Monday, June 30, 2008
The winning bid was $399,300, an earlier bid of $2m was found to be fake. My earlier report indicated he was hoping for $390,000, so he didn't do too bad.
Ian packed up his life: his house, car, etc. including his job and friends. Yep, his employer promises to give the buyer a try at his former job and he's sending a list of his friends.
So why do it? "Of course, at the root of it all was a girl" according to this article. Makes sense. Most of the major decisions in my life can be traced to a female. Some for the better. Some, well I'd rather not think of those.
Now Ian gets to start over. Good luck Ian. I hope you find what you're looking for. More importantly, I hope you get away from the things you don't want.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
First, I wanted to ask, what does that gallon of gas really cost? My thought was this, we've had high gas prices before, are they really high now? Well the intelligent answer is "DUH! Have you paid $4 for a gallon?"
I'm not that old, but I remember when I first started driving that gasoline was only about 50cents/gallon. So we've gone up 8x. But inflation is a factor also, and I remember the gas prices of the 1980's. In fact, 1981 was (until recently) the highest ever price of gasoline (when adjusted for inflation) In 2008 dollars, 1981 gas was $3.17/gallon, higher than last year's prices, higher than post-Katrina prices. (See this report for details)
But the truth is, 1981 gasoline was still cheaper than what we have today. I recently paid over $4 in Washington DC. But how much is that gas taking out of the average budget? I asked two young couples how much gas they use. Both couples said they average 80-100 gallons/month. Call it 20-25 gallons per week. If we look at national averages, WikiAnswers says the average person drives about 12,000 miles/year, and the average car gets about 24 mpg. That works out to 12 gallons per week per individual. Looks like our couples are right about average.
So the average person is paying about $48 per week for gas now. A year ago, gas was around $3 per gallon, so that's about $12 more per week, $144 per year. Our average couples are getting hit for $288 more than a year ago.
Bankrate.com says that the median family income is about $1137/week, so our average couples (assuming they have median income) are paying about 8% of their income for gas, versus about 6% a year ago. This change of 2% doesn't seem like an awful lot.
While 2% may not seem like a lot, the facts are that gas prices in the 1990's were at all time lows. The last five years have seen continous increases and that's what is driving the current discussion over gas prices. When Katrina hit in 2005, gas prices sky rocketed and everyone talked about ways to save gas. Hybrid vehicles fetched a premium and there were waiting lists for the cars. SUV's stopped selling. (See this article from October 2005). There was even a "What Would Jesus Drive" movement in the country.
But just a year after Katrina, sales of SUV's picked back up. This 2006 article ranked overall fuel economy 21 among features customers looked for, two slots BEHIND cup holders. Yep, cup holders were more important than gas mileage.
So, my prediction is that a year from now (after elections and our new president is installed), the subject of gas prices will be quiet again. Cup holders will rise in importance.
This doesn't change the facts, you still need to do everything you can to reduce your gas consumption or you're going to pay more of your budget for gas.
My next post will discuss selling your current car for a newer, more fuel efficient vehicle.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Well technically a foster parent.
First I have to explain about Jack. The trees in this picture are called Paulownia trees. We planted them in 2004 or 2005 and they were only a few feet tall. Now they're between 20 and 30 feet tall.
Trouble was, we forgot the name of them (until we went looking). People would ask and we would explain that they were Jack and the Beanstalk trees because of their fast growth.
The trees are very hardy and grow quickly. But cold weather is not kind to them. The first winter, the leaves curled up and hung on to the tree. They were a very ugly brown and just looked awful. My son commented how it would look better if we took all the leaves off, but we said no. The next night, temperatures dropped again. The following morning all the leaves were gone and we were left with Jack sticks instead of Jack trees. We accused him of stripping the tree. He denied it. Yeah right. Typical kid. However, in his defense, the following winter we witnessed the tree's leaves fall off after a freeze and another stripped tree. We've apologized to Adam several times.
In this picture, you can see the size of the leaves. Wikipedia says the leaves are 15-40cm. That's from 6 to 15 inches across. Needless to say, visitors to my deck are impressed.
The large leaves generate a lot of discussion, that's when we get to explain about Jack and the Beanstalk. I'm still looking for the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Now to Jack's parenthood. Last night while cooking on my grill, I noticed a nest in the tree. We had seen birds flying in and out, and now it looks like Jack is providing them a house. I think Jack is going to be a proud poppa. He will provide his adopted family with a lot of shade. Also, there are numerous bugs that crawl over his leaves (the small bush between the Jack tree is for butterflies, their larva play in his canopy). They will provide food for the growing nestlings.
From what we've read, Paulownia trees live about 80-100 years. We have many future families to look forward to.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
About six months ago, Buffett started a bond insurer. This is the kind of company that insures bonds (DUH!). Put another way, say your city wants to build a highway. It borrows money (via bonds) from a lot of sources. But in order to guarantee that they won't go bankrupt, they buy insurance, bond insurance (shaken, not stirred). Sometimes, bond insurers also insure subprime mortgage debt. Most likely not for individuals, but think of providing insurance to Countrywide mortgage.
So, fast-forward through the commercial, to present date. Some of these bond insurers are getting a lower credit rating because of the subprime mortgage problems. Buffett on the other hand has the highest credit rating, so he gets the best interest rates and can run his business more efficiently.
So technically, he's profitting from other companies bad credit. (see this story for more detail).
But rather than hate him, we can learn from him. Warrren Buffett is one of the most frugal ever investors. He looks for investments with value (he buys things on sale). He is against the government being involved in gambling (lotteries, etc - see here). And he only buys things when he has money (which is most of the time, since he's rich)
All that plus, I have to make a living. As much as I'd like to sit here and blog all day, the reality is, my employer expects me to actually work (the nerve of some people).
But, I'm almost at the point where I'm ready to start posting and may even post the first entry later today.
I still need your help. What questions should I address? What rumors are you hearing? What subjects would you like to see addressed?
I promise that any question asked will be answered (at least somewhat) and I'll research all my answers. I will attempt to keep my answers devoid of politics (it does no good to blame the political parties)
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
But was he really worth all this attention? Was he better than Peter Jennings, another journalist who died recently? Was he better than any of the other recent deaths that have happened in this world?
Seems like there's been a little too much attention.
My kids will be horrified at this post. But it's confession time and they need to realize that even dear old dad was once young and foolish. Time takes care of the first, it's debatable whether the second has changed.
When I was in college, the only bill I received was for long distance phone calls. We had something like a calling card, you'd dial the phone number then enter your "secret" code and the call would go through. At the end of the month, you'd get a bill. In the days before the break-up of AT&T, long distance was expensive. A typical five minute call might cost $2.06 (or $7.33 in today's terms). So a short call home once a week could result in a $30 (in 2008 dollars) phone bill. Remember that I was working in a below-minimum wage job and wanted to spend my hard earned dollars on things of value (mostly beer and comic books).
The bills were delivered at the post office on campus in my box. Truth was, that was about the only mail I received. But seeing that phone bill made me cringe as I often didn't have the money to pay the bill.
When money was short, I'd simply push the bill back through the other side of the box. My theory was, if I didn't have the bill, it wasn't due. (Of course AT&T didn't see it that way). Some nice person in the post office would see it on their side of the wall on the floor and put it back in my box. One month was especially tight, so I pushed it back through a second day. And a third. Maybe even a fourth.
Some nice person in the post office would put it back each day. However, as nice as this person was, their tolerance wore thin and their creativity won out. On the fourth or fifth day with no money, I went to push it back through and found they had taped cardboard over the back of the box. No amount of pushing would get the letter through and my I couldn't reach to push it out manually (I tried). I could have gotten a stick to push the cardboard out, but by then I had learned my lesson. Well maybe. But that's for another day.
What I SHOULD have done was to call the phone company and explained my financial situation and worked out a payment plan. Of course this would have meant living within my means, something that is hard for all of us. Eventually I did catch up and I made less calls to home (sorry mom). But I wanted to explain that I do know some of the problems with past due bills.
Now a word about the picture. It may be hard to see, but this is a past due water bill from 1982. Seems I wrote the check for the wrong amount. The letter says I owed them 6 cents and I would have to pay the past due amount plus a $2.25 delinquent charge (a whopping 3,750%). Had they turned off my water, I would have had to pay a $10 fee to restore service.
Trouble was, I received this letter about 5:30pm (after the office closed) and was supposed to have it paid the next morning before the office opened at 8:30. I made an irate phone call and found a very busy woman who told me "no one is getting their water cut off today". Seems a glitch in their system caused all these letters to go out late and she was fielding numerous calls. Next month I paid the late 6 cents and everyone was happy.
Monday, June 16, 2008
For our last 2 days of vacation, we drove about half way back to a little town called Scottsburg, Va to visit with a friend of ours named Bob. Dinner was grilled chicken and good company. Catching up on old times, sharing plans for the future. Thanks Bob & Mary for the hospitality.
Then Sunday morning, we got up to go to Bob's church. Now Bob doesn't own the church, but he is the preacher there. Senior Pastor you might say (only pastor you might say). It was a nice small town church, a "shotgun" church if you're familiar with the term. One piano, old hymns and a lot of loving, smiling people. Music led by a lady and special music by her and her young teen daughter on the guitar. Very good harmony. "Daddy's Hands" put tears in my dear wife's eyes as she remembered her daddy's hands. (lyrics here)
The church gave out little key-ring flashlights to all the dads in the congregation. I honestly believe that this is the first time I've ever been given anything by the church for father's day. Moms get roses, but Dads get nothing. As my friend Neil pointed out in his Father's Day post, it IS the 17th most important holiday of the year.
Finally, back home last night, I enjoyed a dinner made by my two youngest. Chicken al fredo with bow-tie pasta.
Vacation was nice, but it's good to be home again
Friday, June 13, 2008
We heard there were some delays on the Metro (Red Line). I confirmed this would affect us, but hey, we're not on a schedule. Delays don't bother us. We boarded the Metro (Yellow Line) rode to the China Town station, which seemed kinda scary based on all those old movies. It wasn't bad, we figured out we could go down an escalator and board the Red Line. The train was in the station boarding and we managed to hop on quickly. We got seats, but not together. Off to Metro Center, some folks get off and we get to sit together. Leaves the station and goes a few hundred yards and then STOPS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TUNNEL. We sit a while and then a nervous lady announces we are headed in reverse back to Metro Center and everyone has to get off the train.
I took it seriously, we exited and went to the street. We caught a taxi and had a nice day at the zoo. The metro back was uneventful, then on the news, we found out there was a fire on the train tracks. GOOD THING WE GOT OFF THE TRAIN! No one was hurt due to the fire, there were some stations closed and some passengers had to climb 188 steps to get above ground. One person hospitalized. Given the situation, not too bad.
Dinner in Old Towne Alexandria. We had a nice Italian dinner and then walked by the water. A nice romantic evening.
Tomorrow we head back. :(
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The seargent came out and announced what was going on and asked for silence. The new guard came out. Inspection time. Now, I know it was inspected before he came out. But it was a thorough inspection. First of the arms. White glove test on the bayonet (all the time, the first guard still pacing, turning, pausing, repeat). Then inspection of the uniform. Very deliberate. All in all, lasted about 5 minutes.
Then visting the memorial to the Shuttles Challenger and Columbia and the troops killed in the failed Iranian rescue attempt.
I was reminded of the quote from Robert E. Lee "It is good that war is so horrible, or we might grow to like it.'
The afternoon was spent by the pool, me in the shade, her in the sun.
A very relaxing day
Funniest thing of the day: 1) the little girl who passed us on the way to the pool who said "Bye Randy" (I think she was talking to her brother and 2) Stopping at a Bestway grocery store for canned Pepsi and being the only English speaking people there.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
The Washington Monument was neat. A word to any prospective visitors, either plan your trip or be prepared NOT to go into the cool places. By the time we arrived, all tickets for the monument for the day were gone. You can order tickets (they are free) online or by phone, but you have to order a month in advance. No problems, I laid on the pavement beside it and took pictures (will upload on another day).
One man asked my wife if she could take a picture of him and someone with him (father? brother? friend? it didn't matter). She gladly did so, then when she was finished, I offered to take a picture of the three of them together. It took him a minute to realize I was joking. He took a picture of the two of us with the Lincoln Memorial in the background.
We also did the memorials. While at the WWII memorial, we actually saw Bob Dole. We have lots of pictures. What was most striking at the WWII memorial was the number of WWII veterans accompanied by their children, about my age. I spoke to one vet who served in the Army, 1942-1946. His job was loading the ships. I asked him if he had been in Seattle and he said yes. I told him my dad was there in late 1945 (post VJ day) and planted grass. Dad always said he had to cut that same grass when he came back through after his tour. The man laughed.
We then went to the Vietnam Memorial. I know one family that lost a son there. When I was about 10, he died. I remember the man crying at church. It always struck me. We found his name and took some pictures. I tried to help one lady get a "rubbing" off the wall. It was very high and even I couldn't reach it. Her husband and I offered for her to stand on our legs, we crooked our knees to give her a platform. Unfortunately, we weren't stable enough. Later we saw her with a park ranger and a ladder.
Next was the Lincoln Memorial. Then the Korean War memorial. Then we took a long walk the the FDR memorial. I remember one of the quotes on the wall talked about what he thought about war. It ended with "I hate war". After seeing all the memorials today and then seeing this quote, it really struck me. Of course, even though he hated war, FDR was the one who led us into WWII. Enough said about that. I want to remember the memorials and remember that quote. More on another day.
Finally, we went to the Jefferson Memorial. On the way back to the Metro station a lady coming out of the Dept of Treasury stopped us from going up the wrong way. We asked her the quickest way and after a momentary hesitation, she said we could just follow her. Once she headed to her car (or wherever) she gave us excellent directions to the station. I don't know what her job was, but she was very nice.
Strangest thing for today: The waitress at dinner. She had tattoos all over her forearms and had a pierced tongue, a pierced eyebrow, and a pierced lip/chin (looked painful). She also had a pen in her hair, I don't think it went through any skin (I hope not). She was a good waitress.
Prediction: By the end of 2008, everyone will be doing the "Obama Hand Bump" (I intend to trademark that term, so everyone who uses it will send me a quarter).
When Obama "won" the Democratic nomination, he gave his wife the "Obama Hand Bump" (OHB). Did you see it? It actually wasn't a good one, way too deliberate. But as a declaration of victory, it was pretty good. High fives would have been ok, but this was something unique (not really, but that's besides the point). A chest bump on stage, like all the football players, would not have worked. Neither Obama is big enough to obliterate the other, but it just wouldn't have looked good. I'm sure some women's rights group would have said he was trying to abuse her.
I also predict that OHB will carry over into 2009, regardless the results of the election. We'll see it at all business kick-off meetings. As Executive 1 passes the meeting to Executive 2, they'll hand bump on the way by. There may have to be executive training sessions on how to properly execute OHB (I'd better get more than a quarter for business use of the term). CEO's will be shown the proper force to use. Too little and you're seen as a wimp. Too much and you could wipe out a key employee. OHB your boss too hard and you may get fired.
I'm on vacation, but I'm going to start practicing. As I wander around DC today, I'm going to OHB random people just to see what kind of reaction I get (if I don't post something tomorrow, please send someone to bail me out.)
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
We spent Sunday night with some friends and business contacts on the way up (thanks Tom and Lory!). It was a chance for the females to meet as I'd met Lory before. We had some good ribs and enjoyed a nice evening. Then Monday we drove up.
On the way up Monday, we stopped at the Marine Museum. In one minute, you felt gung-ho, in the next you felt proud and inspired by the stories of these young men and women.
Last night we toured downtown DC, mostly driving around. Refilling the tank cost $4+/gallon. What an experience. (I promise a post on gas prices later).
Today was HOT. We took the Metro downtown, then walked to the Botanical Gardens. Then, my favorite, we walked to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. I could have stayed there all day (plus it was cool inside). Next was the Natural History museum. By 5pm, we were exhausted.
Strangest occurrence: On Sunday somewhere around Butner, NC, I ran into a business contact from Winston-Salem, NC (90+ miles away) at Wendy's. He was headed home from DC.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
I'll take the laptop, so you may still see some posts and comments. I'll check my work email (self defense - I get 50-100 emails a day) and probably just delete emails I don't want. I can answer the important ones when I get back.
Our destination? Washington DC. I've been twice before, but my wife has never been. I'm disappointed that we won't get to see the White House. I've seen it before and honestly there's not much to it. But it would have been nice. The post-9/11 rules won't allow it unless you're in a group and give a lengthy notice. Ah well, we'll see all of the monuments and museums, or at least get our fill of them.
Maybe I'll call George and have breakfast with him, just to let him know how things are going. I wonder if he eats grits?
Friday, June 06, 2008
1) The vice presidential nominee will not be known until the convention (98% confidence)
2) The vice presidential nominee will be touted as one who can work with the president, unlike previous vice presidents who have done little of now work while in office (98% confidence)
3) Once really elected, the vice president will do no real work of value (98% confidence)
4) The vice presidential nominee will be someone who can't overshadow the presidential nominee, someone that was never considered to be a candidate (60% confidence)
(Note that these predictions apply to BOTH parties.)
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
This is NOT intended as a political comment. You can find plenty of politicians on BOTH sides of the aisle who show that they think character doesn't matter, at least by part of their lives. My question to you is this: Do you think Character matters?
If you say yes, I'd like to ask What does Character mean to you?
To me, character matters. Whether electing someone to office, or hiring them for a job. In many cases, which contractor to use. Which store to shop at. Who to hang around with.
To me, the most important part of character is integrity. Does a person's walk match his talk? Does he do what he says he will do? Does he follow through. Honesty is another, equal factor. Can I trust this person to tell the truth. When he says "yes" does he mean yes? Can I trust him with a dollar, my car, my family? When I ask a question, is the answer the truth or did he fib just a little?
Another part of character is dependability. When I need help, will the person be there? Will he show up for a job at the appointed time? Keep his appointments. Work as hard on the little things as he does on the big.
Consistency is crucial. Working hard one day, slacking off the next doesn't help anyone. I'd rather have someone who did consitently mediocre work than have a yo-yo.
What do you think? Does character matter? What does it mean to you?
Monday, June 02, 2008
The "Okie from Muskogee" has voiced his opinion on politics again. In the 1970's he seemed conservative when he samg about "the 'hippies out in San Francisco' smoking marijuana and burning draft cards." (from Time magazine)
On the less conservative side, he also spoke out against the Iraq war "in 2003 with his song 'That’s the News,' which criticized coverage of the Iraq war and he later came to the aid of the Dixie Chicks when they came under fire for their comments about President George Bush at a concert." (more here)
Now Merle has a song supporting Hillary Clinton for president. Here are the lyrics from the one word titled song "Hillary":
If we don't elect Hillary, then we'll never know.
She is the right lady, and her husband's a pro.
Eight years in the White House with the know-how we need.
When you walk with a leader, you learn how to lead.
And who kept her head high when it could have been down?
And who ran the show when the scandal hit town?
This country needs to be honest. Our changes need to be large.
What we need is a big switch of gender. Let's put a woman in charge.
A woman in charge of the Army, put a woman in charge of the wheel.
The country owes it to Hillary, and Hillary owes it to Bill.
This country needs to be honest. Our changes need to be large.
What we need is a big switch of gender. Let's put a woman in charge.
He sang this at a recent concert, and the result was some grumbing. He then "moved right into a rousing rendition of, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” and any grumbling about “Hillary” began to fade. (from Time Magazine).
All of this about a lady who swore she wasn't a "stand-by your man" kind of woman.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
It recently was pointed out to me that I hadn't seen all of the episodeds I have on DVD. Season 4 just came out (special hint for Father's day) and I haven't seen all of season 2 or 3 yet. So I started over at the beginning. On my recent trip to L.A., I watched Season 1 to refresh my memories.
As I said, last night started season 2. It's 13 episodes, about 43 minutes each. I've seen many of the episodes, but at least two were brand new to me. The one where Jordan Collier got shot was new. Awesome shows.
I've seen 10 of the 13 and of course have season 3 once I've finished these. Good shows. Awesome plotline. Maia is my favorite character (I'm a sucker for little girls).
If you've never seen the show, the premise is something like this. Over a 50 year time period from 1946 to about 1996, people were abducted and taken away. At first we don't know if it's aliens or what. Then on August 11, 2004, all of a sudden all 4400 are returned to earth. Some are given special abilities. One can heal by touching. Maia can see visions of the future. One secretes saliva that helps people lose weight, and keep on losing.
The 4400 return and have no memories of their absence. One day they were here, the next day they're back. No time has elapsed. Their friends and family are older and many have moved on. One lady (Lily, another one of my favorite characters) was married when she left with a young girl. She returns to find her husband re-married, and won't let her see her daughter. And she finds out she's pregnant. Immaculate conception (sorta) as she wasn't pregnant when she left.
Lots of twists and turns in every episode. I strongly recommend the series.