Monday, September 25, 2017

New Business Up and Running -- Quantmark Research

Quantmark Research is up and running including the website at  I am making my years of product management and product marketing experience available on a consulting basis.  My customers are startups transitioning the product management function from the founders to a product management function, companies that have a software component that is growing so they need to implement software product management and understand what that entails, and companies who have software product management and marketing functions in place but need an outside eye to improve their function.  I specialize in the product owner function in Agile and aligning business, sales, and product strategy to optimize the business impact of software development.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Smart Garage Door Opener---Liftmaster / Chamberlain MyQ HomeKit Bridge

Our new home came with a MyQ garage door opener but no bridge to connect to the internet.  A bridge was available that would allow the garage door to be controlled from the MyQ application on my phone, but it was not HomeKit compatible.  The HomeKit bridge was promised for June, then for July, finally for August.  I signed up with Chamberlain to be notified when it came.  I read that it was available on my HomeKit news feed; I did not get an e-mail notification.  As far as I know, I ordered the day it was available after a low key announcement.  I got an e-mail in the next day or two saying they were already sold out.

The good news is they refunded the shipping charge (which seemed excessive anyway) and I got it about two weeks after I ordered it.

Installing the bridge was very easy.  Pick a place to install where the cord can reach a plug.  Install the bracket with a couple of screws slide the bridge onto the bracket to plug it in.  Follow the instructions on the MyQ app.  It was strange it never asked for WiFi passwords since my understanding is that the bridge communicates through WiFi.  I thought maybe it got the WiFi password from HomeKit.  In any case it all works without entering a WiFi password.

We love it so far.  We use it most coming back from walks.  We can tell Siri to open the garage instead of punching in the combination on the keypad.  Leaving for walks we can just press the enter button on the keypad to close the garage door since the door was just in use.  Still a little bit easier than saying -- "Hey Siri, close the garage."  But "Hey Siri, open the garage" is easier than entering the combination and pressing Enter.  We haven't left and wondered if we forgot to close the garage.  Next time we do wonder if the garage door is open, we can just look at the HomeKit app or the MyQ app since the garage door is accessible from anywhere.

The only disappointment is minor.  We can't use Siri or the application to turn on the light on the garage door opener. The light is not a separate object on HomeKit pr the MyQ app as near as I can tell.  Not a big deal, just thought it would be fun to control the garage door light through the application.

Chamberlain MyQ also has a line of switches for lights.  Chamberlain press releases imply these switches will be HomeKit compatible with the HomeKit bridge.  They aren't branded HomeKit yet and Apple has not updated their website to show that MyQ is shipping the compatible Bridge for the garage door opener let alone compatible light switches.

I plan to buy two wall light switches and one table lamp to make the lighting in the home a little more usable.  I'll consider the MyQ if they end up fully HomeKit compatible.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Premis HomeKit front door lock

We have had a HomeKit front door lock since June.  I wrote a review of it on Amazon here:

I do love having a smart door lock and HomeKit works well.  I haven't carried a full set of keys in years.  With a smart front door lock, we just grab the set of keys for the car we are bringing and don't carry any other keys.  Our old "smart" door lock wasn't that smart.  It needed to be reprogrammed whenever the batteries changed and it only operated through the combination key pad.  The Premis is HomeKit enabled and works through a key pad, the Premis app, or the HomeKit app.  It can be programmed with one time use combinations, combinations for individuals, or a combination you could share.  If you need to give a contractor access to your home, you can use a one time or temporary code so when they don't need access anymore, they won't have it. We haven't done that yet with this house, but with the app it will be a lot easier to administer than our old lock.  With our old lock it  was difficult enough we just gave out the garage door combination which was a security problem since we didn't change it very often.  

With HomeKit, the door can be opened by asking Siri to open the door or with the HomeKit app.  You can always check the status of the lock (locked or unlocked) from the HomeKit app.  We leave an iPad as our HomeKit controller and the Premis door lock is our only HomeKit devices so far.  I can access it from anywhere as long as I am on the internet.  If I ever wonder if the front door is locked, I can check.

Soon we will have the bridge for the MyQ garage door opener as our second HomeKit device.  Since these are access points to our home, the security that Apple has built into HomeKit and tests for the vendors is important to us.  

Also, love the SmartKey feature of the Kwikset locks that were installed in our Mission Homes NW home.  It was so easy to re-key the Premis to match the other locks.  If we are worried about a lost key or a key in the wrong hands, we can re-key everything in less than 15 minutes.

Hope this helps give an idea of what HomeKit and the Premis lock adds to a house.  I'll write up my experiences with the MyQ garage door once I have had that for awhile.

New House, New Topics

We moved into a new house in February of this year.  That brings a few new topics to this blog.  We are dipping our toes into the waters of home automation with Apple HomeKit.  Information about our newly built neighborhood, Comanche Terrace and quirks of the new house will be shared with neighbors.  That information may be of interest to anyone with an interest in Mission Homes NW, our builder.  Our new neighborhood in Tualatin may also bring some blog posts to light.  So, look for posts on:

Apple HomeKit
Comanche Terrace and Mission Homes NW
Tualatin activities


Saturday, December 12, 2015

2015 Christmas Card

December 2015

Dear Friends and Family,

Thanks so much for your thoughts, greetings, facebook posts, and photos through the year.

Our year has been filled with new adventures and some of our familiar pass times.  The big new adventures were for Grace and Tim.  Grace picked her college, Seattle U, went off, finished her first quarter successfully and is now back home for the holidays.  It is so great she can come home to Portland in a few hours on the train or by car (she doesn’t have a car on campus, so that is us going to get her).  She had a bit of roommate drama but with a triple room there is at least twice the chance of that.  She is in a double now and only has one roommate’s quirks to contend with.  She is in the nursing program and is happy with her choice of majors so far!

Tim’s adventure is starting high school at Jesuit High School Portland.  His social life is off to a great start.  He was elected Homecoming Prince for the freshman class.  His academics and learning just need to mostly keep up with his social life and he will do great.

Missey started a new adventure with a start up consulting company.  It is familiar work because she is working with a colleague from Viewpoint Construction Software where she used to work handling reports for that product.  She is working from home and enjoys a lot of flexibility but misses some of the social contact and teamwork you get working at an office.  There are always tradeoffs, but she is happy with these.

I celebrated 9 years at DAT Solutions as product manager for RateView.  I have a great team there and we have had a lot of success giving an up-to-date look at freight rates.  

Kristin is living nearby in Hillsboro and she has been by visits and holiday celebrations with the family.

We did more family travel than usual this year but there wasn’t a big family trip.  I went with Grace to Omaha to check out Creighton, it obviously got the thumbs down compared to Seattle U.  Missey and I tacked a theme park vacation on to a business trip to Orlando in the Spring.  My conference hotel was the Hard Rock at Universal Studios and after the conference we relocated to a Disney Hotel for the total theme park experience.  Tim and I had his big 8th grade class trip to Washington D.C.  I volunteered to lead the trip and, while it was a lot of work, it gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of the kids and parents at Our Lady of the Lake much better.  I safely brought back all the kids I left with, so it was a great trip.  We also had a quick trip to Southern California for my sister Carolyn’s birthday.  It was great to have some time with family there.  Of course we took trips to Seattle to get Grace situated and even one just to visit.  There was also some misc. business travel in there.  Reading through the list I see why I was a bit burned out on travel for a while.

We are wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


The Galantines

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

2014 New Years Letter (2013 Christmas)

Dear Family and Friends,

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you the best 2014.  2013 was a blur for us as you can tell from the New Year letter instead of a timely Christmas card like we received from many of you.  It was enough of a struggle to get this out while the year was still relatively new.

Kristin is back home after completing an intensive program in discipleship and Christian living at Northwest Bible Training Center.  She is returned to us a new creation, Alleluia!  Kristin is working on some volunteer projects and embarking on the next phase of her life.

In addition to the usual demands of her Junior year in high school, Grace has taken on an exciting but demanding volunteer project with Amigos De Las Americas.  This is an incredible project that sends high school and college students to volunteer in Latin America.  In addition to training to be part of these projects, there is a huge fundraising component to pay for travel and training for all the volunteers.   Many of you have received a letter from Grace.  We appreciate any support you can give her and the rest of the Portland volunteers.  Please send donations to Grace at our address with the check made out to Portland Amigos.

We are looking forward to learning what country Grace will be sent to and what the general project is in February.  Many specifics of the project will be determined with the community she will be working in.  

Tim is in 7th grade and is fortunately not involved in any big fundraising or intensive international volunteer projects.  He is playing in the band for his school and is really enjoying the church youth program including attending camp, rafting in the summer, and a winter retreat.  

We enjoyed a visit from my family in July.  Jeannette and Al were up for a car show driving Al’s ‘32 “Deuce” Sedan to Deuce days in Vancouver, BC.  Carolyn, Derek, and Jesse were up on their own trip to Vancouver, BC.  When they stopped in Portland on the way back to Southern California, I took them all to Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge.  I also took Mom and Al out to the Pittock Mansion in Portland.  We got a little more visiting in this fall when we were joined in Reno and Lake Tahoe by Richard and Renee’ (my brother and sister-in-law).  We enjoyed several days of sightseeing and little a gambling.  Renee’ managed to win some.

We get to visit with Michele’s family more often because we are fortunate that Bill and Barbara and Michele’s brothers (Kevin, Greg, and Paul) are all here in the Portland area.  We gather on important holidays such as “combined birthdays” in February, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Another advantage of having family nearby and ready to help is feeling comfortable getting out of town with just the two of us.  We went to Puerto Rico in January which was a great getaway.   For my birthday, we went to Kauai for a relaxing, fun week.  Our wonderful neighbors, the Ritaccos, helped make the getaways possible by taking Tim to school and keeping some eye on Grace who is now a licensed driver and quite independent.

Michele left Viewpoint and joined a new company, Huron Consulting, this Fall.  One big plus is that Huron is in Lake Oswego, about 3 miles from our house.  That is the shortest commute she has ever had.  Michele is programming database conversions to migrate new customers to Huron’s product.  It is similar to the work she did at Viewpoint only it is health care management software instead of construction ERP software.

I am still at DAT as product manager for the RateView software for pricing freight.  I am also helping out with the youth program that Tim enjoys so much at our church.

Our big project this year started when our refrigerator had a slow leak.   It went something like “If you give a mouse a cookie…”.  If you have a leak, you are  going to want the insurance to pay for the damage.  If the insurance is paying for a new floor, you are going to want to change the layout of the kitchen a bit.  If you’re changing the layout of your kitchen, you are going to need new cabinets.  If you’re getting new cabinets, you will want some new appliances.  If you are getting new cabinets and appliances, you will want to raise that old drop ceiling with industrial style fluorescent lights from the 70’s.  If you are going to change your ceiling and lights you are going to need an electrical permit.  To get an electrical permit in this house, you need a new service panel.  Here it is several months after the leak and we just moved back into our kitchen.  We are loving the new kitchen and enjoyed hosting Christmas with Michele’s family in it.

A lot of blessings in 2013 to be grateful for.  We’re hoping for a happy, healthy 2014 for ourselves and for you.

Ralph, Michele, Kristin, Grace, and Tim

Sunday, December 09, 2012

2012 Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

As 2012 draws to a close we give thanks for our health and well being. 

This year was a big one for vacations for us.  I took Tim and Kristin to Yellowstone for Spring break.  Our spring break comes at an interesting time for Yellowstone in that the road into the West entrance is closed for both cars and snow equipment (snow mobiles and snow buses).   So, there is not a way to get to Old Faithful or any geyers.  Nevertheless, we had a great Yellowstone experience by driving a long way to the North Entrance and seeing Mammoth Hot Springs and wildlife in the park including hearing wolves howl as they coordinated to harass a herd of buffalo.

In the summer we went Glacier National Park in Montana.  The roads were open and we had a great time at the park and the nearby towns.  For my birthday Missey and I took a trip to Puerto Rico.  We realized it had been 8 years since we took more than a weekend together without the kids.  I always thought we wouldn’t become one of those couples that never gets away by themselves.  We were one of those couples for 8 years, we’ll try to avoid anything like that again!

The other 49 weeks of the year were pretty busy too.  Kristin graduated from high school and started at Oregon State in Corvallis.  Dad’s day weekend and seeing the Beavers football game was a highlight for me.  Tim is a 6th grader and has science labs, Spanish, and spelling tests.  He plays piano for his school band.  Grace is a sophomore and seems to have a fair number of things to work on for school.  She plays clarinet in the school band and banjo for her fun instrument.  Missey works at Viewpoint and when she isn’t busy with that drives the carpool, cooks, and takes care of the rest of us.  I’m working at TransCore/DAT trying to be Agile and make the customers happy.  I do a fair amount of driving the carpools, volunteering for the Junior High youth ministry and school lunches, helping with homework and trying to keep the repairs ahead of the aging house.

It’s a blessing to be living close to Missey’s family.  We all gathered for Thanksgiving, Birthday celebrations, and we’ll be getting together for Christmas.  My Mom and Al came up for a visit and I got some family time in by adding some visiting to a business trip to Southern California.  I need to get everyone down to California for more of a visit.

Are Christmas letters becoming a thing of the past as Facebook keeps us in touch with more immediacy and pictures?  Perhaps, but I still like the Christmas cards, and I just don’t leave time to write something personal in each one.  So, your getting the Christmas letter even if you already “liked” all the news on Facebook.  Maybe next year I’ll feel differently.

Have a blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with happiness.

Ralph, Missey, Kristin, Grace, and Tim

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Movies on Amazon Prime

I thought it would be easy to find lists of good movies free for streaming with Amazon Prime. It's surprisingly difficult to dig through the dross and and find the good ones. Here is a list I made: Free Streaming List

It's movies I'm recommending for my teenager. They are too old for her to know about.

I would be interested in ways to find the good movies buried in Amazon Prime or in Crackle.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My letter against SOPA

January 20, 2012

Dear Representative Schrader:
Dear Senator Wyden:
Dear Senator Merkley:

I urge you to vote against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate equivalent. I believe that this legislation will lead to regulation of the Internet and the abridgment of its freedom. I believe there will be less creativity and innovation if it is too easy for copyright holders to sue for nominal or inadvertent misuse of copyrights.

The music, movie, and publishing industries have a history of seeking excessive copyright length, attempting to restrict fair use, and attempting to restrict the size and use of the public domain. These industries will leverage any law to restrict competition even where the competition does not rely on stolen intellectual property. A copyright system only has value if it actually increases innovation and creates a robust body of intellectual capital in the public domain. It should not be a tool for entrenched interests and accumulators of intellectual property created generations ago.

Please vote NO!


Monday, July 11, 2011

College Football Playoff for 2010

I gave my proposal for a playoff in a previous post:
Ralph's Playoff

Let's play it out for the 2010 Season while we await the 2011 Football Season.

November 28, 2010
The NCAA Committee makes its 16 At Large Selections for the Play in Round of the 2010 NCAA College Football Playoffs:
1. Stanford
2. Ohio State
3. Arkansas
4. Michigan State
5. LSU
6. Boise State
7. Missouri
8. Oklahoma State
9.Virginia Tech
10. Alabama
11. Texas A&M
12. Utah
13. Mississippi State
14. Arizona
15. West Virginia
16. Maryland

Saturday December 4th, 2010
Play in Round. The Play in Round is on the same day as the league championship games. Play-in games are at the home field of the top seed.

Play-in round:
Champions of conferences without a playoff are automatically seeded as top 6 teams. At large selection number determines other ranks for seeding purposes. Teams from same conference don't play each other.

Pac 10 Champion versus At Large: Oregon vs. Maryland, Winner: Oregon
Big 10 Champion versus At Large: Wisconsin vs. West Virgnia, Winner: Wisconsin
Big East Champion versus At Large: UConn vs. Arizona, Winner: Arizona
Mountain West Champion versus At Large: TCU vs. Mississippi State, Winner: TCU
WAC Champion versus At Large: Nevada vs. Utah, Winner: Nevada
Sun Belt Champion versus At Large: Florida International vs. Texas A&M, Winner: Texas A&M
At Large versus At Large: Stanford vs. Alabama, Winner: Stanford
At Large versus At Large: Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech., Winner: Ohio State
At Large versus At Large: Arkansas vs. Oklahoma State, Winner: Oklahoma State
At Large versus At Large: Michigan State vs. Missouri, Winner: Michigan State
At Large versus At Large: LSU vs. Boise State: Winner: Boise State

League Championships
SEC--Auburn vs. South Carolina, Winner: Auburn
Big 12--Oklahoma vs. Nebraska, Winner: Oklahoma
ACC--Florida St. vs. Virginia Tech, Winner: Virginia Tech
Conf. USA--SMU vs. Central Florida, Winner: Central Florida
MAC--Northern Illinois vs. Miami Ohio: Miami Ohio
League Championships determine 5 of 16 Tournament participants

Saturday December 11th, 2010, 1st round of 16 team playoff.
Seedings respect traditional conference/geographic bowl alignments for New Years day bowls where possible.

Rose Bowl Bracket
1. Oregon vs. 4. Boise State, Winner: Oregon
2. Wisconsin vs. 3. Miami Ohio, Winner: Wisconsin

Orange Bowl Bracket
1. Virginia Tech vs. 4. Central Florida, Winner: Virginia Tech
2. Oklahoma State vs. 3. Arizona, Winner: Oklahoma State

Suger Bowl Bracket
1. Auburn vs. 4. Michigan St., Winner: Auburn
2. Stanford vs. 3. TCU, Winner: Stanford

Cotton Bowl Bracket
1. Oklahoma vs. 4. Nevada, Winner: Oklahoma
2. Texas A&M vs. 3. Ohio State, Winner: Ohio State

New Years Day, 2011
Rose Bowl
Oregon vs. Wisconsin, Winner: Oregon
Orange Bowl
Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State, Winner: Oklahoma State
Suger Bowl
Auburn vs. Stanford, Winner: Auburn
Cotton Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Ohio State, Winner: Ohio State

Saturday, January 15th (first Saturday more than 5 days after New Years)
Fiesta Bowl
Oregon vs. Oklahoma State, Winner: Oregon
Gator Bowl
Auburn vs. Ohio State, Winner: Auburn

Saturday, January 22nd
True National Championship Game
Oregon vs. Auburn, Winner: Auburn

Even though I think we probably got the right champion in 2010/2011 through the BCS process, I think a playoff process would have been more fun, more fair, and more profitable.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Charter School for Lake Oswego

The Lake Oswego School board is pressing forward with plans to close 3 elementary schools and expand Junior High to 6th grade. They have already done the one part of the plan that saves significant money, closing one elementary school. Closing the remaining 2 elementary schools and expanding Junior High will be more or less cost neutral but is a long held goal of Dr. Korach, the superintendent.

If the school board presses forward with closing schools and putting 6th graders in Junior High, I suggest that parent and community groups push forward with another option for families: a charter K-8 school on the Palisades campus.

The school board may take some convincing, but Oregon law specifies a process in ORS 338 that allows the sponsoring group to go around the school board if the school board is obstructionist. The City Council and the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation may also help push in the right direction since they give millions to the school district.

If two more schools are closed, a charter would be very positive for the district in helping relieve the classroom shortage, keeping kids in the district who may otherwise leave because their schools are closing, and providing another strong educational option to attract families to Lake Oswego.

Here is my thinking on a charter--

Draft Mission Statement:

Lake Oswego K-8 Charter will be:

-A small K-8 school focused on helping students achieve their potential through authentic relationships among students, teachers, and families.
-A school that offers students everything they need to be fully prepared to achieve their potential in high school.
-A school where students can safely explore their interests and values knowing a caring community supports and surrounds them

Capacity and configuration:
-Lake Oswego K-8 Charter would ultimately have 9 grades with 26-32 students in each grade for a total of 234 to 288 students.
-In the first year the school would have grades K and 1-7 adding 8th grade in the subsequent year
-If over subscribed at any grade level, a lottery would be held as required by law
-if under subscribed, 2 grades would be combined to achieve class sizes of 26-32 students
-Each grade would have one main teacher and aids or parent helpers as budget and volunteer commitments allow
-The school would have one foreign language teacher who would teach at all grade levels with a focus on 6th, 7th, and 8th so that most students would have achieved 1 or 2 years of high school foreign language
-The school would have one specialized math teacher and would offer at least two levels of math in 7th-8th grade so that all students capable of accelerated math will have completed algebra in 8th grade.
-7th and 8th grade students would work with both grade teachers, the foreign language teacher, and the math teacher to get focused subject instruction to prepare for high school
-The charter school would work so it's students could participate in district programs in music and sports where possible.

With the closing of 2 additional schools I would expect many families from Bryant, Palisades, and River Grove to choose to move to the charter. Under Oregon law, students from nearby districts could also choose the charter without needing to get approval from their districts. The other schools in the Lake Oswego district would benefit from the competition and the relief of pressure on classroom space.

I hope interested parents and others will move forward with this proposal or something else to put pressure on the school board to look out for the interests of kids and families ahead of the interests of teachers and administrators.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Why Lake Oswego Junior Highs Won't Close

With better educational and social outcomes, cost savings, and better community/school relationships, why won't the Lake Oswego junior highs close? (See my previous blog post where I make the case for closing them.) In short, the reason junior highs won't close (and exist at all), is that they are great for teachers and administrators.

Prestige and salaries tend to be higher for junior high principals than K-8 principals. The Vice Principal position is a great stepping stone position not readily available in a K-8 setting. Junior High teachers also have a bit more prestige than 7th and 8th grade teachers in elementary schools. Teachers can teach the classes they are interested in and avoid classes they aren't interested in. In a large junior high school, bad teachers can hide out for years as the active, "in the know" parents avoid them and the less "in the know" parents don't have the power to do any damage to their standing.

In a junior high setting, accountability for student outcomes is muted for teachers who only teach a student in one of 6+ classes. For teachers, the burden of communicating with parents on routine matters and dealing with behavioral and other problems are offloaded to junior high counselors. While this is a convenience for teachers, it blurs accountability even more. In an environment with 2 classes of 7th graders and 2 classes of 8th graders accountability and responsibility is concentrated and clear.

With students from multiple schools mingled into two junior high schools after 5th or 6th grade, it is harder to see differences in schools and hold the schools accountable. With 4 or 5 schools sending 8th graders to each high school, it will be very easy for the high school teachers, administrators, and involved parents to see which K-8 schools are doing a great job and which schools are doing less well. Lack of accountability and visibility into failures doesn't serve students and parents, but it does make teachers and administrators lives easier.

I hope that the pain of closing three elementary schools that are very important to their communities will cause parents and the community to think again about the choice in front of Lake Oswego schools. I hope the idea of expanding the problematic Junior Highs to younger and more vulnerable students scares the community into positive action.

I respect the work administrators and advisory groups have done to come up with alternatives to save money for the Lake Oswego school district. I think the entrenched interests of administrators and teachers have influenced the recommendations away from closing junior highs and toward closing elementary schools. I am not optimistic the best choice will be made.

Why Waluga and Lake Oswego Junior Highs Should Close

Lake Oswego school district proposes closing 3 of our elementary schools and expanding Junior High to include 6th grade. Having experienced Lake Oswego elementary and junior high schools I can attest this is the wrong direction. The elementary schools in Lake Oswego fulfill the promise of public education by educating students, creating close communities of students and parents, and adding value to the community. The Junior Highs are much less successful in the their assigned role of educating adolescents at a high level and helping them transition to High School. There is no reason to expand them and good reasons to close them.

The school district should keep all 9 elementary schools open and close the two junior high Schools. The elementary schools should be expanded to K-8. Excess capacity can be reduced by making 6 of the elementary schools single track (one class per grade). That would make room for the 7th and 8th grades at the physically smaller schools. Activities such as band, football, and cheer leading that require an assembly of greater numbers of students can be scheduled either in the early morning or late afternoon when students can be bussed to central locations. Foreign languages can be accommodated by busing students to concentrated locations, distance learning, and focusing particular schools on particular languages. Bryant/Waluga could easily accommodate a double track (two classes per grade) k-8 school and centralized activities. Uplands/Lake Oswego Junior High School could also be configured as a double track k-8 school with ample room for facilities for central activities. Lake Grove and several other schools are physically large enough to accommodate a double track K-8 program and extra activities.

Junior high is a bad concept and as executed in the Lake Oswego district has bad outcomes. Ages 12, 13, 14 are very difficult years for adolescents. It is the worst time to rip them out of a small community where they have real personal relationships and put them in a high stakes social environment where cliques and superficial popularity reign supreme. Junior high creates an ideal environment for predators who sell drugs and sexually exploit children. It also creates an ideal environment for marketers who prey on children's insecurities to sell clothes, gadgets, and other items promoted to increase social standing.

My experience as a parent and working with Lake Oswego district junior high students at a church group gives me a negative opinion of the social environment at the Junior High Schools. I would say that at Waluga junior high, students who try to join the popular crowd are personally offered drugs, are aware of drug use by fellow students, and feel peer pressure to express tolerance and interest in drugs. Students who join the popular crowd are also aware of sexual activity by fellow students, feel peer pressure to have sex, and may have been offered drugs as part of situations designed to induce them to relax their sexual boundaries. I believe that in a K through 8 schools the social pressures could be reduced in this time of insecurity and social growth. Students could feel somewhat safer making healthy choices and standing up for their individual interests because they would be among people they have known longer. At the very least, the drug trade would have 9 schools to visit and establish contacts in instead of 2. Those 9 schools would be smaller and students would have long term relationships with teachers and other students. Dealers would have much less freedom of action than they currently enjoy and more risk.

At Waluga today teachers brag that they create teams of 3 teachers who discuss student progress and coordinate lessons. In a K-8 environment, the norm for 7 and 8th grade education would be a small team of teachers coordinating lessons and intimately involved in individual students progress. Specific teachers would be accountable for student success and their success could be measured year after against peers in 8 other schools.

Riverdale school district demonstrates that academic outcomes in K-8 can be as good or better than in a Junior High. In fifth grade testing fewer Riverdale students than Lake Oswego students are proficient in Reading, Math, and Science. In 8th Grade testing the percentage of Riverdale students proficient in Reading is equal. In Math and Science the percentage in Rierdale is higher than in Lake Oswego. In the Riverdale K-8 school the percentage proficient in Reading, Math, Science rose between 5th and 8th Grade. In the Lake Oswego district, percentage proficient fell in all three areas fell between 5th and 8th grade.

I am not an expert on school finance, but I believe that closing 2 Junior highs with their counselors, vice principals, and other admininstrative staff would save more money than closing 3 elementary schools. Even after accounting for busing students for activities and specialized classes there would be savings since there would be less transport need for getting kids to Junior High.

The neighborhood schools would be an even more intimate part of the neighborhood and family's would be even more engaged and inclined to support schools that students attend for 9 years. Athletics for 7th and 8th graders could be simplified with 9 schools that can play each other in Basketball and Volleyball.

I respect the work the administrators and advisory groups have done to come up with alternatives to save money for the Lake Oswego school district. However, I believe the current recommendation is a bad choice.

Next post I'll talk about why the Junior Highs will probably expand to the detriment of adolescents and 3 neighborhoods will lose their community schools to the detriment of the neighborhoods and their property values.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Two Tiered Health Systems

In Britain 80% of the people rely solely on the National Health System. The elite 20% have private insurance and use an elite private health system without lines, with nicer rooms, and better service. That is a two tier system.

We have a two tier system in the U.S.. The difference is that in the U.S., the middle class is part of the top tier.

The danger for the middle class:
The top 20% are confident that under a public health system they will still have access to elite health care. They are probably eager for a system where they mingle less with the middle class. So, that's 20% that aren't afraid.

The bottom 20% figure they will be no worse off than they are now with the mishmash of health providers they have access to and it may be better because there will be more political interest in the facilities and procedures they use. So, 40% of the country is okay with and perhaps eager to move to something more like a British system.

The 60% who will drop down a level better keep fighting and not be fooled by soothing rhetoric. Otherwise, they will find out what kind of health care the elite think is adequate for the lesser classes.

Seven book--A book about the number Seven

Our friend David Eastis has just come out with the book "7 The Magical, Amazing, and Popular Number 7". I'll write more about the seven book once I actually get it in my hands, but the web site is If you are a septophile this book about seven should be of interest.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Good news from the auto bailout

A little good news from the bailout. Roger Penske is buying Saturn and a Chinese company is buying Hummer. These are both really positive steps for GM and car buyers.

Saturn has a really cool opportunity to take cars that are built in other markets by companies that don't have U.S. distribution and bring them to the U.S.. Saturn could also specify cars they want built by Chinese or Indian manufacturers much like Apple specifies an IPod or a Mac. Either way, the Saturn brand stands for a different car buying and service experience so they add to the cars they sell.

Penske could bring the Smart Car into the Saturn fold since he already has U.S. distribution rights. He could play up Saturn's GM built hybrid and small cars. Saturn could look like a fuel economy and technology leader as well as a leader in car buying experience.

The Saturn brand can probably avoid the taint of GM costing taxpayers billions because Saturn has been deliberately kept distant as a brand from GM and Saturn is now out of the whole bankruptcy/bailout mess.

Hummer will be able to continue to offer their unique vehicles and people who like that sort of thing will have an opportunity to buy the sort of the thing they like. There is export potential for the U.S. plants and potential for the Chinese company to eventually build Hummer products in China and sell worldwide. Of course, like Ford, this Chinese company will have to negotiate with the union that owns their competitors. The Chinese company has the leverage that they can just shut down the plants and move the production to China. So, maybe the workers at the Hummer plants will make the national union give some ground.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What should have happened to Chrysler

It looks like Chrysler is likely to emerge from Bankruptcy shortly. That surprises me because I don't think Fiat brings much to the table and, without freeing itself of UAW domination, Chrysler is clearly not a viable company. I guess with enough taxpayer money, anything is possible. Until Chrysler is merged with the other taxpayer financed UAW payoff mechanism (GM), it will continue to rack up losses for the taxpayer.

What should have happened? The parts of Chrysler should be sold off free of UAW contract obligation and dealer obligations. That is what bankruptcy is all about. Factories, trademarks, parts, and real estate should be sold to whoever will pay for them to satisfy Chrysler's true obligations. The public will get a more competitive and innovative set of car companies.

Chrysler should be sold out of bankruptcy in 5 parts:

Jeep: This is where the real value lies. Jeep should sell for 2 to 3 Billion Dollars with Mahindra and Mahindra of India being the most obvious but not the only possible buyers. Kia, Honda, and Nissan could all benefit from owning the Jeep name.

Dodge Trucks: This is much less valuable than Jeep, but is still probably he second most valuable part of Chrysler. The Sprinter van, Dodge Ram Pick up trucks, and SUV's. Maybe 500 Million to 1 Billion.

Voyager/Caravan Minivans: Chrysler's minivan is an up-to-date model that sells well in a marketplace that Ford, Volkswagon, General Motors, and other automakers aren't in in an effective way. Any one of those companies could jump start their minivan line by buying the original at a bargain price. Bargain price would be right around 500 Million. Volkswagon already resells a private label version of the Chrysler Minivan so they would be a great candidate.

Chrysler automobiles: This is the "and the rest" of Chryslers car line. Dodge Challenger (they would have to drop the Dodge part unless this was bought with Dodge trucks), Chrysler 300, PT Cruiser, and all the other models in Chrysler's line-up and the brands in its rich history. Could be valuable to a Chinese or Indian company building a brand line-up. Up to 500 Million but probably less.

Global Electric Motor cars: These are around town electric cars. I don't know if this helps a company with fuel economy averages or not. Worth something in any case.

I think sealed bids without government pressure would have gotten the secured creditors 3 to 4 Billion and taken the warranty obligations off the government's and creditors hands (gaining the relationships with existing owners makes taking on the warranty obligations generally a win for buyers of the brand names). That is more than the 2.6 Billion the creditors got with Obama's blunt warning that the government would punish anyone who tried to break up their deal with Fiat.

The courts didn't think this was clear enough an expropriation that they should block the deal. It's an extreme long shot that the Supreme Court would rule the Federal Government doesn't have the power to take over a business or overrule the bankruptcy court and find that the secured creditors aren't being fairly compensated. They could find that the president doesn't have the power to do it without an act of congress that actually authorizes it, but I think an act of congress would be forthcoming so that would just represent a small delay.

Its a big loss for taxpayers and car buyers that the governement is propping up losers and not letting new companies with new technology and aggressiveness re-assemble the parts of the auto industry. We are losing out on the gain from creative destruction while magnifying the losses.

Five Guys versus In-N-Out

With Five Guys Burgers and Fries open in Beaverton and West Linn, OR, it is time to compare the two good tasting fast food burgers. First, my 12 year old daughter's opinion, "Dad, there is no comparison, In-N-Out is way better."

My opinion is more nuanced. Both have good testing, fresh, never frozen Hamburger. The Five Guys patty is a little more satisfying probably because it is a little larger. The In-N-Out Bun is better toasted and better matched to the size of the rest of the burger. The Five Guys Bun is just too large compared to the patty and even though it is toasted, it isn't toasted enough. Even with a double, it seems like a lot of bun for the meat.

The Five Guys burger is also too large overall. At In-N-Out a single is great if you aren't very hungry and a double is a large meal. At Five Guys, a "small cheeseburger" is a large meal. A double or normal "cheeseburger" in Five Guys language is too big under almost any circumstances. Their fries are similarly over sized, but since a family of 5 can share the large fries or a family of 3 can share the "small" fries, the size is less relevant.

Five Guys has a better selection of toppings, including green peppers and mushrooms which aren't available at In-N-Out.

Both In-N-Out and Five Guys have fresh cut and fried potatoes, not frozen. At In-N-Out you can see them cutting up the fries in the Window, at Five Guys they have bags of fries in the store. In-N-Out cuts there fries to a very kid friendly McDonalds style fry. They taste like McDonald's fries did in the sixties when they used to be fresh cut in the store. Five Guys has beefier style of fries with a bit of skin on the ends. They are fresh and very good. Five Guys also offers a Cajun style fry which has some spice seasoning added to the fry. I like the regular fry better, but it is nice to have a spicier option. In-N-Out wins for Kids Fries, but the Five Guys fry is a bit better for an adult.

For Milk Shakes, In-N-Out wins by default. Five Guys has no milkshakes. In-N-Out Shakes are a real plus since they are very creamy and the chocolate shake has a very good chocolate flavor.

Five Guys has Hot Dogs, which I haven't tried, but it gives you another option. Five Guys also has free peanuts while you wait.

In-N-Out always has a drive through. The Oregon Five Guys do not have drive throughs. The drive through is very convenient picking up dinner for the family. Five Guys is always crowded with a line and ussually a little jostling for a seat. We have always found a seat, but is more hectic than picking up food for the family and bringing it home.

Both In-N-Out and Five Guys are somewhat premium priced compared to Burger King or McDonalds (and well worth it) but Five Guys is a little more premium priced. I am ussually surprised how much it costs to feed my family of five. I think In-N-Out is a bit better deal.

Final verdict? If there was an In-N-Out in Beaverton, Lake Oswego, or Tualatin, they would get quite a bit more of our burger business than Five Guys. But Five Guys is a really great addition to the Oregon burger scene and they will get most of our business until In-N-Out comes to Oregon.

When will In-N-Out come to Oregon? Now is a great time. They could get great leases and land deals for the 5 or 10 locations they would need to make their logistics and distribution work. In-N-Out is not franchised it is corporate owned, so I have to believe cash is available for a slam dunk expansion like the Portland area. They must have noticed that the Five Guys in Beaverton jumped to the top of the sales charts for all Five Guys location. They also must know that taste will tip toward Five Guys as familiarity breeds preference.

What about Burgerville? Burgerville is a fresh, local food concept location with frozen beef! It seems a bit crazy. The Burgerville patty is bland tasting and just doesn't keep with the rest of the quality ingrediants the have. Burgerville needs to make "Fresh, Never Frozen" a mantra for the Beef and the fries and push the local food conept they have going. If they did that, they could compete with Five Guys and even In-N-Out on the basis of drive throughs, milkshakes, hometown business, and a wider menu. With bland, frozen hamburgers they are toast when In-N-Out comes to the Portland, Oregon area.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

BCS must die--College Football Playoff Proposal

I know every college football fan has a playoff proposal in their heads. The 2008-2009 College football season was a true testament to the futility of the BCS. The New Years Day games were both limited in number and interest, an undefeated team didn't get a chance to play for the "National Title", and the "National Title" contestants probably weren't the two best teams in College Football.

My playoff proposal preserves the importance and prestige of the New Years Day bowl games and should make boatloads of money for the power conferences. The boatloads of the money part is what I think could get it accepted. So, here it is:

-16 team playoff with a play-in round for all at-large teams and the conference winners from conferences without a conference champion. So, 32 teams have an opportunity to win their way to the championship.
-The play-in round takes place the same weekend as conference championship games.
-The round of 16 takes place Christmas Eve and December 23.
-The round of 8 is on New Years day with 4 traditional New Years bowl games including the Rose Bowl.
-The final 4 is the first Saturday that is more than 6 days after New Years Day.
-The Championship game is the next Saturday.

Management would be by an NCAA committee who would select at-large teams, seedings, play off locations, and negotiate with the big bowls which match-ups they get New Years Day.

The play-in round--Same weekend as conference championships, would include Friday, and even Sunday games if needed. Seeded so conference champions get the top seeds and play lowest seeded at-large teams. 11 play-in games plus 5 conference championships. That gives 16 at large spots to make sure the major conferences and Notre Dame have every opportunity to be over-represented. All the conference champions have an opportunity to win their way to the next round, so even the Mountain West couldn't complain. If the PAC 10 and Big 10 still are not advantaged enough to get them on board, their champions could get a bye into the round of 16. It would only cost 2 of the at-large spots, leaving 14. The play-in round doesn't lengthen the season at all, many teams already play that weekend in championship games.

This round would be played at the higher seeded teams home stadium or alternate if that stadium doesn't meet playoff minimum standards.

Pac 10 Champion versus At large
Big 10 Champion versus At large
Big East Champion versus At large
Moutain West Champion versus At large
WAC Champion versus At large
Sun Belt Champion versus At large
At large versus At large
At large versus At large
At large versus At large
At large versus At large
At large versus At large
SEC Championship
Big 12 Championship
ACC Championship
MAC Championship
Conference USA Championship

Round of 16. This is Christmas Eve and December 23 and involves 8 games among the 16 winners of the play-in round. All teams would be re-seeded for this round. All games would be neutral site bowl games. Sites and match-ups would be selected by the committee. This is where all the minor bowls would go.

Round of 8. 4 New years Day bowls! Preserve the tradition and just as importantly the money. These are neutral site and are selected by the committee in consultation with bowl committee. Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Cotton Bowl restored to prominence in selecting a true National Champion.

Final 4. 2 bowls the first Saturday more than 5 days after New Years day. The Fiesta Bowl and another bowl.

National Championship Game. 1 week later. Only extending the College football season 1 week from what it is now.

The cost: 2 teams play an extra 3 games over what the max played now, 2 more teams play an extra two games, 4 teams play 1 extra game and the season lasts one more week. The benefits: more money, tradition, a meaningful post-season, fair representation for minor conferences, over representation for money conferences, a real champion. It's got to be worth it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Confirmation on El Pollo Loco Beaverton

This link confirms what they told me at the Wood Village El Pollo Loco. The Beaverton location is opening at the end of June:

El Pollo Loco restaurant closes its doors

However, the Vancouver, WA location is abruptly closed. I wondered if they moved the equipment from the Vancouver location to the Beaverton location. It was odd that the building in Beaverton has appeared finished so long but not opened. In this economic environment I have assumed the franchisee is out of cash. The building has been for sale but the price seems way out of line for the building (over 1 million). Even if you assume the lease is good for the duration, the returns don't seem high enough to justify taking any risk at all.

If you can only afford equipment for one location, the Beaverton location is a much better choice than the one they had in Vancouver. The Beaverton location is close to the Five Guys that became the highest grossing Five Guys location in the country soon after opening.

Looking forward to being able to pick up an El Pollo dinner on the way home...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Chrysler bankruptcy, good; liquidation better

I'm glad Chrysler made it into bankruptcy court so that the creditors will get some protection from the law instead of having to rely on politics and executive fiat (pun intended). I must admit I was disgusted with President Obama's remarks about the _secured_ creditors unwillingness to share the "sacrifices" that other "stakeholders" were making.

Under the law the secured creditors are the first ones who should get any payout before any one else takes money out of the company. To steal their money is one thing; to use the prestige and power of the presidency to demonize them for asking for what is theirs under the law is something else. I hate to see such unfairness and I hate to see the presidency demeaned in an attempt to disguise base theft. We didn't elect Blagojevich president, I hope.

So, what's happening here and why do I say liquidation would be better? The government is trying to keep the UAW firmly in control of Chrysler so they can continue the UAW brokered auto monopoly that has enriched union leaders, auto executives, politicians and various hangers on for many years. The expense of it has been borne by car consumers who today pay hundreds of dollars more per car compared to what a competitive market would produce and get less innovation than a competitive U.S. market would produce. As Blagojevich would say, I've got this f'en Auto Industry and its f'en golden.

Having a domestic monopoly to keep it comfortable and powerful labor unions to keep it poor, the industry has fallen far behind and to keep paying millions to the union executives, lawyers, auto executives, and politicians taxpayers are going to have to start kicking in. The stockholders and unsecured creditors have been sucked dry. That leaves the taxpayers paying Billions in tax dollars to prop up the monstrosity known as the U.S. auto industry.

So, how would a Chrysler liquidation help? Chrysler has valuable assets:
The Jeep Brand
A very extensive dealer network
Other brands
Technology, in particular truck and SUV technology
Global Electric Motor cars producing neighborhood electric vehicles
Factories, parts inventory, car inventory, etc.

In a liquidation foreign auto makers could bid for those assets. Most importantly, they would bid for those assets unencumbered by UAW contracts or obligations and existing dealer obligations. I could imagine Hyundai/Kia greatly improving its dealer networks and taking advantage of the Jeep brand globally for 3 or 4 Billion dollars. How about India's Mahindra and Mahindra or Tata or a Chinese company? Any one of these companies building cars, trucks and SUV's in this country without the UAW would force GM and Ford to really compete, force the UAW to be reasonable and business like in its contracts and deliver value and innovation to the consumer. They would also build more cars here than a UAW controlled Chrysler ever will. With the UAW Chrysler is worthless and will only exist as long as taxpayers will continue feeding it.

And if I'm wrong and no one wants most of Chrysler? It's a couple million cars a year capacity out of an industry that is globally millions of cars overbuilt. It gives GM, Ford, and Toyota their best chance to prosper.

But it is the fear that the parts will be used by non-UAW car makers that keep politicians working overtime to keep Chrysler in the UAW fold. This effort was useful in showing how government control of the banks keeps them from pursuing their economic interests and gets them into line politically. The TARP banks wanted to accept the deal to keep Chrysler out of the hands of a bankruptcy judge who should apply the law and protect creditors. They didn't want the ire of this administration. I've got this f'en bank thing and its f'en golden.

I hope this bankruptcy judge is very courageous and applies the law. I hope foreign automakers and other entrepreneurs have the courage to make offers to the court for Chrysler's assets in liquidation. Obama's little rant was designed to show that people who get in the way of UAW sanctioned reorganization by taxpayer cash infusion and fiat will earn the administration's anger. Welcome to industrial policy Chicago style.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

El Pollo Loco Beaverton Coming Soon!

The El Pollo Loco that has been sitting empty in Beaverton, OR taunting flame broiled marinated chicken lovers on the West Side is going to open soon! According to staff at the El Pollo Loco in Wood Village, Oregon it is opening at the end of June. They told me this in English and I heard them tell other customers in Spanish. Two languages, so it must be true, right? It's still not on the El Pollo Loco web site, but they wouldn't lie to us, would they? Please let it be true!!!!!!!

Les Schwab, Wow

Customer service that exceeds expectations is often smart business. Recently the low inflation warning light on my Kia Minivan lit up. I filled the tire at a gas station and went on my way. Later I noticed a nail stuck in the tire and put getting the tire fixed on my to do list.

My expectation--I would have to leave the car for a couple of hours, pay $20.00 or so to get the tire repaired. I generally buy tires at Costco. Costco will repair tires free if you bought the tires at Costco. But these are original tires, so Costco won't even repair the tire for a fee. So, Sears Auto Center, the Dealer, Les Schwab are the choices that come to mind. Last time I had a tire fixed it was Sunday, so my only choice was Sears Auto Center and it took half a day.

So, I decide I'll try Les Schwab. I figure I'll go after work and leave the car there since they close at 6:00 PM. The next day I'll take the train to work, and pick up the car after work.

I pull into Les Schwab at 5:30. As I'm walking up, the Les Schwab worker comes out to greet me. I tell him the problem, he looks at the tire and asks for my keys. I ask how long it will take, he tells me 15 minutes. In less than 15 minutes he comes out gives me my keys and asks me to come to the counter to sign the work order. I ask how much it will be, he says its no charge. I tell him I didn't buy the tires at Les Schwab, he tells me its still no charge.

So, where do I buy tires next time? I'm sure going to get them fixed at Les Schwab. I'll feel like a free loader if I buy tires at Costco and get them fixed at Les Schwab. So, unless their prices are totally out of line I'll feel compelled to buy tires at Les Schwab from now on.

Smart business decision to repair tires free. Good customer service to come out and serve the customer quickly when you are not busy with other customers. Nice for Les Schwab that their competitors have set my expectations for service very low.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Rescue Portuguese Water Dog

I laughed when I saw that the Obamas want a "rescue" Portuguese Water Dog. My mom got a Portuguese Water Dog (PWD, Portie) puppy a couple of years ago. They had to wait 6 months and sign an agreement that basically made them the caretakers of the dog, not the owners. They can't transfer the dog to anyone else without the breeders approval, they were required to spay her, required to take various veterinary care of her, etc. etc..

Portuguese Water Dogs are a boutique breed. My impression is there are no "backyard breeders" both because there is no demand and because breeders are very careful who they allow to have their dogs.

I don't think there are rescue Portuguese Water Dogs. You really have to want one and have thought about it in order to get a Portie. If the Obamas find one, my guess is it will come from an Obama supporter who suddenly finds they can't take care of their one or two year old Portie and gets permission from the breeder to let the Obamas "rescue" it.

If they really want rescue, I think they will end up with a Labradoodle or some other more popular breed.

Update: After I wrote this I found the link for the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America rescue
They say to try to contact the breeder first if you know of a dog in need of rescue. I'm guessing the rescue part of the club is not too busy....

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Walmart Wages Not Virtuous?

Commentators often imply that low wage employers are less virtuous than high wage employers. They make it seem like it is just a question of the employers generosity what wage rates they pay. In reality, low wage and high wage employers are seeking and employee different people. It is not obvious that a low wage model is less virtuous than a high wage model.

For example, McDonald's typically pays minimum wage to entry level employees. In California, In-N-Out pays significantly more than minimum wage to entry level employees. At In-N-Out, it is easy to see that the employees are more enthusiastic, work faster, and get your order right more often than McDonald's employees. So, why is it more virtuous hiring better employees who no doubt have other options? Isn't there virtue in hiring the first time employee, the employee who is a little slow, the employee from a disadvantage background who needs more training in customer service?

Walmart is the employer usually castigated for low wages. They hire more disabled, more people fresh off welfare, more people who just aren't productive enough to earn better wages than anybody else. It seems to me it is a great service to society to give these less productive people an opportunity to work. Costco pays better wages and has better benefits. Costco employees are efficient, friendly, and probably have a relatively long tenure at Costco. Costco employees have better alternative opportunities. Why is it so virtuous hiring better people at a better wage?

Paying higher wages is not virtuous, nor is it generous. It is a business strategy that can really pay off in better service, higher productivity, and lower training costs because employees stay longer.

Paying low wages is not stingy and it is not bad for the country or the economy. It is simply hiring the people who aren't yet productive enough to earn higher wages elsewhere. It involves investing in training and business processes that make those employees productive. It also means more turnover because once you have given employees an opportunity to learn to be productive and provide good service (or just show they can be productive and provide good service), employees can often earn better wages elsewhere. A cost to the low wage employer, but a very nice service to the economy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Soltice Month, December 6th to January 5th

We're in a month where the length of day is short and changes very little through month. I looked it up, the day gets 7 minutes shorter before the soltice, then 9 minutes longer from the Soltice through January 5th. In other words, it doesn't change noticably the wh0le 30 days! By contrast the day got shorter by over 50 minutes the last 30 days and gets longer by over 50 minutes the next 30 days. The sun was up about 8 hours and 45 minutes today and that is pretty much the way it is all month.

The fun thing was we had a beautiful snow fall today. The kids had a ball playing in the snow and the trees and houses were like a christmas card with snow and icicles.

How are you handling the short days?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Surviving Winter in the Portland Area

Portland Winters are more about length of day than change in temperature. We're North of the 45th Parallel here, so the days shorten dramatically.

Midwinter is the 3 months of the year with the shortest days. It started about November 6th and goes through about February 6th. The midpoint of Midwinter is the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice.

My tips for surviving the short days:

  1. Get outside in the daylight every day. There are almost always dry parts of the day when you can spend a bit of time outside. Work is the tough thing here. Try to get out before work or at lunch.
  2. Early to rise. You're missing daylight every minute you sleep past Sunrise. The daylight is important to your well being. Be aware of the Sunrise going on outside even if you are inside.
  3. Early to bed. I find I'm ready to sleep early. Take advantage of the natural down time to catch up on sleep so you have as much energy as possible.
  4. Open curtains, stay near windows. Get as much natural light as possible.
  5. Use full spectrum lights indoors. When you have to rely on artificial light, get the full spectrum of light.
  6. Take Vitamin D. With the short day and clouds, you're body might not produce enough from the available Sun light.
  7. Find outdoor Winter activities you can enjoy. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, or hunting can help squeeze a lot of fun and light out of a short day.
  8. Enjoy the Winter festivals. They are timed by long tradition to help you make it through the literally darkest days. These are times you can stay up late and draw on the extra sleep you get going to bed early most nights.
  9. Put up Christmas lights so your house feels welcoming and fun when you come home in the dark at the end of a workday.
  10. Take your vacation somewhere Sunny and/or with longer days during the midwinter or early Spring Season. Going to the Mountains counts because you will usually get more Sun than in the Valleys and you'll be doing more outdoor activities.
Seasonal affective disorder, where people feel down during the darker part of the year, is very common. If you feel a bit down, take the time of year into account. Don't think, "The Holidays are the happiest time of the year, I should be happy." Think "It's tough getting through the dark days of Winter, I am going to use the holidays to cheer myself and other people up."

What is your favorite tip for surviving Winter?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and 150 Years of Progress

This is an update of a post from 2005 that has even more resonance in light of the election yesterday. It might provide some optimism to those who are feeling pessimistic today.

150 years ago in America people were owned, bought, sold, and used like farm animals. The major export of the United States (Cotton) was dependent on slave labor. No major political party dared advocate abolishing slavery where it existed. The "Radical" Republicans only dared oppose the extension of slavery. Most large businesses and other non-religious institutions, North and South, were complicit with slavery by investing or dealing with slave owners and slave based commerce. Most individuals, North and South, practiced and accepted discrimination against African Americans in their own localities. Churches had split over slavery by the 1840's but not because Northerners called for abolition in the South or offered church membership to African Americans in the North. In most denominations, Northern church members didn't call for abolition or offer membership to African Americans. Churches split because Southern branches would accept no condemnation of slavery or questioning of its moral basis.

150 years ago The United States was one of the most free and equal societies in existence at that time.

100 years ago slavery had been gone for 40 years, but:
-open and constant discrimination against African Americans was accepted and practiced by most Americans. Separate but equal had been enshrined by a supreme court ruling. The vote was effectively denied to most African Americans. Theodore Roosevelt was widely criticized for dining with Booker T. Washington in the White House simply because he was black.
-Women were not allowed to vote and women's rights in general were widely dependent on their relationship to a man. Women's participation in the labor force was restricted by the unshared burden of child rearing, open discrimination, and strong social mores.
-Jews as well as many immigrants from "less desirable" parts of Europe were openly discriminated against in education, jobs, and even lodging.

100 years ago, The United States was one of the most free and equal societies in existence.

50 years ago women had the right to vote, but:
-Schools in the south were segregated, African Americans were still effectively denied the right to vote in many states, Economic, educational, and social opportunities were denied to African Americans.
-Social and Economic opportunities for women were still highly restricted.
-Discrimination against Jews and other ethnic groups was still open in some areas.

50 years ago, the United States was one of the most free and equal societies in the world.

This year:
-An African American, raised by a single mother, was elected to be the 44th president of the United States
-He defeated a mother of 5 children who was running for vice-president on the other ticket.
-Another mother of 5 children is the Speaker of the house
-An African American woman is the current Secretary of State. Her predecessor was an African American man. His predecessor was a woman.
-The face of America to the world as often as not has dark skin. I couldn't list all the African American athletes, entertainers, and public officials who are the ambassadors of the United States to the world.
-Women have greatly expanded economic opportunities and earn more than half of college degrees as well as significant proportions of advanced degrees in most fields including law and medicine. Wage differences between men and women have declined to the point where they can be explained by occupational choices women make and time lost in the labor force due to child rearing.
-Inequality between the sexes is still significant. Today many inequalities including incarceration rates, homicide rates, life expectancy, and college attendance bear unfavorably on men.
-Public schools still don't provide equal education, but choice in education (Vouchers, Charter Schools, etc.) is improving opportunities for the poor wherever it is tried. An African American secretary of education fought the education establishment to win significant accountability through public standards and testing for students in schools nationwide.
-Discrimination on ethnic or religious basis is rarely tolerated openly except for affirmative action which is an attempt to correct for past discrimination.

Of course, there is still work to do on discrimination and inequality

And yes, the United States is among the most free and equal countries in the world today.

Past progress in human rights and equality makes me optimistic for the next 50 years. Over each of the 50 year periods I talked about, living standards for all Americans, particularly the poorest Americans, have improved measurably and dramatically. Life expectancy, infant mortality, average height, literacy rate, just about anything you can measure has improved dramatically. Today, obesity is the most widespread dietary problem among poor and well off Americans.

Worldwide progress on freedom and equality has also been great over long sustained periods. Unfortunately, Europe's and the world's struggles with fascism and Communism created huge backward steps in freedom and equality for many in the 20th century. I am optimistic (perhaps foolishly) that the European Union can create a framework for progress in Europe that can withstand challenges. I am hopeful the two billion people of China and India can create progress for themselves.

America is often portrayed as divided but almost all Americans can applaud the progress of the last 150 years and work for more progress on freedom and equality in the United States and the world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Comcast, Comcast, Comcast....

Comcast's three premium services for $99.00 rate ended a few months back. I cut back to just slower internet and basic phone for a few months to get to about $70 dollars a month from the $140 or so they were trying to charge me.

Then Verizon came along with FIOS in my area. They offered the all important three services for $99.00 price point including high definition and a free multi-room DVR for a year. So, off I go to Verizon to give them a shot a for a year. After a year I'll cut back whatever I need to (TV is the least important, phone I can get cheaper from a 3rd party) to keep my bill down in the $70-$100 range.

These companies haven't made the switch particularly easy. Verizon didn't get that I was coming over from a competitor. I don't think they have the whole competition thing down yet. They had to recreate my order through a different department, the "win back" desk. Even the name "win back" implies all the customers were once theirs and will be again.

Once they contacted Comcast and we went through the neutral 3rd party to say "yes I really do want to change my number" Comcast decided they would take the full 10 business days they are allowed to take to move the number. This has to be a less than one minute process for them. I set my Comcast number to forward calls until the cut off date. I am still wondering if they will charge me until they stopped forwarding my calls today.

For Comcast's last delightful trick, they stopped forwarding my calls not on the Monday cutoff date, but on the Sunday before. Sunday when Verizon has no one available in the order department who needs to handle the task of turning on the number for their service. Note to Verizon, if Comcast is going to cut people off on Sunday, maybe you should have someone in the office who can actually turn them back on Sunday.

Now, Comcast may think they are making Verizon look bad making me want to leave when my contract is up. But what they are doing is making it hard to switch. And if I remember it is hard to switch, I'm going to stay where I am. Right now, I'm with Verizon.

So, the marketing lesson for service providers is: When people must leave you, try to leave as good a taste in their mouth about you _and_ about changing providers. Because you want them to change providers at least one more time.

Antoher marketing lesson, one year deals are risky. If it takes a good one year deal to get someone to go with you, chances are they value your service at about that one year price. If you try to jack them up very much, they are going to cut services to get to that one year price or leave you. At least they will if they are paying attention. I guess Comcast and Verizon can tell us if enough people aren't paying attention to make jacking the price up at the end of one year worthwhile business. At minimum, one year deals gives you a lot of "at risk" customers after one year. Companies should have a strategy for retaining those at risk customers.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Financial Bailout, Market Failure or Government Failure

Failure to regulate or regulatory failure?

Like many regulated industries the financial industry bought the regulation they wanted. Huge contributions and lobbying by the financial industry, led by Fannie and Freddie, bought the lax oversight and government guarantees the financial industry wanted.

So, is that a market failure? It was the free market financial industry that bought access to taxpayer money. Free market incentives led Fannie, Freddie, and commercial banks to take on excessive risk to claim profits for private parties while backed by guarantees and insurance from taxpayers.

Or is it a government failure because government officials sold access to taxpayer guarantees for campaign contributions, contributions to lobbying firms, high paying jobs for Washington insiders, and sweetheart VIP mortgage deals.

It is the government that has the responsibility to look out for taxpayer money and the implied guarantees offered up on behalf of the government. The U.S. Government could not walk away from the implied guarantees to Fannie and Freddie so taxpayer money went out to take over bankrupt institutions that private parties profited handsomely from creating.

Government clearly has the power and responsibility to regulate commercial banks. They simply failed to do that. They allowed commercial banks to get over leveraged and to rely on assets the regulators didn't understand for their capital. Regulators should be aware that banks with insured deposits and especially banks that are "too big to fail" have incentives to take on excess risk and earn additional profits because failure is less likely than for uninsured institutions that aren't "too big to fail".

Investment banks are regulated differently, but if the failure of an investment bank can bring down regulated and insured commercial banks, then commercial bank regulators should have an eye on that risk and either regulate the investment banks or force commercial banks to mitigate the risk even if it means lower profits.

Yes, private greed went unchecked. But it was government policy that turned private greed into a national crisis and put taxpayers and our children on the hook to pay for risky bets that we would not have benefited from if they worked out well.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Selling our San Jose Home

I've been keeping you in suspense about our San Jose home. I posted about our difficulties selling but didn't tell you what happened.

Our contract with our realtor ran out at the end of Summer 2006. We were contacted by many realtors who specialize in "expireds", expired listings. This actually seemed to be a fairly competent group of realtors. They advocated listing at a considerably lower price than we had been listing. One thought he could get some bidding going by listing it low enough to attract attention.

One of the realtors who contacted us wanted to buy the house himself. He set the price low enough that he got all the benefit from not paying a third party realtor the commission. This price seemed really low at the time and it was really hard to sell at that price.

In late September I was offered a job in Portland which is where we were wanting to move, so selling the house became a fairly urgent priority. I took the realtor's lowball offer. I considered it selling at about the price I wanted with a 10% commission to get a quick sale. The sale went very smoothly, he got his financing and cleared contingencies quickly. We had already done inspections and he accepted ours.

We were able to buy a house in the Portland area so I could start my new job on the day the house was available for us to move into. We were able to stay with my brother-in-law a few days while we prepared our house to move in.

We like it here in the Portland area and real estate in the Portland area has so far retained more value than California real estate. So, overall it worked out well.

Rent Seeking and Bailouts

Rent seeking behavior is using resources to claim "free money" or economic rents. Rent seeking causes what are called "dead weight losses", wasted resources, because free money is available to claim.

Taxpayer money given out to private enterprises is one form of "free money". As financial companies recognize that free money is available they turn their attention away from saving themselves by raising capital, doing deals that make sense, and running their businesses towards grabbing a piece of the political pie, lobbying for a bigger piece, and paying off the political class in Washington.

We saw this behavior as Lehman Brothers potential acquirers dithered looking for a Bear Sterns style guarantee. We see it with Citigroup getting a taxpayer handout to acquire what turned out to be a very valuable Wachovia. To review, taxpayers took on billions of liability so Citigroup would buy Wachovia for around 2 Billion dollars. Wells Fargo offered 16 Billion without taxpayer liability! In short, taxpayers were getting screwed to the tune of billions for the benefit of the well connected, privately owned Citigroup. It turned out Wachovia shareholders were getting screwed too. Citigroup even has the gall to sue to protect their taxpayer funded purchase!

More evidence is in the Bear Sterns bailout. Taxpayers took on bad debts in a deal where stockholders appropriately for a a failing firm got very little. Stockholders pushed and got more. Taxpayers didn't get a better deal! The deal was more about getting taxpayer free money than ding the economically best deal.

Unfortunately, a lot of smart, hard working people working at financial companies are going to be spending their time, effort, and money maximizing their share of taxpayer's bailout money instead of doing anything that creates wealth.

That deadweight loss is one reason market reaction to the bailout has been so negative when it was proposed, when it failed, and when it passed.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anti-bailout commentary from Harvard economist

It sounds like this is Harvard's token Libertarian. He takes about the same point of view as my original bailout post, but elaborates more on the causes of the problem.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another View on the Bailout

Interesting different perspective from my point of view that the bailout is a bad deal for taxpayers. This view says our investment banker in chief, Paulson is getting a great deal for the taxpayers. Since it looks like we're going to do this thing, I hope he is right. I would much prefer that the government is a neutral arbiter on the economy, not a trader going for a big profit. I think that is extremely dangerous and not worth the trillion dollars that it might net us this time. Taking the cost out of running up the bubble ensures the next bubble will be bigger and more costly when it deflates. And this one is pretty big and pretty costly.

Here is Andy Kessler's point of view in the Wall Street Journal:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I have to write about the 700B Bailout

I don't think a taxpayer bailout of financial institutions makes sense. There are several alternatives that are better:

1. Amend the "Value at Market" rules for these derivative instruments that are so toxic. Create a "value to maturity" model and allow the financial institutions to use it for derivatives they intend to hold for more than a year. As defaults in the underlying instruments go up or down, they can use the model to revalue. Companies can use the derivatives for capital requirements on lending. The derivatives are no longer toxic for financial institutions and will regain market value that is much closer to their value if held to maturity. The advantages of the Bail Out with no taxpayer cost or or risk. Save 700 Billion with an accounting rule change.

2. Do #1 or not do #1 and let the chips fall where they may. All these assets (including the homes) need to find their true market value in the new situation. The sooner they do, the sooner recovery can begin. From my point of view, the Lehman version of a "bailout" is going very well. Sell the valuable parts of the insolvent company, bond holders get the cash proceeds and the securities that are hard to value, preferred stockholders get something if the bond holders end up getting paid. The market is freaking now because every company is treated differently by the treasury secretary which creates enormous uncertainty. Maybe Lehman could have been sold intact if everybody wasn't waiting for the high inquisitor treasury secretary to kick-in a few billion of taxpayer dollars like he did for Bear Stearns.

3. If we're going to inject a huge sum of money, why not inject where the root problem is, excess homes and inability to figure out where the bottom of the market is. Subsidize 1st time buyers and small investors who buy foreclosed homes or homes in depressed areas in a sustantial way. And lets not slow down the foreclosures that are needed to get the properities and toxic derivatives valued properly. How about buying up some homes for future public works projects (a lot of deferred road building needs to happen) and demolishing them right away. The people and the money will have to go somewhere.

4. Stabilize the dollar and be clear the Fed is not going to allow any further inflation. No one knows what the Feds going to do to the dollar. Uncertainty about the dollar is killing the market. Inflation has happened already but it is hard to tell how much. The money supply is hard to measure because of de-leveraging. The fed should say those things. "Over the last 2 years we think 9% inflation has happened that will be shaking out in Consumer Price Index and other measurements over the next 3 years. We are not allowing any more inflation than what is has already happened. So, expect measured 3% inflation a year over the next 3 years" Or say we're targeting 1% more than what has already happened. Give money supply targets and tell how you are taking deleveraging into account in your money supply calculations. The Greenspan approach of being the genius who fiddles with the controls in response to events isn't working any more. It was a bad approach to begin with but Greenspan was smart enough to make it work, for awhile. Now we're paying for monetary dial turning. Monetary policy needs to be on zero or near zero inflation autopilot whatever economic events are for at least the next few years.

Those are a start. We can't spend or bail out our way to prosperity. The companies and individuals who took risks they didn't understand need to pay the price and turn over their assets to more prudent operators through sales or bankruptcy.