Archive for August, 2010

For the first time in what must be years, we will actually be driving to our vacation destination this labor day weekend.  To be fair, it’s only a four day vacation but we normally fly to our destination and that won’t be happening.   Quite honestly, I’m sick of the current state of air travel:

First, you need to drive to the airport and waste a huge amount of time and gas to get there, then park car and spend more money.  Then there’s that bag fee that doesn’t seem to be included in the price of airfare any more.  Secondly, you need to walk through a virtual strip search because someone might blow up the plane.  If you wait and stop to think about that for a minute, it gives anyone pause to wonder why anyone should ever fly…strip naked to be sure the plane won’t be blown up.  Oh yeah and it irks me that there are 20 TSA guys just standing around doing nothing but collecting salaries and likely absurd pensions.

Then it’s another wait until you board the plane and consider yourself lucky if the flight isn’t delayed because of weather or something else because the airlines run on a skeleton plane schedule, you’re next flight might not be till the next day.    When you finally get on board, it’s generally a horrible experience with crap seating, little or no food, and flight attendants that might pop the hatch and jump off the plane with a beer.

Finally, you arrive at your destination and pay more fees, taxes and god knows what when you rent a car and head to your final destination.   The whole system simply isn’t sustainable any more and it will all come crashing down soon.   As for this family, we’re avoiding the air hassles and simply driving to our destination!

My kids are growing up in a truly digital online world.   After recently discovering Netflix, I showed my son how it works and he quickly quipped that it’s similar to iTunes.  Unbeknownst to me, he’s been purchasing shows off of iTunes for a while now and loading on his iPod for later viewing.   Interestingly, we are finding ourselves watching less and less cable TV now and simply going online for entertainment.

This brings me to a recent discovery on new TV’s; Many new TV’s are now coming with online capability built in such as the items here.  I will likely purchase a new set or tv sometime toward the latter part of the year when the sales go hot either black Friday or perhaps after Christmas and this is definitely one of the features I want.   I may replace all my TV’s with this feature to enable online Netflix access throughout the house.  Seriously, who wants to pay $100 per month for cable TV when Netflix is $9/month?

Between $0.99 TV shows (commercial free by the way) on iTunes, $9/month on Netflix and free Youtube and other online content, why bother with anything else?   The only thing missing right now is a box (computer) to bind them all together.    I wish the Mac mini were a bit cheaper so I could attach these to all my TVs and stream content throughout the house with my new storage array.

This ultimately doesn’t bode well for advertisers as I’m spending less and less time watching pointless ads and watching commercial free entertainment.   There goes another industry down the toilet through the advancement of modern technology.

The stock market is going to crash again.  I know that is unpopular and no one wants to hear it but it’s the sad truth.   The Fed has been at ZIRP for ages now, trillions of dollars pumped into the fiat economy and we’re nowhere near out of this housing mess.   Consumption is down and will continue to go down in my opinion and there isn’t anything to fill the void.   Boomers will continue to downsize and consume ever larger quantities of healthcare to try to stay alive.   It’s not going to be good people….

Which brings me to the Golden Age of the Stock market.  If you look at the chart below

click for larger image

You will clearly see the Golden Age of the stock market was from 1987 (right after the crash) thru 2007 right before the last crash.   The stock market will, in my opinion, flounder for the next decade or two and possibly recover in the 2030’s or 2040’s if we’re lucky.    If you didn’t live thru this golden age of the stock market let me tell you a little about it.

It was an era when ever increasing amounts of money was thrown around at anyone that wanted to be a brokerage trading stocks.  I can’t even remember all the names of all the brokerages I dealt with after one after the other bought each other out.   It was an era where bonuses of $100 to $500 were not uncommon for opening accounts at these brokerages.  It was an era where trading fees went from $49 per trade down to dollars per trade in an ever growing feeding frenzy of trying to attract customers.   The thing I loved most of course was the tremendous growth in capability with the online trading platforms whereby today you can buy stocks on almost any exchange worldwide.

Oh this was the golden age of the stock market kids and I remember it like it was yesterday…..

Oh my god, I was such an Apple virgin that I’m embarrassed to link to this post regarding what I had done in 2007.  I will embarrassingly quote myself, “I ordered an Apple Book Pro” and correctly say that I ordered a MacBook Pro; Although I’ve never gone on to order the rest of the stuff I wanted primarily because the MacBook has kept me going.    What I am totally amazed is that I wrote that post in September of 2007 and it is now August 2010 and my MacBook Pro is STILL going strong.    I have little reason to upgrade to a new one at the moment and it runs just as smooth despite upgrading the OS from Tiger to Leopard to Snow Leopard over the past three years.

I still can’t believe that I’ve had the same laptop for three years and I only realized this as I was cleaning up some files and I came across tax returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009 on my laptop!  My general rule in the PC/Windows world was that after 18 months, it was time to order a new laptop.   The cheap plastic and other components most PC makers use is sheer crap and I’ve always tossed a laptop after 18 months as the hinges crack, the plastic cracks, and components fail.   All of this brings me to think that we’re now in the Golden Age of Computing.   I am salivating over the iPad and I can’t wait to buy one this Christmas as a treat for myself.  To be honest, I plan on buying one for everyone in my family, the wife, kids, myself and if I have the money perhaps some siblings too.

With iPods, iPads, iPhones, iMacs, MacBooks and Steve Jobs we are living in the golden age of computing.   Enjoy it while it lasts people!

The Golden Age of Credit cards existed from 1997 thru 2007.   It was during this time frame that banks were accelerating their customer base with ever more innovative credit cards.  The boon in air miles, cash back, rewards, and other incentives like cash were through the roof as banks competed in fervor to get one more customer.   Did you know that credit card companies would pay you $50 to $200 to open a new credit card account during the golden age?    Did you know that you could once get 0% APR on balance transfers with no fees for up to 24 months in some instances?

Did you know that you once could easily get credit limits of $5,000 to $30,000 without even proving you had income?   Did you know that you could charge up $30k in credit card debt, file for bankruptcy and get it all wiped off so you could start all over again?  If you don’t remember or know of these days it is likely because you weren’t old enough to take advantage of them during the golden age from 1997 thru 2007.

There was a time when banks fought each other to get you to carry their card, it was called the golden age of credit cards and I miss that era.

I guess every generation has their perspective on when the “golden” age of something existed and I am a bit nostalgic for the go-go days of the 1990’s when air travel was pretty good.    I wasn’t old enough to fly frequently in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s but air travel was far superior in the 90’s than it has been for the past decade.  For some reason, airport lounges, airplanes, staff, and airports were much nicer in the 90’s than they are today.

Unfortunately, if you’ve just begun to travel, the concepts I am about to write about will likely be foreign to you.    There was a time when an entire family could go up to the terminal gate to meeting passengers as they got off a plane!   You would see hugs and tears as family members embraced right after they got off the plane.   On occasion there would be little kids running up to their mom’s or dad’s and embrace with joy.   Those days are gone with the gestapo, err…. I mean TSA standing around everywhere asking for your papers.   There was a time when you weren’t subjected to a complete and total virtual strip search before you boarded a plane.

There was a time when meals which included metal cutlery were served on a plane with actual glasses.   There was a time when blankets and pillows were offered to weary passengers.  There was a time when seats on an airplane didn’t cut off your circulation and you could actually stretch your legs a bit.

There was a time when you were greeted at the gate with a smile and welcome.   There was a time when you could speak to an agent at the ticket counter to get issues resolved quickly and efficiently.   There was a time when airplanes were large jets with many flights and sporadically empty seats between cities instead of small commuter jets packed to the rim with people.   There was a time when your baggage was included in the cost of airfare instead of an additional fee.   There was a time when there weren’t any fees for changing your airline ticket and it was fairly easy to get your money back.

There was a time when a jet could take you from New York to London in three hours instead of 6 to 7 hours, it was called a supersonic jet.   There was a time when jets actually had phones in every seat!

There was a time when air travel was better….it was called the Golden Age of Air Travel and it is long gone now.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about becoming a RedBox fan and while I may still occasionally rent from Redbox, my latest experiences have me a little disappointed.  I went to a Redbox a couple of times and the movie I was looking for wasn’t available.  Worse yet, a movie I was dying to seen seems to be gone from the Redbox.   I know that you can request/order a movie and have it sent somewhere but my schedule doesn’t work that way so enter Netflix.

Many years ago, I was a Netflix customer but the whole mailing DVD was too cumbersome for me.   I always worried someone would steal the disks from my mailbox and I hate going to the Post Office with a vengeance so I ultimately ended up canceling my subscription.   A week ago, I took the kids to my brother’s house to use the pool and my brother enlightened me on Netflix.   I told him I had used the service years ago and canceled it because of the mailing issue but he told me that you could order movies and shows online and watch instantly.   Curious and worried about the quality of video, I inquired about the quality of the movies over the internet and he said it was great.

I wasn’t totally convinced but I decided to give it a try and lo and behold, the quality of the streaming was excellent!   So far we’ve seen a couple of movies and a few TV shows and they all streamed perfectly!   I am amazed at the quality and content.   I only wish they had more online content but so far they have plenty of stuff for me to see!

There are a few things I don’t like, first you need to install Microsoft’s Silverlight to watch movies on a computer and Firefox doesn’t work to watch movies, you need to use Safari and I presume Internet Explorer if you’re a Windows user.   Secondly, for some reason, you need a disk to watch movies from your Wii console and I don’t know why when my Wii has a web browser?

I can’t wait for this service to advance where I can watch any TV show ever made.   I occasionally catch old episodes of Cheers and I thought it would be cool to see the first show again to relive the 80’s nostalgia!   My son has been asking about watching old episodes of Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and a few other Sci-Fi shows and why they aren’t readily available.    Evidently Dr. Who episodes are available in a limited fashion so he’s been watching those too.

It’s easy to understand why this company has a 6 billion market cap and why it’s trading at $130!

Why aren’t companies hiring?   Why is unemployment growing again?   The answer is simple, for those people who currently have jobs, we’re currently doing the work of 3 people so why should a company go out and hire additional workers when one will do the work of three?

I have been working 12 to 18 hour days starting early in the morning and working late into the night.  I don’t dare complain because there are hundreds of people applying for jobs at McDonald’s.  The situation is pretty grim for most of my peers and few complain about it because they’re too deep in debt with their McMansions and other lifestyle perks.   Personally, I have sufficient cash to pay off all debt and be out for a while but right now is not the time to do it as the economy will continue to deteriorate over the next 12 months.  I continue to bank cash for the great fiasco coming.

At some point in 2012, I anticipate a huge labor crunch as people seek greener pastures in droves but that is over a year away!

This weekend I decided I wanted to treat myself to something really nice.   I wasn’t sure what I wanted but as I headed to the grocery store to pick up a few needed items for dinner I ran across the meat counter and Kobe beef caught my eye.    There were two rows of beef consisting of New York strips or Ribeye.   The portions were rather large and I doubted if I could eat an entire steak or whether I should but I decided to buy two New York strip steaks.

I got home, seasoned the steaks and powered up the grill.   About twenty minutes later we sat down for dinner and I cut up the two steaks into four pieces the size of each of our fists.   I’ve been teaching the kids that an appropriate portion of meat to eat is the size of your clenched fist.   Surprisingly the two steaks were the perfect size for each of us.

As we all devoured the steaks, we were all in a state of bliss!   The steaks were THE most delicious I have ever had anywhere on the planet!   The most astounding thing is that I did not do any extensive preparation as I simply dashed some Greek seasoning on the steaks and slowly cooked them on the grill.

In contrast, we ended up having non-Kobe ribeye grilled the same way the next day and it just wasn’t as good.   The kobe has better marbling and the meat is so much more tender than anything else I’ve ever had.

The bad news of course is the cost.   The kobe beef is $30 per pound!   Yes, that’s THIRTY dollars a pound so the two steaks cost about $60 and the entire meal was around $100 since we had it with wine, salad, and portobella mushrooms (these are $5/lb).

The kids loved it so much they now want all their meats to be Kobe and for now, I’m a super fan of Kobe beef!

Over the years I have accumulated large amounts of electronic data including video, photos, music and documents of all types and I decided that I finally needed a solution to store and protect this stuff.   In the past I would buy external hard drives and back up my files but after purchasing a half dozen external drives, the clutter was getting horrendous (USB cables, power cables, etc) least of all the management of all this data from drive to drive.

I finally broke down and bought a Thecus N7700+ seven bay storage array box.    The box cost me almost $1000 and that didn’t include any drives!   I went out and bought seven 2TB Seagate XT drives which were $200 each.   The total investment in my box is now $2,400 but I have to confess that I love the box!

I have configured the device with a RAID 6 configuration.  This essentially means that TWO drives would need to fail before I lose any data of the array.   I will also have about 8 TB of storage available to me for almost anything I need (note:  one of the drives is an online spare not used in the array).  As an added bonus, the box has USB ports for me to attach a couple of the extra 1TB external drives I have lying around!

With my son, wife, myself and soon daughter equipped with laptops, there was also a tremendous amount of data that needed to be backed up for everybody: photos, music, video clips, etc.

There isn’t much to setting up the storage array.  You essentially pop the drives in the cages and slide them in but I do have a major warning for anyone buying Seagate XT Barracuda drives.   The screws that come with the drive are not completely flush so it is impossible to mount the drive in the rails and have it slide into the slots.   At the moment, I used two pennies inserted inside between the drive and rails so they slide into the box.   I am currently looking for drives that are completely flush to fix this problem.    I’m not sure if Seagate or Thecus is to blame for this mess but it’s something everyone should be aware of before buying!

All of the configuration is done through a fairly simple and intuitive interface however you will likely need some technical help if you’re not tech savvy.  Because I have a mix of Macs and Windows at home, I’ve had to do some extra configuration.  For example for macs to see the storage array you will need to configure AFP (apple filing protocol).  For Windows you may choose to setup iSCSI or ADS (active directory services) to work your backups.  If you have linux machines, you can setup SAMBA.   Personally, I like to run native protocols whenever possible so AFP for Mac is enabled.

Although I haven’t configured it yet, the device is capable of offering a “webDisk” to store files on your array while you’re away through a web browser.  Additionally, you can create online photo albums to share with friends and family.   At some point, I will add my laser printer to the box too as it acts as a print server but I’m still playing around with some other stuff for now.

Was is worth the cost?   For me it absolutely is as I will now have some piece of mind that my decade of data (photos, music, video, etc) will be stored safely with a high level of protection.   It has taken me 10 years to accumulate what I have and with an online array, I will have instant access to all these videos.  Eventually I hope Thecus finds a way to stream some of my video online to share with my family across the globe!