Sunday, December 30, 2007

Great video on housing bubble from housingpanic blog!

How to get your Capital One Rewards Card 25% annual bonus...

For some peculiar reason beyond my comprehension, the 25% bonus that makes this the most superior cash back card in the consumer credit ecosystem does not explain how you receive this bonus in their brochures or on their website, so I gave them a call.

Transferred to India to ask the question over a VOIP solution that was choppy and hard to understand, transferred back to the US for the actual answer, I was told that the balance is automatically applied to your balance one to two billing cycles after your november bill and is applied to your previous october through november balance. This is great news and the right way to do it. Just wanted to share because I know most people I know have moved to this card due to 1.25% return on everything you buy being the best you can find. And if you find a better one, please share! This assumption is based on the fact that there is no way I buy enough groceries or gas to make the 1% plus 5% on gas and groceries a better bet, but maybe if you buy lots of either of those they are better.

The other thing that makes this card a must have for your wallet is NO foreign exchange fees. Citi cards have huge fees for any business done in foreign currencies.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Book Review: The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker

Quote on front cover “A brilliant piece of intellectual history” from the Washington Post. Sure, if you consider a survey paper ‘a brilliant piece of intellectual history’. Beinhocker annoys reader with supposed insights that are really just obvious statements about business dynamics. Book is divided into 4 sections. The first and second related to defining traditional economics as the neoclassical approach, what we were taught in school about economics was wrong, and that the economy really acts as a complex adaptive system. Gee, that’s freakin’ brilliant! At least he doesn’t take credit for that observation and points to the folks at SFI for arming him with the data to repeat this now well understood notion. I don’t mean to be bitter here, but he doesn’t say anything really new. He does summarize how complexity theory and economics have had an affair for the past couple decades and references work by Mandelbrot, Holland, etc. to give credibility to his point(s).

He also summarizes his points about economics and its ‘truth’ as a complex adaptive system by summarizing results of the Sugarscape experiments which also demonstrated the notion of punctuated equilibrium in economics. He summarizes the work Mandelbrot did disproving the random walk hyptothesis, and summarizes a bunch of obvious business implications of complexity theory in section 3. Section 4 gets a bit more philosophical and discusses the implications of sections 1 and 2 for civilization overall with epiphanies like “companies don’t innovate, markets do”. Blech. “if a company’s total resources are fully committed to executing legacy business plans, it will be incapable of evolving any new ones (page 346)”.
If you haven’t read anything on complexity theory and its application to the stock market chapter 2 would be okay but reading mandelbrot’s recent text (reviewed previously in my blog) is much better.

Here’s what annoys me: It doesn’t tell me anything new, the book is called the origin of wealth and I guess I got my answer: its born from complex interactions of agents whose optimal path is dependent on where they are located in the current fitness landscape….thanks man. You should pay attention to these issues when thinking strategically about where to take your business.

Another reviewer mentions that he is ‘a storyteller of first rank’. I’d have to agree with that. Author does actually tell a good story, its just a story I’ve already heard. Author is also extremely well read and has an extensive list of citations and references at the end of the book. He does a great job summarizing things like the Sugarscape experiments and makes complex economic arguments easy to understand. I could see some parts of this book being a reasonable text for a tour for undergraduates or high school students.

I will give it a 3 out of 5. Its an average read, but I’ve reviewed other books that are better elsewhere in my previous blog posts. By better, I mean they have more meat on their bones, are more efficient, and don’t seem to wander all over the place. I feel like I’m reading his first draft. Part III could be dropped out altogether and would have strengthened the book.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Oatmeal Wars, part II

Returning to the oatmeal saga: Previously I used John McCann's oatmeal from Trader Joe's as my oatmeal of choice to cook in the rice cooker. After extensive research and testing, I found what I believe to be a superior product, and I'll explain why. The product is Bob's Red Mill stone ground oatmeal. The primary reason is that I was having problem with a 1 cup serving boilng over in my Zojirushi rice cooker. Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oatmeal is giving me no such problems. I also think the texture of the oatmeal is slightly better.

This was discovered when we recently paid a visit to the Bob's Red Mill grocery store in Portland, OR. Was a fun experience, they had lots of dried stone ground goods besides oatmeal including whole wheat chocalate cake mixes and a bunch of other goodies. Its about 20 minutes from downtown but worth the trip! Lots of healthy stuff to eat, and they serve a breakfast and lunch menu to try out their products. As I move my diet towards less processed foods, I can imagine Bob's Red Mill products becoming quite popular in my pantry!

Half Life Saga Summary....

I was commenting the other day after finishing half life 2 episode 2 that I was having a hard time remembering what the story was all about. After all, the first half life happened like 8+ years ago. Shonuf, stumbled upon this link today.

4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

i was blown away by the content and succinct representation of said content. i thought it was going to be a fair amount of fluff, robert kiyosaki type 'one good picture and 250 pages of big font double spaced obviousness', but i had some vacation time and what better way to spend vacation time than figuring out how to get more vacation time?

tim ferriss is smart. he's also quit witted and a good writer, or at least he convinced me of that (heck, for all i know he outsourced the whole book). better yet, he had one person do the actual content and then paid a comedian in india to add ' 3 funny parts in each chapter' for 4.50 an hour....i wouldn't be able to tell and the result would probably have been just as good by taking his own advice.

if you are interested in how to get the most out of the time you work, whether trying to reduce your time at work or not, his points are excellent and good to hear, although most producers i know (about 1 in 10 employees) practice these tools regularly already. he discusses points about when and how to read email, tactics on how to spend less time in the office and more time working where you want (for many that is moving from place of low productivity to high productivity), and how to outsource many components of your life. He talks about dreamlines, essentially mapping out a plan of what you want to do and a step by step plan on how to do it.

i had a fairly strong emotional reaction to this book. it has a ton of appeal to me, mostly because i hear what tim is saying and strive to practice much of his advice already. so i had these strong feelings of 'yes yes, that's exactly what i've found to be the best way to do it', to other moments of his missing the point of some of the interactions that take place on a day to day basis in the hallways of business.

it seems tim's end goal is to spend less time in the office and therefore get more time to do what he wants, and i like his idea of pursuing one kinesthetic and one intellectual goal in each of the places he lives for awhile, but i'd like to counsel him on a few things about the work environment as i see it. it sound like he's been in some bad job situations, and not understood what the point of some of the interaction that takes place on a daily basis. in america, the corporation has become one of the social tribes. it is within these tribes that a significant amount of mentorship and stewardship is practiced. we leverage our time in the 8 hour day in these interactions helping those around us with making a better life through understanding how to achieve their goals. we're not there to produce products. we're there to produce better people. to produce those better people, we work on a shared goal, a product of some sort. through this shared goal, we all end up learning more about ourselves and how to relate to others. during that process we pick up tools that we leverage not just in our jobs but in our personal lives as well. likewise, many of us actually are still naive enough to believe that the tools we produce will raise the standard of living of people throughout the world.

all the points stated above seem to be lost on the author who seems to be a fairly typical self absorbed mid 20s guy on this front. his goals seem to be purely to optimize time utilization for himself and its not clear that he understands the stewardsship or mentorship roles many people have in those big offices.

this book has no one single overall message, instead he has lots of interesting ways to think about life, what its meaning is, and good advice on how to pursue those things whether within the confines of the corporation or striking out on your own to sell vitamins or whatever is your ticket out of corporate servitude.

while i'd advocate many of the ideas put forth in this book, i'd also say i doubt anybody could seriously take them too literally. the origins of his feeling the need to search so hard for something else and have such a disdain for meetings, etc. were due to being enveloped in a culture that fostered useless meetings and had some magnetic attraction to non-type A personalities to sit around and talk about random stuff all day. in general, i just don't work in that type of environment. its fast paced, people are succinct and to the point, and when the meeting is over and its time to go people get up and walk out (or in many cases hang up). you have to foster and build a culture like that in your business, and his time at TrueSAN just wasn't like that. his career experience in the middle of the internet boom was at a surreal time for all of us in tech, and its no wonder he thinks its such a soulless experience, but i disagree with him on the implication that because his experience in the middle of hiring everyone with a pulse for whatever they wanted to do applies when all the excess capital gets washed to the next boom industry.

highly recommended reading, very good use of time, and fun. 5/5. estimated reading time: 2.5-3.5 hours. thanks to brent insko for the recommendation.

Book Review: The First 90 days

Full title: The First 90 days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, by Michael Watkins. Carl Marshall recommended this book to me when i was making a recent job transition. One year later i finally had the time to read it. Its aimed at sr. level executives (or just sr. leaders) and has lots of good tools to make a successful job transition. Even though its primary value is the first 90 days, it has value at any time in your job, particularly addressing some of the common problems in organizations and how to lead a group through those problems. Its like this: if there is a transition happening, the tools in this book can help you understand what phase your organization is in. After this, it will help you formulate a plan and the required relationships and tools to help in that particular business phase. For
example, identify which of these 4 situations your business is currently involved: turnaround, sustaining, startup, realignment. Next, apply tools in book to achieve success. Very good book, very quantitative, very dense, 4/5.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Portland Housing Blog auction story from the O

Oregonian has an article on the Auction as well. See Portland Housing Blog for more info.

Portland Home Auction by REDC and Buena Vista Homes

I stopped by the auction today to see how it was going. The room was actually quite full. I watched for about 30 minutes and took a few notes on what places were selling for to get an idea of how far out of market value current list prices are. Assuming the 'previously valued at' on the price sheets we were given is current list price, I have found that the homes were selling on average around 75% of the previously price. This includes a 5% fee that the auctioneer tacked onto each sale. A hefty profit for the auctioneer considering the work involved!

This was mainly for homes within the portland suburban area but NOT considered downtown. Also, this is not a large or statistically significant (>30) sample. However, it would be enough to influence the amount I would pay for a home in the pdx suburbs. To add creedence to the value, a number of economists seem aligned with this current overvaluation of the market. I've read quite a few who have expected that if people cut prices ~20% the market would pick back up.

Insert Mystifying white space here.

NeighborhoodSq. Ft.Sold w/ 5%prev. val% of prev. val$/sq.ft.
hamilton ridge261624675039200062.95%94.323
hamilton ridge2332246750361950 68.17% 105.81
jcksn hills pII3581 456750 529950 86.19% 127.55
vista heights2550 34650046595074.36% 135.88
sunrise hts 2935 367500 487950 75.32%125.21
lincoln hts2550 341250424950 80.30% 133.82
avg. 2761 334250443792 74.55% 120.43

Friday, December 14, 2007

Portal is the most subversive game ever?

This may be old news to the game folks out there, but I found this article very IU. I say 'IU' because it reminds me of the discussions I used to have with friends when they'd come back home from school at Indiana University and were in the midst of a class on feminism or some class they watched movies like Top Gun and critiqued them for gender/sexuality themes. The link is here.

I've also found, as a resident and often time typer of Portland, that my fingers CANNOT move to type Portal correctly the first time EVAR!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The mortgage fix...

okay, real quick: i'm thinking about doing a refi due to mortgage rates dropping a bit. i'm just wondering if i can get one of those new types of loans. you know, the one that if i get in over my head, or say i don't read the terms of the loan, the government/big banks will just let me keep the lower rate for awhile longer. yeah, that's right, the one that gives no reward to the people who did their homework, looked at the numbers and said 'ain't no way that loan makes sense for me, look at what it does after 2 years'.

now, i definitely feel bad for the people that were lied to by mortgage brokers and such, but this feels very unfair to people that did the analysis and did the responsible thing during the years of low interest rates. where's our reward for doing the right thing?