Sunday, December 31, 2006

25 Rules to Grow Rich By

To ring in the New Year, CNN Money has posted 25 Rules to Grow Rich By. They include nuggets like which home upgrades pay for themselves, how to select the right deductible for your insurance, and how much money you'll need to retire.

Rule # 26: Feel free to end your article title in a preposition if the title is otherwise snappy and will generate site traffic and the accompanying advertising dollars.

Expense vs. Waste

I just re-read Andrew Tobias' My Vast Fortune. This book isn't nearly as good as his seminal The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need (it really is), but it still contains some interesting nuggets. It was the first book that helped me understand that if the US government maintained a budget deficit every year from now until eternity, it did not necessarily mean we'd eventually go bankrupt (as long as the GDP grows at a faster percentage rate than the deficit).

Anywho, the interesting nugget yesterday was Tobias' view on waste. Getting a parking ticket, says he, is not a waste. You're just transferring money from your account to the government's but that money doesn't disappear and the government will spend it on something (probably something wasteful, but that's not his point). So really, you can't feel too bad about a parking ticket. Think of it as a forced donation to charity. Digging for gold, however, is a waste. The world already has all of the gold that it requires for industrial uses, and it's value for other uses depends upon it's scarcity as a precious metal. Digging for gold expends resources (fuel, labor, parts) and reduces the scarcity of the existing gold, hence it is wasteful.

And I guess by that logic, I was incredibly wasteful on Friday when I ate three quarters of a pizza, and subsequently worked out for 45 minutes in a fit of remorse.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More on Commercial Real Estate

I posted recently about the potential for commercial real estate in Bentonville, Arkansas. Today, a free article from the Wall Street Journal on real estate investors switching into commercial or multi-unit residential investing. The reason is that cash flow is now trumping anticipated appreciation as the key component of the investment. Commercial and multi-unit residentials offer much better cash flow, because they don't have the same speculative inflation priced in. This makes sense, since land appreciates much faster than the buildings themselves (since land is scarce, but buildings can be, well, built).

One notable nugget in the article:

The situation is bleaker for those buying homes and condos as an investment, says Mr. Liang. "They should have very limited expectations on appreciation going forward -- probably 0% to 3% annually for the next five years," he says.

That speaks to why I love real estate as a long term investment. Say properties appreciate 2% per year. If you bought the property on a 90% mortgage (you put 10% down), you're getting a 20% return on your invested money (before expenses, which can be significant). Has there ever been a significant period of time where real estate didn't appreciate a few percent a year? If you ride it out, it provides what I think are higher and safer returns than other types of investments. And in the long term, you can get some great periods of appreciation, like we've had recently. Get someone else to pay your mortgage, and the appreciation will come eventually, turning your $20,000 investment into $200,000 of equity.

The Joy of Refi

The heyday of mortgage refinance may be waning, but it isn't gone. About a year and a half ago, with mortgage rates at historic lows, I refinanced a rental property I own. This is significant: since it used to be owner occupied, I had a pretty good rate relative to the none-owner occupied mortgages that were available to me after I moved out. When I refinanced, rates had finally dropped enough to where the non-owner occupied refi rates would beat my original owner-occupied rate. In order to ensure that I was getting a good deal (it's difficult to make an apples to apples comparison when you're restarting your 30 year clock after a number of years) I took a "no closing costs mortgage", so then I only needed to ensure that the rate offered was lower than my previous 7% rate. As an added bonus, I got the Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) eliminated at the same time.

The result was that I have several hundred dollars a month back in my pocket, which makes life a lot easier and made it easier for me to finance the monthly payments on my new residential property.

While rates are going up, mortgage refinancing still presents opportunities to save money. For example, a lot of people took adjustable rate mortgages a few years ago that could be getting ready to sting them. If they've gained some appreciation on their property, they could lose the PMI and lock in a rate that, while not the best ever, could beat the heck out of adjustable rates kicking in. If you took an ARM with the expectation that you'd be selling, and have changed your mind, refi could be a real life-saver.

Your Money Is Not Safe at Washington Mutual

Yes, it's a dramatic title for a post. Got your attention? Good.

I'm currently in the process of taking all of my money out of Washington Mutual and moving it to Chase. This is actually a pretty difficult process... with auto billpay, direct deposit, and what not, there is a significant transactional friction involved in changing banks. But I'm still ending my 10 year relationship with Washington Mutual based on what happened to my boss. It's important to note this didn't happen to me... but I was present for parts of it from the beginning, and I absolutely believe that it happened as told to my by my boss.

A couple months ago, my boss ("G") noticed that there was a $2,000 withdrawal from his bank account that he didn't recall having made. By chance, he caught it within a day or two of the withdrawal having been made. After some time discussing it with his wife, he realized that the only explanation was that it was a fraudulent withdrawal. He called Washington Mutual and headed down there with his wife the following morning, by which point another fraudulent withdrawal had been made from second account he had with Washington Mutual. The bank explained that in most cases of identity theft, it was a family member, so he should check around to see if it could be a family member in this case. In the meantime, he asked Washington Mutual to put a hold on ALL his accounts, and they said they would.

Later that morning, I accompanied G to the police station to file a report. There was a lot to find out, but at least he caught it early. Then something happened that caused me, him, and everyone who was aware of what was going on, lose faith in Washington Mutual. Later that day, there was an additional withdrawal. He called and screamed at the bank because they had promised to put a hold, or a flag, or something that should prevent the fraudulent withdrawals from continuing. A day later... another withdrawal. At this point, he had no choice but to close his accounts and withdraw his money, because he had been hit for five figures, and it was clear that Washington Mutual wasn't interested in protecting the money.

After yelling at the bank manager again, it came out that they didn't want to put a hold on the account because they figured it was probably a family member/forgotten withdrawal. They explained that holds are very inconvenient for the customer, so they decided not to implement it. Because they basically did not believe him about the fraud, the losses from his accounts were far greater than if they had acted when they said they would.

Will he get the money back from WaMu? Surely he will. But having 5 figures disappear from your accounts for even a short time is a major inconvenience at best, and could have severe financial consequences (late mortgage payments, etc) at worst. WaMu basically treated him like he was the criminal, and showed an appalling lack of concern for the security of his money.

Given that WaMu has a crappy network and crappy interest rates, the ONLY reason to use them is their supposedly superior customer service. Without that, they're worthless. I'm going with Chase because I like the international presence, but there are plenty of other banking options that are more convenient than WaMu for various reasons.

Get it together, WaMu. Identity theft is no joke.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Skate to Where the Puck is Going

One of the greatest real estate booms in the last twenty years has to have been in Orange County, a big part of which is occupied by the Vietnamese community. Immigrants want to live near each other, and as they've gained prosperity (through their entrepreneurial culture, mostly) they've driven prices in Little Saigon and the surrounding areas ever higher. I've got my eyes open for the next great immigrant influx.

In the meantime, The V Train was in Bentonville, AR last week and noted that the not-exactly-new trend of companies stationing employees, either temporarily or permanently, near WalMart headquarters was yielding some interesting and predictable effects. Yes, a whole slew of new hotel developments and corporate housing have started to go up in this once small town. But there are still no big-city type amenities (restaurants open late, e.g.) catering to the army of business travelers that shows up there every Monday.

You could capitalize on this by moving there and opening a business yourself, or you could invest in some commercial real-estate and take advantage of the "pull-marketing" effect to attract lessees.

Since I don't know jack about Bentonville or commercial real-estate, you can have that little golden nugget for free.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Home Prices Decline 3.5% - It's a big deal

The median price of a home in the US fell by 3.5% over last year's number, to $221,000: the biggest decline on record. If 3.5% doesn't sound like a lot to you, remember that most people buy homes on leverage, i.e. mortgages.

Suppose a year ago you bought a median priced home for $229,000. You put 10% down, so you invested $22,900 of your own cash money. Now suppose the price declined by about 3.5% to $221,000. You've just lost $8,000 of your $22,900, or 35% of your investment! If you turn around and sell it tomorrow because you're afraid the market will continue to decline you'll probably incur transaction fees ranging around 6% (real estate agents, escrow fees, etc), which would wipe out your investment completely. But if you don't turn around and sell it tomorrow, and we have another bad year or two, you could soon owe the bank more money than your house is worth, even though you put down 10% of the money yourself.

And with prime at over 8%, let's hope you didn't buy on a variable rate mortgage, because your payments could soon jack up without giving you the benefit of any additional equity.

Rising interest rates mean some people won't be able to make their payments. Declining prices will mean some people won't be able to solve their payment problem by selling. Hang tight, there's going to be a shakeout.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Social ROI

I posted recently about Charity ROI: How do you get the most bang for your charity buck? Tough to find, but I recently stumbled across a blog called Social ROI. It's a charitable entrepreneurship blog. It isn't exactly what I was talking about, but it's definitely got a business bent, and that's what it takes to get the best bang for your charitable buck.

Microsoft StickyKeys

Not sure what the difference is between Microsoft StickyKeys and Microsoft FilterKeys, but I know when I hold down the shift key for too long, it gets stuck on and there's no way to prevent it. This blog posting has advice for how to turn off Microsoft StickyKeys.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sushi Pillows!

Now why didn't I think of this?!

Sushi dreamin'

Fantasy Football And The Trojans

I hadn't played Fantasy Football for years, but as a Season Ticket holder for the USC Trojans
I've had the great pleasure of watching a number of players graduate into the NFL. These include, of course, Reggie with the Saints, Matt with the Arizona Cardinals, as well as Lendale White with the Titans, Big Mike Williams with the Lions (not the greatest success story, but keep the faith), and Troy Palomalu with the Steelers.

So finally, I'm back into it. I decided to field an All-Trojan team, and I expect that within two years they are going to be an unstoppable juggernaut of whip-ass. Any challengers?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Top Rated Charities

I spoke earlier about maximizing the value of your charitable donations by choosing your charities, wisely. Charity Watch is an organization that helps to do that by ranking charities based on how much of what they take in is spent on directly helping people, vs. how much is used in running the charity or in soliciting donations.

That's an imperfect measure, of course. Just giving every penny that comes in directly to the targeted beneficiaries is not necessarily the best way to do good works. Some management can make the charity more effective. And investing in driving future donations is useful to, though in many cases non-profit groups are just competing against each other for peoples' hard earned dough. But it is a good jumping-off point when trying to figure out a group that has come to you, hat in hand.

Teen Crashes Car to Ward Off Unbelted Carjacker

An Iowa teen intentionally swerved his car into oncoming traffic to escape a carjacker who was holding him at gunpoint. The carjacker had grown angry after making the teen drive to two ATMs, neither of which met the carjacker's standards. He threatened to kill the boy.

The young man, after realizing that he was wearing a seatbelt and the carjacker wasn't, decided to crash his car into an oncoming SUV. The driver of the SUV was not injured, but the carjacker was knocked unconscious and arrested at the scene.

More Charity for Your Money

Every year, I receive dozens of solicitations for charity from police organizations, homeless shelters, animal services and zoos, schools, you name it. So how do I decide which charities to give to?

I have what I suppose are unusual criteria... As a businessman, I like to ask the question of which charity will have the greatest "return". I tend to believe that Americans are better off than other people in the world, so I consider it a poor use of my resources to give to charities such as "Make a Wish", which aim to bring a little more joy into the life of dying children who are already well-off by world standards. While I understand the sentiment, I've seen true abject poverty and misery abroad, and I'd rather feed some kid in the Philippines for the rest of his life than send a kid in Minnesota with Leukemia to Disneyland.

But that's not enough... while undoubtedly "Save the Children" is a great charity, how can my money have the most impact? I've read about charities that offer entrepeneurial "microloans" which follow the "teach a man to fish" philosophy, and those seem promising. Has anyone bothered to rank charities in terms of a charitable ROI? I'd be really interested in seeing that. I'm not a rich man, and I have a limited amount to give, so it's important to me that the money go where it will have the greatest impact. Ideas appreciated.

Monday, October 09, 2006

New David Allen Productivity Podcast

I posted a couple days ago about how David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" has really changed my work-life. Now David Allen has hooked up with productivity blog/board/wiki 43 Folders to start a productivity Podcast. This sounds really interesting.

What a great idea! The basics of GTD can be laid out nicely in a book, but a lot of the most interesting stuff is bound to come in one-off questions that can be answered in a Podcast. The biggest barrier to really implementing a productivity system is consistency, and putting it in a Podcast encourages constant re-evaluation of your own progress.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Keeping Up With the Joneses

From MSN, a cautionary tale about what can happen when you try to keep up with friends who make more money than you. To paraphrase Andrew Tobias in the best finance book I've ever read:

Earn $50,000, spend $45,000 = happiness.
Earn $45,000, spend $50,000 = misery.

Living in the UK

V Train and I recently visited London. V Train actually had a job offer their, so we thought we'd combine a scouting expedition to see if we'd like to live there with our annual vacation. In addition to meeting the folks who offered her the job, we hit Wimbledon on the day of the mens' finals (relax, it was just Henman Hill), tried Pimms cups, caught the Italian celebration of the world cup victory, took the Chunnel into Paris, and found a crappy Polish/Mexican restaurant selling a $20 burrito. (ouch)

The verdict? Well, we'll definitely will be moving over there sometime in the next two or three years... but not for this job. I have a couple other London opportunities coming up in the next few years, and she's going to wait for the right opportunity for her. We're going to need a long runway to pull it off, because the logistics look to be pretty sticky. For instance, did you know that you need a bank account to get an apartment, but you need an apartment to get a bank account in the UK? Those kind of things will drive you batty if you don't do your homework (and even if you do).

For now, it appears that V Train and I will be revisiting this idea often. Look us up in Kensington 5 years on! Pip pip, cheerio, and all that rubbish.

Google in Talks to Buy YouTube

According to the Motley Fool, Google is in talks with YouTube to purchase the video sharing site for $1.6 billion. This is not remotely surprising given how YouTube has handed Google their lunch ever since Google launched Google Video. Google's never caught up with YouTube and the way people use it as a networking site, launching celebrities like LonelyGirl15.

Since Google's sitting on $9.8 billion in cash, they can actually pull this off just by showing up at their San Mateo headquarters with some large, bulging suitcases.

Trojans, Bears, and Trick Plays

I just got back from the USC vs. Washington football game, which was much more of a nailbiter than I would have liked. I may be hoarse tomorrow from yelling through almost the entire fourth quarter. In the first quarter there was a neat fake field goal... Steve Smith sat on the sidelines just inches inbound like he was supposed to be off the field, and when they snapped the ball he was uncovered and untouched as third string quarterback Michael McDonald tossed him the ball near the endzone.

I got to watch the Bears take on Oregon after I got home, and the Ducks ran the exact.... same... play. Seems like they watched the game and figured they'd better use the play while the Bears maybe still hadn't seen the replay from the SC game. Worked ok, but they didn't make it into the endzone for some reason.

Meanwhile, I'm grateful for the win, Auburn lost to Arkansas (who was crushed by SC), and Tennesee are showing themselves to be one of the best teams in the country after beating Cal in the first game of the year. A good day to be an SC/Cal fan.

Friday, October 06, 2006

HP Execs charged with felonies

It's a tough time to be a big time corporate exec. The mood lately has been to send as many as possible to jail. And let's be honest: they've had it coming for a while. Cry me a river.

Patricia Dunn, the recently resigned HP CEO, was charged today with felonies related to her botched investgation of leaks coming from the HP Board. Four others were charged as well.

She was fed up with leaks, and probably was right in taking a stand against them but... the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Oil Prices Continue to Drop

Oil prices have dropped to $60 per barrel from a summer high of $78. I talked about why a big drop might be coming down the pike in a previous post. In California, I haven't seen any gas prices that start with a 1 just yet, but some parts of the country are reporting that.

USA today, however, is skeptical that gas prices will continue to fall until the nationwide average hits the ones, but doesn't really offer any compelling arguments for why we might be at a gas price floor. I'm betting on that there will be continued decreases in fuel prices.

Review: David Allen's "Getting Things Done"

About 6 months ago, I picked up a copy of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" based on good word of mouth. At the time, I was disorganized to the point where I was bumping up against the Peter Principle, having been promoted to my level of incompetence. I had well over 1,200 e-mails in my inbox.

The main philosophy of the book is that disorganization creates a constant hum of mental stress. If you aren't absolutely positive that you have a system that will remind you of the things you need to do in time to do them, then your brain will struggle to hold on to them. Ever lay in bed at night thinking about all the stuff you need to do tomorrow, and thinking about how you'll remind yourself of those things? I did. Ever get out of bed because it pops into your head that you owed a deliverable today and forgot to send it? I did.

The book proposes an entire complicated system, but you can adopt it in simple form, as I did. I have since cleaned out my inbox. I have 2 "to do" folders (personal and work), 1 "for review" folder, and 1 "waiting on someone else" folder in my Outlook. I also have a ton of archival folders for things that aren't actionable. Every to-do I have gets converted into an e-mail, and I'm now confident that I have a full record of my to-dos that is accessible at any time. My inbox stays at zero. All e-mails either get put into one of my four action folders, deleted, or archived. If it's a thirty second to-do, then I just do it right away and then archive or delete. That's much easier to do when you don't have 1200 e-mails in your in-box. It's made a huge difference on my productivity.

There's a lot of other great stuff in there, some of which I'm doing, but that's the single thing that's made the greatest difference. I can't recommend the book highly enough, and I think it's going to be directly responsible for my next promotion.

Miracle Hiccup Cure!

Israeli doctors have developed a miracle hiccup cure you can try at home!

A 60-year-old man with acute pancreatitis developed persistent hiccups after insertion of a nasogastric tube. Removal of the latter did not terminate the hiccups which had also been treated with different drugs, and several manoeuvres were attempted, but with no success. Digital rectal massage was then performed resulting in abrupt cessation of the hiccups. Recurrence of the hiccups occurred several hours later, and again, they were terminated immediately with digital rectal massage. No other recurrences were observed. This is the second reported case associating cessation of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage. We suggest that this manoeuvre should be considered in cases of intractable hiccups before proceeding with pharmacological agents.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Foley Scandal

If you haven't read the Foley IMs yet, you're missing out on a whole bunch of ewwwww. It turns out that while ABC was the first major network to break the story, they got it from an anonymous blogspot blog.

Looks like Hastert's in a bit of trouble now too. When the Washington Times is calling for Republican blood, you know someone screwed up bad.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sushi Etiquette

Here's a nice little list covering Sushi etiquette, with which most Americans probably aren't familiar. Some key items:

- Nigiri (a small piece of fish on a small bed of rice) should be eaten in one bite. But if the Sushi chef made it too big to pop in your mouth, don't worry about it.
- Don't mix wasabi into your soy-sauce dish. The chef puts what he considers to be the right amount of wasabi underneath the fish, and you can add a little more on top if you want. Wasabi soup is so gauche (but it's so good I do it anyway).
- Don't leave food on your plate at the Sushi bar. If you didn't want it, you shouln'ta ordered it.

Friday, September 29, 2006


I'm trying to watch the 1957 movie Tammy and the Bachelor on American Movie Classics, but I can't shake the nagging feeling that Leslie Nielsen's about to bust out with an 'I am serious, and don't call me Shirley" at any moment. It's like having the first five notes of Shave and a Haircut stuck in my head.

How about that? Such is the power of typecasting that I can't even watch a movie with Leslie Nielsen before he was Leslie Nielsen. Come to think of it, I have a hard time watching old clips of OJ playing football as well.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dave and Julie: Saccharine Barfs

So there's this couple I know, Dave and Julie. And I swear, they're both cool individually. I mean, I think they are. Actually, I wouldn't know, since they're like joined at the hip and stuff.

Anyway, so we're at Dave's, getting ready to go out to dinner, and Dave's like totally wearing his Tivas. And as we're leaving, he's like "hey, maybe these sandals are a little too informal. Maybe I should put on something a little nicer." And Julie's like, "Oh, bubbie [she calls him bubbie for some reason, it's disgusting], you know you look beautiful no matter what you wear."

I've taken to wearing a cilice for just these situations. It distracts me enough to suppress my gag reflex.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Customer Service

I spent my birthday in a hotel in the Philippines, which isn't much fun at all. However, on the day of my birthday, as I made my way about the New World Renaissance Hotel in Makati, hotel staff who I didn't even know kept wishing me happy birthday as I passed them. The whole day culminated with the hotel staff surprising me by knocking on the door of my room with a birthday cake and a song. It was a nice little touch for this weary traveler.

It's so nice, in fact, that it outweighs any discomfort I may feel about everyone in the hotel knowing my personal business. It does make me wonder, though, about the other regulars in the hotel who treat the staff as if they don't exist, and engage in behaviors that they surely would want to couch in some kind of anonymity. Because, the hotel staff... They. Know. Everything.

The Portrayal of Tech in Films

I'm not exactly a techno-geek, though I suppose I know more than the average American. It's easy to mis-peg the average and bias it with your own knowledge, but trust me. There are plenty of people who think you can shut down a computer by turning off the monitor, etc, etc, etc, so I'm pretty sure that saying I'm above average isn't saying much at all.

Still, though, you have to wonder how people are willing to suspend disbelief that when movies do things that people with even a cursory understanding of technology have to realize doesn't make sense. It's a total Deux ex Machina for lazy scriptwriters, so you have to respect it when filmmakers at least make a valiant effort.

Gideontech has ranked the top ten worst portrayals of technology in film. Reading through it, I must say I'm not at all in accord with their list. I mean, really, how can you exclude Independance Day, in which Jeff Goldblum writes a virus in the universally destructive language of AppleScript to take down an alien computer system, about which he has no knowledge? And while Mission Impossible is right where it belongs, I think the biggest problem is that is internet search for "Job" instantly turned up relevant biblical references rather than, say,

But as I was preparing my formal letter of complaint, I realized that it is such a huge and pervasive problem, that most peoples' lists won't overlap much at all. It's so common for films to be so bad in this regard, that it's really tought to narrow it down. So kudos to Gideontech for at least trying to bring attention to the problem.

Please, filmmakers, is it really too much to ask that you hire a Tech Support Representative, Level 2, to give your script a once over before you turn on the camera? I hear you can get them pretty cheap in India.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Brittingham may choke on someone else's vomit

In case you haven't been paying attention to USC football (I know, of course you have, but humor me), the fullback position is cursed this year. First, starter Brandon Hancock went out for the season (and, probably, forever) with a blown knee. Then second stringer Ryan Powdrell went down with a gruesome ankle injury. Sports Illustrated likened it to the drummer position in "This Is Spinal Tap", and that was two days before third stringer Stanley Havili went down today with a broken fibula against Arizona.

So it may be fourth stringer Mike Brittingham next week, unless they convert someone from another position.

Viidoo Internet TV Pleases Me

I try to time my trips abroad as much as possible so as not to miss any USC football homegames, but it still sucks that the away games aren't televised overseas. I've had to make do with sketchy internet reports from Until now.

I just discovered internet television. It has most of the major US networks, as well as HBO, CNN, and ESPN. It appears to be a P2P stream-sharing kind of thing, but it works pretty well, considering it's likely "unofficial" nature. It freezes every 20 seconds or so, for just a second or two, but the picture quality is adequate in full screen mode, and it's a far cry better than hitting F5 over and over at

Viidoo makes me a happy camper. Gotta go... I'm about to watch my Trojans throw down with the Wildcats on ABC.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The beef jerkey diet

I've been low carbing lately which is a little tough to do while I'm travelling in the Philippines. So I've been eating a lot of beef jerky (Jack Links, to be more specific. The Sweet&Hot is awesome and really cheap at Target) that I brought with me. I noticed yesterday that I was really thirsty. It could have been the 520mg of sodium per serving, but it got me to wondering. How much of a normal person's water intake comes from food, and what happens if you eat food that doesn't contain water?

Apparently, about 20% of your water intake comes from food. So if you drink 8 glasses of water per day to bring your normal total intake to 10, and you switch to the jerky diet, you'll have to drink an extra two glasses per day.

Maybe you won't find that interesting, but at least my curiosity has been satisfied, if not my thirst.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fuel Prices Poised to Drop Sharply

According to the Seattle Times, crude oil prices could be poised for a drop that could send US gasoline prices to $1.15 per gallon. You see, oil prices aren't really based on supply and demand the same way other goods are. The futures market for oil ensures that pricing will take into account future potential supply and demand. Investors have been speculating for the last couple years that with unrest in various oily spots of the globe, there could be a major oil disruption. Companies that rely on oil have responded by stockpiling.

But... the disruption has yet to materialize and some of those hot spots are beginning to cool. And people are sitting on a ton of oil that is priced way higher than actual supply and demand for the physical good should dictate. Bloop. That's the sound of an oil bubble popping.

SUV owners stand to benefit from this (excepting, of course, SUV owners who are sitting on major stockpiles of oil purchased at $60 per barrel), clearly, but this sounds like it could also be a boon for the world's airlines, which have been struggling of late. Maybe the Northwest flight attentands won't have to strike after all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stingray Retribution

Some people are weird, you know?

Apparently, there has been a recent rash of dead and mutilated stingrays turning up on the Australian coast. Apparently, people are taking out their anger over Steve Irwin's death out on all of the Stingrays of the ocean.

If people are stupid enough to do this, is it any wonder we have hate crimes against Muslims when we've been supposedly at war with Islamic terrorists for 5 years?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Don't Give In To The Hysteria


Cheap Trader Joe's Wine Review: Prosperity Red

Prosperity Red Cabernet Sauvignon
TJ's Price: $4.99

Drinkable for the money, but nothing to write home about, Prosperity Red California Cabnernet Sauvignon is fruity, sweet, and acidic. I can definitely detect a little apple and some cherry.

3 pennies out of 5.

You can see some other folks thoughts here.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Walrus and The Carpenter

I just found out that the works of Lewis Carroll are in the public domain. Oh happy day!

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Nurse Strangles Armed Intruder With Bare Hands

A nurse in Oregon returned home from work to find a man armed with a hammer in her house. So she did what any of us would have done... she strangled him to death. The question of how is answered with the fact that she's 5'7, 260 lbs, so she had 80 pounds on the guy. But seriously, strangling someone in "self defense"? I picture Cary Elwes strangling Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride. Only with the body types reversed.

Friday, September 01, 2006

How to Make Hobo Wine

Today on wikihow, an article on how to brew hobo wine using grape juice, sugar, and yeast. Sweet!

Notes of wet cardboard accent a fruity nose. A concentrated finish, with just the slightest murmur of wet hobo.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

College Football Season Starts Today!

Boston College vs. Central Michigan... one for the ages.

I'm just so excited for college football I don't even care who's playing. Trojans Razorbacks in 47 hours.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Blogger Functionality

I was trying to use the "e-mail post" feature of Blogger, which would be tres cool, because I am tres lazy. Too lazy even to punctuate this sentence

Unfortunately it won't autopublish, and I think it has something to do with Word Verification. Turns out that Blogger thinks that I am running a spam blog, so they make me do a "captcha" before I can publish a post. I've requested that they have a human review the blog, and if I'm able to convince them that I, too, am human (I think, therefore, I should am, right?), then that should fix the captcha which should fix the email posting, which means that I should be able to post without thinking (at which point, I may cease to am - I'm not clear on whether past thinking qualifies).

And in case you're interested, this is the word that will prove I am human: pjubmnub. Try using that in a sentence, spammer scum.

Miles Per Dollar

Some enterprising person has put together a very simple Miles Per Dollar calculator. Nothing earth shattering, but it can be a good idea to think about gas in this way. I can think of a few reasons to make the calculation:

  • total cost of owning a new car. What's the MPG? Does it use regular or premium? If you want to be clever, you can factor in the price of the car and how many miles you expect it to drive it, minus the residual value.

  • deciding whether it makes sense to drive or take some other form of transportation. My car takes 92 Octane, which costs about $3.40 per gallon. My car gets about 18 miles per gallon, so I get about 5.29 miles per dollar. Cost of a 120 mile one-way trip to San Diego: $23. Cost of taking the train: $32. Of course, driving depreciates my car, and taking the train uses a bit more of my time, depending on when I go.

Monday, August 28, 2006

What You Can't Say

It's an old article, but a good one. I just stumbled across this treatise from Paul Graham entitled "What You Can't Say" that tries to answer this question: If we think that a lot of the stuff people accepted as "right" 50 years ago is stupid and wrongheaded, what do we think now that people in the future will similiarly scoff at? It delves into the changing nature of taboos.

Certainly the fact that they value open-mindedness is no guarantee. Who thinks they're not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she's open-minded. Hasn't she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they'll say the same thing: they're pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong. (Some tribes may avoid "wrong" as judgemental, and may instead use a more neutral sounding euphemism like "negative" or "destructive".)

When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don't know it. In fact they tend to think the opposite. Remember, it's the nature of fashion to be invisible. It wouldn't work otherwise. Fashion doesn't seem like fashion to someone in the grip of it. It just seems like the right thing to do. It's only by looking from a distance that we see oscillations in people's idea of the right thing to do, and can identify them as fashions.
Long, and well worth the read.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Pioneers of Professional Blogging

There's an article in this month's Business 2.0 called "Blogging For Dollars", that mentions several popular sites like Tech Crunch and BoingBoing. BoingBoing, according to the article, is making about a million bucks per year in ad revenue. Doesn't sound like much, but it's just four people, and they all have other jobs and stuff. Not bad at all. The biggest surprise though has got to be, which is apparently pulling down hundreds of thousands of dollars per month, despite a lack of original content.

The conventional wisdom is that successful blogs pic a very specific area (like camcorders) and focus on it with great energy. But sites like BoingBoing, Fark, and certainly don't fit that mold.

V has finally started a blog that looks to turn into a wedding blog, so we'll see how that goes. I, meanwhile, am way too scattered to focus on a particular area.

Monday, August 21, 2006

California foreclosures up 67% in Q2

The latest quarterly results are in, and California foreclosures are up 67% from the last quarter. That actually deserves some (!!!). Phoenix and Las Vegas were hard hit too, mostly due to speculators learning what "speculation" means. As in they got the cold end of the speculum.

Oh, that's so wrong. Sorry.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The origins of defenestration

"Defenestrate" - to throw someone or something out a window - seems to be one of everyone's favorite words. It's simultaneously simple in its directness, and a bit sesquipedalian. The etymology isn't exactly a mystery. It's the simple combination of a latin prefix with a latin noun. But why did this word attain common English usage? You could create other words in this fashion just as easily. How about detabernated - to be have been forcibly ejected from a bar? But nobody, alas, uses that word.

It seems that defenestrate hit the English scene around 1618, when two imperial commissioners were thrown from a window of the palace in Prague, having been found guilty of violating religious rights. The event was dubbed the Defenestration of Prague, and instigated the Thirty Years War. The universal pleasure of appropriately using "defenestrate" in a sentence has ensured its permanent place in the English vocabulary.

In a mostly unrelated feat, I'll now use three of my favorite big words in one sentence.

Despite her avoirdupois, or perhaps because of it, the callipygian singer cum actress was widely considered to be pulchritudinous.

And if I had been able to find a way to get "lagniappe" (free with purchase) into that sentence, you can bet your finely developed buttocks I would have.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Snakes on a Freakin Plane

SoaP came out yesterday. The early reviews have been very positive, the opening nights I've heard about sounded like a blast. And I'm stuck in the Philippines.

I seriously am not sure I can wait, but I promised the V-Train I'd wait for her.

The image to the right links to someone else's CafePress shop. I thought it was only fair to link it since I stole their image.

Rents Going Up, Finally

According to the New York Times, after a long lull rents have increased 3.5% to 5% in the last year. This is very significant, because the home price to rents ratio has been out of whack for a while. Rent and mortage are two different ways of paying for something very similiar: a place to live. Rents and home prices, in the long run, maintain something that approximates a consistent ratio. This is affected by things like mortgage rates, but at the end of the day the two must come into alignment.

In recent years, it has been much cheaper to rent than to own, indicating that people are speculating on future rising home prices. That the two must come back into alignment means that there either needs to be a housing price crash, a huge increase in rents or, more likely, some combination of the two.

A major increase in rents without a decline in housing prices would mean that real factors have conspired to make living space actually worth more. While that's certainly possible, any time that there's speculation (as there clearly has been) it's a pretty clear indicator that something is being overvalued.

The rise in rents is actually good news if you're a homeowner, because any rise in rents will reduce the amount of a potential housing crash. And it may make you feel better, because you're not overpaying quite as much for your living space.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Idiot's guide to sleeping

My hotel has one of those automated "wake-up call" systems. You just punch the time you want to wake up in military time into the phone. Let's see, I've got 5 hours to sleep so I should wake up at 10:00PM. Punch two-oh-oh-oh.

Wake up, drink coffee, shower, get dressed. Oh. Damn.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Review: Talladega Nights

Talladega nights is one of those movies that you pretty much know in advance whether you are going to enjoy it or not. Did you like Old School? Then you're going to like this one. I don't want to say too much else about it except that
- 1) this movie has inspired me to get a Nacho Cheese fountain for my wedding and
- 2) this movie has given me hope that people will rise up and demand a Manimal DVD.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Foreclosures May Be Less of an Opportunity Than You Think

I'm very interested in foreclosures, because there aren't any other good real estate deals out there right now what with the imminent collapse of the housing market. But this article points out that even with foreclosures up, the deals may not be out there. Banks are wising up to the fact that they're losing potential profits the way they've been handling foreclosures, and they're quickly shutting the arbitrage opportunities.

"Foreclosures sound good in theory, but now the banks have really gotten smart and they have realized they can get market value for their homes"

On top of that, the professional vultures are snapping up any good deals that are available. So I plan to keep watching this market, but I'm not as optimistic as I was a few months ago.

AOL Update: Announcement Tomorrow

I posted earlier about AOL's potential move to a completely ad-supported model, basically sacrificing their billion dollars in subscriber revenue to create a long-term competitor to with free e-mail, IM, VOIP, video content, etc. The Time Warner board will announce their new strategy tomorrow.

I don't see any alternatives for them. The ISP model is dying a slow, painful deat for them.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Starwood Preferred American Express Card

I was just looking at the various rates of return on rewards credit cards, and they break down as follows. For the miles and points cards, I divided the cost of the redeemed reward (e.g. a flight from LAX to NYC) by the number of points required to redeem it. A $350 flight that costs 25,000 points to redeem is worth a 1.4% ROI (350/25,000).

1% - Discover and most cashback cards (no cashbacks over 2% except for select purchases)
1.2% - Marriott rewards Visa Card
1.5% - Airline miles cards (Northwest, United, etc)
3.5 to 5% - The Starwood Preferred American Express card

As you can see, there's really nothing close to the Starwood Amex in terms of bang for the buck. I just financed 5 nights in Europe at a nice Sheraton on points I collected from this Amex card.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Net Neutrality

Senator Ted Stevens (R - Alaska), offers up the other side of the Net Neutrality debate.

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.

It's a series of tubes.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Review: Superman Returns

The action seemed like an afterthought, and the character story wasn't good enough to make up for it. Enh.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

AOL Considering Dropping Subscription Model

Just heard that AOL is considering dropping their subscription model and going towards a Yahoo type internet portal strategy. It's gutsy because it will cost them billions in subscription revenues, but probably the only way to prevent a slow and painful death. Should be interesting to see if the Time Warner board goes for it.

Governing Mandy

“Come here, Mandy.”

She froze at the door, her spider-sense and loins both tingling with a mixture of anticipation, fear, and Tend-Skin ™. Slowly she turned to face the cecilfielderian figure that called out to her. His eyes were wild, and the statesman behind them had been replaced with the pure energy that can only be the embodiment of lust, love, or hatred. In these eyes, she sensed all three. She was certain that he could hear her heart pounding as she approached him.

“Y-yes, governor?”

“Mandy, did you know that I am the most powerful man in the world?”

He leaned forward until his face was just six inches away from hers. At this distance, his impossibly wide shoulders stretched as far as her eyes could see. As he spoke, the sweet scent of cumin from this afternoon’s turkey chili mingled with the musky odor of a long day of bipartisan legislating.

“Really?” Her lips mouthed the word, but the sound that accompanied the movement was more a squeek than decipherable syllables.

“No president can win without California, and I can deliver California. Plus, there has never been a president who could beat me arm-wrestling, and there never will be.”

The look in his eyes dared her to contradict him. She said nothing. A powerful near-silence filled the room, highlighting the dueling banjos of their breathing and the powerful beating in her ears.


In the days to come, Mandy would vividly remember this moment every time she dressed, sat, or otherwise interacted with the gubernatorial handprint on her left asscheek. The blow knocked her forward into him, her face suddenly burried between the world’s two most recognizable pectorals.

“Who is your daddy?”

Mandy wanted to back away, but was frozen by curiousity and the giant hand that still firmly gripped her posterior. Still, she knew that if she didn’t leave now to collect her wits, she would be absorbed into this oak of a man like Deca Durabolin into a glute.

Her voice trembled. “I have to pee,” she whispered. The handsome Austrian looked at her. He raised an eyebrow inquisitively.

“I’ll be back,” she promised, her voice now steady.

A smile crept onto the governor’s face. He nodded, stroked her rump with his thumb, then released it. She turned and exited into the hallway, passed the restroom, and entered the elevator. She did not relax until the doors closed, leaving her alone with her regrets.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hello World

Well, since I've got some free time and some really oddball thoughts, I figured it was time to start a blog.

The blog is kind of like a release valve, or the overflow outlet in my backyard sewer line that prevents toilet paper and tree roots from flooding my home with putrid, stinky crap. In this analogy, the part of "oddball thoughts" will be played by "putrid, stinky crap."

Thank you for your time.