Thursday, June 12, 2008

5 Quick Personal Finance Formulas

Being somewhat of a personal finance junkie (Clark Howard & Dave Ramsey disciple) I am always on the lookout for better ways to make decisions with my money. For example, when I'm standing in front of the 1080p flatscreen HDTV at Frys I try to think of what that money would be worth in my retirement account. Or when I'm trying to decide if I should pay someone else to mow my lawn, it helps to quickly calculate my personal hourly payrate.

Money Magazine (Jan2008) had a great little article with 5 quick formulas that you can do in your head to help with questions like this.

How many years will it take to double my money?

72/annual investment return, eg: @ 8% investment return, it would double in 9 years

What am I giving up in retirement savings when I spend money today?

Add a zero to the price tag, if you have invested the money for 30 years, earning a 8% return. So a $10,000 dollar stereo system trims the savings by "$100K".

How do I need to earn, before taxes, to buy what I want?

Multiply the cost by 1.4 (for 28% federal tax rate)

What am I worth by the hour?

Divide your annual pay in half, drop the last 3 zeros. If you make $100,000 a year, you make $50/hour (40 hour week)

Does my fund manager do well enough to justify his fees?

Multiply your fund's expense ratio by 10. The result is the percentage by which it needs to outperform a low-cost index fund to cover the extra fees. A fund with an expense ratio of 1.5% for example needs to do 15% better than the index.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Carson is HOME!

Do you want to see him?

Click here for live webcam of Carson's Crib !

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Carson Coming Home !

Saturday morning Kristen and I were treated to a big surprise. We arrived the NICU to find that Carson's NG feeding tube had been removed! His doctors were happy with his progress and decided to remove the tube and let him free feed (as opposed to taking a bottle on a specific schedule). For the very first time we were able to hold him and see his entire face... no tubes, wires, tape, cannulas in his nose, or IV's in his forehead. We expect to bring him home early this evening :)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Lipstick on CGI

It was 1997 and I hadn't really embraced the web yet as a programmer. While I had played with HTML, I was convinced that real developers wrote in C/C++ and PL-SQL. HTML was for sissies. One of my co-workers was building an online search engine for an e-commerce company and he introduced me to CGI programming. The idea of redirecting the incoming HTTP request to a script that generated HTML on the fly instead of regurgitating the contents of a file seemed immensely cool to me at the time. Technology advanced and I followed with SSI, then servlets, then ASP, then JSP, then taglibs, then struts, then JSF, etc.

However, I never really questioned the basic premise that web applications are essentially a simple collection of scripts which dynamically generate HTML documents and share a server-side context (http session). Afterall, all of the server-side web technologies I had used were based on the same fundamental concept that CGI had introduced back in 1995. Most innovations in this area were just further abstractions built on top of this concept (e.g. JSP custom taglibs). But abstraction is a double-edged sword. It eliminates the need to understand everything going on under the covers. However, each abstraction layer typically includes its own configuration (struts XML hell), quirks, and conventions. Which results in the need for someone to define "best practices" based on their personal pain of figuring out where the friction points are between the layers of abstraction that live just above and just below it (e.g. ValueObjects/DataTransferObjects).

Building web applications has become much more complex than necessary and the the development community has responded with simplification efforts (think Ruby on Rails, annotations, configuration by exception, etc.). Each of these efforts were a significant evolution of web application development, but none were revolutionary. While undeniably valuable, they were still just lipstick on CGI.

True Web Clients

There is an opportunity today that really hasn't existed until recently (outside of building GUIs completely inside a proprietary player like Flash). Stop generating HTML on the server-side. Write rich web applications as standalone clients based on open standards such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Call it Client-Server 2.0 if you like, but without the baggage of software distribution, version management, and platform dependencies. While JavaScript was the foundation of this revolution it was the introduction of CSS, DOM manipulation, and finally AJAX that allowed us to build truly standalone web clients.

So how do you go about building true web clients? Until recently it was actually rather painful to do so. You had to be a JavaScript guru and even then you typically were weaving together multiple 3rd party JavaScript libraries and frameworks to provide the necessary event handling, DOM manipulation, parsing, etc. Appcelerator was designed specifically to simplify the development of web clients so that mere mortals can develop them (not just the PhDs @ Google). Yes, you can use all of the Appcelerator widgets and even leverage the client messaging bus without giving up your HTML generation scripts (and many people do). But once you've experienced the elegant simplicity of developing true standalone web clients that invoke services for business logic & data access, you will never go back.

The shift is already underway. The client operating system IS the browser. See the rise of offline, single-site-browsers, and desktop web integration. The clients call services and re-render themselves accordingly. The only question remaining is... how long before you starting writing webapps as standalone web clients?

(cross-posted from Appcelerant)

Final Hurdle

The only thing that is keeping Carson in the NICU is his current inability to drink the entire contents of his bottle without falling asleep. When this happens, the remainder of his milk must be pumped into his stomach through the NG tube that's stuck up his nose. Sometimes he finishes the bottle easily, but he's just not consistent yet. If he doesn't improve this weekend we will be getting trained on how to feed him through the NG tube and we will feed him at home with daily visits from a home nurse.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Vocal Cords

Last night Carson underwent another procedure where the surgeon went in to see if his cyst had reformed and was collecting fluid again. The surgeon referred to the size of the original cyst as "huge" and said that the walls of the cyst were not as flimsy as many of the smaller cysts she has seen. As a result, the cyst cannot be removed at this size without significant trauma. Therefore, she is simply try to keep it drained and see how well it is absorbed by the surrounding tissue.

The good news
The surgeon did not see any indication that the cyst had recurred and it continues to drain normally.

The bad news
Unfortunately, it appears that the size and location of the cyst may have impacted the development of his vocal cords on one side. As a result his voice will likely always have a raspy or hoarse sound. We just don't know if that means he's gonna talk like a cowboy or whisper like a monk. Either way, his challenges pale in comparison to being born without an esophagus (which is what we were told originally).

Spoke with the neonatologist today and he indicated that if things went well we could probably take Carson home in 5-7 days. There is a small chance that he could come home sooner, and if things go south he could be there longer. But that was his best guess.

Kristen should be leaving to visit him in about 15 minutes. I'm sure he's looking forward to seeing mommy.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Carson's First Videos

While we are posting a lot of pics here, but we typically use Snapfish for our photo management. Click here to see a complete album of Carson. My apologies that it requires signup... we should probably switch to Flickr so you don't need to but we have hundreds of pics on Snapfish already.

Also we have uploaded a coupla videos as well to youtube that you can see here:
Video#1 Video#2


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Carson's Homecoming Countdown

We haven't posted to the blog in a while because there hasn't been much to report. Saturday has come and gone and Carson is still in the NICU so my prediction was apparently a bit optimistic.

On Saturday Dr Gowan (the surgeon who treated Carson originally) told us that she thinks his cyst may have reattached and is collecting fluid. On Monday she is going to put him under and re-scope his trachea to see what's really going on. If the cyst has reappeared she will drain it again and continue to monitor his progress. Still no ETA on his homecoming.

One a positive note, Carson is definitely starting to show his personality now. He is very alert when I visit him and smiles when we talk and play with him. His doctors and nurses all gush about how sweet and cute he is. I suspect that's because he is one of the few babies in the NICU that is full-sized and healthy.

We still visit him everyday and are anxious for him to come home. Evan is anxious as well because he's never met his baby brother (NICU doesn't allow children visitors). I'll post here as soon as we get an estimated homecoming date for Carson.