Observations


This past weekend I watched the Super Bowl.  It was the ONLY NFL game I saw the entire season in its entirety and I thought it was the best game ever and I can’t wait till next year to watch this ONE NFL event either.   So why doesn’t anyone want to watch NFL games anymore?  Well it’s not just NFL games, neither I nor my family watch any “commercial” television anymore.

As you recall, a few years ago, my kids begged me to get them iPhones.  At the time, I gave them an ultimatum: You can have iPhones or you can have cable TV – you can’t have them both.  The kids chose the iPhones.    Immediately after cancelling the cable, I decided on trying to get lower cost solutions.  Over the air TV signals was the initial choice but the kids and I hated the commercials and the inability to time shift shows without having to buy a DVR was a deal breaker.

As a compromise, we went with Hulu Plus Commercial Free service, Netflix and Amazon Prime.   Between these three services, we get plenty of TV and the best part was that there were ZERO commercials on these services.    Over time I have added and removed HBO and Showtime whenever the shows I watched (Game of Thrones, Homeland) ended their seasons.   Everyone gets to watch the shows they want when they want too and without commercials!

This brings me back to the Super Bowl.  Watching George Takei plugging Pizza Hut was funny the first couple of times I saw the commercial but by the 10th time I saw the exact same commercial again, I wanted to take a baseball bat to George’s poor head.    The only commercials I could tolerate were the ones for T-Mobile which varied quite a bit over time throughout the game.

The commercial free experience in our family has now extended to radio.   My daughter begged me to get Spotify and they had recently came out with a family bundle that was pretty cheap so we gave it a try and ever since then, I’ve abandoned SiriusXM and all the commercial radio stations.  I simply hook up my cell phone to my car speakers via blutooth and turn on commercial free Spotify and listen to the music I want when I want it!

I will say this right now but the dimwits at the NFL won’t listen to it for years.  Offer a commercial free experience for a nominal cost ($9.99/month?) and watch the viewers come back to the NFL.  It’s just not fun watching a 15 seconds of play action followed by 5 minutes of commercials.  Until then, the young whipper snappers are moving to an entirely different experience that doesn’t include stupid and pointless commercials.

On this Labor Day weekend I had hoped to write something a bit more optimistic but the truth is that holidays are usually a time for me to reflect on what has been happening with close friends and family.   As I do this on Labor Day weekend I come to the inescapable conclusion that the rich get richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Case in point, I’m doing just great financially.  In January I will have a tranche of stock options that I’ll be able to cash out.   It’s not a giant sum of money (around $30k) but it’s 30k that I honestly don’t need but will have coming my way anyway.    Add to that another $30 to $50k in bonuses right after that stock tranche and you’ll quickly add up 60k to 80k of income coming to me that I honestly don’t have any use for at the moment.   Sure I’ll bank it and save it for the kids college fund or maybe buy a new car that I really don’t need.   I’ve also considered upgrading my TVs from 1080p to 4k but what’s the point, I’ll have to then upgrade them to 8k or whatever the new standard will be in a few years anyway and everything works fine now anyway.

On the flip slide, I have quite a few family members that are now having more financial difficulty than ever before.   A few of my family and friends have now resorted to becoming Uber drivers to supplement income.  It seems every time I see someone I haven’t seen for a while their new “thing” seems to be driving for Uber as a driver.    So many people tell me they are doing it that I seriously considered doing it but not for the money but because I am so bored.

I haven’t been blogging because this dichotomy of riches and poverty is really making me depressed.   I know what you’re thinking…”why don’t you just GIVE that money to those poor friends and family?”

Well the answer to that is quite easy, these people are poor because, in my view, they CHOOSE to be this way.   These are all people that have a horrible work / career advancement ethic.  Study?  Go back to college?  Earn a certification?  Nah…why do that when you can go out drinking with your buddies in the evening or go watch that <insert baseball/football/basketball/soccer> game in the evening while you drink?

The people I see getting richer are the ones that do just what I suggest, continue to learn, re-education, advance, network, and grab the endless mountain of money out there to be earned.   The truth is that at work I’ve had a very difficult time finding qualified people to do the work that needs to be done.   We have too many “one trick ponies” coming in with a single or very limited skill set unable to meet the leadership and management demands of the modern business world.    Worse yet are the young kids that just want to text and click on Facebook all freaking day long…. oh well enjoy your poverty…in the meantime I’m planning trips to Thailand, Chile, Costa Rica, and Europe over the next 12 months so I won’t be too bored for too long….

I’m in the market for a new car and I’m open to all options.  I really would like a luxury car so I’ve been checking out Audi’s, Lexus, BMW’s, and Cadillacs but I saw an ad for an Equus made by Hyundai and I thought I’d do a test drive.   What lured me there was the promise of a 10 year warranty for the vehicle and as most readers know, I have a tendency of buying vehicles new and driving them for 10 years before I sell them and move on to something else.

Before I went on a test drive however, I googled “Hyundai 10 Year Warranty” to see what the internets have to say about Hyundai and I run across this financial website with a post entitled, “America’s Worst Warranty – Why I Will Never Buy Another Hyundai” and proceed to read it and the 200 or so comments posted on the site.   There is also this site dedicated to complaints about Hyundai as well.

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed one bit with Hyundai after reading all the complaints but I show up to the dealership anyway to do the test drive.   The car actually drove fairly well and I was really impressed with the leather interior so supple and soft I thought they must have skinned babies and used their skin  to make the seats in the car.   I ask them about the blog posting and the 200 or so complaints and the various other sites I found on the internets.   The kids at the dealership don’t really know what to say which said more to me than anything else.

I say “kids” because not a single one of them seemed to be over the age of 25 and the one thing about “Millenials” and younger generations is that they hold no loyalty to the Corporate Hegemony of the world.    If these sales people and manager had been in their 40’s or 50s or older, they would have spun themselves as hard as they could to get the “right message out” and that’s what I loved about my interaction with these kids.

In any event, I told them that I probably wouldn’t be buying the $62k Equus marked down to 50k special for me and they understood my reasons:  too many bad reviews on the internet = no sale.   Ironically, they all understood how the ratings systems worked on Yelp and Amazon and agreed with me that if something has anything less than 3 or 4 stars on a 5 star scale it’s not worth wasting money on and they agreed.

As for the other dealerships (Audi & Lexus), well I’m dealing with old timers there so I’ll need to bring my best game to the match.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably are aware that it is now illegal to sell or import traditional incandescent light bulbs. The “old” bulbs typically cost a little over a buck and had a bonus of generating a little heat to warm your house during the winter. The new bulbs are either compact florescent containing things like mercury or LED bulbs which have their own toxic substances within.

As bad as the mercury and other things are however isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the new bulbs cost a lot more money. The premise of the new bulbs is that they will last a lot longer than the old bulbs but that has not been my experience.

It seems for me, I’m having to frequently change the new light bulbs in two areas of my home. The first is the bathroom where these bulbs rarely last over a year. Perhaps the constant turning them on/off in the morning and in the evening is too much wear and tear? The second areas is the kitchen dining area where we have breakfast and dinner every day. This is another area where we constantly turn the bulbs on and off. I’ve probably spent more money replacing the bad bulbs than I have save with their energy efficiency and I now have to turn the heater on just a little bit higher because the bulbs don’t generate heat!

I’m now on a mission to get to the bottom of the longevity of these bulbs. I’ve taken a Sharpe and written the date on the base of the bulb of when I installed it and will compare that to when the bulb dies in the hopes of understanding what the problem is with these bulbs.

Me thinks it’s one huge scam!

I ordered a Roku 3 device for my new treadmill.   My treadmill has a TV on top of it with an HDMI interface so I figured I would hook it up with the Roku and listen with my earbuds hooked into the remote.   Unfortunately, the brand new out-of-the-box Roku worked for a total of 5 minutes then died instantly.  No more power, no more TV.

If that weren’t bad enough, that’s not the reason for abandoning the device, the real problem is “device management.”   You see the problem is a huge proliferation of “devices” that my family and I now have.   We have ipods, ipads, ipad mini’s, iphones,  mac notebooks and imac.    When I add them all up we have well over 20 devices and the amount of devices is growing.  I can easily envision buying four new iwatches or other innovative products.

When you sign up for services like Aereo, Netflix, HuluPlus, etc you have to “register” each device with the service and if you take 20 devices x 10 services you can see that you will spend the better part of a few hours registering or re-registering or removing 200+ devices from services.   This is simply not manageable and having “too much” choice is detrimental to every TV business model out there.

Ironically, I started down this path because cable tv was too expensive but when I factor the hassle and lost time managing these devices, the cable TV proposition is starting to look very good.    The good part is the cable tv company takes care of the backend work for the most part as I don’t remember these hassles when I had ATT Uverse.

I’m sending back my Roku 3 and hope to get a new one soon but I’m already dreading having to re-register all those damn services with those crazy codes.  Roku, if you don’t find a way to make it easier, you’re business model is done.

My son began high school in August.  He’s attending a private school with a price tag of about $25,000 per year.  This past week, we had parent-teacher conferences to understand the curriculum, review each class syllabus, understand the amount of work required for each class, etc.    As your typical high school, he’s required to take the usual classes and he’s enrolled in the following:  Biology, Physics, Algebra, World History, English, Theater, Spanish.  Note that this is an IB  program.

When we got to English class I was already a bit perturbed as some things but in particular the lack of diversity in the program.   The school student body is plenty diverse as it has kids from all over the world including from Asia, Africa, Middle East, Latin America, Europe and the US however the materials were far too Anglo-centric in my view.  So we get the reading list of books students should read for English class.  The kids don’t need to read every book but select from the list.    I took the list and what immediately jumped out at me were all the euro-centric names on it so I did an analysis and here’s what I found.

9th Grade Reading List

Analysis Percentage Count
Male 59% 30
Female 41% 21
     
USA 67% 34
England 16% 8
Canada 2% 1
Ireland 4% 2
Russia 4% 2
France 2% 1
Greece 4% 2
India 1% 1
     
Black 12% 6
Asian 2% 1
Latino 2% 1
     

There are a total of 51 authors from different segments including drama, nonfiction and fiction.   The instructor and/or school did a good job with gender balance at a split of 60% male to 40% female authors.     Where the reading list falls short is in any other kind of diversity.   The list is 67% top heavy with American authors with the second highest, 16%, coming from English (UK) authors.   These two groups account for over 80% of the reading list and the diversity only gets worse when you break the authors down by race and ethnicity.    Of the 51 authors only 6 were Black, 1 Latino and 1 Asian.    I didn’t do a religious analysis but I suspect that 80% were likely Christian and the remainder Jewish with a few atheists to make up the remaining esoteric intellectual authors.

So you’re saying to yourself, “What’s the beef with this….it’s an ENGLISH class and it’s best to learn American English from American authors….”

Here’s some trivia for you…do you know how many countries around the world have English as the official language?   The map below will give you a hint but there are 88 nation-states from around the world.

English-as-Official-Language_Map

My beef of course is that the world is now globalized and I deal more and more with people from all over the world including many people from Asia (Japan, China, India/Pakistan and Malaysia) and emerging markets in Latin America and Africa.   All too often I’m embarrassed at my cultural ignorance of holidays and other customs from these regions because I suffered from being raised in a USA-centric school system.    Perhaps it was fine to be raised in a USA centric educational system 30 years ago but the world if far different now and knowing/understanding experiences from different point of view is critical to being able to bridge relationships with people from all over the world.     On a personal level, I now officially know more couples with mixed heritages than I do of people with same heritages.   This is probably not the case if you’re in Kansas or North Dakota but it’s pretty much the case anywhere that borders an ocean or sea.

I was fairly vocal with the instructor that the list was not diverse enough and she assured me the students could pick their own books but they needed her approval first.   I guess as long as the master approves of the my son’s choices, we’ll be able to get some diversity in on our own.

On the 50th anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech it seems like we still have a long way to go and it needs to start with the revamp of the educational system.

 

As I’m in my last semester of my second MBA, an interesting thing happened the first day at class.    The professor asked the class why students were interested in earning their MBAs.  While the responses varied from “opportunity” to “options” the common theme was that it was the baseline degree now needed for a management role.    I won’t disagree with that sentiment since the sole reason I’m getting TWO MBAs was to be able to check that box twice.    Undergraduate degrees are definitely the new “high school diploma” and MBA’s are the new college degree to have.    I know so many people right now at different age groups that are back in school perusing MBAs that it’s a bit frightening.

Interestingly, the professor kept stating, “it’s never to late to get your Ph.D” almost lobbying the students to begin considering getting their Ph.D in respective fields.  I suspect that the next generation (i.e. my kids) will likely need to go all the way through to Ph.D to have any hopes of a decent career.   Of course, true entrepreneurs often don’t finish college and simply start businesses sometimes successful sometimes not so that’s always a possibility.

I have received some really great benefits though such as the general and liberal loan amounts the fed likes to issue which helped me bank 50k at 1.75% interest rates.   I also have been able to buy new macs for my home over the past few years getting the educational discount not to mention the huge savings on academic software.   I’m really going to miss all these perks so I may opt to continue my education or push my wife to get her MBA or MS.

I completed my first MBA in May and in December I should complete my second MBA and I’ve written about the overall experience here.  What really gets my blood boiling however is the need to have to buy two more books, my last two books for my two classes and the cost…$400.   That’s right, two books are setting me back four hundred dollars!   To put things into perspective, the $400 is 17% of the tuition I paid for the classes!    I could have rented the books on Amazon and saved a ton of money but I opted to buy the books because they look like texts I would like to keep and re-read over the longer term so perhaps the books have more value than others but still the price is ridiculous.

Oddly enough, the higher the level of my education the less time I seem to have to write but I hope to be more active this semester with some final insights into my MBA programs.

 

When generation iPhone 1 and 2 were out, I thought they were a waste of money.   The device just wasn’t powerful enough for what it wanted to be and I figured I’d wait until they got a little more powerful before I bought one.    iPhone 3 was a great improvement and when iPhone 4 rolled out, I knew it was time to buy but AT&T still had a lock on it so I waited until an “unlimited” plan was available (via Sprint) before I bought one and that was the 4S model.

I am still amazed however at some people’s attitudes toward smart phones.  Seriously, a smart phone is a portable computer, it is a video camera, it is a camera, it is a music player, it is a flashlight, a navigation aid, and so many other things that adding the value of one smart phone against a stack of peripherals isn’t even close!

I honestly can’t live without my iPad and iPhone, they are my first go-to devices when I want to do something on the internet.   My laptops and even large iMac are there when I need to do some multi-threaded work like opening multiple documents and spreadsheets at the same time to do some work but that’s only about 20% of the time now.

So no, SmartPhones aren’t a waste of money if you want to live in the modern era and have a lifestyle that warrants the use of such a device.  I gave my kids iPhone to give them a leg up on using the new mobility computing platform so yeah, they’ll be way ahead of your kids.   The only caveat is to make sure you have an unlimited data plan to really maximize the value of your device.   Don’t have the money for one?  Cut the cable TV cord and you’ll be way happier!

The good folks over at cockeyed.com did a summary of the change in cost of fast food from some major chains from 2002 to 2013.  It’s interesting that this hasn’t been reported in major news outlets because I think it’s big news on the rate of inflation.

By now if you ever tune in to see any type of federal reserve hearing, you’ll often hear Ben Bernokio (fed chairman) pat himself on the back for keeping inflation low but just look at these numbers!

Fast Food Inflation

Store Chain Item 2002 2013 Variance Yearly Variance
McDonalds Big Mac 2.39 4.19 75% 6.85%
  Cheeseburger 0.89 1.19 34% 3.06%
  Quarter Pounder 2.29 3.39 48% 4.37%
  Filet of Fish 1.89 3.99 111% 10.10%
  Small French Fries 1.09 1.49 37% 3.34%
  Medium French Fries 1.39 2.29 65% 5.89%
  Large French Fries 1.59 2.49 57% 5.15%
Average         5.54%
           
Taco Bell Crunchy Taco 0.69 0.99 43% 3.95%
  Bean Burrito 0.69 1.19 72% 6.59%
  Burrito Supreme 1.69 2.59 53% 4.84%
  Chicken Quesadilla 1.89 2.89 53% 4.81%
  Mexican Pizza 2.39 3.19 33% 3.04%
Average         4.65%
           
Burger King Chicken Sandwich 2.59 4.29 66% 5.97%
  Double Whopper 2.99 5.79 94% 8.51%
  Whopper Meal 3.39 6.19 83% 7.51%
  Shakes (Small) 0.99 1.99 101% 9.18%
  Shakes (Medium) 1.29 2.49 93% 8.46%
  Shakes (Large) 1.79 2.99 67% 6.09%
Average         7.62%
           
Single 2.25 3.89 73% 6.63%
  Double Burger 3.25 4.69 44% 4.03%
  Triple Burger 4.29 5.89 37% 3.39%
  Baked Potato 0.99 1.29 30% 2.75%
  0.99 1.59 61% 5.51%
  1.19 1.59 34% 3.06%
  1.39 1.89 36% 3.27%
  Chili (Small) 0.99 1.49 51% 4.59%
  Chili (Large) 1.79 2.29 28% 2.54%
Average         3.97%
           
           
All Stores Average         5.44%

On average, the cost of fast food has increased 5.44% year over year since 2002.  How many of you got a 6% raise every year for the last 10 years?   Why?  Because that’s what you would need to earn to keep the same level of fast food purchasing power than you had in 2002.  Minimum wage in 2002 was $5.15 and hour and today it is $7.25 and that’s a 41% change over that time period but only 3.71% per year on average.   Do the math, if fast food prices are averaging at 5.44% per year and you’re on minimum wage at a growth rate of 3.71% you’re falling behind 1.73% every year!

Personally, I don’t eat fast food too often but I am always shocked by the cost when I place an order, it is usually never less than $8 or $9 for a single meal!   You may be saying the same thing…”What do I care about fast food” but the real problem is that it applies to everything else!  IF basic food staples are going up this much, how much do you think everything else is going up as well?

Many have chosen to not eat out anymore because the cost has gone up and they can’t afford it however the real problem is fractional reserve lending, a federal reserve and US Treasury policy of printing endless money.   You won’t see this reported on government statistics because there are so many useless hedonic changes in the numbers that they don’t mean anything any more!

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