November 4, 2013

Cowgirls, Aliens

A fact that you probably already guessed: I start a lot more blog posts than I finish. In recent years, this has happened to a degree that is no less than tragic. Back when Cowboys & Aliens was still a newly released movie, I wrote 90% of a scathing critique of its shortcomings; a spiritual successor to my piece on Avatar. Then I stalled out on finding a good way to wrap it all up, life got in the way, and I never finished. The piece was consigned to a virtual basement crawl space with only virtual dust bunnies for company.

Fast forward to several months ago, when I connected with an awesome new website called Dilettante Army (go read their explanation of the name, it's great). Not only did they like my piece, they even paid me for it! Never before have I been compensated for the effort I put into expressing opinions on the Internet.

You should check out their whole site. But most of all, you should check out my article on Cowboys & Aliens.
It was the summer blockbuster boasting such a talented roster that we dared to hope it would transcend the cheesy premise. It didn’t. Still, if you only viewed it as a shallow and forgettable action flick, you missed out. It’s also a treasure trove of scriptwriting ignominy; a guided historical tour through Hollywood’s various failures of imagination.
Cowboys and Aliens 'takes the high ground' (Dilettante Army)

Fun bonus fact: While gathering images for the article, I realized I could very easily compile an entire photo album on the theme "Ella gazing at Jake". Run with that as you will.

January 30, 2011

Hobson's World

Public unrest over the TSA has finally boiled over. As someone who hated the TSA long before it was fashionable, it's been nice to see the general public finally voicing some outrage. Absurd that it took naked scanners and crotch-grabbing to stir us into action, but still nice. Please, continue to be angry with the TSA, and maybe someday we'll bring that whole farcical organization down upon itself. But that's not really my job here. My job is to explain to you that there are a lot of other things to be angry about, too.

Hobson, the story goes, operated a large stable with horses available for let. One could pay to use a horse from his stable, but you were not free to select any horse you liked. You could have the horse currently up for rotation, or you could shove off. This probably worked quite well for Hobson, ensuring that his most popular horses did not become overworked. At any rate, he managed some small measure of immortality; a "Hobson's Choice" is any choice where the only options are accepting all the terms, or none at all. There's nothing inherently bad about these types of choices. But what if Hobson's stable was the only one in town? And if horses were so heavily used that access to one was no longer a luxury? And what if his rotation wasn't a fair FIFO system, but something more sinister, like giving the worst horses to those least able to complain?

Hobson, the medieval stable master, would have found himself right at home on the internet. Whether you realize it or not, every trip through cyberspace is riddled with Hobson's choices. It starts at the plug in the wall; if you want anything coming down your wires you must agree to the conditions put forward by one of a handful or fewer ISPs available to you. Then almost every website you visit has a Terms of Service (I've touched on these before). And for every service you use, even the most basic like email, you've checked off your assent to a massive User Agreement. There's almost nowhere to hang your hat that isn't fenced in with thousands of words of legalese defining exactly what you are allowed to do. You don't often think about the presence of all this contractual weight, but it's there, every time you bring up a browser.

What's really appalling about all these terms is how much they take away and how little they offer. Most ISPs, if they so chose, could give you no connection at all, for as long as they pleased, and continue to bill you for it. The provider's side of these agreements is legal ass-covering, allowing them to give as little service as they please and still be within the terms of the contract, protected from litigation.

Here's Comcast stipulating that they can install software on any device you connect to their service (i.e. your computer), and that they are not responsible for any damage they cause by doing this (emphasis mine):
Customer Equipment consists of software or services that you elect to use in connection with the Services or Comcast Equipment (the “Customer Equipment”). You agree to allow us and our agents the rights to insert cable cards and other hardware in the Customer Equipment, send software and/or “downloads” to the Customer Equipment and install, configure, maintain, inspect and upgrade the Customer Equipment and Comcast Equipment.
Comcast User Agreement, Section 5.b
Comcast has no responsibility for the operation or support, maintenance, or repair of any Customer Equipment including, but not limited to, Customer Equipment to which Comcast or a third party has sent software or “downloads.”
Comcast User Agreement, Section 6.b.1

In case that's not enough, here's Comcast indemnifying themselves against anything short of gross negligence, and claiming that even in that case you cannot be entitled to more than $500 (emphasis mine):
Comcast User Agreement, Section 10

Meanwhile, your side of the terms may contain any number of constrictions on what you are allowed to do. Many create licensing terms that cede everything you create to the control of the company, to use however they please. Here's Facebook:
For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos ("IP content")... you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook ("IP License").
Facebook ToS, Section 1

Notice that they may license your content out to others if they wish. To Facebook's credit, they no longer claim the license to be "perpetual" and "irrevocable". They briefly added those terms in 2009, and backed off after facing considerable backlash.

Many of these documents state that the terms may change at any time, with no warning, and that your continued use of the service will be bound by these new terms. Here's Comcast again (emphasis mine):
Subject to applicable law, we have the right to change our Services, Comcast Equipment and rates or charges, at any time with or without notice. We also may rearrange, delete, add to, or otherwise change programming or features or offerings contained in the Services, including, but not limited to, content, functionality, hours of availability, customer equipment requirements, speed, and upstream and downstream rate limitations. If we do give you notice, it may be provided on your monthly bill, as a bill insert, e-mail, in a newspaper or other communication permitted under applicable law. If you find a change in the Service(s) unacceptable, you have the right to cancel your Service(s). However, if you continue to receive Service(s) after the change, this will constitute your acceptance of the change.
Comcast User Agreement, Section 4

Then, of course, are the terms that are simply absurd. When Grinnell College rolled out their new alumni network, John Stone noticed that The Loggia Terms and Conditions disallowed, among other things:
Reproducing and storing data in a retrieval system (electronic or mechanical)

From a technical standpoint, one cannot view a webpage without storing and reproducing data locally, making it impossible to actually use the service and still be in compliance with this rule.

To do even the most mundane tasks online, you are forced to relinquish a great number of rights, but in return you receive absolutely nothing except the optimistic hope that the company will provide something to you. You are signing a contract for empty air, and if you're lucky the company will choose to bestow upon you some favors. If these are legally viable is a bit of an open question. Most notably, these agreements could be considered contracts of adhesion and may be unenforceable due to the doctrine of unconscionability. Vagaries of the law aside, it should be apparent that this type of agreement, wielded without oversight, is morally wrong.

At first blush, the TSA situation seems far removed from that inflicted on us by private companies. After all, the government is the one entity that can compel us to obey certain rules, whether we choose them or not. You don't get to opt out of the legal system, even if you want none of the benefits.

But let's examine the TSA's role. Flying is, in the end, a purely voluntary activity. You cannot be compelled to endure an unconstitutional body scan or enhanced patdown if you simply choose not to travel by airplane. Another Hobson's choice. Like many of the others, this choice is a coercive force for many of us. Some people depend on air travel to perform their jobs. Others have no other way to see relatives or friends in far away places. While it's admittedly a middle-class pursuit, air travel is nearly a necessity for many of us who can afford it.

Much of TSA's power, as it turns out, stems from this choice. There has been some bluster during the recent opt-outs about levying a civil fine for leaving the airport after the screening process has begun, but it's unlikely those threats will ever be made good on. And that's a civil fine, the only kind TSA has the authority to level. This fascinating account is written by a man who refused to submit to the new policies as a condition of being allowed through customs. The best part is when actual police offers get involved, officers who have been trained on constitutional rights.
I clarify, “Well, like I said, I’ll do whatever you say is mandatory. If you tell me that you have to touch my balls—“

“—I said no such thing. You’re putting words in my mouth.”

“OK. I apologize. If you say that a pat-down is mandatory, and that as a condition of that pat-down, I may have my genitals brushed against by your hand, even though you don’t want to, I will do that. But only if you say it is mandatory.”

“I’m not going to say that.”

The TSA has no real authority. Their power stems only from the fact that they control access to a service that is nearly ubiquitous and seriously disadvantages those who refuse the terms. So they can present a Hobson's choice, safe in the knowledge that almost everyone will submit. Sound familiar? TSA is nothing more than another abusive monopoly.

Let's take one final step back. I said earlier that a government is the one entity that can compel you to obey certain rules without any agreement on your part. Enter Hobbes (a very different and much more famous man than our titular Hobson). His most enduring idea is that government is a social contract:
I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
We give up some of our rights, like the right to beat other people over the head with big sticks, for the goal of living peacefully and prosperously, safe from the constant danger of being beaten over the head with a big stick. Being governed is a voluntary act (let's ignore Hobbes' autocratic leanings for the sake of simplicity), undertaken because it's to our long-term benefit.

Of course, few of us actively take part in any kind of contractual ceremony agreeing to these terms. We fall under the government's jurisdiction by the circumstance of being born where we were born, living where we live. In fact, land ownership is the source of a government's authority. You may decide to "opt out" of the laws of a country, but you should not remain on that country's land and expect to escape punishment. Conversely, if you leave a country's land, you are no longer subject to their laws. Extradition feels like an exception to this rule, but it's merely an agreement between countries. Extradition does not work when the host country refuses to play along.

So! The government controls access to a desirable resource (land). This allows them to require adherence to a stringent set of rules from anyone wishing to gain access. Even if the rules seem unfair, a choice between that or nothing at all leads almost everyone to obey. Hopefully by this point you're drawing your own parallels. That's right, I see governments as nothing more or less than the biggest corporation around, one whose services we all consume. We pay a subscription fee. We reap tangible benefits. All the elements of a contractual agreement are there.

And yet, there's one thing the government offers us that no consumer relationships do: the ability to negotiate. The system is horribly inefficient, riddled with bureaucracy, and easily derailed. But in the end, we the people do get a say in the rules that are applied to us. More importantly, we see the idea of a government that answers to the people as obvious and absolutely necessary. So why don't we apply this same expectation to corporations? Why do we insist that corporations are accountable only to their shareholders, instead of to the collective public whose lives they so deeply affect?

Looking to the future, I don't think the government will be the one to relieve us of our freedoms. Sure, there will be battles. But the Bill of Rights has survived two centuries more or less intact, and I expect it will keep on truckin'. We won't lose our rights at gunpoint. We'll lose them in bits and pieces, so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. We'll sign them away one after another in the name of new services or free beer or just following the crowd. Technically, they won't be gone, but a right that we are not free to exercise in the most frequented arenas of public discourse isn't much of a right at all.


My slow blogging habits caught up to me once again. I hadn't even started putting this post into words before the furor over the TSA scanners had been totally eclipsed by the Wikileaks controversy. It's a complex affair, and I could write an incredible volume on the details of the various events surrounding Cablegate, but I think I'll leave that to others, and draw two small connections instead.

The intentions of the government towards Wikileaks, as far as we can divine them, are rather serious, and in some ways conflict with what I just said. The organization, of which our government was at least tolerant — perhaps even fond — when it was dishing out leaks from third worlds and no particular friends of ours, has become a thorn in the side of some very powerful interests. The Obama administration seems intent on finding a way to declare Wikileaks' actions illegal, though there seems to be no law that fits. There's no attack on Wikileaks as a whole that isn't a dangerous attack on free speech, and it's being perpetuated by our own government. If this comes to pass, it will be one of the battles I predicted, perhaps a very important one.

In other ways, however, the assault on Wikileaks has made plain for the first time how much power corporations wield over our speech. The threatened legal action has not materialized, and may never come to pass if those in power can't find a good story to tell about why silencing Wikileaks is no cause for concern. In the meantime, however, direct and damaging action has been flowing in from the private sector. In the space of a few days, Wikileaks experienced cutoffs by hosting services, domain name services, and at least four financial services. All of these cited vague "terms of service violations", but there's little reason to doubt that these shutdowns were incited and choreographed by political interests. As Richard Stallman opines, "It is as if we all lived in rented rooms and landlords could evict anyone at a moment's notice."

It remains to be seen whether the government's feud will be derailed by legal protections we have put in place, but there's reason to be optimistic. In the private sector, though, it's been made clear just how great of a blow can be dealt to our freedoms when they become inconvenient to the powerful. We shouldn't need a "use case" for retaining our basic freedoms. For me, idealist notions about the value of freedom for freedom's sake are enough to compel resistance to these Hobson's choices. But if you're of a more pragmatic mindset, I can't think of a better spectre than government and corporations cooperating to stifle political dissent.

September 11, 2010

Movies I Hate: Legally Blonde & Pearl Harbor

I've been badly missing my pathetically modest posting target of once a month, so it's time yet again to break out the filler.

I have only one "Top Ten List" on Netflix, and it is titled Movies I Hate. The description reads, "Not just movies I strongly dislike. Movies I wouldn't piss on to put out a fire." Here are two more from that list. Enjoy.

Legally Blonde

0.5 out of 5 stars

96 minutes of my life. 96 minutes which I will never get back. 96 minutes gone forever. That's a debt I won't quickly forget, Robert Luketic. I honestly don't remember most of what happens because I think I slipped into a coma about twenty-five minutes in. Somehow we're supposed to empathize with the protagonist, a total ditz, because she's actually smart and thoughtful on the inside. Ha. Hahahaha. Yeah, good one. Some stuff happens, nobody cares, maybe some more stuff happens, I really don't know. All I know is that I suffered from recurring nosebleeds for two weeks afterward, and I am holding each and every member of the cast and crew personally responsible.

Pearl Harbor

0.5 out of 5 stars

Yeah. One of the most dramatic events of the past century, and we spend an hour watching a pilot hit on his dead buddy's girlfriend. This movie has everything: distortion of historical fact, subtly racist structure, mind-numbing romantic subplot, one-dimensional characters... what's not to like? It's like Top Gun without as much entertaining homoeroticism. It's like Titanic without a guy falling onto a giant propeller. It's like flicking the back of your leg in the same spot for two hours straight. Not incredibly painful, but don't you have something better to do with your time?

June 2, 2010

Money management for laid-back young professionals

Disclaimer: I am not an accountant. This information is correct to the best of my knowledge, but I make no promises.

Disclosure: I could in theory make money by recommending ING to someone reading this post, which would make me an affiliate.

So you're doing alright

You've finished (or at least started) college. You're financially secure, except for the occasional Friday where you spend $80 on sushi or forties or candy cigars. You're reasonably careful with your money, and you've got a nice chunk of money sitting in your account.

Now, you know that real adults have all sorts of complicated financial problems that drive them to bifocals and reading the Wall Street Journal, but you can't be bothered with that! You are busy riding your hipster bike and learning how to cook a pot roast and wondering why your metabolism has slowed down so much since you turned 23.

Well don't worry. You should be managing your money better, but it turns out finance doesn't need to be very complicated. I will explain the things you need to know in 15 minutes, and then you can spend a couple hours setting up accounts. After that, you will be given money every month for doing nothing! Trust me, earned interest is like magic. Not only is it easy money, it's a great psychological payout.

I'll start with the most important things and move to the optional stuff. If you're easily intimidated, try the first couple steps and find out how satisfying good money management is, then come back for more.

Three golden rules

  1. Don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account.
  2. Don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account.
  3. If your money is doing nothing else, it should be earning you interest.

If you're still in college

There is one important thing for you to do right now. Go get a credit card. No, you don't need to use it for much (see below), but you should get one. Many banks have a "student card" that you can get with proof of enrollment. Here's why this is important: the second you graduate, getting a credit card becomes much, much harder. You're stuck in a Catch-22 where no one wants to give you a card until you have a credit history, but you can't establish a history because you don't have a card. So get a card now. Not tomorrow after you play some more Modern Warfare. Do it now.

Credit cards

You should have a credit card. You shouldn't actually use it for credit, but you should make one purchase a month and pay off your bill immediately. Treat it exactly like a debit card, with one extra step involved. It's a nuisance, but it's the easiest way for you to establish a credit history, and like it or not, you will want a good credit history at some point in your life, like when you go looking for a car or home loan. So play the game, find yourself a credit card.

The credit card business is filled with nasty tricks, but if you do like I said and never ever ever buy more than you can pay for at the end of the month, none of them apply to you. Interest rates are dangerous and complex, but if you don't carry a balance they can't charge you interest.

Rewards programs are a nice perk, but as a laid-back young professional your spending is pretty low, so your returns will be too. Just find a card with no annual fee and you'll be fine.


Rule number one, kids: don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account. Don't store it in your Bank of America account or any other "traditional" bank either. Why? Because they're greedy bastards out for profit at any cost, but here's the kicker: they're so outdated and inefficient that they aren't even good at making a profit, so their strategy is simply to screw you. Really hard. Even when times are good, they only give you some fraction of a percent in interest. This is pathetic, and you can do so much better with so little extra effort.

Go ahead and keep a traditional bank account if you want the ATM access, the convenience of a brick and mortar location, and so on. But if you have a sum of money that you expect to hold onto for more than about three months, you should be putting it somewhere else.

Credit Unions

Credit unions are like banks, but they are member-owned nonprofits. What this means in practice is that they are generally less shitty than the typical for-profit bank. Interest rates are a bit better, they don't deluge you with junk mail selling life insurance and shit, and they're less likely to try shady tactics to fleece you.

Credit unions have some of the same disadvantages as traditional banks. Their rates, while better, are still not amazing. And they tend to be plagued by some of the relics of traditional banking, like crappy websites. Credit unions can have fewer real-world locations than commercial banks, but if you pick one in your area you may find it just as convenient.

I still do most of my day-to-day banking through a credit union. I mail in checks as I get them and get money out through my debit card, ATMs (if you live near a coop, they may have a fee-less ATM for credit union accounts), and the odd personal check.

Credit unions tend to have some sort of membership rules, but they're not too hard to get into. Look for credit unions serving your area; many accept members from a certain geographical region. Or ask your family members; some credit unions will grant membership to family of current members.

Online savings accounts

Online savings accounts are the triumph of efficiency in this brave new world of ours. They tend to utterly destroy traditional banks when it comes to interest rates, without any real catch.

Obviously, online banks come with the disadvantage of not having real-world locations. There are two ways to handle this. The first is to simply adjust your habits, and you may find that you never really needed a physical bank. You can mail in your checks, get your paycheck by direct deposit, and use ATMs and debit cards to pay for everything. The second option is to use an online savings account in conjunction with a traditional bank or credit union. Do your transactions in the traditional account, and then when you have accumulated a chunk of money that you don't plan to touch for a while, simply transfer it electronically to your online savings.

I use ING Direct, and I like their rates a lot. They offer some nice convenience features as well; for example, you can fill out an online form to have them mail a paper check to someone. Unfortunately, their website is possibly the worst banking site I have ever used, both in terms of usability and security, which is saying quite a lot given the field of contenders.

If you do want to sign up with ING, get in touch with me and I'll send you a referral code to use, and then we both get free money. Hooray!

Ally Bank is a newcomer, but looks promising. Their rates are about as good as ING, and they have a refreshing no-bullshit slant to their marketing and policies. I haven't tried them myself, but they are worth a look.


CDs are Certificates of Deposit (I don't know why they are called that). They're also sometimes called Term Certificates. The idea is this: you put money into a CD and lock it up for a specified amount of time (anywhere from six months to ten years). The interest you will make over that period of time is set when you open the CD and does not change. The tradeoff is that this money is inaccessible until the time the CD matures, so you should use CDs for savings you don't expect to need until well after the amount of time you choose. However, if some terrible emergency happens, you can withdraw early, usually at the penalty of three months' worth of interest - not all that harsh.

Think of CDs as risk-free, lazy investing. You know exactly what return you'll get on your money, and the only work you do is picking a length of time.

Pro tip: if you're thinking of buying into a longer-term CD (a couple years or more), realize that you are also buying into that particular interest rate. This can hurt you; if you buy a five-year CD at 1.5% and the market rises, they may be offering 3% the very next year, so you would actually have been better off buying a one-year and renewing. Of course, this can work in your favor, too. I beat just about every investor ever by continuing to make 4.15% on some of my savings for about a year after the housing bubble crashed (savings, mind you, that had not lost a third of their value like they would have if they had been invested anywhere in the stock market).


IRAs are special accounts that help you save for retirement. You put in a limited amount of money each year to save for retirement, and the government gives you a tax break - it's like an internal revenue high-five.

First things first: your employer may offer some sort of retirement plan as part of the benefits package. It may be an IRA, a 401k (which is like an IRA but lamer), or a SIMPLE IRA (which is more like a 401k than an IRA and why did they name it that way). See if this includes "contribution matching." This is where you agree to put something like 3% of your salary into a retirement account and your employer will put that same amount into your account. If they offer something like this, take it. This is free money - you are doubling your investment simply by making it.

If your employer doesn't offer this or you would like to contribute more money, consider opening an IRA on your own. There are two kinds of IRAs: Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. With a Traditional IRA, money goes in tax-free, but when you get it out, you pay taxes. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes when you put the money in, but when you get it out, no taxes.

Either type is a fine choice, but a Roth IRA is particularly well-suited to a laid-back young professional like yourself. Roth IRAs have rules about the maximum amount of income you can make and still contribute, but unless you've already struck it rich with some startup, you're good there. And it's a long time before retirement, which means you put a little money in now, and by the time you're getting wheezy it will have grown into a lot of money (thanks to the magic of compound interest), which you then get to withdraw tax-free. Excellent.

Another Roth bonus: you can't withdraw your earnings (i.e. interest) until you've retired, but you can withdraw your original contributions if something comes up. And you can even withdraw up to $10,000 of earnings if you're buying your first house. Uncle Sam has got your back, even if he's not going to help you pick out curtains.

Here's another thing to know: an IRA is just a container of sorts. Once your money is in an IRA, you still have control over what it's doing. You can put it in cash reserves or bonds (much like a savings account), take out a CD, or invest it (more on this later). The IRA just provides the special tax rules, the rest is still up to you.

Now: must you open an IRA and max out your contribution limit right away? Some people will tell you absolutely yes. They may even be unduly aggressive about it. My opinion? Probably, but it's up to you. Saving now will make your life easier in the future. Failing to start saving this very instant will not end with you as a rheumatic beggar wandering the streets of Tampa. It will just mean that later in life, you will have to take retirement saving very seriously; you will probably worry a bit more about your finances. But if you prefer the extra spending money now while you're young and carefree, and are prepared to accept the consequences down the road, it's your prerogative. As long as it's an informed decision, I won't knock it.


An HSA is a savings account for health insurance. You pair it with a "High Deductible Health Plan," which is insurance that only kicks in after something like $2,500 out-of-pocket; before that you'll be paying for everything except preventative care. These plans are substantially cheaper than typical health insurance, which means you have money left over to put into an HSA. Money goes into and out of an HSA tax-free, as long as you spend it on medical expenses. This can mean a visit to the doctor, but you can also use the funds for things like eyeglasses, crutches, or some NyQuil from the local drugstore. Once in an HSA, your money stays there until you spend it, and if you still have it at retirement, your HSA becomes basically another IRA that you can withdraw from for any reason.

HSAs are a good deal if you stay reasonably healthy - money that would otherwise have gone to the insurance company goes into your own savings. On the other hand, if you get sick and incur a lot of medical expenses one year, you'll probably come out behind. It's a wager of sorts, and you know your own health the best, so it's up to you.


I am going to keep this section short because there is good news - all those people who obsess over stock picks of the day and use all sorts of acronyms and watch CNBC all day? You can ignore all of them. Picking your own stocks is almost always a losing proposal - you're going up against entities with insane amounts of resources at their disposal. And even if you pay some "financial expert" to manage your portfolio, statistically they're probably going to perform no better than the market as a whole. Experts are not actually as expert as you (or they) think they are.

So what's a laid-back young professional to do? Buy index funds. An index fund tracks the performance of the whole market - the market goes up, you win; the market goes down, you lose. Since markets tend to grow over long periods of time, you'll probably win. Or else you'll be stuck in a post-apocalyptic outback wasteland, and you should probably focus more on securing some petrol and escaping from Lord Humungus and less on the ticker price of your stocks and bonds.

Much has been written elsewhere about index funds elsewhere, so do a bit of Googling if you need convincing. I have an account with Vanguard and have been happy with it - they built their business on index funds, so they're a good bet.

So... many... accounts...

If you follow all this advice, you may end up with your money in a lot of different places. As of writing this, I have two savings accounts, two checking accounts, three CDs, two IRAs, and an HSA. That's a lot of accounts to keep track of, and you'll need to come up with some sort of system to make sure you don't get overwhelmed.

A quick plug: I use, and I don't know what I would do without them. I can see all my accounts in one place, with a UI that doesn't suck, and a website that doesn't hassle me with stupid useless shit. They sort your transactions for you, and have shiny graphs and budgeting tools and the like. Using it is a pleasant experience, which is practically heresy in the world of finance.

Yes, giving your account information to Mint is a potential security risk, but they have one of the best-written security sections I've seen on a website. If you're concerned, I highly recommend reading it and deciding for yourself.

And no, they didn't pay me to advertise. I just really like Mint.

Go do it

You made it this far, so you're clearly motivated enough to put at least some of this into action. Start at the top of this article and work down. If you do nothing else, please don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account. Or worse yet, in your Wells Fargo checking account. I'm shuddering just thinking about it.