Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Thoughts on 2020

Nothing sums up America 2020 quite like Floyd’s “I can’t breathe!” Both in his physical experience, to those experiences of disenfranchised groups, to the planet facing climate change, to California's rampaging wildfires, and those who caught COVID-19. Every day more than a 9/11's worth Americans have among their last thoughts, that they can no longer breathe.

There are too many science deniers, which to me is also like a denial of reality. A smartphone is a triumph of science and engineering, of millions of man-hours putting a supercomputer in the palm of your hand, FaceID can find its origins from Einstein's 1921 Nobel prize winning photoelectric effect. STEM is making your Zoom call happen, to getting you an Amazon order. And in a year where science denial seems amplified, it is to science that we look to to find a vaccine.

This is the world without ONE vaccine. It took unprecedented effort to unlock a vaccine, for a virus whose genetic code was sequenced in 3 days, to a mRNA vaccine designed in 2 days, to safety testing that showed 90+% efficacy - which was beyond our wildest dreams, the way forward is now a logistics problem. This is one that is solvable, though it wasn't properly addressed by our leadership, among other failures, but the vaccine is the path to a return to normalcy. It is hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

59S Professional UVC LED Mini Sterilizer X1

With COVID, there are a few obvious best practices, the 3 Ws. They are the triumvirate that gives you protection if you have to out.

  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Watch your distance, i.e. social distancing.
Early on, there was a recommendation to wipe down groceries with disinfecting wipes and surfaces to prevent transmission via surfaces. I think at this point, this is less of a concern since the new information shows that it is transmitted via droplets from person-to-person.

If you're like me, I'm a bit extra paranoid. I did a fair amount of research on how to disinfect smaller items, like a phone, or keys, or other things and one of the things I preferred was to find a UV-C based solution. 

UV-C is a wavelength of light in the 250-280 nm range that doesn't make it through the atmosphere. For good reason! It is bad for you. Really bad actually. But it's also really bad for viruses. 

A little more background. Munchkin is a company that makes kid products, and they make a small version made for sanitizing baby stuff, like a pacifier. This is what it looks like. Not bad but pretty darn small.

After some digging, I found that 59S is the company they partnered with that specializes in UV-C LEDs for sanitization.

This is what I ended up picking: 59S UV-C Mini Sterilizer X1

Why did I pick this? A friend said, if 59S is good enough for Munchkin, which is a pretty well known brand, then it's pretty trustworthy. 

Here's what I like:
  • Micro-USB - easy to recharge, ubiquitous cable 
  • Rechargeable Li-ion battery - IIRC, this one can run 10 minutes before needing a recharge
  • Highly portable - you can keep it at home, but I like that you can bring it
  • Flexible - with this version, I wasn't purely limited to the "box" included like the Munchkin pictured above. 
  • Gyroscope to detect if it is upside down (i.e. facing you) that makes it shut off. I haven't tested this though.
  • One button for 59 second disinfection.
  • One button for 180 second disinfection.
One drawback: if you want longer than 180 seconds, you're going to have to press it each time. Holding the 180 second button just makes the unit power off completely.

Aluminum foil has nearly 100% reflectivity of the UVC spectrum so I took a small shoebox and lined it with aluminum foil so that I could use it for more than just a phone like the above picture.

Here's how it turned out.

For most of it, I cut cardboard and wrapped the foil around it, then taped the foil as tight as possible and inserted inside the box. For the lid, you can see it's taped directly. I wasn't as careful about the lid because any reflection off the lid is at least the second bounce of light and the intensity drops rapidly with distance.

Now with the UV light placed on top.

And now from the inside.

And there you have it. A portable UV-C cleaning box. I think it's probably not wise to go much bigger than this because there simply aren't enough diodes and exposure. 

Links included are affiliate links.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A post? An actual post?

Trying to get going again. The past year, work has been crazy, and then since the start of the new year, there's COVID, well, I'm sure you get it. In any case, figure I'll try to get some new posts up. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Been too long...

Wow, it's been almost a year since my last post. Got to get going again!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Thoughts On 529 Plans

"You can lose a lot of things, but no one can take away the knowledge you gained."
- Dr. B. Roberds 

My parents told me that if nothing else, they did what they could to provide a good education to me.  For that I am grateful.  I also think about the quote above, which came from one of my former bosses.  Along that vein, I'd like to provide the opportunity for knowledge to my kid.  To me, this means college and beyond.

Brief primer on 529 plans: they are a nice way to save money for college. After-tax money can be invested and can grow tax-free, plus the money won't be taxed if used for a qualifying expense such as college, or more recently, even lower grade schools (K-12.)  There is also no limit to the length of time a 529 plan can be held.  For compounding, this is huge, and this doesn't even take into account "529 super-funding" that rich people can take advantage of!

Here's the game, how can you maximize the benefits?

Let's assume you have a kid and open a 529 account, and you do what you can to contribute the yearly maximum to it, which for some is already a stretch.  Here's one reason example of why it might be worth the trouble.

  • Maximum contributions are made at the beginning of each year and the market grows, the rate I chose is 6%.  
    • Caveat 1: 529 plans have limits to contributions once an account reaches a certain limit. I think that limit is $300k currently (plan-dependent) which is still quite a lot. Presumably, once the beneficiary goes to college and starts to spend it down, contributions could begin again.
    • Caveat 2: the table below uses the tuition of a public university, in this case UCLA, semi-randomly picked as a desirable place to attend, with strong academics, but not the cheapest public university.
  • Kid goes to college at year 19.  For simplicity in this example, goes to graduate school right after.  
    • The assumption here is that the graduate program is not a business or medical school, which could result in much higher costs and additional school time like med school.
  • Consider the following, assuming one could make the maximum contribution and the market returns at 6% and college tuition inflation rate as 4%.  Click here for larger version.
After graduation, there's money left over.
  • It's possible that the kid doesn't spend it all!  
Firstly, here is where there is a problem.  A parent who designated a child as the beneficiary can designate another beneficiary as long as it's the equivalent generation as the child, like a sibling, or a first cousin.  

You can't re-designate yourself (as a beneficiary) to a grandchild without triggering something called the generation-skipping gift tax.
  • If kid never has grandkid, unless you have another "member of the family" beneficiary to designate to, then you're boned, the tax penalty is waiting.
But!  This is where the game gets interesting.

What's unclear to me is, and my own research has not borne an answer to my satisfaction: 
  • If the child is the beneficiary, graduates, then lets the account continue to grow, can said child (or account owner) designate the grandchild as a new beneficiary without the generation skipping gift tax? 
The consequences are:
  • If not, it becomes important not to overfund a 529 plan, otherwise withdrawal comes with tax penalties.
  • If yes, then overfunding a 529 plan might be really advantageous, such as continuing contributions for said child after graduation but prior to grandchild, thus funding multiple generations worth of college expenses through the power of compounding.  
    • Based on this, it might be possible!  Which means, I need to do more research.
I took the following snippet from the link above and it applies to this whole post:

This information does not constitute tax advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Please consult your tax advisor, financial advisor, local taxing authority, and/or plan provider or sponsor for more information.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Star Trek: Voyager

Robert Beltran, Robert Duncan McNeill, Kate Mulgrew, Robert Picardo, Jeri Ryan, Roxann Dawson, Ethan Phillips, Tim Russ, and Garrett Wang in Star Trek: Voyager (1995)

After finishing The Wire, I was a little lost as to what to watch next.  It's hard to pick a new show to watch when finished with one is as good as The Wire.  That said, I picked Star Trek: Voyager.  Like with other Star Trek series, I never watched this chronologically, so here we go!

In general, I believe I prefer serialized shows over episodic ones, which might be why I like DS9 so much.  That is how Voyager is from the outset, it seems.

Watching the first season now, I am reminded of my earlier thoughts about Harry Kim when I watched the show on TV years ago; he keeps getting screwed over!  Which sucks.  However, I do like seeing Captain Janeway in charge, and how it ties with DS9 but with the Maquis and the Starfleet crews having to work together rather than as enemies, and even The Doctor (medical hologram) tying back to the original doctor's visit to DS9.  Fun little tie-ins.

So far there have already been some fun and interesting episodes, while at the same time, the DW thinks that Voyager is more "physics-y."  Sounds good to me.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Wire

This show is so good.  So damn good.  I'm on the first season about 10 episodes in and it's fantastic.  It's a slow burn at first, then builds.  There's a reason this show was rated the 2nd best show of all time by Rolling Stone.  Deservedly so.