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 (https://training.fema.gov/is/). 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 banggood.com. 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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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Diet & Exercise update - Week 29

Diet & Exercise update - Week 29

Last week went OK Mon-Fri (Avg 2,333 kcals/day, and walking 12,547 step/day on average), but I then spent the weekend watching seasons 1-3 of 'Fear the Walking Dead' and eating a lot of confectionary. Quite enjoyable, but not a good way to loose weight or get fit! I averaged 4,558 kcals/day over the weekend, and only averaged 7,352 steps/day. I'm back on track this week, but will have to make sure I stick to my diet plan next weekend and do enough walking.

DS1 did a bit of archery in our back yard on Saturday. I collected my new bow from the post office on Saturday morning, but didn't get to shoot it yet. It looks quite good quality for $70, and the draw weight seems fine (and I have no problem using a left-hand bow), but it didn't come with any assembly instructions so I spent a bit of time scratching my head trying to work out exactly how the sight and arrow rest attach. There are some videos on the store's website, but they are for different models and accessories. My best guide is the single image their website has of the assembled bow. I'll also need to get some marine plywood or a block of high density foam to put behind our target before starting to practice.

DW quit her new job today - it had been a hectic first week, staying late and working at home in the evenings to try to get things done, and too stressful. She's had plenty of experience as an office worker, but this was her first attempt at being an 'office manager' and was basically left to sink-or-swim by her busy boss. While she could have probably stuck it out and learned on the job, I don't think it's the sort of thing she would enjoy in the long term, although she was interested in this type of business operation. So, back to the job hunt she goes...

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,808    105.2      7,258
Week 25       20.6       61.3     24.5     63.7      1,894    103.0      8,406
Week 26       43.7       64.4     16.6    113.7      2,475    101.5     10,257
Week 27       43.2       61.8     22.1    118.7      3,150    102.1      7,715
Week 28       50.6       63.4     19.2    147.7      3,536    102.2      8,099
Week 29       33.4       64.3     17.9    117.0      2,974    101.9     11,062

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Thursday 20 July 2017

Diet & Exercise update - Week 28

Well, taking Friday off work last week to drive up to the lake house to collect DS2 at the end of the school holidays (he was staying with my parents for two weeks) meant that I had a long weekend of fattening home-cooked meals which blew my diet plan yet again. My avg daily kcals over the three days was over 4,000 kcals!. However, even before my weekend trip I'd been struggling to avoid snacking in the evenings, and my average kcals for the rest of last week was over 3,000 kclas/day. My maintenance kcals/day is around 2,800 (as long as I do my 12,000+ steps walking), and my 'standard' diet plan adds up to around 1,800-2,000 kcals/day.

This week has got off to a better start (averaging around 2,200 kcals/day so far). I've managed to (mostly) avoid snacking and stick to my diet plan. I've exceeded my 12,000 step target for walking each day, and I've even done a bit of exercise on the elliptical trainer while watching TV after dinner (it's already included in my step count total, but provides a bit more aerobic exercise than simply walking).

While DS2 was at the farm he enjoyed doing some archery with the cheap ($60) compound bow I'd bought him. As he wasn't too keen on letting me 'have a turn', I decided to also buy myself a similar (ie. cheap) compound bow so we can do some archery practice together in the back yard when the weather is suitable.

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,808    105.2      7,258
Week 25       20.6       61.3     24.5     63.7      1,894    103.0      8,406
Week 26       43.7       64.4     16.6    113.7      2,475    101.5     10,257
Week 27       43.2       61.8     22.1    118.7      3,150    102.1      7,715
Week 28       50.6       63.4     19.2    147.7      3,536    102.2      8,099

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Wednesday 19 July 2017

DW employed again

Well, it took a while, but DW was finally offered a full-time position last Friday and started her new job on Monday. Apparently there were 100 applicants for this position, with 25 people selected for an interview, and at the end of her interview last Thursday she was told she was on the 'short list' of three applicants being considered.

The position is 'Office Manager' for a start-up financial planning business being created by an existing residential property sales firm (it has an existing client list that are likely to require financial planning services, so has a good chance of being successful). Her starting salary ($55K+SGL) isn't too bad - although the hourly rate is only around 85% of her previous position, the fact that it is a full-time position means that overall she will actually be earning around 40% more than when she was working three days/week as a permanent part-time employee for the past decade or so. And if the business does well she may get an increase once she has been in the role for a year or so.

The company is located in a nearby suburb, which is ideal. I drive that way every morning on the way to drop DS2 off at school on my way to work, so it is very convenient for DW to also get a lift in the mornings, and she only has to catch a short bus trip home after work. It is also located close to the train station DS2 gets off at to catch the bus home after school, so she may meet him there occasionally.

Working full-time will mean that DW can accumulate some additional superannuation savings before we reach retirement age. And she'll be able to fund the shortfall in rental income vs. the cost of her new investment unit, and get some tax benefit from having a negatively geared property investment.

Hopefully she enjoys this new job, and it lasts.

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Wednesday 12 July 2017

Aircon con (or just a rip-off?)

When we bought our house about twelve years ago, it came with a renovated kitchen and bathroom and Daikin reverse cycle split system airconditioner installed in the family room. I was flabbergasted by the price the receipt showed that previous owner had paid for the aircon unit (around $6500).

So, when the air con started playing up last summer (it would shut itself down after running for about 5 minutes, and after restarting it about 12 times it would fault out and refuse to restart unless the mains power was shut down to reset the system) I suspected it might be quite expensive to have it repaired. The error message indicated that there was an over-voltage fault, which suggested something wasn't running properly in the exterior fan unit. At the time I tried getting the company that had originally supplied and installed the unit to come for a service call, but during summer the waiting time for a booking was several months! So I waited until mid-winter to make a booking...

The initial service call cost almost $300 (I had to agree to the basic call-out fee and provide my CC details before they would make the booking), and revealed that the fan unit had failed and would need replacing. Apparently the control unit (PCB) was also damaged and would need replacing. At the time the service guy indicated that this would cost a few hundred dollars, and he said that a quote for the repair would be sent through. I wasn't delighted by the prospect of having to pay over $500 to repair a 15-year-old unit with parts that would 'probably' last five or so years, especially since it was quite likely that other pieces of the unit may fail due to age.

Well, the quote arrived yesterday, and it was a whopper! $500+ for installation (apparently it will take their 'professional' repairer 3-4 hours to simply replace a fan unit and a PCB board!), around $300 for the fan unit, and around $600 for a replacement 'motherboard'. All up, around $1400 on top of the $300 already paid to identify the fault. The icing on the cake was that the quote stated that there may be other faults that won't become apparent until the fan and PCB have been replaced and the unit tested... so basically we could pay $1700 and still not have a working air conditioner!

Considering that Aldi often sells split system air conditioner units for only $499 (a 6.4kW system), I've decided to not proceed with repairs to the Daikin system. Instead, I'll shop around for a decent, bargain-priced unit, and gets some quotes for installation. Hopefully I can get a brand new system installed for less than the cost of getting our old system (maybe) repaired.

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Monday 10 July 2017

Diet & Exercise update - Week 27

Last week was fairly unsatisfactory, diet-wise. I didn't walk enough on four out of seven days last week, and I only had two days where my caloric intake was below maintenance level, and three days above. Overall, my average daily caloric intake for the week was above my maintenance level, so it wasn't a surprise that my average daily weight increased slightly.

I saw my immunologist last Friday for a check-up. My blood test results show that the gluten-free diet has brought my Coeliac disease under control. But my eczema hasn't been improving, so we decided to change medication. I also saw an opthamologist later the same day, and it was confirmed that I have developed a fairly advanced cataract in my right eye, so I'll be having eye surgery later this month on one eye. As the procedure will improve my short-sightedness, I'll then also have my other eye operation done a few weeks later (having one eye corrected to achieve good distance vision, and leaving the other eye needing strong corrective lenses doesn't work very well). Having the day surgeries done as a 'private' patient, after medicare and private insurance refunds, I will be 'out-of-pocket' by about $2,000 per eye. Hopefully all goes well.

Aldi was selling some Elliptical Trainers for $299 so I bought one and DS1 helped me lug it to the car (~45kg). DS1 took about three hours to assemble it, only needing to ask me for help a couple of times. It seems to be working perfectly well so far (the reviews online are fairly mixed, with the quality and reliability seeming to vary a lot between units), and we've set it up in the lounge so I can do a bit of exercise while watching TV in the evenings. It is fairly easy to use (in default mode - I haven't yet tried the myriad training 'modes' available on the computer), although the foot rests are slightly further apart than I'd like. To use it I have to shift my weight from side-to-side and it is more akin to stair climbing than walking. The natural cycle time (for me) is around 60 steps/min, which is quite a lot slower than my normal walking pace (~100 steps/min), so although using the eliptical training registers as 'steps' on my step counter, it will only contribute a small amount towards my daily goal of 12,000+ steps. My thighs started to 'feel it' after only five minutes of use, so I'll start off with a few short sessions every evening, and gradually build up to longer periods of continuous use. It is probably a good way to get into condition for doing some cross-country skiing! It is fairly low impact, so it is better for my knees (and the TV!) than jogging on the spot or skipping.

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,808    105.2      7,258
Week 25       20.6       61.3     24.5     63.7      1,894    103.0      8,406
Week 26       43.7       64.4     16.6    113.7      2,475    101.5     10,257
Week 27       43.2       61.8     22.1    118.7      3,150    102.1      7,715

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Thursday 6 July 2017

Diet & Exercise update - Week 26

Last week saw continued progress with my weight loss, although I did overeat on the weekend (while visiting my parents at the lake house). I've been achieving my stepcount (walking) target most days (12,000 steps/day), but haven't yet restarted doing daily 5BX exercise sessions in the evenings. I've also been snacking a little bit in the evenings since getting back from the lake house, so I need to clamp down on that asap.

I got some blood test results back from my GP. My Cholesterol and Triglyceride levels have actually improved slightly (within the 'normal' range), although my HDL:total cholesterol ratio could still be improved, and my LDL ('bad' cholesterol) levels should also be reduced further (this should occur naturally if I loose weight and exercise more...). I should probably start having some tinned tuna in addition to my tin of baked beans for lunch at work.

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 20       38.8       63.6     21.4    118.9      3,371    104.6      6,563
Week 21       33.3       62.9     21.0    105.7      3,056    104.4      6,957
Week 22       20.4       61.6     22.4    123.8      3,390    104.9      8,962
Week 23       32.2       69.6     13.3    106.7      2,840    104.5      6,471
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,808    105.2      7,258
Week 25       20.6       61.3     24.5     63.7      1,894    103.0      8,406
Week 26       43.7       64.4     16.6    113.7      2,475    101.5     10,257

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Tuesday 4 July 2017

Net Worth: Jun 2017

My net worth improved over the past month, due mostly to a large biannual dividend received into our SMSF Vanguard High-growth Fund investment. Overall, my retirement savings balance increased by $41,108 (+4.80%), which more than offset a decrease in the value of my geared stock portfolio, which was down $13,666 (-6.72% due to gearing). The decrease in net value of my geared stock portfolio was partly due to some weakness in the stock markets, but also due to making prepayments for the next 12 months of margin loan interest on most of the loan balance (I only kept a smal proportion of these loan balances as 'variable', so I can pay off some of the loan balances if I have spare cashflow). The valuation of our home also increased slightly last month. DW is still unemployed, so she withdrew some of the money she'd deposited into the joint savings account for monthly loan payments next year (which made the mortgage amount increase slightly in my NW calculations).

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Monday 26 June 2017

Diet & Exercise update - Week 25

Well, my 'new' (restarted) diet regime got off to a fairly good start last week, mostly due to not being able to eat very solid foods after getting a tooth extracted on Thursday afternoon!. Although I haven't yet restarted doing 5BX daily exercise sessions or weekly squash with the kids, I did reach my daily step-count target of 12,000 steps on four of the days last week. I didn't do much walking on the day I got my tooth extracted, or over the weekend. As I couldn't eat too much anyhow, I took the opportunity to do two days of my mock-'fasting mimicking diet' (FMD) plan on the weekend. While the overall carb, fat and protein ratio is fairly close to that published by Dr Longo, I don't try to mimic the micro-nutrient or other compositional aspects of his commercialized diet regime. As I take a daily multivitamin, calcium and Vitamin D supplement, I'm not too worried about working out the finer details of my diet's nutritional makeup. I also intend to just utilize my version of FMD on two days every weekend, rather than Dr Longo's FMD schedule of five sequential days every month or two.

This week I plan on walking at least 12K steps every day, and to start doing daily 5BX exercise routine again in the evenings. Next weekend I'll be driving up to the lake house with DS2, so he can stay there with my parents during the two week school vacation. DS1 is staying home this vacation to study for his HSC exams (his trial HSC exams start in the third week on next term). As it is a three hour drive up to the lake house, I'll need to make sure I do enough walking on those days.

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 20       38.8       63.6     21.4    118.9      3,371    104.6      6,563
Week 21       33.3       62.9     21.0    105.7      3,056    104.4      6,957
Week 22       20.4       61.6     22.4    123.8      3,390    104.9      8,962
Week 23       32.2       69.6     13.3    106.7      2,840    104.5      6,471
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,808    105.2      7,258
Week 25       20.6       61.3     24.5     63.7      1,894    103.0      8,406

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Friday 23 June 2017

Ouch, That hurt my wallet (and my mouth

Had a 'fun' day off work yesterday - got some fasting blood tests done in the morning (covered by Medicare), in preparation for my visit to the eczema/immunology specialist in two weeks time. And then had an after lunch session with the dentist to get a premolar tooth extracted (it had two previously rounds of expensive root canal therapy by two different dentists, which didn't fix the problem).

I was told the extraction would take about an hour, but I ended up being in the 'chair' for almost two hours. Aside from some small pricks getting the initial local anesthetic injections, the whole proceed was quite painless, although uncomfortably. It involved the tooth extraction, 'grafting', a few stiches, and then an x-ray to check the final result. I'll be going back for a short visit in a couple of weeks to get the few stitches removed. This two hour marathon session cost just under A$1000, but at least there was a lot of time, effort and materials involved. A large proportion of the bill was covered by my employer-funded health plan, so my 'out of pocket' was under A$200.

There was somewhat greater pain involved when the local wore off. I'm on soft/liquid foods only for a couple of days, and taking some pain-killers today. Hopefully it will have 'settled down' by tomorrow morning.

Later in the year I'll need to have some more expensive work done to insert a 'prosthetic' tooth in the gap. Makes me wish I'd done a bit more cleaning and flossing of my teeth during the past forty years!

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Monday 19 June 2017

Diet & Exercise update - 2017 Weeks 7-24

Well, 2017 has so far been a diet disaster ;(

We had a very hot and humid summer, and my eczema got quite bad due to a heat rash, so I've been feeling unwell, lethargic and irritable. I'm not sure if being unwell was the main cause, but I found it impossible to stick to my diet, and I had been buying confectionery whenever I went grocery shopping, and then eating lollies in the evenings as 'comfort food'. The heat rash and eczema also reduced the amount of walking I was doing (at least until the weather cooled down in May), and I haven't been doing my weekly game of squash due to my skin.

Overall, my weight increased from 97kg at the start of the year, up to 105kg last week! Considering I had got my weight down to 89kg this time last year, it is a really bad result.

A recent course of antibiotics and prednisone seems to have finally gotten my skin back under control, and I've been walking a bit more since the weather cooled down in May. I managed to stick to my diet plan last weekend, so I intend to stick fully to my diet starting from.... NOW! Hopefully doing a weekly blog post might also help motivate/embarrass me into sticking to my plan.

I won't bother listing all the weekly stats for 2017, but the overall figures from weeks 1-24 and the past week are below:

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Weeks 1-24    37.5       64.1     18.3    118.9      3,019    102.1      6,025
Week 24       32.8       64.5     17.7    116.2      2,803    105.2      7,258

Goes to show what a few hundred extra calories every day, and a lack of exercise will achieve ;(

I'll start reporting weekly figures again from now on. Wish me luck.

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Making money Bitcoin 'mining' is harder than it looks

Well, for one thing I'm not really 'mining' Bitcoin -- I haven't bought the hardware normally used to 'mine' new Bitcoin (apparently you have to have access to really cheap electricity to make it worthwhile - hence the big mining 'farms' are located close to cheap sources of hydro or geothermal power) and are only running a mining app on my home laptop that works as part of a cloud-based 'pool'. At least it is generating a few thousand Satoshi each day (unfortunatey a Satoshi is only 1/100,000,000th of a Bitcoin!) and every time the modest threshold is reached some Satoshi actually get transferred into my CoPay 'wallet'. So far I've had 22 transfers of around 5000 Satoshi, with my total Bitcoin balance reaching 0.00113797 BTC (worth around A$3.57 at today's rate). And I'm pretty sure the cost of the electricity used leaving my laptop turned on overnight is more than that amount ;(

And my other attempt to 'earn' Bitcoin via an app on my phone was a total rip-off. Having wasted time clicking on ads (which I'm sure earned the app developer some money), the 'payment' of the first 400,000 Satoshi I'd earned never arrived in my Bitcoin wallet. And all attempts to get 'help' were ignored by the developer.

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Thursday 15 June 2017

Electricity costs going through the roof

Electricity has been in the news quite a lot this year in Australia. South Australia had power blackouts during the Summer when an unusual weather pattern produced lots of cloud cover and no wind -- making their high reliance on wind/solar 'renewal' power supplies problematic. Normally they'd have managed using 'surplus' power from neighboring states (Victoria and NSW), but some issues with the instate load-sharing system apparently meant this wasn't possible, so some 'planned outages' were required. A lot of unhappy South Australians, and a lot of media discussion regarding whether the problem was due to over-reliance on 'renewal' power supplies, without adequate base-load supply or a means to store power (Elon Musk got in the act by offering to sell some 'cheap' battery storage to Australia), or whether it was just due to a problem with the interstate transmission system...

Anyhow, aside from supply issues, the cost of electricity to consumers has already been increasing faster than inflation for many years, and some even larger increases will soon bite. A just received an email from my electricity supplier showing my 'old' rates and the 'new' rates that will apply from next month. The head-line 'peak' rate is rising from ~54c per kWh to ~59.2c per kWh (an increase of 9.6%!). However, the reality is even worse, as the 'shoulder' and 'off-peak' rates will be increasing much more - 'shoulder' period electricity is increasing by 24.4% (!!) from ~21.6c per kWh to ~24.4c per kWh, and the 'off-peak' rate (used to heat up our hot water tank at 1-2am) is increasing by an eye-watering 36.5% (!!!!) from ~12c per kWh to ~16.4c per kWh.

Overall, based on last quarter's electricity bill, our mix of off-peak/shoulder/peak electricity use, and the total amount used, our overall bill will be increasing by around 18.8% from next month unless we take some drastic energy-saving measures. We've already time-shifted our normal electricity use as much as possible from peak period to shoulder (by not using the washing machine during the evening 'peak' hours), so now we'll have to look at reducing the amount of power used. Looking at our hour-by-hour energy use (fortunately the data is readily available online these days), it appears that when we were running the pool filter it uses around 0.5 kWh, so I definitely have to only run it for a couple of hours daily rather than non-stop. It was also noticeable that when the family was away during the school holidays, the household 'baseline' electricity use was around 0.25 kWh each hour (probably due to leaving the refrigerator running, a few 'security' lights on, and the various TVs and computers left in 'standby' mode. And the water-bed heater) When the family is at home the 'baseline' power use is around 0.25-0.5 kWh per hour higher, probably due to leaving some lights on during the day, and having more laptops/tablets etc. left plugged in to charge up etc.

I'll have to start actively checking that computers, TVs etc. are turned off rather than left in stand-bye mode during the day, and checking that no lights are left on during the day or when everyone goes to bed. We'll see how much of the hike in electricity prices can be off-set by being more frugal with our electricity usage...

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Lost and Found

When I went shopping on Saturday I found that I'd misplaced my daily-use credit card. Aside from having to use another credit card (that I normally use only for online purchases) that I didn't know the PIN number for (so I had to show my driver's license as ID) I was left scratching my head wondering what had happened to my credit card.

My last clear recollection of using it was taking it out of my wallet and putting it into my shirt pocket to walk downstairs and get a snack from a vending machine at work on Friday afternoon, so I had to look around the house to see if I'd taken it out of my pocket on Friday evening and left it lying around the house (no), then look in the washing hamper to try to find the shirt I'd worn on Friday and check if it was still in the shirt pocket (no), then look in the car to check if I'd put it in with the parking lot pass on Friday evening (no). By this time I suspected I might have put it on my desk at work and not put it back into my wallet, so I checked my work desk this morning - no luck. I thought it might 'turn up' in the next couple of days, so I went online and put a 'hold' on the card, rather than marking it as 'lost' (which would have meant waiting a week or two for a new card, with a new CC number).

Luckily DW phoned me a few hours later to say that she'd found my card in a shirt pocket - somehow I'd dropped my shirt in the towel hamper by mistake! I've now taken the CC off 'hold' and learned my lesson - from now on I'll take my wallet with me and put the CC straight back after using it, not put in 'loose' in my shirt pocket.

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Thursday 1 June 2017

Net Worth: May 2017

My net worth decreased during May, mostly due to weakness in the stock market and my share portfolio holding of bank and oil/energy stocks doing particularly badly. The estimated valuation for our house only increased slightly, as the Sydney real estate market has definitely come off the boil. As usual I have used the 'book value' for my rural property, with only a slight increase due to some capital expenditure (materials for a retaining wall so we can add a car port to the side of the existing shed). My retirement account increased slightly, due to contributions rather than any gain in the investments.

DW is still looking for a new job, and the hours of her casual employment as a 'nanny' have been substantially reduced.

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Thursday 4 May 2017

Free courses on Financial Literacy and Financial Planning

For a bit of fun and revision I'm doing a couple of free courses currently available from open2study.com that may be of interest to my readers.

One course teaches the basics of financial planning #O2SFinPlan , and another free course covers the basics of financial literacy #O2SFinLitrc .

Both courses started last week, but you can enrol at any time before the course ends and should be able to easily catch up. Each week covers a module via a series of ten short video presentations, and a short multiple-choice assessment quiz at the each of each week. If you complete the course and achieve at least 60%, you will get a statement of completion to print out.

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Tuesday 2 May 2017

Net Worth: April 2017

A buoyant stock market and Sydney real estate market boosted my net worth again last month - my geared stock portfolio was up 5.79% ($13K), my retirement savings up 2.54% ($21K), and the estimated valuation for our home rose another 4.23% ($34K) despite Sydney real estate prices levelling off during April. Local factors (the announcement of 'NorthConnex', and the pending completion of the Northern Beaches Hospital) meant our suburb showed continued appreciation in real estate prices last month. Overall, my NW increased 3.15% ($67K) during March, which is comparable to my annual after-tax salary! Last time things were going so well was just before the GFC, and my NW chart is starting to look a bit like a 'bubble'.

Last month I toyed with the idea of purchasing a commercial (office) property in Forster (near our lakeside 'hobby' farm) as an investment, with potential to use to office for my own financial planning business when I 'retire' to the countryside. However, although the rental yield was quite good (~5.5%) on the two offices I was considering, the 'outgoings' (strata levy, rates, sinking fund) were considerable (of a similar magnitude to the rent). So, while the rental income would have been sufficient to pay the mortgage interest, and the tenant would be paying 75% or 100% of the 'outgoings', during any periods of vacancy it would have been a money pit. And an office in a country town can be very hard to let if there is a recession... So, in the end I decided to forget about investing in an office, and instead I'll use any spare cashflow to slowly paydown my existing investment loans.

Last month I added some Tesla share CFDs to my CFD account, as it seems to have considerable potential as a speculative investment. My total CFD account only has ~$1000 invested, so it is basically just a 'plaything' I can dabble with when I get bored. I want to leave my share portfolio and superannuation investments generally unchanged, as trading costs can be a huge drag on overall investment portfolio performance.

DW is still looking for a full-time position, and in the meantime is earning a few hundred dollars each week working a few hours each day as a 'nanny' for a local professional couple.

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Monday 3 April 2017

Net Worth: March 2017

A buoyant stock market and Sydney real estate market boosted my net worth again last month - my geared stock portfolio was up 7.67% ($15K), my retirement savings up 2.43% ($19K), and the estimated valuation for our home rose another 2.33% ($18K). DW used part of her redundancy payment to pre-pay the next 15 months of her monthly interest-only home loan payments, so our mortgage balance showed a one-off reduction that will be slowly 'redrawn' over the next 15 months. Overall, my NW increased 2.72% ($56K) during March. DW is still looking for a new job, with no luck so far.

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Tuesday 14 March 2017

1,000 Velocity Frequent Flyer bonus points

In case any readers are interested in joining the Velocity Frequent Flyer program, using this link will get you 1,000 bonus points when you open your new account. I joined up when I saw a promotional flyer while skiing last July, and got some bonus points for buying fuel at BP service stations when they were running promotions. As there's no annual or joining fee it's an easy way to get some additional 'frequent flyer' points. When I buy fuel at BP I 'double dip' by swiping the Velocity card to earn points for the fuel purchase (and sometimes quality for 'bonus points' offers) and then pay using my NAB credit card (which earns FlyBuys. points). As I only buy fuel at BP when I see that the price is as good or better than the price I'll get at Shell (with my Coles shopping docket discount) or Caltex (with my Woolworths rewards shopping discount), it is a rare example of really getting 'something for nothing'.

ps. Disclosure: If you join Velocity FF using the link both you and I will get 1,000 bonus points. ;)

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Friday 3 March 2017

Good service from my 'bank'

Earlier this week I received a phone call from my bank letting me know that an old ~$800 cheque I'd written last month (and forgotten about) to pay DS1's school fees had 'bounced' due to there being insufficient funds in my savings account (there was over $60K sitting in my high-interest online account at the same bank, but I usually keep as little as possible sitting in my savings account as the interest rate is only 0.01% pa). I was told that I should transfer in enough funds to cover the cheque by 11am (the cut-off for same-day interbank payments) or else the cheque would automatically be dishonoured. I transferred some money between my accounts online, and noticed that at the time there was a $15 'insufficient funds' charge appearing on my savings account.

The next day when I checked online, the cheque had been 'cleared' and the $15 fee had been removed, so it looks like the bank's phone call saved me $15 and having to make alternative arrangements to pay the school fee. Hat tip to Qudos bank.

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Wednesday 1 March 2017

Bitcoin newbie

Bitcoin (and many other cryptocurrencies) has been around now for many years, and after initially (still) being mostly used for nefarious activities and 'dark web' purchases (or maybe just geeks), it now seems to be getting more main stream. So I decided it was about time I had a play around with the ins and out of using Bitcoin. (I'll use the singular, as with 1 BTC currently being 'worth' about A$1547.59 I'm unlikely to have more than a fraction of one BTC any time soon).

To get started I first created a free Bitcoin 'wallet' on my smart phone (I chose to use Copay, but there myriad wallet apps out there - with a range of features, security, ease-of-use, platform availability, cost, etc.). So far so good, but having a wallet with 0 BTC in it isn't much use so I next had to look into how to get some Bitcoin to fill my 'wallet'...

Being a tight-arse I'm not about to spend any real money to 'buy' a Bitcoin, and I'm not sure that using my credit card on a site 'selling' bitcoins would be prudent. So, how to get some Bitcoins into my 'wallet'?

Well, the first (easiest) option seemed to be to install a free 'bitcoin maker' app onto my phone, and use it to 'earn' some BTC. Real 'mining' of Bitcoins isn't viable on a smart phone or even on a high spec PC (unless you join a pool and are content to earn a fraction of a fraction of a Bitcoin, probably worth less than the electricity spent on the computations). So the 'mining' app I've downloaded seems to do no actual 'mining', but instead requires tapping a button every 10 or 30 minutes to 'earn' 500 Satoshi (a 'Satoshi' is one 100 millionth of a Bitcoin, so 500 Satoshi is worth about 0,77c). When they are 'available' tapping the button also displays a 30s ad (presumably that is where the app developer is getting the funds to actually purchase some BTC). I seen numerous trailers for the movie 'Rings(3)', some road safety ads, and a large number of variants of candy crush/tetris... On second thoughts, while the app was easy to install, it certainly was easy to 'earn' the minimum 500,000 Satoshi required to make a withdrawal request. As it took about two weeks to 'earn' that half-million Satoshi (worth around A$10), I certainly won't get rich that way. I've also yet to see that transfer of funds arrive in my Bitcoin 'wallet' (according to the app it should take 'up to 10 days' for the transaction to be processed/added to the blockchain).

One thing I noticed in the first week of using this App was that the ads were using up a significant amount of my phone's monthly data plan (I ran out of data before the end of the month), so I now only turn on my mobile phone Data Connection via 3G when I don't have the Bitcoin mining app running. I initially thought that the 500kS minimum required to make a withdrawal was simply there to ensure the developer got maximum 'breakage' from users that loose interest before reaching the redemption threshold, but since then I've learned that each 'transfer' of Bitcoins incurs a small transaction fee (the amount depends on what priority/speed the transaction processing is assigned), which means that extremely small transactions would cost more to process than they are worth. Tapping the App every ten minutes soon gets very tedious, but its the sort of thing you don't mind doing while watching TV or going for a walk.

A second way of getting some BTC into my 'wallet' is to get people to 'donate' some -- so, in case any reader happens to use Bitcoins, here is a QR code for my 'wallet': some small test transaction would be nice ;)
( 11324np9vhfsWKaqrYHutakZxjqSgSQQrv )
Apparently this Bitcoin address is 'single use'. So after receiving a 'payment' via this address, a new one was generated for my Copay 'wallet', While that apparently is a good security/privacy feature, and would suit a merchant seeking a single payment (for example, for an invoice to be paid in BTC), it doesn't seem suited for use as a permanent 'donate' button on a blog etc.

I've yet to see if subsequent transactions made using this ID get processed OK...

A third way of getting some Bitcoins is to 'mine' them (a complex calculation to solve a 'block' which results in a set amount of Bitcoins to be created - currently 12.5 BTC/block). But to do that at a reasonable rate would require purchasing specialized hardware, which tends to become outdated/non-competitive very rapidly, so the pay-back period calculation is rather uncertain. The economics of 'mining' for Bitcoin is dependent on the cost of electricity (hence many Bitcoin mining 'farms' are places with sources of cheap power, such as Greenland).

I did install one 'Bitcoin Mining' App on my Windows Laptop, which 'mines' as part of a 'pool'. It does seem to actually be working (at a snail's pace), accumulating around 4,000 Satoshi worth of Bitcoin every second day (the minimum amount that gets automatically swept out of the account daily is 2,370 Satoshi, as apparently that is the smallest transaction value that can be processed). At least that transaction did appear in my Copay 'wallet' the next day - so I currently have a balance of 0.000032 BTC in my 'wallet' ;) The Mining app can be setup on up to ten different devices (using the same account details), so in theory I could have my various PCs 'mining' around 20,000 Satoshi/day (worth around 40c!). But the extra power usage would probably cost more than the Bitcoin production is worth.

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Net Worth: February 2017

Despite weakening during the last week on February, overall the Australian and International stock markets made gains during the past month, which gave a positive boost to the valuations of my geared stock portfolio and also to my retirement savings. House prices in Sydney continued to rise, although at a less frenetic pace, which resulted in another small increase in the valuation of my interest in our home equity. So, overall, my NW was up during the past month - reaching a new 'all-time high'.

Since being retrenched in January, DW has been enjoying spending more time at home and being able to meet DS2 after school every afternoon (the timing of her redundancy fit in nicely with DS2 starting at his new OC school and not attending after-school care). She is only just now starting to look for new employment opportunities. She was provided with access to a recruitment/career coaching service as part of her redundancy package, and has been taking the opportunity to update and polish her CV and get some tips on finding and applying for a new job. The Australian economy is still rather weak, and while the overall unemployment rate isn't too bad there has been a noticeable shift away from full-time permanent positions to part-time, casual and contract positions.

As usual the 'total debts' figure above doesn't include the half-million or so of margin loans, as the 'stocks' figure is the net value of my geared share and mutual fund portolio. The 'other real estate' figure is the valuation of the holiday home/hobby farm at the time I 'inherited' from my parents in 2013.

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Tuesday 14 February 2017

Diet & Exercise update - 2017 Weeks 4-6

So far this year it's been more a case of 'No diet and not enough exercise' ;( For some reason I've simply been unable to cut out the junk food again, so despite my 'core' diet being according to plan, I've still been 'breaking' my diet plan most evenings after getting home from work by having snacks and some 'dessert' in addition to my planned dinner. The record-breaking run of hot and humid weather (many days in the 40s (Celcius) and with high humidity) have meant I've only done a fraction of my required daily walking - it's often been too hot to even walk 'laps' in front of my office building in the shade at lunchtime, and too still to hot and humid to go for an evening stroll. So I've had to make do with trying to do a couple of 'laps' inside our office building in the air con every 30 mins of so throughout the day. I spent a few hours in our pool on the weekend, but I haven't been swimming laps after work either, so I'm probably just using the temperature and humidity as an excuse for my inactivity. As usual, I'll try to stick to my planned menu today, and try to hit my 10,000 steps target. I should also swim some laps when I get home (although at the moment the heat and humidity has been replaced with heavy rainfall...)

.             Fibre      Carbs    Fat     Protein    kCals     Avg Wt   Steps
              g/dy       %        %       g/dy       /dy       kg       /dy
Week 01       41.4       58.8     21.0    136.7      3,134     97.2      5,368
Week 02       43.4       63.7     17.0    126.1      3,022     97.7      5,259
Week 03       38.4       63.3     18.7    128.8      2,972     98.1      5,931
Week 04       44.4       62.4     16.9    123.5      2,892     98.7      4,328
Week 05       41.7       64.4     19.3    116.3      3,029     98.6      5,292
Week 06       43.7       72.1     11.1    120.9      3,153     99.2      4,805

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Wednesday 1 February 2017

Net Worth: January 2017

Very little overall change in NW during the past month, as the increase in estimated valuation for our home was offset by a slightly larger decrease in the value of my geared stock portfolio and superannuation fund balances.

DW's recent lay-off has emphasized the ephemeral nature of employment in the 'modern economy', and has prompted me to look again at my expenditures. I intend to try to stick to my 'shopping list' when grocery shopping (that would also help with my attempt to lose some weight!) from now on, and to avoid making any unplanned 'discretionary' spending. My goal will be to minimize my monthly CC bill and free up some surplus cash flow each month to slowly whittle away at the balance of my margin loan with the highest interest rate. While it won't  be a significant amount compared to my automated savings, every little bit helps, and can build up over time.

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Tuesday 31 January 2017

Redundancy strikes again

Until yesterday DW and I were working for the same company, having both started there about 18 years ago. Then yesterday DW was 'offered' a redundancy package. Not much choice in the matter as it was presented as a fait accompli, with her current role being no longer required, and there apparently no other 'fit' found for her. At least the redundancy package was 'generous', adding up to almost 2 years worth of salary and DW was happy enough to sign and clear out her desk the same day. Personally I'm not overly impressed by the 'generosity' of the package, as the 3 weeks x 10 years of service (the maximum counted for redundancy payouts in this state) is pretty much a requirement under state laws, and the payout for unused accumulated annual and long service leave is also mandatory. And the four weeks pay in lieu of 'notice' is also fairly standard, as very few companies these days want workers to stay at work during the required 'notice' period, as they are afraid of disgruntled, laid-off employees getting up to mischief or their presence (dead man walking) being 'bad for morale'. All-in-all the only generous aspect was a couple of extra weeks payment 'ex gratia'.

As DS2 is starting school at his new 'OC' school today, DW is quite happy to be out of work and able to meet him after school. She isn't sure if she will do a TAFE course, have a go at starting up a home business, or just spend more time gardening. Whether or not she 'needs' to get another job will largely depend on whether or not the rental income from her 'off-the-plan' investment unit turns out to be sufficient to cover the interest payments on the 'portfolio loan' (against our home equity) that will be used to pay for the unit upon settlement this coming May-June. As I pay all the household bills her lack of income won't have any immediate impact. In the longer term, if she doesn't get another job she will end up not having as much as expected in her superannuation account to fund her retirement, and she also won't be able to pay down much (any) of the loan balance. If Sydney real estate prices continue to rise over the next decade or so that won't be much of an issue, but if there is a slump in prices she might end up owning a home unit that is worth less than her mortgage...

Of course DW getting laid off immediately made me wonder how secure my own position at the company is - but there isn't really much point worrying about it unless/until it happens. At the moment my role seems fairly secure, but that can easily change, often as a result of decisions made 'behind closed doors' that one is blissfully unaware of until the axe falls. It did prompt me to do a quick spreadsheet model of how I might be tracking with regards to funding my retirement if I was laid off tomorrow, and comparing it with the likely situation if I was laid of next year, or the year after, and so one...

It turns out that, making some reasonable assumptions regarding ongoing contributions rates while I'm still working, and the likely future rates of taxation and earnings on our superannuation investments (I've taken the average rate of return for the past ten years as a 'guesstimate' of possible future returns, given that this is lower than average rate of return for the past three years, or over the entire period of available data), I could 'retire' tomorrow and get a sustainable retirement income of around 80% of my current 'take-home pay' if I sold up my stock portfolio, paid off the margin loans, and added the net amount to my current superannuation balance. This 'sustainable' model assumed that I had to re-contribute around 2% of the fund value every year to allow for inflation, and that the balance of my superannuation account would be run down until there was no residual balance at age 100. (While that may be an optimistic lifespan, my paternal grandparents both lived until 94, and my parents are both alive and well and in their 80s). It also assumed a low rate of tax on superannuation 'pension' payments, which of course is subject to legislative risk.

If I do manage to keep my job for at least another couple of years my sustainable retirement income rises to around 100% of my current 'take-home' pay rate, and working any longer would mean that either a) I can fund a higher rate of 'pension' payments out of my superannuation during retirement, or b) I will be likely to end up with some residual balance, or c) my desired rate of pension will be sustainable even if investment returns are worse than expected, or if there are a couple of years of poor investment performance immediately after I 'retire'.

Of course even if I get laid off tomorrow I could probably find some gainful employment until my intended retirement age - either at some other job (probably involving more work for less pay), or possibly by getting qualified as a financial planner and having a go at starting my own financial planning business...

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Wednesday 25 January 2017

Bonus and taxes

My first salary 'bonus' is due to be paid early next month, and the HR department sent out a reminder to make any nominations to 'salary sacrifice' the bonus into superannuation be COB today, as any 'salary sacrifice' arrangements must be done prospectively, not retrospectively (after the income has been 'earned'). At face value it obviously makes a lot of sense to receive the bonus payment into superannuation (paying 15% contribution tax) rather than receiving it as a salary payment and paying income tax on it at a marginal rate of, say, 37%. On a 5% bonus for a $100K salary, the tax saving achieved via 'salary sacrifice' could be $1100. Looking at it another way, that means the 'after tax' bonus amount would be nearly 35% greater when paid into superannuation compared to taking it as a cash payment.

However, the individual decision regarding whether to 'salary sacrifice' the bonus isn't so simple. For example, DW is on a lower annual salary package, and only works 3 days a week, so her marginal tax rate would be 32.5%, and not 37%, which makes the tax incentive to lock away this money until retirement a lot less enticing. She also has a large settlement payment on an investment home unit due in the middle of this year, so any additional amount she puts into superannuation via salary sacrifice would add to her mortgage balance.

Even in my case I can't simply nominate to 'sacrifice' the entire bonus amount into superannuation, as I already have a sizable 'salary sacrifice' arrangement in place, and the 'cap' on concessionally taxed superannuation contributions might come into play. For my age group, the 'cap' this financial year is $35K (it will reduce to only $25K from 20017-18 onwards unless there are further changes announced in the May budget), and I already have around $9.5K of SGL contributions and $19.2K of existing 'salary sacrifice' arrangements. This would mean that around $6.3K more could be 'sacrificed' into superannuation this financial year without exceeding the 'cap'. However, I have to allow for the possibility of a  small increase in SGL contributions during the remainder of this financial year if I happen to get a pay rise (annual salary reviews are also being announced next month - just after bonuses get paid out), and there was a monthly employer contribution deposited on 1/7/2016, so I have to allow for the possibility that the contribution for June 2017 might get deposited at the end of June, meaning 13 monthly contributions falling into this FY.

Finally, my employer is also reimbursing small amounts for the monthly admin fee and insurance premium that gets initially debited from my superannuation account (~$85 per month), but the reimbursement payments get processed several months after the original debit transactions. There was a delay in the initial reimbursement payments (eg. a debit processed last FY (on 3/3) was eventually reimbursed via an additional employer superannuation contribution this FY (on 17/10), and there are currently two reimbursement payments being deposited each month in order to 'catch up'. So there *might* be as many as 18 lots of ~$85 deposited this FY, Which means allowing for another $3.8K or so that *might* be deposited this FY and count towards the 'cap'. So, the maximum amount of bonus I can 'salary sacrifice' and be reasonably certain that I won't exceed the 'cap' on concessionally taxed contributions is only $2.5K. In the end I decided to request that $2K of any bonus amount be paid as 'salary sacrifice'.

Next FY I'll have to reduce the amount of monthly 'salary sacrifice' due to the decrease in 'cap'. I probably won't bother to allow for any bonus to be processed via salary sacrifice next year.

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Took up part of my Santos Share Purchase Plan entitlement

I decided to purchase $5000 worth of Santos shares under the SPP that closes next week (31 Jan). The issue price will be around $4.00. As I also have some long crude oil CFDs, I'm obviously punting on the oil price going back up a bit in future. My current holding of Santos shares is around $15,000 market value, so this will increase my investment in Santos by around 1/3. While the oil price has fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years (from below $20 to over $140!), there seems to be some support around the $40 mark, which corresponds roughly to a Santos share price around $4.00. So, overall, it seems that the downside risk is for the share price drop to as low as $2 (or the company to go broke in a period of prolonged low oil prices), whereas a continuation in the current rise in oil prices (if there is stronger global growth in future) could see oil hit $60-$80 again, and the Santos stock price rise to $6-$8 again. While this share purchase is a bit of a gamble, as the amount only represents about 1% of my geared stock portfolio, and 1/4% of my net worth, so either outcome won't have a big impact on my net worth.

The top chart below shows the crude oil price (http://www.macrotrends.net/1369/crude-oil-price-history-chart) over the past 30 years, and the bottom chart is the Santos stock price since 1988.

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