Archive for September, 2010

I received a copy of Sid Meir’s Civilization V as a gift recently and I had the opportunity to play it and it totally sucks.   First, some intrusive DRM crap called “Steam” is installed on your computer before you can even begin to play the damn thing.    I guess the people over at 2k Games don’t seem to understand that people these days have multiple computers and like the ability to move the disk from computer to computer to play on an office computer vs. a laptop.

But that’s not the worst part, I could get over the DRM crap if the game weren’t so horrible to play.    First the game is very slow and I find my self receiving the flashing “a Unit Needs Direction” way after making unit decisions and waiting for the computer to catch up.   The graphics are horrible and am constantly prompted to choose between Direct X 9 or 10, perhaps I should try the older version?

Much of the game play has changed for the worse which subsequently lead to what I call “bugs” in the game.    Here’s a hint if you want to cheat and have virtually impenetrable cities: build your cities on peninsulas and they’re virtually  non-destroyable.  Why?   Because armies can no longer be stacked which means you will have a long line of military personnel lined up against the peninsula each taking their turn to siege a city.   The new rules of the game make it total crap.

I would recommend you either avoid this game altogether or wait till you find it at the bargain basement clearance at Wal-mart for $10 before you buy it because that’s about what it is worth.

Well it’s easy to say why the market is up, the third quarter is coming to a close and all those mutual fund money “managers” have to justify their existence and bonuses that will be doled out during Christmas so why not pump up the market, make the numbers look good and then let it all go to hell in a hand basket in fourth quarter?

Be very very weary of October and as I’ve noted before, the market almost always goes down in the third week in January too and then finds direction after that so be very careful out there!

So I have a serious growing dilemma, since I’ve returned to work, the cash has started piling up and I don’t know what to do with it anymore.  Sure, I could go out and buy another new car which I don’t need or perhaps buy a bigger house that I really don’t need but at the moment that seems wasteful.   I know the conventional wisdom is to save it and keep it in the bank or the stock market or perhaps US Treasuries or government back bonds but the truth of the matter is that I no longer trust any of those institutions given the trillion dollar deficits, crooked banks, dumb Fed, and crooked traders.

I read recently that Wall Street plans on axing 18,000 jobs over the next year so that can’t be good for business or money management “experts” either.   So while I’ve written on and off again about paying my mortgage, I may actually be forced to do it in the upcoming next 12 months because cash will just be sitting and piling up in bank accounts that I don’t trust.   I would hate to do so because of the ridiculously low 3% interest rate on my mortgage but I don’t dare buy another house in this housing market because house values may drop further if the economy continues to deteriorate.

Once I figure out the game plan, I’ll write a follow up…

I’m always in the look out for new investment opportunities and a few years ago, the peer to peer lending scene was starting to take shape and I was intrigued and wanted in on the fad but I suspected it might be a fad and stayed away.    Flash forward about three years later and I can’t find any top tier personal finance blogger writing about Prosper or Lending Club and such!  What happened?

I suspect that the sour economy has a lot to do with the situation as savings are eaten up by the unemployed to pay for basic necessities as well as the distrust that any lending will actually be paid back but seriously, why haven’t these entities filed for bankruptcy yet?   Is there hope?  I did a quick search on on “prosper” and “lending club” and came up empty on any updates with the peer to peer lending entities except one lone article from August 25th.

The irony here is that the Fed has the discount window at ZIRP and has been there for some time now, geez if banks and peers can’t lend when rates are at zero percent interest then when will they loan?   I went over to Lending Club to try to borrow 25k and got an interest rate of 7.83% with a 720+ FICO score and claims rates as low as 7.25 percent.  Wow, that’s expensive considering other alternatives to borrowing out there so it sounds like it should be profitable for these guys.

Perhaps this is just anecdotal evidence but in the past couple of weeks I’ve had to former co-workers e-mail me telling me that they’ve been laid off again.  I keep in touch with quite a few people and several people that had been laid off had found work again but out of the blue, people were e-mailing me that they’ve been let go -AGAIN!

The people that continue to have jobs continue to complain that they are doing the work of  three people so who knows where all this misery is going to lead us but I can’t imagine it’s going to be good.

So I’m a few weeks into my return to MBA classes and the arguments with the professor have already begun.   It’s funny but the professor was warning about “groupthink” in business and the perils it holds and I couldn’t agree with the professor more but when it came to thinking there *might* be some groupthink in academia the professor would have none of it!   The fact that most universities have nearly the same identical curriculum, use nearly the same textbooks, use nearly the same grading system, request the same APA formatted papers,  and have almost everything else in common except the rate of tuition doesn’t seem to phase anyone in academia that they have a serious case of groupthink.

I am thrilled however to be back in school for the free student loan money (more on that in a future post) and I am also thrilled that I won’t be doing any group projects this semester and both of my classes don’t seem to have any on the syllabus.  I hope that doesn’t change because today’s students are complete and total idiots.

So I’m licking my chops and tenting my fingers contemplating and scheming about my future Apple iPad.   In all honestly, I’m really holding out for a price drop or improvements to the iPad such as the addition of a camera or Bluetooth functionality but if that doesn’t come by Christmas then I’ll just by a few as is for everyone in my family.

So I’ve reviewed the iPad options and aside from memory and 3G connectivity, the iPads are fairly straightforward.   The first economic consideration is which iPad I should buy.  The WiFi models come in three prices $499 (16 GB), $599 (32 GB), $699 (64 GB).   The 3G models come in three prices $629, $729, $829 with the same respective memory sizes as the WiFi models.    The 3G model however also come with AT&T monthly service  plans at $15/month for 250mb or $25/month for 2GB for SINGLE iPad use only.

So I’m thinking I can get Virgin Mobile’s MiFi Router for $149 and pay $40/month for UNLIMITED internet for up to FIVE devices.   If I buy four iPad devices with 3G then I would be paying $25 x 4 = $100/month for 2GB per device.   The math doesn’t work in favor of AT&T’s plan here and neither does paying an extra $129 dollars for the extra capability per device.

Of course the downside is that all iPads would need to be in range of the MiFi device but quite honestly, the family and I usually travel together and we have WiFi in our home, office and most hotels so I’m questioning the need to even have one except for long road trips in the car.

I also understand that this could also run a variety of VOIP apps so they become giant portable phones and if true then we’re looking at phone, computer and entertainment device at $10/month!

While this may not be an apples to apples comparison, it brings up an interesting situation as to what is the best value for your entertainment dollars.   When I purchased my new Tundra a couple of years ago, it came with six month service of satellite radio for free.    While I enjoyed the satellite radio, when it expired I didn’t subscribe to the service because I thought the value proposition was very poor.

At the time, the only pricing option if I remember correctly was $14.99/month for all the channels and I couldn’t justify that expense when my commute was only 20 minutes.     Today, XM seems to have tiered service with pricing options from as low as $2.99 to $16.99 and I find it ironic that $2.99 is the low end because that’s about as much as I would be willing to pay for the full service.

Here’s the real problem with satellite radio: it competes with too many alternatives that are far cheaper.    If I want to listen to music I can listen to the radio, hook up my ipod or if I’m daring, hook up a laptop or a future iPad with access to music streaming.    Worse yet is that if Netflix can offer streaming entertainment for $8.99 for an all-u-can-eat buffet style then why is satellite radio prices at $16.99 on the high end?

I don’t think the future bodes well for satellite radio unless they change their business proposition.   When I buy my iPad later this year I’ll hook it up to an all you can eat Virgin Mobile Wi-Fi router and get streaming entertainment in my car and that’s a very persuasive entertainment proposition.

If Uncle Sam thinks I’m going to “voluntarily” buy Treasury bonds with my 401k, he’s going to have a big surprise when I simply stop contributing and opt out, assuming that option is even available.    For decades third world countries have been nationalizing and seizing pension plans and now the U.S. seems to be headed down the path of nationalizing 401k plans.

Oh sure, it’ll start off slowly, just 1% here or 3% there then it’ll get to 10% or 20% then the government will fiddle it all away like social security.  If this rule is enacted I think I will be done with ever investing in the 401k.  What about the free match you ask?   Well there’s nothing for free and especially if the government is going to take it.   We’ll see what happens in a couple of weeks…

Back in October of 2009, I wrote about my dismay that Costco would start accepting food stamps and what that possibly might mean and a couple of weeks ago it has finally started to happen.   As a refresher here’s what I thought would happen:

1. Dirty filthy isles.

2. Dirty filthy parking lots as people change their kids diapers (and car motor oil) and leave all the garbage behind.  Along with open bottles, wrappers and a variety of other garbage.

3. A bunch of opened, half-eaten packages of whatever.

4. Lots of arguing at the checkout lane with the cashiers.

5. Lots of time wasted at the check out lane as frustrated shoppers roll their eyes while they wait for the drama to be over.

6. Lots of left over items sitting at the check out lane as shoppers run out of food stamp money.

7. Eventually, crime will come to the parking lot and that will be the straw that breaks the Costco prestige and descent into the abyss.

While #1 and #2 haven’t happened yet I can tell you that I personally witnessed  #4, #5, #6 definitely did happen while I was at the store.   I have a family member that works in security and was told that there have been increasing amounts of break-ins of vehicles so much so that this family member stays away from this particular location.   So #7 is finally here.

I took some flack for writing that post and as usual someone somewhere on the planet was offended, well guess what, I’m now offended that one of my favorite shopping places is becoming infested with crime and wasted time at the check out as people can’t perform simple math to understand what it is they can afford to buy and what they can’t.   But all is not lost however because this is valuable learning material as we now know that it takes approximately 12 months for a retailer to go from heaven to hell once they begin to accept foodstamps.

Oh and before anyone writes a comment that they are offended and unsubscribing, save yourself the digital ink and don’t waste your time or mine, I’m sure someone somewhere isn’t going to like this post and that just comes with the territory of the internet.