A View Through Glass

Rants and ravings of a curmudgeon of Generation Y

Author: rjzii (page 2 of 2)

A review of the Visionnaire fountain pen

Introduction

This is a review of the Visionnaire fountain pen by Visionnaire design which I received through the Kickstarter campaign and I should start this review by noting that as of this time, I’ve been writing with a fountain pen for about one year and consider myself to be, at best, and advanced novice with regards to the wide variety of pens out there. However, a bad pen is a bad pen and this was a bad pen. The controversy that has come up around this particular Kickstarter is addressed at the end of the review to the best of my ability at the time of writing.

The Visionnaire, uncapped

The Visionnaire, uncapped

 

Review

This particular  Visionnaire pen came from the Kickstarter campaign and I was fortunate enough to receive the pen for the $37 “early bird” pricing instead of the $45 level. The pen is currently listed at the Visionnaire Shop as having a normal pricing of $85 but is currently reduced to $49 and I should start by saying that even the $37 dollars I paid is too much by my standards.

What Kickstarter backers received

What Kickstarter backers received

The packaging overall is nice enough and the pen is shipped in a cigar tube with the Visionnaire logo and a microfiber bag is included for the pen. This is a nice touch; however, oddly enough the pen was inside of a plastic bag in the microfiber bag. For Kickstaters a thank you note with a “Founders Club” card and a small box of five half-sized black cartridges were included. The converter (not pictured) was shipped in the pen itself and was wedged in quite tightly. This didn’t bother me that much since I prefer to use the converter; however, it is worth noting.

Overall, I am a fan of the aesthetics of the pen and the clean lines are one of the reasons that I backed the Kickstater as I thought the chrome version of the pen looked quite sharp when coupled with the metal nib. Obviously the looks are not for everyone, for myself personally it is an attractive design. Weight-wise it is the heaviest fountain pen I have and a good deal of that weight seems to be in the cap of the pen as opposed to being evenly distributed. While I was writing I actually found this to be an issue as the pen does feel “top heavy” for lack of a better term. Adornments of the pen is limited to “VISIONNAIRE” inscribed around the base of the cap and the cap presents a fair degree of resistance when being removed and goes back on the pen with a satisfying click. As might be expected for a shiny metal pen, it does pick up finger prints during use which could bother some people.

For testing purposes I filled the pen with Omas Black ink with the initial plan of using the pen for about of week of regular use and reporting my findings. During the initial filling I noticed that the twisting the piston that it seemed to wobble around and was loose in the converter. While this didn’t present any issues during testing, but is a behavior I have not seen in the Lamy Z24 Converter. Initially things seemed to go well and the pen had good flow and while the nib is rounded off so I was really able to practice my italics hand, for general taking notes and other tasks it was performing decently enough. When not using the pen it was either being kept on top of the pad of paper I use for keeping notes throughout the day, or in the pen pocket of the sport coat I was wearing.

Writing samples from Visonnaire, Lamy Vista 1.1mm nib, and Sailor 1911 Music Nib

Writing samples from Visonnaire, Lamy Vista 1.1mm nib, and Sailor 1911 Music Nib

Above (click for a larger picture) is a writing sample that I did from the Visionnaire, a Lamy Vista with a 1.1mm nib, and a Sailor 1911S with a 14kt gold music nib. Two things should standout from this sample, 1) is that I need to keep working on my penmanship and 2) the Visionnaire sample has spots where there should be ink, but there is not. This is a problem that developed after a morning of light use and by the time I left work for the day I had already decided against continuing to use the Visionnaire since was having major feed issues.

Visionnaire Nib, "Iridium Point Germany"

Visionnaire Nib, “Iridium Point Germany”

The nib is a generic “Iridium Point Germany” which doesn’t really mean much of anything. The nib is pointed so I was not able to really get anything close to the italic hand I’ve been working on and when I examined it with a 10x loupe I noticed nib is misaligned with the feed and the breather hole is just slightly misaligned with the feed channel. This strikes me as a quality control issue that should not exist on a $37/45/49/81 pen. I checked the Lamy Vista (list price $35) and the Sailor 1911 (list price $195) and didn’t observe this issue in either of them.

Flaking chrome plating can be seen after one day of use

Flaking chrome plating can be seen after one day of use

Much more damning to me is the fact that by the end of the day, the chrome plating was already starting to flake off of the pen. As you can see from the above picture, it is around the name engraving and if this was limited to a single spot I could forgive it as potentially being a manufacturing defect. However on my pen it has also started in other spots near the engraving which makes it more of a concern for me as this strikes me as something that should be noticed during product development. If engraving is going to cause the pen to be prone to losing the plating in that area, why release it anyway? This is also very worrisome given that the Kickstarter campaign made a point of comparing the Visionnaire to Waterman, Parker, and MontBlanc pens that retail for $160 and up which is part of the reason why I included the Sailor 1911 in the writing sample. One could make a case that the higher end pens are over priced, but generally those higher prices do ensure a certain degree of quality in the product that you receive.

At the end of the day though, I can forgive some issues such as the plating if the pen was a respectable writer and when I backed the project I was hoping that for $37 I would get a pen that was comparable to the Lamy Vista that I use every day. This pen is not comparable and when using it, it seemed to be a step backwards from the Lamy Vista.

Save your money, avoid this pen.

 

Controversy

At this point I should address the controversy that has been surrounding this pen and I would like to start by saying that baring reading the updates on Kickstarter I generally avoid reading the comments and thus didn’t really find out about some of this until after the pen had arrived. As near as I can tell, this could have rose out of the Fountain Pen Network Forums discussion of the pen or could have come from the Kickstarter comments where one of the members from the Fountain Pen Network has been posting. To be honest, I can’t tell for sure which came first and in some ways it really doesn’t matter. The bigger issue is that a very good case is being built (see Reddit and DanteBertana.com) for the pen having been a pen that is already being produced in China and is being resold for a very tidy profit.

The link that I have been seeing the most to is that of a “High-end Fountain Pen” being produced by Leyica and listed on Alibaba.com. These pens have a FOB price of $0.85 to $4 a piece depending upon the order size and while I don’t know what the per-pen mark-up to cover the shipping would be, I can’t imagine that I would add a significant amount. A better link than the one usually given is to a “roller pen” in Leycia supplier section from which I captured the following screen shots since these links tend to break,

Screen shot from Alibaba.com showing "Visionnaire-like" pen manufactured by Leycia

Screen shot from Alibaba.com showing “Visionnaire-like” pen manufactured by Leycia

 

Open and closed profile images of the Leycia Visionnaire-like pen

Open and closed profile images of the Leycia Visionnaire-like pen

 

Packaging by Leycia of the Visionnaire-like pen, the third image is remarkably similar to what I received

Packaging by Leycia of the Visionnaire-like pen, the third image is remarkably similar to what I received

whether or not this pen was produced prior to the Kickstarter campaign remains to be seen. It is no secret that the pen is produced in China and the project’s FAQ even admits as much:

My manufacturing partner is located in China.

The lower overhead cost and large production quantities allows the Visionnaire to be made of high quality parts, have a perfect fit and finish, and being offered at a lower price point.

and in the Kickstarter comments the accusation that the pen was sourced through Leyica / Alibaba made its way back to the project creator which lead to the following being posted on November 14, 2013,

I am going to address these concerns direct. I do not have to disclose any information in regards to my manufacturing partner. I have clearly state again and again that I have designed the Visionnaire pen. I have sent over MY designs to my manufacturing partner to have it made earlier this year. I have visited my manufacturing partner in China (using my own savings) to see the process and its quality of product. It is now being replicated and copied by certain companies on Alibaba. It DOES NOT COST $1 to manufacture and produce. Like I said, the custom tube packaging alone costs more than $5 to make. What makes anyone think that having a pen custom made along with its molding costs, shipped to the USA, having paid customs, packaged, and reshipped out to the would costs that amount? It does not come free with no costs or labor.

The next day conflicting posts where made,

Thanks for your inquiry regarding the model LY120.

Yes, it is brand new design this year. Though it is designed by one of my customer,we have get authorization to advise on Alibaba. So it is not involving infringement. Before we offer an quotation,please advise below questions:

followed by,

I have Leyica’s catalog (PDF) published in 2011, listing this pen. The rep I talked to, told me, they been selling this pen since 2009. I looked at metadata on some of the pictures on Alibaba, they were taken in 2007.

So I’m not really sure what to believe. On one hand, given the fairly lax intellectual property right law in China, I would not at all be surprised that a manufacture would take the design of the pen and start reproducing it on their own. But on the other hand having held the packaging in my hand I find it very hard to believe that it could $5 to produce and if it really did cost that much, someone over paid by a large margin. Having looked around the Alibaba site it is really hard to say one way or another given how disorganized things there seem to be.

For now I’m reserving judgement with regards to if pen was being produced prior to the Kickstarter or not since there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence either way. Plus, the pen had enough issues standing on its own that it is moot in some ways as well, avoid the pen simply because there are better ones out there for your money.

No, 20% of your net income should not be consumer debt

The other day I came across the following article, Debt and Credit: Known Your Limits, which has a guideline in it stating that consumer debt (“non-mortgage obligations such as credit cards, auto loans and installment plans”) should not be more than 20% of your net take home pay. I’m sorry, but that strikes me as a really bad idea and it might be due to the fact that I subscribe to the same school of thought as what Dave Ramsey presents in The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness and what Mr. Money Mustache advocates when he says that your debt is an emergency.

If we use $45,000 as the average household income in the United States and a very rough estimate of 35% of the gross being taken to cover taxes, heath insurance, retirement, and so forth we arrive at a net income of about $29,250. On a monthly basis that is about $2,625 and if we were to follow the “advice” that up 20% of your net income can be consumer debt then that means that monthly payments up to $487.50 would be considered “acceptable.” That’s a horrible idea since it leads to people thinking that because their monthly credit card payments haven’t yet reached that 20% figure that getting more debt is acceptable. However, if we use a minimum payment calculator, a $525 monthly credit card payment works out to carrying a balance of $19,500 at 18% interest. That means that if you make the minimum payment you will end up paying $28,675.23  in interest over 408 months! So somebody please explain to me how that is a good idea?

Now, I suppose that the author of the article might have car payments in mind when they came up with that figure as opposed credit card debt in which case the figure might make nominally more sense; however, on the same token, do you really need a car that costs $525 a month just to cover the payment? Using the previous examples, Mr. Money Mustache is a pretty strong advocate of not even owning a “clown car” in the first place where as Dave Ramsey advocates for selling any vehicles that you have when you are in debt and paying cash for a “clunker” that will get your to and from work each day. Two extremes, but I can see where they are coming from and myself personally, I’d rather not have the car payment.

Now I tried to do some searching around to see if this advice was echoed elsewhere and baring some interesting articles in the New York Times about consumer debt (e.g. “How Much Debt Should Households Have?“, “Crisis Prompts a Rush Back to the Mortgage Basics“) I really couldn’t find much. The article that I found in Time on “Consumer Debt: How Do You Compare?” seems to be quite representative of most of them in that it notes that the debt loads tend to be uneven but it states that the average household debt in 2011 was 11.5% of after-tax disposable income but on the same token, that figure also includes mortgages so is largely useless as a metric of consumer debt.

At the end of the day though, no, 20% of your net income should not be servicing consumer debt. You might be able to make a case for a car payment if you can’t afford to pay cash for a car (you can’t use this excuse as you get older though) but Saturday Nightly Live had a skit that perfectly sum my position on credit cards:

SNL: Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford from Northpointecc on Vimeo.

Review of “The Millionaire Next Door” and “Stop Acting Rich” by Thomas Stanley, PhD

This review covers two books by Thomas J. Stanley, PhD, namely The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy and Stop Acting Rich: …And Start Living Like A Real Millionaire and while both of these books are quite interesting in their own right, there is also a bit of redundancy between the two of them.

“The Millionaire Next Door” presents the research of Thomas J. Stanley, PhD and William D. Danko, PhD into the habits and behaviors of millionaires as well as high earning individuals. The book presents the concept of prodigious accumulator of wealth (PAW), average accumulator of wealth (AAW), and under accumulator of wealth (UAW). The book also defines the following formula to determine where you lie the with regards to PAW, AAW, or UAW:

Expected Net Worth = ([Age] * [Net Household Income]) / 10

If your net worth is greater than the expected net worth then congratulations! You are a PAW! There do appear to be some flaws with this formula though as someone in their mid to late twenties might have more than the expected net worth, but is still considered an UAW by Stanley and Danko. I suspect that the formula is skewed more towards individuals in their forties and later but this is not disclosed in the book.

Much of the rest of the book is devoted towards comparing the differences between PAWs and UAWs and a lot of it boils down to frugality and living below your means as opposed to at or above your means. Since this book is one of the ones that really started me down the road towards pushing for increasing my savings rates, I am biased towards it in a possible manner. However, it is a fairly interesting read and does give a good over view of what it takes to move from a UAW to an AAW to a PAW.

This stands in contrast to “Stop Acting Rich” which is effectively a continuation of “The Millionaire Next Door” and while interesting, you can easily pass by without loosing much. Much of the book is devoted to comparisons between UAWs and PAWs with regards to how they dress, what they drink, and so forth. While this is interesting and is interesting enough that it might be worth picking up at the library I would be hard pressed to recommend someone actually buy the book for the content. Much of it boils down to “Be frugal” and to not spend money to keep up with the Joneses.

The writing between the two books is quite strong and flows quite well. “Stop Acting Rich” does run a bit longer than “The Millionaire Next Door” but in all honestly “Stop Acting Rich” is effectively a continuation of “The Millionaire Next Door.” “The Millionaire Next Door” is definitively one to read if you haven’t already and “Stop Acting Rich” might be worth picking up at the library if you like “The Millionaire Next Door,” but I would be hard pressed to recommend you pick it up as well.

A Review of “A Million Bucks by 30” by Alan Corey

The other day I finished A Million Bucks by 30: How to Overcome a Crap Job, Stingy Parents, and a Useless Degree to Become a Millionaire Before (or After) Turning Thirty by Alan Corey this book proved to be another very quick read weighing in at 211 pages which are formatted to not have that much actual text per page. But enough about the statistics of the page, how’s the content? Meh.

The summary of the book does look pretty interesting: a college graduate with a degree in “Management of Information Systems” moves to New York City with the goal of making $1,000,000 by age 30 and the book chronicles how he went about pulling it off. Plus, h0w can you resit the bold “WARNING: Do not attempt to use this book unless you are prepared to become filthy rich.” on the back cover?

Well, the problem lies in the execution: as a financial guide the advice pretty much boils down to live frugally and to flip real estate and as a memoir it is just too sparsely written to really hold your attention for that long. Plus, some of the fugal living tips – “Extreme Cheapskate Strategy” in the book’s phrasing – are of dubious legality, such as reusing popcorn bags, or are pretty obvious, such as using the library.

One of the financial tips that I did think was clever was to open up a second savings account that you have limited access to and have money be deposited directly out of your paycheck to it. The logic being somewhat along the same lines as automatic deposits to retirement accounts: if you are saving automatically and accessing the money is hard, odds are you aren’t going to spend it. The author is a big advocate of spending less money than you make in order to maximize your savings, but as others have also said of the book, he is quite extreme and I don’t think most people would be up his savings techniques.

As noted earlier, the way the author made most of his money was by flipping real estate in New Your City at a time when the market was going up. So needless to say a not insignificant degree of luck was also involved, although in the book the author also does appear to do have done a lot of work to identify potential locations in New York City where the neighborhoods were starting to improve. So points for doing the research and being to identify the neighborhoods, but the same token, I think the author makes things seem much easier than they actually are. Plus, given the current real estate market, could someone pull it off again?

With regards to the book as a memoir, well, a lot of time is spent in the early twenties and several chapters go by when the author is 24, but the in the last few chapters he wraps things up at 29 very quickly. Some of the stories in the book actually are quite amusing and I think and expanded of them could actually make for an entertaining memoir, but as this one stands it is quite thin.

So as it stands, I think the $0.01 I paid for the book at Goodwill was likely fair and for a quick read from your local library it might be worth a couple hours of your time, but the $13.95 price tag on the back cover is simply too much. The financial advice you can largely find on the internet in various blogs, and the memoir is just a bit too thin.

A Review of “The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay, PhD

Recently I finished reading The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay, PhD and found it to be an interesting, if short read. As you might be able to guess from the title, the book is targeted as those in their twenties and attempts to address things specifically to Millennials which means for those outside the target demographic might find it to be a bit thin. The book is divided in to three sections: “Work”, “Love”, and “The Brain and the Body.”

“Work” focuses on, well, work and it largely focused on encouraging readers to start building their career as opposed to working jobs that are either not challenging or outside of what they wish to do. For those in their early to mid-twenties this could be very useful as it gives a counter balance to the general trend in the media to call Millennials lazy or entitled. One of the later chapters in the “Brain and the body” section actually crosses over nicely into “Work” since it covers what many Millennials struggle with: dealing with the first job and building on the job confidence. Sadly, the section on work was largely a miss for me, but then considering I’m at the point where my career is “established” I’m not in the target audience.

The next section is “Love” which focuses more on anecdotes relating to dating, cohabitation, and avoiding “being in like.” All of it was largely sound advice, although barring issues related to not waiting too long to get married, I’m skeptical that there is really any new ground being broken here. In other-words, some of the advice seems like it has been around for awhile, although some of the stories do provide some good examples of what not to do and what can go wrong.

The last section is “The Brain and the Body” which I actually found to be one of the more interesting sections. The section includes lay explanations of brain development in twenty-somethings, which is still an area of active research (i.e. MIT Young Adult Development Project.) The science is a bit thin, but given the nature of the book, this is to be expected. I actually found the “Calm Yourself” chapter to be especially interesting since it was easy to see how explanations about brain development having a stabilizing effect on moods in revelation to the workplace applied since I was able to recognize the same patterns in myself. The author made some references to The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel by Lauren Weisberger (I only ever saw the movie, it wasn’t bad) and the “first boss from hell” seems to be a common motif that pops up every now and then regardless of the era, so it makes sense that brain development has some to do with the first boss being that bad and learning to deal with them.

“The Brain and the Body” section also included a signification reminder about biological development and the proverbial “biological clock” that puts an upper limit on when having kids is a viable options. As you might suspect the chapter includes the request cautionary tale couple with some information as to the odds of getting pregnant at various ages. Given that people are having children later these days due to careers, the economy, and so forth it is easy to see why it was included.

So as a whole, this book is definitively targeted more at early to middle twenties as opposed to late twenties or older. I joke when I started reading it that the book was more likely to be a review of what I screwed up in my twenties as opposed to viable advice given my being in the late twenties demographic. On the same token, there is some useful information that could be relevant to anyone in relation careers and supervisors might find those same sections useful for reviewing to see if they can give any insight into dealing with younger employees.

As I previously noted, I found this to be a very quick read. The book as a whole only weights in at 240 pages and of that, the actual content only runs 201 pages. The rest is taken up by the notes and acknowledgements. The notes do provide enough information to be a decent jumping off point if you want to do some more reading on some of the items that are mentioned in the text, but they do seem to be padding out the book a bit, although even the formatting of the actual content also likely pads out the page count a bit as well.

Still, it is an interesting enough read that if you were to see it at the library or discounted at a bookseller it might be worth picking up. The ideal target for this book is likely someone that is getting ready to move out, either from home or college in which case it might make a good gift idea.

Can you run a half-marathon without dedicated training?

At the beginning of the year I decided to try and run a half-marathon  in 2013 coming off a base in 2012 of having run a 10k and and having went and purchased the relevant books (e.g. Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide: Advice, Plans, and Programs for Half and Full Marathons) in preparation. Then I proceeded to the very common habit of not following the training plan, although I did managed to actually read the book. The biggest issue is that while training for a half-marathon isn’t nearly as intense as training for a full marathon, you are still investing a considerable amount of time in “getting the millage in” which isn’t always something that can be juggled with a busy schedule so inventively I put the training off in favor of my usual running to stay in shape.

Towards the end of the summer, having come off a 10k race and with the Wicked Half-Marathon coming up, I decided to see what the internet said about running a half-marathon without training:

and those are just the links that I had handy around, quite a bit of reading was done on the topic which lead me to the general conclusion that in all likelihood I could pull off at least finishing the half-marathon and wouldn’t be too worse for wear afterwards.

Going into the half-marathon I had a base of about 12 to 15 miles of running a week broken up over two to three 5k runs and a six mile run every weekend. Plus having finished a couple 10k races (including one that had two major hills to climb) I knew that I could do six mile run in right around 60 minutes and figured that if I tired to stick to around an 11:00/mile pace that I should be able finish in about 2:24:12 which isn’t very impressive by any means, but if the goal is to just finish the half-marathon then it is a number to keep in mind during the race and a firm target of under 2:30:00 to aim.

So the day of the race came and while the weather started out iffy (57.4F and 95% humidity with fog) once the fog lifted and took some of the humidity with it, the day proved to be a very good one for running in general. In deference of the fact that I wasn’t planning on running any sort of fast pace, I started at the back of the pack at the starting line and after about the second mile I could barely even see the pack in the distance. After that, it was largely a lot of scenic running through neighborhoods and along the ocean for the next six miles before the distance started to catch up with me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, at this point I didn’t feel like I was physically hurting and pushing myself, but rather the mental side of things was starting to catch up with me. Since the course is an out and back, mile eight marks the point in which you are passing by scenery that you have already seen before and the miles seemed to feel a lot longer than the previous eight that I had ran. So for me, getting from mile eight to 11 was much more mental than it was physical since by that point I was pushing about two hours and I knew that most of the starting pack had already finished the race when I still had several miles left to go. Boredom also played a huge role to an extent as well since, let’s face it, running can be quite boring and I have a hard time pushing myself past one hour when working out. That is also a large part of the reason why I didn’t engage in any training specific to the half-marathon.

Mile 11 on the other hand, is when the pain showed up and it showed in my mile splits. The pain was nothing unbearable that would have forced me to stop, but I did have to alter my gait and getting from mile 11 to mile 12 was very, very rough. After that though, once I was able to get to mile 12, you aren’t that far from the finish and the mental desire to push through and actually finish goes a long way. Once you can see that finish line in the distance you tend to push to get there.

 

2013 Wicked Half-Marathon shirt and medal

2013 Wicked Half-Marathon shirt and medal

 

So how did I actually do in quantifiable terms? Well, personally I would say not too bad given the standards by which I judgment myself, but with proper training I likely could have done a lot better.  I should put a bit of context around these numbers since I have a fully torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and since the injury my fastest mile is around 8:45-ish and most of my runs tend to be paced at around 9:30 to 10:30 per mile depending upon the distance. For the half-marathon itself, I only slowed down to walk at the aid stations to grab some water, the only time I walked was during mile 13 when going up the last hill momentarily winded me. So over the course of the entire race, I likely only walked for about a minute.

 

Splits for the 2013 Wicked Half-Marathon

Splits for the 2013 Wicked Half-Marathon

 

The final time is missing from the splits but it was under 2:28 which was under the 2:30 target. Looking over the times, I’m not sure if if I could have ran the last two miles faster given the fact that I hadn’t trained for the half-marathon, but I think that if I keep trying to push my long runs out, I can likely get to the point the next time I try to run a half-marathon that my times can be much better. Also, the day after the race I didn’t feel completely wiped, just a bit sore, leads me to understand why people generally do half-marathons a lot more than full marathons.

So where does everything stand with regards to if you can run a half-marathon without dedicated training? Well, based upon my own experience, I was able to accomplish it and I did find quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that shows it can be done; however, there are some considerations to keep in mine:

  • Age plays a role in that there more stories of people having run a half-marathon, or a full marathon, in their early twenties than not.
  • Physical fitness prior to the race seems to play a major role since in a lot of cases the stories are from people who are quite active and work out a lot, but generally don’t run a lot.
  • Technique plays a role in that in a lot of cases people use a run/walk style and it could be argued that using such techniques aren’t quite the same as actually running the distance.

Now I suppose that some would argue that running a half-marathon off of the base of running 10k’s is not the same as not having trained at all, but that’s also not the question that I was asking myself prior to the race. When I was doing my original searches I found that advice that was given was all of the place and in some cases seemed completely off-base for the goal of just finishing the half-marathon – one person even stated that you should have three hour training runs as part of your perpetration for the half-marathon(!) which I suspect applies more to those that are trying to place as opposed to just finish.

Which, at the end of the day is the key to this whole question, there is a huge difference between just being able to finish the race and someone that is actually trying to compete to place or to beat their own personal record. For those that are just trying to finish, a good portion of the race is mental and what they say about everyone running their own race is true. Regardless of if you approach the half-marathon having followed a training program (which personally I would recommend, my own outcome not withstanding) or not, there are times where you will feel like quitting for any number of reasons and you need to be able to push yourself through. After all, all of the training in the world will not help you finish if you hold yourself back.

 

DISCLAIMER: Trying to run a half-marathon or marathon without training will likely result you not finishing, limping across the line in a lot of pain, or worse. Most people that attempt such things usually have a solid base of fitness that they are building off of and even then reports of injury are not uncommon.

A Response to “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy”

Today, an article on wait but why came to “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” came to my attention and as things tend to go, a lot of the gross generalizations that it makes about Generation Y are inaccurate, condescending, and well, just not funny which is what I think the author was originally going for. I’ll allow the internet to address the question as to if Generation Y is quantifiable unhappier than other generations, although thus far there isn’t much evidence for that, and keep the more interesting points to be addressed here.

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

This equation summarizes the first major point that the article was trying to made; however, consider the following diagram:

Generation Y vs Great RecessionFigure One, Generation Y and the Great Recession

Here I’ve loosely organized the Generation Y by expected current life milestone, birth year, age, and I’ve highlighted those affected by the Great Recession on the left. The years that are highlighted in blue are those generally accepted to be part of Generation Y and the ages highlighted in green also correspond to those that are in the workforce, regardless of if they went to college or not. You will note that effectively all of Generation Y in the workforce has been affected by the Great Recession and likely are still being impacted by it.

Now, one of the career milestones that I’ve always heard of is that even if you start out at a junior level position, you can usually expect to get your first promotion between three and five years. This is quite variable based upon the company, career field, and so forth, but the concept of “Up or out” is nothing new and I find it quite surprising that people are saying that employees that are approaching the beginning of their mid-career are acting “entitled” when they bring up promotions. The fact of the matter is that children do listen to their parents and many of the expectations that Generation Y bring to the workforce are reflections of what they heard from their parents when they were growing up.

So needless to say that there are expectations in place, but in many ways they are being tempered by the fact that the expectations are based upon those that have come before. If someone grows up hearing that that you go to college, get a job, and get your first promotion a couple years latter, then that expectation will be used to take stock of your current life circumstances. Don’t forget that the article was also targeted at Yuppies who might even have been given information by companies during their on-boarding that discussed career milestones and set some of these targets for them from day one.

This brings us to the whole idea that Generation Y is delusional and everyone thinks they are special, eh, no more than anyone else. If anything, Generation Y may be more pragmatic about it considering that the 2012 “You Are Not Special” commencement speech at Wellesley High School was a huge hit while an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Vladimir Putin was met with shock due to him insinuating the same thing. So really, what more can I say then that?

Freedom is not a vacuum in the driveway

Recently NPR did a very interesting special series on “Millennials and The Changing Car Culture” and I would encourage anyone to go through and read or listen to the pieces and specifically the following two:

Both of which give some very keen insight into how Generation Y is approaching car ownership as well as what I believe is likely to be a longer term trend of the younger generations altering the way the view cars. Arguably this also applies to the older generations as well and I believe that the trends the past couple years for the annual vehicle miles driven showing a downturn supports this argument. In fact, the Frontier Group released a report in 2012 that noted,

The trend toward reduced driving, however, has occurred even among young people who are employed and/or are doing well financially.

and that,

Policy-makers and the public need to be aware that America’s current transportation policy – dominated by road building – is fundamentally out-of-step with the transportation patterns and expressed preferences of growing numbers of Americans.

Which in some ways is bad for those whose livelihoods depend upon the jobs generated by road building and maintenance, but I digress. When reading through the comments on the NPR series I noticed that a very curious line of reasoning appeared that is best summarized by the following quote,

so freedom means being dependent on public transportation? Freedom to you means being dependent on others?

Which is a comment that was made in response to the following,

Part of Freedom is defined for me by in having a good public transportation system and bike paths. I haven’t owned a car in ten years, but I have travelled to more than twenty countries. I’m glad to here US Millennials are deciding that their worth is not defined by what they own.

Which is another very interesting line of thought that I have observed tends to occur more with people that I know that live in urban areas as opposed to rural areas. To return to the original quote though, the commenter who made it also makes a number of other comments, that are echoed by others, that effectively equates car ownership with personal freedom. While this is an interesting line of thought, as you might conclude from the title, it is a line of thought that I disagree with.

Now, I should start by saying that there is something to be said for the ability to just get in a car and go where ever you need to, when you need to. However, I commuted to work by train for a number of years before having to return to taking the car to work and quite frankly, as annoying as having to keep an eye on the train schedule should be at times, sitting in rush hour traffic going 10 miles per hour is even more so! Plus, for people that live in urban areas, programs such as zipcar mean that you can rent a car on a short term basis for chores that require a car for hauling goods or if you want to do a shorter road trip.

So what do I mean when I say that a car is a “vacuum in the driveway?” Quite simply, it’s about the cost of ownership involved with owning a car and it is not light by any means. AAA released a brochure that discusses how to calculate your driving costs per mile and they summarize their averages as follows:

AAA Average Costs Per MileThese numbers seem fairly reasonable but they take their own assumptions into account and I’m not entirely sure that I agree with them. But since these are in the context of cost per mile, we need to look at things from the standpoint of the pure cost of ownership. In other-words, what would you save by not owning the car in the first place? Some costs that come to mind are vehicle excise taxes, inspections, and auto insurance.

With regards to vehicle excise taxes, they tend to be all of the place and are state specific, but the local excise tax of $25 per $1,000 of assessed value seems to at least be a reasonable metric given the limited estimation I did of the tax in other states. Thus, if your car has an assessed value of $10,000 you can expect to pay $250 a year just to continue to own it1. Factor in an annual state inspection if you live someplace that requires them, in some places the costs are fixed by law, but in others they can be variable. Still figure, somewhere between $25 and $75 for an annual inspection and we will disregards the gas associated with driving to the inspection facility.

Car insurance is one of the big ones and as near as I can tell, you need to carry insurance even if you don’t plan on actually driving the car  and Massachusetts actually provides a very interesting little spreadsheet for comparing the insurance costs. For some very basic assumptions I was told to expect to pay between $379 and $1,321.34 with the average being $698.39. So there you are looking at another $379 at a minimum and since the amount you drive plays a role, the costs can go up if you drive more each year.

That brings us to a very, very rough estimate of $654 on the low end of things just to have a car sitting in your driveway and not even driving. Once you start driving it you need gas and since driving also causes wear and tear, you are going to need maintenance at some point. You can use tools such as the edmunds.com True Cost to Own calculator to give you a rough estimate2 but it appears that anywhere from $6,000 to $9,000 a year gets thrown around on a fairly regular basis. My own costs appear to be somewhere around $5,000 a year once I take into account the cost of parking and maintenance and I keep the costs down by trying to avoid driving a lot and getting decent fuel economy.

So the question we must ask ourselves, and the one that I’m seeing members of Generation Y asking a lot, is if spending upwards of around $9,000 a year to own a car is really worth it? For those living in urban areas with decent to good public transport you might be able to avoid needing a car in order to commute too and from work which just leaves chores and pleasure driving. In those cases a number of people have told me that they use the aforementioned zipcars and find ways to minimize the time they actually need a car. Plus, in urban areas, walking or biking to various places can be a viable option. The biking option being especially popular with some bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache.

In some ways, a bike might actually represent more freedom than a vacuum in the driveway since bike generally have a fairly low initial fixed cost up front (say $100 to $500) followed by the occasional need for repairs which you can learn to do yourself by picking up a book and learning the relevant skills. I’ve heard many people from the Baby Boomer generation decry the fact that most people can’t or wouldn’t work on modern cars and just take them to the mechanic.

So bringing things around, a car may represent freedom to some, but at the end of the day it is also a money vacuum that is sitting in the driveway and the more you use it the more it is going to cost. Also, since just owning it requires a certain amount of money, it ensures that you are paying money out of your monthly budget to its up keep that can be significantly above and beyond the costs of using alternatives such as public transportation, bikes, and just walking where you need to go if it is close enough. Cultural attitudes are changing with regards to cars and they are being seen as less of a representation of personal freedom and more of a monthly expense to be minimized or done away with if possible.

 


  1. As an aside, I tried to find the average value of car but turned up short, although apparently a new car is going to cost on average $30,000. Ouch.
  2. Amusingly, my car is so “old” that it doesn’t even appear as an option.

Don’t buy collectibles as an investment

Collectibles as an investment is an interesting idea, but ultimately they fall prey to one of the major rules of any financial endeavor and economics 101: things are only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them. You might spend $100,000 on Beanie Babies hoping to put your kids through college, but if that market goes away, or more likely, people aren’t willing to pay thousands of dollars for a Beanie Baby, then you are going to end up taking a major loss. Never mind the fact that $100,000 in and of itself could easy pay for a college education at a state school.

If you do a search on the internet it is not uncommon to find articles such as the following:

Which are just two that were grabbed doing a very short search that basically say the same thing in that you might make money if you are diligent and don’t get attached to what you are collecting you might be able to make money, but more often than not, you will lose money or break even. Also, as both articles point out, collectibles tend to have an attraction that causes you to what to collect them in the first place and that attraction can cause you to hold onto something past the best time to sell it. In this case though, I’m attempting to address people that are seeking out collectibles as an investment vehicle as opposed to monomaniacal collectors such as those described in “Collecting: An Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives

Now, none of this is to say that you can’t make money via collectibles and I’d be lying to say that I haven’t done so myself. Back when the BioShock video game (a good one by the way that I recommend playing if you have not) was released, there was a collectors edition that included a statue. Due to defects in packaging a large number of them were damaged and 2K Games sent a print copy of the art book, “Breaking the Mold: The Art of BioShock“, to purchasers as an apology. As it turns out, this art book now sells for over $100 on eBay in mint condition and I recently sold a lightly worn copy for $71. Had I have kept the copy of the collectors edition of the game instead of donating the statue to charity I could have sold that on eBay as well. This is where the warning in the title to this entry comes into play though, I believe that I paid around $70 for that collectors edition game back in 2007 and according to eBay and open but complete copy is selling for around $50 to $75 on eBay and a sealed copy is selling for around $125. Obviously in the this case you are losing money with the open copy, but it’s a video game and is meant to be played.

However, these are newer games and the markets tend to fluctuate a lot. Even more so since BioShock Infinite was recently released (another good game by the way). So what if we look at the historical picture with regards to video games, one fairly famous game when I was younger was Valkyrie Profile. This wasn’t a very high profile game back in the day, but among players of RPGs it was known and generally recommended as a good game to play. When sold used at specialist stores it could routinely be found for a price of about $100. So how is the game trending these days?

Valkyrie Profile Price Chart

 

Well, it appears that the price has gone down over the years and right now copies can be found on eBay for between $60 and $100. So that means that if you bought it 2002 (when I remember seeing it for $100) then you would have lost $29.85 to inflation assuming you are able to resell it for $100. Granted you have the conundrum that sealed copies sell for major money, but the questions is, will it last?

A lot of this entry has been focused on video games, but that is in part because I have been selling off some of the video games that I have accrued over the years. Another item that I recently sold off? Mint and proof sets of coins that I got a box of at an estate state. Now coins are billed as an investment, i.e. The Expert’s Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins: Secrets Of Success and countless other books out there, but the sad fact is that when coins are sold as an investment, they usually aren’t. If you examine the issue price versus the average value of mint sets and proof sets you will find that they just don’t hold their value. I might have been able to get a box of them and sell them on eBay at a nominal profit, but that is largely because I didn’t pay much for the box and I did a lot of hard work to list them all individually. Had I had bought those sets direct from the US Mint or from a dealer over the decades that were represented in the box, then I would have netted a substantial loss.

However, what about just coins in general? Well, this is another situation where a lot of issues come into play:

  • How rare is the coin?
  • What is the coin made of?
  • Is it a popular coin?

Obviously the rarer the coin the more a collector might be willing to pay for it; however, the composition of the coin also plays a role. As you might suspect, a common gold coin can be worth substantially more than a very rare copper coin due to the value of the gold. Finally, the popularity of a given coin also has a lot to do with things, an uncommon coin from a popular series (i.e. Morgan Dollars) can actually sell for more than a rare coin from an unpopular series. At the end of the day, the value of coins are highly subject to the whims of collectors along with commodity traders. In fact, most of the investment advice you find when it comes to coins is to buy high grade key dates and leave things at that unless you are interested in it as a hobby.

This is just two examples in a very vast field given how many things people collect, but one item to note is that people also for pretty much everything that you can collect, you can find a price guide on Amazon for it. This is something at I have always found interesting because compiling those books cannot be easy to compile and yet, there they are. So clearly there must be money to be made in publishing them.

So where does that leave us? At the end of the day, the title of this article is “Don’t by collectibles as an investment” and I generally stand by that bit of advice for a number of reasons:

  1. Collectible markets can be very volatile and can go away, as shown by the Beanie Babies.
  2. Collectibles are illiquid, selling them is easier with the internet, but can still be hard.
  3. Collectibles don’t provide a source of income while you are in possession of them.

Incidentally, these reasons are very similar to the ones that Investopedia list. However, if you think about it, they do all make sense, just because something is popular today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow at which point your investment might not be worth anything. Furthermore, you can’t really retire off of the income that collectibles offer while you own them. A painting by Monet might be worth several million dollars, but you aren’t going to see that money until you sell the painting. Collectibles with a long track record (e.g. art, coins, etc.) might hold their value over time due to continuous demand for them but outside of very limited situations, I’ve yet to hear of anyone getting rich in this day and age because of collectibles.

So at the end of the day, collect something because it brings you enjoyment, not because you think you might be rich selling it in the future at some point. Odds are you will not.

 

Generation Y and the housing recovery

Anyone that has been paying attention the past couple years knows that the has been a Great Recession which has had a highly variable recovery. By “highly variable” we mean that real salaries have been shrinking versus inflation and nobody is quite sure how things will be affected when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented couple that with unemployment that is still somewhere around 7.4%.

So what prompts this particular rant? Articles such as the following:

Which, of course, leads to such comments as the following by Christopher Mims:

Millennials are holding back the housing recovery. Is there anything they can’t mess up?

Umm, yeah, if people can’t afford to buy a house because real salaries have been going down, unemployment is high, and don’t forget those student loans that need to be serviced, clearly they must be screwing something up.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly a secret that members of the Generation Y cohort are living at home with their parents for longer than other generations a lot of us are also graduated from college straight into a recession or a weak job market at best. For that matter, I worked to pay for my Bachelors degree and was a contractor when I finished, going into the recession I was glad to be offered a full time position… with a 20% pay cut.

The housing market is all over the place, but there appears to be a US national average of $152,000 and the 2011 Massachusetts average of $319,900 seems to be pretty accurate based upon my recent experiences when looking for a house to buy. You can find homes for less, but they either need work or are  likely to be a bit of a commute to get to work.So lets be generous and use the national average of $152,000 for a hypothetical scenario.

Based upon government statistics the average income for males with a Bachelors degree in 2010 was $49,800 and for females it was $40,000. Note that this doesn’t match another average household income study for the 25 to 34 cohort that shows it be around $50,000. So lets call it $45,000 as an average and assume a single person with a student loan debt of $35,000. Currently only about 20% of Generation Y is a married which will affect things, but the math is a bit easier for a single person and since it 80% of Generation Y is single, it works.

It is currently being reported that members of the Generation Y cohort are graduating from college with $35,000 worth of debt, each. Depending upon where someone goes to school, how long, and how much they work during school this number could be higher or lower, but as an average it doesn’t seem half bad. A student loan payment chart [pdf] shows that $35,000 at 6.8% interest would be around $400 a month to service the debt. Note that 6.8% is higher than the current issue rate, but then again we are looking at people who have already graduated and entered into the workforce so, again, it works for demonstration purposes.

So plugging the following into a paycheck calculator:

  • $45,000 annual income
  • 5.3% state income tax (Massachusetts)
  • $380 monthly health insurance premium (based upon $4,565 annual premium)

We arrive at a net monthly paycheck of $2,575.99. Depending upon where you live your rent can range anywhere from $650 to $1,500 which gives an average of $1,075 which in the Boston metropolitan area would be cheap. So it might be a good number to work with.

Thus, recalling that $2,575.99 monthly net salary. After we factor out rent ($1,075) and the student loan debt ($400) we are left with $1,100 to live off of. While that does seem like a lot, recall that we are not making any contribution to a 401(k) which would shrink the size of the net income and food (figure $200), car insurance (figure $100, minimum), utilities (figure at least $250, which also includes cellular service) and we are down to $550.

But what about that 401(k) contribution that we aren’t making? A 6% contribution means $163.12 less in the net while 12% gives us $326.25 less. So realistically that $550 surplus we were showing before realistically would be about $223.75 to $386.88 if we were to use the 6% to 12% 401(k) contribution rates. So at the end of the day, not that much is left over for saving for a down-payment.

Recalling the relatively modest $152,000 average cost for a home, a 20% down payment would be $30,400, plus closing costs, so call it $35,000 to buy a home. That means that if you were able to save $550 a month, then it would take you about 55 months or a 4 years 7 months to save for the down payment. Granted you could put down less, but that means a higher monthly mortgage payment. Given the absolutely horrible current rates for savings of under 1%, the interest isn’t going affect calculations that much. Plus, we are also looking at a situation where someone is not saving for retirement, doesn’t have a car payment, credit cards, and really isn’t doing much of anything with their income for that matter.

So where does this leave us? Well, to be honest, someone would be really hard pressed to convince me that members of Generation Y aren’t doing enough to try and buy a house given their incomes – you can only save so much banks aren’t exactly willing to allow NINA Loans like they were prior to the Great Recession, which is a good thing. Just because you can put less down doesn’t mean that you can actually afford to buy a home.

Something I mentioned earlier might be a good argument, namely the marriage rates. To say that Generation Y is marrying later is hard given the ages involved after all, most people don’t marry during college and it may take a couple years after college to establish yourself and get married. Realistically the only part of Generation Y that would be “marriable” in this day and age would be the 22 to early 30’s cohort so the 20% overall marriage rate is a good metric to work with but may be misleading.

The reasons for not getting married are highly variable and can be another post in and of themselves, but it goes without saying that a dual income household is going to be able to save more money than a single person can. If we had a couple hold of two incomes at $45,000 each putting 12% of their income into a 401(k) they we will likely have at least $2,000 left over after household expenses are paid. If all that is put to saving for a down payment then $30,400 could be reached in about 15 months.

But again, we are being very generous with our estimates, which means they are likely wrong. However, this is also where things tends to get interesting since the more we adjust and correct of things, the more they point to things not being Generation Y’s fault, or at least, Generation Y is subject to may circumstances than are beyond its control. Take the marriage rates, sure members of the Generation Y cohort could get married but then again, this is no guarantee that it would really affect things that much since a lot of members of Generation Y are living with their parents or room mates, thus saving more money, and still  not buying homes. Even if someone is able to save more money, $152,000 for a home is a national average and thus might be something you just can’t find where you live. It’s the classic problem of cost of living.

Originally I titled this entry “No, Generation Y is not holding back the housing recovery” and while I think that title is accurate since a lot is holding back the housing recovery and blame can’t be placed on a single generational cohort, I don’t see it as easily defend-able as when I first started writing. Generation Y is definitely putting off such “milestones” that are classically associated with adulthood such as marriage and home ownership, but fluctuations in the times associated with these milestones are nothing new1 and tend to raise questions of if the economy is holding back Generation Y or if Generation Y is holding back the economy in some way.

So at the end of the day, quit trying to blame a slow housing recovery on Generation Y and making snide comments such as those that came courtesy of Mr. Mims. I’m sure if we sit down we can find a lot of reasons to explain the slow recovery of the economy as a whole and I doubt that Generation Y has the buying power to actually affect the entire economy, yet.

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