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 | Permanent Link

Show stdin in a Web Browser

This is brain-dead simple, but useful.

For example,

$ pandoc example.rst | stdin2www

tech | Permanent Link

Sun, 27 Feb 2005

In Bubble Wrap Champ

I'm an In Bubble Wrap champ! I love free books, and today I got my first free book from In Bubble Wrap, Creating Customer Evangelists.

In Bubble Wrap is an advertising program run by 800ceoread in which you can win free business stuff, mostly books, every day. Thanks go to Seth for the head's up.

In other free book news, I have Paul to thank for a free copy of The Number. I haven't finished reading it yet, but so far it's pretty good. The Number, by Lee Eisenberg, is about the amount of money you need to retire, and discusses the ways different people think about the Number. The book is targeted to those in their 40s and 50s getting closer to retirement who, for a variety of reasons that Eisenberg investigates, don't know what their Number is, but it's a worthwhile read for those of us pushing 30.

Its discussion of retirement being a rather new concept is pretty interesting. One hundred years ago, most people worked until they died. Then, people started to live longer, get kicked out of their jobs, and die in poverty. Then came Social Security. Next up, long lives requiring savings somewhere north of -1.5% during the productive years.

business | Permanent Link

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 | Permanent Link

ChangeThis Gets Lazy

ChangeThis, the publisher of cool little "manifestos", has gotten lazy with their latest batch. ChangeThis manifestos are digital pamphlets that focus on one specific topic. They usually short enough to read in one sitting, but packed with more information than you can fit on PowerPoint slides (not that I encourage the use of PowerPoint). The format is similar to slides, but they are designed to look good both on the screen and printed out. What makes them special is the thought that has gone into the design, making them difficult to avoid reading once you have opened one up. The content is generally a call to action or the author's insight into their particular area of expertise.

For example, they've taken a number of Joel Spolsky's essays (which are already compelling reading) and formatted them as manifestos.

This week, they've released two manifestos which, as they'd say on Sesame Street, are not like the others. The first, Shhh!, contains little cards that can be printed out and given to annoying strangers talking on cell phones. The design is clean, and the idea is cute, if somewhat tired. It doesn't follow ChangeThis philosophy, though. There's no individual behind it and it's not presenting much of an idea other than not to be rude on one's cell phone.

The second misfit is called Two Tomatoes, and actually is some kind of manifesto telling consumers what kind of tomatoes to buy, I guess. I'm not really sure what the content is because it's not readable on my screen. Except for the cover page, it doesn't look like anything else that ChangeThis has released.

Here's a typical page from a manifesto:

And here's the tomato one.

business | 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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | Permanent Link

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