Thursday, November 18, 2010

Great photographer - great experience

This year's Christmas card will feature photos by the very talented Jessica Porter. I wanted to just sing her praises and recommend her for all of our friends who are looking for a local kid-friendly photographer who provides high quality digital pictures with the rights to those photos..which is the thing I was desiring months ago. Jessica also did a wonderful time with the kids and was able to get many quality shots of the girls. These aren't even the best pictures - we are saving those for the Christmas card. ;-)

Christmas Photo Session

Christmas Photo Session

Christmas Photo Session

Monday, October 11, 2010

Church change...

Just a quick not on one of the big things that have changed for us - we decided to leave our old church. This was very difficult for us to do. We have been at one church for over 8 years - members for the past 7 years. We met at this church. Our kids were dedicated at the church. We know many people in the church and we have a great small group. The church has a pretty open and agreeable** theological stance, good leadership, good children's ministries, and lots of great ministries which help so many people. The church gives over 60% of their collected giving to ministries locally and across the globe and is almost debt free so they can give even more. It is a great church and we were comfortable there.

Why are we leaving? Because we are convinced that the Holy Spirit has been urging us to consistently for the past 12 months and maybe as many as 4 years ago. What are we hearing? "Leave what is comfortable. Seek a smaller discipleship oriented church. Find ways to better serve Me. Look to magnify Me to those I place in your path. Avoid consumerism and don't settle."

We blindly followed that and decided to leave our church over labor day weekend not knowing where we would go. We stopped going to that church completely. We were able to look at over 50 churches thanks to how people have put their beliefs and sermons online these days. That was great but it still was a difficult decision. Through online searching, we were able to compare our beliefs (and theology), look at church vision, and listen to sermons very quickly - and through that process we narrowed our church selection down to 3 churches. We went to the first one who was the front runner and it was clear we were in the right place. That place is Harvest Bible Chapel North Raleigh.

Interested in hearing more about Harvest? Check out the 9.19.2010 sermhere about the vision of Harvest. My favorite sermon thus far has been Mike's sermon on 10.3.2010 around Mark 10.

** So long as you don't have strong convictions that one specific theology MUST be preached

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Credit Freezes for North Carolinians

Back in May of 2008, I was lamenting the fact that credit freezes would cost us $30/person or $120 for our family of 4. What I failed to notice last October was that our North Carolina General Assembly made the necessary changes to the Identity Theft Protection Act of 2005 in order to make it free online (with exceptions below) to get a credit freeze. Here is the page from the NC Department of Justice to explain what the advantages to getting a freeze are.

With freezes, thaws (temporary unfreezes), and removal being free...this seems like a no brainer. Before I was wondering if this is worth $120 for my family plus $10 every time I had to remove the freeze. Now, all those barriers have been removed. I can't believe it took me 10 months to learn of this.

Credit Freezes are always free for those over 62 years old, have been the victim of identity theft, or are the spouse of an identity theft victim. For the rest of us, here are the fees:

  • Place, Thaw, or Remove a Credit Freeze online: FREE
  • Place a Credit Freeze by phone or mail: up to $3
  • Thaw or Remove a Credit Freeze by phone or mail: FREE

Here is Clark Howard's guide to credit freezes with all the links to freeze your credit.

Here is the actual text from the actual law passed by the NC general assembly:

A consumer reporting agency shall not charge a fee to put a security freeze in place, remove a freeze, or lift a freeze pursuant to subsection (d) or (j) of this section, provided that any such request is made electronically. If a request to put a security freeze in place is made by telephone or by mail, a consumer reporting agency may charge a fee to a consumer not to exceed three dollars ($3.00), except that a consumer reporting agency may not charge any fee to a consumer over the age of 62, to a victim of identity theft who has submitted a copy of a valid investigative or incident report or complaint with a law enforcement agency about the unlawful use of the victim's identifying information by another person, or to the victim's spouse. A consumer reporting agency shall not charge an additional fee to a consumer who requests to temporarily lift for a specific period of time or to a specific third party, reinstate, or remove a security freeze.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Do credit cards steal from the poor and give to the rich?

Here is an interesting read for the day, the idea that credit cards steal from the rich and give to the poor. The idea is that everything nowadays has a built in uplift in the price to pay for the 2% credit card service fee. That amount is likely less than 2%. The idea is that the richest folks of those consumers paying that uplift have rewards cards; cash-back, airline mileage, points, etc.

Well, if the richest are getting back some of their uplifted price what are the poorest doing? According to these folks they are paying the uplifted prices with cash, debit cards, or maybe credit cards without rewards. If that is the case, they are paying the uplift without any reward.

Let's work an example. If the uplift at a given grocery store is 1%, for every $100 spent there $1 was set aside for the credit card processing. If the richest folks bought $50 of that and the poorest folks bought the other $50. $1 (2%) of the $50 the richest people spent goes to the credit processing company, $0.50 (1% uplift) was what the richest folks were charged and $0.75 (1.5%) of that will go back into the wallets of those richest folks. Meanwhile, the poorest people paid the $0.50 more than they should have since they didn't pay with credit cards. This means that $0.25 of the poorest people's money went into the richest people's pockets according the people that are bringing up this question.

So, if you agree this is what is happening what do you do? You realistically have two options, keep rewards cards or take a moral stand and drop the rewards card which causes you to pay to those that have rewards cards. The system is deeply established already which is part of the problem here.

I am thinking that maybe a good medium is to keep the rewards card and donate half of the rewards to charities which focus on lower income individuals.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Free Exercise Program - Fixing our drainage problem

For the past couple of years its been getting worse and worse and its finally on the top of my list of things to fix now that it is washing away our backyard. We have a major water drainage problem at my house.

Rewind 5 years ago when we bought the house. There were bushes lining the driveway and 2 big trees around the bottom of the driveway / bottom of the deck. After those bushes died and the trees were deemed dangerous to our home, we removed them around 3 years ago.

In the past 3 years now, the water draining off the driveway has watches away sod and soil. Now it is extending itself further into the backyard. Now its time to take action that I should have taken several years ago. Here is a picture the morning after a rain storm:
From the sidewalk into the backyard

As we have been evaluating options, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time during the big rain storm on Thursday to watch the water flow. I know where it flows and where it is a problem now. I was able to talk to a friend, Mike, who helps fix these problems and I think I now know how to do it. I have a ton of information about french drains, infiltration drains/basins, dry wells, tortuousity, and permeable pavers in my head. Now its time for action. Next weekend I think I will begin the big dig (assuming the phone, cable, and electric company marks their lines early in the week).

Now, who wants to join me and get some exercise?

Friday, July 30, 2010

In Debt? Dave Ramsey coming to Raleigh

If you are in debt or your are struggling to manage your finances, Dave Ramsey is coming to Raleigh for his Total Money Makeover event. Those who read this blog know that we follow the teachings as learned through Crown Financial Ministries. Dave's plan is an offshoot of that plan and his one size fits all plan is great for anyone struggling with debt or finances.

If you don't know how you will dig out of your mess or need a plan and encouragement to do so, please consider going....based on the many people I know who have gotten out of debt on Dave's plan - I think you will be blessed by it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Twist on daily cost of debt - the giving possibility

When thinking about how to chronicle life in the future, I decided to peruse the blogosphere for for debt free living blogs. I found this interesting blog not about living debt free (yet) but about achieving freedom from debt called Debt Free Adventures...which just so happened to be one of the site names I had thought of...

All that intro to bring you to an interesting blog that Matt wrote here entitled How Much Our Debt Costs where he records that his debt costs $37/day. This took me back to a comment by a friend that stated that he paid roughly $10,000 in interest and was able to get about $3200 back on that through state and local tax deductions. What that made me realize is that $10,000 in interest is about $27.40/day or $18.63/day if you count the money saved on taxes.

Whats amazing is that if you took that $10,000 you could sponsor 25 kids all year long, deduct the money on your taxes, and still have extra money in your pocket. Is anyone else amazed by that? Have you figured out how much your debt costs and what you would or could do with that? What else could you be doing with $25/day or whatever your daily cost of debt is?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Paying off your mortgage will lower your credit score

A while back I was researching what happens when you pay off your mortgage. One of the things I stumbled on was this helpful blog in which the author shares his experience that his FICO credit score went down based on paying off his mortgage:

I’m no FICO credit score expert, but my understanding is that the decrease occurred because I no longer have any installment loans. Apparently their algorithms aren’t smart enough to distinguish between people who’ve never had an installment loan and people who’ve had one, never made a late payment, and paid it off within the past month.

Is it that their algorithms aren't smart enough or are they working as designed? Dave Ramsey calls the FICO credit score two things:
The I Love Debt Score

The "I've been kissing the bank's butt on a regular basis" score

That's right, its probably working as designed. Someone who pays off their mortgage isn't as good as someone who will pay interest on debt consistently to a bank. Its common sense and business wise for the bank. But how should consumers react?

I am writing this quick blog because I think people should know about this and be outraged. We should be outraged because your credit score is being used for other things while the algorithm is written for the bank's customer evaluation purposes. That is the most outrageous part of this. Insurance companies and (reportedly) some employers will look at it to determine the risk of an individual. The good news is that some insurance agencies don't use the raw credit score. From my insurance company's website on "insurance scoring":

How does an insurance score differ from a financial credit score?
When evaluating a person’s credit information to determine an insurance score, an insurer only considers those items from credit reports that are relevant to insurance loss potential. Both an insurance score and a credit score are derived from the same thing: a credit report; but they are distinctly different.

The main difference between an insurance score and a credit score is that insurance scores do not take into account a consumer’s income. Unlike a mortgage company, an insurance company is not assessing a customer’s credit-worthiness and therefore doesn’t consider income. Instead, an insurance company only considers those items on a credit report that will indicate future loss potential.

We recognize that people sometimes face difficult circumstances in their lives such as job loss, medical bills or divorce. When we consider an applicant’s insurance score, an isolated instance of a late payment will not have a significant impact on your eligibility. We are looking at long-term patterns and overall responsible use of credit.

Similarly, applicants who use cash for purchases or who don’t have established credit will not be scored negatively.

We should demand anyone aside from banks never use the credit score. If they use the credit report, so be it. But Should paying off your house make you more risky to insurance companies or employers? No! The only reason paying off you house makes you more risky is that you can, to a certain extent, do more of what you please. ;-)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Millennial Generation Equivalent to Mortgage Burning Parties

I've been thinking about what is the Millennial generation's (born in the 1977-1982 and beyond range) equivalent to a mortgage burning party. As I did research, I found this informative blog summarizing the tradition of mortgage burning parties in the past (with quotes from the LA Times) and why that is being lost through generations. But, people are still asking for good ways to celebrate being rid of their mortgage. So, if the articles are right and many of the Boomer and Generation X generations will never lose their debt, will the Millennial generation be any different?

I tend to be an optimist but the Millennial generation seems to be in a bad debt position as of now. This article from the Futurist says:

Debt levels for the Millennial Generation are totally out of control. Before many Millennials even reach the age of 25, they’ve racked up enough debt to equal all their income for the next five or ten years, and it will take nearly a lifetime to pay off. So much for going to college to get ahead.

If that is the case, will they ever get to the point where they pay off their mortgages? Optimistically, I see this generation as people that are anti-debt because many of them have been burdened by this large debt from a very young age. I think we are seeing more and more people that are anti-debt at 25. You can even see this in some of the new up and coming "online personalities" like Shaycarl(on right) are anti-debt. On the flip side, this generation has few people to look up to who have paid off their mortgages at young ages and maybe they won't even think that the mortgage is something to pay off.

For those like me who are anti-debt, I think this calls for a new way to celebrate paying off your mortgage to make sure people know it can be a cool accomplishment to paying off your mortgage. A mortgage burning party seems too easy. I am thinking of creating a model rocket out of the paperwork and launching it in a way that it will explode. Pretty sure that is illegal in North Carolina though, so I may have to travel to South Carolina where they let you launch anything. :-)

So the rocket idea may not work, but I am looking for other ideas. How do you think the Millennial Generation should celebrate paying off their mortgages? Is there something we can do which will be not boastful but help our peers know it is possible to pay off your mortgage and not just a dream that happens if you can stay in one place for 30 years?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to deal with your email being hijacked

Last night I received an email question from a financial advisor. Heather asked me if I planned to fill it out and email it back to which I responded no, public email like gmail isn't secure. Little did I know I would wake up and experience that first hand. This morning I started at the gym around 5 AM and got back home about 6:10 AM. I sat down an cracked open my laptop a little while later to see over a hundred unread messages bounced emails.

I quickly realized my email address was being hijacked. The first thing I needed to figure out was whether someone was spoofing my email address (think of it as someone putting the return address on an envelope to be your address rather than their address) or had they hijacked my gmail account. I looked and saw familiar addresses being bounced back to me, letting me know that someone had hijacked my account specifically.

Within 5 minutes after figuring this out I had locked them out of my account, 14 minutes since they began. They sent hundreds of emails in that time but I don't think they would have had the time to reset my banking passwords or other important information. What I realized was that I should write a simple guide to how to lock out the hijackers for my friends and family since this is happening with increasing regularity.

Here is what to do if you suspect your Gmail is being hijacked:

1. Immediately change your password. Go to and change your password. This locks out most basic scripts (thanks to the lack of Cookie support) or anyone using POP/IMAP. Don't spend a lot of time thinking of a new password, use your old password with a number at the end or your address. You can make a stronger password later - right now you are just trying to stop the script.

2. Next, check and see if you need to log anyone out. To do that, go to bottom of your email and click on the details of the last account activity:

You will see a popup with a button at the top that says Sign out all other sessions. Click that immediately.

You can see the China address which was my hijacker. The emails stopped once I changed my password which means he probably was running a script of some sort but I clicked Sign out all other sessions to make sure.

3. Check your Gmail settings for changes. My hijacker set my vacation responder to respond to every email with some message.

4. Check your machine for spyware. They may have gotten your password through spyware. Also, check the URLs you log in to your email through to make sure they didn't do some URL hijacking which allowed them to capture your password.

Update 7/13/2010 11:30 AM: Google's help page on suspicious activity itself lists some spyware checkers.

5. Finally, change your password to something strong again. Log out, and log back in.

So, how can the hijackers get to your email? Here are a couple of ways:

1. Packet sniffing - we often send our google passwords over http (not https) which means that they are essentially in the clear for people to see as they pass over the internet. They may also try to grab your cookie and make it look like they are you through packet sniffing.

2. Bad web page exploits. This could be what they call cross site scripting (XSS) or any number of other attacks to steal your password.

3. Spyware. Spyware on your machine can capture keystrokes or packets.

4. Other sites that store your Gmail password get hacked and lose your data.

5. Gmail exploits (doubtful). If there was some exposure on Google's servers, they could use this to log in.

6. Password crackers (even more doubtful). Only really works in movies :-)

Update: 7/13/2010 11:30 AM
Four hours later, Google notified me that I had suspicious activity on my Gmail. I am glad they caught it even if it was 4 hours after I had caught it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

will drive to talk

I am writing this real quick while in the parking lot of kid's exchange, a big local consignment deal, waiting for heather to drop off some clothes she is selling. I am sitting in the parking lot because the 35 mins it took us to drive down here was valuable time where Heather and I could actually talk. So, I will take a long car ride with her merely to have the opportunity to talk to her longer. Anyone else experience this?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bush tax cuts expiring will affect you!

This (shouldn't be) just in - Bush's tax cuts put more money in your pocket! Based on the normal readers of my blog, this is a fairly safe statement to make. These tax cuts expiring will mean you will be paying more money to the federal government. I have said this to many people and people continually had accused me of being far right or fear mongering - but you can read a good in depth article here at Yahoo! Finance courtesy of the Wall Street Journal's SmartMoney. Here are some of the top ways you will be paying more, quotes from the aforementioned article when possible:

1) Higher tax brackets for all. "The current six rate brackets of 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% will be replaced by five new brackets with the higher rates of 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6%." Your first dollars will be taxed at a higher bracket. You can see the tax brackets here at MoneyChimp. The 10% tax brackets currently covers the first $8375 for singles and $16750 for married filing jointly. Thats immediately another $400 for single and $800 for married couples just for the first tax bracket.

2) Higher capital gains and dividend taxes. "Right now, the maximum federal rate on long-term capital gains and dividends is only 15%. Starting next year, the maximum rate on long-term gains will increase to 20%. The maximum rate on dividends will skyrocket to 39.6%." "Right now, an unbeatable 0% rate applies to long-term gains and dividends collected by folks in lowest two rate brackets of 10% and 15%. Starting next year, those folks will pay 10% on long-term gains and 15% and 28% on dividends (compared with 0% now) unless a change is made. "

3) The end of many more specific fixes to the tax code. The marriage penalty comes back. Itemized deductions and personal exemptions. begin to be phased out again for higher income individuals. You can check out the article for more specifics.

I hope this helps you understand better that we all used to benefit from these tax breaks and losing them will hit all of our wallets. I hope that it doesn't affect YOUR budget too much!

Siblings and best friends?

My sister is one of my closest friends which is odd considering we are four years apart and haven't lived near one another in over 15 years. For years I had wished we were closer in age so that (I thought) we could be better friends. Realistically what that means is I had an (possibly unrealistic) expectation that we could have kids very close in age who would be best friends. I pictured them skipping through the grassy meadow on a nice sunny day....


Our girls often are 18 months apart and close friends and have yet to act as bitter enemies at any point. They help each other in life. Madelyn is Anna's security - Anna is comfortable often so long as her sister is near. Anna is Madelyn's teacher and sometimes her second mommy - Madelyn learns from Anna and is comforted by Anna. That why I love this picture we snapped of them yesterday (that I altered above) - it shows the fun they have together even when just posing for pictures for their daddy. My prayer is that this is how it will always be.

Gumball Dresses

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Planning for your worst moments

Seven years ago when Heather and I got married, we were two independent people trying to learn to live together. Today, we work together in a much different way. When I am rash, she is well thought out. When I am disorganized, she has a checklist. When I am tactless, she is graceful. When I am arrogant, she humbles me ;-). It doesn't always work this way, some times she is rash (maybe twice in our marriage) and I am well thought out. She is my compliment and we are dependent on one another's natural talents and abilities now.

I found myself uttering a similar pitch recently when talking to a friend about estate planning. If you are in any way like me, estate planning is crucial because if anything happens to your spouse you will be out of alignment. A Heather-less Erik would be lost in so many ways. Many of those ways, Heather is the only one who knows. For example, Heather is the bill payer in the household. Do I even know how or when I am supposed to pay which bills? If you aren't the bill payer, do you know? But, I worry more about an Erik-less Heather. I want to make sure this woman I love so much is okay and taken care of. How do I do that?

A lot of people don't even know where to start with estate planning. Most people believe that some life insurance is enough estate planning. Others go further but stop at a will. The reason I write this is that its not enough. You should have all the information your spouse would need should you pass away. Account numbers, passwords, budgets, bill payment schedules, life insurance, health care information - anything that your spouse can need. Then, if you both have put that information together, look at it and see if it is enough for the person you willed you children and/or possessions to if something happens to both of you. Put it all in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box. Update it (this is where we have failed) yearly.

I can't state how important estate planning is. Your death will be the worst moments of your spouses life. If you and your spouse die, it may be the worst moments of your child's life. A little bit of planning can make those more bearable.

There are many biblical references to estate planning. Perhaps first mentioned here in Genesis 25:5-6 where Abraham had prepared his estate:

5 Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. 6 But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.

James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

1 Timothy 5:8
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

I also found this to be an interesting article on biblical estate planning.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Inspirational Art - beyond Hallmark

I was looking for an inspirational picture and I decided I would start with a simple Google search. What I found was an awesome story about a woman, Julie Chen, who is a stay at home mom and makes some art that I just absolutely love. I first stumbled upon Julie's Etsy store, Life Verse Design. For those that don't know Etsy, think of it as a massive consignment store on the web. They allow people to sell their homemade, vintage, and unique gifts to the world through the Etsy store.

I immediately loved Julie's art and thought I would do some more research before I bought it. I then stumbled on to her blog, which tells much more of the story of this inspirational stay at home mom that first created her art as an act of worship, found her way to selling a couple designs as a church craft show, started an etsy store in 2008, and now has her own line of DEMDACO art. DEMDACO is the brand that sells the very popular Willow Tree Collection that you will find at many small eclectic stores and Hallmarks around the country.

After finding that no where in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for you outsiders) area sells Julie's DEMDACO Collection AND she didn't have my favorite pieces in DEMDACO yet, I decided to buy some prints from her Etsy store and frame them for now. After I bought them I had the unique experience of emailing back and forth with Julie who is obviously a wonderful and genuine woman who is passionate about her art and very friendly as well. Please go and check out her collection and support Julie Chen's art.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Beyond tithing - sharing God's blessings

I have been thinking and praying about what it means to be a good steward of our money and share the abundant blessings we have been given. I have a heart for giving and have read many things on the subject. If you are ever looking for giving and tithing articles, Crown financial ministries has a great set.

Beyond the tithe, we should still be looking to sharing God's blessing. Here are some verses I have been spending time reviewing regarding what it means to share our blessings and what are we called to do. Here are some of the verses I have come up with:

Luke 16:9
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Matthew 25:34-40
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'LORD, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Luke 12:22-34
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 14:12
12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

From those passages I get that its not only in obedience that we give our first tithe back to God but that we view the rest, the remaining 90%, as money he has blessed us with that should also bless others. We should take these blessings and use them to help others which are things with eternal consequences often instead of things which are of short consequence. I don't have many other brilliant revelations yet, but I'll finish this by paraphrasing part of Matthew Henry's commentary on Luke 16:9 which I found insightful:

Our Lord Jesus here exhorts us to provide for our comfortable reception to the happiness of another world, by making good use of our possessions and enjoyments in this world. [...] It is the wisdom of the men of this world so to manage their money as that they may have the benefit of it hereafter, and not for the present only; therefore they put it out to interest, buy land with it, put it into this or the other fund. Now we should learn of them to make use of our money so as that we may be the better for it hereafter in another world, as they do in hopes to be the better for it hereafter in this world; so cast it upon the waters as that we may find it again after many days, Eccl. 11:1. And in our case, though whatever we have are our Lord’s goods, yet, as long as we dispose of them among our Lord’s tenants and for their advantage, it is so far from being reckoned a wrong to our Lord, that it is a duty to him as well as policy for ourselves.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Blueberry Picking at Herndon Hills Farm

Yesterday we had a fabulous time blueberry picking at Herndon Hills Farm in Durham, NC less than a mile from Southpoint mall. I should start by saying I had no idea there were local places to blueberry pick in NC. About 2 weeks ago, Anna began asking if we could go blueberry picking. On Friday, I happened to ask one of the ladies at the gym what she was up to this weekend and she said she was going blueberry picking. Needless to say, we were in and actually even saw her there.

First, why did Anna want to go blueberry picking? It has everything to do with a book called Blueberries for Sal. Anna and I read it often.
Blueberry Picking
Once we got there, we got a couple of buckets with bags in them. The farm had both blueberries and blackberries to pick. I was told they had like 4 types of blueberry bushes there you could pick from. Also, several websites indicated that Herndon Hills is an organic farm but I didn't confirm. Both blueberries and blackberries cost $2.75/lb there.

Anna enjoyed picking them and nibbling on a few herself.
Blueberry Picking

Madelyn (2 years, 2 months old) immediately understand how to select which blueberries to pick and really was wonderful at it.
Blueberry Picking

In the end, we spent 40 minutes and had less than 2 lbs of blueberries and blackberries. It takes as long to pick a blueberry as it does a strawberry - and you need a lot more blueberries. It was a great time.

Digital Photographers for the Millennial Generation

In the past couple of weeks I have realized how much the photography industry must be hurting. Cameras are getting cheaper and through easy editing and the ability to take hundreds of pictures without consequence, people are starting to question the need for photographers. I think this should cause photographers to rethink their business but it doesn't seem to be actually happening. I think as my generation becomes a higher percentage of the buyers that photographers will be forced to change or become like travel agents, a very niche profession which is tough to make a living off of.

When I was born, my family was having photos captured as slides and slowly moved to prints. About five years ago, my father embarked on an adventure to scan all the important family photos when he realized that digital photos were what he needed to pass down to his children. While we and many others have prints around the house, its the digital photos which are the real high value items that we want to keep around. So, how does a photographer that hopes to make his/her money off prints and doesn't sell digital photos hope to make money when myself and my friends put their long term value in digital photos and not prints?

I was confronted with this recently when my wife won a family photo session from a local photographer. Afterwards, we asked simply how much it would cost for some of the photos as digital prints and they stated that they were not for sale as digital prints. To put it bluntly, this was preposterous to me. The only thing that has real long term value to me is the digital photos and, if they don't share my strong convictions about copyright protection, all their customers will scan the photos they sell them to digitize them. Prints have little to no value to me and in the end they received a lot less money then I would have been willing to spend because of this absurd position.

Having thought about this a bit, I did some research into what other photographers are doing. Here is a good blog about a new pricing model for digital photos where the photographer charges per photo he sells, relying on his skills to make attractive photos that his audience will want to purchase. He also points out in the comments that another variant of this which relies less on choosing the right clientele is to charge an up front fee and include some number of digital photos in that up front fee. That up front fee would then guarantee that the photographer is compensated for their time.

I think this latter model, paying for the photo session but receiving all digital photos, is a reasonable model and it is what I will demand out of any photographer I pay in the future. I see no reason to pay extraordinary amounts for prints which I view as having a limited lifetime. Based on conversation with many friends, I feel that many people in my generation feel the same way. If I understand my generation at all, photographers may need to change how they make their money and assume they will be selling the digital rights to photos rather than prints.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nags Head Beach Trip

Last week we went on a beautiful vacation to the Outer Banks, Nags Head NC. We stayed at La Tortuga, a Village Realty managed home near MP 14. While I would highly recommend the management company (who was extremely responsive to AC problems and cable problems), I wouldn't recommend the house for everyone. La Tortuga (I learned it meant the turtle in Spanish) was a nice and large home but had an extremely unusable kitchen and also was next to public beach access. If you are a light sleeper, the 2 AM visitors via the public beach access could wake you up. Also, if at any time you expect to have more than 2 people in the kitchen - think again. The kitchen barely can contain 2 people let alone 2 people actually cooking. Other than that, the house was wonderful. Even though it was oceanfront, we found out how nice an ocean front pool was when the sand was almost too hot to walk on and with all the little ones (2 mo, 1 yo, 2 yo, 3 yo, 8yo) at the house.

Nags Head
Nags Head

Because of the kitchen constraints, we ate a lot of meals out as Heather wrote about. I am going to categorize the meals the whole family had into three categories, best of the beach, good, and served its purpose...

Best of the beach:
Black Pelican (tried eat in only - tuna bites were excellent)
Mama Kwans (had both takeout and eat in - fish tacos were great even as takeout)
Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe (had both takeout and eat in - crab cakes, buffalo popcorn shrimp, tuna, and soft shelled crabs were top notch)
Austin's seafood market (Great take out and market. The only bad thing was the crab cakes had ham in them)
American Pie for ice cream (chocolate and butter pecan were hits)
Duck Donuts (made to order donuts? IMO better than Krispy Kreme)
Front Porch Cafe for coffee

Awful Arthur's (take out - oysters didn't stay crisp with takeout but flounder was A+)
Adrianna's Restaurant in Manteo (Great fresh food, not kid friendly)
Blue Point in Duck (Great Food, Not kid friendly, small menu)
Takeo Japanese for Sushi (take out and eat in - good but not anything to write home about)

Served its purpose (not going out of way to get there)
Kill Devil's for frozen custard (Goodberry's has set much higher expectations for us)
American Pie for pizza/subs (they should stick to ice cream ;-) )
Capt'n Franks (expensive oscar mayer hot dogs)
Owen's (Despite raves about their crabcakes, everyone at our table thought they were horrible)
Big Al's Soda Shop in Manteo (burgers, sandwiches, like you would expect...)
Dune's (breakfast buffet not very exciting)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Choosing family over career?

"Its impossible to find examples of people who have chosen their families over a career that was taking off," one of my friends recently lamented, "but perhaps thats just a statement of how our parent's generation choices."

Father's Day is coming up and I try to reflect on what type of father I have been during this time. It just so happens I have had several conversations relating to the work versus family tension in life. The above conversation happened a couple weekends ago. Impossible is not the word I would have chosen but it is the word that was used. It certainly can be difficult to find people who have stopped mid take off in order to be with their families more often or be with their kids as they grew up. What it had me wondering was whether it was "impossible" to find or if these people were hidden because no one was making an example out of them. Magazines and web sites are dedicated to those with success as defined by our American society and are not dedicated to those who spend the most time with their families. However, in an age with high divorce rates, heavily medicated children, and record childhood obesity from inactivity - maybe we need to define success in a different way.

"When I leave IBM it will be because of my family," an IBM executive told me a week ago, "not because of money or the promise of a more powerful position."

What does it mean to pick your family over your career truly? I know a couple of IBM executives who have made potentially career limiting decisions to keep from moving their families or to move their families near their extended family. However, there are fewer examples of people who tossed their careers out the window. Few of these folks who have dropped travel next to nothing and protect their nights and weekends for their kids. Its this latter definition that my friend and I were looking for during our discussion. What does it look like to truly choose your family over your career?

"I'm retiring from software on June 18th to relax and spend more time with my family," wrote an IBM Distinguished Engineer last night in an email to myself and others.

I am not sure of the situation above, but based on that statement that individual could be a candidate for an example of this decision. I currently am not an example of this either. I try to minimize travel and I start my days at 5 AM in order to get to the gym and be done with work at a reasonable time in the evening. While those things are probably evidence that I care about my family, they are not evidence of me choosing my family over my career in my opinion. That's a tough thing to admit with father's day around the corner.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A lot to like about working at IBM

I think in most workplaces, people tend to focus on the negatives of their work environment especially when things are hard economically. I found myself being asked a lot recently about what it is like working for IBM or why I like working for IBM. I think we need to focus on some of the good things and, for this reason, I felt the need to list some of the benefits to working as a software engineer where I work, at IBM. Caution: The views below are my own and do not represent my employers

1. Water cooler time. This varies depending on your position in IBM, but for the organizations I have been a part of this is a benefit which is extremely valuable and would be tough to adjust to something different. At IBM, the expectation is that you will get your work done - whether it takes 40 or 60 hours. Checking your personal email, facebook, youtube, instant messaging, blogging, etc is allowable during this time as long as you get your work done. While people will complain that other employers are a more strictly 40 hours, I hear that most of those employers are also more strict about people being heads down working during those 40 hours and those 40 hours are typically on a more rigid schedule.

2. Flexible schedule. If you need to get home early, go to the doctor's, run an errand, or whatever - just as long as you get your work done its no big deal. IBM used to call this part of their work life balance (work life integration now) initiative. Here is a snippet on that initiative:

Today, the interactions of a global workforce—with 24/7 activity spanning the world’s time zones and accommodating a range of local holidays—require a far more flexible environment. Flexibility matters just as much to individuals. Our 2007 Global Work/Life Survey confirms that as IBMers’ flexibility increases, their difficulty in balancing work and personal life decreases. And we’ve also learned that flexibility is a key reason people choose to remain at IBM. So we are innovating again. IBMers now have a range of flexible work options, called Flexibility@Work, enabling them to create the lives they want by devising individual work schedules and integrating their professional and personal responsibilities. Our Global Work/Life Fund provides IBMers’ families with resources such as day care, elder care and summer camps. We’re doing more to enable IBMers to find new assignments with fresh challenges.

3. Opportunities. IBM is not only a company with 400,000 employees worldwide, it is also a company with enough projects for 400,000 employees. If you are a motivated individual looking for challenges and new learning opportunities, there are few companies with the number of different opportunities that we have as IBMers. While mobility within the company can be a little more restricted during times of economic trouble, IBM still offers more opportunities than most companies.

4. Cultural diversity. The product I used to work on, called WebSphere Application Server, had over 10 development groups in 6 countries at one point. The opportunity to work with people across the world is a mind opening experience that you get at few other places. Sure, many companies are "international" but often being "international" means they have 5 sales people in Europe rather than having a development team spanning the globe. At one point, I had the holiday schedule of three countries on my calendar which alone is a learning opportunity.

5. Compensation. IBM has a great set of benefits and is very competitive when it comes to base salary. The 401k starts employees today at dollar for dollar matching for the first 6% of their money. Every year we have a bonus opportunity as engineers called Growth Driven Profit-sharing or GDP for short. IBM rewards engineers for the patent applications they file and the issued patents they receive. Also, IBM gives out a fair number of cash and stock based awards, more when the economy is strong obviously. Overall, IBM is a great compensator and tough to comparable compensation for the same job in the same city.

6. Time off. IBM starts its employees with 3 weeks paid time off plus 12 holidays, 4 of which become "personal choice holidays" in the group I work at in Raleigh. That essentially if 4 weeks off as a starting employee. At ten years, which i hit this year, you get another week off. When a lot of employers start at 2 weeks plus some holidays this ends up being an additional two weeks off. Official external text on time off is here.

7. Life support. As a large company, IBM has many programs that we take for granted. We get discounts on cars, TVs, mobile phones, computers, vacations, and more. IBM helps families with adoption and education expenses. They give employees life insurance, short term disability, and inexpensive long term care options. Leave for education, paternity, maternity, and other life events are also baked into their employee well being plans. Oh yea, and reasonable medical, dental, and vision - especially when I compare it to what my friends pay for similar plans in the area.

There are more benefits than those listed but off the top of my head, this is what I could think of. We need to spend some more time thinking about all these great benefits rather than focusing on the stuff that bothers us. Thoughts?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Happy Anniversary Heather

I find that this is a special anniversary for Heather and I. Its not because I am away on our anniversary for the first time :-( or because seven years is some magical number - I think its because we are really clicking in line with each other and we are able to really communicate better than we have before.

Here is a picture of a very lucky guy almost exactly 7 years ago.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Life in the fast lane

Sometimes you have to get in the slow lane to realize how fast you were driving in the fast lane. This week was a big week for me as my new job in IBM was announced. I had spent most of the last eight years working on a product called WebSphere Application Server. In the last 6 months or so, I have been working both that job and a new job in acquisitions which led to my new role as integration architect for one of our new acquisitions. Not only that, but I had been working closely with 2 other growth projects (not acquisitions) in a business development sort of role. What I didn't realize until this week is how fast I had been going trying to keep up with what was essentially four jobs.

On Monday this week they announced my new job - which essentially meant I could transition my old job plus a significant part of my two other part time jobs away to other people. I had the opportunity to spend much of the week catching up and engaging fully on my new job. This may not have been a move fully into the slow lane, but certainly slower which allowed me to sit back and see how fast I had been traveling. By Wednesday I began to realize how burned out I really felt and started to look forward to a long three day weekend.

I think what bothers me the most is that I spent numerous weekends and vacations without ever realizing how fast I was traveling which makes me realize I wasn't really stepping back far enough from work to see how much I was doing. Work crept into my thoughts while in the gym, on the beach, and playing in the backyard with my family. I need to spend this weekend not only enjoying my friends and family but separating work out of my life a bit. But, I need some help and suggestions if anyone else has been in a similar situation and knows better how to gauge where they are at.

Have you been in the fast lane and not known it? How do you make sure this doesn't happen in your life?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Slow down!

In the past two days, we have a great video of Anna and a great picture of Madelyn that I think should be shown:

First, here is a picture of Madelyn from yesterday. She now puts her arms together and shows you her pouty face on demand. This is normally immediately followed by giggles. She is adorable and has lots of personality, as you can clearly see in this picture.

Madelyn's pouty face

First, here is a picture of Anna riding her new bike. Heather chronicled her new bike find this past weekend on her blog

The squeaking is Madelyn's tricycle behind Anna. The amusing thing to me is at the very end you hear me say slow down to Anna. And I think I mean girls are growing up too fast. I don't think you realize how this can be when the first 6 months you are partially waiting for them to do something. Then, before you know it, they are walking, talking, going to school, everything.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Decisions at the Crossroads

On the TV show Flash Forward, they have been struggling with whether the universe balances itself out and always ends up on the same path regardless of whether certain decisions change the path for which we get there. When one of the characters Olivia decided to go to one college rather than another, she ended up marrying Mark instead of Lloyd. But, according to the TV show lately, ultimately Olivia and Lloyd are together. Every path chosen ends up at the same major end.

This is a deep matter which could involve huge philosophical, scientific, and religious debate. Certainly there is evidence of this in my own life, for example, with how my wife Heather and I got together. I had several "opportunities" to move to North Carolina before I did. We also vacationed in the same city, Virginia Beach, each as children. For someone from North Carolina and Pennsylvania to have the same yearly vacation spot is certainly very convenient. When we finally did meet, we fell in love very quickly and now have been married almost 7 years.

I believe life is a continual series of crossroads, where we continue to make decisions which affect the path which we travel. Some of the crossroads can radically alter the path with which we were headed. Others can do so in a much more subtle manner. Whether or not the end destinations truly changes is a source of continual debate for centuries, but I believe the destination is already drawn for us.

In the past few years I have seen several of my friends make the minor and major life altering decisions. My friend Drew decided several years ago to leave IBM and enlist in the army. It was, of course, a radical change in direction. If he had decided at that crossroads to stay with IBM or even change jobs, it would have been slightly less dramatic of a change. Another friend, John, recently came to a major decision point and decided to move from rural Minnesota to New York City and change jobs. Another major decision at the crossroads. These are huge life changing decisions but its interesting to note that the other choice each of them had was to plod forward on their current direction. Even if they continue on their current direction, those decision makers are at the crossroads nonetheless.

I see myself at the crossroads often and I see that now as much as any time. This month marks my 10th year at IBM (May 8), 8th year in Raleigh (May 22), the last month of my 7th year of marriage, and my 31st birthday. I feel as if this is a good time to check our family's direction and speed to see if we are heading in the right direction. Another factor in the equation is that we hope to pay off our house this year and with that comes some flexibility - what we choose to do with the education for our children, what investments we might make, and where we might give more of our time, talents and treasures. In the next year of my life, I feel that I will sit at many crossroads making decisions that will affect us even if the decision is to bear down and stay the course.

So, how do I make these decisions at a crossroads? I try to use my faith (although am far from perfect) and try to allow God to show me the way in these decisions. Some time ago I read this blog where the author laid out 5 steps to make good decisions for people who have faith in God based on Acts 16. Here is my adaptation that I go through.

  • Consider the circumstances and alternatives carefully - weigh the options and list pros and cons.
  • Conclude (make a decision) what you believe is a good course to go. This means 99% and not 100%. Pray until you reach near certainty.
  • Commit your way to the Lord in prayer. Invite Him to block the wrong way and open the right way. Prepare your heart for change if needed.
  • Try to go do it. Keep praying. Do not assume all roadblocks are from God but know that some may be. If you feel God putting up that roadblock, go back to prayer and if that continues, go back to step 1.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

With age comes...

Gray hair! Today is my birthday and its been a great day. Right now I am relaxing, catching up on some blogs and news online, and enjoying some quiet time by myself. As part of that, I looked at the last 2 years of my blog. I know its not a very active blog so if in fact you are reading this I should be thanking you for your interest. Thank you! But, as much as anything my blog is to chronicle life and what has happened. So I read the last couple years of my blog in addition to the last year of Heather's blog. So, what has happened over the past year?

On the home front, Anna turned 3, Madelyn turned 2, and Heather turned (gasp!) 30. Anna got a real bicycle today. Madelyn moved into a big girl bed. Anna and I were in Derick and Emily's wedding. Anna had semi-oraganized soccer. Madelyn got her first haircut. Both Maddie and Anna learned their letters and letter sounds. We had a couple snows in Raleigh. We travelled and explored - to Sea World Orlando, the NC Zoo, the NC Museum of Life Science (twice), Boone/Blowing Rock NC, Connecticut, Virginia Beach, and Ponte Vedra Florida.

On the work side, my team released the IBM WebSphere Communications Enabled Applications feature pack, an idea I had been working on for a couple of years before we released it. This was a piece of innovative work I really enjoyed working on. Also this past year I have been able to work on some cool new projects with partners. One of the partners I worked closely with was Akamai. This allowed me to take many enjoyable trips to Cambridge to work with very talented people and culminated in an initiative we call "Akamai Ready" software. I also have worked on several projects I can't yet talk about, everything from new organic projects to acquisitions.

On the spiritual side, I had a men's bible study I participated in end last summer and then recently Heather and I have started a small group at our church. We have 4 other great down-to-earth couples in our small group and have enjoyed meeting now for about 3 months. I do miss the weekly Friday morning bible study I was in and may have to look to replace that this fall.

As is usual, I took a day off around my birthday. My mom (aka Oma) flew in to town on Thursday and we spent yesterday morning enjoying the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science. As an IBM employee, we got two free passes to the museum which saved us $25. After that, I got my free birthday lunch at Moe's and then we stopped at Page Farms for some strawberry picking. Today has been a much more low key day but in a couple of hours we are headed to the always great Nantucket Grill with my closest friends for dinner. Its been a good birthday and I look forward to many more good times to review with you in the future. Here are some pictures of the past 2 days...I included the only 2 pictures with me in them even though they weren't good...I was the primary picture taker :-)

Mist garden

Mist garden

Page farm strawberry picking

Picking strawberries


Thursday, May 13, 2010

When your hometown doesn't seem like home

I moved away from Pittsburgh, my hometown, now almost 8 years ago. With every passing month, Pittsburgh becomes the place I know best even less. The last time I was there (about 2 years ago) I stayed in a hotel not even 2 miles from where I lived last just outside of Pittsburgh in Cranberry and could barely find my way around. Last night I went to bed after my Pittsburgh Penguins lost, subsequently playing their last game at the Igloo (aka Mellon Arena or the Civic Arena) which will be torn down. In a way, I was heartbroken that not only was this icon of my childhood closing, but that I haven't seen it in years and wouldn't see its replacement (the Consol Energy Center) for potentially years. This left me asking, when do you change your hometown? When do I stop being a Pittsburgher?

Its easy to calculate how much of my life I have lived in Pittsburgh. But what is probably more important, is which years I spent in Pittsburgh. All of my formal schooling was in Pittsburgh, Kindergarten through 12th grade in North Allegheny School District and 4 years at the University of Pittsburgh. Those years helped form me into the person I am today - everything from my accent to my love for sports. Maybe more importantly, I am a Pittsburgher by nature. What does that mean? Pittsburgh is a unique and inviting big city. People are nice and care about others...unless you are from Cleveland. ;-) People from Pittsburgh are known for amazing deeds within and outside of Pittsburgh. As far as I know, this was established many years ago with Andrew Carnegie, a Pittsburgher at heart even though he didn't move there until he was 13. Now, in the same spirit as Andrew Carnegie, Pittsburghers consistently do amazing things to help others. A good example of this is the recent Here You Go, 1000 umbrellas initiative. People giving away umbrellas to those stuck in the rain in the name of helping one another. Another example is Make Room for Kids, an initiative by a popular Pittsburgh blogger to raise enough money to bring gaming and laptops for sick kids. They raised an amazing amount of money in a short amount of time from Pittsburghers across the globe. Helping, Giving, Caring - these are things engrained in Pittsburghers as deeply as cheering for the Steelers is.

So, when do I stop associating my hometown with Pittsburgh? Is it when I have lived longer somewhere besides Pittsburgh? When I stop missing the city where I have so many wonderful memories? When I don't know my way around it any more in the name of progress? Or, when I stop acting like a Pittsburgher? If its that last one, I hope to God that I never see the day when I don't call myself a Pittsburgher.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Credit Karma review

This evening my friend and coworker Frank told me about Credit Karma, a site that allows you to get free credit scores. This site was apparently reviewed by the News and Observer this past weekend that explains a little more about the service but was fairly wordy as a review goes. So, here is my review:


  • Free credit score, something you normally have to pay for
  • Nice modern website look and feel
  • Lots of clear information pertaining to your credit score, how it is determined, and what it means
  • Uses your credit report information for targeted advertising rather than charging you
  • Does not store your social security number and does not ask for credit card information
  • Easy to read credit report card helps show you the areas that negatively affected your credit


  • Advertisements for new loans, mortgages, and credit cards only account for "lower my payment" based financial situations and lacks intelligence to meet other people's goals (maximize rewards, eliminate debt, etc)
  • Credit score simulator is missing basic things like what happens if I pay off a specific loan
  • Credit report card lacks certain vital information. Showing you the number of accounts opened but not listing them or suggesting which to close to help your credit for example seems an obvious extension.
  • Suggestions can really lack intelligence and you wonder what thought if any was put into it.

Overall the service is useful for seeing your credit score for free and I am eager to see what or how much it emails me based on activity.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why do you work where you do?

A friend recently asked this question and we came up with a short list of answers:

1) Passion - You love the work you do
2) Loyalty - You believe in your company
3) Job Stability - You feel your job is safe and protected
4) Money - You can't earn as much elsewhere
5) Options - Haven't found anything better

It could also be a combination of those. Did we miss any?

This friend was basically saying his reasons were #4 and #5 but he wasn't looking to know if his these reasons were true. I think as an employer, you should want your employees in the first two categories. I can't imagine anyone working better than if they have a passion for what they do and believe in their company. Its what all employers who look for high retention should aim for, right?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Insurance update...

We tried the good people at Hartsfield and Nash and are now staying with Erie and saving $390 for the year on the exact same policy. We were eligible several discounts our previous agency had not put on our account.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Insurance shopping

So, for the first time in over 10 years, I find myself looking at new insurance companies. I have been a faithful Erie Insurance customer for over 10 years. However, in the past three years I have seen some large rate hikes (10-15%/year) including one that I feel was handled dishonestly. Every year I have called my insurance agent and last year I didn't even get a call back. So, while looking for new insurance I decided to start with another Erie agent. My call seemed to be fruitless as once they heard I was with another Erie agent they lost all interest in helping me. So, I am now looking outside of Erie now...mostly because of their agents. I found these complaint ratios from the North Carolina Department of Insurance nice to have when evaluating new companies. It seems to me that those companies with below a 0.5 complain ratio seems to be on the "good" side. I also find the rate calculator on the DOI site to be useful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Derick and Emily's wedding

Well the madness is now over. Anna made it down the aisle as the ring bearer. My wedding day duties as best man were complete. More importantly, Derick and Emily are married and on their way today to honeymoon on a tropical island. Congratulations to both of them!

We used both Google Docs and Google Wave when I was helping Derick and Emily coordinate things. That was a learning experience, and I now know when Docs is useful and the few times when Wave is useful. Google Docs provided both help managing the guest list (and emailing people for their updated address information) AND a basis for RSVPs forms. The idea to use these in this way largely came from a Google employee's own experience in this video.

Derick and Emily certainly had a fun reception. They had an inflatable bouncehouse at the reception, the XL Fun House from They had EyeFi cards to automatically upload pictures from a couple cameras up to a slide projector. Unfortunately, this didn't work quite as easily as hoped. The technology will soon catch up and I am sure we will see this at more parties soon.

It was certainly a memorable experience and I think with the amount of cameras, there will be plenty of memories available to be shared. Here are some great ones that ended up on twitter:

And finally, them leaving...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

playing with stop motion video

So, I have taken a small interest in stop motion video. I have always had an interest in photography and whether is be my friend Derick's influence or just my own curiosity, I have started to play with doing real stop motion type videos. I have a 6 year old Canon Digital Rebel and when connected to a computer, it can do timed captures. Although it seems to fail at anything less than 20 seconds between capture (which seems to be related to the speed of data transfer :-/), you can create a decent little stop motion feel with it. Here are some videos I put together with the Canon remote Capture and iMovie:

First try was a time lapse Maddie and I creating a quick Mega bloks tower.

Then, I took a a time lapse set of 500+ shots throughout the day yesterday while helping our friends Suzanne and Aaron clean out and reorganize their garage.

Then, today I made another quick time lapse video of Anna, Madelyn and I making a mega-blok tower.

Finally, while Maddie was napping and Heather and Anna were at the mall, I tried a fun little puzzle adventure stop motion style.

I think I have figured out a few things, one of which is I need a tripod and maybe a newer camera to do cooler stuff :-) Not being able to take pictures quicker than 20 seconds apart because of the speed of transferring data from the camera to my laptop AND not having a tripod really makes this more difficult.

Also, here it is on Vimeo in case you prefer Vimeo over YouTube...

Eat Mor Chikin Stop Motion Puzzle from Erik B on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Car seat dilemma

We have two kids, a 3 yr old and a 21 month old. We have bought 4 car seats (for the car) and we may have wasted money in doing so. :-/ As a guy who is known for researching product selections among friends and family, I can't believe that we may have screwed up our car seat selection this bad. Here is what happened...

Our first car seat for Anna was a Chicco KeyFit 22. It was a car seat that went up to 22 lbs. Before her first birthday, Heather was 3 months pregnant and Anna was not looking comfortable at 20 lbs in a 22 lb car seat so we went shopping for a convertible for her to move up in. At first we bought the highest rated one from Consumer Reports, the Evenflo Titan 5. It was a bit too big for Anna and the usability was horrible so we soon bought a Britax Roundabout and the Titan ended up in our second car for the past 18 months. When Madelyn was about ready to move up out of the Chicco to the Britax, we moved Anna to a Cosco Deluxe Summit which we bought. The Chicco has been passed to my sister in law who will soon be using it for the second time and will have gotten its fair share of use. Unfortunately, the Chicco KeyFit 30 wasn't around or it could have been used even longer.

So, there is the short story of how Heather and I have 3 car seats, the Evenflo Titan 5, the Britax Roundabout, and the Cosco Deluxe Summit. All three of those have one thing in common, their forward facing 5 point harness weight limit is 40 lbs. The Cosco has belt positioning, the other two do not. Why is this important? As of November, as Heather wrote here, Anna was 36.5 pounds. She was weighed again in January at 36 pounds...but how long until she hits the 40? Certainly possible before she turns 4...

Before we realized that yesterday Heather and I were blindly looking for another deal on the Cosco/Safety 1st Deluxe Summit to move Maddie up into. She isn't uncomfortable in the Britax Roundabout, but is more comfortable in the Cosco and Evenflo. Around the same time Heather saw the weight rating on the Cosco and we realized the mistake we had made, I saw this report on booster seats from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To summarize, they think all the booster we have are horrible when it comes to seat belt positioning. Everything I read says to keep them in 5 point harnesses as long as possible. So, here are our choices in the next 6 months...

1) Buy a Britax Frontier which seems to be able to go on as a harness for much longer (80 lbs) and gets the IIHS Best Buy.
2) Buy her a Booster like the Maxi-Cosi Rodi or Recaro Vivo and switch her to belt positioning
3) Buy a 65 lb 5 point harness like the Safety 1st Go Hybrid and decide what to do in the future.

Right now I am leaning towards #1, buying a Britax Frontier. Thoughts?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Silly bets on the TV Show Ed

I always liked the short lived TV show Ed and have often quoted it..although many don't have any clue where the quotes come from. Today I googled for all the silly $10 bets made on Ed and found a list of some here on It makes me laugh reading them and so I thought I would pass on the humor...

Season 1
Ep 2: $10 Bet: Mike challenges Ed to meow loud enough to make a guy sitting on a bench turn around.
Ep 3: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed that he cannot drink a bottle of pancake syrup.
Ep 4: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to order a burger using only two words: burger me
Ep 5: $10 Bet: Mike dares Ed to walk up to a woman at the bar and ask to buy her a drink -- with nuts in his mouth
Ep 6: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to go up to a man and call him "Mommy"
Ep 7: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed, in the supermarket, to ask the clerk where the lettuce is - but he has to call it "let-oos".
Ep 8: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed that he can't rhyme his lunch order at the diner. The waitress is the same one who took the "burger me" bet.
Ep 9: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed that he can't eat some of the dog food pate that he has made for his dog, Troy.
Ep 11: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to walk up to a stranger and start singing "Tonight I Celebrate My Love."
Ep 12: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to order a shirley temple when he goes out on a date with Bonnie Hane.
Ep 13: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to go up to a stranger on a park bench and touch his bald spot.
Ep 14: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed he can't call Reverend Carver "Padre".
Ep 15: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike can't speak in a British accent to a girl from high school, Hillary Sanders, who is at the Smiling Goat.
Ep 16: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed he won't give him 10 bucks to give him 10 bucks. Ed turns it around and bets Mike he can't give Ed twenty bucks for ten bucks.
Ep 17: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike ten bucks to go upto a bunch of people waiting at the bus stop and do the Snake Dance.
Ep 18: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike ten bucks to finish eating his dinner in the restaurant without wearing his shirt.
Ep 19: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to cover his face in wedding cake after giving the toast at Ari and Barbara's wedding.
Ep 20: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to yell "I love kitties" as loud as possible in the bowling alley.
Ep 21: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to kiss Kenny on the cheek.
Ep 22: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed ten bucks to stop talking about Carol. Ed keeps talking so Mike increases the bet to $1000. Ed doesn't accept the bet and keeps talking. This is the first time either one of them has declined a bet.

Season 2
Ep 1: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to kiss a garden gnome in a neighbor's lawn - while the neighbor is watching.
Ep 4: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to ask the waitress to wrap his one last french fry.
Ep 5: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed $6 to go hug a chicken who is advertising for a restaurant. Ed wont do it for $6 so he bets Mike to do it for $10.
Ep 7: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed ten bucks to go over to two women at the farmer's market and introduce himself as a jackass. Ed walks over to do just that, when one woman turns around and asks, "What do you want, jackass?" Mike has paid the woman ten bucks to say this to Ed, who insists Mike pay up.
Ep 8: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed $10 to eat a potato chip, despites Ed's 20 year quest to "eat just one". Ed initially refuses, but backs off when Mike calls an end to the ten dollar bets, declaring Ed the loser.
Ep 10: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed that he can't get a person at StuckeyBowl to say "tater-tots" in 30 seconds. It takes 32 seconds and Ed loses.
Ep 15: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to order a brandy at the bar by saying brandy 20 times.
Ep 20: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to go up to a man at the Smiling Goat and ask for his autograph pretending the man is Kenny Rogers.
Ep 22: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to whistle like a wolf at a man. Ed doesn't want to at first but does it after seeing Dennis and Carol.

Season 3
Ep 2: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to ask a man on the street to tell him where he can find a hotel - while consistently turning the radio volume up so the man has to shout the directions.
Ep 4: $10 Bet: After a discussion on how male ostriches court females, Mike bets Ed to court a woman at the bus stop, using his best ostrich impression. Ed goes up to the woman, rests on what he supposes are his hocks, flaps his "wings" and screams like a banshee.
Ep 7: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to play song A55 on the jukebox. Ed does and the jukebox starts playing "It's Raining Men". Everyone stares at Ed. Mike laughs.
Ep 11: $10 Bet: Ed bets Mike to stand on a chair and bark the song "Jingle Bells".
Ep 13: $10 Bet: Mike bets Ed to go up to someone at the snack bar of StuckeyBowl and do a commentary of their behavior just like a sports commentator.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Photo Hangover

We go through this every year...between the end of Anna's birthday and Christmas we have taken hundreds of photos and it almost wears us out such that we go through this period I will call a photo hangover. Thats a period where we avoid taking pictures because frankly we are exhausted of pictures. Does anyone else experience this?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Stripper Free Bachelor Parties?

There is a vast misconception in this world that one cannot have a fun bachelor party without strippers and alcohol. For the second time in my life, I find myself directly battling that misconception. If you missed my last post, one of my best friends, Derick, asked his girlfriend to be his wife right before Christmas. The images link to their website where you can read about the proposal and see a countdown to their wedding....also, you can watch a slightly updated video on his site or on my last blog post which I updated.

So, last night Derick asked me to be his best man which is an awesome honor for which I intend to work very hard to complete. Being a best man to me is more than just standing beside your friend at his wedding, but a commitment to help him achieve his objectives and uphold his commitments, short term (getting married) and long term. Long term is often lost in our culture but vitally important in my opinion. Imagine if every best man felt it was his responsibility to keep in touch with the groom and ensure he was doing his best to honor, love, protect, and cherish his wife. The world may look a bit different.

As for the short term, there are lots of lists. I found this one which I thought was useful. On the phone last night the first thing I thought of was the need to plan Derick a bachelor party. Knowing Derick, he and I are similar in that bar hopping and strippers were not on the list of activities we are interested in for our bachelor party. My first thought was what did I do? I went jetskiing with my friends in Wilmington and then had a nice dinner. Since Derick is getting married in March...that wasn't happening. What did my brother-in-law do? We played basketball. Not really Derick's thing. So, I started to compile lists of other things to do. Here are some of the things I thought of as I was trying to get to sleep last night..

  • Paintball
  • Go Karts/Laser Tag
  • Large scale poker night
  • Camping / Geocaching

Then I was out of ideas and came across some others through friends or this helpful website.
  • ATV or Jeep offroading adventures
  • Rent and fire machine guns at the range
  • Ziplines in the mountains

Here were things I had to cast off because of the time of year:
  • ski/snowboarding (might be too warm in March, especially in NC)
  • jetskiing
  • white water rafting
  • sea kayaking
  • hunt

And other things that fell off my list:
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Video Games
  • Golf
  • Skydiving
  • Sports event or concert