Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things to do if I ever win the lottery

Find a prestigious university. Offer them more money than they can afford to ignore to endow a Wile E. Coyote Chair of Applied Engineering.


Israel has, according to the reports, rejected the idea of a truce. Well, no, I don't think so. Remember, the immediate Hamas response to the suggestion of a truce was "If Israel stops it's aggression and removes the blockade of Gaza, we'll study the suggestion.". IOW "If Israel stops shooting at us, we'll think about stopping shooting at them.". Israel didn't reject a truce, Hamas rejected the idea of a truce and Israel shrugged it's shoulders and said "That's fine, we'll just do it the hard way then.".

Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to work

Back to work after a week's vacation over Christmas. I'm afraid to look in my in-box, I can practically see the tentacles crawling out of it.

In other news, the Chargers pulled off an end-of-season miracle and made the playoffs. Bets on them choking the very first game and getting themselves eliminated?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Death in the family

I just got word that my grandfather has passed away. This isn't horribly unexpected. He was in his late 90s, he's required in-home care and been pretty weak since last January. The day before Christmas Eve he had what we think was a severe stroke, when I called him Christmas Day he just couldn't talk coherently and I'm not sure how much of what I said he actually understood. Death was apparently quick and painless. That's really about the best you can ask for in that situation. He wanted cremation, no fancy service, so handling the memorial can be done as the family's schedule permits. Everything's in theory taken care of, all the property's in a trust, there's no probate to deal with, the cremation and everything was arranged and paid for several years ago.

Time to look up Amtrak ticket prices and trip times and that sort of thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Shopping bags

California is in the process of adopting laws that either ban plastic disposable shopping bags or impose a fee on them. Myself, I don't see what the problem is. Most stores have good-quality reusable cloth shopping bags for sale for about a dollar each. They're washable if they get dirty. They'll last for several years. I figure if I go shopping once a week and can use each bag for 2 years before I have to replace it, it's costing me about a penny per trip. For that penny I get a much sturdier bag with better handles. It's much easier to carry several of them thanks to the longer handles, and they don't dig into my fingers and palm so much. They'll hold a lot more without ripping, especially heavy stuff like cans or bottles. And we've had six months warning of this, more than enough time to get one more every trip so you don't have to buy a bunch all at once. I simply don't see what all the fuss is about.

And for those who say it's the principle of the thing, I expect to see you out in the empty lots and gutters picking up all the stray plastic disposable bags. You want something that makes a mess? You clean that mess up, or stop your whining and accept the fact that the rest of us are tired of it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Red Thursday

Christmas will be Red Thursday this year, or maybe black-and-blue Thursday. Retailers aren't seeing a good season this year. Low sales numbers, lots of unsold inventory, and they're looking at even steeper discounts for the after-Christmas sales to try and lose as little as possible. Considering the number of 50%- and 75%-off sales already, I don't see how they can discount much further. And if 75% off isn't attracting buyers, then there just aren't buyers to attract.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Things we probably don't want to think about around Christmas

Back in the 60s, a man named Milgram conducted an experiment to see how people responded to pressure from authority. The results were... not exactly nice. The experiment has been recently repeated, with pretty much the same results. BoingBoing covered the story, and included some related links. Not a shining endorsement of humanity. I can't say I'm surprised, though. And people really should think about it. The worst atrocities aren't committed by monsters who do it deliberately, they're often committed by ordinary people who are just under pressure from the people above them to get results. This should be taken into account when, for instance, looking at the current prosecutions for torture in intelligence-gathering in the War On Terror. The higher-ups say "Don't prosecute us, we didn't do it. Prosecute those evil soldiers who actually did the dirty work.". These results pretty graphically demonstrate that the "But we didn't do it!" plaint from the people at the top shouldn't fly. The people at the bottom of the chain of command very likely wouldn't have done those things if the people at the top hadn't been applying the pressure to get results in the first place, and sending the message down that anything that got results was OK.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Corporate mascot madness

Our corporate mascot, whose stand-up is smack in the middle of the lobby of corporate HQ, along with two of the posters that adorn the walls further in. When an employee passes the mandatory security training, they receive a certificate awarding them the title of "Sidekick". Someone got paid good money to dream this up.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Definitely a real professional thing, having this stand-up in the lobby of corporate HQ.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yeah, they found geothermal all right...

A drilling company was drilling a well looking for a geothermal heat source. Well, they found one all right. They put the bit right into a magma chamber. 1000+ degree molten rock = "Boss, you know that new bit? Well, we're sorta not getting it back outta this hole.". Geologists and volcanologists are spooging over this, it's the first time they've been able to get at live magma in it's natural environment, under pressure and with the dissolved gasses intact. Normally all they get is lava that's on the surface, after it's depressurized and degassed and altered itself. And this stuff is at a relatively shallow depth, only 2500 meters down, and turns out to have the composition of continental base rock, not ocean-floor rock.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jobs and phones

Every day I'm more and more tempted to put myself back on the job market, just to see. SOE's hiring for their platform group, for instance, which sounds interesting if they can come even close to matching my current salary.

I upgraded my cel phone to the Pantech Matrix (successor to the Duo). It's got a few nasty habits. Applications that aren't from AT&T, for instance, can't be granted some permissions like "always allow network access". It gets annoying having to approve each and every network access for Google's GMail application. AT&T's position is that this is to protect me. Um, no it's not, it's to make it annoying for me to patronize anybody else. Time to track down some software that'll fix this. And if AT&T doesn't like it, well, tough.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I really should go and completely delete my ICQ account, since I'm not using it. I don't use AIM much either, but my new cel phone supports it so I'll probably leave it logged in there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oil price decline

One thing to bear in mind about oil prices right now is that their decline has to do with more than just supply and demand. Part of it's the consequences of speculation. Speculators don't intend to take delivery of the oil they're buying contracts for. They plan on selling those contracts to someone else before they have to take delivery. They've no arrangements or facilities for actually accepting delivery of the oil if it ever reaches it's destination while they own the contracts. And the costs of parking a supertanker while you wait for a buyer are ruinous. Ports and shipping companies don't like having anchorage space and ships tied up idle, so they punish those who leave ships just sitting there doing nothing. All of which means that, as speculators near the delivery date on their contracts, they have to sell. At any price. Even if it means selling at a loss, because the alternative is an even bigger loss that just might wipe them out completely. That's causing prices to go down further than they otherwise would, as all the speculators get squeezed. Once the speculators are out of the market, expect the price of oil and gas to rebound somewhat.

RIP Bettie Page

Another icon gone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Messy tasks

One note relevant to PHBs who just don't get it and demand that computer people do the impossible or fix/maintain unfixable/unmaintainable systems:

Bear in mind that, after Hercules got finished cleaning out the Augean stables, he killed the manager who assigned him to the job.

F/A-18 crash in San Diego

Well, they've figured out why the F-18 crashed. Apparently the plane suffered an engine failure during a training flight from the aircraft carrier it's based on. On a twin-engine fighter that's not considered a catastrophic failure that would prompt the pilot to ditch, it's merely a major failure that requires the plane to land as quickly as possible. With a trainee pilot aboard, SOP is to head for the nearest land-based airstrip that can handle the plane if one's in range rather than risk landing back aboard the carrier. The pilot was following the most direct route he could back to Miramar, which is also why he was making his approach from the west (nearest the carrier) rather than circling completely around the base (flying over residential neighborhoods the whole way) and making the more normal approach from the east. On final, low and slow and with landing gear down and flaps out, he lost his remaining engine. In that configuration with no engines the F-18 has all the glide characteristics of a bowling ball. You aren't even going to have much choice in where you aim it, it'll be going down so fast.

My guess is the second engine went from a bird ingestion, or from damage from the first engine failure. There's plenty of seagulls and other large birds in the area it went down, and it was low enough it could've easily picked one up.

Some of the civilians are wondering why the pilot took the risk of taking a damaged plane over a city. Well, what else was he supposed to do? This is a trainee pilot without many carrier landings under his belt. A carrier landing involves hitting a 3-foot square that's bobbing around by 12-15 feet every 10-15 seconds, in an airplane that's also bobbing around by 5-10 feet every few seconds, while travelling at 180mph, and with only one engine he's only going to get one shot at it (even under the best of circumstances it's not unusual for a trainee to need 3-4 tries to get aboard). On a regular airstrip he'll have a lot more room for error. Heading for land's the safest option.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mortgage modifications not working.

More than half of the mortgages modified in the first half of the year to make payments more affordable are defaulting again. This isn't good news. OTOH, those mortgages were voluntary modifications and weren't the kind of major modifications being comtemplated by everybody but the Republicans. It does, however, fit what I thought: there's a lot of people out there who simply can't afford their mortgage on any terms, either we completely rewrite their mortgages (including massive (on the order of 50%) reductions in the principal owed, which the banks won't do voluntarily because of how that's going to affect them) or we let them default and get them out of the system completely. Small steps, minor patches, will just prolong the mess.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Congressional majorities

The rout of the Republicans was pretty much total at the Federal level. The Democrats have 255 seats in the House to the Republican's 175 (5 seats are still undecided). That gives the Democrats a pretty solid majority (the Republicans have to convince 37 Democrats to vote against their party to block anything). In the Senate the only thing the Republicans can say is that the Democrats don't have a veto-proof majority. The Dems control 58 seats right now to the R's 41, with 1 seat still undecided. The Rs will probably crow over this, but it means any filibusters they try will be hanging on by a hair. All the Dems have to do is convince 2 Republican Senators (and possibly only 1, depending on how that last seat goes) to vote to end debate and the filibuster is over.

What's worse for the Republicans is they've run out of steam. They've gotten their base (the Religious Right) out to vote nearly 100%, and it's not enough. And in the process they've alienated the social moderates with their social policies and the fiscal conservatives with Bush's reckless spend-and-borrow policies. Right now the only way for the Republicans to reduce their losses next election is for Obama to screw up even worse than Bush. And if the Republicans try to paint social-support spending as a failure, the gods have mercy on them 'cause the voters won't.

Economic news

Well, the official pronouncement is out: the US has been in a recession since December, 2007.
Well, DUH!
Anybody down in the real world could've told you that 8 months ago, guys.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The (Lack of) Chargers

The Chargers lost another game yesterday. This brings them to a dismal 4-8 record. If the Chargers want to know why local governments are unwilling to give them massive subsidies for a new stadium, why they can't convince the public to support a new stadium, they need look no further than those numbers. Nobody's going to be enthusiastic about taking on hundreds of millions of dollars of debt for a losing team. Especially one that's losing not because the other guys were so good but because they just plain and simple blew it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gas prices, retail season

Gas is $1.83/gallon at the Arco this weekend. Apparently I was wrong about where it'd stabilize. It's been a long while since it's been under $2/gallon. It briefly dipped this low in early 2005, but the last time it was consistently this low was early 2004. Looking at oil futures, it doesn't look like there'll be upwards pressure any time soon, either. They lose traction every time they get above $55/barrel, mainly because demand just isn't there.

Black Friday I suspect has become black-and-blue Friday for retailers. The crowds appear to have been there, but not as much as expected and they're doing as much looking as buying. There's been no crowing from retailers and analysts yet, my guess is that sales weren't just below last year they were below even this year's pessimistic expectations. That's bad news seeing as how discounts were even deeper than last year. People just don't have the money to spend.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Car manufacturer market shares

There was a story in the paper today about two Ford dealerships merging. One thing they mentioned in passing was how much sales volume each manufacturer had lost in the last year. Ford had lost the least, with 25%. Chevy was next at 28%, then Dodge at 33%, Chrysler at 42% and the Hummer at 50%. That seems to be to be consistent with what I see in cars on the road. If you look for economical cars (small to mid-size, coupe or sedan or small hatchback, small engine, good mileage, low to moderate price), the vast majority of them are Asian or European nameplates. Of the American nameplates, Ford tops the list for number of those types of cars, followed by Chevy. Other names you see most often on trucks, SUVs or sports cars, things that don't get good fuel economy and have high prices. That all seems to me to confirm what I've suspected: the auto makers' problems are in large part due to the simple fact that they're not making what customers want to buy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

GM's done for

Stick a fork in 'em, they're done. They're delaying rebate and other payments to dealers. The first, best sign a company's auguring in is when they start being unable to make payments they knew long ago they were going to have to make. The only one better is when the company's payroll checks start to bounce (or when the company starts telling employees where and when they can cash their checks as a way to prevent them from bouncing). If I held stock in GM, I'd be looking at cutting my losses. If I were an employee, I'd be shopping my resume around and making plans for not having a job come January.

Gas prices

$2.27/gallon at Arco this morning. Which is just about at my magic point of $2.25/gallon, the price at which we've seen a 50% drop since the high point this summer. I figure the price will start to stabilize around here. It's really nice to see a fill-up under $30, but I don't expect it to go too much lower.

Anime dance video

Because it needs to be reposted.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gas prices continue to fall

Today gas at the Valero near me was $2.47/gallon. I had a bigger-than-usual fill-up, the needle was all the way down to E (I normally fill up with about 1/8th left), yet the total on the pump when I was done was just shy of $28. I haven't seen a fill-up below $30 in a long long time. The Arco station's probably several cents cheaper.

Note to self: convince Dean to hit the Valero up near me instead of the stations in Mission Valley. I'm seeing about a 25 cent difference in prices.

Gitmo inmates scheduled for trial

Apparently Obama is planning to have the people incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay brought to the US and given their day in court. IMO this is a good thing. It raises questions about how to handle trials involving sensitive intelligence information, but this should be something we can handle. If we can't, we need to figure out how. Just ignoring the whole question is a non-starter, it's an insult to the US Constitution which had the concept of due process written into it from the very beginning. At the very worst, we could for instance simply drop the whole "illegal combatants" concept and treat the prisoners as enemy combatants and prisoners of war. That'd take them out of the civilian court system entirely, but we've got a long-established framework for handling them from that point on without involving perversions like Gitmo.

Sarah Palin, Hollywood bound?

There's rumors of Sarah Palin being courted by the television media. I say, go for it. Make her the most visible spokesperson for the Republican Right. It'll be the best thing that every happened... for the Democratic Party. Put her in the public eye on a day-to-day basis and she's just going to reinforce to everybody but the Religious Right all the most disliked aspects of the Republican Party. You can't buy campaign material like that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election results

Well, we won't be facing another 4 years of Bush's policies. And it looks like the Democrats are making solid gains in the House and Senate. Not a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but IMO that's a good thing. I want the Democrats to be in control, but I don't want them able to ride rough-shod over the Republicans. It's also significant the number of states that shifted from leaning Republican to leaning Democrat this election. The Republicans should take note of this, and consider carefully whether they can continue courting the religious radicals and ultra-conservatives who cost them this election.

And I do have one question for the Republicans: exactly when did it become a bad thing to believe that when you've got success and money that it behooves you to be a bit generous in helping those who aren't as well-off as you? It may have been decades since I set foot in a Christian church, but I still recall a certain carpenter having a few things to say on that subject.

Now let's just hope CA's Proposition 8 fails.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting done, rain

My vote's cast. Now all that's left is to see how things fall out. I voted for Obama and against Proposition 8.

We got rain this morning. Not a little sprinkle, honest light rain. Hopefully it'll wash things clean a bit. It made traffic a bear, though.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I thought you meant it

A little open letter, to the social/religious conservatives who make up the Republican party, gotten from barackobama2008:

I Thought You Meant It

I have friends of different races because when you taught me not to judge people based on how they look, I thought you meant it.

I respect other people's religious beliefs because when you taught me that a person's religion is between them and God, I thought you meant it.

I believe in universal health care and social assistance because when you taught me to be kind to those less fortunate than myself, and when you taught me that people are more important than money, I thought you meant it.

I support equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples because when you taught me that every person has the same human worth (and also to keep my nose out of other people's business), I thought you meant it.

I am environmentally conscious because when you taught me to take no more than I need, and to clean up after myself if I make a mess, I thought you meant it.

I support reproductive rights because when you taught me I shouldn't judge someone when I don't know what their circumstances are, I thought you meant it.

I am dismayed that you would call someone "elitist" merely because they are educated -- because when I became one of the first people in our family to earn a college degree, and you told me how proud I'd made you, I thought you meant it.

I am not ashamed if these things make me a liberal, because you taught me not to let other people belittle me about what I stand for, and I choose to believe you meant it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Daylight Savings Time

There's a reason I don't like going back to standard time in the fall. Now, IMO daylight before you have to get up in the morning is wasted. It doesn't matter whether it's light or not if you're asleep, after all. And a large fraction of people work the day shift, they find daylight most useful either during working hours or after them (ie. in the evening). People working swing (evening) shifts generally will have plenty of hours before work if daylight hours match day shift. People working the graveyard shift are probably getting home just as day-shift people are starting work, so it should be daylight for them after work. So, ideally you want sunrise to happen just about the time day-shift people are getting up and heading to work.

Now, look at the daylight schedule. In the summer DST insures daylight's shifted into the evening, which is exactly what we want. But right now, around the shift back to standard time, sunrise is happening about 7:30am daylight time and sunset's happening around 6:30-7pm. Standard time will shift sunrise back to 6:30am and sunset back to 5:30-6pm. So now it's going to be daylight an hour before I have to get up, and dark about the time I'm getting home. I'd benefit more right now from staying on daylight time, keeping as much daylight as possible in the evening. Even around solstice, if we stayed on daylight time it'd be sunrise while I was driving to work and it'd be getting dark as I was heading home. On standard time it'll be sunrise while I'm still getting up and getting breakfast, and dark an hour before I even leave work. I'd rather have it on daylight time, that lines up closer to "normal" day-shift hours.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wired and awake

I hate this. It's 2:30 in the A-bloody-M, and I'm awake. And wired in a bad way. I sometimes get a massive energy surge. Usually it's like being the main conductor in a high-voltage circuit. This isn't like that. Lots of energy, all tightly wound-up and spinning in on itself. Can't get to sleep, much as I need it, and too inward-focused to do anything constructive with it. Bah.

Probably has something to do with work. Things blew up last night, one of our divisions created a real mess by being stupid. Then I had to spend way more time than I wanted to messing with Eclipse and Java and the Spring framework on both my work machine and the home box.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Gas prices

Arco's down to $2.71/gallon this morning. At this rate we'll be down under $2.25/gallon, a 50% drop from the peak price in mid-June, before Thanksgiving. This is making a big difference in my gas bill. The Focus gets good mileage, but I was still putting $50 or so into it every week in June. Now my weekly fill-up's down to less than $35. That's $60 a month more in the budget. OK, for me that's not a big amount, but for people getting by on less than $40K that $60 is probably 50% of their free money every month and makes a huge difference.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Campaign sign

What I'd like on a sign to put up in response to all those "Yes on Proposition 8" signs:

I'm truly sorry your marriage is so fragile, but I'm still voting No on 8."

Barack Obama on the situation in Iraq

There was an interview with Barack Obama. In it, he was asked about General Petraeus' requests and his disagreement with them. Bruce Schneier makes a good point about his response. General Petraeus' job is to handle Iraq. The President's job is to handle the world. It's a lot like a company. Each department is responsible for getting what it needs to do the best it can. But the CEO of the company has to look at all the things the company needs to do, and sometimes that means he has to tell Engineering "You've got a point, we do need to put money into new product development or we won't have anything to sell next year. But right now our marketing campaigns aren't working and our market share's dropping, so unless you've got a brilliant new product we can bring to market next week we need the money more over in Marketing for a new campaign or we won't be around next year to worry about what we'll be selling.". Obama grasps this concept, and clearly explains it. And he clearly explains why he can say he wouldn't give Petraeus what he wants while still agreeing that Petraeus is entirely right to ask for it and in fact does need it.

I haven't seen anything that reasonable out of the McCain side of things.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gas prices

Correction: $3.03/gallon tonight at Arco. We're fast closing on a 1/3rd drop from what gas was at just 3 months ago.

Voter registration

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters has an on-line form you can use to check your voter registration information:

If you're registered, go there and double-check. It should give you your voter ID number, the last time you registered and what party you're registered as. If the information isn't correct, get it fixed before the election. And myself, I double-check the information the day before the election just to make sure nobody's playing games. Remember, nothing stops somebody from filling out a registration postcard in your name and sending it in, and that can cause you headaches. With all the dirty tricks these days, I rule out nothing from any party.

Gas prices

The Arco station's down to $3.09/gallon today. That's a 20-cent drop in a week. Pretty steep there.

I don't think the threatened OPEC production cuts will reverse the decline either. Gasoline demand in the US is down 6.4% over a year ago, and world-wide it's slowing as well. Inventory levels are rising, indicating supply currently exceeds demand. OPEC's dream of $100+/barrel oil is just that, a dream. The world right now can't afford that price, and at that level it becomes economically viable to use alternatives. And quite frankly that price level was never set by market forces, it was set purely by speculators who're currently in the process of losing their shirts, pants, socks and underwear and absent another speculation bubble prices aren't going to go that high again for quite a while. The only way OPEC could drive prices that high again is to curtail production so severely (say in the 25% range) their members wouldn't honor the cuts. Prices went too high too fast and stayed there for too long, people have changed their behavior (abandoning SUVs for smaller more fuel-efficient cars, finding ways to not drive, etc.) and even as gas and oil prices fall the housing implosion and credit crunch are sending the economy into the toilet making people twitchy about spending money and keeping them from returning to previous expensive habits. It's going to take years for natural growth to offset the effects of those changes. Sorry, oil guys, but in your quest for a short-term windfall you screwed your profits over the long term.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gas prices

Gas is down to $3.25-29 at stations near me. That's a big drop from the $4.50+ prices back in June. A 30% or more drop in 3 months is pretty steep. And demand's down and staying down, which is causing the oil producers and oil companies and commodities speculators to throw fits.

Recognizing music

Interesting effect I noticed driving to work today. I've noticed it before, but it finally piqued me into writing about it. When noise interferes with music, so I can't hear all the notes or words, the song turns completely alien. The first beat of a measure doesn't even happen at the correct place in the melody. It's sometimes not even immediately recognizable as music or singing. It won't be until I finally place the song and remember the correct melody and lyrics that it'll snap back into synch and turn into a song again. It makes me wonder how much I really hear music, and how much is is just playback from memory with the audible song only providing markers to sync to.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Markets down further

I may have been overly optimistic. I was betting the Dow would be under 9000 by today. Instead, it looks to be making a good try at 8000. I pity those with 401Ks still heavily in stock funds, they've got to have seen 25-50% of their value evaporate in the last few weeks.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gas prices

Gas prices here are down to $3.37 and dropping. Not suprising considering the news on oil and gasoline supplies. Crude oil supplies are up 8.1 million barrels this week, making 2 consecutive weeks of increased supply. And the increase is 4 times the 2.2 million barrel increase predicted. Gasoline inventories are similarly up 7.2 million barrels, nearly 5 times the 1.5 million barrel prediction.

The oil industry's getting bit hard. They figured they could keep increasing prices indefinitely with no consequences. Wrong. When gas crossed the $4/gallon figure, people changed their behavior. If they were looking for a car, they stopped looking at big SUVs and pick-ups and started looking at more fuel-efficient, smaller models. If they had a gas-guzzler, if they could afford it they dumped it in favor of something that wouldn't eat their pocketbooks. Across the board they stopped driving as much, trying to cut down on how much gas they had to buy every week. And it went on long enough that these changes are permanent. Demand for gasoline won't be increasing as prices decline, not until the population grows enough to offset the decline in per-capita use. I'd note we've seen this before, back during the gas crisis of the 1970s. Prices climbed so far so fast that people dumped their big American gas-guzzlers for Japanese compacts, and demand dropped and stayed down for years until population growth caught things up. So anybody who's making projections based on last year's demand? Your input's garbage, expect your output to be garbage too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Markets tank further

The S&P 500 closed below 1000 today, the first time it's done that since October 2003. Bets on the Dow breaking 9000 falling before the end of the week?

Oh, to put it in scale: The S&P 500's down about 1/3rd off it's high (back in late summer of 2007). The Dow is down over 30% off it's high (same timeframe). Those are scary numbers. During the great stock market crash of 1929 the Dow lost 90% before it was over, and we're nowhere near that number yet. But, the 1929 crash didn't happen in a single day. During the 5 days that're considered the major crash itself, the markets were down 10-15% day-over-day. Right now we're seeing the major indexes losing 5-7% day-over-day, so we're seeing about half the declines of the biggest crash on record. That's not a reassuring sign there. And the 1929 crash was over in a couple of months. We've been in a steady decline for 15 months now and it only looks to be accelerating.

Don't panic. You're already in free-fall without a parachute, so stop worrying about finding the rip-cord and start looking for the softest spot to hit.

Bernanke clueless?

Bernanke says the financial crisis may prolong the economic pain. Ya THINK?!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Stock market tanking

The Dow closed below 10,000 today, the first time it's done that since October 2004. The S&P 500 closed below 1100, the first time it's done that since August 2004. I don't expect either index to recover this week. They may gain a bit, but the trend's IMO going to be downwards until after the election, maybe longer.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Markets react to bailout plan

Well, Congress passed a bail-out bill, and the markets reacted. Unfortunately the reaction wasn't what lawmakers hoped: the Dow went from being up 300 points to being down 150 points on the day. That's because the markets weren't reacting so much to the bill as to the unemployment data that came out today. That was bad news: job losses were significantly higher than expected, unemployment's now running a hair over 6%. That's unsettling news as we head into the holiday season, the time when retailers depend on consumer spending to make their profits for the year. People who lost their jobs aren't going to be spending any more than neccesary, and people worried about losing their jobs will be less willing to spend on extras. The only good news is that bank stocks may rebound a bit with the reassurance that the government will eventually help cover some of their bad loan assets. That's not going to help the overall market, though.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Evidence of Steve Fossett found

They found some items belonging to Steve Fossett, who disappeared on an airplane flight a year ago. The location explains why the search came up empty. The items were found near Mammoth Lakes, CA. The search centered on an area about 50 miles north, in Nevada.

Monday, September 29, 2008

LHC self-destruct

The LHC's coolant may explode. Basically, if you expose a Bose-Einstein Condensate to a very powerful, rapidly changing magnetic field, the attractive forces holding it together flip to repulsive forces instead. Not usually a problem, the amounts of BEC normally involved are tiny. But superfluid liquid helium is a BEC. And the LHC uses 700,000 liters of the stuff. Now, the statement that no other facility handling large quantities of liquid helium has exploded sounds good, until you realize that no other facility is using the liquid helium to cool extremely strong electromagnets.

One up-side: if the theory turns out to be right and the BEC does explode, it won't require any special equipment to verify it.

Wall Street bleeding

A majority of Republicans rejected the bail-out plan proposed by Bush, despite pleas from the Republican leadership. Most of the rejection came from the fiscal-conservative camp, the people Bush has been snubbing in favor of the religious-conservative wing of the party. Despite support from the Democrats, the plan didn't get enough votes to pass. So no bail-out.

The Dow's down 777 points at close, nearly 7%. The NASDAQ and S&P500 are in even worse shape, being down around 9% each. And frankly I don't expect the indexes to recover. They may be up a bit tomorrow, but they won't rise as far as they fell and they're going to keep slipping over the next month or two. If you're looking for improvements in the financial markets, that won't be happening until next year at the earliest.

Friday, September 26, 2008

WAMU taken over

WAMU has been taken over the by Feds in an after-market-close action, and is slated to be sold to JP Morgan Chase. Several friends and people I know bank there, and it's causing a fair amount of upset for them. Even if WAMU's open for business and money can go in and out of the accounts, they're looking at moving to other banks because they just don't trust WAMU anymore. I don't blame them. I was expecting WAMU to go under, but I'd figured it'd take another month or so to finally happen. This doesn't bode well for other troubled financial institutions, either. The Feds may just have decided that a low-key approach isn't working so time to start with preemptive strikes to cut off problems before they have a chance to blow up.

I'm also seriously thinking about opening an account with another credit union and Wells Fargo. I currently bank with a credit union, but the largest CU in the area's been gobbling up smaller ones at an alarming rate and I don't want to get sucked into that. WF looks like the stablest of the major retail banks, and if I'm spread across 2 credit unions I'm fairly sure they won't both get acquired so quickly that I can't shift things around.

I'm glad I finished moving my 401K into the money-market and Treasury-bond funds, save for a few hundred dollars spread around so I can keep seeing the historical-performance graphs for the stock funds. I figure today's market increases will get wiped out and then some tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pocket knife

I was just looking at my pocket knife after washing it to clean it out. I realized this thing is old. I got it when I was in Boy Scouts, back in 1979 or so. The Swiss Army logo got worn off 15 years ago. But the knife still works perfectly, and I expect it to be working perfectly long after I'm dead.

How many things these days are made with the expectation that they'll be in use and in good condition 80 years after they're bought?


It's interesting to use ETrade's research features to look at my 401K holdings. And frankly looking at it the rule about leaving money sit seems to be wrong. Take the Lord Abbet Small Cap Value I fund, symbol LRSYX. If you look at the chart, there's a really blatant pattern there. For quite a few years the fund consistently rises through the year, then in late November or early December it takes a nose-dive and stays down until after the New Year when it starts rising again. If you hold it the full year, the nose-dive wipes out all your gains for the year. You're better off selling out of it in mid-November and then buying back in at the beginning of January.

MMO developers

Too many MMO developers don't actually play the games they develop. If I were running an MMO company, one mandate would come down: one day a week every developer's assigned job is to play the game. Not with other developers. Not on a dev or GM account. Not exclusively with close friends or a high-end raiding guild. Play as an ordinary player with people who aren't tightly involved with the game, without the high-powered gear that comes from years of top-tier raiding that most players won't ever see.

I figure if any dev doesn't actively enjoy playing the game, I need to think long and hard about whether I really want him responsible for creating the game.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stock markets

Well, today as expected the Dow and other indexes gave up most or all of Friday's gains. Expected because the gains Friday were mostly caused by short-sellers forced to buy to cover short positions no longer allowed by SEC regulations. Most of the stock-market bubble of the last couple years has been fueled by speculation and leverage, and the slide's feeding on itself as much as the run-up did. When you bet what you don't have, you get burned badly if anything goes wrong.

I expect a similar pattern when the bail-out plan's announced. We'll see an uptick for a day, maybe two, on optimism. Then we'll see a fall as investors realize the government isn't going to give too much protection to investors and the banks that made the loans. And I expect to see more bank failures as they get hit with bad-debt losses.


We did a Chelsith run last night. They've really nerfed that zone. 83^^^ and they fold like white-con solo mobs. We only had two problems. The first was a spot where mobs spawn overhead periodically. You have to time it to clear the mobs on the path and then retreat out of range of the overheads, then pull and kill one of the mobs guarding the path exit and retreat again before killing the final one. If you don't time your retreats, you get swarmed with half-a-dozen adds and die. The second was the final mob. We just need to get positioning right and keep him stunned and interrupted so he can't call his adds in and he'll go down. We want to kill him, because he drops class pieces several of us need.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Home ownership

Here's my take on home ownership in the future. If you don't own your house or have a fixed-rate or otherwise affordable mortgage right now? Forget it. The only way you're getting a mortgage in the future is if you've got an utterly unblemished, perfect credit report, can afford a 20% cash down payment and have an income high enough that the payments won't be more than about 33% of your gross income. Anything short of that and nobody'll be willing to lend you money at rates you can afford to take.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

San Diego housing market

Quick summary: the median home price in San Diego county's down to $350K. That's down 26% from a year ago, the lowest it's been in 5-1/2 years. But there's another number that should scare anyone invested in real estate: 43% of August's sales were of foreclosed properties. That's never a good sign. And it's going to get worse. By next year I expect the median price to be down under $300K, heading for $250K. That's going to make it almost impossible for people who bought at the $400K peak to sell their houses without taking a fatal loss. And many of them won't be able to afford to keep up the payments.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Veksar - Squallic Destroyer

Went into Veksar for the first time last night. The first named is a nasty one. We think the trick's to fight him up on the dry platform, don't let him get into the water. He's an electrical-based mob, and we all know what happens when you drop a live wire into water. But we still can't keep him from killing us towards the end. Time for research and log analysis.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Chasing a can-hauler

"They thought it wouldn't be a problem. They had the fastest ships the military had, made to run down the fastest military ships the other side had. Their target was a can-hauler, big and slow. It shouldn't be a contest.

Well, they forgot one thing. Their target had a maximum rated mass of 37.5 million tons. 30 million tons of that was cargo capacity, not actual mass. And it's engines were rated to shove it around while fully loaded. Sure, it's slow carrying a full 25-30 million tons of extra mass around. But blow the bays, dump all that mass, strip the ship down to a bare frame and suddenly instead of 37.5 million tons it's only about 7.5 million tons. Now you've got 100% of it's maximum power and only 20% of the mass to move. Performance suddenly is... significantly better.

Nobody really knows how fast a can-hauler can top out at. None of the factory test pilots ever had the guts to keep the throttles wide-open until she stopped accelerating, and once one's delivered no owner's ever going to run one empty if they can help it. But being chased by a fleet hell-bent on blowing you to plasma definitely qualifies as "can't help it".

As it turns out, the fleet was right: it wasn't a contest. They were just wrong about who was going to lose.

Movie quotes that should be

"They intended to make her into the perfect assassin.
They succeeded. Almost too well.
They didn't intend to make her insane in the process,
but they succeeded at that all too well too.
In retrospect, this was probably a bad idea."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

McCain says "No more questions!" about Palin

McCain cries "No more questions!" about Palin. This, IMO, is an admission that he screwed up badly picking her and simply doesn't have any answers to these questions. And I've no sympathy for him or her. Welcome to the kitchen your party created, Johnny, if you can't take the heat you should've thought of that before your party turned it up.

And no, I don't expect all this to undermine support for her and McCain among the Republican faithful. They've nobody else to vote for, after all. But it's going to raise questions in the minds of the center, and they're the ones who're going to determine the outcome of the election. And they're already nervous about the attitudes of the Republican faithful.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vanguard MMO

Tried installing Vanguard today. First problem: the discs show up as blank, so I had to download the installer and then let the patcher download the entire game. Several hours there. When it came time to run it, I concluded that the AthlonXP 3200 CPU and 512M Radeon X1650 video card I've got just aren't up to it. I'm going to have to wait on Vanguard until I can build more powerful systems.

I may pick up the boxed set for WoW and give it a try again just to see if it's changed any since last I looked at it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fandom and detractors

Over the years, I've come to an odd conclusion. I've listened to, watched and become familiar with a certain species of person who, when faced with sci-fi, furry, anime or other fans, consistently puts them down. Common comments by them about fans are "fatties living in their parents' basement", "have no lives" and so on. You've probably met them if you've gone to any convention, or ran across the SomethingAwful crew.

My conclusion? The types who put down fans seem to fall closer to the stereotypes they're disparaging than the fans they're trying to put down.


On a related note, I also need to set up a dentist's appointment. I've got one molar where the filling's cracked again, and it's going to need a root canal and crown 'cause there's not enough left to fill. One upper incisor (one I cracked one edge off of as a kid) also needs work, the filling's cracking and coming loose and I suspect they may prefer something more substantial than a filling there. Neither of them's painful, but I need to get at least some of the work done this year to use up the health-care account money I set aside for them. I've been putting this off because I loathe having work done in my mouth.


Frack. The nosepads on my new glasses have been giving me some problems, digging into the sides of my nose to the point of nearly cutting the skin. So I went to a) swap the nosepads from my old pair (that were comfortable) onto the new pair and b) put a layer of padding on them while I had them off. So what happens? The screwdriver slipped getting one screw off, and then again putting it back in. Result: two nasty scratches on the left-hand lens. I'm not sure if they're just in the teflon coating or actually in the polycarb itself, and if they are in the teflon whether the lens can just be recoated or will have to be replaced.

I so do not need this sort of annoyance.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cel phone

My phone's starting to go a touch wonky, and I've 2 others for friends that're also starting to go weird. So, time to look at upgrades. Since I'm through AT&T, formerly Cingular, I'm limited to what's available through them. My basic requirements are Bluetooth support and not a bar phone, with a strong preference for ones with software support in Linux to upload/download items to the phone and alter settings. Right now my candidates are:
  • Samsung A737
  • Nokia 6555
  • Samsung SLM
  • Pantech Duo
  • Palm Treo 750
  • AT&T Tilt
Any recommendations from the geeks out there?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bad news for SD realtors

Foreclosures up over 200% compared to last year. That's not good news. Well, not for realtors and/or homeowners in trouble, that is. If you look at the graph, the trends are alarming. The massive spike, well above historical maximums, is really obvious.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gas prices

Gas is down to $3.79 at the Valero I normally fuel up at. That's a 60 cent drop, nearly 15%, over the last 6 weeks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Doctors and discrimination

CA Supreme Court rules that doctors can't discriminate based on sexual orientation.

The key point in this decision is that the doctors had no moral or ethical objections to performing the procedure in question. In fact they performed it routinely. They simply objected to those particular patients having it. Some advocates are painting this as an infringement of a doctor's right to their own moral code. Bullshit. Under this decision, if a doctor finds artificial insemination or abortion or any procedure morally objectionable, they can refuse to perform the procedure. And they can reject certain patients based on legitimate medical grounds, eg. that that procedure would be medically harmful for that patient. What they can't do is flip-flop on moral grounds, deciding that a procedure's moral for one patient and not for another. Which to me seems reasonable. If a doctor found the procedure itself objectionable, why would they perform it for anybody? And if they don't find it objectionable, where's the problem?

Complicating matters for the doctor in this case is the fact that the doctor signed an agreement with the HMO to provide this procedure to all covered patients. The patients the doctor refused were covered by that HMO. So the doctors not only have a civil-rights problem, they've got a breach-of-contract problem.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

SOE Fan Faire

Had a good time. Didn't get to meet Danya (she was there but I never crossed paths with her), did get to meet most of the rest of the people I was looking to meet. Was going to meet Tora and Jeremy for lunch or dinner, but Tora had a mess of a day and by the time we got in contact I was in the middle of the attendees-only dinner and presentations. By the time I was out of that it was 11pm and we had to head back home. Life's annoying like that.

Got a good look at DC Universe Online, the new superhero MMO Sony's doing. Looks good. The game itself looks a lot like CoH/CoV, but with more flexibility and fewer pointless restrictions. You don't have tightly-defined archetypes, for instance. Leveling up doesn't involve gaining new powers or replacing old abilities with newer ones. You get your powers, travel ability and such right off at the beginning, and as you level up your powers get more powerful and you refine your control over them letting you do more with them. So, for instance, if you made a Cyclops clone, at the beginning your eye-beams could only hit one target at a time. By the time you hit 20, they do more damage when they hit, your aim's better and you're starting to be able to for instance split the beam to hit more than one target at a time. But you don't have to shell out money (in whatever form) to get those improvements, they happen as your character gets more experienced. What you can do is use rewards you've gotten from defeating villains to buy additional equipment and boosts that you can equip, for instance extra armor for your costume (making you tougher) or a new visor to boost the power of your eye-beams even more by focusing them. And you can change those out, so while you may not have enough room to equip both the armor and the new visor at the same time you can swap between them at will depending on what's needed at the moment. And no, you can't play the major DC heroes like Superman and Batman. That's not because of any arbitrary trademark rule, but because those characters are already in the game. You interact with them, generally at first and then more and more personally as your character levels up and builds their reputation, until eventually you're no longer the new kid on the block but the established hero they call on when they need help. The evil side works similarly, and there's varying degrees of PvP so heroes can always fight villains. The exact rules are going to vary by server and area within the game, so you won't be forced to deal with constant PvP if you don't want to but the possibility's always going to be there if you do want to.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

SOE Fan Faire

Date set. I'll be up in Vegas Saturday for a day of Fan Faire. Mostly it'll be to meet people who'll be there.

Note to self: at least one bottle of Arrogant Bastard for Brasse.

SOE Fan Faire

Well, I can't make the full 3 days of Fan Faire, the hotel room and such are just too big a drain. But I'm going to try to make one day, either Friday or Saturday. Drive up in the morning, back that night. It's only 250 miles each way, draining but doable and I'll have at least one day to recover before going back to work. Just have to find out if memberships are still available at this short a notice.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Georgia - Ossetia - Russia

Maybe I'm being cynical, but three suspicions:
  • Russia is really funding and supporting the separatists specifically to cause problems for Georgia.
  • It's about the oil, or specifically the oil pipelines. Georgia sits squarely on the main pipeline route to the Black Sea, and Russia would rather be the ones in that position.
  • Russia will say anything that the rest of the world wants to hear about peaceful resolution and cease-fires, but the tanks won't stop rolling until the pipelines are solidly under Russian control.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Optimist vs. pessimist

I find being a pessimist more satisfying. Think about it. The best an optimist gets is "Working as expected.". Anything else is only a disappointment. A pessimist, though, at worst gets "Working as expected.", and anything else is a pleasant surprise. I'd rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Transit reimbursement

Work's set up a new program to let us pay for bus passes and such with pre-tax money. I plan on taking advantage of this.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vampire day

It's vampire time again. The Red Cross Bloodmobile is out back, and I'm schedule to give another pint. This brings me up to an even gallon.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Schlitz beer

Ye gods, Schlitz is back. I remember that beer. Worse than Miller. Gah.

DHS may sieze and keep laptops indefinitely

Washington Post article

The actual policy PDF

This is one of the reasons I don't like DHS. That "we can do anything we want and you can't object" attitude torques me right off. I want the same rights to their computers that they think they have to ours. And I suspect this is going to kill business travel from the rest of the world to the US in a hurry. No company's going to want to risk having expensive laptops (not to mention all their data) appropriated.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spacer blaster

This blaster is what J would carry in his ex-military-spacer persona. Big, nasty, effective. Well, effective in his hands. Minimum standards for the Empire were at least 90% of shots hitting the target and at least 50% in the black at 15 meters, none of this Stormtrooper "anybody who can hit the broadside of a barn more than once in ten shots is disqualified" stuff allowed.