Nordic

I’m very excited because after humming and hawwing and debating and discussing seemingly forever … today I actually laid down my credit card for a short (10 day) dad-and-kid (just the two of us) trip to the Nordics at the end of June. It’s going to be a whirlwind tour of four cities, one of which I already like a lot (London), two of which I’m very keen on seeing (Helsinki and Copenhagen), and one more that I’m happy enough to be going through (Stockholm). We might also go to Tallinn, as it’s an easy day trip from Helsinki (I think).

It’s an overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, and a 5-hour high speed train from there to Copenhagen. Other than that we’re flying, obviously. I booked all the transport today (THANK YOU INTERNET!) but have yet to sort out hotels and activities.

I seriously considered Saint Petersburg instead (it’s a very famous old city in Russia) but decided it was just a little too far out on the cost and risk curve, after discussing it a little with an agent in Helsinki. There is such as thing as a visa-free trip to Russia, but it is about $1,000 per person for only 3 days, and while I’m sure cheaper options exist, it just doesn’t seem worth it. Plus I’m really stoked to see Copenhagen.

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Belize Pictures

Belize Pictures

MA NH ME

I’m writing this from outside Portland, ME. We’re on our annual family RV trip, much shorter than usual (just over a week) due to my having burned most of my vacation in Africa. We are nonetheless squeezing in six states, not difficult in the Northeastern US were you can see three states in a day easily, as we did yesterday.

We took an unusual Phoenix connection on US Airways to Boston, leaving YVR AT 8:15 AM and arriving exactly 12 non-timezone adjusted hours later. We stayed Sat and Sun night in Quincy, a suburb of Boston about 15 minutes south of the airport.

Boston is really, really nice and YIL: (a) it is mostly artificial, ie. built on landfill; (b) average age is 31; (c) only 5 people got killed in the Boston Massacre, still sucks if you were one of them I guess; (c) 17people got killed when a giant molasses tank exploded in the early 1900’s; (d) Harvard and Yale were founded by the same guy (not entirely confident this one is true); (e)  the Boston duck tour is super hilarious and interesting, if you come here, you should do it!, (f) Boston is super infused with trees, which is always nice in a big American city.

On Monday morning we took a taci to Tyngsboro, an hour north, to pickup our RV. thence a two hour drive thru NH and to our KOA in Portland. It’s pleasant here but slightly cooler than Vancouver. Today is Tuesday and we’re off to Bar Harbor, another 2 hours north, To see John and Meaghan (former Broadridger).

OMG TD Waterhouse!

I was pretty impressed with, following my previous blog post, TD got in touch with me within minutes, offering to help (see comments).

I was not so impressed when their help turned out to consist of emailing me a PDF copy of … a blank application form. The very thing I was complaining about. At first I thought this was a mistake … but then it dawned on me … I think this is TD Standard Procedure!

So let’s recap. Opening a brokerage account is a super-painful process at the best of times, involving, literally, dozens of annoying questions. So TD developed this slick web app so you can type it all in.

And then … they make you print out a blank form and write it all in again by hand.

Let’s not forget: I am not closing an account, or complaining, or doing anything other than begging them to let me give them money. I am doing the very thing that TD invests zillions of dollars in trying to get me to do with endless ads and so forth. And at the last minute … they blow it, big time.

Un. Be. Lievable!!!

Tax

Whew, finally finished 2011 tax! I was also encumbered by some confusing details with my deceased Aunt’s tax (I am her executor). No way am I actually doing it myself; she was a joint US-Canadian resident, and will be filing six returns altogether (herself + the estate, in each of Canada, the US, and Illinois). But I still spent a ton of time tracking down information for the CA who is doing it.

One thing I realize: we (taxpayers) are almost completely at the mercy of providers like Broadridge to generate accurate T-slips. Oh, sure, if you don’t have significant investments, verifying your T4 and maybe one for your savings account is no biggie. But consider:

1. My T5 from IB was for around 100 separate dividend payments and they provide no way to reconcile it (eg. their system, unlike ours, doesn’t give you an ‘Income Summary’).

2. My Aunt received 1099’s (like a T5) from a pension in the US that bore no discernible correlation to what went into her bank account. To verify it, I would need to get a list of individual payments, PLUS get the TD bank to lookup the FX rate they applied to every one. No way Jose.

3. Worst of all, I have a managed account at Nesbitt that had a 15 page STTS (that’s the list of trades hey did). It’s not a big account but they generate tons of activity. To make matters much worse, sometimes securities (hedge funds and so forth) have ROC’s that go back years, and they can be very material. You need to track them all down and add them up, OR, trust that Nesbitt did it right. Which is the only realistic alternative.

I am conflicted by tax. On hand #1, I appreciate living in an awesome country like Canada and I have no problem paying relatively high tax to live here. It pisses me off when people misquote our tax rates to imply that income tax alone is 50%+ (that may be the marginal rate but the overall rate is certainly not that!). I am in a high tax bracket and paid just under 16% overall, including BC tax. I have nothing in the way of tricky tax schemes other than my RRSP which I almost always max out.

Yes that doesn’t include HST, property tax, fuel tax etc. but if you want to go there, you’d have to get into the value of free medical and non-taxable profits on your principal residence and … and … and …

On hand #2, I hate that some portion of it goes to the likes of the BCTF (who, based on the letters in the Sun last week, seem to have finally lost their mastery of PR, that is, the tide really seems to have turned against them).

On hand #3, part of me thinks all the little forms and boxes and rules are kind of interesting. On hand #4, I would way rather be practicing drums!

Too Many Blogs!

If you are here because you are (a) related to me or (b) are friends from Deep Cove, and are diligently looking to read my Africa blog… I decided to post to my work blog instead. Please go to http://progressdeveloper.wordpress.com. Cheers!

2011 RV Wrap-Up

On our way out of Yellowstone we stayed in Gardiner, MT and went for a white-water trip. This has become another family tradition of sorts and this was maybe our 4th or 5th such trip. No pictures, sorry! The river was extremely cold, no wetsuits so I spent a lot of it worrying about getting dumped. We didn’t though and Sam and Ben had the guts to actually swim. That is one gene they did not get from me.

Waiting to Raft...

After Gardiner we drove up to Butte, about halfway between Bozeman and Missoula. Butte is famous for its mining, they call it ‘the richest hill on earth’ and though they do still mine there, the larger industry is cleaning up the toxic waste leftover from earlier mining.

Berkeley Pit

The Berkeley Pit is notorious for being (IIRC) the #1 site on the US ‘superfund’ list which means that by some definition it’s the most toxic place in America. That water is 1000′ deep of pure poison. Birds land on it and die from being burned from the inside out. There is a lot of corporate PR around it about how it can’t possibly hurt anyone anymore and they promise they will keep making sure it never gets into the water table etc. etc.

Into the Pit Viewing Area

Of course, these problems still exist, but we have exported them to China and Korea and so forth where no doubt there are no end of Berkeley Pits in the making. Unfortunately, we have also exported all the jobs as well which is probably why America is bankrupt. But I digress.

Mine Tour

We also went for an underground mine tour which I can’t resist doing anytime it’s offered. Our guide was a young guy who actually was a miner in real life, and extremely knowledgeable and personable. It seems in its day there were dozens or hundreds of mines all over Butte, and there are tens of thousands of miles of tunnels under the city.

Butte Mansion

Despite its unsavoury reputation as a pollution capital, Butte is quite nice with lots of leftover trappings of the wealthy mine owners.

Phillipsburg

From Butte to Missoula, we took a side road through Phillipsburg which has gone out of its way to lure people like us. There were nice lakes nearby that we stopped at briefly plus (of all things) an impressive candy store, jam-packed with people like us stopping on their way through. We had lunch here and found out that deep-fried pickes are not as good they sound (and they don’t sound very good, do they?)

Our RV

Here’s our RV, it’s the exact same model we have rented every summer for the past six years. Yes, I feel like a dork driving around a massive mobile billboard, but I got over it a long time ago. I am a big believer in Cruise America, they have locations everywhere and have never let us down. OTOH, sometimes I think we should at least TRY something different, like a bus-RV or trailer…

In Coeur d'Alene

We drove back up through Idaho and NE Washington, reentering Canada just SE of Nelson, BC. We stopped on the way at an amusement park just north of Couer d’Alene. It was not a bad park, I don’t understand how there is such a good park out in the middle of nowhere yet between Seattle and Vancouver there is nothing more than Playland. It’s not fair!!

North of Couer d'Alene

WTF?

How did this picture get into here? It’s too much hassle to move it around. Ben and me at the mine tour in Butte!

Well, THAT’S IT for the 2011 RV Trip!! Next year we are going to Tanzania (something REALLY different). We will likely do a small RV trip as well, then another big one in 2013 (if the world survives 2012, that is!)