Archive for April, 2009

It’s been two weeks since my last post in the tomato growing saga comparing the tomato tree vs. planter vs. soil.   So far the planter is way ahead in the competition.   I have at least 10 tomatoes growing on the planter and the plant is now about 38″ high and growing daily vertically and horizontally.   The tomato tree comes in second at about 22″ (plant curls) and has sprouted about 6 tomatoes which are growing slowly.  The tomato plant placed in the soil is doing the least favorable with a mere 18″ of growth and only two tomatoes growing on the plant so far.

Other vegetables are growing fairly well as the carrots, corn, watermelon, green onion, limes, and bell peppers continue to grow, flower or fruit nicely.   I have to admit though that this is the first year that I’ve had so much success at gardening and it’s no coincidence that it is probably due to the fact that I am unemployed.  I spend a good deal of time outdoors gardening, clearing weeds, watering and fertilizing the plants as needed.    Clearly, like anything else, if you dedicate time and energy and commit yourself to a process it isn’t difficult to have success.

In prior years, I would plant seeds, add fertilizer and water occasionally.   If I traveled out of town on business for a few days the plants didn’t get any water.  If I can home late or too tired to weed then it didn’t get done and the plants suffered as the weeds drained water and nutrients from the vegetable plants.

I will stick to my original assessment however in that buying vegetables from a grocer is much CHEAPER than growing your own food.  I know I’ll get flack for writing this from die hard frugalist but it’s the truth.    I think too many frugal people simply take the water, fertilizer, labor, crop failure, tools and other variables for granted when telling people they can “save” money by growing their own food.

I can buy 10 lbs of tomatoes for less than $10.   The ten tomatoes I’m currently growing cost way more than $10 and even if I end up with 30 lbs of tomatoes there is no way I can eat that much tomato before it goes bad.   Yeah, I can make sauces or maybe preserves from the things I’m growing but that adds additional cost and time.  So why do it?  For me, it’s because I like gardening.  I enjoy seeing seeds grow from tiny seedlings into large fruit bearing plants and trees.  It certainly isn’t to “save” money because I’ve done no such thing by growing my own veggies.

Until the harvest is complete, I won’t really be able to tell if “they taste better” either but I will certainly let you know!

You know that great service you get at the Post Office and the DMV? Well get ready because it’s soon coming to a GM dealership near you! That’s right, a whole new experience in car buying will soon be available at a GM dealer near you. Here is a sneak peek:

1. Queuing – Are you used to a sales person greeting you as you enter the dealership? Well forget it, those inefficient days are over because from now on, you’ll have to queue in long lines and wait for a GM sales person to be ready to talk to you.

2. Forms – Are you used to walking around a dealership “kicking the tires” and then asking for the keys so you can take a car for a test drive? Those inefficient days are over because from now on you’ll need to fill out forms in triplicate, provide at least three forms of ID (Drivers License, credit card and utility bill) in order to get access to the keys for a test drive*. *Note: This will require separate queue which will only take 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Financing – Are you used to signing on the dotted line and driving away with the car of your dreams? Forget about it! You’ll now have to sit through a two hour counseling session making sure you understand the financing terms, sign document agreeing that you will wear your seatbelt at all times, make sure you don’t have any unpaid taxes or student loan debt, and you haven’t been convicted of DUI or DWI before you’re allowed to “purchase” the vehicle.

4. Office Hours – Are you used to going to the dealership six days out of the week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m? Forget about it! The new dealership hours are officially 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. closed on all federal holidays, Saturday and Sunday.

5. Service Shop – The service shop will have exciting new hours (see above) and wait times will only triple for repairs, parts, queues and service.

6. Selection – Are you used to selecting between every style and color under the rainbow? Forget about it! All new vehicles will come in either red, white or blue and in a single box style format to make it easy to deliver mail should an emergency arise.

Now this is what I call progress!

Bondholders are being asked to swap all their claims for 10 percent of the equity in the reorganized company. The offer is contingent on cutting at least half of GM’s $20.4 billion of obligations to a United Auto Workers retiree-medical fund, known as a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, through a debt- for-equity exchange that would give the VEBA as much as 39 percent of common stock in the Detroit-based carmaker.

Without an accord, bondholders face the uncertainty of bankruptcy, GM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young said today. At least 90 percent in principal amount of the notes must be exchanged by June 1 to satisfy the U.S. Treasury, GM said today in a statement.

“This is an offer that’s designed to fail,” said Kip Penniman, an analyst at fixed-income research firm KDP Investment Advisors in Montpelier, Vermont. “To get 90 percent of them to agree to such a deal where there’s no cash, no other debt and pure equity while leaving the union VEBA arrangement unchanged from previous considerations is absurd.”

The most useless feature of the two new vehicles I’ve recently purchased is the low pressure tire notification.   The light notification seems to come on every couple of months and 9 times out of 10, the notification light is for the spare tire too low on pressure.

If auto manufacturers want to put something useful into cars, how about putting little numbers or symbols for WHICH tire is low on pressure.   Every time the light comes on, I have to get out and check all five tires for pressure which is a colossal waste of time.

If Steve Jobs and Apple can make an “app for that” then I’d like for the auto manufacturers to write a apps that read the tire pressure from all five tires via blue tooth or wifi and tell me which one is freaking low on pressure!    How about telling me how low on pressure the tire is!?

I’d also like to see an app for more detail diagnostics rather than “check engine” or “check fuel” or other primitive information that hasn’t changed in 100 years since the auto has been invented.   Why is there no innovation with auto manufacturers?   Why can’t these knuckle heads learn anything from Apple?

Rather than pay for OnStar, GPS, LowJack, XM, and other gadgets, just make them into Apps on the iPhone and pump them all through a big internet pipe from WiMax or G4 or whatever.

Honestly, I frequently feel like I’m living in the dark ages or maybe there are too many older workers there doing things the same way they’ve been done for the past 50 years.  Someone out there needs to create “The Total Car App” for the iPhone.  Here are a few suggestions it should include:

1. Maintenance calendar: oil checks, tire rotation, hose changes, brake changes, etc.

2. Tire pressure check with useful information – Don’t just tell me the pressure is low tell me HOW LOW it is!

3. Built in GPS: traffic, weather, location, driving directions, projected fuel usage when going on trip, etc.

4. Accessory store:  how about a direct link to goodies specifically tailored to my auto models?

5. How about a running cost on the cost of ownership?  Every time I fill up my gas tank, a sensor should upload the cost of fuel into an app and add up the cost, keep a running total.   Ditto for oil changes and other maintenance costs.

All of the above would make my life easier and provide real value but instead I’m sure GM, with their tax payer billions, will continue to make crap.

With the economic meltdown continuing unabated, it seems pets are being released into the wild and are causing havoc in neighborhoods.    I’ve lived in the same home for over a decade and I’ve never seen so many stray animals come into my backyard after I finish grilling on my grill.

For the past few weeks I’ve been hearing animals in my backyard and on occasion animals fighting in my backyard late at night.  I couldn’t figure out what it was until the animals started showing up right after I grill.

I’ve tried to figure out why the animals started showing up and after I saw a few emaciated cats it all started to make sense.   I’m assuming that home/pet owners either moved away and let their pets go into the wild or they simply let the pets go because they couldn’t afford the care/food any more.

Unfortunately, the cats are becoming pests and menace and I’m running out of options on getting rid of them.   Drastic action may be necessary soon.

So I went to a professional association meeting last night and I ran into a few boomers and jokingly asked them if they were planning on retiring soon or if their plans had changed because of the market collapse and financial mess.   Sadly, many of them somberly said that their plans had changed and they have no plans on retiring now or anytime soon.

It then hit me that perhaps the finanical mess was a mass consipiracy to keep the boomers working.   I have ranted for many posts now about the boomer armageddon that’s been coming for some time now.     I asked what would happen when 78 million people (about 1/3 of the population) stop working.   Who will pay income taxes?  Who will make 401k contributions?  Who will pay health insurance premiums?

Boomers are typically on the high end of the salary scale because of their tenure and experience so it reasons that a majority of the taxes, 401k contribution and health care costs have been paid, in large part, by working boomers.    But what happens when they all retire?   If I were a boomer and didn’t work any more I wouldn’t pay income tax, health premiums, make 401k contributions, and have the benefit of reduced exemptions (e.g. property taxes are lower for seniors).

So WHO THE HELL MAKES UP THE DIFFERENCE?  I don’t think we need to worry about that question anymore, boomers will continue to work until they drop dead at their desks (or where ever they work).

Whether there is a grand conspiracy or not, it looks like most people will keep spinning in the wheel like little hampsters until they can’t take it no more.

I’m still sitting out the markets and quite frankly, they’re still a mess.   Absolutely nothing has changed, the banks are still insolvent and the only thing I hear that makes any sense is that the recovery MIGHT begin in 2010.

The government is predicting a worst case scenario of banks losing 50% of capital if unemployment continues to rise so understanding how government works, the “worst case scenario” actually equals “the most likely outcome.”

Remember when Ben Bernanke said everything was “well contained” in 2007 and the whole mess was ONLY going to cost $150 billion?  If you forgot, click here for a refresher.

Nothing has changed, there are a whole new set of “games” being played with banks stress tests, FDIC shenanigans, and new rules and regulations but nothing has changed.     I’m still sitting it all out until we get some clarity and stability.

I’ve been unemployed now for three months and my life has changed for the better.  I get much deeper sleep now and feel so much more relaxed than I’ve ever had in my life.  This is the first time I’ve been off for such an extended period of time without carrying a blackberry, without having to worry about fiscal budgets, deadlines, projects, international travel, etc.

I’ve been gardening every day and picked up a rich tan but that’s not the only thing.  I’ve noticed the birds singing, the roses and flowers bloomimg, the vegetables sprouting and so much more.   I’ve noticed the movements of the sun change from January thru today (April). I’ve noticed the curious things my kids do when they get home from school and I’ve played with them outside almost every day spring started.

I’ve started to read books that interest me instead of professional books and journals required for my career.  I’ve cleared the clutter in some rooms to simplify my life but still have a long way to go.   I’ve started to adjust to life the way it should be which means that I must be getting close to it all slipping through my fingers.    I’ve begun to get a few calls from recruiters and have some interviews scheduled for May so the end of my wonderful new life must be near.

To be honest, I was hoping to be unemployed through the summer as I’ve got grand plans:  take my kids to the beach a few days in the week, go fishing a few other days, explore the countryside and maybe go camping a few days to see what nature is all about.

I believe everything happens for a reason and the last three months “off” have shown me the way life should be.

I meant to post this last week but I did my taxes for the year and I ended up owing close to 10k and I won’t be paying it anytime soon.  I’m preserving cash right now and the IRS is just going to have to wait.  Yes, there will be penalties and there will be interest but the government interest is a whole lot better than credit card or other loan interest.

Technically, I’m still unemployed so I don’t have any income to “send” to the IRS but we’ll see how the situation pans out.   I’ll probably go on a payment plan and I’ll discuss the details of that later but for now, I’m not paying.

Unfortunately, I was really screwed with “phantom” income as I was granted thousands of shares of stock at a high price last year then the stock plummeted to nearly $0 so I was left on the hook for a huge amount of taxes on income I never received.   If the stock rallies back to the $50’s then I’ll be on easy street but for now I’m on IRS deadbeat street.

Don’t think of me as a non-taxpaying deadbeat though, I did manage to pay over $80,000 in income taxes last year but the government wants another 10k.   When adding up all the property taxes, sales taxes, and other fees I’m sure the government received over 100k of income but that’s another story for another post.

In the never ending saga of the city trash collection schedule, I’ve reached a point where I’ve technically become a criminal.  At least, I think it’s criminal to dispose of trash the way I’ve resorted to doing these days.

For a quick primer, the city used to pick up trash twice a week and heavy trash every Friday in my neighborhood.   The city did this during what I call the “golden age” of trash collection about a decade ago.   Over the years, the city changed the trash pick up schedule (for the worse) and has now released a new schedule:

Heavy trash will be picked up every OTHER MONTH on the second Friday of the month while tree/yard waste (recyclable) will be picked up in alternate every other month.  Essentially what this means is that if I decide to trim my trees say next week, I’ll have to wait until sometime  in JUNE before the city will pick up  the tree limbs.   Alternatively, if I decide to trash my grill or some other large object (water heater) I’ll have to wait till May and if I miss that window because I’m on vacation or out of town, I’ll have to wait until JULY to get rid of heavy trash.

The city has also all but abandoned recycling now so paper, glass and other items that used to be recycled are now going back into the landfill.    So where is the criminal in all this?   I decided to sign up for a second trash and I basically fill the second can with whatever garbage I can fit in there:  tree limbs, grass, glass, heavy trash, you name it!

Technically, I don’t think tree/yard waste is supposed to go into the garbage truck but what else am I supposed to do?   I am now a criminal and playing a dangerous game of trash roulette.   I’m sure one day I will likely get a fine and then the city will decide that fining people for “bad” trash will be a great new income revenue stream and there will be garbage “officers” looking for a way to fine citizens for inappropriate trash in bins.

Once that day comes, I’ll be buying a large barrel and burning all my trash and I’m sure many of my neighbors will be joining me in a great trash revolt.  By the way, I’m paying $10/month for that extra trash can so I’m basically paying $120/year to get rid of trash when it used to be free.  This is yet another reason to not buy/consume anything these days because eventually it will get trashed.

I planted three tomato plants a few weeks ago.  The first was inside that Tomato Tree gizmo you’ve probably seen on TV.  The second plant went inside a large planter and the third plant went straight into the soil.

It has now been about three weeks since the plants went in and here’s photographic evidence of the growth.  In retrospect, I should have put a rule or measuring stick next to the plants so the growth/size would be visible.

So far, the tomato in the large planter has grown the largest.  I measured the plant to be about 20″ and full of many branches (no pruning), the tomato tree plant has grown about 16″ although it was a bit difficult to tell because the plant curls around the bag toward the sun and does not have anywhere near the foliage the planter plant contains.    The smallest plant at about 13″ is the plant placed in the soil but to be fair, it is in a spot that doesn’t get as much sunlight as the other two plants.    All plants have been watered regularly and once a week get Miracle Gro liquid fertilizer.

None of the plants are bearing any fruit for now but I expect them to do so over the next couple of weeks.   Yield, taste and size will be measured to see which tomato plant is the best.