Archive for January, 2011



A little bit of banter…..

Having been away from home with work now for more weeks than I care to think about I REALLY enjoy anything that will put a smile on my face. In this instance its Joe Public’s reviews on Amazon.com. I do usually read a good section of product reviews before I buy anything from Amazon but unfortunately I don’t normally come across such gems as these;

AmazonAmazonGranted the sarcasm plays well to my slightly melancholy state of mind at the moment, but if you’d like to see more check out this link to cracked.com’s 8 Stupid Amazon Products With Impressively Sarcastic Reviews.

 

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The American; a brief movie review

I didn’t really know what to expect from The American, but I can say because of its title I hadn’t expected it to be so European. The trailers for the movie seemed to suggest that the film was some sort of action/adventure however in reality the film is a slow paced melodrama.

It came as no surprise to see that George Clooney had produced as well as stared in The American as the film is very much driven by the central character played by Clooney. Because the dialogue is some what sparse the film needs someone who can convey thought and emotion in silence, which in my opinion Clooney does, and yet throughout the film we find out very little about its protagonist, raising more questions than giving answers.

The story is centered around George Clooney’s character Jack an assassin/gunsmith who in the opening 5 minutes of the movie gets attacked while walking in the woods in Sweden. Jack then vows to his contact Pavel that his next assignment will be his last having grown weary of the death that surrounds his profession. Jack then holes up in a small town in the Italian countryside and starts constructing a gun as required for his final job. During this time he befriends the local priest and begins a relationship with a local prostitute.

The movie overall is beautifully shot and its slow sober score gives the film a feel of Terrence Malik movies such as the Thin Red Line and The New World although its not quite as beautiful or slow as either.

I know the film makers were trying to tell me more, the constant references to butterflies for example, but in reality I think that this story will have been a better book than it was a movie.  I didn’t ever feel that immersed in the story, I did however feel immersed in Italy and plaudits should be given for the style in which the film was shot.

I imagine many people will loathe this movie, not because of its content but because of the way it was marketed.   Telling the public you are giving them one thing then showing them something else after they have paid their money is never a good idea and as such the marketers have killed something that otherwise could have garnered serious public praise.

Financial ramblings about mortgages

As I mentioned in a post a few days ago I see 2011 as the year I my finances in order,  develop my comprehension of personal finances in general and a  get a sound understanding of the investment strategy options available to me.   A few years ago the very idea would have bored me to the bone, but having been forced to reassess my income vs outgoings with a fair amount of scrutiny and weigh up the true worth of any savings I have over the last couple of years due to state of world economics, I’ve had the kick up the butt I needed.

My first conundrum that I am wrestling with is that I am expecting to have a bit of extra cash come my way over and above my regular salary and I am trying to decide whether or not I should put some of it straight into my mortgage.  Putting it straight at my mortgage principal seems like straightforward way to reduce my overall debt and to actually own more of my house.

However there seems to be conflicting advice all over the internet.  Some people say that due to low interest rates you can make more from your money by investing rather than by using extra cash paying off your mortgage.  What I have found though is that these articles talk about that ‘low interest rate’ and concentrate on the interest charged only in the short term (as in over a year) where as the way I see it as I am at the start of my 25 year amortization period any money I can put in now will have huge implications further down the line. In doesn’t just save me money now, but it will continue to save me money every consecutive year here after.

As it stands each of my monthly mortgage payments has a portion going to interest and a portion going to paying off principal, the lower the principal the less interest I can be charged and the more of my monthly payment goes straight to paying off principal.

As I have had my mortgage less than a year, if I pay an extra months rent now in Year 1 I save the equivalent of 5 months worth of mortgage payments over the life of the mortgage.

A good website that helps to illustrate this is www.albertacreditunions.com you can put in all the relevant details and hey presto it gives you an idea as to how much money you could be saving. For example if I had a $100k mortgage at a rate of 4%  with an amortization period of 25 years and at the end of the 1st year I decide I can drop an extra $5k onto the principal the savings over the full length of the mortgage is a pretty staggering $7549.

It may not been money earned but its money saved at a return rate I wont get from any other investment, with zero risk.

 

Firefox the most popular browser in EU

I dont generally use Firefox, no particular reason, I just like to use Chrome on my work PC and I use Safari on my Mac.  My girlfriend however always installs Firefox on any computer that she gets and raves about its superiority.  Seems she’s not alone as Firefox has now become the most popular browser in the EU as shown by the handy little graph below.

It would appear though that its not through an increased up take of Firefox from the public, more because of an exodus from Internet Explorer.

“This is the first time that IE has been dethroned from the number one spot in a major territory,” commented Aodhan Cullen, CEO, StatCounter. “This appears to be happening because Google’s Chrome is stealing share from Internet Explorer while Firefox is mainly maintaining its existing share.”

I’ll resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon for now, mainly because I really like Chrome but I think I may switch up from Safari for a while, its not a bad browser but maybe I could do better.

More info on the story here

 

Cane toad combustion

Those that were reading my blog just over a year ago may remember a post about watching a guy catching and skinning a sea snake in front of me (he turned it into an iPod cover).  I’m currently in a similar area of Australia and was sitting beside 2 guys discussing the best way to dispatch of Cane toads.

Apparently the preferred method is to catch them, soak them in petrol (as their skin will actually absorb the fuel) the let them hop off and light the trail.  Then sit back and watch it go pop.  Though I wasn’t actually part of the conversation I think my face gave away the fact that I could hear what they were taking about (in my defence we were in a 12x12ft room with no one else talking) which prompted the animal pyromaniac to justify the toad popping by explaining that Cane toads had killed his dog, and his cat.

I’m pretty sure the Cane toad didn’t use a lighter though.

Pete Postlethwaite

I was saddened to read that Pete Postlethwaite had past away when I jumped online this morning. A truly cracking actor that I have enjoyed in many different TV shows and films.  His career in front of the lens spans longer than my life, and as such I remember him in shows like “Treasure Island” when I was only small. I think my favourite performance from him came as Father Laurence in Baz Lurman’s Romeo & Juliet, but I am still working my way through all the movies he starred in.

The big screen is a little smaller without him.

back and white

Mind Mapping my way through 2011

Yesterday I mentioned that I was eyeing up a set of goals this year opposed to traditional resolutions. Some may argue that there is a thin line between setting a goal and setting a resolution, that really its all just about how you word it.  I say whatever floats your boat and gives you a sense of achievement is a winner.  Call it a flubabjub if it makes you feel any better.

But how do I come up with my goals?  Well I think about a few different areas of my life that are important (travel, money etc) and then I use a little piece of free software to have a brain splurge on a mind map.  I first used another mind map program at work, but you have to pay over $100 for it.  This other I one I found is FREE, and I think you’ll agree there is no better price.
The program in question is Xmind and can be downloaded for either Mac or PC here.    There is a paid version for $49 but unless you are planning on becoming a mind mapping Jedi the free one is probably enough.  I have some friends that don’t like the format of mind maps, they prefer a more linear set up of lists, and thats cool just like the resolution v goals which ever works for you is the best format. My preference for mind maps in this instance is that when coming up with a variety of thoughts on a few different areas that may interlink I like to have them all on one page rather than scrolling through a word-processing program.
So if you are goal setting for the fourth coming 12 months I recommend giving mind mapping a whirl.