lorena Bobbitt performing the pay per view vasectomy).  Among my unlikely heroes this year is Eddie Murphy who refused to take a poke at Bill Cosby – citing the age old prohibition of kicking someone when they’re down.  And so it is with the Duggar clan.  As with Cosby, we spectators can watch as all those who rode the wave suddenly run for the shore.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Reflections of a Lawn Sale

Although I have been working steadily to downsize the house, it has been a few years since I’ve held a lawn sale.  During this stint of downsizing I have largely relied upon either donations or Craig’s List and both have been good resources to knocking down clutter, but each has its limitations.  For example, Craig’s List is great for ticket items over $5 or $10, but isn’t so good if you have a lot of “small” priced items.  Donations are great, there is the intrinsic value of contributing to a good cause; however, financially you will need to itemize to benefit which means record keeping and also keep in mind that a deduction only reduces the amount that you are taxed on.  (For example, if you donate $100 worth of stuff and your tax rate is 20%, the value of the tax deduction is $20, not $100).  With this being said, I am going to hit some of the high notes from my recent lawn sale experience.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

If you don't have anything good to say...

There's a saying, "if you don't have anything good to say, don't say nothing at all".  Sometimes that might be good advice and this frame of thought may partially account for my absence in posting.  (A contributing explanation is that I've found other things to occupy my time such as reading David McCullough's, "The Path Between the Seas" and other activities).  Regardless, I am well aware that sometimes the views expressed on "My Turn Quips" are not the politically correct rubble that is so often postulated ad nauseam elsewhere.  This post will more closely approximate a rant of miscellaneous thoughts.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The many faces of giving up

Giving up - we all know the words and we all feel the negativity associated with the notion of "giving up".  We embrace perseverance - those we point to and say "he's a fighter...".  But what about those of us who aren't fighters?  And does "giving up" deserve the dread and negativity that we attribute to the phenomena?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Craig’s list rental scam

I mentioned in a recent post that my daughter is graduating and (even better) has a job lined up in Rutland, Vermont.  With graduation just around the corner she needed to secure housing to begin her career and it was during this housing hunt that we stumbled on an example of a rental scam that, unfortunately, arises on Craig’s list.  My wife and daughter spotted a small house being advertised for rent.  The background story was that the alleged owner had tried to sell it but ran out of time and was transferred to California.  The advertised price was very attractive – not a “give away,” but lower than market.  This was somewhat explained by the alleged owner who related that they wanted to find the “right person” – at times referring to wanting a “god fearing person” and a “clean freak” who would take care of their property.  The alleged owner followed up with a number of pictures and a simple rental application which was a series of questions.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I’m confused, you’re confused, we’re all confused

I've rather enjoyed the banter and great ado being expressed regarding Indiana’s recently passed religious freedom law.  As is customary, the yellow media has once again been quick to give great coverage to the protests, but little has been shared in regards to the facts.  In this post, I’m going to explore some of my thoughts and questions in regards to religious and sexual freedom.

There is an allegation that the law will lead to discrimination against gays…maybe so and maybe not… If this is the case, my first question is how would these businesses be able to determine sexual preference?   Are gay-dar detectors available that can be purchased and installed at the entry ways so that lights and alarms will sound?  Or are scantily clad mannequins of each gender installed and if someone appears aroused by the wrong mannequin they are asked to leave?  I suppose if a couple broke out in a full scale sex show in the store that would be a giveaway, but I’d venture to guess that this would be objectionable whether it be hetero or homo.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Rent or Buy: A simple Condo illustration

Great news, my oldest is graduating this year with an engineering degree AND she has a great job lined up!  Shortly thereafter this wondrous news ushered in the reality of needing to find an apartment.  It was during this preliminary apartment quest that I interjected the wild idea – “would you consider purchasing a condo?” which in turn provided fresh fodder for my blog.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why I hate New York State Income tax

Ok, so I realize the title is a bit anti-climactic as who likes any tax?  New York seems to have made an art out of not only fleecing your pockets, but also leaving you completely perplexed in the process.  Yes, I realize Mario, er I mean Andrew – same difference – is working hard to reduce our tax burden.  Here in beautiful New York State, we enjoy high taxes across the board – high property taxes, high sales taxes and high income taxes – we have a trifecta of taxes maximus going on.  Tis the season, so this post is focused on income tax...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Saying goodbye to a friend

Mick the Wonder DogIt is with much sadness that I write that my friend, Mick the wonder dog has perished.  Like his owner, Mick had been on a steady decline.  Mick wasn't up to many of the walks that he commonly enjoyed and these were steadily scaled back and when Mick was unable to participate as a walker I bundled him in a blanket and pushed him around the block in a baby stroller.  Sadly, he did not have a heart attack; with much anguish we made the decision to terminate his life when he reached the point where he was no longer able to hold down water (and had lost much weight by this time).  As odd as it may sound, I believe Mick knew in the weeks leading up that the end was coming; he spent many hours curled up near my wife and I clearly wanting to be included as part of the pack.

We adopted Mick from the Mohawk Hudson Humane society (known locally as the Menands Animal Shelter) when he was around 2 and he was a member of the family for over 14 years.  With a touch of stubbornness, he was a perfect fit to this family.  We enjoyed his persistent reminders around 5pm when he would quickly pace around the house to attract attention that it was time for his favorite dog food, Beneful (wet chopped blends).  Mick was a faithful companion on numerous walks; I would speak to him often to relate that I like some enthusiasm from my dog... and he was enthusiastic.

Mick's aura remains with us and we continue to feel his spirit throughout the house; you were greatly loved and will be missed.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

This IRS is (not) calling me

A few months back, my wife called me to relate that she had received a phone call from someone purporting to be the IRS who engaged her and ultimately threatened that she would be arrested if she did not cooperate.  This caller was very convincing and left my wife upset by the exchange as she related to me that the caller had informed her that she would be arrested within the hour.  This was the last thing I needed to hear at the labor camp (also known as my place of gainful employment).  I managed to calm her down a bit... after all, I've been around the track enough and watched enough episodes of "Cops" to know that it is never the wife that they take, its always the male head of household that they drag out usually clad in his boxer shorts and since we've always filed a joint return this could only mean that I should make sure that I'm always wearing clean boxers.  As anticipated, my wife was still around when I got home from work and no cops so far.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

VHS to digital

Happy post holiday!  Yes, Christmas and New Years were great and it was nice to have 2 of the 3 kids back from college (the other is in high school and also home).  Early in December, I had my epiphany – if I scrambled, I could burn all those VHS tapes (mostly of my kids from baby to 6 or so) onto DVD and give them as Christmas gifts.  Further, I was scanning the Craig’s list electronics items and I found a new listing for a DVD recorder from a seller in my home town which I scrambled and purchased.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be one of those situations where haste made waste.  In my excitement, I didn’t do any research on the specific DVD recorder nor did I research and consider the best way to convert my cherished memories to a modern format.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Unclogging a plugged ear

Yup, you read that title right.  This week's post is about unclogging a plugged ear.  Yes, I understand that I should if I want to build my blog I should do the "right" thing and search Google for trending buzz words - perhaps write about extremist fundamentalists or push e-commerce by hawking some product, but MTQ the blog that provided vital information on how to select the best dog poop bag is here to rescue you when you have a plugged ear...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

In praise of the old fashioned heart attack

Mick the Wonder dog has passed the 16 year mark and he spends most of his time sleeping.  He still wakes occasionally and watches me with his big brown eyes and occasionally he'll even run a lap around the house after a good poop.  Despite these occasional glimmers of life, it is clear that Mick's in his twilight years and while I'm in no way in a hurry for the end to come when it does come I'm hoping that its fast.  Like many pets, Mick is a member of the family.  He adds his personality - a touch of stubbornness that's very much in line with other family members and a touch of mischievousness now and then to let you know he's a real dog.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Craig's List versus ebay: an illustration

As may be reflected my former posts, I use Craig's List on a regular basis.  It's been a great way to clear my house of some debris and I have also benefited by identifying new debris to accumulate.  Of late, I've been watching the posts for a snow blower.  I was able to purchase a used one recently to replace my non-working snow blower, but am considering a second for both back up and perhaps lighter snowfalls.

Most recently, I was attracted to a listing for a Toro – great brand and great reviews.  The ad indicated that the machine was about 3 years old, works great and that the seller had originally purchased blower for a little over $600.  The seller was asking $390.  What made the ad more interesting was that the seller indicated that the reason for selling was that he was moving from beautiful upstate New York to somewhere in Georgia in 30 days and the ad was identified as being posted for 22 days or so.  I thought that unless there was a major storm on the near horizon, the seller was a bit high in his asking price.  In fairness, used snow blowers are difficult to price – they're hot when its cold (specifically snowing) and they're cold when the weather is hot.  Regardless, this seller was pricing his machine a distance from where I envisioned a good price would be for this machine so thinking I had nothing to lose, I sent the seller an email stating, “if you run out of time, I'd be interested at $200.”