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.