Sunday, August 28, 2005

"Cheap" housing in California

In a little switch-up from a couple of my other cheap housing posts, I thought I'd show some of the cheapest houses I could find in the hottest housing markets in California. This 2 bedroom, 1 bath house in San Francisco, built in 1945, can be yours for a mere $499,000. Stuffed animal not included. Was the realtor who took this picture too lazy to move the giant stuffed animal that someone randomly left on the street or is there something more sinister going on? One theory discussed with my coworkers is that perhaps there was a transient napping in front of the house who refused to move for the picture, so they blocked him out with a giant stuffed animal? The page doesn't have the square footage of the house, but I'm estimating it at around 900, mostly because this house looks to be about the same size as my first apartment in Sacramento, which was also 2 bedroom, 1 bath. That would mean this place was selling for a whopping $554/sq ft!

After that price, this house in San Diego might at first seem like a great deal at only $275,000. However, this is merely a 1 bedroom, 1 bath house with only 504 sq ft of space, meaning it costs $545/sq ft - barely a better deal than the SF house! Plus, I'm about 90% sure this house is fake. It looks to me like someone moved a house face from a Hollywood film set to San Diego and put it up for sale.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Snooze, You Lose; Schmooze, You Win -

There's more to small talk than idle chit-chat.

Those skilled at the art of small talk use it to build rapport with others, especially top managers, and softly sell themselves as an up-and-comer.

It's a learned skill and takes practice, but attention to small details can pay big dividends in the future.

"You have to want to connect. In a social situation, many people think, 'How quickly can I get out of here?' Instead, view the event as an opportunity. Stay in the line of traffic and meet people."

Tooting your own horn is the worst thing you can do in a social situation. Booher suggests teaming up with a trusted friend and working the room in tandem. You and your friend can make a point of speaking well of each other throughout the evening. It can be something as simple as, "Did you meet my friend, Sarah Jones? She's the one who rode herd on the installation of our new PDQ system that helped boost our market share 8% this quarter. She did it all to rave reviews from our customers." Across the room, Sarah is saying good things about you to people who matter.

A lot of this advice is solid, but some of this reaches more to the level of conniving and is as likely to get you labeled a scheming weasel as it is to help build your network. Particularly, the idea of you and a friend teaming up for cooperative complimenting just seems ludicrous. If this is someone that you really could praise, I would do that whether or not I thought they were doing anything for me in return. Naturally, without forcing it. Maybe it's just the engineer in me that would raise a cynical eye towards things, but I don't think it would take too long for me or any of my friends to sniff out this false mutual admiration society they advocate developing, and start ridiculing it. Any higher-ups that fell for that would instantly lose respect in my eyes. That being said, engineers who scorn small talk are indeed likely not to go too far, even up a technical career path at a technical company like HP. Even in technical work, people skills are about 50% of your job. If you don't have any ability to work with people, your last name should probably be Einstein if you expect that not to hold you back. Even if you are incredibly smart, you still make mistakes, and people are for more forgiving to those they have developed a good relationship with. Many engineers flat-out fail to recognize this fact. I think one should strive to develop a genuine interest in other people at work, but without some hidden agenda. Pursuing hidden agendas means you are likely to develop one personality with those you think can advance you or help you in some way, whereas you are totally different with those you think cannot aid your career. An attitude like that will always come back to haunt you.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Books not to read

Ex-HP CEO Fiorina To Pen Memoirs.

Ugh. Some suggested titles.
1) Carly Fiorina: Why my employees all hated me
2) Mergers and Acquisitions - Learn from my Mistakes
3) The Celebrity CEO: How my career prepped me for politics
4) Drunk With Power or "I can buy two more jets if we just lay off another 1500 workers!"

Is your home overvalued?

I meant to comment on this USAToday story long ago, as I am starting to back up a list of things I want to put on my blog. Nonetheless, I found the list highly intriguing. The study examines the average market valuation of homes in 53 different metro areas and deems it over or undervalued based on four factors: historic price data, area income, mortgage rates and population density. The study then declared that an area was in a housing bubble if its houses were 30% or more overvalued. The Sacramento region comes in as the 11th most overvalued region, at a whopping 54%. The Dallas area is UNDERvalued by 11%. I'm hoping this means that our move timed the market changes in both cities, leaving Sac near its peak and buying in Dallas as it rose. How cool would that be?

For my readers in the D.C metro area, you can rest easy at #49, only 31% overvalued and barely in bubble territory.

Since we're talking real estate, here's another link I've been collecting on the topic. This list shows the increase in average housing last year in various markets. Here the DFW area lags Sacramento, 5.7% to 22.5%. I wonder what that will be over the next few years, particularly with rising interest rates making $500,000 interest-only loans less doable?

UPDATE 8/28: Second link now correct.

Weekly Investment Property II

This charming two bedroom, one bathroom home is 45 years young. Set in an idyllic location in lovely Shreveport, Louisiana, the presence of nearby Centenary college makes this an ideal rental. Security should be of no concern, as the windows have already been replaced with sturdy plywood. Asking price of $16,500 includes a detached two-car garage (not pictured), a fireplace*, and desirable pier and beam foundation! With $3300 down and even a high interest rate of 6%, this house can be yours for $79 a month for 30 years.

Here are some other items that cost around $79:

A backpack.
A pair of flip-flops.
An old deck of cards.

Seriously, which would you rather have - a backpack or a house? A shabby deck of cards or a house? A pair of flip-flops or a house? You do the math! Don't let this "Great Fixer Upper" pass you by!

* Seller not responsible for any consequences of actually lighting a fire in the fireplace.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Followup: McKinney the new environmentally friendly capital of America

After the big news of the environmentally conscious Wal-Mart that just opened here in McKinney, we next learned that there would be a new Toyota dealership built with similar goals. This bandwagon is really rolling, as now McKinney's schools are jumping on board as well. I find it very interesting that all this is happening in Collin County, Texas, one of the most conservative counties in one of the most conservative states in America. My coworkers in Roseville will hopefully recall my previous predictions that eventually a sensible environmental movement would arise that superseded the left/right divide, dropping the Greenpeace/PETA rhetoric that essentially accuses humans of being a blight upon the whole world. In fact, conservatives and liberals can unite as cost savings equal environmentally friendly policies. And of course, not even the most ardent pro-business advocate wants the water he drinks to be polluted with toxins, so in some sense we are all environmentalists. However, there are still areas of divergence. One area is essentially short-sighted/lacking the "big picture" environmentalism, as outlined in Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. An example being the debate over spraying pesticides on food, which environmentalists often claim causes cancer in thousands of people. What they fail to account for is the economic impact of banning pesticides. If they were banned, all fruit would have to be grown organically, which is far more costly. Thus the price of fruits and vegetables would rise, resulting in decreased consumption particularly by poorer people, who could least afford the increase. Since a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is one of the best know preventers of cancer, banning pesticides would actually lead to an increase in cancer amongst the general population. See Lomborg's book for a more detailed explanation with the science to back it up. Another difficult area in environmental policies is how do regulations interact with the property rights of landowners? Readers of this blog should already know that I am a huge defender of one's right to do mostly as he wishes on his own property. However, as the saying goes "My right to swing my fist ends at another person's nose" which I think can also apply to the environment. I can't just dump oil at random on my land, because that seeps into the ground and affects everyone around me. To sum up, if the left could drop some of its "earth-worship" rhetoric and focus more on ideas that are both environmentally friendly and cost-effective, while keeping in mind the big picture of what makes human life healthier and more enjoyable, they might find that conservatives aren't so different from them on this issue. In fact, even those of us in the so-called "religious right" actually believe that we are here as stewards of the earth God gave us, which should be a high calling for some reasonable environmentalism in my book.

Friday, August 19, 2005

More "What the heck is wrong with people?" Celebrities: Plastic Surgery Obsession: Meet the Real-Life 'Ken' Doll

Shockingly, this gentleman goes to the same plastic surgeon as Michael Jackson. Shockingly, this gentleman no longer looks human. I wish there were pictures from before he started this ridiculous project to look perfect through surgery. I'm sure he looked far better beforehand, much like people with eating disorders. Is this coming from the same root control issues that eating disorders often arise from?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Investment property of the week!

Even in our own neighborhood here in Texas, we're starting to see a lot of investors coming in from California to buy houses. My theory is that they believe the market has topped out there and so are looking to pull out their gains and invest them in other markets with potential upside. In that vein, I've decided to feature a weekly house that people might want to consider in more forgotten parts of the country.

This week's special can be yours for a mere $14,000*. That's right, for the price of a 3 or 4 year old Toyota Camry, you could be a proud homeowner in Danville, Illinois! Danville property values rose 16.9% last year, 33rd in the nation! Join in on the easy money - a 30 year mortgage with $2,800 down would only be $64 a month*. Many of you spend that at Starbucks! Act now so that this $12/sq. ft.* beauty in a peaceful** location doesn't pass you by. Other savvy investors are already moving!

* Does not include insuring against house collapsing.
** Noise from the conveniently-located six nearby railroad tracks should drown out arguments at any neighboring crackhouses.
***This must see 2-bedroom home is sold "as-is".

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Will I purchase this?

Going toe-to-toe on office etiquette

I have to disagree with this article on how recent college grads are changing corporate culture.
To wit: They wouldn't think twice about wearing flip-flops to the White House, which members of Northwestern University's women's lacrosse team did in July, to much clucking from mostly baby-boomer disbelievers.

Call them Generation Why. "This group wants an explanation: 'You tell me why I have to dress up,' " Alewel says.
I'm not sure if that's totally accurate. The only person in Texas who has commented on me wearing flip-flops at work is our 21 year-old co-op. He went so far as to post a sign outside my office door decreeing "No Open-toed Shoes". However, that is actually a rule for our big equipment labs, so apparently he's made it some proletariat struggle against me in the bourgeois who isn't required to actually have to go down and touch the computers. Isn't that what co-ops are for??
The fashion world is the only industry where flip-flops might possibly pass muster with propriety police like Leah Ingram, author of the forthcoming Everything Etiquette Book: A Modern Day Guide to Good Manners. Even if you can wear the poolside staple to work, Ingram says, that doesn't mean you should. "The flip-flop won't ever be acceptable in the office," she sniffs.
Think again! 5+ years of on-the-job flip-flop wearing in California and 6 months in Texas say otherwise. Apparently the fashion world and engineering are the only industries where it's ok.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Followup: Supersize Me

Just following up on my earlier post about Super Size Me, the movie where Morgan Spurlock gains 30 pounds in 30 days eating a McDonald's only diet.

This lady went on a 90 day long Mickey-D-only diet.
Weight at the start: 227
Weight at the finish: 190
Total weight LOST eating McDonald's: 37 pounds

This, and other stories like it which you can google if you wish, once again prove the secret to losing weight. Here it is:

Calories you expend must be GREATER THAN the calories you take in.

There it is. You don't need to read a fancy book or anything. This can be accomplished even at McDonald's.
The problem with a McDonald's-only diet isn't what's on the menu, but the choices made from it, she said.
Oh, so you're saying there are consequences to our personal choices? If I eat more than I need then I get fatter, and less than I need then I get thinner? Weird!

Some more insightful commentary that I stumbled across on the web about Super Size Me and Morgan Spurlock and his new TV show as well.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

How to fold a fitted sheet

I've never really been able to fold fitted sheets properly, they always end up sort of stuffed in the closet with the rest of the properly folded sheets, looking like their unwanted cousin. Now help arrives from the Target website: How to fold a fitted sheet. Has anyone done this before? I haven't tried it yet. I remember someone was supposed to give me some tips on this a while ago, and I'm sure my Mom showed me a trick for it before I left for college and promptly forgot it, but as of right now I'm still ignorant. My guess is 95% of American men are in the same boat.

Follow-up 8/13
I attempted to follow the directions, and so far they are a complete failure. Step 2 is where the breakdown occurs.

With your right hand, pick up the corner that is hanging down in front and fold it over the two corners in your left hand.

I don't appear to HAVE a corner that is "hanging down in front". Moving forward from this step, as best I understand it, results in the same amorphous blob that I get with my normal method that I then force into a vaguely rectangular shape. So far Target is getting an F. We'll see if my wife can have any more success.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Oregon vacation II

I realize it has been a while since I first promised more info on our July 4th trip. I thought I would start off with our trip on Thursday the 7th, taking a jet boat up the Rogue River with Jerry's Jet Boat tours. First of all you need to get there very promptly, as they tried to leave without us at 7:55 for an 8:00 trip, while I was still buying sunglasses at the counter since I forgot mine. Fortunately, my in-laws told them that we were still in the store, so they waited until we got out there and then we headed upriver. Our guide did a great job of informing us of little historical facts and pointing out areas of interest as we rode along. He also had eyes like an eagle, because he routinely spotted wildlife while driving the boat that nobody else saw even though the only thing we were doing was looking for it. We saw a lot of wildlife, with the highlights for me being seeing a bald eagle fly over us and land and seeing a bear eating right on the shoreline. We got the boat (my part of it no less, as I was in the front left corner) to within ten to fifteen feet of him and he just sat there eating grass, unperturbed, until he eventually ambled off. I don't think I've ever been anywhere near that close to an uncaged bear before. I think he and I were about the same size, so I could probably have taken him if he tried anything ;) We went a long ways upriver, the whole trip being 104 miles, and we even went over some rapids. It's basically like fast whitewater rafting, without any danger of falling out. They also do a bunch of spins, which were a lot of fun, but nothing compared to riding the teacups with me at Disneyland. If you sit in the back of the boat you actually do get pretty wet. Since we were in the front, we stayed dry the whole trip. It gets pretty warm being out in the sun for all that time, so getting wet is kind of a good thing. A free tip from me is that you need to wear a hat, unless you're bald and you can put suntan lotion directly on your scalp. I got quite a sunburn through my hair on the top of my head. In case any of you might try to infer from that that I am balding (which would be a bald-face lie - I kill myself!), the same thing happened to my wife. A few days later, it looked like we really needed to invest in some Selsun Blue.

Sample of our guide's sense of humor
"Anyone here from LA?"
Someone finally admits to it, "Yes."
"Do you see that over there?"
"You don't recognize it do you? That's blue sky!"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Set Love Free

Repeal the Restrictions on Dallas Love Field! Because we believe in free markets and not in needlessly paying an arm and a leg to fly anywhere.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Saturday's carnage

The final count from Saturday night's meal at Texas Land and Cattle.

3 salads - mine, my wife's, and a random one incorrectly made for another table. Naturally I helped out.
2 loaves of bread - comment from my wife at this point: "You're going to fill up before the steak even comes out." Me: "Do you KNOW how hungry I am? I don't think that's going to be a problem."
14 oz of steak
Mashed potatoes - I'm always nervous about spelling that incorrectly ever since the Dan Quayle incident.

This makes me long for Cattlemen's in Sac. Even though there are tons of great steak places here, I haven't found one with the quality for the money of the 32 oz. Sheriff at Cattlemen's. Mmmmm....goood.