Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday

For a piece of good news, all you have to do is look out the window at 5 PM and actually see the world rather than pitch darkness.  Really, this is a good thing to have going.  The darkest of the days are done.  Get through another six weeks and we'll be worrying about the picks in March Madness.

This was the time two years ago when I was going through my fight with pneumonia.  My calendars for then just have daily entries of "Sick" for about a week.  Three courses of the Z-Pack antibiotics finally knocked the worst of it out of me.  It was a four-month recovery.  Yuck.

The Super Bowl hoopla does not amuse me.  I have little interest in the teams.  Less in the press corps covering the event.  And the commercials have never meant much to me.  (Well, a couple of the Budweiser frog spots were pretty good.)

The White House's trial balloon of changing the rules and taxing the income from the 529 College Savings Plans fizzed-out to a quiet early death.  As a tax professional, I've always had a skepticism for long term financial planning based on a particular IRS Code rule that created a consistent favorable outcome for taxpayers.  If it works out too well for people, there's a tendency for the IRS to "tweak" the rule because revenue is it's middle name.

Few of this President's proposals meet with bipartisan disfavor, so it was interesting to hear and read the panning of this item after the SOTU address.  One article/post suggested that one of the reasons that the criticism was so immediate and widespread was that the media class was probably a big participant in the 529 program.  That posit makes some sense.  Journalists are education-oriented people.  Most went to college.  And they know how much it is going to cost to send their own kids to school.  Funny how taxing "the rich" (who, according to BO, are the only ones using 529's), gets a little close to home for the not-so-rich.

It came as no surprise to me that the White House has already pulled the plug on the proposal.  Politics is politics.

(I heard another idea about raising revenue by eliminating the home mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions for everyone.  I actually have no problem with these suggestions.  They fall into my bigger-picture approach of eliminating all deductions and going to a gross-income or consumption tax.  The real estate industry would go into an apocalyptic fit, of course.  Lobbyists would take Capital Hill by siege.  But getting rid of all of the deductions would simplify the process.  It won't happen in my lifetime.)

Our new Barracuda network security system is too good.  I routinely can't access sites that have been in my rotation for years.  Some of my Yahoo email is blocked.  I have to give the site address to our IT vendor to get it excepted from the screening utility.  It has happened when I go to print an airline reservation or an order from Gap.  It doesn't like Lululemon.  I feel so much more secure.

The markets continue to rock up and down.  Uncertainty about Europe.  Slowing growth rate in the US.  Oil under $45 a barrel.  A pricier dollar compared to the Euro and other currencies.  Microsoft makes BILLIONS in the quarter...and the stock goes down 10%.  Buckle up.

All for today.

BCOT

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday

I don't think that we're in for a big storm, but the snow came in early this AM and we now have a couple of inches with the wind whipping it around pretty good.  That sunny and 75 last Sunday in Arizona seems like a distant memory.

The press can't seem to get enough of Deflategate.  So many people thumping their chests over the scandal of it all.  If they added the time devoted to this topic by the broadcast news shows this week, it would dwarf the time given to the Left's disdain for anything the GOP might favor.  (And we know that there's no short supply of GOP disingenuous positions.)  To my knowledge, no serious sports critic has suggested that the air pressure in the game balls impacted the outcome of the contest.  People have their underwear in knots because of the suggestion that the Pats bent the rules.

For what its worth, that noted philosopher on the NASCAR track, Richard Petty (and others in the sport too), is fond of saying, "If ya ain't cheatin', ya ain't tryin' hard enough." 

Moving on...

I've made the command decision to take my February trip South to Texas rather than back to Scottsdale.  I've got a new vendor that we want to use for some data processing services here at the office.  They are located in Waco.  Given the significant commitment I intend to make to this new company, I want to visit their facilities and meet the people face-to-face.  So I've bought a ticket to DFW and will meet with them on the 20th...and then spend the weekend in the Dallas area before returning on Monday the 23rd. 

I opted to drive to Waco rather than fly as American has direct flights from MLI to DFW, and since I'll want a car for the weekend, why chance connections?  Plus, you get into those time/convenience choices of short flights that must consider travel time to/from the airports and the extra time to rent a car at the second town.  Whatever.  It'll be an adventure.  And tax deductible.

I've never been to Waco, and don't intend to spend more than the morning there, but I might do a drive through the Baylor campus.  (The town's name is a somewhat regular solution in the crossword puzzle business.  Central Texas town.  Or maybe, Site of Branch Davidian siege.)

According to the basement calendars, two years ago this time, I was entering into that dark time of my pneumonia problems.  Knock.  On.  Wood.

The story in the paper this AM had the disclosure that RAGBRAI will end in Davenport this year. The local media flacks are making a big deal about Davenport's "selection" as the terminal point for this year's ride.  Whatever.  I know that I've said this here before, but getting the designation as the ending town is an over-blown distinction.  Riders have been on their bikes for a week and what they're looking for at that point is their transport home.  The much better gig...and party...this year will be Coralville on Friday night.  2 and I may need to consider doing the Friday segment from Hiawatha to Coralville.

Relatedly, the 2015 pro cycling season has had its first major races this past week, one in Australia and one in Argentina.  Not so many doping stories over the Winter.  Not sure if any of the Americans will be competitive this year.  In the peloton, the teams are much like NASCAR...always looking for sponsors.  Due to the huge interest in the sport in Europe particularly, there is a definite advertising benefit for companies that have those expenditures in their budgets.  But just like here in the USA, bean counters can do the analysis, and the definitive returns are often suspect.  Thus, the constant search for new sponsors.  And new names for the teams.

All for today.  Hope it is a good week in your neighborhood.

BCOT

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday

It's been a struggle this week finding what ever might be called "normal" for me. The golf/marathon trip set me off my game. Better today.


Is our country mixed-up or what? We have every newscast on every channel digging into "deflationgate" today. Really? And by this evening, some of the heavy weights around the NFL are saying that Brady and the Patriots need significant discipline. At news conferences today, Belichick and Brady separately played the Egyptian card...denial, denial, denial. No one is really saying that the game was changed by less-inflated balls. But "the integrity of the game" is one of the trending phrases on Google search. With the Commissioner already reeling from the sexual assault mess from last Summer, he may feel pressure to respond.

In other sporting news, the announcement this afternoon that Jeff Gordon would be retiring after the 2015 season came as no big surprise. He's had some hints out there, including struggling with some back issues last year. My guess is that he's got enough money, the ability to stay in the game as an owner/manager/personality, and he just doesn't want to give up his family life to bang fenders with the young dudes on the track.


He could run a few races each year if he so chose, but it's hard to win if you aren't out there every week. (They already have the replacement driver for the 24 car in the Hendrick stable. It's time for Jeff to move on.)

The PN was able to fix the storm door to my kitchen door this afternoon. It had slipped off the track somehow and had become hard to close. I could tell that the hinges weren't quite right, but me attempting to fix the problem would have ruined a weekend morning (with no guarantee of a good outcome). Another example of his value in my world.

3 alerted us yesterday on the passing of the dad of one of her high school classmates. Major heart attack. Age 64. Recently retired. A harsh and proximate reminder of Rule #1: Live like you were dyin'.

Speaking of Gibbs, did anyone catch the connection at the end of Tuesday night's episode when Ducky reported that Director Vance's lung problem was not cancer, but rather the non-deadly condition of sarcoidosis? I had to go through a similar exploratory surgery when they couldn't determine my problem through X-rays or scans. The difference in my case was that it took two weeks to get results!!! They had to send the tissue sample to Mayo's to get a determination. I was a basket case awaiting the report.

My trip over to Augie last night was a bust (except for the popcorn). They played their primary rival, Illinois Wesleyan, and it was an uphill battle from the outset. Wesleyan has lost several games, and are not rated, but they played well last night. And they confounded Augie with inside screens on offense. Plus, they stayed in the grill of Augie's sharp-shooting (but small-ish) guards. Tough loss. And I missed 2's company.

Enough for this evening. I'm using the iPad so the appearance is what you get. I can't manipulate presentation on this as I can from a PC.

Hope it is a Good Friday in your neighborhood.

BCOT


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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tuesday
















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Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday (Part I)

So this is coming to you from my flight to Chicago on Monday morning. This is my fifth day on the road...which is maybe one too many. Great evening with 1 and 1.1 last night, but I'm thinking that a late-afternoon flight yesterday may have been the ticket. My good karma was in low-supply once I headed to my hotel after my lunch with 1.1 at "Che-Hooters."

First and foremost, congrats to 1 and 1.1 on their successful completion of the Phoenix Rock 'n Roll Marathon. They both had great results, including 1's PR. The race was well-organized, well-supported, and we all came away with a favorable feeling for the event. A repeat-performance could be in the future.

I felt fortunate to see 1 at four spots on the route...6, 13, 20 and 23 miles. All as scheduled. And I saw 1.1 at the 13-mile marker. (Actually, HE saw me first.). The streets of Phoenix are pretty much in a standard grid, and the course was laid-out in a manner that allowed me to stay outside the course when driving and get to those designated spots. Plus, one segment was an out-and-back stretch that allowed me to just stay at one place and see her twice. Spotting her was easy as there really weren't a ton of marathoners, and the half-marathon (which did have big numbers), was run on other streets.

Some general observations about the weekend:

1. The Dodge Grand Caravan may be a Soccer Mom's vehicle, but it works for snowbird golfers too. It was half the asking price of the Tahoe and had plenty of space for our bags and clubs.
2. The cheaper golf course that we played on Saturday (for economic reasons) was a reminder of the old axiom that you usually get what you pay for. I think we'll be less-likely to go the budget-route next year. I mean, it was OK, but very so-so in comparison to the courses that we played on Thursday and Friday.
3. Three straight days of golf in January are plenty for the LtPC. Heck, the same is true in June!
4. Don't know if I have ever been in a city that has so much going on in such a compact period of time as now in PHX. Multiple car shows (including the big Barrett Jackson one like at Reno), the Phoenix Open golf tournament (with a Tiger appearance this year), and the Super Bowl. (OK. I give NYC a nod here. They have stuff going on ALL the time.)
5. TSA pre-approved check-in makes any trip a little easier to navigate.
6. That Safeway club-card is a no-brainer. We only had one trip there (on Wednesday night to stock-up the condo), and we bought only 6 bottles of top-shelf wine, but the card savings were over $100. I wonder what the annual revenue is for Safeway for non-club-card sales?
7. You can't always trust the Internet. Shocking. The Google Maps click-on address for my Sunday night hotel reservation on my Yahoo email notification was "West" instead of "East". Whoops.
8. It's very cool to stay connected with the fam via Twitter while on the road. The sisters following the marathoners from across the country was neat. (1 said that she had friends back in Minny following her on an app. They knew when 1.1 finished before she did!)
9. I do much better getting from here to there (regardless of where here and there are!), with 2 in the co-pilot's seat. I pretty much need a guide.
10. Another good performance by Hertz. Painless pick-up and drop-off. Paper receipt at the drop-off. Emailed receipt received while on the shuttle from the rental car center to the terminal.

The golf part of the trip was certainly successful, but it was a little off perfect since our pal Roy was unable to join us this year (rotator cuff issues). There wasn't a natural 4th from home to take Roy's spot, so we were three. As a result, we had an assistant pro play with us the first day, and then had "singles" join us the second and third rounds. While these guys filled out the foursomes, it was a glass only half-full in one key respect: the over-ride saying about the boys' golf trip is that, "it's not about the golf". I'm not saying that the trip was too much about the golf, but the symmetry of the 19th Hole and the evening events was just a little "off" for me this time.

Our Friday course was the Monument course at Troon North, a place we've played before, a higher-end, but non an "exclusive" facility. If you have the cashola, come play. Troon North is a big company with multiple courses and probably separate divisions for course ownership, course management, products, training and agronomy. I was really impressed with the turf at this course. Not only the tees, fairways and greens, but the practice areas and other green spaces around the clubhouse were impeccable. Thick, full, and very healthy looking. They absolutely have figured out how to grow and maintain their grasses in the desert. Not every club can say that. But refer to Item 2 in the list above.

Finally, I'm sure I mentioned it on Twitter, but we failed in our attempt to dis-arm the security system at the condo upon our arrival Wednesday night. For what ever reason, we had not had to deal with the issue in our prior visits. So when we punched in the security code for the garage, it was a miss, and the sirens and bells went off throughout the place. We punched every combination of buttons on the keypad, turns out, calling the cops, fire department and the EMT's.

Cal finally saw a phone number on the keypad and we called in to give ourselves up. Turns out that the lady across the street who watches the place for Ron's sister had already been contacted and she called off the gendarmes. They walked us through the disarming protocol which required us to leave the unit for at least 10 minutes to allow the sensors to reset. A glass of Jordan Cabernet for each of us later, and all was well.

All for now. Part II later.

BCOT




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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday

OK. Back to a blogging entry while on a plane. This is the segment from Moline to Denver on our way to The Valley of the Sun. United. We only have about 50 minutes between flights in Denver. Will the clubs make it?

So I am humbled to admit that I have filled out the paperwork and have submitted my claim for Social Security. It was a worse mental adjustment last year when I was more-or-less forced onto Medicare by our group insurance plan at the office when I turned 65. They made it very expensive to stay on private insurance, and it was enroll in Medicare or pay more than twice that rate to the office plan.

With Social Security, you have a choice to take the plan at Full Benefit Age (66 for me), or defer application for up to 4 years, and earn an additional 8% of the basic benefit for each year so deferred. Earning an additional 32% sounds good, particularly when you don't need the money currently, but it's like a 12-year payback when you defer the full benefit for a year. You get into things like life expectancy, solvency of the program, the possibility of political volleyball, and your own health 12 years into the future. Taxes matter too. You pay tax on benefits, and your net after-tax benefit now is probably less than when you're age 80 and fully retired.

(Interestingly, Iowa has passed a provision exempting Social Security benefits from state income taxes beginning in 2015. That's a bonus! I'm guessing that that change is in recognition that Illinois taxes NO retirement income. Iowa likes to tweak Illinois if they can. And Iowa has managed a budget surplus in recent years. We know Illinois is broke. They probably SHOULD tax retirement benefits. Ultimately, they'll either tax everything, or go broke.)

After a bit of soul-searching, I made the choice that I have generally been advising my clients to make in recent years...TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN!!!

I didn't watch much of the National Championship game on Monday night. NBC. Bob Costas. PAC 12. Ohio State. Meh. It's hard for me to root for Ohio State, even if they are in the Big Ten. Urban Meyer can coach. And he can recruit. How many stories will there be going forward about the re-newed rivalry of Ohio State and Michigan? Yada. Yada. Yada. I'm already over it.

(Glad to see that the citizenry of Columbus kept up the holy tradition of bringing out the riot squads to make their championship celebration fully croizened(sp?).)

I have been stymied a bit recently in a move to consolidate my mobile technology. I decided last Fall that I wanted to give up the cellular service on my laptop. I had reached the point, just usage-wise, where paying a separate monthly fee for the laptop just didn't make any sense. Then when I was visiting the fam in NYC at Christmas time, I liked the look of 3.1's MacBook Air. So I called up our Verizon rep and asked her to give me a price on the swap-out of my iPad and laptop monthly services for a MacBook Air with built-in cellular service.

Alas, the MacBook doesn't come with the optional cellular cservice. Nor does a Surface. I was/am a little surprised at that reality. It may be the iPad as my primary mobile blogging device going forward.

2 and I have come up with a hashtag for the European trip proposed for September. She initially had it at #BarcelonaBordeaux. I shortened it up at first to #BarBor. But after a second thought, I'm going with #BarBor15.

And my thought on timing is for our departure to Barcelona on September 17th. That puts our transfer over to Bordeaux on either the 22nd or 23rd. The plan now is to rent our car as we depart Barcelona (rather than take a train) and spend a night somewhere in France on our way over to Bordeaux. That gives me the possibility of a bike ride on one of the TdF hills in the course of that transfer. Departure for home would then likely be on the 29th or 30th.

Loved the FaceTime with 1.01 (and 1.02) yesterday on 1.01's birthday. Those 5 years have gone quickly...but it seems like a long time ago that we had our March Madness FFF in West Des Moines that year. Lots of water under the bridge since then. For all of us, eh? Think about all the places we have each been (and been together). It's a long and impressive list. We have been blest as a family.

Landing shortly in Denver. Will Twitter the results of our connection. More from the road tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

BCOT


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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday

Here's to the Birthday Girl!  You are Granddaughter of the Day!!  Make it a great day, Kiddo.
 
I also elected to change the Home Page pic to recognize our impending boy's golf trip to Scottsdale.  We leave tomorrow afternoon with our first tee time on Thursday morning.  The pic was taken at Grayhawk Golf Club last year.  We won't be on that course this year.  The economy in the Valley of the Sun must be improving.  Green fees are up 25-30% from last year.  More than double what we paid in the 2009-10 years.  We paid $99 per round at Grayhawk back then.  Now they're asking $230 with no discounts.  Ouch!
 
It looks like we'll be going over to another Barrett-Jackson classic car auction while we're in Arizona.  They have one there every year about this time.  These are the same people who do one at Hot August Nights in Reno.
 
Hope to get back on here later today.
 
BCOT