Friday, November 25, 2011

Someone Should Make a Move About This

I've blogged a lot about the obscene behavior of the music industry as it relates to pirates. The major four labels (which own a whole lot of smaller labels) sue sue sue anyone, regardless if the targets are alive, employed, own a computer, are of a decent age. The idea of big business suing individuals sickens me. So I boycott all non-independent record labels. I encourage you to do the same.

But what of the television and movie industries? While the movie industry is evil, is that a reason enough to boycott? At first, you may think so. But if you do your homework to find out if any company you may support has a history of evil, you'll soon be living on your own barge in international waters, living off of whatever you can grow.

In Today's Article we see 6 things the film industry doesn't want you to know.
  1. Using clever accounting tricks, movies that gross large can net nothing. The guy in the original Darth Vader costume has never been paid for The Return of the Jedi because that movie hasn't made a profit in 30 years.
  2. They extort movie theatres - which is why a popcorn and a pop can cause you to have to take out a second mortgage on your house.
  3. Movie review quotes taken wildly out of context.
  4. Redefined copyright laws to go from protecting an artist and his works, to protecting the studios' profits for years and years to come.
  5. Because the studios get more money from pay-per-view DVD sales, rentals don't make as much money, so they charge video rental places (like Blockbuster, Netflix, and your corner store) insane prices for rental editions of movies. A DVD that costs you $20 at the store, costs a rental place more like $100.
  6. While stories can be copyrighted, ideas can't. Studios routinely reject scripts, only to turn around and write another script based on the same idea so they can control IP rights.
So, there you have it. Six reasons the movie industry is a cesspool. I don't know how that relates to the television industry. Is that enough for a boycott? If so, there's a lot of worse industries one should boycott to be consistent. If not...I don't know. Gotta think about it some more.

I'm boycotting the record companies because they're suing their customers. What about movie studios? In this case, it's mostly the independent studios that are suing. In fact, here's an article that talks about that. Their practices seem to be similar to those of the music industry. The first story is about a blind man being sued for downloading porn. You think they might have gotten the wrong guy? In the end, instead of trying to prove his obvious innocence, he settled with the studio.  It's cheaper and easier and keeps his name out of the papers.  And it's basically extortion.  Now that should be illegal!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Own or Rent

A while ago I blogged about renting vs owning. I concluded by saying I realized why owning is better than renting but I'd wait to post those thoughts. Well, here they are.

Why renting can be better:
When you rent, you pay rent, maybe utils, cable, Internet, etc. When you own, you also pay property taxes, condo fees (maybe) and a lot of maintenance. Generally, your rental costs are lower than your ownership costs.

While the costs of ownership can rise without warning or limit, rent control exists (in some areas) to prevent that. Last year my rent increased by 0.7%. Shortly after I moved in, I found I needed a new oven. I had one the next day, and it didn't cost me a cent. Taxes can rise. Heating and electricity costs can rise. Condo fees can go up at any time, and the condo association can come and ask for money for things not covered in the fees, and they want it now. With a house, you can put off non-urgent repairs until you have the money. Interest rates on your mortgage can rise, possibly forcing you out of your house.

Now, if you rent, figure out how much you would be spending on ownership and invest it in some investments. After 25 years, you're rent is going to be pretty darned low, and the returns on the investments (as long as they weren't too high risk) should be pretty good.

Renting is also for better short-term mobility. If you're working contract to contract and you figure you may be moving to another city at any time, renting is better. If you have to move, you just give your two-months notice, and move out. If you own, you have to sell, which is a lot more work, and more expensive. This is especially important in times of high unemployment.

But, here's why owning can be better: Long Term mobility. Let's say you move into an apartment where you're assured the walls are thick concrete, only to find out they're not. It's just drywall and insulation. You can hear everything going on in your neighbour's apartment. (This is my current situation). If your neighbour likes to make a lot of noise at all hours, then you may want to move. Now, if your desire to move happens in the first couple of years after moving in, no problem. Move. What if it's 10 years after moving in? You get a new neighbour, and suddenly your life is miserable. Rent control has kept your rent relatively low. If you move anywhere else, you'll be renting at market values. Your rent will increase. If you happen to be on a fixed income, like after you retire, then this is especially bad.

Now, if you had bought, then you will have built up equity. If you decide to move, after ten years, your property's value has likely gone up. Of course, if you're moving within the city, then chances are properties all over the city have risen at similar rates, but for a similar dwelling, you shouldn't notice too much of a price difference. You'll be able to make a larger down payment due to the equity you've built up in your current place.

Another reason is for moving to a different market. Different cities have different markets. Toronto and Vancouver have insanely high housing prices. Sault Ste. Marie is very affordable. Ottawa is in between. Let's say you live in Ottawa in a house.  You and your next door neighbour both moved in at the same time, into identical houses, paid the same amount for the house, got the same mortgage, etc. Now, you and your neighbour have the same equity in your respective houses - let's say, $150 000.  Then one day you, and your next door neighbour have to move to different cities for some reason.

Now, let's say you each have a friend who are each neighbours in an apartment building. One of the friends has to move to Sault Ste. Marie, while the other has to move to Toronto.  Let's also say that you get a job in Toronto, and your neighbour gets a job in Sault Ste. Marie.   So you and your renting friend are moving to Toronto.  You're next-door neighbour and his renting friend are moving to Sault Ste. Marie.

You're next house will be way more expensive than his (and his will be bigger!). But you're both better off than the two next door neighbour's who rented. Each of you will be able to have a house in the next city. You'll use the equity to put a down payment on a house in Toronto, while he'll use his equity to buy a house outright in Sault Ste. Marie.

As for your renting friends? The one moving to Toronto will have to rent. Period. Owning will of the question (without some other finances, like a winning lottery ticket). The one moving to SSM _may_ be able to buy, but if he does, he'll likely only put 5% down on his house.

Another reason to own is when you need to upgrade your lifestyle. Renting a one bedroom apartment isn't too expensive. Two bedrooms are a little more expensive. But what if you have a growing family. You'll want more space. You'll want a house. At this point, you'll wish you had built equity up in a condo or bungalo or something smaller.

So, unless you see yourself moving to another city within 5 years, it's probably better to own.

As for me, I work in IT for the Canadian Government. Normally, that's about the most steady employment you can think of...other than maybe Tim Horton's franchise owner. But right now, it's less stable.  And if I lose this job, I don't see me sticking around Ottawa for too long. If I lose my job, then so will lots of other IT professionals in government. Many of them will have more roots in Ottawa than I'll have. The job market will be saturated. At which point, the housing market in Ottawa will really cool off. I'm at a disadvantage; I don't speak French. So, if I can hold onto my job, then I should buy something, but if I can't, then I'll probably be screwed.

*Sigh* I'm getting really tired of listening to my neighbour's stereo.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

I'm An Artist Too (148)

I came into my cubicle one day to find the following coffee-cup art:

So, someone wants to be a contender, eh? Yeah, well, as the creator of Mr. Falcon, I figure the real Grandpa Falcon would be more like:

Monday, October 31, 2011

The TV Fast Explained

I've talked a lot about my TV fast, and no one seems to really understand why I'm doing it. I will now explain it.

Why the Fast?

I want to expand my life. I want to do more things. I want to learn. There are summers from my childhood that I look back on and realize that all I really did was watch TV. What a waste those summers were! Now that I'm finished with school, and have a job, it would be so easy to just come home at night, have dinner, and watch TV. What a waste that would be!

What I Hope to Accomplish

I have goals. I have things I want to finish. I have things I want to accomplish.
  1. I need to learn French.
  2. I want to do some coding. I have been talking about the next Mr. Falcon game since High School.
  3. I want to meet new people. I want to have a life. I want to be more social.
  4. I want to take up new hobbies, and work on current ones.
  5. I want to get out more.

The Problem with TV

There's nothing wrong with TV as a form of entertainment, per se. But I get addicted to TV too easily. First I only watch one show. The next thing you know, one show becomes two, Then three. And on and on. The next thing you know, I'm watching 20 hours a week of TV. That's a part time job. If you put 20 hours a week into learning a second language, you'd be billingual in no time.
I've blogged about my Adventures in Housesitting. One time I took care of someone's apartment. They had a finiky TV set, and it sounded like it would be a lot of work just to watch TV. I was too lazy to watch TV. Instead I read a lot. And I talked to one random stranger a day. Yet, when I would housesit for the McQueens', I would watch hours of TV. I would waste a night away with Seinfeld and Simpsons reruns. The difference between the two places was habit. At the McQueens' I would just get used to watching TV as I ate.  There was always "just one more show" on. At the other place, I never even turned the TV on. Breaking the habit would have to be done cold-turkey. That's why I started when I moved out of the McQueen's.
It's one step above useless
Really, what do you get out of TV? Entertainment, and a bit of education. Okay, if you watch educational TV, then you very well may be getting great use out of TV. But for most of us, we watch TV primarily for entertainment. Do you really need that much entertainment? Once upon a time, entertainment was not a daily thing. Weekly, monthly, or less. Otherwise, you sit around (not good for you) staring at the TV being subjected to hours of brainwashing advirtisements. I'm not saying entertainment is bad. I'm suggesting that maybe it should be more of a treat than the status-quo.  Or find other types of entertainment, or ways to keep your mind occupied.
It's effect on the mind
I am fascinated with hypnosis. A lot of people I talk to are afraid of hypnosis (usually from a misunderstanding of it). Hypnosis is the process of putting your mind into a state of hyper-suggestability. In order to be hypnotised, you first need to go into a trance. In a trance you are highly suggestible. You're not asleep. You are focused on one thing: the voice of the hypnotist. Your brain waves are a little slower than your usual state. And it turns out that within a couple of minutes of watching TV, your brain goes into a similar state. You block out things around out (including your family). Then you're exposed to commercials in this state. That can't be good.
Besides becoming addicted to television, I find it give it too high a priority in my life when I am addicted. I avoid talking to people to watch TV. I avoid being with people in order to watch TV. Do you find yourself ignoring someing trying to talk to you when you're watching TV? Do you get mad at someone making you miss your favorite show? Sadly, I think I do this. I want TV to have a low priority in my life.

The Rule (and caveats)

For one year, I will not allow myself ot watch TV, with the possible following caveats and exceptions:
  1. I'm out at someone else's house (including my parent's house at Christmas time). I'll allow this because being out accomplishes goal 5 (above). If I'm at someone's house, then I'm out. Mission accomplished. However, I don't want to go out to someone's house just to watch TV.
  2. I'm sick. Sometimes you can only sleep so much, and you just need to occupy your mind with something that requires less effort than holding up a book.
  3. I have people over for other purposes (games day, dinner, general socializing, etc.), and we don't feel like doing anything else. This requires me to move my whole system from my bedroom to my living room. Again, I'm too lazy to do this regularely.
  4. Going out to movies in the theatre does not count as watching TV for the following reasons:
    1. It's not habit forming. It's too expensive to be habit forming!
    2. Going out to the threatre requires me to leave the apartment. See Goal 5 (above).
  5. YouTube videos do not constitute TV for me. I do not find them addictive. I can only watch 3 or 4 in a row before getting bored with them. So, if someone sends me a 3 minute YouTube clip. I'll watch it....eventually. You may find them addictive. I don't.

    However, some entire shows are on YouTube. To me, that's the same as watching TV. I'm not talking about the device, or the medium, but the habit, the time, etc. Watching shows on my computer, iPhone, YouTube, Crackle, streaming, torrented is all the same as watching on a traditional television set. Watching 5 minute clips is different to me.
  6. DVD purchases and digital downloads are technically allowed - just as long as I don't watch them until the fast is over.  If I see a set of DVDs on sale for an awesome price, I'll buy them now, and watch them when the fast is over.  If I buy a movie from the iTunes Music Store, for example, that's okay.  I'll wait until the fast is over before watching it.  (This is the most misunderstood aspect of the fast.)

My Progress

Not so good. I started this when I moved out last July. Before I moved out, I recorded a few shows on my computer for me to watch after moving out in order to ease into my fast. But, with no dining table, I would eat in front of the computer. After watching my recorded shows, I took advantage of my 200GB/month Internet plan, and the next thing you know, I'm spending all night watching TV on my computer.

At Christmas time I realized what was happening. So I successfully gave up TV for January, and again for March. So I was contemplating just giving up TV for 12 months - one month at a time. And/or giving up each month. I had already done a January and a March, so I just had to do the rest of the months. I felt like both of those options was kind of cheating and wouldn't really help me accomplish my goals. So I decided, starting in August to go for 12 consecutive months. It is now the end of October, and so far so good.

The Future

What happens next August if/when I finsih the TV fast? Sadly, I'll probably start watching TV again. But hopefully I'll have built up enough of a life outside of television that I won't have much time for it, and it will take low priority in my life.

Monday, October 24, 2011

First Year Update

It has now been over a year since I moved into my own apartment. I've blogged about my blinds, my couches, and some decisions I had to make about moving out (TV options, moving options, etc.)

How has my first year been?

First, the bad.
  1. The walls are a lot thinner than I have ever had before. I pretty much know everything that goes on in my bedroom-neighbour's bedroom.
  2. The elevators are constantly breaking down.
  3. This is the first time I've lived alone since I was in school and working at the same time. So there has been some loneliness.
  4. I'd like to buy a condo or house to get some better sound-proofing so I'd actually like to be home. But, given the uncertainty in the government for IT staff, maybe dropping most of my cash into one non-liquid investment isn't so wise. (More on that here.)

But, there's been more good than bad. Given my TV Fast (more on that here) that I mentioned in a previous blog, I've had time to do things.
  1. I have a games night with some friends on a weekly basis.  It's nice to have my own guests over without having to worry about the schedules of other people living in my home.  It's also nice to not have to worry that someone else in your home is going to have a gathering when it's inconvenient for you.
  2. I have spent a lot of time at Chapters - which I can see from my living room window. In fact, to date, I have read four complete books there, just a few pages at a time.
  3. The theatre next to me occasionally shows older movies for $5. I can go from my apartment to being in a seat in the theatre within 15 minutes. Yet, I have not seen as many movies as I thought I would have.
  4. I have gotten some coding done as well. I have made improvements to the Nordburg Music Database, as well as some other little programs I have written, or am in the process of writing.
  5. I have done some cooking too. I picked a cookbook my mom gave me years ago to work my way through. Unfortunately, it's a very basic cookbook, and therefore not great. It'll prevent starvation, but there's only been one recipe that I've memorized. I look forward to continuing in this.
  6. I have taken up Tai Chi. I try to go to class twice a week, and right now I'm helping out with a beginner's class one night a week. I also try to go to various workshops, instructor training, and other events put on by the Society.
  7. I've been investigating different housing/condo options just in case the government lets me keep my job.
  8. And I've been been working on my French, but not as much as I ought.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

I'm An Artist Too (142)

If you don't get this, perhaps the lyrics in the following video will help:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I'm An Artist Too (141)

Is a character in The Mighty Hercules a villain?  If they're wearing purple, then they're a villain.  Else, they're a good guy.
If you don't get this, maybe the below video will refresh your memory.

Monday, July 11, 2011

How To Read 120 Blogs

I love blogging. I love reading friend's blogs. I have an obsession with reading the news. Perhaps I love these things because I get addicted to checking things that change often - like blogs and news sites. Some sites update several times a day - like news sites. Others might go months without an update - like this blog. Isn't it really annoying to always keep coming back to check on sites again and again and again? It takes a lot of time, and it chews up bandwidth - which in Canada is very expensive. (Not only do you have to load the article, you have to load all the templates, ads, etc.)

Too bad there wasn't a way to know when a blog/site/comic gets posted, so you only read them when they get published so you don't have to keep going back.  Too bad there wasn't a way to read those sites easily and efficiently without loading all that extra stuff. Wait! Maybe there is! (Cue cheezy infomercial visual wipe.)

I keep up with 120 blogs/news sites. How do I do it? I use a feed-reader. A feed-reader is a piece of software that keeps track of all your blogs and news sites. It keeps track of what articles you've read, and which ones you haven't. Instead of going to every blog individually (which takes a lot of time and bandwidth), the feed-reader does the leg work for you.  It tells you when a new article, comic, blog post, or whatever is published.

It's kinda like Facebook.  When you log into Facebook, you see your friend's status updates.  It would be a big pain in the neck to go to each of your Facebook friend's profile pages to see if their status has updated, or if they posted pictures.  Instead, Facebook tells you what your friends have done recently.  It's like each person on Facebook has a blog, and by adding someone as a Friend you're subscribing to their blog.

I use Google Reader. I always keep Google Reader open in a tab in my browser at work and at home. When I find a blog or news site I want to keep up with I subscribe to it using Google Reader. That's how I keep up with 117 of my 120 sites. (The remaining 3 sites are made up of 2 work blogs that aren't available on the Internet, and one friend's blog who has seen fit to disable his RSS feed so I have to remember to check it all the time. I don't often remember, so when I do I end up reading about a month's worth of postings at a time.)

Whenever I explain the concept of a feed-reader to people they usually shake their head and say something like "It sounds really complicated." It's not.  It's about as complicated as making a Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwich.  Maybe I'm just doing a bad job of explaining it?

Here's how to do it:

  1. Go to Google Reader (
  2. Sign in to your Google Account. If you don't have a Google account, click "Create an Account" on that page and follow the steps.
  3. Optional: Bookmark Google Reader and/or make it your homepage when your browser opens. You'll want to go there a lot.
  4. Go to a blog (like this one) or a news site and look for the RSS logo ().  It may be in the address bar of your browser, or somewhere within the site. (Stinkin' Mozilla took that out of the address bar of FireFox as of version 4.)   Click on it. It should give you subscription options. One of them should be to use Google Reader. Select that option.


    Copy and paste the URL into the textbox that appears when you click "Add a subscription" in Google Reader.
  5. When you go to Google Reader to read your feeds, make sure you have "All items" selected on the upper left menu under "Home", and just the "New items" at the top of your feed list.
  6. Play with some of the settings. There's lot of key strokes you can learn to make things go faster, like "v" opens the feed that you're currently reading in a new tab or window, and "r" refreshes the list. Even without knowing all the ins and outs, it's a very efficient way to keep up with your favorite blogs and news sites. As you learn more, you'll discover all sorts of wonderful things (starring, sharing, liking, emailing directly from Google Reader, etc.), you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
There, now that wasn't so hard, was it?  I listed 6 steps.  One of them is optional.  The first two could really be counted as one.  The final two are really about the settings of the reader.  Really, its:
  1. Log in to Google Reader,
  2. Subscribe to Feeds,
  3. Read feeds in your reader, and
  4. Learn to speak Swahili with all the free time you now have on your hands.

Here's a video (from RSS Day.) that explains everything in a bit more detail:

Monday, May 30, 2011

There Are No Anchovies

A little while ago I blogged that I don't believe in Anchovies; I'm an A-Anchoviest. Things have changed.  Now I'm a believer.  I feel like my sole has been saved.

This is the bassic story of my conversion.

A friend at work saw my blog and told me he has had anchovies. Then we walked through Costco and he tried showed me some.  But they didn't have any.  He assured me if I went into any Italian grocery store they'd have them.  I thought he was just throwing me a red herring.  I mean, for cod's sake, did he think I was some kinda sucker?  Or, maybe he was just being koi?

My next clue was when someone at the office came into my cubicle one morning and plunked down a jar of anchovies onto my desk and walked away.  Walleye thought something smelt fishy after that.  I started to trout my beliefs.

I took the jar home and decided to make a pizza with anchovies.  I invited three friends over to share the anchovies.  I didn't want be shellfish, after all.

So, we made the pizza.  (In fact we made two in a roe!)  It felt like it took forever to make.  We waited with baited breath.  Anchovies are reel salty. The pizza was loaded with other toppings: peppers (green, red, orange, and yellow), onions, tomatoes, olives, cheese, and pepperoni. When I took a bite of a slice that had anchovies, the taste of the anchovies over-powered the taste of everything else.

Here's a picture of the pizza after I put the anchovies on it (and before I put everything else on it).  As you can see, the anchovies are on three quarters of the pizza.  There were four of us that night.  The pizza would be divided by four.  I asked "Should I make two slices with anchovies?"  They said "Two?  Nahhhh, make it three... just for the halibut."

Well, it was a fun night.  You might even say it was like salmon chanted evening.

Incidentally, I didn't eat any of the anchovies raw.  I was afraid I might fall eel.  Then I would have needed some real professional kelp.  I might have even needed a team of sturgeons to trawl through my system to cure me.

My experience is that anchovies aren't very common, so if you'd like to try them and you're in a store and you see a jar of anchovies, you'd better snapper up before someone else does.  But, if someone else tries at the same time, you might get in a fight.  Then it will down come to mussel.  Who knows, in a thousand years anchovies could be extinct.

And now, as the French would say: La Fin!

(PS:  Sorry for the crappie puns.  They didn't serve any great porpoise and I'm sure you've just about haddock with them.  I suppose I should have warned you.  Oh whale.  Caviar Emptor.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Haunting Dreams

The rapture was supposed to happen on Saturday, and I, for one, am glad it didn't. Here's why.

As a Christian, I'm looking forward to the rapture. I'm not entirely sure I believe in the rapture, but if there is one, then I'm looking forward to it. Of course, I'm assuming I won't be left below. It's about the only way you can never die.

I figure that Heaven is going to be really busy right after the rapture. There's going to be lots of administrative work to be done. I imagine that there will be long lines, and insane waiting times.

One of the things I look forward to when I die is getting my haunting license. I'd like to come back and haunt a family in a big, old house. But for that I think I'd have to wait for my Family-In-A-Big-Old-House tags. Otherwise, I'll be stuck haunting schizophrenics in an asylum. The patients will tell the nurses they're being haunted, and the nurses will just say "Of course you are." And no one will believe them, not even Agent Mulder.

But after the rapture, Heaven will be way to busy for me to take haunting courses, let alone applying and waiting for the license. It could take decades. As you read Revelation, you can see that stuff gets more and more surreal as the tribulation continues. Haunting won't be as fun anymore. Then after the seven year tribulation period is up, haunting will be pointless.  People will have a better understanding of the after-life.

But, since the rapture didn't happen, I can continue on with my haunting dreams.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I Hope I'm Not Left Below!

As I write this blog, the Rapture is supposed to happen tomorrow. Then, the world will end in October. I have figured out how the world will end. The universe will be ripped apart by a giant paradox.

Here's my syllogism:

  1. The Rapture is a Christian Doctrine concerning the end of the world.
  2. If the Rapture happens, then it proves that Christianity is the correct religion.
  3. If Christianity is the correct religion then The Bible is infallible.
  4. The Bible says that neither the angles nor Jesus - The Son of God - knows when the end of the world would be. "Only The Father knows." - Math 24:36, Mark 13:32
  5. If the Rapture happens tomorrow, May 21, 2011, then it has been predicted. Someone other than The Father knew about it.
  6. If someone other than The Father knows when the end of the world is then The Bible was wrong, ie: fallible. (See points 3 and 4).
  7. The predictor of tomorrow's rapture predicts an end of the world in 5 to 6 months - much shorter than the 7 years predicted by The Bible.
  8. Point 3 contradicts points 6 and 7. It's a paradox. POW! The universe is ripped apart.

My recommendations:
  1. A this point, crossing the streams might work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I'm An Artist Too (139)

If this doesn't make any sense to you, this video should help, specifically 3 min and 26 seconds.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm An Artist Too (135)

Jim Nortons Unfurrrrrl the Llllllid to Procure!

Hmmmm, that should really read Unfurrrrrrrl the LLLLLLLLLid to Procure!"

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I'm An Artist Too (133)

Camel to needles: I really like your eyes.
I know this is a stretch - and by "stretch" I mean it's badly drawn - so I will explain. That's a camel on the right, and a pin cushion with lots of huge needles with over-sized eyes on the left.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bountiful's Brilliant Students

According to Today's Article students in Bountiful BC "...[are] among the highest ranking on the 2011 Fraser Institute Report Card.

Bountiful Elementary-Secondary scored a perfect 10 mark."

I guess it's easy to do well in school when you have fourteen moms helping you out.

Monday, February 07, 2011

I'm An Aanchchoviest

I don't think anchovies really exist.

Think about it.  Have you ever had an anchovy?  You know about them as pizza toppings that you pray are never on your pizza. They're a topping that only other people have on their pizzas - people with bad taste.

If you were with some people who were ordering a pizza they would ask you what you wanted on your pizza. You would likely say something like "Oh, just about anything is fine with me. Get whatever you want." If they said "Okay. How about anchovies?" You would make a disgusted face and say "Ewww! No. That's gross!" But you've never actually had anchovies.

If you ask your friends if they like anchovies, they'll make a face like they just bit into a lemon sprinkled with mace and say "No way!" But if you ask if they've had any, they'll say they haven't.

Once upon a time, I found the idea of raw fish was really repulsive. Now I love sushi. Once upon a time I found wine intolerable. Now, not so much. Tastes change. It occurred to me that I was judging anchovies without giving them a fair shot. So I started to try to order them with my pizza. But they never seemed to be on any menu! One time I did see it on a menu and I asked about it. They told me something like "Oh, we don't have those. If you want them you have to order a few days in advance." Who orders a pizza a few days in advance?

Then I forgot all about it. Until now. I found a recipe for Cesar Salad dressing. It calls for "1 can of minced anchovies (optional)". I decided to go for it. But, try as I might, I can not find any evidence at any grocery store that anchovies actually exist!  So I make the dressing without anchovies.  It's not too bad, but I'll never how bad it could be.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Rent or Own?

For the last year the McQueens have stayed in Embrun, and I with them, unsure how much longer we'll be staying there. During that time I've assumed I'd be renting when I moved out. But, thanks to a nice tax return, some fiscal restraint, some on-call and higher-level acting pay, I had some unexpected growth last quarter. Suddenly, the idea of home-ownership was something that could happen for me in the not-to-distant future.

While the question is still academic, one day I will have to answer it; should I rent or own my dwelling place?

If you just answered "You should own. If you rent, you're just throwing your money away" then you've just disqualified yourself from being informed enough to give me advice on this subject.  I'll try to explain why.

First, let's define "throwing your money away." I assume what people mean when they say that in relation to renting as opposed to owing is that you're giving your money away without building equity.   In accounting terms, you're moving money from an asset (cash) to an expense (rent).  It causes your total equity to decrease.    When you own your house or condo, as you pay your mortgage you're actually buying something. When you move out, you will get that money back.  In accounting terms, you're moving money from an asset (cash) to another asset (property).  Assuming a 0% mortgage, your total equity doesn't change.  Then, as the value of your home goes up, your equity increases without you having to actually do anything.

It's true that when you rent, you're throwing your money away. But, it is also true of owning. In fact, you're throwing a lot more money away on ownership. In both cases you have to throw money away on heat, water, utilities, cable, phone, etc. Some of that might be included in the rent, but you are paying for something that you can't get back.

Furthermore, with owning, you're paying interest. In fact, with a 25 year amortization period and a 10% down-payment, you're going to pay for the house about 2 and a half times over; once for the value of the house, and the rest is interest. Paying interest is definitely throwing your money away.

Now, if you're lucky, when you go to sell your house, you can get all that back. Don't forget, with ownership comes maintenance. With rent, somebody else is responsible for upkeep. There's also property taxes. With a condo, there's condo fees, and extra expenses that aren't included in the fees.

In order to compare price sheets, I wrote a little mortguage calculator program. You can fill in all the figures for owning and renting and compare the two. Generally speaking, at the end of the amortization period you'll pay way more for ownership, and you're rent - due to rent control - will be pretty low.

How do you get ahead by renting? This is the hard part. When you own a house, every time you're paying your mortgage you're taking part in a forced-savings plan. If you don't invest in anything else, at least you have a house! With renting, you must invest elsewhere! You need to invest in good mutual funds, money markets, etc. With good investing you can come out ahead.

"But what if the economy tanks, like it did in 2008? Then your investments aren't worth much." True, but neither is your house. When the markets fall your risky investments are worth less. (You shouldn't have many risky investments close to retirement.) In time the markets will rise. You will get your money back. Now, if the local economy tanks, people lose their jobs, and many have to move. Moving requires selling of housing. With people leaving in droves (because the local plant closed, as often happens in a bad economy) then there's lots of people selling their houses, but not many are buying. The law of supply and demand requires the value of the house to fall.

Remember, the value of anything is the most someone is willing to sacrifice for it. If the city estimates the value of your house at $300 000, but no one is willing to buy it for more than $150 000, then your house is really only worth $150 000. After all, that's all you can get out of it. Therefore, that's it's value. Maybe another time someone will to pay more, but not now. And now is when you need it.

Most people also say it's the best investment you'll ever make. I've read a number of books written by several financial advisers and most say the same thing; "If your house is your best investment, you could be in trouble." In fact, here is a good article explaining why it's a bad investment. And here is a good response.  They usually say something like "Owning isn't for everyone.  You should buy a house because that's how you want to live."

So, my point is that the debate between renting and owning isn't as clear cut as you may initially think.

I have recently come to the conclusion that owning is better than renting for reasons I'll explain later.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Successful Starving Artists

Longtime blog readers will know how much I love the music recording industry. While I believe in supporting the artists, and I have no problem supporting those who bring the music to me by way of recorded media, like CDs - theoretically. I do have a problem when big business sues the little guy. Especially when the little guy is homeless, or a grandmother who's never owned a computer, or a little girl, or a dead person, or someone other than Bill Gates. It just seems so wrong. Espeically when the evidence of the wrong-doing is weak and easily faked. I used to buy a lot of CDs, until the lawsuits started. Now I boycotte. I only buy music from independent labels.

Then I stumbled across these articles.

It turns out that buying CDs don't really support the artists that much anyway. Read the articles to see the actual math, but a typical artist gets about $24 for every $1000 of record sales.   If you buy a CD for $10, the artist gets 24 cents.  The system seems designed to keep the artists down, while making the record execs rich. When the industry sues you for allegedly downloading music, they're not fighting for the artists. They're fighting for themselves.