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.