My favorite bag for our passports – Finger Mark

This post is NOT sponsored. No affiliate link. No free product kicked back to me. Just a straight-up endorsement of a nicely made product by a small company making a great handmade product.

We _used_ to travel a lot. One year we flew to Chiang Mai, Thailand from Chennai, India for a week-long spring break. that trip was cut short because an unfortunate visa complication that I’ll not get into, other than to say one of our son’s residence permit was set to three entries to India for the year and not “multiple” and so he had to have that renewed before re-entering India. Anyway, during a layover in the Don Mueang Airport I picked up this bag for about $25.

Finger Mark handmade felt vintage camera style bag.

It fits our family’s stack of 5 fat passports and a pen and a couple of immigration cards and there isn’t much room for anything else. which is perfect for a bag that I keep in my larger carry-on bag. I can pull this before hitting the airport entry and have it slung around my neck until our bags are checked, or we’ve cleared immigration.

I’ll tell the story of the elastic in the passports some other time.

It’s seen quite a few years of use and is holding up really well. This is a felt “vintage camera” model, but they have beautiful leather and canvas bags now. They have some that look like Gameboys and I have seen glimpses of phones and even a TV. They are handmade in Thailand and they seem to have limited online ordering available, but have the following contacts.

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Raven’s debut

One Sunday in September I was walking around our neighborhood with Raven. I tell you, that girl just loves to be outside. She’s also very fond of being where people are. So when a Tamil serial is being filmed in our neighborhood that girl just has to be nearby.

Granted, this is during the pandemic and when everyone should be wearing face masks. We will take her up and down the streets near us and not wear one because there’s generally nobody around. For the record, I wear a mask in the car, at the grocery store, at the school, and even when out riding my bike or walking outside of our neighborhood whenever people are around.

But back to her gravitating to the action nearby – Raven just kept pushing her cart toward the people that were involved in the shooting. At one point, a man sitting in a chair nearby asked if they could get a shot of her. I agreed, and sent Pepper a message to come see Raven’s shoot.

We watched some of a scene being shot and then were called over and asked to walk towards the camera. I thought they were just trying to get a shot of her but it was explained that the scene was about a woman seeing a small girl bonding with her father and missing that in her life. They told me it would air in October on Sun TV. I got to see the footage they captured and appreciated right away the moment that was captured.

October passed and I assumed our footage was never used. But then one morning the ladies that come and collect our garbage told Sathish that they saw Raven on TV the night before. So I was excited to see the footage and asked for him and Raven’s nanny, Jeeva, to see if they could find out the name of the show. That day I was on the school campus and a staff member (Prakash) said he saw me and my daughter on TV. My desire to see it really increased!

Eventually, Sathish sent me a WhatsApp clip of the scene with her in it. And now the whole episode is on YouTube. The Show is Kannana Kanne and airs on Sun TV. It was the 4th episode of the first season for the show and aired on November 5th, 2020. Skip to about 21:45 to see the brief shots of us out for our walk.

I am so happy to have this clip available to remember this phase of her life. The cart-pushing days may be behind us, but were an important one! I am grateful to the folks at Sun TV that made this spontaneous thing happen.

…a day is a long time in the markets.

The day after I wrote my three week stock experiment I sold a few stocks because they were up. This is what I wrote about my first $100 invested.

The first $100 I largely put into airline stocks hoping to see those bounce back, though I realize that’s a longer play. My one share of Alaska Airlines (ALK) I bought at $39.51 and now has a current loss of $1.25. I think I’ll be okay, thanks for the concerns. I bought 3 shares of American Airlines at $12.73 which if I sold now would mean a loss of $3.42 in total. Again, I figure with just the assets these corporations have (and the monopoly Alaska has on some routes) ensures a return to higher numbers — some day. I got 10 shares of Astrotech (ASTC) for $2.21 each that has dropped a bit and would mean a $4.70 loss if I sold today. So the first $100 (okay, $99.80) I put in has a total loss of $9.37.

The next day Pfizer announced favorable COVID-19 vaccine trial results and the airline industry took a bounce. I sold my one Alaska Air share for $45.73, a $6.22 profit. That was a $7.47 swing jump in value in a day, which as a dollar amount isn’t much, but as a percentage is pretty huge. I sold my shares of American Airlines (3 were part of the first $100 and 1 the second) for a profit of $3.03 with the shares up to $13.32 each. I have held on to the 10 shares of Astrotech which still has me at a loss of $4.70. So now that initial $100 has me up $4.55. So is that a 4.55% gain in three weeks (and a day) of investing? As of today, Alaska Air’s stock is at $47.72 (up 2 more dollars since I sold) and American’s at $12.53 (down about 70 cents a share from when I sold) so my timing was okay.

My second $100 has done well too, though I have not sold all…

The second $100, I put in about a week later and I put almost entirely into green energy stocks. I picked up 2 shares of Ballard Power (BLDP) at $14.85 for a total increase of $1.48 as of today. And 2 shares of Plug Power (PLUG) at $14.73 which would earn me $8.26 if sold today. I also got 4 shares of TransAlta (TAC) at $6.08 that I would get $1.16 more if I sold today. So my $83.48 green energy bet has been a net positive of $10.90 in just 2 weeks. That comes to around 13% growth. (I did have just enough to buy one more share of American Airlines which was down to $11.07.)

So again, the day after writing this I sold some of that 100 investment from two weeks prior. That American Air stock was a gain of $2.25. I sold the 2 shares of PLUG for $20.61 each or a profit of $11.76. I sold the 4 shares of TransAlta for $6.50 each, a total $1.68 gain. So the second $100 has earned me $15.69 in just over 2 weeks, and yet I still have the 2 shares of Ballard Power that today is worth $19.29 a share (thus up another $8.88) for a whopping 24.57% total gain in just over 2 weeks on that $100 (at the moment).

Let’s call that experiment a success, though I am still sitting on the 10 shares of Astrotech that I paid a total of $22.10 for. It’s still down, currently at a $17.40 total valuation.

With the profit from the shares I sold, I bought 1 share of Etsy at $118.83. Today it is at $140.06.

Exactly one month from my first purchases of stock using WeBull, here’s the cumulative profit and loss.

It is slightly deceptive, because when I joined I was later given 2 free stocks. One I have sold, the other I still have active.

Yes, I am playing with relatively small dollar amounts. There are a few reasons for that.

First, I have no idea what I’m really doing. I devour news and think about current events but I don’t usually put much thought into how those may translate to changes in the markets. I don’t know if I have the skills to actively manage my portfolio and do better than index funds, so I want to experiment.

Second, our tax situation means we’ll probably have to pay more than 30% of any profits in taxes to the foreign country we’re living in. I don’t think that we’d also need to pay in the US, but I’d rather not have to pay much in taxes, regardless of the actual earnings.

3 weeks into my stock market experiment

Here’s a screen capture of the current value of the stock portfolio I built using WeBull.

I have put $200 into it. The unrealized profit and loss of $2.38 is the earning of that $200. The current account value of $221.13 is because the two stocks that I received free for joining: ZNGA (Zynga, the gaming company) that’s at $8.73 right now, and AGI (Alamos Gold) that’s at $10.02.

The first $100 I largely put into airline stocks hoping to see those bounce back, though I realize that’s a longer play. My one share of Alaska Airlines (ALK) I bought at $39.51 and now has a current loss of $1.25. I think I’ll be okay, thanks for the concerns. I bought 3 shares of American Airlines at $12.73 which if I sold now would mean a loss of $3.42 in total. Again, I figure with just the assets these corporations have (and the monopoly Alaska has on some routes) ensures a return to higher numbers — some day. I got 10 shares of Astrotech (ASTC) for $2.21 each that has dropped a bit and would mean a $4.70 loss if I sold today. So the first $100 (okay, $99.80) I put in has a total loss of $9.37.

The second $100, I put in about a week later and I put almost entirely into green energy stocks. I picked up 2 shares of Ballard Power (BLDP) at $14.85 for a total increase of $1.48 as of today. And 2 shares of Plug Power (PLUG) at $14.73 which would earn me $8.26 if sold today. I also got 4 shares of TransAlta (TAC) at $6.08 that I would get $1.16 more if I sold today. So my $83.48 green energy bet has been a net positive of $10.90 in just 2 weeks. That comes to around 13% growth. (I did have just enough to buy one more share of American Airlines which was down to $11.07.)

You’ll note the screen capture also shows my cash balance of $5.65 for money deposited into my WeBull account but not yet allocated to a stock. As you can tell, I wanted to do some compartmentalizing to see and track these chunks of money.

As a little experiment, we also have a recurring deposit set up with the bank we have here in India. Each month it takes 5,000 Indian rupees (about $68) out of Pepper’s account. and it will mature one year form the start. We’ll see what gains that has compared to my playing around. I thought maybe I could do monthly $68 deposits and see if the market can beat the bank rates and how much if so.

Want to join WeBull? For just $100 you can get started and in doing so, I’ll get some more free stocks if you use my link!

Picking a music streaming service. AGAIN.

I am really hating the shift that Google has done from Google Play music to YouTube Music. Sometimes I want a music video. But let’s note that many artists create long intros, skits, interruptions in the song, long blank times for credits, volume changes, and other things that make their music video not the best option for listening to their song.

I’ve already used a number of past applications. From Napster to Grooveshark I have used some defunct platforms! I have a SoundCloud account, plenty of purchased music in Amazon music, and a account. But I liked the Google Play and YouTube connectivity — I didn’t want to lose the dedicated music option though.

I jumped on the Google Play opportunities right as it released. I picked up plenty of their free songs and bought a few full albums before eventually paying for the monthly family plan for unlimited streaming. And now, a few weeks into having to skip a 2 minute intro to songs FAR too often, I’m ready to dump this Google “service”.

And so I just did. Not a moment too soon either, because renewal looks like it was just a day away.

But now I’m on the hunt for something to replace it. My initial thoughts…

Spotify. I was really interested, until learning that they paid 100 MILLION US DOLLARS to have the Joe Rogan Experience on their platform. So my money would undoubtedly be paying for a guy that has given Alex Jones of InfoWars a platform as a guest to further spread conspiracies. Jones believes climate change is a hoax, is opposed to vaccines, promotes the idea of white genocide, pushed the pizzagate bull, and has repeatedly called school shooting instances false flag events or that survivors were crisis actors. I’m sorry, but anyone that gives this guy air time for anything other than a retirement from his lies will not get my business.

Apple Music. Naw. I’m a PC user with an Android phone. If nothing else pans out I’ll come back and give it a try.

Amazon Music. Argh. I just feel like I bet on the wrong platform. I have the Google speakers and Chromecast and Android phones. But maybe should have gone with Amazon’s Alexa instead. For that one reason I’m leading away from Amazon. Okay, maybe that’s not the ONLY reason. The other thing that bothers me is the net worth of Jeff Bezos. I just struggle with sending more money to the richest person on the planet. I just wish he had a more employee-based business and had massive support of NGOs. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and even mark Zuckerberg are much more generous with their earnings. All that said, I am tempted a bit by the pricing of the HD music service. While twice the price of the service I’m mourning, I’d sure consider it if the equipment I play music on might make the sound quality worth it. If you’re considering this service, then try Amazon Music with an unlimited free trial and I get $3. Chances are, I’ll just be using it to buy music from them anyway (see the last option on my list).

Tidal. Speaking of sound quality… I remember my dad’s Bose 901s. The turntable. The big 70’s headphones with the coiled cord. I’ve got a box of albums that some have survived the early marriage purge of “Do you know how much this record is selling for on eBay?” and am a bit of an audiophile despite tolerating cassettes and tinny headphones for a decade. I had a mixing board as part of my sound setup in the early 90s that lasted more than a decade until I transitioned to digital crossfades when I invested in DJ equipment. The Mackie SR-1530 powered speakers I bought then, cost over $1,000 each and weighted in at a hefty 100 pounds each. They got 5 years of hard use before I sold them. Anyway, Tidal apparently is the streaming service for people that like their audio quality on the hi-fi side.

Pandora. Yeah, maybe. It’s got some features I need, plus it sounds like the predictive playlists would be nice. It’s right there on the averages for the basic monthly plan fees, and is compatible with my devices.

Audio Station. Here’s an other option. I’ve been pretty good about downloading the songs that I purchased, regardless of platform. I have a few CDs I could rip. Then I give myself a $10 a month budget to buy and download songs. All get uploaded to our NAS and I use Audio Station on my computer and phone to play the music I own outright. I don’t need access to a quarter of a million songs. Let’s face it, I probably listen to no more than 500 songs and maybe only add another 5 new songs a month. I bet some months I would find if difficult to find $10 worth of music that I wanted to buy once my major playlists are populated. The only drawback to this is my available time. If I was about to start a 4 day weekend then this might be a great project. But the lure of the ease of just installing an app and setting up automatic payments is strong.

So, for now, I remain undecided. Might have to sit on this for another week. Or until a 4 day weekend comes along.

Spreadsheet – Convert RDA% for vitamins and minerals to mg

One of the things that my body has started to tell me is that I need to spend some time making a course correction. While nothing majorly worrisome has come out of any physical, I know I’m not in great shape. One thing I have not done in quite some time is determine how my nutrition intake is compared to my needs.

Of course, instead of using one of many high quality and totally capable apps or websites, I’m home-growing a solution to tracking my health. I’ll write more about that on a different post, because this is about the calculation I wanted.

Labels on products are super frustrating. The percentages based on a 2000 calorie diet are fine, if you want to do some math if you’re aiming for a 2,500 calorie diet or a 1,750 one. I just want to know how many mg or μg of of each nutrient so that I can track my approximate actuals.

So, here’s a spreadsheet which will do the conversions between recommended daily allowance and micrograms or milligrams. Just put the percent of a vitamin or mineral’s RDA in the first column and the math will be done to show the milligram or microgram recommendation for males, females, and averaged male/female allowance. Just make a copy of this file for your own use.

Finally playing the stock market

I remember being in high school and in some class we were to pick out stocks to “buy” and then track for the month. I recall it wasn’t easy to imagine any companies that I wasn’t clearly very familiar with so picked Xerox and Kodak since they were based nearby. I don’t recall the third pick I made. Xerox stock was about $25 then and is now under $20. But it hit over $130 in the late 90s. Kodak’s details are less clear, since they declared bankruptcy, but it’s taken a slide since trading resumed 7 or so years ago from the $30 range down to just over $8 today, with no peak to speak of between.

Part of my work of getting our finances nailed down during this pandemic has had me studying our retirement accounts. We have eggs in a number of different baskets, but they’re all tied to the larger economy, and as I get closer to the retirement age I figure it would be good to pay better attention to where those eggs are and what they’re doing. That said, ever since high school I’ve been intrigued about stock market investing. I just never took the leap to take action.

My brother turned me on to Webull. (Yes, that’s an affiliate link, and, full disclosure, I’d get a few free stocks if anyone clicks on it, creates an account and then puts at lest $100 into the system.) I hope he’s getting his free stock for inviting me.

Right now they’re running a promo until the end of October that if you put in $100 you get 2 free stocks. I just got notification of the ones I’ll receive.

Here’s my thinking.

I know that the idea is to buy low and sell high. I know that financial advisors suggest playing the long game during downturns. There also are these:

1 – you figure at some point congress will put forth another round of stimulus funding and the markets will bump, even if only for a short period.

2 – things will gradually return to “normal” and some markets that have taken a big hit will crawl back.

So I’m thinking I will transfer just $100 a month for this year and play around a little with some of the stocks. I know I missed the window for Amazon and Zoom to thrive during the lockdowns (though they continue to rise).

I purchased 1 share of Alaska Airlines, 3 shares of American Airlines and 10 shares of a company developing a less invasive COVID-19 test. In the 24 hours since I spent that $99.80 the value has increased to $106.10. Plus the value of the two free stocks when they clear. (Currently one is at $8.36 and the other at $9.28, so not a bad couple of freebies.) Total of almost $24 gained from the $100 I put in.

Webull does not charge a commission for a trade and there isn’t any fee for transfers to or from a bank account. I don’t quite get how they make money, but that’s largely because I don’t speak the lingo. Check out the “Pricing” tab on their page, maybe you can understand it better than me.

The 5 things this expat family needs on their kitchen counter

We’ve been in India for a little over 7 years, and though it has long been our home-away-from-home, there are some things we have on our kitchen counter that really help with the adjustment. This is totally a shameless attempt to get a kickback from any purchases made through the below affiliate links but we’re not paid to endorse any of these.

1 – Electric oven. We have a Siemens built-in electric oven that sits on our countertop. We bought this used from friends that were leaving. We also have a gas range and oven that the employer provides, and having two comes in handy on occasion, but when we want to bake the electric oven is a wonderful upgrade. I really should build a shell for it, but it’s been sitting like this for over 3 years now and I’m pretty used to it.

2 – High quality blender. Every day Pepper makes a smoothie for us for breakfast. We had a blender in Mongolia that lasted for two years and then I think we had two here before finally splurging on the Blendtec commercial EZ600. This purchase was difficult. It wasn’t available through most online retail outlets ( might not have even existed yet) and we knew we wanted one that ran on 220 volts. We paid double the price of this already expensive blender and have had to replace the jar once for an additional $150. But the cycle counter on it currently reads more than 2,200 and as that number ticks up, the cost per smoothie, hummus, or other dish keeps going down.

3 – Coffee from pods. I used to make French press coffee for Pepper in the morning, but she’s come to love her Nespresso coffee. In fact, she’s got one machine in her classroom as well as the one at home. This is not without problems. Primarily:

Yes, there are 0 results for Nespresso pods in our area.

That’s not been a huge problem most of the time, because we usually travel a few times a year to a place where Pepper can buy a few cases of her favorite coffee to bring back. But we’ve been in India since early January so she’s had to resort to purchasing compatible pods and the occasional tube that’s found online or in one of the import stores in town.

4 – Baby bottle sterilizer. We bought a Chicco baby bottle sterilizer from another parent that was leaving India. We’ve found it’s useful for more than just running her bottles through though. I’ve used it for sterilizing other kitchen items and even the bottles I’ve used for homebrew.

5 – Water dispenser. We don’t drink the tap water here. Our water comes from a well and then is pumped to our roof tank. We use it to brush our teeth, sure, but don’t drink it. We have a countertop water dispenser that also chills and heats water, but also just has a room temperature nozzle. I find that the hot water is enough for my tea, though Pepper doesn’t use it when she’s had to resort to French press coffee.

UN SDG files – large images

We’re often using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for things at our school. We have service days in the middle school where the projects are aligned to the UN SDGs. We are publishing our school’s efforts to improve our impact on the community and environment as they relate to the SDGs. And out HS Clubs that are service related will likely be categorized as they connect to the SDGs. And we have a very active MUN Impact club — see what they are up to on their club website.

The UN provides high resolution images of the SDG icons, but they seem to be buried in zip files. So here are just the images. Click on any thumbnail to go to the high resolution image file.

Comments against Net Neutrality posted by dead people

Amazing.  I read an article that the NY Attorney General is filing suit against the FCC because millions of comments in favor of the FCC discontinuation of Net Neutrality are fake.  The article pointed to a link where you can search the comments to see if your name was used falsely.  I searched mine, my wife’s, my brothers…  Here is a comment I found by someone named Kevin McFarland — though not my brother because the address is in Missouri.

Google search for the text showed that it was one of the strings of text reused by many of the proponents and suspected bots.  Copy and paste is used by both sides of these types of public comment periods.  Nothing wrong with it.

Except then I found out that this Kevin McFarland died in 2014.  First I did a search for Kevin McFarland in O’Fallon, Missouri.  I found that, per the comment in favor of ending Net Neutrality, he and Susan own a home at 32 Hollywood Drive.  Then a search for Kevin and Susan McFarland led me to this obituary.  His obituary ends with…

Mr. McFarland was a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.

Despicable.  Someone has programmed a bot to scrape death records and then upload them as comments in favor of deregulation.  This is just one that I happened to find.  Search for your name and then contact the Attorney General in your state to file a complaint.