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April 29, 08
Setting up multiple RSS streams in Nucleus
As if one blog weren't enough for this crazy pianist, eh?
With the launch of my new blog, The Prosperous Musician
, i wanted to set up a new RSS (really simple syndication) feed to make it easier for folks to either subscribe to updates by email, or to insert the feed into their favorite blog reader (i'm currently using iGoogle.com
). Nucleus CMS
, my current blog content management system of choice, has been a wonderfully robust system overall - i've particularly enjoyed its capability to create and manage multiple blogs simultaneously (see: www.visualrecital.com
). As for my RSS feeds, i've been a longtime user of Feedburner
, but aside from my main blog here, i never got around to figuring out how to correctly set up multiple RSS feeds.
Fortunately, the support forums at Nucleus
came to the rescue, as they almost always do - turns out i needed to submit the following tag to differentiate the separate blogs:
Problem was, where in the world could i find - or create - the blogid=#?
Turns out, Nucleus already provides blog id's - you just have to know where to find them:
By hovering your mouse over the little globe thingy next to each blog name, the tip should pop up giving you the blogid followed by a number - THAT'S the tag you need to use to identify the unique feed. Without the blogid, i assume blog #1 will get the nod for the default feed.
In the case of TheProsperousMusician.com
, the correct blog feed is as follows:
Fortunately, for those of you using free online blogging services like Wordpress.com or Blogger.com, the setup for your Feedburner feeds isn't nearly so aggravating, so i hope this little bit of under-the-hood techno-jargon doesn't scare you from setting up your own blogs!
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April 28, 08
April 26, 08
Kiyosaki vs. Ramsey: Good and Bad Debt
i find myself coming to a strange financial crossroads. i and my family feel a deep sense of gratitude towards Dave Ramsey and his approach to bringing personal budgets under control and eliminating debt. Thanks to his techniques, we were able to pay off over $55,000 in personal debts in only 9 months - in the following 4 months, we managed to come up with a 6 month emergency fund and have now started on a serious investment plan to fund our boys' college and pay off the rest of our house mortgage in (hopefully) one or two years. Another result of having had such an intense fiscal focus over the past year has been a new appetite for financial literature. i found myself gravitating towards Phil Town's "Rule #1" book on "safe" stock market investing, rolling my eyes with stuff by Suze Orman ("rip the dollar bill and feel the pain"..."tell yourself over and over, 'I am rich and wealthy beyond my wildest dreams'"...oh brother...), and slogging through several other books like "Stock Investing for Dummies", Jim Cramer's "Real Money" (scaaaaarry risky stuff...), Andrew Tobias' "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need" (GREAT book in an affably readable style), and a pile of other books on Mutual Funds that i have yet to get to.
One book on loan from a friend was "Cashflow Quadrant: Rich Dad's Guide to Financial Freedom" by Robert Kiyosaki. i had heard Dave Ramsey mentioning Kiyosaki's first book, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" several times on his radio show as a "must read", so naturally my curiosity was piqued.
Several things struck me about both the book and its author:
- Robert Kiyosaki comes from a 4th generation Japanese background; being a second generation Korean myself, i felt an immediate connection to several cultural aspects he describes being an Asian in an American setting
- His depiction of his real father being the consummate professional, having graduated with advanced degrees and employed in the highest echelons as an educator, working harder and harder for an increasing salary (and increasing debt load), while ending up with less and less time for his family and virtually nothing financially at the end of his life. This sounds too much like the life track i'm currently on...
- His clear depiction of the 4 quadrants of cashflow: on the left side, E for Employee and S for self-employed; on the right side, B for Business and I for Investor. Again, this makes a lot of sense, and i find myself identifying with both the E and particularly the S quadrants ("S" folk are perfectionists, tending to do everything themselves and having difficulty delegating their work to others)
- The idea of "getting your money to work for you, instead of you for your money" sounds awfully gimmicky at first - but it starts to make a lot of sense when you see how a combined portfolio of real estate, business startups, stocks and bonds and even royalties for intellectual properties can actually work passively to bring income - "cashflow", being the operative word throughout Kiyosaki's books. Financial freedom is defined as coming to the point where your passive income brings in more money than your expenses.
- Kiyosaki's definition of an "asset" is pretty radical - the most stunning example is his assertion that a personal home is NOT an asset, but actually a liability. Assets are supposed to be those investments that have a positive cashflow, putting money INTO your pocket, not taking them out (any homeowner will tell you that bills, property taxes, repairs all siphon out money on a regular basis). Waiting for an investment to appreciate in value is akin to gambling, according to Kiyosaki.
Dave Ramsey also points to what he calls "the pinnacle point" in his book, "The Total Money Makeover". That point gets achieved when the interest from your mutual funds exceeds your expenses. The problem is, particularly in light of today's stock market volatility, mutual funds go up and down - there's a long term record of steady growth, but the wild swings get awfully hard to stomach when you see your OWN money lurching up and down for the ride. For example, close inspection of my TIAA-CREF retirement account revealed that it lost $7000 for the first quarter this year. That sucks.
Dave eschews ALL forms of debt and regularly proclaims his own FICO score to be "0" because he hasn't borrowed money for 20 years. All his investments are done in cash with the "100% down" plan (ie, no payments). Kiyosaki, on the other hand, makes a compelling case for leveraging the power of OPM (other people's money) and OPT (other people's time) to actually make debt work for you by increasing passive cashflow. Here's a simple example from Kiyosaki's book, "Rich Dad's Prophecy":
- Putting 20% down on a $100,000 property (=$20,000), borrowing $80,000 to mortgage the difference and pulling in $200 of rental income per month after expenses would net a ROI (Return On Investment) of 12% ($200 x 12 - $2,400) - roughly equal to Dave Ramsey's Mutual Fund average
- Putting only 10% down ($10,000) with the same example above, coming up with a reduced monthly income of $130, the ROI actually INCREASES the net return on the $10,000 investment to 15%
Of course, theory always looks great on paper and has a funny way of turning out a lot worse in real life...i'm not about to take a financial sky dive and become a high rolling real estate investor overnight, but i have to confess that Kiyosaki's books are inspiring me to read up more on exploring passive forms of income from real estate, businesses, and other income-generating assets. i like his example of comparing the risk of investing to the risk of driving a car - there's always risk every time you drive, but if you take lessons and practice, you simply become a better driver over time. My plan in the meantime is to try to pay off the house, continue monthly investments with mutual funds, and lots and lots of reading up on investment/business "how-to's". Who knows? i may end up creating another blog specifically dealing with "Money for Musicians"...
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April 24, 08
April 23, 08
Dave Ramsey has a neat commission system for kids, where instead of a regular allowance, they're only given money for assigned chores and taught to divide their money into three envelopes labeled "Spend", "Save", and "Give". In fact, we received another copy of the Dave Ramsey "Financial Peace Jr." kit as part of a prize package for having our debt-free video aired on Dave Ramsey's TV show. The kit includes 2 dry marker magnetic boards for listing jobs and tracking commissions, 2 sets of durable labeled envelopes, a change purse, calculator, and instructional CD.
Timmy has been fanatic about tracking all his jobs, and as a result he's consistently racked up high commissions each week. Eric, on the other hand, really could care less and only fills in his chart sporadically and under duress. He just doesn't share the same excitement about seeing his money grow as Timmy does, so it's been hard to find fiscal incentives to help him keep up with his assigned chores.
Eric had been half-heartedly mentioning that he wanted to start saving up for a Nintendo Wii video game system, but i chalked this up to wishful thinking given the game console's incredible popularity and scarcity in stores. Jeff, our financial planner, had just recounted his own Wii-purchase adventure, having snatched up the last unit after months of searching and pestering his local video game store. This past Saturday on the way to Tae-kwon-do lessons, Eric asked to stop by a Game Stop store to see if there was something he could purchase with some gift cards he had received as birthday presents. On a whim, i asked the store clerk if they had any Wii game consoles in stock, not really expecting there to be any. He asked me to wait a moment while he checked the back stock room. Lo and behold, he actually came back out with a unit, one of the last two they had left. Two? Since last Tuesday? The clerk was equally incredulous - the only explanation he could think of was that lately customers had become so accustomed to being told that nothing was available that they had pretty much given up asking. Not wanting to let opportunity slip away, i immediately texted Kyungmi and got her permission to buy it.
Lest y'all think i'm succumbing to a poor example of instant gratification for my kids, i should explain the stipulations placed on our yet-unopened Wii:
1. No one would be able to open the game system until it was completely paid for - i just guaranteed that there would be an actual reward for hard work instead of the additional frustration of hunting down scarce inventory.
2. The power of incentive just shot up exponentially for the kids! New jobs have been created for the boys to ensure that they would be able to apply the rate of savings needed to enjoy the Wii sometime before the age of retirement...
Eric immediately went to work vacuuming the minivan, practicing his piano and trombone, and even giving trombone lessons to Timmy. Additional jobs include putting out the trash, weekly cleanups of the basement playroom, back massages for Dad (he's got the best feet for walking up and down my spine), etc.
Kyungmi and i agreed to allow the boys to dip into $100 of their bank savings and $70 of their current "Spend" envelope accumulations. If Eric and Timmy perform all their jobs weekly, they should be able to take care of the remaining balance of $300 within about 6 weeks or less ($250 for the game console + $60 for the additional controllers - Eric's gift cards brought the balance down after taxes to $300). Paul has also agreed to help out with some of his commission earnings, so that might cut the time period even faster.
Amazing to see how well the power of Wii-ncetives works!
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April 22, 08
April 21, 08
Putting a big financial foot forward
i can't believe Kyungmi and i were able to sock away a 6 month emergency fund in only 4 months! Of course, we had a lot of help from Kyungmi now being a full partner in her medical practice and the hefty bonuses the doctors receive quarterly - also, after having switched over to term life insurance and closing out our whole life policy, we finally received a nice big check from the WLP's accumulated 'savings'. With no consumer debts leaking funds from our savings bucket, it's been incredibly exciting to watch all that money grow so quickly!
Taking advantage of the ELP (Endorsed Local Provider) program offered by Dave Ramsey, we hooked up with Jeff, a financial planner from Merrill Lynch to start laying out an investment strategy. With Paul being only 4 years away from college, we needed to start aggressively addressing that oncoming train. We also wanted to supplement our current retirement plans with some mutual funds and find ways to keep our tax burdens as low as possible.
Here's what we came up with:
1. Jeff suggested keeping only $10K in cash for our emergency fund ('only $10K'...wow, only a few short months ago it seemed impossible to keep $1,000 intact in our savings account!) and putting the rest into tax-free municipal bonds. The bond fund would still enjoy debit card and check writing access, but of course with the added benefit of tax-free interest growth.
2. We set up some aggressive 529 plans for the boys, with Paul receiving the bulk of the initial setup funds. The nice thing about these 529's is the fact that unused portions can be passed down to the other boys and eventually left to create a perpetual education trust to benefit our grandkids - and beyond!
3. The remainder will be put into taxable mutual funds. If i understood correctly, our income bracket doesn't allow us to enjoy the tax-deferred benefits of Roth IRA's - Kyungmi and i are both maxing out our respective employee retirement contributions. Dave Ramsey recommends a diversified mutual fund portfolio with the following fund groups: Growth, Growth & Income, Aggressive Growth, and International. We're putting a heavier emphasis on the aggressive growth and international for now and will adjust the ratios as needed while we keep an eye on the market (and get a hang of all this newfangled investing stuff).
I've been reading and hearing about other financial gurus who pooh-pooh mutual funds as being too plain-jane vanilla and even riskier than individually picking out stocks, but until i getter a better grasp on how to invest it seems that monthly deposits into mutual funds are better than sitting around with money accruing lousy savings-account interest.
Man, it was scary writing out those checks, bigger than any i've ever written in my life - but what a thrill to know that we were in essence paying ourselves instead of a credit card company! In some ways, we're back to living on a tight budget, given the monthly contributions we're now committed to. i think i now understand what Robert Kiyosaki means when he refers to "paying yourself first" - the fiscal pressure of putting money away for yourself first forces you to exercise your financial IQ muscles to find new ways to make money to cover any shortfalls.
More to come as we learn about the world of investing...
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April 17, 08
April 15, 08
April has been quit a month of Tae-kwon-do milestones for the Sungs. About 2 weeks ago, Paul, Eric, and i had our "graduation" and advanced in rank to High Yellow Belt.
The subsequent week saw us entering our first tournament. Eric was extremely reluctant at first, but ended up winning a first place trophy for his Chun-Ji pattern! Paul in turn won three first prizes, for weapon form, Chun-Ji pattern, and sparring. Even ol' Dad himself came home with a 1st place trophy for his pattern (accompanied with some excellent advice from the judging master to pay more attention to my footwork) - all in all, a terrific tournament system where everyone is guaranteed to come home with a prize and heaps of encouragement!
The best prize for "most dramatic transformation" has to go to Timmy, who was initially terrified to try Tae-Kwon-Do; i had to drag him to his first class last Friday with him clinging to my leg for the first half. By the end, he was laughing, jumping, kicking and punching with hearty "kiyaps" like everyone else - he wouldn't take off the uniform once he got home!
Saturday's class saw him standing all by himself and having a wonderful time. What a fantastic confidence booster for the kids! Now if only i could get my sit-up count past 40...
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April 01, 08
When all else fails...use the Force
My last week temping with the Philadelphia Orchestra had me playing the piano and celeste parts for Ginastera's "Popul Vuh", a symphonic color piece that had actually been commissioned by the P.O. 30 years prior and just now "returning home" to receive its premiere performance in Philadelphia. The problem with unknown or newer works is that it's much harder to get scores or recordings ahead of time to help prepare - Leonard Slatkin had recorded this work with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, but it's not out on iTunes or Amazon MP3 yet, and the only "hard copy" a friend of mine found was being offered used at a ridiculous $75 price tag!
Crazy rhythms, poly-metric tacets galore, un-metered passagework...this piece looked to be a logistical nightmare! My initial strategy was to use all the tech i had at my disposal to record the rehearsals so that at least i could get a better aural understanding of the work. I had my nano iPod fitted with my MicroMemo Digital Audio Microphone, as well as my Samson C01U USB condenser microphone plugged in to my tablet pc recording into Audacity...the micro recording studio was ready to go!
That is...until the glare of the Orchestra's assistant personnel manager caught sight of my setup and the threat of possible copyright infringement had me dismantling my equipment.
A tech musician being forced to resort to reading - gasp - paper music? Counting measures with fingers? Writing cues with (shudder) - pencils?? The horror, the horror...it felt a lot like the final battle scene in "Star Wars" where Luke Skywalker loses his R2-D2 astromech droid and abandons his targeting computer while being mentored by Obi-Wan Kenobi to "use the force" to make the shot...
Turns out that "Obi-Wan Kenobi" in this case was Maestro Leonard Slatkin, who did a phenomenal job of explaining the work and making the whole piece come together effortlessly. I guess i learned to get better at counting fingers and toes - many thanks to Patty's comments for helping me to decipher the number cues within tacet bars indicating various instrument entrances (that helped keep me on track and verify that my finger counts were lining up correctly).
Thanks to paper, pencil, and a good set of fingers, toes and ears, i guess enough of the "Force" was with me to get through this final week of orchestral playing!
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