Friday, December 15, 2006

Adobe Photoshop CS3 Beta is out

For those of you who use Adobe Photoshop and like to keep up with where the product is headed, Adobe has release a public beta of Photoshop CS3. Here is a link to the release notes and new features in Adobe Photoshop CS3. A couple of the items caught me attention, including the "refine edge" capability and the "quick selection" enhancements. I have to believe there are more changes then there are listed in the page, since there are not very many high-level changes listed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Daystar Technologies NASDAQ:DSTI - To be or not to be?

If you follow, or invest in, Daystar Technologies (NASDAQ:DSTI) stock, you may be wondering about the long-term prospects for this company. Will they make it as a solar-cell player, or will they be unable to secure adequate funding to remain viable and/or competitive?

I have watched Daystar Technologies, Inc. stock for some time now, and have watched it rise from $2-3.00 range back in early 2005, to a peak of nearly $16.00 in mid-2005, through to its current slide to the $4.65 level. A lot of this stock's price chart can be correlated to the over-exuberance about alternative-energy and solar plays that took place during the massive oil price run up which started in 2005, followed by a corresponding realization that these solar companies in startup-mode (like Daystar) may not make a profit for quite some time, let alone even remain viable as a company if they can not obtain adequate financing for the capital-intensive manufacturing ramp-up they require to reach any real economy-of-scale production capacity.

Recently, it seems DSTI has come under quite a bit of selling pressure as the obviousness of the financing situation emerges. Apparently, one of the biggest investors of recent ( Castlerigg Master Investments Ltd., an offshore investment fund that has already provided about $15MM in funding to DayStar), has been backing off a bit when it comes to any future/continued investment into the company. Coupled with the recent departure of DayStar's founder (John Tuttle) and subsequent shuffling at the top of the management structure, there is certainly reason to take pause as an investor.

Now, let's put that aside for a bit and look at what DayStart Technologies has to offer as a company. DSTI is focused on providing low-cost, high-volume solar-electric photovoltaic (PV) cells, using patented technologies that employ a unique combination of Copper Indium Gallium diSelenide (CIGS) technology solar cells placed on flexible specialty metal foils. Their approach promises a few improvements over standard silicon solar-cells in that they will take require much less natural resources to product, not be dependent on high-quality silicon wafers (that are in short supply), and also be lightweight and flexible.

This all sounds great! And, DayStar seems to be have laid out some logical steps to execute their stated three-year mission of establishing themselves with a profitable manufacturing platform, expandable to Gigawatt scale, by 2008. Gigawatt scale! WOW! Assuming they reach that level of solar cell production, that would imply a capacity approximately equal to today’s combined worldwide manufacturing capacity for all PV solar cells! That could sure change the game for Solar Energy as a whole.

So, I look at their stock with both caution and excitement. I see inherent value in their patents and technology. I see potential for the alternative energy market as a whole, though I see our government doing little to promote it and instead wasting 100's of billions of dollars on oil-subsidies (yes, the war costs are oil subsidies in one way or the other -- the cost of protecting the steady flow of oil from the Middle East). When I look at DayStar's funding requirements to stay on plan, and the fact that an investment as tiny as $15MM from Castlerigg can even matter, I just sit shaking my head when I think how that $15MM is not even 1/30,000th of what our government has spent on the Iraq War. But, our government's priorities will likely not change, so DayStar will need to seek funding elsewhere: perhaps Bill Gates or the Google founders will see the light?

Next, as with ANY stock (especially startups), I keep a VERY close eye on management compensation and watch for what I call "self-awarded" excessive stock options and such. I am always concerned that the entire goal for many of these higher profile small startups (certainly not publicly stated) is simply to become a publicly traded stock and gain enough market liquidity whereby internal holders of said stock have a way to essentially "print stock" and convert that stock to cash,... regardless of the long-term impact on the stock price or the ramifications for the average investor that doesn't have the ability to simply "print more stock shares" to reap substantial returns. If all these senior-level managers in the company truly believe in their vision, then they need to forego the immediate "need" for cashing stock holdings out until the company is profitable and the stock is steady and solid enough for ALL investors (meaning, us the average stock holder) to reap rewards for taking risk too. I do not want to be viewed simply as a source for liquidity for insiders to dump their over-generous self-awarded shares onto. (this rant of mine is not about DSTI per se, but my concern that many, many companies, both small and large, are absolutely abusing the average shareholder these days by diluting stock through excessive "self awards").

So, DayStar executives, if you want to absolutely convince me that your company is a great investment, prove it by not selling your stock until you have achieved your stated goals for 2008, and have executed a plan that produces profits. You have the technology from what I can figure, and you have a team with skills in the Solar sector. Time to make some friends with a few wealthy individuals that can kick in $10 million or so apiece to keep your plan on track though! It's really not that much given how many ultra-rich entrepreneurs and individuals there are out there; you may want to focus on the more "liberal" or "green" ones, like StarBucks Howard Schultz, the Google guys, and so on.

I'll be watching DSTI, and who knows, if their stock's market capitalization goes much lower, I may start making a few calls myself and seeing if I can line up the cash to buy out the company and make sure the DayStar Technologies vision becomes reality. :)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Barclays Bank - Nice Gain over past few months.

If you happened to read my blog back on August 17th, 2006, about currency hedging with ADRs where I featured Barclays Bank as one of the ADRs to consider, perhaps you picked up some shares. If so, you should be quite pleased with your returns since then!

At the time, Barclays (NYSE: BCS) was trading under $50/share, and thanks to a weak dollar since then, and the new rumors/talk that Bank of America is looking to buy Barclays in what will be a massive merger transaction, the ADR share price of BCS has closed at USD $58.25. You may have just made 20% over the past few months, or more depending when you invested in Barclays.

The one thing I am not sure of now, is whether holding BCS during this speculation time is still the best way to go. With a cost-basis of around $45 on this latest cycle, I am looking at a 30% return in a relatively short period of time. Certainly this met, and even exceeded, my short-term objectives for playing currency-movements. The stock could rise further on speculation of increased bid-price during a takeover or whatever, but some of the excitement could also dissipate. I guess it is time to flip a coin. The original ownership reason (hedging against the US Dollar falling versus the British Pound) is still somewhat legitimate, though with the Pound pushing a 15-year high, I do not know how much more wind is in the sails of that price-movement-force.

Keep ADRs in mind in your investing portfolio, and look for solid stocks that can benefit from currency swings in addition to their fundamental strengths, and you will likely be in a decent position long term regardless.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Encryped Hard-Drives are coming soon

Encrypted hard-drives from Seagate are on the way. A news release discussed their latest disk drive technology, and the implications of hardware-level encrypting. On the plus side, it would mean that a stolen hard-drive would be essentially useless. On the down side (depending how you use your PC), it would enable DRM (Digital Rights Management) to (potentially) control what you are able to write to your disk drive.

This encryption direction for hard-drives is part of the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) initiative to better secure data on computers and help protect against viruses and malware that write unauthorized code to a hard-drive. In theory, this new hardware-level authentication, in conjunction with a PC and an operating system that supports something called a TCG stack (authentication related stuff), only properly authenticated transactions will be able to write to the hard drive.

I personally do not care about the DRM implications, since I do not use my computers for storing any music or video. And, the only pictures I store on my computers are the ones I take personally. But, I know others will have a concern about all this new potential to limit what can be stored on the hard-drive.

My main concern is, that although this hardware-level encryption and protection sounds great, I just wonder how long it will be until a new level of sophistication is reached in the next generation of computer virus, thus enabling that virus to circumvent this new technology. Seems like whatever countermeasures are created to thwart viruses and malware, there is always yet another exploit just around the corner. This hardware may make such an advanced virus unlikely, or at least unlikely to emerge anytime soon, but I for one will not be at all surprised when the encryption/protection is cracked and exploited. I hope I am wrong, because it would just be wonderful to know I can safely use my computer without the worry of viruses in downloaded emails/documents/etc. Time will tell if this new technology is all, or part, of the answer.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Windows XP SP3 - Delayed until 2008!

If you were hoping for a third Service Pack for Windows XP, you are going to have to wait quite a bit longer. Microsoft officially altered their "roadmap" for Windows XP SP3 to now be released in the first half of 2008 (wow, that is specific - not!). And, if you are a betting person, I personally think your money would best be placed on betting this Service Pack never even happens!

It seems more than obvious to me, that with Microsoft's pending release of Windows Vista, and the existing expiration of support of for Windows XP SP1, that they have but one objective: push you to the new operating system (Vista), or make your life hell otherwise. That hell currently comes in the form of a god awful number of post-SP2 updates to Windows XP that you have to apply to any new installation of Windows XP (even if you have a WinXP w/ SP2 install disk, you have TONS of updates to apply after install). If you are very technically savvy, you can always make what they call a "slipstream" install CD of your own that contains all the updates, and have those installed at the same time as Windows, but even that is a royal PITA and with all the constant security updates emerging for Windows and IE and such, you'd spend half your life building these custom CDs.

Something needs to change. Microsoft, though incredibly profitable, seems to be doing everything in its power to annoy its current product users. Along with this Windows XP SP3 announcement, they also pushed off the Windows Server 2003 SP2 until a similar date. Once again, I figure they want you to commit to their next OS instead. Perhaps not enough users get annoyed by this type of thing, since, as I mentioned, MS is very profitable - which means they sure are selling a lot of product. OR, is that profitability due to the fact you can hardly find a PC sold without the OS (either with a blank hard-drive, or with a FREE O.S. like Linux preinstalled).

I have tried to buy PCs from a few manufacturers with Linux on, or without Windows on, and guess what -- sure, you can buy one, but you still have to pay for Windows thanks to the licensing terms the vendors (read: Dell, Gateway, etc. etc.) have with MS. Hmmm... that seems just a bit monopolistic of MS! That is what really needs to change to move the market to Linux or some other free/open solution. (Or, perhaps Apple will be the beneficiary?)

At this time, I have absolutely no intention of upgrading to Windows Vista when it comes out. And, I do not really care how outdated my XP SP2 becomes either (aside from blatant and severe security holes that may emerge). I can do most of my day to day work on Linux if need be, and Linux is catching up fast. New builds of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Suse, Kanotix, and the like are constantly arriving (and, guess what - they have regular distribution-release cycles, so you know when the next version is coming), and their update/patch mechanisms are much better implemented.

When I need to use Windows, I will do so in a Virtual Machine (using VMWare) - not only will it make it easy to keep XP SP2 around for a while, but it will isolate it from security issues, etc (if my VM gets "infected" or anything, I'll just restore from a backup DVD image of the VM). Oh, I forgot to mention, MS also changed the licensing terms for Vista that prevent all but the Professional (i.e., "Business") version from running in a Virtual Machine from what I heard too! (even more reasons to avoid).

Every time Microsoft does things like delay service packs, ram new versions of software down our throats, tighten license terms, and so forth, the more I focus on how to use alternative OSs and software. Keep up the great work Microsoft! :)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chevrolet's new, and completely lame, advertising strategy

I have written other blog entries about lame advertising campaigns and the like before, but Chevrolet has just inspired me again with its latest, absolutely lame, ad campaign.

If you have not seen the ad that inspires this discussion, basically it is a series of images showing bits and pieces of American history with a few Chevy products mixed into the bunch. Images of Rosa Parks on a bus, Richard Nixon doing his famous peace-sign wave, Vietnam clips, hurricane Katrina devastation, 9/11 imagery, and a whole boat load of other similar big-event things are in here. And, every so often there will be a picture of something like an old Chevy pickup truck that is meant to look like it is from the 1970's, and so forth.

Well, if I was to even for a minute consider investing in GM stock, this commercial alone would quickly change my mind. And, if I was to consider buying a GM car, this commercial would do absolutely nothing to influence me towards a purchase.

I am so sick of these artsy/statement commercials that do everything possible to avoid presenting the product for sale. And, I am sure GM spent millions on this crap. One (advertising exec) professional that Fox News spoke to today tried to describe these commercials as a push to be more "real"; part of a greater "real" push going on in all commercials. Real?? Real to whom? Real to the advertising firm that made it, but pure crap to any consumer that just wants to see what Chevy has to offer thse days.

Who knows, maybe subconsciously those images of Rosa Parks or Richard Nixon will make someone just run out and buy a Chevy that otherwise wouldn't -- because, Chevy quite obviously had some part in all these events shown in there commercial? Whenever I see ads like this (lame ones -- and there are many), I can't help thinking what the ad firm was compensated to produce such a thing. Seems to me that anyone could have put together a series of images like this, and then inserted clips of any product they wanted to (in this case, a product that was around for 40 years or more) throughout the ad, and poof, you have a new commercial. I think Chevy'd be better off putting the money into developing something like the "Fast and the Furious 4 -- Chevy Rules" or something, where the entire movie uses only Chevy cars.

Well, the proof will be in the Chevrolet sales, and I can't wait to see how those go for GM over the next 12 months (I know I will not be buying the stock, especially based on hopes for ads like this to be effective).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Windmill Zoning in Residential Areas - I plan to try!

My father recently ran across a new windmill designed for residential wind-power applications that sure sounds like it has potential. It is called the Skystream 3.7, and is one of the first I have seen that employs low-wind-speed generation capabilities, and a reasonable size and form-factor, uses modern blades, and is also of a reasonable cost -- a typical install is supposed to run around $9,000 USD currently.

I really like how the unit is sold as a complete "system" that includes all the hookup to your residential power supply from the electric company, and has all that crossover electronics and such included. This makes for pretty much a one-stop-shopping experience from the looks of things. The windmill is rated at 1.8KW, and is designed to offset 40-60% of the average home's power utilization requirements. Not bad. Heck, give me two of them and it'd be even better.

I hope Skystream doesn't mind my copying a bit of their promotional information, since the following is a direct copy/paste from their page showing the basic specs.
  • Product Brochure: Skystream 3.7 brochure (PDF)
  • Rated Capacity: 1.8 KW
  • Rotor: 12 feet / 3.72 meters; 50–325 RPM
  • Alternator: Gearless, permanent magnet brushless
  • Voltage Output: 240 VAC (Optional 208 VAC)
  • Estimated Energy Production: 400 KWh per month at
  • 12 MPH (5.4 m/s)
  • Weight: 154 pounds
  • Tower: Towers from 35-110 feet are available; height is
  • dependent by site
  • Technical Specifications: Skystream 3.7 Spec Sheet (PDF)
  • Warranty: Five year limited
  • Availability: October 2006
Now, my main concern is how to get this thing through my local zoning regulations, since I live in a residential "R1-A" region, and after giving the local codified ordinances handbook a perusing, I have found no regulations that address windmills in particular. There are provisions in the local zoning code for things like TV antennas, satellite dishes, building height, and so forth, but no mention of windmills. So, chances are, I am going to have to set precedence by trying to gain a variance for my windmill. If I can really get a unit like this installed and operation for $9,000 or so, and if I can get it through zoning, I plan to install one. I think it'd set a great example of what this country needs to do in order to free itself from the strangle-hold the oil cartel (OPEC) has on us now. Wish me luck!

The toothless and useless UN

I recently wrote a blog entry about how I see China as the player of utmost importance in this whole North Korea (NK) nuclear standoff. And, as I wrote in that prior blog, I expected China to do what is in their best interest regardless of the outcome of any UN Security Council resolutions.

Well, I sit here watching the news this morning and listening to pretty much the exact thing I prognosticated: sanctions will be imposed on NK, including inspecting vessels going in and out of the country (supposedly for weapons technology or nuclear related stuff), but China says it will not inspect any of the trade going in and out of NK by land (i.e., through China). Of course, China is NKs biggest supporter and trading partner, and regardless of what the UN says they are "united" in resolving, the fact of the matter is that China's disregard for the resolution to inspect inbound and outbound shipments for NK says a world about where they really stand -- anything but "united" with the rest of the council. As always, with any country in the UN, personal interests always come before doing what is right.

Oddly enough, the next country that could be an issue with enforcing any sanctions against NK is South Korea. A fair amount of cash-flow into the North comes from the South. Southern commercial interests in Northern real-estate development (like, mountain resort communities) propel cash-flow northward. And, the whole time, people living in Seoul seem to think that NK may actually target them with a nuke given the chance. Talk about a strange double-vision thing when viewing the North from the South!

The fact is, unless truly united (and consistent) action is taken against the NK, this latest round of resolutions and sanctions will end up exactly where all the prior actions have: in the useless and toothless resolutions graveyard. NK will continue its nuclear arms progress and its threats against the world, and politicians will blame their predecessors for the situation that arises.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea Nuclear Threat : China the beneficiary?

I have been contemplating the whole North Korea nuclear threat for years. I am especially interested in how this threat may fundamentally alter the world power-scheme among major nations, particularly with regards to China.

Now that North Korea has apparently followed through on its threat to test a nuclear weapon, the inevitable "world response" will emerge. Having completely lost all faith in the UN's ability to accomplish anything, I am convinced any such response is a complete waste of time. So many "warnings" and "urgings" and so forth have been issued to North Korea (who, as expected, simply ignores these discussions) and Iran (who also snubs such communications) in regards to their nuclear ambitions; isn't it obvious to the rest of the world that talk isn't going to accomplish anything? Countries like this have learned how easy it is to just ignore the "international community", since they have figured out this community is all talk and no action.

Much of this all-talk, no-action persona of the UN has to do with the fact that, even though the organization's name implies unity, there is anything but singularity of conviction or action among this group, especially the UN Security council. The Security Council members do everything in their power to push their own agenda (the USA included in this) instead of unite in a cause -- and, the world at large has learned how this works and takes full advantage of it. It's almost always predictable how the members will vote: if the USA wants to pursue a particular direction, you can be assured that the Soviet Union and China will oppose it; and, the reverse is true if China wants something we do not; the UK usually buddies with the USA and vice-versa; and then there is France - the "swing vote" in many situations; etc.

In this particular situation, China has incredible leverage for reasons of geographical proximity to the aggressor (North Korea), and its status as a nuclear super-power. And, simply put: nothing is getting done with regards to NK unless China wants it done. Although China is our largest trading partner, and a supposed ally, it can not be forgotten that China is a Communist country acting to protect its own interests throughout the region. China has been escalating their own military buildup, their manufacturing capabilities (much of it with the assistance our consumer feeding-frenzy on Chinese goods), and their deals with commodity sources (like Iran and Venezuela) - perhaps the NK crisis can be used as an excuse for some of this now?

China seems poised to gain additional world power and influence from this NK situation. Since, as the way I see it, only China can tip the balance against NK, they have positioned themselves to now become a larger player on the world political stage. Having the power to defuse a potential nuclear crisis surely increases their relevance. I will not be at all surprised to see China realize this and exploit the situation to maximize their power throughout the world and world organizations (like the impotent UN). But, would we or any other UN member country do any differently? -- perhaps/probably not.

As certain as the UN's inability to unite is the global quest to gain or retain power. Many nations of the world promise to ignore all sense of reason or regard for humanity's best interest in pursuit of power and relevance. And, today's power-tool of choice is the nuclear weapon -- you get one, and you suddenly have percieved power; consequences be damned (as humanity ultimately will be).

Friday, September 29, 2006

Demand Credit-Freeze Rights!

Are you aware that 22 states in this "United" States of America have laws that offer a much greater level of protection from credit identity-theft scams for their citizens than the other 28 states do? Yes, if you happen to be lucky enough to live in California or one of the other 21 states with consumer-friendly legislation that allows you to "freeze" your credit files at the major credit-authorization/scoring firms (TransUnion, Experian, Equifax), you have an extra layer of protection against the rampant identity-theft scams than persons in other States.

But, perhaps not for long! Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-OH), is trying his darndest at a Federal level not to offer this extra protection to all of us, but instead to remove that extra layer of protection certain States offer. He has introduced legislation that, if enacted, would reverse the efforts of over 22 State Attorney Generals who have sided with consumers in the battle against the massive problem of identity theft.

In congressman LaTourette’s bill, consumers would only be allowed to freeze access to their credit information if they had filed a police report indicating they had already become an identity theft victim. That's right, he wants to make a Federal law that says only after being victimized could you freeze access to your credit, and not before. Why lock your door -- let someone steal everything and then lock it It sounds insane because it is insane!
And what the heck are the banks getting out of your deal anyhow? Is obviously-fake / stolen-credit business still "OK" to banks, just so they can show extra "business" on their bottom lines or what? I can't understand this one bit -- it SEEMS so insane that banks would want this law either (perhaps someone can explain this to me).

Anyone with even half a brain can see the obvious ignorance and insanity of such lock-the-door-after-theft-occurs logic. Oh, but wait, we forgot the powerful lobby group of the American Banker’s Association - the most vocal supporter of LaTourette’s bill! Ignore what every average citizen wants... just do what the lobby (read: money) wants. This kind of thing is a sick abuse of power, and nothing short of the typical audacity of our elected leaders that supposedly work for "us, the people", but seem to constantly ignore the overwhelming voice of the populace in favor of the voice of power and money exhibited by lobbyists in our nation's capital. This blatant disregard of our rights to information security and protection must be dealt with. Voice your opinion, and if/when the opportunity arises, vote this turncoat out of office! (hopefully the next elected "representative of the people" will actually listen to the people!).

You know what Mr. LaTourette: if your bill becomes law, and I am not able to freeze my credit information when I otherwise would, and someone takes advantage of your open-credit-door policy for crooks, I and everyone else affected by your obvious disregard of our privacy wishes may just ban together and sue you for neglecting your fiduciary responsibility to uphold the will of the people. Something needs to change: start listening to the people at large, and not just the lobbyists. Only an idiot could argue that your approach to "privacy" is at all effective in identity and credit-theft protections.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Identifying mega-consumers by their garbage volume

I am pretty much the "anti-consumer"; the type of person most companies should not even try wasting time selling to or advertising to. I generally do not find myself wanting very many things, no matter how much advertisers push them on TV or elsewhere (in fact, that usually just makes me want them less). And, I really try to minimize my use of anything that is a "consumable", since by nature it implies repeatedly purchasing the same items over and over (ah yes, the holy-grail for any company is the "consumable"). And, what I noticed is that this lack of purchasing is readily apparent in my curbside waste (or lack thereof).

When I look up and down our street on trash day, or notice trash out in other areas I drive through, I am absolutely astonished by the sheer volume of trash people produce. (on a side note, which I will later blog about, I am even more upset by how little is recycled!). The only way people can produce the amount of waste I witness is by being mega-consumers in my opinion. And, there is a pattern of regularity to the waste-stream I witness around me.

I dare not mention which neighbors produce what level of trash weekly (though it is darn tempting), but I find it amazing how our 3-person household consistently puts out a single bag of trash per week, and yet multiple 2-person households near us will have 2 large garbage cans plus a half-dozen garbage bags out every darn week. And, worse yet, there are a few within a block or two where it is nearly always a dozen or more swollen bags of trash! Wow! What do they do to fill those things!?

I am convinced that there is a direct correlation between people's average weekly trash volume and their overall consumption level (i.e., the more the consumption, the closer they are to the "mega-consumer" level). Aside from being a certain indicator of waste produced (which just magically disappears every week with little concern as to where it ultimately ends up), it just has to tie to the consumption of so many throw-away type products.

The final step in the implications trail, from my viewpoint, is that this trash volume must also serve as a rather reasonable indication of outbound cash-flow (the constant sucking-sound of money being spent on products). No wonder the savings rate is zero (or negative) in this country -- much of the money earned is quite literally ending up in the garbage.

That's my initial take on this. I could rant for a while on this blog about the financial and economic and environmental aspects of all this, but I will save the for a future blog entry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bank Terms that Exploit Consumers

I just finished going through a term-deposit account setup process with a bank, whose name will go unmentioned, where I could not believe the "agreement" that I had to accept in order to deposit funds with this bank. A term-deposit account is basically a CD, whereby you agree to lend the bank your money for a particular term (e.g., 12 months) and in return they agree to give you back your funds at the end of that term, along with an agreed amount of interest for having borrowed your money for that period.

Rather simple concept. But, it seems the bank has lost site of who is important in this deal. The term deposit agreement, which I found utterly detestable, has a passage in it that simply states that in the event the bank goes under, that you (i.e., the depositor, the true creditor of the bank) take the absolute last-seat when it comes to making any claims against the assets of the bank. So, who comes first? Well, that would be others who have much larger interests in the bank than the lowly individual who was nice enough to deposit month with the bank. This group of entities that is more privileged to your money than you yourself are included: other creditors of the bank (i.e., other banks, corporate-bond holders, and so on). Gotta love it!

So, if the bank goes under because some high level managers get their fingers too deep into the corporate honey pot through excess expenses like a private plane too many, over compensation gone crazy, acquisitions that go awry, and many other issues, you the depositor are just screwed since you don't have the influence necessary (as an individual depositor) to demand that you have equal rights to any assets that remain in the event a bank goes under. Instead, other banks that should very well have professionals on staff to evaluate credit issues and the likes prior to even loaning money to your bank will have more rights to your money than you do. And, do not forget those guaranteed golden-parachutes for high ranking company officers that would certainly still be OK'd by any bankruptcy judge, giving the group that led the bank into default more right to your money than you also.

To me, this is just one of many many examples of how corporations and large influential entities like wall street investment houses and banks in general have engineered contracts to best protect their money. So what if the individual term-depositor loses their money? This just seems so utterly backwards to me. And, it could change, but it would take organized protest from all depositors to accomplish -- but, where would anyone deposit money while they protest?? Aha! There is the problem. Since, all banks implement the same basic rules, you can not protest one by moving elsewhere since it is the same everywhere.

In the mean time, I guess we lowly customers of the bank are just to hope they do not go under for any reason.

And, I picked on just banks today. There are many more cases of this type of insane consumer agreement that you must "agree" to in order to use a given service, when companies know you have no option or power to negotiate any of the terms of the agreement due to the fact that wherever you go, the rules are going to be roughly the same.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why don't PCs have built in battery backup?

I poked around the web looking for a PC (not a notebook) case or power supply that comes with its own "built in UPS" or "built in batter backup" of sorts. I own various UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) devices, and I find myself looking at them thinking - why?

Yes, I know the obvious reasons why you should use an UPS (in case power goes out, or a surge or brownout occurs), but the "why" that I asked myself was why don't the PCs include a *small* battery unit internally to at least handle a few minutes of uptime and protect against surges/brownouts without the need for an external device sitting there taking up floor space. It seems to me it would be much more efficient if a rechargeable batter was placed inline with the PC's power-supply (on the outgoing, DC side of things) where if AC power was dropped, it would provide the necessary 12V and 5v (or whatever other low voltage requirements) power to the computer. In addition, a built-in unit like that could easily interact with the motherboard and "inform" the computer (and/or OS) that A/C power was compromised.

With today's Lithium-Ion batteries (like notebooks use) the battery unit could be quite small and easily power the computer for a while. Or, even less expensive lead-acid batteries (like UPS's mainly use) could be incorporated.

I'd also go as far as to say that PC manufacturers could then get together with external component makers (like Flat-Panel LCD makers), to work on a "standard" for low-voltage external device connection that could also make short-term use of the PC's proposed internal battery. Have you ever noticed all those AC-to-DC adapters for your LCDs, some external hard-drives and CD/DVD-ROMS, etc? Seems ridiculous to me. I know that USB allows for some very low-current connections, but there is probably a good case to be made for higher-powered external devices to have a way to plug into my (theoretical) PC with built-in-backup-power.

The main thing would be to just have enough time for the system to perform an orderly shutdown if needed. I think there have been manufacturers of the PC power supply that I envision, though I could not find such a thing on the web.

Just thinking as I write my technology blog entries again, and hoping for improvements in the PC/computer world.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tons of Linux and Open Source Software News!

This is shaping up to be a very busy week in the world of Linux and Open Source Software!

Here are some of the significant software updates and upgrades with recent announcements:
  • Subversion - upgraded to version 1.4. Adds some significant optimization improvements and other enhancements.
  • KDE (K Destop Environment) for Linux - The first development snapshot of KDE 4, codenamed Krash, has been released and packages are available for Kubuntu Edgy already. This version of KDE is supposed to implement their "Plasma" GUI and widgets / tools, which are to demonstrate some wonderful graphics capabilities under Linux, and much more.
  • a major new version of GParted LiveCD was released last week. The most exciting thing is how the live-CD is now based on GParted 0.3 (disk partitioner) that just added full support for moving partitions! This FREE partitioning utility makes it possible to move all supported file systems (even NTFS) around as you wish on your disks, even to the beginning of a hard drive. How cool is that?!
  • Debian GNU/Linux 4.0, codename "etch" is really coming along. Some of the things that I have been waiting for a long time from Linux are now to be included in the base distribution. Like, a pre-configured scroll wheel on a USB mouse, instant recognition of external USB drives and mounting thereof, and more. I think these things will put Linux distros based on Debian at a level most average home users could handle. And, it is FREE.
  • OpenSuse 10.2 is soon moving out of Alpha. This is a distribution I really like for my desktop use, especially because of how easy it connects to my Windows Domain network, and works wonderfully with my ATI and NVidia graphics cards.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

VMware for Apple Intel Mac OS-X coming!

VMware for Apple OSX has been announced! This is great news for anyone that has an Intel-based Apple Mac machine that wants to run Apple OS-X as their host operating system and still have the ability to run other operating system like Microsoft Windows, Linux, Netware, Solaris, and any other supported OS's.

I have been contemplating the Mac OS-X platform for sometime, but I need Windows for some of my software development activities (Borland Delphi in particular, and MS SQL Server enterprise manager). This opens a new world of possibility to me. I have had the ability to run Windows under Linux already (using VMware Workstation and/or Player products), but the Apple system prospects were not so clear. I didn't want an Apple just to "play" with it, though I'd consider it much more with the ability to run VMware on it.

So, the product announcement says that beta versions will be out later this year. I'll keep an eye on it, and see what OS-X 10.5 has to offer as well. The only detractor left is the whole pricing of Apple boxes (a premium over commoditized PCs to say the least).

What I still did not notice (perhaps I am just not seeing it anywhere) is the ability to do the reverse -- run OS-X virtual machine on my PC! Now, THAT would entice me into buying a copy of OS-X 10.5 as soon as it was available - just for kicks.

Ford Motors CEO replacement - good or not?

From the world of finance and investing: Ford Motor companies has chosen Alan Mulally to replace Bill Ford Jr. as CEO of the ailing automaker. Mulally is a former senior executive from Boeing Co. (Boeing being the large airplane manufacturer).

Well, that all sounds just wonderful -- at least to all the "analysts" at major banks and brokerage houses, who were instantly jumping on the bandwagon and upping their ratings on Ford stock (typically from "sell" to "hold"). They all expect some sort of miracle perhaps. I personally do not see the fit with Mulally. Sure, he has seen similar competitive issues, been through similar restructuring efforts, and all sorts of mumbo jumbo; but, then again who at this level of senior management wouldn't have?? And, this guy has been with Boeing for 37 years. I would hope he has seen some significant challenges and worked through them.

My primary reason for questioning this move is simply that I see marketing airplanes to an very limited audience (airlines, military) where there are but a handful of models to be sold and where there are as few as 100's of airplanes sold per year for the industry, is a completely different ball game than marketing a commoditized retail product like an automobile. And, how about styling? Colors? Amenities? Sure, airplanes have some variation in amenities, but it is not the person sitting in the seats that goes to Boeing and says "I want a TV and a place to plug my laptop in" - it is the airlines. What I am getting at is that automobile marketing, especially successful marketing, is entirely a function of getting the consumer to buy into your product. There is an entirely new set of criteria at play that gets a consumer excited about your cars then there is about an airline or the military wanting to buy a few multi-million-dollar planes.

So, I am doubtful of the depth of synergies that Mulally will bring to the table at Ford. From the few quotes I have seen, I just see yet another senior manager spouting the usual buzz phrases and things like "they have a great management team" and so forth. If the management team is so great, why is Ford on the edge of bankruptcy? A CNBC interview had him also saying his aim is to build "a portfolio of automobiles that is world class and customers really want to have," which to me just sounds like a darned obvious thing any CEO of an auto company should want to do.

In the end, I would have been more excited to hear that Bill Ford Jr. chose someone from a successful consumer goods company who had shown they could take market share from their competition with goods that were innovative, well designed, and beautifully styled. And, someone that really could show return on investment for marketing campaign dollars would have been wonderful too - since I question the efficacy and value of nearly all marketing and advertising campaigns (especially all these lame automotive commercials on TV that will show you 29 seconds of nothing to do with the car, and one second of the car itself, in a 30-second spot)... I'm only sure the marketing firms are great at marketing one thing: themselves, since how else would auto companies buy into this approach!

Show me the great cars you have (Mr. Mulally)! That is what it is going to come down to (oh, that and overcoming the prevailing opinion that your products and company have gone down the toilet, so why should anyone even consider buying from you when your firm and products are in such lousy shape?) Show me that you have more than a "great management team" or whatever -- I am the consumer, I do not care about your management team, I care about your vehicles, their prices, their gas mileage, features, styling, etc. And, until you make the consumers happy and meet their needs better than your competition, Wall Street is not going to get much out of you either. Good luck.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Super capacity Blu-ray DVD - 200GB!

WOW! 200GB on a single DVD!
I just read the release news about the 200GB Blu-Ray DVD here.

TDK is the company that has purportedly pulled this off, demonstrating the scalability of the Blu-ray DVD format. Sure sounds like it has potential. They claim we could see some of these high-capacity discs in the next few months (I am not holding my breath, since they will likely cost a ton even if they do make it out in this timeframe - not to mention the burner costs).

Either way, 200GB on a single DVD is one awesome feat, considering I am still using single-layer 4.7GB DVD's for backing up files in a hurry. That used to sound like a large amount of storage to me, until I started backing up my absolutely massive PDFs from my upcoming recipe book (with all the high-resolution color photos, the PDF is 3.5GB for a 240 page book!) Oh, I could sure use that new TDK device :)

It quite seriously could offer an awesome backup solution compared to the option of Tape devices like Ultrium, LTO, Super AIT, Super DLT, and other high-capacity formats. I would love to get a 300GB SDLT or AIT, etc., but the drives are a few thousand apiece, and the tapes can easily run $80-100 each. So, if this new Blu-ray hits the streets at a price point that is competitive, I may give it a go. Time will tell.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

How much do you spend on Gasoline? Mileage matters big-time!

How much have you, and do you plan to, spend on gasoline? The answer may shock the hell out of you!

I was driving along the other day, and when I saw that my little 1997 car had just rolled past the 135,000 mile mark, I thought about how much it would cost at today's prices to pay for all the gasoline used to drive that far. Well, the calculation is rather simple. Just take the total miles (M) divided by the average MPG (Miles Per Gallon) times the Price per Gallon (P). So, in the case of my car, that is:

135000 / 25 * $3.00 = $16,200!!!! HOLY #$%#$ that is a lot of money (and, that is POST-TAX money, meaning I'd have to earn nearly $25,000 W2 earnings to pay for it!). OUCH! I didn't spend that much on both of my older cars combined!

The only good news for me was that I purchased the car four years ago with 108,000 miles already on it. Whew! But, that still means I would have spend about $3240.00 on gas (at $3/gallon) myself. That is still a bit traumatizing. And here I hesitate to buy an XBox 360 since it'll set me back $500 bucks. heh.

So, I start working out the difference in cost if my car's gas mileage was better or worse than its current average. This car gets a solid 30MPG highway, and nearly that in the city if I am very careful with acceleration and minimizing stops/starts (by leaving ample room between cars, planning ahead if I see lights changing already, and so on). But, the wintertime makes the mileage drop to near 20MPG sometimes (4 cylinder cars seem plagued by this cold-weather effect). Assuming $3/gallon gasoline is the norm, that same 135,000 miles on the car would cost:
  • 10 cents / mile at 30MPG, or $13,500 (a savings of $2700 over 25MPG)
  • 15 cents / mile at 20MPG, or $20,250 (or, $4050 MORE -- eek!)
  • 5 cents /mile at 60MPG (ah yes, dreaming of that super-hybrid mileage!), or $6,750 for a huge savings of $9450.00 ... which, if I was going to put that kind of mileage on a car myself, I'd sure have to consider after reviewing the numbers.
Fact is, we are all so used to just "filling up" the car periodically that we forget how much this gasoline is costing us over time. If any of you have read some of my investment advice columns, you will know I always think of expenses in terms of what it costs in real pre-tax terms (i.e., so you can know how much of your gross-wages / salary is consumed for any particular expense). I'll assume 33% wage taxes (Fed, Local, State, FICA, Medicare burden) for my examples (which means you will need to make $1.50 gross for every $1.00 net / cash you take home)

Keeping that in mind, here's a quick table of just the yearly gasoline expenditures you will make (just gas; no consideration for car maintainence, tires, other consumables) that every year at various miles-driven-per-year, and various MPG, given the current $3/gallon gas:

  • 20 MPG CARS:
  • 5,000 miles at 20MPG: $750.00 cash (i.e., $1125.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 10,000 miles at 20MPG: $1500.00 cash (i.e., $2250.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 15,000 miles at 20MPG: $2250.00 cash (i.e., $3375.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 20,000 miles at 20MPG: $3000.00 cash (i.e., $4500.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 25,000 miles at 20MPG: $3750.00 cash (i.e., $5625.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 25 MPG CARS:
  • 5,000 miles at 25MPG: $600.00 cash (i.e., $900.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 10,000 miles at 25MPG: $1200.00 cash (i.e., $1800.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 15,000 miles at 25MPG: $1800.00 cash (i.e., $2700.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 20,000 miles at 25MPG: $2400.00 cash (i.e., $3600.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 25,000 miles at 25MPG: $3000.00 cash (i.e., $4500.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 30 MPG CARS:
  • 5,000 miles at 30MPG: $500.00 cash (i.e., $750.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 10,000 miles at 30MPG: $1000.00 cash (i.e., $1500.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 15,000 miles at 30MPG: $1500.00 cash (i.e., $2250.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 20,000 miles at 30MPG: $2000.00 cash (i.e., $3000.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 25,000 miles at 30MPG: $2500.00 cash (i.e., $3750.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 50 MPG CARS (feel lucky if you have one):
  • 5,000 miles at 50MPG: $300.00 cash (i.e., $450.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 10,000 miles at 50MPG: $600.00 cash (i.e., $900.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 15,000 miles at 50MPG: $900.00 cash (i.e., $1350.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 20,000 miles at 50MPG: $1200.00 cash (i.e., $1800.00 in gross earnings / wages)
  • 25,000 miles at 50MPG: $1500.00 cash (i.e., $2250.00 in gross earnings / wages)

If your car averages under 20MPG, do the math sitting down! If greater than 50MPG, depending on the mileage you put on your car per year, you may well be saving enough to compensate for the premium you paid (if a hybrid), or feel the small / subcompact car you have is well worth the lack of luxury.

You should clearly see that even what appears to be a small difference in average miles per gallon (MPG) can make a large difference on your yearly gas expenditures, and on the drain it places on your income. Likewise, you can see how simply reducing the miles driven per year can make a huge difference as well! Miles per year is the variable you have the most (easy) control over. Next, by opting for a more fuel efficient vehicle you can control (at a cost) the MPG part of the equation. And though the last part of the equation (gas price per gallon) seems completely out of your control, by reducing overall demand for petro, the price will fall -- but, only if it is done by the masses.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

War on the Middle Class? Lou Dobbs tells only part of the story.

For all you Lou Dobbs fans, I want to discuss his ongoing series about the "War on the Middle Class". Let me start by stating that I find Lou Dobbs to be quite intelligent, eloquent, and well informed on many topics. His efforts to maintain a focus on border security are admirable. And, his Exporting America dialog is thought provoking and something we all need to give more consideration to.

But, I really think Lou Dobbs needs to expand the breadth of his investigation with regard to this purported war on the middle class he so often speaks of. For brevity, I will refer to the "war on the middle class" as just "war-mc" throughout. Tonight's war-mc segment discussed how the housing downturn was yet another thing responsible for putting the squeeze on America's middle-class, citing various statistics about how:
  • 40% of mortgages now are zero-down or other "exotic" types
  • inventories of homes on the market are rising
  • 1/2 a trillion in ARMs will adjust this year
  • 700 billion in ARMs will adjust next year
  • people are facing huge increases in mortgage payments at the same time they are being squeezed by energy costs
  • (and, a common theme not necessarily mentioned today is how wages have stagnated)
All of these items may very well be fact. But, how is this representative of a war-mc? I am likely to upset quite a few persons that would like to have everyone believe that their woes are all due to this supposed war on the middle class, but I must put forth another side to be considered -- I believe that a significant part of this war-mc is a self-inflicted war.

Why self-inflicted? Because so many of the issues Lou Dobbs talks about result from our own actions ("our" being the middle class generally). Though I can not fully develop my reasoning in a single blog article (it would take a book), here are some of my reasons for calling this war-mc "self inflicted":
  • Mortgages. It is this simple: only you are responsible for taking on more debt that you can service, for believing that interest rates would never rise again, and to think that house prices were taking an endless upward climb that would always allow you to increase your home value and equity with little or zero effort.
  • Mortgages/housing: from what I see, the "middle class" is the driving force behind the housing bubble. It's the middle class that banks and lending institutions have targeted with excessively easy of access to debt. Not a day goes by without another offer for a credit-card, home-equity loan, or the likes for most of the middle class. And, the middle class bought into it all hook, line, and sinker, taking out as large of loan as possible, pushing their finances to the edge, and acquiring the biggest and most extravagant house they could possibly "afford" (afford being a term that has lost all meaning these days - it now simply means how much a bank will let them borrow... little to do with truly afford). The belief that home prices would constantly climb has made many feel they could do no wrong with such a move. Well, this all worked as long as the Federal Reserve made money so cheap (to borrow) that the house of cards kept going higher.
  • Housing add-ons: the large houses (and loans) are usually just the tip of the iceberg. With those homes come all sorts of products and services. The larger the house, the larger your costs - be it lawn service, landscaping, watering, heating, cooling, or simply the property taxes on that thing! Yes, one excess begets others. And, per the rules of supply and demand, the larger draw on energy resources to heat and cool those extra square-feet raises energy costs for everyone; many of the resources used (in larger amounts) to build and maintain a larger home are petroleum based too (roofing, vinyl siding, and much more), all increasing demand for limited resources.
  • Automobiles: you have to get to that fancy house in the suburbs, and you certainly do not want to rely on public transportation (which, is of course harder to even find out in the burbs). Instead, you have to have a veritable fleet of cars to go along with that house. These cars can not be too old, or they dare not fit your image (or match your house). Instead of driving 10 year old affordable vehicles, the norm is more like 4 years or newer. Those cars bring along a host of bills: insurance, fuel, tires and consumables. Note to all: all the extra demand for fuel raises fuel prices further.
  • Credit-Card Debt: I think everyone knows the story on this -- simply put, it is out of control.
Whether you want to admit it or not, many of the costs that are "waging war" on the middle-class are a matter of choice. That is what people like to forget, ignore, or make excuses in order to evade. It is your choice to purchase a 4000 square foot home, a Hummer, a Harley and all your other toys and niceties. And, even if you are nowhere near that level of expense, but still stretched to the edge, there are still likely to be many choices that you have made that led to you feeling like there is a war-mc.

We all have the worst example of all to follow when it comes to living beyond our means: our own government. They spend money far beyond what they have, and appear to have little to no concern about the long-term ramifications of ballooning debt and related obligations. The Federal Reserve, during the last recession, saw that the fastest way to make the economy look wonderful and robust was to enable the middle-class to take on excessive amounts of debt (just like our government) at low interest rates and allow a housing bubble to take shape -- and pull us out of a recession. Once could argue that it was a cure, but I believe a significant amount of this emergence from recession was simply a postponement of the inevitable adjustment that must occur when the realization that debt funding by overseas investors must eventually hit a ceiling. Until we ourselves save and control spending, we will be at the mercy of others.

I was raised in an environment where money was tight, and things had to be very strictly budgeted for. Debt was something to be avoided, as it makes you work to service it, and it introduces excess and avoidable fear when times are rough. Debt has its place in our economy for certain -- without it, growth would stagnate. But, debt abuse and easy debt has crept in and taken over for anything that I would consider sane and safe levels - for individuals, business, and government.

For those of you not already mired in excessive debt, please, think twice (and many more times) prior to entering into further debt. A simple solution is to live beneath your means (especially beneath the level of debt your income will allow you to get in today's age of easy loans). You do not have to do it forever; but, do it long enough to acquire solid savings skills and debt-avoidance skills. Then, you will not have to be part of those that interpret every negative bit of economic news (like the housing downturn) as a "war against the middle class"; instead you will see it for what it is (primarily), a war against those who chose to put themselves in the line of fire.

As a close, I must acknowledge the fact that there are a significant number of expenses that could be considered part of a war-mc. These expenses will nearly always exhibit some commonality in that: they are difficult to avoid; are for services/products you can not live without (and I do not mean your cell-phone); there are few supplier options (leading to easy and widespread price-fixing opportunity); their average rate of annual increases will far outpace inflation as a whole. Some examples include: health care and prescription drugs, food, other insurances, fees (e.g., banking fees), and taxes (or other government fees). I did not mention energy simply for the fact that we consumers control demand (though we do not exercise that control very well) for the most part.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Currency Hedging with American Depository Receipts (ADRs)

For those of you who have already read my May, 2006 posting about Investing in ADR (American Depository Receipt) Stocks, you may have been able to make impressive investment returns, for two reasons. If you watched both the currency-rates and the stock prices during this time and jumped in when the stock market had a mini correction that bottomed out early-mid June:
  • the stock markets, both here and abroad, performed rather well since that bottom;
  • the United States Dollar (USD) tanked against the British Pound (GBP) and other currencies worldwide during that same period.
The overall stock market move is a bit irrelevant to the ADR thing, but the second ROI reason is all about currency fluctuations and how they affect your ADR share-price returns.

A couple of London Stock Exchange stocks that have ADRs here in the USA that I regularly follow are Barclays PLC and HSBC Bank (which I used as an example in the 5/13/06 article). Let's say you timed things very well and got into each at roughly their bottom in mid-June, and examine what your returns would be and why:
  • Barclays (ADR ticker: BCS) - on the London Exchange, it was trading at 586 Pence at its low, and closed today at 653.5 Pence. Return on the London market: 11.52% . . . Impressive, but, the BCS ADR during the same time hit a $43.23 bottom, and a $49.64 close today, or a whopping 14.83% return, which is quite nice, especially considering we are talking about large blue-chip type banks that roll off a healthy 3-4% dividend! Your ADR returned an extra 3.3% on your investment during the same period! The difference in returns reflects the tanking USD during this period.
  • HSBC (ADR ticker: HBC) - on the London Exchange, it was trading at 913 Pence at its low, and closed today at 951.5 Pence. Return on the London market: 4.22% ... and, the HSBC ADR during the same time hit a $84.34 bottom, and a $90.35 close today, or a 7.126% return, which is darn solid too for such a short timeframe. Your ADR returned an extra 2.9% on your investment during the same period! That extra return reflects the substantial drop in the purchasing power of the USD during this period.
Now, you may be asking why both stocks did not return the same 3.3% "extra" due to currency swings: simple, one stock hit its low on a different (later) date than the other, and the currency exchange rates had already changed some.

So, keeping these examples in mind, there can be opportunity to hedge against the falling dollar by purchasing American Depository Receipts (ADR) stocks. This is not as direct as simply playing the currency market on a ForEx trading platform or such, but it is probably less likely to cause you to lose all your money doing risky currency-swing trades. Do some research, and consider the options that are available. There are ADRs for UK stocks as well as German, Japanese, Israeli, and many other firms.

Keep in mind, as I pointed out in my prior article, you can play this swing both directions. If the US Dollar strengthens greatly while you hold an ADR, you can just as quickly see the multiplier working against you. If you want more information, read that first posting of mine. If you still need more, let me know and I will try to dive deeping into investing in foreign stocks in this manner, especially in order to hedge against any devaluation in the US currency.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Adobe Indesign CS2 Review - Spectacular!

I have been putting the Adobe Indesign CS2 product to the test lately, in a rather heavy way. I have been using it to create a 240-page, multi-chapter, commercial recipe book with full-color photography throughout, a comprehensive index, and all of the types of things you would expect in any book you would buy at Borders/Barnes/Amazon/etc.

I was completely new to Adobe Indesign when I began; in fact I have absolutely no background in desktop publishing per se, but was willing to invest the time and effort to learn. I started by reading the Wiley book entitled "Adobe InDesign CS2 Bible" (896 pages, and quite comprehensive - a good book). And, as I went through the book knowing that my ultimate goal was to use InDesign to produce a commercial book, I placed Post-Its throughout, noting the chapters/pages of interest that I would likely need to focus on when I started into using InDesign. This proved very useful! I find myself being able to quickly jump to a particular topic via my quick-indexes.

So, I followed the advice within the book, placing a lot of effort on setup. This was an invaluable step - saving tons of time down the road. I set all the global preferences/settings, and then focused on creating my master pages and spreads, along with the Styles I would be using throughout my book (I brainstormed ahead of time, and created styles for everything I knew I would require; styles for: Chapter Titles, Book Title, Recipe Names, Directions-text, and a whole slew of other paragraph/chapter styles.) I chose a few color-swatches to create for things I knew I would use color to accentuate as well.

When it finally came time to really start putting the power of Indesign CS2 to work, wow was I impressed at what this software can do! When it comes to laying out a magazine or book (or anything simpler), this desktop publishing software seems to have thought of nearly everything, and makes what looks difficult seem quite easy to implement.

To sum up my impressions of the product, I'd have to rate it a solid 9.0/10.0 rating.

Some of the features I really got into:
  • Master pages/spreads - oh my god are these things handy and hugely productive!
  • Flowing of text between frames, and around graphics objects, and so on.
  • Graphics: I love how the "size" of the graphic is disconnected from the *visible-size* of the graphic. Meaning, where I have recipe pictures that have been taken with a particular aspect ratio that is different from the size box I want to display them in, I define the size of the box that will show the image, and the true image sorta slides around "underneath" that box to where it is optimal for me. There are all sorts of neat ways to size images as well, but it is the ability to control what part of that image "shows" (i.e., prints) that really rocks!
  • Styles - and I am not talking about styles like MS Word - these are mega mega powerful. You can control basically anything related to text formatting. Some of this will be a bit of typography specific, but things like kerning, leading, skew, baseline shifting (oh - and baseline alignment just rocks for multi-column / multi-page professional look!), vertical/horizontal scaling, tracking,... the list goes on.
  • Indexing - I read things recommending an add-in product, but I am very much pleased with the included Indexing capabilities and TOC abilities. Very powerful, very flexible - though, the indexing operations require you to manually decide what all to place in the index, it is still quite useful and powerful.
  • Styles - specific to fractions: yes, for creating a recipe book that really looks professional, you need to be able to make a custom "one-third" that does not look like this "1/3", but a true fraction that matches other fractions included in a character set. I custom created all of the oddball fractions that were used for baking that are not in a normal character set, and they look completely like the real thing.
  • Objects - yes, objects! For an object-oriented-programmer type like me, hearing that InDesign supported objects, which implement basically visual inheritance, was enough to get my attention. And, it works quite well. When you create your styles, you can create child-styles based on another style. A bit rough to quickly explain, but well worth looking into.
  • And much more! I hope to write a more comprehensive review of Adobe Indesign CS2 capabilities and power in the future and post on my company website. For now, this will give you a good intro I hope.

The only significant complaints I had about InDesign CS2 (that prevented a 10/10 rating, and lead to the 9/10 instead) were:
  • Inability to quickly copy complex table-styles (embedded styles within table) to other table objects; though, "Smart Styles" from WoodWing gets the job done with a $200-250 add-in (I just wish CS2 had this built in!)
  • For some reason, the Version-Cue software that is closely coupled with InDesign (for version-control) stops responding when I want to save another version - until I reboot!
  • Annoyance #1: when I first start InDesign, I can scroll through pages in my document simply by using my Wheel-Mouse, but then it stops working until I shutdown InDesign and restart. Also, the scroll-bar in the "Pages" tool-sidebar just stops scrolling through pages - sometimes until I restart the application, other times it starts working again at a later time for no apparent reason.
Aside from those (somewhat minor) complaints, the Adobe Indesign CS2 software is simply spectacular. I find myself thinking: wow, if I only had something like this 20 years ago, I could have been cranking out some darned good looking reports, sales and marketing material, books, etc. etc.

Turbo Delphi

For those of you who recall the early days of Borland and the "Turbo" product lines, like Turbo Pascal, word has it that Borland's development-tools company spin-off is going to release new versions of various products, including "Turbo Delphi" with this reinvigorated branding.

A friend of mine wrote a nice blog entry about Turbo Delphi, which include this link to the site where Turbo Delphi and the other new Turbo products are presented. Looks like there will be some wait until the downloadable FREE versions are available, but this is great news regardless as many will welcome the ability to use Delphi, and other languages, for free.

I will write a more comprehensive article, perhaps even a full review of the Turbo Delphi product, once the download is available and further site content is developed. In the meantime, I just wait with anticipation.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Xbox 360 Game Software Development - make your own games!

Microsoft just announced that they will finally make available to the general public its Xbox 360 game development platform called XNA Game Studio Express. The development platform requires you to have a Windows XP computer, and pay an annual $99 fee for the permission to build, test, and share your home-grown XBox 360 games. They are promising access to other useful development resources as well.

This is something I called for back with the original Xbox, and as a Microsoft Certified Partner I even called my Microsoft contacts to see about getting a development kit for the original Xbox - to no avail. When MS originally released the game platform, you had to go through all sorts of ridiculous steps just to be considered as a possible Xbox game developer, regardless of your software development capabilities. This basically kept just the large game studios in the fold, and left any would-be game developers out of the action. The supposed reasons used at the time were that Microsoft wanted to control the quality of all games for the Xbox, approve the content and game/story flow, and be involved (of course) in the marketing efforts and release-timelines. I remember watching videos of them working closely with the Halo crew and the Crimson Skies crew throughout development -- talking all about how this ensured great games. Well, that may have been the case for like the first 10 games or so, then it seemed that MS (under pressure to crank up the number of games available for the Xbox) let this approval process and scrutiny of games for the Xbox platform just go down the tubes -- as I began to see 10s, 100s... of "new" games coming out for the thing; most of which were pure junk (rebranded from other platforms; games with zero innovation; sequel after sequel that required very little thought for many; etc). Well, in the end, it seems that MS is admitting they do not really control the quality of the games being sold, and as such we can all have our chance at creating one if we desire.

Part of me wonders if this new strategy is more about gaining users than developers, under the guise of giving the average software developer a chance to create the next great Xbox 360 game. It surely couldn't be about the $99 annual fee could it? That would seem hardly worth the bother. Though current specs call for an XP Desktop to perform the software development on, I also wonder how long it will be until you are required to use Windows Vista for this task.

Either way, once I get myself one of the Xbox 360's (perhaps early 2007), I will likely buy the development kit. I started in computer programming by writing video games when I was 13 years old. At the time, I was cranking out Z80 Assembler in attempts to make a program run fast enough to mimic Space Invaders or similar on the beautiful high resolution (not) black and white screen of a Radio Shack TRS-80. Leap forward 25 years and I can have some seriously impressive 3D color-graphics power at my fingertips, and joysticks that do not require me to build my own interface boards to the external bus on the back of the machine.

Having been out of the video game writing thing for so long, a lot has changed -- but, when I read about Microsoft opening up the Xbox 360 game software development (finally), I started to feel that urge to see if I still had it in me to create my own game(s)!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Increasing prices to remain competitive?

According to the dictionary, competition (in business) is referred to as "Rivalry between two or more businesses striving for the same customer or market." Now, common sense dictates that this rivalry for the customer would be by offering a better service / product, or the same service / product for less money.

Well, you and I understand this, but do the companies that are competing for us consumers understand it? What got me started on this blog were a couple of rate increases from our cable TV company over the prior year or two; in particular, the small plain white piece of paper with a list of old and new prices, plus a quick explanation of why ". . . in order to remain competitive, we are raising our rates . . ." Gee, excuse me??! Did I hear right? You are raising prices in order to remain competitive?

Only marketing "experts" could try to put such a spin on increasing the price of a commodity such as cable TV and feel OK about telling us how it is all about remaining competitive. I guess that sounds better than all of the more likely real reasons for an increase, such as:
  • We know you have limited choice in who provides this service to you, so we do not have to be competitive at all, since there is barely anything left that could truly be called competition; (most likely imho)
  • We have aging infrastructure that needs updated or you may leave for a competitor - and, we have not planned accordingly and now need funds to pay for it; (at least this may have been somewhat honest);
  • Our debt burden is now your problem -- sorry, but we grew too quickly using debt to make us look like a fast growing, high flying company that is best for everyone, at least long enough to push others out of the market; (common place)
  • Our top directors have taken advantage of the company through excessive pay, stock options, and the likes, and well, you get to pay for their mistakes and greed; (in this case, their is truth to this scenario, since the company we have is Adelphia, and we all know about how the founding family got in a bit of a legal jam for fraud).
  • We do not care about being competitive on the price offered to you, our customer, but we do know we want our stock price, P/E ratio, and the likes to be competitive and need to increase cash flow to do so (oh, and some bonuses will certainly have to be paid to top management as soon as this plan works).
Regardless of the real reason for price increases, please keep in mind, you do not raise prices in order to remain competitive - you do so because you can, because a competitor has recently raised the price on a similar service, or perhaps your raw material and labor costs have increased. But, do not consider the consumer ignorant enough to accept a price increase as a means of competition! Then again, maybe I need to increase my prices to remain competitive? Hmmm... sounding a bit better now. heh.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Is Gasoline stil to Cheap?

I am sure this will perhaps upset a few persons, but I find it necessary to discuss why, per some observations of mine, it seems that Gasoline may still be too Cheap. Cheap, you say? How can anyone call $3.00/gallon cheap? You must be rich! You must be insane! Gas can not possibly be called cheap, or can it?

Well, if it is so expensive, then why does everyone around me still want to burn through it at a record pace and waste it on some of the most ridiculous things? Keep in mind: price is directly related to the supply/demand equation. Price rises as a) demand increase, or b) supply decreases. One side of this equation is easier for the average person to control (and, no, it is not supply -- unless you have a new oil well in your back yard you can tap as needed). Demand is what we, the consumers, have some control over. Though, it seems, we all can find as many excuses as necessary to explain why we don't exercise any control over our consumption.

Granted, most of our gasoline (or diesel / petroleum products) consumption in this country goes to our fleet of personal and business (including government) vehicles. But, there are quite a few things that still burn through a gallon or two here and there that can be greatly reduced. Reduction may break some unwritten social paradigms of present along the way, since you certainly must mow your lawn every 4 days whether it needs it or not, lest you display a few out of place blades for the whole neighborhood to see. Yes, it is things like that which make me question whether gas prices are high enough. (before you read too much into this thought, trust me, I too hate the price to fill up my gas tank in even my 10-year old tiny little Mitsubishi Eclipse, which gets decent mileage).

To continue with my observations of wasteful, and what I believe are avoidable, consumption habits, here is just a sampling of what I see going on, and what I think should be done to curve usage:
  • The whole lawn-mowing thing: OK, so I have all these neighbors that are obsessed with the out-of-place blade of grass or dandelion poking through for others to see. And yes, they will mow their lawns, even in the middle of August when the grass barely grows, at least once a week if not twice - whether it needs it or not. And, if one neighbor does, then god knows that persons neighbor will, just to be sure that their grass is not the one that stands out as "unkept". When did this "need" for perfectly manicured lawns start? (well, in the 1800's when they invented reel-mowers probably). I suggest we reevaluate this "need", and start saving gas (unless you want to put one of those old unpowered reel-mowers to use; which by the way I did all Spring... great exercise and weight loss plan, but that is another store). The other thing to consider is alternatives to grass that look just as nice -- we have creeping-thyme that is now covering an entire side of our yard; it never grows above a certain height, requires no fertilizer or pesticides, crowds out other weeds, and flowers for over a month this time of year with a nice lavender hue to our yard, and attracts tons of honeybees (and it smells great too, plus you can eat it if you want).
  • Lawn care part two: OK, so if persistent lawn mowing was not enough of a waste, when did we as a human race decide that we just "must" weed-whack our yards and edge every darn inch of the place. Then came the whole leaf-blower scene, since we dare not have a blade of that perfectly-cut grass show up on our sidewalk. The smell of two-cycle oil burning without emission-controls should be enough for any of us to not want it done, but that is obviously not enough. So, how about we save a few gallons of petrol and stop doing it -- at least reduce it to once every three or four weeks instead of every time! Now, the lawn-care guys certainly won't like any of my suggestions - as they keep pushing all this as added services we just have to have. And, the Home Depots and Lowes of the world certainly do not want you to stop spending money on all those outdoor power tools and consumables (like trimmer-string) either -- I doubt they need worry, nothing will change.
  • Now, let me offend (by targeting) a new group of persons -- the recreational vehicle crowd. No, I don't mean RV's per se (though they burn plenty of fuel); I'm talking about the dirt bikes, 4-wheelers, jet skis, and so on that just need to be piloted all over yards or lakes. A couple doors down, the teenager just has to ride his (excessively noisy) dirt bike an hour a week. Why? Because it is fun I guess, and because riding a mountain-bike in your yard is just no where near as cool or exciting.
  • Finally, I would take time to suggest that we do something to improve our public-transportation utilization, carpool more, and combine trips by planning ahead, but I am rather sure those things have been discussed much, and sadly have met with little following (sure, some do try, but most find any way possible to not change their habits).
I keep asking at what price will the insanity of burning gasoline for such idle tasks come to an end? When will you reduce your mowing frequency, cut back on your weed-whacking, or stop blowing leaves and debris (ever heard of a rake?)? Will it be $10/gallon? Or, more? When will the gas-powered toys be replaced by those old-fashioned ones we used to use... what were they called again? Bikes? Roller Blades? Our legs? :)

On the upside, I must absolutely applause the one man I see riding his bicycle to work every day of the year, regardless of weather, up and down our street -- wow, now that is dedication! And, I know I do my share of wasting gasoline and can do better at finding ways to reduce energy consumption. I do not want to see my money flowing to overseas oil fields; I'd much rather see it going to pay for a new windmill / wind-power farm, solar facility, or tide-power source. Not only would petroleum consumption drop, but air quality should improve as emissions drop along with the burning of fossil fuels. But, who wants clean air anyhow - we only breath that stuff? heh.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Web Browsers and Inconsistent HTML Formatting

Why, oh why, after a decade or more of having web browsers do we have to deal with the issue of Inconsistent HTML Formatting between browsers? Perhaps thing have improved some over the years, but it still amazes me how much time must be wasted just trying to tune specific aspects of web design to fit even a couple major browsers (FireFox, and Internet Explorer - IE).

I have been working on my new book-sales website the past week, only to be reminded how much I absolutely hate working with HTML and CSS; not because the underlying technologies are bad (in fact, CSS is quite powerful), but because I must spend so much time making sure that what I create for a web page that renders nicely in one browser actually renders well in the other. Sometimes it goes one step further: there seems to be no way to get either of the major browsers to render (exactly) what I create in Macromedia Dreamweaver.

My particular "fun" dealing with HTML/CSS rendering issues this week is the positioning and width of a table element in my web design. Specifically, no matter what I do to the CSS and/or HTML code, IE renders my main table one-pixel left of where it should be, and Firefox renders it two pixels too wide, making the table extend too far to the right. Both browsers seem unable to calculate the table-width and/or position properly if I have any row or column elements that make use of padding and/or borders using CSS. So, I give up. A pixel or two for now is close enough!

But, after all these years, why can there not be ONE common HTML/CSS rendering engine out there? It should be a totally commoditized product that makes zero money -- not the rendering engine itself at least. I can see where product differentiation in the actual surrounding "web browser" application makes sense, but not for the rendering engine. If it were not for the headstrong nature of for-profit corporations, I do think it quite possible that everyone could use the same rendering engine. There is a W3C org that sets the HTML/CSS standards. Why can't they also be the maintainer of the HTML/CSS rendering engine that renders according to its standards? Since the FireFox rendering engine is open-source, that would be a great place to start -- take that engine and call it the "standard". But, still, there would have to be the likes of MS and others that would just have to have their own engine, thus taking us back to what we have now -- web design issues that should not even exist and only exist due to inconsistent "interpretation" of the W3C HTML/CSS standards. And, there will (forever perhaps) be countless wasted hours trying to overcome these inconsistencies. With the Billions spend in wasted productivity hand-tuning web-designs, we could all have the ultimate in perfection for a standard HTML/CSS engine by now. But, since this is likely to never happen, it is also why I totally expect, and have predicted for a long time, that this HTML/CSS method of web-design will go by the way of the dinosaur.

Ultimately, every time I do web-design work, it leads me back to the fact that I love being able to create native Win32 executables where I control nearly every aspect of the GUI down to the exact placement of each pixel if needed. Or, on the web side of things, this is where Macromedia Flash really shines -- what you create in Flash is what you get regardless of the browser since you rely only on Flash's rendering engine to get the output right. On that point: is everyone in agreement that Flash is "ubiquitous" yet and Flash-Only sites (if not bloated to the max) are, or can be, a good thing?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Putting ASP.NET 2.0 to the test on new websites

Although I have friends, and consultants working for me, that have quite a bit of experience with Microsoft's ASP.NET and now the newer 2.0 flavor, I personally have had very little experience using it first hand -- until now.

When the first incarnation of "DotNet" arrived on the scene, along with ASP.Net, VB.Net, and C#, I read all sorts of MSDN magazine articles, purchased and read multiple books about ASP.Net, and so on. Then, I started playing around with it and found out first-hand how much I could not stand certain aspects of developing ASP.Net web-pages (I had only used "classic" ASP and a bit of PHP/Python for dynamic web-sites prior to this). ASP Classic has its issues, and provides a rather basic environment for a brute-force code-development approach to dynamic web pages -- nothing very sophisticated, and surely not very Object-Oriented.

Although DotNet promised all sorts of advantages over ASP Classic, all I found were layers of complexity offering little to me (compared to classic ASP) - especially when I was used to the true OOP (object oriented programming) power of Borland Delphi for developing GUIs (graphical user interfaces), and in particular the concept of "visual inheritance". THAT is one seriously powerful capability that I make regular use of when developing GUIs. Well, ASP Classic has nothing like that (sure, you can use "include files", but that is nowhere close to the power I expect and demand). So, next was ASP.Net and a few new (per Microsoft's idea of new) concepts like code-behind pages (allows better separation of GUI/logic) and the likes. But, still not much for true visual inheritance throughout your dynamic web-page design.

Well, finally, ASP.Net 2.0 showed up and offered some compelling paradigm changes to the way dynamic web-pages are created, and extended, using a much more OOP type approach. Now there is the concept of "master pages" -- ABOUT TIME! These things appear to finally offer me what I want, or at least a good enough foundation for what I want, in order to accomplish a decent amount of re-use throughout my web-pages.

Now, since I finally have a NEED to do some large-scale web-site buildouts of my own, I have decided to dive headlong into this DotNet 2.0 world and use a few of the latest features (basically skipping the original DotNet 1.0 release completely; and I am thankful I did not waste time learning workarounds only to unlearn them in 2.0 version). I am currently working on master pages for my new book site, and am separating the code (business/data-retrieval logic) from the presentation layer much better than ever before. I plan to give asynchronous pages a go, and will code all functionality in C# 2.0. From my early work, things look promising and DotNet 2.0 may finally provide enough functionality to win me over and give me a compelling reason to upgrade and migrate my legacy ASP Classic code. I will report more details of the migration, as well as source-code and tips learned, etc. on my company web-site (under free software) when I get a chance. But for now, back to work -- much to do!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Showcase for Open-Source Movement - Blender3D

I have written a few blog postings over the prior months about the state of the Open Source Software (OSS) movement, and have tried to demonstrate just how far along projects like Linux, OpenOffice, and others have come.

One really amazing OSS package is Blender3D, a 3D modeling, rendering, and animation tool. To showcase just how powerful this OSS package is, an entire short movie has been created using Blender3D and other Open Source Software. The movie, Elephants Dream, is even available in full 1920x1200 High-Definition. I downloaded the 800MB HD version using BitTorrent the other day in only half an hour over my Cable connection. And, once I watched the movie, I was completely and totally impressed by the capabilities of the Blender3D software (not to mention the talent of the various volunteer artists and such that made the movie!) To me, it was something I would expect to see coming out of a large studio like Pixar or such, though the movie is only 10 or so minutes long.

Check it out! If you ever had aspirations of creating your own animated 3D movie, but did not want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on commercial software just to see if you could accomplish anything, Blender3D is for you -- it is FREE. I find the user-interface generally intuitive, and as least as intuitive as some of the commercial modeling software I have tried over the years. It is quite powerful (as the movie demonstrates), and should give you all you need to get started in 3D modeling and animation if you choose.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Income is NOT Wealth

This posting goes along with some other posts I have done about saving money in order to invest and plan for the future. America as a whole needs extra encouragement to consider saving money, and I hope this posting helps motivate you.
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Perhaps you make a great income in your current job. Well then, you must be wealthy! Wrong! Granted, you are good at making money, but unless you are equally good at being an accumulator of wealth (i.e. Savings!), you will forever remain income-rich and wealth-poor.

Perhaps you see your friends with new cars, homes, flashy clothes and accessories, and so on, and you presume them to be wealthy or rich. Well, unless they have inherited a large sum of money to begin with, or have been prodigious accumulators of wealth prior to spending money on these easily observed signs of spent cash, chances are they are not wealthy at all. First of all, most self-made wealthy people don't spend money on all sorts of flashy things - it goes against their entire formula for having accumulated their wealth to begin with, and furthermore, it would jeopardize their ability to remain wealthy. Chances are, the persons you perceive as wealthy are either (or both) good at producing income or even better at using credit, and their appearance of wealth is just that - appearance. As soon as their income slows or they can no longer service the credit they've taken on, it's all over for them; this may take many years to catch up with them, and if they are one of the lucky ones, they will maintain or increase their incomes over the years to keep up with, or further expand, their spending and perceived wealth.

Even those celebrities with all their flash and "Bling" are primarily dependent upon their income and not wealth. Certainly there are some famous people with plenty of wealth, but many of the "star of the moment" type have little going for them beyond their income, since many can not imagine being anything but famous and rich once the cash has started flowing, and likewise they don't prepare for the time where it no longer runs like water. And, many end up with very little in the end - consider famed performer MC Hammer, who even though making $33,000,000 in a year, was able to outspend his income with the help of his 40+ member entourage (for this any many more examples, see: http://www.legalzoom.com/articles/article_content/article5466.html. What you see in the actions of these very public displays of income and cash-disposal is not how the average wealthy person lives, since most self-made wealthy persons know what it takes to accumulate wealth to begin with, and do not want to jeopardize their way of life so hard earned.

I know it will be very difficult to live a life based on saving and investing when everyone around you exhibits a life based on spending and debt, and demonstrates their purchasing power everyday through their flashy cars, daily restaurant dining, and so forth. Trying to mimic this behavior will be quite costly, and very addictive. Leo Tolstoy described this type of situation perfectly in his book Anna Karenina - when the character Levin, who was never in debt and always saved money, found himself surrounded by persons that spent much money on all sorts of goods and services, and soon found himself doing the same, whether he could afford to or not, as this quote describes: "There are no conditions to which a man cannot get accustomed, especially if he sees that everyone around him lives in the same way." This is a timeless condition and threat to your wealth: just consider that Tolstoy's book containing this quote was written in 1877 in Russia. Some things never change, and the desire to spend and consume first, and worry about saving later, is just human nature, and something that you will have to, and can, overcome by following advice to constrain spending and save money.

Why worry about accumulating wealth when you make enough income to support your desired standard of living, and, why reduce your standard of living in order to save and invest more? Well, consider the following:
  • Income can go away quickly - your job, no matter how "safe" you feel in it, may not be here in the future. Your business may encounter massive overseas competition, or technology may render your current service obsolete. Another possibility none of us wants to consider is that we may no longer be able to perform our job due to illness or injury or even age.
  • Reduced Stress: think about how less stress you would have in your everyday life if you knew you could quit that job you hate so much, knowing you could afford to live without any wage income for 6 months, 12 months, or more without additional income.
  • Income tends to make you do things you otherwise wouldn't do - like taking a less-than exciting job, just because you have to, because you need the cash-flow to feed your expense-habits, and because you have no savings to fall back on and no income from investments to offset any loss of wages. Start reducing your expenses now, and attempt to save as much as possible. I always have considered savings / wealth a tool that gives you the power to say "I Quit" when you should; and, oh how good it would feel to know that if a situation is intolerable, you can simply leave. And, even more so, perhaps you'll soon find out that with the ability to "Quit" on your terms if necessary, you become more bold and take more chances, and end up securing more responsibility and more income in your career because the fear of job-loss does not constantly weigh you down.
  • I also see income-dependence, and lack of savings (i.e., wealth) as why most people will not even consider starting their own business for (justifiable) fear that they will not be able to instantly replace their existing income. Starting a business requires proper capitalization so you can get up and running. Starting your own business is a risk, but keep in mind that employers would not pay you what they do (in general) unless your value to them is more than what they pay you. So, if you can find a way to capitalize on your skills directly, you may find the risk returns equal rewards; but, it will likely take time to become established, and time requires savings to cover your expenses (side note: for this reason, I highly recommend starting a "side business" while employed full time in order to gain business experience and get a footing, or jump-start, prior to quitting your job -- it should reduce the savings required to make the leap to self-employment should you choose this route).
Saving, and wealth-building, is a long-term-plan approach to living; and a marked difference from an earn-and-spend approach to living. It takes commitment, and progress is slow. But, progress will also be noticeable within a few years when you start seeing noteworthy income being produced from the money you have saved and invested. And, you will feel a sense of accomplishment as your efforts progress. Worst case: you save, save, save, and feel no different -- well, at least you will have a chunk of money to spend on something when you cave in and return to the spending-path :)