Life without Power

Saturday, December 16, 2006
Ever wonder what life would be like without Electricity? I got to find out first hand what it would be like this weekend. Seattle had a REALLY bad storm Thursday night. Winds reached 60-70 MPH in some places.

When I woke up on Friday, there wasn't any power. I still got up and decided to go to work. As I drove out to the street, I was greeted with non-functioning traffic lights and fallen trees and branches all over the street. This wasn't just some isolated street, EVERY street was like this.

I soon found out that Microsoft was afflicted with the same problem. But it wasn't just Redmond, it was most of the Puget Sound. Literally millions without power, and they had no idea how long it would take. I spent the night in the dark (and remember it gets dark early in Seattle) staring at my girlfriend while we sat close to the fireplace (had to use the fireplace, had no heat otherwise). It was crazy.

The aftermath is even stranger. We got electricity sometime early on Saturday morning. But it seems that most of the area doesn't have it, Redmond is one of the few cities with power. We spent the morning throwing out everything in the fridge, and then looking for a place to get some food. But Redmond is crazy. There are really long lines for everything. Most of the restaurants are packed, and the gas lines are crazy. Literally 50 cars deep at every gas station.
Most of these people are probably from the surrounding cities. The busiest place (besides the gas stations) was the library. There wasn't an empty seat in the place, and every outlet had something plugged into it, mostly cell phones. 2nd on the list? The Liquor store. I couldn't believe how many people were waiting to buy some alcohol. I guess if you have nothing to do, you might as well drink yourself silly.

I don't ever want to experience this again, I like modern life. Life without electricity is tough. Seriously, what's wrong with this city? First the crazy snow storm, and now this. Wonder how fast I can pack up and move back to L.A.

Blockbuster Total Access

Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Even though I've had my problems with Blockbuster, and swore them off, I decided to try them out one more time as I think the Total Access Plan is pretty compelling. In short, it works like Netflix, but I can go in and exchange my DVDs in store. I get a free in-store rental, and they ship the next DVD right away. In theory, you can get almost double the regular number of DVDs.

So far so good. It works without a hitch. The nice thing is that it is generally easier to get new DVDs from the store than online so you can use your in-store rentals to get the harder to get new releases and the online portion for everything else.

And now this. Blockbuster is opening up Total Access to all Netflix Customers. No need to sign up for Blockbuster Online, just need to have a Blockbuster in-store account. Pretty clever marketing ploy if you ask me.

First Snow

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Today there was snow in Seattle. I haven't experienced snow in over 5 years, ever since I left NYC. While I think the virgin snow on the ground and trees is quite beautiful, I definitely don't miss walking through the sludge and the ice.

What's funny is how different your perspective can be if it is your first experience. My girlfriend lived in Southern California all her life, so she never has really experienced snowfall like this. She really seemed to enjoy it ... that was until this morning.

She woke me up this morning asking for the password to my work computer. I was groggy, so I didn't know why on earth she was asking for it. Was she a corporate spy? Was she going to try and hack in to commit corporate espionage and steal all of my company's secrets? I asked her why on earth she needed to know and she explained she needed to e-mail work because she couldn't make it in (our home computer doesn't work with her company's webmail). She then informed me that my company's campus was closed for the day. That got my attention and I got up to see what was going on.

It turns out that Seattle can't deal with snow very well. I guess it doesn't happen often enough for them to have good infrastructure to deal with it. When I was in NY and NJ, I would expect the streets to be clear and salted down by the morning. It was perfect safe to drive, as the streets were cleared well before it was time to go to work. Not the case in Redmond.

I even tried to get into work in the afternoon, expecting most of the ice to be clear off of the roads. Still not. At one point, on a hill, I hit the gas and my tires spun for a few seconds before they gripped and allowed me to move on.

Priced Out Forever

Sunday, November 26, 2006
I had a conversation with someone the other day about housing. The person was describing to me why they wanted to buy a house. Part of the argument was that housing always goes up (which is wrong, and recent statistics bear that out) and that if they didn't buy now they would soon be priced out.

Now let's just look at the logic of that statement. There is little argument here that housing is quite expensive and out of the reach of many people. In the more popular areas in the country, house prices start in the 30oK - 400K range, which, by traditional measures, should require a six-figure income.

So if housing is that expensive, and housing always goes up, then logic would dictate that if you can barely afford it now, you better get in before its too late. But does that actually make any sense? Of course not. Just imagine what the world would be like if it were true.

Say that at some point housing becomes so expensive that all people who earn less than $50,000 (Slightly above the national Household average) are permanently priced out of the market and all people who can and want to buy have bought a house. Now someone who owns a starter home has a growing family and wants to move up, who do they sell the house to? By definition, they can't sell it to a family who is looking to own rather than rent. They can only sell to people who have previously owned a home. But people in general don't downgrade their home, so they have to sell to someone who is moving laterally (like someone moving into the city). So all that we get is stagnation, people just keep swapping houses, and nobody can move up because there is nobody below to sell to.

This of course implies that the supply of housing stays constant, which it isn't. It can be disproved by looking outside at all the cranes building high-rise condominiums or the construction crews putting up new housing tracts. I also highly doubt that home builders such as KB and Toll brothers plan on shutting their doors. New homes will be constructed, and these homes are going to have to be purchased by someone.

This is the key observation. All bubbles eventually end because supply catches up and surpasses demand. They don't end form a lack of demand. Builders willl see that there is an underserved market, this very large segment consisting of young middle class families, and cater to them by making affordable housing. It is next to impossible that you ever become "priced out forever" for an asset as common as housing.

Higher than Normal My Ass

Saturday, November 18, 2006
In the last few days, I've had to contact my cable provider, Comcast, to try and resolve an issue. Each time I contact them, whether it be through Chat or though Phone, I'm told each time that the wait time is longer because they are "experiencing higher than normal traffic"

I've probably contacted them six or seven times in a three day stretch and very different hours of the day ranging from early in the morning to very late at night. I find it very hard to believe that it is just a coincidence that each time I call is the time where suddenly traffic is higher than normal which can only lead me to believe that Comcast is full of it. If your "higher than normal" is happening all the time, that is your normal. Quit lying to me and just tell me that you don't care how long I wait on the phone.

Portland: My Take

Sunday, November 05, 2006
My Girlfriend and I went to Portland a few weeks ago. I have to say that I wasn't very impressed. It is probably the last time I make a special effort to go down there. It wasn't like the city is a horrible place to be, it just wasn't particularly worth a trip. I was glad to go once, but wouldn't go back again.

The best thing about the city was that it was in Oregon, and therefore had no sales tax. Even though I would probably advocate replacing our income tax with a national sales tax, it was still nice to do some tax-free shopping. It was especially nice to have tax free dining since Seattle has an even higher tax on dining out than the normal sales tax.

So what didn't I like about the city? Again, it wasn't any one thing. I didn't like that the city wasn't particularly clean. Many of the buildings seemed kind of run down or old. Even the hotel we stayed at, which is supposed to be one of the nicest in Portland, the Governor, seemed kind of old. Besides that, there wasn't many things to do except to go shopping and there weren't any real sites that you had to go see. The pickings for restaurants was pretty bad as my girlfriend and I couldn't find a decent non-chain restaurant.

The other thing I didn't like about the city is that I didn't feel particularly safe. We walked around at night trying to find something to do (more on that later), and went through some neighborhoods that I didn't feel particularly comfortable walking through. It's like that in most big cities I've been in (with the exception ironically of NYC) so maybe I shouldn't be too hard on Portland.

And then finally, if you don't want to go to a strip club (there were an inordinate amount in Portland) or go tax-free shopping, there wasn't a lot of interesting things to do. Most major cities have something you have to go do or see. Didn't feel that way about Portland.

So overall, it was a disappointment. Glad to cross it off my list, don't think I'll be heading back.

That's Why It's Called a Beta!

Sunday, October 01, 2006
During the last week I have had two different people come talk to me about my product. Both of them work for my company so they should both understand the meaning of the word "Beta". I guess the operative word is "should".

In both cases, the individual came to tell me how crappy my product is. In each case they were dealing with Beta software. Now I could take constructive criticism. It is after all a beta and it is used to solict feedback. But in both cases, the individual responded with great indignation and anger that the product didn't work the way that it should.

Seriously folks. If you don't want to be inconveinenced, don't use a BETA product!

Individuals are Smart; Groups are Stupid

Sunday, September 24, 2006
I was at my work's product fair where some of the groups show off the latest stuff they are working on. At these types of things, like trade shows, groups often give out free stuff like pens, stress relievers, or the ever-coveted shirt.

There was a booth next to mine that was giving out free shirts so I decided to try and get one. BIG MISTAKE. The following is not an exaggeration.

I got in the back of a large crowd waiting to get shirts. I figured it would be orderly since I work at a company where people in general are smart and respectful. As I wanted people who got behind me started to push me. Soon, pushing turned into shoving as people were swarming to get the free shirt. Several of the people in the crowd (I should refer to them as a mob) already had SEVERAL shirts but were trying to get more. The guy next to me, screaming, "I want a shirt" even though he already had one, tried to grab a shirt out of another guy's hand.

I couldn't believe what was going on so I simply turned around and left. These are people with very good jobs, making very good money, fighting over a $5 shirt. Not just fighting over it, but being VERY rude to their fellow coworkers over it. Unbelieveable. Just goes to show you what happens when people get into large groups and the word "free" is being used.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I played paintball with my team from work. I have to say it was pretty fun. It was pretty tiring, and pretty intense, but overall I really liked the action and the strategy that was involved. The only thing that really needed to be improved was the fact that my mask kept fogging up making you blind on the field (you are not allowed to take off your mask during play). If you could just make sure your mask didn't fog, you would have a huge advantage.

Now that I'm home and got to shower up one thing really sticks out, all the bruises I got. Everywhere where I got shot there is a pretty sizable and dark bruise. Since I don't play very often (or ever) I don't have the gear that most people probably have to prevent such bruises.

All in all, even with the bruises, I would still go play again.

Old Alumni

Monday, August 07, 2006
I got an e-mail this weekend that made me feel quite old. It was sent to Princeton Alumni in Southern California (I'm still on the distribution list) and it read,

we encourage all young alumni (2001-2006) and undergraduates to come

Considering that I'm just outside that range, I have to admit, I felt a little old that I'm no longer considered a "young alumni". I mean, when the heck did that happen?

Negotiating a Better Salary

Monday, July 24, 2006
I wonder how common it is to negotiate a better salary? I wonder because I always do but it seems to me that most people don't. I feel like that is just like leaving money on the table.

My girlfriend recently got a job offer. She was happy to take it for what they offered, but I convinced her to ask for more; I mean the worse that would happen was that they said no. So after making a counter-offer, they counter-offered back, and she accepted. She ended up getting a little bit more money then they offered, but not quite what she wanted.

I have always done the same thing. I have never taken the first offer that somebody gave me. They always say, "Our first offer is normally our best offer" but that's a load of crap. If that is true, how come each time I've tried to renegotiate I got more money?

Maybe I'm fortunate. Maybe I'm just so super-special that people just want to throw more money at me. I'm curious if people have had any experiences where they asked for more money, and they didn't get at least a little bit more.

Working with Unfinished Wood

Monday, July 10, 2006
This weekend, I learned why furniture is so expensive. I use to always think they were ripping you off, now I'm not so sure.

I bought a piece of unfinished furniture last week. It was a dresser drawer. I have dark wood in my bedroom so finding furniture that looks good, matches, and is inexpensive is a real challenge. I decided that I would buy an unfinished piece and stain it myself and therefore save some money. I like working with my hands so figured it would be a fun project as well.

Let me tell you, it really isn't all that easy and can take a great deal of time. It is also messy and you have to deal with the cleanup after you are done. If you factor in all the time and materials above and beyond the actual piece of furniture, I can definitely see why furniture can be so expensive.

Too Busy - Nothing to Say

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
You know work is working you too hard when it can keep someone as loquacious as I am from having anything intelligent to say about anything. I might have something smart to say if we discussed say software development, but that's about it.

Ben Roethlisberger's Motorcycle Accident

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The last few days have seen an explosion in hits from Google for Kevin Winslow. It seems that I'm the most relevant result for what most people are looking for, the Cleveland Browns tight end, not some reproductive endocrinologist.

The reason this search has become so popular lately is that Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Superbowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, was in a motorcycle accident much like Kevin Winslow had one year ago. I still contend, how stupid do you have to be to get on a motorcycle when you make MILLIONS based on your ability to be in top physical condition.

I'm glad that Ben is OK. He has some injuries but it doesn't look too serious. He is VERY fortunate to not be dead considering he wasn't wearing a helmet. And even though I like Ben much more than I like Kevin Winslow, I won't shed a tear if he doesn't play in another NFL game (his injuries do not look serious enough to even keep him out this year). We all make choices in life and Ben's choice was to get on that bike without a helmet. Just explain to me why getting on a bike is worth potentially losing millions of dollars for a job most would be willing to do for free.

Soda Machine Instructions

Sunday, June 11, 2006
One of the benefits for working at my company is that they give free soda. In most buildings this is accomplished by having large refrigerators with sliding glass doors where you can just reach in and get sodas.

However, in one instance, there is a building that has a soda machine. The soda machine does not take any money so you simply have to push a button and a free soda is dispensed. However, on this machine there are actually instructions on what to do. They are verbatim:

Instructions for Free Soda:
  • Select and push button of desired soda
  • Allow soda to drop
  • Reach in and remove soda from machine
  • Please remove 1 soda from machine
Now I work with supposedly some of the best and brightest people in the world. Are these instructions really necessary?

It Pays to be Nice to People

Sunday, June 04, 2006
My girlfriend really likes watching the show Top Chef. I don't particularly like reality type shows or shows about food but sinse she likes it, I tend to watch it with her.

This year, the final came down to two chefs, Tiffany and Harold. Both were really good chefs and prepared in my mind excellent final meals. However, in the end Harold won.

During the final competition, the judges liked that Tiffany really took some chances by preparing 10 courses, 2 menus of a 5 course meal, rather than just the 5 that were asked for. However, in the end she lost to Harold, who probably had the better overall meal but didn't take the chances that Tiffany did.

But really in the end I was glad Tiffany lost. She was, plain and simple, a bitch. I don't understand why people feel a need to be mean in order to get what they want. Throughout the series, she would yell at people in the kitchen. She took the attitude of, "I'm goign to win and damn everyone else in my way." It was as if in her mind, she could only succeed if everyone else failed.

Harold was ultra-competitive too but let his skill shine over others rather than try to diminish the competition. The final competition had the 4 runner-ups choose who they wanted to help between Harold and Tiffany. It was clear that they probably would have all prefered to work with Harold and in the end, all four told the judges they thought Harold should win Top Chef. Though I'm sure the two who helped Tiffany were professional, they probably did not put the same effort that the two who were helping Harold.

I just don't understand why people feel a need to be mean to others. What purpose does it really serve? It really isn't any harder to be nice to people. I don't feel that my life is any more difficult because I try to be nice to people. There are times I can't be friendly simply because the situation doesn't dictate it. But in 95% of situations, it isn't any harder to just be nice. I'm just glad that finally it paid off for someone to be nice.

Changes at Microsoft: A New Employee Perspective

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I'm a relatively new Microsoft employee. I've only been with the company for a few months, so I have a limited perspective about the changes that have recently been announced. For those who don't work at Microsoft, Microsoft has started an initiative to address the very serious problem of employee retention. It seems there are many Microsoft employees who have been unhappy with the current setup. A summary can be found at Mini-Microsoft. For those who are not associated with Microsoft here are the highlights.

  • The Curve is gone (sort of) - Microsoft had this system where you were graded on a curve from 2.5 to 5.0. Managers were forced to rank people and could only give out so many 5.0, 4.5, etc. That meant that if you were on a really strong team, and worked your ass off, you might still only be judged a 3.0 or slightly worse than average. This affected your compensation and bonuses.
  • More stock awards - Microsoft announced they will give out more stock awards to the very best performers. Stock bonuses are still based on a curve which will have a forced distribution. This is why the curve is only sort of gone.
  • Towels are back - I'm new so I never missed them but this got a lot of applause at the town hall meeting. I don't get what the big deal is about towels but I suppose it is symbolic of how Microsoft was screwing employees by taking away benefits. It is one of those small things that have an unproportinal negative reaction.
  • More workplace benefits – Microsoft has added even more workplace services like longer cafeteria hours, dry cleaning, and grocery delivery (all services employees must pay for)

There are a few more initiatives but this captures the highlights and the things that seem to be getting the most attention from Microsoft employees.

So here is my take as a new Microsoft employee.

The Curve is the most controversial thing at Microsoft. People hated it. I don’t necessarily have a problem with it. I think employees need to be differentiated. Not everyone can be a top performer. It’s just not possible. That being said, I think its silly that you have to tie someone’s review score to some forced distribution. If you really are a good contributor on a great team, you should not be penalized against someone who is a OK performer on a really weak team. Further the idea that your score follows you for the lifetime of your Microsoft employment seems a little ridiculous in my mind. I could understand if your most recent review score had an impact on your current one but the idea that you have some sort of Lifetime average seems wrong in my mind. This is coming from a guy who has always historically done very well in his career and had the intention of always being ranked among the best.

However the curve is not gone, and I don’t believe it should be. Stock bonuses are still going to be distributed on a forced distribution with the very best getting the best rewards. I know some people hate this idea but quite frankly those are the people who you might not want to work with anyway. Look, you have to pay top performers more money. Top performers drive a company. If you don’t pay them, someone else will, and then you get a company full of good but not great employees. But even that will cause the only good people to leave as they are now the ones who bear the burden of work but don’t reap the rewards. If I do not end up being one of the top performers who get the most rewards so be it. I don’t care what the reason. People complain that the rewards simply fall to not the best workers, but the workers who are best at kissing ass. So be it. If this happens to me, I will simply leave the company. I would refuse to work at a company who is going to reward kissing ass over my hard work.

A loud complaint is that base compensation was not discussed and there seems to be no plan in the works to increase this. My reaction, tough. The comment I hate the most is “I could get x% more working at Google.” My response is, why don’t you go work for Google then? First off, most of the people complaining probably couldn’t get a job at Google, if they could they would jump ship immediately. And even if they could, they probably would not get the pay increase they would expect. But seriously, why complain about it? We live in a free society. If you can get more money somewhere else, there must be a reason for you to stay at Microsoft. Microsoft can’t force you to stay. I don’t care what the reason is. I don’t care if it’s a personal reason like you can’t leave the Seattle area for whatever reason. There clearly is not incentive enough for you to change your job, and that choice is solely yours. So quit complaining about it.

And the towels. I just don’t get it. I don’t get why it was ever a big deal. It is one of the first rules of benefits at a company. Don’t start a benefit if you think you may have to someday take it away. Why? People love to bitch about how things use to be and complain very loudly when even the smallest benefit is taken away.

Let me give all MS employees some perspective. We work at one of the best companies in the world. If you took the average compensation of all MS employees, it would have to be among the highest in the world. We get so many benefits, I don’t even know where to begin. The health plan is ridiculously comprehensive. The work schedule is extremely flexible. We get discounts on products we actually want to use. Free gym membership. Free soda. Free bus pass. The list seriously goes on and on. How can I say this? Because I’ve worked at other places. I’ve seen what is on the other side and believe me, the grass is not always greener. I worked four years at my last company and didn’t get half the benefits I do today. A worse health plan, no stock awards, no discounts. I was even lucky to get a free lunch once a year, and I was a manager with a budget! Compensation? That was a joke. I was one of the lucky ones that got a raise during my tenure there and that was because I got a huge promotion.

I seriously think that people that those that are the most dissatisfied working at Microsoft should go find another job. I am not saying that to be mean. I hope that if you do leave (and you are a top performer) you come back to Microsoft some day. You just need to get some perspective.

I’m not saying Microsoft is perfect. Even in my short time here, I’ve realized that there are some serious problems that should probably be addressed. I hope to help be part of the change that revitalizes this company and turns it around. But the notion that somehow, Microsoft does not do right by its employees is just plain wrong. If you think otherwise, I know Google is hiring.

For Whom Are Rising Home Prices Good For?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
It's funny to me that you hear so much talk from ordinary people about how great it is that their home is appreciating. I have never really understood this mentality from people when it comes to their primary residence. Why? Because rising home prices only benefit two classes of people who plan on living in their home.

1. People who need to take out a loan on their house to cover cost that they would otherwise incur anyway.

If you need to take out a home equity loan to cover cost that you would have incurred without the house, than this may be of some advantage to you. You will be able to cover the cost of that expense and have a relatively low interest payment which may (but most likely is not) tax deductible). However. If you use the loan to actually increase your consumption more than you normally would, this is not advantageous to you. This includes things like buying a new car, remodeling your house, etc. Regardless if you get to deduct the interest, YOU ARE STILL PAYING INTEREST! I swear, I don't know any other part of life where people get excited to save $0.25 by spending a $1.00.

2. People who sell their house and rent

Everybody else loses. If you sell your house to buy another house, you are gaining nothing and in all likelihood lose because you are paying higher fees (commissions) due to higher prices. The house you are buying in all likelihood appreciated too and probably appreciated more so since most people trade up. In fact, rising home prices may very well hurt you because you are going to pay more in property tax. Your house will be assessed at the higher value and you will pay more in tax. You didn't actually become wealthier, so you are for all practical purposes worse off.

If you are a first time home buyer it is pretty obvious that you are getting screwed.

Otherwise, if you own your home and plan to live in it, like most Americans, price appreciation does nothing for you. It may make you warm and fuzzy at night thinking about all those mythical gains, but until you sell your home and actually don't buy another, rising prices don't help you one bit.

Note: This is not necessarily a rhetorical question. If you can think of an instance where someone who plans on living in their house actually benefits from price appreciation other than the above, I would love to know. I've been really trying to think of a scenario.

The Gas Rebate

Tuesday, May 02, 2006
In what might be one of the most asinine things I have heard of in the last few weeks, Republicans want to give $100 rebates to people so they can buy gas. Seriously. Who are these Republicans? Republicans are supposed to be about reducing the role of government (not that they really ever do that, but they are supposed to). Now they want to do this "wealth transfer" between oil companies and consumers.

The plan would work by giving as a one-time rebate to each taxpayer of $100. Of course nothing comes for free, the plan would cost an estimated $10 billion. To pay for this, gas companies would be taxed on their oil reserves.

People. Think About It. This idea makes no sense. It makes about as much sense as having a "windfall" tax on oil companies. There is NO way to be sure who pays the burden of a tax. Just because someone writes a check for the tax does not mean he actually bears the burden. Faced with this additional cost of a tax, what do you think the oil companies would do? Do you really thnk they will just sit there and let their profits take a hit? We have seen quite conclusively that consumers are willing to pay whatever is necessary to drive their cars. Is it really hard to imagine that oil companies will pass on the cost of the tax to the consumer? What makes it worse is that it might actually cost the consumers MORE than they get in the rebate when you factor in overhead cost and the like.

Any plan to try and help consumers at the pump is a political show. They only thing that will work is for either oil companies to somehow increase the amount of oil they are finding and producing or for consumers to demand less gasoline. Anything else is just an accounting trick.

What will $32 Billion Buy?

Sunday, April 30, 2006
On Friday, Microsoft's stock price dropped over 11%. For a company the size of Microsoft, that is a significant drop. It amounts to almost $32 billion dollars that just evaporated from shareholders pockets, IN ONE DAY! To put that in context here is a quick list of what $32 billion can buy you

Needless to say, its a lot of money

Your Mortgage Deduction - How you really Lose

Monday, April 24, 2006
I touched on this in my tax rant so let me clarify something a little bit because people don't always really understand this point.

The middle class loves the mortgage deduction. They think its a great deal because they end up saving so much on their taxes.

I'm not here to debate that an individual doesn't on the surface save on their taxes because of the mortgage deduction but people don't realize that their mortgage deduction may actually cost them more than they save in the big picture. A recent study released shows that the top 2.2% of tax returns claim 22% of the benefits.

Think about it. The richest people benefit the most. They have larger mortgages thus more to deduct. They are in a higher tax bracket therefore save more with each deduction. The problem is compounded further because most middle-class Americans DO NOT receive the full value of the deduction!

Let me say that again because most people don't get it. Most middle-class Americans DO NOT receive the full value of the deduction! To achieve full value of the deduction, you must have OTHER deductions totaling more than the standard deduction. The standard deduction for 2005 is $5000. $10000 for married couples. Do you know many people who have $5,000 of itemized deductions? Believe me, most do not. So until you breach the $5,000 mark, your deductions are meaningless; you are better off taking the standard deduction. Even if your mortgage interest (Only mortgage interest is deductible. You wouldn't believe how many people believe the entire payment is deductible) is say $10,000 this year, you don't just lop off $10,000 from your taxable income, you may be able to deduct only $8,000 of that. If you are in the 25% tax bracket you just saved $2,050. Not a small sum but not huge either considering $10,000 in mortgage interest.

Now think about the rich. They easily have $5,000 in deductions from other sources. State taxes alone probably account for this sum. Add on investment expenses, charitable contributions, and business expenses and most of the rich have no problem breaking the standard deduction barrier BEFORE their mortgage interest deduction. They have a bigger house, and larger mortgage, so let's say they spend $50,000 in mortgage interest. They get to deduct this amount fully from their income and at a higher rate, 35%. They save $17,500 from this deduction. Compared with $2,500 for the middle-class person with the smaller mortgage. They benefit 7x more from the deduction and they don't even "need" it!

All the money they don't pay has to come from somewhere. Every dollar they are able to avoid comes from someone else's pocket. That pocket is yours.

This is why I don't like government. People are so worried about their own individual problem that they don't see the bigger problem. If the government were to repeal the mortgage interest deduction (which I would love to see but don't think they should because of the inherent unfairness) those protesting the loudest would be those who are most hurt by the deduction itself. They make you think you are getting a great deal when in the end, you are the one carrying the largest burden.

If I Were a Despot

Monday, April 17, 2006
If I were to create the most onerous Tax code I could this is how I would do it.

1. I would make sure you couldn't escape it.

What is the point of collecting taxes if you can escape the tax.? Taxing cigarettes and booze is silly because if you want, you can not use those products. However, If I tax income, there is pretty much no way out of it. You have to earn money to live and if I tax your income you have very little way to avoid paying my tax, unless you were already wealthy and no longer had to earn income.

2. I would make sure you paid it even if you died

Nothing as certain as death and taxes right? I'm going to make sure taxes are even more certain. When you die, I am going to tax your estate. You are dead, you won't need the money. Leaving it to your heirs? Please, everything you have is mine.

3. I would make sure you paid it on income you didn't even really "earn"

I don't care what form of "income" you have. If someone gives you a gift, I'm going to tax it. If you win a new car, that is making you better off (and is therefore income) so I'm going to tax that too.

4. I would make sure you didn't know how much you were paying

Before you even get your paycheck, I'm going to take my share of it. Knowing human nature, I know if you never see it you won't realize how much in taxes you are paying. Further, I'm going to tax other things like Corporate income and the like. You won't ever directly see the cost of this since this will only raise the price you pay for goods. Ingenious!

5. I would make sure the burden would be placed directly on you to comply with my plan

My tax plan probably needs to be really complex to make all of this work and make sure I can extract all the money I can from you. But no way do I want to take the time to figure out what you owe me; I'll leave that up to you. Therefore I'll pick a date, say April 15th (or maybe the 17th if the 15th is on a Saturday), that you will be responsible for figuring out how much money you should have given me. If you should have given me less, I'll give you some money back (interest free of course). However if you screw up you will get stiff penalties and I will force you to pay me that and the taxes you owe me (with interest).

6. I would make sure it was so horribly complex you would never understand it

If you actually are able to understand how to comply I might not get all the money I need from you and you may find ways to pay less. Further, the more complex I make it the easier it will be for me to change it and get more money from you.

7. I would make sure I could easily change the plan to extract even more taxes from you

I would probably change some part of the tax code every year. I might change the tax on things like dividends to make them more attractive. I might change the tax brackets or remove various deductions. The code will however be so complex and so esoteric that you won't even bother to really understand it and just pay me whatever I tell you to pay me.

8. I would make sure I could lower the taxes for my friends while at the same time thinking you are getting the better deal.

I would do things like create tax breaks that seem to work for the common man but in reality they work best for my rich friends like myself. I could probably implement this by doing something like allowing you to deduct interest on a big ticket item. Say your house. Of course, you won't be able to get full benefit out of this because you won't really spend more than your standard deduction. However, my rich friends, with big houses and mortgages, and with multiple houses on top of that, will benefit far more than the average person. The average person won't realize that they are paying for my rich friend's tax break. They will only see their relatively small deduction and feel good about it. Given their lack of understanding of my tax code, they will fight tooth and nail to save this deduction all the while not realizing how much they are really paying to have it.

9. Even if you try to leave the country, I will still make you pay the tax

I will decree that even if you leave the country to try and avoid my tax, your rightful duty as a citizen is to pay me the tax. I don't care if you work in a foreign country for 20 years, if you are a citizen of my great land it is your duty to pay me the tax.

Sounds awful doesn't it? I'm glad this system doesn't really exist.

Blockbuster Cheating Customers?

Monday, April 10, 2006
I canceled my blockbuster online membership a month ago. I wasn't getting full use out of it so it was time to cancel. That, and I was about to move so I figured I would cancel during the move since I would have no time to actually watch movies.

Now I'm glad I no longer give my business to Blockbuster. I seriously think they are out to cheat their customers, or at least former customers. Some of you may remember I posted about how Blockbuster lost one of the last DVD's I had when I canceled my free subscription. Unbelievably they did the same damn thing to me again.

Because of the move, I did not have time to carefully check that all the movies were returned. Sure enough, I got two e-mails describing that they got two of the last three movies back but no e-mail about the third. Busy with the move, I didn't notice it this time. But because I was checking my credit card transactions I notice a $21 charge from Blockbuster which should not have been there. Sure enough, they "did not receive" the third DVD. I haven't had any other problems with Blockbuster getting DVD's except for these two incidents. Can it really be coincidence or is Blockbuster out to just anger those people who no longer are its customers.

It just seems very fishy to me that two DVD's are lost in exactly the same manner. If others who come to my blog have similar experiences let me know.

Name on Parking Spaces

Thursday, April 06, 2006
The company across the way has a number of parking spaces with signs saying things like, "Space reserved for John Doe" .

I hope someday to rise through the ranks of corporate America. I hope someday to be important enough to deserve my own parking spot which would be reserved soley for me. But I know for sure that in no way shape or form do I want my name actually on the parking spot. What is the point of that? You can just as easily reserve the spot by saying "reserved" and assigning a number to it. I'm not sure why you actually have to have your name on the spot. Does it make these people feel more important? "Ooh look, I'm important enough to have a sign with my name on it in front of this empty space."

It just seems kind of over the top to me. It has no real tangible advantage other than trying to reinforce the owner's own self importance but has the real disadvantage of promoting animosity from others.

Drinking fountain etiquette

Friday, March 31, 2006
There is a certain etiquette when you are getting water from either a fountain or a water cooler and you are trying to fill a very large container. If there are people waiting to simply get a sip or small cup of water while you are trying to fill a 1 gallon container, consider stepping to the side and letting the next person go in front of you.

Thank you.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Today I turn 28. 28 is actually a lucky number for me. It is not only the day of my birthday, but it is also the day my sister and brother were born. In fact, every child born with my family name in America is born on the 28th. Kind of strange huh?

It has been quite a year. It really doesn't seem like a year ago I was taking a break and visiting Jenny in Princeton. A year ago I wasn't living with my girlfriend, I hadn't even met her yet. I was still living in California and I was still at my previous job.

So much has changed, and I must say it has all been for the better. I'm much happier in this time and space than I have been in a long time.


The largest contribution to that change in attitude is no doubt the girlfriend who always manages to put a smile on my face. I love that I have someone to share my day with after a long day at work. I love that she always takes such good care of me, even when I am a pain in the ass. I love that I never feel lonely anymore because I get to wake up next to her everyday


Also a major factor is the change of job. The job isn't perfect but its a vast improvement over the previous employer. The work is just a lot more interesting. It's good to try and solve problems that actually matter to a large majority of people. I joke about it at work but here is the sad statistic. I spent 4.5 years at my previous employer. In that time I worked on several small projects but spent most of the effort on 2 major products. By the time I left, we had sold exactly 1 unit each of those products. ONE EACH!!

Compare that to the more than 1,000,000 subscribers we will in all likelihood reach with my next product and you can see the vast change in scope I am working on. True, my indvidual role is much more limited in my current job. But even so, it isn't 1,000,000x less.

What a year. I can't imagine that my 29th year on this planet can bring about any more change than my 28, but hey you never know.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Wearing lots of aftershave is bad.

Wearing lots of aftershave to work is worse.

Wearing lots of aftershaves to work when you work with mostly men is unexcusable.

Fixing Ikea Furniture

Sunday, March 19, 2006
I found a great way to fix cheap Ikea furniture. One of the problems with buying Ikea furniture is that it is often quite fragile. The dowels and the screws they give you to put together the furniture is bound to fall apart. The joints just won't hold when put together with this cheap solution.

I have a table I bought from Ikea. Despite the fact that it was one of the more expensive pieces that they have, it too suffered from the "Ikea Wobble". I've own this table for well over 4 years and have never been able to tighten the joints tight enough to prevent it from wobblign. Sick of this, I decided to try and fix it. So I bought this glue called Gorilla Glue. It works great. I used it on all the joints of the table and now the thing is sturdy as a rock.

Must Resist ...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006
I'm not sure what is going on but I am slowly starting to use products made by Microsoft. Most of you know, I hate Internet Explorer, or more precisely I hate IE 6. I much prefer browsers like Firefox because of tabbed browsing, which in my opinion is a must-have feature.

But in the spirit of helping out, I dowloaded and installed IE 7 which currently is a public beta. I figured I would give it a try because it has things like tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking and I have to stop believing that Microsoft is the evil empire. Further, there are still many sites that just don't render correctly on Firefox, specifically ones with more multi-media. However, I refuse to use a product I don't believe is any good just because the company I work for may happen to create it. If Microsoft can't make a good product, I will be happy to use a competing one.

Well I'm here to say that IE 7 is a big improvement. So far, I don't have any real complaints. I'm not ready to endorse it over Firefox, but Microsoft is closing the gap. It's funny though, I still have some reluctance to help out Microsoft even though I am now Microsoft. I don't trust myself :) Some of my willingness comes from the fact that I know in my product, there is a ver concerted effort to protect users privacy.

Wait. Did you hear that? I swear someone just said, "Resistance is futile."

Seattle Rain

Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Coming from Southern California, you can take for granted that when it isn't rainng, it most likely is not going to rain in the next few minutes. No such luck in Seattle.

I walked out of my apartment today. It was a nice day, somewhat overcast but not too cold and not raining. I only left with the sweatshirt on my back and not much else. I then got to work and decided to check out the library. Again, no rain and the library is only down the street, so I decided to walk.

It wasn't raining so I took for granted that it wouldn't rain on my way back. Mistake. Of course, this is Seattle, not Los Angeles, and sure enough it was raining on my way back in. Somehow, I'm going to have to try and remember that no rain now is no guarantee for later.

Jelly Belly's Deceptive Marketing

Thursday, March 02, 2006
I love jelly beans, especially the Jelly Belly brand, but they just did something that really pisses me off.

I bought a box of Jelly Bellys. They are expensive, and I recognize this, but I like them enough to buy them anyway. But I bought a box which was a fairly good size, probably 8" x 5". Now it was clear that the box didn't contain all jelly beans and there would be somewhat less than a full box but when I opened the box I was greeted by a bag that wasn't even half the size of the box.

Now why on earth do you package a bag of candy in a box that is twice its size. There is only one good reason, to trick your customer. It's bad marketing and bad business. Even though its my favorite candy, I may have to think long and hard before I buy any more Jelly Belly branded Jelly beans.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006
In the category of "one of those small things that makes you really happy."

I come into work today and go get my standard 1/2 cup of coffee to start the morning. I am the type of coffee drinker who goes light on the cream but HEAVY on the sugar. One of the most annoying things about it is that I have to open lots of little packs of sugar to get my coffee just right. It's trivial, I know, but doing it every time I want a cup of coffee can be really annoying.

Well the miracles of all miracles has happened. I now have sugar which I can pour from a can. I'm very excited.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I finished my orientation today. It was orientation so it wasn't very interesting but it wasn't as bad as it could be. It lasted a day and a half and went over various topics like corporate responsibility, diversity, leagal affairs, and IT. They made the most of the session and one of the highest compliments I can give such an event is that it didn't temper my enthusiasm for my new job.

What may have though is that I had some issues setting up my computer and connecting to the corporate network. You would think at such a high power tech company and with a tech saavy employee like myself, there shouldn't be too much of an issue. Oh well, nothing is perfect.

One of the most impressive things about going from a small company to a large Fortune 500 company is the sheer number of benefits you never realized you don't have. One of the things I kept saying to myself throughout the whole orientation was, "What? Yet another benefit?" Things like charity matching, discounted services, and paid activity fees. These things don't really show up on your bank statement but they really make a big difference.

Like in my other blog, I won't be talking much about work in this space. In all likelihood this might be might last post about it.

Seattle - First Impressions

Saturday, February 25, 2006
So far, so good. I like Seattle a lot. The only negative thing so far would be the weather. It has rained 2 out of the 3 days we have been here and it has been very chilly, but so far nothing I can't handle. My girlfriend is even adjusting well and she has never lived outside of Southern California. We decided to drive around during rush hour and it wasn't that bad. It wasn't good but coming from L.A. it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.

Yesterday we went into downtown Seattle to do some touristy type things. We went to the Seattle Space needle which was pretty cool. We even had Cotton Candy which I hadn't had since I was 10. We were all excited to take the Monorail but found out that it was broken. Bummer. So we ended up walking the 8 or so blocks into the retail core to do some shopping.

I am still debating where to live but I am leaning toward the Bellevue area. It's close to work and there are some things to do there. I didn't really like Redmond because it seemed to quiet and I didn't really like downtown because it suffers from what all downtowns do. It was too busy and I hate living in places that have no parking or where you have to pay for parking.

Think Taxes Don't Matter?

Thursday, February 16, 2006
Yes, in case it isn't clear, I'm moving. I'm moving out of the great state of California and to the gloomy state of Washington. Why on earth would I do that?

This is due in no small part to one of my favorite subjects, taxes. You see, California has an absolutely horrendous tax system. It has an astounding 9.3% levy on income over $56,642. To make matters worse, it has a pretty high sales tax and the gas tax doesn't help either. Now in comparison, Washington has NO STATE INCOME TAX. Of course it has to generate revenue somehow which it does so through sales, gasoline, cigarette, and property tax. But guess what. Everyting except the Cigarette tax is lower in Washington than in California!

Even if they weren't higher it would make little difference to me since I tend to save a great deal of my income rather than spend it, I don't smoke, and I don't own (and will not own for the time being) property. Now, I surely pay the property tax indirectly through rent but considering I can get a much nicer place for much cheaper than I can get in California, I think I can live with it.

Now I had a competing offer on the table with a company in California. The money was about the same but in the end it was pretty clear that the Washington offer was better simply because I would not be paying state income tax on it. Washington had a built in 10% edge. (There were other reasons I took the job but it's not like I ignored the effective 10% raise).

Ever hear of the Laffer Curve? It is basically the idea that you can only collect so much in taxes before the revenue drops off because people stop working or move to avoid the tax. Believe me, it's true. And the story isn't isolated to just me. I know plenty of other people who make a great deal of money who decided not to come to California in no small part to the rather unfair tax burden.

So instead of getting some taxes from me, and getting the productive work that well-paid workers provide, California will get nothing from me. But hey, you have the beaches and sunshine right?

Moving: The Good

Monday, February 13, 2006
Sometimes moving is a real pain in the ass. But I actually like moving. The thing about moving, is that I take it as an opportunity to clean house. It is amazing how much crap you can accumulate the longer you live at a place. I haven't moved in over 3 years, the longest amount of time I have lived in a place since I left my childhood home on my way to college. As I start going through things, I'm realizing how much crap I have that I probably don't need, and I'm starting to throw it out. I have old magazines, brochures, receipts, etc. things that I have absolutely no use for and end up taking space in a corner somewhere.

Out with the old in with the new. I did it with the job, now I need to do it with my stuff.

How Not To Grow A Company

Monday, February 06, 2006
Here is a quick list about how to not grow your company

  • Pay less than the prevailing market wage.
  • Give less than average raises. (which compounds the above problem two fold)
  • Do not have a bonus structure that rewards your top employees.
  • Do not give stock to key employees thereby eliminating incentive to see the company do well.
  • Give your top employees assignments that are completely uninteresting.
  • Do not communicate to your employees how you plan on allowing them to grow their careers.
It's funny. If your stated goal is to grow the company, and grow it quickly, then you have to be willing to pay the piper. Good talent does not come cheap. Good talent does not come simply to help YOU make money. Good talent needs an incentive. Those incentives are normally either money, good opportunities, or interesting work. By doing the above, you eliminate the possibility of ever finding good people. This problem compounds itself because good people want to work with other good people. Working at a company like the one above has to make you wonder about the people who still work there.

I am one who believes you should not complain about your current work situation because if you think you are underpaid, overworked, etc. it is up to you to prove your employer wrong. We live in a free society where one is free to work or not work for any given employer. I have had opportunities to leave before. In every case there was more money, more stock, better work etc. There was always some incentive to work hard to see the company do well. (I did not leave until now because even though the offers were good, I knew I could do better and I was not looking to leave my company, even if it was bad, for just any other opportunity)

I'm just not sure what delusion top management is under to believe that they can grow a bad company to a great company with talent that is below the competition. I am not advocating that a company goes overboard. I'm not suggesting you should pamper your talent or give them excessive perks. I am simply saying that you have to provide some incentive for top talent. Hoping top talent wants to work for you "just cause" will never work.


Friday, February 03, 2006
It's odd. Even though I have more time on my hand now, I have less time to do things like Blog. Sorry for the sudden silence that has suddenly overtaken this blog. I will update a little more as it becomes a little more firm.

Everyone have a great Superbowl weekend! My pick? My future hometown!

Change Is In the Wind

Monday, January 30, 2006
Change is good. Change is exciting. Sometimes you have to have change to just get away from a bad situation. Sometimes change is good in and of itself because it opens up new and wonderful opportunities. Sometimes its a combination of both. I have never been scared of change. Maybe it's because I handle it well; I've rarely if ever felt so overwhelmed I needed to quit. I believe that if you don't accept change you become like the dinosaurs, and I am not about to be going the way of dinosaur. I am going to not only accept change as it comes, but seek it out.

Small changes can be a Microcosm of the much larger picture. Seemingly insignificant events can cause a chain reaction, the butterfly effect. This chaos can be frightening, but if you navigate it correctly, you should be able to come in for a soft landing.

Time to Cancel Blockbuster?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
I've been thinking more and more that it is time to cancel my Blockbuster subscription. Lately, its felt more like a chore to watch all the movies I get from them then something I really want to do. I still get about 3 movies a week from them, but in all honesty, I watch them somewhat reluctantly.

I'm also not crazy about the service. The movie turnaround time is pretty bad considering I'm not a heavy user anymore. Most of my movies don't get scanned in as "returned" until about 2 days after I send it. This despite the fact that their are "distribution" centers all over the L.A. area.

Also, they do really funny things with my queue. I get movies I don't really want that are like 5th or 6th on my list of things I want. I'm not a heavy user anymore. I should be able to get one of the top 5 movies in my queue. I know Netflix throttles its users and determines priority this way, and I'm pretty sure Blockbuster does it as well, but this should not be happening to me considering I'm a relatively light user.

Maybe I'll give it another month. But I'm starting to think it might just be worth it to just rent movies the old fashion way.

Kobe Bryant Scores 81 Points!

Sunday, January 22, 2006
It was one of those games you talk about where you were when it happened. I happened to be in the car with my girlfriend after having a great dinner at Houstons. I had missed the previous two Laker games traveling and I didn't want to miss this one, but it was a special occasion so I made an exception.

On the way back from the restaurant I tuned in to see if the Laker game was over. I had caught the first quarter of the game and the Lakers were down by double digits and playing really bad. I wasn't expecting much.

Much to my surprise, I heard the announcer say that Kobe had scored a career high 67 points. I thought I must have misheard. There was no way he could have gone off for 67. Then I thought, the game must be almost over. But there was still five minutes left in the game!

I started to drive quicker, in an attempt to get home to see the end of an historic night. Kobe didn't disappoint. He would go on to score 81 points. 81 POINTS!!!! Do people realize how insane that is? It's the second most points scored in an NBA game ever, second only to Wilt Chamberlain's 100 point game. (which will never be beat. Then again, why bet against Kobe?)

Some people will say Kobe shoots to much, and needs to pass more. But I play a lot of basketball. I've played in games where I thought guys are shooting the ball way too much. But I also have played in games where a guy is just on fire. And if a guy is on his way to score 81 points in a game, you shut up and you pass him the ball. You do everything you possibly can to make sure that he gets as many looks as possible. It's not often you get to witness history.

Lies That HR Tells

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I was in my company meeting the other day and the HR lady told people they made a mistake about how a charity we are running would work. Instead of the money being taken out of on a pre-tax basis, it would be taken out post-tax. But she assured everyone it would be OK because you can just take care of it at the end of the year on your tax return.

I couldn't believe the crap I was hearing. If you know anything about taxes (and you really should if you don't) you know that THIS IS NOT THE SAME THING! I can't believe any HR person can get away with saying that it is.

What am I talking about? Most people DO NOT itemize their tax bill. Most people take the standard deduction which is $5000. That means, you are better off taking the standard deduction until you have at least $5000 in deductions. How many people have $5,000 in deductions ($10,000 if you are married)? Fully 2/3 of all Americans take the standard deduction. That means they get NO tax benefit from donating to charity, having a mortgage, or having any business expenses. Zip, zilch, nada. All those tax breaks you supposedly get (my favorite being the mortgage deduction) actually don't benefit you unless you have $5,000 in other deductions.

Now, should the #1 concern about giving to charity be your tax break? Of course not. But for an HR person to say that it is equivalent is just a flat out lie.

Maryland Overrides "Wal-Mart" Bill

Friday, January 13, 2006
Yesterday, the Maryland Senate overrode the veto of a bill that would require employers to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on employee health care or pay the difference to the state in taxes.

This is effectively a "Wal-Mart" bill because it is the only company in the state that currently hires over 10,000 employees and does not pay the minimum 8 percent.

Now any regular follower of my blog knows on what side of this issue I fall, but I am not here to argue that. I just wish, just once, that a company like Wal-Mart would say, ok, if that is the cost of doing business, so be it, and then pick up and walk out.

It will never happen, but boy do I wish I could see it. Then we would really get to see who needs who. Maybe Wal-mart really does need to have a presence in Maryland. Maybe they need the of revenues that state represents to Wal-mart's bottom line (my guess would be that I would fall in less than 1%). Maybe the states would realize that some jobs are better than no jobs, even if the state has to foot some of the medical bills. Maybe then, the citizens of a state could decide once and for how important Wal-mart is or isn't.

It may be sick and perverse, but the economist in me would love to see the experiment.
It's funny. As much as Wal-Mart doesn't think about , or just discounts, the negative effects of its policies on the state's economy, the Wal-Mart critics don't think about the positive effects Wal-Mart brings either. We as a society are so compartmentalized. We see things for what we want to see them as and how they directly affect us without thinking about the larger consequences.

GPS - where is the line?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
On the radio today, there was a story about Sprint refusing to release the location of a GPS phone which would have helped find the location of a child which was mistakenly taken when a thief stole a SUV in Riverside. Sprint has a procedure to allow law enforcement to obtain the information, but apparently this did not take place. In response, Riverside politicians threatened to now allow Sprint to put up any more Cell Phone towers.

Are you kidding me? First off, I'm not entirely sure Sprint did the wrong thing. While I can sympathize in this particular case, the life of a child was at stake, there is no way that Sprint cna just release the position of one of its phone for whatever reason. But T, how can you be so heartless? The life of the child was at stake!

Think About It. What happens the first time a person calls screaming that their child is missing and in fact the phone is on the person of their ex-girlfriend who they are now stalking? She is trying to hide from him, but he clevely concocts a story and bam, he finds her and kills her. Maybe this example is a little extreme but the point remains, you can't just be giving out the position of these phones without proper clearance from law enforcement.

I mean really, clearly this is a stunt by the idiot politicians of Riverside to win a few brownie points with their constituents. Their threat of not allowing any cell phone towers is hardly a stiff penalty considering that Sprint probably has coverage throughout most of Riverside already.

401K - The Lie

Monday, January 09, 2006
There is so much crap spewed about the 401K plan it drives me nuts. This was painfully evident to me when we last had our 401K meeting. I for one do invest a great deal of money into my 401K but I do it full well knowing how it fits into my overall financial strategy. (I am however about to drop my contribution to 0% for the next few months) Many people do not.

1. 401K plans make less sense for high-income individuals - How can this be? I mean don't the rich save more in taxes? It depends. If you remain a high income individual retirement, which is likely, than you will pay taxes at your personal income level. However, if you were to invest in the stock market instead, you would only have to pay the capital gains tax instead. This stands at 15% rather than the 35% you would otherwise get taxed.

2. You may end up paying more in taxes later - The US has historically low tax rates now. If you believe, like me, that the budget deficit, the trade deficit, aging baby boomer population are areas of major concern, than you probably believe that at some point, the U.S. will raise taxes again to cover the shortfall. That being the case, it is better to pay taxes NOW rather than pay higher taxes later. Also, in all likelihood, you will have less deductiosn than you do now. You will most likely have your mortage paid off, no child deduction, have less business expenses, etc.

3. Diversification - Most people just don't understand what diversication really is. It's kind of frightening really. They think diversification is just picking lots of the different funds in a 401K plan and that will handle diversification. This concept is just flat out wrong! In fact, people may be exposing themselves to much more risk than they expect when they follow such a strategy.

4. People who are investors who shouldn't be - Could you imagine if the government mandated everyone had to drive their own car to work but nobody had to take a driving test? There are enough crazy people on the road as it is, can you imagine if there were even more people who had no idea what they were doing. That is essentially what they did when they started 401K plans. Millions of people started investing in it but have no idea what they are really doing.

5. Your money is not liquid - Most people vastly underestimate the need for liquidity but it can be very important in times of financial crisis. The problem is that you are not able to withdraw funds in a 401K plan until you reach 59 1/2 without paying some significant penalties. If you were to take the money and invest it yourself instead, in the exact same financial products, you would be able to pull out your money at any time without penalty.

6. You have much more limited choices - You are at the mercy of your 401K plan in terms of what you can invest in. If you have your own IRA or just money in a taxable account, you have a lot more options in terms of what you can invest in. Maybe all the funds and investment choices in your 401K plan just suck, and you would be better off diverting your money into different vehicles.

Again, my advice is not to not invest in your company's 401K plan, my advice is to really Think About It. Don't just do it blindly because you think you should. However if the alternative is to save in the 401K plan or not save at all, then, of course, save in your company's 401K plan.

Pat Robertson is an Idiot

Friday, January 06, 2006
If there is a reason I will never believe in any particular religion it's because of idiots like Pat Robertson and statements like this.

The callous way so called religious leaders can throw around the idea of divine retribution is just appalling to me. If God is so worried about smoting people who do bad things how come there are lots of murderers, child molestors, rapists, terrorist, etc. running around? Where is the line? How does God determine who he is going to smote and who he doesn't? If he hasn't smoted the murderers and child molestors, is he impliciting saying that those things are OK?

Blogging Dropout Rates

Thursday, January 05, 2006
I have been blogging now for almost 3 years (My exact first post was Jan. 8 2003 in my old blog). I have blogged on and off but for the most part have been pretty consistent, trying to get out 3 or 4 post a week.

I wonder how long the average blog runs. I wonder how many blogs are already abandoned. If you try and get some of the more popular names on blogspot you will find many blogs that are simply abandoned. I wonder why blogspot doesn't just go and reclaim dead blogs. Maybe for posterity? Couldn't they just archive the pages somewhere else to free up the urls? I would think they could send an email to the blog owner telling them they need to confirm they still want the blog, and then delete it when there is no response. This could happen after a period of inactivity, say 6 or 12 months.

I found some statistics here and here but nothing I would say as definitive. My bet is that the average blog only last a few weeks before someone gets bored and decides they no longer want to do it. I bet that the percentage of dead blogs must be very high, my guess would be about 85% of blogs that were once started are now dead. Anybody else have some guesses.

My New Years

Wednesday, January 04, 2006
It was rather uneventful. My actual New Year's Eve was spent watching 24 with a bunch of friends. Pretty good show. But I can no longer stand Elisha Cuthbert, and I use to think she was kinda cute.

The next day was a little more exciting. My girlfriend and I walked down the Rose Parade Route. I had forgotten how much I don't like large crowds, especially rowdy ones, which is the case with those lining up for the parade. We ended up walking all the way to Orange Grove to see the floats up close, and that was well worth it. I had never been that close to the floats before, so it was great to see them.

However, the walk back wasn't so much fun. It started to pour right when we turned around to walk back home. To make it worse, we didn't realize how far we had really walked. All told, we walked 8 miles from my house, to the end of the route, and back. Needless to say, I got home very tired and very wet.