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.