Do you wish we had more scientists in US Congress making fact-based decisions? Me too, so friends and I created VoteSTEM.org to help you find STEM candidates running for Congress and Governor in 2018.
In the past I have been terrible when comparing job opportunities in how the different companies match employee donations to charitable organizations. As someone who believes strongly in charitable giving and donates 10% of his income to charities every year, there’s a big difference in an employer who will match $15k of that or one who won’t match anything.
So while I’m not looking for a job right now, I was curious how major Seattle-area tech employers compared with regard to their employee charity matching programs. The results were enlightening.
It’s clear which of those stand out:
- Microsoft for their very generous $15k matching program. Way to go Microsoft!
- Amazon, one of the biggest tech employers in the region, for matching absolutely nothing. Ditto Facebook.
- Oracle for their almost-embarassing $300 match. Yes, Tableau is only $500 but I expect more from a company with a $200b market cap than one with $7b market cap.
It’s interesting to compare these to other major Seattle-area employers, all of which are rather generous:
Clearly there are a lot of factors in play when you choose where to work, but next time I’m looking for a job I need to factor in employer matching to ensure I’m not leaving thousands of dollars of Doing Good sitting on the table.
I’m not one for making New Year resolutions, but I see value in taking a moment to reflect on the prior year and brainstorming ideas on how to make the new year better. I’m approaching 2018 with a “more and less” philosophy.
More content creation; less passive media consumption.
I want to create more content than I consume. There are times I find myself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Instead I want to put more energy in blogging, working on code for Distributed Proofreaders, working on VoteSTEM.org, and yes even posting more selfies on my Instagram.
More reading; more science fiction & fantasy.
Reading, particularly science fiction and fantasy, has always been my way to escape and decompress. I’ve found that reading also frees up my mind from hyper-focusing on whatever problem I’m working on and lets my subconscious piece things together, ultimately helping me work through the problem.
For the past couple of years I’ve been terrible about making time to read and I intend to change that. The year is off to a good start with discovering the Expanse series (thanks Josh!) and the Bobiverse books (thanks Samantha!).
Less soda, sweets, and carbs; more vegetables and bacon.
I’m already pretty good about not eating hollow calories like soda and sweets, but I’m still a sucker for carbs in all forms. Heaven is bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I want to pare that down and eat more vegetables. And bacon, because: bacon.
More cooking; less eating out.
Daniel does most all of the cooking in our household and I do the dishes. This is primarily because he really enjoys cooking and also because when we started dating he was working from home and could start dinner early. (There is nothing as awesome as coming home from work to a house that smells of delicious food and immediately sitting down to eat.)
Our work schedules have shifted and I get home between half an hour to a full hour before he does but he still does most of the cooking. This makes for late meals, eats into our evenings together, and risks a hangry Casey. I want to start doing more of the cooking before he gets home so that we are eating earlier and have more time together.
In addition to this, I want to eat lunch out less. This will require better meal planning and, frankly, making enough dinner that there are leftovers to take with me to the office.
More consistent workouts, including leg days and weekend running with the gang.
I’ve been remarkably consistent about working out in the mornings over the past 17 years, but not so consistent with having high-quality workouts. This year I want to be more focused on the workouts themselves and stop skimping on leg days, which I hate.
I also want to run more with my weekend running gang. Getting together and running once a week with that cadre of friends that I’ve known for more than 15 years is so good for me, body and soul.
Actually, just more running in general. I always forget how fantastic I feel after a run.
I want to get more haircuts in 2018. I really like the way I look after a fresh haircut, but with ~4 weeks between haircuts my hair looks like crap there towards the end and I hate it. Sadly, my barber is no longer convenient to my office so there’s a huge time overhead in getting a haircut. I’m loath to change barbers, so I will have to get creative in making time to get my haircut more frequently.
More time with chosen family.
I want to spend more time with my chosen family in 2018. As time goes on I realize how important they are to me and how much their company improves all aspects of my life.
More good; less bad.
This year I want to do more good and fight more bad. Working to positively influence the 2018 midterm elections is a big part of that, primarily through VoteSTEM.org, but also through donations to candidate campaigns across the nation. Less dwelling on our shithole President and his cronies and more working to right the ship and empowering those people who will make that possible.
2018 is going to be a great year, more and less.
It’s abundantly clear from the numerous recent data breaches that the most secure password for a website is one that isn’t used anywhere else. And while there are mnemonics for making memorable, unique passwords, the best way I’ve found is to use a password manager like LastPass.
Before LastPass I used the common, but very insecure, method of having different “levels” of passwords. One password was throw-away and used on sites that I didn’t care about. My medium-security password was used more rarely and only on sites that were important but did not hold financial or medical data. My high-security password was only used on financial and medical sites. Periodically the high-security password sites would be changed and the password demoted to medium password sites, etc. That’s a pretty dumb way of doing it, because all it takes is for one financial company to get hacked for that password to be at risk1 and open the door to all your financial and medical accounts.
The most secure way is for every site to have its own password. That way if a site is hacked, the only place that password can be used is the already-hacked website, not your bank account2. Memorizing a unique, secure password for every website you visit is impossible for mere mortals however.
Enter a password management tool like LastPass.
LastPass is a browser plugin for all major browsers on all major platforms. You have one master password to log into LastPass and it then keeps track of all of your usernames and passwords in a vault, automatically filling in those form values when you visit the website again. LastPass uses your master password to encrypt/decrypt your vault and only sends the encrypted vault to its servers, so your data is never accessible outside of your computer.
You can have LastPass installed on multiple computers and devices, including your mobile device, and have access to all your usernames and passwords whenever you are using a hardware device that you trust.3 The only password you have to remember is the master password to your LastPass vault. Accordingly, that password should be both strong and memorable.
You can share individual username/password entries to other LastPass users for them to use. This is perfect for giving multiple people in a household access to a single resource — like utility company website credentials — without duplicating that information when the web site requires you to change the password every 6 months.
Also, just because you use LastPass doesn’t mean that all of your passwords have to be an unintelligible mishmash of characters and symbols you can’t remember. While I let LastPass create such completely-unmemorable passwords for most sites, I still create strong but memorable passwords for a few accounts that I want quick, direct access to. LastPass will happily remember those passwords just as easily has ones it creates, so don’t let that dissuade you from using it.
I’ve found LastPass useful for other things as well. For instance, within LastPass you can use secure notes. These are great for putting information like your frequent flyer numbers, known-traveler numbers, passport information, private key passphrases, and other data that you want to have secure and generally available.
If you aren’t using unique passwords everywhere, I strongly encourage you to do so. A password manager like LastPass is a great tool for easily moving to that paradigm and I highly recommend it after using it for 2 years.
3 It’s important that you trust the device you are accessing LastPass from. Untrusted devices can be using keyloggers and other technology to swipe your passwords. Never type in a password on a device you do not trust.
In 2011 I started creating mix CDs1, one a year, of songs that resonated with me to share with friends. In January I create an empty playlist and add to it over the course of a year. Then in November I tweak, tune, and adjust it before sharing it with friends.
This year saw new music by Caro Emerald & P!nk (two of my favorite artists), new-to-me music by Meghan Trainor (who quickly became a favorite, although I think it makes me a bad gay to have just now found her), and a slew of oldies that just hit the spot.
Speaking of spot, this year you can listen to the playlist on Spotify. Long live
mix tapes mix CDs digital playlists!
- Exotic Flu – Caro Emerald
- Brave – Sara Bareilles (this is a repeat from last year for good reason)
- Big Yellow Taxi – Amy Grant
- If I had $1,000,000 – Barenaked Ladies
- Curious Thing – Amy Grant
- I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder
- Perfect Picture – Carlos Bertonatti
- Rather Be – Glee Cast (for Daniel)
- Whatchugot – Caro Emerald
- 455 Rocket – Kathy Mattea (for Mr. Moore)
- Me Too – Meghan Trainor
- What About Us – P!nk (for all of us being shafted since the election)
- I Won’t Let You Down – Meghan Trainor
- I Am Here – P!nk
- Champagne Problems – Meghan Trainor
- Once Upon A December – David Newman
- The Dark – Caro Emerald
Last year Daniel and I gave a lot of thought into how we can do some good in the world with our charitable donations. We found some great local and national organizations that we really believed were making an impact in the world by supporting women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+, youth, and other minorities. This year we are excited to support those same organizations again.
Sometimes, however, it’s not enough to just Do Good, you have to also Fight Bad.
Accordingly, next year in addition to supporting local and national organizations at the same financial level we have been, we are giving an equal amount of money to local and national political campaigns.
This isn’t something we’re venturing into lightly. Both of us strongly believe that local communities should be the ones electing their representatives without outside influence. And in a perfect world people would have equal representation within that community to elect those officials. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where Republicans have used gerrymandering to stack the deck in their favor, denying minorities equal representation in states across the nation. Not to mention re-enacting Jim Crow laws in 9 states and disenfranchising minority voters with voter ID laws.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on how the midterm races unfold over the next year and where we can put our money to good use. And I’m not above funding Republican campaigns to get the lesser of two Republican evils if it comes down to that. I’m not about to let perfect be the enemy of good enough.
It’s time for liberals to stop pretending we live in an ideal world and playing by idealist rules. It’s time to take the gloves off and buy our own congresspeople, even if that means setting aside some of our principles, because the Republicans have abandoned their principles years ago.
A year and a half ago I decided I needed to simplify my financial life. For years I had been using tools like Quicken and Moneydance to keep track of my finances. It was always a bit of a laborious process involving a couple of hours a month to do some manual data entry and categorization. The financial tool landscape had changed dramatically since I started doing this back around 1997 and it was time to take a fresh look at what was available to me.
Specifically I was looking for a tool to enable me to do the following with as little manual effort as possible:
- View my entire net worth
- See my cash flow month to month
- Understand how I was spending my money
- View how my retirement and other investments were doing
- Quick auditing of my credit card transactions
An online tool was clearly the way to go, and there are now several. Sites like Betterment and Wealthfront are looking to actively manage your investments. I don’t mind paying for a service I find useful, but I wasn’t looking for active investment help. I’d already decided to move my IRA and brokerage accounts from Ameriprise to Vanguard1 specifically to decrease per-fund overhead and management fees so these weren’t a good fit for me.
The two free tools that seemed to satisfy my needs were Mint and and Personal Capital. Both provide a wholistic view of your financial portfolio by syncing with your financial accounts, although their objectives differ a bit. Mint is geared towards helping people budget their money but has fewer tools to assist with understanding your investments. Personal Capital on the other hand is focused entirely on your investments, and while it allows you to see how you are spending your money, it doesn’t have robust budgeting tools.
I dove into Personal Capital and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. For the first time in decades I’ve finally been able to see the entirety of my financial portfolio at a glance. It gives me great tools to see how I am spending my money (hello there, restaurants, aren’t you a money suck), understand which of my investments have high fees, and see how diversified my portfolio is across several axis (eg: asset classes, US sectors).
The Investment Checkup tool can take a look at your portfolio and given some inputs like your age, risk tolerance, and goals, can make some recommendations on how to adjust your investments to decrease risk while maintaining your investment goals. It won’t do any of the rebalancing for you, but knowing where your portfolio needs some attention is great for making small changes over the year, or a yearly rebalancing.
The Retirement Planner lets you track to a customizable retirement goal based on inputs like current net worth, post-retirement expenses, and income events (eg: expected savings until retirement, social security income upon retirement). It then runs a Monte Carlo simulation to give possible outcomes based on those assumptions. This tool is incredibly useful for setting realistic expectations on retirement age and understanding what it will take to get there.
Personal Capital makes their money off their wealth management services. The free web tool — and it really is free, no ads or anything — is a hook to get you to sign up to their advisor service which, as you would expect, has a fee based on the value of your portfolio. Expect to receive a phone call a few weeks into using the tool for an up-sell to their advisor services. One also assumes that they are using the information collected from their free web tool in aggregate as a product as well, either for themselves or others. Remember: if you aren’t buying a product from a free service, you are the product of the free service.
Overall I heartily recommend Personal Capital to anyone who already has a good understanding of investments but is looking for some deeper insights into their portfolio2. It has given me some very useful information about my financial world and helped me make some informed decisions.
2 As an extra incentive, Personal Capital has a referral program right now where if you sign up from this link we both get $20.