Thursday, July 31, 2008

How do you define support?

In today's world, support is defined by money. When we look at presidential candidates, one metric is how much money the candidate is raising. This was constantly monitored during the primaries and will be monitored even more closely between now and November. Candidates are raising money through all types of methods, including the Internet.

My fundamental question though, is: it really "support" if everyone sends $1?

On the Internet today, you can raise money easily. There are tools like PayPal and ChipIn that allow people to safely donate to the cause du jour. I don't mean to imply that these tools are bad or that some of the collections are bad. I think it's a good way to do fund raising. But, the question is, should we measure a politician's success by his (or her) ability to raise money this way?

I saw a recent article about a candidate for the Kansas legislature who is using PayPal to raise money for his candidacy. Sean Tevis has gone from a measly $1525 in his war chest before he started his Internet campaign to over $95,000 in just two weeks. And over 1/2 of these donations were under $8.34 each. But are these 5700+ people really supporting him or are they just laughing at the comic strip on his website?

Four years ago, Howard Dean was a fund-raising machine. He even looked at fund-raising as a sporting event, playing games with Bush supporters. When Bush had a big fund-raising dinner with $1000-a-plate (and more) dinners, Dean challenged his supporters to raise even more via the Internet, a few dollars at a time. (see article here).

But of course, Dean's campaign folded during the primaries and he never even made it to the 2004 election. (Kerry won the nomination, Bush the election)

You can even go back to 1970 and see the same kind of fund raising. Of course the Internet didn't exist in 1970, so George McGovern used an early form of spam called "direct mail" to do fund raising. It was a novel approach at the time and the response he received was higher than expected. "2 percent would have been a strong response," McGovern achieved 4%. Today's standard is 1/2 percent (reference here). The fund raising paid off, he won the Democratic nomination in 1972. However, he lost in a landslide election to Richard Nixon.

Now you can look at McGovern and Dean and identify other reasons these candidates didn't finish with the results reflected in their fund-raising. I have no idea of Sean Tevis' chances. But the question remains, does financial support through these fund raising techniques reflect real support?

I think the answer is obvious. But in order to prove it, I'd like everyone on the Internet to send me $1 for more research. If I raise $1million, I'm sure it will prove I have a lot of support.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What penance must I pay?

This week's "trip du week" was a small jaunt to Atlanta. I left on Tuesday morning for a 1pm meeting, followed by 3 hours of training. An overnight stay and then more training today. I probably used a lot of carbon credits driving to Atlanta and back (slight over 300 miles). For that, I know I can call algore and pay him off to absolve myself of that sin.

But I'm unsure what to do about the hotel. See, I stayed at a Homewood Suites. It was on my company's approved hotel list, very close to the class location and wasn't the most expensive one on the list. But I had a real suite. A bedroom and a living room. There was a whirlpool tub, but I only took a shower, so no water credits need to be purchased. But somehow I feel guilty, having such a large room for just myself and only one night.

So, to where must I go to pay penance? Surely some natural law was broken.

Maybe algore has a credit I can purchase to redeem my spacious soul.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Random thought day.

I had this idea about maintenance. Cars need maintenance. Oil needs to be changed regularly. Belts changed, filters replaced. The inside needs to be cleaned, cups & burger bags thrown away, vacuumed, treat the vinyl so it doesn't dry out etc. Even adding gas to the tank is maintenance

If a car isn't maintained, it will soon fall apart. I speak from some experience here. Years ago, I had some major engine troubles with a car because of a lack of oil changes. Very expensive. I could have had oil changes for life with what it cost. If the car doesn't literally fall apart, it may run poorly. It will fetch less at resale time.

Other things in life need maintenance too. Doing the dishes is maintenance. Mopping, sweeping, vacuuming. The house needs maintenance. Some people like this kind of maintenance. With medication, they may be healed.

The body needs maintenance. Sleep is maintenance. Teenagers like to run without sleep. I think they are afraid they will miss some fun if they sleep. (I try to never miss out on a good nap) I'm sure exercise could be called maintenance, but that's carrying this analogy a little too far (and getting personal).

Relationships need maintenance. I need to do a better job of this.

Life in general needs maintenance. Where else is maintenance required?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Lost Music

Several years ago, I was in Wal-Mart and happened to walk up on a singer, playing guitar and singing songs. He was of course advertising his albums (actually tapes and CDs, but you know what I mean). He was dressed in a country style: blue jeans, hat, etc. I liked his music, so I bought a cassette tape (remember those?).

Trouble is, I loaned it to someone and never got it back. The singer's name was Fratt. No first name, no last name, just Fratt. The only song I remember on the tape was the Ray Boltz song "The Anchor Holds" - a really terrific song. I remember I liked the whole tape.

Today, I searched for the singer, but alas, I came up empty. I don't know if he changed his name and made it big in another country or just faded into the sunset (like a good cowboy). But I wish I could find some of his music again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Island - Movie Review

I'm not sure who told me about this movie ("The Island") or what possessed me to add it to our Netflix queue. The description says it's a "stylish sci-fi thriller", so I'm certain my wife didn't add it. I don't remember moving it to the top of the queue, but again, I'm sure she didn't.

Anyway, it arrived and I really didn't want to read emails last night, so it seemed like a good idea to watch a movie. I didn't recognize any of the stars, until I saw Neelix (Ethan Phillips) from Star Trek Voyager. It really bothered me until I figured out who he was.

It's hard to describe the movie without giving away the secrets. It was full of twists and turns and a LOT of action. Fast motorcycles that can ride in the air (this is Sci-fi), cool looking elevated trains. Things that blow-up, all the good stuff.

The premise is about a society that exists entirely inside. Residents dream of someday winning the lottery and going to "the island", the only uncontaminated place left outside on earth. But then the star gets bored with the same old rat-race, same clothes every day, boring job, etc. and begins to ask "why?" His discovery leads to a desparate escape and he learns more than he ever dreamed.

The movie is rated PG-13. I can't recall a lot of profanity or sex scenes, there is one implied. There's also a scene where the star looks at some pin-ups on a friend's wall, you really can't see anything. Depending on the age of the kids involved, a couple of scenes may require explanations. There is a lot of violence, things getting blown up and a few people being shot. By today's standards, it's relatively mild.

I give them movie 4 stars out of 5. The action was good, one chase scene was a little long, and I like it when things blow up. Mostly, the action was not overdone. The plot wasn't the strongest in the world, but since I was tired from 3 days of travel, it was just right. The characters were believable and the female star was pretty, but not outrageously so. I'm betting that the budget wasn't very big, they didn't seem to have a lot of anything.

My wife would probably rate it at 2 or 3 stars. She's not a sci-fi fan and just doesn't have a great appreciation for things blown up. There was a little love story involved, so that made it tolerable for her.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Can the fist bump mix with business?

Back on June 11, I predicted that business would begin to mimic the Obama Hand Bump (OHB). See my prediction here. This morning's USA Today explores this prediction. I couldn't find the article online, but received a paper copy on the door of my hotel room. Pictures of Bush hand-bumping a young male and Obama hand bumping an adult male adorn the article, details about ChaCha's CEO Scott Jones and Moen faucet maker president North Olmsted are in the article, all supporting the hand bump.

Just remember you read it here first.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Upcoming week

Someone noticed that I hadn't blogged in a while. Well, I guess I've just been busy. I learned how to make Excel talk to you this week. At a customer site, the nerds in the group were all getting Excel to say "Dude". So I listened in on their conversation and now Excel calls me a "dude" (or anything else I want).

This week promises to be busy too. I'm driving 266 miles tomorrow (with two stops in the middle), another 86 miles on Tuesday and 107 miles on Wednesday.

So, on Wednesday, I have to see a customer 1/2 miles from my hotel. Should I drive or walk on Charlotte streets in 95+ degree weather?

You can tell how motivated I am about blogging...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Global War on Terror

Anyone else notice that the Global War on Terror is back in the headlines? For a while, it seems that they wanted to talk about the War in Afghanistan or the War in Iraq, but talking about the Global War on Terror gave Bush too much credit.

This week, Obama was talking about "the central front in the War on Terror". Ok, it's not the "Global" war and he's trying to focus on Afghanistan, and he's still trying to get us out of Iraq. But it's a change in focus for Obama and attitudes in general.

People like the idea of fighting terror, they just don't like the details.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Shhh! It's a secret

One of my readers told me that she wanted to hear less about politics and instead to hear directly from my heart. This one's for you Emily.

I don't like secrets. Never have, never will. Ben Franklin supposedly said that "three can keep a secret if two of them are dead." (I can't swear he said it, even though my kids think I'm that old).

Some secrets are made to be kept. National Security requires it. Sometimes, business requires it. I can't discuss my information with my competitor. Some of my customers like to keep their information "private". All that makes sense. I don't have to do it often and I don't like it when I do.

But I hate it when people tells me something and say "now don't tell anyone" or "don't tell so-and-so". I hate it worse when they ask me not to share with my family.

So for the record, I don't keep secrets from family. Oh sure there are things that remain private. And I won't go into detail about finances with anyone but my wife. I decided long ago that my children just didn't need to know how much I made, how much I paid for my house or car. My goal was to avoid them trying to one-up their friends.

I once knew a family who believed in secrets. "Don't tell your father," the mother would say to her daughter or "don't tell your husband/wife". To me this seems to sow the seeds of distrust.

But you may say "I'm keeping this secret to protect them" to which I would say "who appointed you their protector?" Maybe when they were children. But at some point, you hope they've grown up. You hope you've trained them correctly. The husband and wife should be able to share everything.

I've also seen this protection abused. Happens more to wives by husbands, but could apply to anyone. Men "protect" their wives by hiding the truth or flat out lying to them. They end up treating their wives as lesser beings. Totally unfair. I've also seen it lead to sharing secrets with people other than a spouse. I think of this as "emotional adultery". Not surprisingly, it often leads to "physical adultery."

Now I do have an exception for some secrets. I'd call them surprises. Birthdays, Christmas, etc. Once I kept a "secret" when my wife's son came to visit on Mother's day. He was headed out of country to fight some bad guys. The surprise was wonderful. We also had a surprise birthday party for my wife. Everyone loves those kind of secrets. But these are all very specific and very time-oriented.

* Updated to correct spelling - My editor is tough. After the fact.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A bright spot of economic news

Yesterday, my son and I had a discussion about a glass half-full/half-empty situation. He decided he was a half-full kind of person. Here's one of those stories.

The title is "Record exports shrink May trade gap" and the story is here. For the non-economists in the crowd, here's what this means. We (the USofA) shipped out more stuff than we brought in. What's especially impressive is that EVEN WITH THE COST OF OIL, we did this. Very little gasoline comes stamped with a "Made in the USA" label on it. So we have to send our hard earned $$ to foreign countries like Canada and Mexico and of course Saudi Arabia to buy it.

When gas/oil prices are high, we have to spend more. Just like you & I do at the pump. But with all the complaints about a weaker dollar, the falling dollar, oh my, the prices on American goods has increased also. So people in other nations are sending more dollars back to us.

Does this mean the recession is over? Well, the recession never started, but it doesn't mean our economic problems are over. The FDIC took over a very large bank (IndyMac). That means that the government is paying out some big bucks to put a finger in the dike of the mortgage problem. And that has more fallout to come. What makes this story so bad is that one of our finest congressmen may have helped start this one.

But the glass is definitely half full. We can all take a little comfort in knowing that we are now producing more and selling it overseas.

* Updated to correct spelling in title and a few other places. Someone doesn't respect a little dyslexia.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

100 Calorie snacks

Have you seen those 100 Calorie snacks? There's an assortment of them and they're pretty good.

The nice thing is, that you can eat 10-15 packs of them.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Global warming and California Glaciers

Taking a short break from gas prices.

This article talks about the effect of global warming on glaciers in California. But it's enough to surprise Al Gore, the glaciers are growing.

The article also says that "Four glaciers at Washington's Mount Rainier are staying about the same size." Wait a minute, how can that be? With global warming I thought all the glaciers were disappearing faster than the ice in my freezer when my 18 year old is around.

The part that caught my eye the most was the part that says "Nearby Indian tribes referred to its glaciers as the footsteps made by the creator when he descended to Earth."

Near me, there's a mountain called Table Rock. Next to it is Stump Mountain. Indians said their God would sit on the Stump Mountain and eat of the Table Rock.

It always made me feel small, to think that my God was bigger than that.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Gas prices - Conservation

I hope you had a good fourth of July weekend. Since it fell on a Friday, most people had a three day weekend. Normally, this would lead to a lot of folks on the high-way, but with gas prices so high, predictions were that most people would stay close to home.

I had to work on Sunday afternoon. "Work" in my case was visiting a customer 100 miles away. So I was one of the folks on the road. To my surprise, the roads were not empty. It's not scientific by any means, but there seemed to be as many as I would have thought for a 3day weekend. I noticed a fair number of SUVs (don't recall any hummers), and RVs. Also trucks pulling campers home after a beach or mountain trip.

Which leads me to post on conservation. Of course I had planned this anyway, so it fits.

The idea is real simple, if gas prices are high because of high demand, we can lower demand by using less gas. Which means driving less. As demand drops, gas prices will drop (or stabilize, or increase less). Supply will go up, we'll send less money to the Middle East and our country will be stronger. We'll have more money to spend on other things, like apple pie, motherhood and all in the good ole USofA. What could be better?

If I sound sarcastic, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be. Conservation is truly one way you can make a difference in your personal gas bill. If you're spending $50/week on gas and you cut your driving by 10%, you will save over $250/year. That's real money you can use to make your mortgage payment and avoid foreclosure.

The problem is, I don't think Americans want to conserve. In a recent post I showed that people were as upset about gas prices after Katrina (at $3/gallon) as they are now (at $4/gallon), but a year after Katrina, they were buying SUV's again. My prediction then and now is that we'll see SUV sales back up next summer.

We can mandate conservation. Congress can create laws that force Detroit/Tokyo to have a higher gas mileage on cars. Detroit will scream, Tokyo will be quiet. Over the last 15 years, gas mileage has doubled, there's no reason to believe that won't happen again. Even though I typically am against government interference in business, this is one exception. I think it's a good idea for the government to gently push the automotive industry.

However, new cars with higher mileage won't solve problems quickly. It will take 15 years to take full effect on new cars and longer than that for all the old cars to be off the roads. As pointed out in my post on drilling, starting today is better than not starting.

But there's also another side of conservation. Suppose that we all conserve and prices drop. Once prices drop, people will start driving again and end conservation. Prices will go back up. Conserve again. Prices drop. Can you see a pattern here?

One more oddity, then I'll close. Reports are that people have cut their driving, there is a waiting list for Prius' and other hybrids. For now (maybe not for long), people are actually conserving. The point on this is that $4 gas may actually be accomplishing what conservationists want. And that's not all bad.

As before, if you have comments about this specific post, please put them here. If you have comments on other areas related to gas prices, they are welcome too, but please post them under my initial post on gas prices here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gas Prices - Drill ye tarriers, drill

Ok, the title refers to construction of railroads (a very old folk song) and gas prices - two incompatible areas. But I try to be cute with titles.

I wanted to express opinion on the "Drill for oil" movement that has gained a lot of press. I'll also insert some facts, but no links this time. It's too close to a holiday and I don't want to work that hard.

A lot of people are talking about drilling for oil. Drill offshore, drill in ANWR, drill, drill, drill. Opponents are worried about the environment (haven't heard that much this time), worried that it will take 10 years and some are even saying it won't affect supply.

There are (at least) three factors that affect gas prices - Supply of oil, Demand for oil and the future price of oil. The last two items will be discussed later, this post only deals with the supply. The idea behind drilling is that if the supply increases, cost will go down.

Ecological impact of drilling is important. You can look at the Exxon Valdez, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and see the impact. There's no question that this is a bad thing. But in reality, neither of these even made the list of top 10 worst oil spills. (oops, there went a link)

Ecologists aren't complaining this time and in one case I heard of (no links) they are even getting payoffs in California to keep quiet.

Others are saying it will take 10 years to see any results. If you look, you'll find that this number "10 years" or "a decade" is thrown out quite a bit. But the number is just a round number and not based on any facts. Sure, some of it will take 10 years, but some oil would be coming out of the ground very quickly. Jed Clampett, eat your heart out.

The most surprising argument I've heard is that it won't help. The story goes that oil wells in Texas and the North Sea are drying up. Any increase in oil will be offset with decreases other places. Well, maybe this is true (I can't find any links on it), but wouldn't it be better for oil production to be flat rather than drop?

So, I think drilling is good. It will increase (or maintain) supply and hopefully lower prices. The sooner drilling is started, the better.

But who should drill? Well, the people that should drill are the ones best qualified - the oil companies. The government should stay out of it. No incentives to drill, no telling them when, where or how much. The market will determine those things.

Where should we drill? On this, I'm slightly torn. Part of me says the free market will determine this. Stay out of it. But also, I recognize that national security somewhat is impacted by the fact that we get most of our oil from somewhere else. It would be a good thing to encourage us to be more self-sufficient and not dependent on foreign interests.

As before, if you have comments about this specific post, please put them here. If you have comments on other areas related to gas prices, they are welcome too, but please post them under my initial post on gas prices here.

*Update - Immediately after writing this post and publishing, I saw this article about maintenance on North Seas oil fields. This will tighten supply. No word on how long this will last.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gas prices - Should I trade for better mileage?

This is my second post on gas prices. In the first one, I asked if gas prices are really high. Before you laugh, read here and then you can comment in that post. This post intends to examine if I should trade my old truck for something more fuel efficient.

I drive a 2004 Dodge Dakota SLT. It's not a huge truck and the V8 actually gets a little bit better mileage than the V6 model. But when I drive to Columbia (about 100 miles) I only get about 18mpg. It's very hilly and I just can't do better. I've long said I wanted a Miata (see my mid-life crisis post here), but for fuel efficiency, I've been looking at the Chevy Cobalts. The four door Sport Sedan gets about 32mpg.

So, let's say I trade my truck in for a Cobalt. Makes sense, right? I'd be going from 18 mpg to 32mpg (hopefully). On a normal trip to Columbia, I'd be saving almost 5 gallons of gas every trip. At $4/gallon, that's $20 savings every single trip.

Of course, I couldn't trade even my truck for a Cobalt (and I'd miss my truck). KBB says that the Cobalt is going for $19,850, let's call it $20,000 (nice even number). KBB says it's worth about $8,000. That leaves $12,000 that I have to pay or finance.

Now by saving $20 per trip, it would only take me 600 trips to make this financially attractive. I probably average going about 3 times every two weeks, so the financial trade off is only about 7 years 8 months. MAKES GOOD SENSE, RIGHT?

Of course, one aspect I'm missing here is the fact that if I were going to get a new vehicle anyway, it would make more sense to buy something more fuel efficient. But wait a minute, fuel efficiency isn't the whole story. Clark Howard has an entry on his website (here) with the 10 cheapest cars. You may notice that there's only one hybrid on the list and it's ranked number 10.

So here's the net. The cheapest car to own is the one you already have. Don't trade just for fuel efficiency. When you do trade, look at fuel efficiency, but look at other things too.

Now a comment about comments. I LOVE comments. I'd appreciate reading yours. This topic has generated some off-the-wall sub-topics that I've promised to research. If you have a facet of gas prices you'd like me to look at, please look at my initial post and comment there. I promise, I'll look at it and comment back. Most likely, I'll blog about it later.

If you have a comment specific to this post, please post it here and I'll comment back. Thanks