Jun

4

 An interesting list of favored stocks as of year end 1928 appears in Common Stocks and the Average Man by George Frederick, 1930.

Allis-Chalmers , American Can , Atlantic Refining , Fleishmann Co , General Motors , Liggett and Myers B , Montgomery Ward , Paramount , Famous Lasky , US Steel , Woolworth .

These were recommended for buy and hold, and the kind for George Baker, who made more in one day than all the gold miners in history, with his method of buying good stocks and holding them and living on interest. It is interesting to note, that as far as I can see, almost all of them went bankrupt or close to the same in the next 90 years.

The book by Frederick and the comparable one by Ralph Badger, a professor at Brown, (Badger on Investment Principles and Practices, 950 pages), although not 100 years old are both highly recommended as being much better and much more helpful than the average treatise of today, or 30 years ago, especially those like Graham and Dodd.

Steve Ellison adds: 

From the same era, I reviewed The Art of Speculation by Philip Carret on the dailyspec a few years ago. At the time I wrote the review, the phenomenon of "stocks carrying themselves" had not occurred in nearly 50 years, but that bullish condition did occur beginning in late 2008 and has been in effect ever since, as evidenced by the backwardation in S&P 500 futures. As Mr. Carret wrote, "Borrowed money is the lifeblood of speculation."

Jim Sogi writes:

I remember as a young kid my savings account at Seaman's Saving Bank paid 5%. I had a ceramic savings container for coins that was a merchant seaman in whites of the era. I vaguely recall that my stocks also normally yielded about a 5% dividend. My father's advice at the time was to use your rear not your head, and sit on the stocks. That must have been in the late 50's.

Funny thing is now, again, dividends seem almost attractive with SP yielding over 2%. Some utilities are yielding 4.5% and don't seem to have the volatility of bonds nor industrials.

Gary Rogan adds: 

It seems like the SP yield is way below its historical norms, so while
it has been rising it has a long way to go to make it all that
attractive.

Of course given what "they" have done to the fixed yields they are
pretty attractive but sooner or later as we all can feel the fixed
yields will not stay low or negative even in Denmark and Switzerland
forever.  If they find a way to leave the dividend taxes alone, no doubt
sooner or later the yields will come back to historical averages, so I
don't think SP is attractive on that basis.  I do firmly believe in
sitting on stocks for a long time.  The point that was recently made
about all the old favorites having gone BK has a counterpoint: if you
diversify enough into high yield stocks, a small but noticeable
percentage of them will be bought out every year and that combined with
the stream of dividends will overcome the BK factor over the years.

As far as the bank savings accounts are concerned, I remember fondly how the banks and s & l's were engaged in a rhetorical war over, was it, 1/8th of a percent mandated difference? "You could spend that 1/8th of a point crossing town" was what one commercial said. It's pretty crazy how they "deregulated" the banks but left this one innocuous little Fed behind the scenes and now all savings yields are 0 and all the banks of note are TBTF. To me the moral of the story has always been: if you have FDIC in place all "deregulation" is a joke, but somehow the joke isn't funny to those guys and they don't like talking about moral hazards. You don't even get toasters these days.

Jan

3

In this update to my prior post "I Am Not a Number" we will review the wiping of a drivers license magstripe to maintain your privacy. As I mentioned before, the practice of running licenses through card-readers at restaurants/bars/other should always be objected to strenuously, but the removal of magstripe info provides additional protection should the situation warrant it.

Supplies for my experiement:
Magstripe Card Reader from eBay (about $50)
Cheap Rare Earth Neodymium Magnets from Amazing Magnets ($4, or free with purchase)
My Driver's License

The experiment proceeded as follows: Did a test read of my license. Got a string of readable data including name, DL#, Address, etc. Took the largest of the magnet assortment (D125D 1/2" Dia x 1/8") and rubbed the magnet perpendicularly along the magstripe twice. I did this away from my computer. Did another test read of the license — no data. The reader would not read the license.

And that was it! Having read a lot of data on the web saying that high coercivity stripes were hard to wipe, I thought I'd need to buy a larger set of magnets, but it wasn't necessary. As you can see, the magnet used was very small (but these magnets are admittedly very strong).

That got me to thinking about the magnets we have hanging around the house. So, I asked a friend if I could wipe his license with one of the magnets we have on the fridge. These are the little button magnets that are commonly found on the back of LED pins and for other cute uses. So, I ran his license through the reader and verified his data. Then, as before, I rubbed the magnets crosswise across the stripe twice and ran it through again — wiped — no data.

So it looks like I didn't need to buy the Rare Earth magnets after all and could have used the little magnets on our fridge. Oh well — all in the cause of privacy science.

A few days later I wound up in my least-favorite big-box store returning some gifts. Since I didn't have a receipt, the associate asked me for my license. I provided. He swiped. Confused expression. Swiped again. Confused expression. Swiped again, slowly. Finally, he typed in my zip code and gave the refund. Such joy, such delight in keeping my data mine!

Dec

13

J WI have found that with airlines hosting "Express Check-in" (security) lines for luxe class members (First and Business class seats and loyalty/upgrade members), it is enough to simply look business to pass through and avoid the long cattle-chute line for the "poor" people. Three times now (twice in Chicago and once at another airport) I've used these despite my economy class ticket — just flashed my boarding pass with my thumb over the word "Economy" and bypassed the long line. The checkers at these things don't care enough to bother as long as you don't look like riffraff.

Dec

8

SombreroI live near the University Village mall, just down a hill from the University of Washington, where 20,000 students and 5000 faculty play out their lives. The mall has had ongoing remodeling activity, for years and years. It's not owned by a major outfit like Simon, but local owners. The storefronts are always being updated, it seems. Currently two sites are being updated, with construction crews hard at work.

The brightest place, it turns out, will be a Mexican cafe, food outlet, bright and shiny colors. I spoke to a carpenter to inquire what the place was going to be. And that was his answer, Mexican cafe. I replied "There seem to be more Mexican eaters now." He said "There's more of them than me." His voice and demeanor indicated he was unhappy about being a minority among workers; he was Caucasian, twenty-something.

There is already a thriving Mexican restaurant nearby. So now two in the immediate area. And Mexicans all live in the opposite end of this city, the south end, this is the north end. So who's eating the food?

James Wisdom replies:

I am. Big white guy delighted by the endless appetizing combinations of beans, rice, tortillas, peppers, tomatoes, and cheese. And let's not forget about the Margaritas. And the hats. Such spacious hats.

As a fan of Mexican food, I've not visited a Chi-Chis in years and will always take a local Mexican joint over the chains. We had an independent open in our town recently whose menu was entirely in Spanglish and inexplicably had a huge callout for hot dogs of all things. But, the guacamole was to die for (as were the entrees) and the servers, if mystified by the group of six boisterous gringos, were very nice.

Nov

1

About three years ago a group of friends and I were out at the local Bowling Palace for some strikes and drinks. Upon entering the bar, the bouncer grabbed my driver's license and swiped it through a card-reader before returning it to me and allowing entry. Three weeks later, I started recieving junk-mail from the Bowling Palace.

Fast-forward to a year later. Again with a group of friends, entering a local restaurant for drinks and dining. Inside, a pimply kid is taking IDs and swiping them through a similar reader that is generating paper receipts. Below his chair is a pile of dozens of receipts. I pick one up and observe it contains, among other things, the name and driver's license number of the person being scanned. When my turn comes to be scanned, I refuse. The kid says everyone gets scanned, even my 36-year-old self (my friends say I don't look a day over 40). I refuse again, as do several others in my party. I allow him to carefully examine my ID but not to scan it. He calls the manager.

I tell the manager I won't be scanned because of the 1) lack of security for my personal information (reciepts everywhere) and 2) I don't consent to be entered into their database. Manager says that the information isn't being recorded, the scanner is only for verification. I ask her how she can prove that. Manager says the information won't be used and I won't get mail. I continue to protest, she verifies my ID manually and allows entry.

I follow this with a series of emails to the manager of the restaurant. He tells me the state mandates the scanner and he has no choice in the matter. I say, fine, I'll take it up with them and ask him to provide me with the appropriate contact information. He does not provide this information. Research with the state is futile (typical bureaucracy). I observe that no other local restaurants or bars utilize these scanners.

Fast-forward again to this weekend. Attending a popular restaurant festival in the same town, we connect via cell with a number of friends and agree to meet in the festival's beer garden. As you surely expect by now, entry was barred by bouncers (of the same restaurant), wielding ID scanners attached to PDA's. I refuse to have my ID scanned and am told that "everyone gets scanned." I ask him why. I'm clearly of age and am willing to have my ID examined by a nearby police officer. He refuses, reiterating that "everyone gets scanned".

Since my party is inside, I ask the officer if I can enter temporarily to get my wife. He agrees. Once inside, I schnooker the bracelet guy to get an entry bracelet and stay inside. Everyone did not get scanned (nor did another in my party who followed my lead).

Are we as a society now comfortable providing identification for electronic entry into a database that contains, at a minumum, name, address, and driver's license numbers,for a transaction as simple as entry into a dining establishment? Are we willing to unwittingly "opt-in" to vendors' marketing when compelled to do so under the presumption of verifying our age? Considering the cost of identity theft ($56.6b in 2006), is the officers' reaction justified or naive?

RFIDIs this simply the beginning of the completion of the marketing circle where RFID tracks what you do, when you do it, how and with whom, and the messages that you receive all along the way? Have you "been scanned" and how was it positioned to you by staff — and was your visit followed by marketing materials? Or am I just paranoid? Should I be setting up an appointment for a tin-foil hat fitting?

I imagine a world where I have complete control of how my identity is used, and I am appropriately compensated for its use. I am fine with letting marketers track my behavior, tastes and preferences, but I want to be compensated for it. I would happily be the "boy in the bubble" and have every purchase, TV show, radio program, mp3, shopping trip, restaurant selection, web site visit, download, whatever, tracked. But, I know there's value to this and I want control. Crazy or forward-thinking?

James Wisdom updates:

Thanks for all the comments on this post. After seeing the numerous suggestions to "use a strong magnet to erase the stripe" I did some looking online regarding this idea. The consensus is that "common household magnets are not usually powerful enough" to wipe the (black) high coercivity stripe found on my ID (and most licenses and credit cards today). Some sources (and commenters) say the most reliable way to wipe the "HiCo" strip is by mechanically damaging the strip itself. So, it appears I have an experiment on my hands — to discover:

1. If a strong magnet bought online will wipe the strip, and if not,
2. What mechanical means could to be employed to do so.

But let me say that I find this technique of addressing the practice of unnecessarily swiping of identification to be marginal. While it succeeds in the purpose of withholding my information, it fails in letting the vendor understand that there are good reasons why this practice shouldn't be happening in the first place. Regardless of the results of this experiment, I will continue to object vociferously whenever I encounter this practice, and I appreciate your doing the same.

Thus, follow me now as I seek out a card-reader and strong magnet. It turns out that card-readers can be had for about $50 on eBay. I also discovered a number of intriguing "portable" card readers for sale. One might wonder what sort of vendor would need a portable card reader that stores its password-protected information for later retrieval? That's because the main purpose of these devices is for thieves to swipe your card and collect the data in the process of a regular business transaction. EG waitress swipes card at her restaurant reader for dinner, then swipes the card through her own card reader for later enjoyment — a practice known as "skimming."

For magnets, I purchased several "high energy Rare Earth Neodymium" magnets from Amazing Magnets (which I had seen recommended on Instructables and elsewhere).

Once I receive my goodies a new update will be posted with my findings.

As a side-note, along the way I came across an Instructables article describing how to decode the barcode on your driver's license. Out of curiosity I did so and was pleased to see that the barcode of my driver's license only contains the same information as is found on the front of the license (not my SSN). it's a fun activity for paranoids and requires only a scanner, a photo editing program, and a computer. The program in the article didn't work for mine but if you look in the comments another is linked that did the trick.

Dave Smith writes:

Scanning of IDs has been around for some time now. When I left the industry a few years back, DL scanners were just coming of age. Regardless of whether there is a mag stripe , the scanner will attempt to scan all the text, using OCR technology, as well as your picture. An ID scanner will be loaded with a template from each state that will funnel the information into the proper database fields. These scanners are huge time savers when issuing college IDs. If you've ever stood in line waiting to get a school ID (15+ years ago) you know what I mean. At first, the industry didn't get much resistance and people thought the technology was pretty neat.

Nowadays I'd never let my ID knowingly be scanned, although there is some legitimacy to getting your ID scanned at a bar or drinking establishment though. Bar owners today face a certain amount of liability if they serve alcohol to a minor, or a drunk patron. Say the minor gets drunk, leaves and takes out a telephone pole on the way to the next bar. He claims he showed ID and the bar served him alcohol. The bar can now go back and check their scans and validate the claim. Usually, even if somehow the ID fooled the scanner, the bar owner wouldn't be held accountable. Or if the minor or patron was at Bar A, got smashed, left and got pulled over and told the police he was at Bar B or C. The owners of B and C check their scans and find no records. Bar owners B and C are cleared. Some bars have only an age verification scanner that will record the scan, storing only the DL number, then flash a green or red light indicating a valid ID.

RFID is still too expensive for the masses but technology does exist that requires only that the card be on your person. IDs are scanned by just walking through a scanner, as at WalMart. More and more, though, because people feel violated by the ID scans, bar owners are installing high quality video surveillance systems. A picture is worth 1000 words!

Sep

15

Passing the TorchBritney's MTV performance has been universally skewered, to the extent that the latest mega-viral video on YouTube is an androgynous figure in tears about the injustice.

My take on all this:

1. The song itself, "Gimme More", is very catchy. If Britney had released it before her meltdown, it would be viewed as a Britney tour-de-force. It's got a propulsive beat, and it's sexy. The appropriate foil for Britney is Justin Timberlake, her old flame. The universal wisdom is that Justin is 'da man, and Britney is history. To me, Justin's stuff seems terrible, a laughable, transparent attempt to run away from his heritage as the leader of a boy band, and to project himself as an honorary gangsta. I think Justin should be seen as Vanilla Ice part II. Britney has none of that phoniness. She's just building on the image that she developed for herself–a girl coming of age and progressively transgressing more boundaries, which in a larger picture, have already been transgressed by everyone from Madonna to Pat Boone. In this song, she dares to use the "b" word.

2. She is said to be too fat, and she is indeed a little too plump for my taste. But cut her a break–she's had kids! Also realize that if she were a little too thin, the tabloids would say she has an eating disorder. This is not a fair criticism. Perhaps it's fair to say that she should have gone with a less revealing outfit, which had stripper overtones.

3. Her dancing is said to be lackluster. This is probably a fair criticism. Her moves could have been a bit more crisp. But she was one of about 40 dancers up there, including several provocative pole dancers. I thought the show overall was not too bad, certainly not an embarrassment, by the standards of these things.

The overwhelming negative reaction to Britney's performance is a collective phenomenon, initiated by a few well-placed opinion makers and then repeated everywhere.

James Wisdom writes:

Keep in mind that this performance was presold to the public as her “comeback” appearance after a series of smaller shows this past year. While I appreciate the author’s apologia, let us not forget that Britney’s career is built on sex appeal alone since we all know she’s not writing the songs, performing any of the music or singing. Therefore, with such a narrow offering to begin with, it is appropriate for us to criticize what little she does do — look good, dance, and lip-synch. In this example, none were passable, especially in the context of her “comeback” performance — where she was supposed to provoke the sheeple to keep buying her records and merch.

The media have merely expressed the collective schadenfreude of the millions who look at Britney’s brand of mass-produced “music” with utter disdain. Perhaps if she had offered the world something of more depth and value the wolves may have paused before feasting on her flabby, glassy-eyed, bungling performance.

Sep

14

A Wrinkle in Time"Who is Charles Wallace?"

Those to whom this question resonates will likely have appreciated the masterpieces of Madeleine L'Engel, who died a few days ago.

A Wrinkle In Time, and to some extent the later work A Wind In The Door, discuss the full battlefield on which the human story has unfolded and continues to unfold.

Much as Ayn Rand inspires independent thought and action, L'Engel gives a resonant perspective to the work of artists, whom she regarded as soldiers in a metaphysical war.

When I solve a challenge of harmony or structure, I feel like a soldier who has dispelled entropy. I know I have added to the coherence, logic and beauty of reality, even though a musical idea cannot be grasped in the hand, but needs eternal practice, or indeed vigilance. While we must measure what we can, I know at its core that reality is measureless.

Her depiction of the battle ranges from within the body (illness), to planetary and interplanetary zones, everywhere that differentiation tries to assert against the forces of uniformity.

Good books for children. Even better for adults.

James Wisdom writes:

AntL’Engle’s books were favorites of mine when I was a child of eight or nine, and I reread the Wrinkle In Time series a few years ago. For me, the inclusion of abstract concepts such as tesseracts into the storyline, along with simple line illustrations to explain them, truly set her work apart. Her explanation of the “folding” of space and time as an ant crawling along a string opened my eyes to a whole world of creative possibilities as a child (and began a love of Sci-Fi that lasts to this day).

Further, her characterization of the light and darkness in the world is discomfiting and adds a wonderfully frightful tension to the story that compelled me to keep turning pages despite being well past my bedtime (both then and now). It’s a shame that she passed on but I have no doubt that her work will last on for many, many years.

Sep

7

Vegetarian skeuomorphy — e.g. "Tofurky Roast" — why? Aren't vegetarians at peace with vegetables qua vegetables?

Laurence Glazier observes:

One assumes the aliens observing us still fear the cooking pot should they send missionaries.

James Wisdom writes:

It’s also a question of texture — while the whole vegetable universe certainly offers a wide variety of textures, many vegetarians still posses a yen for a meaty texture to masticate. Tofurky in particular has a certain chewy texture that no vegetable can imitate.

There’s an all-vegan Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood that features a huge variety of faux meat with varying results. We’ve had meat-eaters to the restaurant who have been literally amazed by the Pepper “Steak” and the “Pork” in the Hot & Sour Soup. But I must admit that the “Shrimp” Toast is a far cry from even faux crabmeat.

Furthermore, some flavors aren’t a great match for veggies — the one that comes to mind is “Buffalo” - both Boca and Morningstar have faux-chicken products that feature “Buffalo” flavoring (one nuggets, the other a patty) which are personal favorites. Perhaps I lack creativity but it’s hard to imagine “Buffalo Eggplant” or “Buffalo Corn”.

Mr. Albert replies:

As a long-time vegetarian, I am usually satisfied with non-meat food not looking like meat. But occasionally, especially at BBQs, with hamburgers and hotdogs, I want to eat what everyone else is eating and especially to partake in all the fixings. So at these times, I'll want a veggie burger or tofu dog.
 
That said, tofurky has always seemed extreme and too ersatz to be good. But who knows, maybe they captured to dryness of turkey perfectly. 

Scott Brooks explains:

TurkeyProper turkey is not dry — it is succulent and moist and the favor explodes with each bite!
 
It's all in the feeding, gathering, handling, preparation, accoutrements.

By the way, think about this logically for a minute: Turkeys eat vegetables and we eat turkeys — therefore, turkeys are simply a great delivery system for vegetables. Since we've cleared that up, you can go back to eating meat now! You can thank me later.
 
Feeding: Put out good food plots, with lots of clover and alfalfa for the turkeys as well as milo, soybeans, and corn. That will provide lots of nutrition for the birds and also attract bugs, which turkeys love to eat.

Gathering: I'll make this simple:
 
Me: Cluck, cluck.
Turkey: Gobble.
Me: Cluck, cluck.
Turkey: Gobble.
Me: Bang!
 
Handling: Grab the bird, throw him in your knapsack. Go behind my Morton Building, take a sharp knife, cut the breast skin away and peel it back. Carve out the breast meat. Take it inside and wash it in cold water to remove feathers, dirt, etc.
 
Preparation: Cut it into small very thin pieces and let it marinade in a balsamic garlic mixture for a few hours. Heat up a wok. Put butter in the wok. Add balsamic vinegar, garlic, and onion powder. Throw in the thin strips and quickly remove them just before they are finished. If you've sliced them thin enough, they will continue to cook on the cooling plate.
 
Accoutrements: Fresh corn on the cob. A tomato, red onion, crumbled bleu cheese salad covered with balsamic vinegar. Add the fresh fish your kids caught that morning from your pond, fried up in corn meal. Make cheesy mash potatoes.
 
Dig in! That meal will cure anyone afflicted with vegetarianism!
 

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