Tuesday, December 30, 2008

UFC pay per view

I ended up catching the UFC pay per view last Saturday night. A couple of friends had dropped by my place in the evening. It was around 11 PM. I suggested we head out for a beer. They agreed and after a short discussion we decided to head to Kokomo's.

When we got there we saw there was a UFC pay per view showing. We didn't even know about it. We paid the $5 to get in and the waitress pointed out a table that was available. It was a good crowd there. It was a bit different for a crowded bar on a Saturday night. When we walked in it was like, silence there. Everyone there was staring intently at the action on the screens. Kokomo's has an excellent TV set up with two giant screens set so that everyone has at least one good view.

The whole bar was set up for the UFC, there was no band or DJ or anything. That was fine, we were able to talk there without having to yell. It was a good crowd there. Very polite and well behaved. No rowdiness or bad drunkenness. They kept the kitchen open to midnight. The UFC was somewhat entertaining. I didn't know anything about it and neither did the other two I was with. I like WWE myself. But the UFC matches were pretty good I will say.

One of the guys I was there with said there's live MMA at the Halifax Forum a couple of times a year. He's been to it once and said it was pretty good. He said we should go. So we agreed it sounds like fun. So we'll try it out if the schedules work the next time they do a forum event.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009 resolutions

Resolutions are becoming kind of a tradition after not doing them for many years. This year is a bit different than going into the 2008 resolutions. Unlike the last two years, I don't really have a big thing at this point that I need to do in 2009.

Going into 2008 it was an objective to make a career change. And I was able to accomplish that. Good thing too considering how it turned out back where I used to work. Although it was more luck than skill that my departure turned out to be pretty well timed.

So 2009 may be more a stay the course year. The truth is if my living and working situation is the same this time next year as it is today then the year should probably be considered a success. But these are interesting times. So who knows what historic events I and everyone else could be swept up in over the next 12 months. I shouldn't worry about things I can't control. I just need to try to be aware of and prepared for what could happen and be adaptable to unplanned change.

Financially 2008 was a good year. For the first time in many years I'm better off financially today than I was a year ago. My income increased thanks to the job switch. Spending was kept in line with take home pay. I made some progress on reducing the credit card debts. I even made a token RRSP investment.

For 2009 I want to eliminate the remaining credit card debts [MBNA Mastercard and TD Visa]. Plus I'd like to take some extra chunk off the TD loan. It would probably be good to increase my RRSP contributions.

If gas prices can stay low then I might treat myself to some travel in 2009. PEI, Moncton or Ottawa would all be great places to visit.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

and Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. There's a few regulars on this site so whoever and wherever you are, happy holidays.

Yesterday I saw Scrooge at the Neptune Theatre. It was a great show. The actor was very good. The theatre was a treat as always. I should go to the theatre at least once a year. The theatre is great in a kind of self referential way, as in it's great because it is the theatre.

Monday was pretty much a write off. Breakfast didn't stay down and I didn't eat the rest of the day. I felt miserable all day. I slept most of Monday afternoon and from about 10 PM to 9 AM Tuesday. Luckily I felt much better Tuesday. Still it was just doing too much, running around too much, lack of rest. I see a lot of people having colds, fever, etc. at this time of year. A lot of it is caused by just being too busy. Try to slow down, take a real break, enjoy some blocks of unstructured down time.

Every Christmas I think about NBC around 1984 or 85. It was Christmas Sunday evening. Game 2 of the NBC football doubleheader was winding down around 8:30 PM. Bob Costas comes on at the wrap up talking about the shows after football. It was blah this, blah Christmas special that; then Bob in his deadpan Bob voice says and then the NBC Sunday night movie, that traditional family Christmas favorite Conan the Barbarian.

What a hoot. Those were the best years 1984-85. With the NFL on NBC, Bob, Bryant Gumbel, Pete Axthelm. NBC showing Conan the Barbarian on Christmas Sunday. I should pick up that movie and watch it this holiday. It is a classic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Difference between GIC and debenture

I was talking to my uncle a little while ago at my parents place. He's taken good care of his money all of his life and he has different types of investments. He said he was thinking about getting some debentures. But he wasn't sure quite what a debenture is or how it is different from a GIC.

I was curious too so I looked it up and made a printout I'll give him the next time I see him [which should be this Friday]. A Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) is when you lend the bank money. The bank pays you back over time generally with fixed compound interest rates that are set at the time you purchase the GIC.

GICs are protected if the issuing bank or financial institution fails. In the event of failure the GIC is covered by government deposit insurance. It is treated the same as an ordinary bank account and investor losses are covered by the government up to a certain amount. Thus they are a very safe investment.

In a Debenture you are also lending the bank money. A debenture is similar to a GIC in that the bank will repay the loan with compound interest rates specified up front.

A debenture differs from a GIC in that your loan to the bank or financial institution is unsecured. So if the bank fails then a debenture holder is lumped in with other common creditors. Thus you would recover little or nothing on your debenture in the event the financial institution fails.

Because a debenture is an uninsured loan, it is a higher risk than a GIC. So the interest rates on debentures should be higher than on GICs to account for the increased risk for the purchaser.

Monday, December 15, 2008

brake work on my car

I was back at the garage today. When I did my safety inspection two weeks ago when I was leaving the advisor said the mechanic said I should get my front brakes looked at soon.

So I was back in today at Gray's again. I set the appointment for 8 AM, so much for sleeping in on my vacation. I wanted to get it out of the way. As expected brakes aren't cheap to get worked on. It came to over $400 for the front brake work. But it's done now so hopefully the car will continue to run well for a while.

The last thing I had fixed was an o2 sensor around a year ago. That also came out to around $400 so about once a year recently I've had to get something fixed on the car. That's not too bad really so hopefully it will run well for a while and there won't be too many repairs in this coming year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

on vacation

As of 4 PM today I'm on vacation. Off for three weeks, returning to the office on January 5. yay!

It works out pretty well with the stat holidays and the Christmas "plant shutdown". I get 3 calendar weeks off but I only have to use 9 vacation days. I haven't taken a meaningful vacation since last December. It's become kind of a year end tradition to shut it down for the year some time before Christmas. It's a nice time to be away. I was definitely looking forward to it, especially this last week.

I was going to also take a summer vacation too. But that was from my old job where I had carried some unused time into this year. When I left SupportSoft [pretty much just in time it turns out] I ended up cashing out the unused vacation.

One thing that's a bit different is I'm using a 2009 day on Friday January 2nd. That way I can finish up that week off without having to go back. I remember years ago, like 1999 I think I went in on the second instead of using a vacation day on the first day of the year. I guess my views have changed a bit since then. Plus I get a bit more vacation now than I did then so I can use it a bit more.

The year end vacation is a nice tradition which I may plan to do next year. Still I get a full vacation schedule going into 2009 so I might take a little summer break next year.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New pine shelf

I was running out of space on my bookshelf. So I was looking for some new shelf space. I happened by Zellers last weekend and I checked out that section.

They had what I wanted. There was a pine wood shelf. Plus for a bonus it was marked down 25%. I didn't see the price there so it wasn't until I got to the cash that I saw it was only $15. I was glad to get it at that price. It was even made in Canada.

I've always liked this kind of wood shelf that you screw together. I've got them at Kent in the past too. It was really easy to put together. In fact it didn't even have instructions. Just line up the holes and screw in the screws. The drill I got during the summer at the yard sale didn't have any charge on it so I just screwed in the wood screws by hand. It wasn't too hard and didn't take too long. I'm not a very good builder, kind of a disaster in that area really for all of my life. So when a small and simple project goes well it's a satisfying thing. It's always nice to see it done.

So some new space now for some new books, or sports card albums or other stuff I might want to just put there. I do need to get some book ends for the shelf. I heard they are not too expensive at Staples.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Canada shenanigans

I should say something about what's happening in Ottawa. I'm shocked by all of it.

Harper was out of line by trying to eliminate the subsidy for his political opponents. That was a foolish and unnecessary provocation. And the opposition swiftly reminded him that he only governs with their consent so he wisely backed down. I don't think anyone wants an election at this time.

Then things just went crazy. The Liberal under outgoing defeated leader Stephane Dion now want to take over as the government. With the Bloc separatists along for the ride and holding the balance of power? This is unbelievable and intolerable.

Like it or not, Harper won the election with an increased number of seats. He has a mandate from the people of Canada to govern. If the Liberal and NDP don't want the Conservative government any more, fine, vote them down and we'll have to go back to the polls to try again. But a change in government has to come from the people of Canada, not Ed Broadbent.

It certainly was not the will of the people of Canada for Stephane Dion to be prime minister. His party won sharply fewer seats. It is totally wrong today for the Liberal to attempt to thwart the will of the people of Canada to try to form a government using a Survivor style alliance. I've seen enough and none of this coalition members will see my vote any time soon - and I voted for Dion in the last election.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

accident on main street in dartmouth

I was on my way out to Porter's Lake to get my son for hockey this afternoon. The ride out from my office in Bedford was going well. Too well it turns out. I get up on main street about to the trade school and there's this huge accident up ahead. The line seemed to be moving but it was the cops had closed main street and were diverting people off.

I was able to turn into the trade school side exit and get turned around and take the left by Prince Andrew high and get down into Cole Harbour, then turn back up at Forest Hills and onto the 107 and the Eastern Shore. Luckily I left a bit earlier, like 3 PM, than I "possibly" would have needed to so despite losing about half an hour in the detour - and more time on the way in to Bowles arena [a rink I've always liked] detouring around more traffic accidents we got to the rink just before the Zamboni started and we scrambled to get the gear on and he was on the ice in time.

I don't know how there can be so many and such large accidents on that stretch of main street between the old petro canada and the akerley campus. Visibility and road conditions were perfect at the time of the huge pile up. How can this happen?? It's a straight, clear, wide 4 lane road! How hard can it be to drive straight? It was a huge wreck too. They still hadn't opened the street at 8:30 when we were going back from hockey. It looked like cars were wrapped around utility poles. What a mess.

Sheesh, it's like a curse. Every time I go to the Eastern shore and have to be somewhere on any type of schedule. There's always some @#$%@# huge wreck on the bridge or main street or somewhere to ruin my plans.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Safety inspection

My safety inspection is now done for another year. It was pretty uneventful. No major problems found.

I went to a different garage this time. I went to Gray's auto in Fairview. I hadn't been there before. I called the old number for Creaser's but they have now merged with Gray's. I wasn't sure what to expect. It was pretty good there. The service advisors were friendly and knowledgeable. It took about as long to do the work and cost about as much as I expected.

While I was waiting for the work I walked over to the site of the old Halifax West for the first time since my old high school was torn down. That was an interesting experience. Lots of memories. There was one lady on the grounds walking a dog. And another guy doing tai chi.

Inspection is always an anxious time since you never know what the hit is going to be. So I'm always glad to have it done. I'll probably go back to Gray's for some more work based on my experience there so far. My 2005 Civic is still running pretty well which is good. A little under two more years and it will be paid off.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Baseball cards update

I went to Strictly Singles with my children on Saturday. The guy there is pretty friendly and knowledgeable. He has albums and sells individual cards.

He has o pee chee baseball albums for all of the seasons I'm interested in. I had made a checklist in a spreadsheet and started with 1979. He had a good 1979 collection. In the first half of the set up to #200 I found all but one card, just missing a Bert Blyleven. The kids were getting a bit restless so that was good enough. It does take a little while poring over the pages against the checklist. The quality of the cards he has in this set is very good.

While he was pricing out the baseball cards for me I let the kids pick out some cards for themselves. My older son picked out o pee chee hockey from this season. They have brought back the pink gum now so that's pretty cool. My younger son said he wanted baseball cards on the way to the store; since he has lots of hockey. But when we were there he passed on baseball and picked some world of warcraft cards.

When we got home my younger son helped me to sort the new cards and put them into the album into the proper slots. We enjoyed doing that.

So a good start. The kids said they want to go back to Strictly Singles so I'm glad they are interested in card collecting too. Next time I'll look at 201-374 of OPC 1979 baseball and hopefully I can get most of them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New wiper blades

I picked up some new wiper blades for my car last night. I've needed new wiper blades for a while now, and my safety inspection is coming up so I decided to get it out of the way. It's good to do it now as the bad weather season is started. It's been about two years since I last changed them. I hope these ones can last for a couple of years.

I ended up getting them at the tire and lube express at wal-mart. When you purchase there, they install them for you for free. Sounds good to me. They are a hassle to install if you're not doing it all the time so that's a nice throw in.

I ended up getting two wiper blades that were about $20 each. So if they last two years then $40 for 2 years isn't a bad price. They had cheaper ones there but the better ones don't really cost that much and nicer blades are more likely to last and perform well when the conditions are bad. So it's something you might want to spend a little more on and not get the cheapest option available.

While I was out shopping I was getting something for my nephew who is turning 13. That's pretty much impossible to shop for a teenager. He's a good reader and he likes video games. So it's pretty much cash or gift certificates is all you can do. I went with a chapters gift card. Christmas is looking like straight up cash, or an eb games gift card.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ground view on Halifax real estate prices

At work some people got talking about houses and prices. They were a little distance away so I didn't feel like walking over to join them. Anyway what's the point; I couldn't bring myself to throw cold water on their views.

They all live in Bedford/Hammonds Plains. One guy has a townhouse, the others have houses I believe. Two of them bought this past summer. The others I believe bought fairly recently, within the last 3-4 years.

The townhouse guy had an interesting opinion. He felt that his home would either hold its current value, or possibly increase in the next year! His reasoning was something like this. A family with an income of $70,000 a year could get approved to buy his home. Thus because it was comparatively lower priced [I'd guess around $200K] it would hold its present value. They all felt any hit in real estate prices will be felt at the $400 K level and above [convenient since their houses are apparently all under that threshold].

It might sound logical when you first listen to it but there are flaws in that reasoning.

A Rising Tide Lifts Every Ship; The Converse is Also True

During the bubble years 2002-2007 every neighbourhood in Halifax benefited. Prices increased in a way detached from growth in wages and the underlying economy everywhere, from the toughest trailer parks to the most exclusive cul de sacs and south end condos.

Thus the price correction will also be applied everywhere. It is impossible for some neigbourhoods to "keep" all of the price appreciation from the bubble years; that would imply that the price increases were justified. If prices are coming down, they are coming down on every street. No area will be spared, just as no area missed out on the wins during the 1994-2008 bull market of continuous uninterrupted price increases.

Price to Rent Ratio

One of my friends just got a townhouse in Clayton Park West. He's saving hundreds of dollars a month renting vs. buying [plus what he would have lost up front with a $25K down payment + thousands in closing costs]. Price to rent ratio demonstrates that Clayton Park West is overpriced. If that's the case then every townhouse in Halifax is overpriced. Maybe more, maybe less overpriced than Clayton Park West, but still overpriced.

A major reason people were buying overpriced when they could have rented was because they felt they could "earn" truckloads of easy money risk free on the house itself appreciating [i.e. a bubble]. With 40 year/ $0 down mortgages now unavailable; people will be making decisions more on present value and cost and unless rents start rising, buying prices have to come down until they are in line with rents.

It's all relative

The people at work felt that the hit would be in the $400K+ price range. However at the stroke
of a pen a $400,000 house can become a $300,000 house. All the seller has to do is lower his price. There are plenty of people in $400K houses today that bought before 2003 or who never refinanced consumer debts onto their mortgage. If they are determined to sell then they can just take a 25% haircut and move on price to $300K and still realize a meaningful gain.

What happens then? Well anyone listing at $300K now has to move on price. Why would anyone buy his full price house at $300K when the buyer can get a formerly $400K house now for $300K. So the present $300K guy has to move on price because his house is only worth 75% of the $400K dude; and the former $400K dude is now willing to sell at $300K. It's all relative and interconnected.

So the $300K guy takes a 20% haircut or whatever to $240K. And so on and so on. So back to $200K townhouse guy. His $200K townhouse price may be based on a detached price within 1 km of his place going for $250K. But if the $250K detached house becomes a $200K detached then nobody would pay the same $200K for his townhouse when they can get a detached house in the same neighbourhood for the same $200K.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christmas shopping online at toys 'r us

I have a nephew who lives in Ottawa. He's turning 4 soon and I also wanted to get him something for Christmas.

Last year it wasn't too bad. My parents went to spend Christmas in Ottawa with my sister. So they just took the presents up with them. This year no one is going to Ottawa so I was thinking about how to get the stuff there.

The problem I found out last year is that postage costs a fortune on a parcel. The postage costs nearly as much as the gifts themselves. I was trying to think of how to get something for my nephew without getting killed on the cost of shipping.

Then I had an idea. Get it on the Internet. Shipping is quite reasonable there relative to the cost of items. So I checked out toys 'r us Canada where I had been before. That is a very good site. The site is easy to use. Search works well. Well organized. Very large selection and good prices.

You can just click and narrow it down without having to type any search text. So I selected boy, age 5-7, price up to $20. There were pages and pages of items. Well laid out with pictures and descriptive text and some had customer reviews. Prices tend to be a tick lower online than in the stores.

There was lots of selection and I was able to find about 8 things that looked good in not too long. I just picked two of them. One for the birthday and the other for Christmas. Combined the shipping was only $5. That is great. I just typed in my sister's address for deliver to and it all works great. It will be delivered to her house. It would have cost me over $5 gas money just to drive to toys 'r us if I tried to get something here in Halifax and ship to Ottawa. If you need to buy gifts for someone in a different province then online shopping is probably the best way to do it.

So that went well. I might even do some more local shopping online. It is a very comfortable and pleasant way to shop; free of the crowds and costs and hassles of going to the store.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Canada government mortgage purchase

You may have heard the story recently the government of Canada is buying $75 billion in insured mortgages.

In a way that seems strange. After all if the mortgages are insured then what's the worry? It's hard to make sense of what's happening here.

I have a theory on it. The problem is the insurance. Not that they are insured, but the quality of the insurance itself is dubious.

It is a fact that many mortgages in Canada are insured by AIG. You may have heard of AIG, that's the large American insurance company that is insolvent and was nationalized by the US government.

The reason AIG is insolvent [i.e. unable to pay claims] is largely because of financial insurance. That would include mortgage default insurance, bond insurance, CDO insurance, credit default swaps. AIG miscalculated the risks and when these financial objects went bad at an unexpected rate [including an ongoing tidal wave of mortgage foreclosures] then AIG did not have enough reserves set aside to pay out the claims.

So here in Canada any lender holding an AIG insured mortgage is in trouble because they can't count on the insurance being any good when some percentage of the mortgages default. And mortgage defaults in Canada will be increasing steadily for the next while.

If the insurance is no good then the owner of the loan is facing raw exposure to the loss on the defaults. That would force the lenders to reduce the value of those assets if they have unreliable default insurance protection. Such an asset loss could well leave the lenders insolvent or forced to raise capital in an unfavorable market.


I think it works something like this. Suppose I loan Andy $3000 unsecured. In return Andy agrees to pay me $100 a month for 3 years. So far so good. Then as a precaution I purchase insurance on this loan from AIG for say $200. The insurance is good for the remaining unpaid principal up to $3000.

So I can rest easy knowing that the loan is worth at least $3000 on my books because even if Andy defaults AIG will cover me up to $3000.

Now suppose with recent events I'm no longer confident AIG is good for the money if Andy defaults. This is really bad for me. Now I have to worry about Andy defaulting because I will lose the full outstanding amount of payments owed. I have to reduce the book value of the loan to Andy because it is not worth minimum $3000 any more since if Andy defaults I now have to eat the loss, not AIG.

It could cause other problems. Suppose I have made two other such loans. And I used the loans as collateral on a $9000 line of credit for myself [since the loans with the insurance were worth a minimum of $3000 each]. Now I can be in even more trouble if my line of credit holder sees his collateral is impaired he could cut off or call the LOC; and he has to reduce the value of his asset which is now no longer fully secured. So any other debts using these assets as collateral are now also impaired and would need to be written down.


So instead the government of Canada is absorbing the mortages with questionable insurance, and unfortunately quietly eating the losses when the defaults occur. It's too bad really. The truth is the mortgages the government is buying are basically subprime [although it is taboo to use that word in Canada]. AIG or whoever if they had done due diligence would not have insured them. Of course without the insurance the mortgages would not have been approved by the lenders due to the risks.

I suspect a lot of these mortgages are no money down mortgages, 40 year mortgages, mortages where people have refinanced credit card and other consumer debts onto the mortgage [perhaps multiple times], mortgages given to people with questionable credit history.

How bad will the losses be to the taxpayers of Canada on this $75 billion portfolio? That's a good question. 10%, 20%, 50%? Since the door is now open for a deficit the government may just allocate for a large loss (like 35%) on these mortgages this year and pile it onto the deficit we're going to have anyway.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

busy day

Today was a bit more active than usual for a Saturday. I helped a friend move in the morning. He and his girlfriend are getting a place together and they both moved from their own places to the new place. He brought in movers to carry the furniture and other heavy and awkward stuff. I'm not real strong and my back isn't very good so I took the boxes and such. There was a lot of stuff to move. There always is. It's good because he helped me to move in the past so I'm glad I was able to show up today and help him.

Then it was raking leaves in the afternoon. I stopped in between at McDonalds for a double cheeseburger and vanilla milkshake. The milkshake is kind of a moving day tradition going back to around 1998. It was tasty as always, the McDonalds milkshake always is. I should get them more often.

There were many leaves. I got a good start on it and filled a few bags then around 4 PM it started raining so I packed it up and that was that for the day. Hopefully the leaves that are raked won't blow around too much.

I don't usually do this much physical work in a day. I'll probably be tired and sore tomorrow. I'll sleep well tonight I think. I'm just planning to take it easy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Baseball cards

I got kind of a visitor from the past around a month ago. My younger son found a couple of shoe boxes of old sports cards that had been in storage for a long time.

He got them out and we enjoyed looking at the old cards together. Back when I was young I used to buy baseball, hockey and football cards at the local corner stores and from a dealer downtown called Wilkie's. I would tell my son little stories about some of the players, stuff like "he was really fast", "I didn't like him", "he was a good player", "he later played for the Expos", "he later became an announcer", "he's a coach today". And the old Rickey Henderson "today I am the greatest" story. Stuff like that.

Most of my baseball cards are from the 1979-1983 era. Virtually all of them are o pee chee. There's a very small number of Topps and Fleer that I got at Wilkie's. But OPC was all you could get in the corner stores at that time. Unfortunately my 1978 set [my favorite set from the past] which I remember I had nearly finished at the time seems to be lost to the sands of history. All that remains is 16 cars, most of which are badly damaged.

I did an inventory to see where I'm at and if any of them are close to being able to be finished. This is what I came up with.

1978: have 16 of 242
1979: have 240 of 374 (no doubles)
1980: have 132 of 396 (some doubles)
1981: have 193 of 396 (some doubles)
1982: have 200 of 396 (+ 38 doubles)
1983: have 145 of 396 (some doubles)
1984: have 36 of 396

1982, the summer after grade 7, was about the last time I made a real attempt to finish a baseball card set. Summer of 1983 was the last year I played organized baseball. By the summer after grade 9 [which was the best summer ever] I had other interests and I wasn't into baseball cards any more.

I've decided to try to finish the 1979 and 1982 sets because they are more than half done. I'm going to try for 1978 too because that set has sentimental value. I bought an album with 100 pages and I've got the ones I have sorted and loaded in. There's some pages pretty full 7-9 cards; and some pages pretty sparse 1-4 cards.

The other smaller sets I'll just keep in storage. I got a proper plastic card storage box at wal-mart for $6 to replace the baseball shoe box. Maybe I'll see a deal somewhere someday where I can get a block of quality 1980, 1981 or 1983 cards for a good price 5-10 cents each or less. Then I might think about trying to finish those sets.

Now that the inventory phase is done onto the collecting. I checked out kijij but there wasn't much there for the sets I'm interested in. I might post a WTB ad on kijiji and see if anything comes of that. I checked out a placed called D & M Sportscards in burnside. The guy there was pretty friendly and knowledgeable. He didn't have anything for o pee chee baseball in the years I'm interested in. He did give me the numbers for some people he knows who may have them though. That was nice of him. He also said there's a card show around once a month at the Forum multi purpose centre so I should check that out some time and see what's there. I did buy a Beckett's baseball price guide when I was there for $10. I definitely recommend D & M. Book prices don't look too bad for the series I'm interested in so that's good.

So baseball can be a nice project for the next while if I can make some progress with it or just lose interest in it. See what happens with baseball; after that I can still do football which is a bit simpler, and hockey which is a bit more complicated.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Went to the optometrist

Continuing with the health theme, I went to the optometrist yesterday. I hadn't been there in a little over two years.

Their office phoned me around June to set up an appointment. But I put off setting an appointment until last week. There was only about a 1 week wait to get an appointment time. I ended up going slightly before lunch at work. I ended up staying late anyway that day so it evened out anyway.

The appointment went well. I have the same prescription as I've had since 2003. I first got glasses in 1998 I believe.

It seems every time I go there I see a different optometrist. The first time it was a female whose name was on the door. Then last time it was a younger female more recent grad. Then this week it was a man who is a partner there.

He was an interesting fellow, a bit chatty. He likes Apple stock; not because of Mac or iphone but because he thinks they control the modern music industry because they have the only way to get anyone to pay for it. Maybe he's right. He also said he doesn't read the text environment Canada weather forecast on the web but knows how to read the satellite shots to know what's going to happen.

The price came to $83. They don't have the swipe card with Sun Life so I had to pay up front and mail in a benefits claim. I should get a good bit of it back if I read the benefits policy right. I ended up using credit card because their circa 1996 debit card machine wouldn't read my PC financial card. I've never had that card fail to swipe before. Still I'll have to order a new card if it fails to swipe again somewhere.

I don't mind the glasses, but still I would sure like to get laser surgery some day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Circuit city bankrupt

You probably heard by now that Circuit city is going bankrupt. Shortly after the main announcement it came out that Circuit City Canada is bankrupt too.

That's a bit interesting to me. There's a circuit city that's pretty close to where I live. So if they are closing out then there might be some good electronics deals. If the price is right then it may be worth it. I was actually thinking of getting some of these electronics in the next few months. If I can get a distress price from a dying circuit city then I might get some of it sooner rather than later.

  • digital camera
  • HD TV
  • 22 inch flat panel monitor
  • new computer
I'll keep an eye on the nearby circuit city and see what kind of deals they are offering. And such is recession. When shops close up it can create good buying opportunities.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Good housing move

I ran into a friend at Wal-mart last Friday. He said that he and his girlfriend are going to start living together. They are getting a townhouse in Clayton Park West. That's good for him. He's a good guy and his girlfriend is nice. So it looks like a positive change.

He also said that they will be renting the house. I was glad and relieved to hear that. He said he checked the local market and comparable places are currently listing for around $250 thousand. Then he checked an online mortgage calculator and he determined he was saving several hundred dollars a month by renting over what a 30 year mortgage would have cost him. In addition he saves paying the property tax and his insurance will be much lower as he only has to insure his possessions and the landlord has to absorb the insurance on the house itself. Plus if he bought he would be out of pocket $25 thousand down payment plus several thousand closing costs.

The fact that mortgage payments are higher than market rent demonstrates that houses in that neighbourhood are overpriced. In fact all of Halifax is overpriced so markdowns will be coming soon to a street near you. The arrived recession; plus the end of 40 year, no money down, cashback mortgages pretty much ensures that the long overdue price correction will now happen.

It would be crazy for him to buy a house right now. Prices could easily fall 30% in the next 30 months. Let the landlord face that risk and eat the loss if it occurs.

So he and his girlfriend are off to a good start. They get all of the benefits of being in a house; with none of the downside costs and risk. They have avoided making a potentially disastrous financial mistake.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Went to the dentist

I went to the dentist today. I wasn't really planning to at the start of this week. When I called for an appointment last week the receptionist said it would not be until February. But I went on the cancellation list and it turns out I got to go today.

It's a bit further drive than it was where I used to work, but not too bad. I arrived a bit earlier this morning so I could finish up around the usual time.

The visit was pretty good. I hadn't been to the dentist in around 9 months. She didn't find any problems so that's good news.

Usually in the past I just got the dentist receptionist to call me at work after around 6 months to set up a new appointment. But because of the long wait time when I called in this week I decided to pre book my next visit for 6 months, which corresponds to my benefit coverage.

The coverage is a bit different with my new employer. It's all electronic now so no more of the standard dental claim forms. You just hand over your plan card and they know who you are and how much coverage you have.

One thing which is different is I had to pay out of pocket at the dentist for the first time since I've been in high tech [like 12 years]. My coverage is 90% so I had to spend $13 on my own. But don't cry for me Argentina. With RIM the employee pays a lower share on the health insurance premiums than it was at SupportSoft. So paying around $13 out of pocket twice a year is much better than having 100% coverage at the dentist office and having higher deductions taken out of every paycheque.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President's Choice carry trade

I noticed something interesting over on the President's Choice financial site. They are offering a 0.97% interest rate for 6 months on balance transfers on PC MasterCard. At the same time they are offering 3.05% savings account interest.

That means it should be possible to do a carry trade on PC financial; since you can borrow money at a low interest rate and then invest it at a higher rate and pocket the difference. I suppose it's probably more of an arbitrage than a carry trade but I like the sound of the term carry trade better so I'll call it that.

You could do it like this. Use a different credit card to fund a deposit (say $1,000) to a 3.05% PC savings account. Most credit cards have a "twin cheque" feature where you can write a standard style cheque as a cash advance on your card. This advance usually has a fee of around $7.

Then do a balance transfer from PC MasterCard to the original credit card of $1,007 to pay it off.

Then wait 5 months, making the minimum payment on the PC MasterCard. Be careful not to hit the 6 month point where the 0.97% interest expires on the PC MasterCard introductory rate.

After 5 months empty the PC savings account and use it to pay off the PC MasterCard. This is about where you would be after 5 months.

At 0.97% interest you would pay around $4.07 interest on the $1,007 PC MC balance for a total of $1,011.07.

At 3.05% interest you would earn around $12.71 interest on the $1,000 savings account balance for a total of $1,012.71.

So when you pay off the PC MasterCard you would show a small profit of $1.64.

Now that's not very good because the $7 transaction cost wipes out most of the profit. With increased leverage however it becomes free and easy money.

For example on a $5,000 carry trade with the fixed $7 twin cheque cost you would have an expected profit of around $36.31. On a $10,000 carry trade you could make about $79.64 on the interest rate difference.

So if you have a good credit rating and credit available on a couple of cards then you can take some easy money off the banks. ha ha. I'm not quite there yet myself but being able to do this type of thing is this dream of mine. Perhaps I'll get there someday.

too funny

Check out this spoof on the housing bubble and contemporary real estate.

Another gem from HousingPanic. I'm already in HP withdrawal and looking for a new site so I can still get the truth about what's going on. I like Denninger so far.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Yahoo domains bait and switch

I got an unpleasant e-mail a little while back from Yahoo domains. I bought a domain name with Yahoo last year for a site that my son runs using Blogger.

When I got it last year the price was $9.95 a year. That's a pretty good price and Yahoo was good to work with so it seemed like a good deal. However a little while ago Yahoo sends me an e-mail informing me that the yearly renewal price on the domain is now $34.95 per year going forward.

Say what? A 250% price increase in 1 year?? I find that hard to believe. It could have been worse I guess. Over on a JoS thread it turned out that some earlier people weren't even told until after they had been billed about the obscene price increase.

If Yahoo had said up front the original $9.95 was just an introductory teaser price and the real price was $34.95 I never would have bought from them in the first place. But they didn't say that. I have a printout of my original bill where Yahoo said the next years price would be $9.95. It's pretty disappointing Yahoo would use tactics like this. This is something you would expect from the likes of scumbag MBNA, not Yahoo. I noticed Yahoo laid off over 1000 people recently, no surprise there.

I expect Yahoo will make money on this deal of more than tripling the price. Possibly at most half the existing customers will cancel. Many customers won't notice or care about the new price; or lack the technical ability to switch; or have other stuff like hosting and web sites etc. bundled in so it is more intertwined and they feel they are stuck with it. Plus new customers who for whatever reason would have bought at $34.95 anyway will still come in. And with fewer customers there would be less DNS servers to maintain, less support calls, less bandwidth to purchase. That plays in well with the layoffs.

Still trust, reputation, integrity, and confidence can take a long time to build up. But they can be torn down pretty quickly. Historically if you did a word association on the terms "Internet" and "trust" together I think a lot of the responses would include google, yahoo, ebay, amazon, paypal. But going forward I would be hesitant to do business with Yahoo since they have demonstrated I may not be able to trust them. That's a real effect but not so easy to assign a cost to in the financials.

So I canceled the Yahoo service and transferred the domain over to GoDaddy. They are easy to work with. A guy I used to work with said he was with GoDaddy and they were good. They even had a step by step PDF document on their site explaining how to switch your domain from Yahoo - I guess a lot of other people are ditching Yahoo too, no surprise. The price was only around $10 CDN a year after the exchange rate conversion. They take PayPal so I didn't even have to give over any credit card information.

The GoDaddy site is very well designed and easy to use. If you have the technical ability to set up a domain with Yahoo in the first place then you are capable of switching it to GoDaddy. I have all positive to say about GoDaddy so far.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cleared probation

Today was a pretty nondescript day at the office. Showed up around 8. Wrote some code; tested some code; thought about the next code to write; did the Perforce promotions for the build. Finished up and left at 5. Typical Wednesday stuff.

Which is good. I've now been at my job over six months. So I've cleared probation. There wasn't much too it. The date passed without any fanfare. Just like the other companies I've been with over the years. In my years in high tech I've only seen one instance out of hundreds of hires where someone didn't clear probation. And that guy was just a disaster, a mistake, an obvious bad hire from the start. Still it's a risky time for the new employee especially as external events and the markets would be making everyone jittery.

So I'm glad to be more on the inside now. I feel I can speak my mind a little bit more. And it's nice to at least have some access to severance if unexpected changes happen. But I really hope the company can continue to prosper as it has over the last several years.

I finished off a book recently. It was Airframe by Michael Crichton. It was a pretty good book, like most of Crichton's work. Definitely a good read. I've read a number of Crichton titles and they are all good. There's a few of I still haven't read so I'll cycle back to him again later on.

I've got a number of books to read now and a couple of others that I want to get. So lots to read in the coming months.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Late for work

Once or twice a month I check out NVG over on twoplustwo. Usually there's not much there, just a bunch of noise. But once in a while there will be a good or really good thread. Like the Jenny McCarthy vaccine discussion. Today there was a Johnny Hughes thread where he tells old Texas gambling stories.

In that Hughes thread was this gem.

The Reverend often insulted his major producers and crew of inside men. Once when I was late for work, he told a full room that,"he saw two dogs doing it in the road and stopped to tell them how to do it better."

Man that was funny. I should say that some time at work if someone is late for a meeting. I wonder how that would play. Johnny knows how to live.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nova Scotia Power and epost

Things are going pretty well so far with epost for my pay stubs. So I've been looking to add some more service providers.

I thought my power bill would be a good choice. Everyone gets power from Nova Scotia Power so they should be on the ball I would think. My power bill is actually pretty good right now. I'm on monthly budget pay and last year I used less electricity than NSP thought I would, so for this year my power is adjusted down to only $6 a month.

I checked on epost and saw that NSP wasn't registered there as a mailer. On the Nova Scotia Power paper bill they point to their own website for e-billing. I e-mailed their customer support and told them they should have epost as an option. They replied the next day with this.

Dear Customer

Thank you for your email. We will be re-launching our ebill services in
mid November with easier functionality and new options. One of those
options will be the ability for our customers to pay their bills online
directly through our website. We had considered ebilling options and
costs associated for various ebill vendors, including epost, when
selecting our ebill vendor. While will not rule it out for the future,
we will not be using epost at this time. Please keep an eye out for
information on our ebill launch very shortly.

Have a safe day
Customer Service

Well that's annoying. They should be using epost. There are at least a couple of reasons that epost is the best choice.

Think of how many bills a typical person might get in a month. This could include
  • phone
  • power
  • cable
  • cell phone
  • water
  • pay stub
  • Visa (1 or more)
  • Mastercard (1 or more)
  • Amex
  • gas station card (1 or more)
  • department store card - Sears, The Bay, Future Shop (1 or more)
Anyone can see that electronic bill presentation is the way to go. It's better for everyone and for the environment.

Under the Nova Scotia Power scheme, every customer would have to set up dozens of electronic accounts, a separate account for each service provider. The customer would then have to keep track of dozens of web site URLs, usernames and passwords.

This is absurd and not customer friendly. There's no reason for that. There is a proven solution to this problem available today; and the solution is to standardize on epost. There is no reason for service providers to be launching their own separate service when epost is the trusted standard.

I wonder if they are just trying to save 1 penny per bill or something stupid like that by hiring their own "cheaper" service provider for e-billing. Look what happened to the World Bank with India contractors. I'm sure they saved a few dollars too, up front.

From a customer perspective, e-billing is a risk to me because my personal billing information is online. If I had 12 e-billing sites then that's 12 points of failure where my information could be compromised and used against me to launch identity theft. I'm not going to expose myself to that kind of risk.

At least with epost I know who I'm dealing with and they are more likely to be reputable and trustworthy. epost is actually legally backed by the post office itself so attempting to compromise it is a serious federal offense [equivalent to stealing regular letter mail] with stiff prison sentences.

The other thing is that Nova Scotia power has been mailing paper bills to customers for around a century. The logical successor to the post office for power bills is, well, the post office. Just like the power company has been a generally benign monopoly in our lives, so has the post office. The post office is a part of the Canada identity. It's been there since pre Confederation and is still relevant today. An institution like Nova Scotia Power should do its part and utilize our own post office.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

went to the airpot

I did something yesterday I enjoy doing. I went out to the airport. I picked up my parents who were returning from a visit with my sister to Ottawa.

I always enjoy going to the Halifax airport. Ever since I was young it was a treat going there. And it was pleasant as always today. Hardly anyone around. The plane arrived a few minutes early. The bags were there just a few minutes after. Parking was a breeze. I even got a bit lucky. Driving through the metered area I happened on one with 43 minutes left on it. I slid in there and didn't even end up paying to park. yay.

There's something exciting about the airport. People coming and going from everywhere to everywhere. The international aspect of it. The 24 hour operation, thinking about the wee hours when it's still always open and people are around in the still quiet. The size of the place with the planes and hangars.

I've always liked the big powerful infrastructure. Planes, ships, trains. Chugging along in the quiet hours. I should have gotten into that for a career.

Friday, October 17, 2008

ex SupportSoft lunch

I had a much more enjoyable lunch today than the usual peanut butter and jam sandwich.

I met up with some former coworkers from SupportSoft. We met at the Red Fox in Bayers Road. The Red Fox is pretty good. The food is good and the prices are all right. It's comfortable with lots of seats and parking. Usually when I go to the Fox it's at night with the DJ and bands so this was a nice change.

It was a good time seeing my former colleagues again. Two of the former SPRT are at CGI now and I guess they got talking that it would be cool to meet up again. So they e-mailed me and some other expats and after a number of e-mails we settled on the date and time. Me and another guy who landed at RIM drove down together.

We talked about the old days, and what we're up to now. Plus some of what we've heard about the old office since we left. Some good stories from the past.

It was rough at times back at Core/SupportSoft but we did have some good times. The camaraderie was good, it was good people to work with for sure. We wouldn't be meeting up well afterwards like we did today if we didn't care or have some connection and nostalgia to the old times and the characters we worked with [of course we were all part of the character of the place too.]

Sometimes I miss the old days at Core/SupportSoft. The commute, the orderly world of the ACS, the Friday lunches, the familiar and comfortable, status, Chris and James [among others], being able to speak directly to the CEO in the lunch room, the kids Christmas party, dogs in the office.

Change happens and people move on but still even if you're better off in some ways there's usually stuff to miss about what you left behind.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fooled by Randomness

I just finished reading Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It's a good book. The author NNT also wrote The Black Swan. Fooled by Randomness is a good challenging read, but a bit lighter than the black swan. I recommend it.

He has some interesting points, especially about the dangers of judging the performance of say a mutual fund manager over a short time series. NNT seems to speak well of George Soros writing so I'll have to pick up a Soros book in the future. I think I'll do some light reading first though for balance before hitting the nonfiction again.

Fooled by Randomness talks some about options trading and NNT has also written some books on options trading. I don't know much about options trading but it sounds interesting. I should learn more about it in the future. There's something pleasing about finding profitable opportunities especially when you judge you are an underdog to hit - hmmm, now where does that come up in my life?

There is a an interesting probability problem in the book. I'll repeat it here.

It's related to medicine.

A certain disease affects 1 in 1000 people.

There is a test for the disease. The test is 95% accurate; it produces a false positive 5% of the time. The test never produces a false negative.

An individual tests positive for the disease. What is the chance that he has the disease?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Signed up for PayPal

I recently did something that many did a long time ago. I joined PayPal. I bought something online and the merchant pay was through PayPal. So I joined and linked it to the credit card I wanted to use. It was easy to get set up and everything worked easily and successfully the first time through.

There's something I find exciting about online money outside of the plain President's Choice chequing account. It's like when I cashed out stock options those times in the past. Just a few clicks and there it was, free money for me!

Of course with the stock options I had put in hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime to get there. If you divide the amount of the stock options cashout by the unpaid overtime then it was probably around $5 an hour. Still that was highly satisfying voting that money to myself on etrade.

We don't get stock options where I work now so if I want money to just wonderfully "appear" then I guess I'll have to come up with a scheme to get people to send money into my new PayPal account. Need to think a bit about that one.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Becoming an investor again

My six month probation review period is coming up at the end of this month. I hope I can clear it. It's pretty crazy what's going on in the financial world these days. Every job I've had I've been a bit nervous around the end of probation time.

Anyway one of the things we have to do for post probation is fill out a form around the RRSP payroll deductions. My employer has a generous program where they will 100% match your RRSP payroll deductions up to 3% of your gross pay. The deductions go to a group RRSP managed by Manulife. A simple calculation shows how lucrative this is to the employee.
money out of your pocket    $1.00
employer 100% match         $1.00
group RRSP 2% gain          $0.04
income tax credit 50%       $0.50
total                       $2.54
As you can see for every dollar the employee spends out of his own pocket his personal wealth increases by $2.54. That's a sensational 154% return.

So given that obviously I should be putting in the max 3%. However my plan is to start at 1% for now and reevaluate after 6 months with the intent to increase it to 3%. One step at a time. It's nice to finally be in a position where I can set aside even the token 1% of my gross pay. It's been a while and it feels good. The last time I did any investing was 1999 I think with some mutual funds. Those investments were later withdrawn and wiped out with nothing to show for them.

Although it is more profitable to minpay the debts and put any extra money into this I want to still focus on eliminating the consumer debts and just getting them out of my life, hopefully forever. It's just a personal emotional thing about wanting them gone and never to come back.

I had an opportunity like this before. Back at xwave in 2001 they introduced 100% matching as well. Unfortunately at that time that was in the dark period financially and I couldn't even think about participating. It makes me sad to think about the past, the missed opportunities. How things could have turned out if better choices had been made along the way.

As part of the registration I did the online retirement calculator. It turns out that if I retire in 25 years [which is gross, so depressing] at age 65 then I'll have a projected income of around $23,000 a year. That's not very good. Enough to live by myself in the city. I'd probably have to go carless [assuming I'm even capable of driving at that age]. I should target increasing it to at least $30K a year which would be more comfortable and I could still drive at that income level. Now assuming I even live 25 more years it's far from certain I can be employable that long. I wouldn't want to ask an actuary the probability that I'll be actually able to work full time up to age 65.

As part of the registration I had to do an investing profile. They said I was a 'balanced' investor. That pleased me in some way. Now I don't know or really want to know much about investing. I know the Fundamental Theorem of Investing by the great man David Sklansky. But I'm not sure how to apply it to my own investments. Of course being balanced seems good, per the Nash equilibrium. But again I'm not sure how to apply it. So I just give money to the "experts" [who the great thinker NNT has debunked] to manage, and hope for generally positive variance. If I had any meaningful wealth it might not be horrible to be 80-90%+ in Canada Savings bonds from here on out. But I guess I don't have that problem right now.

I had to pick the allocation for the balanced strategy as part of the registration. I may not have got it right [since I was basically guessing]. This is what I went with. I should probably go over it and check somewhere if I have the funds and percentages right for my time frame and objectives.
2001 - ML Conservative AA a4   15%
2002 - ML Moderate AA a4       25%
2003 - ML Balanced AA a4       35%
2004 - ML Growth AA a4         15%
2005 - ML Aggressive AA a4     10%

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Some subprime links

If you're new to the housing and credit crisis, where have you been the last 16 months! Hopefully not buying a house. Anyway here's some background stuff you might like.

comical cartoon describing subprime securitization

hilarious British take on subprime

and of course the infamous Century21 commercial featuring doughboy and harpie

Monday, September 29, 2008

Added some RAM

My PC has been running a bit sluggish lately. I added some new software to my PC and I think that has taxed it.

I bought my home PC used from Facebook marketplace. It was from a nice Cape Breton grandmother. It's a nice PC, but around 3-4 years old now I'd estimate. It had 750 Mb of RAM, which is a tick light. So I decided to by some RAM. I went to Robotnik in Bayers Lake. That was a very enjoyable place to go. The staff there were enthusiastic and really very knowledgeable.

They also recommended that I check for viruses and such. That was honest of them. I'm sure sometimes people come into their store looking for RAM or whatever when their real problem is their PC is slowed down by viruses, spyware, adware, crapware, zombies.

I think the trick to buying RAM [besides going to Robotnik], is when you go to the store is to just pop out one of the RAM cards from your PC and take that up. I did that and the guy at Robotnik looked at it and instantly recognized it and knew what would fit in my slots. My PC is OK, it does have 3 RAM slots which is pretty good.

I ended up buying a 1 Gb RAM card for $50. Not a bad price. It's kind of funny because on the RAM card I popped out of my PC it was a 512 Mb card which still had its original sticker price on which was $100. So RAM today is 4 times as affordable now as when this PC was built.

So now I'm up to a healthier 1.5 Gb of RAM. Although I have 3 RAM slots on my PC, I took out a 250 Mb RAM card and replaced it with the 1 Gb RAM I bought. I ended up putting the 250 Mb RAM into a different underpowered computer my kids use which I think would benefit more from the extra 250 Mb than my computer would.

And I'm glad my PC is indeed running somewhat faster. However the software I installed is still taxing my system. I can get by with it the way it is, but I'm now leaning toward upgrading the entire system to a dual core processor which is what the software recommends. It seems I'm becoming something of an accidental power user/gamer.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New shoes

I picked up some new shoes recently. I had already tossed out my old casual shoes so it was time for a change.

I ended up getting Clarks XTR lite. They are pretty light and comfortable. I saved some time by just going straight to the Shoe Company. As usual there was a good selection and the staff was helpful and knowledgable but stayed out of the way when I just wanted to look. It's a consistent quality shopping experience there.

The sizing seems a bit strange on the Clarks. I ended up getting a 9.5 after trying on 10.5 and 10. The last time I wore size 9 was around grade 9 so maybe their sizing is a bit different.

They are brown. They don't look too bad. I should get some black casual shoes too but I'll put that off for a while. I hope these last. The previous shoes I had for several years, but they were beat up and I should have tossed them quite a while ago. So see what happens with these. At $89 they are a bit more expensive. I don't wear them as much or as hard as sneakers so they may last.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Voting for Stéphane Dion

There's a federal election coming up in Canada in a few weeks. I think I've decided who to vote for. I'm planning to vote Liberal for Stéphane Dion.

There's a couple of reasons to vote liberal this election. I think Dion has the best scheme for the people of Canada. His plan is to rebalance the tax system by increasing consumption taxes, increasing taxes on activities which harm the environment, and lowering income taxes. That's just what Canada needs at this time, to shift from personal consumption [and personal debt] to the creation of true prosperity through high paying middle class jobs. The total tax each person pays per year will not increase under this scheme.

Lowering income taxes is good at this time. Individual Canadians are way too much in debt. The personal debt to income ratios are far higher than even just 10 years ago. Lower income taxes will put more take home pay in our pockets and make it easier to service our existing debts and reduce our debt loads.

The Conservative scheme to hold the line on income tax and lower consumption taxes [like GST] means people can only see tax relief by spending their money [and of course borrowing to overspend]. This is bad for Canadians.

Dion's scheme puts more emphasis on the environment which has the potential to create a lot of high paying jobs in Canada. Plus improving our environment benefits everyone.

The other reason to vote liberal is the conservative advertising. It is horrible. The attack ads on Dion are amateur and distort his message. What a turn off. If the best you can offer the people of Canada is to attack your principled, honourable opponent with bogus bs attack ads then that's not good enough. We saw right through it when the liberals tried it when they were desperately clinging to power [they barely got away with it in one election; and lost when they tried it in again the next election]. I hope the people of Canada are smart enough to not fall for crude, simplistic, false, American style attack advertising and are able to understand the real issues.

It's good to be a moderate. Historically I've been more of a right winger. After the deficit was eliminated [by the liberals Paul Martin and John Savage it should be noted] that key battle was won and I became more of an independant. Then I had a personal falling out with the social conservative faction a while back so I've been a free agent voter for while.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mooseheads home opener

I caught the Halifax Mooseheads home opener on Friday. It was an entertaining game, a 6-3 win over Val d'Or.

The Moose are rebuilding this year and Val d'Or isn't very strong as usual. There were a few players I recognized from the past but a number of prominent players from last year are in the NHL now or otherwise moved on.

I ended up getting my ticket from the friend of a season ticket holder. The season ticket holder couldn't make the game and he gave the ticket to another season ticket holder who thought of me as a "will attend" type and indeed I could make it. Thanks, I appreciate it.

In the past I got to see a few games from the luxury skyboxes. That was really nice. My former next door neighbour was in sales and his employer had a box which they would entertain important clients in. When he had an extra seat open my neighbour would sometimes invite me to the games. It was a real treat.

So I had a good seat in the top row of the lower bowl. Which is nice because you can get up just by climbing over the back of your seat and not have to cut in front of anyone to get to the aisle. I like sitting among the regulars, the season ticket holders. They tend to be knowledgeable fans and also know each other.

They had a big ceremony at the start to mark the Moose 15th anniversary. I remember the original home opener in 1994. I was at that game and had a good seat. Hmmm, 15 years. I'd estimate I've seen around 50 Moose home games over that time. It tends to vary. Some years 0-1 games. Other years maybe up to 10. I enjoy the games. I should go to more of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

taxes are done

My income tax for this year is finally done. What a relief. It was severely delayed in getting processed this year for a few reasons. Fortunately it is now done.

I came out of it a little bit ahead. A small refund, I'll see less than $1000 out of it. I'm happy with that. I was concerned I'd have to pay in a lot. So I'll call it good.

No big plans for my small windfall. I want to get some RAM for my PC and I should get some casual shoes. That's about it. The rest I'll plan to apply to the debt. And wouldn't the taste just be so sweet to be debt free and able to do whatever I want with the money. I hope to get there someday.

I don't plan to have something like this hanging over me next summer or any summer going forward. I expect and intend the taxes will be much more orderly and well organized in the future. I'm actually somewhat looking forward to next year's. Where I stand today I'm projecting a healthy refund.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Signed up for epost

I recently signed up for epost from Canada Post. My employer uses Ceridian for payroll. They often mention paperless paystubs are available. So I decided to try it out instead of the traditional paper paystubs.

It was fairly easy to get signed up. So I'll see how it goes with the first couple of paycheques. Some of my coworkers use it and they said it was pretty good. It's good to go paperless and help the environment.

A few other bills I get are available on epost too so if it goes well with the paystubs I'll go with epost paperless billing for them as well.

Canada Post did a pretty good job with epost. It does have a slightly clunky feel, not quite as "smooth" as say the President's Choice web banking site or etrade. Still not too bad so far. Althought it's available I don't plan to use it for bill payment, just presentation. I like to use President's Choice banking for my bill payments.

There is one surprising glitch on their site, an example of the clunkiness I guess. On the front page it lets you sign in. However the page is not an HTTPS page; no padlock. I was shocked when I first saw it since it appears your login creds are sent in the clear without encryption.

I did a view source on the epost main HTTP page and I saw that the login form does indeed post to a secure HTTPS site. Still if a site has sensitive personal information on it [like epost], or is backed by real money [like President's Choice banking, etrade, or epost again] then I expect to see https and the padlock on the login page.

What percentage of epost users are capable of doing a view source on the landing page and checking if the login form is posting to a secure HTTPS site? Probably less than 5%. The other 95% should be wondering where the padlock is on login. epost has been around several years and I'm surprised they've missed this all this time.

There is a workaround to it. From the main page just click sign-in, leaving the username and password empty. The result page is HTTPS and has the padlock so that gives the user a much more secure feeling.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bin Laden wins again

So Fannie and Freddie have been nationalized. Disgraceful. Well what does that, Lehman, Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Indymac, etc., etc. have to do with Osama Bin Laden.

Well quite a bit. And today on the anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to talk about it. After 9/11 the US lead by President Bush panicked. The response to 9/11 was undisciplined. Interest rates were dropped unnecessarily low and kept low for far too long. This was a major cause of the bubble in housing prices which has been unwinding for the last year+ with no end in sight.

The catastrophe in the world financial system today far greater than the actual damage caused on 9/11. Because in truth not that much happened on 9/11. Four planes were lost, 3 buildings in New York destroyed [despite only 2 planes hitting NYC???], the Pentagon in Washington was damaged. Around 3,000 dead. Looking at it objectively and compared to the global size of the population and US economy, the immediate damage from 9/11 was not that great. Obviously there were problems in flight security to fix [locking the cockpit door during flight would be a start]; and they weren't very good at keeping undesirables out of the country, and following the clues they did have in advance of the attack.

It could have been shrugged off and the world went on with its business. There was no need to panic and obsess about it and have a housing bubble since that might make some people feel better if their house increased in value and they could take a HELOC and go on a spending spree. That was wrong. That was the failure in leadership from Bush and Greenspan. Could you imagine Stalin in 1941 acting like that? Or Churchill?

I remember schoolhouse rock growing up in the 70s. One that I liked was about 1776, "The shot heard 'round the world. The start of the revolution." On 9/11/2001, 225 years later, there was another shot heard round the world.

Was it the start of the Islamic revolution. Their declaration of war? Militant Islam has done pretty well the last generation or so.
  • they won in Iran
  • they won in Afghanistan
  • they won in Sudan
  • they may be winning in Iraq
  • they arguably won in Lebanon
  • they arguably won in Gaza
  • they arguably won in the Balkans
  • they seem to have had the best of it in India if you use body bags to keep score
The 20th century was America's century. Is the 21st Islam's? Could sharia really become the law of the land in USA, Canada, France? A lot can happen in a century.

Back to housing for a moment. I've been remiss in my previous housing posts not posting my favorite housing video. Thanks so much Keith for your great HousingPanic site which I'll miss greatly after you shut it down later this year.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New watch, like the old watch

I finally went ahead and bought a new watch. My trusty old Timex ironman watch was just getting too beat up.

I didn't look too hard for a new watch. I knew I wanted another ironman. I ended up getting a Timex Expedition which is about the same thing. I got it at wal-mart. I was surprised that it was only $42. I thought they cost more than that. So that was good.

This watch has a velcro wrap around strap which I actually like. With the older buttonhole straps they were always too loose or too tight. Now I can get it just right. I hope the strap lasts.

One thing I like about the watch is that the function screens and the 4 buttons which control them are exactly the way they were on my old Timex I had all those years. That shows how well the original user interface was designed that years later it is still the same. I appreciate it.

I hope this Timex Expedition can serve me as well as my last Timex did. That was a great watch. It's off to a good start so far. I'm glad I bought it.

Speaking of watches, that makes me think I should finally do something about my old Guess watch.

It was a good watch. I got it a few years ago as a gift. I still have the original box. It was nice as a fancier watch for the occasional time to wear. Unfortunately the watch has some problems today. The battery died a long time ago. The strap is worn out. And the glass face cracked and broke off and needs to be replaced [I'm pretty sure it was the watch guy at the Bay who cracked it originally]. It hasn't been usable in several years.

None of these repairs are cheap with Guess watches so I'm not really inclined to spend the money to rehabilitate it. There's lots of stuff I want to do and get, but a fancier watch is not even on the list. I'm leaning more toward putting it on Kijiji as is and seeing if I can get a small amount of money for it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Scott Turow - Limitations

I had some down time last Friday. I went to the local library to look for some stuff to read. It's a pretty good library. I took some nonfiction about the old Soviet Union and about contemporary militant Islam. Those books were kind of dull and I didn't get far with either.

The other book I got was Limitations by Scott Turow. I read some Turow books in the past and I enjoyed them. This book was set in the familiar fictional Kindle County; a place I find I enjoy returning to. Turow weaves in some characters from his other Kindle books which is nice, hearing from them again. It was an enjoyable read and from a Friday afternoon start I finished it Sunday morning.

Whenever I read a Turow book it makes me feel like it would be interesting to be a lawyer. Not the shmoozing Friday afternoon free drinks starting at 4 PM lawyer. I have no aptitude or interest in that. I mean the more technical back office lawyer. Analyzing the statutes, decisions and contracts. The reasoning and logic.

There's some more Turow Kindle County books I haven't read yet. I'll try to get through them in the coming months. I took a bit of a reading break recently to try to finish a very tough sudoku book I got last Christmas so I'll try to get through that first. I've read about all the Stephen King I want to but there's some Michael Crichton I should catch up on too. It's good for the mind to also balance in some nonfiction. There's other stuff to I'd like to read too.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cooked mackerel

I did something this weekend I don't think I'd done before. I cooked some fish. I had some frozen smoked mackerel fillets that were given to me. The fish was originally from Willie Krauch’s smokehouse.

I wasn't sure how to cook them. I ended up using an Ikea grill pan I'd been given before and hadn't yet used. I liked that approach because checking on the web it didn't seem to have to do any extra prep work to actually cook the fish.

I chucked in some frozen peas and carrots into some boiling water and that was pretty easy for the side.

I just put the stove on medium and put the fish on. I left them for a bit, turned them a couple of times and then they seemed to be done. The site I checked said they are done when they flake easily with a fork. It seemed to be doing that.

I was surprised that they actually turned out pretty well. They tasted OK and went well with the vegetables. So a success. I should try to cook fish some more. Fillets on a grill pan wasn't too hard for me. Plus the price on the fish is not bad I noticed. It's good to be able to cook more stuff so I can have more variety for a good price.

Lots of unusual stuff going on this weekend. Vacation day Friday. Went to a wedding Saturday which was very nice. Hung those pictures today. I ended up getting a stud finder at wal-mart for around $18. Some other stuff. Turning the page in some ways.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Went out golfing

I did something unusual yesterday. Something I hadn't done in a long time. I went out golfing.

It was a good time. My dad took me and my uncle to his club, Brightwood. Although it was labour day, it was nearly deserted there due to fears about bad weather. It did rain on us the first 3 holes, but then it was nice the rest of the way. So that was good fortune.

I hadn't been golfing in a while. I didn't play at all last year. And just once in 2006, at a bachelor party I was invited to. So only once in the three years between fall 2005 and now.

It was a bit strange since I had a dream last week about golf. I remembered the dream and I think I realized I wanted to play again. I'd been to the driving range once earlier this summer but I didn't hit the ball well at all. Then last week I went again and was hitting it much better.

The results yesterday were actually pretty encouraging. I had a couple of pars, some bogeys and double bogeys. There were some bad writeoff holes, especially on the front nine. There's definitely a lot of areas that need real improvement. However I'm sure I did the back nine in under 50 [we weren't keeping score] and if I can continue to play like that I can reach my long time goal of breaking 100. That would sure be nice.

Now I feel like playing again with what's left of this season. I need some stuff for next year too. Some new tees. My golf shoes are 11 years old, uncomfortable and no longer waterproof. I was using a Callaway ball on the back nine and that was nice. I'd like to get some more Callaway balls to play for next year. If I'm going to play golf I should find some people to play with. Need to work on that one.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yard sale shopping

I did some yard sale shopping today. It was a bit by accident. I was looking for a level and a stud finder. I was going to go to Canadian Tire to check prices in the morning.

Instead I didn't really feel like it. The weather was mild and cloudy, great for a run. So I went for a run and took a different route than usual, going over some new areas. I happened on a yard sale on toward the last part. I dropped by and he had all kinds of good stuff, especially tools and garage stuff.

So I went home and grabbed some money and went back in my car. I ended up getting a level, a cordless drill, drill bits, a huge roll of wrapping twine.

I ended up getting some other stuff as well. I got a vintage aluminum Prince tennis racket in good shape.

I'm not sure why I got it. It was only $2. I've always wanted the Princely racket so now I have one I guess. Maybe I'll luck into a Mercedes Benz or Kawasaki Ninja some day for $200 and I can fulfill that childhood dream as well. Now I feel like playing tennis. I haven't played since the 1990s. My friend who I used to play against a lot is in town and on Facebook. I should look him up.

Plus I picked up a painting there. It was listed on the back as $200 and he sold it for $10. The story on it is that it used to belong to a south end lawyer. When the lawyer moved from a house to a condo most of the stuff in his basement [like the tools mentioned above, which were nice MasterCraft and little used] ended up with the Fairview yard sale guy somehow.

I'm tempted to put it on Kijiji and see if I can speculate it for a profit but I think I'll keep it. It does have the cachet of being owned by a south end lawyer. My little piece of culture. I still need the stud finder but thinking about Kijiji I'll check there before I buy new.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

GM white collar cuts

The 2009 model year is just about upon us. I usually don't pay much attention to the new model year. And I'm not paying much attention to it this year. About 2 years to go on my Honda payments, then I hope to be able to ride payment free for a good while.

One thing that caught my attention recently was the announcement of GM white collar job cuts. That's an astounding number of people. The company itself must just be enormous as 5K jobs was only 15% of the white collar head count.

Still it matters. But the thing is that these are dangerous types of cuts as the short term effect [cost savings] is good but the long term effect [reduced ability to create new product] is bad.

You won't see the effect of these cuts for a while. I've worked in R&D type companies, and in the short term it can be very tempting to just cut R&D to be profitable or more profitable in the short term [like the next 2-6 quarters]. R&D is lead time based. The money you spend today won't create product or revenue until the future. So if you cut today you put money in your pocket with no visible effect on day to day operations.

But by cutting R&D today you are also cutting off the pipeline for tomorrow. In the near term I expect these GM cuts will have little effect. After all for the 2009 year the engineering and planning work is done. The cars are in production and soon to be in the dealer showrooms. I don't know much about automotive product development cycles but I suspect much of the 2010 model year engineering and planning work is also largely complete.

So the effect of these R&D cuts may not be really seen until the 2011 model year with less and less competitive products on the marketplace. That's what happens in R&D. Letting go engineers, designers, product managers, testers, production planners, ergonomics, sound, safety, reliability, researchers, all these people make the future pipeline of new vehicle.

These people are the decision makers. Not big picture "This is What We're Doing" decisions, but decisions like what headlight to go with; or coming up with a fix for a design problem reported from the field which is causing a lot of annoying warranty repairs. With less of these decisions being made then they may not be able to advance the products as much.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Retiring in your 30s

I was at a bachelor party last weekend. It was a good time. Well organized. I saw some people there that I hadn't seen in a long time.

One guy I was a bit surprised what he's doing today. He's pretty much retired. He's my age though, late 30s. He's pretty laid back these days. When I knew him in the past he was pretty straightforward, more focused and corporate. Not like wall street type but a regular steady salary guy. He did industrial engineering at TUNS and he'd been a production manager at a local factory for several years.

He said he'd left the factory and just moved on. He'd been taking a course on the south shore for three months learning to build musical instruments. He stayed on after the course and worked with the instructor for a few months before coming back to town. Since coming back to town he's done some cabinetry since he likes it and is good at it. He's not full time at that, just doing occasional projects for himself and people he knows.

He's never been married and he lived well but modestly. He said he has savings and he realized he doesn't need to spend his life making other people rich. He might get a part time job down the road but he's procrastinating that as long as he can.

The thing about early retirement is that you associate it with stock option scores, lottery, or owning a successful business. But for a man living by himself with a regular white collar job and living modestly it is very much possible to be in your late 30s or early 40s with several hundred thousand in savings. That means that if you want you can maintain your modest lifestyle indefinitely without requiring new monthly income.

Its not an isolated story. I heard about a guy in BC who was an engineer in his mid 30s. In the early 2000s he got caught in the telecom crash and cashed out a generous severance package. Combined with his savings he had around half a million put away. He lived modestly by himself and realized he didn't have to go back to work; so he didn't.

A couple of years later around 2004-2005 an old colleague told him that the tech market had improved and there were jobs around and he should return to the workforce after sitting out the tech recession. He thought about it and just said, Nah. He just didn't want to.

I envy them a bit, having the choice to say screw it and just doing what they want. I don't blame them at all for trading a modest lifestyle for the option to leave the rat race, traffic, cubicles, overtime, office, and pursue their own interests.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Gunslinger

I just finished up reading The Gunslinger series by Stephen King. It was a long epic, 7 books.

I started reading it around the early 1990s. I read the first three right as they came out. I bought them right at the bookstore. It was sensational, King's best work [along with the original The Stand]. Then he stopped writing them for a long time. I was hoping for the later books but they never came out. Some years passed and I kind of forgot about it a bit.

Then I heard this story that King would resume and finish the epic. At the time I didn't pay much attention to it though I heard he did finish it. I wasn't as much into reading at that time in the early 2000s.

Last fall I was just in the library and I happened upon it again. And there it was, the gunslinger all finished. I started out reading book 3. I couldn't remember if I'd read the first 3 earlier or just the first two. Around 50 pages in I realized I'd read it years ago. I also realized I needed a refresher and I went back and reread books 1-3 after all these years.

Then finally onto books 4-7. The truth is the second part of the series, especially books 4-6 is not as good as the original books 1-3. In 4-6 it labors a bit. Plus it gets a bit strange as the author King inserts himself as a prominent character in the series! I didn't really care for that side trip. I kept waiting for King to get out of the way so it could get on with Roland's story.

Nobody claims that the stuff in the later part of Kings career is close to as good as what he did in the earlier years. And this is true of the gunslinger as well. Still he finishes pretty strong in book 7 so that was good. The ending was kind of a surprise.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Last day lunch

We ended up having a last day lunch for my coworker today. I did attend. We went down to the Subway near the office. Due to some delays we didn't get going until around 12:50. And we had to be back by 1:30 for a meeting. So we didn't linger over an hour as these lunches sometimes do.

It was good at Subway. There were picnic tables nearby so we ate outside on a beautiful Nova Scotia summer day. I got the 6 inch Italian BMT as that was the Wednesday special. It came in under $4. I'm glad we did something during the work day. I don't mind attending last day lunches if it is convenient and the price is reasonable.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last day dinner

At work we had the last day lunch for a fellow who is leaving to go to graduate school. I didn't attend.

The thing it is was kind of overdone. It was on a Saturday night at an Arabian restaurant in Burnside. The cost was $25 + drinks for a three hour event. I had other plans on that evening so I declined the RSVP. I would have declined anyway without plans. I've only worked with him for around three months [the others have more history going back several years]. Still I can't imagine making that kind of time and money commitment for any co-worker. Although it seems a good crowd did go out to see him off.

Here's some common sense tips to get the largest attendance at a last day lunch.

- have it on a Friday

- make it at 12 noon

- make it as close as possible to the office. Preferably in walking distance. If that's not possible then within a 5 minute drive; with plenty of free and convenient parking.

- have it at a casual family style restaurant. Smitty's is a personal favorite of mine. Other good choices using Bayers Lake as an example would be Jack Astors, Boston Pizza, Eastside Mario's, Redwood Grill, Montana's, Lone Star, Swiss Chalet, Applebees to name a few. You get the idea.

- keep the cost reasonable. People don't mind paying for their own, but it should be possible to get a respectable lunch with a [pop] beverage for $10 - $15, and certainly less than $20.

- the last day person eats for free. If the company is not paying then the manager should pay out of his own pocket [perq of being manager].

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MBNA bait and switch balance transfer scam

I got a surprise in my MBNA statement today. Some stuff that I had balance transferred at their offered rate of 5% is now at 21%.

Say what?? I'm not a deadbeat, I've been making all of the required payments properly, and more. So what happened? Well it turns out in the fine print that the limited time offer on the balance transfer also applies to the amount transferred, not just being able to do the transfers.

So after a couple of months the 5% becomes a regular 21%. Nice. How can this be legal in Canada? The best thing that could happen to Canada would be for MBNA (plus their dirty incessant telemarketers) and the rest of their trash American ilk to take your Indymac/ Countrywide/ subprime/ alt-a/ foreclosure act back to the United States and leave our good country alone.

Anyway it is what it is. I'll have to rearrange my priorities to pay off the now 21% MBNA balance first, then I can finally be free of them forever. And be careful of offers from credit cards about low rate balance transfers. Read the fine print and be on the lookout for scams like this.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Honda Civic fuel door

I had a rather nasty surprise last night at the gas station. I pulled up in my 2005 Honda Civic to get a fill. I press the fuel door release button inside the car and ... nothing happens??! Say what??

The trunk and hood latches still work but I couldn't open the fuel door any more. So I'm pretty much stranded at the gas station. Thank you Honda.

Anyway I had a sliver of fuel left, maybe enough to get to a dealer. I took the car home and tried to open the fuel door myself. I got the cover off the floor button you press. It was pushing the lever, but the door wasn't opening. For whatever reason there's no way to bypass the inside switch and just open the fuel door manually on the outside.

I was very alarmed about facing an expensive repair. I'd resigned myself to this and calling the dealer first thing this morning (wasting a vacation day, thank you Honda.) Then just before I called I thought to check if there was anything on the Web I could find out about it. It turns out there is

[Honda fuel door problems 1]
[Honda fuel door problems 2]
[Honda fuel door problems 3]
[Honda fuel door problems 4]

What I got out of that was this is a known defect in the Civic. Basically caused by bad Honda engineering. For no good reason they make the fuel door controlled by a flimsy inside latch. Then they put the latch mechanism on the drivers side floor where it is exposed to constant dirt, salt, water and ice. This buys a short life for the latch mechanism.

Worse still than the failure prone latch mechanism is that there is no obvious fallback to work around the frequent failures. With say an 8-10+ year old car [although my Civic is less than 3 years old] if the trunk latch gives out no big deal; walk around back put the key in and open it by hand.

The poor Honda design has no such fallback for a failure in the switch. Which is stupid since there's no good reason to even be locking the stupid gas cap door in the first place. Luckily from the sites above I found out enough to peel back the trunk lining and I was able to find the solenoid and reach in and switch it manually and yay the door popped open and I was able to get a fill.

Now that I have a work around I'm not keen to go to the dealer and pay them off for their poor design - note also this is a known and unfixed issue tracing back to at least 2001. I hear this is not cheap to repair. Like with the o2 sensor, stuff seems to break right after warranty expires. What's the point of fixing it anyway? It already broke within less than three years, it would likely just break again in 30 months.

I'm annoyed about this. There's no good reason to make the gas cap door a single point of failure to driving the car. In addition to making an unnecessary single point of failure they put in a flimsy mechanism prone to breakdown and failed to put in an obvious emergency release for when the switch fails.

On a five year initial loan this car costs over $400 a month on average just for payments. Shoddy glitches like this are not appreciated. I suspect this may well be my first and last Honda. Three years or less and I'll be glad it's paid off.