Sunday, November 8, 2015


I wanted to wait a few months before I posted anything about this, just to make sure things went smoothly.  I decided back in August to try and use Robinhood for some stock investing.  Bottom line up front: This is a fun platform for micro investing!

For those who haven't heard anything about it, Robinhood is an investment company that allows you to trade for free, as in no commissions for either buying or selling.  And unlike loyal3, you can trade any stock you want and have access to limit purchases and sales.  This makes it hugely valuable if you are a swing trading, holding shares for a few days and then dumping them because you don't have commissions eating into your profits.

Things I like about Robinhood.  First there are no costs, so if I want to buy one share of a $4 stock, I can do that.  What that means is I can spread my investments, building my own mutual fund, without having to spend serious coin on commisions or pay a management fee.  Secondly, They offer limit trading, meaning you can set a price you are willing to buy or sell at.  This is very handy if you have a price in mind to buy in at but can't monitor the market all the time.

There are a few things though that annoy me.  First is that deposits can take several days and there is no margin trading.  With Tradeking I can generally buy within an hour of submitting a transfer because I have enough money with them, they know I'm good for it (or else they can sell my shares if I'm not). So you can't jump right away unless you have money loaded.  Same thing with using money from sales, you have to wait the three business days for the money to settle.

The other annoying thing is the time delay in prices.  Not a huge deal, but definitely a reason to use limits for trading to make sure the stock hasn't shot up 5% in the last 10 minutes.

Dividends are simply dropped into your account with no notification or fanfare.  You can only see where the money came from on the monthly statements. Also no fractional shares or DRIPs. Which bring me to my last complaint...

Robinhood only operates on an android or iphone interface.  For trading this is no big deal, Its fast and intuitive.  But you can't download your statements on a computer, so you have to download them to your phone and then email or upload them to a google drive or drop box. I have minor security concerns about this, but the annoyance factor is the real issue here.

All that said, I will keep using it.  I've been buying small lots of interesting companies.  When you can buy one $7 share of something you find yourself watching it more, and if it goes to $10 I can sell it, pocket three bucks and price myself on that huge upside trade I made.  sounds dumb, but its the penny slots of investing.

Update 4/2/17: still using Robinhood, still free, no problems at all.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Garden Plan 2015

It's that time of year again to start planning the garden. I'll be writing some more in depth articles on specific plants and my experiences, but now is the time to start your seeds, so here's what I'm using.

This year I'll be growing similar plants to last year. I've had great luck with most of these plants, and a few of them are this years experiments.  Here's my current grow list.

  • Amish Paste - These provide all of the tomatoes I need for making tomato sauces.  They are medium sized, very meaty, and generally come in near the end of my growing season.
  • Mortgage Raisers - These are my slicing tomatoes.  I generally use these for sandwiches, salsa, or just sliced and served with cheese and balsamic vinegar.
  • Million to One - Probably my favorite. They are sweet and tiny and you just eat them whole.  unlike some cherry tomatoes that are too big for one bit, these are small, like peanut M&Ms.
  • Tromboncino Summer Squash (aka Trombone Squash) - These are gigantic!  My first year growing them I got 5 fruits (lost three to blossom rot, something I'm smarter about now) and all of them exceeded three feet.  I let two ripen until they were hard on the outside and roasted them like butter nut squash.  When picked green they are just like a regular zucchini.  Well a zucchini that can feed a family of 8 with leftovers.
  • Midnight Lightning Zucchini - My favorite tasting zucchini.  I usually pick these and grill them that day in some Italian dressing marinade.  No one has ever turned down seconds.  Very big and rather hardy.  I get much bigger yields from these than I ever got some crook necks. [note: these are harder seeds to come by.  I've only found two suppliers and the best one was at High Mowing, which is pricy, but you'll get your money';s worth with these.;
  • Spaghetti Squash - These are cool, although I struggled last year and didn't take advantage of what I grew as much.  If you roast these round yellow squash, you can use a fork and pull out the insides and its just like pasta. You can use it in place of spaghetti in every standard recipe you use, but with more nutrients and less empty calories.  In the stores these are priced as in they're gold, but they aren't that hard to grow.

  •  Long Pie Pumpkins  - I hate a love / hate relationship with this plant.  The pumpkins are out of this world for making pies. Meaty, sweet, just perfect.  The plant however is never happy with me.  In the garden it choked out other plants, on its own in a whiskey barrel it suffered and gave up the ghost.  I'm sure its a matter of water and drainage management, but so far I'm eating $50 pumpkin pies when I do the math on my labor and materials.  Proceed with caution. (High Mowing Only)
  • Ground Cherry - New this year.  a friend has had excellent success and I look forward to trying these.  Prolific, they make these tiny tomato like fruits that are sweet and tart, and wrapped in a dry husk.  Pick them up off the ground, peel off the husk and eat plain or I've been told, much better in jams and pies.
  • National Pickling Cucumber - I've had HUGE success with making pickles.  I built a strong tall trellis (I'll give instructions soon in another post) and out of four plants got about 200 cucumbers.  That's return on money if I ever saw it.
I'll be growing the usual herbs and a few other small expermients like Diamond Eggplant and some leeks and onions.  I hope this year to keep more detailed notes and take more pictures to share. Feel free to ask any questions below.

        Friday, January 16, 2015

        Switching to Linux Mint

        I recently purchase the wife a new netbook for her to use when teaching while we are on the road, or hanging on the couch, or when I'm using the big computer to play Minecraft.  It was about time for a new netbook anyway as the old Acer Aspire was being a real dog.  It seems to have gotten caught up with a conflict somewhere between an Acer update and a Windows update and it just wasn't happy.

        Once I got all of the old files off, and there weren't many as it was only a net book and we're pretty good about network drive usage, it was time to install Linux.  I've been away from looking at different distributions for a while so I got to work looking around. there are dozens (hundreds?) of Linux distributions, all with a following, and many made for specific reasons.  There's Scientific Linux which is focused on stability and uniformity. There's Arch and Puppy Linux that are focused on being super small. 

        In the past I've used Ubuntu as a mainstay for bringing old desktop computers back to life.  I like Ubuntu, and what they stand for.  I think if you have decent computer, and you're sick of Windows and all its BS updates, memory leaks, anti-virus needing non-sense, then you really should give Ubuntu a go.
        But I didn't use Ubuntu for this effort.  While I like Ubuntu when I have a regular power machine, and it flies with a strong machine, as a netbook OS it seems to drag.  Ubuntu wants to be everything for everyone, and so it automatically installs a lot of awesome, powerful, but resource hogging applications. You can install it slimmed down by doing an alternate install, but by the time you're doing that, you might as well invest the time in installing any version of Linux because you'll be using the command line a lot.

        They do make Xubuntu which is the Ubuntu platform but uses the XFCE desktop instead of the Unity desktop. While it's fast, it's also rather rough, and the desktop hasn't been updated since 2012. I've had lots of small annoying issues with sound cards, wifi, microphone, etc with XFCE.  I can't trust that it won't go wonky on me, and I don't think its going to convert anyone from Windows because at least in windows, the mute key generally works.

        One item that seems to have crept up on me, and it shouldn't have is Linux Mint.  Its been around for a while, and its based on Ubuntu, but its a better, lighter, smoother package.   It also comes ready to go for multi-media, which has been a problem for me in the past. It's also Steam friendly, so you can download many games and they'll run just fine.  It has several desktop choices, but you'll want to either focus on Cinnamon if you've got the power, or MATE if you're using an older machine like mine.

        I've tried both the Cinnamon and the Mate desktop and I'll be sticking with the Mate.  I also tried the XFCE version, and had several issues.  I spent an hour fixing a few but in the end it just wasn't worth it.  They make live disks for all of them, so you can try the whole operating system before even installing it.

        Oh, and in case its not obvious, its FREE.

        Tuesday, January 6, 2015

        My small Epiphany moment

        Over two millennium ago, three Persians set out on a quest.  These were the three Magi.  Our knowledge of them is slim, but based on the wording we can deduce that these were learned men, skilled in both astronomy and astrology.  While we may question the scientific merit of what they knew based on our knowledge now, we should not mistake that these represented some of the finest minds in the world at the time.  These men were not Jewish, and we don't actually know what formal religion, if any, they belonged to.  They were simply seekers of knowledge and believers in a higher power.

        When they set off they certainly did not know what they would find.  They firmly believed however that there was a larger, ineffable plan, and that its milestones could be read in a close observation of creation.  Specifically, they saw the heavens and all of the stars as God's means of providing them insight into His plan.  Therefore, with that faith in their methodology, they had no choice but to put their faith into action and begin following a star.

        There is an almost cosmic joke in all of this.  These three men who travelled a very long way, had no more knowledge than the astronomers of Israel.  They all had access to the same stars, the same raw data.  Nor did the three wise men have the advantage of knowing the Hebrew texts, as they clearly needed some assistance from Herod's scholars to narrow down their search. and yet they, and not the king's men, and not the Hebrew scholars, put faith into action and set out.

        Where their journey led them is now known to all.  In Bethlehem they found the Christ child, coming to earth as an innocent child, born into poverty, but tended by a strong faithful man, and a perfect faithful woman. a model of simplicity that compliments the complexity of the stars that led to it.

        The lesson I take from all of this is that there is a grand plan.  That the journey is not easy, it is rarely straight, and that some will be simply too blind or too scared to follow.  But if we are observant, if we have the patience of the astronomer, we may also see God and His plan in creation.  And if we can then put faith into action, we can trust that at the road's end, we will find something good, something simple, something that will change our lives for the better.

        In times of darkness, I can take comfort from that, and I hope you can too.