On the road again

Just a quick update…

The last week+ has been pretty crazy. We finished packing my stuff into storage on Wednesday, which was preceded by a few days of 8am-10pm days of sorting, boxing, shredding, packing, hauling, donating, and storaging. Combined with the unusual (for this time of year) 90F weather, and it had us pretty beat. But that was just the beginning. After handing in my keys, we hit the road, and are on our way to Chicago. We spent the first night near Shasta Lake, just East of Redding in Northern California. On the 2nd day, we made a slight detour to check out a piece of property, then headed North into Eastern Oregon. After spending a frigid night at what appeared to be a closed campground at 5000ft elevation, we shook the ice (literally) off our tent and headed North East into Idaho. We’re staying at a motel in Grangeville, ID for the night, then continuing our Easterly voyage into Montana tomorrow, weather permitting. We expect to be in Chicago some time later next week.

Secure loans

Nikki and I found ourselves in a situation that is probably not all that uncommon between two people dating. Nikki incurred a lot of debt to get through college, the most egregious (though not largest) of which is her credit card debt, with its high interest rate, fees and penalties. I have some money, so I’d like to help her out, but it took us a while to find a good way to do so. The amount is large enough that, in our stage of relationship, it would be over the top for me to pay off entirely. I could lend her money at a low interest rate, she could pay off the credit card debt, then pay me back. But having that kind of debt between us would add unwanted complexity to our relationship, which could turn messy if things don’t work out between us in the long run.

We found our ideal solution in the form of secure loans. I first heard about the general concept of secure loans when I talked to Andrew and Steven of Open Produce about ways to invest in their store. They said I could put money into a CD in my name, then let them use that as collateral for a bank loan. My money would only be touched if they defaulted on the bank loan, but otherwise I keep the money and interest. That sounded like one of those win-win-win situations. The bank can give a loan with virtually no risk (since there’s collateral), my friends get a loan at a low interest rate, and I feel better about investing because I don’t have to handle the logistics (and potential mess) of collecting my money and interest. That got me thinking; maybe something like that would work for Nikki as well.

We spent the better part of a day earlier this week visiting financial institutions in the Mountain View area, to see if we could get her such a loan. Our first stop was WaMu/Chase, but due to the recent acquisition and transitionary period, they didn’t offer secure loans. We then tried Bank of America, who told us the best option would be for me to get a credit card with a low introductory rate, and lend her money directly; exactly what we didn’t want. We then tried Wells Fargo, who did offer secured loans, of the kind we were looking for. They said we could open a CD, then take out a loan of up to 90% of the amount in the CD. Unfortunately, the rates weren’t great. Right now, CDs have a pretty low interest rate, but the loan would have an interest rate of around 10%; lower than the 16% she pays for the credit card now, but it seemed high for a loan for which the bank incurs virtually no risk.

The friendly lady at WaMu/Chase had told us to also try credit unions, so after visiting 3 “real” banks, we did some research in the car using Google WiFi. Our conclusion? Credit unions are awesome. They’re like banks, but owned by its members, so they generally have lower rates. Indeed, the two credit unions we visited both offered secure loans, and had much better rates. One offered loans at 2% above the interest rate on the CD (rounded to next .5%). So if the CD has an interest rate of 2.1%, the loan would have an interest rate of 4.5%; more than 10% less than Nikki’s credit card! The other place was similar, but with rates of 2.5% above the CD rate, instead of 2%. There were other minor differences. One of the credit unions had no minimum monthly payments and the whole sum was due when the CD matured, but the other place had minimum monthly payments. One required both our names to be on the CD and loan, while the other allowed for the loan to be in her name only (which is exactly what we wanted).

At the end of the day, we felt pretty good about having found a financial mechanism that suited our needs, and one that would save her thousands of dollars over the next several years at that. I also reflected on the fact that, for millions of other Americans in debt, such financial machinations aren’t available to them, not necessarily for any fault of their own. But, that’ll have to be another post.

Scarcity gives us clarity

The title is an approximate quote I heard from one of the Google founders (or maybe it was Eric Schmidt), but it describes what I’m experiencing these days. Now that I don’t have two fat paychecks a month, it’s getting a lot easier to see what’s important and what’s not. I’ve sold three rifles so far–including the very first rifle I bought on my own–and have two more up for sale. Last night, I packed three boxes of books to sell to a used bookstore downtown–books I’ve hauled with me all the way from Chicago, and from apartment to apartment since. I’m donating a bunch of clothes, and selling my furniture.

Going to the match last weekend gave me a sense of clarity and focus as well. I know what my priority is now, and I know what I need and what I don’t need. It turns out that in order to focus on shooting, I had most of what I needed with me on that trip. The only thing I didn’t have that I’d need is my reloading equipment, but pretty much everything else (that is to say, most stuff in my apartment) is unnecessary.

On the other hand, this new clarity also threw a bit of a monkey wrench into our plans. Nikki and I were planning on spending the summer in Chicago, but Chicago is a rather inconvenient place to be if I want to shoot. Illinois, and Chicago in particular, has some stringent (though perhaps to some degree justifiable) gun laws that make things rather inconvenient for me, and there aren’t any good shooting ranges in the area either. I’m sure I’ll work something out though.

In semi-related news, I posted some pictures from this past weekend’s match.

On the 600 yard line at the California State Service Rifle Championships in Coalinga, CA

On the 600 yard line at the California State Service Rifle Championships in Coalinga, CA

Back from Coalinga

My 3 day shooting & camping trip was a blast. I’d get up at the crack of dawn, cook some oatmeal on the camping stove in our tent, make some sandwiches to bring for lunch, and head out for squadding (target and relay assignment). We’d head out to the shooting line not long after 8, spend a whole day shooting, then return to camp. I’d clean my rifle and eat dinner before sunset, then crawl into my sleeping bag not long after dark. It was a simple life, and a good life. Everything I needed and wanted was there, and nothing to worry about.

I’ll go into the details of the shooting in a separate post in my gun blog, but it was an extremely humbling yet inspiring experience for me. It deepened my appreciation and love for the sport, but also made me realize how much more room for improvement I have, and I came out with a strong resolve to do better. I’ve decided that I need to switch to shooting left handed, so that I can look through those sights with my dominant (and much better) left eye. Making that switch and improving my skills will require a nontrivial investment in time and money, but fortunately, those are two things I have right now.

This strong urge to improve my skills in a sport is new to me. I’ve never been competitive, or much of an athlete. I used to joke that basketball players must be really dumb; they keep throwing balls into baskets not realizing there’s a hole at the bottom. The rational and utilitarian part of me has a hard time rationalizing athletic achievements. What’s the point? Why should I improve my skills? Will it help anyone? Will it make the world a better place? Why bother if the best I could realistically hope for is to be yet another Master class shooter? Why waste time and money on such an endeavor? Maybe I’ve given up on making the world a better place, but I haven’t given up on doing something I could be proud of. Or maybe I’m going to do it because I want to, and because I can. Instead of questioning myself, maybe I should just be grateful that unlike many people in this world, I am fortunate enough to be able to pursue my passions.

Off to Coalinga, for 3 days of shootin’ ‘n campin’

Nikki and I are about to head to Coalinga, for the California State Service Rifle Championships. The past week has been pretty busy, with lots of preparation to do. Since I’ll be shooting at a full 600 yard range for the first time, I had to make new ammo using heavier bullets that perform better at long ranges. That meant multiple trips to the ranges to try different loads (to measure bullet velocities and check for signs of excessive pressures), then finally when I thought I had a good recipe, we had to make 300 rounds. Nikki and I were up until midnight reloading last night.

The competition takes place over 3 days, and we’ll be camping at the range the whole time. Planning and packing for a 3 day shooting competition and camping trip was a logistical nightmare. It’s been a long standing goal of mine to shoot at a big competition, so I want to make sure I’m well prepared. So I’m taking a spare rifle, and another 200 rounds of ammo for that gun. Additionally, I’m packing a wide assortment of cleaning supplies and tools, and spare parts to make sure my rifle works, and works reliably. I didn’t get around to even thinking about the camping aspect until the last minute, but we just threw a bunch of stuff in the car, and hopefully we have everything we need.

The last thing on my check list is to update my iPhone firmware from 1.x to 2.x (finally), so I can install some ballistics programs. I’ll need them to figure out how to adjust my sights for the different distances I’ll be shooting at, and to compensate for wind. Anyway, once that’s done, we’re off.