Categories
Travel

Have you tried a home exchange?

In October my family of four flew to Oregon for free (with credit card points) and stayed for a week in a million dollar house for $150. And an Oregonian family stayed in our house for the same.

We signed up for HomeExchange this summer, a site that facilitates trading homes with like-minded people looking for cheaper, authentic, unique experiences. Within days of creating a profile and uploading some photos I was getting requests from, Denmark, France, Colombia, Mexico, California, and Oregon.

Look, Denton, Texas is a great place I’m happy to call home, but this is middle America with no forests, mountains, beaches, interesting architecture, or religious history. We do have a Chairy Orchard (someone’s yard with a bunch of chairs…).

So I wasn’t expecting many requests from places objectively more desirable. But people need to come to Denton for lots of reasons: house hunting, weddings, family gatherings, surgeries, or just one of many stops on a tour of America.

There are two options when exchanging homes:

  1. Reciprocal Exchange – a literal trade, staying at each other’s home during the same period.
  2. GuestPoints Exchange – pay a nightly rate with GuestPoints when someone is offering up their home during a period they won’t be using it.

Our first HomeExchange experience was with GuestPoints. When you sign up and complete a few tasks you earn points you can spend. We went to Galveston and stayed in a lovely house 2 blocks from the beach for free*.

*There is a $150 annual fee that covers cancellations and property damage, but there’s no limit to your number of exchanges.

Not only was the house that we stayed in perfect for us, but there were so many touches you don’t get with a hotel or Airbnb. Our host (who we only ever texted with), left us personally addressed toys and snacks for our kids and cookies & wine for mom and dad. Because you’re opening your home up for others there’s an added level of pride and care that’s certainly absent at hotels, and rare among rental homes.

Then came our reciprocal exchange with the Oregonian family. They also have two young kids, and so the week spent in each other’s homes was as good as an amusement park for kids who are always more excited by another kid’s toys. Their family was exploring DFW as a possible new residence. We were just in awe of the gorgeous city that is Bend, Oregon right at the start of Fall.

We have more exchanges lined up and look forward to a lifetime of trading our home in order to explore places we’d never have thought to seek out. There’s no education like traveling, and what better way to do it?

An unexpected pro of participating in home exchanges is that it motivates you to keep up with all those little home maintenance projects you otherwise put off. Paint touch-ups, fixing a sticking door, replacing the bathtub drain stop that leaks a little.

Want to swap houses for a week? Check out our house here. I’d love to answer any questions and share more about our experiences.

Categories
Uncategorized

Beautiful Art

Do you ever listen to a song, and while you’re immersed in its beauty you get a rush of this feeling that you wish your work could be as perfectly complex, composed, balanced, thoughtful, and poetic?

That thought overwhelms my senses.

I’m certainly influenced by my ability to make music. I’ve been singing, playing guitar and piano, and recording for more than 20 years. Naturally I want to emulate what I’m hearing in music. But the unique aspect is that I want to feel that same accomplishment with what I do in my day job.

I used to make websites and do all kinds of tangential things. Today I only do tangential things: organizing teams that do that work. When you’re a maker (of music or websites) the craft is at your fingertips. It’s in your control. With enough time and resources you could conceivably achieve a work of art in any medium.

In my role now it may still be possible to get there. Or maybe that’s a feeling you can only get being hands on with something. Or it could just be harder. Or it could just be harder for me. At least it’s what motivates me though, the ambition to orchestrate things to beautiful outcomes.

As for beautiful art that constantly gives me this feeling, Noah Gundersen…

Categories
Personal Finance

A savings planner that works

One of the most difficult things about budgeting your savings is knowing how much to put where and when. It’s hard enough to budget your everyday expenses, but then you have to figure out what to do with anything else you want to save.

Assume you’ve already used your savings to pay off any credit card debt, and assume your mortgage is “good debt” that you aren’t in a hurry to payoff. Where do you place your excess cash?

401k/403/b, IRA, Roth IRA, HSA, 529, index funds, stocks, crypto?

There are so many considerations: level of income, tax situation, kids (and age of kids), retirement goals and progress toward them, medical circumstances to name a handful.

Fortunately, Personal Capital has a savings planner tool that is the ultimate hand-hold, guiding you through how much you should (and can based on contribution limits) save where.

I use this tool frequently to ensure I’m on track with getting the most of out of my savings. It helps balance for risk by ensuring you have enough cash on hand for emergencies, then guiding you through putting your savings in the highest returning options first.

Screenshot of savings planner on Personal Capital
Categories
Data

COVID-19 Deaths Compared to All Deaths in the U.S.

This chart shows a few things:

  1. Gray bars are the actual number of recorded deaths in the U.S. for the given week.
    1. The gray area in the latter 8 weeks also represent actual deaths, but are significantly incomplete while death certificates are still being processed.
  2. Red bars are the actual number of recorded COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
    1. The red area in the latter 8 weeks also represent actual COVID-19 deaths, but are significantly incomplete while death certificates are still being processed.
  3. The orange line is percent of expected deaths – the number of deaths for all causes for this week in 2020 compared to the average number across the same week in 2017–2019.
    1. The orange dotted line is where the currently available percent of expected deaths is, but is significantly incomplete while death certificates are still being processed.

The raw data is available from the CDC. It’s been copied into this Google Sheet in order to produce this chart.

Number of deaths reported in this table are the total number of deaths received and coded as of the date of analysis, and do not represent all deaths that occurred in that period. Data during this period are incomplete because of the lag in time between when the death occurred and when the death certificate is completed, submitted to NCHS and processed for reporting purposes. This delay can range from 1 week to 8 weeks or more. Percent of expected deaths is the number of deaths for all causes for this week in 2020 compared to the average number across the same week in 2017–2019. Previous analyses of 2015–2016 provisional data completeness have found that completeness is lower in the first few weeks following the date of death (<25%), and then increases over time such that data are generally at least 75% complete within 8 weeks of when the death occurred.

CDC

Categories
Security

Seriously, banks? Obvious website security issues at major US banks

Of all the websites you visit you probably assume your bank’s is setting the security bar. Well…

Google publicly announced last year they would begin sunsetting SHA-1 support in Google Chrome, the green lock icon you’d expect to see on your bank’s website might start turning white, orange, or red depending on how out of date their security is.

Back in 2011 the CAB forum, an industry group of leading web browsers and certificate authorities working together to establish basic security requirements for SSL certificates, recommended that websites should start using SHA-2. In fact, the government published deprecation plans in 2011 to take effect in 2014: “SHA-1 shall not be used for digital signature generation after December 31, 2013.”

Insecure httpsSo you’d expect your bank to be privy to this information and waiting with bated breath to upgrade their security as soon as available. Unfortunately, the login form of all of these major banks fall short of very clear expectations:

  • bankofamerica.com
  • capitalone.com
  • ally.com
  • wellsfargo.com
  • usbank.com
  • citibank.com
  • hsbc.com

Google even warns users that, “The site is using outdated security settings that may prevent future versions of Chrome from being able to safely access it,” and, “Your connection to XYZ is encrypted with obsolete cryptography.”

This doesn’t mean they’re inherently insecure. Banks do have many layers of security and are held to a higher regulatory standard (in the US at least). But this is low hanging fruit, easy to implement, and is a public declaration of a commitment to security.

More reading

Categories
Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager dataLayer.get()

I wanted to use reuse data stored in our Google Tag Manager dataLayer variable and finally found an obscure slideshow reference on how to to actually do just that.

google_tag_manager["GTM-XXXX"].dataLayer.get('key');

If you’re using Google Tag Manager you’ll already have the var dataLayer = [{}]; setup on the page. You’re presumably using dataLayer.push() to populate it with data so now just use the get() function to call for the keys previously pushed.

Categories
WordPress

We’re HIRING TWO WEB DESIGNER/DEVELOPER positions

The Sr. Web Designer role will be a front-end and PHP developer heavy, WordPress experience necessary kind of job where you’ll work directly with WordPress VIP (http://vip.wordpress.com/) to build sites for our brands (Chrysler Capital, Maserati Capital, RoadLoans, Santander Consumer USA, and more) in addition to building our core websites where customers can pay their bills and dealers can view loan applications. http://www.santandercareers.com/job/sr-web-designer/

The Web Designer II position is more design and user experience related: designing whole websites, making mockups and prototypes, seeking to improve conversion rates, understanding analytics, content maintenance, etc. http://www.santandercareers.com/job/web-designer-ii/

Both positions are open to officing out of our Denton, TX Square location or our Downtown Dallas, TX location — both of which have plenty to offer in the way of restaurants, transportation, coffee shops, etc.

So if you know someone into design or web development, share this with them!

http://www.santandercareers.com/job/sr-web-designer/

http://www.santandercareers.com/job/web-designer-ii/

Categories
General

Is a Nest worth the money?

One year ago I bought a Nest thermostat. Out of the need to justify the $250 cost to my wife, I analyzed one year with and one year without the Nest. Below are my findings.

How to read this graphic:

  • Compared July 2011 thru July 2012 to July 2012 thru JUly 2013
  • I extracted the Kilowatt (KW) usage from each month
  • I used the mean from the average high and average low from each month then took the difference. So if the mean temperature in June 2013 was 91 and in 2012 it was 90 then the difference was “1”.
    • The temperature isn’t part of any equation. It’s just meant as an indicator of why the usage may have been different
  • The cost difference is based on the actual cost from month to month, so “$-81.75” means I paid that much less compared to the same month in the previous year.
  • The graphs speak for themselves. The values are less erratic in the Post Nest months … more predictable and less costly.

So I saved $326.58. Factor in the $250 cost, my actual one-year savings are $76.58 and every year after this will be pure savings.

Nest

Categories
WordPress

Local, Dev, Staging, Production WordPress Workflow

I just wanted to share real quickly (because I’m pretty stoked) that after months (really, years) of development I finally have what I consider a professional workflow for WordPress development.

Below is a graphical representation of what takes place. But it breaks down to this (with Git, but can easily be accomplished with SVN as well):

  1. Pull down the Github repository
  2. Develop locally at local.example.com
  3. Commit changes and push to Github
  4. Push to Beanstalk if you want changes immediately pushed to dev.example.com
  5. Merge master to production and push to Github and Beanstalk
  6. The production branch is automatically deployed to staging
  7. Manually deploy to production from within Beanstalk

Notes:

  • Local and Dev share a database (but don’t have to)
  • Staging and Production share a database (but staging only has read access)

WordPress Workflow

 

You can fork the Denton Bible Church Website even if you just want to use this is a framework for your project.This is built off of Hybrid Enterprise which is a cleaner repository that accomplishes the same thing.

Finally, and sadly, I am still looking for the best multi-environment database solution. Ideally, a fourth environment would be used to make content changes against the latest production branch code and then changes would be selectively deployed to the production database. WordPress 3.6 almost had a great solution.

Categories
Denton

Vote & Verb Denton

A dual announcement post…

#1: Vote Denton

A group of developers, designers, & Denton enthusiasts got together less than a month ago to discuss the problem of local voter turnout, lack of education, and lack of accessibility to that education. I’m a prime example. I’ve never voted in local elections and never paid much attention to it despite having a friend that is super involved in local politics for his district. Set aside our ambitions to help solve this problem, because the most exciting thing for me is that a group of Dentonites loosely tied together by friends of friends got together and turned around a project in a short amount of time.

Vote Denton logo

Vote Denton has a simple goal: make voting easier in Denton, TX. For now, you can get some basic information about local elections in addition to finding out what district you are located within. From there, you can go to the county’s website to find ouf if you’re actually registered to vote and registered in the right district — a feature we plan on rolling into Vote Denton soon.

#2: Verb Denton

I’ve had my hand in Vote Denton, Create Denton, Hear Denton (now defunct), and I see all sorts of “{Verb} Denton” sites out there. I brought a lot of them together under one roof as a sort of starting point to get connected and to Verb Denton.

Verb Denton logo and tagline

#3: It’s all open source

Both of these projects and be found on Github, are publicly accessibly and anyone can contribute. Openness & collaboration makes these services better.