Wednesday, September 29, 2004

We both win...

Just got an email from Vonage regarding the fact that one of my referrals signed up using our recommendation. Because of this we get one month's free phone service! And when I say "we" I mean the person that signed up as well as our house! How cool is that?
We're pleased to inform you that one of your friends has signed up for
Vonage service. Remember that with our unique Refer-A-Friend program,
you both win. Not only can you get a free month of service-your friend
does too!

So, if any of you readers out there are wanting to make the leap to VoIP and haven't done so already, shoot me an email or leave a comment on this post, or post something on my wiki, and I'll shoot you a referral.

We've been using Vonage off of our crappy cable modem from Charter for over a year now and we love it. And Jeff raves about it too:
I got my digital phone yesterday – Vonage kicks ass: unlimited calls, local and long distance, for $29.99 a month. And, to make it even better, they have automatic call forwarding and web-based voicemail. Why have I switched to Vonage, you ask; when SBC is so great? Because SBC isn’t great. Lightning struck a neighbors back yard 3 weeks ago and I just 4 days ago got my service back (1 line, that is, the other line was fried by the lightning and SBC wants over $100 to walk into the house and say there is a problem.) The beauty of free market economics: when SBC screws me, SBC stops getting my money.

I've included the quote instead of linking because Jeff does not have permalinks! See Jeff post to his non-blog website. See Jeff code all HTML by hand. Why, Jeff, Why? Jeff needs Movable Type, or WordPress, or b2.

Homie Clowns

So this past weekend I headed to a wedding in Laredo. Audrey and I had an absolute blast at the wedding (congrats Erick and Missy!). But the real excitement came from a gumball machine at a little Mexican taqueria named Danny's. Inside the machine were little figurines known as Homie Clowns. Collect 'em all!

The Hedge Fund Paradox

Today's [$] WSJ article talks about JP Morgan's recent purchase of Highbridge Capital. Of particlular interest:

But in the last five years, investors have rediscovered a stock-market maxim, stocks can actually go down. A couple of years in a row of 20% or more losses is like getting hit in the head by a two-by-four -- once you come to your senses, you quickly figure out how to avoid getting hit again. The answer may be hedge funds. In 1949, a guy named Alfred Winslow Jones figured out he could improve his investment returns by borrowing money to buy stocks with one hand and simultaneously selling stocks he didn't actually own with the other. If he constructed the right transaction, he could make money in a raising or falling market. That's how he discovered a 'hedge.' A.W. Jones is still on a door over at One Rockefeller Center.

Of course part of the reason that the "hedge" strategy has worked so successfully in the past was because not everyone was doing it. When all the "smart" money flows into hedge funds, all the "dumb" money will eventually follow. When this happens look out. We've already begun to see the effects of this in the number of hedge funds that have started up in the last few years. It's a statistical impossibility for all people to be above average and so it is with hedge funds; they can't all be stars unless they don't have the majority of investment dollars to work with. As they become a bigger and bigger their stellar returns (in aggregate) will revert to the mean.

This will occur because of two primary reasons. First, the need to add personnel to the operation will cause funds to have to take on sub-par analysts, managers, etc. just to fill seats in the organizations. Second, as they take on more assets and become a larger part of the economic landscape their funds will begin to act like an anchor dragging down returns. This will continue as long as assets under management grow.

That little innocent looking statement at the end of the prospectus that past returns are no indication of future performance is not just lawyer-speak. It might more appropriately read, "Past returns are usually an inverse indicator of future performance."
The reckoning on this could be scary indeed.


I was stumbling through boing boing's archives when I came across this; Smart This site is a weblog dedicated to all sorts of tips and tricks for using iTunes "smart playlist" feature, including sample code and ways to manage your mp3 collection. via [boing boing]

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

How to write Firefox extensions

How to write Firefox extensions seems like a handy manual on world wide domination using Mozilla.

I'll have to read this once I have some free time. Not that I remember what that feels like anymore.

Mozilla Update :: Extensions - List - Blogging - Page 1

Blog This extension for Mozilla. Test. Test. Test.

More Audioscrobbler...

In case you can't tell, I'm excited about Audioscrobbler. Looking at their charts the first few waves of music fans that have signed up seem to have pretty eclectic, but recognizable tastes. I'm excited to see Talib Kweli being one of the fastest risers in the group. Good stuff. By the way, new album from him drops today, check it out!

Anyway, not much else to report. I imagine as the service gets more popular, more mainstream stuff will hit the highs. I notice Linkin Park is pretty high up there on the popularity lists. Still, at least now I know that those bands are truly popular, instead of put in place by "pay-for-play" revenue from some record company.

Also, PWEI seems really popular. I'm a little surprised by that actually. Even more surprised that Joi is a fan.

Bloglines does it again...

Work with your "competition" to make yourself indispensable, thereby increasing your value. In the process remove a few huge pain points for everyone. Awesome.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Social Networks I Can Sink My Teeth Into...

So, based on Joi's recommendation, I've signed up to and Since I don't go out to shows as much as I used to when I had more free time, and I am really disgusted with most radio, I figured this would be a good way to find out about new bands in a more directed fashion.

If any of you loyal readers out there sign up for these services let me know. I'll bookmark your profile and check out what you're listening to.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Robber Barons

It seems that Halliburton is trying to put KBR, the subsidiary that is handling the Iraq contract, up for sale. Why would they do this? Well, it seems like the Iraq work is highly unprofitable, dangerous, and damaging to the company's reputation and its stock price.
Separating KBR from Halliburton has been advocated by many of the company's investors for some time. The profit margins for KBR's work in Iraq are significantly lower than those at other parts of Halliburton.

I could point out that if Halliburton was just handed the contracts as a benevolent gesture from their political allies in the White House, they sure did a poor job negotiating. Or I could point out that corporate interests seem to be more important to this company than political interests, so the whole idea that Halliburton was abusing the system in the contract negotiations seems bogus. But I'm tired and I don't feel it's worth it.

Still, you've got to wonder how Kerry, who has made it a point to portray Halliburton's activities in Iraq as plunderers and robber-barons is going to spin this. He has pledged to put an end to "Halliburton-type" abuses. Maybe he's advocating getting some other company in there to turn a profit on the deal?

As a good friend of mine who works in the oil business said, "There are only two companies in the world who were large enough to handle the Iraq contracts. Halliburton and Schlumberger. And we sure as hell weren't giving it to a French company."

Thursday, September 23, 2004

I just keep rolling out the search tools...

I quickly put together a Yahoo! Finance Search plugin for Mozilla. I used Alan Bramley's code for the original Yahoo! Finance Search but modified it so it goes to the symbol lookup instead of to the main search page. This allows you to look up a company based on name instead of symbol. I got sick of not knowing the stock ticker for a particular company and having to go the main page, do a symbol lookup, and then find the company. This plugin cuts out most of those steps.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Bloglines just keeps getting better...

Today Bloglines rolled out a feature that I've been dying for: Keep New. In addition, they rolled out Related Feeds, a feature that I didn't even know I wanted until now.

I swear Bloglines and Firefox may be the two most important drivers that have changed the way I use the web.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The future is NOW!

Someday kids, this could all be yours!
via [the Blogologue]

Update: It appears that the above photo-link is just an elaborate Photoshop hoax.

Petals Around the Rose

I'm a Potentate of the Rose! Yuh!

If pets could blog...

Funny cartoon (for pet owners, anyway).

found via [Dog News]

Mozilla upside yo' head!

Yesterday, in between doing some research I took 20 minutes or so and hacked together a search plugin for Mozilla that allows you to search I've been using it for about half a day and I really like it. It shortens my time toggling between webpages tremendously.

I've submitted it to the Mozdev website, we'll see if they post it. In the meantime you can grab it here. Just unzip it into your 'searchplugins' directory and restart Firefox (or Mozilla).

Update: I just threw together an EDGAR search plugin as well. I'll clean it up and hopefully post it later tonight.

Update: EDGAR plugin is now available for download. I'm not real happy with the way the sidebar results get displayed (by CIK number), but I'm not sure how to fix it. The way the SEC put together their site the links aren't real descriptive. Also, the search icon is hella-ugly. If you want to fix it be my guest. Just please be so kind as to send me any and all fixes. Thanks!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Why I don't use IE

So today I was trying to get some work done and I was cruising around the web. I stumbled across some info on a page that required Internet Explorer. No problem, thought I, I'll just go and fire up IE (Firefox is my browser of choice).

Well, since I've never bothered to change the main page off of my IE install it just automatically goes to Microsoft's site whenever I start it. Well, Microsoft must have done something to their main page that my IE install just doesn't like, because everytime I started IE it would start loading the MS website and just hang there until it eventually crashed. I tried this 5 or 6 times before I finally went in with regedit and changed the default start page of IE through the registry just so I could get Internet Explorer to load.

That strikes me as sad when the website of the company that manufactures the browser and the OS that you are using to view said website can't even get the various components to play nice. I understand having parts disabled. But crashing IE? Sad.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Mozilla Extensions

Can someone please explain to me why everytime there is an upgrade for Firefox it breaks almost ALL my extensions?

I can understand a few really complex extensions breaking here and there, but literally 90% of my extensions broke when I upgraded. These included simple things like the Bloglines notifier for Mozilla and Add Bookmark Here.

Really, I don't think the extension community likes rewriting their extensions everytime a new version comes out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

From a 10K I recently read...

Names have been changed to protect the guilty:
In calendar year 2003, Company A made two acquisitions in the industry that Company A operates in, Small Company 1 and Small Company 2. The Company has been rationalizing the operations of those two businesses as well as several of its other Subsidiary 1 businesses since May 2003. Integration of the new businesses combined with the reduced demand for the Company's products given the government budgetary situation adversely affected Company A's financial performance in the year ended 2004.
(emphasis mine)
It's gotta suck to be in those boardrooms and have to rationalize recent acquisitions.

Holding on to cash

There've been a lot of reports floating around about US companies stockpiling cash. Anyone want to explain this to me? In a period of historically low interest rates, with Fed pressure to raise rates evident, and even Microsoft returning cash to its shareholders, why would you be stockpiling cash?

This is the time for companies to be taking on debt (at healthy levels), since you can be almost certain that the debt will be worth less in the future than it is today.

My take on the real reason? Because investors are too scared to go for anything less than a slam dunk these days and post-Enron all debt is considered bad. With so many executives being compensated by options and shareholder discount programs they want to raise the stock price at the expense of efficient capital allocation. You do this today by cleaning up the balance sheet and squeezing operational efficiencies. No one trusts a growth story anymore.

Friday, September 10, 2004


Awhile back Dave Sim, author of the amazing comic Cerebus, put forth a challenge to the Internet. He wanted to find out how many internet users would actually dust the potato chip crumbs off their pot-bellies, haul their flabby asses away from Instant Messenger and stop pretending to be 16 year old Japanese girls long enough to write a letter, put it in an envelope, and put a stamp on it and actually mail it. If you sent Dave a letter he promised to send you a free comic book. The particular Cerebus issue he promised to send out was the issue where he lampooned Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Well, my free issue just arrived in the mail today. Now back to IM'ing.


Halley's Comment

I hadn't "looked" at Halley's blog in a long time since I read it through aggregators. It looks nice. Real nice.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Excel cheatsheet

Paul Samuelson's contrarian view of outsourcing

An article in the NYTimes (reg. reqd.) talks about legendary economist Paul Samuelson's less than positive view on outsourcing. He offers the same argument that I've argued before, and has been put forth by other people (including Charlie Munger).
The global spread of lower-cost computing and Internet communications breaks down the old geographic boundaries between labor markets, he noted, and could accelerate the pressure on wages across large swaths of the service economy. "If you don't believe that changes the average wages in America, then you believe in the tooth fairy," Mr. Samuelson said.

Basically, the outsourcing suppliers may not have the requisite skills in the short term, but as they gain proficiency at the low end jobs they have the potential to gain expertise. While this will cause some localized short-term stress, and mid-term profits, long-term (over the course of several decades or centuries) this will cause the U.S. to lose ground. Having said all this, I'm still in favor of outsourcing, simply because putting roadblocks in place to stop it will only accelerate the damage. The key is to be competitive at an individual level, not at a national level.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Just in case...

just in case I ever get off my ass and decide to program again, here is the Apple iTunes API. via [redemption in a blog]

Gutenberg is rolling in his grave

Apparently, as the cost of publishing declines so to does the value of the printed word. I can't believe anyone would actually take advice from a reality TV star on how to succeed.

If you act now you can buy the above book along with this one for mega-savings. But before you rush off to give Trump your money, you might want to take time to reconcile your image of Trump as magnificent mogul with this little tidbit that somehow didn't quite make it into the promo commercial for The Apprentice: Season Two.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I've noticed the same thing...

Sciatica links to an article talking about how the iPod and iTunes music players' "shuffle" features are less than random.

Personally, my iPod and iTunes tend to fixate on entirely different things. My iTunes software queues up Maná's "Vivir Sin Aire" a whole heck of a lot, along with the Beatles' "Maxwell Silver Hammer" and Bad Religion's "Henchman". My iPod on the other hand, seems to love Tripping Daisy's "Bang" and Rancid's "Red Hot Moon".

It hasn't been a problem for me yet. And no, I don't plan on scrubbing my embarassing songs off my iPod. So if you ever want to listen to Yanni, the 70's "Justice League of America" album, or any of my other guilty pleasure songs you let me know.

Google's typecasting me

How funny. My Google AdSense ads support Senator John Kerry's bids for the White House, something I most definitely won't do come November.

I'll be too busy voting for that other guy.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Advice for the Italian tourist

This one's for Kinman and I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but after reading two posts about having crappy meals I feel the urge to offer it. A friend of a friend offered me the following advice about finding good food in Rome should I ever find myself there. I offer it to you without any shred of evidence that it's true.
If you can see any of the major landmarks from the restaurant than it's probably not worth eating at. Your best bet is to find places with absolutely no view from any part of the restaurant of St. Peter's, The Sistine Chapel, or any other noteworthy landmark.

Raise the woof!

Apparently, dog lovers are pro-Bush. The survey asked what kind of dog the presidential candidates would be and which president would be better for dogs in general.

What I found most intriguing was that the survey was put out by Bank One (now part of JP Morgan Chase). The first question that came to my mind was why would a bank care what kind of dog matches presidential candidate personalities?

The other thing I found funny was that both presidents were voted likely to be a Lab (Bush was voted as likely to be either a Lab or a Rottweiler while Kerry was voted likely to be a Lab or a Poodle), yet the headline reads "Dog Lovers Say Bush Like Lab, Kerry A Poodle"

Apparently, Kerry makes "a wonderful family companion." I had no idea. I can just picture it now:

Kid: Mom, John Kerry followed me home from school. Can we keep him?
Mom: Timmy, you know I've told you a hundred times to stop bringing politicians home as pets!
Kid: But, MOM! Kerry's the best! I've even taught him some tricks! Watch.
Kid: Kerry! Sit!
(John Kerry sits obediently)
Kid: Now Kerry! Filibuster!
(John Kerry stands at attention and begins to pontificate on various nonsense)
Mom: Timmy, I told you, no left-leaning pets in the house! You remember the last time you brought home that Al Sharpton and it got in a fight with the neighbor's Dick Cheney? It was chaos!
Kid: Jason's mom let him keep that decorated war-veteran Wesley Clarke that he brought home the other day!
Mom: Well, I'm not Jason's mom so take this thing outside and get rid of him!
Kid: Yes, Mom.

401k Investors can do more harm to themselves than good...

Amy Monahan at the University of Missouri School of Law has written a paper about how investors in 401ks can be inefficient. From the abstract
The article begins by identifying two common types of imperfect actors, the impatient and the impulsive, and describing the behavioral characteristics common to each. Relying on several studies of savings behavior in 401(k) plans, the author describes four common mistakes that imperfect actors are likely to make in 401(k) plans that may endanger their retirement wealth. The author then proposes a multi-part legislative solution to the common problems identified, in order to better protect imperfect actors in 401(k) plans.

At the risk of exhibiting small sample bias, I can say that I've seen this with many friends and relatives, especially the younger ones who have just started working in the last decade. The attitude many people have about their 401k, IRA, etc. is that it is essentially play money, since they can't spend it. Since they have a long enough time horizon they should be aggressive with it. They argue that it will grow faster that way. They typically invest it in things like technology funds, or small-cap growth funds, or the mutual fund du jour; arguing that over time these funds will give them higher returns. They fail to realize that what these funds have is a higher risk profile, and higher volatility, so you have the potential for higher gains. You also have the potential for ruin.

Think of it this way; It's the year 1700 and you live in Italy. You want to get to America. You know there are about 100 ships leaving port this month and of these about fifty are small, nimble ships that will get there very quickly, and fifty are these huge, monolithic galleons that will go very slow in the water. The nimble ships would be the obvious choice, except if you hit a serious storm (which occurs every once in awhile) you will surely drown. The bigger ships go slower, but have a greater chance of surviving a storm.

The key factors should be your needs and your time profile. If you are fleeing the castle guard for stealing the king's crown and need to get to America quickly, you would choose the small boats. If you are moving your family and all your possessions to the New World, you should probably choose the large boats. But to base your decisions on the basis that the majority of small boats makes it to the New World faster than the majority of the large boats is absurd.

The thing most people I've talked to can't get through their head is that if you lose 50% of your wealth, you need a subsequent 100% gain to make it up.

Link via [tax prof blog]

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

You know what I want?

I want to be able to download company earnings calls from various companies as mp3s so I can listen to them at my leisure, away from my computer.

Once again, I'd think mp3s would be easier than the BS streaming Windows Media that most companies do. I'd also be able to rewind and fast forward to where I want while I'm driving, running, etc.

Political Personality Quiz

Political Personality
Originally uploaded by egoodwin.
So I took the political ideology quiz that everyone is taking. These are my results. I suppose it speaks wonders about my integrated personality that this is exactly how I would have liked to have scored. In short, my results are exactly what I would have expected.

So either I'm extremely comfortable with my political stance (centrist/pragmatic) or I skewed the survey results. You decide.