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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Children's tax returns

I managed to finish off the kids' tax returns for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 financial years using eTax, although I had to print out the hardcopies to send in by mail (as it is too late to lodge the 2010 or 2011 returns online using eTax).

If DS1 and DS2 only had the few dollars of interest earned on their bank accounts as income it wouldn't be worthwhile doing their tax returns at all, but since they also have some shares (DS2) and a managed fund investment (DS1's paper round money), I have to lodge their tax returns for them if they are to get the franking credits etc. refunded.

Using eTax for simple tax returns like these was pretty painless, although eTax still makes you wade through a whole lot of irrelevant items if you only have a couple of items to complete. Perhaps a single page with yes/no check boxes could be used to skip items that aren't required?

The estimated tax refunds calculated by eTax are:

Year     DS1    DS2
2009/10  59.70  13.00 
2010/11  76.48  19.00 
2011/12  87.89  45.00 

Although the amounts aren't huge, it was still worthwhile spending a few hours filling in the returns so that the kids will get some extra money in their bank accounts.

Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2012

Monday, 24 December 2012

Plans are only as good as our assumptions

After updating my monthly net worth spreadsheet I had a look at the 'projection' graph I'd created pre-GFC (as shown below). One thing that stands out (apart from the impact of the GFC and EFC on my NW) is that my 'best case' projection of 13% pa ROI (it wasn't quite as silly as it now looks, since it included the effect of ~50% gearing on my 'high risk' asset allocation) was wildly optimistic (no surprise there), and that my 'worst case' projection of 7% ROI was nowhere near reality.


A true 'worst case' projection would have been a negative NW (all my assets becomming worthless and still owing money) - just consider the 'worst case' experienced by the Russian Zsar and his family - shot to death while wearing vests containing precious gems sewn inside them!

And while the 6% ROI seemed reasonable rate based on the 'typical' minimum ROI over any post-war 10-year period, a genuine 'worst case' scenario would have used the absolute minimum ROI relevant to my asset mix over the worst 10-year period EVER recorded. Which would have been a negative ROI. That might have given me some pause for thought regarding my 'conservative' levels of gearing. As it turned out, the size of the GFC impact on the values of my stock investments forced my to liquidate many of my stock holdings for less than I'd paid for them, to avoid getting margin calls.

Making plans in the mid-noughties it had seemed reasonable to assume that we'd never see another global recession anything like the great depression - after all, modern economies were supposed to be more sophisticated, with better risk management techniques, and more robust, as the 'global economy' was supposed to reduce the impact of a recession in one country. As it turned out, all the market had learned was new ways to boost returns by taking greater and greater risks, and that globalisation in fact meant that problems with one large economy automatically spread to other economies around the world.

I haven't bothered updating this chart with new projections, as I have no idea what a realistic 'worst case' is (there are some pundits who think we are waiting for 'the other shoe to drop' and the world may yet see another 'great depression' -- and while I don't expect that will eventuate, I don't think it as unlikely as I had pre-GFC), and I also don't know what the 'best case' might be. I have become somewhat more risk adverse than I was before, so I'll use the proceeds from my maturing capital guaranteed hedge fund investments to reduce my margin loan balances over the next few years. We may also use the proceeds from selling our rental property to pay off most of our home loan. In which case my levels of gearing will be much lower, reducing the potential upside of any future booms in the stock or property markets.

Overall, experience has shown that projecting the ROI of high-risk assets is pretty pointless. While estimates based on 'average' returns can produce pretty graphs and comforting projections of retirement income and so forth, in reality only no-risk assets (cash and capital-guaranteed deposits) have an ROI predictable enough to make such projections a useful tool.

If you want the POTENTIAL for higher returns than those provided by risk-free assets, you have to accept that, in reality, you are basically taking a gamble. While the odds of a decent return may be in your favour, there is no guarantee of any particular ROI, no matter what the historic data suggests.

As is often pointed out "All indications of performance returns are historical and can not be relied upon as an indicator for future performance.". Unfortunately, like the health warnings on cigarette packets, it is human nature to become blase about such dire warnings.

Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2012

Self-managed Superannuation Savings continue to boom

A recent article in the SMH reports that the SMSF sector now has about $440b in assets under management, with $26.5b going into SMSF each year. The reason people choose to manage their superannuation themselves are twofold - direct control (ie. freedom to choose any investment strategy and tactics, provided it is within the government rules applying to superannuation trustees) and lower fees compared with retail superannuation funds (the average expense ratio of SMSF decreased by around 20% to only 0.54% betweem 2008 and 2011).

With a combined SMSF fund balance of around $500,000 (DW and myself are the current trustees, with DS1 and DS2 to be added as a members/trustees when they each turn 18) and the annual admin fee charged by eSuperfund of only $700, plus the ATO SMSF annual fee around $150, we enjoy an even lower admin expense ratio of about 0.17%. On top of this of course are any fees charged by your investment managers - for example, we don't pay any management fees for our investments in ASX200 CFDs or cash sitting in our ANZ V2 cash management account, and the Vanguard Index Fund where we have about $410,000 invested charged 0.90% on the first $50,000, 0.60% on the next $50,000 and only 0.35% on the remaining investment balance - averaging about 0.4475% management fund. However, the investment management fees are the same whether invested via a SMSF or retail super fund (retail funds often claim that their higher admin fees are offset by the benefits of investing 'pooled' funds at wholesale management fee rates. However, the savings are often negligible - for example, the Vanguard High-Growth Fund has a wholesale fund (min investment amount $500,000) management fee of 0.37%), so the big saving is the minimal admin fee available via SMSF compared to fees of up to 1% or more charged by many retail superannuation funds.

As usual the article quotes 'analysts' as stating that investing via a SMSF is only cheaper for people with a balance of about $300,000, whereas using eSuperfund the minimum balance required to actually save fees could be as low as $100,000 (depending on what fee your current retail superannuation fund charges). Of course, eSuperfund is a 'no frills' fund administrator. There is a 'one size fits all' standard trust deed, some restrictions on investments (ie. which bank account is setup for deposits into the fund, and only Comsec for share trades, and none of the more exotic investments such as art and collectibles that some SMSF run via accountants have sometimes invested in). Unlike running a SMSF through an accountant, you also can't pick up the phone to chat about your SMSF - eSuperfund prefers all questions via email, which I haven't found to be a problem.

Overall, we're happy with our move from the default retail fund selected by our employer into a SMSF administered by eSuperfund. I estimate we are saving around $3,000 each year in admin costs, which is more than the annual SGL contributions being received by DW working part-time! As doing the required 'paperwork' (preparing an annual "checklist" for eSuperfund's use in preparing our tax returns, member statements and annual audit report) only takes a few hours each year, this is a worthwhile cost saving.

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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Net Worth Update: November 2012

The stock market dipped a little during November (it has already gone back up this month to new '12-month highs', still more than 15% below the 2007 high points), and the monthly valuation estimates for our two properties were also slightly down (and also recovered in the next month). The best performance was my retirement account, but that is entirely due to my employer SLG contributions and salary sacrifice amounts for three months being paid into our SMSF bank account in early November.

At the moment our big concern is the rental investment property - still no new tenants (after six months!) and no reasonable offers to buy the property although it has been listed for nearly three months. While I can simply fund the $2000 per month rent shortfall by drawing down on my portfolio loan account (which is secured against our equity in the two properties), it isn't a good idea to capitalise debt (a bit like only paying the minimum on a credit card each month - something I've never done).

Meanwhile I have some more repairs to do on the investment rental property - making the balcony more presentable by screwing some marine plywood panels on top of the existing decking, and giving it several coats of  decking finish.

Assets___________$ Amount
Stocks_*_________-$31,891
Retirement_______$425,884
Properties_______$870,655
Debts____________$ Amount
Home Mortgage(s)_$363,882
Net Worth________$900,766

 * the Stocks figure is portfolio value - margin loans. As my portfolio value (and margin loan debt) is around $500,000 relatively small movements in the stock market produce huge percentage swings in the net value of my stock portfolio each month.


Subscribe to Enough Wealth. Copyright 2006-2012

ATAR fever

The NSW Secondary School final exam (HSC) results came out yesterday, and the related university entry ranking scores (ATAR) came out this morning. As my oldest son (DS1) is only in the first year of high school (Yr 7) the hoop-la surrounding the release of results seems rather amusing. [It may not seem so funny in five years time when DS1 will be getting his results.] It was nice to see that the selective high school DS1 attends has moved up the 'rankings' and is now well within the 'top 10' schools in the state. As it now consistently ranks higher than Sydney Grammar I'm glad we eventually decided not to send DS1 there.

A lot of the media commentary about the "stress" surrounding the HSC exams, ATAR results are so forth seems like a beat-up to me. After all, the UAC says 17 per cent of students will receive an ATAR of 90 or above, 33.5 per cent will get at least 80, 49.3 per cent at least 70, and 63.8 per cent at least 60.00. There are many uni courses you can get into with an ATAR of 65 (eg. the University of Western Sydney has a long list of courses with an ATAR cut-off of 65 for 2013, and some diploma course have an ATAR cut-off of 50!), and although some courses that are in high demand have ATAR cut-offs in the high 90s, there are many 'good' degree courses accessible to most of the students who received an ATAR score. For example, the cut-off ATAR for the Lineral Arts and Science course at Sydney Uni was 70.05 in 2012, which means around half the students getting ATAR results today would qualify for this course. I suspect a lot of the angst is caused by students 'picking' a course (or courses) with a high ATAR requirement for entry, knowing that they don't have much chance of achieving the required ATAR score. Selecting a range of possible courses, including some that would be interesting to do but have a lower ATAR cut-off, would greatly reduce stress-levels. It is much more fun waiting for an exam result knowing that you are highly likely to get into an interesting course, and just waiting to see which particular course(s) you qualify for.

It may seem odd that 17% of students qualifying for an ATAR score got a "ranking" in the "top 10%" (ie. 90 or above), but that is simply due to the way the ATAR is calculated (basically it works out a student's ranking compared to ALL the students that were in school at the end of Year 10 (the old 'school leaving certificate' age), and the lowest ATAR scores (if they were issued) would belong to students who dropped out during years 11 and 12, and those that did vocational courses that don't count towards an HSC mark. A lot of the students that now continue in secondary school until Year 12 are those that in times past would have left high school at the end of Year 10 to start working or commence an apprenticeship.

These days around 30% of young people go on to tertiary study, whereas "in my day" (the early 80s) less than 10% went on to university studies. So, despite the media beat-up, it would seem that there should be less stress surrounding the HSC these days, as a much higher proportion of students will go on the university (unless, of course, students that have no realistic chance of getting in to uni via their ATAR results have been conditioned to believe that unless they get into uni they have 'failed').

One consequence of the large numbers of students now proceeding on to university studies appears to be that the 'value' of a bachelors degree has been eroded. These days a basic university degree is often viewed as routine, and to stand out in your field you need to have also done some post-grad studies (at least a post-grad diploma, or better yet a Masters).

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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Personal Budget for 2013

I've updated last year's budget to plan for 2013's expected income and expenses. Most expenses are reasonably predictable on an annual basis, but may vary considerably from month-to-month (such as annual care registration and insurance payments, quarterly utilites bills and so forth). The category 'Food etc.' is subject to the most uncertainty, and could either 'blow out' or (far less likely) come in 'under budget', as it includes many miscellaneous items such as household cleansers, medicines and eating out, and the weekly grocery shopping currently includes a substantial amount of unplanned discretionary spending on snack and junk foods, softdrinks and so on.

The planned budget just matches overall expenditure to my employment income, and assumes I can avoid unplanned spending on discretionary items such as electronics, holidays and so forth. Based on my track record for 'spur-of-the-moment' purchases of electronic gadgets, books and stuff for the kids, this may be an unrealistic plan. The budget may also come under pressure from above-CPI increase in petrol costs and utility bills, as any pay rise next July is likely to be only a CPI-adjustment.

The 'Housing' budget item only reflects my cashflow into our Joint account. It doesn't include DWs matching contributions into the Joint account, and the Joint account funds both our home loan payments, investment property loan payments, and childcare payments.

The budget doesn't include any investment income streams or other investment loan interest payments. Our rental income (assuming we get a new tenant early in 2013!) flows into the Joint account and helps fund the combined interest payments on our home and investment property loans. And my share and mutual fund dividends are either re-invested automatically, or is deposited into a bank account that is used to help fund the interest payments on my investment margin loans. If there is insufficient funds available to meet the margin loan interest payments I 'capitalise' the interest using funds from my 'portfolio loan' account. Over the next few years some of my capital guaranteed hedge fund investments (that don't pay dividends) will mature, and I will use to proceeds of their liquidation to reduce the balance of my margin loans. The medium-term goal is for the non-reinvested dividend income to be sufficient to fund the interest charged on my margin loans.

I'll start tracking actual income and expenses each week against the budget forecast from January onwards, either using a spreadsheet I've prepared, or possibly using the old version of Quicken I already have. If I have the time (and inclination) over the holiday break I will setup the budget categories and projections in Quicken, and also setup records for my current shareholdings. If I can get the purchase history of all my remaining stocks recorded in Quicken it will make capital gains calculations much easier for my future tax returns. Unfortunately there will be a fair amount of work involved, as many of my share holdings were built up over time through multiple purchases, dividend reinvestments and stock splits, and have been reduced at various times through sales of part of my holdings. Working out the true 'cost basis' of my current share holding for each stock therefore requires checking through all my past tax returns to see what lots were nominated as having been sold in previous capital gains calculations. The process is also complicated by a few instances where a company was 'taken over' by another company, and I was issued with a mixture of shares and cash (and sometimes in 'odd lots' of shares in several differnt 'spun off' companies!).



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Sunday, 16 December 2012

A tale of two eBooks

Sometimes technology makes our lives easier and less expensive, while at other times it just seems like an excuse for price-gouging.

For example, I recently bought three ebook novels for my Nexus7 tablet. All were current paperback titles available for the usual (exhorbitant) 'hardcopy' price (around $16), but the ebook version was priced very reasonably (between $0.99 and $3.99) in comparison. Reading them on the tablet is generally a better experience than the harcopy (with the ebook providing automatic bookmarking, is easier to read in bed in dim light, and is lighter and smaller to carry around than a paperback) - the only problem is trying to read them in full sunlight. Considering the publisher's cost savings (no physical materials such as expensive paper, no shipping costs, and no storage cost), the price differential ($4 vs. $16) per book seems reasonable. And even I won't begrudge paying an author 1c per page for anything I'd want to read ;)

On the other hand, I also went shopping online for a text my uni supervisor recommended, thinking it might be cheaper as an eBook - wrong! The Australian 'co-op' bookshop lists only the Google eBook version (at A$109.12 for non-members, or A$103.66 for members), which seems a bit rich considering Google Books lists this eBook online for USD$94.66. And the kindle version available from Amazon.com is only slightly less expensive, at $93.92. These ebook prices might be reasonable if the text cost several hundred dollars in hardcopy, but these prices seem a total rip-off when compared to the hardcover version which has a list price of 'only' USD$98.86 (A$97.29) from Amazon.com.

In the end I decided to buy the hardcopy from Amazon.com for A$107.11 (including shipping to Australia). Getting a hardcover text to stick on my library shelf for only $3.45 seems a relative bargain, with the only downside being the estimated delivery date of 4 Feb.

I suppose textbook publishers would argue that selling eBook versions at a significantly lower price point that the hardcopy version would make it unprofitable to publish them. However, I would think that students would be more inclined to buy textbooks (rather than borrowing them from the library or buying older editions second-hand) if the eBook version was available at a more affordable price.


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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Net Worth Updates: April-October 2012

With a bit of spare time between the end of my uni coursework degree and starting work on my research degree, I finally got around to checking the various monthly statements for my investment accounts and getting my 'net worth' spreadsheet calculations updated. Over the past six months my estimated new worth has increased by about 6% (or $50,897) to just over $900,000. The rise is mostly due to a recovery in the stock market since the EFC seems to have become 'old news'. This has boosted my stock investments, although I'm still "underwater" due to the substantial amount of margin loans I held going into the GFC. Because I had to sell off the better (least worst) stocks in my portfolio at the bottom of the GFC bear market in early 2008 in order to avoid margin calls, the subsequent recovery hasn't produced as much 'gain' as the previous 'pain'. The rising stock market has given my retirment fund (SMSF) a nice boost though, as we introduced some gearing within our SMSF post-GFC (by investing a small percentage of our capital in ASX200 CFDs "IQ") after the worst of the GFC had passed.

Unfortunately the Sydney real estate market hasn't improved much during 2012, after a weak 2011 -- at least not in our suburb. Judging by the lack of offers for our investment property since it was listed for sale a couple of months ago, and from the views expressed by our agent, my price 'estimate' (which is based on movements in the average sales price for houses in our suburb since we bought our property) may be 5-10% above what can be achieved in a weak market. With the property sitting vacant since our last tenant moved out in July, the lack of rental income is having a negative impact on my net worth. I am now having to borrow about $2,000 each month on my 'portfolio loan' to meet the interest-only payments on our mortgages.

The monthly movements in each asset class are shown below:


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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Real Estate - asset or liability?

Our investment rental property is still vacant (the last tenants moved out at the beginning of July), and we also haven't had any realistic offers to buy the property, although its now been on the market for nearly two months. Meanwhile the lack of rental income has meant a cashflow shortfall of about $2,000 each month, which I'm having to meet by drawing down on our 'portfolio loan'. It is times like this, when real estate values are stagnant, if not declining, and mortgage interest charges are producing a negative cashflow, that real estate seems more like a "liability" than an "asset".

Depending on whether or not we get a new tenant, or get a good offer to buy the property, we may either continue to rent it out for a couple more years (while we decide whether or not to build a new house on the block and move there ourselves), or else just sell it and use the net proceeds to pay off the mortage on our current home.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

More 'study' next year

Although I was originally intending to proceed from the Master of Astronomy degree to a professional doctorate in Astronomy at JCU (with the possibility of 'transferring' to a PhD subject to satisfactory progress), the unexpected closure of the astronomy department by JCU earlier this year left me wondering how to proceed after completing the MAstron course. It now looks like I'll be starting a research MSc next year at a local university ("SU" = 'Some University', situated about 4km from where I work!), as I received a 'conditional offer' of a place last Friday (the 'conditions' were simply to provide certified copies of some of the supporting documents I'd included with my application to enrol in their PhD program).

Although I didn't get offered direct entry into the SU PhD program (as the JCU Master of Astronomy was deemed to be a coursework degree, rather than a 'research' masters - which has to be at least 2/3 research), I will be able to 'upgrade' my enrolment to PhD candidature after a year or so --providing I make satisfactory progress with my research project.

As there is no free parking available close to SU, I've bought a 16" push scooter and will experiment using it to speed up the commute from work to uni one afternoon each week, which should mesh nicely with my plan to loose more weight and get fitter in 2013 (although riding around Sydney on a push scooter I'll probably look like a real dork). At least there's a suitable precedent in astrophysics...



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Finished my MAstron degree

The results for my final subject in the Master of Astronomy course came out this morning - I managed to get another HD, so my overall GPA was 6.5 (out of 7). This is just enough to be 'eligible' for the university's academic medal for a masters by coursework, but I probably won't know if I get one until graduation day. Initially I wasn't going to bother travelling from Sydney to Townsville for the graduation ceremony next March unless I was sure I was going to receive a medal (I didn't bother attending my last couple of graduate diploma ceremonies, just got the testamurs mailed out to me), but in the end I decided I might as well take DS1 to Townsville for a four-day 'holiday' as he is in the second year of selective high school and may find the university graduation ceremony interesting. In any event, spending several days snorkeling at nearby Magnetic Island or taking a day cruise out to the inner reefs of the Great Barrier Reef will be fun for him. The return airfares are about $500 for the two of us, and four nights accomodation in a 'family room' costs about $600 - I've invited my parents to travel to Townsville to attend my graduation and share the room for the four days. As they are both about 80 years old I can't assume that they will be fit enough to attend my next graduation, if I eventually qualify for a PhD in 5-6 years time (doing a PhD part-time is a s-l-o-w process!).

By happy coincidence one of my nieces is also be graduating at the same ceremony (with a first class honours science degree majoring in marine biology), so my eldest sister may also be there on the day.

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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Blog issues

I've been busy with work, my assignments for my final MAstron subject, and putting together an application for entry into the PhD program of a local university. So I haven't been blogging. I also haven't been checking my blog stats, so I only just realised that there were issues with the blog. It seems that a change by blogger in August caused problems with 'custom domains' that were redirected to a blogspot blog. Apparently blogger is aware of this issue, but to date hasn't fixed it (since the change, the 'custom domain' setting for a blogspot blog is incorrectly assumed to mean that the content is NOT being hosted by blogspot). Since no fix has been implemented, I've removed the custom domain setting on the enoughwealth blog account, so the content is at least accessible directly via the http://enoughwealth.blogspot.com.au/ URL. However, going direct to the http://www.enoughwealth.com URL was displaying an ad page (the default content for dotster accounts until content is loaded), so I've had to put in a simple link to my blogspot URL until I can work out how to setup automatic redirects using dotster. Unfortunately the http://enoughwealth.com URL still displays the dotster default ad page, and I don't know how to fix this just yet. Sorry for any inconvenience to my readers.

ps. I also had to fix a problem with the enoughwealth yahoo email account having been hacked -- which resulted in a spam post added to my blog via this email account (as well as some spam emails sent to the contact list of that email account). Hopefully that's all under control now, so, if you received any spam emails from that email account that got by your spam filters, I apologise.

*** UPDATE: 03 Dec 2012 ***

I decided today to have another go changing the blogger settings to get my custom domain redirection working again. After an unsucessful attempt to modify the CNAME settings in my Dotster hosting account (per bloggers instructions), I stumbled upon a new setting in the Dotster control panel for redirecting my domain straight to the blogspot URL, rather than travelling to the parking page (where visitors had to click on a link in order to finally get to this blog). It looks like the redirection is now working, although we'll have to see if it lasts - I may have created other problems by trying to edit the DNS name settings in Dotster before I came across the redirection option!

Hopefully this change may get my traffic back up to the traditional 100+ blog readers per day, rather than the handful of visitors I'd been getting each day since the sudden change several months ago...

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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Still no idea what uni course I'll be doing in 2013

Since the shock announcement that JCU was closing down its Centre for Astronomy (probably at the end of this year, although there's been hardly any official information from the uni administration), I've been looking at my options for continuing my astronomy post-grad studies 2013. I've started investigation prospective supervisors for a higher degree by research at the three local unis that have strong astronomy research departments, but in case I'm not accepted into a higher research degree (MRes, MPhil or PhD) at any of them, I've also contracted Swinburne University to check what unit credits I might get towards their MSc(Astronomy) course.

If I can get credit for 6 units at Swinburne (based on similar subjects I completed for the JCU MOA), that would leave another 6 units to complete for their MSc. These units would include four 'research project' units in various astronomy topics. Completing more 'research' courses might help with any future applications I make for PhD candidature (and will be a lot of fun). Unfortunately each Swinburne unit will cost me 50% more than a JCU subject did (despite being only half the credit point value), so even if I'm granted credit for half the Swinburne MSc units the MSc degree would end up costing me 50% more than the JCU MOA did.

There's also a possibility that the entire 'Centre for Astronomy' staff and courses will move to another uni in 2013. The prospective uni does cater for part-time, distance education HDR students, so there may be an opportunity for me to do my PhD there (if the move goes ahead). In the meantime I'll just have to keep all my options open.

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MIssed my Nexus7 Delivery. D'Oh!

The Fedex tracking page for the Nexus7 I pre-ordered from Google Play Store on 28 June got updated to change the expected delivery from Thu 19 to Fri 20, and on Friday morning it was showing that the package had been put onto a Fedex delivery truck just after 9am. Since DW was home until lunchtime I was hoping that it might get delivered while she was home. Unfortunately it didn't arrive until just before 5pm, and no-one was home to sign for the package, so it won't arrive until the re-delivery attempt on Monday. In the meantime I have to content myself with browsing the web for interesting Android Apps...

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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

My Nexus is on its way

I noticed yesterday afternoon that the Nexus7 I pre-ordered on 28 June had finally been charged to my CC, which usually means that an item has been 'shipped'. The tracking number appeared in my Google Store info later that night, so Fedex should be delivering it tomorrow - exactly three weeks after I placed my order.

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Sunday, 8 July 2012

File transfers from Windows PC to Google Nexus 7

After a bit of confusion about whether or not you can transfer files (such as your photos, home videos and pdf files etc.) from other storage (eg. a HDD connected to a Windows PC) to the Nexus 7 without having to send the files via 'the cloud', the *final* word appears to be that yes, you can transfer files from USB HDD to the Nexus 7, but you have to have the HDD connected to use a computer (eg. Windows PC or laptop) to handle to file transfers ie. you can't just plug the USB HDD directly into the Nexus 7. The official response from 'The Google Play Team' I received last night was:


"Thank you for contacting me today about the ability to transfer
information from the computer to the Nexus 7. I guess that I misunderstood
your underlying question.

It is true that the Nexus 7 can be connected to a computer and files can
be transferred via the USB cable using MTP. So you are correct in what you
have quoted directly from the guidebook.

However, direct transfer to or from an OTG USB device is not possible
since the Nexus 7 uses the MTP that is native in the computing device.

The only peripheral devices that will work with the mini USB port are
joysticks, keyboards and a mouse.

With that said, if your Nexus 7 and your USB device were both connected to
a computer, you could transfer files to and from those two devices, but
the computer would be completing the transfer process, not the Nexus 7
device."

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Monday, 2 July 2012

Another HD! Hurray!

The results for last semester just came out, and I managed to get a 'high distinction' grade for the subject 'Astronomy Literature Review'. This came as a very nice surprise, as I'd found some of the literature on quasar variability highly specialised and therefore difficult to evaluate and sensibly critique, given my limited knowledge of this topic. So I'd expected to get a 'Distinction' or possibly just a 'Credit' in this subject - but I guess the other students must have found the literature just as challenging to review!

This result boosts my overall GPA to 6.4, and if I manage to get another HD for the final subject (the 'Pilot Research Project') next semester I might just qualify for an academic medal (the requirement is a GPA of 6.5 or above). In any event, having another HD on my transcript will help when my applications for admission into a MRes, MPhil or PhD course are being evaluated later this year.

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Sunday, 1 July 2012

Nexus 7 may be more limited than I'd hoped

Since I'll have to wait 2-3 weeks for my Nexus7 to arrive (if it gets delivered on schedule), I've been trying to get some more details by browsing more of the reviews. It appears that the mini-USB port doesn't support 'OTG', which I *think* means that while I could connect a USB mouse or keyboard to the Nexus, a USB stick or USB HDD won't work? This might mean that when I have offline content (eg. pdf files previously downloaded and stored on my PC, USB stick or HDD) that I want to move onto the Nexus I'll have to first upload it to the 'cloud' (eg. via my Google Drive folder on my desktop that is synced with my online Drive storage) and then download it onto the Nexus, or else download it straight onto the Nexus from the original source website. Aside from this upload/download cycle being slower than simply transferring files through the USB port, it would also mean using up some of my monthly WiFi internet bandwidth allowance! That's probably not an issue (unless I want to transfer lots of photos or home video files), as I currently use about half of my 6GB bandwidth allowance most months. But it would be a lot more convenient to be able to just connect a USB stick to the Nexus.

I don't know enough to work out if the WiFi connectivity can be used to access files via my Windows home network, or just connect to the WiFi modem at home and WiFi hotspots outside (eg. at the library). So I've sent a query to the Google Play helpdesk about this - hopefully they provide good customer service for device queries.

** Correction **

I've since found the Nexus 7 Guidebook in the Google Play store. After several unsucessful attempts to 'buy' this free book (and getting a 'technical error' message each time) I realised from some of the reviewer comments that the book is only viewable using Chrome, which explains why I couldn't 'buy' the book using IE9 (although I had no problem placing my order for the Nexus 7 tablet using IE). So I downloaded and installed Chrome for Windows and then had no problem getting the Guidebook!

From the guidebook it appears that you can indeed connect to a Windows PC using the miniUSB port. And I can probably also 'pair' the Nexus with my Windows laptop using Bluetooth for data transfers. I'll confirm this once my Nexus is delivered...


** Re-correction **

Well, maybe. The answer I got from Google Play Support said that I will have to transfer files to the Nexus 7 via 'the cloud', as the USB port doesn't support OTG! I've sent back a response asking if this advice is correct, as it contradicts the info in the Nexus 7 Guidebook (although in parts the guidebook appears to be a cut&paste job from a phone manual, and elsewhere the manual is still in draft form with "content to come" in secions on Changing the Wallpaper etc. So maybe the information about file transfers using the miniUSB port is not correct for the production version of the Nexus 7. Hopefully I'll get a definitive answer from Google before my tablet arrives -  otherwise I'll just 'suck it and see'. ;)

** see latest update **

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Saturday, 30 June 2012

I finally bought a tablet

For quite a while I've been toying with the idea of getting a tablet PC. Although my laptop (Dell Inspiron) and desktop (Dell Vostro) PCs meet my needs for computing at my home office (running simulation software, data analysis, word processing etc. for my uni assignments), I sometimes fancy the idea of having the electronic equivalent of a paperback book for reading astronomy literature (mostly pdf files) and taking a few notes while in bed or in the park at lunchtime at work.

The iPad is nice, but a bit too large to suit my needs (and too expensive for my taste), and the smaller, cheaper eBook readers such as the Nook and Kindle Fire didn't tickle my fancy enough to fork out more than $100 on one. I thought briefly about buying a cheap ($169) 10" tablet PC from Kogan, but the reviews suggested that a lot of corners had been cut to meet the price point, so I'd likely be buying a lemon and wishing I'd spent a bit more on a better tablet.

The forthcoming Windows Slate looks interesting, but although it would be nice to be able to run my Office, EndNote and other windows apps using Windows 8 on a tablet and also have a 'proper' keyboard to type on, and it appears that the top-end model will cost a bit more than I'm comfortable paying. It would also make more sense if I didn't already have a laptop...

In the end the specs, price and design of the recently unvieled Google Nexus 7 were enough for me decide to put in a pre-order for the 16GB version on the day it came out. It has the paperback book-like form factor and display quality I've been waiting for to read my uni pdf files on while in bed or my lunchbreak at work. It should also be good for Skyping while moving around the house, and for running some of the free Android Apps that are available (such as Sky Map). While I probably won't use Google Docs for word-processing or spreadsheets on the tablet (I prefer typing on a proper keyboard, and mostly use Word with EndNote's Cite-while-you-write for doing my assignments), I might end up using Google Calendar to replace my hardcopy calendar hanging on the cubicle wall at work.



Unfortunately the AUD price for the Nexus 7 is $50 more than the USD price. I don't resent a small mark-up for Australian customers compared to those in the US (as if I ordered one from the US I'd have to pay a slightly higher delivery cost anyhow), but it would have been nice if Google had thrown in a $50 Play store credit for Aussie buyers to sweeten the higher price without eroding the higher margin Google will be getting from Australian customers. I also couldn't figure why the custom cover (an 'accessory') isn't available to order for Australian customers - if they can ship over the tablets, surely a couple of boxes of covers wouldn't be a problem?

The Nexus 7 should arrive in 2-3 weeks. I'll see if it turns up on time, and then post a review once I've played around with it. Most reviews so far appear to be quite positive, and the 'missing' features (such as 3G connectivity, a front-facing camera, memory expansion slot) aren't really needed for my intended uses.

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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Deleveraging out of real estate

The affordable housing organisation that had been leasing our investment rental property for the last few years gave us 21 days notice that their tenants are vacating (at the end of next week). As they will not be putting in new tenants, we would have to find new tenants for the property ourselves (via an estate agent), but since the property is about 50 years old and rather run down, we'd first have to spend quite a bit of time and money bringing it back up to scratch.

In the current economic climate in the eastern states of Australia there doesn't seem much prospect of large capital gains flowing from residential property in Sydney (average prices were down around 5% over the past year, and are likely to remain weak for a while longer), so it doesn't make much sense to hold onto this property.

After giving the property a quick patch up (some new tiling in the bathroom and gyprock in the entrance hall ceiling to fix where the plumber made inspection holes to look for a leaking pipe) we'll put this property up for sale. After paying some capital gains tax and paying off the remaining mortgage on this property, the remaining equity should be sufficient to pay off a large part of the mortgage balance on our own home. We can then afford to make principal and interest payments to pay off our remaining home loan balance before I reach retirement age, as well as have some spare cashflow to either invest in shares (or pay off some of my margin loan balance) or contribute into my superannuation account.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Changing plans

Looks like the JCU Centre for Astronomy (where I'm doing my Masters by distance education) is going to be closed down by the uni. Hopefully it won't affect the final subject of the MAstron that I'm already enrolled in for the second half of 2012. But it will mean I can't continue on to the part-time Doctorate or PhD by distance education that I was planning to start next year at James Cook Uni.

Once I get my result for the subject I completed last week, I'll start shopping around for local alternatives (and potential supervisors). Three of the local unis offer postgrad research degrees in astrophysics (either a MPhil, MRes or PhD), but I'm not sure if they are available part-time (or my chances of getting my application accepted). On the plus side, I wouldn't have to fly up to Townsville three times a year to see my supervisor if I enrol in a local uni part-time.

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Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Australian Federal Budget 2012

Overall the budget looks suspiciously 'creative' and the projected 'budget surplus' fairly optimistic given that budget projections have not ended up being terribly close to reality in previous Labor budgets. In any case, the actual 'surplus' won't be known until after the next Federal election, so I guess the surplus is being manufactured more as a political tool for Labor's re-election campaign than as a genuine economic tool. Even if the small surpluses projected in the budget for forward years does materialise, the amounts will be totally inadequate to cover any meaningful 'stimulus spending' in the event of another GFC impacting Australia down the track.

On a personal level, we'll miss out on all the budget 'goodies' such as the cash handouts to compensate 'working families' for the impact of the carbon tax of cost of living or to help paying education expenses for our kids, as our combined family 'adjusted' taxable income is just over the FTB A cut-off. As far as Centrelink is concerned, any net investment losses are added back in when calculating our 'income'. I'm sorely tempted to liquidate some of my stock investments that are still in the red, and use the proceeds to pay off a large chunk of the corresponding margin loans. It makes no sense to continue to use borrowed funds to invest when the interest rate on the borrowed funds are stuck around 8%-10% and total ROI (dividends and capital gains) is less than 5%. Since the GFC I've been hoping that the eventual post-GFC recovery would boost the Australian stock market (and hence put my geared investments back in the black), but that has started to look unlikely in the medium term, with the ASX200 remaining below 4500 (well below the pre-GFC high of 6800+) despite the 'mining boom' and Australia supposedly having one of the best performing economies in the developed world, post GFC. How this can be when the US stock market is back to pre-GFC levels despite their enormous government deficit and fire-sale housing market is a bit of a mystery to me.

The changes to the tax rates for 2012-13 for low-middle income earners will mean that DW will pay less tax on her part-time salary and her share of the rental property's net income, and the lowered average tax rates applicable to taxable incomes below 80,000 (shown in the graph below) will mean there is even less point for me to use negatively geared stock investments to reduce my taxable income. However, the raised tax-free threshold is nowhere near as generous as it first appears, as most of the effect of raising the tax-free threshold to $18,200 will be offset by phasing out the Low Income Tax Offset. And by raising the bottom two tax rates at the same time as raising the tax-free threshold, the tax savings really only apply to those earning under $80,000 pa. Overall I think the tax changes will mean DW gets an extra $10 a week or so in her pay packet, while I'll be better off by about 6 cents a week!

With the higher ($50,000 vs. $25,000) annual cap on concessionally taxed superannuation contributions (eg. salary sacrifice and SGL amounts) for those over 50 having less than 500,000 in their superannuation account now not scheduled to come into effect until 2014 (assuming it eventually does happen!), next financial year may be a good opportunity to wind back some of my geared stock investments and plan to investment more of my salary via superannuation rather than using after-tax income to make tax-deductible interest payments on investment loans.



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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Most popular posts

I'm not sure that these are my "best" or most useful/informative posts, but according to blogger they are the most popular posts on this site. Go figure.

The Story of Story and Clark Pianos
Mar 20, 2009, 1 comment

401K Account Balances by Age
Aug 27, 2007

Coin counting machine at CommBank
Sep 26, 2009, 4 comments

Financial Literacy for High School Students
Mar 15, 2008, 4 comments

Why the First Million is the Hardest
May 20, 2007, 3 comments

Property Price Indices
Apr 12, 2012

McDonalds pulls the plug on free access to Maths Online
Dec 21, 2011, 2 comments

Displaying the All Ordinaries Index on Desktop
Dec 31, 2008, 1 comment

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Another rant against the banks

The SMH has an article about banks data mining to work out which of their customers might be "susceptible" to product offers such as investment funds, superannuation, or increased credit limits. While there are certainly cases of people getting into trouble with excessive/inappropriate levels of credit being provided by banks, I can't see that simply sending people information (when they've "opted in" to receiving it from their bank) about products they are likely to actually want to accept is such a bad thing. What does annoy me a bit is when I receive such product information in the mail, read and discard it, only to be phoned up a few days later by some sales rep wanting to confirm that I received the information. All too often I have to say several times that I don't want to product being offered, and eventually have to hang up on the call, as the sales rep keeps trying to "explain" the wonderful features of the product being pushed. Rather than ban product information/offers being sent to customers whose data suggest that are more likely than average to want the product, the more sensible regulation would be to enforce a "no means no" policy for sales staff. So if a sales rep doesn't terminate a sales call the first time a customers says "no thanks", you could make a complaint (and the recorded conversation would be checked by the relevant complaint authority to check the sales rep was following the guidelines).
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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Property Price Indices

Browsing through Moomin's recent posts, I was reminded of the Australian Property Price indices RPdata started publishing recently. Aside from daily index values for each capital city market, they also have a rolling 12-month chart of the indices available here. This chart shows that Sydney property prices have improved a bit since hitting a low point in December 2011. Hopefully this means that my property investment price estimates will also increas in coming months, as my monthly NW calculations rely on monthly sales data for a specific post code area, and have a lag of about three months (ie. my March NW property figure was calculated using the 12-mo to end of Jan price data).

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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Net Worth Update: March 2012

During the Easter long weekend I finally got around to updating my monthly net worth figures for the period Sep 2011 - Mar 2012. Nothing too exciting happened during this period - the Australian stock market dipped in late 2011 due to concerns with the PIGS debt crises in Europe and also a slow-down in the Chinese economy which is bringing global commodity prices off their peaks. But it has recovered most of this dip in recent months. And over the past year the Australian residential property market has been dropping, although the Sydney market had one of the smallest capital city declines - only around 10%. The property market (at least in Sydney) showed signs of levelling off during the first quarter of 2012, and might respond positively if the Reserve Bank cuts interest rates another 0.25% next month.

In September there was a change in the monthly property sales data available for the suburbs where we own residential property, and I took the opportunity the re-jig the formulae used to estimate the current market values of our properties, so the estimates are closer to the actual prices similar properties have sold for recently. This resulted in a one-off drop in the valuation of my property portfolio of about $40,000 as I can't be bothered to spread the $40,000 adjustment over the past 8 years over price estimates.

There's not much point in posting all the monthly figures since September, as they are available from networthiq (see the chart in the RH margin).

In my share portfolio not much has changed - my Fosters shares [FGL] were liquidated via the 'scheme of arrangement', and I used most of the proceeds to reduce my margin loan balance a bit, although I did reinvest about half the money in two ETF that are linked to the ASX200 - the iShares S&p/ASX High Dividend ETF [code IHD], and the Russell High Dividend Australian Shares ETF [code RDV].

Assets___________$ Amount
Stocks_*_________-$34,760 
Retirement_______$385,727 
Properties_______$890,260 

Debts____________$ Amount
Home Mortgage(s)_$359,278 

Net Worth________$881,948
* the Stocks figure is portfolio value - margin loans. As my portfolio value (and margin loan debt) is around $500,000 relatively small movements in the stock market produce huge percentage swings in the net value of my stock portfolio each month.

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