Monday, January 28, 2008

Our insurance company dillemma


Heather and I have been faithful Erie Insurance customers for years. How many years? I am at over 10 years and Heather is at over 12 years. Neither of us have ever shopped around for another insurance carrier. With Erie, I have been in 3 accidents, none my fault. They fought for me against the likes of State Farm, Nationwide, and Allstate who wanted to give me non manufacturer parts...and always won. Why is this important to me? First, the company stood up for me. Second, after market parts are not tested for safety regardless of what those insurance companies try to claim. How can you prove that the after market bumper will stand up to the same crashes that the manufacturer's will? Where is that data? It does not exist.

Well, now to my dilemma. Heather and I got a "survey" from Erie with a letter that led us to believe they wanted to find out information about our usage to ensure that they were not overcharging us. So, we both read it and talked about it before sending the survey in. We thought the company was trying to save us money and having been customers for over 10 years, we trusted that. Well, less than 2 weeks later we got a new bill and new policy information saying they used the information in our policy to change the classification of one of our vehicles and increase our yearly cost $70 effective immediately. It so happens that we have two cars, one worth half the other according to Wake County and the Blue Book value. The one that is worth half is now costing us about 15% more per year. Hmmm...

I am not sure how we were expected to take this change. The way we did take it however was a betrayal of trust as the survey said nothing about automatically increasing our policy and allowing them to make more money. The other part of our dilemma is that we have 3 policies with Erie. Do we change them all? Do we keep Erie because of the good experiences in the past? Checking rates, we can save money using other insurance companies. But, I have had such a good experience with Erie...is that worth the money?

I called our Insurance Agent that I initially had found through referral of my agent in Pittsburgh on Thursday and am still waiting to hear back from them. I have referred over half a dozen people to this insurance agency since being in NC. If I change agents, I feel like I need to tell everyone I referred to them about this to. Its not the agents fault...but an insurance agent can be pulled down by the insurance company they represent.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Share your viewpoints


As I have been shopping for insurance companies which I'll blog about it later, I stumbled upon a cool site called Viewpoints. As one might guess, its a great consumer ratings site. I really liked the usability and readability of the site and became a member. The reviews were great, they even aggregate pros and cons at the top of each product page reviewed. This is one of those sites which can only be as good as the people participating, and they seem to have a lot of participation.

As for the insurance reviews, one of the few 5 star companies on their list was the company we currently use and have used for the past 10+ year...which increases my dilemma. More on that later. Until then, check out Viewpoints.com.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Krispy Kreme Challenge


I read this blog posting and just had to share it. Over 3,000 people did the Krispy Kreme Challenge Run today in downtown Raleigh. This is a 4 mile run broken up in the middle with eating 12 donuts. Runners that lose the donuts on the 2 miles after eating 12 donuts are disqualified.

The most amazing thing to me is the fact that this took one guy, Philip Curley, just over 31 minutes to run two miles, eat 12 donuts, and run another two miles. Let's assume that he was running a 6 minute mile pace, he plowed 12 donuts down in about 7 minutes. I might be able to eat 12 donuts in 7 minutes before I can run 4 miles at a 6 minute mile pace :-)

Some race stats quoted from the blog posting:


2,400 calories
4 miles
12 donuts
1 hour
In order, those numbers refer to: number of calories eaten, distance ran, number of glazed donuts consumed, time alloted to complete the challenge. Some other key stats from the race:
31:20 — Winning time, registered by Philip Curley
10 — No. of runners for the first Krispy Kreme Challenge, in 2005.
3,035 — Number of registered runners for this year's race.
$20,000 — Money raised by the event for the North Carolina Children's Hospital
36,420 — Number of donuts prepared for the event
144 — No. of grams of fat in a dozen donuts (more than twice the recommended daily allowance)
2 — No. of minutes it took Dylan Selinger, a sophomore majoring in business at N.C. State to eat his 12 donuts
12 — No. of plastic lined trash cans awaiting runners at the finish line

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mortgage system problems -- real mortgage rates

I am one of many who believe the mortgage system is flawed. However, I think it is fundamentally flawed for a reason that is not often talked about. I think that root of the flaw is the abstract way mortgages are funded. What do I mean? I mean that most of the mortgages are backed by bonds sold by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. These bonds typically determine the interest rates. According to some articles, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae account for providing the backing bonds for about 40% of the US housing market. Essentially, the lower the interest rate on these bonds sold, the lower the interest rate on the mortgages. If thats the case, why is there such a difference between the rates each lender shows?

1) Some lenders pay points (either through charging their customers or hiding them in fees) to lower the interest rate.
2) Some lenders are deceiving the public through the fine print. Who reads all 100 pages of mortgage documents when signing them anyway?
3) Some lender have higher rates to not deceive people but instead to make a profit themselves. If they have a slightly higher rate, they get more money.

But with all these different rates, how is a borrower supposed to know if he or she is getting a good deal or getting taken to the cleaners? One way they can know is to understand the system and look at the useful data provided by Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac provides a weekly survey of the actual average locked in mortgage rates and the points associated with those rates. If your mortgage rates being quoted don't fall close to this, read all the fine print. The farther they are away, the more chance that there is some funny business.

I guess I feel that the same way I did one year ago when I declared that lender laws need reworked. I feel that the mortgage broker should have the responsibility to do whats best for the client. This means they have to know what the client's financial goals are and what they can afford (maybe see a budget) before they offer up a mortgage for that client. If it didn't fit, they can be sued. Otherwise, how is the uninformed public who refuses to be informed going to not repeat our past mistakes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Establishing effective habits

The talk of the gym this week has been the fact that the gym was deserted...the New Year's Resolutionists were gone. One of the other guys at the gym suggested that the saddest thing was that many of them were so close to forming a true habit and that it takes 21 days to establish a habit. I thought that was interesting, only 21 days? That should help people survive a little longer. I found that 21 day claim on Google Answers.

This is useful information. Its useful if you are trying to get in the habit of exercising. Its useful if you are starting your journey to financial peace. But, this begs the question, if you know that something should be a habit 21 days later...do you get discouraged if its still difficult? I wonder..and with my new year's resolutions, I will try this out.

If you need to find some more habits to develop, I suggest the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Be Proactive, Begin with the End in mind, First Things First, Think Win Win, Seek First to Understand, Synergize, and Sharpen the Saw. I personally have never figured out how to Begin with the End in mind but put First things First. :-)

Two kids under the age of two?

Heather is entering her third trimester and even though Anna is growing up quickly, we will have two children 18 months apart. Every time I think this is going to be tough, Heather amazes me with how resilient, energetic and loving she is...even at 27 weeks pregnant. ;-) It it then I know that it is not that this will be difficult, but a fun adventure with the woman I love. Here is a picture of took of Heather putting Anna to bed last night.

Don't worry, I am not stuck in a euphoric state...I still think having two kids under the age of two is going to be a handful. But, Heather helps reaffirm that we can handle it. Also, everywhere we go and meet someone who has already been in that situation, they encourage us telling us that while its tough for a couple of years, its great afterwards. They tell us that the kids are best friends and they all live in some blissful. I am not counting on that...but I do hope our girls will be best friends. Beyond that, I am just holding on tight for the great adventure.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Refinancing

Heather and I have been considering refinancing our house but found that the fees of our current lender, HSBC were higher than we had though they would be ($2200). The first thing I did to see if refinancing made sense was to try the Bankrate.com refinancing calculator. Well, this calculator bases whether it makes sense on how much you would save on your monthly payment...not how much you pay monthly or when you will pay off you house and how much you will actually save. I thought this calculator was useful for someone planning to go to full term on their loan, but not someone that is looking to pay off the loan early. So, I had to go to Excel and adjust my amortization to change the rates, payment levels, and either have the new rate or the current rate plus $2200 paid immediately..plus calculate tax advantages of the different rates. What a pain, I may just have to write a web application to do this for people. In the end, $2200 paid immediately for us was a better fit rather than refinancing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Rice Pudding Dance

Tonight's installment of date nights with Daddy is about sharing desserts. Anna and I like to share snacks and desserts, and I am often more liberal with letting Anna try things like chocolate and ice cream than Heather...so we have fun. One thing Anna and I both like is rice pudding. I previously talked about the ice cream dance...well today I have a video of the rice pudding dance. The ice cream dance is slightly more excited than this...but this is exciting:
video

While I don't get quite as excited for rice pudding, my heart jumps in excitement for my little girl and those things which make her this happy :-)

Providence

I find the Gospel of Health and Wealth absolutely amazing. I understand that people want to believe that their situation is a direct result of their own actions, but completely ignoring other teachings in the bible to come up with this belief just seems odd to me. Look at Jesus's own life, he was beaten and crucified. Or Stephen, who was full of the Spirit and in sync with God when he was stoned. How does that align with Health and Wealth?

I think the most important thing that the H&W gospel have right is God's providence. That is, that God is sovereign over all events in our lives in history. One of the verses that the H&W Gospel hinges on is Romans 8:28. That is:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Does this mean that everything in your life has to be good for you? No! Look at Stephen, the best sermon preached by the new church was by Stephen in Acts 7 and he gets stoned for it. I have no doubt that this was for the good of all of God's people, but it doesn't mean that everything in life will be for your personal good. We can have faith in God's providence than we can know that any trials in our lives will be for the good of all of God's people. That's the heavenly perspective I am trying to ingrain in my life.

BTW, if you are looking for a great resource on the web for bible searching and studies, check out bible.crosswalk.com.

Movie Rentals....


Heather and I can be pretty frugal...but this entry isn't purely about the cost savings. See, we like to use Redbox to rent videos and watch them. This was an idea brewing for years but now is very very useful. We go to our neighborhood grocery store, Harris Teeter, which is about 1.5 miles away, and pick up the newer movie we want from a box slightly larger than a soda machine. It gets better, because we are able to make the decision which movie we want online and reserve it there..so we don't need to wonder if we can find something while in the store. Redbox charges us $1 + tax each day until we return it for a maximum of 20 times...after 20 days you own it. Its brilliant, and there rarely has been a time when i have thought my $1 was not well spent.

See, I have my own unique rating system. Its called, how much money would I have paid to see the movie in hindsight. Most movies I see come in at least $1..and with redbox I am paying $.50 per person...so I am always happy :-)

The sad thing is we can't see older movies or movies not on the mainstream. So, we do have to make the occasional trip to Blockbuster to pick up movies like Facing the Giants. But, thats probably twice a year max.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Anna's first airplane trip


Well, we just got back home from Anna's first trip on an airplane. Heather, Anna and I took a short trip up to see my sister in Connecticut. What I learned from this trip:

  • The time in the airport with Anna was the worst. We wanted her to run off some energy but she doesn't like to be told where she could go. I imagine this would make layovers particularly painful.

  • She did great in the airplane...and really likes fruit snacks and lollipops.

  • I have never been so happy to have 2 on-time flights. Great job American Airlines!

  • When possible, I will rent a car seat instead of traveling with one

  • It was smart not to rush off the plane. But, rushing on the plane wasn't a bad idea with limited overhead storage space on the little jet we were on.

  • Next time, I will were a shirt I don't care about becoming lollipop colored :-)

We have another airplane trip with her in 2 months...when heather will be 8 months pregnant. That will be interesting.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Time to refinance?


What should be good news to the ailing mortgage industry is that the talk of the office today was whether or not to refinance their homes for those that bought houses in the past 2.5 yrs. Bankrate.com has the going rate at 5.42% and our current lender and bank, HSBC, had a rate posted of 5.50% earlier this year. For those that would be waiting for lower rates like me, I suggest you try the bankrate alerts where you can specify the rate you want alerted at.

TurboTax discount


I have been a user of TurboTax online for about 7 years now and I would highly recommend it. Here is a 25% discount for anyone to use, whether you have a Fidelity Account or not. If you work for IBM and are reading this, you will find we get a slightly better discount (30% off) though.

Project Baby Review

I have decided that we haven't done enough reviewing the various baby stuff we have bought and used over the first year of Anna's life. So, as we start to pull out and reuse things with our next little girl, I want to try to write a detailed review of those items. I will tag them in my blog under Project Baby Review. :-)

For now, here are some reviews Heather has written over time:

Health and Safety
Bath time including Fisher Price Aquarium Tub and Huggies disposable wash cloths
Diapers including Pampers Swaddlers and Pampers Baby-Dry
Bumbo Seat
Aquarium Color Change Shade
Swimming Float

Travel
Chicco Cortina Travel System Stroller and Infant Car Seat
Baby Bjorn
Jeep Overland Limited Jogging Stroller
Floppy Seat
Evenflo Titan 5

Sleep
Crib including Safety Lift Wedge

Food and breastfeeding
Lily Padz
Hooter Hider or Bebe au Lait
Enfamil Lipil Forumla
Avent Bottle Trainer Sippy Cup

Toys
Playskool Busy Basics Busy Ball Popper
Graco Baby Einstein Discover and Play Entertainer Exersaucer
Fisher Price Rain Forest Jumperoo
Playskool's Discovery Dome


Ok, so maybe Heather did a better job than I thought. :-) Here are the things we absolutely have loved from the above list...several other things we have liked, but are not so excited about it such that we would tell a friend they had to get one :-)

  • Fisher Price Aquarium Tub

  • Floppy Seat

  • Lily Padz

  • Hooter Hider

  • Graco Baby Einstein Discover and Play Entertainer

  • Playskool's Discovery Dome

  • Safety Lift Wedge


And here is what we haven't liked and why:
  • Aquarium Color Change Shade - It didn't work. We replaced it with a simple Eddie Power pull down suction cup shade

  • Jeep Overland Limited Jogging Stroller - It is not good for walking as it doesn't turn very well...others have front wheels that turn or lock. With the new baby, we are replacing it with a BOB Revolution

  • Evenflo Titan 5 - This may be the most difficult to adjust 5 point harness on the market. We quickly replaced it with a Britax Roundabout we like much better



I will try to make some further reviews with our second baby insight as we start pulling that stuff out.

Taxes, Withholdings and Deductions

First, I should remind everyone that now is the best time to redo your withholdings on your W4. The best place to do this is the IRS Withholding Calculator. By recalculating your withholdings annually, you will help ensure that you are not giving the government an interest free loan AND that you will not owe money at the end of the year. If you are getting married or having a child this year, it counts for the entire year...so calculate it as such.

That said, there are some new rules in the IRS this year which have caused us a bit of a headache. Defined in IRS publication 526 for 2007, there are new rules about deductions and in particular what documentation must be needed. For cash contributions of any amount, you must have one of the following regardless of the amount you contribute:


1. A bank record that shows the name of the qualified
organization, the date of the contribution, and the
amount of the contribution. Bank records may include:
1. A canceled check,
2. A bank or credit union statement, or
3. A credit card statement.
2. A receipt (or a letter or other written
communication) from the qualified organization
showing the name of the organization, the date of the
contribution, and the amount of the contribution.
3. The payroll deduction records described next.

Since our bank doesn't make available to us our cancelled checks, we are stuck in limbo hoping the charities give us a receipt or we will have to figure out the check numbers and request them of the bank.

But the new rules don't stop there, they take special exception to any single contribution over $250. If you have five $50 contributions, that wouldn't count. But, a single $250 contribution has special rules. The rules are that the charity that you gave this $250 or more donation to must acknowledge that contribution and the acknowledgment must meet these tests:

1. It must be written.
2. It must include:
1. The amount of cash you contributed,
2. Whether the qualified organization gave you
any goods or services as a result of your
contribution (other than certain token items
and membership benefits),
3. A description and good faith estimate of the
value of any goods or services described in (b)
(other than intangible religious benefits), and
4. A statement that the only benefit you received
was an intangible religious benefit, if that was
the case. The acknowledgment does not need to
describe or estimate the value of an intangible
religious benefit. An intangible religious benefit
is a benefit that generally is not sold in
commercial transactions outside a donative (gift)
context. An example is admission to a religious
ceremony.
3. You must get it on or before the earlier of:
1. The date you file your return for the year you
make the contribution, or
2. The due date, including extensions, for filing
the return.

Overall, this makes it tougher on those of us who are contribute to various charities. In a given year, thanks to many queries for support, Heather and I may give to 15-20 charities. Now, we have to try to track down receipts, canceled checks, and acknowledgments for all of these contributions. Some contributions may be as low as $5-10. So, at some points I guess the government wins because people may not go through the hassle for deducting those small contributions.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New Year - New Blog

I am really trying harder to blog this New Year. And with that, I decided that I will try to make better use of the labels available...I even added the label bar off to the right. Let's see if I can keep it all straight :-)

The ice cream dance

Yesterday, we gave Anna ice cream for the second time...just so happens to be the second time in a week as well. We were at Jason's Deli celebrating our good friend Suzanne's birthday. For those not familiar with Jason's deli, they have a free soft serve ice cream machine. So, I got Anna a little bit of vanilla/chocolate twist in a bowl. As with all things, she took a very small taste first to see if she liked it. As with most things (I think she likes over 90% of what we give her), she loved it. But, she loved it more than most, so much that she felt the need to dance in her high chair. In between every bite of ice cream, she did a little dance. It was adorable.

A special shout out to The Twisted Fork where Anna had her first vanilla ice cream. Their kid's meal was a great deal with offering dessert instead of a drink and for a very good price. This is great because we normally bring Anna milk and either drink her drink or don't get it at all. We got an ice cream cookie sandwich, which gave both Heather and I a cookie with some ice cream on top and Anna her first taste of ice cream. I can't recall her doing the ice cream dance there though...which will be in my mind as pure happiness for a while.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tithing time

One of the key phrases that our pastors at Crossroads Fellowship here in Raleigh like to say is to "tithe your time, talents and treasures." I have been thinking about that a lot lately. It took me many years, but I am confident that we have the treasures pretty well understood. But, talents and time?


Let's think about time in a week. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and what is one-tenth of that? 16 hours and 48 minutes in a week. Woh! Maybe on the monthly level it would be better. One-tenth of 24 hours for 30 days? 72 hours! 3 days! Let's see, in a good month I can count an 8 hour day at Habitat, four small groups at 2 hours a piece...--struggling--...6 hours at church...maybe 30 minutes a day so thats another 15 hours. Totaling: 37 hours.

Well, now that I have another New Year's resolution to work on...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pregnancy confirms my Pro-life stance

I have heard a lot of arguments over the past about the fact that I am a male especially means I don't have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. And, I have never tried to disagree with those...but words my wife spoke last night have been echoing in my mind as the glaring reason to be pro-life when taking religion out of it. Here is roughly how the conversation went with my wife, Heather, who is 25 weeks pregnant:


Heather: -- painful sigh --
Erik: What's wrong?
Heather: Just the baby kicking.
Erik: Does it hurt?
Heather: It often doesn't hurt, but its just very unexpected. Not being able to prepare for the kick always causes a little reaction.

This conversation reminds me that the unborn baby has its own brain and moves itself. The woman is not able to control the baby like she can the rest of her body. Our baby girl is 25 weeks old...still the age that abortions are legal. But, from Heather's statements like this one, the baby obviously has a mind of its own. When we saw her on an ultrasound at 8 weeks, she was moving on her own and had a heartbeat that is unique from Heathers. She had her own body parts, heart, and movements.

I think having gone through the father side of now Heather's second pregnancy continually reiterates my belief that the unborn baby is a unique creation from God and it is our responsibility to protect him or her. I am not trying to tell the woman what to do with her body, but protecting the unborn baby's life. My religious beliefs further reiterate the sanctity of life.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The envelope system - Mvelopes.com


As I was reading through this Sunday's New and Observer, I stumbled upon a reference to Mvelopes in the Wall Street Journal Sunday section by Amy Hoak under an article entitled "Web Sites to Keep You on Budget." Interestingly enough, this is the method Heather and I were featured in the New and Observer for using. Amazingly enough, most of my colleagues and friends had no clue what the envelope system was and I heard more jokes than anything. In fact, my cube walls were covered in envelopes when I returned to work.
Envelopes as cube wallpaper
But, Amy in her article this morning didn't feel the need to expand on what the envelope system was...so I think it must be fairly cut and dry. She said, "[Mvelopes.com] is based on the envelope method of budgeting, which allocated funds by expense category."

Heather and I use Mvelopes and really enjoy it. We found it off of the Crown Ministries website. I think they have a one month trial, but its quite amazing. Even if, like Heather and I, you use a Credit Card for most of your purchases (hopefully with cash back or rewards)...you can easily allocate those expenses to the individual envelopes. I highly recommend checking it out.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I guess my candidate is...

Following other family bloggers lead, I tried this Candidate Calculator. Its a useful tool for people who don't have time to weed through each candidates position, which normally is made clear in a 14 page essay! At the bottom I left it Undecided so that it would not take my current preferences into account on anything but the issues. Here are my results:


Mike Huckabee - 74.00% match

Your Other Top Matches
California Representative Duncan Hunter (R) - 68.00%
Businessman John Cox (R) - 67.00%
Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo (R) - 66.00%

Middle of the Pack
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) - 61.00%
Arizona Senator John McCain (R) - 60.00%
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback (R) - 56.00%
Delaware Senator Joseph Biden (D) - 55.00%
New York Senator Hillary Clinton (D) - 54.00%
Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards (D) - 54.00%
Illinois Senator Barack Obama (D) - 53.00%
Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd (D) - 52.00%
Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich (D) - 50.00%
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) - 49.00%

Bottom of the Barrel
Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (D) - 47.00%
Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson (R) - 44.00%
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) - 41.00%
Texas Representative Ron Paul (R) - 33.00%


Party Results Republican - 53.24%
Democrat - 46.76%

I think the most amazing things to me were
1. 46.76% Democrat? Wow..I never have sided with a democrat in my 10 years of voting.
2. How low Giuliani, Thompson, and Paul were? 33% with Paul? thats crazy!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Working out? Whats your motivation?

In the packed gym (but numbers are already dwindling) this morning I overheard a conversation that really got me thinking...thinking enough to blog about it. The conversation went something like this:
Really Muscular Guy: "Good to see you at the gym this morning"
Groggy slightly overweight guy: "Yea"
Really Muscular Guy: "Whats your motivation?"
Groggy slightly overweight guy: "To lose weight"

So, this was at the start of my workout, about 5:45 AM. I had the rest of the workout, the time getting ready for work, and the commute into work to think about this question...about another 2 hours. You hear a lot that losing weight is the most popular New Year's resolution...to drop. So, why is that?

Judging from my personal experience over the past 5 years, I think the problem is one of motivation. If you goal is to lose weight, what happens when you have done that? Or what happens when you hit that first wall. Anyone could watch the Biggest Loser and tell you that everyone, even with personal trainers, will hit walls when trying to lose weight. If that is your only goal, I think you can plan on having that goal pop up on your radar every couple years for the rest of your life.

In my own personal life, I have jumped on and off the workout wagon about 6 times in the past 5 yrs. On my current track, I have been going at 5:30 AM every morning for the past 4 months. Its probably the second longest streak in my short life, the longest was solidly from April 2001 to about January 2002. I stopped after that 1.5 years because more of my time was being spent with my then bride-to-be and I wanted to keep her as number one in my life. Plus, with everything I had going on, it was the lowest priority and I guess I just no longer had the motivation.

I started up from time to time with the motivation of losing weight or getting in shape, with no real goals. Those typically failed from the start as I failed to establish a routine. When my daughter was born in October of 2006, I started to again thought about working out but couldn't fit it in the weekdays as I didn't want to lose what precious time I had with her. I mean, she is awake from 8 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM to 8 PM roughly...that means I only get about 5-8 PM with her if I am lucky and then the rest of the night with my wife!

But, this fall I found new motivation. I realized that the lifestyle I wanted for my new growing family was a lifestyle of fun activity. I didn't want to risk getting into a position where I was too out of shape to go hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, or biking with my family. I want my family to be a family of adventure and a family of activity, not one that watches a TV show together but one that explores God's great creation with one another. I want to be as healthy as possible so in the years I have with them, we can do these things with one another. There is my motivation, its all I need. I don't care what weight I am, I just want to be in shape to experience life with my family to the extreme. I don't want to be the man on the couch, I want to be this man:
Erik hiking with Anna on his back

Over this Christmas vacation I had, we were blessed to have my mother here for a bit. Together, we looked through thousands of pictures my father had scanned from slide format. With long time friends of my parents over one day after Christmas, we showed them some of the old pictures. They commented about how our family was the family always at parks, camping and hiking. I have many fond memories of camping with my family. Here are some from when I was 5 months old and my sister 4 yrs old...
Erik on his mom's back hiking at about 5 months old
Erik on his dad's back hiking at about 5 months old

I am motivated to have the same for my family. I want to be in the physical condition such that my children can experience that. There is my motivation for the new year.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Big shoes to fill

Anna is growing up quicker than I ever imagined could happen. Let's try to name some milestones...

  • The other night, she got her blankey and told Mommy that she was ready for bed
  • She climbs with ease up and down the stairs
  • She has a new room that looks older and more mature
Anna in new crib
  • She eats most everything we eat and eats out of things like raisin boxes with ease
  • She is starting to understand a lot more, we taught her things with ease like what a belly button is

Thankfully, tonight she did something that made me remember just how young she is...
Anna in Daddy's shoes

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sony DCR-HC28 review

I am a novice video guy, this is my first video camera. But, having a 1 yr old daughter and another on the way had me wanting a video camera. With some Best Buy gift cards given to us for Christmas, we decided it was a good time to take the plunge.

The Good

  • Very inexpensive. It was $225 on sale at Best Buy.
  • MiniDV is uncompressed and therefore pretty easy to edit.
  • Firewire to our Macbook is very fast and easy to use with iMovie.
  • Very Small and lightweight.
  • Image stabilization seems to work pretty well
  • Everything bad I read was about the sound, but I find it to be very clear.
  • It does a good job of managing different mini-clips in the playback system. Not sure what this is called, but it automatically resets the counter to 0:00 after each time we pull off the movie clips. this could be standard, but is really a nice feature.
  • Battery life seems to be great for what we use it for, a bunch of small 5 minute clips.
The Bad
  • No 16:9 mode...which all my TVs are widescreens.
  • On our MacBook and large LCD TV, these videos really start look amateur in full screen. Look fine on a youtube like interface.
  • Why is it the 4 pin firewire instead of 6 pin?
  • Firewire cable is expensive, ~ $30
  • Touchscreen controls are not that easy to use for me. My wife seems to hit the buttons with more easy.
  • Its very difficult to keep the camera steady at 20X zoom. Not sure I would ever use it or anything higher unless I bought a tripod.
  • The default zoom level seems to be too close. you can't take videos unless you can step back a good bit.
  • Using the tapes as storage is a bit kludgey in terms of rewind, play, etc.
The best thing about our camcorder is iMovie. So, its not so much the camcorder as the software which didn't come with the Sony but with our Macbook.

Overall, I might buy an HD version using flash memory if I were to do it again. That is, for small 5 minute clips to capture moments.