Archive for September, 2009

For avid Get Rich Slick readers, you guys know that I predicted an 8.0+ earthquake sometime this year back in January.  I felt “disappointed” that the earthquake had come and gone when I wrote this post but it looks like my earthquake was just “late” and I might have made a mistake in underestimating the lunar effect.

I think lunar gravity needs to be looked at from a fractal perspective rather than a linear perspective.  I’m guessing the moon’s gravity acts more like a rubber band than a string.   In any event, the 8.0 earthquake has hit and I’m in awe.   Unfortunately, I got rid of my widget and I haven’t been keeping track of the moon’s orbit for a while now so someone else will need to pick up the pieces and figure out when the next big one might hit.    Fortunately, I’m nowhere near earthquake country so I’m not concerned about it.

I follow quite a few gloom and doom blogs and I’ve noticed many of them are posting fewer and fewer posts so I’m beginning to wonder if we’re approaching the real bottom of this economic recession.    There is still plenty of bad news out there but it seems there is a great deal of fatigue in gloom and doom world.

I’ll keep you posted.

I’m beginning to regret going back for my MBA.  If you’ve seen the movie Back to School, you might understand my predicament.  If you haven’t seen the movie, Rodney Dangerfield plays a character (Mr. Melon) that decides to go back to school even though he’s in his 50’s.

One of my favorite scenes dialog in the movie is below:


Professor:
So, rather than waste your time this semester with a lot of useless theories we’re going to jump right in with both feet and create a fictional company
from the ground up.

We’ll construct our physical plant we’ll set up an efficient administrative and executive structure
then we’ll manufacture our product and market it. I think you’ll find it very interesting and a lot of fun. So, let’s start by looking at construction costs of our new factory.

Rodney: What’s the product?

Professor: That is immaterial for the purposes of our discussion here but if it makes you happy let’s say we’re making tape recorders.

Rodney: Tape recorders?
Are you kiddin’?  The Japs will kill us on the labor costs.

Professor: OK, fine. Then let’s just say they’re widgets.

Rodney: What’s a widget?

Professor: It’s a fictional product.  It doesn’t matter.

Rodney: Doesn’t matter. Tell that to the bank.

Professor: On the board, you will see a cost analysis for construction of
a square-foot facility which will encompass both factory and office space and is fully serviced
by all utilities…a railroad spur line and a four-bay shipping dock.


Rodney:
Hold it, hold it. Why build?
You’re better off leasing…at a buck and a quarter, a buck and a half a square foot.
Take your down payment and put it into CDs…or something else you can roll over every couple of months.

Professor: Thank you, Mr. Melon…but we’ll be concentrating on finance a little later in the term.
For the time being,let’s just concentrate on the construction figures, shall we?
You’ll see the final bottom line requires the factoring in of not just the material and construction costs…but also the architects’ fees and the cost of land servicing.

Rodney: Oh, you left out a bunch of stuff.

Professor: Oh, really? Like what, for instance?

Rodney: First of all, you have to grease the local politicians for the sudden zoning problems
that always come up.

Then there’s the kickbacks to the carpenters.

And if you plan on using any cement in this building…I’m sure the teamsters would like to have a little chat with you, and that’ll cost you.

Don’t forget a little something for the building inspectors.

There’s the long-term costs, such as waste disposal.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with who runs that business…but I assure you it’s not the boy scouts.

Professor: That will be quite enough, Mr. Melon.
Maybe bribes and kickbacks and Mafia payoffs are how you do business..but they are not part of
the legitimate business world and they’re certainly not part of anything I’m teaching in this class.
Do I make myself clear?

Rodney: Sorry. Just trying to help.  That’s all.

Professor: Now, notwithstanding Mr. Melon’s input…the next question for us is
where to build our factory.

Rodney: How about Fantasyland?

And that pretty much summarizes how my classes have been going.  I never considered the abysmal state of higher education but it’s bad.   Ultimately it’s up to the student to learn and master a variety of subjects and that can be done by reading books and co-mingling with professionals in the business world but if you want that piece of paper with the letters M.B.A stamped on it you have to go back to school and get it from an “accredited” university.

What is really lacking in Universities, in my opinion, are professors that have *real* world experience and not just academics that write theoretical papers all day long.   I managed to get into an argument with a professor over a theoretical application of something that will never exist in the real world; what’s the point of covering and studying the subject if it’s never going to be of any practical use?

Universities came into existence to help businesses run business more efficiently and effectively.   As commerce grew,  so did the demand for qualified professionals to manage operations, finances and other facets of business.  I believe this was the core mission of higher education but lately it’s become a social club of intellectual snobs detached from reality focusing on nonsensical, impractical, and myopic topics and fads.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I have much of a choice, with China & India cranking out college graduates by the MILLIONS and willing to work for 1/3 to 1/5 of what most Americans get paid, it’s going to be a much more competitive world moving forward.

I read two stories today that I thought fit very well together despite not having to do anything with each other.  The first is an interesting post about the Federal Reserve owning more than 100% of mortgages.    The second was about these amazing curtains that block over 100% of sunlight thereby creating a singularity that absorbs all light.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve should buy these curtains to balance out the mortgage issue;  I’m sure the Fed would love to see 100% of the mortgages fall into a black hole and disappear but the silly Fed, they don’t know that they ARE the black hole!

I am so depressed for the young kids coming out of college right now.  According to the NY Post, young unemployment is at an all time high of nearly 52% and what really caught my attention was this:

“It’s an extremely dire situation in the short run,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute. “This group won’t do as well as their parents unless the jobs situation changes.”

If there were only one single goal my parents wanted for their kids was that we do better and live better lives than they did growing up.   I can honestly say that I have lived a much richer, healthier and more satisfying life than either my or my wife’s parents did as they were growing up.   I can also say that my parents lived much better than their grandparents did growing up as well.   I think it so sad to suddenly feel that some people’s kids are actually going to be worse off than their parents.

I personally hope that my kids do better than we do but I often wonder.   I’ve now made it a point to buy a couple of houses and ultimately turn these over to our kids when they grow up but I wonder if that will be enough.   Unfortunately, I can tell there are too many people still living in fantasyland hoping that things will return to the way they were a few years ago but it’s difficult for me to phathom how that’s going to happen.

I got free tickets to a sporting event this weekend.  It seems sports league are now giving tickets away in a desperate attempt to get some bodies in the door.   I went to a baseball game this weekend and I couldn’t help but wonder why people put up with the insanity.
First, I had to pay $15 for parking.  No big deal I thought since the tickets were “free” but that was the first expense.   Fortunately, I ate dinner before I went otherwise I would have been in for some steep expenses.   Beer is sold for $8 for about 12 oz container.   Peanuts $4.50.  Cotton Candy $5 (which I did buy for my kid that went with me).  Bottled water $4.  Food ranges from $8 to $15 for less than appetizing food.

It is ironic that a few days ago I had read this article on Bloomberg regarding the Cowboy’s $1.15 Billion Stadium:

But success in business or sports doesn’t mean success in food. And junk food, however unambitious, has to at least taste good. Consider the hamburger, a gray patty with no char, a chewy, rubbery texture and unidentifiable cheese. The chili dog ($5.50) was a mealy abomination.

Tex-Mex fare should reach its microwavable apex in Texas. It doesn’t over here. Reasonably tasty flautas ($8) were filled with cheese (again, couldn’t tell what kind) and intense chicken flavor, but weren’t any better than the taquitos available at 7- Eleven. Beef fajita tacos ($8.50) were dry and stringy.

I can’t tell you if the food at the stadium I went to was this bad but from the looks of it and the people in the arena I can surmise it was as bad.   Of course, the expense issue wasn’t the only thing.   The seats were way to small and I admit, I’m a bit overweight but no where near the whales that were sitting in the seats watching the game.  I think too many of the spectators have been eating way too much beef chili cheese fried nachos because most of the people were squeezing into their seats.

But my misery didn’t stop there, every five minutes people were getting up and obstructing my view.   People were either buying beer or food and then getting up to digest said food and beer.   I swear, at least two guys got up 8 times during the first 7 innings of the game.  I missed three plays because these guys were getting up and blocking my view to go take a wiz.

But wait there’s more!   I was fortunate enough to be in a row with very few people on it and most of the row in front and behind me were fairly empty but for other rows that were packed, I couldn’t help notice all the people sneezing and coughing all over the place.   WARNING TO ALL STADIUMS, you better have some protocol in place if the flu breaks out this season because there will be a PANIC and you will desperately need a bailout.  I would suggest handing out sanitizer and/or sterile wipes to patrons before you go begging Uncle Sam for a bailout.

We left at the 8th inning to avoid all the drunks on the road but I still had to put up with the misery that is traffic.     The ONLY reason I went was because I was given great seats (or so I thought) and they were FREE but FREE cost me $20+gas that night.  After the experience, I just kept asking myself why people put up with it?

People must really love these sports teams to put up with all that crap but they must not be loving them all that much, at its peak, the stadium was only about 40% capacity and that was with plenty of FREE tickets being given away.   It’s a whole new paradigm and I seriously don’t know how these teams will survive a flu pandemic during the season if it happens.

After I canceled my satellite I figured I would eventually get a call or something to try to get me back.   It would only make sense since I was a premium customer for years with the satellite company and today it finally happened.

I got a letter in the mail enticing me with FREE premium movie channels and discount service which claimed to nearly save me $400 over the course of the next year.   To be honest, it’s a great offer but it’s too bad that I had to quit for them to offer it for me.   Yeah, I could have asked for a discount or freebies but they would have only done it if I signed a new two year contract and that’s just not how your treat your best customers.

I have some advice for the cable companies, satellite companies and just about everyone else.  If you want LOYALTY you should offer some freebies and incentives BEFORE your customer walks.   I honestly don’t get how some of these companies do business.   Everyone and their mother (in business) knows that it can cost 10 times more to bring in a new customer than keep an existing customer so why is there so much money and energy WASTED on enticing new customers and ignoring your loyal customers?

I can give you an example of someone at least trying to do something right.   I have been a frequent flyer for a long time but during my unemployment period, I didn’t travel much.   Under normal circumstances my “elite” status on some airlines would have expired but some of them actually EXTENDED the privilege even though I hadn’t flown in a while.   These airlines are trying to reward loyalty while understanding everyone’s in a tough spot.   Unfortunately too many companies don’t understand this basic premise.

Sorry satellite company, I was loyal and you rewarded me with NOTHING and only after I left did you think to offer me something.  Too little…too late..

After writing a post on my experience on AT&T Uverse a few days ago I have a dramatic update!  My service went out for two days for some unknown reason.  Worse yet, the service also knocked out my POTS service at home; I specifically didn’t bundle voice, TV and internet on one service because I was concerned about losing ALL service when one went done but that didn’t seem to matter.

So I call up AT&T Uverse service and speak with a rep only to waste 30 minutes confirming that my service was dead and then scheduling a repair visit for the next day.   I come home from work early only to discover that the repair guy never shows.  I call up and ask where repair guy is and they have no record of me calling.   I ask for them to check again at which point they acknowledge that I did call the  previous day to report a failure but no record of a dispatch.

“So you know I called and had no service but you didn’t dispatch?” I ask.   The lady hangs up on me at this point.

I call back again and the next rep says he’ll have someone out in a few hours.   A few hours later rep shows up and spends 3 hours fixing the problem.   So for two whole days I had no internet or TV service and for some reason, no POTS service either.

We had been playing with the AT&T DVR and figured we could just watch some of the recorded shows on the DVR right?   WRONG.  Evidently, you can’t watch shows recorded on the DVR unless the service is running.   I think this is a very stupid idea AT&T.  If your service is down, why not let people watch shows on the DVR to at least be able to watch SOMETHING!    I then figured the AT&T box would at least have a port so I could attach an antenna and watch local over the air channels but that doesn’t exist either.   I can’t watch local channels (without an HD tuner) so the box is completely useless and dead.

At this point, I’m wondering if I should bother with the media features because they may not work if the service is down.

To conclude, I have to break down my AT&T experience into three components:

1. The “digital” experience is pretty good and far superior to anything else I’ve experienced so far.

2. The “customer service” experience was pretty wretched with hang up, lost dispatch, and delayed repair.

3. The “feature” experience certainly needs improvement.   If service is down, customers should be able to at least watch DVR’d shows!

It looks like check mate for the FDIC.  On one side, if the FDIC taps the Treasury then tax payers are essentially bailing out banks again.  If this happens, what’s the point of banks paying premiums to FDIC if the tax payer is the real guarantee behind deposits?

On the other side, if the FDIC doesn’t tap the Treasury but seeks to borrow money from member banks to cover the losses then where’s the extra capital coming from?  Isn’t this a giant “wealth transfer” system of robbing the rich to pay the poor?

If you think about either situation carefully,  you begin to realize that everyone’s screwed no matter what and more and more people are coming around to that fact:

Bair, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s chairman since 2006, says the agency has many options. One way to boost its coffers, now running low after a surge in bank failures, would be to charge banks higher premiums. It could make them pay future assessments in advance. Alternatively, the FDIC could borrow money from the banks it regulates. Or it could borrow from the Treasury, where it has a $500 billion line of credit.

“There’s a philosophical question about the Treasury credit line, whether that is there for losses that we know we will have, or whether it’s there for unexpected emergencies,” Bair said Sept. 18 at a Georgetown University conference in Washington. “This is really a debate for Washington and for banks,” she added.

Keep an eye out….

The AT&T Uverse installation took approximately 7 hours and I honestly have to wonder if the installation guy was riding the clock.   My house was already wired for TV and the guy didn’t run any new cable other than change the ends at the cable to make sure they were properly grounded but that’s another story.

The telco guy did run the cable from outside the house but that didn’t seem to take longer than about an hour.   I wasn’t too bothered with the length of time but I was worried when he was done with the install.   After 7 hours, he got two TV’s working flawlessly on AT&T Uverse but on my main family LCD TV, we kept seeing the following error on the TV:

ATT1001

Your Television Cannot Support HDCP Video Over Your High Definition Connection (H1001).

No matter what the AT&T guy did, he could not get the receiver to work with my TV.  He ultimately ended unplugging my Sony Receiver (multi-HDMI inputs) and plugged the AT&T receiver into the TV directly and that fixed the problem BUT I can’t use the receiver for other stuff.  Fortunately for AT&T, I had given away my HDMI PS2 and no longer need the multi-HDMI inputs otherwise I would have sent him packing.   It’s important to note that I did not have ANY problems with the Sony receiver with the satellite dish equipment so why I suddenly have problems no one could tell me.   This was THE UGLY with AT&T.

After playing with the service for a few days, I can quickly give you a list of features that I think are missing or would make the experience better:

1. No channel “auto tune”.  I got into a habit of auto programming my viewing for the evening when I got home.  For example, I would program the satellite receiver to tune to channel 208 (CNBC) at 6 p.m. then channel 182 (Discover) at 8 p.m. and Channel 108 (Comedy) to watch The Daily Show at night but that feature doesn’t exist on AT&T.

2. The package I got came with a DVR and it’s great but it has a big problem; when recording an HD show, one of the TV’s becomes “locked” as it records the show so you can’t watch an HD channel but you can watch an SD channel.

3. LED lights on the receivers.  I’m honestly getting pretty sick of seeing LED lights on electronic devices; they serve no real purpose.  The light coming from my receivers lights up my rooms at night and I don’t need a glowing green light when I’m trying to go to sleep.  I’m having to end up covering the LED lights to make my room dark and I’m trying to figure out if I can burn them out somehow.

This is THE BAD.

And now for the GOOD, the really, really GOOD.

Now that I’ve gotten my pet peeves out of the way with the service, let me tell you about the great features and what I do like.

1. I absolutely love the quality of the HD channels.  I had read that AT&T was compressing their HD signals but if they are, I can’t tell.  I think the HD quality is actually better than satellite but that’s just my opinion.

2. I absolutely love the AT&T Web Remote Access.   Essentially, you can log on from the web anywhere, look up channels and shows and press the “record” button from anywhere on the planet to record a show.  With my travel, forgetfulness, and busy schedule, I won’t ever miss a show again.  I’ve already pre-programmed the receivers to record the whole season of HEROES come travel or no travel.  I won’t miss a show!

3. I absolutely love the Video on Demand features although I’m not crazy about the pricing ($4 to $7) but then again most rentals are for 2 or 3 days at a time.

4. I like the multi-views of News & Sports although I would like to create my own custom multiviews.   For example, I’d like to have Bloomberg, CNBC and CNBCW on at the same time.   Yes, you can watch 3 channels at once!

5. I like the ability to have my own video server plug into the receiver although I haven’t messed with this feature yet and it is a work in progress project.  The idea is all my home videos will be accessible via the receiver at some point just like the Video on Demand feature.

Overall, I’m happy with the features and product and I’ve yet to experience any “rain fade” like I did with satellite but I would love to see AT&T fix some of my pet peeves.