Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Clever site

Corporations are trying to figure out the internet and how to use it to increase sales. Here's an innovative idea from HEMA. It is a Dutch department store. I'm told that the first store opened on November 4, 1926, in Amsterdam and that now there are 150 stores all over the Netherlands. HEMA also has stores in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany . Take a look at HEMA's product page . You can't order anything and it's in Dutch but just wait a couple of seconds and watch what happens.

This has to get attention which is the whole point of advertising.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Rant - the financial mess

If you are interested in finance, the stock markets and that whole area as I am, you are probably well aware of the amazing stupidity, cupidity and downright duplicity of our "financial community". Little by little the news is getting out that these people are making the old "robber barons" like John D. Rockefeller look like pretty nice people.

The stories of the guy who brought down Barings Bank and now the guy who caused a French bank to lose something like $7 billion dollars (3.5 billion euros I think) are the stories of crooks. They get caught sometimes and go to jail sometimes and sometimes not. I don't really care about them. It's the other ones that bother me.

The people who have invented these incredibly complex transactions are the people who are scary. I was reading about this financial product called a TOB - a Tender Option Bond. What they do is buy a municipal bond - a bond issued by some local governmental agency. In the US the interest on such bonds is usually tax-free. Then they borrow perhaps 80% of the value of the bond using it as collateral; then they borrow more money, like the remaining 20%, from someone else again using the bond as collateral. Thus, you are getting interest tax free but have your money back as well while paying interest that is tax deductible for corporations. It is when the lender's start fooling around trying to reduce the chance of loss that things get hairy.

The problem is that it does get much more complicated from there. Interest rate changes, especially, are going to change the value of the basic bond; therefore the amount borrowed may no longer be secured. The people who work in brokerage houses can't tell the future any better than your horoscope. I don't believe they can see the problems inherent with these complexities either. That's why Warren Buffett keeps speaking out against derivatives - the more complex the transaction, the more likely it is to crash.

I wish there was a way to get the world out of this mess but it's going to be ugly if it ever does happen. It will make this subprime mess look like good days. So what can we do? 1. Try not to invest in weird things like this. 2. Sit quietly and hope like hell nothing happens! At least those are the only ideas I have. If you have any, I'd love to hear them.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sunny but cool

Florida is back to being sunny today but it's cool (67F or 19C) and breezy. Went out to the park and took a couple of pictures including this one. This is Lake Tarpon. It's in a very populated area but has a park on each shore and the water is kept pretty clean. I'm staying pretty quiet today. Just doing a few things around the house.

Cut up the meat for beef jerky this a.m. Jerky is a marinated, dried meat. I suppose you could make it out of almost any meat as long as it is lean. I marinate mine overnight in soy sauce and worcester sauce, add hot pepper flakes & a little onion powder and garlic powder. Tomorrow I'll put it on the dryer for five or six hours. I like it ok but my wife, daughter & everyone else really loves it. The three pounds (1.5 kg) of meat should make 12 or 14 ounces (400 g or so) of jerky. All we have to do in invite a couple of friends over and it would be gone.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not so sunny, Florida

Went out to the local beach yesterday and got this photo of some folks determined to enjoy their stay. It wasn't snowing but it sure wasn't that nice either. When we lived in Washington state there was a saying to the effect that if you let the weather rule you, you'd never go out at all. Here sun is a lot more available so most local people would be hiding inside in this weather. These folks are certainly 'snowbirds'.

Some people don't like the snowbirds because when they come down here they really strain our resources. A doctor visit in the summer might be 'next week' but in the winter it's more like 'next month'. Trying to get your RV repaired in the winter is basically impossible. And I'm not going to speak of the dangers of having hordes of older, lost drivers running around in your city because I'd have to use some really bad language. Still, they are extremely important for the economy of Florida. This place would still be mostly swamp if it weren't for our visitors. So welcome to Florida. I'm glad you are missing out on the snow up north. (And I'll be happy when you head back next spring.) Enjoy the beach!

Monday, January 21, 2008

More Disney

Had a nice comment from meggie over at http://lifesfreetreats.blogspot.com/. She reminded me about a couple other Disney memories.

If you are considering visiting DisneyWorld in Orlando, you should be very careful about what ticket you buy. Each park charges a separate admission unless you buy a multi-park ticket. Parking at each is separate (generally $11 a day) and not included in the admission. The multi-park tickets cover more than one park but you need to check carefully that you are buying what you want. The web site is very helpful and you can buy the tickets ahead of time. That way you don't have to make all these decisions at the ticket window in the heat surrounded by anxious kids and adults. AND be very careful to wear the most comfortable shoes you have. You'll be walking miles. In the week we visited we walked over 29 miles by my wife's pedometer.

Disney is simply Disney. I've never found a substitute and I doubt if there is one (not to mention that I wouldn't look for it - LOL). It is always clean, the people are always happy, the messes cleaned up rapidly. The Orlando Disney complex includes several distinct parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood and more. That isn't counting the zillions of resorts. Here's the list: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/common/siteMap?id=SiteMapPage Every employee has their name tag with their 'home' listed. There are a lot of kids from all over the world working at Disney. (Kids being defined as anyone under 30! LOL) In Epcot at the various national pavilions, of course, they are nationals of that country. We've always liked Epcot but it is the clean, fake world of Disney; not the warty real world which is so much nicer in our opinion.

Magic Kingdom (the children's park) is totally unreal. Many people bring children who are too small thus by early afternoon there are whiny kids all over the place from missing their naps & too much sugar. It's not the kids fault but they sure are annoying. There are strollers everywhere; often double-wide strollers. There is a parade every afternoon, several live shows daily, and everything is Disney, happy and smiley. You see adults, grownup people without kids in their party, having their photo taken with an actor dressed as Beauty (from Beauty and the Beast). Do you hear my inner grouch coming out?

Mickey Mouse is everywhere. Croc's are a cheap plastic shoe that are all the rage right now. They have holes in the top for ventilation and cost $30. At Disney, the holes are in the Mickey Mouse shape and the shoes are $39. The candy is in the shape of Mickey. The balloons are Mickey shaped. The topiary is great; every cartoon character you can imagine. Come to think of it, it may be plastic; I didn't check.

For me the biggest annoyance is built into the nature of theme parks. They want you to stay a while and spend money; you want to see things then leave. There is no motivation for them to reduce waiting for rides so they keep the lines as long as possible while not actually having riots take place. On many rides, you wait in line, are taken into another area and wait in line there, then are taken into another area to wait more and finally get onto the ride. The ride itself is seldom more that 3 or 4 minutes. I think the only things that take longer are the films in the French & Chinese pavilions; those are about 15 minutes. Even in January, the slowest time, there were 20 to 50 minute waits for many things. (In summer there are other entrances to the rides that are opened to keep waits under control. In winter these are closed off to reduce the staffing required and keep those wait times up. See Queuing Theory 101 in your college catalog.)

The park has two ways you can beat the wait but neither really works to your advantage. Some rides have a 'Single Rider' line that you can use if you don't care about being with your party. They have a 3 seat ride. Lots of couples ride it together and don't want to be split up. So a 'single' can be slid in with the couple, raise the usage rate of the ride and go through faster. Of course, the wait in the single line can be manipulated just like the other waits. The other idea is the 'Fast Path'. Here you use your entry ticket to get a ticket for the ride at a predetermined time. You might arrive at 13:00 and get a ticket good for a ride sometime between 14:30 and 15:30. You go do something else for an hour and a half then go get on the ride. Of course, there is a wait in the 'Fast Path' line! And, needless to say, the timeframe you get is determined by the parks desire to keep you around, not the actual number of people wanting to go on the ride.

There is one thing that definitely adds to the need to wait in line and it is something that just isn't handled very well. There are many people who use wheelchairs to get around Disney for a variety of reasons. These people want to ride the rides as well and Disney does everything they can to accommodate them. Usually this includes stopping the ride for the 3 or 4 minutes it takes to get someone into the ride. Thus all two or three hundred people waiting in line stop and wait for this one person to get on the ride. I applaud Disney for enabling these wheelchair bound people to ride. I just wish they would do it in some better manner. For example, every 10th car might be designed for wheelchair bound folks with special easy entry doors. Why stop the ride so we can all watch someone struggle to get a chair into a standard car? Stop it for the 15 seconds it would take to roll the whole chair on. It's just dumb but then again, there is no motivation. The wheelchair bound get directed to the front of the line. They seldom have any wait at all and the park is giving them that perk so who's to complain? Only the politically incorrect who have had 4 kids going crazy in line for the past 20 minutes.

Would I go again. Well, yes, possibly after the sugar high wears off. But we left Orlando in 1988 & that was the last time we visited until just now in 2008. It could be another 20 years....

Have a good one, it's dangerous out there.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Something to eat

I saw this over on Someone Else's Horescope (http://someoneelseshoroscope.blogspot.com/). We love food and the preparation of it so much that I had to answer.

I have such an great diversity of bloggmates visiting here from near and far...
1. would love to know what some of your dinner favorites are...
2. what your favorite take out is...
3. annnnnd, if you were to cook me a meal what it would be!

1. Dinner favorites - if I cook, a stew of some kind, maybe curry. If my wife cooks, perhaps, chicken piccata. Wine, certainly!
2. Don't do much take out - pizza is usually it.
3. Well, something special for an honored guest. What do you like? BBQ steak, salmon, a pork roast; or if you prefer we could do something like a filet mignon, chicken kiev, enchiladas? We are pretty versatile. There would be a vegetable, a salad and probably bread. Desert is not usually on the menu but if you have a sweet tooth, we might add berries & cream. Would that work?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I forgot something cool

There was one thing that was pretty cool technically. We are Florida residents so get a discounted rate ticket that is only good for certain times of the year. Cool. Who the hell would want to attend in the middle of summer anyway if you had a choice!

However I digress. Twenty years ago you got a photo id resident card. NOW you just get this barcoded ticket. However, when you go to the entrance and stick the ticket into the machine, you are instructed to put your finger in a reader. After that your ticket and fingerprint are associated forever in the Dinsey archives. Every time you use the ticket to enter you need to display that same finger to the reader. If it doesn't match, you'll have a hell of a time entering the park. The rides aren't so picky - yet!

Ready for Big Brother? Well, here he comes, ready or not! Take care out there, someone might be watching!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Disney World

Just returned from a week at Disney World. No, it wasn't my idea. My wife, born in San Diego, visited Disneyland the first year it was open. She also says she would go there with a girl friend in her teen years and pick up sailors. She retains memories of those days. When we lived in Orlando in the early 80's we had Florida Resident passes giving us access to the parks in 3 or 4 of the unpopular months. This is our first visit in 20 years.

It was really ok. We took our trailer over and stayed in Fort Wilderness campground. It's a huge place. Well run, as you would expect with Disney, but arbitrary and silly, ditto. For example, we were parked in an area where dogs were permitted but there was a sign at the entrance to our area that dogs could not go beyond that area. The result was that there was only one small area in which we could walk the dog. They have a HUGE complex, surely they could cough up another acre for a dog run area. Then there is the $5 a day charge because we had a dog. Then there is the wifi - only near the office and $10 a day. We had the cable tv - unfortunately not normal cable but a Disney special with all their networks over represented and one or two representatives from other networks.

With our passes we could go anywhere we wanted so we hit most of the parks. Animal Kingdom has animals but you don't get to see much of them because the rides don't stop. We did really like the 3D movie It's Tough to be a Bug. 3D has sure come a long way since I last saw it! Disney-MGM was dull but my wife says it had the best roller coaster in the Rock and Roll Coaster. Hit a lot of the old rides in the Magic Kingdom; some were updated, some were dated, a couple were new.

Epcot has always been a favorite of my wife and I. We visited quite a bit when we lived in Orlando and had a teen-aged daughter. We revisited the old places and saw the new ones for the first time. It was ok. The revamp of Spaceship Earth is nothing to get hot & bothered about. The new ride Soarin has huge lines but was a mixed bag for us; we liked it but there were uncomfortable moments. You are supposed to be soaring over California but first of all, the photos are taken from a helicopter or small plane. They jump from place to place without warning so a scene going over rafters on a river is followed by having a golf ball hit at you which is followed by going over a high, snowy ridge with a big dropoff on the other side. Also you are up in the air, only 5 or 6 feet, but they tip you forward and backwards in your chair. Uncomfortable.

The place is horrendously expensive. Prices were generally twice what one might expect elsewhere and, unfortunately, the quality was often not there. Spending $15 for pasta with shrimp is a lot here in Florida. When the sauce comes from a can and the shrimp are old; there just isn't much excuse for that; even Chili's or TGI Friday would do better.

So, even with all this whining, we had a great time. Wifey got to see or ride whatever she wanted. I got to check out whatever I wanted. Kid came over for a day and a half & checked out what she wanted. We came home without a single souvenir between us. It could be a record. Photos, well maybe, if I can find anything worth posting.

Be careful out there!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Love this guy!

Someone introduced me to this guy. He may or may not be a great ventriloquist, but he's got a great dummy! He's just funny and that makes him less powerful AND the people who he represents. The dummy is Achmed the Dead Terrorist.


Yes, Achmed wouldn't be singing Xmas carols but... it's humor folks!

Take care, it's dangerous out there!