Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Only the Germans could come up with a word like "schadenfreude". For those of you who don't sprechen sie any deutchse, schadenfreude is the joy you get from seeing something bad happen to someone you dislike. You know, when they get their comeupppance. That feeling you got when you saw Princess Lea strangled Jabba the Hut in Empire Strikes Back, the germans have a word for that. Gotta love those silly krauts.
In case you are wondering what my point is. I experienced this emotion last week (because something bad happened to someone I dislike, not just because I'm part german). If you'll remember the problem I'm having with my Sudanese neighbor
You know he's got a bunch of dirt in his driveway, like this which makes it harder to use my driveway, especially when it encourages other illegal dumpers...
like this. (some dumped a couple of mattresses and boxpsrings after this, but I didn't take a pic because I am lazy).
So, you'll undertsand why I felt good when a tree fell on his house and knocked out his cable and phone lines. It didn't knock down his whole house, which would've made it more enjoyable, but still, that is pretty good.
I was trying to think if there is an equivalent way in english to describe how I feel about this. All I could come up with is : HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
I think this is clearly a sign that I am in the right on this one. My neighbor claims that if the dirt wasn't there, the tree would've gone through the back of the guy's house so maybe that's a sign that God likes the dirt there. That's just silly.
He obviously wanted to punish the Sudanese guy so he took away his ability to watch this season's American Idol and if that guy doesn't get his act together, he will ratchet it up more and more until we have biblical plagues and such. The reason he didn't knock the house down first is because there are innocent Sudanese refugees renting rooms from the guy so it's his way of saying that "God's not down with Genocide, man."
By the way, a lot of Sudanese are polytheistic animists, not good catholics, like normal people. This could also be a sign that my Catholic Deity is more powerful than the silly rocks they pray to, but I won't go there.
(Please spare me the hate mail, with all the tuition that my parents paid to send me to Catholic school, I am entitled to make occassional jokes about religion...it's been pre-paid).
Friday, March 24, 2006
In my mind I can't think of any possiblie scenario involving my miter saw that would be even remotely be considered a funny story. In fact, the only stories I could think about when he said that were ones that ended with "and I only turned my back for a second...who knew a crackhead could run so fast while carrying your miter saw!" But luckily, this was not one of those kinds of stories.
It turns out that Easy Rider was talkin' to one of his new neighbors who bought a place in his hood (Truxton/shaw?) with her spouse/significant other and was telling him about blogs she likes. She mentioned a blogger in Truxton, which I assume is Mari, then she said she likes reading the Home Improvement Ninja. She asked if he knows about the ninja. He said "Know about him? I got his miter saw in my basement!" So if any of you were wondering about the dearth of miter-saw related posts lately, you know who to blame. Hopefully I'll rectify that soon with some more hardwood flooring pics/posts.
I've always wondered about the four people a day who read my blog. So hello to that person, and the other three peple, whoever you are.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
In other housing news:
Even though you don't know who I am, before I say the following, just in case, let me say that the following is my opinion and it doesn't necessarily reflect the opinions of any of my co-workers or bosses. Got that, internet peeps?
Now then. Exciting news for finance geeks, like me! The Chicago Mercantile Exchange is launching a futures contract on housing prices in 10 cities. You can read about it here. If you have an opinion about the direction of real estate prices, you can now bet...errr, take advantage of your opinion without buying or selling actual houses.
If you think real estate in your city will go up, like the real estate brokers keep telling you, but you don't want to invest your life savings in a house, you can buy a futures contract (go long) on the housing market in your city and get the price appreciation without the headaches of home ownership (like leaky pipes and sudanese neighbors). If you think the price of housing might fall, but don't want to sell your house, move, then try to buy it back in 3 years, then you can stay where you are and sell a futures contract (short the market) and, economically, it will be as if you sold your house, except that you don't have to deal with shady movers breaking your antiques and "accidentally" rifling through your wife's underwear drawer.
Think of it like owning shares in an oil company, instead of digging for oil yo' self. Some people do very well in oil, despite being miserable human beings. I guess you could also alter your position as the value of your house starts to move out-of-sync with the index (dynamic hedging) , or buy options on the index and delta hedge your position, if that's how you roll, but that's beyond the scope of this blog, my imaginary friends.
I made a bet with Johnny Vegas last year about a recession in the British economy happening in the next few months, but luckily I'll only be out $60 if I'm wrong. I'm kind of an asshole for betting that something bad will happen to other people, but if you want to make money by betting against assholes like me, or by being an asshole yourself, then check out these new products and see how you do. Good luck!
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I did some electrical work this weekend (and I actually turned off the power first). But there's no pics to show you. For some reason, things like public speaking scare the crap out of me, but things like working with live electric wires don't. In my defense, the breaker box is in the basement and I don't like to go down 3 flights of stairs and back up just to do something simple, but I did it the right way this weekend. Soon I'll start wearing safety glasses when I use power tools and I'll look like a shop teacher (except I have all my fingers, knock wood).
Other than that, the weekend wasn't very eventful. I went out for a few drinks on St. Patrick's day. I didn't go to an Irish Bar because going to an Irish Bar on St. Patrick's day is idiotic. It's like you died and went to fraternity heaven.
I went to a bar called Brickskeller, which has several hundred kinds of beer from around the world. It's like DC's smaller, lamer version of The Peculiar Pub in NYC's Greenwich Village. DC seems to have a smaller, lamer version of everything in NYC, except organized crime, which is bigger, more violent and totally legal here. We elect new mob bosses every few years instead of whacking the old ones, which is more fun. (I drank Hoffbrau Heffeweise, for those of you keeping score).
At the bar, I was with my friend, Paddy McShamrock (His real name is actually almost as irish sounding), his GF and some of their friends. Here are some random facts about Paddy McShamrock:
- We worked together at my first lawyer gig;
- He claims he was fired because of me;
- I don't admit number 2, but he's now making more than twice what he was making when we worked together (plus bonus) so if I did get him fired, which I don't admit, I actually did him a favor;
- Paddy got a job in Miami and left here with enough flannel shirts in his wardrobe to outfit a canadian lumberjack camp; he came back with more metrosexual gear than the first season of Queer Eye;
- His place in South Beach would make the people on MTV cribs jealous.
Next week I'll try to start on some kitchen stuff and get my iPhoto working again.
[Edited to fix a typo...because I AM that anal].
Friday, March 17, 2006
I'm still having some minor issues with my computer, but when I was cleaning this week I found the diagnostic disk for my iMac and it says that nothings wrong with my hardware, so I may just take it to Apple and have them wipe everything clean and reload all my programs. I'll be uploading my CDs on iTunes for the next couple of months. D'oh!.
As a Catholic, I can't helpt thinking that this is my pennance for stealing music from the interweb and depriving rich musicians of my not-so-hard earned money. God hates music thieves and punishes them mercilessly...unless they use bit torrent to steal, in which case he is surprisingly avuncular and forgiving.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Tech: These problems are sometimes caused by [P2P stuff].
Tech: P2P is peer-to-peer. Sometimes when people load a program to steal songs from the internet, it messes with the [permission something thingy] and [jacks up yo' mac]. Limewire is notorious for that.
Ninja: Oh. I think my uh, nephew might've installed Limewire on there to steal music..that kid's shady, man. I mean the kid is only six, but he's tricky....and he's got them li'l beady eyes.
Troulble, man...I'm just sayin'.
Tech: It's usually not a problem unless people steal a lot of music with it.
Ninja: oh...well, I'm not too good with computers, so I may have accidentally stolen a few hundred songs on there. I just can't get used that Mac mouse. You know, the one-button thing throws me off..
So the computer just shows a picture of an Apple and nothing happens. So the guy pushes some key on the keyboard when he starts it up and hooks up an external harddrive thingy with diagnostic software and disk repair software robots on it.
So first the guy tries Disk Utility. No luck there. Then he wants to run "Disk Warrior" which is "more agressive" but can wipe out your data. I said, "all I've got on there is my Music, which I can reload from my CDs...except for the stolen stuff, which God is already punishing me for." Plus when I saw the logo for Disk Warrior, I thought: That looks vaguely like a freakin' ninja. He can get get the job done.
Our shadow warrior friend fixed what needed to be fixed, but it still was a little jacked up. So they started it from some external drive thingy and fixed a few other things, then it was working fine again.
AFterwards, I took it home and it worked mostly fine, but I still have the occasssional weird pixelation issue. If it doesn't get any worse I'll probably just live with it until I upgrade to a laptop. Then maybe I can steal...ooops, borrow, a WiFi signal and I cancel my cable modem and save myself $1200 a year.
Hmmmm, so to recap my trip to the Apple store had mixed results. They were able to get my computer working again with some software fixes, which is good. But when I took it home, it still had some fo the same weird random pixalation issues from before, which is bad. It was free, which is good, but I am not sure it's fixed perfectly, which is bad.
The Moral of this story: DON'T STEAL MUSIC FROM THE INTERWEB (at least not using Limewire). The Mac guy uhhh allegedly told me that when his errrr friend accidentally steals music from the internet, he uses Bit Torrent. He said that that you need more Mac skillz to use it, but it's less likely to crash yo' system. I'll be the first to admit that my Mac skillz are not up to snuff, so I'll pay for my music from now on. Ya' hear that, Karma!
Saturday, March 11, 2006
It appears that Ninjas dabble in other things besides home improvement. Here is a great online comic book about a Ninja who practices medicine...when he's not kickin' butt. The guy's name? Dr. McNinja, of course.
Here's a cute animated cartoon about a ninja, who may or may not be named Fuggy Fuggy.
A crazed "ninja" shot dead by a guy with a .357 magnum. Read the article here.
I have a few problems with this story. First, everyone knows you can't kill a ninja with a bullet, unless it's silver. The only way to kill a ninja and ensure that he doesn't come back to life and kill you right back is to drive a wooden stake through his black heart. Everyone knows that. Oh wait, maybe that's how you kill zombie pirates, isn't it? Ummm, well you know what. I'm not going to tell you how to kill a ninja, because Superman doesn't go around telling people that he's allergic to Kryptonite, right?
Secondly, not everybody who dresses in black is a Ninja. Do you think this guy is a ninja? I don't think so, slick. A rebel maybe, but a Ninja? Not! Ninja's don't make computers that freeze up on you just because you installed software to steal music from the internet. Ooops, I meant borrow...definitely borrow.
Paris Hilton wears black. You think she's a ninja? Maybe if she found a ancient ninja master in the spirit realm who would be willing to let her trade skank for ninpo skillz, then possibly, but otherwise, I don't really see it happening any time soon.
Friday, March 10, 2006
- Somebody finally wised up and told Bob Villa to get his shinebox and go shine shoes someplace else;
- how to match old cement in bricks.
So anyway, that stuff wears out and it's a real bee-yotch to try to mix up something to repair it that will match the old stuff (unless you dig out a lot of it and re-point your whole house). So when they repaired an old townhouse in Shaw, a gentrifying neighborhood (that put the "hood" in neighborhood), they matched the old cement perfectly. How? They took a sample of the old cement and dipped it in Hydrocloric Acid. The acid disolves the lime, and leaves only the sand. Then you take the sand and find matching sand, add lime and voila, a perfect match.
This episode of This Old House did not suck because it was unlike the other episodes. What makes the other episodes unrealistic and unwatchable is the following:
- I wouldn't trust Bob Villa to shine my shoes (my regular shoes or my ninja climbing shoes), so I don't buy him as the host of a home improvement show;
- the houses on that show are usually in the million dollar plus range and the repairs are usually more than most people pay for an entire house. (I'm sorry, but I don't give a flying fig about renovating the governor's mansion, asshat. I wanna' know how the easiest way to insulate a really old house that had NO insulation whatsoever, so that I don't freeze to death or go broke paying the gas company) who has half a million for a renovation budget???;
- Something about Norm Abrams that I can't put my finger on makes me not like him. He's got that Unabomber thing going on. (I got my eye on you, man, so don't even think about it!);
- they tend to try to keep those places like museums. Who the hell still uses plaster? If you need to repair it, that's one thing, but if it's so bad that you had to remove it, why not just put up sheetrock like a normal person...or a person like me.
I don't think I would use that Hydrocloric Acid trick myself (I don't mind endangering myself by doing electrical work, but something about Acid scares the crap out of me), but I thought I would throw it out there in case somebody finds it helpful.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
So, as you would expect from secutiries lawyers this thing was unspeakably boring. They had presenters that literally read every word from their notes without looking up. And they did it in monotone. These people are really bright, but incredibly boring. At future events I hope they balance the panels out by adding people like me who are incredibly entertaining, but have no idea what we are talking about.
The highlight of the conference was lunch when I went to the new SEC bldg to visit my friend who is moving to california. The bldg is all gray granite and steel. My friend calls it "industrial chic", but I refer to it as "the place where colors go to die".
Anyway, this was a downer because although we all know that DC is a very transient city, my friend "Sailor Moon", was, literally, the first friend I made in DC. We met at school during orientation. And now she is leaving for San Diego. But she is married and has a kid now and San Diego is probably a much better place to raise kids than DC. Raising your kids around wolves is probably preferrable to raisng them around politicians, so I can't blame her. I won't post a pic of her because she asked me not to. She is afraid of the wierdos who read blogs on the internet (apologies to the non-wierdos who read my blog, to the others: you know who you are).
On sunday I managed to get what I hope are all the plumbing parts I needed from Lowe's and I also managed to drop my computer off at the Apple Store. I need to go there tonight to talk to the people at the "genius bar" to see what's wrong with it and if I should fix it or buy a new one. You know, I like Macs as much as the next guy, but I think calling your technicians "geniuses" is a bit much. Anyway, having my computer back should enable me to upload pics of my new work. If I don't get it back soon, I'll use the wayback machine and post pics of stuff that I did before but I didn't have time to blog about.
Maybe some before and after pics?
Monday, March 06, 2006
In the meantime, I think I should expand on my previous bubble talk. Both to make it more understandable and prove my Derviatives Geek street cred.
So to fully expain the causes/effects of the bubble I had to think of how to explain it with everyday terms. Here is an analogy. Let’s say you open up a shop that sells ham and cheese sandwiches. You are making a lot of money at it, of course. So other people start to open up more sandwich shops. The competition pushes down sandwich prices and you make less money. This is how things work in the real world, until the government sticks it's nose into it. The government always sees a problem, then goes in and makes it worse.
The Fed Chairman sees the slowdown in sandwich sales and decides that, to avoid the prices of sandwiches going down (deflation!) he should print more money (i.e. lower the short-term interest rates). In order to prevent that money from being spent on other things (like cars), congress passes certain tax laws and subsidies to make sure that the money goes to sandwich shops (they make the interest on sandwiches tax deductible, and if you invest in a sandwich shop and sell it after two years, you pay no tax on the sale etc.). They also set up quasi-federal agencies (Fannie Mae etc.) to give below market government guarantees to loans on sandwich shops.
All of a sudden, lots of people start going to sandwich shops and the price of ham, cheese and bread go up. You used to be able to make a sandwich for a $1 and sell it for $3. The higher prices now mean that it costs you $2 to make a sandwich and you sell it for $4. After prices rise again, it costs you $3 to make a sandwich. You try to raise prices to $5, but no one buys your sandwiches, so you drop the price back down to $4, to keep the food from spoiling and you losing everything.
Now, here is where the problem comes in. As the price of ham, cheese and bread keep going up, soon it will cost more to make a sandwich than you can sell it for. That’s when you the sandwich bubble will end.
Now, onto real estate: If you hadn’t noticed, the price of energy has gone way up recently. (people blame the arabs and Opec, but that’s not the real reason). The price of steel is at record prices too (people blame China, but that’s not the reason either). The price of Lumber (damn Canadians!), cement (damn Katrina!) and Drywall are all up. In addition, copper(damn internet!), cocoa(damn Ivory Coast riots), steel, gold are all at record prices. So instead of asking “why are commodity prices rising” you can ask the opposite “why is the value of the dollar falling?”.
The value of the dollar is falling because we are printing so much money. They are printing so much of it, in fact, that begining in March, they won't even tell you how much of it they are printing anymore. With all that money floating around, just like in post-WWI germany, you have inflation in the price of raw goods. Now when the price of concrete, drywall, lumber, land and construction labor keeps going up, it will reach a point where it costs more to build these houses/condos than you can sell them for. And don’t kid yourself, this isn’t NYC, there is a practical limit on how high prices can go. Two government employees can’t afford a million-dollar first home, and two associates at a top law firm would barely be able to do so.
So, the reason the bubble will end, will have to do with rising commodity prices, not rising interest rates. There is only one real estate investor, Tom Barrack, who I have ever seen who said this will be the reason, not interest rates, for the end of the real estate boom. Although he doesn’t mention Mises or Austrian Business Cycle Theory, his description is pretty similar.
In fact, he sees signs of the tech bubble mentality in real estate. Too much capital is chasing real estate, he explains, with hedge funds, private equity groups, and rich investors all bidding on the same properties. "They've driven prices to the point where the yields on high-quality properties are like the returns on bonds, around 5 percent or 6 percent," says Barrack. "That's too low."
Now, what about interest rates? Well, some people think that The new Fed Chairman (or the old one) has some effect on mortgage rates and will cause the bubble to burst when he raises short-term rates. That's incorrect. Mortgages are affected by long-term interest rates that are priced at a certain amount over U.S. Bonds. Since we buy more from places like China and Japan than we sell, they have a lot of dollars. Dollars are like a gift certificate that can only be used in the US. But their holders are not buying US goods with these dollars, but they have to buy something with it. So they end up buying US Treasury Bonds. All those billions going into US Bonds has bid their price up, making the interest payable on them lower. SInce the interest on US Bonds is lower, the interest on mortgages are lower. WHen foreigners decide to stop buying US Bonds (because with the falling dollar, it makes it a losing investment) interest rates will go up. But, as I said, the bubble's end will be caused by other factors.
Now, given the history of past real estate bubbles, it's possible that prices won't collapse. THey may just stay where they are for the next 10-12 years (like what happened in DC prior to 1999). It all depends on how many flippers try to sell at the same time. What makes real estate bubbles different from stock bubbles is that non-speculative owners can hold onto their property and stabilize the market. This makes me less afraid of buying property in a place like DC where people live and work than in a place like Vegas where a lot of the price appreciation comes from flippers who have no intention of living there and who will sell at the first sign of trouble. Still, Anyone that tells you that real estate always goes up or that paying $800k for a 2BR condo (with a $700 a month condo fee) is a great investment is smoking some serious crack.
I'm not saying not to buy a house (I own one and part of another one), but make suer the numbers make sense and don't buy using a variable rate mortgage because you will get kicked in the financial nuts when the Chinese start shifting their assets from US Bonds to gold or other currencies like the Euro.
All graphs were from THe Prudent Bear.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
I was trying to decide what course of action to take.
- Fix it myself. I don't need to worry about voiding the manufacturers warranty because it expired already. The bragging rights on this would be friggin' sweet, but I have no idea what I'm doing; it would probably take way too much time away from home improvement and naps; and I could potentially electrocute myself;
- Get Apple to Fix it. This probably makes sense, but I would feel kinda silly paying $5-600 to get it fixed when I could buy a new one for about $1000. The plus side to this solution is that I wouldn't have to re-load all my CDs onto iTunes again, which takes forever;
- Buy another Apple. The new Apples are sweeeeeet, but to get a decent one would probably run me $1300-1500 bucks ($1000 is for the cheapest laptop). Two problems with this, I'm not made of money and I worry about spending that much on a new one and having it crap out on me.
- Buy a PC. I saw a commercial where you can get a Dell with a flatscreen monitor and printer and all that stuff for under $500. That's awesome, but it's still not a Mac, which would make feel like I'm cheating (plus, technologically speaking, I'm an idiot that has a hard time working my iMac, the thouthg of tinkering with a PC is scary mojo).
Either way, I have to make up my mind soon because Tax season is coming up so I need to figure out which version (Mac or PC of Turbo Tax to buy). In case you are wondering, the IT Gestapo has put something on our computers to prevent you from loading any software on your work computer. So I need to intsall it at home. The only way to alter one of these machines is to call tech support and have them send up an IT gnome with pasty-white skin and big coke-bottle glasses and freaky yellow eyes that have never seen natural sunlight. They also spit when they talk and ask you weird questions like "do you think that girl that hangs out in the hallway has a boyfriend". Then you have to explain to them that there's no girl in the hallway, that it's actually a couch. I'm telling you, we need to talk to HR about our mutant hiring policies.
Not having a computer also prevents me from uploading pics of the home improvement projects I am working on. So for the next week or so, you people will just have to take my word about how awesome my skillz are.