Saturday, January 20, 2007

a few things

I'm back, and I'm going to ramble.

Impressions from the Costa Rica trip? I hate people.

I say so jokingly, but there is some truth to it. I'm greatly annoyed when people are condescending. It doesn't need to be condescending to me personally, but I do appreciate it when people are generally respectful of people or societies that are different from our own. Yes, the food is different than ours, and Tico food isn't anything special, but that's no reason to continually say how it's crap. American food sucks even more. Cajun and southern food are good, but even then a lot of it is an acquired taste. Pulled pork sandwiches don't seem good at all until you overcome how the thing looks.

Neat odd thing of the trip:
I'm rich! After withdrawing some money from the ATM, I was pleased to discover that I was now a millionaire. A multi-millionaire at that. Available balance of 2,436,973.88. Heck yeah!

So photos...
I took a look at the photos I took on the trip. I think I had about 400 total. I've pruned out about 100 of those so far to eliminate the ones that didn't come out right. Yes, I've gotten to the point where I'll take 2-10 shots of the same thing hoping that some will come out better than others. Photoshop skills can recover a lot, but it's still a hell of a lot easier to just start off with a well-shot photo. Plus, you can't do much of the thing is out of focus or blurry. Short version: I'm love my camera and I'm beginning to appreciate burst mode. Great for taking shots of birds flying and people planting pineapple plants (no joke). I do think that I might treat myself to a new zoom with a bit less distortion at short focal lengths though. The curved horizon thing just isn't cool when you have 300 photos to deal with.

Next random topic: My car
The Check Engine light is on again. Once again, it says that it's the oxygen sensor. I think that's bullshit, or they broke it when fixing my exhaust. The guy did mention that he dumped water on it to cool it off when he was fixing it. Nothing like dousing a hot object with water to cause it to crack, warp, or break. I think I'm going to opt for the easy "fix," resetting the ECM.

Next random topic: Investments
Once I finish tranfering funds between my various accounts (BofA, FirstIB, ING), I'll dump another $4,000 into my Roth IRA. Nothing like using the Roth IRA in a year of low income! (-: Having less than a year of income has a few small perks.

Next random topic: Power generation
After discovering that UI has jacked up our electricity rates, I'm going to switch over to Levco for my power generation. Yes, they use nukes, but to be honest, I'm totally OK with nukes. In fact, I challenge someone to give me a better *practical* alternative. Coal and oil suck (ugly, air pollution, damage from coal mining), hydro ain't all that great either (impacts to waterways), and wind and solar aren't yet practical (perhaps not enough wind). So nukes it is. Minimal pollution (as long as they are responsible), and they produce a crapload of power in comparison to all alternatives aside from hydro.

Monday, January 08, 2007

quick update

So I'm at INCAE right now, which is the business school in Costa Rica. Quick hits:
  1. I'm alive
  2. I still know Spanish... and it's waaaay better than my Mandarin. Some of it is coming back too, which is nice. Definitely easier with other people here who speak it and use the vocabulary. Wish I had brought a dictionary though. Next time.... (-:

Thursday, January 04, 2007


After doing an informational interview, speaking to a prospective student, fixing my car, and sending in a couple of job applications, I'm just about ready to go. Now I just need to fix my hair, take a shower, and I'm off to Costa Rica!

Annoying note: What's up with having to leave here at 3am to make the 7:55am flight from Newark? I know it's cool how Tweed New Haven is such a tiny airport (you can literally throw a rock at the plane from the parking lot.... not suggesting anything here), but it's not much help when all flights go to Philly - The city of brotherly love, where they hate people.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

getting ready.... kind of

I should be getting ready for my trip... considering that I leave Friday at 3am. So what have I done? I cleaned my camera equipment and I posted some photos. Enjoy.

More photos!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

more data

In case you all haven't seen enough of this, here's an updated graph of my car's gas mileage since I bought it in May of 2001.

So each dot represents a time that I got gas. The pink line is the gas mileage for the most recent tank. The blue line is the average gas mileage since I got the car. The black line is the 6 month running average.

Yes, it's cyclical. Cold weather means bad gas mileage. Going to Yale means that unless I go home, I get gas every two months or so.

Monday, January 01, 2007

credit cards

So, if you've ever wondered which credit card is the best rewards card, this is the blog entry for you.

The candidates:

Citi Dividend Rewards MasterCard
This has long been my card of choice. It's a MasterCard, which means that it's accepted anywhere, plus it used to have by far the best rewards program. Until recently, it offered 5% rewards for everything from supermarkets, gas stations, and drugstores. Pretty awesome. It was such a great deal they had to stop doing it. Here's what they offer now:
  • 2% back on gas stations, supermarkets, drugstores, convenience stores, and utilities (sans telephone)
  • 1% back on everything else
  • $300 annual limit
  • Can redeem after $50

Discover Card
This was my card of choice up till I discovered the Citi Rewards Card. Main drawback is that it isn't accepted at Chipotle (seriously). On the other hand, it's the only card accepted at Sam's Club.
  • 0.25% back on the first $1,500
  • 0.50% back on the second $1,500
  • 1.00% back on everything after $3,000
  • 5.00% back on random stuff that's different every 3 months. Now it's travel stuff. Before it was restaurants (which was actually useful).
  • Exception: 0.25% on warehouse clubs and discount stores
  • Can usually get an extra 25% by redeeming gift certificates instead of cash. So $20 becomes $25.
  • No annual limit
  • Can redeem after $20

American Express Blue Cash Card
My newest card. One of the reasons I needed to do this analysis. Oh yeah... it's the only card accepted at CostCo.
  • 1.0% back at gas stations, supermarkets, and drugstores for the first $6,000 in total purchases
  • 0.5% back everywhere else for the first $6,000 in total purchases
  • 5.0% back at gas stations, supermarkets, and drugstores after the first $6,000 in total purchases
  • 1.5% back everywhere else after the first $6,000 in total purchases
  • No annual limit
  • Redeemed annually

The Verdict
Your optimal card use depends on how much you spend for general purchases, meaning purchased made outside of gas stations, supermarkets, drugstores, convenience stores, and utilities (sans telephone). For these purchases, it will make more sense to always use the Citi MasterCard since it pays 2% back, at least until you have spent over $6,000 on the AMEX card.

The following recommendations are ideal for me, since I don't buy much gas, never shop at supermarkets, and rarely buy from drug stores or convenience stores. If you do make a ton of these purchases, then the thresholds will shift. I haven't bothered to calculate that out since it's a ton more work.
  • Less than $12,000 annually in general purchases
    Use the Citi Dividend Rewards Card. It offers the flat 1% back, which is better than the graduated reward offered by Discover and the 0.5% offered by AMEX.
  • More than $12,000 annually in general purchases
    Use the American Express Blue Cash Card. At the $12,000, the advantage of the 1.5% reward kicks in, making it a better choice than the Citi MasterCard which only offers 1% back.
So what about the Discover Card? It's still good for Sam's Club. Plus if they have a 5% reward deal that is useful, then it's the one to use.