CFA Life Tips

CFA, extend airline membership miles etc.

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schweser CFA pic

Final push for Dec 6 CFA I
Working on Schweser practice exam now. One lesson from last June test is too little practice exam (only one). Lets see if I could complete all 3 practice exams by Dec 5: with careful reviews and reading on weak spots.

Unite miles for WSJ
I got this idea from Kiplinger’s a while ago. And I have used this tip twice now. Last year I used it for my NWA miles (I had 33,000 miles from my China trip a while back); yesterday I used it on United for WSJ subscription. Redeem newspaper magazine can not only make the life of miles longer, but also supported the newspaper/magazine business. Plus, reading from the real paper (vs. computer, blackberry) can get me into better thinking. Also, keep in mind I tried to redeem the miles for air ticket as first choice, the magazine is just a way to burn some miles while extending the life of unused miles.

Life Tips

What’s your favorite gas station?

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I used to go to Shell gas station. One reason is when I started to driving in 1998, I heard from fellow graduate students that “Shell gas is the best”. Another reason is there is a Shell gas station near my home.

But after I tried the BP (British Petrolum, formerly Amoco) station lately, I changed my mind. It seems to me BP invigorate gas lasted longer than the Shell gas, at least to my 2001 Nissan Altima. I guess it could be one time thing, as BP invigorate contains some additives to clean up the engine, which the Shell could not do for some reason.

Bottom line is, I am going to try it for a while, and see if this effect lasts.

BP invigorate performance pic

Investing Life Tips

MO tax holiday, CHK hedge backfires

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It’s the holiday season again, this weekend is the MO tax holiday for back-to-school season. Quote the MO state gov web site:

Section 144.049, RSMo, establishes a sales tax holiday during a three-day period beginning at 12:01 a.m. on the first Friday in August and ending at midnight on the Sunday following. Certain back-to-school purchases, such as clothing, school supplies, computers, and other items as defined by the statute, are exempt from sales tax for this time period only.

Cheseapeke Energy Hedging backfires
Last night CHK reported its 2Q 2008 earning, it incurred a big loss because of in 2Q the natural gas price went up much higher than the bets CHK put together. Here is another analysis by bullishbankers for CHK. Like many things else in life, you get the upside, and you can get the downside too. Hedging is a perfect example. One interesting thing I noticed from the earning report is in cash flow statement, CHK has one million dollars at the end of 1Q, and zero cash at the end of 2Q. They raised cash since then (again, read the bullishbankers analysis, and CHK own press release).

BTW, to my readers, always apply your independent thinking when reading other bloggers’ (including yours truely) work.

Life Tips Travel

Bought air ticket to PVG China

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Friday evening I was checking out the air fare for the planned China trip later this year. And I found price irresistible: $1000 from STL to PVG. So I jumped on it. With sky high gas price (and jet fuel), this price seems cheap to me. I remember last year I paid close to $1100 for similar air ticket.

So why is the price relatively cheaper? I think one reason is AA needs cash (unearned revenue in this case) badly. Another less likely reason is AA thinks oil price will go down. Separately, I read from news the airline executives wrote an open letter to ask congress to clamp down on the oil speculators, because according to the airlines “oil speculators drove up the oil price”. I see two problems in this argument: 1) Airlines also hedge their jet fuel positions, i.e., they are speculators too; 2) Speculators can cause short term price volatility, but in longer term, it’s the supply and demand determine the price. It seems the airlines executives forgot the Econ 101 here 🙂

Odds and Ends
Here in St. Louis, some churchs are organizing prayers for “lower oil price”. Reminds me in ancient China the farmers praying for “good weather/havest season”. In modern days I have seen people praying for “stock prices going up”.

China Life Tips

Weekend thoughts w/e 053108

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Gas and Panera: more saving tips
Yeah, the $4 a gallon gas is finally coming, it’s $3.899 in recent 3 days here in STL. I tried to stretch the gas I put last time at $3.699 as much as I could, but it seems like I will need to put gas either tomorrow or Monday. Meanwhile, I tried to walk to and from Panera this morning and afternoon, maybe I saved a dollar or two on this 🙂

Seriously, I think my last car tune up worked in terms of improving gas mileage.

China Life Tips

Where to donate for China earthquake?

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(Update May15) My friend Sun also set up a donation page for earthquake relief. He even put up a challenge (match) for Paypal donors. Kudos to him. I sent a check of $51.20 to OSCCF today.

NPR China earthquake
(Source:, more pictures from NPR)

(Original) There are lots of organizations one can donate for the China earthquake, such as this list (Chinese) and another list (English). I think everyone can pick an amount and a charity feel comfortable. Also the wider the participation (more people give in small amount), the better. Note some employers offer match for certain charities, and there is tax deduction for donors if the charity has registered with IRS for that purpose (there is an EIN). Personally I am debating about the following two:

1. Overseas Saving Chinese Children Fundation: as name implied, the emphasis is on the need of small kids.

2. Peking Univ Fundation: Chinese, English, they said the donation will be “for the middle and primary schools in the disaster area in China. All donations will be transferred to benefit schools within a month.”

401k and Personal Finance Life Tips

Gas saving tips

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Finally St. Louis gas price is exceeding $3 a gallon. Today marks the first day my gas bill exceeded $40 ($3.179 * 13.105 gallons = $41.66).

I am not complaining, as I know people around the world are paying a much higher price for gas, or paying a higher percentage of their disposal income for gas. But I still want to do something to contain the gas cost, before sending my pay check directly to the Exxon-Mobile and the likes.

1) In the past, I tried to fill up gas at the proper time: there are two gas stations near my home, whenever I saw one gas station raised the price (the other has not), I will rush to the other one (usually it’s the Shell).

2) Also, I used the gas rebate credit cards, they are Citi Dividend (5% rebate in the past, this has been changed lately); Chase Freedom (3% rebate); and AAA MBNA card (5% rebate subject to the up limit of 2% of the monthly balance).

3) Last week, I tried another approach. I paid pretty dollars for car maitenance: engine tune up (replace spark plug and wires); fuel injection cleaning; replace engine gasket. Hopefully my investment will pay off over time (from saving in gas).

Life Tips

Green Card DIY

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I don’t mean to steal immigration lawyers’ business 🙂

A few years ago my employer sponsored my GC app including attorney services. But that did not extend to the AP and EAD (optional for me). I heard from a friend that he paid $1,000 lawyer fee for the EAD renewal. So I filled the forms and filed for myself.

Last month (mid Feb) as soon as I saw the PD became current, I filed I-485, I-131 (AP) and I-765 (EAD) for my wife (H-4). And we received the all the receipts shortly.

I think for simple cases (like my wife), we can do it ourselves, as long as we know what we are doing. This maybe more effcient than using the company lawyers, because of the time wasted on “back and forth”. On the other hand, I am sure most Chinese immigration lawyers here are professional and effcient.

Life Tips

Coffee, espresso, coke and investing: I

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The caffeine effect
Which one has the most caffeine? A tall (12 fl oz, or 355 ml) brewed coffee, a tall latte with one shot of espresso (both at Starbucks), and a can (12 fl oz) classic Coca Cola?

Your instant answer maybe the latte (espresso), but the correct answer is the brewed coffee. According to Starbucks Nutrition By the Cup (PDF), 12 fl oz coffee has 240 mg caffeine, one shot espresso (1 fl oz) has 75 mg caffeine. As to Coke, I saw it says “caffeine content: 34mg per 12 fl oz”.

I don’t know what is the appropriate amount of caffeine a person could consume daily. My guess is one small cup a day should be ok for most people. I think it also depends on person’s health condition (weight, height, habbit of drinking). But just like many other things in life, moderation is the key. A cup of regular coffee will get one refreshed in the morning (it has caffeine equivalent to 7 cups of Coke). But when the initial effect of coffee goes away in a few hours, he/she will resort to another coffee. And so on. I think we can be more easily get caffeinated that way.

starbucks coffee cup size pic
(picture souce: will work for food)

Life Tips

Cell phone and web cam deal

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I found this Samsung A437 cell phone deal through dealsea. I was thinking about replacing my good old Nokia 6010, not that I am not satisfied with the voice quality etc. I would like to get a flip phone (6010 is a candy bar phone, and I have to lock the keypad to avoid placing accidental call, and the time display is not clear). By the way, I got two (one for my wife), as shown like the picture below:

Samsung A437 cell phone pic logitech quickcam deluxe notebook pic

Another nice thing about A437: it is a quad band phone, and (if unlocked) can be used in China.

Logitech QuickCam Deluxe for Notebooks
Found it through my friend googlist. Here is the link.

I always liked Logitech’s product, and the price (after rebate) is $8.99. So I bought one.

(Update Feb 29) The web cam arrived last night. Amazon Super Savers free shipping is fast. The next step is fill in the mail in rebate form 🙂