Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Net Worth: Dec 2017

DS1 is mid-way through his European vacation. He got a good enough ATAR to get into his first choice of university course, and has already completed the offer acceptance online. He'll finalize his enrolment details when he returns to Sydney at the end of January, and start preparing to start university at the end of February.

My net worth increased again in December, with my geared share portfolio adding a bit over $10,000 to my net worth, and my retirement savings also increasing by around $10,000. Some of the increase in the estimate of my retirement savings account balance is due to my making a slight adjustment to the calculation formula used to work out the % of the total SMSF balance that belongs to each member. I had previously simply added up the contributions made by DW and by myself, and used the relative % of total contributions to apportion the current balance to each member. The correct method is to calculate the relative effect of each contribution to the current total balance at the time of each contribution. The revised calculation method accounted for most of the increase in my SMSF account balance between Nov and Dec.

The estimated valuation for our home increased slightly, as the median sales price in our suburb rose slightly, bucking the general downward trend in property prices in Sydney. 'Experts' are now predicting a decrease of between 4%-10% in Sydney property prices during 2018, which would make it difficult for my NW to continue to rise during 2018, unless there is a substantial shift in investor focus from real estate to the share market, which might assist my geared share portfolio.

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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Starting early on the New Year resolutions

My perennial self-promise has always been to loose weight and exercise more, and yet again this year I didn't manage to make any progress with either. So, as we were going to have a low-key Christmas anyway this year (as DS1 is away in Europe on a back-packing holiday before he starts uni at the end of February, and I won't be visiting my parents at the lake house until the New Year) I decided to eliminate the Christmas tradition of overeating and having lots of sweets, and instead get an early start on sticking to my diet plan. Nothing too onerous, just healthy breakfast, a modest lunch and healthy dinner, and a serious attempt to eliminate desserts and snacks from my diet. I also need to start tracking my daily step-count and make sure that I meet my target of at least 10,000 steps every day.

Aside from health and fitness, my others goals for next year are to complete the Diploma of Financial Planning course I'm doing via distance education, as well as a Six Sigma Green Belt certification I am doing at work. I've pretty much resigned myself to not re-enrolling in the MSc/PhD by research that I was doing part-time, as I can't see that I'll every get enough time for it while I'm working full-time, especially if I have any health issues such as during the past couple of years. I'm due to re-enrol by next July, so I'll wait and see if I my eczema improves significantly before then.

My other goal for 2018 is, of course, to keep my job as long as possible. Ideally I'd like to remain employed full-time for another 7+ years. But these days one could get retrenched at any time. And as DW has found out, it isn't easy to find a suitable full-time job when you're nearly sixty, despite the economy doing quite well at the moment.

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Thursday, 14 December 2017

DS1 HSC results out

DS1 got his HSC marks via email last night, and sent them via IM to DW and myself (he is currently on a train between Vienna and Venice - halfway through his 10-week post-HSC European back-packing holiday). His results were close to what he expected, or slightly better:

Economics 93/100 band 6
Mathematics 90/100 band 6
Modern History 90/100 band 6
Software D&D 89/100 band 5
English Adv 87/100 band 5
English Ext1 43/50 band E3
Chemistry 83/100 band 5

Plugging these numbers into an ATAR calculator suggests he should get an ATAR of around 95.75, which should be plenty for him to get offered a place in his first choice uni course (Commerce/Computer Science double degree at UNSW), especially as UNSW offers 'bonus points' for getting top results in the top bands in English Advanced, English Extension 1, Mathematics and they also offer bonus points for having completed the Gold Duke of Edinburgh award.

His actual ATAR will be released tomorrow morning, and the first round of university offers will come out on December 21. I'm very happy with his HSC results, and delighted that he should be getting into his first preference uni course. Hopefully DS1 gets home safely from his European adventure at the end of January, and is keen to apply himself to his uni studies in 2018.

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Friday, 1 December 2017

Net Worth: Nov 2017

DS1 has arrived in Europe for his 10-week post-HSC/pre-uni vacation. He had a couple of days stop-over in Singapore on the way, then spent a few days in Frankfurt before getting the ICE train to Berlin. He had a few days there (seems to be mostly visiting museums based on his IMs, but that might just be the sanitized version he is telling mum&dad). He left Berlin yesterday, travelling by train (he has a rail pass for ten days of train travel during his time in Europe) to Prague for the next stage of his journey. His HSC result and ATAR will arrive via SMS this month, and he'll find out if he gets offered a place in his first choice for uni (a Commerce/Computer Science double degree at UNSW).

DW is still looking for a new job, but is filling in her time doing some short courses and attending free investment seminars, playing table tennis etc. The sale of her investment unit 'settles' in a couple of weeks time, and she is planning on putting most of her $100K capital gain into her superannuation fund.

My net worth increased to a new high this month - due to the strength of the share market providing strong gains in both our superannuation investments and my geared stock portfolio. The valuation for our home dropped slightly (back to where it was two months ago), as the current weakness in the Sydney real estate market spreads to the more affluent suburbs of Sydney. The general consensus seems to be that the Sydney property market will decline by a modest amount during 2018 (maybe 5%-10% decline), but I'm not confident that we will see substantial gains in Sydney real estate during the coming decade, and we could see further falls if interest rates start to pick up.

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Sunday, 26 November 2017

Cheap Geiger Counters

I recently completed a free, online course of 'the threat of nuclear terrorism' (provided by Stanford University) and I've always had an interest in civil defense (I used to be a volunteer member of the NSW State Emergency Service back in the 80s, when, theoretically, the SES was responsible for civil defense - these days radiological emergencies are the responsibility of the police, with assistance from the health department). I also recently completed a couple of free, online courses on radiological emergency management available from FEMA ( While a radiological emergency has a very low probability of occurring in Australia, if one did occur it would be handy to have a Geiger counter available. Also, DS2 is going to enter the 'Young Scientist' competition next year, so I thought it would be a good time to buy one and let him use it as a cool science gadget for his science experiments ;)

I initially bought a cheap ~A$90 'GMV2' unit from China, via The unit arrived safely and seems to be working OK. It has four 'modes' - uSv/hr or CPM, with or without a 'beep' every time the GM tube generates a signal (generally from gamma rays, but there is also always some random system 'noise'). The built-in rechargeable battery lasts about an hour, so for measuring background radiation over longer periods it has to be left plugged into a USB power socket. I've run it for about 15 hours non-stop on several occasions and it worked fine. Unfortunately, it doesn't have an audio or data output port, so for data logging readings ever minute for the 12-15 hours I've had to leave it sitting in front of my laptop webcam and use a free image capture utility to record the display every minute. Manually entering the readings into excel is quite tedious.

Background radiation readings in our kitchen are around 0.08 uSv/hr on average, and outside on the patio the reading is around 0.04 uSv/hr (which seems about right, since the official background radiation reading at the ANSTO monitoring station at Engadine normally hovers around 35 nGy/hr = 0.035 uSv/hr). Readings indoors generally tend to be higher than outside, as radon gas decays into particles, which tend to accumulate indoors. Fortunately most of Australia doesn't have a problem with high levels of radon gas, unlike parts of the USA and Europe.

To test the meter response, I looked around the house for possible radiation sources, and managed to get about double the normal reading when the Geiger counter was placed on top of a granite slab (a discarded remnant from someone's kitchen renovation) that we use as a step in our garden. I also bought a packet of 'lite salt' at the supermarket, which has around 50% of the NCl replaced with KCl, and potassium naturally has around 0.0117% radioactive isotope K-40. Readings taken with the Geiger counter sitting on top of a zip-lock bag filled with the 'lite salt' were around 0.12-0.15 uSv/hr, so it provides only a slightly elevated reading above background.

I've also ordered a couple of potential, low-level radiation sources for DS2 to safely experiment with - a packet of ten TIG welding rods that contain 2% thorium for $10, and some gas lantern mantles that *might* also contain thorium (the ones now sold in Australia no longer contain thorium, so I bought some 'extra bright' ones from China for $2, that, hopefully, are old-school). I'll keep these locked away in the garage, as they need to be handled and stored safely.

I took the Geiger counter along on a little field trip to a site (Kellys bush) in Hunters Hill that was used as a radium refinery in the early 1900s, and used to have some mildly radioactive slag scattered around the area (the local council used to make road base!). There had been a very expensive clean up of the area done only a couple of years ago (the more 'radioactive' waste was taken to landfill to alleviate the local resident's concerns), but I was hoping that there might be a few left over samples still to be found. It turned out that the background radiation readings in the area weren't particularly high (~0.20 uSv/hr), which is lower than you find in high altitude locations (less atmospheric shielding from cosmic rays), or in areas with naturally high background radiation. But in one area the background reading was around 0.25 uSv/hr and I collected a couple of samples of black rocks (possibly slag). Down by the waterfront I found a fig tree with several likely-looking black rocks scattered around its roots, and the background reading there was between 0.50-0.70 uSv/hr. I collected the most 'radioactive' sample I could find, and later I checked the reading again (in an area where the background reading was only 0.07 uSv/hr) and found there is a spot on the sample surface where the Geiger counter reading reaches 0.74 uSv/hr. Still not dangerous (the EPA limit for public exposure is around 0.56 uSv/hr above background), and well under the 2.25 uSv/hr level for constant exposure that would be considered a significant risk. I'm still going to keep it locked away in the garage though!

For DS2's science experiment he is intending to try and measure the natural 'spike' in background radiation that sometimes occurs when it rains (radon decay products can be 'washed out' by rainfall if it hasn't rained for a week or so. This can elevate the background radiation level by up to 50% or so, which then drops down to normal levels after a couple of hours. The half-life of the radioactive isotopes, Pb-214 and Bi-214, is around half an hour).

Since the current Geiger counter can't easily be used for data logging, I decided to buy a second, more expensive (A$185) Geiger counter (model GMC-320plus) from Canada (via Ebay). This model isn't any more sensitive or accurate than the GMV2, but it has a longer battery life (~ 6 hours) and provides data output via USB cable, and free software to log the readings. This will make it a lot simpler for DS2 to setup the instrument and leave it running, and he can just check the plot after a heavy rain storm to see if there has been any 'spike' in the background radiation.

While neither of these instruments is suitable for use as a 'survey meter' in the event of a radiological emergency (they are too sensitive and would soon saturate), they could provide an initial warning of heightened radiation levels and the GMC-320plus can be set to sound an alarm when a predetermined threshold is exceeded. They could be used to monitor levels within a shelter (assuming the shelter had a high enough protection factor).

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Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Net Worth: Oct 2017

My foot is still recovering from a bad sprain (I might have fractured a toe bone, but I haven't bothered getting an x-ray). DW is still looking for work. DS1 in the middle of his HSC exams and will be flying off to Europe for a back-packing/youth hostel holiday later this month.

My net worth reached a new 'all time high', mostly due to the strong run-up in the local stock market last month helping my geared share portfolio and our SMSF investments. The valuation for our home also increased slightly (based on suburb sales data). But the Sydney real estate market is definitely 'off the boil' with some weakness in auction clearance rates, a slight decline in the median home price for Sydney, and a 'glut' in new units coming on to the market. If the sale of DW's investment unit 'settles' next month she will be relieved, as it definitely looks like the rental and sales market for new units is getting weaker.

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Monday, 9 October 2017

Net Worth: Sep 2017

I was too busy last month to update my net worth spreadsheet or post a blog entry. Busy at work, and also busy getting my second eye operation done. I was up at my 'hobby farm' last week (didn't get much done while there, as I'd hurt my foot falling off our patio the week before!), so had a relaxing time and only just got around to doing a belated 'monthly' net worth calculation and updated networthiq with the figures.

The stock market improved during the past two months, so my geared share investment portfolio and retirement savings (SMSF) balance both improved during August and September. The estimated valuation for our house also continued to rise in August, but showed only a slight gain in September. I won't be surprised to see Sydney real estate prices stagnate or fall slightly over the next couple of years (especially home units, of which there seems to be a 'glut' developing).

DW is still looking for work, and so she decided to sell her brand new apartment after not having being able to find a tenant during the month immediately following 'settlement'. Fortunately, soon after listing the unit for sale, there was one seriously interested buyer, who has now paid a 5% deposit and exchanged contracts (but also asked for a 12-week settlement period - the normal settlement period is 6 weeks). Hopefully the sale goes through without any problem. If so, DW will have realized a profit of around $100K, which she intends to contibute to her superannuation savings. That way, even if she only has a series of casual jobs for the next ten years (until 'retirement age') she will have already accumulated enough to self-fund her retirement (assuming future stock market returns meet our expectations).

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Thursday, 10 August 2017

DW employed again, again

Fortunately, although her last 'new job' lasted little more than a week, DW had another job interview later the same week, and was offered the position (which she started this week). The new job is less stressful (there are new systems to learn, but at least the business is a successful going concern rather than a shambolic start-up) and actually pays $5K pa more. So far DW seems to be settling in to the new job quite happily, and gets along with all the staff. On the positive side, the company location is slightly more convenient (about the same distance bus trip, but against the peak hour traffic flow, so a quicker trip - about 20 minutes) and it is only a five minute walk from the office to a nice shopping mall for lunch-time outings.

On the down-side, the position is only guaranteed to stay full-time for three months while an existing staff member is away on maternity leave. If the staff member chooses to not return to work (apparently she lives about 1.5 hours commute away, which may not be practical with a young child) DW's position will remain full-time, but otherwise her hours will be reduced to part-time (at least for a while). As DW's last permanent job had been part-time since DS2 was born a decade ago, she would quite like to work part-time. However, having just drawn down almost half a million loan to 'settle' the purchase of the off-the-plan investment unit she bought last year, it would be better if she worked full-time. A full-time job would allow her to pay off about $20K of the loan principal each year, plus she'd be getting more money contributed into her superannuation.

We'll see how this job works out in the long term...

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Cataract Surgery - one down, one to go

At the start of last year I noticed I was tending to polish my glasses a lot, as the right hand lens often seemed to be a bit smudged. So I wasn't particularly surprised when the optometrist confirmed during an eye test last March that I was developing a cataract in my right eye*. I'd also noticed an obstruction when viewing pistol shooting targets in bright light when the aperture of my shooting glasses was reduced to less than a mm. It looked a bit like a piece of fluff or organic growth in the middle of the shooting glasses aperture...

Anyhow, I put up with my right eye's vision getting progressively less clear (especially in bright light) until March this year, when I decided to get a referral from my GP to an opthamologist. In the initial check-up last month it was confirmed that I had a pretty advanced cataract in my right eye, and there were early signs of it also developing in my left eye (but so far not affecting the vision noticeably). So I decided to go ahead and get cataract surgery done on both eyes (the operation replaces the lens inside each eye, so will correct my distance vision (I currently need bifocals as I've always been short-sighted, and in recent years also had difficulty focussing on computer screens - my natural range of clear focus was restricted to about 8cm-30cm!).

I had the operation on my right eye last Monday afternoon, and was back at work on Tuesday and had a check-up on Tuesday afternoon. The results were pretty amazing - my distance vision in my right eye is now very bright and clear (better than in my left eye wearing glasses) and is pretty good down to about 2m away. Closer than that it is still in sharp focus, but unfortunately it is blurred with multiple images at close range. Hopefully that will be correctly by getting new 'reading glasses' once my left eye operation has been done in a couple of week's time.

The operation on my right eye cost about $2400, with a refund from medicare of almost $800 leaving me $1600 'out of pocket'. The day surgery private hospital fee also cost around $2000, but was fully refunded by the private health insurance provided by my employer. I expect I'll also get a bill of around $700 from the anaesthetist, but will get some of that refunded by the private health cover and medicare.

The operation on my left eye later this month will cost similar amounts, although I'll get a larger proportion of the $2400 surgeon bill refunded by medicare (due to reaching some 'threshold' amount of 'out of pocket' annual expenses).

So, the whole process has been quite successful (so far), rather expensive (even with full private health cover) and fairly painless. I could have opted to get the surgery done in a 'public hospital' under medicare, but there still would have been some 'gap' payments due, a 6-12 month waiting list for this 'elective' surgery, and no choice of surgeon. And of course in the public hospital system there are always a chance that your operation will be part of the training of a new surgeon, which increases the chances of a less than ideal outcome. Overall, when it comes to having knives inserted into my eyes, I'm happy to spend a bit more in order to maximize the probability of a good outcome!

* I'm a bit young to be getting cataracts, but a lifetime of topical steroid medications for severe eczema was a known risk factor.

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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Net Worth: Jul 2017

It turned out that the large dividend paid into our Vanguard Fund last month was offset by a corresponding reduction in the unit valuation, which hadn't been updated at the time I posted last month's net worth report. So I've corrected the value in networthiq for last month, and this month's figures (below) show that actual monthly change compared to these corrected figures.

After making the correction, it turns out that my NW decreased slightly last month, and again this month, mostly due to weakness in the local and international stock markets. The overall trend in my NW is satisfactory over the past 15 years, although the losses caused by the GFC and EFC basically wiped out the increment in my NW that came from my 'early inheritance' of the lake house from my parents. Due to the use of gearing in my stock portfolio (and letting the index 'put' options I had in place Mar-Dec 2007 lapse just prior to the onset of the GFC), I had to sell off a considerable portion of my geared portfolio in Mar 2008 to avoid getting a 'margin call', which 'locked in' the losses caused by the GFC. As I was a bit more conservative with the level of gearing used in my stock portfolio post-GFC, I didn't recover all my losses as the stock market recovered.

DW is again looking for a job - her latest position lasted just over a week before her 'boss' decided it wasn't working out as he'd expected. After pointing out they hadn't even provided her with a phone or computer (expecting her to "make do" with her own mobile phone and her personal laptop) and that her boss had given unclear instructions (conveyed via mobile phone when she was having her lunch break) and was never in the office to clarify what was required, the directors offered to give her a bit longer to 'settle in' to the role. But they also pointed out that the chaotic office situation would stay the same, So DW decided to call it quits and look for a less stressful/more enjoyable position. She had another interview yesterday, so I'm sure something suitable will turn up eventually.

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