Friday, November 28, 2008

Pirating the Financial Situation

An article I read today......

Somali Pirates in Discussions to Acquire Citigroup

By Andreas Hippin

November 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Somali pirates, renegade Somalis known for hijacking ships for ransom in the Gulf of Aden, are negotiating a purchase of Citigroup.

The pirates would buy Citigroup with new debt and their existing cash stockpiles, earned most recently from hijacking numerous ships, including most recently a $200 million Saudi Arabian oil tanker. The Somali pirates are offering up to $0.10 per share for Citigroup, pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said earlier today. The negotiations have entered the final stage, Ali said.

"You may not like our price, but we are not in the business of paying for things. Be happy we are in the mood to
offer the shareholders anything," said Ali.

The pirates will finance part of the purchase by selling new Pirate Ransom Backed Securities. The PRBS's are backed by the cash flows from future ransom payments from hijackings in the Gulf of Aden. Moody's and S&P have already issued their top investment grade ratings for the PRBS's.

Head pirate, Ubu Kalid Shandu, said: "We need a bank so that we have a place to keep all of our ransom money. Thankfully, the dislocations in the capital markets has allowed us to purchase Citigroup
at an attractive valuation and to take advantage of TARP capital to grow the business even faster."

Shandu added, "We don't call ourselves pirates. We are coastguards and this will just allow us to guard our coasts better."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

95 Theses but the Pope Ain't One

Since tonight is a Bible Study night I thought I'd post something related to that. A church friend sent me this link a few days ago. It is a rap about Martin Luther and the 95 Theses that he nailed to the church door. Now before you all flip out at me for being sacrilegious and the rest this is a serious project by some Yale students. I couldn't care less for rap music but the way these lyrics were written combined with the witty video shows that these guys clearly have a grasp on what they are talking/rapping about. Take a listen and see how much you can catch.

There are several great references to other historical figures and events along with the obvious doctrinal points. They did take liberty with some things and admit as much here. And you can read the lyrics here. It is pretty harsh on the Catholic church but really they are just talking history albeit in a language the kiddies can understand. It mixes humour and history in a very clever way.

Some of my favourite lines are:

I warned y'all that Rome best agree to the terms.

If not, then you can eat my Diet of Worms!
You think you done something spectacular?
I wrote the Bible in the vernacular!
A heretic! [What?] Someone throw me a bone.
You forgot salvation comes through faith alone.

But you forgot about me and my demonstration?
Like you can just create your own denomination?
"We don't like this part, so we'll just add a little twist."
Now we Anglican, Amish, and even Calvinist.

and right at the end....

Shout out to Johann Gutenberg... I see you baby.

I love The Office

The Economy according to Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin

Here's the thing about this so-called "financial crisis," if it were really bad, people would be jumping out of buildings on Wall Street. No one's jumping out of buildings, so it's probably just the media scaring us again, just like it did about birds catching the flu and cows getting mad. But there is a problem and in order to make things right, the government needs to start printing more money and lots of it. Now I know it takes money to make money, but I sell paper and you can get a couple hundred sheets of it for a buck, thousands if you buy in bulk. If the government bought some quality Dunder Mifflin paper to print new money on, believe me, they'd make a huge profit on the deal even after the cost of ink. So if anyone knows Barack Obama, please forward this to him, and make sure he knows we're having an incredible special on Hammermill Great White recycled copy paper-99.99% jam free! But if the government insists on continuing to get ripped off by the big box chains, there are other fixes. When it comes to stocks, they should start buying low and then selling high. I hear that's a good way to maximize profits. They should also consider focusing more on "transparency," "sustainability," and "stabilization." Those appear to be good things. At the same time we should avoid "recessions," "speculative bubbles," and "asset-liability mismatches," because according to Yahoo Answers, those are really bad things. Plus, they could cut or raise interest rates depending on the situation. I think if we take these simple steps, all our economic troubles will probably just go away, like global warming did after Al Gore made that really boring film.
*excerpt from Dunder Mifflin Newsletter

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Microsoft Matrix

This video is done so well. If you have seen The Matrix and have used Microsoft Windows this video will appeal to you.

Thanks Chris

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I just read this article about Toyota trying to clamp down on pictures of their cars. I just can't believe it. Here is an excerpt from that article:

Toyota, one of the biggest car companies in the world, is often a name synonymous with quality. There is even a philosophy of doing business, called “The Toyota Way”, which emphasizes that the right result will come from the right process, and that solving the root problems brings the organization the greatest benefit.

This ‘Way’ is probably not communicated to its lawyers in great detail, which is why Desktopnexus, a site that provides desktop backgrounds, has been contacted by them. In perhaps one of the most wildly arrogant demands in DMCA history, Toyota’s lawyers are demanding the withdrawal of all wallpapers that feature a Toyota, Scion, or Lexus. The site’s owner, Harry Maugans contacted Toyota to clarify. He was told that all images featuring Toyota vehicles should be removed, even images with copyright belonging to others.

It seems almost as crazy as the new initiative by Queens University to clamp down on any talk that doesn't align itself with the university's views. But actually that story is much worse. I almost chocked on my lunch when I read that one. Back to Toyota: What is with big corporations these days and their backward thinking philosophies. This is the internet age people, change your corporate plan to fit with it or your company will suffer the same fate as the movie and music industry. In this day and age companies have to learn to change faster and faster. By threatening to sue a Desktop Wallpaper website you are not accomplishing anything but you are losing touch with your customers.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Is it time to let the Big 3 Die?

I have been forecasting this for years and finally with the latest economic crisis they have been pushed over the edge. The American auto-makers have been dieing a slow death for years for many reasons. First of all, the unions which breed bad attitudes and create a huge rift between the management and the labour. Secondly the short-term thinking and 'i-want-it-now' philosophy of American culture which permeated the ideals and direction of these companies and just feeds the 'old boys club' mentality of the management. Last of all, the product which because of a cash strapped company with a bad work environment and not enough R&D did not evolve with the competitors and suffered for it. And that is just the start....

In the early years of manufacturing unions were required in order to get the employees a decent wage and basic safe working conditions. Today the government has set so many standards and the economy drives the wages that unions are not required (at least in this industry). The union has become a self-perpetuating catalyst for itself. It's main concern is keeping itself in business. They drained the companies for all they were worth and now the workers are paying for it. The huge pensions of such a large workforce have to come from somewhere. It is said that for each car that Ford sells $2000 is going to the pension fund. It's no wonder a Taurus can never match a Camry for quality. Right off the top there is $2000 less quality in there just to make it competitive.

The omnipresent attitude in north-american culture has always been 'I want it now', 'I want it fast' and 'I want it big'. This explains many things about north america including fast food. These car companies give in to these ideals by trying to offer products too quickly with not enough research put into them. It brings down the standards of the company and they end up only caring what the car will look to make it to sell and not about refining the car to make it last. A good example is the Ford Pinto. When civics and corollas started to flood the market Ford rushed out the Pinto to compete with the lower prices and fuel economy. It sold well at first until thousands of problems surfaced (including exploding gas tanks which Ford refused to acknowledge). It just shows that you have to do the right research and refine your product (at least enough that it won't explode). Today they clearly have not learned from their past. While Toyota continues to develop and refine the Prius, GM is putting money into building a Hummer plant.

Tied into this attitude problem is the parts. Because the Big 3 are under so much pressure to lower the price of their vehicles to remain competitive they start to pass that on to their parts suppliers. The parts suppliers are forced to manufacture cheaper parts which equals worse quality. I once talked to a guy who worked for a company making carpet for the interiors of several manufacturers (domestic and imports). The carpet must meet strict measurements in order to fit the car perfectly. In a meeting with some Ford management the Ford guy flipped out and said "I don't care if the shit doesn't fit, just put it in anyway!". I think this says a bit about both the management and It is a perpetuating cycle that is passed on to the consumers, some of whom will never buy from that company ever again. The CEOs have made the claim that you have to support America and that they are the life blood of America. Sorry but that only works on rednecks and they aren't the ones buying new cars.

The philosophy is that if you get as many of your cars on the road as possible you will be able to get the money back when they start to bring them back to the dealership to be fixed. It is the quantity over quality philosophy which works for Wal-mart but not a vehicle manufacturer (especially when there are better options). They have been going down this road over the last several years and it has partially worked. It really is remarkable what you can get in a car for 15-25K but in the end the company is not making any money off those cars. They are the mainstays that have to carry the brand through market changes.

So lets take a look at a couple examples:
Cavalier: It was decent to start as a cheap competition product but GM never invested in it and it stayed basically the same for 15 years while the civics and corollas got better and better. That is 15 years of lost R&D that they tried to get back with the Cobalt which didn't work.
Taurus: A best seller in '86 it was left to decline and eventually died. Ford tried to bring it back a year later but it is too late. This could have been a great car if they had only kept it up. The Ford Explorer is a similar deal except that it is still going.
Jeeps: There are just too many models. It used to be pretty simple; Wrangler and Cherokee. But now you have 6 options that are too similar. They have created extra models in the hope that the consumer will turn around and buy the next vehicle if they don't like the first one. Not the best business strategy.

In the end I think the answer is pretty clear. The market is saying these companies should not be in business. Propping them up is just postponing the inevitable. But it would be a huge loss to our economy. Many jobs depend on these companies. Maybe other companies would take their place since it is clear that North America is in love with the automobile but either way it would really hurt to lose them. I have always said that this was inevitable but now that it is about to happen I am not so sure that it is such a good thing......

What do you think?

Base Jumping World Record

These guys set a world record for jumping off the highest building. They jumped off the Burj Dubai in Dubai while it was still under construction in May of 2008. The most amazing thing is they got away with it.

Dubai has been the city built on nothing for the past while. It has virtually risen from the desert from a small trading post in the last 75 years. That means that it has no real culture, architecturally or otherwise. I originally thought it would be an impressive place to go but the more I read about it and hear stories from people who have been there I really don't feel the need to go there. There is so many cooler places to check out and experience (like Spain).
Dubai is just an attempt to create an economy in the country that is not based entirely on oil production. As such it has no real history and therefore no culture. It is just overt opulence for the purpose of impressing. Every large international company now has to have a some headquarters there just to remain impressive. It is kind of in the same vein of McMansions and Escalades.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Annnnnnnnnnnd We're Back!

We arrived home at around 11:30 Ottawa time from Madrid (minus only one bag). Irene promptly ate a bowl of cereal since it felt like breakfast time to us. I staved off the hunger in a desperate attempt to change my body into accepting this time zone. I think it worked.We had a fantastic time running around Madrid and doing trips to places like Segovia, Toledo, San Sebastien and Bilbao. Thanks to Tim and his sister Esther for showing us around and sharing lots of sangria and tapas. It was great fun and it is a little sad to be home so soon and back into the grind of real life.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Life of an Architect

And now for a humorous interlude while I take a stress leave from blogging. I was so stressed I had to head to Spain to get away from it all. It is tough work being a sporadic blogger.

Dilbert is probably one of the best print newspaper comics out right now.
Here is one of my classic favourites because it says a lot about my job.
I may not be the architect but some days that really is just the way it is.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And we are off....

As this blog is posted we are hopefully on a plane to Madrid via Montreal and Paris.

I really did not think I would get another chance to go to Europe perhaps forever so I am pretty excited to get this chance. Now with this economic downturn and the future looking so shaky I am getting the feeling that this will be the last time we go. Once China becomes a super power and Obama turns the States into a third world country (taking Canada with it) we will probably not even have affordable air travel let alone the jobs to pay for it.

On another, totally unrelated note, this is my 200th post.


And it is pretty much settled.
The US of A has it's first black president. This is a hollywood movie in the making.
I am a little scared and nervous as to what it all means for Canada. I guess only time will tell.
I'm not going to outright say McCain would have been a better choice but I am going to insinuate it.
From the start Obama has scared me with his perfect rhetoric and well polished speeches. But his win was pretty much sealed once Sarah Palin was announced as McCain's running mate. I could not believe that when it happened. The other thing is, whenever the CEEB interviewed americans on who they were voting for they would only spout off things they had heard in the media. Ridiculous one liners like 'Obama is promising jobs for everybody' or 'Obama sounds like a terrorist'. Americans are so ridiculous.
Here is an example:These are the people who ruined it for McCain. It reminded me of the people talked about on stuffchristianslike (a play off of the similarly toungue in cheek stuffwhitepeoplelike). One of the things Christians like is bumper stickers. This is so not the way to 'convert' people to vote for your party.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Greatest USB Port ever!

OK wait! Stop before you go running for the hills all annoyed at me for writing about some boring new technology that no one but me cares about. This isn't about technology, rather it's about alcohol......aaaah you've stopped. Yes this blog post is about the type of wine called Port to be exact.

Now I like Port about as much as the next guy who also likes Port. These guys have really thought of an interesting marketing strategy to get people to buy their drink. Ever since a new law went into effect that says only Port made in Portugal can legally be called 'Port' all the other Port makers are stuck trying to think of new names for their products.

California-based Peltier Station came up with this inovative solution. Remove the word 'Port' but add the acronym that everybody knows ('USB') and put the universal symbol on the bottle (in binary code text no less).
Read the full story here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

On Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is one of my favourite authors. His most famous book 'Farenheit 451' is about a fireman whose job it is to start fires. He is assigned to burn books. The book is set in the future with a totalitarian government that is controlling what everybody does or sees. Anybody who harbours books basically is killed. The main character ends up getting interested in books and ends up getting chased.....and I won't tell you the end.
I love books that deal with a post-apocalyptic world or a world where society has changed dramatically. Anyways, the common thought was always that the book (which was fist published in 1953) was a book about the crushing of free speech and censorship. So when I stumbled across this BoingBoing article by Cory Doctorow (whose writings I have been stumbling across quite a bit lately) I was mildly surprised that it was really supposed to be about the evils of TV. I can see why he wrote it that way though. There were a lot of TV screens and emphasis on the 'I want it now' society that it breeds. There was no care for anybody else. Really truly sad. I think he took TV to its ultimate conclusion. So I am not sure if this makes the book better or worse. Either way I still think Bradbury is fantastic.

Here is a quote from Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell: A Survey of Science Fiction (stolen from wikipedia) where Bradbury describes his book.

In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.

I think that proves his point.

Another reason I like him is he really does not like Micheal Moore for using a play on his book title for his movie Farenheit 9/11. In the documentary 'Manufacturing Dissent' Bradbury goes on a small tirade about how Moore doesn't understand what his book was about. That really raised my respect for the author because we all know how much I love Micheal Moore.