Just wanted to say!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays...


Stop Buying Things #3: The 411

In this day and age of GPS, internet, and the like, why would you still need to use 411 to find a number. Because we all are idiots from time to time and need to find a number on the road without looking at the phone. Well those spend thrifts at Google are at it again (sarcasm), and created a free number that works well excellent. Simply state the business and the city and your done. Oh and again IT IS FREE. So don't forget to program the number in your phone so it is there when you need it.

Google Info Line is 800-466-4411


Giving the Gift of Lo-Fi

So I know I just shared my favorite new website in the last post, but as an alternative to all things new-fangled, modern, and complicated, I bring you the extreme Lo-Fi electronic list for Christmas. Some of those famous past electronics are back and cooler than ever, or just still work well. Let's begin!

Be the envy of every office cubicle with this truly lo-fi portable am/fm stereo. It comes with such features as an antenna, a little dial for volume, a little dial for tuning, headphone jack, and a speaker. Truth is that there is no better item for picking up radio signals in the office and this well made blast from the past does its beautifully. Available at all your local RadioShack for only $14.99.

Breaker, Breaker 19. Remember the the glory days of adjusting squelch and messing with truckers in your youth, well you can have it again with a couple of innovative cb radios from Cobra and Midland. The Cobra 75 WXST ($97) is a cool compact cb radio built into the mic. It has a minimal base setup and good reviews. Alternatively the Midland 75-822 Radio ($90) can be setup similar to the Cobra for the in car experience, but also can be transformed and roll out into a slick battery powered portable setup.

Got tapes, records, or even old VCR tapes of the family? Well what is old is new again from a new company called Ion. All those memories that you have been sitting on for years can be uploaded and kept digitally with their long line of products. They even have a Slide to PC product. I could talk to you about it more but just go check it out for yourself at their website:
Happy Shopping!


Article of the Week: Christmas MP3 Players

This week is for those of you looking for mp3 players, specifically those that are not named iPod. My newest favorite website is AnythingButIpod which features thorough reviews of well everything that isn't an iPod, including players, amp's, and headphones. The article however is ABI's top 5 mp3 players of 2008, enjoy:




Today marks the one year anniversary of my blog. It all came about because I was inspired by my old college roommate Grant (The Corner Office Blog). I thought if he can do it why can't I? What I thought would be a blog about finance and a source for a book that I wanted to make with my father has slowly developed into that plus a place for my personal opinions and comments, a source for truthful (not righteous) posts on the green movement and lifestyle, and posts on my life with dyslexia [and a lot more].
I hope you all (all five of you) have enjoyed it thus far and I encourage you to comment or email me to let me know your out there. I promise to finish those series of items that I have started (Job Search Series comes to mind), continue to overuse parenthesis, try to improve the look of my blog, and continue to share my opinions and thoughts on everything from piles of leaves to saving the Big 3.
Thanks to all so far and Happy Holidays, MJ...

Remix: Recycle or Reuse Bags?

After my post on cheapo reusable bags this past week I received an email from a company that I can definitely put some support behind. I only know what was sent to me in the email and what I found on their website, but ReJAVAnate to me looks like a company that we all should look to strive for. They take the leftover burlap sacks from coffee bean transportation and remake / reuse them for various sized hand carry bags. Best of all they are partnered with ARC to utilize developmentally disabled labor for product production. Oh and the price is great as well(from $6.50 to $9.50 each). I love it.

From the email that Douglas Farquhar, Director of Business Development, sent me:

"1). We take burlap from coffee roasters that would be otherwise sent to landfill,
2). Work with The ARC which serves individuals with developmental disabilities to hand make the bags,
3). A better way for individuals and organizations who want to make a statement about reducing paper and plastic bag consumption."

"I think you will find the ReJAVAnate story is one of the most compelling sustainability stories you will find - our material, who makes the bags and where they are made and that the bags are completely biodegradable – much better than the usual reusable bags made from polypropylene in China!"

At one time in my life I worked in a machine shop where we ordered safety glasses and push brooms from ARC related companies. The brooms were the highest quality brooms I have ever used (and I did a lot of sweeping), and the safety glasses comparable to anything else out in the industry. If these bags are anything like my past experience, then I wholeheartedly back ReJAVAnate.

That being said to help in my own little way, what with my ones and ones of readers and all, I have added a new link bubble over on the right for supported businesses. Head over to their website and check it out.



My College Speech: School Plan / Selection

My GF would tell you that I have a pretty consistent speech that I continuously dole out to high school kids looking to get an engineering or technical field. It annoys her greatly but I still think that it is valuable to parents and teenagers ready to make that next step, especially those who are in financial dire straits wondering how to afford college for there child. I am going to break it down into three parts: school plan / selection, tips for students in school, and ideas for funding school.

The first step is to seriously consider a junior college for the first year or two. The reason, smaller classes, better teachers, a chance for the student to ease into the curriculum, and costs at around a 1/3 of the price of the state schools. It is important to note that there are okay junior colleges and great junior colleges, you need to look for the latter. How do you tell? Well whatever your son or daughter is interested in should be covered. For example, my career was engineering and in Kansas City, Avila College and Johnson County Community College have close relationships with the surrounding state schools. Their curriculum matches that of KU, MU, K-state, etc. Therefore all the credits transfer and their professors know the right material to teach. Another secret is that state schools tend to gather up to hundreds of students in classrooms or worse allow teaching assistants (not real accredited teachers) to lead the basic lower level classes. Considering that may be up to the first two years of your son or daughter’s life that can be a lot of frustration avoided, or worse discouraging them from their original field of interest. Junior colleges have small classes real professors in the core lower curriculum, which can really give students a chance to learn rather than sink or swim. Another note is that if a student wants to change their field interest it won’t be at such a cost as it would at a state school.

Once they get through the basics it is time to move up to bigger schools to get into the meat and potatoes portion of the degree, which can be hard. My best advice is to not overload on classes, no more than 12-16 credit hours per semester, unless your kid is just that smart or not the type to burn out. Engineering programs tend push lots of credit hours on their students these days, and reality is that a student can take classes at whatever pace really works for them and it will not penalize them. College is not a race, it’s supposed to be training. A quick tip is that summer school is a great way of catching up, the classes typically are focused on the basics of that subject, and the tests are more simple.

Last note for college planning is that for almost all engineering degrees there is a non-calc/physics based technical degree. Industrial engineering has industrial technology, electrical engineering has electrical technology, computer engineering has computer technology, etc. They are truly different curriculum but the two different degrees may lead to very similar jobs once people are out of school. Other than true engineering design, technology degree holders can be just as qualified or start just a step lower than that of the paired engineering degreed student. In my mind if someone likes engineering but can’t handle the calc/physics, they should not be discouraged out of their desired field until they try the matching technical program. They still may end up with the same job they wanted in the end. I have worked in several factories with people called engineers all around me that held only industrial and electrical technology degrees. Hope this helps.


Stop Buying Things #2: Car Advice

Okay I had a little Thanksgiving hiatus there due to what I will call a Honda Element Forum binge. My car, the Honda Element has one hell of a good website called the Element Owners Club (http://www.elementownersclub.com/). I absolutely love this website due to it’s encyclopedia like knowledge of everything that is my car, from common issues and their fixes to factory recalls to mod’s (that is modifications for the laymen) to camping tips. It is more addictive then potato chips.

I guarantee that your car, whatever it is, has a forum filled with repair knowledge and eager posters that are ready to share there knowledge. The best part is that the money collected for all of this is nada. So search out your car’s forum and find out why it always rattles slightly at highway speeds.


A little blurb no one saw...

I would call this the article of the week, but I didn't want to do to it being so close to the last one.

I may have been wrong, although I think not. The following article is a report of how well the reworking of mortgages have gone for the first half of this year, reality is not that good. I think though that we really haven't seen the major modifications yet. I think that some of this representative of people not having any money and trying to still keep it together.

Regardless read on, it certainly could be proof for the naysayers of what I thought would help this economy.


Added Note: In a funny coincident, I am watching CNBC right now and James Stewart (Smart Money editor-at-large) makes a great suggestion that let's just lower the mortgage rates across the board. That way those who have been making the right decisions all along on payments could refinance (thus being rewarded) along with some of the fringe people getting a chance to switch as well to a better payment. Not a bad idea at all to free up money.

Added Disclaimer: I think James Stewart is an absolute genius, his articles in Smart Money have always been excellent.


Article of the Week and Automaker Commentary:

Hurry up and read this week’s article before it goes into WSJ’s archives:

Auto Chiefs Admit Mistakes as They Make Case to Congress (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122840102318379327.html)

My thoughts on what is going on in the US Auto Industry is well, mixed. I grew up a GM teen with 2 Buick Regals, 2 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes, and a Saturn SC2 (still own it), and always thought there drivetrains were excellent. Now-a-days though I have definitely switched to the darkside, I am firmly a Honda and Toyota guy. Someday, I will go into that more but really feel the need to evaluate the US Big 3. Before I evaluate each company it is important to note that all of these companies were restructuring when the whole market went to crap. Most have some decent new vehicles, but with nobody buying cars, and nobody putting out loans, they all got screwed so to speak. Others would say too little too late, and I do agree to some extent.

Let’s start with Ford. Ford in my opinion is the best run company of the three right now. Why, because they have viable small cars and light trucks that are reliable, built well, and really as good as anything Japan offers. They went to the government asking for a $9 billion line of credit, not bail money, but credit just in case they need it (which they may), and they have a realistic plan for profitability by 2011. They have four excellent models in the Focus, Fusion, Escape, and F-150 that will retain a good demand. To me this company is the best bet of the three for succeeding. Worth noting is that they have an extremely good hybrid in the Escape that is in its second powertrain generation, meaning already have some of the technology needed for higher mileage vehicles. The bad is that Ford is looking into selling some of Mazda, hopefully not all. Mazda has basically been the test dummy for a lot of the Ford drivetrains that are now used, and Mazda really makes some good cars.

GM is next. Frankly, I am disappointed with GM and I do not think that Rick Wagoner is the right man for CEO. However the good is all of the Cadillac product, Buick Enclave, the Chevy Silverado, Malibu, and the tiny Aveo are all pretty well built cars. The Malibu in particular is again one heck of a vehicle, now with the possibility of a 4cyl engine mated with a 6-speed transmission, which really is a car made for the common American public. Another bright spot is that the Ecotec 4cyl engine is actually pretty decent and reliable; too bad the Malibu and Saturn Aura are the only decent vehicles that it goes in. The Cobalt and variants really could be a nicer vehicle (cheap), the Saturn lineup needs more of the Opel fuel efficient engines that are common in Europe, and they need to abandon this push towards E85. The Volt looks promising. Also good is there strong presence in China’s emerging economy. I feel that with the right leadership all these loose good parts of GM could be remade into a really reliable company. It has a real chance if it can get away from acting like cow is a stallion, and instead just make that stallion. Also, they need to stay far away from merging Chrysler.

Chrysler is in terrible shape and Cerebus is to blame. What exactly was Chrysler thinking would happen when it continued to promote and develop big cars for the Hemi and delivering on such crapfests as the Dodge Caliber? Does anyone else thing that they were idiots for abandoning the Neon (the pre VW Bug redo before the actual VW Bug redo)? The only good products in their lineup are the mini-vans, Jeeps, and the Ram trucks, consequently those are the products that they spent their money on after the take over. What stinks is their eagerness to merge with GM, which to me reeks of Cerebus ready to cash out and GM to get as much money from the government as they can. Mark my prediction if GM bought Chrysler, they would dance with the corpse long enough to get paid and then burry the body. The two companies’ product lines just do not compliment each other at all. Where I am most upset with Chrysler is that the best option was out there and they didn’t jump on it, which was working with Nissan. Charles Ghosn CEO of Nissan-Renault is probably the brightest man in the auto industry right now. He offered at one point to take up to a 20% stake in Chrysler, allowing Chrysler to get Nissan built small cars, and Nissan to get Chrysler built large trucks and minivans. It actually was an excellent plan and gives Chrysler a real viable future, and they walked. To me that was worse than Yahoo walking away from Microsoft. I don’t know if I would loan them any money unless they began some good real talks with a potential buyer not named GM.

All this being said, I do really feel the government should save the companies, with true oversight. Some have suggested giving up some true bail out money for now, and then requiring the companies to prove that more is needed and will be well spent. I would approve of any plan like that, there are really too many people that this would risk, and basically end major manufacturing in the US other than planes.

Recycle or Reuse Bags?

My latest work thing involves a plastic bag recycling plant. Now, Grant and I had a discussion about this at a BBQ I had several weeks back and it is funny that it comes up at work. Basically, Grant and I agreed that this whole reusable bag idea isn’t the sunshine, happy day sort of program that it is presented as.

Now I am not against it per say, after all I am a green head, but these cheap a$$ bags they sell for this are well cheap a$$. They don’t hold up, they tear up, so then the user buys more when their bag fails, thus continuing the cycle. Most of those “reusable” bags cannot be recycled. They are made of cheap materials, poorly sown, and the production needed to produce these things vs. plastic can’t be equitable. My point is this, if you are truly into this movement, then go buy those heavy duty LL Bean or Eddie Bauer canvas bags that are big, repairable, and will last. Or simply use those evil plastic bags and recycle them back at the grocery store when you are done, or use them as liners for your bathroom trashcan or your car. That makes sense and isn’t wasteful. Check this website out as well, it may change your mind.

All this being said, you would be amazed at the amount of crap that can be recycled now a days. Take a trip down to your local recycling center (www.recyclespot.org in KC), and blow your mind.


State of the Economy....

The announcement by Bank of America (owner of Countrywide), CitiBank, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac that they will start renegotiating mortgages may begin what turns around the economy, in the least it may help keep this bail out to a minimal. Times are tough however and more outside the bank world companies are going to start asking for money. Tough times are ahead.

More signs of a down market that I have heard / seen:

* Paint orders are still extremely low.
* Construction orders are being put on hold / slowed down.
* People I know are still worried about losing their home.

For now my money besides what is already in, is going to wait. What I would like to know is what is the everyday investor's sign of a turn around? So what are your ideas, metals stabilize? New house orders rise? You tell me...


Holy Crap! I guess ask and ye shall receive.


Up next lawsuits from people who missed out on this...

Brilliant! CitiMortgage Coming Through!

Recently I have been eluding to what I think will recover the economy the quickest both here and on thecornerofficeblog run by my friend Grant. Basically, figure out a way to keep as many people that can into homes, without letting them off the hook for payments.
The idea is simple, people that can afford to stay in there home can afford to buy other stuff. Thus ensuring the great capitalist society that is America.

Math will tell you that as long as a homeowner stays in a home for some given amount of time, then the interest on that loan will ensure a bank makes a profit. Most times it means the bank will make a big profit if that homeowner remains in a house 8+years or more. Well I have recently thought that two strategies to keep homeowners in their house would be to A)adjust the interest rate to a level that they could afford and fix it for 30-years or B)extend the mortgage to a 40-year fixed and adjust the rate appropriately. I am not talking about handouts but something appropriate for that homeowner. Don't ask me to define what determines what, I don't know that answer, but something reasonable should be able to be agreed upon. I believe this will still shake out the people who can't afford a home period, but maybe saving some people on the fringe and those who may have recently lost their job. Like arm floaties for those getting tired of swimming.

I know the argument against doing anything like this was that people should have known better and if they couldn't afford the home that they were buying then shame on them. That is a good argument, but I would argue as well that many of these people probably thought if I can't afford this when the my 3 to 5 year ARM ends, then I will just refinance like this banking guy is telling me or just sell the house. Both of those "fail-safes" have, well, failed. Now people are upside down, banks aren't collecting any money, and foreclosure is abound. If you could keep people in homes, home values could stabilize, governments property tax funding could stabilize, and maybe the taxes we all see on the horizon could be greatly reduced.

Now I originally thought that the government would be the only entity that may put together a plan like I was speaking about, but to me real capitalist hope is on the horizon. Citi (the nation's largest or second largest bank I can't remember) announced that it was going to put together a team of 600 specialists to help their struggling customers figure out a payment that they can afford. Although it may be too late for our economy and many foreclosed homeowners, but the lender is finally coming through with the promise to refinance, albeit not in the way they were originally planning.

To me, a big signal of the economy starting to turn around would be several more of the big banks following suit without government involvement or encouragement. Until then I think you will not see an end to this economic struggle until floor opens up and a lot of otherwise good, smart decision people have lost their jobs along with all of the idiots. It is a downward cycle in my mind that will continue until something is done.

The downward cycle:

1. People can’t afford their home, bills, etc.

2. People stop spending on anything that isn’t necessary.

3. All those companies making the non-essentials suffer greatly, because now there aren’t any orders.

4. Those companies layoff people, close plants, and consolidate.

5. Now more people can’t afford their home.

6. Repeat 2-5 over and over.

All that is occurring right now, and we all are going to be affected. I don't know about the rest of the world but I want the costs to me, the working population to be minimalized, before my life or my job (again) to be affected.


This week's article of the week...

This week's article comes from the most unlikely of places for me, Seeking Alpha. My brother can be thanked for finding it however. Seeking Alpha is pretty hit or miss as far as quality of articles, but this one seems to hit well.

This week's is from Seeking Alpha's James Quinn, titled "The Shallowest Generation" it goes on to speak about the amount of debt that he believes his generation has spent. I don't know how true his facts relate back to the Baby Boomers, but it is an acurate depiction of the our current state of the nation. His solution is odd as well, basically for the boomers to pull out their wallets and pay for things, which would be hard I think if they have already maxed out their credit as the article says. Either way, enjoy...



This Just In...MJ Revealed!

Yup that's me. Notice the mask and safety glasses, it's the only way I can enjoy the fall. I am basically allergic to everything in the fall, but nothing is more fun than a big pile of leaves (MFTABPOL for short). That's my great little midwest ranch in the back, no we haven't painted it yet. I especially like the Oliver Stone camera angle my GF went for. Funny thing is this is exactly how I eat the burnt-end special at Oklahoma Joe's.


The truth about Warren B...


Read it while you can, it is currently free.

This is what I have been saying to people that have responded to me with the phrase, “well Buffett is buying again.” He is getting deals we are not getting, a 10% dividend on GE and Goldman Sachs is hardly something the rest of us can get. That 10% hedges most of the activity of the stock he is holding whether it goes up or down.

It looks as if the market is starting to level out, but I still don’t think this is the end. My prediction is to see how the market reacts to the post holiday earnings reports and then judge the state of the economy.


I'm voting for Obama...

Just to let people know, I'm voting for Obama. Although I live in Kansas and my actual (electorial vote) is going to McCain. I really, really wanted to like McCain, but he is just not the same person he was in 2000. That's just too bad, I am pretty sure the 2000 McCain would kick the 2008 McCain's ass.

I don't care who people vote for either, please just go vote.


Market Status Update...

(que cool news ticker evening news beginning music)

Well don't know if anyone has been looking at the news recently but the economy is in the can. Some people are seeing this time as now being a buying opportunity, but I am not so sure. I have bought some PM stock and VTI shares, but otherwise I am keeping about half of my money off of the table. Why, because well I am observing my environment.

Fact is I was laid off just a month and a half ago from what I do still think is a well run company. While I will not share the company's name, I will reveal their business, which is paint. Paint is a lovely commodity that can instantly give an investor a clear picture of one clear customer, the American Consumer. Let me explain a little bit further, paint covers everything a buyer really wants: appliances, mowers, home hardware, power tools, windows, cars, and mailboxes. Traditionally it is all that stuff you buy within six months of buying a house. The housing market dried up two years ago, and it started affecting the paint business six months after. Then the market sort of flattened out and paint was still being made, just at a lower rate. I recently learned that paint orders have basically just dropped off the face of the planet. That is a hair raising bad thing to hear.

I have a good ear to construction and agriculture equipment as well. I thought that when I left the con/ag situation a couple of years ago, things were going to start to fall off. I was wrong then, but look as if I am getting more right now. The Caterpillers, Deere, and CNH's of the world have actually started showing signs of slowing. I always think that when these companies as a collection start showing weakening returns, then that shows a slow down in all construction: residential, commercial, or government. To me that means funding is really drying up, loans are becoming much more scarce to build not only what is wanted but what is needed. Or even worse, industrial improvement operations have ceased and companies are now in waiting game mode.

So what does look good. Well during my interview process for a new job, I think that I found the industrial sectors that are doing well. Railroad car manufacturers cannot produce enough cars to keep up with demand. Increase costs in shipments by truck has led to a mini boom in railroad cars. Companies are working 7 days a week to keep up. I worry some about the railroad industry as the economic structure falters though for the industry, gas keeps falling as well too. Food ingredient companies are hiring and spending lots of money. My new job sells a certain type of equipment to various food, petrochemical, and industrial sectors. Well a quick scan of orders shows who is really spending cash, and food is in. They are going about spending smartly as well by expanding operations at current plants to state of the art systems that can reach a lot of profitable returns. I have been looking at Kroger (KR) but I think now companies like Kraft and Del Monte may be a good bet.

The economy is still in rough shape however, a lot of good people have made some bad decisions and more foreclosures are still coming over the next 2 -4 years as these 3-5 ARM's expire and change rates. Remember that unemployment rates are not necessarily showing the big picture either. For every job lost or plant closed, there is someone with a customer lost, and then some money on their paycheck is lost and so on and so forth. It's not just the unemployed's missing funds, but the ripple affect will move on to contractors, salesmen, commission jobs, and small business. That in turn will hurt the big businesses that much more. I think we are six months to a year before this truly bottoms out.

Government is focused on the day to day lending and borrowing but truly what will save the common American is working with the mortgages that they are upside down in. I think that what will end up saving us is a forcing of a low interest rates on banks loans for those who screwed up and in turn lower the borrower's monthly payments. I don't care if they make them 40 year fixed or whatever, banks will be in a lot better shape with a steady payment and by extending the loan years will ensure that they still get their money in the long run. Foreclosures are not working, and bailing out banks is a Band-Aid. Rooting out a solution for the actual mortgage issue should be the top priority. I think people will start spending again once they know that they can make the payment for the month and their family is safe.

I guess we will all see. Be careful out there and keep some money back.


Exciting Halloween Costumes

Phat Phelps:
Fat guy, Speedo. 8 sports participation ribbons.

Chinese Olympic Gymnast:
Leotard, Diaper, and huge smile.

Chiefs Quarterback:
Glue bench to butt and injured reserve letter on head, and greasy hands that are unable to hold football. Money in back pocket optional.

Bad Idea :
Dress as $.99 store recycle bag or Royals professional baseball contract or Drill Bit with ANWR painted on it.

Good idea:
Dress as windmill or mattress stuffed with cash or CFL Bulb or 4 cyl engine.

Find empty wine barrel, carve out bottom, add suspenders, tie, and cigar. Or wear suit complete on front, completely ripped off on back.

AIG Executive:
Armani Hobo outfit, don’t forget golf clubs and tickets to Club Med in pocket. (Note utilizing interpretive dance to avoid tough questions about using taxpayer bailout money for executive retreat). Or dress as gigantic douche bag.

Chiefs GM, Various Bank CEO’s, President Bush:
Dress as gigantic douche bag.

Presidential Candidate:
Mask that has Obama face on one side McCain on the other, must know how to lie constantly or I mean “promise change” to everyone around you. Shell game prop would be handy at taking people’s money. If they want their money back hand them a few pennies and call it an economic stimulus package. Make sure to burn all money acquired from the shell game at the end of the night.

Congressman with significant economic stimulus package:
Costume not available at this time.

Mortgage Broker:
Wear suit, cover thoroughly in Teflon, whiten teeth, and grease palms. Blame everyone else for problems.

Blackberry, cigarette, Starbuck’s coffee cup, repo-ed Lexus cutout, $400,000 foreclosure home cutout, Mc D’s Manager uniform, and white picket fence optional. Must text constantly, sweat, and only talk about how crappy you are paid, and how you should have bought a BMW instead. If asked about foreclosed home or repo-ed Lexus act as if you never saw it coming. Ask for credit applications every time you meet a new person.

American Company CEO:
Suit, Scrooge-McDuck-sized money bag, and golden parachute. Must speak in nonsensical verbiage like, "synergistic parallels" or "knowledge cohesion" and must always choose the wrong decision. While at the party talk about moving the keg processing operation overseas to save money. Hand out pink slips constantly.

American Healthcare System
Body bag and gurney. Have buddy dressed as douche bag, I mean as a lawyer, push you around the party and talk about what great shape you are in.

Real Time Stock Ticker
Wear all red and bounce on trampoline. Occasionally fall, and only get up after conversation with person dressed as Warren Buffett or douche bag. Or person dressed in shorts may trip you constantly.

American Consumer Confidence:
Rent zombie outfit.

Ben Bernanke or Henry Paulson:
Rent Ronald McDonald outfit and juggle. Hand out money all night to people dressed as douche bags.


Read before it goes to the archives...

An excellent interview this weekend in the Wall Street Journal of Anna Schwartz about the current economic crisis versus some of our past economic downturns. She co-wrote a book that Bernanke thinks is the best explination of great depression failures in the 30's. Please stop and read it this weekend while it is free and before it turns into the WSJ archive.

Link here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122428279231046053.html


Cash is King

So we all have heard the comment, "Cash is King!" Usually I heard it around my old job downtown, with a lot of these little mom and pop places that didn't like being charged some fee from Visa or Mastercard to get their money. Now I can't help but think about the comment when I see US banks, automakers, insurers, and brokers claiming that they are in million dollar short falls. So who actually has the money if all of these companies don't have it? I don't know, but I bet a year's worth of garnished wages that it will end up being us. I won't pretend to know the answer to this economic crisis, but a part of me is getting a bit more anxious about where all this financial support from this government is coming from. Am I the only one that sees raised taxes on the horizon from whomever the next president is going to be?

The golden parachutes of top execs piss me off, what they have gotten paid to ruin companies really piss me off. Welsch, Iacocca, and Ford are probably amazed at how crappy CEO's have become, the countries companies are run by bankers and not grind your nose out leaders.

Banks making loans out to people they never should have pisses me off, people who cannot afford those loans piss me off. The American Dream is sometimes meant to be a dream, not a reality. How people got massive amounts of money without putting in the time really bothers me. A society of these people is a huge problem.

I guess I want to say that, I saved my money living in crappy housing to put together the traditional 20% for a home. I have always had a emergency fund account that took care of me when I didn't have a job or when my dog needed surgery or whatever. And how will I be rewarded: inflation, higher taxes, crappy healthcare, and a government that doesn't have any clue about what Americans really need. Whatever happened to leaders, real leaders, planners, real planners, and how about a person with a clue on how to get us back to a better place.

Where have all the good people gone?


My Job Search Update...Things are looking up.

Well today I am writing before my phone call with a particular company to accept a position as a Project Design Engineer. It is a little different from my last job working as a Project Engineer doing capital projects for a factory, but it definately falls into the realm of rounding out my experience. It is hard to believe as engineer that I haven't done much literal design, but I haven't. That makes this job a little exciting, but I also have some reservations about the position. Basically, I will be the guy I used to hire at my last job to design, build, and install specialized pieces of equipment. This includes my skills as contractor negotiator, project manager, and will now push my engineering design skills forward. It should be exciting.

What is unfortunate is that no other company moved with the speed as this company did. There are several really good Project Engineering positions available in the KC area, but none of them really showed any interest until late. This company has acted quickly, throwing me in a couple of interviews in a short period of time and making an offer a week later. I definately don't want to be unemployed for a long period of time in this economy either, so this is a good fit for now.

Long term who knows, I still love the idea of the corporate jet-setting Project Engineer, but we will work this angle for now. I need to start preparing now, I have a few things to negotiate with HR before I accept the position. More job search series coming...


Somebody please fix Sears!

Someone please fix Sears / Kmart's financial situation. I 100% don't want to see this company fold. Let me tell you why, support and service.

I recently had a 6-year-old Kenmore washing machine die on me and after speaking with a sales guy at Sears (the guy who should be selling me a new washer), I found that I needed to replace the motor coupler. After searching online through there http://www.managemyhome.com/ website, I found the part I needed, the diagram to pull the thing apart, and the location of the nearest Sears Parts Center. Which I might add was opened on Sunday, and to rest my mind, was told that they would be open for a little bit on Labor Day if I had any problems. Get it, they are supporting the common home owner, I can't believe it. Anyway my next delima was a 15-year-old Craftsman Garage Door Opener. The drive gear sheared off and I thought, hey it's probably time to by a new one. My GF's brother wouldn't have it, he saw what we did to the washer and said he would figure it out. A couple of computer clicks, a drive to the store, and $20 later we had the garage door all fixed.

Couple this with ever so easy to replace Craftsman hand tools, solid prices, and I am convinced this is still America's store. That is if America can remember to use it. I think it has an image problem and not necessarily a product thing. Make all Kmarts into Sears and then try to make the stores not feel so stuffy. So please someone fix Sears so it lasts and lasts as a store around the corner, because I don't know what I am going to need to fix next year around Labor Day.


Ticket to Crazytown: Market Thoughts...

Well I haven't updated on stocks recently, but should probably say that I went to all cash except for Baldor (BEZ) Wednesday morning and then picked up one of those two stocks that I have been eyeing Phillips Morris International (PM). I have been thinking a lot about the market and how to make safe money in this our current economy and have come up with a couple of thoughts.

The first being I am going to stay away from ETF's until there are real signs of market improvement. This may sound crazy, ETF's by nature are supposed bring some stabilization, but all the ones that I have held and were eyeballing have been slowly deteriorating in share price. I am negative 20% on my account because of it. When signs truly trend a little better I will buy VTI and PWV again, but for now I am going to wait.

The second being that there is some real values out there right now. If you are a contrarian investor you should be having a field day. I am trying to find some real hard and firm value stocks with good economy proof basics. Baldor is still one of those stocks for reasons that I have spoken about before. Philips Morris International is one that should be both economy proof to the US and also provide long term growth across the world, and because smokers smoke. The others that I have been looking at is Kroger (KR), Intel (INTC), and Ship Finance International Limited (SFL). I am searching for more, but I am looking for a solid long term companies.

I am interested to know what other people think of what has happened with the economy. I have mixed feelings for the government's bailout / takeover / whatever that has occurred this week. On the one hand I am glad that they are doing something, I think that the current financial market dictates that this needed to occur. I don't like that it is my money, but I think that saving us from a complete financial collapse is a good thing. On the other hand, I am pissed that we all didn't do something six months ago when we knew that this was a possibility and when it would cost us a lot less. Beware now of the hidden inflation that will now occur. I am unsure how it will affect the everyday person, but we can't keep throwing money at sinking ships and expect for the return to add value to the economy. I am nervous that is for sure.


Job Series #1: Back to Basics

When hitting the search circuit it's best to get yourself ready for the war. There are some basics that everyone needs to prepare for.
  1. Get your suit / interview-ware together. Check your shirts, belt, shoes, and suit. It is simple but if a interview happens tomorrow and you have a suit with a jacket that doesn't fit, brown shoes for a blue suit, a tie that doesn't match, and a wrinkled shirt, what the heck kind of impression are you really presenting? Get the basics covered. For kicks once a year, go to the nice part of Dillard's and get a few items like this and then you should always have something that fits. My GF's brother made me walk through there one day 4 months ago and convinced me to get a discounted Hugo Boss suit. If he wouldn't have done that then I wouldn't have had a perfect fitting suit for an interview I had last week. By the way it is the nicest and best suit I have ever owned.

  2. Brush up on your resume. I always tell my friends to update their resume every six months at the least (I probably do it every 3 months). It just keeps it fresh, but also think about how you want to have your resume laid out. Most people do the whole, this is where I worked and this is what I did resume but there are other styles like topical that can be even more effective dependent on your past. I will write more about this topic in the next series to cover resume writing more clearly.

  3. Contact your references and ask new people (privately) to become new ones. As you age through life, you will learn new skills, keep track of those that are impressed, those that become your friends, and those that you can count on. I have an odd background, and a wide swath of experiences but sometimes people just don't believe that I have seen and done all that I have seen and done. So I have a good friend that I can always count on for a recommendation, an old mentor that has never let me done, and now that plant manager that choked up when he was firing me, he is on my list. Through your life it is so important to know these types of people that you can count on for good recommendations, it can be a deal breaker in the negotiations, so don't use people that you cannot trust.

  4. Join and post your resume on the online job boards. I am amazed at the current work environment. I haven't seen as many postings with company positions as I have seen stuff posted by recruiters this time around. However, what I did notice that once I posted on on some of various job boards, they began talking to me. Granted, papers are still a decent place to look, but make sure to notice who they have partnered with. Mine has posted with Careerbuilder which is way better than Monster and Hotjobs in my area (KC, MO). But there are even better boards out there than that. In KC or Kansas you can use http://www.kansasworks.com/ and search everything, not just those big three, but the state boards, company boards that don't list openly, and all of the odd other boards that may be specific to your job speciality. I think it has to be do to the fact that Kansasworks is state run, and if you are applying for unemployment this is a way to show that the job search is occurring. Either way it is by far the best way to search around here. Again more on this when I talk about resumes.

  5. Evaluate your short comings. You want to leave your job, you got laid off, you got fired, something bad happened with your business group, frankly you have to get that behind you, but before you bury that hatchet evaluate yourself. There are things you suck at, things that you lack, or things you can do better. Put that to paper and work on improving that at your next job. I know that two jobs ago, I befriended the floor workers before I ever did the upper management. It cost me a lot there, I changed that at my last job. True I lost my job, but it wasn't because I didn't work well with the upper management, it was due to company consolidation and the plant manager and engineering manager have both said for me to use them as a reference, that was a distinct change. On my next job, I am going to work on pushing contractors harder, being a better estimator of project timing and pricing, and get better at AutoCAD.

  6. Treat finding a job as your job. Get up everyday like you were going to work: shower, get coffee, and for the next two to three hours prepare your resume, make some contacts, and search the boards. It will keep you fresh, then the rest of the day try to enjoy some of day to do something productive. Exercise, mow the lawn, that sort of thing.

  7. Interview everything. Good advice straight from my father. So what that the job is in Alaska milking penguins, act like that is what you have always wanted to do and interview your best for that job. Why, because when you really find a job that you actually want you will be well practiced and ready. Also, those who struggle with the interview process will need all the help that they can get to reach that comfort level talking about themselves around strangers.

  8. Know your spiel, practice your story. Work and work on your story. The more you talk it out the more comfortable you will be with it. If there are sketchy things about your past, be prepared to answer and explain away those problems.

  9. Never turn down a job not offered yet and never expect an offer that hasn't arrived. This is another of my dad's wisest advice. I try to never get my hopes up or down for a certain job. There have been times that I thought that I have nailed an interview only to never hear from the company again or likewise written a company off before I had completed the interview. Keep a cool head and keep searching until an offer is in front of you. No use worrying about the decision you don't have to make.

  10. Look for a better job! Chances are you have more experience now, that translates to being someone with something definite to offer. So when looking, look for something that is better it may just work out. Sure, if the economy is bad, or your field is competitive, it may be difficult and you may have to take a step down, but you won't move up unless you try.

Next up in the series: Modern Resume


Job Search Series

So to continue on the job search theme, I have always wanted to do a complete write up on how to get a (better) job. So over the next weeks I am going to write up blogs about each step of a employment search process. Being the son of a long time HR Director and constant guy that friends go to for resume write-ups, I feel that I may have some really good advice for anyone going through the process. A goal that I had for this blog was to make posts about finding a job and then eventually reworking it into a practical guide. It looks as if I have a little more motivation for the process now and maybe a little more time to develop it.

Hope you all will find it useful...


When it all falls down.

You work hard, spend an enormous amount of time working, thinking, designing, caring about the job you do. Then your boss comes in and tells you that the company is consolidating and your job has been eliminated. You like the guy, he likes you, and both of you can't help but feel sorry for each other. Simultaneously you are upset, confused, and finally relieved. Maybe you saw it coming, maybe you thought things would get better, but at least now you know. Out of respect you say, "It's okay, I understand, how long do I have?" He replies 2 weeks, you sit back and let it all settle in. The boss leaves the room, then almost immediately leaves the building. You swallow hard, not sure if you should yell or cry.

I called my GF next and said, "I didn't make it." She said, "It's there fucking loss." I realized it was true, took a deep breath, and headed home.

Jerry, my dad's best friend, used to say, "When you get kicked out of a good seat, you move up not back to a better one!" He was talking about sneaking into good seats at sport games, but it applies in the world of work as well. So my mantra will be that I am going to find a better job, get more money, and prove myself all over again.

Sometimes I think my life is all about proving people wrong, sometimes I get tired, but reality is I have big shoulders. I can carry that load.

Next job, bring it on...


So if you could only choose one?

Coming back from the Philippines I realized that the world smokes. Smokes cigarettes that is. I know it is a bad thing, and I don't do it, but that doesn't mean I won't invest my future on someone else's habit.

With all that said, if you could only choose between investing in two stocks in the world, what would you choose, Altria [MO] or Philips Morris International [PM]? This whole thought process was triggered in my brain when I saw something on Bernanke again and remembered this guy only invested in one stock his whole life, the old Philips Morris company. So I began researching what Philips Morris has become today, Altria and PMI. What I found is that it is truly a tale of a value stock versus a business with a bright future.

Altria (~$21 per share) is now basically just the US cigarette market, lawsuits and all. To me the stock looks really good, it's trading at a $1 over one year lows and has an annual dividend of $1.16 (5.5%). Their story over the long term would seem to look as a long growth stock. It has been anchored down by lawsuits and government taxes in the states for the past 10-15 years now and it has affected the stock price. However, this is a S&P 5 star rated stock, which typically is tied to a low price to earnings, a good credit rating, and a strong cash flow, which this stock has. The US is a mature marketplace, and they do predict a slight fall in sales volume, but they have been diligent on price increases, stock buy backs, and seem to be still a hugely profitable company. Two aspects I look for in stocks are a good return on assets, 24.5% here and profitability, 21%. I tend to think these are good measures of efficiency for a company. Anything over 15% for both measures is really, really good. Some analysts are speculating a price per share of $26 in a year which is 23% increase from the current price plus a 5.5% annual dividend, that is 28.5% increase in value over a year. I know that is a really positive outlook, but the potential is there. The downfall is that Altria is now basically a new company again, and they haven't been always known as being the most truthful company in the past (although I have never really heard of them lying about their financials), so all of this could be just a big promotion to get investors investing. Another note is the wondering of whether the US marketplace will really grow at all or just level out. If that is true then think about this company as a pure dividend play that isn't a bank, energy, or oil company.

Philips Morris International (~$55.50 per share) is basically cigarettes around the world. The company was split from Altria so that it would be insulated from lawsuits and really grow from the rapidly expanding world market. I perused their most current financial reports and really only care about one thing, year over year revenue growth in each of the various geographic marketplaces. See when a company is this new, I don't trust the basic financial figures other than net revenue and growth. Look at it yourself here, notice the year over year net revenue increases of over 20% for Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Latin America, and 13% for Asia. Asia being the biggest potential for huge growth in the next 10 years. Combine that with a decent dividend (3.3% currently) and a 4 star S&P rating, and the company looks like it has some potential. However, PMI recently purchased Rothman's Inc, a major player in cigarettes in Canada. It now makes this 'legal insulated' company now susceptible to lawsuits. I think that the current stock price is a little high, but after a pull back, it may be an excellent Bernanke-ish play for the long term.

So if you had to choose between these two stocks, which would you choose? Ben?


Missouri Joke

How do you know you left Missouri?

The gravel ends.


A word on modern manufacturing

So after writing my article on the problems of America’s “new” obsession, I realized that there is a lot of good things that come from new products. No I’m not talking about these so called green products but just our everyday stuff. To build more stuff and make it cheap, well you can export the processes to someplace where the labor is cheap, but eventually the manufacturing process will get better. Think about it, we use more wood from a log than we ever have before. 2x4’s, plywood, and MDF can all be made from that one log and in a lot of ways is better than the materials we were making the past. 60% to 80% of most steel and aluminum materials are from recycled metal. It is cheaper and easier to melt the recycled metal than it is to work over the raw ore. Leather is laser cut now so that more of it can be used on more stuff. I doubt any of those things are taken into account into all of this new green talk, but higher efficiency and doing more with less energy is always good.

As an engineer in a factory, and as I’m sure most engineers in most factories, I try to reuse / retool old equipment, improve processes, and recycle what isn’t usable as much as I can. It is a required part of my job to be cost conscious and make the factory work at its highest efficiency. So all of the new stuff that is made is typically made in the most green way that it could be.

One last thought, higher efficiency equipment and recycled goods would not be made without an economy demanding and then purchasing them.. So “new” isn’t all bad, it can be a pretty good proponent of green as well.


A few random thoughts while out on vacation

  • There are only two types of public trash cans in Manila: Recyclable or Biodegradable. That's it. No generic trash. Think about that for a minute, is everything you throw away recyclable or biodegradable?
  • What if instead of pumping more money into higher wages, stay with me here, and instead make cheaper more sustainable housing. Would the value of the dollar be greater? The thought is brought to you by the hardest working employees of fast food chains that I have ever seen in Manila. To quote a friend, "I would hire these people anywhere!" They don't make much, only 250 pesos or $25 a day, but they work really hard. It is probably cultural, but that is considered okay money, so they work hard. I am taking a guess that because cheap housing is readily available, then that small peso amount can be pretty valuable in that country.
  • Up yours snooty people! As the world marketplace is becoming more global with more languages trying to speak and understand one another, the more basic English is being spoken. I can go most places in the world now and say, "Where is your bathroom?" and they will know exactly what I am saying or want to do. Now try to go to those same foreign parts of the world and say, "Can you please point me into the direction of the nearest toilet?" and you may get the same look from them that your dog gives you when you make a funny noise. So all those language snobs that over the years that have corrected your imprecise speech can shove it. I frankly never cared that it is "anyway" and not "anyways" and most of the rest of the world could care less too. I can only speak basic Spanish when I really need it, just as some other nationality can barely speak English. If we are both patient with each other then we can figure it all out. I am not going to tell a vendor in the Philippines about how "frugal" I am, I will tell them that I am "cheap". They understand that and no one is embarrassed.
  • I'm going to start a paper company in the Philippines. I didn't bring a laptop and am writing on some computer paper that I bought at the hotel. I bought six pieces of paper for 25 pesos. Next time I am bringing a whole gross of legal pads. I'll make millions (of pesos).
  • Filipinos love the sweets. Everything here is sweet or has some sweet aftertaste. Sio Pao (pronounced shoe-pow!) is the native sandwich. It is a sweet roll with some sort of pork or chicken in the middle, very good. There is also Tusino (pronounced like casino with a T) which is a sweet cured ham that is fried and served like bacon here, also very good.
  • All of the national airlines in the Philippines have the throwback hot stewardess thing going on. I would say more but I have a GF that I love.
  • I just wanted to take a moment to say that I am up ~35% since I bought into Baldor (BEZ) and ~8% with Herman Miller (MLHR). I am honestly considering though to becoming a Bogle-head and start purchasing shares of VTI, VEA, and VNQ for my Roth IRA. More on the strategy later.

A good joke that I heard...

What does DNA stand for?

National Dyslexics Association.


#1 way to “help” the green movement: Reuse

(This is one of the articles I wrote while on vacation last week, so I am no longer in the Philippines even thought I am referring to it. I am excited about what I wrote over there and should have a new update everyday this week, so come back daily)

While waiting in Manila for a flight to Dumaguete, I have been reading the latest Dwell Magazine. This issue is about the popular topic of green building / sustainability and one article in particular sparked my thoughts about what is the most green thing one can do with building or buying anything. The article, about someone’s modern expansion and makeover of a home with new green, recycled, processed, and organic materials and its design process. It’s a very beautiful home but I can’t help think about all of the energy used to make these new recycled panels, parts, and materials, not to mention of the fuel needed to power the equipment used to build the house. Sure they utilized biodiesel fueled trucks, processed hay, denim insulation, special insulating windows, solar panels, and low-VOC paint but what if first they took a trip down to the local recycled materials store (KC Restore, etc) first for windows, doors, sinks, wood, flooring, and tubs. Reusing what isn’t “new” is the best way to keep trash out of dumps and not use time, money, and energy to produce a product. This obsession with “new” is what is truly wrong with the American lifestyle. We all are obsessed with “new”, you suffer from it, and I suffer from it. If we all just stopped at the thrift store first for some clothes, not all, but some, it would reduce some of that time, money, and energy needed to produce new clothes. Just being satisfied with the furniture we have or with the current layout of our kitchen, should be considered just as green, if not more so than some LEED’s certified property built from the ground up. Okay truly if we have to build something new, then using and investing in these new recyclable or more sustainable materials is great and needed, but not reusing older, perfectly fine materials and goods is just reckless, snobby, and wasteful.

Go back just 100 to 200 years ago to America and farmers would use as much wood as they could from the old barn to build the new barn, the old bath tub in the old house would get transferred over the to the new house, the old sink was the new sink, and on and on. The products were typically more robust then, usually made to last a little better than our current throw away society. Somewhere in Americana, we all started to want “new” and more “new”, and in order to afford the variety of more “new”, we needed cheaper and cheaper stuff. First came the old Sears and Roebucks and then came out Wal-Marts, providing us with all of the crap we want as cheap as it can get. At one time the little closets in the old houses Americans owned fit all of the clothes that a person held, all of them. Now we need so much stuff that huge closets and rooms are needed to pack all that crap in. More stuff, more crap, more space, and it all has to be “new”, that is the problem. Enjoying what we have, or reusing someone else’s perfectly good stuff, is the best, most green solution. Magazines may never write about it, media may never promote it, but there really is just no better thing to help the green movement than to reuse.


On Vacation...

...and am loving it.

I typing on a sticky keyboard on a slow computer is Bais City in the Philippines. Sorry ahead of time if this doesn't make sense.

I really like it here and took a bath with a wash bucket tonight, really cool! I have written, literally written on paper, five blog posts about stuff ranging from the American obsession with new to a comprehensive engineering study of urinals. I can't really write it anywhere here but prepare to be amazed when I get back. I didn't realize how much that I enjoy writing until I got some free time away from work. It has gotten me thinking about starting a side business, and how I can't wait to get back to a finished bathroom at my place.

Take care USA, I will be home in a week. Try not to elect McCain while I am away.


Corner of Safety Street and Frugal Road

A lot of times in life we (the people of the world), will find ourselves making a decision to go with the cheap, risky decision or with the more expensive, safer choice. Like jumping on the solar stock bandwagon vs. just buying an oil ETF, or getting the seasonal best apples at the supermarket vs the free (possibly over ripened) watermelon at the farmer's market. Like choosing the special at the Chinese Take-Out vs the good ol' sweet and sour chicken or purchasing the good, known equipment for work vs buying from the lowest bidder.

Well I am at that junction with the gas prices. I am *gasp* thinking about commuting to work by *double gasp* bike or scooter. My GF and I have been working at the same place for the past year and she is quitting this week to pursue other ventures. We have been commuting together up until this point. Her car was wrecked during the ice storms we had here this last winter and I want to leave my car around for her. So out have come my bike and scooter, appropriately named Ghetto Superstar and Piglet. I will tell the stories of their names some other date. The scoot is in dire need of a overhaul, but the bike is ready to go.

So here is the dilemma, I live in Kansas on the Southwest side of downtown KC and work just north across the river of downtown KC (approximately 10 miles). So to get from my home in Mission to work in North KC, I will have to go some of the not so friendly bike parts of downtown. That makes me a little nervous. I do like to ride and have been covering about 20-25 miles a week in preparation so the distance isn't my problem, it's the whole bike vs car thing. While some may think a bike can rival any car out there, I can tell you from a few interactions that I have had, that a car wins that fight every time. Even when you are sneaking up from it from behind, while it is parked. Regardless, I used to be a pretty decent rider back in the day (cue Toby Keith - As Good As I Once Was), and was never afraid of traffic before. The possibility has it's health perks though too, what with the work out and all, which I could definitely use the exercise. Work has showers and lockers available, although usually meant for the Union guys on the factory floor.

I am equally encouraged by Noah kc-info.blogspot.com who has had a little bit of publicity on the radio and newspaper in KC recently. He essentially rides the streets that I had mapped out previously into the city everyday, so we will see. I really like his blog as well, he seems rather friendly and open. I have read his friend the CommuterDude before when researching commuting in KC as well. Anyway, my plan is to begin riding when I get back from the Philippines, it's all preparation until then.

I almost forgot, I love the scoots. Piglet (1980 Suzuki FZ50) has lived a glorious life by getting my brother through undergrad and med school and then getting me through 6 years of engineering school. Piglet (a play on 'Hog') is an underpowered, high mileage trooper and frankly may need open motor surgery to get it all working again. That will be my backup for the bike on days I can't ride or am late for work. 60 mpg won't make me feel guilty about the ozone depletion anyway. Grant could probably tell you some good college stories about it, but basically I chose a more expensive winter jacket vs paying the Parking Patrol at college. I loathed the Parking Department there and pranked them often.

I really want this to work out, because I do miss riding regularly on my bike. I am not old by any sense of the word, but I am getting to the point where soccer and lacrosse are causing me more pain then good. The exercise benefit isn't there when I am hurt with an ankle injury for two months and can't really do any active sports. I like the idea of bike commuting too because it doesn't really take away time from my GF and our pets and I still get to do a sport I enjoy.

I will keep you updated on the progress next month.


Bush's tenure summed up in today's Q&A

President Bush had himself a little speech today about Fannie and Freddie and the Q&A portion was particularly enlightening.

"Q But you do have the Strategic Oil Petroleum Reserve. What about opening that?
THE PRESIDENT: The Strategic Oil Petroleum Reserve is for, you know, emergencies. But that doesn't address the fundamental issue. And we need to address the fundamental issue, which I, frankly, have been talking about since I first became President -- which is a combination of using technology to have alternative sources of energy, but at the same time finding oil and gas here at home. And now is the time to get it done. I heard somebody say, well, it's going to take seven years. Well, if we'd have done it seven years ago we'd be having a different conversation today. I'm not suggesting it would have completely created -- you know, changed the dynamics in the world, but it certainly would have been -- we'd have been using more of our own oil and sending less money overseas. "

I take issue with his seven years ago statement, that is seven years ago he was not looking into fuel alternatives. Seven years ago, he could have demanded for higher mpg standards for cars made today to help combat gas demand. Seven years ago, he could have been chasing Bin Laden and not Iraq for oil. Seven years ago, he could have upheld the Kyoto Treaty as a directive for our nation to shoot for. Seven years ago, he could have encouraged transportation projects like trains that down play our dependance on oil. Seven years ago he could have done a lot more crap that could have significantly affected our dependance and demand on foreign oil instead of some sort of b.s. comment on opening up ANWR to put a drop in the bucket US oil. I can't wait for a new regime right now, I just hope I could get enough write in votes for Ross Perot to make a difference. Or was that Ralph Nader?


Calling all Bloggers!

I am making a request out there to the blog-o-sphere for some filler posts while I am on vacation in the Philippines from July 28th through August 11th. I am really open to just about anything, from personal observations to stock ideas to life with dyslexia to well, anything. If someone were to classify what I have consentrated on so far, I would say industrial stocks, alternative energy, recession-no recession, inflation-no inflation, What's in your Toolbox, engineering and construction advice, and some dyslexic topics.

I am willing in turn to post on your blog (if you would like), add your blog to the blog list, and even research a stock for you if so requested. Feel free to comment here or email me on dyslexicresearch@yahoo.com.

Thanks, the management.

Big Projects

So the company I work for has decided to move a bunch of equipment from one plant to another that will effectively fill the holes we have here in a major production area and then create another expanded minor production area. Truly it is exciting stuff. Since I am working this weekend I thought I would take a break and run down a few of important details when doing a major construction project outside of just dealing with contractors. I think that I have covered the “what to do while the project is running” details before, so this is more the beginning work that occurs.

Planning and permits:

This is sometimes your second step instead of the first but typically it needs to be the first one. When beginning a major project you will need just a general plan get started, goals, basic outline of equipment needed, and an idea of any permits needed. Almost every major project has a goal, something like increased production, energy savings, equipment upgrade, or equipment improvement. Once these basics are listed classify things as a replacement in kind (essentially an equipment swap, no permitting needed), if it will have energy savings, if it will need additional energy, water, air, etc, or could cause pollution. It is important to note that most municipalities now have tax incentives for shown energy savings improvements that can be seen in 1-5 years (up to $40k in rebates dependant on areas), but you have to apply for these rebates up front before the project begins. Once the equipment is installed and running it is too late, I learned this the hard way with a pair of new Trane chillers that were installed at the plant. I found out about the tax credits after the work was complete and nothing was available for us. Also mentioned was the possibility of new power, water, or even air requirements. All will require coordination with the local municipalities for the upgrade and usually permits for construction. Finally the new equipment may need air permits or construction permits to cover government regulations. It is all dependant on what is installed and if any pollution or other materials could be exhausted into the atmosphere or leaked into the ground.

Real planning and project design:

This step is the one that can sometimes swap with step listed above; it will really depend on the project. Every big project requires three things: project scope, project timeline, and project design. For me the most important thing is the project scope. The scope should have all of the guts needed to complete the project successfully. I like to best lay everything out in the scope in an outline, and just list every little detail into it from equipment needed to little things like, “make sure the equipment manuals are included” and “what are the preventative maintenance measures needed for this device”. When I do that I know that as the project continues along I will be able to check off every detail. Typically the next part for me is moving that whole scope into some sort of project timeline software (I use Microsoft Project). I don’t necessarily include all the little details like I do in the scope but the encompassing work for those little details. This part is where to assign a time frame to each task. My advice is to use realistic time frames and realize what can truly be completed in parallel and what cannot. As a young process engineer I made many mistakes with this part by only inserting the best possible outcome for dates and when things didn’t pan out perfectly then I looked like an idiot who didn’t have an idea of what I am doing. See this timeline is typically what your boss sees and your boss’s boss sees and they expect the project to be completed in that timeframe. After all, you made the timeline and you should know what it would take finish the work. So be careful and be realistic because this may be all they ever look at. One other piece of advice is to avoid applying real concrete dates until the project is actually started. Meaning I could make a plan for stuff to occur tomorrow but if the work doesn’t begin until two weeks from tomorrow then my boss may think that I am actually two weeks behind from my plan. Again egg on face occurring. Be careful.

Last in this step is the project design. I think a lot of people make two mistakes while doing this step. The first is that they skip the project scope part, which I think is the most important step. This typically causes the designer to get way too caught up designing without planning, and can typically cause a bunch of double work. With a scope in hand, the designer is simply drawing out the details already known; it is really like a visual checklist. The second is that they can make things too complicated. Designers can easily get into a “paralysis of analysis” when looking at big projects. It is important to be extremely detailed in design but realize when it is important have fine detail and when that pipefitter is going to figure out himself how to cut a whole in the wall and shove a tube through. Again to me the scope is the most important part, it should be there to make sure every minute thing is covered and checked off, the literal design is more of a guide for the project work. Of course this is coming from the guy who is the engineering department, with more people involved in the design process perhaps a bit more detail can be made in the drawings. I just don’t have the time.

Gathering of the usual suspects:

It all comes back to contractors, and this step is usually one of the most difficult. The reason why is that typically you want contractors to see the project, give you a bid the next day, and work shortly thereafter. Reality is to get your contractors in early so that they can have a little time to put together a realistic quote. The more stuff the contractors know about before the bid delivery date, then the more likely the bid will be accurate and cost effective. Contractors are used to this process and for everything they “don’t” know about they will add a “fudge” factor price to cover those costs. So give them a little bit of time to get things gathered. Also, make sure you are sharing the same thing to each contractor; otherwise you are not comparing equal quotes from competing contractors.

Make sure to parade the contractors through the work area and allow them to come in any time during the bidding period to work out some of the little details with their workers and possible sub-contractors. Each should get some sort of copy of the project scope and project plan. The project timeline needs to be shared with them as well, so that they could let you know if any changes to the schedule are needed, like the concrete truck can’t make it that day.

Remember with contractors the mottos are “be firm but fair” and “trust but verify”. They will bend over backwards to make you happy if you are fair with a good contractor, but push people around all of the time, they can just as easily screw you over. Walk that line, but remember whose butt is on the line (hint its not there’s).


Sorry for the Hiatus! More on Contractors...

I have been out of town on business, our company is shuffling equipment around from our facilities and I have to do the installations in KC. All I can say about it is that highway 40 in middle Tennesee is covered in cops.

Regardless, I am gearing up for a lot of work with contractors again, and wanted to add some types of contractors that I don't recommend doing business with*. They are:

Mr. We're Cheap 'til You Get the Bill Guy:
Currently, I hate this guy the most. He has on many occasions has been told to accurately bid some of our factory work, including a little fluff factor for the unknown. Instead, he has constantly been bidding low, charges something high, and then I have to argue with him on the final price of the work. His people do the best work around, but he I can do without. Let me tell you how his game works. His guys start a project, work hard, and get a bunch of stuff done. Then one of them asks me a question about something that may need to change, I approve, workers continue to work, and complete project on quoted time. Now, in every big project there will be changes that may occur, it is expected, and contractors should build it into the quote as best they can. I even think that if material that was not originally in the quote is used then that will become the buyer's liablility, that is fair. But what he does is, at the point of change he begins charging me double labor time plus material. The same number of guys still work the same quoted amount of time but he will charge extra for the everything after the change. He has done it every time and I am done with him.

Mr. 80% Done, 100% Pay Guy,
My current pain in the ass is this guy. He has completed one major project for me and for that I am greatful, but he has one consistently poor attribute. When the project he completes for me is 80% done, he claims the project is done or close enough for final payment. After the 80% point it is like pushing a wall to get his crew back in here to complete the work. Especially irritating is the fact that I have paid this person a lot of money over the past two years to do a whole bunch of big time work. What he doesn't realize is that it is going to cost him some seriously well paying projects coming up soon.

The next guy I am not so irritated at but I am tired of the situation:

Mr. Fair Price, Take a While Guy,
This man is currently working a job on a project for me at my home and is doing an extremely quality job at a fair price. My only fault with him is that he is slow. I have been out of my house for 4 weeks now and there is still probably a week's worth of work. I am not frustrated with him at all, he is not in the best of health, but I am frustrated with the situation. I think this is one of those life lesson things though. I really like this guy, so I need to just get over it. I could never hire this guy for a fast job, it's unfortunate.

So I am looking for new contractors to do work in our plant next week, it should be fun. Breaking in new contractors to my ideals is always an adventure.

More updates this weekend, the market is circling done the bowl right now.


A few changes and poll...gasp!

I won't pretend to be blog savy but I am trying to slowly make this blog more user friendly and well eventually give it a little 'cough' style. So I have added the new Yahoo stock sidebars to help track my current stocks (except for EWC, EWH, & EWY which don't work in it for some reason) and also a poll. I have no idea how to measure the amount of people coming to this website, so I thought a poll by be a good way to find out. I can't wait for the ones and ones of readers to participate.

Enjoy! --------------------------------------------------->


My Last Post on Baldor, I think...for awhile, & More on Recession.

Cramer and Baldor CEO John McFarland on Mad Money last Friday:


Because I don't have any stupid sound effects developed yet.

So yesterday I spoke about this quote from a Fortune article:
"...the Fed remains skeptical that high commodity prices will ripple through the
economy, leading to broad price hikes and big wage increases. "The committee
expects inflation to moderate later this year and next year," the Federal Open
Market Committee said in holding the fed funds rate steady at 2%, though it did
note that "uncertainty" remains high and suggested inflation concerns could

I wanted to elaborate on the subject a little more. I work for a commodity-based product company and we are in fact completely increasing our pricing due to ripple effects in costs on all of our products and passing that cost onto our customers which will then pass that problem onto the public. We are doing that right now. Also, we are expecting large wage increases next year due to an recession with inflation environment. Additionally, if Buffett is suggesting this as well, I would damn near listen, not because Buffett is the man but because Buffett knows commodities.

Buffett typically purchases companies that are simple, balance sheets make sense, products are straight forward, and they are selling at a value at the time. Those types of companies are commodity based by default, well most of the time. When Buffett goes buying these stocks, he tends to buy enough to get someone on their board of directors, or at least get access to the companies financial situation. So it can be surmised that he is seeing this type of development in most of his investments across a large swath of products and businesses and is just speaking up. Meanwhile, our Fed is holding its breathe and hoping for the best.

Snap out of it people, we are already in the recession and high inflation is occurring and rippling through the pricing right now. If companies aren't doing this yet (i.e. airlines), then their survival may be limited. Open your eyes.


Thoughts for the week: 6/29-7/4

A few links and thoughts for the week:

Remember my post a few days ago about "Recession with High Inflation", well apparently Buffett agrees and is telling it to Bernanke. And here is a quote from it that scares the crap out of me:

...the Fed remains skeptical that high commodity prices will ripple through the economy, leading to broad price hikes and big wage increases.

"The committee expects inflation to moderate later this year and next year," the Federal Open Market Committee said in holding the fed funds rate steady at 2%, though it did note that "uncertainty" remains high and suggested inflation concerns could rise.

Determined to find some good values in the market (and keep the mind sharp), I did some good old "Magic Formula" stock screening this weekend and noticed some sectors with good stock values, at least according to the screen. They are:

Airline equipment manufacturers: LMT, NOC, RTN, GD, BA
Electronic circuit equipment manufacturers: VSEA, KLAC
Furniture manufacturers: MLHR, KNL

I am currently doing research on each and may do updates this week on each identified sector and its stocks. Most of these companies are name brands for their business sector and probably have some good long term upside. I guess I will see when I go through them.

Some other good looking stocks on the screen that came up is Garmin (GRMN) which I think I may cover, and one of Mike's (w/Rational Speculation) recently covered stocks Pfizer (PFE). I like Mike's thoughts on the company, but have recently seen PFE mentioned everywhere as a value stock potential. That can be a good or bad thing.

More thorough stuff later this week...


More BEZ: Cramer catching up...

Well I was looking into buying more BEZ today (I didn't, I think it may go a little lower again), and noticed that about a week ago Baldor's was Cramer's pick. Frankly, I am flattered. Now I am going to get away from talking about Baldor for a while, but I do think that it is funny that he recommended the stock after a run from 25.68 (April 14th) to 36.46 (April 17th). It is only a dollar down from his recommendation day, but at the time I saw the run occuring and thought a correction was coming. Regardless, it's fun to be ahead of the curb for once. Even if I think Cramer is a little bit of a tool, I do think he is funny to watch (if you ever saw theknot.com episode where the bull proposed you know what I am talking about) and fairly informative for the masses.

Anyways his thoughts:

here and here

Have a nice weekend, it is going to be beautiful in KC. (Anyone notice I use a lot of parentheses?)