Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Supreme Court Declares Open Season on Consumers
AT&T decision rated NC for "No Class"

Today in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion, the United States Supreme Court ruled that corporations can compel consumer arbitration and in the same boilerplate clause, ban class actions. This effectively removes any self enforcement remedy for any ripoffs and shoddy products that individually don't justify the cost of litigation (or even arbitration). Guess which five justices voted the pro-corporate line. Here's the write-up in the Washington Post.

Here's my incredibly marginally-related video.

Fat Albert Minisode - Christmas Special by Crackletelevision

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Purdue Team Creates 2,200 MPG car

A team from my alma mater, Purdue University, won the Shell Eco-marathon competition. Their winning entry was a car they call the Celeritas, a solar-powered (almost) street-legal car that yielded the equivalent of 2,200 miles per gallon.

In separate news, after years of experimentation, Agriculture researchers at Purdue have come up with a new use for sheep. Wool.


Monday, April 25, 2011

The Royal Wedding Drinking Game

If you are forced to watch the royal wedding this Friday, you might as well be playing the Royal Wedding Drinking Game. The creators of the game missed an obvious one though, you should take a drink every time Kate Middleton plays with her hair.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Never Take a Robosigner's Red Stapler

A website called has posted this picture of robosigner Bryan Bly separated at birth from Office Space's Milton Waddams.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is Mark Zuckerberg Commander Data's Lovechild?

I saw a picture of Mark Zuckerberg (from Facebook) the other day, and I was trying to think of who he really looked like. Then it struck me - it's Data from Star Trek TNG. Do you agree?

(picture from

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Could you do with 555,555.55 Fridays?

The meme of the year appears to be Rebecca Black's "Friday". The song has now been viewed about 100 million times at it's official Youtube link, but with unauthorized copies, and clickthroughs, etc., that figure has to be doubled. Exactly how much time has been spent watching Friday? The video is just under 4 minutes long. Multiply that by 200 million hits and you get 800,000,000 minutes. There are 1440 minutes in a day. 800000000/1440 = 555,555.556 days. That's 1521 years. If the average life sentence is 40 years, that's 38 life sentences.

Marginally relevant video time

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are we in a Higher Education Bubble?

This question has actually kept me awake at night. My oldest child will be going to college in two years, and my youngest one will be heading that way two years after that. I have been keeping track of the rising cost of a college education and the decreasing number of fields where a college education pays for itself.

Check out this article by Sarah Lacy at The article explains the arguments by Peter Theil, the co-founder of PayPal, supporting the premise that we are in an higher education bubble. Theil focuses on the competition for scarce places in prestigious private universities, but I think the bubble theory is supportable all the way down to internet trade schools.

Politicians say we should solve the unemployment problem by having the displaced workers go back to school to learn a new trade. That sounds good, and it works sometimes, but often it doesn't and for very good reasons. We keep hearing that we need more scientists and engineers to start the new industries that will replace the jobs that are being outsourced to China. What are the odds that that B-C student that is directed into an expanded engineering program is going to be the the standout that creates the dream product of the future? A more likely result is that we are going to have a lot of middling-quality engineers who can't find a good job but are saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans.

Microeconomic theory says that a firm makes intelligent decisions on how much product to produce when all of the costs of the product are internalized by the firm. It's only natural for a company who needs one engineer to want five to pick from. Not only does that depress wages by creating competition between the engineers, it wastes the resources devoted to training the five. In a perfectly efficient economic world, the firm would have to pay for all of the specialized education for all of its employees up front.

With a global population of 6 billion or so, labor at all levels is getting to be less and less a scarce commodity. To put this in perspective, let's say you have a 1 in a million aptitude for mathematics. That's great. There are 6,000 people just as smart as you. You might have to compete against all of them. Enhanced transportation and communication technologies bring competition not just to the manufacturing worker but also the knowledge workers. In this environment it doesn't make sense to waste our capital or our human resources. For that reason, it is important that our higher education infrastructure is efficient and prepares students for the situations they will face in the real world without burdening them with debt they can't pay. Our public subsidies for education at every level need to be re-examined.

I'm not sure what the answer is to dealing with the education bubble. I think one key is putting a hard cap not just on higher ed out-of-pocket expenditures, but also student loans. If that puts certain institutions out of reach, then so be it. Oh yes, consumers need to be able to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. If a school has too many alums discharging loans, then that's a sign that the education provided may not be that valuable after all.

On the subject of bubbles - a marginally relevant video:

Regulators Order Banks to Compensate Wrongful Foreclosure Victims
What can you make of this?

Multiple Federal Agencies, including the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision, have issued a joint enforcement order against most of the major mortgage lenders and servicers. This comes on the heels of findings that the banks engaged in systematic practices resulting in wrongful foreclosures of a scale that the agencies have not yet determined.

"These comprehensive enforcement actions, coordinated among the federal banking regulators, require major reforms in mortgage servicing operations," said acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. "These reforms will not only fix the problems we found in foreclosure processing, but will also correct failures in governance and the loan modification process and address financial harm to borrowers. Our enforcement actions are intended to fix what is broken, identify and compensate borrowers who suffered financial harm, and ensure a fair and orderly mortgage servicing process going forward."

The enforcement actions require the servicers to promptly correct deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure practices that examiners identified in reviews conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010. The actions require the servicers to make significant improvements in practices for residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing, including communications with borrowers and dual-tracking, which occurs when servicers continue to pursue foreclosure during the loan modification process.

What does this mean, exactly? On the one hand,it looks to me that the regulators never established the scope of the problem or procedures to determine the scope of the problem. They certainly didn't set up an independent authority to uncover and fix the problem (not to mention to prosecute fraud and misconduct.) On the other hand, the consent decree requires the banks to hire "independent consultants" to determine whether customers were wrongly charged or foreclosed in 2009 or 2010. At first blush this seems to suggest that any case currently in court will come to a screaming halt, if it hasn't already, pending teh "independent consultant" review.

Meanwhile, I'm getting reports from private consumer lawyers who are out in the field trying to help homeowners with their mortgage problems. These lawyers are reporting that even before the recent regulatory action, most of the cases are stuck in legal limbo. There are growing conflicts between loan servicers and investors. While few contested foreclosure actions are going through, the consumer lawyers are having problems because they are having trouble keeping their doors open. It's not easy coming up with a fee structure that strapped consumers can afford and that is results-driven when there are no results for years after filing. UAW members are lucky to have UAW Legal Services Plans, because the homeowner doesn't have to worry about legal fees, and the lawyer doesn't have to worry about getting paid.

Time for a really marginally relevant video.

Peep up for Union Made Easter Candy

Did you know that Peeps, those little marshmallow chicks etc., are union-made. Here's a link to's page on what candy and snack products are union made. I'm pretty sure that union-made candy doesn't have any calories.

And now the obligatory marginally relevant video:

Monday, April 11, 2011

People of WalMart - March Madness

- Results are In

While March Madness was going on wiht the NCAA basketball tournaments, had its won March Madness tournament, with 64 nominees for the picture of the year. The picture I posted is of the final two. For all 64 click here.
Don't Complain about Your Citibank Credit Card in Indonesia

In February, I blogged about a debt collector named Tobias Boyland
(a convicted felon) being on the lam and presumed to be armed and dangerous. (He was caught, by the way.) As far as I know, Boyland never killed anybody.

Now comes a story about debt collection tactics in Indonesia. Apparently, you should never complain about your Citibank credit card bill in in Indonesia. One fellow who did didn't make it out alive.

In an effort to support my family for many years to come. I will link a marginally relevant video about Citibank and Indonesia.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Good Stuff in Today's Wall Street Journal

Today's weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal shows that newspapers aren't dead. At the national level newspapers are still publishing some interesting and thought-provoking writing. Several items in today's paper stood out.

What if the South Won the Civil War. The WSJ contains an essay by historian Fergus Bordewich titled "How America's Civil War changed the World". April 12th marks that 150th anniversary of the start of the War Between the States. Writer Bordewhich posits what would have happened if the South would have won the war (or not lost it, which essentially would have been the same thing.) This essay is strong from the opening paragraph which succinctly summarizes the war itself:

On April 12, 1861, a shell fired from a rebel battery on Johnson's Island in Charleston harbor burst over Fort Sumter, touching off the Civil War. Answering the South Carolina secession convention's call to join it in "a great Slaveholding Confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any power in Europe possesses," 11 slave-holding states soon withdrew from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Armies fought over now-famous battlefields from Bull Run to Petersburg in a seesaw contest that would ultimately claim 620,000 American lives before coming to an end at Appomattox, Va., in 1865.
The rest of the essay postulates "what if" the South won the war. including this excerpt:

But it is safe to say that there would have been no American colossus to assert its military power and political will, and to intervene on behalf of democracy around the world. Would a diminished United States have entered World War I alongside Britain and France? What might Confederate affinity for German racial policies have meant for the Third Reich? Would either the United States or the Confederacy have dared to confront an expansionist and militarist Japan? If the West Coast states had formed a new nation, neither the U.S. nor the Confederacy would even be a Pacific power.

In a compltely different vein: there's a column by financial writer, Karen Blumenthal titled "How to Wreck Your Credit Score" contains some useful information. Fair Issac, the company that compiles the FICO credit score has released more specific information about the effect of certain mortgage-related negative items on your credit score. According to Blumenthal, a tradeline listing a mortgage as 30 days late can reduce an excellent 780 credit score by 100 points, down to the bottom of prime classification. If you have a lower credit score (and most people do), then a 30 day late listing is likely to knock you out of prime completely, at least for a while. A foreclosure or short sale can knock 150 points off a good or excellent credit score. According to the article, a "deed in lieu" has less effect, but it doesn't say by how much. What strikes me about this is that there is such little difference between being merely 30 days late and a complete foreclosure. Granted, the foreclosure takes longer to amortize off your credit, but it seems to me there should be a bigger difference. What Blumenthal doesn't say is that even though a deed in lieu is often the best outcome for a borrower who is upside down and can't afford his or her mortgage. In the real world, it isn't easy to arrange for a deed in lieu; certainly not before the borrower is many months behind in the mortgage, and often not until foreclosure proceedings have been started.

Finally, I want to comment on Dan Neil's review of the 2012 Fiat 500. This review is Dan Neil at his danneiliest. Neil won a Pulitzer price for an auto review a few years ago when he was writing for the Los Angeles Times. To say that he has a distinctive style would be an understatement, and there's no better example than this review. For Many writers would call the Fiat 500 a "women's car" or a "girl's car", or maybe even a "chick car". That's not Dan Neil. Here's how he addresses the subject:

So let's address the elephant in the room. This car is massively, comprehensively, ne-plus-ultra-with-a-sparkly-phone…cute. I know that we just went through all this with the Mercedes-Benz SLK, which I suggested was a chick car, but the 500 makes the SLK look like Brock Lesnar.

Why? Well, it's biological. Cars are inherently anthropomorphic, with a mouth (grille and bumper), eyes (headlamps) and nose (hood). Humans' facial-recognition software cannot help but impose features on inanimate objects with the approximate geometry of a face. Humans, especially females, are likewise evolutionarily wired to respond in a nurturing way to faces
Linkthat have a quality of neoteny, which is to say, the retention of infantile characteristics: large head, wide and prominent eyes, slightly helpless and winsome. This is the scientific basis for cute. Examples include Hello Kitty, harp seals and Justin Bieber, though I'm more likely to club the latter than the former.
Now I know who writes the verbal questions for the SAT Test.

The WSJ isn't perfect though. In one article I saw the iPhone referred to as the "iPhoe". Anyway, now it's time for the marginally relevant video of the day. Confession time: I didn't know who Brock Lesnar was. If you haven't kept up with the WWF, or if you are just a connoisseur of highbrow entertainment, here's a video for you.

Introducing BadLipReading - my new favorite music group

Did you ever see a good music video wasted on a bad song? Apparently the folks that call themselves badlipreading actually have taken the time to do something about it.

Here's another one

And, yes Ward, they're worried about the Biebster too.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Government Shut Down Inevitable?

The U.S. Government runs out of money today, unless a budget deal is made virtually immediately. There's no indication that that's going to happen. WWJD? What would Josiah Bartlett do? Here's a clip from the show West Wing before it jumped the shark in its last two seasons.

Perhaps all you need is love, Mike Love of the Beach Boys. He brought minimalism to sax solos before minimalism was cool.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Hoist a Goblet for "Chap Hop"

I don't know about you, but when I want to find out what's the latest thing in the Rap subculture, I turn to the Wall Street Journal. In this WSJ article, writer Frances Robinson introduces us to the British rap sub-genre of "chap hop" and the rivalry for supremacy between Professor Elemental and Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer.

Because bringing you the best in musical entertainment is one of my goals, I shall embed videos from both of these gentlemen.

Lest you think all topics involving sartorial eloquence and gentlemanly ways come from across the pond, you might want to check out the Dapper Blaine Meme Generator.
Foreclosure Crisis Update

60 Minutes had a story this past week on the robo-signing problem in the foreclosure industry. It's embedded below.

In related news, the state of Florida is dealing with a funding crises in its state court system. Once the robosigning problem was uncovered, foreclosures in Florida came to a screeching halt. That was over a year ago, and things haven't picked up much since then. As a consequence,court budgets have really taken a beating. It seems that the Florida courts rely on filing fees for a large portion of the court budget. With few foreclosure cases filed, the courts are millions of dollars in the red. Florida Governor Rick Scott has approved a $72 million stopgap funding measure to keep the courts operating. The problem will need to be addressed again.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

News from Detroit
The Truth? You can't handle the Violent Torpedo of Truth

Yesterday in Detroit, Charlie Sheen got booed off the stage in the first performance of his Violent Torpedo of Truth Tour. Naturally, today there are multiple postings of cellphone videos of the "event".

Saturday, April 02, 2011

2012 Buick LaCrosse - The Car that CAFE built

The current generation of the Buick LaCrosse has been a critical and sales success for General Motors. For the 2012 model year, the LaCrosse will get a freshening with a difference, the new LaCrosse will come standard with an eAssist(tm) electric boost system that is expected to give the LaCrosse an EPA highway fuel economy rating of 37 MPG. What's not to like about a full-sized car that gets 37 MPG on the highway? Depending on your needs, maybe nothing, but if you are expecting a full-sized trunk in your vacation mobile, you might be disappointed with the 2012 LaCrosse. The the trunk in the 2012 LaCrosse only has 10.9 cubic feet of usable space, roughly a third smaller than class average and just a little more than half the size of the class leaders.

The difference in trunk room is due to the battery and other equipment used to deliver the class-leading economy of the LaCrosse. In my opinion, it would have been better to wait until a new car could be designed around the system rather than to shoehorn it into a current model. I suspect that GM was forced into this decision due to the requirement to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. GM recently announced that it expects to offer the 2012 LaCrosse with a no-cost V6 option. That solves the trunk problem, but it essentially makes the LaCrosse unremarkable.

For a detailed preview of the 2012 Buick LaCrosse, check out the article linked here.
Michael Moore and the Wealthy 400

An underreported sideline to the Wisconsin legislative walkout was Michael Moore's speech in which he asserted that the wealthiest 400 Americans in the United States had more wealth than the least wealthy 50%, approximately 150 million folks. Below is the Youtube embed of his March 5 "America is not broke" speech.

The 50% figure was based on information from Forbes (not exactly a source noted for a liberal bias). At the time of Moore's speech, the most recent figures available were from 2007. Shortly afterwards, the data from 2010 became available, and lo and behold, the richest 400 Americans now are more wealthy than all of the lowest 60% of Americans. I suspect that a big part of the difference came from a decline in home equity during the Great Recession. Many Americans have a negative net worth, and they would seemingly be in the lowest 50%. Many more were driven into negative net worth when their home equity, their only asset, went from positive to negative.
Weird Days in the Auto Industry
Demand is Good - Supply is so-so

The March 11 Japanese earthquake and tsunami have caused supply problems at various different stages of the component supply lines, idling final assembly lines in Japan and in other parts of the world, including the United States. The supply outages come at a time of spiking gas prices and high demand both for new and used autos, especially those that get better than average fuel economy. Virtually all automakers reported year-over-year sales increases, with the exceptions of Lincoln, Toyota, and Jaguar, which reported small decreases. The most notable increase was Chrysler Corp. which reported a 31% increase over March 2010. This was an important month for Chrysler. This is the first month that virtually all of its 2011 models were generally available, and it came fresh on the heals of heavy marketing expenditures including the Eminem Superbowl ad for the Chrysler 200. It's unknown whether Rebecca Black bopping in the back seat of a Chrysler convertible had a material effect on Chrysler sales.

Another notable feature of March 2011 was Ford outselling General Motors even though GM's sales were also up for the month.

With supply constrained at several of the Japanese automakers over the next few months, this could be an opportunity for the Detroit Three to gain some market share, IF they can avoid supply constraints of their own due to critical comoponent shortages. Already certain paint colors are in short supply at Ford and Chrysler due to lost production at a Japanese supplier.