Archive for March, 2010

… to have two posts in a row titled “can’t sleep.”  I haven’t posted in a couple weeks.  I’d like to say it was because I was too busy, but I think it has more to do with being too lazy.  I’ve been off my normal schedule ever since getting back from the Bahamas last month.  I’m unbelievably envious of people that can maintain a constant weight.  I’m either losing weight or gaining it.  I’m currently on the later half of that cycle.  Rach and I have several weddings coming up, so I figure it’s time to buckle down and start getting back in shape for the upcoming craziness.  I have to say I’m more than a little excited for the couples.  In just a little over two months Rach and I will be attending no less than 3 weddings (and we’d really like to attend 4 if 2 of them didn’t happen to be on the same day). 

Outside of work, which has been particularly busy recently, Rach and I have been re-watching West Wing and 24.  We finished West Wing a couple of weeks ago, and just finished season 2 of 24 this weekend.  West Wing is definitely one of my favorite shows of all time.  The beauty of the show is that it makes me believe in our government.  It’s obviously idealized, but I love that regardless of whether I happen to agree with the point that the character is trying to make, they are all incredibly competent.  It’s so easy to be cynical about what happens in D.C. and pretty much every time I hear Palin talk I want to gnash my teeth and gnaw at the furniture, but I continue to believe that with enough time and energy we can make progress.  You may hate the healthcare legislation but it gives me hope.  It gives me hope outside of the specifics; it gives me hope that our government isn’t so impossibly paralyzed by partisanship that it’s possible to tackle a problem of such infinite complexity and contention.    So thank goodness for Obama, and thank goodness for West Wing.  Hesiod was right, the box contains more than just earthquakes, snowstorms and war.

Rach and I have also been playing a fair bit of Xbox.  We just finished off King Kong, Lego Indiana Jones, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Assassin’s Creed 2.  King Kong was terrible… terriiiible.  It was a pretty easy 1000 gamer points, but they forgot to add the fun before releasing the game.  The problems are too many to list, but the highlights are the poor controls, amazingly poor combat, and a boring story.  It gets slightly better towards the end but it’s not worth playing unless you want quick points.  The rest of the games were all fun to varying degrees.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a very fast play through, but had a lot of fun moments.  It reminded me of the first time I saw TMNT on television; Aaron and I thought they had a misprint in the TV guide.  It’s geared towards kids, but Rach and I had fun playing it together.  Probably the biggest problem with the game is that the last boss is 10x harder than any other part of the game. 

Lego Indiana Jones was fun but definitely less enjoyable than Lego Batman.  LIJ follows the first 3 Indy movies very closely so there aren’t a lot of surprises.  The puzzles are also a lot less intuitive (in a puzzlehunt we would say they are ‘un-clued’ meaning that you just have to try different things until they work, there is no hint that points you in the right direction).   The other problem with LIJ was that there were too many achievements for which you really didn’t make any progress at all on during story mode.  I don’t mind a few, but a play-through probably only gave us half of the achievements, and the rest were things like ‘swing with Indy’s whip 250 times’. 

Assassin’s Creed 2 was amazing.  It’s one of the best 360 games that I’ve played.  I highly recommend it.  It has a good story line, phenomenal graphics, great game play, intuitive controls and a nice progressive talent disclosure system.  The achievements are a lot of fun, and there are really only one or two ‘annoying’ ones.  Grab this game if you haven’t played it yet!

I just started playing Mass Effect (the first one) and so far it’s really, really good.  It’s a ‘space opera’ RPG and the universe and story line seem great so far.  The game play takes some getting used to, and I currently have it on casual and still end up dying a fair bit, but I’m slowly learning how to control the squad, upgrade items, manage inventory, etc.  It’s funny because it reminds me a lot of one of my favorite games – Star Flight 2.  Star Flight 2 was a DOS game released in 1989 and I played it constantly when it came out.  Obviously there have been changes in 20 years, but it makes realize how astonishing SF2 was for its time.  It had hundreds of worlds to explore, and something like 30 alien races to interact with.  Its graphics are atrocious by today’s standards, but the scale of the game was epic for something that came on a 1.44mb floppy.  Ah, nostalgia…

DOSStarFlight2-1-750 DOSStarFlight2-2-750

I can’t sleep for some reason, so I figured I’d write a post and then start work early.  Honestly there hasn’t been a lot going on since we got back from the Bahamas.  Both Rach and I have been focused on work.  We did meet with an attorney to draft up wills, which puts us close to finishing the set of items that we wanted to take care of this year for our personal finance.  I still need to set up our money market account for our emergency fund which I’ll likely do this weekend. 

The wills process was interesting.  The part that we probably understood the least was the estate tax.  Apparently this year the federal estate tax has ‘expired’ such that if you were to pass away now, then you could leave your inheritance without that tax applying.  In general the tax is stupidly high; in 2001 for example, the estate tax was 55% of your ‘taxable estate’ – which that year was anything over $657,000.  In recent years it’s been more reasonable, in so much as the exclusion amount (the amount of money you can leave without being taxed) has gone up.  In 2009 the exclusion amount was $3.5 million and the tax was 45%.  Who knows what the estate tax will be like in 150 years when I might have to worry about it, but given the trend it will 1) exist, and 2) have a “low” exclusion amount, and 3) be a stupidly high tax rate.  This isn’t even considering a tax levied estate tax.  For WA the estate tax is decoupled from the federal tax, which ranges from 10-19% depending on your taxable estate.  So if you own property in WA and you want to leave $10 million dollars and you die next year, you would be taxed 55% on $9 million of that, and another 19% on $8 million.  That’s a lot of tax!

The investigation was enlightening.  In general I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the govt. to impose an estate tax.  I think a $1 million threshold is too low however; minimally the threshold should increase over time, and yet it 2011 its scheduled to ‘reset’ to $1 million instead of the $3.5 million that it was in 2009. 

So are there decent ways to minimize the estate tax?  I think so.  First, why die with that much money?  Amassing wealth for the joy of watching your the numbers on your bank statement go up seems silly.  I, personally, believe that if you end up collecting a lot of money, then you should try to spend some of it!  Outside of potentially helping you relax and have fun, it helps the economy when you spend money.  Second, you don’t have to wait until you die to start distributing your wealth to your heirs.  You can hand over a certain amount of money as ‘gifts’ tax-free each year.  Why not do that?  You then get to leave more money and you get to see how your heirs use it!  Third, in general it’s probably better to leave most of your money to the youngest/younger generation.  That way it’s most likely longer before that same money gets to a point where it could be eligible for the estate tax again.  Finally, there are various tax shelters that allow you to leave more money, given certain restrictions, without the estate tax applying.  For example, our lawyer suggested that one such mechanism was to create a trust if either Rach or I died.  We could ‘leave’ that trust up to $1 million (depending on the estate tax threshold at the time) without worrying about the estate tax.  In addition, another $1 million could be left tax-free to whoever is living longer.  The survivor could draw from the trust for various things (though not for everything) – medical expenses, ‘life-style maintenance’, but not things like extravagant vacations.  When the survivor passes away the money in the trust would automatically pass to our heirs without being taxed, and would no longer be limited by any of the trust restrictions.  That’s in addition to the normal amount that could be left to our heirs without being affected by the estate tax. 

I think Rach and I will mostly try to avoid dying with a huge amount of money.  We’re pretty successful at spending money to date, so maybe it won’t be a problem longer term :)