Tuesday, March 31, 2009

J.CREW, my name is Melissa

I was pleasantly surprised when I called J.Crew customer service to correct a billing error on some clothing I bought via the Internet.  I was so used to being routed to a call center in Bangalore for everything else in my life, it was actually pleasant to talk to someone in my hemisphere who also knew the products being sold. She was both very helpful and apologetic for the error.

I've been a customer of theirs for about a year, J.Crew is a company that is doing things right. Great quality and style, and excellent customer service. I recommend them. Give 'em a try.

Debt is a four letter word

I had a casual conversation with a colleague the other day and happened to mention that I had to remember to make an extra payment on my mortgage. I got a really weird look. 

I said, yeah I do that when I have a few extra bucks so I can pay it down faster. Each extra dollar goes to paying off principal not interest. I got the look of "Why?" Then I said, did you know if you had a $200K mortgage and you could double your payments each period and drop 20K on it at the end of each year you could have it paid off in 5 years, vs. 30.

The rebuttal was, why not use your money now to buy the nice things while you're young and can enjoy them, like BMWs , Prada shoes, nice dinners.  I realized at that time I needed to switch topics because obviously we were never going to have an appreciation of each other's point of view.

Unfortunately we are a culture that believes that debt is acceptable and normal. If debt is used to as sensible leverage to make money then yeah , okay (e.g. and RSP loan or buy a house for rental income etc). But to use it to buy things we can't afford to begin with is a big part of how we got to were we are today. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

North America a victim of it's own Eco success?

I heard US President Obama said at one time that he US needs to sell $15 million vehicles per year to sustain the auto industry.  Wow, that's a lot of cars. 

I got to wondering that perhaps the government and environmentalists convinced us that we really don't need to buy that car. I sure didn't get a replacement car after my lease ended in 2008. Take the bus, car pool, walk or bike. That must have made some dent towards reducing car sales.

So can North America have it's cake and eat it too? i.e. Don't buy a car, instead take alternative means of transportation to reduce your carbon footprint and reliance on oil, BUT go out an buy a car to help the ailing auto industry.  I think that only works if you plan on parking that new car in a driveway and never driving it.

I just had a idea. Rather than doling out billions in of dollars in bailout cash to the automakers, what doesn't the government order a crap load of replacement fleet vehicles. Workers get new cars, auto orders go up, auto workers and all downstream industries making money. That seems to make everyone happy. Toss in a $5000 tax incentive for domestic car purchases and I might join in too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First real bike

Aidan just got a new bike earlier this week courtesy of grandpa. 

Every once and a while Aidan and my dad would walk past the Cyclepath bike shop on the Danforth. And each time Aidan would make a point of telling my dad that he wanted a particular green bike in the window.   Last week I checked out the bike with Aidan and found that although it was cool looking, it was too small. 

So we found this 16" Trek buried at the back of the store. Fortunately he loved it just as much as the first one. So the next day my dad, Aidan and myself went to Cyclepath after dinner and bought it. It was my dad's birthday gift to Aidan even though his birthday is in August. We just couldn't let this bike get sold to someone else.

Needless to say he rides it while I'm at work and back to our house when I pick him up after work. Simple joys of being a boy.

CNN - Joke #2

The other night I'm watching Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN and the topic is whether the outrage over the AIG bonuses are called for.

Of course the panel of guests has to have conflicting views to make it informative (ahem entertaining). But the real news is one of the guests is none other than disgraced financial analyst Henry Blodget. Some of you may recall his oracle-like stock prediction of Amazon.com, but it was overshadowed by his not so graceful exit and lifetime ban from the securities industry. Some people even named move after him, "The Blodget".

Come on CNN. I didn't think you'd sink that low.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Investing in the stock market - perspective

I still remember to this day hearing my father say that investing in the stock market was like gambling.  I was only 7 or 8 at the time, but I knew enough that the stock market was a "grown up" thing. I was born in the 70's so that was a pretty bad time for investing and that was about the same time the US dollar moved off the gold standard, and since then money was printed out of thin air. I'm sure back then he was thinking alot like I'm thinking these days.

So 30 years later, most of the population including myself are in some way invested in the Market. The government and financial institutions did a really good job of convincing the public to invest for the future. It's a shame we all fell for it.

I've been stung by the dot com crash, Nortel scandal, and now this total financial melt down. The only positive aspect I see is the fact that we will recover eventually. And most importantly will have gained the knowledge of when to get the hell out next time.

U.S. President Obama and Tresury Secretary Geithner have a new plan buy up the toxic assest and repackage them as high-risk offerings to investors, public and institutional. Even offer low interest loans for buyers. Are they serious? That's how we got here to begin with. Sure, piss off the public even more by convincing the public to purchase government sponsored investments and come a year later have them go to zero.

Actually that craziness sounds alot like what happened to me and thousands of others. About 7 years ago the Canadian government gave tax incentives to people who bought labour sponsored or venture capital mutual funds. Well this year when I tried to redeem them the company said they couldn't payout due to the market conditions blah blah blah. Instead they'll issue controlled annual distributions. In other words, bankrupt. 

Sleep Country Canada should sell a new mattress line called the  Investor Beauty Rest. Independant coils with memory foam euro-topper and most importantly with a zipper in the side for stuffing cash into it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tata Nano - Never in North America

This week Indian conglomerate Tata unveiled it's sub $2000 car called the Nano. This endeavor was announced last year but various hurdles delayed the official launch until now.

But seriously, could someone actually make a claim that this is the cheapest car in the world? I say that it's not even fair to price it in USD because there is no way in hell this car could be certified to drive on North American roads.

This car has no air bags and no anti-lock brakes. From the picture, clearly it does not meet  5mph bumper requirements. It most likely does not have the in body cross-members to protect from side or roll over impacts. In reality this is a scooter with a car-like body over it.  My snowblower has larger wheels than this thing! Could you imagine driving this golf cart in a Toronto winter on the 401? I'd be scared shitless.

What about emissions? The catalytic converter alone would cost more than the car.

If this car were ever put through the NTHSA tests AND if it were ever certified to be sold in North America, it would end up costing at least $9,000. So, please CNN and all the other media outlets ... stop calling this the cheapest car. Because, back in 1978 I made the cheapest car in my parents backyard with scrap wood and stolen shopping cart wheels.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Electronic chains

Some of you who read my blog have probably noticed that I go weeks without writing. I have a lot of daily experiences and thoughts to write about and share, buy unfortunately very little time to put fingers to keyboard. Sure, I could make time but that would mean trading off x time for y time. My personal choice is that my blog is lower priority. Please note that I'm not passing judgement on anyone's choices, it's just how I choose to manage my time. Also I spend about 10 hours a day in front of a computer so the last thing I do when I get home is boot up. Everyone's situation is different. 

Time management isn't as simple as we think especially when were inundated and pressured into signing onto high-tech services we really don't need. For example, Facebook, text messaging, Blackberries, Twitter, cell phones, Ipods, etc. Sure I have a Facebook page but I don't use it. I know people that spend hours on Facebook and neglect all the important things around them. The sad fact is that they don't even know it. This week, in Italy a man is divorcing his wife because she spends hours on end chatting on Facebook and neglected him and their kids.  Who really cares what your score on online Soduku is?

I rarely watch prime time TV anymore. People at work ask me if I saw the last episode of House or the Simpsons. I generally watch the news and some favorite shows on Discovery after everyone has gone to bed.

If you ask me, and you didn't ... all these electronic distractions are really numbing our brains and making society, and unfortunately the adults of tomorrow, less aware of what's going on around us. Maybe that's the whole idea.