A Closer Look at Cash Value vs Term Life Insurance

“I’ve been running the numbers, and I’ll be better off buying term insurance and investing the difference.”
“Maybe, but the problem with that is that nobody actually does it. Cash value insurance is like a forced savings plan.”

This is the gist of conversations I’ve had with various financial professionals trying to sell me cash value life insurance. All of them seem to think that I will lack the discipline to keep investing over time and I should preemptively force myself to do it. I tend to disagree. Continue reading

A Poor Man’s Guide to Leveling Jointer Tables

Be sure the tables need to be leveled…

I was having trouble getting my jointer to cut a straight edge, the center would be cupped in towards the middle, causing gaps between boards. No matter what I tried I could not get a perfectly straight edge. It turned out this was due to the outfeed table not being parallel to the infeed table. Before adjusting your own equipment make sure that the problem is not technique. That said… Here are the steps I took to level the tables on my own jointer.
Continue reading

How Important Are Mutual Fund Fees?

There are a number of fees associated with mutual funds beyond taxes on the gain. Perhaps because most of these fees are relatively hidden, or maybe people just don’t realize what they are, they are often not taken into account when selecting mutual funds. Unfortunately for these people, what they don’t know may be costing them big bucks. Continue reading

Homemade Laundry Soap

We have been making our own laundry soap for a while now and since people keep asking for the recipe I figured I should post it online. It’s incredibly simple to make and is several times less expensive than any commercial soaps out there. You can find all the needed ingredients at any grocery store or even on Amazon (although the local store will be cheaper).

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup borax (usually sold as 20 Mule Team Borax)
  • 1 cup washing soda (not the same as baking soda)
  • 1 bar/4oz of Ivory or Castile soap. You can also use Fels Naptha (24 pack) or Zote soap but I haven’t tried them. Don’t use Dial or other bars as many are technically detergents, not soaps.

Directions:

  1. Cut the bar of soap into bite sized pieces and put it in your blender or food processor with the borax and washing soda.
  2. Blend/process until well powdered. I had to scrape the sides once since the Ivory gets stuck at first, but it will turn to powder pretty fast. When you’re done be sure to clean the soap out of your food processor well, I’ve heard that it has the same basic effect on your digestive system as coffee after a large meal.

Use 1 tbsp per load for high efficiency washers, 2 tbsp for normal top load washers. It will produce fewer suds than normal soap, but this is fine. Total cost is around $1/batch and it will last about 40-50 loads for a HE washer, or 20-25 loads for a normal one. We have been using it for a while and have noticed that it actually works better than the commercial stuff. Some stains that we thought were persistent have slowly been coming out after we switched.

New (To Me) Powermatic 60 8″ Jointer

I’ve been looking for a larger jointer for some time now. Craigslist always seems to have a pandora’s box of old and new craftsman 4″ and 6″ models, but what I was really looking for was some high quality, American made, cast iron. 2 weeks ago I finally found what I was looking for… a Powermatic Model 60 8″ jointer with a 64″ bed. The guy selling it was from Chicago, but willing to drive it up to Madison to deliver it. Overall the machine is in good condition; the tables are flat and nearly co-planar, no major rust, and it came with 2 sets of carbide blades, freshly sharpened. Continue reading

Raspberry Pi Is Here


My Raspberry Pi arrived on Friday. The normal places are currently out of stock (Element 14 or RS), but there are plenty on eBay or Amazon for a few extra dollars (people who bought a bunch to resell).

Power

The first problem was getting power to the Pi. I originally thought that it was powered through a Mini USB port (used on many digital cameras and small external hard drives) but it turned out to use a Micro USB port. Fortunately Liz had a charger from an old phone that had the proper connector so I was able to cut is apart and solder it on to a standard USB cable. For a power supply I used an iPhone power supply which is rated at 5V 1A. Raspberry Pi requires at least 700mA so this will be plenty of capacity. Had I thought ahead a little more I would have just bought the proper Micro USB Cable on Amazon.

Operating System

Now that I had power, the next step was to install on operating system. There are a number of options available, but since the goal was to turn my Pi into a video player I decided to try the versions with XBMC preinstalled. First I tried Raspbmc which went through the whole install process without issue. When I tried running it after the install I kept getting the error “Kernel panic – not syncing: No init found”. I probably could have got it working, but honestly I was more interested in instant gratification than linux hacking. On to openelec

Setting up openelec was much easier. I used a the prebuilt image (although you can compile it yourself if you really want to) from openelec.thestateofme.com. Download the most recent version (I used r12253), unzip it, and write it to your SD card. Once the image is written you can simply plug it into the SD slot on your Pi and power it up. You should now have a working openelec installation on your Pi.

More To Follow…

I’ll be posting more info on my experiments with the Raspberry Pi. Strangely enough (for a linux project) actually writing up my experiences has taken far longer than getting it set up. Even for such a new project it’s very well documented and straight forward to use.

Enabling Apache User Directory In Ubuntu

It’s incredibly simple with no editing . Just follow these steps and you’ll be on your way (at least it worked for me). At the time of writing this I’m running a stock version of Ubuntu 12.04LTS.

  1. Run the following command from a terminal to enable the user directory.
    sudo a2enmod userdir
  2. If you haven’t already, create a public_html folder in the root of your home folder. Don’t run this with sudo.
    mkdir ~/public_html
  3. Restart apache.
    sudo service apache2 restart

Assuming everything works properly you should be able to serve files from your public_html folder at http://hostname/~username/

Juice vs Cider

Photo used under Creative Commons from dipfan

If I had a “random” category this would go in there. During lifegroup last night the question of what separates apple cider from juice came up (random, I know). Since nobody had a good explanation and I was curious I did a little research. This is what I found…

The definitions aren’t set in stone but the general distinction between the two is that cider is typically the raw liquid that comes from pressing the apples, while juice has been filtered and pasteurized to remove pulp, yeasts, and other particulate matter (all the good stuff). Some cider producers claim the difference comes from when they harvest the apples, cider apples being harvested prior to peak maturity when the acid content is higher and sugar content lower, resulting in a more tart flavor.

I suspect that marketing has a great deal to do with the actual difference between juice and cider. Would you pay $12/gallon for a cloudy jug of juice? Probably not. But pick the apples early, cut out a few steps in processing, change the label to call it cider, and drink up.

Dollar Cost Averaging (Don’t Buy It)

October: This is one of the particularly dangerous months to invest in stocks. Other dangerous months are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August and February. -Mark Twain

The Theory

Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) is a technique where, instead of investing a lump sum all at once, you spread it out over time. For example, maxing out a Roth IRA every year. Vanguard allows a good deal of freedom in setting up automatic deposits, so if I wanted to I could set it up such that the $5000 max is spread out over 52 weekly deposits. (I also have the choice of monthly, yearly, every 2 weeks, or twice a month.) In my case, $5000 divided into 26 equal payments works out to $192.31 every two weeks. By spreading out my investment over a large period of time, I’m Dollar Cost Averaging. There’s no specific time period that you have to divide your investment into, but the most common I’ve seen is anywhere from 1 week to 1 month. Regardless of the time period, the idea behind DCA is the same. By spreading out your investment over time you lower the risk of buying a lot of shares high or trying to time the market. It’s used as an automated strategy to buy more shares when the price is low and fewer when the price is high.

Sounds Good, But…

Does it work? Rather than creating a scenario like “Investor A invests a lump sum in fund XYZ in January while Investor B uses DCA to invest the same amount over a five month period” and then skewing the results so that DCA wins (see the Prudential example), I chose to uses real performance data for a few funds. I’m quite skeptical about contrived illustrations. Continue reading