Friday, February 29, 2008

Unions cost America jobs


Ford has a new car out the Kuga. It's a Diesel Crossover that's expected to get around 35 MPG. That would go a long way to making SUVs and crossovers more fuel efficient in the US. However, the car is being built for Europe only. Because the Euro is so much stronger than the dollar Ford can't afford to make the vehicle in Europe and sell it in America. You would think then that the car could be made in America and sold for a profit in Europe, however, due to the unions stranglehold on US car manufacturers, the production costs of the car in America are so much higher, that they can't make it here and make money on it in Europe either.

The weakness in the dollar right now should help the US by allowing it a better opportunity to manufacture goods in the US and ship them to Europe, however the Unions in the US have pushed too hard and are now preventing companies from bringing jobs to the US.

I find it humerous how Japanese car companies can build plants in the US and build and sell cars for a large profit without union workers, while US car companies are forced to build cars overseas to try and offset the costs of doing business with the union employees that they have.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Another reason I don't want Clinton

I consider myself independent, however, I've always voted Republican, except for this year. This year I am most likely going to vote for Obama. There are many reasons that I don't want Clinton, however, she just gave me another one. Clinton complained that she had been repeatedly subjected to the toughest questioning in this and previous debates. She also complained that Obama wouldn't debate in Wisconsin.

She complains that he won't debate enough, (although they have 20 debates) and then she complains that the debates are too tough. I don't want Hillary, her complaining has gone too far. Every time she debates, he gains ground. Maybe she should stop trying to debate and just try running the attack ads that she's so good at.

Nylon replaces steel in engine part

Dupont working with Volkswagen has modified a part to replace Steel with Nylon. This reduces the weight of that one part by 50%. This is just the beginning. The more metal that can be replaced with lighter plastic, the lighter, and more fuel efficient cars will become over time. Expect cars to hold a lot more plastic in them in the next few years.

Book Review: Financial Peace

I finished reading the book Financial Peace last night. For several years now, I've been slowly climbing out of debt. I started with around $30,000 in debt not counting my house. Over 3 years I've cut that down to around $17,000 but I've had to add to it several times. I've been referred to Dave Ramsey from several different places in the past 6 months. My parents, friends, I even stumbled across his radio program and felt energized by it.


A friend loaned me the book Financial Peace and I tore through it in only 4 days. Wow. Maybe I read it so fast because it's about money and getting out of debt, two things that I've had on my mind a lot over the last several years. I found that for the most part I'm already doing some of what he suggests, but he has other suggestions that I had not thought of. The book is excellent, and ends with a list of baby steps and the order in which to implement the plan.

1. Pay minimum on everything until you have an emergency fund of $1,000 setup. He does note if your income is low settle on $500. This is the step I have neglected, and several times I have had to pay for it by putting more debt on my credit cards. A complaint I've read is that cutting into this can cause anxiety, it can, but it hurts less to replenish the emergency fund than it does to spend $800 on car repairs with an additional 18% interest on the credit card. Trust me I know, I'm still paying that one off.

2. Implement the debt snowball to pay off all debt except for your house. "Get mad and stay mad until you get out". This is the hardest part if you ask me. Because everything you do for more than a year is focused on scrimping every penny you can until you are out of debt. Sell things you don't need, find a second job, stop eating out, travel less, anything and everything you can do to save money until you are out of debt. I've had a huge weakness in this area. I haven't wanted to give up my vacations. I don't want to stop eating out. But a "quick" meal at Burger King for the family can cost us $20, while eating at home is usually around $8 for the family. That $12 difference, even just once a week for a year is another $624 to pay towards debt. There are hard choices to make here, and they are hard. I struggle with them and find myself slide backwards too, but my wife and I discuss it and try to figure things out again every time.

3. Save the rest of your emergency fund of 3-6 months of your expenses. Keep this in a money market or bank account. This step is another complaint I've read about. However, with the only debt being your house payment, it's easy to figure your monthly expenses for other things and the house payment. I understand that there are much higher investment opportunities for this money, but keeping it in an easily accessible location, like the money market or simple bank account will insure you against losing your job and allow you 3-6 months to get more income coming in without having to sell stocks at a loss to cover your expenses. Long term it won't make much money, but that's not it's purpose, the purpose is to insure you against a job loss or large medical expenses without cutting into your real investments. I am not to this point yet, but I do plan on setting up this account before moving on to further investments.

4. Save 15% of your gross household income in retirement plans. Begin with 401k or 403b. 15% is an easy number for me. That's what the government allows you to put into your 401k pretax. I've read that people making less can have a problem getting 15% into this. I agree, when you make less money the cost of housing and daily expenses can be a larger portion of your income. The problem really is that the housing costs are too high. However, if you are in this lower income and work lets you put pretax money into your 401k, then do it. It saves you taxes now, and reduces your tax footprint. I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that all pretax deductions that you make can help you when it comes to tax time. For those of you that can't get pretax deductions, get as close as you can to the %15, after all, the reason for doing this in the first place is to help you save for retirement.

5. Now and only now is it time to start saving for college funds. Dave suggests using an Education Saving Account or a 529 plan. He does not agree with prepaying tuition, because you are letting the government take your money and make money with it, instead of making that money yourself. I'm up in the air on that one. If I had the cash to prepay for tuition I would support that, but I don't agree with taking out a loan now to prepay tuition, when saving cash and using compound interest to your advantage could make college easier if you just put money into savings.

6. Pay your house off early. Personally, I'm a bit stumped. 5 and 6 could be happening at the same time. Otherwise, I don't understand when 5 stops and 6 begins. I'm not going to pay my house off early after saving for 3 full college funds. I'm going to set aside some money monthly to go towards college savings, and other money to pay the house off early. If I can time having the house paid off with the kids getting to college, then I will have an extra house payment a month available to help with things at that point in time. This is another long term plan. With a 30 year mortgage for 100% of my house, I will probably be paying for another 18 years.

7. Build wealth. This is where you finally start investing into mutual funds or real-estate, or whatever else is right for you. Dave's only real advice in this area is not to invest in something you don't understand.

Overall the steps are great, and he states over and over again, even if one of the people in household is the numbers nerd, all decisions should be made together. I've read complaints that "I'll never have anything nice again" because the idea seems to be live as cheaply as you can and save the rest to invest. I don't think that's true. Large purchases can be for really nice things, but don't buy on a whim. If you want that really nice new refrigerator, price it out, look for sales, wait, ask the store for the floor model at a discount. It's still the same nice refrigerator. And sell the one you have now. Use that as part of the money to offset the cost of the new one. But don't finance it. Don't buy it just because you want it, make sure you can afford it and discuss it with your spouse. All major decisions should be made together.

You may have noticed that I said several times that each step takes a while. Dave never promises to get rich quick, he only promises to help you realize what it takes. My favorite phrase from the book is "The best way to get rich quick is to not get rich quick". Slow and steady wins the race and this book will help you analyze your situation and lay out a plan for getting out of it.

[Update]
I just noticed that Get Rich Slowly posted a review about Dave Ramsey today as well. His review is for "The Total Money Makeover", but the steps appear to be the same.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cleaning house feels good

I've read many times how a clean house makes you feel good. It's something that I agree with and anytime I go to someone's house which is clean, like my mother in law's, I feel an exciting peace.

Of course with kids running around my house, it's all Erin and I can do to keep the path of destruction minimized. Constant picking up seems to end in the same result of a messy house.

This weekend was a calm weekend. Jonas and Ady were both at the other houses, and Jaden was mostly calm. Erin and were able to clean house. Really clean house. Toys picked up, counters cleaned and scrubbed, the oven cleaned and scrubbed. I even got through old computers.

I'm a geek that had three used desktops laying around, and two computers that I was supposed to fix. By the end of the weekend, I have two fixed computers and no more. I got rid of all three boxes which were no longer useful. I even went through and threw away most of the extra parts that I had laying around.

This morning I woke up to a mostly peaceful house, the computer desk looks nice and uncluttered in the bedroom, I walked into the kitchen and the counters were spotless. Mmmm peace.

I love a clean house.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Difference Maker


Another great book by John Maxwell. I love reading the books he's written. Most of my favorite quotes have either come from him, or been referenced by him as well. I have grown to love the leadership as service model that the preaches over and over.

The Difference Maker is about you and your attitude. Your attitude is the difference maker. There are some great tips, albeit mostly the known ones, to help you get over fears, prepare for change and change your attitude to a more positive one.

One of my favorite things in this book is a small half page checklist called the checklist for change. It's a list of things to ask yourself about a change before implementing it to help decide if it is time for change?
  • Will this benefit the followers?
  • Is this change compatible with the purpose of the organization?
  • Is this change specific and clear?
  • Are the top 20 % (the influencers) in favor of this change?
  • Is it possible to test this change before making a total commitment to it?
  • Are physical, financial, and human resources available to make this change?
  • Is this change reversible?
  • Is this change the next obvious step?
  • Does this change have both short and long-range benefits?
  • Is the leadership capable of bringin about this change?
  • Does everything else indicate the timing is right?
There are also a few quotes that I love from this book.

  • A problem is something you can do something about. If you can't do something about it, then it's not a problem. It's a predicament.
  • Problems are wake-up calls for creativity
  • Positive thinking is how you think about a problem. Enthusiasm is how you feel about a problem. The two together determine what you do about a problem. -- Norman Vincent Peale
  • If things go wrong, don't go with them. -- Roger Babson
  • Sooner or later we will get what we expect. -- The law of human behavior
  • It may not be your fault for being down, but it is your fault for not getting up. -- Steve Davis
  • Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn -- Robert Kiyosaki
  • There is a choice you have to make in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make makes you
  • Success each day should be judged by the seeds sown, not the harvest reaped.
It's a great read that is only 175 pages, which made it a quick read.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mind Stretching for creativity

I've been interested in the Dvorak Keyboard layout for years. Until recently however, I've not done much more than read about the history of it. Last week however, I read that Windows supports the Dvorak layout without needing a new keyboard, the only problem is that you can't look at the keys when trying to figure out the layout. Being that I'm a good typist I didn't see this as a limiting factor for me. I did see a problem with the fact that I type all day long, and slowing my typing at work could prevent me from getting my work done.

I investigated, and the Dvorak language can be turned on and off at will. So I installed it. I rebooted and started working in the new layout. Note, this is hard to do when you have to log into a computer. The password is hidden and the layout doesn't match what's on the keyboard. I printed a layout to help me through. Then I also installed the on-screen keyboard from PortableApps.com so I could look up at the screen and see the keys that I needed.

Roger Von Oech, in A Whack on the Side of the Head, talks about the need to get outside the box. Creativity comes when your mind is open to new things, and it opens when you stretch it beyond it's comfort zone. Typing on an entirely different layout that you are trying to memorize is odd. My fingers want to move to where they remember moving so easily in the past. This has been a harder transition than teaching myself to write with my left hand, and to throw with my left hand (I am right handed).

The biggest benefits of the Dvorak keyboard are supposed to be the speed improvements. I won't know if I'm any faster on it for a few months, but it will be an interesting challenge for me to push myself to type as fast as I can on it. I'm not the worlds fastest typist, but I seem to continually test out at around 70 Words Per minute when I play online games related to typing.

My goal is not just a speed improvement though. I hope to open up creative paths. I hope to be more open to ideas that help me be creative. Changing my typing, is just the medium I'm using this time.

How have you stretched your mind today?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Web Servers, and Wikis..Oh My

On my way to learning about web servers and their corresponding applications, I have decided to play around with running my own local web Apache server just for myself. For most nerds, this is no big deal, for linux guys this is nothing. But I'm a Windows guy. I love to fully understand what I need to know, and leave the rest alone. To me a web server has meant, the IIS windows service is running. That's it. Everything else is taken care of.

At work though, we use IBM's Websphere, and I don't have the slightest clue how any of the layers work for it. I write my code in the JSPs , servlets, and web services, and try to cobble together the bits that I know to make sense of the process. But there is a lot of magic in it. A Javascript file exists solely on the client in the browser and runs only there, however, the data in the JSP is transformed to html only on the server before being rendered to the client. Submitting something sends the data from the screen back to the server where it is put into a request and sent to a servlet. The servlet then has access to the session data, which is always stored on the server and never passed to the client. Data can be pulled from the request (aka, the screen data), and have something done with it. It can call a web service, or the database, or basically any java class that it references at this point. The data is then rendered back to the browser again.

The communications between the servlet and the web service is done through SOAP. This is a black box to me. I don't understand anything here. Somewhere in the stack is TCP/IP, but I'm not sure where. Then when things get to the server they are actually run in the server and the other associated applications to produce results. I know about a small portion of this stack.

So when you need to learn something, what do you do? You start learning more about the layers. I decided to start at the base. I knew Apache was free, and I have read about a package XAMPP. It will install everything that you need to run an Apache server with SQLLite, MySQL, and Perl. And then I ran across a post at LifeHacker about How to Setup your personal Wiki. It's great, because it's the same Wiki software we use at work.

One day over lunch I downloaded and installed XAMPP from PortableApps.com. to go along with the the rest of the ones that I already have.

The next day over lunch, I followed the instructions from LifeHacker and had my own personal Wiki up and running.

I still have a long way to go, but I learned a little something about MySQL, and the Apache server that I have running from my thumb drive now. The coolest thing is that I can take my own web server and wiki along with the rest of my tools wherever I go. And if I just happen to have the desire to build a new website, I can get it all up and running, as long as I have my thumb drive with me.

How did you stretch your mind today?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A new name...the same me.

You may have noticed that the web address of my site changed from stevenrigney-journal.blogspot.com to www.amindstretched.com. It's been a long drawn out process. For almost two years now I've been trying to decide what I wanted it to be called, what was I, who was I? Who am I?

Somehow today Erin pointed it all out to me in a way that just made sense.

The hard thing about you is you are you
there isn't any one thing that stands out more than the other
and your blog is just like that
like I am a mom and a wife
you are Steve
you know yourself and are secure in yourself and who you are and no one thing defines you-you define it
you are like the ubermale

Then she pointed me in the direction of a blog post about coming up with website names. Then finally, I remembered a quote about a mind stretching. I had to look it up to be sure, but the quote is:

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes.


I had it. A Mind Stretched. It's what I am. What I want. It's why I constantly push myself to learn new things and try new things.

Finally another quote comes back, this one from Shakespeare:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Don't drown

In central Illinois it's raining an insane amount again. I can't remember a winter with this much rain, but here it is, and my sump pump is running again.

Thankfully, the local television station is keeping me informed on how to handle the water. "If flood conditions are encountered, be prepared to seek higher ground. If travelling, turn around, don't drown."

Wow. Without TV telling me not to drown, I may have just driven my car into the river.

Jump Rope For Heart

Jonas is participating in a fund raiser for the American Heart Association. It's a jump rope-athon. I don't know how long it will last, but heck, for me jumping rope is near impossible. If he makes it 5 minutes, that's a lot of work.

The Heart association has chosen Valentine's day to support heart health. It's perfect. No other day better embodies the heart and all of it's ins and out.

Please support Jonas in his jump-thon on Valentines day.