Sunday, August 31, 2008

Galveston is dying

I took the kids to Galveston today. Helicopters flew overhead every 2-3 minutes, taking workers off the oil platforms and bringing them to Scholes Field. We drove through some of the older neighborhoods, and it strikes me that Galveston is slowly dying.

Less than a block from the seawall, I think this was 75th Street. House for sale. It was one of the few houses without the storm shutters closed. I wish we could grow Norfolk Island pines here, but Galveston Island is the only place in southeast Texas with a mild enough climate that allows them to grow.

Once a small mansion, now it's Monster House. Look at all of that beautiful woodwork rotting away.

Storm shutters up permanently. At least until the house is demolished.

I believe this is where that warehouse caught fire during Rita. If you click on the picture and look closely you can still see the mural advertising W. L. Moody's cotton company. He was famous in Galveston's early history, and his mansion is still a tourist attraction. The century-old complex along Broadway that housed the cotton compresses was demolished a few years ago.

Even the horses were wilting in the heat on the Strand.

The Strand is not as busy as it used to be.

Dodged a bullet.

I never noticed these until today. Those old buildings along the Strand have serious storm shutters. This is a thick steel plate that must weigh a few hundred pounds.

The cruise ships were still heading out. It's a straight shot across the Gulf to Cozumel. They'll miss Gus, but I bet the seas are pretty rough out there tonight.

Like I said, Galveston is dying. It's a city filled with very poor people who rely on social welfare services, a few wealthy people, and not many people in the middle. There is no real economic reason for the city to be there now, other than as a transportation hub for workers out in the Gulf. The housing bubble injected a bit of vitality, but only in the high-end condos that presently line the beachfront, many of which are now empty and unsold. It's very sad, but I think Galveston will survive longer than New Orleans.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Serpent's Coil

I have been looking a long time for this and found it tonight. It's an old video that the Harris County Office of Emergency Management produced in the late 1990s, The Serpent's Coil.

http://www.hcoem.org/videos/Serpents_Coil_300k.asf

The acting is horrendous, the narrator is melodramatic. But I do think it's something you folks down in Clear Lake/NASA/League City/La Marque should watch. I think of all of those newly-minted subdivisions lining Galveston Bay, with no seawall or levee between these thousands of houses and the storm surge. This is a real disaster waiting to happen.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain/Palin '08

I turned on the radio this morning and at first I thought that Michael Palin was somehow getting involved in the US presidential campaign. Then after about 15 seconds they said Sarah Palin. I said "who?" Now that I know about her I like the McCain/Palin ticket. Palin is sharp.

Savage thinks McCain is trying to lose the election. I disagree. I think this is the way to win the election.

Now back to Hammer #1 for the next few weeks, unless something happens with Gustav. I don't recall ever seeing a hurricane travel in a perfectly straight direction for 1500 miles.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bye for now

Time to take a break for a while. Hammer #1 is calling and must be dealt with. I haven't been procrastinating, the process just takes a long time. Also, my son starts school tomorrow. I will need to really work hard with him on his math. Then there's the mountain of preparation that lies ahead for School Night for Scouting. Right now it's me and one other guy doing all of the work. Knock on wood that changes once we get new parents signed up during that meeting.

I am getting the braces installed on September 12. Maybe I'll post a photo so ya'll can laugh. (Something more creative than "tinsel teeth," please.) I'll probably need some humor thrown in my direction. I remember braces. Your mouth hurts like hell the first few days.

This past summer has sucked bad in so many ways. I am glad it is winding down. I'm just wondering what crappy thing will happen next.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Matthew Engel of the Financial Times is a moron

Matthew Engel is a writer for the Financial Times. He has no clue.
The biggest US sports (American football, baseball, basketball) are particularly their own and primarily domestic. Neither their athletes nor spectators are well-prepared for the Olympics.
Last time I checked, basketball is popular around the world. So is baseball. In the sheltered European world view, only Americans really love baseball. In the real world, baseball is enormously popular outside of the US (1) (2) (3), especially in Latin America and the Far East.

Casey Rap

As found by Benoit: Juicy meat for you, trolling and baiting.

Live streaming video by Ustream
Update: Casey's nemesis M. Singh makes a return appearance! Check, baby, check!

President McCain

Obama just handed the presidency over to John McCain. Biden has been a running joke for years. Perhaps his apparent drinking problem has something to do with his propensity to say dumb things.



The release of this video minutes after the announcement came is very interesting. Someone in either the McCain or Clinton camp has been sitting on this. I am betting it was a Clinton staffer.

The older ladies at work were all for Hillary. They're very pissed and they either say they aren't voting in November, or they're voting for McCain. We all know Obama hates Hillary and vice-versa, so why didn't Obama pick someone who isn't infamous for verbals gaffs? Bill Richardson would have made a good candidate.

The election is now McCain's to lose. If he swings to the right, he won't pick up the Angry White Woman vote that was for Hillary. If he stays centrist, he wins.

By the way, congratulations to Team Obama for wrapping up the crucial Delaware vote!

Update: I agree with this:
Instead of swinging wildly, hoping to land a punch, maybe you just need to pray really really really really really really......really hard that that isnt him.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Big Lebowski in 2 minutes 15 seconds



Bonus: Jesus in German.

Californians are still insane

It is said that Irvine is a good area to work and live. Here is an almost 40-year-old house in Irvine, 1,156 square feet. They somehow pack 4 bedrooms into this square footage. Just $455,000. Looks like this "starter home" needs some work.
It is said that Katy is a good place to work and live. Here is an almost 5-year-old house in Katy, 4,128 square feet. 5 bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, pool with waterfall. Just $450,000.

Let's take a look at Compton.
This 60+ year old gem contains a massive 810 square feet of living space. Comes with chain link fence and plastic patio chairs. Price? Just $350,000.

Meanwhile, about 1500 miles east in Katy...
For $25,000 less than the Compton home, a brand-new 3,600 square foot 5-bedroom McMansion is yours.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Some random photos

A guy from Coahuila who lives in a neighborhood nearby commutes in to work the same time I do and I see his car at least once a week. He drives a Hyundai Atos, the tiniest little crapbox on 4 wheels I have ever seen, excluding the Yugo. No A/C, and he wheezes the car up to 70 on the freeway.

Getting back to my post of the pending revenue shortfall on the Katy Tollway, here's the Katy at the height of the morning rush today. Normally a sprinkling of rain is enough to cause massive traffic jams. Now? Not even torrential rains cause a backup.

Five open lanes in each direction is the magic number. Adding on two toll lanes in each direction is pointless.

The funniest thing I have ever read

From the San Francisco Chronicle,
A pair of reports released Tuesday highlighted the upside of the real estate downturn: Housing is becoming more affordable for more people across California and the Bay Area.

The minimum income required to purchase an entry-level home, estimated at $582,130, is $111,210.
SF Bay area real estate will decline an additional 50% from this point. There is no possible economic justification for a starter house to be priced at $582k. $250k is still pushing it when you add in real world economics of child care, medical insurance, maintenance and property taxes. You know, expenses that the NAR pretend don't exist.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Royce Builders

No housing woes in Houston? Explain Royce Builders. Swamplot has some juicy behind-the-scenes details.

A World Without America

An anti anti-American web site from the UK. It appears to be connected with the Tories. They do a better job of swatting down misperceptions and stupid hatreds against America than the US government.

Angry Television Reporter

A buddy of mine from high school has worked at a local TV station for years as an engineer. The following e-mail was sent to all employees today by their star investigative reporter.
PLEASE STOP FORWARDING CALLS OF LUNATICS TO US JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T WANT TO DEAL WITH IT.

I have had at least half a dozen people transferred to me in the last two days with problems that range from family members kidnapping their mother to guys who claim they are being poisoned by the government. They did not ask for me, and we all know that we DON’T investigate martians back here, and we are not the clearing house for every caller yall don’t want to deal with.

We don’t mind getting calls from people with legitimate (deleted) stories, but by now everyone knows what kind of stories we do.

THANK YOU,

(deleted)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Teen Fashion circa 1973

Lileks has evidence from the 1973 Sears catalog. Even though I was in third grade in 1973 I know the big kids never, ever wore these candy-ass clothes. Particularly the clothes the fruit loop on the left is wearing.

I do remember my mom wearing one of these. Then there's the whole "Toughskin" thing. Times were tight in the mid-1970s, Sears had a cheap line of demin jeans they called "Toughskins". Every kid wanted Levi's. My mom, like many moms, could only afford the "Toughskins." I was mortified to show up in school in my Toughskins.

I am looking at the clothes my kids and their peers wear now. Just about all of them wear fashions from Target. Which is a relief for me.

When Fannie and Freddie go belly up

I listen to these guys every evening as I am driving home. Their theory is Fannie and Freddie are too big to go belly up. That is, until after the fall election. Then the SHTF. Whoever is the next president will be an unpopular one-termer.

The timing sucks for me because this affects my personal situation. Unlike some people I believe that neglecting to point out certain facts when you are signing a legally binding document is blatant fraud. There is no such thing as a "gray area." Just because "everyone else is doing it and I learned this at a seminar I paid $5,000 to attend" doesn't make it right or legal.

It is still amazing to me that I have been dragged into this whole credit morass. I saw this coming back in 2004. As I have said for years, I just want to keep my head down when this thing explodes. That means I carry no debt except for an exceedingly modest mortgage. 1-2 years of cash in the bank in case of emergency. Pile money into my IRAs. I despise credit card debt. No granite counter tops. No massive flat-screen plasma TV. In fact, come the digital switch next year I am probably going to get the converter. No vacations. Last vacation I had was when we went to San Francisco a few years ago. My current vehicle was bought in November 2000 and has been paid off for many years.

Yet I am still caught up in this crap. I suspect there are millions of people out there like me who didn't make poor financial decisions who are now also being affected by the idiocy of Wall Street and the asshole housing speculators. I think that sucks. Why should we be penalized?

Monday, August 18, 2008

I'm fat

I finally saw the lab report from the tests the life insurance company ordered. Everything checks out... except that I am fat. A lardass. My BMI is 25.4. I am officially "Overweight". So they jacked up my rate by $2/mo.

I've lost almost 10 pounds since July thanks to Lou's Amazing High-Stress Diet. It is guaranteed effective, because you lose your desire to eat. As of today my BMI is 24.1, which makes me "Normal". I am no longer a lardass.

I think the BMI is nonsense. A guy who's my height but weighs 140 pounds would be considered "Normal" according to the calculations. I'd consider that close to being emaciated. Even when I was a wiry 16-year-old I weighed 155 and wore size 32/34 Levi's. Didn't have an ounce of fat on me. What about weight lifters? Muscle weighs a lot. According to the BMI, all professional weight lifters would be considered "obese."

In case you are wondering, Lou's Amazing High-Stress Diet consists of:

Morning: One can of that chocolate diet drink, either Slim-Fast or the Wal-Mart generic brand that tastes like liquid chalk and has nauseating lumps if you don't shake it. I buy whatever is cheapest.
Lunch: 8 ounces of orange juice and Bumble Bee Chicken Salad with Crackers.
Snack: Carrots and that flavored "vitamin water" that actually contains a lot of corn syrup.
Dinner: V8 Low Sodium Vegetable Juice and some deli slices of cold roast beef. I am addicted to V8 juice. That stuff is great.

I love to cook. I used to, anyway. I make an awesome beef stew from scratch. None of those Lawry's mixes for me. My favorite part is the carrots after they've been marinating in the Crock Pot for 12 hours, absorbing that wonderful beefy flavor. But I haven't cooked anything in two months. Maybe I'll make some corn chowder this weekend. I love that stuff and maybe I'll even eat some of it.

Arugula and Obama

Arugula is in the news again. This time, The Economist takes on North Carolina and potential Obama voters.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Katy Tollway revenue shortfall

I predict that within a year we will be reading stories about a massive shortfall in revenue from the Katy Tollway. The Katy Freeway project will be completed very soon, with a configuration of two tolled lanes and five free lanes in each direction. I am looking at the picture above and doubt that even during the morning rush there will be enough rich lawyers willing to pay the tolls in order to get downtown.

The tolled lanes are supposed to pay for the increased cost of the project. The freeway would have taken an additional 4 years to complete, but with the HCTRA coming on board a big chunk of extra cash became available to speed things up.

I expect some antsy bondholders, and a further increase in tolls on the Sam.

(Photo from Erik Slotboom's site.)

T. Boone Pickens is full of crap

T. Boone Pickens has made a bet and wants taxpayers to bail him out. From the Grauniad,
Legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens thinks the days of oil under $100 a barrel may be gone.
His answer is wind of course.
T. Boone Pickens, our favorite Texas-oil-baron-turned-wind-wildcatter, has placed an order for 667 wind turbines from GE for a total cost of $2 billion. The turbines will have a generating capacity of 1,000 megawatts, enough to power 300,000 homes. The order was made through Pickens’ Mesa Power for his Pampa Wind Project in the Texas Panhandle, which he aims to turn into the world’s largest wind farm, generating some 4,000 megawatts of power as early as 2014.
Problem is there are no transmission lines. Thousands of miles of expensive transmission lines would have to be built from west Texas and the Panhandle to Houston and Dallas. No problem, taxpayers and consumers will pay $60 billion (they say) to hook up Boone's turbines to the grid (PDF file).
The scenario presented consists of approximately 19,000 miles of new 765 kV transmission lines. This mileage includes existing 765 kV project proposals, such as ETT’s CREZ project in the ERCOT region and others in MISO and PJM. The rough cost of this plan is estimated to be $60 billion in 2007 dollars. This figure assumes a $2.6 million per mile 765 kV line cost, as well as an additional 20% for station integration, DC connections, and other related costs. These costs are ballpark estimates created without the benefit of detailed engineering and should be considered as such.
Which gets back to the Grauniad story. With oil and gas plunging, the plans for his taxpayer-subsidized investment won't be economically feasible. The $2 billion he shelled out for wind turbines will be wasted. Do you want to know why the "days of oil under $100 a barrel may be gone"? Because Boone has taken a shellacking over his failed bets and like the Russians and Saudis he is desperate to keep the bubble inflated.
The commodity half of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens's BP Capital hedge fund lost 35 percent of its value in July, the New York Post said, citing sources.

The fund is believed to be down about 10 percent for the year, the paper said.

A Pickens spokeswoman told the paper that commodity-fund investors were informed that the steep decline in natural gas and oil prices has had an adverse impact on its performance.
Casey is firmly in the Pickens camp. Peak oil is here, we're running out of it, pee on the Dollar. Is there any better contrarian indicator than Casey?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Casey Serin's Private Life



In case you are wondering about the song, here's the Oingo Boingo video.

Looking for a good roofing company in Houston?

I said the other day I'd give my roofing company a plug if I was pleased with the results. There were no surprises, the estimator was professional, the crew worked hard and did a great job, the final bill was reasonable. So if you are looking for a roofer, here you go:

Up All Night with Casey Serin

I don't know what to say, except "WTF?"

Things aren't going Lili-Putin's way

Pootie-Poot is losing this game of chess. The West is playing it very well. KGB thug Putin is evidently too stupid to realize that each time he and his cronies threaten former Soviet states and make bizarre promises to nuke former Soviet bloc allies he is shoving these countries further away. In Moscow they may think they are winning, but I am looking at the chess board and as I see it Pootie-Poot will be checkmated.

Update: Here's what's really going on. I couldn't have said it any better.
Let’s be clear: What happened in Georgia is that Russia gave diplomatic recognition and support to a breakaway region of another country without international agreement, massed troops on the border, repeatedly violated Georgian airspace, shot down a Georgian aircraft, fired missiles into Georgian territory, and attempted to assassinate a major Georgian official in the region. Then it goaded the region into launching an attack on Georgian forces, and when Georgia finally responded with a limited strike against the region, after more than a year of provocation during which Georgia responded only with diplomatic protests, Russian invaded and seized the region, including the use of strategic bombers that destroyed civilian apartment blocks. Now, the breakaway region is engaged in massive attacks on Georgian civilians, in the manner of a pogrom.
Also, rumor has it that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin really, really hates being called "Lili-Putin". Haha! Lili-Putin.

Herding Cattle

I read about this in the Chron the other day but I didn't get around to watching the video until tonight. This is on Nolan Ryan's ranch about 30 miles south of Houston.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A video for insane kooks like Casey and Kettler

It's also for half of the psychotic nutballs now stinking up Ben Jones' once cool Housing Bubble Blog website.
Penn and Teller - Bullshit! - End of the World

Let me ask: If Armageddon is coming because a bunch of greedy stupid assholes in California and Florida gambled and lost on houses, is gold really more valuable than canned goods, whiskey and ammo?

Work for unemployed California contractors

There are thousands of homes built by companies like Pulte in this part of town circa 1994-1997. Their margins were very thin because houses were so cheap. These companies used the lousiest of building materials they could get away with. Lots of these houses now need new roofs, and their owners may not even know it. Houses with rotted decking. I think my house is in the first wave. There will be plenty of opportunities here for roofing contractors over the next two years.

I have a great deal of respect for the men doing the actual labor. I couldn't do it, and I doubt any of you could do it.

Are you a history buff?

I feel like I am watching the start of WWIII. And in a sweet irony, Russian aircraft are being downed by their own missile designs.

For those of you who continue to believe that Putin is merely defending Russians in the "breakaway republics," doesn't it seem a little bit odd to you that such a large military force was pre-positioned to enter Georgia within just a few hours?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New Katy Texas Roof

The roofer dropped off the materials this afternoon. They begin bright and early, eight guys working over two days. I went with the 30-year shingles. They are installing ridge vents, replacing plywood, installing new roof louvers and widening the soffit vents. There should be plenty of ventilation in the attic once they're done. Their bid came smack-dab in the middle of the other estimates. $5500 seems reasonable.

Is it normal in the roofing business to not require a 50% payment before doing the job? The carpet guys wanted 50%. The roofing dude said to pay them when they were finished. Sure, they could stick a lien on my property and sue me for payment, but I was still surprised they didn't ask for any money up front. If they do a good job I'll blog pimp them for any Houston residents needing new roofs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Serin looses his mind

His biggest post ever, filled with the sweet nectar of paranoia. He's more than a real estate looser, he subscribes to every conspiracy theory imaginable.

Update from a reader: "It has that sort of tertiary-stage-of-syphilis sound to it to me."

The greatest company name ever

I am always looking for new international distributors for our widgets. Since we are a tiny manufacturer, Google is my friend. When I come across a trade show directory it's like a gold mine.

I stumble across some interesting company names in Taiwan and mainland China, but I think this company's name tops the bill.

I also like the way many companies in India list their postal addresses. My database has lots of entries for "behind the cinema" and "near the elephant statue."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Why do French people smell so bad?

“The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”
- Frenchman Alain Bernard, who holds the current world record in the 100-meter freestyle.
The result?
After weeks of bluster, world record holder Alain Bernard had a chance to back up his bravado in the pool this morning in Beijing. Instead, the Frenchman collapsed in the final meters of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, enabling the United States to win one of the most thrilling swimming races in Olympic history.

Vladimir Putin better drop some more bombs

Despite petro thug Vladimir Putin's best efforts, oil continues to slide. The further oil declines, the deeper in doodoo Vladimir is. Without fat oil revenues, Russia is nothing and he knows it.

Spare me the whines about Russia protecting its interests. Georgia is a sovereign country with a democratically-elected government. Russia's been meddling in Georgia's affairs for years. "Peacekeepers" my ass. Want evidence? Here's a Russian jet shooting down an unmanned Georgian spy drone over Georgian airspace. This occurred in April.



The Russians terrorized the former Soviet republics for decades and for the past 20 years these republics have been free. Now Putin complains about US meddling? Gee, Vlad, why do you think those former Soviet-bloc countries are so nervous about what you are doing now and want to form alliances with the West? They see what you are doing to Georgia now and they have more than enough reason to conclude that they're next.

So go ahead and bomb some more pipelines. The oil bubble is broken, and soon your budget will be as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Worms & Dirt

Chocolate ice cream, layered with crushed chocolate cookies and gummi worms. Ewww.

Meet Local Cougars

I was just using Gmail, corresponding with fellow pack leaders, when I glanced to the right and saw this. I wonder what key word triggered this ad to be served.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Braces

I am getting braces installed in a few weeks. I wore braces for years when I was a kid, but my teeth shifted quite a bit when I was between 17-20. I have been very unhappy since. My teeth are strong and clean, just noticeably crooked. So I decided to get it done, and after two visits for consultation, x-rays and molds, the date has been set for September 12. I'll wear them for 10 months, then the retainer.

I looked into this years ago and the orthodontists told me that I have a condition that requires expensive and painful surgery because my front teeth don't connect when I chew. They'd have to break my jaw, shave off a millimeter or two from the back of my jaw and then reset it. My current orthodontist confirmed this condition and said I should have it done so that I could chew properly. I told him that at my age I just want my damn teeth to be straight and I pointed out that I've been chewing with my molars for 20+ years now, so I don't care. He said, "OK, we'll straighten your teeth, no problem." I pre-paid so now all I have to do is show up every month for the next 10.

I asked him last night if I was his oldest patient. He laughed and said no, he has patients in their 50s. This is not traditional orthodontics, by the way. It's a much faster, less expensive system than what many of us went through when we were kids. It's national, and if it works for me I will be sure to blog pimp them.

No, it's not Invisalign. That costs 3x as much

O Bahhh Mah!

Did this back in March but never posted it. I expect that a lot of you are thinking I should have kept it that way.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Oil Bust

I wish I hadn't deleted my old blog. Google no longer has my January 1, 2008 predictions cached. No luck at the Wayback Machine either.

Some of the predictions were no-brainers (Obama vs McCain). IIRC, I said US markets would be down 20% for the year, but this would be considered good compared to other markets. I said the euro would slide and the dollar would gain. I also said oil would be at $50 by the end of the year. It may not make it to $50 by the end of December, but I think it will within a year and then drop even further.

The oil despots are desperately trying to keep prices propped up, but their attempts no longer work. The bubble psychology has been broken. The bombing of the Turkish pipeline last week was met with yawn. Two months ago if news broke that Russia and Georgia were at war, oil futures would have soared. Melonhead's mask has been removed, and what we see is a dinky little tyrant wannabe witnessing his power slip away. The evil dwarf rattles his sabers against Israel and The Great Satan, but the energy markets no longer care. The US is slipping into a recession (a mild one compared to other countries, in my opinion), with dropping demand taking away the last prop that keeps the oil despots in power. When China and India stop subsidizing gasoline, demand will drop even more. Putin, Chavez, Ahmadinejad, these assholes are all on borrowed time and they know it.

"Peak oil" is a fraud. There is no oil shortage. The only reason why "proven" reserves appear to be dropping is because most of the world's reserves are controlled by the oil despots who refuse to allow modern western drilling techniques and state-of-the-art measuring systems. You think it's coincidence that Mexican and Venezuelan oil output is declining when these oil companies are nationalized and run by corrupt cronies of the political leaders?

Barack Obama Goatse

I saw this the other day and Goatse immediately sprang to mind, long before the Insta guy caught it. If you don't know what Goatse means, please don't bother to look it up.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Some good news

Getting the house ready... wavering on whether or not to keep it and go back to square one or sell it. Irony is if I keep it I'll have the same very loan balance as when we bought the house in 1995. Almost to the dollar. I want to keep it because I like my modest little crapbox. I like my neighbors, including the ones who used to raise chickens in their backyard, and my kids have lots of friends here. Their school is close by. I also really enjoy working my patch of dirt and take pride in my lawn and gardens. But the thought of doubling my debt really scares me, even though I'd still have roughly 1/3 of the appraised value (a real appraisal, not a fake county tax assessor appraisal) as "equity." If Houston real estate prices drop 33% I'll be underwater. I hate debt, never had any debt... except for the mortgage. My Realtard says the neighborhood is coming back, and I'd have to agree. Just about all of the foreclosures have been bought and are now occupied by actual owners. They weren't purchased by out-of-town seminar fliptards.

The carpet and flooring guys were here today and I am shocked at how much of an improvement it is. It looks fantastic! The interior now looks like a brand-new house, other than the crappy counters Pulte installed in the kitchen. Pulte builds them fast and cheap, and back in the mid-1990s they had very little margin. But I can live with crappy counters. I will never take my kitchen for granite.

A damaged roof is a different matter. Bids for the roof are coming in and I finally found a reasonable quote. I trust these guys because they did the roof for the parental units a few years ago and did a great job. $5500 for 30-year shingles, installing ridge vents and enlarging the soffit vents. Other estimates ranged from $2000 (a joke) to $8500. Best of all they can start Monday.

The guy who runs the ACC also owns an air conditioning company, and when I went to him for approval he pointed out that without good soffit vents the ridge vents won't do much good. With proper ventilation the temperature in the attic should be a good 30 degrees cooler in the summer than it currently is with the old Airhawks. Unless you live in the South or the desert southwest you cannot believe how hot attics get in the summertime on the Texas Gulf coast.

I asked how well ridge vents would withstand hurricane-force winds. He says they hold up better than the Airhawks or those turbines. The wind simply passes through, while the Airhawks may be lifted up. Ditto for the turbines. I trust the advice of a guy who owns an A/C business and has no financial interest in my decision.

So my decision boils down to this: If we are about to experience Great Depression #2, I should sell now and take the money and buy gold, ammo and canned goods. In that scenario I'd be a fool to keep the house. If we are witnessing a repeat of 1980-1982 (as I suspect), my mortgage, taxes and insurance would still be cheaper than renting a decent 2-bedroom apartment, and much cheaper than renting a 3-bedroom.

My readers in California probably can't relate to this. It works both ways. I cannot fathom how ya'll can afford to live there. If I told you how much my new balance would be you'd most likely laugh (Lou's getting worked up over THAT?), but your pay scales are not all that much higher. When I hear people talking about $1800 mortgage payments for modest tract houses I literally cannot relate.

Victoria Osteen causes hemorrhoids!

Who could have guessed it would come to this?
After answering questions about their religious backgrounds and opinions on televangelists Wednesday, a jury of seven men and five women was picked to hear allegations today that Lakewood Church pastor and bestselling religious author Joel Osteen's wife assaulted a Continental flight attendant.

Sharon Brown is suing Lakewood co-pastor Victoria Osteen over an alleged altercation the two had on a plane before takeoff on Dec. 19, 2005. Brown is asking for medical and counseling expenses and 10 percent of Victoria Osteen's net worth in punitive damages.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Idiot customs brokers

The traveling public frequently complains about the TSA. Fewer people complain about an even more officious bureaucracy because the vast majority of Americans never have to deal with them. I am talking about customs brokers.

I got a nastygram from FedEx this afternoon.
As the designated Customs Broker for Federal Express Corporation, we have processed your shipment through U.S. Customs at the Memphis International Clearance Facility. To properly process your shipment, we are in need of the following information.

The US Department of Commerce has determined that shipments of a particular category are being sold at less than fair value in the US and therefore are subject to additional duties. In order to determine of this applies to your shipment, additional information is required. Review the attached form and supply the certification as requested.

To ensure timely filing with U.S. Customs, we ask that you provide us with the above information via fax at (901-deleted) within 24 hours of receipt of this request. FAILURE TO PROVIDE THE REQUIRED CERTIFICATION WITHIN 24 HOURS WILL RESULT IN ASSESSMENT OF THE HIGHEST APPLICABLE DUTY RATE.
The customer made a mistake on their air waybill. They put the full value on it, even though they were returning it for factory repair. They had already paid for the widget. We weren't importing the widget, just repairing something we had already manufactured and shipped out 3 years ago. But the bigger problem that triggered this FedEx bureaucrat into action was that a certain key word was listed, and that key word cross-references the US Dept. of Commerce dumping clause.

Can these customs brokers not read? The pro forma invoice clearly specifies: "Equipment returning to manufacturer for routine calibration and repair."

Every day I run into this type of crap. With each incident my opinion that the federal agencies that are designed to help US companies export are doing just the opposite, and force companies like FedEx and UPS to maintain large staffs of people who don't really do anything productive. Billions of our tax dollars go to these federal agencies, and all I can see as someone working on the very front of the front lines in the US export business are a whole bunch of people being paid generous government salaries (and fat retirement benefits that most of us can only dream of) to accomplish... nothing. Why are my tax dollars spend on these people?

The whole system needs to be torn up. The Commerce Department should not be a jobs program for stupid people. Priority #1 should be US exports, not quotas and set asides and fat retirement pensions so that people can retire at 50.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

4th Grade Torture

The music I heard on my groovy Panasonic AM radio when I was in 4th grade. I had the red R-72 that probably cost my mom a small fortune at the time.

The Night Chicago Died


Seasons in the Sun


Billy Don't Be A Hero


Heartbeat, It's a Lovebeat


Sweet still sounds pretty good though.

SK Holdings Company Ltd: Shanghai house of fraud

The same scam from China I've posted about before, only with a new wrapper.
Subject: (company name) -about Internet Trademark Name rights

Dear Manager:

We are the Internet Trademark Name register and dispute organization in Asia, which mainly deal with international company's in Asia.

We have something important need to confirm with your company. On the Aug 5 2008, we received an application formally. One company named JingHong network services inc applied for the Internet Trademark Name: (company name)

After our initial examination, we found you have registered the brand, so we would like to confirm if JingHong network services inc consigned or authorized them to register, as if the Internet Trademark Name is registered for over 5 years, then they can dispute any domain name including yours (company name) Now we have not finished the registration of JingHong network services inc yet, in order to deal with this issue better, please let someone who is responsible for trademark or domain name contact me as soon as possible.

Best Regards

Martin
Internet Trademark Name Auditing Manager
TEL:00852-30759838
FAX:00852-31771520
Website: http://www.skholdingscompanyltd.asia

Tropical Storm Edouard: Scenes of Devastation

Katy lies in ruins tonight. The +7 font size ALL CAPS IN RED headline Drudge ran the other day doesn't do it justice. Scenes of devastation at my house:

Two leaves from a pear tree and some pine needles.
A bird feeder I forgot to take down last night.
I think that the constant mega-hyping of any storm in the Gulf is breeding complacency.

Update: The Chronicle reports that two thirds of Galveston's trash bins have blown over.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Going Back to Mexicali

Hard to believe it's been 20 years. I know that it's because I am getting old, but I still really like this song.

They aren't going back. They aren't going back to Clark County either. Be patient, Grasshopper. The crash is still occurring. Faster than many people thought, but it is still far from over.

Liars

I marvel at those who flat-out lie to you. Especially liars who know that you know the truth. Being face-to-face with someone as they lie to you is an interesting experience. Surreal, in fact. What can you say to someone wrapped up in a lie?

If someone effs up and admits it, I will still respect them. If someone effs up and denies it, they deserve nothing but contempt. Take Mr. Magoo as an example. He urged people into risky ARMs just before the Fed started raising interest rates. Now he holds himself blameless for the mess he helped create. Why is this man treated with any respect?

Regarding tropical storm Eddie. I expect there will be leakage. I tried to repair as much as I could tonight but I am not sure it will hold. Keeping my fingers crossed that it does. Not much more I can do at this point. Sweet irony that the week before I have my roof replaced a tropical storm hits. I've learned a lot about ridge vents vs traditional roof vents. Ridge vents have only recently taken off here in the past 8-10 years, and just about all of the houses sporting new roofs have them installed. They do look a lot nicer than those stupid turbine things.

No panic buying at all in Houston today. HEB drove in 18-wheelers from San Antonio with pallets of drinking water and batteries. A few people here and there were stocking up, but for the vast majority of us this is a non-event. More people were buying beer than cases of drinking water. Priorities. If the power goes out and it's sweltering, a cold beer from a stocked ice chest takes away some of the misery. I don't agree, but if that's how they cope more power to them.

We're gonna get a lot of rain tomorrow. Somewhere between 6-10 inches. The typical underpasses will flood, and the local news will have lots of video of idiots turning their cars into temporary submarines.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Edouard

He formed pretty quickly. Yippee! Lotsa nice beneficial rain headed this way. The plants will suck it up and maybe the armadillos will take a break from their nightly raids into my flower beds. In light of what I said yesterday, I hope my roof holds up! With the way this summer has panned out for me, I expect leaks. Why not? Just some more crap added to the shit sandwich I've been eating since the end of June.

I think Edouard could be another Alicia, the last major hurricane to hit Houston. The forecast track is almost identical and so are the conditions. Watch the oil markets surge tomorrow as traders take into account a possible shutdown of the massive refineries along the ship channel. The rigs out in the Gulf will weather this storm just fine.

Update: Nice forecast for Katy on Tuesday:
Tuesday: Tropical storm conditions possible. Showers and thunderstorms likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 91. Heat index values as high as 102. North wind 10 to 15 mph increasing to between 40 and 50 mph. Winds could gust as high as 70 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%.
Shingles will be flying and power's gonna be out for a few days. Major suckage. 70 mph winds in Katy, 50 miles inland, it sounds to me like they are expecting a hurricane.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Chronicle Cowboy

Two annoying teens new to town spend agonizing hours traveling around Houston going to malls and boutiques and restaurants and obsessing over a guy selling the Chronicle down at the Galleria.


No, Miss Teen Airheads, he is not a lost cowboy. He's some poor schlub trying to make a few bucks hawking papers in humid weather that's pushing 100 degrees. Want a real education in life's little surprises? Try doing the Chronicle Cowboy's job for a day. I bet you couldn't do it.

When Washington Mutual goes belly-up

I opened an account at Chase today and plan to slowly shuttle my money there away from WaMu as my CDs mature. The difference between the two banks is like night and day. WaMu sucks, frankly. The tellers all look about 19 years old and they act like they'd rather be elsewhere. I can understand. I don't imagine that WaMu is a fun or lucrative place to work at right now. I am also nervous about them going belly-up. I am not nervous about losing my money, but I am old enough to remember the S&L crisis when it took a few weeks to get access to my money, what little I had fresh out of college.

At Chase they offered me a bunch of free stuff (free ATM withdrawals outside the Chase network!) and the bank manager even came over to talk to me. This has never happened to me at any bank. Chase clearly wants by business. The fact that Chase bought my mortgage a few years ago probably has something to do with it.

Contractors must be busy

I contacted a bunch of contractors last week and also posted to Bid Clerk. The house needs a new roof. Got the cash all lined up, ready to go. Doesn't matter if I keep the house or sell it, the roof needs to be taken care of. It has to be done now or during the next hurricane or big thunderstorm the house will be springing leaks.

A grand total of two contractors replied. In Houston at least it doesn't seem that small contractors are hurting for work.

I talked with a contractor who came out today. People complain about Mexicans taking jobs away from Americans. But I don't know of any Americans, whether they are black, white or native-born Hispanic, willing to work on roofs all day in south Texas during the summer. Close to the roof it has to be approaching 120 degrees up there. How much would you demand to do such a task? $30/hr? $40/hr? To re-roof my little 2-story crapbox will require 8 guys working over two days. If it wasn't for Mexicans getting paid $12/hr, there would be thousands of leaking roofs in places like Houston and San Antonio because homeowners couldn't afford to have their roofs replaced.

I do realize that my opinions about Mexicans puts me at odds with many of my readers. I've pointed out before that what we are seeing now is no different than what our great grandparents saw 100 years ago when we were swarmed with poor Italians desperate for work. Our great grandparents said the same thing about Italians that many of us are now saying about Mexicans. As a percentage of the total US population, new immigrant Italians represented a greater proportion of the total US population than Mexicans do today, and I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone now who thinks Americans of Italian ancestry aren't anything but great Americans.

I'll repeat the words I've said here many times: We need people to do the shitty jobs that Americans refuse to do, and I'd rather these people be lusty Catholics who enjoy their drink, go to church and bring good food to our shores, rather than people who are ashamed of their women and cover them up and pretend that normal human urges are forbidden and then demand that people with these normal human urges be killed in a sick, primitive manner.

The sad decline of HAL-PC

The other day Dwight Silverman wrote about the sad decline of HAL-PC.
In its heyday, the Houston Area League of PC Users was a popular stop for speakers on the user-group-meeting circuit. Framed, black-and-white photos show a swarthy, sweaty Phillipe Kahn, founder of Borland, a company that once ruled the world of database software; a younger, even pudgier John Dvorak, the curmudgeonly computer columnist; and a young Bill Gates, who looks nearly pre-pubescent.

Yes, HAL-PC has a noble history, but increasingly, that's about all it has. The organization may still claim to be the largest PC user group in the country, but like others of its kind, HAL-PC is struggling to find relevance in a rapidly changing tech landscape.
What he says is true. HAL-PC needs to be totally revamped. I mean, come on. Their big event today is "BASICS 101: LP/CASSETTE MUSIC TO CD".

One of our customers is HCC, a computer club in the Netherlands. HCC is what a computer club should be. I think HAL-PC should look to them for guidance.