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.

Some follow-up, on a nice Sunday

I haven’t blogged in almost a month, and I have a few things I want to write about, so this is going to be a multi-topic catch-up post. And hopefully it won’t be too long, or take me too long to write. But we’ll see how that goes.

Taxes

I filed my taxes today. I used the H&R Block software that I’ve been using (on and off) since (at least) 1997. (I just poked around on my hard drive to try to find the earliest docs from TaxCut, and I found an installer for the 1997 version. At some point, they dropped the “TaxCut” name, and now it’s just H&R Block.) I owed less than I usually have, in recent years. I’m not sure why. And I seem to have reached the point in my life where I’m not obsessing too much about the tax rules and whether or not I’m fully in compliance with them. There were a few things on both the Federal and NJ returns that I wasn’t 100% sure about, but I didn’t spend a lot of time researching them and double-checking them. Maybe I overpaid a little, or maybe I underpaid a little. Life is too short to worry about it too much.

The Wheel of Time

I finished reading A Crown of Swords on Friday. And I’m likely to start The Path of Daggers today. A Crown of Swords was book 7, and there are 14 books in the series, so I’m now halfway done! (Unless you count New Spring, the prequel novel, which I’m sure I’ll slot in somewhere, so maybe I’m not quite halfway through the whole thing, but I’m halfway through the main series.)

I’ve been listening to The Wheel Weaves podcast as I’ve been reading ACoS, and I’ve enjoyed it enough that I signed up for their Patreon (though only at the $3/month level). It’s a fun podcast to listen to, and it’s nice when they point out stuff that I missed, or have an interpretation of something that’s different from my own.

I finished ACoS in just over a month, so it’s starting to look like I might be able to finish the whole series by the end of this year, if I can keep up this pace. I know that’s not likely, and that life will probably get in the way at some point, or I’ll get tired of the series and switch to something else for a while. But right now, I’m perfectly happy just reading the books back to back.

Streaming Services

I signed up for YouTube TV about a week ago. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it, but I’m starting to get more comfortable with the idea of giving up on my TiVo Bolt and what’s left of my cable TV service. (Which is just the broadcast channels, for $50/month, per my previous post.)

There are good and bad points to YouTube TV, vs cable/TiVo. On the bad side, the DVR interface isn’t nearly as nice as TiVo’s. Nor is the program guide. I guess I’ve been spoiled by TiVo’s great user interface (even though I’ve complained about it at times).

The DVR lets you add a series, but has no configuration beyond that. So I added NCIS, so I could get the new episodes, but now it’s also recording every other single episode of NCIS that airs on any channel, at any time. And since NCIS has been on for 21 seasons and almost 500 episodes, that’s a lot. But DVR space is unlimited, and in the cloud, so I don’t really have to worry about that. And I just pulled up the DVR interface, to see if it could tell me how many episodes of NCIS it’s recorded in the last week, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to see that. So that’s another annoyance with the DVR.

And for the program guide and the live channel interface, you can mark certain channels as favorites, so they’ll show at the top of the list, so that’s nice. But that’s about the only good thing about the interface. It’s hard to jump forward in time, compared to TiVo. You can go forward a page at a time, but it’s slow, and there’s no way to jump ahead a full day, like there is on TiVo. In fact, I think you can only go forward by 24 hours, total.

Also, fast-forwarding to skip commercials on DVR recordings is a lot less convenient than on TiVo. Of course, there’s no auto-skip, like there is on TiVo, but that doesn’t always work on TiVo anyway, so I’m OK with that. And there’s no full-screen fast-forward either; you can only see a thumbnail of the content as you’re fast-forwarding through it.

In terms of the actual channel line-up, it’s interesting to have the usual basic cable channels back again, after having dropped them a couple of years ago. My first impression is that cable has gotten even worse since then. About the only channel that seems to be sticking to it’s original mission is TCM. They still seem to be showing classic movies, and just classic movies. And I assume they’re still commercial-free, though I haven’t checked that yet.

Looking at some other channels, IFC is currently showing an Ace Ventura movie. (Definitely not fitting into their original prestige “independent film” category.) And Sundance TV, which should also be showing quality independent films, is running Andy Griffith and NCIS reruns. So it seems like a lot of the channels on cable are just showing miscellaneous reruns of random old TV shows.

In terms of interesting stuff that I wasn’t getting from Optimum, there’s The Daily Show on Comedy Central, where Jon Stewart has recently returned to hosting, though only one day a week. And I could watch that on Paramount+ anyway. And I can catch up on Rick & Morty now, but, now that I’m checking, I guess I can watch that on Hulu. So I’m not sure there’s anything that I really need the cable channels for.

I still kind of want access to broadcast channels, though, for news and sports. I should mention that there’s a lot of sports available on YouTube TV, mostly basketball and hockey right now. I have no particular interest in either of those sports though. I might find access to sports stuff handy once baseball season starts up. (Though for that, I did just let my MLB.TV subscription renew. And the only regular games I can’t watch through that are Mets and Yankees, and YouTube TV doesn’t have either the Mets’ SportsNet NY channel or the Yankees YES channel for the Yankees, so there might not be much baseball to watch on YouTube TV, really.)

There are two channels I’m currently getting through Optimum that I don’t get from YouTube TV: News 12 and MeTV. I don’t watch a lot of MeTV, but I do like Svengoolie, so I’ll miss that, but it’s not a deal-breaker. And I like having a 24/7 local NJ news network, but I can probably live without it.

So, overall, I’m not super-satisfied with the value I’m getting out of YouTube TV, but it’s probably better than the value I’m getting out of my $50/month Optimum basic service. Optimum bills on the calendar month, so I’ve already paid for March. So I might call to cancel at some point before the end of this month, and give it up then.

After that, I’m not sure if I’ll stick with YouTube TV, or eventually wean myself off of the whole idea of live broadcast TV. I’ve spent some time thinking about it, and I can really follow everything I need without it. I can get the local NJ PBS news through the PBS app and/or on YouTube. And I can still get local NY news through various other means. (I’m pretty sure I can watch the local ABC news on Hulu and the local CBS news on Paramount+.)

So, wow, that was a lot of rambling on about TV. I didn’t really intend to write so much. (Sorry.) It’s a nice day out, and I’ve gone out for two walks already, and I even have a window open for the first time in a while. It’s getting close to lunch time, so I should start thinking about that, and maybe another walk, this time with a light coat! (It’s 60° out!)

 

Quicken Classic

I’ve been using Quicken for a long time, and I’ve been complaining about it for nearly as long. (My earliest Quicken complaint on this blog is likely this one from 2004.) And, once in a while, I get frustrated enough with it that I start looking for alternatives. There were two things that happened recently that have got me interested in that again.

First, they’ve changed the name of the desktop product to Quicken Classic. Here’s a video where their CEO tries to explain that. The name change itself doesn’t really matter to me, but it makes me worry a bit that they’re de-emphasizing the desktop product even more than they already have. Their web product is called Simplifi, and it might be worth thinking about switching to that, but I’m not keen on that idea. I’m pretty sure I’d lose all my history and wouldn’t have nearly the same functionality I have with the desktop app.

The second thing that got me thinking about moving off Quicken again is some continuing issues with the link to my 401(k) account. I’ve searched the web and found a bunch of other people are also having trouble with Fidelity, which is the provider for the 401(k). In my case, the funds got pretty mixed up, so I deleted and re-created the account in Quicken. That got me a bit further, but there was still a weird thing going on where it looked like I had twice as much money in the account as I actually do. I might have fixed that now, but I won’t really know for sure until I sync the account again.

When I have trouble with Quicken, I start getting “the grass is greener on the other side” thoughts, but then if I stop myself, I realize that Quicken is still the biggest player out there, so if Quicken is having issues with Fidelity, then smaller players like Banktivity and MoneyDance probably are too.

Maybe it’s time to give up on this stuff entirely and just switch to keeping a summary spreadsheet, where I update some high-level numbers once a month.

New Year’s Day 2021

I’ve been writing big New Year’s Day posts on this blog every year for the last several years. I might as well do one this year too. Obviously, last year was a doozy, and a lot of stuff has changed, and a lot is still in flux. I’m not even sure where to start. So I’ll start with links to the last few New Year’s posts:

And I guess I’ll follow a format not too different from previous years.

Health, Weight, and Sleep

My weight has been pretty steady at around 135 pounds this year. It dipped a bit in spring & summer, getting down to 130 briefly, but has rebounded back to 135. I dropped some weight at the beginning of the pandemic, probably because I wasn’t eating any take-out food. I’m still logging all of my meals with Lose It, which I’ve been using since 2013.

I’m also still using Sleep Cycle as an alarm clock and to log my sleep. I’ve been having some weird dreams this year, but apparently so has everyone else. My sleep quality has been mixed, I’d say. Some nights I’m fine, and some nights I’m not.

I was pretty good about exercise through the spring and summer. I did a lot of walking. I’ve cut back on the walks now, since it’s been getting colder. If I don’t go out for a morning walk now, I try to do ten minutes on my exercise bike instead. (I’m glad I didn’t get rid of that thing.) I need to be careful about not letting up too much through the rest of the winter.

On the meditation front, I’ve certainly done more meditation this year than I’d usually do. One of the reasons for that is that I’ve been working from home since March, so it’s easy to take a ten minute midday meditation break. Back when I was working in a cubicle, I was too self-conscious to meditate at work. (And, really, the office environment is too noisy for meditation anyway.) I was using Insight Timer for most of this year, but I switched to Calm in December, since I had a deal to get a free year of Calm Premium. I have enough opinions on meditation apps right now that I should probably hold them for another post. But overall, I’d say that meditation helped me get through this crazy year.

I did finally get my hearing checked this year, in March, just before the pandemic lockdown really kicked in. The results were pretty much what I expected: I’ve lost a lot of hearing in my left ear. My right ear is fine. The doctor said that I’m not really at the stage where a hearing aid would make sense. My hearing issues haven’t really much mattered this year, though. If I’m talking to anybody at work, it’s on my computer, and I can just turn up the volume as much as I need. And I’m never in a crowded restaurant with a lot of background noise, so that’s not a problem either.

Work and Professional Development

I’m feeling very lucky to have had a good, steady, job this year, and to be able to work from home. My performance review for 2020 was very good. I didn’t really expect a raise this year, given the general state of the economy, but I got one. So that’s all good. There are going to be a lot of challenges ahead, going into 2021. Again, that’s probably a whole blog post of its own though.

On the professional development front, one nice thing to come out of 2020 was a lot of free virtual conferences. I didn’t participate in as many of those as I would have liked, but I did manage to watch some content from Microsoft Build and Microsoft Ignite. Most of my efforts at learning new stuff this year were centered around SharePoint Framework (SPFx) and Microsoft’s Power Platform stuff. I wasn’t really successful in getting any projects done with any of this new stuff in 2020 though. I have a couple of big projects at work that will really need to get done in 2021. I’m still not even sure if I’ll be using SPFx or Power Platform or something else though.

Looking at last year’s post, I see I was talking about trying to learn maybe Rust or Swift in 2020. I definitely didn’t do that. The one new general thing I tried to learn in 2020 was React. And that was mostly because I needed to learn it for SPFx.

Finance

I’m in pretty good shape, financially. Certainly better than most people, given the state of things. I’ve actually seen my checking account balance grow this year, presumably because I didn’t spend any money on travel, or on day trips to NYC, or even on a lot of little things like restaurant meals and gas for my car and Starbucks coffee. I expect 2021 will be similar. Given how little interest I make on my checking account, I really need to shunt some money over into my Merrill account and buy some more shares in an S&P 500 fund. The stock market (after a brief crash back in March) has done surprisingly well this year. And I probably need to sit down with a financial advisor at some point in 2021 and move some money around. There’s some stuff I want to do to simplify my finances a bit, but I can’t do it without figuring out the tax implications.

I opened two new credit card accounts this year, which is pretty unusual for me. I traded in the AmEx Green card I’d had since college for an AmEx EveryDay card. That was done mostly because the fee on the Green card had gone up to $150, so I wanted to replace it with a fee-free card. And I finally gave in and got an Apple Card. I’ve only used the Apple Card to buy my new Apple Watch, in November. I don’t really anticipate using it for anything other than Apple Store purchases.

I’ve also been thinking about getting an Amazon Prime credit card. I spent nearly $2000 at Amazon this year, so the 5% back could be as much as $100 for me. There’s really no reason for me not to get it, other than not wanting to add yet another card to my wallet.

Subscriptions

I’m always obsessing over subscriptions. The pandemic has caused me to pull the trigger on a few subscriptions that I’ve been holding out on for years. Partially because I have some extra money to spend (as noted above), and partially because I have some extra time to kill at home. So I might as well spend some money and time on nice stuff that’ll distract me from the horrible state of the world right now.

I finally subscribed to Apple Music. I signed up for a six-month free trial in October, so I don’t need to start paying for it until April. But I will likely keep it going when that happens. After years of trying to resist switching from CDs & MP3s to a subscription service, I’ve finally given in and embraced the new way of doing things.

I’ve also signed up for Disney+ and Hulu. I wanted Disney+ for The Mandalorian and Soul. And Hulu had a Black Friday deal where you could get the ad-supported tier for $2/month for a year, so that seemed worthwhile. I’m still resisting HBO Max, but I might give in on that one too eventually. If Wonder Woman 1984 had gotten better reviews, I’d probably have done it by now.

I might also sign up for the Apple One subscription bundle at some point in 2021. I don’t really need Apple TV+ or Apple Arcade, but if the pandemic keeps going, I’ll probably give in on that.

Books and Comics

According to Goodreads, I read 86 books in 2020. I’d set a goal of 100 books, and I didn’t reach it, but I’m OK with that. Most of those were comics, but (again) I’m fine with that.

For my Great American Read group, I didn’t really get through much, but I did finish Gone With The Wind in March, so that was a big one. I also read White Teeth, Invisible Man, and The Outsiders from the TGAR list. I’m still an admin in that group, and we’re still posting monthly group reads, but I’m not sure why I’m still bothering with that. The other admin is doing about half the work, so that’s good. I feel like we’re going to have to wind that group down in 2021, but I’m not in a hurry to do so.

My favorite comics of the year were probably the Resident Alien collections that I read back in May. And the Locke & Key series was also surprisingly good.

I’m still ordering a few titles from Westfield every month, but I think I’m going to wind that down over the next few months. I haven’t gotten on board with DC’s Future State thing, and I’m not reading any Marvel books. So that just leaves a few books from smaller publishers, and it’s probably best if I just switch to digital and/or trades for those. Also, my Comixology backlog is nearly 200 books (mostly collections, not single issues), so just working through that could take me a few years.

Movies

As I mentioned recently, I watched a lot of movies in 2020. Looking at Letterboxd, I see that I watched a total of 73. Probably my favorite film of the year (that actually came out in 2020) was Soul. My second favorite would have been Onward, so the year for me was bookended with solid Pixar films. I did a rewatch of all four Avengers films early in the year, and a rewatch of all the Daniel Craig Bond films just recently. Those were both fun distractions. I also tried to watch a bunch of Kurosawa films, but I only got through four. For 2021, I want to watch some more Kurosawa, and maybe rewatch a bunch of Miyazaki films. (I bought several of them on Blu-ray earlier this year, and haven’t watched any of those discs yet.)

Summary

I am kind of proud of myself for getting through 2020 in one piece, not too much worse for wear. I managed to avoid putting on weight, picking up a drinking habit, getting COVID, and losing my job. I think my mental health is reasonably OK, all things considered. I’m trying not to stress about things I didn’t do. I’d like to have spent more time on “enriching” activities and less on pure distraction, but I’m mostly OK with having watched 73 movies and lots of TV, and having read a lot more comics this year than novels or non-fiction books.

I’m expecting the first couple of months of 2021 to be pretty rough. I think the vaccine rollout will be slow. I don’t expect a change in the status quo on mask wearing and social distancing and working from home. Winter will probably still be in full force through to early March, so we’re not going to be able to do much outdoors. I think the current surge of COVID cases will continue through February, and not start to let up until March. I don’t see us all being able to return to anything like normality until very late in 2021, if at all. But, hopefully, by summer, we’ll have enough folks vaccinated and the political situation will have stabilized enough that we’ll start on the road to “normal.”

I’m thinking a lot about short-term strategies for getting through winter. Things like getting my groceries delivered, watching a lot more “comfort” TV, reading a lot of comics, working out on the exercise bike, meditating, blogging, journaling, whatever helps. I’m not making any resolutions for 2021. I’m going to take it day by day, and I think that’s what we’re all going to have to do.

 

end of vacation, end of year

So it’s back to work tomorrow, after my week-long vacation. Looking at my “things to do on vacation” list, I didn’t do any of them. Which is fine. I did a few things, including updating my MacBook to Big Sur, sending out my Christmas cards, reading the entire Locke & Key comic book series, and, um… replacing the battery in my smoke detector. Yeah, I know those aren’t big accomplishments, but hey, it was supposed to be a vacation, right?

I’ve also been doing a lot of end-of-year thinking and planning. I got a few end-of-year things done this week, and there are a bunch more that I’m still working on. One thing, of course, is figuring out which services/subscriptions to keep and which to cancel, and whether or not I should be signing up for anything new right now. So the rest of this post is going to turn into yet another rumination about all that stuff.

For video, I added Disney+ recently, and also Hulu, via their $2/month Black Friday deal. So now I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Hulu for video services. I’ve been thinking about canceling my traditional cable subscription, but I still haven’t done that. It’s looking like my cable bill might go up by $20/month in January, so that’s pushing me more in that direction. I’ve been experimenting with using my Apple TV more and my TiVo less, and figuring out how to get some of the stuff I like on regular TV without a cable subscription. I can get most (or all) of the PBS content I want from the PBS Apple TV app. And I can watch clips of the late-night shows on YouTube. So that’s probably fine.

For music, I’ll probably let my Apple Music free trial turn into a paid subscription when the trial is up. I’m actually using it a lot.

For comics, I do intend on dropping my Westfield subscriptions at some point, but I haven’t done it yet. For December, I would have had just three comics on my order, but I added a couple of graphic novels. That might be my last order, or I might hang in there for two more months. I have a couple of series I’d like to complete before giving up on print comics.

I’ve also been thinking about some financial stuff. Specifically, I’ve been assessing my credit card situation. I signed up for the Apple Card recently, as I’ve probably mentioned here before. I don’t like some things about that card, but the cash back for Apple Store purchases makes it worthwhile. Now that I’ve had it for awhile, I think I’m a little more OK with it than I initially was. Even though I can’t download transactions from it directly into Quicken, the process for saving a QFX file and importing it into Quicken isn’t that bad. And the Apple Card is better about privacy than most other cards, so maybe I should consider using it for more stuff.

Meanwhile, I switched my AmEx card from the Green card to the EveryDay card earlier this year. That was a good decision, since the Green card annual fee was going up to $150/year, and had mostly travel-related bonuses. The EveryDay card has no fee and has extra bonuses for everyday stuff like groceries. So it’s almost like I knew the pandemic was coming, when I switched back in February. I’ve certainly spent a lot more money on groceries this year than I have on travel.

I’ve been spending a heck of a lot of money at Amazon this year too, so that’s got me thinking about signing up for the Amazon Prime credit card. That gives you 5% cash back on Amazon purchases, which would have gotten me as much as $100 this year, depending on which purchases are eligible. But if I get that card, then I’ll have a total of five cards (Citi MC, AmEx, Macy’s, Apple, and Amazon), which might be too many cards. Maybe I should drop the Macy’s card. I’ve ordered a few things from them online this year, but not nearly as much stuff as I’ve ordered from Amazon.

I’m a little worried about how opening multiple new credit cards in one year might affect my credit score. But, then again, I’m not planning on borrowing any money any time soon, so I probably shouldn’t care about that. I don’t know. I guess it’s good to have enough free time and enough money to mess around with all this stuff.

Software and subscriptions and stuff

This is going to be a follow-up to my last two posts (here and here). Sorry. I have some interesting ideas in my head that I want to turn into blog posts, but I’m still plodding through a bunch of largely mundane stuff, trying to see if I can streamline or realign some stuff in my life. Anyway, here’s a brain dump of updates on stuff from those last two posts, plus some new stuff.

Cable TV: I got my February cable bill, with the new rates. My initial understanding of the rate increase was that my bill would go up by about $35. But it actually only went up by $14. The base rate for my cable package is now $85 (plus a bunch of fees) and my internet package is $90 (plus fees), but they’re applying a “special discount” of $42 so the total bill didn’t rise more than that $14. So I guess I’m sticking with my current plans. Any changes to the plans would probably invalidate the discount. So, while I could save a little by changing or dropping my cable plan, it’s not enough to make it worthwhile for me. (I’ll have to keep an eye on that discount and see if they phase it out over time. If they do, then I can think about a change again.)

Web hosting: I haven’t done any more with this. My new contract starts on Feb 12, so I’ll have to review it then. And I have plenty of time to drop my .org domains if I want to do that. They renew in May and August.

AmEx card: I haven’t done much with this either, though I did drop all recurring charges from the card. And I’m planning on using up my rewards points so I don’t lose those. That way, I can drop it cleanly and easily, if I decide to.

Westfield Comics: I did place a February order with them, but it was a small one. And I still haven’t talked myself into dropping Batman and Detective.

Flickr Pro: I took the deal to renew for two more years at the old price ($100 for two years), so now I don’t have to think about that again until 2023.

Quicken: Quicken switched to a subscription model a couple of years ago. I bought a 27-month sub from Amazon for $54 in November 2017, which was due to expire next month. The regular yearly rate to renew it directly with Quicken would have been $50/year, which seems a little steep to me. I found that I could buy a 14-month sub from Amazon for $30, so I did that, and now I’m good for another year. I took a quick look at a few alternatives, including Banktivity, Moneydance, and See Finance, but didn’t find any of them compelling enough to get me to switch.

H&R Block tax software: I’ve been buying their “Deluxe” package every year to do my taxes, for quite a long time, going back to when it was TaxCut. (I took a break for a few years and used an accountant instead, but she was a lot more expensive and not really any more convenient, really.) I generally buy it from Amazon, but this year, H&R Block had a “flash sale” where I could buy it from them for $30, so I did. So now I’m set to do my taxes, whenever I can find the mental energy to sit down and get it done.

Fantastical: I’ve been using Fantastical on my iPhone as my default calendar program for several years. I bought the iPad version a couple of years ago, and the Mac version just a few months ago. And now they’ve just released a new version and switched to a subscription model. (Sigh.) They’re being pretty good about existing users of the paid version, so I can use the new version, but not the new features. So that’s what I’m going to do. The new features are great if you’re really a calendar power-user, but I’m not. I just use my personal calendar to keep track of birthdays and medical appointments, mostly. The MacStories review of the new version is thorough and worth reading, if you’re the kind of person that needs a really powerful calendar management program.

Other stuff I’m subscribing to: This could be a long list, but I’ll limit it to apps and services I probably haven’t mentioned recently and that might be worth reconsidering: Instapaper ($30/year), 1Password ($30/year, with discount), Twitterific ($10/year), Sleep Cycle ($2/year).

Other stuff I’m not subscribing to: In a few cases where an app switched from paid to subscription, I’ve talked myself out of subscribing to it, and either stuck with the “free” version, or dropped the app entirely: TextExpander (dropped), Day One (still using free “Plus” version), Drafts (tried the “pro” version for a week; went back to the free one), Overcast (still using the free version, with some features unlocked from my original purchase).

I recently listened to an episode of Mac Power Users with Greg Pierce, the developer of Drafts. He seems like a good guy, and I do really appreciate the fact that subscriptions give small developers like him a steady revenue stream, and make software like Drafts possible. As a user, it’s frustrating to get pushed into all these subscriptions, and it’s often hard to justify the recurring expense for something that (for me) has limited utility. But I don’t agree with the idea that developers are getting “greedy,” which often crops up on places like Reddit or other online forums, when a developer switches to a subscription model. (On the other hand, I am kind of bothered when a large corporation like Apple or Amazon starts pushing subscription services. But that’s a subject for another day.)

So that’s about it for now, I guess. The stand alert on my Apple Watch has gone off twice while writing this, so I’ve been at it for more than an hour. I have another post bouncing around in the back of my head, similar to this one, but just about music and podcasts. The way I pay for and consume music has gotten a little complicated, and seems to be worth reviewing again. And there’s probably a post about buying and reading comic books in there too.

thinking about the Apple Card

I hadn’t been seriously considering getting an Apple Card, for a number of reasons. First, because I don’t need a new credit card. And second, because the card is issued by Goldman Sachs, and I’m not a huge fan of their work, as the saying goes. (And maybe third, because I’m not entirely comfortable with Apple getting into the financial services business.)

Some of the news coverage of the card has been pretty funny, mostly related to the physical titanium card, which sounds kind of cool, but apparently has some issues. The fact that they had to write a support article to explain how to clean it is kind of ridiculous.

But I had an issue with my usual, old-fashioned, credit card this week, and now I’m thinking that it might be nice to have a virtual card on my phone that isn’t tied to a physical card and that’s easier to manage than my old-fashioned card from my old-fashioned bank. So I’m a little tempted to sign up for the Apple Card on my phone (and opt out of the physical titanium card). There’s a fairly thorough review of the card at iMore. It sounds pretty good, to be honest. I’m still not convinced though. I’ve checked, and it looks like you can’t download the card activity into Quicken, so that’s probably the deal-breaker for me.

a new owner for Quicken

I’ve been using Quicken since the early nineties, I think, originally using the DOS version. I’ve been tempted to switch to something else quite often, but I keep sticking with Quicken. Intuit announced a while ago that they wanted to sell off Quicken, and they just announced that they’ve found a buyer.

I was expecting the buyer to be an existing software company or financial company, but instead it’s a private equity company I’ve never heard of. I guess that could be a good thing. If it had been bought out by a financial company, they would likely have used it to push their own services and cut back on compatibility with competing financial institutions. And, now that I think of it, there really aren’t any existing software companies where it would have made sense for them to buy Quicken. Maybe Microsoft, but there’s a lot of history there, which eventually resulted in Microsoft giving up on their own MS Money software and exiting that niche, so I could see where they wouldn’t want to dive back into personal finance software.

So I guess I’ll keep using Quicken for the time being, and see what the new owner does with them. I’m not too optimistic, but I’ll give it a chance. (Especially since I only recently upgraded to Quicken 2016.)

paperwork

I just spent the last couple of hours cleaning up old financial paperwork. So, if you’re not interested in that kind of thing, move along, nothing to see here, etc, etc.

I’ve blogged before about my continuing struggle to keep up with my Merrill Lynch accounts, in terms of entering the statements into Quicken. For quite a while, I’ve resisted letting Quicken download those accounts, since there tended to be some annoying little problems with that process. So, I kept manually entering them. Well, I fell off that bandwagon at the end of 2010, and had just been letting the statements pile up since. As David Allen would say, I’d gone numb to it.

I used to just have two accounts with Merrill — a catch-all account (called a CMA), and a Roth IRA. Well, now, I have the CMA, the Roth IRA, a traditional IRA (created when I rolled over the 401(k) from NMS), and an inherited IRA (from my Mom). So, that’s really too much to keep up with. Today, I decided to “clear the decks,” as it were, and get everything set up to download into Quicken. I started by shredding a bunch of old statements, from 2008-2010, that were in my filing cabinet. Then, I sorted out the big pile of 2011-2012 statements, and put them away, organized in a reasonable fashion, in the filing cabinet. Then, I set up all the accounts to download into Quicken. The result (in Quicken) is a little messy, but it all adds up correctly, and I guess that’s all I need.

My plan from this point forward is to open each statement as I get them, review it at a high level, then file it away. Meanwhile, the activity will get downloaded into Quicken any time I’m in there, balancing my checkbook, so that will be at least once a month.

I guess the main reason for this blog post is so that I can remember what I did, and when I did it, so that I can review things later in the year, and see if this system is working out. My main goal for this year is to actually look at the statements when I get them, so I can call Merrill if something is wrong, or if I need to change anything. Now that I won’t feel burdened by the need to do data entry every time I get a statement, hopefully I can avoid the temptation to just pile them up without looking at them!