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20Nov/070

MasterCard's Truly Priceless Ad Campaign

The 2007 Subprime Mortgage Financial Crisis is well underway, and what does MasterCard do?  Present me with an ad about using a friggin' credit card to get busy with some big-time housing market speculation (see a cobbled-together version of it below).  Priceless.

house MasterCard's Truly Priceless Ad Campaign

To be sure I don't see many enemies there.  The market is non-evil.  It just is.  Real Estate has always been a very risky business.  Why?  ...because buildings aren't liquid capital, and houses eat up a large part of one's income, so one isn't diversified when one buys a house.  What do I call a non-liquid, non-diverse investment?  I call it a gamble.  Still, if you really want to live in that house, and that house is for sale, then you will need to buy it.

Me?  I tend to prefer to go the Coliag route, which is to rent, while putting the difference between what I pay for rent and what I would have paid for a house into diversified funds.  Coliag (not his actual name) did so well this way that he was buying things like cars, computers, and photographic equipment with cash... before the age of 44, and he stilled had a great retirement stash.  The man was frugal and it paid-off, plus he didn't need to worry about mowing the lawn.

Yes, some folks have done really well buying and selling their houses, but guess what?  It's still a gamble, and the baby boom that drove the long-term-run-up is over.

My first house purchase was in Plano Texas... just North of Richardson's Telecom Corridor...  just before the Dot-bomb-bubble-burst.  IT is a luxury, and spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down. Yes, I know, "But computer jobs are important." ...but they are not. If I run a foundry that makes car parts, and business is slow, then do you think that I am going to buy more aluminum, or complete my new HR IT project? That's the real story of the dot-bomb implosion. The media focussed on the failing dotcoms, but that didn't account for most of the layoffs. We had too many computer programmers, working on too many projects, at too many companies, that were still needing to "buy their aluminum". In a slowdown-like-that the luxuries go first. My industry went first.

I survived one-layoff-per-quarter for 5 years at two different companies, but when I finally was "affected" it was certainly not within my control: the company that I worked-for went from around 2500 workers to less-than 250 during my period with them.  No-one is safe when the cuts run that deep.  Folks said, "Why aren't you looking for another job?" and then looked at me like I was some kind of freaky alien when I said: "There aren't many available jobs for what I do, so I am going to focus on doing the best job that I can at my current position."

  1. I lost my job, and most people that do-what-I-do were already flooding the job market.  I could no longer afford my house, because I had too-little work (I never completely stopped working).
  2. My foreign national neighbors, most of whom were great engineers, were forced to go home, when they also lost their jobs, and couldn't afford to pay Dallas Texas real estate prices, and also live in India, or wherever, so many of them were forced into foreclosure.  This drove down the value of my house.  So I couldn't afford to sell it.
  3. I could not afford to rent-out my house, because any potential renters could simply buy my neighbors' houses for peanuts.  I was very dissapointed with  NPR's recent article about renting-out your house if you can't sell it.  The interviewie had a good experience doing that... when the market was hot... and the article implied that y'all will have the same experience now.  It's just not so.
  4. The housing market in my area-of-town completely crashed as developers put their new houses on the market, because these builders were also competing with the foreclosures.  Spec builders make building decisions based on yesterday's demand: where "yesterday" was around five years ago, but the housing market moves up-and-down much faster than that.  (This is is the type of thing that makes it tough to sell a house in Phoenix these days.)  Plus, new houses are luxuries, and "spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down." <-- I just quoted myself!  (Why 5 years?  They need roads, and sewers, and utilities, and government approvals, and so on.)
  5. ...then my car got totalled.
  6. ...my spouse divorced me (actually that happened before the layoff).
  7. ...my arthritis got worse.
  8. ...and someone kicked my dog.  No, I just made that part up.  I didn't have a dog.

How much did I lose by "owning" that house for three years?  It cost me $100,000 more (two closings, two residences, and a 30,000 loss in value) than I would have paid for renting one apartment, but hey, my (former) spouse wanted that house, so we bought it.  I now had no job, no family, and no savings.  Swell.

My plan was to work as much as possible, while spending my free time either looking for better work, or riding my motorcycle to Wendy's for that great dollar menu.  Really.

I followed every lead.  I went to a Diversity Job Fair like this one (because how diverse would it really be without at least one white male?  That's a joke.  Actually, it was because I was going to every job fair.)

So I go to the hotel that's hosting the job fair, and they have 30-or-so companies arrayed around a large conference room.  Two of those companies were tech companies.  Hundreds of people were in line to speak to those two companies.  One of the companies was looking for Math folks with top-secret government clearance to work on a flight simulator or something (not a good fit for me), and the other one wasn't taking resumes.  They simply asked every person to go to their Web site.  Well...  Well, why not talk to everyone else?

The Wal-Mart recruiter that was there explained to me that she was hiring night stockers for the Christmas rush, and I told her that I loved doing night stocking when I worked in retail, plus that I would really like to move to Bentonville Arkansas to work for the IT department there.  She told me that she would take my resume back to Arkansas.  I assumed that it would just be tossed.  It wasn't.

Wal-Mart called me up.  I had a few interviews.  They asked me to fix something that couldn't be fixed in the way that they wanted it to be fixed (this "something" happened to be listed on my resume). I told them what could, and couldn't be accomplished.  I have integrity, so I was clear about the situation.

During one of the interviews Jeff (the manager) spins around in his seat and types "W. Paul Caligiuri" (my old name) into Google and finds the Web site that I set up to sell my house.  He laughs and says: "Did you put this up yesterday in order to impress us about how confident you are about this job?" or something like that.  "Well... No."  I didn't explain that the Web site had been up for years.  Bentonville Arkansas had a booming economy.  So that's how I ended up in Arkansas: the best motorcycling-place in the US of A.

I had to pay for the Texas house for 1.5 years of my stay in Arkansas.  It was simply that hard to sell.  I would go down there every other weekend, and work on it.

I suspect that lots of folks are being burned by the mortgage crisis, but that we only hear about the fringe cases, because the fringe cases make for better stories (just like in the dot-bomb days).  Also, Real Estate is:

  • Not-liquid
  • Not-diverse
  • A gamble
  • ...and a luxury, and "spending on luxuries slows down when the overall economy slows down." <-- I just quoted myself!

Oh, and the MasterCard ad was a really bad idea on someone's part.

There's lots of bad ads out there.  They don't get made "because they work", they get made because advertising firms know more about selling their own services, than they know about selling their client's products.

THE END

7Oct/070

Under God

Many people don't realize that the pledge was originally inclusive of all beliefs.  Here it is:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Kay sent me a link to Jon Meacham's New York Times editorial: A Nation of Christians Is Not a Christian Nation.  Jon is the Editor of Newsweek, which has become very open to discussions about faith under his watch, and the author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.  Here is Jon's Newsweek article about the subject: God and the Founders.

Here is a quote from Anna Quindlen's: Indivisible? Wanna Bet?

So let’s go to the history books, as citizens of this country so seldom do.  The Pledge of Allegiance started in 1892 as a set piece in a magazine, nothing more, nothing less.  It was written by a man named Francis Bellamy in honor of Columbus Day, a holiday that scarcely exists anymore except in terms of department-store sales and parades.  The words “under God” were nowhere in it, hardly surprising since Bellamy had been squeezed out of his own church the year before because of his socialist leanings.  His granddaughter said he would have hated the addition of the words “under God” to a statement he envisioned uniting a country divided by race, class and, of course, religion.

Those two words went into the pledge nearly 50 years ago, and for the most deplorable reason.  It was the height of the Red scare in America, when the lives of those aligned or merely flirting with the Communist Party were destroyed by paranoia, a twisted strain of uber-patriotism and the machinations of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, after whom an entire vein of baseless persecution is now named.  Contrary to the current political argument that “under God” is not specifically devout, the push to put it in the pledge was mounted by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic men’s organization, as an attempt to counter “godless communism.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill making this law, saying that the words would help us to “remain humble.”

6Aug/070

The Price of Atheism

If this bigotry had occured in [insert arbitrary name of state here], then I wouldn't think twice about posting it without an explanation, but it occured in Oklahoma, and I used to live there.  I met some good people in Oklahoma.  Have no doubt that I respect them.

When people say things like, "This is a Christian nation.  92% of Americans believe in God, so atheists should be quiet" they are saying a hateful thing.  If you don't recognize that as hate speach, then try this version on for size: "This is a [insert arbitrary skin color here] nation..."

"Now the argument that America is a 'Christian nation', created by Christians for Christians and traditionally, therefore rightly, dominated by a Christian majority, could just as easily be extended to calling America a 'white male nation' and a demand to once again disenfranchise women and minorities. I'm sure we could find a biblical basis for that, as was done in the past, as well as plenty of precedent in law, so long as we went back before the 20th century for our rhetoric" ... "No difference in the basic bigoted impulse, or the structure of the argument." - Bruce Springsteen, Lawrence KS,

SOMA listserv, 2007-08-06

My interest in this video is not religious; if it inspires anyone to recognize and confront their own prejudices, then that is a very good thing.

So, with all that out of the way, "enjoy" the film.

13Jul/071

Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing

Lately I have been traveling the 100 miles or so to the Denison Dam (Lake Texoma) to fish the Dam's tailwaters (red river) for giant Striper and Blue Cats. My interests in this activity have been spurred by the record amount of rainfall received in Southern Oklahoma which has caused the lake to rise to historic levels, only reached 2 other times in the lake's history. As of yet I haven't landed the giant fish that I have been after, however I have had great success catching 2 - 10 pound stripers. Below are some pics of the awesomeness of the flood and tailwaters (and fish).

image00044.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing image00048.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing image00031.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing
image00069.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing image00057.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing image00052.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing
aaron me.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing image00046.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing image00036.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing
11.thumbnail Lake Texoma Flood and Fishing

*added*  To give an idea of how swift the water is coming out; look at the third picture.  These are the rocks that we stand on to fish; they are right next to the 40 foot tall retaining wall.  I was using a 12' surf rod fishing with live bait, and a 4 ounce sinker attached. I would throw my bait along with 4 oz of lead (a very large sinker by anyone's standards) as far out as the 12' surf rod would allow, and within about 5 seconds the current would take it all the way down to the edge of the bank, about 100 yards down river.  If you don't catch a fish in the initial 5 seconds, you have to reel your bait in as fast as you can over all of the submerged rocks and hope you don't hang up; either on a rock or someone else's line.  I met some really cool people down there.  Interestingly, most of the people fishing are of Asian descent, especially Vietnamese and Bengali (from Bangladesh). They gave me some really good ideas and recipes for cooking striper...much better culinary delight than my standard Southern, cornmeal basted frydaddy method.

The lake has now risen about a foot since these pics were taken.  I am still in pursuit of a giant striper to hang on the wall.....so more to come.

Jeremy Bennett

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4Jul/070

Too Much Stuff In A Car Story

During my freshman year (1986) I lived in Hood Hall (under my old name: W. Paul Caligiuri). Some other guys that lived there would circle the place for hours in an old white convertible. I think it was a 1959 Cadillac deVille.  When it was time for a dorm picture, the driver drove the car over, and offered for us all to get in it, and on it, in the tradition of how-many-people-can-you-fit-in-a-phone-booth? Folks opened the doors afterwards, but they wouldn't close.  For a few seconds people were trying to figure out what was wrong when I loudly said, "That thing is shaped like a 'U'!"  Needless to say we never saw that car again.

4May/072

CONVENTIONS COLLIDE: COALITION FORCES INVADE… TAMPA BAY?

Kay goes to a the Symposium on Advanced Wound Care (SAWC) convention every year, and I like to tag along, so that's where we are right now (2007-05-01).  One of the lectures that she attended was called "Healing the Wounds of War".  Kay is a wound doctor, and the "wounds" referred to in the name of this particular lecture are quite literally difficult wounds incurred during the Iraq war.  There is, coincidentally, another convention going on in our hotel.

(The section above was written on 2007-05-01.  It's now 2007-05-04.)

Here is what I remember:

  • Kay, and I checked into the Tampa Embassy Suites (near Channelside) on April 27.  I began noticing military men milling around the hotel lobby.  I thought, "What a nice place to let them stay before they leave for duty. "  Well, that isn't very likely, is it?  (*cough* Building 18 *cough*)
  • The American soldiers weren't wearing any symbols-of-rank.
  • I saw at least one Australian, one Romanian, and one Iraqi soldier there.
  • I followed a friendly Australian soldier to the registration desk.  I was going there to get change for the laundry.  He was going there to ask the desk clerk to call General Pace for him.  Well, the desk clerk looked really confused, and she wasn't able to call General Pace for some reason.  She was able to give me change for the laundry though.  BTW: General Peter Pace is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and uh, Google rocks, and I don't trust my own memory to be sure that he said, "Pace", but I do think that was the name that I heard him say.
  • I passed their main conference room on the way to do the laundry.  The sign in the window said: "COALITION CONVENTION OPS".
  • There was a private-party-poolside on the-night-of April 30.  Kay and I hopped onto the elevator to go to the third floor to get our now-cleaned-and-dried laundry.  The man to the left of me had a name tag with the words "Coalition in Iraq" on it, and the title on his nametag was "Mr.", and the country on his nametag was "US".  The man to the right of me had a similar name tag, but his title was "MG" instead of "Mr.", his country was "Iraq", instead of "US", and "MG" is an abbreviation for "Major General", and uh, Wikipedia rocks.  The folks that went to the party were wearing suits.  My guess is that it is disrespectful to be seen drinking in public while wearing the uniform, but I don't actually know why they ditched the fatigues.   Interestingly enough "Mr." was still wearing some type of boot; he probably wasn't comfortable without them.
  • The sign on the way to the private party said, "J5 MacDill". You all wear civilian clothes, but put your true purpose on a sign in front? That's more Dilbert than 007.
  • President Bush came to Tampa the very next day to explain to the troops that there would be "chaos" if US troops withdraw from Iraq.  IF?

Needless to say I came up with a few of silly things to say to Kay.  Things like:

  • I thought that we were going to the embassy?  This is the Embassy Suites.
  • Hah, hah, Joe may be a Lieutenant Colonel, but he's the lowest rank here, let's have him watch the hotel, while we go see the President.  (There was actually one soldier left to stand in the lobby on the day that the President came to Tampa.)

The "Quagmire Accomplished" protestors were all at the heavily guarded front gate of MacDill AFB (this photo is not from there), but the actual people running the war were in the unguarded Embassy Suites hotel.

46661966 fe82353d37 CONVENTIONS COLLIDE: COALITION FORCES INVADE... TAMPA BAY?

1Jan/930

Finite State Machines Advice and Finite State Analysis

If your business logic starts getting complicated, it might mean that you should use finite state analysis and design. This technique is very popular for the artificial intelligence systems used in video games, and there are a number of finite state machine frameworks out there for Java, but they are all pretty heavyweight. How does one create a light weight state machine, and what is finite state analysis anyway? The ACM published a paper called "The Art of the State" by John F. ?igas in 1992. In the paper Professor ?igas describes how to do finite state analysis, and how to implement your state machines via a loop surrounding a switch statement... that's it... its that simple. Please read the paper. If it doesn't make any sense, then ask me how this is used, and I will show you. Please go to this page to get the PDF: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=134541 The technique basically orders complex if-this-or-that-or-this-or-that type logic into the simplest form possible, and its really easy to do.

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