Welcome New Readers

November 19th, 2016 by Potato

I’m down at the Canadian Personal Finance Conference this weekend, which means there will likely be a few first-time readers stopping by, so let me say “Welcome!” and give you a few places to start here, as there’s a lot of stuff in the archives here and it is not all gold.

I’m the author of The Value of Simple: A Practical Guide to Taking the Complexity Out of Investing, a book that walks you through how to become a do-it-yourself investor using a simple, easy-to-follow index investing strategy. It’s focused on just solving that problem, specifically for Canadians, so it can focus down and get into a lot of detail, including step-by-step instructions with screenshots. I’m very proud of the book, and I’m happy (and secretly validated by the fact) that it has a lot of positive feedback and reviews — lots of people have been looking for a guide like this (even if they didn’t know it yet).

After writing the book, I was still getting questions from readers looking for even more detail, so I created syllabus here — note that I had originally intended to complete the course roughly now (late November), but due to a family emergency am a few weeks behind full completion.

Investing Resources:

I’ve made a number of spreadsheet tools and infographics over the years, these are some of the best and most popular:

Personal Finance Reading Guide
TFSA vs RRSP Decision Guide
A Capital Gains Tracking Sheet for Non-Registered Accounts
Guide to Canadian Taxes for Freelancers
The Rebalancing Spreadsheet
Rent vs. Buy: the Investment Spreadsheet — note that in hindsight I want to re-write some of the text around this tool to make it easier to jump in cold, but the spreadsheet itself is still a powerful tool.

Coming soon Now up: a CPP calculator for the new CPP rules.

And a big thing that I’m very happy to be a part of is a tool spearheaded by Sandi Martin to compare the costs of robo-advisors in Canada.

I also created a free directory of fee-only planners after MoneySense decided to ditch their popular directory.

About Me and the Blog:

I trained as a scientist (PhD in Medical Biophysics), and have a day job as a science writer/editor in Toronto. For personal finance, I’ve written a lot, I give talks at the Toronto Public Library from time to time (including this Monday at the Eatonville Branch), and I just recently joined the Because Money team as the on-air producer for season 3.

The blog covers a lot of ground. It is very old — the silly title dates back to an in-joke in high school. Sometimes I’m all serious and professional, spending a lot of time to craft a guide, infographic, or tool; sometimes I just whip out a rant or get totally silly. I hope you enjoy it.

Site Screwing-Around Complete(ish)

October 11th, 2015 by Potato

I’ve finished the major upgrades to the backend, which should take care of those pesky PHP errors that had been cropping up over the past few weeks.

That upgrade also makes my site compatible with many of the new-fangled WordPress plugins that I’ve been ignoring for the past decade. So I may continue to fiddle with those, and the theme/CSS is totally up for a revamp, but the major risk of site breakage appears to be past us.

The URL for the RSS feed looks to be the same, so those of you using a reader should not experience any interruptions.

Screwing Around With the Site

October 11th, 2015 by Potato

The long weekend seems like a good time to screw around with the backend of the site. If you are on the RSS feed Tuesday and this is the last post you receive in your reader, then I have broken the feed, please come back to the site and add it again. I’ll post again whenever I’m done.

For those visiting the site directly, there may be some weirdness in the layout as I fiddle.

Where’s Potato Been?

August 16th, 2015 by Potato

You may have noticed that the blog is even quieter than normal the past few weeks. To start with there’s the subject of the last two posts: my cat dying didn’t put me in much of a mood to write. Then last week my desktop computer died (hard disk failure), so I’ve been spending the past few days trying to rebuild it and recover some data.

First of course the public service message: back your stuff up. I’ve been very lax about backing up the last little while, and it’s biting me now. My last full system image is from December 2014 — eight months ago!! I have a partial backup of some important folders from June. Thankfully that means I won’t have to repeat all my year-end bookkeeping and taxes, but it still sucks that I’ve lost two months’ worth of work (plus eight months of whatever files weren’t important enough to include in the partial backup — things like media and saved games). I’ve been trying to think of what’s been lost and thankfully can’t come up with much. I know I totally reorganized my book business accounting excel file just last week to make it easier to track unit sales (before I was only tracking revenue and expenses), but given how much time I’ve spent on recovery at this point it’s just easier to re-do the work (and that was open at the time my drive blew up so I guess it’s gone for good).

I was greatly let down by the windows restore tools — my backup boot CD wasn’t able to restore windows, refresh windows, or reinstall windows. The drive had somehow become locked and many of the files were supposedly corrupt in the recovery command prompt environment, but I could still see the directory listings which gave me hope for recovery. So I popped in another hard drive and restored my December backup image (the one I thought I made in April — not much better — was unreadable) so I could boot to windows and see what was going on. I hooked up the original system drive as a secondary drive and fired up the computer. Before I knew what was happening, Windows was running chkdsk on the damaged drive, which wiped out most of the directory structure that I was able to see before. Ugh. Then I wasn’t able to access any of the contents because I wasn’t the “owner” of the folders. When I tried to take ownership the system bluescreened and I was back to the command prompt from the recovery CD. There was a very brief “if you don’t want chkdsk to run, press any key in 1 second” message, which is not enough time to actually hit the key. Given that I’m pretty sure chkdsk made my life more difficult here, I have to recommend that if you’re trying to repair a drive that you find a way to disable auto-chkdsk on startup.

So, days later now, I have a system that thinks it’s December 2014, with some of my files from the June backup. I still wanted to see if a more advanced recovery tool could pull anything from the borked drive, so I googled around and tried a few.

Pandora Recovery was able to scan the drive for document files (.doc, .xls, etc.), and found a lot of files and fragments of files. However, it was a lot of work to sort through the results — the original filenames and creation dates were gone, so Pandora created names based on header information (e.g. file creator). That let me cut out a few to search through, but I was still left with hundreds of documents to open and see what they were. I ended up finding a few invoices that I would need to rebuild my accounting spreadsheet, but no accounting spreadsheet. Most of the documents appeared multiple times, likely an artifact of how Windows saves a new version behind-the-scenes (or in some cases, an artifact of how I’ll go back to a website and re-download a document rather than try to find it in my recent downloads folder).

So I moved on to Recuva. This tool didn’t turn up as many potentially recoverable documents, but what it did pull out of the damaged drive had original filenames and dates modified, which greatly helped me exclude the ones I didn’t need to check in detail (for instance, anything before 2014 would already be on my xmas backup image — I was mostly hunting for recently completed documents). This helped turn up one other document file missed by Pandora (though I can’t say whether Pandora missed it, or if I missed it because the meta information wasn’t helpful), as well as some email files (eml) that Pandora doesn’t seem to check for.

It’s a few days later now and I still am not yet up and running on my desktop. I figured I would take advantage of this “opportunity” to upgrade to a solid-state drive as my boot drive, so I’ve got some more work to do on that (which I was hoping to finish tonight but looks like I will likely be offline until Wednesday).

To get the blog back on track, I have an exciting post coming up for tomorrow.

The Not Dead Post

May 6th, 2014 by Potato

I hate the “I know I haven’t posted in a while, but relax guys I’m not dead.” posts. They usually signal the end of an author’s involvement in a blog, and tend to be the epitaph that stands until the domain registration expires. Yet here I am with one.

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but relax guys, I’m not dead.

Of course, I’ve been at this for 16 years now (nearly 10 on the WordPress platform) so I’m not too worried about this lame set of excuses becoming my site’s final post. I don’t think I can stop blogging, so you’re stuck with me.

The obligatory excuse paragraph: I had a massive non-blog-related to-do list going into my Potatomas vacation. That was completely deep-sixed by the ice storm that left me without electricity, couch-surfing (with a 2-year-old no less) for 10 days. With deadlines at work through January and February, and continued craptacular winter weather, I didn’t make much headway on anything — including projects like the Ballparkinator — until March/early April. Then just as I put the Ballparkinator up, I had to sacrifice a weekend of free time to get my taxes done. Though I’ve been working on a few other posts (which are not yet ready for posting), I haven’t wanted to bump the Ballparkinator from the top until it’s fixed and I can try to push it on you all again.

Unfortunately, for the past few weeks my amazing, incredible baby girl has suddenly forgotten how to sleep through the night or how to sleep-in in the mornings, so I’m chronically sleep-deprived*. Though I’m nearly done fixing the Ballparkinator, I just can’t brain at the moment for careful Excel formula debugging. I also need to rewrite the accompanying post because, to give you a glimpse inside my own mind, I thought the Ballparkinator was something amazing and incredibly useful for people, yet the reception was very “meh” — zero comments! — and I suspect that’s because I didn’t do a good enough job at linking it back to my thoughts on the importance of preparing for multiple scenarios (plus perhaps the fact that it had bugs for early retirement). So it’s going to take a little bit longer to get up, and as I was trying to find a well-rested night off to finish it, my other projects suddenly leapt up in importance.

I’m proud to say that one of those projects was working on the second edition of my book, as hinted at earlier. I completed the first draft of the 2nd edition and sent it around to some friends and colleagues for feedback — I’m a strong believer in beta testing something like this and in the power of constructive criticism and early substantive editing. I expected a few minor changes: typos and requests to a few small sections for clarity, with general criticisms. What came back was amazing: everyone (who has replied so far) has loved it (or lied to me in a way that helps my ego but not my material). By and large, people liked how clearly I explained one thing or another and requested new sections to cover common investing problems and things that confused them or were commonly confused. In other words, I’ve been dealing with a major case of scope/feature creep for the past few weeks. So even though I’ve been writing like a madman** almost every spare minute that I’m not at work or watching Blueberry, none of it has shown up here (yet). For the curious, it is now well over twice as long as the original book, and has gone from the “booklet/short guide” range to “typical trade paperback” length, and I still have a few thousand words to go with the last few suggested section additions (and there are at least 4 readers I’m still hoping/expecting to hear back from). It’s a real book!

I’ve spoken with some people who have gone through the traditional publishing route (Preet Banerjee was particularly helpful) and learned that personal finance books tend to be released in “RRSP season” (even if said book explicitly encourages ignoring such a thing), which with what I’ve read about typical publishing timelines means that if I want to get published this year I need to be pitching to publishers now. I had set Victoria Day as a personal deadline anyway because I know my free time will disappear then due to other commitments, so that just moves my timeline up a bit — but that “just a bit” means that I’ve pretty much had to drop any blog writing for the time being. Though nothing is showing up for you now, I have generated a lot of new material — in addition to posts that I’ll throw up as preview chapters to help promote the book, I have a fair bit of excised material that just didn’t quite fit the book but which could be adapted into a future post.

Then on top of my book writing self-commitments, my dad asked me to take on a personal writing project for him and a friend of his. That friend is now seriously ill and so a project I had hoped to push off to August has taken on rather more urgency. So even once I send off my proposals and manuscripts to potential publishers, my writing focus won’t be coming back to BbtP just yet.

Excuses and litanies aside, what can you, dear BbtP reader, expect in the future?

  1. I will fix the Ballparkinator and revise the accompanying post, but likely not until after Victoria Day now. The top half still works in the meantime.
  2. I will dust off an excised chapter or another old draft post in a week’s time so you’ll have something to chew on and stop issuing amber alerts on my behalf.
  3. The summer is going to seriously, seriously suck for me on a free-time-to-blog basis.
  4. An awesome, much needed book on index investing for Canadians that focuses on implementation and process and still needs a punchy title. If I can’t sell it to a publisher by Christmas, I will self-publish by early 2015. Stay tuned. Until then, I will keep the original up and available as-is.

* – to be fair, much of that is my own fault for working on side projects until too late at night, leaving me with no margin of error for being awakened by screams or yodeling.
** – in that I’m going fast and putting in crazy hours, not in that I am ranting about the oil cartel conspiracy to keep Harper in power by controlling our thoughts with orbital mind-control lasers.