16 December 2009

Cash for Appliances in California - progress so far?

Recently our Congress critters set aside some dough ($300 million) to replace our crappy, old, energy hogging appliances with new snappy Energy Star refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and dish washers. The New York Times Bucks blog has a rundown.

So what's the deal on "Cash for Appliances" in California? Well, first off, we should be getting more than 10% of the total amount of the federal program, or $35,200,000 - about $1 for every person in California.

Well, they're working on some programs but so far ... nothing's happening yet. California sent our application to the Department of Energy in mid-October.

Beyond "Cash for Appliances" the Federal government "announced" over $2 billion for California energy saving programs, "awarded" over $1 billion, and California has actually spent over $42 million ... that's 2% of the "announced" funding.

In addition "Cash for Appliances" PG&E and a few other companies or non-profits are offering rebates and incentives already (like PG&E's $200 for those who get a Tier 3 energy efficient washing machine). At the Flex Your Power website you can look up incentives based on your zip code. Take Solano County for example: there are 72 "incentives" available.

What if you wanted to buy a new fridge?
The federal "Cash For Appliances" program would probably add $75 in discounts for refrigerators ... on top of the $50 discount for getting a high efficiency fridge and $35 rebate for having your old ice box removed and recycled in Solano County.

The reality is that these rebates probably help the retailers more than consumers but we'll keep telling ourselves that we're actually getting a screaming deal (and ignore the likelihood that retailers are just jacking up their prices about as much as the new discounts lower them and laughing all the way to the bank) ... but that's not important. The big questions for shameless consumers are really:
(1) French doors or bottom freezer with one big door?
(2) White or Stainless Steel?

01 December 2009

Best Cash Back Credit Card offers (and why other blogs won't share all of them!)

Some people should not have any credit cards at all - reflect on your financial situation personal spending issues before continuing.

If you don't carry a balance on your credit card and can avoid the temptation to overspend because you have a credit card, you should take advantage of a cash back credit card. 1% back is standard, you can probably do better with a card on the list below. My list doesn't account interest rates (which don't matter because we're not carrying a balance, right?) or the quality of customer service or anything other nationally available cash back cards that for general purpose spending.

It's worth repeating - the first step is not to carry a balance. Any cash back (or miles or points) are completely negated by carrying a balance because the interest rates are more than usually absurd with cash back and other rewards cards. If you carry a balance, ignore my list and instead check out Get Rich Slowly instead.

Cash back is generally better than miles or points - some disagree, but they're wrong.

So, which card or cards should you get? It depends. Some cards offer more rewards (American Express and Discover) because they charge merchants higher fees. But, these cards are accepted by fewer merchants. Others are more widely accepted (Visa and MasterCard) because they charge merchants lower fees; however, the result is that they usually offer lower rewards.

A common strategy is to carry more than one card: for example, your Costco Business Card is from American Express, it offers 4% back on gas and 3% on dining out/travel. Your Charles Schwab Card is from Visa, it's accepted in more places but offers a lower reward. So, use the AmEx Costco card for gas and restaurants which take it and the Charles Schwab Card everywhere else. But don't get carried away: a card for every type of merchant or even for every individual merchant reaches a point of diminishing returns very quickly! My suggestion: more than 3 credit cards in your wallet is probably a waste of time.

Applying for credit cards can be bad for your credit score. Applications result in a "hard pull". Too many (or any) hard pulls will lower your credit score. Curious for an estimate of your credit score? Check out CreditKarma.com

(A) The Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Pentagon Federal Visa [fatwallet discussion and application link]
1.25% on everything 5% on gas
Need to join an organization to get the card - costs about $15. Excellent all around and widely accepted card especially if you buy lots of gas or cannot qualify for the Charles Schwab card above.

Fidelity Rewards American Express [fatwallet discussion and application link]
1.5 to 2% cash back everywhere - you can put the cash back into any Fidelity account including non-retirement accounts like a Fidelity brokerage account, MySmartCash account, etc.
Serviced by through FIA Card Services (BoA - so applying for it it might affect your other B0A or FIA credit cards like the Charles Schwab card mentioned above).
NOT as good as the Schwab Card above because it's not as widely accepted, but another option.

Citi FORWARD - Visa [fatwallet discussion and application link]
"ThankYou" points (about 3% cash) on books, movies, music and restaurants, 1% points on everything else.
Points are not the same as cash, here 160 points can be turned in for $1 of cash reward. (There are some extra points you can earn when you first sign up for the card, pay on time, or agree to paperless statements.
The Citi MTVU card is a similar alternative to the Forward card, but it is targeted at college students and offers a higher interest rate (but you're not carrying a balance, right!?)
Both Forward and MTVU cards offer 100 points for $1 in rewards applied to student loan, so that's better than getting cash back (which takes 100 points for $0.625).

TrueEarnings Business Card from Costco - American Express
% cash back on gas and restaurant purchases,
3% back on restaurants,
2% back for travel
1% everywhere else (including Costco - where you cannot use any other card)
Free with Costco membership.
They send a check, no points or other accounts or other bullshit.
Many people say they get the business card by simply using their name as their business name, thus getting better rewards from the same card.

Runners up:
(1) Your current card:
If you currently have a card that seems better, it may not be recommended above because it may not be available anymore (e.g., the OLD Chase Freedom card which offered 3% on your top 3 spending categories and have an extra $50 back when you reached $200 in rewards. There is still a Chase Freedom card, but it now has "rotating" 3% categories, no $50 bonus, and an annual fee for many people). If you have the Schwab 2% card then stick with it, no longer available.

(2) AmEx Blue - 1% back on everything until you spend $6,500 ... then it's 5% back on everything. Annual fee. This is a deal for some people, but not for most. Also, it's an AmEx card so it's not accepted in many places, which makes it harder to get to that $6,500.

Why don't other blogs or websites mention all of these cards?

Some people write blogs to make money. That's fine. They can make money several ways:
(1) Ads on their site: on the website they can agree to post ads, usually by Google AdSense. People click the ads, Google pays the blogger.
(2) Sell themselves: they are selling a separate service and their blog draws people's attention and contacts.
(3) Sell their content: they can give positive reviews or only review products which pay them for doing so ... only review a computer program if they give you money, only mention a credit card if they offer you money for referrals.

Credit cards are a great example because they can be fit into any of the above options:

The third option is the most dangerous for credit cards or other products: if the blogger says upfront "I don't mention some cards because they don't offer to pay me" then at least the reader knows it's not an unbiased review, it's limited.

But what about the trusted blogger who, without warning or notice, only reviews and links to credit cards which offer them money in exchange? Some credit cards offer "affiliate programs" - you click a link, they get money. You sign up for a credit card, they get more money.

But what if there's a better credit card they're leaving out because they won't get paid if you sign up for it?
It seems the only way to react is to discredit the blogger. But they depend on the blog to provide for their family, right? Well, yes. All the more reason not to provide a disservice to their readers who will not trust them as a result of bad advice.

Removed because no longer available as of May 2010:
Charles Schwab - Visa [links to the fatwallet discussion indicating "deal is dead"]
Excellent all around and widely accepted card, highly recommended, some initial setup time required.
2% cash back on everything, BUT you need to have a Schwab Brokerage Account which is only free if you have a Schwab Checking Account which is only free if you sign up for "e-correspondence" (no snail mail).

27 November 2009

Getting a PODS in Oakland - not easy. PSPickup.com - easier, smaller

PODS (Portable On Demand Storage) will not deliver one of their storage units to the parking spot in front our your house in Oakland unless you (1) get an encroachment permit and (2) get them a copy of it at least a few days before they're supposed to drop off.

Better option:
PS Pickup

PS Pickup has smaller boxes, so they don't need an encroachment permit. They're located in Oakland and I was connected with a great rep named Tate. He even said he'd deliver an extra storage unit but if we didn't use it he wouldn't charge us (each box is about $75).

A little more expensive (about $50 more for a move and store for less than one month and local move) but less than the cost of the encroachment permit.

PODS - not a real option.
PS Pickup - good option.

That is all.

11 November 2009

Update to "Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools" - so low as (GASP!) Public Interest!

Again, the NYTimes seems to think people are only interested in public interest because the recession keeps them from higher paying jobs in the private sector (where they work to get the public's money which they then invest to earn .... wait ... OMG ... that's the " 'public' interest"!) [snark]

From a "Special Report" on International Education:
tuning in to a growing interest in social entrepreneurship among its students as business graduates everywhere react to the worst recession since the Great Depression and the prospects of a jobless recovery.
There has been massive competition for new private and non-profit public interest / social groups and projects. That's part of the reason some many of those positions are filled by volunteers and very low paid staff in spite of their "over qualification" for low financial reward positions. The problem is not from a lack of interest, it's a lack of support from our government for these programs and entrepreneurs.

What is our government doing instead? It focuses on giving the biggest possible financial incentives to private industry. Maybe it's because they think, "then we'll get more taxes paid and then we can afford social programs." But we had less profit and production in the 80's and 70's but the best school system in the country, now we're in the bottom five in most categories.

Maybe it's because our election system is based on who can get the financial support of corporate interests - they initially decide who get funding to run and they don't pay for candidates who will oppose their interests, even if that means those candidates are going to be working against the public interest. Not that candidates like Bush think they were working against the public interest when allowing massive environmental devastation ... they just think that behavior by corporations is beneficial to everyone financially while ignoring that the wealth stays with the corporation because we don't tax them and the external costs fall heavily on the public.

Maybe I'm just angry because I'm up too early on a day off ... internal clock is unhappy.

03 November 2009

Meat ≠ global warming ... IF it's local & pasture fed

NYTimes: "The Carnivore’s Dilemma" - the take home message:
Foods that are minimally processed, in season and locally grown, like those available at farmers’ markets and backyard gardens, are generally the most climate-friendly.
The author, Nicolette Hahn Niman, is "a lawyer and livestock rancher" and "author of 'Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms.'" That would be a great way to use my JD one day ... maybe ...

Obvious tribute to Michael Pollen's Omnivore's dilemma and like the "grass farmer" he discussed there.

The point is consistently removing the gas from the food system: gas to transport fertilizer and food to the cows, gas to get the farmers to the farm because they don't live there, gas to deal with the shit lagoons they create, gas to package the meat, gas to get the meat to the store, gas to get the meat to your house, gas to deal with the wasted left overs (~50% of all food is wasted according to the article).

26 September 2009

Daily links - funny, banky, first aid kits

Mint.com commentary on unbanked and underbanked communities. The take home message:
While many banks have either expanded into these communities and new developmental banks have sprouted giving these areas an economic lift, there are still many underrepresented places without adequate banking services.
Somebody likes peanut butter:

Baby Zonkey:

Popular Mechanics' list of best first aid kits is fine, but you can't go wrong with the most popular kits on Amazon.com.

26 August 2009

"Downturn Dims Prospects Even at Top Law Schools" - so low as (GASP!) Public Interest!

Newest in a spat of NYTimes articles on the sorrows of would-be top law firm associates not making the thinner and thinner cut adds a taste of insult for public interest attorneys. No only are top law school grads considering working at "lesser" firms outside of LA or NYC ... "many students say that for the first time, they are considering and seeking work [horror of horrors] with government and public-interest groups.

I'm happy for my many friends at firms who are happy and living for dreams and with their principles ... and I know every one of them doesn't look down on public interest work, in fact, many of them give so much financial and personal support that many public interest organizations couldn't exist without them. But this NYTimes article paints them in the wrong light.

But students who miss the brief window of opportunity to land an offer this fall may struggle to break into firms once next year’s class rises. When Julia Figurelli, a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania, decided to enter law school a year ago, she expected to find a lucrative law firm job in three years — if not collecting the $160,000-a-year associate salaries at one of the uppermost partnerships. By the time she obtains her J.D., she says, she will have around $200,000 in debt.

“Had I seen where the market was going, I would’ve gone to a lower-ranked but less expensive public school,” she said. “I’m questioning whether law school was the right choice at all.”

Once aiming to work in Philadelphia, Ms. Figurelli is now hunting for jobs in lower-paying markets, like Pittsburgh and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I’m looking anywhere my competition isn’t looking,” she added.

School officials are pushing students to look beyond the white-shoe firms, to delve deep into alumni networks and to start mass letter-writing campaigns to potential employers. Like Ms. Figurelli, many students say that for the first time, they are considering and seeking work with government and public-interest groups.

This is so very wrong ... wrong about the value of these positions and wrong about many, if not most of the people who graduate from law school (at least mine). They respect public interest attorneys and their work rather than see it as a last resort to make a living.

Many students begin law school intending to work for the public interest; to fight for people rather than profits. Too many are drawn into working for massive firms because of their massive debt load or simply the opportunity to make $160,000/year + bonuses and raises and the prestige that can be found in comparing your check with a classmate's, a colleague's. Some need the income to support families, too often because of medical problems that are not covered or insured.

But those who do seek out and struggle for public interest positions are not falling back on them, they're fighting for them. And once they get those jobs, they are fighting to keep them against lay offs and budgets which leave out the least well off. That fight for public interest jobs results in top attorneys working in outstanding offices working for the people and principles they went to law school to protect. Let the failed corporate wanna-bes who see these jobs as second rate come to public interest offices and offer to take these "meager public interest jobs" ... they'll be surprised to find that it's not a job, it's a commitment. This work holds lawyers up to and brings to life the ideals in the Constitution. That's not a fall back position, it's the front line.

20 August 2009

Breaking the News: "News stories" missing 3 of 4 important components

Matt at Newsless posted this outstanding analysis of the deficits of today's news industry.
As he explains, using Health Care reform coverage as an example:
  1. WHAT WE GET: What just happened
  2. WHAT WE MISS (1): The longstanding facts
  3. WHAT WE MISS (2): How journalists know what they know
  4. WHAT WE MISS (3): The things we don’t know
His solution to the "latest-news-only approach":
  • Enlarging the market for journalism by making it easier for more people to understand the longstanding facts behind each story.
  • Increasing the appeal of journalism by letting folks in on the details of our quest to uncover the truth.
  • Expanding the appetite for journalism by explaining what we don’t know, and what we’re working to find out.

As news consumers, we should be demanding these things as well. After all, right now we’re only getting the lamest part of the story.

02 August 2009

More than a mere hunch

For whatever reason my shoulders are a little rounded and it may be the cause of some of my shoulder/neck/back ish. Working at a desk most of the day? Backpacks too heavy for too long? Bad posture for decades? Who knows.

First, many people recommend you go to a physical therapist. They might recommend massage, exercises, a chiropractor, or any number of things. IANAPT but thought you might be curious about what I'm trying to help with my shoulder problems.

Here's an explanation of rounded shoulders or "protracted shoulder girdle"

Protracted Shoulder Girdle

The shoulders are pulled forward. The chest muscles may be overpowering the back and shoulder muscles. A protracted shoulder girdle may be accompanied by a winged scapula condition. The trapezius and rhomboids may be weak

Those with this posture deficiency, avoid stretches that protract the shoulder If lying on one's side, position upper arm under head (with or without pillow in between) since lying on one's side with one's arm down or in front (protracting shoulder girdle) may act as a continuous stretch throughout the night exacerbating this condition.

I went to a physical therapist who gave me useful stretches and exercises, but I stopped going and eventually stopped the exercises ... because, well, I'm lazy
and stupid. She explained that this is commonly seen as "a muscular imbalance between the chest and the upper back muscles. The chest may be too tight and the upper back may be weak."

Now I'm starting again and thought others might want to know what a few of the exercises are like:

(1) Reverse shoulder flys
Or seated

(2)(a) Hitchhicker

No equipment is needed for this exercise, but as you get stronger, you can use some very light weights. You can make your own weights by filling two small water bottles with sand. These should weigh less than 2 pounds, even for the strongest swimmers.

The Movement: The Hitch Hiker exercise strengthens the muscles that control your shoulder blades as well as your rotator cuff muscles. You can exercise both sides of body at the same time, or choose to do one arm at a time.

Lay on your stomach on the floor. Relax your head and keep it in line with your spine. Put your arms straight out to your sides with your thumbs pointing to the ceiling (It looks like you are hitch-hiking).

While squeezing your shoulder blades together, lift your hands up off the floor and move them slightly towards your head. Use both arms at the same time. You should end up in a position that looks like a “Y” at the end of the exercise. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds and then relax to the starting position. Repeat.

Try to perform this exercise for 2 minutes. If you cannot continue the exercise for 2 minutes, that’s okay. When you become fatigued and can no longer maintain your form, rest for 30 seconds. Perform your second and third sets the same way.

If you reach the point where you can complete 3 sets of 2 minutes, perform the exercise while holding some small weights (less than 2 pounds) in your hands. Remember, you can make your own weights by filling small water bottles with sand, and you can also perform this exercise with one arm at a time.

There are plenty of other great shoulder exercises at the same site which provided this explaination:


Stand with perfect posture (SBD) with hand placed on your thighs and your thumbs pointed upward. While gliding your shoulder blades back and down toward your waist raise your arms up at a 45 degree angle. Raise your arms to shoulder height only and keep your elbows straight. Hold this position for 2 seconds and slowly return to the starting position. Begin this exercise with no resistance and gradually progress to 1-5lb dumbbells. Do not use weights heavier than 5lb. The smaller muscles of the rotator cuff are difficult to isolate using heavy weight.

(3) Shoulder dislocations a.k.a. broomstick rotational stretch:
You need s broomstick or band to do these, but they are among the most commonly recommended and referenced for this type of shoulder problem. Here is a more detailed description.

(4) Shoulder exercises / stretches to do at your desk

(5) Foam roller -
Foam rollers are good for self massage and pre-exercise stretches, but they can also be used to build core and back muscles. I cannot find a link to the exercises my PT gave me, but I'll update when available.

Useful links:

Sleep position can have an impact also:
Sufficiently supportive bed? Too old? Too soft/hard? Consider Latex mattresses.
The sites above suggest sleeping on your back. If you must sleep on your side, have your arm under your head rather than under your side.

22 July 2009

Lewis Black destroys GOP talking points on health care

Of all the people in the media, once again, the best rebuttal to the numerous GOP talking points on health care has come from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Last night, Lewis Black was on in his "Back in Black" segment to discuss health care. He laid out just about every single main right-wing talking point against real health care reform, and showed their utter stupidity and nonsense one by one. This is a must-see video, and should be used as a primer when talking with conservatives against health care reform.

01 July 2009

It was bound to happen - Traffic School thoughts, recommendations

Do you have friends? Do they have cars? Do they occasionally speed or roll through stop lights? Good, that means your friends are humans (no offense dog lovers ... well not lovers, but ... um ... awkward). Those friends may one day need to go to traffic school. They should do it on-line because it's faster and cheaper.

But which traffic school?

Here's the list, divided up by county, of approved traffic schools (also available on each county's website):

Choose a course which:
(1) Is cheap - they're mostly the same, no reason to pay more for one over another. Most also offer price matching.
(2) Has pages you can search - ctl + f is your friend, open tabs for the answers and the question page then search for the key phrase you need when you're unsure of the answer.
(3) Can open several pages in different tabs / windows - this will allow the timers for each page to pass if required and allow you to see the materials while testing.
(4) Excludes useless info - why read extra material for this, even if it's barely funny car jokes?

Quick recommendations based on Yelp reviews/comments, ask.metafilter.com, and the Berkeley Parents Network:

(1) Finishfast.com - $15, they mail in the results for you, pages are searchable and viewable while taking tests (open in different tabs/windows). You can repeat each section as many times as you need to.

(2) www.toolazyfortrafficschool.com - $19.00 and they'll price match anyone. As above, pages are searchable and viewable while taking tests (open in different tabs/windows). You can repeat each section as many times as you need to.

(3) www.abettertrafficschool.com - $16.95 + price matching. As above, pages are searchable and viewable while taking tests (open in different tabs/windows). You can repeat each section as many times as you need to.

These should take less than 3 hours to complete and their prices are reasonable. There are also "comedy" courses but they're more expensive and tend to just have car related humor rather than using humor to improve your retention of relevant information.

19 June 2009

Magic: The Gathering (as viewed by humans)

Ah, the pro-tour years with Ball Park Sport Cards (which left and is now occupied by Craigslist @ 9th and Judah).

Saw an article that explains the game for you normal people, here's the executive summary:
Magic is the world's first and most successful trading card game. Players take the role of great wizards who battle each other with spells and creatures, represented by the cards in their decks. Very fun to play, a little sad to watch.

09 June 2009

Astro-sheep bodied cenataur / real estate agent ...

Really? Buying a house isn't a weird enough process? And why the boots?

House buying books from the library:

Nolo Press - How to Buy a House in California

Nolo Press - Buying your First Home

106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make

1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home

Tip from a family member and several friends: "Try to have fun." No idea what they're talking about, it's a process where a dozen people get 100 chances each to try to get as much of your money as they can.

25 May 2009

Undergraduate student loan options

Which are your best options (or order of lower rates and better terms):

(1) Private interest free organizations (i.e., Hebrew Free Loan Association) - though they're rare, you should investigate before moving on. This is like investigating for scholarships and grants - it comes first. The organization paying the interest for you is essentially giving you a scholarship for the interest, and that can be a lot over time.

(2) Federal Perkins Loans - currently 5% (great rate!) but limited to those who demonstrate extreme financial need and only so much funding is available for each school in a given year.(3) Federal Direct loans for students (i.e., Stafford loans)____
  • Subsidized (the government pays the interest for you while you're in school)
  • Unsubsidized (interest starts accumulating immediately)
Direct Stafford loans offer low interest rates relative to private or PLUS loans, but you're limited in how much you can take. It depends on:
  • your year in school (i.e., freshman, junior, graduate student, etc),
  • your school's offer (which may be less than the maximum - it's based on your need derived from your FAFSA).
  • whether you're dependent or independent (which can increase unsub'd amount available)
(4) Parent PLUS (or Graduate PLUS) direct loans - fixed interest rate, relatively favorable policies/terms/fees compared with most private loans. However, higher interest rate relative to Stafford and Perkins loans.

(5) Private loans (a.k.a. Alternative laons) - Citiassist,
Sallie Mae Education Trust, Wells Fargo, Chase, Ed America, U.S. Bank, etc.
  • Shorter repayment term (standard 20 years)
  • Higher, variable interest rates (LIBOR or Prime + X%)
  • Less favorable terms for borrowers often (i.e., prepayment penalties, origination fees, etc)
  • Not available for everyone (depends on credit of borrower and possibly a co-signer)
Assuming you need more money than is offered by the Stafford Direct loans, you have to decide whether to take a Parent (or Graduate) Plus or Private / Alternative loan. The general consensus is to take the Plus loan.
Finaid.org's advice:
Of course, borrowers who are eligible for federal education loans should exhaust their federal loan eligibility before resorting to private student loans, as the federal loans are generally less expensive. (There are a few exceptions where private student loans offered by nonprofit state loan agencies are less expensive, but private student loans offered by commercial lenders are generally much more expensive than federal loans. For example, the average interest rate on private student loans in 2007 was about 2% higher than the Federal PLUS loan interest rate and about 4% higher than the Federal Stafford loan interest rate.
I was uncertain whether Parent Plus loans would always be a better option than private loans. My private law school loans offered very low interest rates, but these are not available to undergrads. The differences are in the interest rate and loan terms/policies/fees.

The differences between Plus loans and private loans come down to interest rates and loan fees/terms.
  • Plus loans are fixed: this year they are 8%.
  • Private loans are mostly variable: LIBOR (the rate banks charge to lend each other money) plus 3-15% depending on the lender and depending on your credit, whether you have a cosigner, and other factors. They may also be based on the Prime rate (benchmark in setting home equity lines of credit and credit card rates) minus 0.50 to plus 5%.
To decide if a private loan would be better than a Plus loan, you need to know:
(1) What the interest rate is likely to be over the life of the private loan (i.e., a prediction for the average LIBOR rate):
So it seems that over the past 10 years LIBOR has varied between 0.38% and almost 7% (which is added to your loan interest amount, i.e., LIBOR + 6% = 6.5% today, but it was 13% in 2000). LIBOR can be even higher, see the 1989 - 2009 chart where it went over 9%.

So the average LIBOR rate is over 3% in the past 10 or 20 years. You'd be repaying your variable loan over 10-30 years depending on the terms, so odds are that LIBOR will average around 3%, so your rate will be 3% + [your lender's additional amount].

If your lender is offering a rate below 4% then a variable loan has reasonable odds of beating a Plus loan, though certainly no guarantee. But if it's LIBOR + 5% or higher, then the private loan is probably going to cost you more than the Plus loan.

(2) Beyond simply the interest rate, other fees and terms in a loan can impact the total cost substantially.
  • Plus loans have very standardized deferment policies, repayment terms, and are government regulated to afford you some protections.
  • Private loans are much more varied - you might get better terms, you probably won't. There might be origination fees, pre-payment fees, hefty late fees, and others which the Plus loans do not have.
Take Sallie Mae for example: their "Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan" offers rates of LIBOR plus 5.75% to 12.5%. Today's historically low LIBOR would mean you'd get an optimal rate of 6.25%, but on average that would be 8.75-15.5% ... substantially worse than the Plus loan.

Chase offers LIBOR + 3.65% to 12.25%. If you got their best rate, LIBOR + 3.65%, you might consider accepting their private loan over a Plus loan. However, the terms are much less favorable for you as a borrower:
Maximum 20 year repayment period (vs. Plus offering 30 years)
You may be required to pay origination or repayment fees depending on your creditworthiness.

CitiAssist offers Prime -0.50 to +4.5% ... an analysis of various lenders offering Prime -0.5 to +4.5% may give different results;

But for now I'd recommend accepting a Plus loan over a private (or alternative) loan unless you can get a rate lower than 4% ... even if you can get <4%,>

Winner: PLUS loans

*if your parents are denied a PLUS loan, you become eligible for additional Stafford (subsidized and unsubsidized) loans, so don't immediately seek out a private loan, go to your fin aid department.

** if your in a different position from when you filed your FAFSA, file a changed circumstances petition with your Fin Aid department ASAP, you may be eligible for Perkins loans, more Stafford loans, or a changed budget increasing your maximum loan eligibility.

24 May 2009

Who exactly is trying to scare us into changing our political goals?

I'm going with our own government:
FBI Blows It: Supposed Terror Plot Against NY Synagogues Is Bogus

A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.

I've seen this movie before.

State Department's definition of terrorism:
The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
Elements of their definition:
1. Premeditated
2. Politically motivated
3. Violence
4. Against noncombatants
5. By groups smaller than a government
6. Intended to influence an audience.

What the FBI did here meets all those components except #5 - they are more than a "subnational group."

Premeditated: Planned since 2002 when their "inside man" was busted for ... terrorism? No, identity theft. Started pitching his "plan" and recruiting for his "team" in 2007 at a Mosque.

Politically motivated: became informant months after 9/11 and FBI directed him toward a group of people who looked like the bombers and their success changes political outcomes, appears to be a victory in the "ongoing (i.e., we need more funding) war on terror."

Violence: incarceration is an act of violence apart from any additional injury suffered from being jailed.

Against noncombatants - these men were not part of a military unit or a "terror network" until the informant drew them into his own sham of a group. Even if this falls short of entrapment, it is still not a combat group as it is actually created by a government agent.

By groups smaller than a government - again, this component is not met.

Intended to influence an audience - tell me you don't think the "successful capture of homegrown terrorists" is not meant to influence the US population into changing our political and social activities, into supporting policies and groups and fighting against (or stopping support for) others (i.e., the ACLU, Democrats, etc).

So no, it's not terrorism, but why the hell are we up to something the falls so fucking close?

Space shuttle Atlantis landing in California TODAY

because we have better weather than Florida.

20 May 2009

Guns kill people. Including those demonstrating gun "safety"

I guess my problem with guns is that they kill and maim people ... even those who say they're safe, those who are demonstrating that they're safe ... because, well, they're not.

"Keep them unloaded or you'll end up killing/hurting yourself/someone else ... just like this."


18 May 2009

Summary for people looking at taking the bar exam ... again.

I'll go over what happens initially and what I suggest you do to get over it the next go around. (rehashing this old post on the same subject).

You feel like shit
Failing sucks, a lot. But no, it's not as bad as you're making it out to be in your head. It takes time to reconcile how much of a problem it is in the bigger picture of your life vs. how much you blame yourself and feel like beating yourself up over and over again. Seriously, it's not as shitty as you're telling yourself.

You should start getting ready to pass it next time
No, don't freak out and sign up for some crazy expensive tutor today to make yourself feel better ... get perspective on your needs and resources then act and commit to your well thoughtout plan.
  1. Money and Time? --- Taking the exam was expensive the first time, it will be again. Like buying a house or car, a good place to start is to create a budget to determine how much money and time you'll have to prepare for the test this time. This depends on whether you have a job, what it is, and whether they'll give you time off or let you work part time / half days ... and for how long. Working the whole time you're studying is not a good idea, but if it's necessary, well, yeah. You certainly need loads of time near the exam for memorization, get vacation time or otherwise get that time off if at all possible.
  2. How to study this time? Odds are you took BarBri your first time, maybe PMBR also. So what do you do now? Probably you've already started googling prep courses common for repeat test takers ... take a breath first. You need to know what you need help with before determining how to focus your studies. MBEs, Essays, or PTs? All of them? How close to passing were you? There are tons of questions you need to answer before figuring out your approach.
Three suggestions for everyone:
  1. Jeff Adachi's Bar Survival series - Bar Breakers I and II are the biggest parts, there are also flash cards (pretty good), a "Survival Guide" (has outlines which parallel the flashcards closely), and a book on the MBE's (which is supposed to be inferior to other MBE specific resources). ($100 off craigslist for all the above, ~$325 new)
  2. Strategies & Tactics for the MBE by Walton and Emanuel - recommended by many online and by John Holtz (see below). $56 (By far the best bang for your money.) I'd even say this is better than PMBR for much less money ... though it provides many fewer sample questions.
  3. Conviser - you need a copy of the Conviser Mini-Review, used is fine if you don't have your old copy from BarBri. It's just an excellent resource.

-------------------repeat of old posts follows-------------------

I used several resources for my studies, I’ll list them below, but don’t limit yourself to this list, I’ll list others further below).

(a) The Survival Series by Jeff Adachi – This is an amazing set of materials, best bang for your buck by a long shot. The main two volumes are called “Bar Breakers” and train you on writing essays, just incredible stuff there. The other materials are for studying the subjects – the Survival Guide is a set of condensed outlines which are not perfect, but a really excellent summary to memorize. There are also flash cards which are almost identical to the Survival Guide text. I made my own flash cards as per the Essay Intensive suggestion – I found it worked very well, but for three subjects I ran out of time and knew they were less likely to appear on the exam (though one of them did). I think everyone should get the 2 volumes and the survival guide, but flash cards are a maybe. Bar Breakers ($100?) Survival Guide ($30) Flash Cards ($100) (approximately, search for them on Craigslist then get the updates form Jeff’s website for free, great stuff).

(b) The Bar Code – they offer a book (The Cheat Sheets, $139, great – can’t recommend enough!), a class that meets 4 times and you get 15 graded essays (also amazing if you’re working and can’t attend weekly or daily classes – this is what I took , amazing essay feedback and the courses are excellent on helping with hard subjects – cost is $1300), or tutors (tutors are a bit more expensive, but you get 60-70 essays graded with incredible feedback and tons of personal help – this is what I would have used if I had a little more time and substantially more money –$3500-4000).

(c) John Holtz – private tutor ($450 retainer is very reasonable, he’ll go over your essays with you and create a study plan which is reasonable, his feedback is great and he works over the phone/fax) and teaches a Performance Test course (also $450, complex method that worked GREAT on one PT this summer, and was harder to apply for the other PT – overall, it was worth it. Email me if you want a more detailed review of his class and his method). The Bar Code also offers a 2 day PT course that others seemed to respect and the price is the same, $450.

(d) Strategies & Tactics for the MBE (Multistate Bar Exam) by Kimm Alayne Walton – absolutely the best MBE study guide – all the “tips” and suggestions that PMBR will give you but presented in a much more organized and transparent method. This was highly recommended by John Holtz and The Bar Code tutors/teachers. Absolute necessity for repeaters, should be used by first time takers too.

(e) Flash cards – I made my own based on a summary of the materials in the BarBri Mini-review and the Adachi Survival Guide. I really liked this method. The most important thing is to keep the “answer” side of the card to under 25 words – otherwise it’s more than you can memorize which is the whole point. SHORT ANSWERS! This is super important, Adachi and The Bar Code agreed on this, keep the answers short. If you think there has to be more on the issue, separate it out onto another card. The Adachi cards a too long usually, must your own with SHORT answers. This will be part of you studying for the first 12 weeks and it will be all of you memorization practice for the last two weeks. Memorizing at the end is very important, see the Adachi book for the reasoning here – this made a HUGE difference for me as the first time I spend the first 10 weeks memorizing, then the last two weeks practicing essays – totally backwards!

I thought this was a good combination of affordable and focused on my weaknesses (I needed to make up on my PT and Essay scores which apparently is common). Essay Intensive helped with my essays, Holtz’s course helped with PTs, and I studied by making the memorizing flashcards from the mini-review and Survival Guide.

Finally, you'll know more when you get your score back (i.e., priority for MPE or essays or PTs). I freaked out quite a bit afterwards and did far too much research about the different programs that were available, but focused on the Bay Area. First, you should consider what you can afford in terms of time and money, then focus on what areas you need to work on, and last which programs fit those requirements (mine is only one of many examples).

Random thoughts now, sorry, just passing by, email me for other ideas or check here later for feedback or updates to this.

-----------old post repeated here for more options---------

Options, options, options. I've been researching which books, programs, tutors, and bullshit work the best and here's the general plan:

  1. Jeff Adachi's Bar Survival series - Bar Breakers I and II are the biggest parts, there are also flash cards (pretty good), a "Survival Guide" (has outlines which parallel the flashcards closely), and a book on the MBE's (which is supposed to be inferior to other MBE specific resources). ($100 off craigslist for all the above, ~$325 new)
  2. Strategies & Tactics for the MBEby Walton and Emanuel - recommended by many online and by John Holtz (see below). $56

Courses, seminars, tutors: (not all recommended, some just listed for convenience)
  1. John Holtz - PT and Essays, seminar and tutoring. 3 day course on the PT for $450 (reviews range from mixed to very positive, more on the positive end). Based in LA but teaches PT course in SF also. May be available to tutor for a similar price. Tutoring is over the phone and fax. Free study plan by email. You work off materials you already have or can get on the cheap (PMBR big books, Bar/bri stuff, the Walton book above, Bar Breakers, etc). I'll be using him personally, but below are some other options I researched.
  2. The Bar Code - $1200 for the "intensive" program, $3000 for the "complete program." Mixed reviews, some really like their materials, two of my friends recommended it. (I might use it with Holtz's program/help).
  3. Essay Advantage - Essays only, substantive review and essay feedback.
    1. $1500, taught by Jeff Adachi in SF, operated by Bar/bri. Supposed to be similar to the bar/bri experience but with sole focus on essays which get a bit more feedback than in the regular course (this apparently varies, but the same person has been grading them in SF for a while now and gives a respectable level of feedback).
    2. 12 classes, 6 graded essays. Classes during weekdays so incompatible with work.
  4. PT advantage - same as above, but for PT only, $450 for "alumni" of bar/bri.
  5. Emerson's tutorial bar review - Recommended by a friend of mine, but costs $4950.
  6. Barpassers - $2000, see chart, also recommended by a friend. Commonly used, slick presentation materials, on the affordable side but less personalized than most others.
  7. MicroMash - $900 for MBE's, $1600 for MBE's + State specific materials (for California at least). This is a computer program that is sold by Thompson-West. Supposed to be good help with MBE's. VERY similar to the Smart Study program Bar/bri students are familiar with.
  8. The Writing Edge - some people seem to like Vivian Dempsey, but her course is $5500, high even for a private tutor.
  9. CalBar Tutorial - many random recommendations, some negative though. Paul Pfau is behind this - some love him, some really hate him. Serious spite.
  10. Hugh Reed / passyourbar.com - good reviews out there, though few. Hugely expensive! Small classes for $4,400, private on-on-one tutoring for $14000 (and some options in between).
  11. Fleming’s - covers essays, performance exam, and MBE
  12. National Bar Review - private tutoring, they advertise heavily
  13. PASS - online course — covers essays and performance test
  14. Adaptibar - online MBE course.
  15. Bar Graders - private tutoring for essays
  16. Bar None Review - essays, MBE, performance exam
  17. Bar Perfect - private tutoring on essays, performance exam
  18. Shari Karney - too EXPENSIVE ($6,000 for limited help, $12,000 for the "platinum package" which I think includes hypnotherapy. Not a good choice in my opinion, few independent reviews. On the plus side, she includes her prices on the website (most other private tutors do not because it forces you to call and then they can personally sell you their brand of snake oil).
  19. There are others, post your recommendations, reviews, additions, or thoughts in the comments!

06 May 2009

That kangaroo's an asshole!

Legos ... wait ... can they do that? (and bullying the cyberbully)

Legofesto's blog and flickr page.
3 years for "cyber" bully ... prosecutor's reasoning: "let that be a lesson to the rest of ya!" Probation's recommendation: $5,000 fine and felony probation.

“A probationary sentence might embolden others to use the Internet to torment and exploit children.” ... because adults who post mean messages to kids on MySpace follow the news and case law so closely that their decision to post or not will be influenced by someone (who the probably agree is stupid or worse) convicted of a felony went to prison rather than being fined and put on probation ... right.

Most prosecutors have a much more reasonable view of the impact of sentencing on those other than the criminal defendant, i.e., next to nothing because crimes are committed while people are upset or under the influence -- so the sentence (which they probably never heard about) of someone they probably never heard of has no impact on their decisions.

And yes, it's silly that Oprah is helping KFC in their current bullshit promotion to sell non-fried chicken ... it's just a lure to get people into the store, get hooked on the secret recipe, then draw them back for fried goodness. Maybe not, but it's certainly not part of any sane weight management plan. It'd be better to give away wiffle ball bats to your friends and tell them to wack you if they saw you reach for cake ... like the left over cake from my office potluck ... that I managed not to eat today ... and that I'm not going to eat tomorrow ... no. No!

05 May 2009

The Jonas Brothers - great rant about pretending not to be selling sexuality

In a nutshell:
Disney is selling sex to kids, pretending they're not, and making a fortune while forcing their audience into cultural bankruptcy.
Via kottke.org (via a.wholelottanothing)

29 April 2009

Pizza, Trader Joe's, Fat Cat, less than profound questions (and variable answers)

Greener pizza boxes:

Though it's greener to make your own pie from local ingredients. Personally recommend the garlic and herb pizza dough from Trader Joe's ... speaking of which:

Great video ... round of applause:

Leadership on the end of the drug war coming from Mexico: Mexico Senate OKs bill to legalize drug possession
decriminalizing possession of small amounts of narcotics for personal use, in order to free resources to fight violent drug cartels.
Amazingly fat cat ---->

How did Ferris Bueller break the law? Let Metafilter count the ways.

What are good summer drinks that are a) uncomplicated and b) not too high in calories?

Teacher's tips and advice.

Good chai tea at home.

Have you been wondering why you're not so much in love with the internet as you once were? Find that spark again.

28 April 2009

Arizona Public Defender Blasts Militarization of Immigration Enforcement, Criminalization of Undocumented Workers

Amy Goodman interviews Isabel Garciaabout the militarization of the Southwestern border, discrimination and human rights abuses affecting US and non-US citizens alike. She is also the legal defender of Pima County, Arizona, and won the Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award in 2008 and the 2006 National Human Rights Award from Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights.

20 April 2009

"The Drink Wheel" - This is a test, this is only a test. And it's not mine.

No, this is not something to use to find out if you're good to drive or anything like that - but it's fun to see the results!

On-Line BrAC Calculator

I have had
over a period of hour(s)2.

I am Male Female (Explanation of gender differences in Blood Alcohol Concentration)

and I weigh Pounds Kilograms

and I live in

(so that the result is displayed in the appropriate units).

About the Drink Wheel

The Intoximeters Inc. "Drink Wheel"1 is a form that you can fill out. Upon completion we will instantly compute your estimated blood/breath alcohol concentration ("BAC") based on the information that you have provided and return that estimate to you. It is presented as a public service to Intoximeters web site visitors. Its primary purpose is to provide useful information about the responsible use of alcohol.

Why is it called a "Drink Wheel"?

We call it the "Drink Wheel" because it is based on various paper and cardboard BAC calculators that are given out in alcohol awareness programs, some of which are in the form of a wheel that you can spin around to calculate your estimated BAC based on what and how much you have had to drink.


It would be extremely foolish for us to pretend that our "Drink Wheel" can tell you what your BAC actually is, first because it would open us up to an incredible amount of potential liability and second if it really did work accurately there would be no need for anyone to buy the instruments that we make and sell.

A person's actual BAC is dependent on many complex factors, including their physical condition (body composition, health etc...) and what they have recently ingested (including food, water, medications and other drugs). This site includes a more detailed discussion of the Pharmacology and Disposition of alcohol in humans.

The results that are generated are rough estimates of an average healthy person's BAC assuming typical beverage sizes, recipes and alcohol content. The BAC estimates generated by the Drink Wheel should not be used to infer anyone's fitness to work, drive or perform any other task or duty.

19 April 2009

Don't let me eat that - you know I'm trying to lose weight! Seriously, stop allowing me to eat so much carp.

Brian (the dog) sings for decriminalization ... followed by recriminalization ... followed by an ad by "above the influence" which was not unlike the ad Family Guy had just mocked:

Hairless chimp as seen on boingboing.

John Madden retires, or, as Kottke put it "I'm glad Madden's not dead but I'm sad that he's retiring from calling football games." My mom once tried to dance with Madden at a bat mitzvah for my cousin Lexi ... good times.

Obama reads 10 letters from voters everyday. NYTimes article about how they're picked.

Strip search a 13 y/o girl if you think she has Advil? Bad idea.

Waterboarding used 226 times on 2 people ... which the Wall St. Journal says proves we didn't torture. Sure it does fellas, the twisted logic (even calling it that is a stretch) shows they didn't call it torture ... so ... um ... it wasn't. Right.

16 April 2009

Stop thinking, start linking

Blog on Jury deliberations - great coverage of the "tweeting" / iphone juror issue.

Bill O'Reilly discovers Super Mario ()

"paleo-reportage about the miraculous virtual worlds available to young people who avail themselves of the NES and Super Mario -- anchored by an agog Bill O'Reilly who can only shake his head and marvel at kids today and the crazy stuff they get up to"

Texas headed out? Remember what happened last time.

The Wire Bible - why haven't you watched The Wire yet? Nothing else matters. Don't watch any other TV show or movie until you've seen every season of The Wire. (via kottke.org)

Also Twitter - I'm now among the "I was too cool but then I joined to see what all the fuss was about" crowd. Keep expectations low (like I need to tell you o_O)

According to
Keith Starky's blog:
The central conceit of the "tweet" in this case is the idea that Ninjas, which are black-clad martial artists who employ tactics of stealth to both defeat their opponents and avoid waking people up at night when they go to the bathroom, could partake in some of the worldy pleasures of the non-Ninja world (e.g., crunchy snacks) if that non-Ninja world consisted entirely of people wearing noise-canceling headphones. Henceforth we refer to this world as Headphone-World.

And McSweeney's explains Twitter:
Twitter seems to be, first and foremost, an online haven where teenagers making drugs can telegraph secret code words to arrange gang fights and orgies. It also functions as a vehicle for teasing peers until they commit suicide.

If you saw what Hubble sees, it'd look like this:

24 March 2009

-- There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Via Kung Fu Monkey via Opinio Juris

27 February 2009

Dad hanging out with Howard Zinn yesterday ... awesome!

Only my dad would just run into Howard Zinn, apparently family friends from their days in NY.