Mon, 28 Feb 2005


It looks like mutt development is starting to pickup again. For those not familiar with it, mutt is the best email client out there. Development has forked and there is a new mutt-ng project. Kyle Rankin has written up a little summary. So far, it's mostly just integration of many of the third-party patches that have been available for a while. Since the Debian package includes many of these patches already, including one of the most important, header caching, that's not too exciting.

Two of the new features included in mutt-ng are a sidebar and nntp support. The sidebar is similar to those in most gui mail readers which shows the number of messages in the folders in your mailboxes. With pager_index_lines set, mutt basically looks like a text-mode version of the common three-pane interface in most gui clients. I'll probably unsubscribe from the exim-users mailing list once the newsreader works since I can just read the gmane group. Right now, trying to read a usenet message causes a segfault unfortunately.

mutt-ng seems a bit slower too. Returning from the pager to the index takes an extra second or so.

Debian packages for sid are here:
deb unstable/

tech » mail | Comments | Permanent Link

Sun, 27 Feb 2005

Shorting Residential Real Estate

Patrick wants to short the housing market. This is something I've thought about over the past year or so.

I could short builders, mortgage banks, or Fannie Mae, but that's not exactly the same, and I'm not as confident they will fall.

I'm not sure why he doesn't want to take a short position in equities that are likely to track housing prices. If prices start to fall it'll likely be because people are defaulting on their mortgages. This will negatively impact those holding mortages, i.e. banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As Greenspan pointed out, the GSEs are holding onto lots of mortgages.

I read How to Profit from the Coming Real Estate Bust yesterday, and the author, John Rubino, suggests a number of ways to make money when the euphoria ends. He, of course, suggests shorting the GSEs, banks, and builders. But the housing market doesn't exist in a bubble (pun intended). The fall in housing prices is likely to correspond to a fall in the dollar. It is foreign investment in dollar debt that is helping to keep interest rates low. When foreigners get tired of financing American consumers, and not making much money doing so, they'll take their money elsewhere causing the dollar to fall. (Yes, I realize it's not that simple. Foreign governments also want to keep their exports affordable.) To get them back, we have to offer higher returns, i.e. higher interest rates, on their investments. Higher interest rates make for grumpy homeowners with ARMs, over half of recent home buyers. For a thorough discussion of the problems ahead for the dollar, check out The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures. Rubino thinks Swiss Francs are the way to go. I'm not sure of that. I have money in Yen and Canadian Dollars right now. Subscribe to Chuck Butler's Daily Pfennig for daily commentary on foreign currencies.

Gold and other precious metals are another way to make money from a falling dollar.

Some more directly housing related stocks to short are those of title insurers, appliance and furniture manufacturers, property development companies and REITs. He also suggests going long apartment REITs and health care REITs. Apartments should do well, but I'd be more wary of the latter. REITs that own nursing homes should do OK, but I'd be hesitant to invest in hospitals which seem to be closing with increasing frequency as doctors are required to provide services to people who don't pay their bills.

business | Comments | Permanent Link

Sat, 26 Feb 2005

Bow and Arrow Taxes

All of the archers out there will be happy to hear that the Arrow Tax has been repealed. Alas, the Bow Tax still applies.


The 11% tax on bows will apply to bows having a peak draw weight of 30 pounds or more. This replaces the current law which applies to bows having a peak draw weight of 10 pounds or more. Broadheads suitable for use with certain arrows will be taxed as a part and accessory at the 11% bow tax rate. The effective date for both provisions is for articles sold after November 21, 2004.

Repeal of Arrow Tax

The tax on arrows that was in effect for arrows sold after November 21, 2004, and before December 23, 2004, has been repealed. The rules used prior to November 22, 2004, for arrow components still apply for the 4th quarter of 2004. Any tax that was imposed by the manufacturer, producer, or importer on arrows after November 21, 2004, and before December 23, 2004, may have to be refunded to the purchaser. See Changes Effective for the Second Quarter of 2005 for details on the tax on arrow shafts effective after March 31, 2005.

How much are we paying the members of Congress to make these laws? (Hint: It's less than $155,101)

Update: Unfortunately, those arrows aren't really tax free. Beginning March 31, there will be a tax on the arrow shaft.

business » taxes | Comments | Permanent Link

Fri, 25 Feb 2005

State Government Irony

The State of California publishes a booklet called Striking Gold in California. This is the most absurd name they could have come up with. Striking Gold describes the various bureaucracies to which a business must send forms and pay taxes.

Every year in California, thousands of new small businesses start up. Unfortunately, thousands of companies also go out of business each year.

The probably go out of business partially because they have to spend so much time filing forms with various government agencies, not to mention, sending them money.

The booklet is for sole proprietorships, so it doesn't cover the forms corporations must file. Here's a short list of the forms mentioned.

They forgot the 1099s that have to be filed with the IRS, the FTB and the EDD.

Also, your city or county may have tax or license requirements not covered in this publication. See the government listings in the white pages of your telephone book.

Yep, City of Los Angeles has a Business Tax of 0.5% of gross sales.

business | Comments | Permanent Link

Clever 3M Ad

Apparently, only some of the money is real, but it's a brilliant idea nonetheless.

business » marketing » advertising | Comments | Permanent Link

Sun, 20 Feb 2005

NyQuil > Robitussin

I've been sick with a head cold for almost a week. Following the sore throat, fever, and mucus flood, my cough set in a few days ago. Denisa bought me some Robitussin Honey Cough Syrup. It's supposed to work for 6-8 hours per dose, but I was lucky to get an hour of suppressed coughing out of it. Coughing all night does not make for a happy patient nor wife.

So last night I bought some NyQuil. Actually, I bought the Wal-Mart generic version. That stuff is fabulous. It stopped my cough, and I slept straight through the night.

If your stuck with the lesser cough medicine, you might want to chase it with a Tylenol, Sudafed, and a shot of whisky which should make up for the extra ingredients in NyQuil. (Note: I am not a doctor)

misc | Comments | Permanent Link

Fri, 18 Feb 2005

Where Google Sucks

I was trying to think of Suze Orman's name while composing an email today. I could picture her face, and I know she's a popular speaker and author on personal finance. So I tried searching for different combinations of "female", "financial advice", "speaker", "author", "personal finance", etc. That didn't get me anywhere, so I tried searching on Google Images and threw "blond" in there. No luck.

Eventually, I gave up and went to Amazon to look for personal finance books. None of her books were in the Most Popular list, but a picture of one of her books happened to show up in the Listmania! section on the right.

I'm sure all of those social network companies maintain the kind of metadata on individuals that would be necessary for this type of search to work, but it needs to be web-accessible, and I'm not sure who would maintain such data on third-parties who aren't part of the network.

As an aside, Google also needs to update their advanced search so that date searches can be more granular than the current past 3/6/12 months options. Remarkably, Bloglines doesn't even support date ranges. Luckily, Straw, my aggregator, does. That allowed me to quickly find a post I had read this morning about yet another new social networking company.

tech | Comments | Permanent Link

Sat, 12 Feb 2005

Idiots Lose Money "Investing" in Real Estate

Two of my favorite blogs are Housing Bubble and Housing Crash. Housing Bubble collects articles about the housing bubble in the United States. Housing Crash is mostly Patrick's chronicle of the housing bubble in the San Francisco area, but he also posts articles related to the housing bubble nationwide.

There seem to be an equal number of people who claim that there is no housing bubble as those who warn of it. The former group includes all of the real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and county tax assessors. The higher real estate prices go, the more money they make. The latter group is made of economists who point out that sales prices to rental rates ratio is out of whack, that housing prices and debt service costs have far outgrown household income, and that the residential real estate prices have been driven up by all of the easy money thrown at borrowers (well, easy until those 5/1 ARMs get past the 5 part). See The Coming Crash in the Housing Market : 10 Things You Can Do Now to Protect Your Most Valuable Investment for a thorough discussion.

Las Vegas seems to be leading the nation in the bursting of the bubble. Home builders have started lowering the prices of new homes. It's got to suck to know that your neighbors bought their houses for $100k less than you. Las Vegas has tons of open land to be developed so the surge in home prices was probably largely driven by speculators. Housing Crash points us to the story of some of those speculators.

"They call you and say 'you are so lucky .. this just came across.. it's going to be worth 100k before it closes,'"said Dyan Harmell. "We came with the hopes of buying two houses. We left the first day owning four. Within the next week, owning 6 -- all the way up to 19."
"We were told there were 80 people in the lottery for 15 homes. And lo and behold, every single person we knew got a home in that lottery,"said Pulte home buyer Cathy Wodka.

That's a pretty good marketing ploy. They must be targeting the same people who click on flashing banner ads that tell them they've won a new iPod.

Tips for Buying Real Estate

I know I wasn't the only idiot who lost a bunch of money a few years ago "investing" in equities. But at least I learned something. Don't buy something because it has gone up in value; it doesn't mean that it is going to keep going up in value indefinitely.

business | Comments | Permanent Link

Sun, 06 Feb 2005

Excessive Gratitude or the Return of Written Correspondence?

Yesterday, I received a thank-you note from my friend, Mike. He hasn't recently gotten married, had a child, or had a birthday (at least, not that I know of). In fact, I hadn't bought Mike a gift for anything. He sent my wife and me a note thanking us for having him and his girlfriend, Lisa, over for dinner. It was a very nice note, but it seems completely unnecessary.

My mother always told me how important it is to send thank-you notes after receiving gifts, but I'd never heard of sending them after being invited to somebody's home. I would assume that Mike is just extremely polite, but his note was the second such note we've received in the past couple of months. After a little party we had, my friend, Meagan, sent us a similar note.

Did I miss a lesson by Miss Manners? Is American society becoming gracious? Or do people just want to take advantage of the fewer and fewer opportunities to actually use hand-written correspondence?

culture | Comments | Permanent Link

The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. - Frederic Bastiat