Friday, August 31, 2007

Because It's Friday

...and Friday is the traditional day for catblogging.

It is really hot here in San Diego today. Our Maximum Leader is looking for some cool shade.

Friday Ark. Carnival of the Cats.

I Don't Have Anything to Say

...apparently, you didn't have anything to read.

If you don't have a comment, feel free to let me know in the comments section.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

This Calls for a new Round of Cartoons!

The Danes, our valliant allies whose primary weapons are artist's pens, have recently subdued a set of Somali pirates with a large bore fusillade of greenbacks.
Somali pirates released the crew of a hijacked Danish cargo ship after receiving a ransom payment, Denmark's government said Wednesday.

The pirates, who seized the Danica White in June, turned it over on Wednesday to a French warship,
How humiliating. They had to rely on a French warship. I don't think it gets any lower than that.
"It has been a terrible experience for the hostages, (who) have been held for more than 80 days not knowing what was going on," said Lars Thuesen, head of the Danish Foreign Ministry's consular department.
Well, Lars old buddy, allow me to explain what was going on. You don't scare the Somalis. A non-nation state of illiterate savages squatting amidst the ruins of a filth-strewn trash heap of a country managed to take out one of your freighters and hold it hostage while you located your checkbook underneath your piles of government-issued hypodermic needles and mounds of Danish p0rn. That's pretty much what's been going on, you skillet-licking, pantywaist wiener.
Thuesen said a ransom had been paid, but declined to give details. "Regrettably, it was necessary," he said.
It was necessary because everyone with cajones has left Denmark.

This is NOT a modern Dane.

Maybe you could retaliate with a new set of cartoons until you feel brave enough to pee on the Koran again.
At the end of September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.
Thanks, guys. Thanks a lot. It's great to be your allies.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Don't Like Cheese

I like to eat lots of things. Tonight, I tried cheese. I didn't like it.

Is the cheese gone yet?

The 23 Hour Day

Have you ever had your body decide that there are, in fact, 23 hours in a day and not 24? That's where I'm at right now. Normally, I wake up between 4 and 4:30. I read and write for about 2 hours before I get to the rest of my day. Right now, my body has convinced itself that there is one less hour in the day than there really is and I've gone from waking up at 4AM to 3AM to 2AM to what happened last night where I woke up at 1AM. Each night the panic has increased as I've seen what was happening and have become terrified that I won't be able to get back to sleep. If that happened, then I'd be taking a nap at lunch and reinforcing my body's decision that there are only 23 hours in the day. Luckily I was able to get back to sleep after a couple of hours.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Schnauzer Smoothies

The Puppy Blender's at it again. How many times did I warn everyone that discontinuing the Free Bloggers' Alliance was a mistake? And did anyone listen? No. Of course not.

Well, you only have yourselves to blame.

Context here.

The Morality of Counterfeiting

My son and I pondered this question today and I thought I'd share it with you. If you could print counterfeit money and not have it be detected, would you?

Why or why not? How much would you print?

Our answers in the comments after a bit.

Palm Tree Sunset

Castor and Pollux on a warm Sunday night.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Carnival of the Cats #179 - Aerobic Workout Edition

Welcome to this week's version of the longest running carnival in the blogosphere! This week we've had some technical difficulties. It looks like Laurence's server crash last week trashed the submissions. Either that or I'm a complete dope. I've posted the links left in the comments of my previous request and now I'll watch the comments here like a cat on a mouse hole. If you're entry is not up here, leave the link in the comments and I'll post it post haste.

Note: Updates will now be posted at the bottom so if you're coming back to see what's new, just scroll on down. I want to make sure that everyone's catblogging gets seen.

Before we get started, please stop by The Cat Realm and leave your condolences for Anastasia. Also, be sure to stop by Mog's place and read this. There might be something you can do for a fellow catblogger.

Without further ado, here's the aerobic workout version of the Carnival of the Cats. Get out your workout music and shake your body along with our Maximum Leader!

Concentrate on your goal! You want to work off the morning kibble and get ready for the evening tuna!

Over at Strange Ranger, there's some Maine Coons working out big time. Go, cat, go!

Why do you workout? Why, to show off your abs, of course!

This is called the side roll. Do 10 reps in 23 minutes. Now go!

Golfing is good exercise. But not for cats. Samantha is working out the right way.

Riot and Rimbaud will give you a mental workout if nothing else.

This is the bunny hop. You don't actually hop or do anything so dangerous. You just kind of lay there like a bunny. Do this 10 times.

Over at the House of (Mostly) Black Cats, someone is trying to give Mini away. Can you imagine that? And here Mini is really going at her exercise routine and everything.

You can't climb without claws and climbing is the most strenuous of sports. House of Chaos has more.

It's time for stretches!

Meowza is doing her workout outdoors. You go, girl! Meanwhile, Izzy is tired out from her exercises.

At Feline Friday you can see some aerobic walking.

Work that body, baby! Show me what you've got!

Videos, things to click, lights and sound, is this a workout or the dance floor? Go see what's going on over at Watermark.

Bonnie Underfoot and Victor Tabbycat have a post you just have to go see. They've combined catblogging with some cool web technology into something really beautiful.

Stretch your neck!

Bazel is moving and grooving. "Running, jumping up and skidding across the table..."

Now flip around and 10 side rolls on the other side!

Being a guard cat requires some serious muscle and Hakuna has it in spades.

Finish it all up with some aerobic napping. Snore-2-3-4 snore-2-3-4 and snore 2-3-4...

Well, this was exciting and exhausting! After a Carnival like this, we need a nap!

Update: Darcy X has suggested that the Carnival glitch was caused by black squirrels and offers this post for the week. Black squirrels. Is there no evil deed they will not stoop to commit?

Sisu weighs in (much lighter and firmer after following our Maximum Leader's rigorous regimen, no doubt!) with a heat advisory and milk and honey. Hey, both of those sound like reasons to skip the workout!

Catsynth has some incredible photographic artwork that will have us all working out so that we're just as camera ready.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Carnival of the Cats #179 Needs Your Help!

This week we've had some technical difficulties. Either I'm a complete dope or the Carnival submission page is hosed. I've got only three entries for the Carnival in the inbox. Leave the links to your submissions in the comments here and I will assemble the COTC from these and the few I've got in the inbox.

I've got the post written I just need to link to your great catblogging!

Update: We will be posting the Carnival of the Cats first thing on Monday. Leave your link here!

Getting Ready for COTC

We had a dinner party at our house last night. The food was good and the company was pleasant, but we're bushed. Right now we're resting up so we can do host the Carnival of the Cats later today.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lego Update

A good friend and regular reader of this blog brought in a bag of Legos for us to play with use as process improvement tools at a recent meeting.

It was totally cool! Everyone liked them. At first I thought we should bring more in. Then I realized that we really need to hold our next meeting at Legoland.

A Semi-scientific Analysis of Caffeine

As most of you know, at least those who haven't been bored to tears and driven away from this blog, I've been slowly working my way off of caffeine. In the process, I've done some qualitative analysis of the effects of caffeine on my body.

The first thing you need to realize is that caffeinated drinks like coffee bring no energy into the body at all. All they do is force you to expend the energy you have on hand faster as seen in the graph below.

You get up in the morning and after some time to fully wake up, you reach your energy level for the day, here shown in blue. Some of us drink one or more cups of coffee and sit down to blog. The energy level for this is shown in pink. In short order, we're blogging up a storm. Whoohoo! The keys are tapping fast and furious! I'm a regular Hemingway!

Some time goes by and you burn through all of your energy. It's all gone and the euphoria fades. The solution? More coffee, of course! This leads to a brief spike and perhaps your energy level briefly goes above your average energy level for the day, but the second crash is worse than the first because there's even less energy left after this one.

It's a vicious cycle. However, I'm not suggesting that caffeine has no place in our lives. There are times when you've got to get something done that is boring beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. You've got a deadline to finish it and it's about as interesting as watching paint dry. What do you do?

Drink coffee, of course!

In this case, you're knowingly accepting the punishment that will come in the future in exchange for the near term reward of getting your work done. The coffee does it's job, you get that dreadful report done and you can lean back, secure in the knowledge that you work for an organization whose stultifying tediousness forces you into the arms of damaging drugs.

Err, or something like that.

Well, there you have it. What caffeine does to you. Now go get 'em, tiger! And make sure to stop at Starbucks on your way in to work.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's Wrong With Fred Thompson's Campaign?

...nothing as far as I can tell.

The political blogosphere, particularly on the right, has been fussing and tut-tutting about Fred Thompson's failure to announce his candidacy and his relaxed campaign style. I don't get it.

As far as I can tell, the purpose of all of those campaign stops is to raise money for more campaign stops. Look at all the money that Rudy and Mitt have spent so far, all to see their poll numbers go nowhere. And the debates? Did anyone tune into the debates? Not really.

It looks to me like the ones who really like the frantic pace and interminable duration of the campaigns are the consultants, talk show hosts, news anchors and advertising executives.

The biggest change in the poll numbers happened when John McCain tried to push the amnesty bill through the Senate. Real actions had a greater effect on the polls than all the speeches and campaign stops and talking head blather. Maybe the American people aren't so stupid after all. Maybe Fred isn't either.


Inspired by the video shown below, I tried Cheerios for the first time last night. They were awesome! I couldn't stuff enough of them in my mouth. Tonight we'll see if I can break the record.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Do People Take on the Personalities of Their Pets?

I think we might just do that. Right now, all I want to do is be just like our Maximum Leader.

I've Kicked the Caffeine Habit (Almost)

Tired of getting the 10AM blues as my caffeine wore off and I came down from the high, I finally stopped drinking my morning coffee altogether today. I made it to 10:30 before a slight headache forced me into the arms of my old flame.

We'll see how far we get tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jonathan Winters Improv

I found this on YouTube the other night and thought I'd share.

No YouTube for Video Tech Support?

Yesterday morning I was on the phone with Adobe tech support trying once again to fix a severe video rendering problem with my Premiere Pro 2.0. Terrible pixellation issues had kept me from getting some things done for a work project I was playing with as well as the silly YouTube video I threw together for yesterday's post. As I talked to the tech support guy, I tried to point him to the YouTube video I had uploaded which showed the pixellation. He couldn't get there. Adobe had blocked YouTube to its techs.

How can you diagnose video development problems if you can't see the video?

As you can see from the video below, tech support was able to resolve the problem, but the level of corporate paranoia still amazes me. I'd think there would be better ways of monitoring misuse of the Internet that simply closing down whole sites.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Scott Thomas Beauchamp, Elephants and Grover Cleveland

...yes, this post ties them all together.

If you haven't been keeping up, Scott Thomas Beauchamp (STB) is the soldier in Iraq who has been spinning tall tales that The New Republic (TNR) published and has been defending. Jane Galt pointed me at this post over at Crooked Timber. It's a total winner! Here's an excerpt.
A bunch of rightwing blogs are getting excited yet again about Scott Beauchamp. For those who haven’t followed the story, Beauchamp is a US soldier in Iraq who wrote some pieces for The New Republic which, among other things, described bad behaviour by US troops, such as deliberately running over stray dogs and taunting a woman disfigured by burns...Some might suggest that the truth or falsity of these stories doesn’t matter much
Crooked Timber then goes on to spray links around like Pam on a skillet. Whatever. I'm here to tell you that I am completely behind Crooked Timber, STB and TNR all the way! Facts are so last century, man. What matters is the viewpoint, the narrative, the feel of the situation! Get that right and you're golden.

I even made a short movie in honor of the whole situation. Enjoy.

Look, if you don't want your news reported by a bunch of hip 30-somethings who did their research by interviewing drunk schizophrenics at the Long Beach Greyhound bus terminal, then you shouldn't be watching the TV news and reading the newspapers. You get what you deserve have to take whatever they give you. I mean, what are you going to do, read blogs? Get serious. The Mainstream Media is where it's at. And if the facts get in the way of the story, then run the darn things over and give the people what they want you think they should know. After all, how can you argue with success?

5 year chart for stock in the New York Times.

Update: Dissident Frogman hits a home run with this video.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My Head is About to Explode

About 11 AM this morning, I came across this post by Jane Galt. After reading it, I came up with an idea for a funny video wherein I claim that Grover Cleveland gave me an elephant as a graduation present, illustrating the Scott Beauchamp absurdity with absurdity. I made the video in short order and created a QuickTime movie file that I liked.

I have been trying to upload it to YouTube all day. The video gets there and then after YouTube thinks about it for a while, it tells me that processing it failed.

I've also tried LiveLeak and the Yahoo! service. LiveLeak did not give me embeddable code and Yahoo! screwed up the audio synch so badly that the gags were no longer funny.

I think I'm going to go lay down for a while.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rush Hour 3 Movie Review

I saw it last night.

IT WAS GREAT! The funniest of the three, it also had the weakest plot. Let's face facts, though. You don't go to a Jackie Chan movie for the plot. They're almost all terrible. You go for the incredible stunts and the great comedy. This one does not disappoint. Chris Tucker gets a lot of the great lines and action and he really carries it off well. There are a few dud scenes, but for the most part it was great. I give it four stars. Warning: it is not a family movie. Treat the PG-13 rating with respect.

The opening scene with Chris Tucker playing the LA cop directing traffic is hysterical. If you've seen the movie, drop me a comment and let me know what you thought. If you haven't seen it, here's the trailer. As soon as you've seen the trailer, go see the movie!

Salon Gets the Subprime Loans Mess Half Right

Our Missionary to the Frozen, Northern Wastelands asked me what I thought of this article in Salon about the subprime mortgage mess. My response is a resounding "Meh."

It did a great job explaining some things to me that I never knew, specificaly how the mortgage lenders sliced up their securities to appeal to all kinds of investors. Here's the best part.
After a mortgage lender makes a loan to a homebuyer, that loan is packaged up with a bunch of other loans into a security -- a financial instrument that can be traded. Securities are rated by rating agencies according to the chances that the underlying assets will be defaulted upon. U.S. Treasury bonds, for example, get stellar AAA+ ratings because the U.S. government is considered likely to meet its obligations.

A security based on a pool of subprime mortgage loans would normally not deserve an AAA+ rating. Subprime, by definition, means "not so good." Subprime loans are made to people who can't put together a down payment or have bad credit, or can't prove they have a job. Subprime loans are risky!

...Enter the collateralized debt obligation. The CDO takes a pool of risky mortgage loans and divides it into slices...For simplicity's sake, let's say that a mortgage-backed security gets divided into two slices when it is transformed into a CDO -- a senior slice and a junior slice. Let's say that the senior slice gets rated AAA+ and the junior slice gets rated BBB-. But if anything goes wrong -- if the homeowners whose loans are part of this security start missing their payments -- the investors in the junior slice have to lose all of their money before the investors in the senior slice start feeling any pain.
In short, if you wanted to make more money and were willing to take greater risk, you bought the junk grade end of the mortgage security. If you were conservative and didn't like risk, you bought the high grade end of the mortgage security. Actually, I really like the idea. It allows private citizens and investment institutions to make choices and offer financial services to people that might not otherwise have access to it.

Salon's explanation of the collapse of this is way too political. They take the traditional leftist viewpoint of the evil Wall Street bankers secretly manipulating the market and cheating and robbing and (quite possibly) stealing money from orphans and widows.

To me, that's all baloney.

I do not subscribe to a political explanation to this issue any more than I subscribe to a political explanation to, say, our problems in public education. At its most basic level, the problem with the subprime mortgages was that money was loaned to people who should not have been trusted with money. From source to destination, the money flowed through many hands and each of those hands belonged to a person who made a bad decision. Everyone, from investor to broker to banker to borrower played a part in the act of loaning money to a bad risk.

Much of politics is simplifying explanations of complex events to make it seem like your opponent is evil, stupid or greedy. The Salon article dives into this head first.
Wall Street traders, hungry for more risk, fixed the real economy to deliver more risk, by essentially bribing the mortgage originators and ratings agencies to fumble the ball or make bad loans on purpose. That supplied CDO speculators the raw material they needed for their bets, but as a consequence threw the integrity of the whole housing sector into question.
Whatever. I'm sure there's plenty of blame to go around and we can all point at this person or that as a villain. Salon is a political magazine and it needs simple explanations so you can feel good about hating their opponents.

Salon's view of Wall Street

Look, loans were made to people who are bad money managers. It happens. Sometimes it's because of greed, sometimes it's because people overestimate their own capabilities. Think of all the hands the money touched on it's way from investor to borrower and tell me what their political affiliation was. As we're finding, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were heavily invested in these kinds of things. So what? So we can all throw simplistic darts at them and stick our tongues out and make raspberry sounds as we gloat. Or we can prance around the Wall Street Republicans who helped create these securities. If that's what turns you on, go for it.

There's lots of noise and chatter, but it all comes down to this: Learn how to manage your money well and you won't get into trouble.

Update: If you're turning to Salon for financial analysis, then you deserve what you get. Here's another take on the subprime mortgage problem from the place to go for such information, the Wall Street Journal. Excerpt:
When times are good, investors take on risk; the longer times stay good, the more risk they take on, until they've taken on too much. Eventually, they reach a point where the cash generated by their assets no longer is sufficient to pay off the mountains of debt they took on to acquire them. Losses on such speculative assets prompt lenders to call in their loans. "This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values," Mr. Minsky wrote.

An Open Letter to Ligneus

Sadly, blogger Ligneus has decided to hang it up. There's too much to do and not enough time for him to blog. I've read his blog from time to time and enjoyed it, but have never been able to leave a comment because the darn thing seems broken. I wasn't able to register, either. Argh! Also, I'm probably just being a dim bulb, but I was never able to find his email address on his site. Ligneus, if you stop by and read this, drop me a line by email so we can chat and I can say thanks.

Also, did you pick up your name from this? :-)

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Very Short Summary of the Subprime Loans Problem

And now, a simplistic and unintentially jingoistic view of the subprime mortgage crisis. This is kind of a throwaway post. I did a more serious take on the subprime mortgage problem here.

The United States has economic bubbles like the recent mortgage or high tech ones for three reasons.

1. The global economy is growing and producing lots of profits.
2. The United States is the safest place to invest and grow your investment.
3. Eventually, you run out of good investments no matter where you put your money.

If you're a tycoon in, say, Taiwan, and you have buckets of cash to invest, where do you go?

  • You could invest in Eurabia France. However, France produces agricultural products. They haven't been a growth investment since the Industrial Revolution.

  • You could go to Russia and have it all stolen by the kleptocrats in Putin's administration.

  • You could go to China, but when you look at their companies' financial statements, they look like they were assembled by three dogs and a goat. Who knows what's really going on there?

  • You could go to South America, but every so often they seem to have a banking crisis and the numbers on their money suddenly acquire more and more zeroes at the end.
And so on. The safest place to invest is the US. Unfortunately, economic titans that we are, there's still only a finite number of us that know what to do with your money. Eventually all the good investments get priced wildly and you either end up investing in some guy who builds jet packs in his barn in Idaho or paying $4,000 for a share of That's when you know it's a bubble.

Sort of like when mortgage lenders start giving home loans to drunks on the street corner.

I'm not Ready for the Party!

I just left a link to the 'Post in a comment over at IMAO and now people are actually coming over here to see what I blog about and there's nothing funny at the top at all. I feel such stress! It's like I invited people over for a party and I'm still running around in my bathrobe and the food hasn't been cooked yet.

Quick, think of something funny to write...argh! I can't! The pressure is too much! It's hopeless! All I can do is wander off and play Star Wars: Battlefront on the XBox for a while. And then go out to lunch. And then do some paperwork and putter around the house. Or maybe go to the beach. Yep, that's the ticket.

Procrastination and false advertising: the keys to better blogging.

Oh, what the heck, I'll throw in a video of our Maximum Leader inhaling catnip fumes from a paper bag like some kind of feline crack addict. If it's good enough for Laurence Simon's Carnival of the Cats, it's good enough for the rest of you.

By the way, if any of you do happen to wander about the blog, feel free to review it in the comments here. Flame away if you must. My ego can take it.

Why I'm With Fred Thompson

David Broder sat down with Fred Thompson for an interview and ended up writing this article. Containing the passage excerpted below, it's one of the reasons I'm a Fredhead.
Thompson repeatedly cites two texts as fueling his concern about the country's future. One is "Government at the Brink," a two-volume report he issued as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at the start of the Bush administration in 2001 and handed to the new president's budget director as a checklist of urgent management problems in Washington.

The difficulties outlined in federal procurement, personnel, finances and information technology remain today, Thompson said, and increasingly "threaten national security." His second sourcebook contains the scary reports from Comptroller General David Walker, the head of the Governmental Accountability Office, on the long-term fiscal crisis spawned by the aging of the American population and the runaway costs of health care. Walker labels the current patterns of federal spending "unsustainable," and warns that unless action is taken soon to improve both sides of the government's fiscal ledger -- spending and revenues -- the next generation will suffer.

"Nobody in Congress or on either side in the presidential race wants to deal with it," Thompson said. "So we just rock along and try to maintain the status quo. Republicans say keep the tax cuts; Democrats say keep the entitlements. And we become a less unified country in the process, with a tax code that has become an unholy mess, and all we do is tinker around the edges." Thompson readily concedes that he does not know "where all those chips are going to fall" when he starts challenging members of various interest groups to look beyond their individual agendas and weigh the sacrifices that could assure a better future for their children.
The other reason comes from an interview with two NYT reporters I heard on the Dennis Prager show the other day. Both of them had strong liberal credentials, but claimed that Fred was "the genuine article" having known him while he was in the Senate. That's how it feels to me, too, when I see Fred speak or read what he writes. You can be a Fredhead, too.

A Quick Summary of the Subprime Loans Mess

There's a terrific summary of the subprime loans issue in (where else?) the Wall Street Journal. Because you probably need a subscription (why don't you have one?) and because I need to write this to clarify it in my own mind, here's a summary of the situation.

Asian economies produced lots of savings. The US Central Bank lowered interest rates to prevent deflation following the bursting of tech bubble and the attacks on 9/11. These developments and others produced a glut of cash for investment firms. They had to put the cash somewhere, some place that would make them money. First, they loaned it to people with good credit and collateral. After they sopped up all the demand from borrowers who were a good risk, they still had lots of cash to loan. So they started lowering their standards. As they did so and loaned all that money, much of it went into real estate. More people could get loans and that meant that demand for homes went up.

When demand goes up, prices go up. The housing market went crazy. There was still more cash to lend, so standards were lowered over and over again. Finally, wacky loans were given to people with lousy credit histories and no evidence that they could make the payments. Remember, the investment bankers had to put that money somewhere and they had to prove to their investors that they could get returns as good as everyone else. If they didn't, their customers would go somewhere else.

People with lousy credit (subprime borrowers) usually have lousy credit because they don't manage their money very well. When this class of borrowers were given access to the loans, they did what they had always done. They used it poorly. When they ran out of cash, they got more by refinancing their homes which had gone up in value because of the real estate boom created by the excess cash. Instead of paying down their loans, they ran them up. That's what people who are a bad lending risk do.

Once the housing market stabilized, the people who couldn't manage their money ran out of ways to make their payments. Without access to loans and without enough income to cover their debts, they started defaulting on their mortgages.

Quick moral to the story: if someone has bad credit, don't lend them money. They've got bad credit because they're bad risks. Some people are poor because they do stupid things.

Following the S&L problems of the 1980s, traditional banks were restricted from lending to people with bad credit. Looking for a good rate of return, a new class of real estate lender emerged: the private investor. These private investors could make loans that were much higher risk than were allowed to traditional banks. This group made lousy decisions, in part because the loaning frenzy had led to opacity in the investments.

Now the chickens have come home to roost.

Chickens, having come home to roost.

The bad risk borrowers were lousy money managers and squandered their money on big screen TVs, jet skis or maybe they just didn't make enough money to make their payments in the first place. Whatever the cause, they can't make their payments. The investors who loaned them this money are now stuck with loans that aren't paying off. The investors have debts, too. In order to pay their bills, they're having to sell things that actually have value, including their stocks. With lots of people having to sell to cover the loans made to bad risk borrowers, there are more sellers than buyers. Prices go down.

Some mortgage lenders don't have enough quality assets to cover their debts and they're going bankrupt. When they go bankrupt, all of their investors are screwed. Their assets are frozen while bankruptcy proceedings decide who should get how much of what's left. Those investors have bills of their own to pay and they no longer have access to their money in the now-bankrupt mortgage lenders. That means they have to sell other things to get their cash to pay their bills. More sellers, fewer buyers. Prices fall.

Eventually this will all stabilize. It always does. Banking and investment regulations make the world a much less volatile place than it used to be. Just go back in history and check out some of the financial crises of the 19th century. Total chaos. Things will be OK in the long run.

So long as you learn how to manage your money.

If I've gotten any of this wrong, please correct me in the comments. In any case, here's an excerpt from the article linked above that explains part of the problem. If you can, read the whole thing. If you can't, buy a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. It's the only newspaper on Earth worth getting.

Lou Barnes, co-owner of a small Colorado mortgage bank called Boulder West Inc., has been in the mortgage business since the late 1970s. For most of that time, a borrower had to fully document his income. Lenders offered the first no-documentation loans in the mid-1990s, but for no more than 70% of the value of the house being purchased. A few years back, he says, that began to change as Wall Street investment banks and wholesalers demanded ever more mortgages from even the least creditworthy -- or "subprime" -- customers.

"All of us felt the suction from Wall Street. One day you would get an email saying, 'We will buy no-doc loans at 95% loan-to-value,' and an old-timer like me had never seen one," says Mr. Barnes. "It wasn't long before the no-doc emails said 100%."

Until the late 1990s, the subprime market was dominated by home-equity lines used by borrowers to consolidate debt and by loans on mobile homes. But when the Fed held rates down after 2001, lenders could offer borrowers with sketchy credit histories adjustable-rate mortgages with introductory rates that seemed affordable. Mr. Barnes says customers were asking about "2/28" subprime loans. These offered a low starter rate for two years, then adjusted for the remaining 28 to a rate that was often three percentage points higher than a prime customer normally paid. Customers, he says, seldom appreciated how high that rate could be once the Fed returned rates to normal levels.

Demand from consumers, on one side, and Wall Street and its customers on the other side prompted lenders to make more and more subprime loans. Originations rose to $600 billion or more in both 2005 and 2006 from $160 billion in 2001, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry publication.

At first, delinquencies were surprisingly low. As a result, the credit ratings for bonds backed by the mortgages assumed a modest default rate. Standards for getting a mortgage fell. About 45% of all subprime loans in 2006 went to borrowers who didn't fully document their income, making it easier for them to overstate their creditworthiness.

The delinquency rate was a mirage: It was low mainly because home prices were rising so much that borrowers who fell behind could easily refinance. When home prices stopped rising in 2006, and fell in some regions, that game ended. Borrowers with subprime loans made in 2006 fell behind on monthly payments much more quickly than mortgages made a year or two earlier.

When banks get in trouble, federal deposit insurance encourages depositors not to flee, and in extreme circumstances, banks can borrow directly from the Fed. But banks are no longer the dominant lenders. After the S&L crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s, regulators insisted banks and thrifts hold more capital against risky loans. This tipped the playing field in favor of unregulated lenders. They financed themselves not by deposits but by Wall Street credit lines and by "securitization" of their loans -- in effect, the sale of the loans to investors.

The consequences proved painful. New Century Financial Corp., founded in 1995 by three former S&L executives, was the nation's second largest subprime lender by 2006. When its borrowers began falling behind, Wall Street cut off its lines of credit and forced it to buy back some of its poorly performing loans. New Century couldn't fall back on deposit insurance or the Fed. It filed for bankruptcy protection in April, wiping out shareholders and triggering market-wide fears about the health of the subprime business.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More Fun Than Catnip in a Bag!

Certainly you've heard the term, "more fun than catnip in a bag," right? You haven't? Well, here's where it comes from. You take some fresh catnip leaves and rub them all over the inside of a paper bag. You then put it on the floor and let the fun begin!

Here's how it starts.

Here's how it ends.

Man, was that fun or what? For more fun, visit this week's Carnival of the Cats and Friday Ark. They're as much fun as, well, catnip in a bag!

I Think we Found the Problem

...the newspapers are publishing complete idiocy.

Associated press caption to this photo: An elderly Iraqi woman shows two bullets which she says hit her house following an early coalition forces raid in the predominantly Shiite Baghdad suburb of Sadr City. At least 175 people were slaughtered on Tuesday and more than 200 wounded when four suicide truck bombs targeted people from an ancient religious sect in northern Iraq, officials said.(AFP/Wissam al-Okaili)

5 year chart for stock in the New York Times.


(Yet Another Mission Bay Sunset.)

CFABI. (Click for a better image.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


There are times when I Can Has Cheezburger? is simply sublime.

Yes, it's kind of an inside joke for us cheezburger fans, but there you go.

World of Good, Project Concern Style

I used to think I was a road warrior beacause I travel about 70,000 miles a year for business. I was making my way across the country last week, strung out from another round of all-day meetings and delayed, late-night flights when I happened to sit next to a fellow from an organization called Project Concern International (PCI). He was on his way to San Diego from Washington, DC. We were going to land at about 1 AM and he had meetings the next morning. That happens to me, too. It's a drag.

A few days later, he was going to hop on an airplane in San Diego and fly to Chad. Now that's a road warrior! It's over 8,000 miles as the crow flies, but I doubt there are many non-stops from San Diego to N'Djamena. Curious to learn more, I spent a little time chatting with him. He and his organization were a slam-dunk for a World of Good post.
Project Concern International is a leading international health organization that saves the lives of children and families around the world by preventing disease and providing access to clean water and nutritious food. (They) reach over three million people a year.
What does this mean in more concrete terms? Well, among other things, they provide direct support to orphanages in African countries like Zambia.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa has orphaned thousands of children. It is a humanitarian catastrophe and organizations like PCI are doing their best to support the orphans.

PCI is about more than just feeding children. It's about bringing equipment and techniques to these places to prevent the spread of disease.
(PCI is involved in) combating malaria through the use of insecticide-treated nets is an essential strategy in our maternal child health programs. PCI is expanding and strengthening tuberculosis prevention and control efforts along the US-Mexico border. And our water and sanitation programs promote hygienic practices that prevent diarrhea and other deadly waterborne diseases.
Everyone talks about wanting to feed the poor, but PCI actually does it.
  • In rural Nicaragua, PCI has distributed US agricultural commodities to 322 schools, providing a daily school meal to nearly 33,000 children, as well as to their teachers and parents.

  • In Zambia, over 61,000 orphans have benefited each month from PCI's school feeding program, and over 7,800 child- and female-headed households have received monthly take-home rations.
This looks like a pretty heavy load for this Nicaraguan girl. Has OSHA been notified?

PCI deals with both the effects and prevention of crisis situations.
In places where access to health care is severely limited, the best way to implement poverty solutions and protect the health of children, mothers, and families is to show parents, community volunteers, and local governments ways of preventing disease and illness.

A Nicaraguan girl looks plaintively at PCI workers as she realizes that with food to eat, she will now have to do her homework.

This may seem like a total aside, but did you know that the Panama Canal was successfully dug only because sanitation conditions for the workers were improved first? PCI learned that lesson well.
PCI works with communities to dig wells, build latrines, and construct safe water and sewage systems. PCI also trains volunteers to teach their communities about proper hygiene and sanitation.
Stop by the PCI website to learn more. I found their list of projects to be most impressive. They're certainly part of the World of Good.

The World of Good (WOG) is a series of posts we try to do every week. You can find a list of our previous ones as well as the motivation behind them at this link.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Palm Tree Sunset

Tonight we had a spectacular sky. I'll save the others for a later time, but here's one of the best. Click the image to see a bigger version.

Hillary Clinton's Message for America

From IMAO.

The Truth About Mortgage

This is a pay per post ad. But I would have written it anyway because the blog being reviewed is so good and it deals with issues that interest me.

The Truth About Mortgage is an outstanding blog dealing with mortgage news and analysis that I haven't seen gathered up in one place anywhere else. The recent turmoil in the credit markets has been written about extensively in the Wall Street Journal, but the WSJ doesn't gather the articles together in chronological order the way this blog does.

If you haven't been reading about the problems besetting the mortgage industry, then this blog is a great place to start. It offers easy to understand posts about all aspects of the issues. The first time I visited the blog I found three posts that immediately caught my attention. For example, if you're refinancing and planning on using a "no documentation" kind of loan, think again.
I’ve heard from several sources that stated income loans, also known as “liar’s loans” may become a thing of the past as lenders continue to tighten underwriting guidelines...

Unfortunately, stated income deals have led to a good chunk of the problems we are seeing now, largely because applicants overstated income and lied about job positions to qualify for homes they truly couldn’t afford.
I hadn't read this anywhere else. While the WSJ gives you the details of the financial problems of the big lenders, The Truth About Mortgage translates into information you can use to make decisions.

This was an easy ppp to write. The Truth About Mortgage is that good.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Getting Ready for the School Year

In preparation for the new school year, we've bought some of the textbooks my daughter will be using so we can have copies at home. I've cracked the social studies book to see what was inside. This year they're focusing on the United States. As I read through the book, I'm learning that the United States was developed by oppressing and slaughtering everyone else. Here's a nice quote.

The meeting of cultures from Europe and the Americas caused a great change in the way people lived on five continents. It led to the deaths of thousands, mostly Indians and Africans.
Already I feel enormous waves of guilt. If only we had stayed in Europe and allowed the Aztecs to continue their peaceful, Gaia-friendly ways of mass human sacrifices.

Cortes and his Spanish bullies swooped in and obliterated the proud, Aztec nation, putting a stop to good-natured family fun as pictured here.

Big Maps From Big Posters

This is a pay per post ad. But I would have done it anyway since it applies directly to a home business I'm playing with developing educational games.

As some of you know, I've been playing with a geography game for kids. I started it to help my daughter learn geography, but as I've worked my way through it, I've found I like doing this kind of thing. Having bought a copy of her social studies book for the upcoming year and having read through the first parts of it, I can see lots of opportunities for games to fill in the information left out in that appallingly bad textbook. More posts on that later.

Right now, though, I want to call your attention to who could serve my printing needs for maps for my games. Up to now I've had to make do with the local Kinkos and the results have not been great. The maps are expensive and take quite a bit of fumbling around to get done right. It looks like bigposters could take my electronic files, produce my maps and mail them back to me for a reasonable price.

I also work trade shows for my day job from time to time and their retractable banner stand looks like something I could use. We're going through a series of changes in our marketing materials and having ready access to an on-line source for trade show materials would be a real boon.

If you've got any printing needs, check out

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Our Maximum Leader has gotten into the lolcat craze. Here's our first submission. As soon as they've approved it and put it up in the cheezburger factory, we'll post the link so you can go vote for it.

For more fun, check out this week's Carnival of the Cats.

A Member of the MSM Performs the Anthropological Study

In a previous post, I suggested that the Mainstream Media (MSM) was so utterly out of touch with the humanity of our soldiers, sailors and marines that they would be a great candidate for an anthropological study to discover just how they managed to attain such a skewed world view. Anthony Jay in the London Times performs that function for us. Here were my favorite bits.
We belonged instead to a dispersed “metropolitan media arts graduate” tribe. We met over coffee, lunch, drinks and dinner to reinforce our views on the evils of apartheid, nuclear deterrence, capital punishment, the British Empire, big business, advertising, public relations, the royal family, the defence budget – it’s a wonder we ever got home.

The second factor that shaped our media liberal attitudes was a sense of exclusion. We saw ourselves as part of the intellectual elite, full of ideas about how the country should be run. Being naive in the way institutions actually work, we were convinced that Britain’s problems were the result of the stupidity of the people in charge of the country.

This ignorance of the realities of government and management enabled us to occupy the moral high ground. We saw ourselves as clever people in a stupid world, upright people in a corrupt world, compassionate people in a brutal world, libertarian people in an authoritarian world.
Quick answer: they are better than the rest of us.

H/T: Puppyblender.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Great Posts from the Feline Theocracy

Hi, Jacob the Syrian Hamster here, back to bring you more wondrous posts from the blogs that make up the Feline Theocracy. As the loyal beadle for the Theocracy, it's my duty to round up links to my fellow theocraticians' best posts. It's been months and months since I've done this, but as I visited my friends' blogs this morning, I was inspired to come back to this.

One of the things that I like about the Feline Theocracy is how varied the blogs are. There are bloggers passionate about all kinds of things and their enthusiasm and good cheer is infectious. First off, we have quilts. Lovely quilts. Our Abbess of the Priory of Small Princesses is quite talented and shares her skills.

On a very sad note, Mother Superior of the Holy Order of Ocean Whitefish and Feline Empress Kukka Maria signed off. Her blog is worth randomly looking at her posts. They are all funny.

The Knight-Protector of the Feline Theocracy and Defender of Yarn Balls was having a bad weekend. Stop by and leave him some good cheer.

Our Monsignor of the Breweries is supporting a campaign to send emails to Marines serving in Iraq. That's a great cause.

The Official Artist of the Feline Theocracy has been doing some work in a vet's office and sharing his stories. How do you shave a cat? Visit his post and find out.

Are cats dishawsher safe? Our Archibishop of Texas knows.

The Theocracy's Holy Scribe has posted a fantastic video that you have to see to believe.

Our Poet Laureate is promising an epic poem. I can't wait!

Are only whites nerds? Our Precentor of Measurements takes on a recent academic study.

Did you know there are mooses (meeses?) in Colorado? I didn't. Our Missionary to the Frozen, Northern Wastelands has photographic proof.

Scribbit, our Nun of the Above, has a typically fun and useful post for parents.

Our Keeper of the Catacombs posts a video about massive landslides as part of a general theme. Dramatic doesn't cover it. Take a look.

Holy Scholar Mog describes a battle that took place at her house. It looks to me like it was all staged to cover up a greater crime.

Holy Scholar Mark Shea posts a brain bender in answer to the question, "When did Jesus know He was divine?"

Holy Scholar Eric Scheske posts about beer. Need I say more?

There's a lot of Chinese art that I love. Holy Scholar Happy Julie posts some.

Heather, Our Holy Canadian Scholar, Eh? hits another of my sweet spots. Seaplanes.

Last, but not least (are you still with me?) is our Court Jester. He has a short post about another blog that has asked visitors to vote for their favorite dead blog. It's an interesting concept I had never thought about before. Check it out.

That's it for now. I used to say, "That's it for this week," but since I don't do this weekly any more, I figured I wasn't going to fool anyone with that sign off.

Thanks for stopping by!

Modern Skate & Surf Review

This is a pay per post ad. But we would have done it anyway since we're a skating and surfing (well, body surfing and boogie boarding) kind of family. This is also a guest post by my son, who is more of a skater than I. And now on to the guest post.

Contrary to the name, Modern Skate and Surf, they sell a lot more than skateboards and surfboards. They have snowboards, wakeboards, inline skates, and all the apparel. They have a fantastic selection and their prices aren't too bad. As for skateboard decks they have the classic designs:

As well as many new ones:

If you don't believe me just check it out yourself!!!! They carry decks from element skateboards and zero skateboards.

And now back to our normal blog author. Thanks for the pinch hitting, amigo! If you're in to in-line skates, then they've got those as well. My daughter might want to take a look at that.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Resting Comfortably

When I left on my business trip earlier this week, our Maximum Leader had a cold. She was sneezing, coughing and had a runny eye. I'd never seen a cat with a cold before, so it was very disconcerting until I figured out what it was. When I got back, I found that she had recovered. In answer to the hundreds of emails I received asking how she was*, here's a picture of her resting comfortably.

* - actually zero emails were received. But we're sure we would have gotten loads if anyone had known.

Carnival of the Cats, Friday Ark. Go see them.

Earn $360 per Year Surfing the Blogosphere!

I travel a lot. I like to live frugally. I also like to blog and surf the blogosphere in the morning. On this trip, I perfected a way to do it all.

Breakfasts on the road can be expensive and time consuming. The hotel buffets can run you $14 per morning. In some hotels they're free, but those hotels usually charge you for Internet service. In any case, I always stay at Marriots (with whom I am very happy) and you can't always find the free breakfast.

Breakfast also takes time. You can't slither down to the restaurant in your PJs. You've got to get dressed, go down, get a table, eat, wait for the tab, pay and then go back to your room to brush your teeth and grab your stuff. That's time you could spend reading The Scratching Post on your laptop. What a waste!

This trip I found the key to wealth and free time. And wisdom. Lots and lots of wisdom. I brought a tupperware bowl (with lid), some packets of instant oatmeal and a small spoon. I used the hotel room coffee pot to heat the water and made my oatmeal right in my room while blogging. Is that efficient or what? With as much as I travel, I calculated I could save $360 per year doing this by avoiding the cost of eating out for breakfast. All the fiber in the oatmeal is also better for my colon, but the less said about that the better.

Order your Travel Breakfast Toolkit® from The Scratching Post today! Operators are standing by!

Perhaps best of all, I get to read the blogosphere while I eat instead of the USA Today's most recent imitation of Lord Haw Haw. That's where the wisdom comes in. After reading the USA Today, you feel slight shame for having wasted all those brain chemcials processing the written flatulence in their paper. Reading The Scratching Post has been shown to increase your intellectual stimulation by 38%!* Money, time and more accurate information. That's a triple play!

The $360 I'll save every year is about what it costs to buy a TiVo series 2 DVR with dual tuner and that's paying retail. If I go on Craig's List, eBay or visit estate sales with $360, there's almost no limit to what I can get! All that and blogging, too. All I need to do is pack a tupperware bowl in my luggage.

So now that you know the secret, what will you buy with your $360?

* - Mental stimulation improvement is estimated and is not based on any actual data.

Did you know there's a weekly Festival of Frugality? Go see what it's like!


I just got back from a business trip to Virginia. At 2AM this morning. I'm still running about 75% late flights. Argh.

I digress. I got some cloud photos coming out of Chicago on my way to Virginia. I wasn't very happy with them, but I managed to find two that were adequate. I had hoped for an early evening shot of the Washington Monument as I landed in DC, but my flight from Chicago was...late.

On the way back, I had a window seat from Dallas to San Diego and there would have been some great opportunities, but my flight was, well, er, how do you say it? Late. Yes, that's it. My flight was late.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Poll for Egomaniacs

...and yes men.

Am I right?
Yes you are.
Free polls from

Universal Preschool - A Band Aid on a Major Wound

Today's WSJ has a page one article on the growing movement to have the government pay for preschool for everyone as a way to overcome the poverty gap.

If it were possible for an idea to be any more stupid, I'd like to hear it.

The poverty gap is tightly bound to the marital status of families. Married, two parent families do well. Single parent families do not. The difference, born out by census statistics with sample sizes of tens of millions, show an income gap of more than $20,000 per year per family. The children from single parent homes do worsein every aspect, usually by large numbers. Child abuse, prison rates, illiteracy, obesity, it's all many times more likely in single parent homes. Which is exactly what anyone with any reasoning power at all would expect.

If you take your family income and cut it in half and take your available adult labor force and cut it in half as happens in a divorce, death or simple illegitimate birth, you're pretty much screwed. Try this experiment where you work. Imagine that half of your budget is gone and half of your workforce has been let go. Do not change your expected output. What happens to the quality of your work? It goes to pieces, right?

What's so hard about this? Apparently everything.
Florida and Oklahoma are among the states that have started providing free preschool for any 4-year-old whose parents want it. Illinois and New York plan to do the same. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to spend $15 billion over five years on universal preschool funding. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke calls preschool one cure for inequality.
It's not a cure for anything, you moron. And is anyone surprised that village idiot Hillary wants to tax and spend?

"I am a total freaking idiot. I think universal preschool is a great substitute for parents. After all, It Takes a Village!"

No one wants to tell you that raising kids by yourself is a disadvantage the government can't overcome.
So far, few organizations are pushing the case against preschool, but the argument does exist. Some skeptics predict the hefty return claimed by Mr. Rolnick would quickly shrink if states rush to make preschool universal. They cite some studies suggesting that Head Start, the federal program for disadvantaged preschoolers, gives children little edge when entering elementary school.

Why hasn't Head Start worked? It's because there wasn't enough money spent, of course!
The new pre-K advocates want more children -- in some cases all children, in others all low-income children -- to be in school before age 5. To the extent Head Start has fallen short of its goals, they argue, it is because federal and state funding is inadequate and the staff is sometimes poorly trained.
Or maybe it's because Head Start teachers aren't the kids' freaking parents! Maybe you can't replace a father or a mother with a government employee after all. I don't know, call me a radical, but maybe cutting your gross income and labor force by 50% can't be overcome with a few hours a day of 20-1 instruction at a government institution.

Of course, who wants their kids to end up in a jail cell?
In conservative Oklahoma, his pitch is pragmatic. "The most effective argument among conservative Republicans is that the folks we are helping are already in day care so that we are not taking them from a loving home," he says. "The kids...will end up as productive citizens rather than in the correctional system."
Unreal. Preschool as a way of preventing prison terms for kids from single parent families. Does it get any dumber than this?

If only they had gone to preschool!

The whole debate is just staggeringly idiotic to me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Mainstream Media Needs an Intervention

I’ve avoided writing about the Scott Thomas Beauchamp (STB) affair up until now because I’ve been so caught up in the excitement of seeing the story unfold that I thought I had nothing at all to add. Now that STB has been proven to be a hoax and I’ve got some time on my hands to reflect on it, I wanted to share with you something that has just struck me.

The primary problem with the whole affair is not that the Mainstream Media (MSM) has once more slandered the military or fallen for a false story or failed to check their facts, it’s that they ever believed STB in the first place. I don’t mean from a technical sense, either. Reporters and editors are, for the most part, generalists and it may not be reasonable to expect them to know that a Bradley Fighting Vehicle can’t sneak up on nor swerve to hit dogs. They probably can’t be expected to know that remote bases and posts are carefully watched places and that you can check the daily muster to see who has been there. Being charitable to them, we could also say that they also couldn’t be expected to know how rare women are in such places and how quickly the male soldiers and marines get to know the appearance of each one, particularly one with a burned face.

What we must expect them to know is the human side of the subjects they are covering. While they may be generalists in a technical sense, through the course of their interviews and reporting, we would expect them to become experts on human nature. The most staggeringly appalling part of the STB story is that they ever thought that STB’s stories of the dehumanizing aspect of war to be true at all. I come from a military family. I work every day with marines and sailors. Almost all of them have been in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not one of them exhibits a “dehumanized” aspect to their character, not even the SPECOPS folks that I know. While some can be fatalistic or ruthlessly practical at times, none of them show streaks of cruelty or callousness. In fact, they are some of the most helpful and understanding people I know. There are certainly the self-important and pompous among them, but “inhumane” is not a word I would associate with any of them.

How is it possible for The New Republic (TNR) to have gotten this so wrong? They weren’t even close. It shows they have no business at all reporting on this subject as they clearly know absolutely nothing about it or the people involved. It’s not just that they guessed and were off the mark a bit; they were 180 degrees out of phase with reality. They are as unqualified to write about the military as I am to write about Hindu theology. Their brethren in the MSM are clearly incompetent in this area as well as none of them called the story into question when it was so clearly wrong to any of us who actually work with the people generalized by STB.

When the Duke Lacrosse team rape story was finally shown to have been a fraud, some members of the MSM claimed that the narrative was right, but the facts were wrong. I’m sure that will be claimed here as well. The trouble with that is that this narrative isn’t right at all. Anyone who has worked with the military for any length of time and has an open mind on the subject would immediately know this. This wasn’t as much slander or libel on the part of TNR as it was closed-minded bigotry on a cosmic scale. The MSM doesn’t need to be sued or criticized, they need to be encouraged to somehow change their general beliefs about the people in the military in the same way as if it were racist screeds they had been publishing instead of STB’s hate-filled spew.

Many posts have been written filled with scathing condemnation of TNR and their silently assenting MSM brethren. I would suggest that these are misplaced. I think that the TNR story and its cousins elsewhere in the MSM qualifies for an anthropological study to try to discover just how such a fantastic notion became stuck in their minds in the first place. Just as children raised in the household of an Aryan Nation member grow up with incorrect notions of racial differences, it’s clear that Franklin Foer and his ilk have grown up in some part of society that holds preposterously wrong notions of the nature of our men and women in the military.

Perhaps they need an intervention the way someone raised in a cult would.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A New Generation of Daisies

I had almost given up on my most recent planting of seeds from Momma Daisy. I was just about to stop watering the pots and try again when I noticed four sprouts coming up. More are sure to follow. Here's the biggest of the lot.

Here at the 'Post, we're so proud! We'll soon be handing out Jobe's Plant Food Spikes. (They're the daisy version of cigars.)

Monday, August 06, 2007

August Sunset

This is the best one I've seen in quite some time. Click on the image to get the full glory of the moment.

A Modified Dave Ramsey Cash Envelope System

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace concepts. Starting this August, I'm implementing a modified version of his cash envelope budgeting scheme. In Dave's scheme, you make a budget for every item and put the appropriate amount of cash in an envelope for that item. For example, if you've budgeted $400 per month for food, then you have an envelope marked "Food" with $400 cash in it at the beginning of the month. That's all you get and you'd better make it last. I like the concept, but it doesn't work perfectly for me. Because my travel schedule is so variable, I don't have the requisite consistency to make such a plan work. Instead, what I've done is modify it slightly.

First, I budgeted for all of my known costs. Mortgage, insurance, utilities (estimated), property taxes, averaged car repair per month, savings, school tuition for the kids and so forth. These were all of the items that were going to remain constant regardless of my monthly activities. It is crucial to note that savings was considered a fixed expense. This is key to the purpose of Dave's plan. This left me with an amount, let's call it $350, to cover all of the variable costs for the month. That would be food, gas, clothing, school field trips for the kids, etc.

The $350 is just the starting point. Out of that comes my expenses while on the road. Into that goes my per diem for my trips and any other odds and ends I might receive. For example, my little dribs and drabs of cash from Pay Per Post go into this. This is the only envelope I use and it covers everything variable.

Mathematically, the key feature of Dave's plan is that it eliminates uncertainty from your finances. That is, I know that I will save X dollars per month because I have forced all of my variable costs into a single budget line. Without such a plan, savings gets blown away month after month because something always comes up that seems like a good idea. After all, I'm tired when I get home from travel and I don't really feel like cooking. Would it be so bad to go and get a fish burrito? And I could really use a new pair of shoes. Where does that money come from? Without such a system, it comes from a big blob of cash in your checking account. With the system, it comes from the envelope whose cash content is known. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see if you can or cannot afford those shoes this month.

The other thing this does is force you into making decisions on the margin which is where they should be. That is, will I be happier with a pair of shoes or going out to dinner four times? Will my marginal increase in pleasure be greater if I choose the shoes or the sushi? The envelope only has so much money in it and spending it on one thing means it can't be spent on something else.

I've only been using it for a few days and already it's changed the way I look at my financial decisions. I've always been pretty disciplined in my spending, but this codifies it and forces every financial decision to be made based on sound principles. On the downside, it adds stress to my life as I have not received my per diem payment from my last trip and the envelope is getting pretty empty. However, since I know that several fairly large payments will show up this week, I know that my stress is only temporary. In any case, the stress should always have been there since all I've done is to make myself painfully aware of the exact mathematics of the situation. I haven't changed reality, I've just clarified my perception of it.

If you use a system like this or a different one you like better, leave a description or a link in the comments and I will post it here as an update.

For more tips on living frugally, visit this week's Festival of Frugality.

Update: After trying this for 7 months, I've posted my report card post and lessons learned.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Brunch in the Office

Our Maximum Leader got to enjoy the remnants of some canned beef stew in her office furniture this morning as I took a break from my chores. Her delight over the food seemed to indicate that there's little difference between canned beef stew and cat food.

Oh well, it gave us the energy to get to the rest of our days. Mine is finishing up the weekend tasks. Hers is sleeping.

If you haven't had your fill of cats, you can always check out this week's Carnival.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Heavenly Light on Mission Bay

For a friend.

Though we are all afflicted with adversity in one form or another, we are also blessed with the grace and strength to see to it that the sacrifices that have been made for us were worthwhile.

The MGB Comes Home

After about ten years in storage in a barn in Ramona, the Chronovore (Time Eater) has come home.

I think it could use a wash, don't you? After that, we'll rebuild the engine and transmission. The body is in great shape. Very little rust and the paint stayed pretty fresh all the while it was in the barn.

Update: After a delicate sponge bath given while the Chronovore was still in the garage, she shined up very nicely.

I had to do it in the garage since my driveway has a slope and the car doesn't start yet.