Thursday, September 11, 2014

Update on VOIP solution - Version 100,000

A while back OBI and Google Voice had a messy separation. Now they are happily remarried.

Setup takes about 5 minutes.

All you need is this $38 puppy: and an old school land-line phone to get this to work. (We use

Going directly through Google Voice is better than paying a third party like Callcentric, which I had been doing.

Happy VOIPing.

Update - I guess you can't do E911 with two accounts linked up. Tiffany and I each use one of the two available slots, so none is available for E911 configuration. If this is a deal-breaker, then the Callcentric approach might still be best.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I found the perfect voip solution for the death of OBI/google voice!!!

So many of you know that I like voice over IP (VOIP) since it enables free/cheap calling ( The OBI100 device + google accounts ='d free calling for the past several years. However, this is about to expire in mid May, leaving those with OBI devices left to figure out what to do with their devices.

After a few hours, I came up with the perfect solution: CALLCENTRIC ( Pay attention to ordering below when signing up for Callcentric, which seems to matter.
  • First, get a free inbound number from callcentric:
    • The number has to be from NY, but it doesn't matter at all. I chose an (845) area code number: $0/month.
    • During the process it will ask you if you want to pay $1.50/month for E911 services. Say no by indicating you live outside of US/Canada.
  • However, you need to make 1 minute of calls per 90 days to not get deactivated.
    • What does this mean? I think you need to also add Callcentric's pay-per-minute feature to your account. The outbound rate is $0.02/minute. So you can conceivably have phone for $0.08/year (1 one-minute call per quarter) for unlimited inbound calls and unlimited outbound calls if you initiate them through the GV web interface. When you sign up for prepaid it asks you to fund $5 for an initial funding.
  • This area code (845) number can be used for forwarding in both my wife and my GV account, so there is no need to get two accounts. However, if you want distinctive rings, like the OBI did, you need to create two separate callcentric accounts using the process above. I just finished it and I now have the distinctive rings like I had with OBI. If that isn't important to you, then don't waste your time with that.
  • Outbound CallerID spoofing if dailing directly from phone (at a cost of $0.02/minute:
  • Instructions on configuration here:
    • Pay particular attention to the factory reset instructions. I skipped this step and it cost me 2 hours of frustration.
  • Add this free android app (or $3 apple app) to initiate free outbound calls from your smart phone while at home (which will cause your voip phone to ring, just like the CALL button on does):
  • You'll be assigned two callcentric numbers. The 777 one is what you'll use when configuring your OBI device. The 845 number is the one you'll use for forwarding within Google Voice.
  • Callcentric allows for free(ish) international calling through your 777 number by using this link:
Another option is Vestalink, which many people like. However, I tried them tonight (as part of their free trial) and the lag was HORRIFIC. I'm talking about a 1-1.5 second delay. Callcentric was much better. If not for the lag, I would have gone with Vestalink. However, it drove me to Callcentric, and I love it.
  • is seamless and only $40/year. They have a 30 day free trial. Apparently, many others are very happy with the service.

*** Update #1 ****

I love the configuration. I think I prefer it to the old GV/OBI setup. Callcentric is fantastic. The smart phone apps make free outbound calling a breeze. If not for Callcentric's lack of SMS support, I'd port over to them today. Callcentric even supports "Call Hunting" which redirects rings to other numbers.

I ended up signing up for E911 on the primary line (not the second line which requires **2 to dial out). It was super easy to do.

*** Update #2 ****

We got a few unwanted "Direct IP" calls with the new configuration. This can be remedied by going to the IP address of the OBI100, then navigating to:

(Voice Services)SP1 Service->X_InboundCallRoute:

Make the following change:
{ph}                 [before]
{>17771234567:ph}  [after adding protection from SIP scanners]

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to pay tithing with stocks (and why you should)

We've paid tithing with stocks for the past several years. It's awesome. I'll never go back to the traditional way of doing it. I thought I'd share how we do it, along with some general thoughts on investing.

Here's how I'd prioritize my investments over the course of the year:
  • Contribute up to 401(k) matching limit
    • My former employer matched 75% of my contributions on the first 8% of my contributions, so I'd have to be an idiot to turn down free money (like I did when I was a lowly intern....I was an idiot!)
  • Then max out your Roth IRA for both spouses (currently $5.5k/year per person, or $11k per couple)
    • If you have a high marginal tax rate, it might make sense to do a traditional IRA instead, but I really love the flexibility of the Roth; particularly the ability to touch the principal without penalty.
  • If you're in a high tax rate, max out the 401(k) (current contribution limits are $17,500 / year)
  • Think about funding a 529 account, which is structured similarly to a Roth, but it's for education purposes.
  • Invest the rest in taxable accounts
    • If the market goes up, pay tithing with the stocks. Don't realize the gain (meaning sell the stock). Simply transfer the stock to the church. Instructions on how to transfer the stocks are found here:
      • If you don't itemize your taxes, it's still a sweet gig. However, if you do itemize, this is a really sweet gig. Not only do you avoid the taxes on the investment gain, but you actually get a tax break on the investment gains as you donate. For every $1 in gains you donate, you get a $1 tax deduction, and hence pay $1*(your marginal tax rate) less in taxes if you itemize.
    • If the market goes down, sell the stocks to realize the capital loss. This loss is deductible from your taxable income (, so the loss only costs you LOSS*(1-marginal tax rate). Of course you still lose money in a down market, but it's less painful than realizing the full amount. Once you realize the loss (i.e. sell a stock which has gone down in price), you can do what you want with the money. Pay tithing with the cash or reinvest the money by purchasing shares again (at a lower cost basis.....or the purchase price which is used when computing the tax liability........

      taxes owed = investing tax rate * number of shares * (price when selling - price when purchased)

      number of shares * (price when selling - price when purchased) is referred to as the capital gain. ). 
    • Besides the tax benefits of this approach, you save brokerage commission fees, which is nice. But if you invest in no-load mutual funds, like I do at Vanguard, these trade commission free anyway, so I guess it's a moot point.
      • Oh yeah....if you donate stocks and have to realize any capital gains (or losses), then filing taxes is simpler. Turbotax requires you to pay more money to deal with capital gains/losses. However, TaxAct does's included in the basic (free) TaxAct version. I think this is sufficient to push me to TaxAct from here on out. (Though as a student I qualify for turbotaxes low income edition ( which handles this nicely without any fees).
So that's my two cents on paying tithing with stocks. It's easy.

[So what should you be investing in? Vanguard's 2040 Target Retirement Fund (or equivalent from competing brokerage). That's it. Select the year of the retirement fund to match your projected retirement year. If you want to retire in 2030, chose the Target Retirement 2030 fund..]

So the simple mathematics of regular saving, tax planning, minimizing investing costs, investing in a well-diversified and low-cost portfolio (achieved by the single fund mentioned above), and compound interest will make these modest annual contributions balloon into a fortune over time.

And how do you produce these elusive savings? Contrary to popular belief, the above strategies are not only attainable to those making over $100k/year. I apply these principals while on a lowly grad school stipend, and we pack it away. We simply chose to live differently than 99% of the US by spending money strategically (frugally). Think I'm pulling your tail? here's the thoughts of a dude who retired at 30 by applying the same simple math:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Remember when blogs were cool?......

So remember about 5-10 years ago when blogs were cool? Everyone had them. Google Reader was alive and strong so that I could opt in to whatever blogs I wanted. Life was good.....

Then I apparently got really old and out of touch with reality. Now it's 2014 and blogs are officially dead. Apparently the world has migrated to facebook, leaving me in the dust.

I log on to facebook about once a year (for some unknown reason). After wading through hundreds of friend requests (I'm so popular), like one I got today from my wife's cousin's dog's groomer's boyfriend's grandpa (Ok then; maybe I'm not so popular), I arrive at something that looks like vomit (is this called my home screen?). It's a hodge podge of random collections of crap from people that I said hi to once while in college. When I scroll down to someone that I actually know, it's a link to a video about a cat and a squirrel playing with one another. (Under normal circumstances I wouldn't appreciate the cuteness of this video, but I do given that I watched our neighbor's cat kill a squirrel as I watched general conference last October and hide it in our neighbors bush right next to her front door. I wonder if my neighbor's house smelled bad as it decomposed. Wow. Life is so fragile. One moment you're a bushy tailed squirrel enjoying a nice fall afternoon and the next minute you're hanging lifeless from Guss-Guss' mouth.) Oh, and there are super unflattering pictures of me that someone has "tagged" me in. If I cared, I'd spend 5 seconds googling the solution to find an answer on how to remove them, but I don't want to. It's better that way.

So why am I rambling?

I challenge both readers of this blog (my mom and Tiff's mom) to start a blogging revitalization revolution! Let's bring back blogging like it's 2007!

I know what you're thinking. Blogging is so onerous (you have to go to blogger, click on a new post, write things, then click the publish button). Facebooking is so easy. All you need to do to facebook is post a link to a picture of a cat and a squirrel playing. To blog, you have to sit down and type because deep down you understood that cats and squirrels don't necessarily belong on blogs.

I've been thinking, and I've come up with a proposal for the world:

From henceforth I decree the following to be appropriate uses of technology:
Facebook: Videos of cats wrestling squirrels and pictures of what you ate for dinner tonight
Blogs: Pictures of your family and updates of your family and thoughts you have on life that consist of more than a few words

The benefits to me of this approach:

  • I get to see what's happening in the lives of people I care about.
  • I don't need to get sucked into the world of time-wasting (but entertaining) cat wrestling squirrel videos to get to the meat.
  • The quality of the content that I read will probably improve.
I think many people will benefit similarly.

Who is on board with this approach? (Crickets chirping).

I know what you're thinking. Google reader died. It's a sign of the times Brian, just get over it. Blogs are so 2007...

But we mustn't give up. It's in the hour of our greatest adversity where the opportunity for greatness arises. Let us press onward!

So how do we do it?

Digg Reader is what I use to read blogs. I'm happy with it. The only problem is that it doesn't have any search functionality. I read an article a month or two back that I tried to find again, and it was hopeless.

Feedly is what most people use. I dropped it initially but may go back to it due to its search capabilities.

What about creepos who you don't want looking at pictures of your children?
  • Put pictures on a private blog.
But RSS (i.e. the whole ) doesn't work with private blogs?!?!
  • Create a mirror blog that's public and link to private blog posts from it. Then the RSS magic does it's thing. You control who has access to your private blog.
So there we go. One man's journey to avoid squirrel videos and become informed of people I like.

(Don't forget to "share" and "like" this on Facebook, "+1" this on Google+ (I can't write the words Google+ without laughing out loud), and "tweet" it on Twitter #brian'sbloggingrevitalizationrevolution !!!!! Alternatively, you can link to it on your blog that you haven't touched since your 10 year old was born!!! )

Megan is 7!

A heartwarming trip to COSI