Thursday, August 28, 2008

Expect Inflation

Instapundit reports that the economy grew faster than was expected in the second quarter:
Not to say things are hunky-dory -- I'm worried about inflation -- but this doesn't look like a recession.
I think inflation is a big concern and I'm expecting to see more of it than we have really considered "normal" for quite a while. Why? Because of the housing market.

Declining home value is bad for just about everybody. Negative equity means property owners are locked into their current holdings or walk away leaving the mortgage companies taking a loss. Not being able to sell is bad for most families. You can't trade up when you have kids. Worse, you can't follow work if you get laid off. Walking away ruins your credit and in large quantities will destroy the financial sector. Either way, bad stuff.

How to fix this? I'm betting home prices are going to hold steady while most other commodities will inflate at rates higher than we'd consider normal. Eventually real estate values come back into something approaching proper perspective. This hurts the real estate investors a lot and everyone else a little, but avoids most of the big negatives of declining home prices.

That's my call for the future.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nancy Drew

We netflixed the 2007 movie and watched it on Monday. It's not bad. Not amazing, but perfectly ok especially for a rental.

It's a kids movie (or perhaps a tweens movie) and you need to keep that mind when you're watching it. There is action, but nobody really gets hurt. Everything and everyone is clean. The villains are of the frequently bumbling sort. The plot is unfortunately quite predictable. Over all it's cute and fun.

If you're a big Nancy Drew fan, I'd expect to be disappointed. I don't think the film is based on any of the books and I gather that the movie isn't really like them. Nancy is 16 and in high school, not 18 and mostly emancipated as in the books. After the film establishes her in River Heights with her canonical friends and neighbors, she is quickly whisked away to LA. Her boyfriend Ned and her blue convertible show up again, but no one else does. I really didn't care, but I've read IMDB reviews written by girls who grew up on Nancy Drew who were pissed.

Imagine a Disney channel original movie with a bigger budget and better casting (but unfortunately not better writing) and you've basically got this movie. If that sounds like hell to you, then skip it.

UPDATE: One thing, the funniest line for me was Ned telling Nancy to "release the lightning" while she's tailing some goons in her convertible. Nancy drives a Nash Metropolitan. There isn't any lightning to release when the car has 42 horsepower and a 0 to 60 time of over 20 seconds.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Turning a War on It's Head

Michael Totten's piece on the Russian-Georgian war in South Ossetia is a must read. Wow. Read it.

Like a Yakov Smirnoff Joke

Chris Byrne's recent mention of his family's large book collection reminds me of similar traps I've seen in my own family and friends. At first you simply own lots of stuff, but as it piles up the stuff owns you.

I've seen this happen with lots of people. Sometimes it's clothes or shoes. Other times it's books. You got to a store, see something you like and buy it. You do this consistently and soon you have a closet full of shoes you'll never get around to wearing or an ever-growing pile of books you'll never get around to reading. The key is to stop buying. After that you just have to nibble things down bit by bit until everything is manageable. As I'm doing the nibbling, I try to put some sort of organization in place so that I know when things have piled up too high.

Over the weekend I went through a lot of old bills (which I habitually file away) and got rid of everything I didn't need to keep. Then I went through the clothes in my closet, especially my dress pants. Everything I can't or don't wear is now in a bag for Goodwill. I've come to the realization that my books, especially my paperbacks, are going to be next. I have a ton of books that I've picked up one place or another and that I'll probably never read again. Might was well sell them off or donate them to someone who will.

Monday, August 25, 2008

So True

more animals

Financial Training

A friend tipped me off about the Delaware Financial Literacy Institute and it's related programs like the Delaware Money School and Purses to Portfolios.

Financial training is one of those things people need, but rarely get. One of the big reasons the working poor stay poor is that they don't know how to spend and save their money. They also have few role models to show what wise financial stewardship looks like. Honestly, I think Home Economics would be far more useful if it taught people more about bank accounts and less about sewing or cooking.

Jack Markell, our State Treasurer and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate, founded these programs. I don't know that I love his party platform, but making free financial training was and is a great idea.

UPDATE: My coworker pointed out that financial training has a big problem. A lot of the people who need the training aren't fiscally responsible enough to realize it. I'm sure that's true. I'm also sure that there are a lot of people who want to be fiscally responsible, but just don't have the math skills to understand what that means in a practical sense.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Joe Who?

A phrase destined to be uttered by non-Delawareans everywhere. Every blog has analysis of Obama's choice for running mate, but I like Miss Anonymous's the best:
Obama must be in pretty bad straits to think he needs Biden. He needs Biden (if you'll excuse the hackneyed phrase) like a fish needs a bicycle. (Maybe he just needed a little GRAVITAS.)

How can you have a ticket of change and pick the guy who's like the wallpaper of the senate?
I agree with her here though:
Least it wasn't Hillary, he needs her like his back needs a knife. Which may be yet to come, if she decides to hijack the convention the way it's been whispered.
On the good side, I haven't seen this many people happy about Delaware getting mentioned since Wayne's World.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Me Too

Miss Anonymous is lamenting that she won't qualify for some sort of sweet bailout deal the FDIC because she isn't an idiot with bad credit. Ditto. When we were looking at houses our loan officer told us I had one of the best credit ratings he'd ever seen. Then he looked at Amy's. It is even better. Did we qualify for an amazing rate? Not really. We wound up with a 6+% 30 year fixed.

As an outsider, it looks like the mortgage companies are hoping that buy giving high risk borrowers low rates in hopes that they won't default and hedging their bets with mediocre rates for low risk consumers. This doesn't seem like a good idea to me. High risk borrowers aren't just high risk because they don't have any money, they're also high risk because they don't know how to manage the money they have. More importantly, a small startup could steal the low risk borrowers out from under them by simply offering them the rates they deserve, not the rates they're currently getting.

But then again I'm an engineer not some sort of actuary so what do I know?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

MP3 Madness

Amy and I are thinking about picking up a new mp3 player. Amybear has a 512 megs of memory in her satellite radio. It's not enough and the radios interface stinks. She's going to upgrade to my 1G Mobiblu cube. It's a nice unit. 1 gig is enough music that you can't play it all on a single battery charge. Unfortunately it isn't enough to haul around your entire music collection and listen to whatever you want. You need to plan ahead. You also put files on there with Windows Explorer, which kind of sucks as an interface. If I were smart or bored, I'd write a decent Tcl GUI to do my file management for me.

But that aside, we're both thinking about getting a new mp3 player in the multi-zulti-gig portable music archive category. The two leading contenders are the iPod Classic and the Zune 80. Most of the comparisons indicate that the Zune is the iPod's equal. So we're leaning towards the Zune because we don't use Mac (the Zune's kryptonite), we don't particularly like Apple, but we do like the FM radio feature and the bigger screen on the Zune. Unlike most third party players, the Zune also seems to have a some third party vendor support which was the Mobiblu's Achilles heel.

UPDATE: Amy and I hit several places to look at mp3 players on display. We played with Zunes, Sansas, iPods, etc. The Sandisk products felt kind of cheap and the Archos products were either huge or unavailable. After getting a chance to play, we still like the Zune but its PC software makes us nervous. We're not in a hurry to buy, so maybe we'll wait and see if the market changes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Self-Interested Activism

100 college presidents have banded together to call for a reduction in the drinking age from 21 to 18. They believe that this will curb binge drinking. Instapundit agrees. McQ dissents. Duffy thinks it will at least make them real popular with their students. McQ makes a great point:
Of course they're college and university presidents. Their only concern is their little world, and they're taking heat for not doing more about binge drinking by underage college students. Make 18 the law and they can wash their hands of the problem.

What effect it has in high-schools, of course, concerns them not at all.
Everyone I know who recalls when the drinking age was 18 thanked God for raising it. My bible-study leader in high school worked his way through college as a bar bouncer. He went from throwing people out once or twice a night to once or twice a week once the drinking age went up. I have yet to hear someone who was there say "yeah raising the age didn't change anything."

The reasons the college presidents are bringing this up is because if the drinking age drops to 18, they won't have to deal with the problem anymore. The number of collegians under 18 is negligible. The drinking problem will still exist, but it will be legal and therefore not the school's (and it's president's) problem. This lets them wash their hands of the whole situation.

What goes unsaid is that the drinking problem is going to get worse in high schools. Now you're going to have high school seniors running side businesses buying alcohol for underclassmen. And high school drinking is already a serious problem as it is.

Biden for Veep

Steve Lamp has this to say about Joe Biden possibly becoming the next VP:
I still find myself a bit confounded by the speculation that Barrack Obama would choose Joe Biden as his running mate because of his foreign policy credentials. Just because you have done something for a very long time doesn't necessarily mean that you are good at it. The bright side that I see to this though is that it gets Biden out of Delaware, and we can finally get a new Senator.
I've never been impressed with Biden's foreign policy performance, either. Considering Delaware's position as a powerhouse in the electoral college, I really think Biden would be a mis-step. The really unfortunately thing is that Biden will probably run for Senate and VP in 2008. We'll likely only lose Senator Biden if he and Obama won. I guess every cloud has a silver lining, but that's one dark cloud.

Technical Recidivism

I've noticed that my computer abilities have shifted since going to work for the Army. I'm probably a better programmer now than I was is college. I've learned new tricks and have access to better programming environments that make the chore easier. But my actual ability to fix hum-drum computer glitches is significantly worse. I suppose this is because I can't fix most major problems on my workplace PC without administrator access (which they won't give me).

My biggest embarrassment came when I reported a problem with one of our printers. The answering question was the obvious "have you turned it off and turned it on again?" Doh! Of course that fixed it. I would have saved the IT group minutes, but more importantly I would have saved me hours.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Athletic Drug Testing

Hube is reporting that the iPod Michael Phelps wears to the blocks while mentally preparing for a race may be giving him an unfair advantage over other competitors. Therefore he should be stripped of his medals. Says Hube:
...what's next? Checking into Phelps' diet? I heard yesterday that Phelps eats about 12,000 calories a day. Do we examine all the ingredients of his diet to make sure there are no artificial substances in it? What about breathing deeply before a race? Wouldn't this type of breathing be "artificial," since it is far from "normal" breathing?
A good friend in college ran track and cross country. She said that one of the main ways the NCAA looks for drugs to ban is by examining what commonly shows up in runners drug tests. If they see a lot of something, they move to ban it. One of the common substances detected this way was C8H10N4O2 which is in athletes' blood in huge quantities. That's caffeine by the way. The NCAA also considers energy drinks to be unfair performance enhancers and regulated athletes intake of substances like the herb guarana in 2002. They finally regulated caffeine intake in 2006. I'm sure regulating diet won't be far off now.

Can't Get It Out of My Head

You might have heard Katy Perry's single "I Kissed a Girl" on Top 40 airplay. It's catchy and somewhat naughty. I picked up her first album "One of the Boys" over the weekend. Its a solid piece of work that is mostly relationship-inspired dance rock. Perry has an interesting smokey voice and the songs flow well without being too similar to each other. Various songs make fun of emo boys and metrosexuals. What's not to like?

I'm not looking forward to her next single Hot N' Cold coming out in September, though. I already can't get it out of my head and I'm not hearing it on the radio 24-7.

UPDATE: Some coworkers listened to it going to lunch. They both consider it chick rock and therefore fit only for their sisters or Miata drivers.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Forfeiting Real Debate

Duffy asked the left side of Delaware's blogosphere a serious question:
Please explain how you will tax corporations and not have them pass that cost on to consumers.
The answers he received were the standard "they're rich so they can afford it" and the always popular "you're stupid!" This explains why I never bother to read anything the left side of the Delaware blogosphere puts out.

There is a good reason why they won't pass all of the costs of their tax increases on to the consumer, but it involves actual economics so you won't hear it from the lefties. It and the rest of the discussion are taking place over in Duffy's comments.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Testing 1, 2, 3...

Well I can get to my email at work, so I'm experimenting with posting
via email. If you're seeing this chances are that I'll be making a
few posts tomorrow.

UPDATE: Well it isn't exactly perfect. The conversion from email to blog post seems to be adding line breaks which screw up the formatting. I also can't figure out how to put in proper labels. But something is better than nothing.

UPDATE2: Figures. Just as I get this setup, somebody has monkeyed with the permissions somewhere up the intertube from me. Now I can use the standard Blogger interface again.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Missing Blogger

Why haven't I posted in over a week? Well partly because work has me in training that is both interesting and challenging. If it was just one or the other, I'd probably have mental faculties left over to blog. Unfortunately with both my brain is shot and all I'm good for is light reading like Star Wars books or Burroughs' Barsoom series.

The other reason is that I generally post at work while on breaks. Unfortunately my workplace has put in place a new filtering scheme that prevents me from accessing the inner workings of my own blog. I should be thankful since I can at least access my front page. I can't even get to Livejournal any more. All this means sparse blogging during business hours until further notice.

About the Barsoom books, Frazetta may go for a weird saber look on his book covers, I really think the martian longsword is probably more of a cut and thrust. And of course I want one now. I'm so impressionable.