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.