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Free real time credit monitoring (because paying is for suckas)

CreditScoreReportHistoryI found out how to get free real-time monitoring!  In this day and age credit score is tied to everything – home loans, insurance, qualifying for a rental — shoot, some employers use it to gauge how “responsible” you are likely to be for hiring!

If you’re about to apply for a loan – credit score may suddenly be in your awareness, but if not, most people fly blind for years until the need arises again.

I learned the downside of not monitoring my credit score the hard way.  Twice.  And the crazy thing is both times my credit got hit, they were just errors!  I had a loan on auto-draft at a national bank and their system failed to pull the funds even though there was plenty of money in a checking account.  At their bank.  No one there knows what happened.  It just didn’t work.  My credit got destroyed.  I discovered this not when they filed me as delinquent but later when I needed a loan (aka, I need the money now).  Then I was jammed up for months until the mistake was reversed and it processed through the credit systems.  This happened twice.

I decided monitor my credit score was worth the money.  At first, it cost $120 a year, then $150, and then $200.  But I discovered it can now be had for FREE!  Here’s what to do:

1.  Register at creditsesame.com and your Experian credit report will be monitored for free.  Click Alerts to setup automatic notifications.

2.  Register at creditkarma.com and your TransUnion credit report will be monitored for free.  Email notifications are already automatic.

3.  Go to annualcreditreport.com to get a free, full credit report each year.

4.  Call previous credit monitoring service and cancel.

Total time:  <15 minutes.  No cost.  Credit score domination.

When the fart hits the fan

shit fanSometimes it feels like Shit Hits the Fan.  Yesterday was a good example.

I found out that an important house I own had a roof leak. So bad in fact it might destroy the whole roof. In the end, the roof saturated a bunch of the wood, a bunch of the insulation and a bunch of drywall.  In fact the whole F’ing thing might cost me 20k.

Later, as I’m talking to renters, I discover two other properties have roof leaks.  1 day, 3 roof leaks.  Then I discover a host of other issues I hadn’t known about.

Then I’m trying to get two flip houses to market on the same day to take advantage of the weekend showings and one of them is having a lot of issues (again, related to a worker issue).

To top it off, I’m trying to deal with all of this blind, since I’m out of town.

And then I took a breath and remembered:

I’m healthy.  My family is safe.  None of this affects my health or their safety.  I’m somewhere nice and warm.

In fact, I have three roof leaks…  That means I have three houses.  How amazing is THAT.

One of those issues is major?  My father and another worker stepped up and helped me work through a lot of those issues remotely and given another week, we will see what we can salvage.  In the end, it made me appreciate my father (and that worker) a lot.

Flip house behind schedule?  That means I have inventory for my business.  Inventory that hopefully will make money.  Good problems to have.  To top that off, my sister stepped in to cover all those finishing touches and made me really appreciate her over-the-top do-whatever-it-takes attitude.

I have good family.  I am so fortunate to have properties to even have these problems.  No one important in my life is at risk.  In fact, it’s the important people in my life that helped make these “bad” things better.

Sometimes I feel like I (and I think this when I hear people drivel about 1st world problems about their “bad job” or how Starbucks “screwed up their coffee”) lack perspective.  We have a roof over our heads.  Our kids slept in warm beds.  We aren’t starving or fighting for food for survival.  We have houses.  Nice ones.  Not concrete walls without doors and dirt floors.  We have it SOOO damn good.

Sometimes it’s good to step back and realize that shit you feel hit the fan, that was barely a fragrant fart.  And in the grand scheme of the rest of the world’s perspective, that “problem” is one a whole bunch of the world can only wish they had.

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It feels better to be grateful.  We have so much to be grateful for.  Gratitude makes so much more sense.

My Insurance Analysis: Health Savings Accounts + Health Reimbursement Plan

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In attempting to combat the rising costs of insurance, I have chosen to employ an HSA account combined with a high deductible health plan — AND a HRA plan.

The result:  This will save ~$1,000 off my taxes and allow me to invest an extra $3,300 in a tax sheltered IRA-like account, give me protection in case of a major medical event while saving on premiums, and the cherry on top — allow me to pay for 100% of my medical expenses tax-free as they occur, while I have the option to leave 100% of my HSA funds untapped to compound and grow.

Steps/Strategy: I analyzed the health plans available and chose a slightly more expensive HSA plan that gave me access to the best hospital – what’s the point of having catastrophic coverage if when you need it you’re going to a budget hospital?  It cost $240/month ($2880/yr, $1900/yr after tax savings) with a $6300 deductible/max out-of-pocket.

Next I looked for the best HSA custodial/investment options.  I chose Vanguard’s only HSA custodian, hsaadministrators.info. Many others abound but they are all riddled with fees; and when they aren’t showing you account fees, they are making their money on hidden mutual fund expense fees – which kills the power of compounding growth.  I invested my HSA account in a no-load, super low expense Target Retirement stock/bond index fund.  I can invest $3,300 a year into this tax sheltered account.  I estimate it will grow to an inflation adjusted $300,000 by the time I’m 60 and $650,000 by the time I’m 70.

AND IN A UNIQUE WRINKLE IN THE LAW, if the HSA is funded directly from a payroll deduction (instead of later from your checking account), it doesn’t get hit with FICA tax (15%), saving an additional $495/year!  In total, HSA tax savings amount to $1,420/year.  In a little over 2 years the tax savings alone fund the entire entire $3,300 contribution.

While the “health funds” are fully invested in an index fund, how does one pay for expenses when they come up?  Using a “Health Reimbursement Arrangement” with my business, 100% my medical, vision, and dental-related expenses are reimbursed.  An HRA is a document you create and store in a file cabinet that directs your business to repay all allowed medical expenses.

This HSA+HRA straddle strategy allows 100% of the HSA funds to be invested and growing while simultaneously providing the option of paying for 100% of medical expenses tax-free without tapping into the HSA investment account unless I want to.

If I didn’t have a business, I would simply pay the medical receipts personally, and then reimburse them from my HSA account AFTER a nice stock market run up (the IRS has no time limit placed on when you pay back health expenses).  Waiting and using the gains from a stock market rally to pay medical expenses makes them effectively free!

As a final perk, after age 65, the HSA funds can be withdrawn for any reason, including retirement, not just medical-related.

This is my current best analysis for a a healthy individual seeking health insurance.  This plan will become effective 4/1/2014.  So there is time to adjust if there is a better approach.  I welcome any critique or other analysis.

Responses so far:

From a CPA and former IRS agent: “Actually, it’s one of the best I’ve seen…”

From an insurance agent and the wealthiest person I personally know:  “Jared…..agree with this approach.   The HSA account gives an otherwise healthy person the best options to get benefits for illness and investment of money that an grow to hedge large deductible losses.   The use of low cost stock funds to invest is a good long term play for someone like yourself with a long term time horizon for investment and retirement.”

 

Automobiles most likely to save lives

The greatest risk to the lives you love most isn’t a random gunman in the news, a terrorist, or an unexpected sickness.  The #1 killer of those ages 1-34 is a “unexpected” automobile related accident.  But now it’s “expected” you can take action to protect yourself and your family.

Assuming a loved one isn’t driving drunk or aggressively, the odds are that they will get hit by someone who is.  In the rock-paper-scissors of an auto accident, the biggest variable that determines if they are safe or not is the automobile they’re sitting inside when when someone crashes into them.  There is a vast difference in the life protecting abilities of different vehicles.

Automobile Basic Safety.  All cars have to pass a basic Highway safety (NHTSA) test before they can be on the road.  It’s a really, really low threshold.  Beyond that basic safety stamp of approval, there is a difference in safety, and it’s not 15-20%.  After statistical balancing: 232 dead with a dangerous car, only 13 with a safe car.

Extra Safety.  The IIHS is somewhat to safety what Consumer Reports is to reliability. They’re a non-profit insurance organization that puts out information related to auto-safety. Their reports are valuable for the consumer because instead of a salesperson pitching what car or product is reliable or safest, they have massive quantities of data of which vehicle is safest in real world vehicle crashes.  In one analysis, the IIHS reviewed 125,000 accidents that resulted in fatalities. From the safest vehicle to the most dangerous vehicle, equally certified by the NHTSA, you are 21x more likely to die in a fatal accident. It hurts to even think about, but imagine if your brother or sister died in an auto accident, and you found out later they unknowingly bought the wrong car. Incidently, that “worst” 232-death vehicle is the Chevy Blazer, 2-door version, and my sister had a friend’s friend in high school die in an accident in one.

The Study.  It’s a good study. It’s adjusted for sex of the driver (men are 2x more likely, even after making adjustments, to die in accidents? True) and other driver demographics.  It’s adjusted for number of vehicles on the road, it uses confidence intervals. If you stare at the numbers for a bit, you see patterns emerge between automakers: Mitsubishi consistently equals more deaths, and certain automakers protects lives better; and, patterns of different brands inside of single automakers:  my Avalon is somewhat safer than a Camry, which is somewhat safer than a Corolla.

Incidently, greater mass is a significant increaser of safety (in the rock-papper-sissors of car accidents, large beats small). Intuitive. Although it’s interesting to note that trucks are usually much less safe than SUV’s. That wasn’t intuitive.

Safety Search Engine.  The IIHS puts out a safety search engine for determining the safety of different newer vehicles during different years. It’s less useful than the study because it’s much less exact (three categories of good, average, and bad isn’t nearly as good as a precise index, which I like to call the death risk index, which measures degrees of good to bad, which vary enormously), but it still gives critical, real-world based accident and safety ratings.  Sometimes, just a year difference in design of a vehicle, or a single additional feature, can make quite a measurable difference in the vehicle’s safety.

In Summary.  The highest risk to the person you love most in life is probably an auto accident.  It’s easy to focus on gas mileage, reliability, and style and forget about a less tangible criterion, like safety.  Remember, if a loved one is in an accident, the probability of their safety is largely based on the automobile they are sitting inside.  It also makes sense to focus on the vehicle’s safety abilities like your loved ones lives depend on it beyond just the most basic tests.

The article with safety index for different cars is at: http://www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4204.pdf.

This is the latest report, the 2012 Highest Safety Rated vehicles: http://www.iihs.org/externaldata/srdata/docs/sr4611.pdf

Top 7 Rules Millionaires Gave Me

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During my life I have received outstanding advice from several millionaires about how to accumulate money as quickly and safely as possible. In the spirit of sharing, here’s what I’ve learned:
 
Rule #1:  “Live substantially beneath your means and intelligently invest the savings.”  Most millionaires started living beneath their means as early as they could and consistently invested a large percentage of their income, even when they made a modest living.  Saving and investing 50-60% of your income is very doable.  Seem impossible?  Read this great article from someone who did just that – and retired by 30.  A motivated person can retire in 7 to 10 years.  It’s simply a matter of what you want: financial freedom or a job — forever?  The millionaires I know wanted freedom more than they wanted fancy stuff – and as a result of pursuing freedom first, they can have both.
Rule #2:  ”Train yourself to buy almost everything at a discount.”   Forget deprivation, rice and beans.  Go to Disneyland but at half price by buying special tickets on Craigslist.  I bought a Lexus-like car on eBay for 50% below market value (and 130k miles later, I’m still driving it).  My sister has an iPhone plan for $45/mo instead of $125 (saving $1000/year!). Buying a house 20% below market value puts you 12.5 years ahead on a 30 year mortgage!  Become a “saving sninja” by mastering the art of buying everything you need and want – the house, car, clothing, insurance, vacation …. nearly everything … at 30-70% off.  The wealthiest people don’t brag about what they have, but they are excited talk about what a good deal they got on the things they have.
Rule #3:  ”As your income increases, keep your expenses the same.”  Expense creep is a wealth killer.  One of the most common themes I hear from millionaires is to get your expenses very low.  And keep them that way even when your income grows 20%, 50%, or 200%.  Income can change, your expenses should not.  To millionaires, more income doesn’t equate to more stuff, rather more income means more fuel for growing savings and investments faster each year.  Compare the expenses between a spender and an investor who have the same income and, in just a couple of years, the difference in wealth is exponential.
Rule #4:  “Rich people invest money.  Middle class save money.  Poor spend it.”  The rich buy things that grow their net worth – real estate, businesses, stocks, etc.  The middle class park money in CDs, savings accounts, etc, where the money isn’t spent but isn’t particularly growing for them.  The poor buy things that decrease their net worth- cars, boats, clothing, furniture, amazing TVs, etc.  The rich intuitively understand the personal stuff formula which the poor and middle class rarely give a second thought to.

Rule #5:  ”Buy a reliable, inexpensive used car and then drive it into the ground.”  Cars take wealth out to the pasture and shoot it.  When I was 19, I knew 3 millionaires and all of them drove cars worth less than 7k.  Why? Cars kill money.  Millionaires are smart with money.  Yet it often seems people with a small or negative net worth over-compensate and drive 30k cars.  Their retirement account is in their rims.  Even if they put $5k a year in their 401k, their car is going down in value by that amount.  They can’t get ahead and don’t know why.  Understand How the Real Rich Roll.

 
Rule #6: “Take your financial advice from wealthy people.”  Life often has inflection points:  opportunities that – depending on your decision – can shift the trajectory of the rest of your life.  Faced with an important financial decision, most won’t ask a knowledgeable (read: wealthy) friend/acquaintance.  Instead, they will ask their best friend and take their opinion – even if that friend is living paycheck to paycheck.  That keeps many people as poor as their favorite friend.  Millionaires ask other successful people for money advice. Be friends with people you love; take your financial advice from people who kick financial butt.
Rule #7:  ”Quantify the risk and make calculated bets.”  Situations that have unknowns can leave the smartest people stuck in a loop of indecision and inaction.  Millionaires learn to ask questions and attach numbers to unknowns.  They ask, “if the very worst did happen, what would be the cost?  What are the odds of that happening?  How could I reduce that cost?”  They make the unknown concrete with numbers, estimates or estimate ranges.  After quantifying unknowns, the right decision is frequently obvious.  Millionaires love unknowns or “risk” because with research they can reduce most of it and make a disproportionate amount of money while others sit on the sidelines.
I would add:  “Find a highly successful mentor.  Then absorb everything you can.”  No one who took the time to cultivate a millionaire mentor says, “That was a waste of time and energy.  I wish I could undo that decision.”  Learning from a millionaire is like getting a Masters degree in “money.”  And unlike college, it is nearly free.  Yet very few people do it.  When reading the biographies of successful people, a common thread is the importance of mentors who gave critical advice at critical times, allowing one to leap-frog years of mistakes with their wisdom.  But getting a wealthy person who is busy with their own interesting life, businesses, family and friends to want to mentor you takes real persistence.  At first, my mentor tested me — she wouldn’t return my calls.  Or let me take her out to lunch.  Or dinner. Or coffee.  Or water.  Seriously…she rebuffed me at every turn.  Finally, I delivered homemade brownies to her office and left a note: “I don’t have much money to pay your for advice, but here are some brownies as a thanks in advance for help.”  She called and later we became great friends. That friendship changed my life.  

The most commonly recommended book by millionaires was The Millionaire Next Door – which dispells many myths about how millionaires live and how they got there.  In my opinion, 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter, and Save Money is the best for enjoying the good life at 40-70% below retail and the best blog on the internet for finances is Mr Money Mustache.

The Compelling Case That Republicans Won’t Capture The Presidency Until 2024

ImageI predict that Hilary Clinton will run for president in 2016.  If she does, I predict that she will win and, as the incumbent, will be  reelected in 2020.  The odds are very high we will see a Democrat-controlled presidency for the next eleven years.

Here are my reasons:

Hugely Popular:  Hillary Clinton left her position as Secretary of State as the most popular politician in America with an approval rating of 69%!  Getting to a 69% approval rating in politics is almost like spotting a unicorn – and indicates wide support from Democrats, Independents, and many Republicans.

Media Appeal:  She would garner all of the attention of being the historic first—the first woman president in U.S. history. Think of the media attention. And if even a couple of percentage points of women vote for her, that alone could shift the outcome.

Little Internal CompetitionThe slate of likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidates on Intrade.com puts Hillary Clinton as a massive 6:1 favorite over the next closest Democratic candidate.  Others put her odds even higher.  If she chooses to run, many otherwise serious contenders have implied that they will sit the race out.

Unmatched Experience:  In addition to having a domestic and foreign CV with which no current Republican candidate can compete, Clinton also is a highly experienced national campaigner.

Data & Social Media Dominance.  Clinton would inherit Obama’s highly sophisticated, Moneyball-like social media/email program.  It’s truly worth reading about how surgically precise and customized the D messages stacked up compared to the implosion that happened on the R side.

Fundraising.  Democrats’ data-driven approach conferred a nearly 4:1 fundraising advantage. Eighty percent of Obama’s money came from individual donors, and Hilary Clinton will inherit that infrastructure with time to fine-tune it for her campaign.

Ohio:  Clinton will also assume Obama’s critical Ohio infrastructure of 130 “community offices,” giving her a upper hand in taking the state that is an electorate map keystone state for Republicans.  No Republican in history has won the White House without Ohio.

Add it together:  Hilary Clinton is a highly popular media magnet who has incomparable broad experience, dominance in fund-raising and social media, and Ohio.  Quite a contrast to Republicans.

Republicans:  The 2016 Republican hopefuls projected by Intrade.com show an opposite situation. No strong candidate stands out on their landscape. The Republicans face a highly unsettled field. Santorum is socially polarizing, Ryan is a losing VP-level candidate, and the lone minority possibility, Marco Rubio, is an unskilled orator.  Sure, there are other potential options—Chris Christie, for example, could be a contender, but he’s already unpopular with the base.  Although Republicans are not dead in the water, the lack of a clear front runner means that they’ll waste valuable time and precious financial resources destroying each other in the national press and scrambling behind the scenes for minute advantages rather than going head-to-head with the Democratic nominee. (2012, anyone?).

Republicans also have a much weaker voter database (another review) and lack the ability to target individual voters. Furthermore, as Newt Gingrich pointed out, Republicans are still lost in coming to terms with the depths of their disadvantage.

It may sound risky to call it three years in advance; but if Clinton runs, it’s actually a reasonable prediction. Given the advantages listed above—and, just as importantly, the lack of serious disadvantages—it’s easy to imagine a situation in which she carries the momentum straight to the White House. And because incumbents have historically won reelection, if she wins 2016, the 2020 presidential race will likely go to Clinton as well. This scenario means that she would be the Commander in Chief until 2024.  Her political stock couldn’t be higher; and since this is her best window for the next 11 years, odds are very high that she will run.

If I were to make a case against her winning, it would be based on Clinton’s age, the economy, and ObamaCare.  Clinton would be 69 in 2016 and the second oldest president in history.  R’s ran an even older John McCain, but the median age for a US president who wins is 55.  The US presidency ages its office holders quickly and voters might feel concerned.  In the near future, ObamaCare will be touching voters in a personal way and may be less popular and more expensive than Democrats thought.  Additionally, the economy could nosedive into turmoil.  Both are viable possibilities, but they would have to negatively impact Americans to a tremendous extent to turn the tide against Clinton.

When the R’s best hope of winning is that everything goes to hell, you know their odds are looking poor.

2014 Congress.  Comparing the seats at risk with their party’s lead, Republicans are practically guaranteed to hold the House in 2014 with Democrats probably retaining a slight Senate majority.  Intrade.com shows similar projections for the House and Senate.

2016 Congress:  With  seven Republican Senate seats up “in play” in areas that Obama carried and zero Democratic seats in play in states carried by Romney, Democrats are nearly guaranteed to control the Senate in 2016.

Jared’s Prediction:

2014 Presidency:  Obama      2014 Senate:  D  2014 House:  R

2016 Presidency:  Clinton      2016 Senate:  D  2016 House:  __

2018 Presidency:  Clinton      2018 Senate: __  2018 House:  __

2020 Presidency:  Clinton      

2024 Presidency:  Clinton      

The highest odds are the next major opening for Republicans for the Presidency is 2024. The next window for the Republicans for Senate isn’t until 2018.

Jared’s Top Tricks from 2012

For the past few years I’ve taken time each January to recap the major and unusual things I learned in the previous year.  I decided I would start sharing that list.

Dual n-back: Dual n-back training is probably the single most beneficial thing I did for my mental muscles in 2012.  As it turns out, you’re not necessarily stuck with what you’ve got when it comes to brainpower— the results of a study performed at the University of Michigan indicated that with 20 minutes of practice for 20 days, you can actually substantially increase your IQ.  Think of dual n-back training as working out with a celebrity trainer for your brain.  It may kick your ass, but the results are noticeable and totally worth the hard work. Afterwards, my mental recall had improved significantly and there was a clarity that helped me see solutions to challenges that had troubled me for years.

Microlending: I like helping people who are serious about helping themselves, but detest dependency-building handouts.  Kiva provides the connection with citizens in Third World countries who have almost no access to loans with reasonable rates and allows you to give them $25 microloans. With odds of repayment through Kiva reaching up to 98%, you get your “charity” back—or, even better, keep reloaning and changing lives with the same $25!  I will match any micro-loan you make to double the results.

Political betting: I turned a profit of nearly $5,500 during the 2012 presidential election cycle by placing bets on Intrade.com. People frequently allow their emotions to get the better of them where sensitive subjects, like politics are concerned, and the mainstream media aren’t helping. TV and newspapers have become sensational entertainment over real information in all areas, not just political campaigns. The downside of this “entertainment” is drawing illogical conclusions about the likelihood of certain events happening — like Mitt Romney winning the election.  The media asserted that it was a close race, and there was a near 50/50 chance that either candidate could win. When I did my own research and relied on dependable sources, I learned that the true odds were closer to 85+% Obama, 15% Romney.  Time to print some money.  I’m looking forward to another opportunity to make some money in the next election cycle (2014).

Modafinil: I broke down and tried the famous “smart drug.”  Considered one of the top body hacks available, two friends had tried it and encouraged me to follow suit, insisting that it would make me clear-headed—“like coffee without the jitters.”  My curiosity was piqued, so I gave it a whirl. Sadly, it didn’t have the desired effect for me personally. But it’s worked for many other people, so it might work for you.

Importance of uncharged honesty: It’s pretty common sense: trying to engage in meaningful conversation with an individual who is defensive or hypersensitive is unproductive and frustrating. This year I focused on being a more open communicator by challenging myself to speak with “emotionally uncharged honesty.” I found that this kind of neutral but direct communication – even when the topics of conversation had potential to be very charged –  allowed for a more exploratory, productive feel than they would if the communicators are defensive or sensitive.

Online dating made easier: I learned that in the world of online dating, it’s all about your profile. I used a professional picture as my main picture and allowed members of the opposite sex to select the rest of the pictures that I put on my page. I worked on an original, non-cliché summary of myself for the profile, and had the opposite sex edit it.  Afterwards, I found that the quality, attractive women I contacted were far more likely to respond, and that women were three times more likely to take the initiative to contact me.

Website design: By using a site called WordPress.com, I took my website from a slapdash collection of links on a webpage to a professional-looking blog in about 3 hours.  If you’re looking to soup up your site, WordPress makes you a pro. Either that, or you could always try to bribe your 7th-grade nephew who undoubtedly knows more about designing a legitimate-looking site than you ever will.

TheraKane: Need a massage?  This amazing self-massage tool ($35) has been a lifesaver—as if alleviation of pain wasn’t incentive enough, it’s less stressful for my bank account too. It’s great for people who sit at a desk or drive a lot and have issues with their posture or being hunched over for extended stretches.

AirBNB.com: This site is an incredibly easy way to score great accommodations from $20 to $35 per night. The rooms are fully furnished, have kitchen access, and all the amenities of your home.  I’ve found that the best prices can be found from listings that feature nice pictures but no ratings yet. Ask for a discount every time (20-50% off), and have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.

Couchsurfer.org: This site allows you to get the inside track on a city before you arrive.  Couchsurfer.org has become the place to go to get reliable, useful information from locals who know and love their city. Incidentally, it has not become the place to go if you actually want to couchsurf unless you’re:

A foreigner or live in a highly desirable and/or expensive place others want to visit,

Hot enough that strangers will allow you into their homes, or

All of the above.

ExLax: Laugh if you will. But yes, this made the list.  Because I only throw up once every decade or so, food poisoning or that horrible icky feeling can have a lasting effect on.  Taking 3-4 ExLax as soon as I feel the chills set in allows me to rally and have fun in a few hours, instead of being relegated to my room to suffer in solitude for 2-3 days. I realize that it’s unorthodox, but it’s effective.

Open a can of whoop-ass: My appreciation for self defense increased significantly after I witnessed a friend nearly be attacked in a park one night. It prompted me to research the most effective ways to defend oneself. Pepper spray proved to be a very practical, useful self-defense weapon that offers less liability and a lower risk of disastrous outcome than carrying a firearm. Though some people feel safer packing heat, pepper spray seems to be heat enough for most situations. It’s less expensive, takes little training to use effectively, and can still disable an attacker.  The Fox 2oz Fog Spray is the product I found to be the most effective spray and costs about $15.

FreedomPop.com: This little device has saved my life more than once. My WiFi knows when I have something important to finish, because it chooses that very moment to crash. I found FreedomPop.com and was able to score free 500MB of high-speed wireless data (3-7MB speeds) on my laptop each month.  It’s a super handy free tool that helps me avoid internet fees or helps when the signal is weak in hotels and provides backup internet so I’m not at the mercy of my WiFi, and I can be productive when it matters most.

Most Dangerous Days of the Year to Drive on the Road

7 day average vehicle auto safety chart weekly

Some days are much more dangerous to drive than others.  I flipped the nerd switch and crunched 10 years of daily data for traffic fatalities across the nation and looked at worst days, worst 3 day periods and worst 7 day periods to help see which were the deadliest days to be on the road, worst weekends, and worst weeks.

Here are the 4 worst periods to be on the road

1.  New Years Eve – Your odds of dying are 60% higher of a road fatality on the 31st of December vs just the day before.  Put a huge number of people on the road late at night with lots of alcohol in them and you have the best day to die of the year .

2.  4th of July Weekend – Deadliest 3 days of the year.  This entire weekend is as bad as New Years Eve for all the same reasons except it’s 3x longer!  The warm weather brings out the traffic congestion.

3.  First Week of August – Cramming end of summer parties/vacations before school starts make the first part of August by far the worst week to be on the roads.

4.  Labor Day Weekend

Other interesting tidbits: Halloween, Thanksgiving.  Fridays and Saturdays are the most dangerous days of the week.

Suggestion:  To help remember which days are extra dangerous and therefore the most important to be mindful/careful, I created calendar alerts in my cell phone and put them on annual repeat so I get a simple reminder.  Without automated alerts, I’m sure I’ll be distracted and forget during all the bustle.  Took 3 minutes.

Pepper Spray: A near attack experience and how to protect yourself

It’s 7PM on November 17th. Lamp posts and scattered stars provide light for a long walk with a friend. We’re on a quiet paved trail at a massive Austin city park, intent on our conversation. We haven’t seen anyone else in 20+ minutes.  As we approach a cove of trees, from the darkness I hear a deep voice say, “Shut the f*ck up, b*tch.”  I’ll remember that voice 10 years from now.  My friend doesn’t hear what was said; she only heard someone around the corner on the trail speak loudly.  She continues telling her story.

“ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME, B*TCH!?  I SAID, SHUT.  THE.  F*CK. UP.”

Time slows.  Goosebumps spread up my arms.  Please, I think. Don’t let this be a group of guys.

It only takes a split second for a probability tree of options to pop into my mind’s eye where likely one of three things happen:

1: There’s a group.  Best case I’m a speed bump so she can run. If they’re armed (likely), I’ll buy her minimal time.

2:  It’s just him, he has has a weapon, I’m a bigger speed bump and she’ll have more time to get away.  In either scenario I’m likely to get very badly hurt and I guessed her odds are 20-60% (very bad to slightly better than break even).

3:  It’s just him, he’ll perceive me to be enough of a threat that he’ll pass.

A moment later, we turn the corner.  The scene unfolds in an instant: A wild-eyed man is making straight for my friend. She has no idea what’s going on, but her instinct takes over and she grabs my waist, throwing me in front of her.

Our eyes meet and he seems surprised to see me. I have a split second to decide if I’m going to pre-emptively attack.  His trajectory changes, and though he blows past me, I don’t let my guard down completely until we are home. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears.  A quarter of an hour passed between the time of our encounter and the next time we passed a jogger. If something had happened, help would not have arrived for a long time.

The intense emotions that followed this experience have prompted me to replay the scenario many times.  Three things have become clear to me. (1) I’m lucky: Lucky that I’m a man, and that I had been there. If she had been alone, or wearing earbuds, the story could have had a different ending. (2) I wish I’d carried my cell phone.  I didn’t want to be distracted from my friend’s company, so I left it at home.  If I had been hurt, a call I could make on that phone might be the reason I survived.  (3) I wish I’d been carrying pepper spray and that I knew how to use it properly.  In that moment, hearing his voice, I would have gladly paid any price just to have it in my pocket and to be familiar with how to use it.

After that night, I thought about how I can best protect myself and those I care about. I considered everything from MMA-style self-defense classes to handguns to pepper spray, and I concluded that pepper spray is more portable, better suited for more situations, and boasts the best safety results for the least amount of training required.

To that end, I’ll be giving away 40 pepper spray units, to those who ask.

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There’s more to it that simply aiming and spraying. Most consumer pepper sprays take 3-7+ seconds (depending on the person) before burning/incapacitation starts. The fastest reaction time is one-half of a second. Higher quality pepper spray has 2-3 times more burning power, and this is particularly important because if the attacker is intoxicated, they may not feel the pain of a weaker pepper spray (think of a drunk with his shirt off in 20° weather).  When it comes to dispersal, many manufacturers place higher emphasis on the range, or distance, that the spray reaches. However, better pepper sprays make an extra-wide nozzle so the attacker is hit with as more volume in the same amount of time.  And the difference in price for the higher quality?  $3. As in, three hundred pennies.

Here are the top 2 recommendations from my research:

Fox 2 oz Fog Spray:  Ideal for keeping at home or in a large purse, backpack, or car compartment (4″ long x 1.25″ wide).  Reacts in ½ second, has the highest stopping power legally available, and incredible dispersal and range (2 feet wide and can take an assailant down from across a room).  Cost: $13.

Fox 5.3 Keychain Pepper Spray: Small, sleek, and compact.  Also reacts in ½ second, and has the highest stopping power legally allowed. This model has medium dispersal (by far the best for the keychain style, and 2 times wider than Sabre’s keychain version). Cost: as low as $10.

I do not recommend the Sabre Pink Keychain Pepper Spray. Even though it’s pink, it sprays like a 6 year olds squirt gun, reaction time is up to 60 seconds and its burn is half as powerful as Fox.  You can see a video on people actually being sprayed with Fox pepper spray and Sabre pepper spray (watch until 1:40 ).

Special note for runners:  Sabre also puts out a runner’s pepper spray so you don’t have to hold it or reach for it, which I think is particularly practical.  Alternatively, you could buy some velcro and super glue on one of the Fox pepper spray units to achieve the portability with much higher quality.

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That’s the research.  Here’s my offer:  I will buy 20 people two pepper spray units, up to $20 per person.

Why two? Use the first to practice clicking off the safety quickly, get familiar with the dispersal distance and spray radius, practice spraying and moving, and shoot the whole canister so you know how much is in a can.  (Skip to minute 5:40 to see why training is important, length: 55 sec.) The hope is that this practice will increase your skill and comfort using pepper spray and increase your odds of success so that if that moment comes, you’re prepared.

The next step.  Decide which two you’d like and I’ll pay for both, up to $20.  If you want more than 2 or more expensive ones, you’re on the hook for the extra above $20.  Depending on where you live, you might also have to pay shipping (may exclude Tri-Cities and a few other areas).

Use the first pepper spray and practice with the whole canister, shooting at a paper plate with a frowny face tacked to a tree, using the proper shoot and move technique.  Keep the second pepper spray on your keychain.  E-mail me a video of your practice pepper spray experience.

Trust me, at some point a moment will come when you will wish for pepper spray in your hand, and it will come unexpectedly.  Advance preparation will be priceless in that moment.

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Pepper Spray Use:

I also did research on how to use pepper spray most effectively.  I learned the natural instinct is to pull out the canister, plant, and spray.  It’s critical to spray and MOVE to the side, out of the way of the attacker’s momentum.  The attacker is usually headed directly towards you, and spraying him does not instantly change his direction. The safest technique is to spray and move.  Skip to minute 1:20 for a good visual example of how this looks.Spray side-to-side around the eyes since a simple straight shot might easily hit the attacker in the mouth and not the eyes.

Travel:  Pepper spray can be carried with you when you travel in checked luggage up to 4 oz. (although, not surprisingly, not allowed with carry-on luggage).

Can you increase your IQ? The experiment results

I recently read an article by bio-hacker and investor Andrew Clark that stated he had raised his IQ more than 18 points using a program based on new research covered by the WSJ  and NYT called “dual N back” training.  Doing 20 minutes a day of this kind of training increases IQ scores 10-20 points in 20 days.  That level of increase is a full standard deviation.  In non-statistical terms, it’s a life changing increase in intelligence.  It’s going from average high school graduate (105) to college graduate (115), or if you’re an average college graduate  (115) to average doctor (130).  10-15 points opens different doors.

This is a big deal since I — and all the scientific research I had read about a decade ago since reading the Bell Curve — believed that after early childhood IQ is substantially fixed.

I read more about the product it was based on and its money back guarantee   After you buy the product, they give you one of two reputable IQ tests to take.  After establishing your baseline IQ, you then do the program for 20 days, and take the other IQ test.  If your increase is less than 10 points, you get your money back.

I found another Dutch bio-hacker who did the same thing but only got 8 points of growth (which is enormous) and requested his money back.  If I get 8 points, that is still nearly life changing, and I get my money back. 🙂

Based on many standardized tests, my IQ hasn’t moved my whole life and this is a relatively low risk, low time, low cost, medium energy commitment test to see if I can change that.

As a side note:  I took both IQ tests because I was skeptical of their reliability.  I was within a single percentile point.  Incredibly accurate.

Going Forward:  So I’ve decided to see how well I do with this program.  Regardless of how well I do (including epic fail and no intelligence increase), I’ll post the results.

Update #1:  At session 3, noticed some tentative patterns having started emerging.  There is a significant difference between doing it when I’m tired and doing it when I just wake up from sleep/nap.  I perform much better right after waking.  Also noticed crazy dreams if it is the last thing I do before sleep.

Update #2: Two other associates have started the training.  We are starting at 3 different IQ points spaced approximately 10 points apart.  Both associates have also noticed dreams increase significantly, consistent with what others have noted on increased REM sleep.  Dreams are both weird and more intense.

Update #3: At session 8.  Already noticing that I can recall addresses and numbers related to my work in a way I couldn’t before.  Experimenting with breaking 20 sessions into 2 sessions of 10.  My scores are rising quickly since although it’s too early to correlate the two.

Update #4:  Half-way point, session 10.  Mental clarity and memory has improved noticeably.   Have hit a ceiling that I can’t seem to break.  Still, satisfying that what was once an impossible level I am now consistently at 85%.

Update #5:  At session 11.5.  Blew through that ceiling and now the impossible level is the new normal.  It’s interesting to push the brain so hard.  It’s clearly not something that I have to do on a day-to-day basis playing or working.  I love it honestly.  It’s like exercise.  In the beginning, it’s painful and frustrating as hell.  I’m finding as I get used to it I like it more … the growth is very satisfying.  The perks that come with the growth are very satisfying, too.  What I really learned what how much my sharpness can be affected by sleep, diet, etc.  When you’re only running at 30% mental throttle during the day, you don’t notice what happens to your brain when you go from running 100% down to 50%, because you’re only running 30%.  When you push to 100%, you instantly can tell going down to even 80%.  50% seems devastating.  Very useful as a self-awareness mechanism as well IMO.

Update #6:  Finished session 20.  Hit a level I couldn’t imagine when I started.  Overall, my mental clarity and recall has improved so drastically that if this was a pill I could pay for, I’d happily pay $200-$300 a month.  This isn’t like buying a pill though, it’s like buying gym membership and working with a trainer that some days, you’re not sure you like.  You get to work your butt off, with the most proven brain training method known, but, still, it’s seriously hard work.  And like taking care of your body, completely worth it.  At 20 minutes a day for 20 days, and at $45, it’s probably one of the highest return on investments for time and money I’ve found for the benefits.  I highly recommend.

Update #7/Final update: I have continued training, reducing training by half to 10 minutes a day.  Level keeps improving, half as fast, but consistently, breaking to new highs.

Resources:
Original research, including criticism summary.  Example of someone who gained almost nothing but impressive working memory increase.