Memorial Day

I have a habit of writing posts on Memorial Day. Here are some past posts: 2023, 2022, 2021, and 2020. This year, the Tour of Somerville prep started at 5 AM, with contractors setting up the metal fencing on Main Street, which of course woke me up. At some point between 5 and 5:30, we had a quick little storm, which dumped a bunch of rain outside. But it stopped by the time I got out of bed, at 5:40. Things are looking OK right now, around 9 AM, but there could be more thunderstorms in the afternoon, which would probably mean that the main race would have to be cancelled.

Coffee & Sleep

I had a lot of trouble sleeping this past week. I think that was mostly due to allergies and the change in weather. (It was very hot most of the week.) I’ve been compensating for that by drinking probably way too much coffee. So, for the weekend, I decided to go cold turkey.

Well, that didn’t last long! I had decaf on Saturday morning, then felt crappy all day. Not all of that was due to caffeine withdrawal, but some of it certainly was. So I had a Coke Zero at some point in the afternoon. And for Sunday and Monday, I’ve decided to have about half my usual weekend morning coffee. I usually have a full Moka pot, which means two scoops of ground coffee and enough water for two mugs full. Which might not sound like a lot, but the Moka pot produces something like espresso strength coffee. So, basically, I’m cutting back from around six shots of espresso to three shots. That’s working out OK. I’ve also cut out afternoon coffee, so I haven’t gotten cold brew from either of my usual coffee spots at all this weekend. And I’m sleeping a little better.

Pain & Finance

I also had some pain in my right hand that had been building through the week. So, in addition to going cold turkey on caffeine, I was going to avoid computer keyboards and mice, to the extent that I could. I really didn’t touch a computer on Saturday. On Sunday, I spent a good bit of time on my PC going through some financial stuff, and today, I’m writing this blog post, but probably won’t do much more. The pain has been gradually going away.

On that financial stuff yesterday: I moved a bit more money over to my new Marcus account, and opened a couple of CDs. So now I have some money making 4.6% in the savings account, a 12-month CD making 5% and an 18-month CD making 4.6% APY. So that should allow me to hedge my bets a little, if rates go up or down over the next year or two. Of course, all of that is pending until the banks open up again tomorrow, so I’ll have to check it again tomorrow or later in the week and make sure everything went where it was supposed to.

TV & Sports

I just hit the three-month mark on my YouTube TV subscription, so I had to make a decision on whether or not I was going to keep it going, past the $10 off promo rate, and into the regular pricing. I almost decided to cancel it, but changed my mind at the last minute.

Right now, I’m watching some coverage of Roland Garros on T2. I’ve found that watching tennis is very relaxing for me. YouTube TV includes T2 in their base package, but not Tennis Channel. I hadn’t really looked into this before, but I guess T2 is basically the overflow channel for Tennis Channel. So the bigger matches are on the main channel, and a bunch of “lesser” matches are on T2. I can get Tennis Channel with the Sports Plus add-on for YouTube TV, which costs an extra $11 per month. But I’m not going to do that. I’m mostly watching tennis as background noise, so it doesn’t matter if I’m watching an “important” match or not. And there’s going to be some Roland-Garros coverage on NBC later today, so I can watch that too. (And if I still had Peacock, they’ve also got Roland-Garros coverage. TV has gotten so confusing and fragmented.)

Kobo & The Wheel of Time

I’m well into Crossroads of Twilight on my Kobo now. I’m finding it to be a little better than the Kindle for most things, but not substantially. So, I really didn’t need the Kobo, but I don’t regret buying it. I want to get back to it and read a couple more chapters today, if I can.

And, with that, I should probably stop writing. My hands are starting to hurt again. (Getting old sucks.)

old man thoughts

I’ve been thinking old man thoughts this week. There are a variety of reasons for this.

First, I was contacted by somebody new at Merrill earlier this month to go over my finances. I had a couple of relatively long phone conversations with him, the end result of which was really to just… do nothing. Basically, my money is where it should be, doing what it should be doing. Looking back at my history, I could probably have done better with some stuff, but it’s too late to change that. At some point in the next few years, I should probably start moving some stuff into less risky investments, but I don’t need to do anything yet.

This was all kind of surprising. Since this new guy at Merrill called me out of the blue, I assumed there was going to be a sales pitch at some point to move me into a more actively managed account, with a management fee, but nope. Overall, it was probably the most casual and least pushy interaction I’ve ever had with a financial professional.

That all got me looking at some other financial stuff, including one oddball account I have, at MetLife, which was set up as a payout for my Dad’s life insurance, back in 2010. This kind of account is basically a sneaky way for life insurance companies to get out of actually paying out on their life insurance policies. Instead of a cash payout, they set up an interest-bearing account which you can write checks against. You can, of course, write yourself a check for the full amount in the account, but they hope you won’t do that. I decided to keep the account, since it was making more interest than my regular checking account. I used it once, in 2012, to buy the car I’m still driving. Other than that, I’ve just let it sit there and accrue interest.

My justification for keeping it was largely as an emergency account, following the general principle that you should have one account that’s at a different institution from your regular bank, just in case something happens with your main account(s). On several occasions, I’ve thought about closing it down and moving the money to a higher interest HYSA. Honestly, I should have done this long ago. Right now, some HYSAs are paying close to 5%, so I finally decided to do it. (The MetLife account was paying a little over 2%.) I was also starting to get fed up with the web interface for the MetLife account, which was always a mess, and a pain to use.

So my goals for a HYSA were to find one that (1) wasn’t associated with BoA or Merrill, (2) had a good reputation and user interface, and (3) had a good interest rate. I settled on Marcus, from Goldman Sachs, via an AARP link that got me a slight bump in the interest rate for the first couple of years. (And the link in that last sentence is an affiliate link, by the way.) I wasn’t 100% sure I should go with Marcus, since there was some talk last year about Goldman getting out of consumer banking. But they still seem to be pushing Marcus, at least via the AARP partnership.

Setting up the Marcus account was pretty easy. I didn’t have to do much to prove who I was. (That might have something to do with the fact that I have an Apple Card, which is managed by Goldman, so they already know who I am.) I couldn’t link the MetLife account to the Marcus account to transfer money out of it, though. Instead, I linked my BoA checking account, then wrote a paper check out of the MetLife account and deposited it to my BoA account. It hasn’t actually cleared yet, of course, but I have enough money in my BoA account that I could transfer some of it into Marcus and get started.

So now I need to wait until after the Memorial Day weekend, see if the check clears, then transfer the rest of the MetLife money from BoA to Marcus. And I then want to see about taking some of the Marcus money and putting it into a CD, since they have CDs paying around 5% right now.

I’ve already set up the Marcus account in Quicken, which is another thing I couldn’t do with the MetLife account, so that’s cool. And I have the iOS app for it installed, though there’s not much point to that.

Of course, now that everything is set up, I’ve realized that Marcus maybe isn’t great as an emergency account, since the only way I can get money out of it is to transfer it to a linked account, and I only have it linked to my BoA account. So if the BoA account got locked or hacked or whatever, I’d have no way to extract money from Marcus. But, hey, we’ll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

Looking back at some of my old notes, I see that I looked at HYSAs back in 2021, and found that they were only paying around 0.5% interest, which is the same as I was getting from MetLife at the time. So I guess that partially explains why I sat on the MetLife account for so long. When rates were lower, it was making about the same as a HYSA or CD.

So that was all a bunch of long-winded old man financial stuff. I remember, when I was younger, often zoning out whenever my dad started talking about his finances. (At some point, as I got older, I started paying attention, of course, and learned a lot from him.)

My other big “old man thoughts” instigator recently was listening to this episode of .NET Rocks, with Shawn Wildermuth, talking about being a senior software developer. Shawn is 55, so he’s around my age (as are Carl and Richard, I think). All three of those guys are self-employed, though, so their issues are a little different from mine. But there’s still the challenge of being an older guy doing software development, trying to keep current and stay interested, being an “individual contributor” later in your career vs. going into management, and other interesting stuff.

Along those lines, I tried to keep up with the stuff coming out of Microsoft Build this week, but it was a lot. It’s kind of funny how they’re talking about all this cutting-edge stuff, and I’m still working on stuff in our Dynamics AX 2012 system, on my Windows Server 2012 R2 VM. And also working on ASP.NET web services using .NET Framework 4.7, from 2018. Oh well, at least I’m using Visual Studio 2022 for that (though it’s on a Windows 10 VM). Someday, I’ll work on something in .NET 8, on a Windows 11 PC, but that probably won’t be until I’m 64.

And my last old man thought for the day, since this thing has gotten way too long: At work, we got to see our remodeled space yesterday. (I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but our company is in the process of remodeling everything in our building. My group is currently in a temporary space while our regular space is remodeled.) Our old space wasn’t great, but the cubicles were reasonably large, with fairly high walls on three sides. The new cubicles are… not great. There’s a single sit/stand desk, with a surface that seems to be around 3′ wide by 2′ deep, with two arms to mount monitors on. And there’s a two-drawer rolling file cabinet under it. The cubicle walls are a little higher than the ones in our temp area, but nowhere near as high as our old cubes. Around 4 feet high, I think? Also: I’m not sure there are any regular Ethernet ports in the cubicles. There are a couple of AC outlets, and what I assume is a USB power outlet, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a network port. I’m not sure if that means that they’re hoping we can get by with just wifi, or if I missed something.

Anyway, I’m thinking about all the adjustments I’m going to have to make. The old cubicles had L-shaped desks, with three drawers on either side, for six total, plus a bookcase above the desk. Now, I’ll just have two drawers. And about half the desk space I had previously. (Or maybe a third? It’s a lot less either way.) Over the years, I’ve cut down on the amount of physical crap I keep at my desk, but I’m still wired to want/need more stuff than the younger folks typically do. I had around a dozen tech books at my old cubicle; they’re all in a box in the back seat of my car now. I’d assumed I’m be able to keep them at my new cubicle, but it doesn’t look like there will be room. I guess they’re getting recycled. I’ve noticed that some of the younger guys in our group have literally nothing on their desks, aside from their laptops and monitors. I need to figure out how to work that way.

Kobo, Pocket, Instapaper, and some Wheel of Time thoughts

I finished reading Winter’s Heart yesterday, the ninth Wheel of Time book. I do want to start the next one, Crossroads of Twilight, soon, but before I do, I want to catch up with the last couple of episodes of The Wheel Weaves podcast. A lot happens in the last few chapters of Winter’s Heart, and I feel like I need someone to walk me through it so I can understand it a bit better.

I haven’t been actively reading Sylas K Barrett’s “Reading The Wheel of Time” series over at reactor.com, but I noticed that I’m now further along in the series than him, since his latest article is on chapter 25 of Winter’s Heart. The Wheel Weaves, on the other hand, is currently on book 12, so I have a while to go before I catch up with them.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a break from book-reading today and experiment with reading some short fiction and newspaper/magazine articles on my Kobo, via Pocket. Overall, I think I’ve decided that I like the experience of using Pocket on Kobo, but there are a few caveats.

I started this process by taking a couple of New York Times articles, saving them to Pocket, then reading them on the Kobo. That worked out fine. Then, I thought I’d see if I could take a few things I’d saved in Instapaper and read those in Pocket. The first thing I discovered is that Pocket seems to have two modes of saving articles: for some articles, it saves a readable view of the article in Pocket, and for others, it just saves a bookmark. For the latter type, those don’t sync down to the Kobo. Pocket calls these two modes “article view” and “view original” apparently.

One idea that I had for saving Instapaper articles to Pocket was to just hit the Pocket button on the webpage for Instapaper’s readable version of the article. But that just triggered the bookmarking mode for Pocket, and didn’t save the readable version. So that was useless. And I found that, for a few things I’d saved in Instapaper, either the original article had disappeared from the web, or the original article could also not be saved to Pocket except as a bookmark. That was an interesting experiment, and I think it convinced me that Instapaper is still superior to Pocket as a general read-it-later service, since I don’t think I’ve ever found anything that Instapaper refused to save to its own database. Pocket definitely works for the New York Times and the New Yorker, but it’s only about 50/50 on other pages I’ve tried.

So, anyway, having saved a few things to Pocket, I did some reading on the Kobo. I found that the experience was pretty good, with a few caveats. The biggest issue is that I realized that you can’t highlight Pocket articles on the Kobo. That’s maybe not a big thing really, but it is something I’d like to be able to do.

It’s occurred to me that, for longer articles, I could save the Instapaper version to an .epub file, then transfer that over to the Kobo via Calibre (or Google Drive). There’s a point where I’m jumping through too many hoops just to read a short story though. I may spend some more time messing around, but not right now.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about using the Kobo to read the next WoT book. I’ve already copied it from my Amazon account, into Calibre, then over to Kobo. (The WoT books are sold without DRM, so I don’t need Calibre to remove DRM, just to convert them to EPUB.) On Kobo, I’d lose the X-Ray feature that the Kindle has, which sometimes comes in useful with WoT, given the large cast of characters. But X-Ray is often useless, and I’ve taken to looking up characters in the WoT Compendium app on my phone instead.

I’m not sure if I spent more time today actually reading, vs. playing around with Instapaper, Pocket, Calibre, etc., but I did have a relatively pleasant morning, so I guess that’s good either way.

thoughts on the Kobo Libra Colour

I got my Kobo Libra Colour in the mail on Friday, and started setting it up and playing around with it over the weekend. I didn’t get to play with it as much as I would have liked though, since I was sick and didn’t have much energy. Still, I wanted to write up some initial thoughts.

Overall, I like the device. But I’m not sure if it’s good enough to pull me away from my Kindle and the Amazon Kindle ecosystem. I think I’ll probably keep using my Kindle as my primary E-Reader, and maybe use the Kobo as a secondary device for certain kinds of books and documents. I’m really not sure how it’ll settle out.

To get into the specifics, let’s start with the obvious stuff that makes it different from the Kindle. First, color: The color screen is nice, though obviously it doesn’t compare to, say, an iPad. It’s nice to see book covers in color, but it’s not necessary and it doesn’t add much value, really.

I thought the color screen might make the device usable for reading comics, but my experiments with that aren’t encouraging. The device is too small for normal-size American comics to look good on it. It’s about the right size for manga, but I didn’t have much luck with that. I had a couple of DRM-free manga volumes that I thought I’d try, but they didn’t work well. I might try that again with different files, but I’m not in a rush to do that.

The second main feature would be the stylus. You can use the stylus to take notes, with the built-in notebook app, or to highlight passages in books and mark them up. I tried the notebook app, and I don’t think I’m going to get much use out of it. I think I’ve gotten to the point where using a pen just isn’t that comfortable for me anymore, whether it’s a “real” pen and paper, or a stylus and tablet. And I think both the device size and the texture of the screen make using the stylus a bit harder than using a regular pen and paper, for me. I did get a little kick out of how much it reminded me of my old Newton though!

I haven’t tried a Kindle Scribe, so I can’t compare it to that. I’ve occasionally thought about getting a Scribe, and that’s still in the back of my mind as a possibility, but I’d say I’m a little less enthusiastic about trying it now.

The stylus cost $70, so I should probably return it, but I’m probably going to hang onto it. Maybe I’ll find a good use case for it at some point.

So I think I’ve figured out that the two main features that set it apart from my Kindle Paperwhite aren’t compelling enough to get me to switch away from the Kindle.

There are a bunch of other interesting features on the device that aren’t specific to the Libra Colour, but to Kobo in general, and I think some of those are quite interesting and maybe useful. I’ve had a chance to set up a few of those and try them out, so I’ll go through some of them here.

  1. Google Drive and Dropbox integration: I set up the Google Drive integration. (I assume the Dropbox support is similar.) This feature let’s you take books from your cloud storage account, and copy them down to the device from there. So it’s mostly just another way of getting books onto the device. It works well, though copying books over USB is more convenient for me, really.
  2. OverDrive integration: This is a really nice feature. OverDrive is integrated right into the device OS, so you can borrow library books directly from the device. Mind you, it’s not really difficult to borrow books via the OverDrive web site and send them to my Kindle, but this does make it a little easier. When I mentioned above that I might find myself using the Kobo as a secondary device for certain use cases, this it the one I’m most likely to use it for, I think: borrowing and reading library books.
  3. Pocket integration: This is interesting. I’d prefer Instapaper integration, since that’s my read-it-later service of choice, but I do have a free Pocket account, so maybe I’ll try it out and see how it works. The Kobo might be a better device than my iPad for reading, say, a long New Yorker article. (It is possible to send articles to the Kindle with Instapaper, but it’s a bit of a hack.)

So that’s it for the oddball features. The most important thing, of course, is how well it works as a reading device. I’ve only done a little bit of reading on it so far. I copied the Wheel of Time book that I’m currently reading over to it, and read part of a chapter. It worked well. I could increase the font size to something that worked for me. The display is bright enough, clear enough, and easy on the eyes. I’m not sure that it’s better than the Kindle, but it might be.

There are a couple of things that I have on the Kindle that I will probably miss (to some extent) on the Kobo. The first would be Goodreads integration. That’s not really a big deal, but it’s nice. The second would be the X-Ray feature on the Kindle. That’s really a hit-or-miss feature, but when it works, it’s nice. Especially on the Wheel of Time books, it’s nice to be able to use it to look up a character name. It is really hit-or-miss though. I often find myself going to an external reference. (I’ve been getting a lot of use out of the WoT Compendium iOS app lately.)

One more topic I should really cover is how it works with Calibre. I haven’t spent enough time on that yet though. I’ve made sure that Calibre recognizes it and lets me copy books down, but nothing more than that. I may come back to that in a later blog post.

So overall, this thing was an unnecessary expenditure, and I probably won’t get much use out of it. I don’t know, though. I get so much use out of the Kindle that it makes sense to try an alternative and see how it works for me. And my vision is so screwed up at this point that it’s worth experimenting to find the device that works best for me and my old broken eyes.