The Greeting Card Industry

Tuesday, November 29, 2005
This industry must make money hand over fist and yet if you Think About It it isn't very practical.

Americans buy millions of cards in a given year. I went to buy a few cards the other day and they cost me $3.00 each. Seriously, what the hell is that? These are pieces of paper with cute sayings on them but we are willing to pay $3.00 for each one? And these are items whose useful lifespans are approximately 15 seconds. They are read once, and probably never thought of again a majority of the time. And people give cards for so many different occassions. Birthdays, anniversaries, get well, Just-Thinking-of-You, Happy-Second-Tuesday-of-the-Month, etc. This has got to be the industry to get in if you want to make tons of money. Hallmark is privately held and has sales of approximately $4.4 billion (some of that is non card related products). That's a whole lot of happy wishes.

I'm Becoming Psychic

Sunday, November 27, 2005
Seriously, something strange is going on. It started a week ago in the Best Buy parking lot. My girlfriend and I play the license plate game. It's a game where you are supposed to call out any out of state plate. She had called out some state, I think it was Arizona. Not wanting to lose, I jokingly called out Kansas. She knew I was joking but as we turned the corner, right in front of us was a Kansas license plate. What are the odds of finding a Kansas State License plate?

While shopping in Brookstone this weekend, I came across a card shuffler with a deck of cards in it. My girlfriend reaches into the deck and pulls out a card. I am about to say something like "10 of clubs" but instead I say, "3 of spades". She looks at me like I'm crazy or something, I think she is joking that I got it right. She proceeds to look at the rest of the deck just to make sure its a real deck, sure enough it was.

Now I can chalk up the license and the cards to random coincidence but the next story is just strange. In an extremely freaky occurrence, I asked her about 3 hours before her GRE if she had read any of the book I recommended, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It's about architecture which is what my girlfriend wants to go to school for. I tell her I like to read another book by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, before I do something important because it pumps me up. It pumps me up because the book is about celebrating heroes and the greatness of men. Instead of tearing down men who achieve greatness, like our society and the media do, the book celebrates man's ability to achieve. I pointed to how the media took someone like Kobe Bryant, who before his scandal was considered the poster child for what was right with the game, and tore him down for his act of infidelity (which he is amittedly a bastard for doing). They seem to take great pride in blaming him for every little thing from destroying the Lakers to the outbreak of the avian flu even though little had do to with his infidelity. They seem to draw energy in tearing down because he had risen so high.

When she sat down to take the test, the essay question was, "Do you believe our society likes to tear down its heroes?"

I seriously think I need to go buy a lottery ticket.

Happy Thanksgiving 2005

Wednesday, November 23, 2005
I hope everybody has a happy Turkey Day. I am usually not a very big fan of Thanksgiving even though I do think it is probably good for people to reflect back on their lives and see what is good in it. We spend so much time focusing on the negative that every once in a while it is important to take a step back and realize just how great life can be. I figured it was appropriate to give the reasons I'm thankful this year.

  • I am not spending Thanksgiving alone with Bandit and having a Turkey sandwich. (even though I am going to miss the fact I won't be with him)
  • I get to spend Thanksgiving with a wonderful girl who complements me in so many different ways.
  • I have some great friends who take the time to read my daily ramblings.
  • I am happy and healthy in both mind and body.
  • One of the biggest things bothering me lately was that I turned down a job offer that would have paid me a lot of money but I still didn't think it was enough. A problem I'm sure plenty of people would love to have.
  • I have the courage to finally not buy Christmas gifts this year.
  • I have enough extra money that I actually worry about what to do with it rather than worry that I don't have enough.
  • I have the courage and ability to take charge of my own life and not settle for something less than I want.
  • I have the capacity and desire to learn something new every day, even though sometimes I get so preoccupied with it, I feel overwhelmed.
  • Even though I'm getting older, I still have hopes and dreams as if I were 15.
I hope everybody has as many things to be thankful for as I do. Everybody have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving whatever you may be doing!

Xbox 360 Launch

Tuesday, November 22, 2005
So Microsoft released the Xbox 360 last night at midnight. Thousands of eager gamers waited in the cold and the rain so they would be the first to get one of the coveted machines.

Seriously, don't these people have a life? I mean, I love video games, but is it really necessary to wait in line with all these other people just to be the first to get it? I just don't get this mentality at all. The same thing happened with Harry Potter and I didn't get it then either.

I for one am waiting on getting a next generation console system. I think I'm going to wait until the Sony Playstation 3 comes out (although I'm hesitant to buy any Sony product anymore). I had an Xbox rather than a PS2 and was happy with it but the Playstation 3 is going to have a lot more horepower on it than the Xb0x 360 does. It will output a 1080p signal for an HDTV and it will come with a Blu-Ray DVD player. Blu Ray players are expected to cost a thousand dollars when they first come out but Sony will most likely sell its PS3 as a loss leader for around $400, and you will get to play games to boot.

I was also told by a friend that you really need an HDTV to enjoy an Xbox 360 (he works for a gaming network and got to play with it first hand). Since I don't plan on getting an new TV until sometime next year, I can definitely wait it out if I have to.

GM to Close Plants

Monday, November 21, 2005
GM announced today that it would close a dozen plants and eliminate about 30,000 jobs. This is of course devastating to a lot of workers, their families, and the communities they live in but it is probably the right thing to do.

However, what caught my eye was the UAW's response to the news. They called it, "extremely disappointing, unfair and unfortunate." I'm not sure what the UAW expect to happen. It is quite clear to me that GM, with its huge pension obligations and outdated cars, simply can't compete with the Japanese auto manufacturers. You can hope and pray that Americans want to buy more expensive, less reliable, and less stylish cars in order to keep your business running but in the end, it probably won't help.

No doubt, that management at GM has screwed up in the past and is a major cause of this current contraction but the past is in the past. Is it fair that they got to screw up the business and the workers have to pay for it? Probably not. But there is something I learned when I was eight. Life isn't fair. If GM doesn't have the capacity to support all these plants and workers they simply don't have it. You can't keep running a business at a lost, because sooner or later everyone suffers.

I speak from experience. My company has had to go through several layoffs in the past few years. Each time, it was not the fault of the people getting laid off, just the reality of the business. In fact, if the owner would have just had the foresight to lay people off sooner than he did, he might still have his business and saved the jobs of many people who got laid off at the end.

Cell Phones In the Bathroom

Friday, November 18, 2005
Please, do not use your cell phone in the bathroom. It is disconcerting enough for the other users of the bathroom to hear you chatting away. It certainly can not be any better for the person on the other end of the phone to hear toilets flushing or the sound of pee falling into the urinal. Just don't answer your phone while you are in there. Certainly don't bring a conversation from outside into the bathroom. The call can wait. It's not that important. People spent hundreds of years going to the bathroom without chatting to someone who wasn't there, I'm sure you can survive too.

Paying off the Mortgage: A Bad Idea?

Thursday, November 17, 2005
Here is a myth that many Americans believe in that isn't necessarily true. Paying off the Mortgage early is a good idea. It just isn't true. I'm almost sure this is a myth perpetuated by the Banking industry themselves.

Why on earth do I, the ultimate saver, say this? Isn't it safer to pay off your house just in case? In fact, it may be one of the more risky things you do. Why?

Think About It. In times of crisis, the most important thing is to have liquidity. That is, you need to have an easy and fast way to get cash out of whatever investments you own. By paying off your mortgage early, all you are doing is locking your money into the house. I know what you are thinking; can't I just take out a home equity loan against the equity in my house? No, not necessarily.

Let's say you lose your job. Almost no bank will loan you money if you don't have a job, even with your house as collateral. Banks don't want your house, they want to be paid back. If you don't have a job, they can't be paid back. But it gets worse. You still have to pay back your mortgage, even if you have been paying it off early. Banks expect their check every month, and if you start to fall behind banks get nervous. If they foreclose, you are very likely to lose everything, including all that built up equity.

What makes this problem even more insidious is that the bank is more likely to foreclose on you if you have paid off more of your mortgage. Huh? Let's just say the market tanks and interest rates rise so that the bank has a number of foreclosures on its hands. What house are they going to foreclose on first? The house with the smallest amount of debt. Why? Because in all likelihood they will not receive full market value for the house. They will only get up to the value of the mortgage, and all other funds will be directed to other lien holders and then the former owner. They can only recoup the money left on the mortgage and in a depressed market that will only happen to houses with a small debt ratio. In fact, if you have a high ratio they will most likely work with you to delay payments and allow you to live in the house until you can resume payments. Kind of ironic isn't it?

I am not advocating just going out and spending the money you would otherwise use to pay off your mortgage early. Quite the contrary. I highly suggest that people put the money aside in a liquid account and allow the money to earn interest. Given a mortgage rate of about 5.7% and a tax bracket of 25% that means the money cost about 4%. There are plenty of investments that make 4% that are relatively safe. If the time ever comes you can't make a payment you can use the funds built up on your liquid account to make the monthly payment. At worse, if you have to walk away from the house, you still have the money that would have otherwise evaporated when the bank sold your house. When the amount in this side account equals the payoff amount of your mortgage, that is when you should pay it off.

Of course, the above course takes tremendous discipline. Most people don't have the will to be able to put money aside and not touch it. I'm also not saying it is never a good idea to pay off the mortgage early, it just isn't the no-brainer people make it out to be.

WTF is Wrong With Sony?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005
In case you haven't heard, Sony released a CD that has a rootkit on it. Basically a rootkit is a virus that attempts to mask itself from standard means of detection. It can basically hide from antivirus and malware. It is a truly insidious tactic.

Now there is news that Sony may have lead a price-fixing scheme to charge online retailers more than brick-and-mortar stores. Granted, a few other companies are named and this is only a complaint and not a conviction, but even so Sony isn't making a very good name for itself lately.

I love Sony products. But I don't like companies that do nefarious things. I will have to think long and hard the next time I am going to make a major electronics purchase. Treating your customers like criminals and trying to ensure they can't get a good deal is pretty much a recipe for losing any sort of customer loyalty it took years to cultivate.

Instant Messaging Through a Web Browser

Monday, November 14, 2005
Found a cool site that lets you IM through a web browser. Particularly useful if you are in a location where you can't install IM software or you are behind a firewall that doesn't allow IM protocols through. The site is I've used it at my work because our firewall blocks MSN and a few others. It works pretty well. It's not perfect and doesn't work exactly the same way you would expect an IM client to work but it is at least functional.It's based on AJAX technology (much like Goolge Maps)which is changing the way we interact with the Web.

Stupid Americans: example #5

Friday, November 11, 2005
In a perfect example of what is wrong with this country, I heard a women say on the local news.

"Facts are Facts. You aren't indicted in this country unless you did something wrong."

I don't remember the exact story or what was going on but are you joking me? Are people so stupid to think that this is true? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Plenty of people get indicted without having done anything wrong. And to call it a fact that you did something wrong just because you are indicted? I just don't know what to say to that.

Nissan to Move It's Headquarters

Thursday, November 10, 2005
In one of those stories that gets some coverage but maybe not as much as it should, Nissan announced it would move its North American headquarters from California to the Nashville area. It had been in the Gardena area for over 45 years and hired 1300 people.

Why do I care? Well, this is just one more example of why we in California really need to worry about our economy. The main reason given for the move is lower real estate cost and lower business taxes.

I have harped over and over in this blog about why California is not a good place to do business. It's really a shame because it really does have a tremendous advantage in that it is so close to the budding Asian economy and that it is an attractive place for young people to live.

But California is just too expensive. This point hit very close to home for me. When my company was bought out and one of the recurring themes I heard was how expensive our facility was here compared to the facility in Ohio. They have something on the order of 3x or 4x the square footage for about the same cost as we do. Add on top of that that California has some of the highest taxes in the country to pay for its numerous social programs and the picture gets bleaker.

Then my very successful friends told me how they would probably not move to California. Housing prices are too high for someone just getting started to afford anything decent. And California imposes an average of 7% tax (more on high income individuals) on income compared to many states 0%. These are people who will be earning six-figure incomes and they are telling me it is too expensive to live here?

Terrel Owens is an Idiot

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Yesterday, Terrell Owens apologized for being a jerk. For those that don't know, Terrell Owens has been complaining since the beginning of the season about his contract situation. He was in the SECOND year of his SEVEN year contract. A contract that was set to pay him over $49 Million. Yes, you can start crying for him and how awful the contract is. He then made comments deriding the Eagle's quarterback, Donnovan McNabb, and reportedly got into a fight with Hugh Douglas. Late last week, the Eagles had enough and suspended him for the rest of the season. He won't wear an Eagles uniform again.

The Eagles gave T.O. a chance to apologize but he decided that his pride was more important and snubbed the chance. And please, all the T.O supporters. Don't tell me he deserves a second chance. He got his second chance. That's why he is on the Eagles and not the 49ers. And did you see the apology? Both of them? Was there ever a more insincere apology than that?

I hate this guy. I hated him when he played for my team, the 49ers. I hated him when he was traded to the Eagles and demonstrated what an ass he is by calling Jeff Garcia a homosexual. There is no doubt he is a great athlete, and performs on the field. But he causes way too many headaches for his teammates. He just isn't worth it.

You know who he needs to blame? The worst agent in the world, Drew Rosenhaus? It is very clear that he has a conflict of interest with his client. Drew Rosenhaus got T.O. as a client this year. That means, he does not get paid unless TO signs a new contract. Don't you think he is going to push his client to get a new contract?

Why the Income Tax Will Never Work

Monday, November 07, 2005
There is something fundimental that a lot of people don't understand. The income tax will never work. It doesn't matter how much you try and tax the rich; they will find a way to avoid it. You could tax all income over $1 million at 100% and it still wouldn't matter. Case in point. Warren Buffet.

Warren Buffet doesn't earn his wealth the same way most Americans do. He gets an annual salary of $100,000. That is not a typo. That's it. Than how on earth is he the second richest man in America. It's because he earns his wealth differently. He owns approximately 33% of Berkshire Hathaway. When he wants cash, he just cash's in some of his shares. This wealth grew tax deferred for however long he has held the shares, on the order of 40 years in some cases. He then only pays the 15% tax on capital gains rather than the 35% on regular income. Oh but it gets better. He has an advantage even most wealthy investors don't have. Since he controls Berkshire Hathaway, he also controls how and when he receives his money. Berkshire does not pay any dividends, which would trigger a huge tax for Buffet every year. This is a gigantic, and perfectly legal, tax shelter.

You can't blame the rich. Warren Buffet isn't doing anything illegal. Most of the super rich are just taking advantage of the rules the game presents. They just are better at the game and have more resources than most.

Being a Doctor Isn't What It Used to Be

Friday, November 04, 2005
It used to be that if you wanted to become wealthy than becoming a doctor was the way to go. You studied hard, got good grades, went to Med School and some day would be rewarded with great wealth.

Growing up people always assumed I would be a doctor. I was smart and I was Asian, so it was natural that I would be a doctor. I had thought about it but when I got to Princeton and saw just how much studying was involved in Pre-Med is I was a little turned off. Then I started to Think About It and realized it wasn't where I wanted to be. The medical profession was getting commoditized by the HMO's and I didn't see a bright future for doctors.

A few months ago I was talking to a friend of mine who just graduated from a prestigious medical school. He was about to move in to his New York apartment and start his residency. I asked him how much he and his fiancee (also recently graduated) could expect to earn. He replied that he had a base salary of about 45K and his fiancee about 50K (she was in a more lucrative field). Here is another website that confirms this.

Now to me, that is just ridiculous. I've lived in NYC. 45K is not all that much. You put on top of that the hours you need to put in as a MD and the 4 years and great expense of medical school, and I just don't see how it works out. It will take years before they earn anywhere close to a decent salary and even then they will most likely have to work long hours to achieve it. Considering they were in school for four years, all the time I was earning money, and the picture gets bleaker.

Of course many of my friends will wind up having very fine careers and earn lots of money so there is little to feel sorry for. But still, when did it not become as lucrative to be a doctor.

Lakers: Opening Day

Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Today is opening day for the Lakers. I'm here to give my prediction for the season. They are a very interesting team that may be as bad as most of the experts say or they may end up surprising a lot of people.

Count me in the group that thinks the Lakers will shock a lot of people. I'm predicting 48 wins, and if things go well maybe more.

The Lakers won 34 games last year. Many think it will be just as bad. They look at the Lakers, see that they lost two of their starters, and got back an unproven player, and think it can only get worse. I think they are wrong. Here is why.

Kobe Bryant: I predict a monster year for Kobe, if only because he has such a huge ego and needs to prove to everybody that he is the best player on the planet. There is little arguing that he is a top 5 player in the NBA. It's hard to see how such a talented player can have two horrendous years back to back.

Lamar Odom: His play will make or break the Lakers. He is returning to his more natural position of SF where I believe he will take his game to another level. He also will have primary ball-handling duties which will relieve the pressure off Kobe and allow Kobe to do what he does best, score.

Phil Jackson: Look, can anybody be worse than Rudy Tomjanovich? The guys idea of an offense is run down the floor and chuck up a three as fast as you can. Then, he quits half way through the season. But the Lakers didn't just get anybody, they got the best coach of all time. Phil brings with him 9 championships ring, you better believe he wants the 10th and you better believe he wants to prove to people that he didn't just ride MJ and Shaq's coattails. Phil brings with him the triangle offense which I believe is the perfect fit for this team. It will allow palyers to do what they do best and limit what they can do wrong.

Kwame Brown: This guy is a physical beast. Fast, agile, strong, tall, he has the complete physical package. Problem is he never has been able to be consistent. He had a horrible time under the thumb of MJ and I believe he just needed a change of scenery. The guy has all the tools, and Phil Jackson is just the man to bring him out.

Defense: The Lakers scored last year. The problem was they couldn't stop anybody. This is where the departure of Chucky "the matador" Atkins will be of biggest benefit. The Lakers may miss his scoring ability, but they won't miss all the PGs running wild in the lane. Call it addition by subtraction.

The Bench: Easily the weakest part of the Lakers team. But I think they will surprise a lot of people if only because there are a lot of guys on the last year of their deals. They will play hard if only to get another pay day. Devean George is pivotal off the but but so is Aaron McKie and Brian Cook. It doesn't speak well for your team if you are going to depend on these guys off the bench, but I think there will be some surprises.

Add it all up, and I think there are easily 14 more wins in this team. I just hope the Lakers make me a smart man.

Women Are Too Sensitive

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Pete Newell runs a Big Man's camp. It is a camp designed to teach basketball players who play in the front court about foot work, post position, etc. Many famous NBA big men from Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, James Worthy, etc have gone to his camp at one time or another.

Pete also runs a "Tall" Women's camp. I'm assuming they call it "Tall" because they don't want to offend some women by calling them "Big". Come on, isn't that just being a little sensitive? Do women who play either collegiately or play professional basketball for a living really get offended by being called "big"? Look at Margo Dydek, the tallest WNBA player. She is 7'2" for heaven's sake. Let me tell you something, if you are 7'2" you are big whether you are male or female.

Maybe its because I'm a guy and I just don't get why its derogatory to be called "big".

Yes, all my female readers may now tell me how insensitive I am.