Archive for March, 2011

Well I got a letter from my mortgage company that my interest rate on my loan was adjusting from 3.25 to 3.0 percent!   I’ve been debating for the past year on whether to pay this loan off or not and I am still hesitant to do so however my cash piles continue to grow across multiple bank accounts and I’m worried banks will continue to go under.    There is a strong possibility that we may spiral into another deeper recession either caused by excessive high oil prices, commodity inflation and overall malaise or a recession caused by continued housing problems, weak job market, and taxation.

Perhaps I’m being a bit too pessimistic but aside from the dramatic increases in freeway traffic in my city, I still see anemic spending in certain areas.   I recently went to a wedding hundreds of miles away and when visiting a mall, we noticed how many of the shops had closed and the crowds were fairly weak.  I did manage to buy 4 shirts marked down from $60 to $15 while visiting one of the big department stores.

So what to do?   Pay off the mortgage or save more cash?   The debate will continue until something pushes me into one decision or another.

What’s a recession wedding you ask?   Well, it’s a wedding that takes place during one of the worse economic recessions in modern history.   Arguably, we may be in a quasi-depression but life goes on.    So what was different about a recession wedding versus a regular wedding?   Well for starters, the guest list seemed to be very limited to immediate family members which whittled down the guest list to less than 100 people.    When I got married during the dot com boom, I had 500 people at my wedding and spent at least 17k on all the stuff associated with it.      I would guess that this wedding probably was done at a cost of less than $3,000.

There was food served along with a bottle of alcohol at each table, however there was no open nor cash bar.    There was a DJ but not traditional singers.   The wedding took place not at a church or reception hall but at a friends estate by a river.    The scenery was marvelous but there were no major decorations nor were chairs furnished with your typically covers.   The table covers were simple, plain and effective for obvious use.   Guests, myself included, were asked to help move tables and chairs around and a few of us acted as ad hoc photographers.  We were served a delicious dinner and the food was great.

The groom and bride didn’t weren’t registered anywhere and asked for a cash gift instead however nominal it may be.

Although I have no evidence of this, I suspect that cash gifts were the norm and probably low.   My wife and I flew down for the wedding and stayed at a hotel, by the time we added all of our expenses we easily spent $800 for a weekend event.    In retrospect I wonder if the bride would have preferred the cash instead of us being there…

Despite the low budget however we all had a GREAT time dancing, talking and meeting with family we hadn’t seen in years and it goes to show that money (or lack thereof) makes no significant difference in the joy of celebrating a two lives joining together.

If any bride to be has any lessons to learn here I think it is that love shouldn’t wait for money.

I have two stories to write about today and I’ll start with why Google/Android sucks!   I bought my son a VirginMobile Samsung Intercept phone for Christmas and for the last three months I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the damn Android Market to work and have not yet found a solution despite HOURS and HOURS of research.    Essentially, my son’s phone would constantly get one of two messages, “can’t establish a reliable data connection to the server” or “your username and password do not match” over and over  again.    I can log in to my son’s account using a laptop into gmail with no problem with the same username and password but it won’t work on the phone!   I’ve searched every google forum, samsung forum, and other places but no one has a solution.   The common “fix” is to hard reset the phone and I’ve done that three times to no avail.    I’ve just about given up but I understand there may be an upgrade coming out so that may fix the problem.    Here’s something funny though, one of the forums I read had this quote,

“Same problem here too. The only information I can find is to do the factory reset.  Verizon told me to call Motorola. Motorola told me to call Google.”

I’ve heard that same line before whenever I had a problem on a Dell/HP/Gateway/<insert manufacturer here> and Microsoft operating system whereby Microsoft would claim it was a manufacturer problem and the manufacturer would claim it’s a Microsoft problem.  I was considering possibly buying a Motorola Xoom or an Android based phone but quite honestly, I’m done with crap hardware/software which is why I converted to Apple a few years ago.   I left the Microsoft world, a world full of spyware, viruses, blue screens, bickering hardware manufactures and software manufacturers  and and other crap that made my life miserable.   Steve Jobs is absolutely right about the “experience” of technology and not just be worried about industrial functionality or cheap commodities so I ordered my iPad 2 today and expect to get it in a few weeks tax-free w/ free shipping.

I feel confident in saying that I’ll sync iPad 2 to my mac laptop flawlessly and have it up and running in under two minutes in contrast to the bloatware and problems with Microsoft and Google based crap.    In the end, time is money, and I can’t afford to waste countless hours debugging crap for Google or Microsoft so I’m abandoning these inept folks for greener pastures and better experiences.   Thank you Steve Jobs.

 

UPDATE:  After investing a couple of more hours in as a last salvo I read this thread:  http://www.tech-recipes.com/rx/5343/android-cant-establish-a-reliable-data-connection-to-the-server/   and added a youtube account, reverted back to trying a bunch of different things and suddenly the market place began to work.   I’m not really sure if adding a YouTube account worked or if something else finally clicked but it’s all working fine now.   I have to admit, there are some pretty neat apps on there but the hours of frustration and lack of clarity as to the solution still keeps me from ever buying an android phone.

I saw this great article in the WSJ about big box retailers rethinking their strategy and it’s about time.   On a personal level, I simply don’t have the leisure time I once had to hang out at malls and big box retailers the way that I used to in the past.    I’ve written recently about my move to order more and more household goods online at Amazon.com whenever I get a chance.

The article states,

“As consumers trim their spending and shift their shopping to cyberspace, American retailers are acting on a realization that many of their stores are too big.  “You have a massive rush throughout retail to get small,” says Leon Nicholas of consulting firm Kantar Retail.”

I think a large part of the drive to online shopping is the tax savings.  Why in the hell would I want to pay 8% sales tax at the store when I can get it online tax free and usually free shipping?   The primary reason why I stopped shopping at bookstores, electronics shops, music stores, and even most retailers is because of the convenience of having items delivered to my door tax free.

Lately, I have begun ordering landscaping online!   Yes, I’ve ordered blueberry bushes, peach trees, avocado trees and lemon tress all online tax free delivered to my door.   Unfortunately, some items like tomato plants I’m not comfortable ordering online but the savings is HUGE on everything else I order.

I recently attempted to preorder an iPad 2 online specifically from an online shop that doesn’t collect sales tax in my state to save $50.   Hell, that $50 means a free cover for my iPad 2.  Why would I wait in line at the Apple store with hundreds of other people with the possibility of leaving empty handed at the end of the day?  Why would I pay sales tax on that iPad?    Unfortunately, no pre-orders for the iPad 2 but I can wait, heck I’ve waited this long for an iPad why not wait a few more weeks?    It’s also unfortunate that Amazon isn’t selling the iPad2, these guys need to grow up and sell the damn thing!

This is a cautionary tale that as gas prices rise, baby boomers get old, and a whole new paradigm envelops America, the traditional way of doing things is going the way of the Dodo bird.

We’ve now been through at least two major oil shocks within the last five years and the last MAJOR oil shock was in the late 70’s and it should be pretty obvious that the shock frequency is increasing.  I compare this to the Doppler effect, the louder the sound a train makes as it gets closer to you, and it is an indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with supply and availability of gasoline and oil.   When you hear a loud train coming, you do something like move out of the way.

In an effort to look at options, I started looking at possibly buying a natural gas powered car and was shocked to learn that my options are very limited in the United States.    There is a Honda Civic GX available in some locations but not anywhere near my state.   I would need to drive hundreds of miles to the closest dealership that has them in stock.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to buy a natural gas powered car.

-Natural gas is cheap at $4.32/mbtu which would make an equivalent fill up costs about $1.20 per gallon compared to $3+/gallon now.   Even if gas were $2/gallon  I would still be better off with a natural gas powered car.

-Natural gas is already in my home.   I love the idea of just filling up at home which means no “driving” to the gas station to fill up.

-Natural gas is cleaner fuel.

-Natural gas isn’t taxed $0.50/gallon like gasoline is at a gas station.  The savings here alone would make it worth my while!

There are a few drawback of course and that’s mostly around the lack of fueling stations that carry natural gas and the driving range of  a gas powered vehicle but I still think it’s worth the difference.    My oldest child is still a few years away from driving but when it’s time to buy him a car, it will either be an electric vehicle or natural gas powered car.   I would prefer a natural gas powered car because I know lithium batteries wear out and are expensive to replace so natural gas would be a much better option.

As I understand it, in Brazil you can buy cars that simultaneously switch from natural gas, ethanol and gasoline.  In Europe, the cars there can switch from diesel to natural gas but in the U.S. we’re stuck with a monofuel car.  Why?

Wow, I’ve been traveling a bit and I usually have a car pick me up and drop me off at the airport.  I repeat this cycle most of the time I’ve traveled lately and I haven’t rented a car in a while so I haven’t had to put gas in my car for a few weeks.   Well that all changed last night when I noticed my gas gauge dangerously low so I stopped to fill up.   It was a whopping $61 for gas!   Yeah, SIXTY ONE dollars for gasoline!   That is closer to $100 than $0.

I was floored by the final price because that’s the equivalent of two kobe beef NY strip steaks I could have been grillin’ at home!   I have long worried about the price of oil staying as high it has been while we were in an economic depression but if the economy is showing signs of life and recovery then what will it be when the economy hits on all cylinders?  $120/barrel?  $150/barrel?  $250/barrel?

So here we go again, high gas prices, bad economy, and a huge leadership void.   It’s like deja vu all over again!