Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Smart Home Adventures: The Chamberlain Smart Garage Door Opener With MyQ Bridge


Here's a first world problem: Our garage door opener was old. The opener itself worked fine - though it was kind of loud - but most importantly, most of the controls didn't work. For example, I didn't know the keypad's code and couldn't figure out a way to reset it due to a lack of online instructions (and the previous owner didn't know the code either). Plus, our car remotes worked sporadically at best.

So you can image the HEART ACHE when we would go for a bike ride. We'd open the door pushing the inside button next to the kitchen entrance. Then we'd take our bikes out and leave them in the driveway. Then we'd walk back into the garage, push the button, and walk ALL THE WAY AROUND to the main entrance to get to our lonely bikes. Such a first world problem!

OK, so the justification for getting a new garage door opener was a little flimsy. But let's be honest, besides lights automatically turning on, what's the other smart home item you ALWAYS see in concept videos? Garage doors. That's what. And if you're on a quest to have the smartest home on the block, that means you NEED a smart garage door opener.

This was actually an update we wanted to make to our home right away. However, my main criteria for "smart" is that it needs to include Apple's HomeKit and work with Siri. Despite garage door openers being listed on Apple's website since the intro of HomeKit, it took until this summer for a manufacture, Chamberlain, to actually sell a product.

You could buy a smart garage door opener for a while, but all of them used their own app. Then Garagio, came out with a slick app and a lot of integrations included Amazon's Echo and IFTTT, but not HomeKit.

Then Chamberlain promised they would come out with a HomeKit enabled opener. Then they showed a concept of it during CES in January and promised it would be released this summer. Then on August 30th (way to cut it close guys!) they released it.

Chamberlain Smart Garage Door Opener With MyQ Bridge

You buy one of their wifi enabled openers plus a MyQ Home Bridge (if you don't need HomeKit, you don't need the bridge).

Install the opener by following the instructions. I didn't find it difficult, but I did need to make sure to take my time since order seemed to matter. Once that's up and running, plug the bridge into power, follow the instructions to connect to your home network, and you're done. That part was shockingly easy.

Here's what the bridge looks like:


Here's the garage door in action using Siri:

Super cool, right? Elinor loves it, which is awesome.


Other features I like

I like that there's a sensor on the indoor button which turns the light on automatically when I open the kitchen door. Apparently this is a standard feature now, but it's new and amazing to me.


I ended up getting their super quiet belt drive (because that was the only option at Home Depot) and it's amazingly quiet! I highly recommend this upgrade. Now that I've experienced it, I would specifically seek this out.


The app is fine. You open it and there's a picture of your door. Tap it, and your door opens. There's a companion Apple Watch app, but we'll use Siri and the keypad/buttons 99% of the time. Being able to see the history is interesting, though I'm not totally sure when I'll want that.


I like being able to see if my door is open when I'm not in the garage (the classic situation is laying in bed and wondering if you shut the garage door). I also set a schedule to automatically close the door at 11pm just in case it's still open. And included it when I set the "Good Night" scene.

So that's cool.

Do You Need a Smart Garage Door Opener?

No, but it's genuinely fun, especially if you have a smart watch. I like riding my bike home and telling Siri to open the garage door. Could I simply enter the keypad code? Sure. And if I'm honest, we probably wouldn't have upgraded if our keypad still worked.

If you're getting a new garage door opener anyways, I'd at least get a wifi enabled one. You don't have to use it, but having the option is really nice. Plus, I suspect that integrations with smart hubs like Amazon's Echo, Google Home, and HomeKit will continue to get better and having wifi will enable most of them.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

How a Laughing Baby Brings Glory To God


I believe in God.

I believe he created everything: the cosmos, earth, plants, animals, etc.

It's through that creation we know God exists and created us. In Romans 1:19-20, Paul writes:
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."
I also believe that God created us to bring glory to himself. See the following verses (emphasis mine):

  • "bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6b-7)
  • And one [angle] called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
  • "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." (Psalm 19:1)

Given that we were created for God's glory, it helps me let go of expectations for my life, release feelings of entitlement and accept certain inequalities in life. Avoiding hot topic examples... The point is that it's not about us. It's not about making everyone happy and attaining our own self-actualization. It's about bringing glory to God.

But I do question if this world... this life... is really the BEST way to bring Glory to God. I mean, I get the intellectual argument that glory is maximized when people make the choice to love you (and inherently some people have to choose NOT to love you).

But really? This was the best option?

And then Jessi capture this moment on video:


How awesome is that?!

It's moments like this that I'm reminded why God created us. I smile, feel pride, get excited, laugh as well. Could you image how much more magnified that must be for God?

Sure, there are moments when he shakes his head at us...


But overall, he must feel an incalculable amount of pride and joy over his creation. He must genuinely enjoy watching, and helping, us grow and learn. I do with my own kids - and I didn't even create them. Imagine that for all people, all things... Wow.

Thinking about it... perhaps this creation is a great way to bring glory to himself. :)

Thursday, June 08, 2017

How I lost 18 Pounds in 37 Days



I'm training for a Tough Mudder next weekend. A Tough Mudder is a 10 mile run with 20 obstacles in your way. It's a combination of cardio, strength, fear factor, and group effort. I'm excited and nervous. My training goals are simple: run 10 miles non-stop, do 40 push-ups, and weigh 165lbs. That would put me in enough shape to enjoy the event. Here's a trailer for the event:


So, I started running semi-regularly in the middle of April. My basic training method is two short runs in the middle of the week (3-4 miles) and a progressively longer run on the weekend (add 1 mile each week). Here's how I did:



Despite starting to run regularly, my weight continued to go up! So being a data person, I started tracking my calories (via MyFitnessPal) in addition to my weight (via a Withings Scale) and my motion (via Apple Watch). Here are the results (all the time periods line up):







Some observations:

  • I hit my goal of 165 lbs and running 10 miles non-stop! (I can also do 40 push-ups) I am very happy I won't be carrying those extra 18 pounds with me over giant walls.
  • The day I started tracking my weight, my weight started falling. That's how my body's built. I hated it when playing football, but now it's good.
  • Despite regularly increasing my miles, my peak calories burned stayed about the same. In other words, I "made up for it" the rest of the day by not moving as much.
  • There are days when I don't eat a lot. For example, yesterday I skipped breakfast and lunch; not on purpose, it just happens sometimes. MyFitnessPal yells at my when that happens.
  • My average weight loss has been 0.46 lbs per day, but can swing as much as 3 lbs each day! I'll be honest, this can be a little bit of an emotional roller coaster.

So? How did I lose 18 pounds in 37 days? I ran a bunch and ate less. But there's more behind it.

The Science

Science tells us that if you spend more calories than you consume, you'll lose weight. Now, how fast you lose weight and how much is muscle vs fat depends on the type of food you eat, how big the calorie deficit is, and the type of movement you do (strength vs cardio vs nothing).

As a general eating rule: eat/drink almost zero sugar, eat less carbs (breads & fruit), and watch your dairy. Protein and fats (ironically) are good for you because your body stores that energy differently. Whole foods are your friend. If you want to lose weight fast, good examples are the Slow Carb diet and Keto diet. I'm not following either of them strictly, but staying close to the principals.

As for exercise: try to incorporate movement into your day and strain yourself regularly to remind your body you need your muscles. If you can, ride your bike, stand at your desk, and walk places. You actually don't need to train for a marathon. According to FiveThirtyEight, the 5K, not the marathon, is the ideal race. The trick is to push yourself for speed; to exhaustion, and be sore when you're done. You can do this in as little as 4-7 minutes a day. Seriously. You also don't need a gym. For me, I find I need some sort of external motivation - like training for a Tough Mudder - to get me moving.

The Statistics

That's the science, which I know enough about to be dangerous. But statistics is my jam... and since I had the data... :)

I created a regression model to see which factor: Food, Motion or Runs, correlated the best. In other words, do I just need to watch what I eat? Can I make sure to hit a move goal by the end of the day? Or do I need some sort of intense workout? Or some combination?!

Here's what I found for correlations ( 1 = perfectly correlated. + means same direction. - means opposite direction):

  • Food: +.61
  • Motion: -.33
  • Running: -.32

It appears you are what you eat. What you eat is twice as important as how much you move! You can visually see it in the very first chart.

I took the food one level deeper and looked at my macro-nutrients. Can I eat whatever I want as long as I watch the amount? Or, do I also need to pay attention to what I eat? Here's what it looks like:



Here's what I found for correlations:

  • Carbs: +.54
  • Fat: +.07
  • Protein: +.002 

Well... Well... Well... It looks like science knows what it's doing. Carbs are bad and should be substituted for fat and protein when possible.

Key Findings

Want to lose weight? This should sound familiar:

Focus on your diet. Eat less in general, and really focus on eating less carbs. If you reduce your carbs, you'll naturally reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Use an online calculator or an app like MyFitnessPal to determine your daily target calories.

You should also exercise. You don't need to do extreme workouts, but focus on hitting a total movement goal (like 10,000 steps). Doing something of high intensity for a short amount of time is one way to get the overall goal, but isn't needed for weight loss (it is needed for building muscle).

It's nice to know my data supports the science. :)

Future Aspirations

My goal last year was to weigh 160 lbs and I didn't make it. I'm pretty close right now, so I'm going to go for it!

Finally, watching my weight is OK, but a measure I'm more interested in is percent body fat. If I can control this, my weight won't be an issue. Here's where I'm at right now (this, by the way, is why I have a Withings Scale):



According to the American Council on Exercise, I was average and just dipped into the "Fitness" category. If I get below 14%, I'll be an "Athlete".

My desire is to be below 15%. OK. My real desire is to get rid of a couple lovable handles. That way I'll be able to keep up with the kids as they get older. I don't do a lot of resistance training right now, and that'll need to change to help get this down. I have a big goal in mind of next year which should help me get there.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Transparent Look At Our Investment Property's Performance


When buying an investment property, I "run the numbers" to see what type of return I can expect. I make a bunch of researched assumptions, plug them into a spreadsheet and it pops back a bevy of numbers. Based on those numbers, we decided to buy or pass.

Jessi cares about one number: the pre-tax profit. She wants to make sure a property is cash flow positive each month. I definitely care about cash flow, and also the total return on our investment (ROI) since that's what we compare to other investments, like the stock market.

Since I recently completed our final accounting for the tax year, I thought it would be fun to look back and see how we're doing. I also know it's super helpful for others to see real live results. So, gird yourself for a bunch of numbers!

Cash Flow Analysis

Let's start with the cash flow analysis. We currently own 4 properties: LYN is the apartments. COL & JAC are duplexes. FIR is a house we converted into a rental half way through last year.

The line Jessi cares about is the 3rd line. Good news! Each of them are positive, even FIR (The money to fix up FIR is in the "Cash Invested" line).


We target $100/month/unit (line 5) and we're hitting it on the stable properties. I expect FIR to jump up around that level next year as well.

The final line (total ROI) is what I care about most. I expected COL to be at 52%, and we're easily beating that. JAC, however, I expected to be at 16% and it's slightly below that level. I knew it wouldn't be as high as the others because of the large down payment, but this is a little concerning. I was planning to re-paint in the near future, but now I'm starting to wonder if we can afford it.

(Side note: The cash invested in LYN shows $53K. That includes a $50K personal loan. The property is paying off that loan, so it's really $3K invested. That puts the total ROI at ~900%, and increases the TTL total ROI to ~60%.)

Overall, I'm happy with the results.

Classic Property Ratios

This isn't the only way investors look at properties. There are some classic ratios used:


The goal is a Gross Rent Multiplier (GRM) lower than 8.3. Technically my numbers are actual rents instead of scheduled rent (what you're supposed to get at 100% occupancy), but my vacancy rates are low enough it shouldn't matter. I don't personally rely on this number much, but I know others look at it. It confirms that JAC isn't our best investment (but not horrible).

In my opinion, a capitalization rate (Cap Rate) of at least 5-6% is. We're doing slightly better - that's good.

The 1% rule states that your rents should be at least 1% of your purchase price. We knew JAC was slightly below, but the others continue to above this threshold. This is another measure Jessi cares about when doing an initial evaluation.

The 50% rule is that no more than 50% of your revenue should go towards your mortgage. This is actually my first time verifying if we're actually hitting that. For both COL and FIR we did minimum down payments, so I'm not surprised that they're above 50%.

Appreciation

When we buy, we assume zero appreciation. We want the investment to be a solid one even if the market doesn't change. Never buy a property "because it'll go up in value". That's speculating, not investing and creating value (and why I'm disillusioned by the stock market). Still, it doesn't stop me from taking a peak. :)

There's two ways to evaluate the value of an investment property: look at comparative sales, and by an income approach (properties tend to sell at a consistent multiple of their rent). I used Zillow's Zestimate for the comparative sales. My income approach is conservative: take the monthly rent and divide by 1% (the inverse of the 1% rule).


Apparently Zillow doesn't feel comfortable making a guess on the value of a commercial building... The first ROI is comparing 2016 to 2015 (Y/Y). The next two lines are looking at the lifetime (LT) increase since purchase. At the very least, it's nice to know that I could sell the properties for a profit if I need to.

Fun to look at. If anything, it tells me it's OK to move forward with cash-out refinance of LYN. I should not attempt a refinance on any of the others at this time.

Final Thoughts

Am I making a killing? No. But I'm beating the stock market (36% vs S&P @ 9.5% and Dow Jones @ 13.4%). (OK. LYN is pretty good and COL isn't bad either.) Having said that, I spent more time managing the properties than managing my 401K, so there is a trade off. Of course, that's one of the things I like about rentals: there's an opportunity for me to add direct value to my investments, and that's what helped me get a 36% return last year. Plus, I actually enjoy working with tenants and doing maintenance. So it's win-win-win.

As for my next steps, I would like to buy another multi-family property (or two!) this year. Through some research last year, I learned that there are a lot of older folks who bought 1-3 duplexes 20-30 years ago for supplemental income. Lots of them own the properties free and clear (or with very small mortgages), are doing a lot of the managing and maintenance themselves, and have rents way too low for the area. I now have the proven experience of buying and successfully managing multi-family properties that I think I can help these folks fully retire. The plan will be to buy these duplexes at their current value, and then fix them up and raise rents to market rates (and then refinance to pull the invested cash out). This is exactly the same thing I did with LYN. You can see above that that's a winning strategy.

I'll probably be able to buy one property on my own. But I'm also interested in finding people with some cash to help fund deals through the refinance. I hear there's people with at least $25K that would like to outperform the stock market. It would be cool to help current owners retire, help improve homes in the city, and help others earn a better return on their money. So I'll be exploring that avenue later this year.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Our Awesome New Bathroom


When we bought our house in July, we knew the bathroom needed some work. Specifically, the shower leaked and needed to be redone. It was at this point we began to live out the book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" in real life (...it'll probably want a glass of milk. And if you give it a glass of milk it probably want...). For example:
  • If you're redo the shower, you'll want to remove one of the walls.
  • If you remove one of the walls you'll need a new cabinet and sink.
  • To get a new cabinet, you'll also need to take off some drywall.
  • If you take one wall of drywall off, you'll probably have to take drywall off all the walls.
  • If all the studs are exposed, you'll probably want to update the electrical and plumbing.
  • Also, if all the studs are exposed, you might as well install a pocket door.
  • You might as well also install a sun tunnel...
You get the idea. We ended up redoing everything. Here's a video of me walking through the bathroom before the project started describing everything I wanted to do.




The final result actually stay pretty close to the original vision. You'll notice I didn't mention the sun tunnel or pocket door in the video. Those were definitely "If you give a mouse a cookie" additions you'll see in the final video below.

During the project I was surprised by the lack of "smart" options. I thought it would be cool to have a shower that somehow recycle water and/or pre-heated the water and/or other magical things, but there weren't any good options. I also ended up putting in standard lights and a standard exhaust fan. There was one fan that played music via bluetooth, and had a nightlight, but the actual fan wasn't very powerful. I also strayed away from floor heating systems, mostly because my floor height didn't allow for it.

But I did install a smart faucet (this one). It's a hands free one with the ability to also control temperature. I also got a hands free soap dispenser. They're actually pretty cool. Not only does it save water, but also helps keep germs away. It takes a little getting used to, but overall we love it. Both are battery powered, so we can still use them if the electricity goes out.

It took many weeknights and weekends, but it's done! Here's the final video:



I also want to thank my friend Steve Gress for helping me. He wanted to learn how to tile and I managed to talk him into also helping with the demo and a bunch of other projects (like hammering nails into an impossible to reach place). Thanks Steve!

And some final pictures.





Now onto the next project: organizing the garage

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why I Like Star Wars (Spoiler: It's About Working On a Mission)

Use the Force Harry
Image: reddit.com
Here's a non-surprise: I like the original Star Wars movie.

The other day, I was trying to pinpoint why I still like it. Thinking about it in the context of the larger Star Wars universe, it really isn't that great: The light saber battle (singular) is really just a tease. The ending doesn't make a ton of sense. And Darth Vader seems tame compared to his younger days.

But Luke.

I like Star Wars because Luke's journey perfectly captures how I perceive my life and where I want it to go.

Here's a guy working a regular job he doesn't love, for a demanding boss, dreaming of a future just out of arms reach. Depressing right? (for the record: I like my job and boss). More specifically, Luke's day revolves around a schedule he doesn't control. He needs to be at work by specific times. When he is doing actual work (like cleaning the droids), he gets interrupted by someone else for another meeting (dinner in this case). It's an extreme version of office life.

Let's call it "schedule based time": How you spend your time revolves around a calendar of scheduled events. Typically, most of the scheduled events are created by someone else, and they span multiple focus areas.

Then Luke enters the hero cycle when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi (side note, I'm in the "Rey is a Kenobi" camp) and his transformation begins. But, the Force isn't the only thing that changes Luke's world view, his time also changes.

Let's call it "mission based time": You spend your time in pursuit of accomplishing a goal, your mission. Typically, you don't have meetings, but you're the initiator if you do. Plus, you tend to have a singular focus.

This is what happens to Luke. The goal, the mission, is to get the droids to the rebel base safely (at least R2D2. How do people hate Jar Jar, but not C3PO?). Schedules don't matter. Food breaks are no longer mentioned. Even while traveling in the Millennium Falcon the focus is on the mission. There also seems to be an overwhelming sense of clarity on what to do next. For example, Luke makes the decision to save Lea easily because it aligns with the mission.

That's also why I like the movies The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ocean's 11, and The Fellowship of the Ring. Each of them transition from schedule based time to mission based time.

Inspiring.

Image: lusipurr.com
There also seems to be a correlation with mission based time and passion (and to a lesser extent "following your dreams"). If you think it's important, other things become trivial and you're willing to let them go.

It's also why I struggle to like the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I mean, I want to like the message, but I can't help but feel it's trying to justify living in scheduled based time. For example, Luke doesn't tell Obi-Wan: "I need to stay and run the farm because people are depending on the crops we produce." That probably would have been the responsible thing. Didn't the hobbit's have responsibilities in the Shire as well?

So if mission based time is correlated with passion. It seems that schedule based time is correlated with unwanted responsibility. (Correlation doesn't mean all the time, just a tendency to appear at the same time more often than not)

It's a tension I struggle with. Personally, I crave to set up my life to be in mission based time, but find a majority of my day to be schedule based time instead.

In Real Life

Stepping out of movies, we see examples of this in real life as well. Business owners tend to live in mission based time. Employees tend to live in schedule based time. High performers, besides being singularly focused tend to live in mission based time: Two great examples are Yo Yo Ma & Stephen King. Here's a snippet from King's Wikipedia page:
He [King] sets out each day with a quota of 2000 words and will not stop writing until it is met... When asked why he writes, King responds: "The answer to that is fairly simple—there was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. That's why I do it. I really can't imagine doing anything else and I can't imagine not doing what I do." He is also often asked why he writes such terrifying stories and he answers with another question: "Why do you assume I have a choice?"
Boom.

Image: bensbargains.com
Even Jesus lived in mission based time during his 3 years of ministry. I get that the gospels don't cover every moment and thought (could you image if Instagram, Twitter & YouTube existed?). But it was clear that Jesus had a mission: the cross. He was so passionate about his mission of renewing our relationship with God he avoided "responsible" things like political/civic involvement, a job, and raising a family. Here's a great example in Luke 2:
Now his [Jesus'] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover... And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions... And his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
How awesome is that? Even as a 12 year old he lived in mission based time.

So What?

I wish I had a brilliant call to action for this observation, but I don't. My guess is that I'm not the only one who picks up this narrative and subconsciously wants it as well. It is the first phase of the popular hero's journey after all.

My questions are: How do I live more in mission based time? Do I need to run a business full time? Do I need to become a high performer in a single area? Do I need a passion so intense it seems as if I don't have any choice? What if I don't? How do you balance all of this with current responsibilities? Is it OK to be George Bailey?

On the surface, it seems like the "right" answer is more nuanced than my question suggest. But is it? The examples of Ma, King, Jesus, and many others, suggests nuance is not needed.

Perhaps a good start is to stop watching movies about mission based time stories and start working on something I'm passionate about. Though, the trailers for the new Beauty & The Beast does look good ("There must be something more to this provincial life" - right?).

Friday, January 20, 2017

Smart Home Adventures: Amazon Echo (And Alexa)


For Christmas my parents gave me an Amazon Echo. It's pretty cool and we've been using it for a while. Since it's a voice activated system, I thought I'd record a video of my review. It's 10 minutes long, and that was to give you a good flavor for the types of things it does. The game of 20 questions is particularly interesting. Enjoy!