One thing I've always loved is a good deal. I spent an inordinate amount of time recently sniffing around craigslist looking for various furniture items, a television, and other odds and ends to furnish the house I've moved to recently (for my new job).
It's been said that you don't make your profit when you sell something, but when you buy. With that in mind, when I saw 25 cases of a popular energy drink for sale at 75% off wholesale... I bought those 25 cases.
Is this madness or good investing? Either way, as you can imagine, I'm pretty amped about it.
Ah, Pandora - the all giving mythological Greek progenitor... or the Music Genome Project. Today, when we open the pandoran pithos, we risk releasing atrocious advertisements. Evils of the eardrum seem to come spewing forth. Better, perhaps, than the more traditional famine, pestilence, and sorrow - but still annoying.
I've been using Pandora.com for years, and the algorithm still rocks. Chatting with a friend on the 4th, though, we shared a moment of sadness for our favorite purveyor of online radio. The thing is, we both LOVE our Pandora stations. We may have 20 set up, but we both listen almost exclusively to one. I listen to mine every day. 'Cause it's damn-near perfect. Even so, my friend and I are dangerously close to axing Pandora. Here's how they could fix that, in three easy steps.
1) Stop running crap ads. Hire Triggit, or an agency that doesn't suck. Customize sales content and make it inoffensive, because if I have to listen to one more cot-dayum "Drink it Good," pepsi ad, you're done.
2) Upsell me. I value the service, but I've been getting it free for a long time. Make me feel VIP-special for being a long-term customer. Give me an auto-renewing 6-month pass for $1, then charge what you want.
3) Run a Groupon. Living Social. Google deals. Yelp. Whatever! Folks pay $15 a month for XM, and it's a vastly inferior service. Get them used to paying.
As Heath Ledger's Joker famously quipped: "If you're good at something..." *licks chops* "...never do it for free."
This past weekend was Memorial Day, and I hosted a barbecue for friends and family - sort of a tradition that I've been keeping up for the past 5 or 6 years. One of my guests was Dr. David Eifrig, who publishes the Retirement Millionaire newsletter. We happened to start a chat about fasting, when I expressed that it's something I do fairly regularly, and I was fascinated to hear (and subsequently read) about its recently discovered health benefits.
According to a study published in the journal Nature, intermittent fasting has some of the same dramatic health benefits found from diets characterized by extreme caloric restriction. I read the study - it's full of interesting sciencey tidbits speculating on the mechanisms responsible for its life expectancy increases. The upshot seems to be that your body changes its chemistry slightly when you're fasting. Stressing your system gently seems to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, and to improve your body's ability to regulate blood sugar among other things.
For my part, I'm going to implement a weekly fast-day. I've fasted today (Tuesday), but I think that since I don't usually train martial arts on Sunday, it may be a better candidate in the future. Pugilism on an empty stomach might be a bad idea - it's not clever to scrap when you're weak.
When I was about 8 years old, dad finished building the house I'd live in for the next 10 years. He's a proper engineer. I remember watching him draw the design on the 5'x5' professional drafting table, still in his office. I remember him laying the blueprints out on it, and explaining what the pictures meant. When he let me sit on the big gray drafting stool, I loved the feel of the table, the precision of the mounted guides, the one thirty-secondth of an inch divisions on the rulers! He let me use it for school projects: drawing cartoons, making my "x=y" graphs ever so perfect - as soon as I could I took the "drafting" elective in middle school.
And now, twenty odd years later, I'm sitting in a coffee shop finishing up the details of a new house design in Revit. My model takes up about 1 square foot of space on my laptop. When I want him to see it, even if he's 3000 miles away, I shoot a quick email: "check out the new revisions," and he opens a model that gives him a 3-d rendering with any level detail level you can imagine. I can completely change the plumbing design, redo the structural calculations, revamp the electrical loading, or check out the shadows from my lighting system. All with no eraser marks.
When it's all done, I can post the files online and share it with anyone who has half a mind to search for "energy-efficient house plans" on Google. I'm reminded of Ray Kurzweil and his observations on the coming technological singularity.
Spring is finally here, and the south-facing sunroom in my house now provides ample heating for comfort. So ends the joy of cozy fires in the hearth and the satisfaction of carbon-neutral pyrotechnics. A new joy is upon us, instead: the pleasure of barbecue season!
With longer days and warmer evenings, the sizzle and sear of the barbecue begins. Since we do not have a natural gas line (or availability) we cook with propane. It's not as good as natural gas from an environmental standpoint, but it's better than electricity! Think of electrical cooking as getting 25% efficiency from whatever fuel was originally burned to create the electricity (usually coal). Unless you're using only renewable sources (and sometimes even then), it's better to burn bottled LP or natural gas and have a cookout!
I think I'll get the season started with chicken - marinated in lemon and red pepper. Baked beans on the side, roasted stuffed red bell peppers, and a mixed-green salad with raspberry balsamic vinaigrette. It's time to stop typing, pour myself a pint, and get cooking (with gas). That sounds environmentally friendly to me.
I love barbecue season.
The policy of converting food into liquid fuel needs to end. Increased use of food for fuel has driven up the price of both - causing turmoil in the middle east and, consequently, higher global energy prices. By extension, it is a major force against global economic prosperity.
With huge inflation in food prices, the poorest people in the world find it increasingly difficult to feed themselves. The instability in the MENA (mid-east & north Africa) region can be traced to these increases in food prices: people who cannot afford to eat have nothing to lose. Those who think the importance of political freedom is paramount have never gone hungry - the primary freedoms are not those of political expression, but rather freedom from hunger and from the imminent threat of violence.
Meanwhile, in China, one of the largest populations in the world is unable to support its own food consumption. While speculation in food markets has doubtless exacerbated the problem, the outlook for global food supplies is dire enough by itself. Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute, recently published an interesting article on the topic. You can find it here
In the US, where we produce about two-thirds of the global market for export, we waste 40% of our corn crop by turning it into ethanol. It's a net-negative energy process, meaning that it uses more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the fuel itself contains. Then, when we burn that ethanol, we only extract about one fourth of its energy capacity for useful work.
Originally, the production of corn ethanol was designed to improve US energy security. By reducing dependence on mid-east oil, we sought to reduce fuel prices. That backfired. Instead we helped precipitate two global food crises, threatening millions with starvation and destabilizing our oil supply. By eliminating this industry, we would help the world's poorest families, and help restore stability. Why don't we?
I just watched a tremendous TED talk
by Shai Agassi, all about his new company "Better Place." It's a battery company with fantastic prospects. Suprisingly, its key innovation is non-technical.
The big problem with electric cars is that they're expensive. Stupidly expensive, because the batteries are stupidly expensive. Once you've got an electric car on the road, the cost to operate it is much lower than a gasoline powered one for two reasons. The first is reduced maintenance costs, since electric motors are fundamentally much simpler and have fewer moving parts than gasoline engines. The second is that, on a per-mile basis, gasoline costs about 10 times more than electricity... but the initial capital outlay for batteries effectively doubles the cost of a car... enter Better Place.
The company makes money by charging the operators of electric vehicles on a per-mile basis. By taking ownership of the battery, and responsibility for swapping and re-charging that battery, they reduce the customer's initial capital outlay significantly. In this way, they normalize the cost of an EV with the cost of a traditional car - they make money by recapturing the savings on fuel.
The infrastructure required to support an electric vehicle fleet is significant, but I'm optimistic that this model could work. Once you factor in the possibilities for electricity arbitrage, and the economies of scale available if you're operating a whole fleet's worth of electric cars, maybe he's finally hit on a way to move us away from our global oil addiction.
When I was 14 years old, and flush with cash from operating a candy store out of my backpack, I made an exploratory foray into the stock market. Convinced by my dad’s stock pitch - the acquisitions they had made, the growth of business, the prospects for increases in oil prices - I bought $100 worth of a petroleum company called Hurricane Hydrocarbons, using him as an intermediary broker. A few months later I closed the position for a 130% gain, and a new appreciation for this basic idea: the little guy can, just as Peter Lynch says, “Beat The Street.” Generally, nobody cares about your monetary success more than you - so why would anyone else do a better job of managing it? I've managed my own accounts for 10 years, and I tend to trounce the indices.
I sent out the first issue of my newsletter today, called micro2Macro (typo in the email, used weather where I meant whether - doh!). It's in beta which means, effectively, that I have no editing process to speak of. The first issue is about Telestone and, after about probably 30 hours of reading and writing, I'm glad I actually sent it to some folks. If you want to be included on the distribution list, send me an email to m2m at christophergriffiths dot com, and I'll add you.
This newsletter is about companies that were overlooked or punished by Wall Street, but that are fundamentally sound. I’ll dig into balance sheets, listen to earnings calls, read analyst reports, and give you the upshot. We’ll look for obvious, inexorable trends in macroeconomics, and we’ll follow them to the small and micro-cap stocks that fearful and greedy traders don’t see; those companies will take our portfolios from Micro to Macro.
Disclaimer: I'm an amateur. Don't take my advice... Unless you think it's smart.
I'm going to be putting on a self-defense clinic at my taekwondo school in Raleigh over the next couple of weeks. This is the flyer, with a tentative date for the 2nd part. It's exciting to have such a great student base to work with - TKD practitioners develop so much speed, flexibility and agility that if you just add a sampling from a few other disciplines on top you get tremendous practical results from a self-defense standpoint. It's also a great deal of fun to create my own quick, targeted program - trying to hit just the right balance between the number of techniques I can teach and the short time we have to make them effective. I feel very lucky to be able to contribute something back to a school that gave me so much!
I have become the de-facto architect for the houses that my family is building on Vancouver Island.
I have access to some really nice "Building Integrated Management" software; learning to use it took a few weeks but I've got the hang of it now - you can do stress analyses for structural requirements, nicely colored renderings to see what the final product will look like - I've even done some landscaping drawing with the software. The next stage is putting the plumbing and electrical diagrams in and getting the proper permitting. We plan to break ground on the new structure in March.
This first project is a really cool one. We're building a semi-underground, super energy-efficient house. The walls, floor, and ceiling will be steel-reinforced, poured fly-ash concrete, and the building will be recessed into a hill and then have two feet of soil put on top of the roof - the effect will be that three walls and the roof will be effectively underground. This creates a huge "thermal capacity," so that even without heating or cooling at all the house would be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than your average building - the same way caves and cellars maintain a fairly constant temperature year-round. The south-facing wall will be exposed (mostly made of super-efficient windows) for passive solar heating and to let light in so that it doesn't *feel* like a cave. It will be heated and cooled with a ground-sourced heat pump that will also supply hot water for washing. In fact, the heating and cooling will be accomplished by means of hot water circulated through pipes in the floor, thus eliminating the need for ducting, and heating capacity will, of course, be augmented with a wood stove.
Green Firewood, for the win!