Archive for August, 2013

Minor Emergency – YNAB saves the day!

Milestones are overrated…

I was about to reach a milestone this month, through the use of YNAB.  I’ve been watching my Net Worth climb since I started using YNAB back in March.  My debt has been slowly decreasing…  I get paid at the end of the month, so I’m automatically living on last months pay.  But my Net Worth has still been below zero, for these 5+ months of using YNAB.

Finally, I was about to hit a milestone.  August of 2013 would be the first time that my Net Worth was above 0 at the end of a month.  But then…

Here comes Murphy…

I was so excited about this milestone that I already had a blog entry about it, scheduled for publication tomorrow.  So what happens?  Murphy happens, that’s what.  Today, while I was off at work, our lawn guy came.  While mowing the lawn, a rock got launched and shattered a rear side window in my Honda van, taking out only a very small piece of the glass, but it was spiderwebed.  I knew all to well that this was expensive to fix, since the same thing happened a couple years ago.  That time, I called around numerous places to find the best price.  And, boy did the price range vary widely.  Some wanted as much as $600, but I found the best price to be about $325.  So today, my first thought about fixing this was “Where will the money come from?” as I knew my auto repair budget was not going to cut it.

My first use of the Emergency Fund…

This is something that needs to be fixed, and quickly.  Just the act of driving around will make this worse, as we saw before.  I don’t want small glass fragments littering my driveway, or the interior of the van, just waiting to be found by my kids.  I realized that this was the perfect candidate for spending from the Emergency Fund.  I’ve been adding money to it, trying to built it up, over the last few months.

Sure, it’s not a broken down A/C unit in the middle of a scorching heatwave with a newborn at home, or a major mechanical issue that keeps the car from getting me to work (both of those would be pretty MAJOR emergencies), but keeping my kids away from broken glass is a safety issue, and I don’t want my wife worrying about pieces of the window falling out as she drives (increasing the change of an accident), not to mention the potential for water damage to the interior of the van.

YNAB saves the day!

I couldn’t help but think how stressful this incident would be for me if we didn’t have YNAB.  This time of year is already financially stressful.  School has just started back, so that means tuition, new clothes, school supplies, and other related costs, and in a few weeks, our homeowners insurance is due.  In years past, this would have immediately resulted in more debt, as I would have paid for it out of my salary, meaning I would have less money to pay off the credit card bills when they arrived.  Since this is how I usually handled paying for my homeowners insurance as well (yes, bad plan, I know!) it would have just added on top of an already rising pile of debt.

Fortunately, we’ve saved up enough using YNAB that we are ready for the homeowners insurance, and thanks to our Emergency Fund, we can cover this unexpected expense without getting stressed out.

Now, I need to budget to buy a lawnmower…

August 29, 2013 at 1:23 am 2 comments

How to get started with YNAB

I’m mostly writing this for a family friend, but it can be useful for anyone who isn’t sure where to get started with YNAB.

1.  Download YNAB from this link:  http://www.youneedabudget.com/download

2.  If you’ve bought it from Steam, don’t install it through Steam.  If you have already installed it through Steam, uninstall it.  You want to install the version downloaded directly from the YNAB website, listed in step 1.

3.  If you bought through Steam, get the CD key out of Steam.  Here’s how:
A.  Start Steam
B.  At the top, select Library.
C.  From the dropdown menu, select All Software.
D.  If you have multiple items here, select You Need A Budget 4 (YNAB) on the left panel.
E.  On the right column, under LINKS, select CD Key.
F.  The pop-up window that shows up will show your Product Key.  Select the Copy Key To Clipboard button.
G.  Save this Key off somewhere on your computer, where you won’t lose it.  You’ll need it later.

3B.  If the above doesn’t work (No CD Key option shows up in Steam), then install it via Steam, but after installing it, run YNAB and hit “Help”, then “About”.  That gives you a button to copy your CD Key to your buffer.  Hit that button, then paste it into somewhere that you won’t lose it.  Then, uninstall it (via Steam – Right click on the YNAB entry in Steam and “Delete Local Contents”)

4. If you don’t have Dropbox installed, get it now:
A.  Go to https://www.dropbox.com
B.  Sign Up, Download and install it on your PC (or Mac)
C.  You’ll need to put your Dropbox username and password in when you install DropBox.
D.  Select the Free account option, when prompted.  2 GB is more than enough for a budget.
E.  You’ll end up with a Dropbox icon in your taskbar.  It looks like a blue cardboard box, sitting open.  When everything is sync’ed, it will have a small green circle with a checkbox covering part of the Dropbox icon. This is the state you see mostly see it in.

5.  Now that you’ve installed Dropbox, have your Key, and have downloaded YNAB from the developer site, it’s time to install it.
A.  I believe it prompts you for your Key when installing it.  Copy the Key you got in step 3 and paste it in.
B.  When setting up your initial budget, you’ll be prompted to create a Cloud budget.  That’s the one you want to select.  This means your budget will be created in the DropBox folder on your machine.  DropBox will sync the files in that directory to your DropBox account.  From your iPhone or Android phone, you can run the free YNAB app, connect it to your DropBox account, and have your budget with you, wherever you go.

6.  Go to the YNAB support page:  http://www.youneedabudget.com/support
A.  Watch the Chapter 1:  Getting Started with Three Simple Steps Video tutorial (right hand side of the page).

7.  Watch the Chapter 2:  Step by Step Set Up video.  This “Watch Along” video gives you step-by-step instructions.  It will encourage your to pause the video at intervals so you can perform the same steps on your installation.  Follow this video to build your initial budget.

8.  After you are done going through the Step by Step video, look at the other tutorial video topics to see if any of them are of immediate interest to you.  If they aren’t, come back to this page the next day and try to watch a couple of them.  Handling Credit Cards in YNAB is one that I needed to see.

9.  Install the YNAB app for your mobile phone platform.  Install it on your spouses phone too.
A.  Go into the Settings for the App.  Make sure GPS is enabled.
B.  Every time you buy something, put it in YNAB.  The first time you add a transaction for a location, you’ll have to manually enter everything.  Next time, though, it will remember the location and pre-enter all the data for you, except the amount.  You might think that this is a bit of a pain, but it keeps you on top of your spending.
C.  Before buying anything of any real value, check your budget in YNAB on your phone to make sure you have the money available.

10.  Take a look at the FREE classes that are offered on youneedabudget.com.  These are live classes, where you can ask questions of professional YNAB trainers.

Pro Tips:

  • You don’t have to start your YNAB budget on the 1st of the month.  Start any time, using your current balance of your accounts.  Don’t forget to put in any uncleared checks/charges as well.
  • Don’t be tempted to put in historical info when starting your budget.  YNAB is, first and foremost, a budget tool.  It doesn’t matter how you’ve gotten into debt.  YNAB cares about how much money you have NOW, and where you need to spend it.  You might think that your past spending will help you plan your future budget, but in most cases, your past method of spending is why you need a budget.  🙂
  • Log into all your bank and credit card accounts every two or three days.  Go through your transactions and mark the “cleared” transactions with the “C” icon to the far right in your account screens.  At first, you might think this is a bit frequent, but by checking it so frequently, you’ll be sure not to miss any transactions that you might have forgotten to enter.  If you find missed transactions, just enter them in YNAB right there, so you’ve properly categorized your spending.  Also, if you have something that’s automatically charged like Hulu Plus or Netflix, you’ll be able to catch it this way.

August 28, 2013 at 10:01 pm Leave a comment

The Ruckus 2942 AP

I recently posted about getting an old Ruckus 2942 AP.  These APs have been around for about 6 years, and after using it this weekend, I’m very impressed.

Prior to installing this AP, I used the AP feature on my CheckPoint UTM-1 NW at one far end of the house.  This was primarily to cover that end of the house and the garden area outside.  The 2nd access point that I have on this network is a Netgear N600 running OpenWRT.  This AP is on the opposite end of the house on the second floor.  The two APs mentioned above operated my main SSID, which has full access to my network.  Being employed in networking (and maybe a little paranoid), I use Enterprise authentication to secure my Wifi.  Since we have a few other devices that need to access the Internet but do not support Enterprise authentication, I had a 2nd SSID with PSK authentication running on an Apple Airport located fairly centrally in the house.  This device was connected to a different port on my router, allowing me to firewall it off from the rest of the internal network.  This way, things like my Nest thermostat and a few Nintendo 3DS’s can get out without exposing my internal network.

With the above configuration, the kids 3DS’s didn’t work upstairs very well, but we had pretty good coverage everywhere else in the house, on the main SSID.  In our back yard, there was an area that my wife or I would often sit.  The Wifi coverage there was on the verge.  Sometimes it would work there, but slowly.

Anyhow, that’s all gone.  I now have a single Ruckus AP located very near to where the Apple Airport was, centrally on the first floor.  It’s actually sitting on the top of a hutch on a desk.  It has my main SSID, and then another PSK SSID that dumps out on a different VLAN, so it can be firewalled off, just as my Airport was.

One thing that I’ve noticed about it seems a bit odd.  With 802.11g, I’d expect it to run on channels 1, 6, or 11, since those are the channels with no overlap.  I’ve left the channel set to the default “SmartSelect” option.  Earlier today, I remember seeing that it was operating on channel 10.  As I write this now, it’s operating on channel 2.  It seems to be adaptive, so as it sees interference, it changes channels.

I’ve done speedtests on my phone around most of the house, and the speed is very good just about everywhere.  Where it’s not great, it still worked.  The area outside where it was on the edge before is now fine.  In fact, I went probably another 10 feet further, and still had a speedtest result of around 8 Mbps download.

With the age of this Ruckus AP, it’s only 802.11g, but it works great for everything I’ve thrown at it.  I’m shocked at the range on this old device.  Granted, I’m not doing time machine backups across it, so it’s not getting constantly beat down by a major bandwidth hog, but for multiple iPhones, iPads, and streaming Netflix videos or music, it works great.

My co-worker looked up some marketing videos about Ruckus APs and told me that they are supposed to track the clients and used “beam forming” technology, or something along those lines.  I thought it was all marketing speak, and maybe it is, but I must admit that this AP is working far better than a piece of hardware this old has any right to work.

I’ve only been using it for a few days, but I expect this one to work fine until my 802.11ac Almond+ shows up early next year.  Of course, I’ll have to test to see if it works any better.  Who knows, this old Ruckus might beat it too.

Now, if only Ruckus Wireless had an 802.11ac version that they would send me “to certify”….  🙂

August 25, 2013 at 9:59 pm Leave a comment

Budgeting and the power of the category

With any sort of budget, you should never have a general purpose Savings category.  You should assign every dollar to real, tangible goals that you want to reach.

Why?  Because of human nature.  Let’s think through a scenario:

Let’s say you have $200 in your Savings category.  While walking through CostCo, you see the new Zelda game just came out for the Wii U.  Being a fool for anything Zelda, you check your budget looking for the Entertainment category.  Drat!  Being the nerd that you are, you blew the rest of that category to see the new Wolverine and Star Trek movies.  Twice.  But you really want to spend the $50 to get this new Zelda game.  Wait a minute!  Savings!  You can just take it from there, right?  Hyrule here you come!

Let’s do this again, but with more thought:

Let’s say you have $75 in your New iPhone category, and you have $125 in your SSD category, so you can upgrade your laptop.  (Yes, I’m still going with the big Nerd background story.  We write what we know!)  While walking through CostCo, you see the new Zelda game for the Wii U and you REALLY want it.  Again, your Entertainment category is busted.  This time, though, instead of $200 in a Savings category, just waiting to be pilfered, your only options are your New iPhone category and your SSD category.  You really, really, really want the new iPhone 5S when it comes out in September, and you only need another $75 to get that SSD to upgrade your laptop, which has been running awfully slow lately.  If you take the $50 from either of these categories, it will push back those purchases another month, at least.

The difference between these scenarios?  In the 2nd case, you really know what you are choosing between.  Yes, you can take $50 from either category and buy the Zelda game immediately, but you know what you are putting on hold.  In this case, a person with this sort of Nerd background would probably chose to wait a month or two to buy the new Zelda game, since both of the other goals are ones that are more pressing, especially since you cracked the screen on your current iPhone, and you use your laptop to make a living.

You see, when your category name is as generic as Savings, you might as well name it Extra Money instead.  Because, when that desire to buy strikes whether it’s for a new video game, or whatever shopping weakness you have, you’ll think of that amorphous Savings category as exactly that – a pile of extra moneyBut, when your money is assigned to an actual item that you are saving up for, it makes you really stop and consider your options carefully.  You then decide which priority wins out.  You can still choose to do anything you want, but you’ll be making an informed choice.  Awareness is the key to avoiding stress with your finances.

August 24, 2013 at 10:46 pm Leave a comment

Upgrading a Ruckus 2942 AP

I recently came across a few old Ruckus APs that had been neglected for quite some time.  These are quite old, only supporting 802.11b and g.  Checking the Ruckus Wireless website, they were just End of Life’d in July of this year.  A check of the user guide shows that they came out in late in 2007.  These APs were running version 5.0.0.0.193 (or something similar).  In looking at their support website, I see that the latest version of firmware for this hardware is some version of 9.6.  Six years is a LONG time for a piece of wireless technology!  I commend Ruckus for continuing to support a piece of hardware for this long.

The web interface is quite simple.  It looks like they wanted to have a very easy to configure AP that has a good bit of power.

To upgrade, it appeared that all that you’d need to do is go to the Upgrade page, and hit the Perform Upgrade button.  So, once connected to the Internet, that’s exactly what I did.  It upgraded to 5.0.3.0.199 pretty quickly.

But, it’s no-where close to 9.6!  That’s far from the latest…

I did a little research, and their website directs you to download the latest version directly, then upgrade from your workstation.  The screenshot shows the upgrade options as TFTP, FTP, Web, and Local.  Umm…  There’s no Local on mine.

With the firmware I have, when you upgrade, aside from the FTP server, username, and password, you also enter in a Firmware Control File.  Mine was set to zf2942_500_cntrl.rcks.  That didn’t change when I upgraded.  There’s a “auto-upgrade” feature, so I figure this firmware control file is a feature meant to keep people from upgrading to the latest and greatest, but rather staying with the main version they are on, only getting bug fixes for that version.

By looking at the Support Info link on my AP, I was able to find the password for the firmware upgrade FTP server.  I logged into it with a standard FTP client and saw that there were quite a number of firmware control files out there.

I replaced the 500 in the filename of my firmware control file with 511.  I think this is when I started having some GUI weirdness.  The web interface kicked me out with an “Apparently you aren’t logged in.” message.  I waited a little bit, then I logged back in, went to the Support Info page, and found in the “Firmware Upgrade” section it said “new software installed successfully”.  I went to the Reboot / Reset link and booted it again.  It was upgraded to the latest 5.1.1 version!

I successively went through each of these versions, with similar GUI strangeness.  Note that I’m not sure if I had to incrementally upgrade like this, but it just took a few minutes each, so I thought I’d play it safe and incrementally upgrade.  Here’s the numbers I put in my firmware control filename, all taken from the FTP server:

600.
701.
820.

912.  Didn’t have any GUI issue with this one.  It upgraded just fine.  Now, it’s running 9.1.2.0.8.

AH ha!  Now, after installing this version, I can see the “Local” upgrade option.

So, I downloaded the latest version, 9.6.0.0.267, directly from the Ruckus Wireless support site and proceeded to try to upgrade to the latest version.  It stuck on the “Loading” screen for a long time.  Finally, I tried loading the Support Info link (in a new tab).  It started to come up, but showed an empty log, then seemed to hang.  I waited several minutes, then tried again to bring up the Support Info link.

This time, I got a login page.  I logged in, and low and behold, I was running version 9.6.0.0.267.

The Status: Device screen shows a LAN Port Status now, something I’ve not seen on any of the previous versions.   It shows that eth0 is Up, at 100 Mbps, full duplex, and my eth1 interface is Down.

New menu items….  The left menu now includes Local Subnets under the Status section.  The Configuration section also has a Local Subnets item, along with Ethernet Ports and Hotspot.

Somewhere (version 7?) I noticed that instead of the 4 SSIDs that were originally supported, I can now have 8.

In the Local Subnets section, it appears you can add up to 4 subnets, and even have the Ruckus serve as DHCP server for the subnet.

The Ethernet Ports section lets you set the port type (Access, Trunk, or General), the Packet Forward (Isolated, Bridge to WAN, Local subnet NAT and Route to LAN, or Bridge to L2TP tunnel), enable 802.1X, set the VLAN ID, insert DHCP option 82, and enable Client Fingerprinting.

Of course, the Hotspot page lets you enable the Hotspot service, and edit a bunch of setting there…

Oh, and one thing that is broken in this version is the “Wireless 1” … “Wireless 8” pages, in Safari on the Mac.  With this browser, it got to the page, but all the options were left at default.  It’s like the ajax lookup doesn’t fire for Safari or something.  In Chrome, it opens the page up with all the default values, then all the real values pop in.  It is possible that the GUI problems I had were because Ruckus doesn’t play well with Safari in older firmwares too, but aside from that everything else seemed to work properly with it.

The Safari issue isn’t huge, but a bit of shame, as this is probably the last version of firmware for this hardware.

Anyhow, this has been my experience upgrading a Ruckus 2942.  I hope it helps someone else.

August 23, 2013 at 7:55 pm Leave a comment

YNAB rainy day funds – Your weapon against stress

YNAB uses the “Rainy Day Fund” concept, a really simply concept that makes big bills easier to swallow.  The idea is to simply divide big bills that are due every 6 months or year (or whatever timeframe) by the time you have until the bill is due, and just save that much each month until you have enough saved to pay the bill.  It’s an easy concept to grasp, but can be difficult to follow through with, especially without a tool like YNAB tracking it for you.  I have a friend who did this by moving money to a separate account, but when you are saving up for multiple things at once, the line between categories can get blurry, or worse yet, you forget that some of that money is for bill X, and spend it on something else.

Anyhow, I started using YNAB in March, but I didn’t start saving for my Property Tax and Home Insurance bills until May, dropping $100 into each category.  I knew my Home Insurance was due in September and expected it to be around $1250, so I tried to quickly step up the contributions to this fund, adding $200 in June.  This left me only 3 months to save the final $950, so I had it planned out at $300 per month with the final month absorbing the extra $50.

But, the bill arrived in June and it was about $270 more than I expected. I didn’t panic, though.  I just re-prioritized.  Instead of $300 in July and August, I raised them to $400 each, with September being $420, lowering down other less pressing categories for those months.  I’ve already written the check out, placed it in the envelope, and it is now waiting to be mailed on September 3rd.

How would the “old me” have handled this problem?  Easy, just pay that much less on the credit card and write out a check for the whole balance.  And yes, that means it essentially became more credit card debt that I would struggle with for the next few months to pay down.

The big difference between these two approaches?  The stress level of handling it with YNAB is nearly zero.  On the other hand, having to essentially add $1500 of credit card debt for something as mundane as homeowners insurance, then struggling to pay that down over the next three to four months (with Christmas coming up, no less)… Well, you can imagine that would have been pretty stressful.

Whether you use YNAB or not, you should definitely use this concept.  It makes life so much less stressful.

August 19, 2013 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

My OpenDNS Plugin for SimpleDNS

I’ve been running my OpenDNS Plugin for about 1 month and a half, since my last blog entry and it has been working fine.

Now, I’ve not put any more work into it, to externalize the variables, or even to clean it up at all, so I’m not ready to release anything…  In fact, I’m not so sure that OpenDNS would be happy with me if I released this plug-in, as it would be possible to bypass their advertising feature with this plug-in, if configured properly.

That being said, the theory for this plug-in most certainly works.  So, if you would like to roll your own, it’s definitely possible.

August 6, 2013 at 9:53 pm Leave a comment

My Primary TV viewing device – AppleTV

I’ve long been a fan of SageTV.  It was the best DVR of its time.  It was better than SnapStream, better than Windows MCE, more flexible than ReplayTV and Tivo (yes, those are hardware based DVRs, but it beat them too!).  I know that there are more DVR software packages out there now, so I can’t say for sure that it’s better than they are, but it has got to be close.

Unfortunately, Google bought them about two years ago, so there’s no more software updates, support or forthcoming hardware…  They have left the forums open, thankfully, so there is peer-to-peer support, and you can still get TV Guide info auto-downloaded.

Initially, I expected this to mean that GoogleTV would quickly integrate SageTV’s recording engine, making GoogleTV the best DVR out there.  That has yet to happen, though.

Since about 6 months after the buy-out, I’ve been on a quest to find a replacement for SageTV.  My software still works, SageTV still records shows, but it’s the hardware that’s the issue.  I have two HD200 boxes, and if either of them dies, it will be difficult (and/or expensive) to get a replacement.  I also have been having problems with recordings (antenna and tree related, I believe).

Then something strange happened…  I’m not even sure when it happened, but I think I noticed it within the last 6 months.  I realized that we rarely watched anything recorded by SageTV anymore.  For the most part, I download or stream the shows we watch now.  There are some PBS shows that the kids still watch on SageTV, and they still use to it watch TV shows that I’ve ripped, etc. but my wife and I aren’t using it to record the regular shows we enjoy watching anymore.

The result is that I rarely even switch to the HDMI input where my SageTV box is attached.  Just about anything I’ve wanted to watch during the last month or so can be had on the AppleTV, either direct streaming from Apple, NetFlix, via the Hulu plugin in XBMC, or streamed locally from my NAS.  Most of my recent local streaming has been through Plex, via PlexConnect…

Plex reads some directories on my NAS every so often, downloads meta-data about the shows, tracks the watched status, etc.  It transcodes the content to play on whatever device you have, so if you are on an iPhone, AppleTV, or whatever, it will send it down in a format that the hardware can natively play.  Mine is configured to also communicate with my SageTV server, so if I do record something, Plex learns about it and I can watch it with a Plex client.

My favorite Plex client is called PlexConnect.  It’s not an app that runs on your AppleTV, but it is an amazingly good “hack”.  Essentially, it hi-jacks the AppleTV’s built-in Trailers application (who really uses that anyhow?) to show your Plex content.  To put it simply, PlexConnect pretends to be the Apple Trailers server.  It formats everything for the Trailers app the way the app expects to receive content from Apple, but PlexConnect is talking to your local Plex server to figure out what content to show…   And I’m not talking about some bare-bones listing of files with a “Play” option.  PlexConnect looks like a full-featured Plex client.  It shows DVD cover-style images, screenshots of individual episodes, fan art across the background.   As a programmer myself, I can’t say enough how impressive this is to me.  Not the fact that it is possible, but the fact that they’ve written that translation layer so the Trailers app is doing their bidding so well.

Anyhow, with all of the above, the AppleTV has become my Go-To device for watching content.

August 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm Leave a comment


Calendar

August 2013
S M T W T F S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Posts by Month

Posts by Category