September 29, 2013

Segmented Advertising on Comcast

I was looking at my Comcast account and noticed an option to "Manage Segmented Advertising".   Curious about what that meant I clicked on it and was given a pop up option to opt-in or opt-out to the service.

They describe the service at this link.   It says this :

Comcast is introducing new advertising capabilities, called Segmented Advertising, for its Television services.
Segmented Advertising groups together households with similar characteristics. It delivers ads that may be of most interest to each group of households, rather than delivering the same ads to everyone. Segmented Advertising does not change the number of ads anyone sees. It simply increases the likelihood you will see ads about products and services that are more relevant to you.
Segmented Advertising uses readily available third party demographic and interest data that is routinely used for direct mail purposes, for instance, to create an anonymous group or “segment” of households. For example, car dealers want their ads featuring larger cars to reach households that are likely to include families. With an advertiser’s guidance about what kind of audience group it thinks will be most interested in a particular advertisement, Comcast is able to deliver ads to the groups that are most likely to be interested in the advertiser’s product.
When your household is included in an advertising group, your name or other identifying information is never given to an advertiser. The exception is if you specifically request that your name and contact information be shared (for example, because you want to receive more information from the advertiser).


Seems like an interesting idea.    I am not opposed to seeing ads about stuff that I am actually interested in buying.   Honestly I like watching the ads for movies a lot of time so I can see what new movies are coming out.   I have a DVR though so I generally skip ads as much as possible and its not like I enjoy wasting time watching ads.   But once in a while we do watch shows on demand and sometimes the networks won't allow you to skip forward so they can force you to watch ads.   I'd prefer to watch an ad targeted at our household rather than ads that aren't relevant.

They say its anonymous so I'm not worried about privacy.  I've seen this in action on the web quite a bit already, as you get ads targeted at you based on your recent browsing history.   If I go look at Toyota cars then all the sudden I'm getting a bunch of ads on various sites for Toyota cars.   (not sure that Toyota does that, just an example).   But it still feels a little bit "creepy" as if someones looking over your shoulder or stalking you.  

What do you think?   Would you opt-out of this?

September 27, 2013

Best of Blogs for Week of September 27th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

 Realtytrac has Top 25 Hidden Gem Single Family Rental Markets
The list makes me jealous. Several markets have >10% gross yields and my local market is closer to 4-6% range.

 AP article reports on Tooth Fairy inflation: Price of a tooth nears $4... wow... $4 seems high.  

MyMoneyBlog discusses the Money Magazine – Best Credit Cards List 2013

PlanetMoney asks What Happens When Stores Let Customers Return Whatever They Want?
they also have The Most (And Least) Expensive Basic Cable Channels, In 1 Graph  which is kinda interesting but almost useless for consumers since we don't have a la carte pricing.

DoughRoller made a [Video] How to Determine Your Cost of Health Insurance Under Obamacare

September 25, 2013

20% off iTunes Gift Cards - Don't Pay Full Price for iTunes

If you happen to watch my Twitter feed you'll likely have noticed several deals I've retweeted about iTunes gift cards.   And if you aren't following me on my Twitter feed then here's a reminder to sign up for my Twitter feed.  In the past 6 weeks or so I've found and passed on about 6 separate deals for a $50 gift card for $40.      The latest is an ebay daily deal I found via

Given that I've found half a dozen of these deals recently it seems that they are pretty commonly offered.   If you do buy enough iTunes stuff to warrant a $50 purchase then you should save yourself 20% and wait for one of these gift card sales.   I'll pass them along on my Twitter feed when I see them.

p.s. have I mentioned my Twitter feed?
pps this article actually didn't start out as a way to plug my Twitter feed but it seems to have turned into one


September 24, 2013

FREE - Subscription to Wired Magazine

Right now you an get a FREE 12 month subscription to Wired magazine from HSN.

Its listed at a cost of $0.01 but in the checkout it changes to $0.00.   (not sure why)

The HSN site says : "No hidden charges, obligations or automatic renewals" So apparently there are no strings attached.

I heard about this on Fatwallet.


Buying My Hard Drives and Flooding Two Years ago in Thailand

I mentioned recently that I'm building my a new computer.   I haven't yet entirely decided what to do about storage.   I did buy a SSD (solid state drive) for my primary operating system boot drive.    I got a Samsung 840 Series 120GB model MZ-7TD120BW for $90.   That 120GB will give me plenty of room for the OS and other normal applications and storage.   I will probably also then swap in an extra secondary HDD from our current system to give extra data storage for photos and videos.   WE also then use the external 500GB USB drive to do backups. 

In addition I also grabbed a 1TB USB drive + anti-virus software on a discount rebate deal that will end up costing me under $25 after rebates are processed.   The deal was through Tigerdirect and I found it on Fatwallet.  They seem to run occasional deals with a harddrive + Total Defense software as a bundle.   There are some hoops to jump through to get that rebate but its worth it for a 1TB drive for under $25.

When I bought my external 500GB drive a couple years ago I considered the question :
Should I buy a big hard drive or little hard drive

I decided to get the little drive and same some money, with the intention of later upgrading as necessary.   As it turns out not too long after I wrote that article in Sept. 2011 the cost of hard drives took an unexpected turn.   As the NYT reported in Nov. 2011 : Thailand Flooding Cripples Hard-Drive Suppliers

(2011 flooding in Thailand, not necessarily near HDD factories)

Turned out that a lot of harddrives are made in Thailand so when they were hit by flooding it severely cut the supply of drives available.   That caused the prices of hard drives to jump.

Here's a look at the recent price of drives : 

I got the data from's disk drive archive and then added a new data point today for Sept. 2013 for a 3TB drive at $118 currently available at Newegg.

You can see the spike in prices at the start of 2012 which is a result of those floods in Thailand.     Back in 2011 you could get drives for about 4¢ per GB.   Only now are prices starting to return to that level overall.    Prices nearly doubled in 2012 with drives hitting at least 7.8¢ / GB. 

Luckily I don't really need more space today or that choice I made in 2011 to buy the smaller 500GB drive for $50 might have backfired. 

This doesn't  mean that I change would make a different decision in the future.  For high tech items where the prices drop steadily over time it makes sense to buy the cheaper part today and upgrade more frequently.  Things like floods in Thailand are exceptions to the norm and we shouldn't expect to see similar spikes in prices like that in the future.

Thailand flood photo by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Some rights reserved

September 22, 2013

Why we Don't Have A La Carte Cable TV Programming

Have you ever wished you could just pay for the TV channels you watch?   You probably have.   Most of us watch probably less than 5% of the 100's of cable TV channels available.   Why pay $50 or $70 or whatever for 100+ channels if you really only like watching 7 of them?   Can't we just pay for the 7 channels we do want?   Makes perfect sense right?

The problem with that concept is that everyone would only pay for a handful of channels and so you'd either end up paying $10 per channel or cable TV revenue would plummet.   And what would happen to the more obscure channels that most people never watch?   They'd die because their handful of viewers willing to pay couldn't support an entire channel.

They're trying A La Carte in Canada right now so we'll see how it goes.   But that article about Canada has this explanation:

"Needham Research estimates that a purely a la carte model would wipe out $70 billion in revenue for the U.S. TV industry and that fewer than 20 U.S. channels would survive if consumers had to pay for each one separately."
Another report on that study from Needham says that  the total revenue is about $150B and that doing away with bundling would wipe out 50% of it.

Hard to say how accurate that report is really.   I imagine if they did go to an A La Carte system you'd still have bundles available and a lot of people would just stick to the status quo and keep the whole 100+ channels for $70 or whatever.   People are lazy and they like variety.   Maybe that wouldn't be a big factor and the vast majority would  catch on quick and get rid of all the channels they never watch.

But in my opinion its hard to see how we'd all come out ahead financially in the end.   The cable / satellite TV companies would not want to lose revenue so they'd figure out the pricing that would keep their revenue the same.   I assume that we'd then end up paying $5-10 per channel and the net cost would be flat.

September 20, 2013

Best of Blogs for Week of September 20th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

DQYDJ created  An Ideal Savings Rate Calculator for Financial Independence and Retirement Planning  If you give your income, savings rate and current savings it will tell you how long it will take till you reach a retirement goal.  You can use it to work backwards to find a necessary savings rate.

MyMoneyBlog shares a couple promo deals to get some free airline miles with United MileagePlus Dining: 3,000 Bonus Miles and  AAdvantage eShopping: 2,000 Bonus American Airlines Miles

DoughRoller shares a nice list of  8 Awesome Online Forums for Personal Finance and Investing

SPAM Comment purge

I just deleted a bunch of comments that looked like SPAM.     Several obvious SPAM comments had gotten past my sometimes lax moderation.   Sometimes its hard to know if they're actually SPAM or in fact legitimate comments.  So I might have accidentally removed a legit comment.    If you're missing a comment that was legitimate then please let me know and I'll take a look and we can restore it. 


September 19, 2013

Updown performance March to September 2013

Practice invest

Apparently I haven't talked about Updown since January.    I didn't realize its been that long, but it has.  Last time I talked about my Updown portfolio was a summary of 2012.   For 2012 I underperformed the S&P500 by 3.7%.   But I was pretty much ignoring the portfolio.   And I've still been totally ignoring my Updown portfolio this year as well.

Here is my monthly performance vs the S&P500 for the past 6 months in 2013 :

Freeby50 S&P 500
Mar-13 4.2% 3.6%
Apr-13 4.7% 1.8%
May-13 -0.4% 2.1%
Jun-13 0.3% -1.5%
Jul-13 1.4% 5.0%
Aug-13 -2.9% -3.1%
Sep-13 3.8% 5.7%

Cumulative change is +11.4% for me and +14.1% for the S&P500.

Again the S&P500 is handily beating my neglected portfolio of fake money that I'm not paying any attention to.

Since I'm not actively managing or even monitoring the portfolio it doesn't really mean a whole lot.   Really the only story at this point is that you can't expect a stock portfolio to do well if you neglect it.

On the other hand I'm still beating the S&P500 long run.   Since I started in March 2008 my stocks are up 56.2% and the S&P 500 is up 29.8%.  So even with my recent under performance and neglecting the portfolio I can claim I've done a good job with the stock choices.   However it could just be luck.


September 17, 2013

How Much Are Health Care Subsidies?

With the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) commonly known as "Obamacare" there will now be tax credit subsidies to help pay for health insurance.   To be eligible you have to buy insurance on your own (outside of employer plans ) and have a family income that is 400% of the federal poverty level or lower. 

Keep in mind this won't impact most people since most people get insurance through their employer or via government programs like medicare or medicaid.   You are only eligible for a subsidy if you buy private insurance via an exchange.

How much are the tax credits available? 

They figure the subsidy based on how much the tax payer is expected to pay for insurance and then the subsidy pays the rest of the cost for a 'silver' level plan. 

In other words :

Subsidy = Cost of silver plan - Tax payer premium

The tax payer premium is a % of their income based on the following table :

Federal Poverty Level % of income
under 133 2%
133 3%
150 4%
200 6.3%
250 8.05%
300 9.5%
400 9.5%

I found the table both at the KFF and in a US News article.

If your income is in between one of those points then there will be a sliding scale.   So for example if you're at 225% of poverty then you'll be halfway between 200 and 250 so your % of income is the midpoint of 6.3% and 8.05% or 7.175%. 

Also refer to the 2013 Federal poverty levels

Abbreviated table :

Persons in family Poverty level
1 $11,490
2 $15,510
3 $19,530
4 $23,550
5 $27,570

Lets say for example that you're a 40 year old single person making $28,725 that would put you right at 250% of the poverty level.  So your premium is 8.05% of your income which is $2,312.36  

Now lets say as an example that a 'silver' level health plan would cost you $4,800 a year.   Therefore the subsidy is $4800 - $2312.36 = $2,487.64


September 13, 2013

Best of Blogs for Week of Sept. 13th.

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

Planet Money has The Most (And Least) Lucrative College Majors, In 1 Graph
While the graph isn't especially useful, I would recommend anyone picking a career field read the first couple paragraphs of the article for a stark contrast between job markets based on major.

Planet Money also has Jobs, Debt And Home Prices Since The Crisis, In Five Charts

The Big Picture shares a similar article with 2008 to 2013: The Financial Crisis in 9 Charts

DoughRoller has a [VIDEO] Step by Step Tutorial on Getting Your Free Credit Report
I also have a Step by Step guide to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report but mine is now 4 years old.


September 11, 2013

OES Maps - Number of Jobs and Wages by State or MSA

Lets say you're starting or thinking of starting a career in a particular job and you are wondering how many jobs there are in your area or other parts of the country.   For example lets say you've read that petroleum engineering is a good job and you live in Hawaii.   Are you likely to get a petroleum engineering job in Hawaii?  Well no.   But where can you get such a job?  Where are the jobs?   Some occupations have ample jobs in every region and every state: elementary school teachers for example are employed everywhere in the nation.   However some jobs are mostly concentrated in certain states or even certain cities.     In addition to knowing where the jobs are you'll also likely want to know how much people get paid in different areas.

You can use the BLS' Occupational Employment Statistics maps to find out what states have the most jobs in a given occupation as well as find wage data for the jobs.

The map generator lets you pick a general occupation field, then a specific occupation and then show the employment, quotient or wages by state or MSA.

For example we can do so for Aerospace engineers :

Say for example you're an aspiring aerospace engineer, can you get a job in Wyoming or Idaho or Maine?  Not too likely.    But if you're interested in living in California or Washington then you can find a lot of jobs in those states.

Now it is also useful to drill one level deeper and look at metropolitan statistical areas  (MSA).   When we do that for Aerospace we see those jobs are really limited to certain cities :

If you want to find wages you can do that too.   Here's the wages for elementary school teachers by state :

If you go to the actual OES site and look at a map there you can get the specific numbers per state by hovering your mouse over an individual state.    For example if you want details on teacher wages in Wyoming you can see that :


September 9, 2013

I've been sick

If you've noticed a lack of posts lately its because I was sick in bed.   I was sick for several days, so that put be behind on everything.   I'll resume regular posting this week as soon as I have some time to get back to writing.


September 1, 2013

Building a New Computer

Our primary computer is finally on its last legs.   I think the system is actually over 8 years old now.   Thats a long time to use a computer and its just not working all that well any more.  It seems to overheat and occasionally crashes.  I figure it is time to get a new one before this one completely dies on us.  

We decided to go retro and pretend like its 2004 and build a desktop computer.    Yes thats a desktop computer.  For you young 'uns out there a desktop computer is a large bulky box without a build in screen or keyboard that houses your computer components.  It is not designed to be portable.  Your great great great grandparents may have used them.

Kidding aside, we are getting a desktop for a few reasons.  First with a desktop I can upgrade it relatively easily.   I build my own computers so I can tinker with it and add drives,  memory or put in a better video card if necessary.  You can upgrade memory in laptops but usually thats about it.   Second reason I am building our own desktop is that I wanted an SSD drive in it.   It seems the price entry point for systems with SSDs is much higher and more often only seen in the $1000 level.  Third reason is that I thought I could get more power and features for less money by going with a desktop.  However in hindsight I'm not sure that really worked out.    Last reason that I decided to go with a desktop is my wife stated a preference for desktop systems. 

I thought about just buying a Dell system.    I'm building the system myself for a few reasons.   First the SSDs were only in the more expensive units and building one myself gives me more flexibility to pick the parts I want, second if I build it myself I know what quality of parts I'm getting and lastly for a system I build I wont have to bother with the excess software that OEMs usually put on systems.  

The system I'm building costs about $650 in total for the parts.   Through coupons, sales and promotions I was able to cut about $100 off that cost so I'm spending about $550.    I could have bought a cheap Dell desktop for around $300 and gone with lower performance build.   That would have met our needs right now but it wouldn't last as long.   We decided instead to spend the extra money and get a more powerful system that will hopefully last us longer.  Considering how much we use the computer its pretty worth it to spend a bit more for a better experience.

For most people I would recommend you get a basic laptop.   I think most peoples computing needs can easily be met by a basic $300 or $400 laptop.   If you do much of any gaming I would go for something with more power and often a desktop will be your best bet to get a good video card.


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