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Security Questions

Monday, September 29, 2008
So I'm trying to get this online banking thing working and it's asking me to pick from a list of security questions. The only problem? I'm not sure I could consistently answer these!

Them: Who is your favorite actor?
Me: Hmm... good question. Who is my favorite actor?

Them: What is your favorite food?
Me: I'm getting over a stomach bug, I can't even remember what food tastes like right now.

Them: What hospital were you born in?
Me: I wasn't born in a hospital.

Them: What is your dad's middle name?
Me: I'm not sure I can consistently spell it correctly. I couldn't even spell *my* middle name correctly until I was 15! (Darn those extra/missing letters on names rarely used!)

Do you see the problem here? It's quite the conundrum...

Of money, politics, and debt (a timeline)

Thursday, September 25, 2008
So with today's FDIC-brokered takeover of Washington Mutual by JPMorgan Chase, 119 years of Washington Mutual history ends. But more than that happened, as far as I can tell.

First off, I think that - at this point - the bank failures are behind us. Of course, I also predicted $80/barrel oil (or lower) before next July, so my record isn't yet proven. (I still have my fingers crossed, though.)

the almighty dollar

Still, I've been working to wrap my brain about the causes of this crisis and the ripple effects. Here is my own simplification (hopefully correct):

Late 1990s: With Y2K looming and e-commerce on the rise, massive spending in the tech sector creates a boom of gigantic proportions.

2000: As Y2K passes with relatively few events and no apocalypse, companies start cutting back on infrastructure spending, triggering a crash in the previously red-hot tech sector.

2001: As the economy melts down due to the tech crash, the Fed starts to lower interest rates in an attempt to boost spending. Then some jerks fly planes into a couple buildings, and the economy goes from bad to worse.

2002-2005
: With low interest rates and, I believe, less stringent rules on borrowing, money starts to flow. People in the margin who couldn't afford to buy a house now can, which increases demand on housing, which raises prices. Investors looking for a "safe bet" start putting their money into the housing market, heating up prices even further in certain areas.

Investment banks also create a security backed by mortgage assets, which are rated highly (because of the "prices will always go up" assumption.) Certain financial institutions investbet heavily on these securities, and, since money's easy to

2005-2007: The Fed starts raising interest rates in an attempt to moderate the economy. Investors stop putting money into homes, which lowers demand (and prices).

2006-2007: People who started taking out interest-only start having that interest-only portion run out, only to find that demand has dropped considerably with rising interest rates, prices have started to stabilize, and the promise that prices would always rise starts to look suspiciously false. Loan defaults and foreclosures start to rise. Banking institutions, realizing this, start to try to get rid of the mortgage-backed securities that are rapidly losing value.

2007-Present: Investment banks start to have asset issues and, ultimately, many start to fail as their highly leveraged loans and investments come due and they can't muster the liquidity needed. Then, as the investment banks start to fail, the normal banks - many of whom loaned the money for the investments - start to see their assets drop in value as they're not getting the money back that they loaned out.

So here's where we currently stand: Credit is an issue; no one really wants to loan money right now. That makes investment (of any kind) difficult, which slows down spending. At a corporate level, spending drops, income drops, and people start to lose their jobs.

But people are also starting to lose their homes. Some realize that it's easier to just walk away from a home and let it get foreclosed on than trying to save it and pay for something that shouldn't have bought to begin with. This leaves empty, bank-owned homes with no one looking after them, which is leading to an increase in crime and further strains law enforcement resources.

How do we solve this? I don't really have an answer to that right now. I'm not sure a $700 billion dollar bailout is the answer, but we'll see. (It sure is a really big number.)

Anyway, that's my understanding of how we got here. Any comments? Corrections?

Of Pirates and Holidays

Friday, September 19, 2008
Once again, it's that time of year: National Talk Like a Pirate Day. As I've noted before, today is the day we can embrace our inner pirates and express ourselves.

In honor of today's event, here are a few more Burton Original™ bad terrible pirate jokes:

Q: What does a pirate to poison his enemies with?
A: AAAAARsenic.

Q: Where does a pirate get his Beef 'n Chedder sandwiches?
A: AAAAARby's.

Q: What does a pirate use to transport his booty from his ship to his hiding place?
A: An AAAAARmored car.

Q: What do you call a deal between pirates?
A: An AAAAARangement.

So listen, me hearties: be speakin' up, and be speakin' loud. Anyone be givin ye trouble and ye should make 'em walk the plank. And don't be tellin' no-one that you heard these jokes here. It might ruin me fine reputation.

Seriously.

Headline of the Week

My favorite headline this week comes from Autoweek.com: GM's Excitement Division is getting a Chevy Aveo.

As a major fan of irony, this headline just makes me giggle. I mean, we're talking about a car that routinely makes lists of "worst cars made" and is frequently lambasted for it's lack of acceleration, handling, build quality, or... (wait for it...) excitement.

It depresses me (as news from GM often does) that - in the same week that they unveil the Volt (which I swear isn't going to go as far and is going to cost more than they originally promised) - GM chooses to also announce the G3, Pontiac's new Aveo. I just want to speak to the person who thought this would be a good idea. I want to sit down over a beer with the person who said, "Hey guys, let's do this... it'll be brilliant!" and just ask him or her, "WTF?" Are the potential profits from this worth diluting what's left of the Pontiac brand?

However, in my quest to one day have a smaller car I'm not saying I'd never consider it... just that it's way, way low on my list, mainly for the aforementioned reasons of absolute lack of excitement, build quality, finish, etc and that almost anything else would be better.

Oktoberfest

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
That time of year has arrived again! It's late September, so it is, of course, time for the annual Mt. Angel Oktoberfest. This year I traveled there with some friends (opting to definitely not be the driver.)

Ah, Oktoberfest. The largest collection of college-aged party-goes, bratwurst, and lederhosen to be found on the West Coast. It's a thing of beauty, with the beergarden's full of polka, accordion players wandering the streets, and little bars full to capacity with no cover charge!

Our first stop at Oktoberfest was the Mt. Angel Sausage Company, home to some amazingly good bratwurst. The sausage was worth the wait and the effort to sift through the throngs of beer-filled revelers. After stuffing myself to the gills, I then headed indoors to enjoy some beer and conversation. Mildly inebriated, I then wandered down to Frank-N-Stien's pub, just opposite the glockenspiel (which had played it's last note for the day before I got there.) The evening was filled with fun and friends - and I even ran into other people I knew!

a fried twinkie!

Finally, on my way out, I also had the opportunity to try - for the first time in my life - a fried twinkie. Now I only ate half of this delicacy, but I assure you it was the closest thing to sweet donut-y goodness I'd had in a long time. So delicious! So terrible for me!

Oktoberfest: definitely fun, and I'll definitely be going yet again.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Let me start this post by saying, "It's not as bad as everyone's said it is."

Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles Poster

However, it's not that great, either.

Last night, during an exciting adventure I call "defrosting my refrigerator", I had some free time on my hands. Firing up Hulu.com, I happened to be browsing TV shows and noticed that the pilot episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was set to expire in about two hours.

Impulsively seizing the moment (as I am occasionally wont to do) I ended up watching the first three episodes. Now the show won't win any awards - at least, not from any establishment I'd respect afterwards - but it did manage to entertain me. The story's familiar enough - it takes place after the events of Terminator 2 (and, irritatingly enough, on a "separate timeline" from Terminator 3 and the upcoming film) - but the characters are alarmingly thin. I mean, really thin.

The main players thus far:
  • Sarah Connor, who manages to monotonously brood and worry about saving her son so he can "save the future",

  • John Connor, who manages to be your standard dumbass teenager with no survival instinct whatsoever, and

  • Cameron Phillips, played by the infinitely cool Summer Glau, a Terminator sent back from the future to help John survive. In terms of depth of personality, I do believe they just picked the action scenes of her character in Serenity kicking everyone's ass and designed this character around that.
And yet, I'm still entertained (and not just because of my crazy nerd-crush on Summer Glau.) Apparently, our world is infested by time-traveling people from the future trying to sabotage the past and unstoppable killing machines (whose existence the government refuses to believe in) hell-bent on trying to kill them.

So there you have it. It's interesting enough that I don't want to stab myself while watching it, so I'll probably try to catch a few more episodes before they disappear.

Home Theaters

Sunday, September 07, 2008
The context for this post: I spent three hours today (for a total of five altogether) hooking up my mother's TV, DVD player, amplifier, VCR, and cable. With that in mind...

a simple connection.

Why don't they make things easy? You know what I want as a consumer? I want things to be simple, yet flexible. I want to make the decisions and yet have everything just work together. I want to not have five different remote controls and have to press six buttons to go from watching TV to watching a DVD. Is it that difficult?

I think part of the problem is one of control. The content providers (cable, dish, etc.) want to have control. They want to be able to charge you more for watching more than one television in your home, and that (according to them) requires them to put a device there, which needs its own remote. Then everyone assumes that they'll connect on their own to whatever TV/projector you have, which adds remotes. What if you have an amplifier/receiver? You know that'll have its own remote. See where I'm going with this? Everyone has partial control and each device needs its own remote.

My solution? Have everything connect into one device, have that device upsample to the highest possible rate, and feed that video into the screen and the audio into an amplifier. In fact, have devices that will check to see what signal they're getting and play whatever they receive in the highest quality way possible.

This would mean that life would be simple and less cluttered for the consumer... but does anybody care?

Google Chrome

Thursday, September 04, 2008
Google Chrome logo

It was a case of good news/bad news:

Good news: The story came out that Google Chrome was released. A web browser built by Google? Sign me up!

Bad news: It's being released while still in beta. I've been using Gmail for three years, and it's still in beta, too. (Note: the article I just linked to is almost a year and a half old.) A finished product may or may not ever be in the future.

Good news: There's a really nifty comic-book introduction to the design and features of Google Chrome. Extremely awesome!

Bad news: I went to the web page, and, like everything else in this world, Google Chrome is Windows-only. My smile faded quickly.

Good news: Ars Technica pointed out that one of the developers behind Google Chrome is that the founder and one of the lead developers for the Camino browser, my personal Mac browser-of-choice. He has proclaimed his intention to make a Mac-native awesome-tacular version of Chrome.

Bad news: While the plans for the next version of Camino are still intact, the future for it has gotten a lot murkier with the lead developer switching to working on Chrome.

So, while I'm looking forward to maybe one day trying out Google Chrome on my Mac, it's a mixed blessing. Resources are leaving an already-awesome piece of software (one that I use and abuse daily) and headed towards something that I can't even use yet made by a company that has a bunch of cool products that they may or may not ever finish. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Movie Review: Hancock

Monday, September 01, 2008
Hancock Poster

I had the chance to see Hancock last night at the Northern Lights. The movie is about a "super"-hero named Hancock (played by Will Smith) who drunkenly fights crime in Los Angeles - just barely being less trouble than he's worth (I can identify with that.)

After he saves the life of a PR man named Ray (played by Jason Bateman), he's invited over for dinner with Ray's family. Ray's wife Mary (played by Charlize Theron) and an adorable kid seem to provide an appropriate mix of reactions (fear, adoration, etc) for the hero as Ray - believing in the good in everyone - decides to help improve Hancock (and Hancock's image.)

It's hard to describe the plot beyond that because there are really two parts to the film. There's the first half (the half that appears in the trailers) which shows the action/comedy portion of Hancock as the titular character fights his inner demons and finds out who he is (amnesia has caused him to forget much of his past) and then there's the surprising second half of the film, which is much more serious, much more hardcore, and much more interesting.

So without spoiling the surprise for anyone who hasn't seen it, I'm going to say that I really enjoyed the movie. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but I actually like that in a film. I like being caught by surprise, and I like it when a movie offers more than initially advertised.

Final word on Hancock? See it in the second-run theaters while you still can!

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