Monday, March 7, 2011

Of Vital Interest to the United States

The question "Is it of vital interest to the United States to remove Gadhafi from power?" was asked many times on the Sunday news shows this week. No one that I heard actually answered the question. It is a sad day when someone feels they even need to ask this question.

A more important question might be "Is it of vital interest to the United States to be in an energy position such that some nut on the other side of the world who controls 3% of the worlds oil can't wreak havoc on energy prices in the United States when a civil war erupts." The answer to this is a resounding "Hell Yes". It is of vital interest to the United States to have a policy which leads to the end of our dependence on foreign oil. Why can't we get focussed on that?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

High Speed Rail - Where it makes sense

I am a proponent of high speed rail. President Obama has just suggested a budget that includes $53B over the next 6 years for a coast to coast high speed rail network? I should be happy, right? I am not happy. I think the priorities are wrong. While I believe that high speed rail makes a lot of sense, I think we need to look closer at where it makes sense.

My first choice is city center to city center between cities with high business travel by car or air, where the train travel would actually be faster and presumably cheaper than either automobile or air. Some examples include:
  • NE Corridor: between Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston
  • Texas: connecting DFW, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio
  • North Carolina: Charlotte, Triad, Triangle
  • California: San Diego, LA, San Jose, San Francisco

I am sure there are others not mentioned here. The most obvious routes in the above list are the NE Corridor, and the Texas Routes. I have concern that it will be hard to beat air travel between LA and the Bay Area destinations, but considering airport security wait time, it still may be viable.

The economics of the high speed rail will most likely return a profit only if it is able to replace air travel, and some auto travel between destinations. It the business case is profitable, it should attract private investment. If it is not, it doesn't make sense for the government to spend on it either. As much as I want high speed rail, the $53B investment may just be too much, too soon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Business Investment Deferral - A tax compromise idea

I watched a discussion on the "to extend or not extend" debate regarding the Bush tax cuts on "Meet the Press" this morning. If I understood it correctly, one of the major arguments is over the democratic position of 'let taxes go up for people over $250K' and the republican position of 'many or even most small businesses would be affected and thus dampen growth'.

What I propose is a new tax deferral I call the 'Business Investment Deferral', which would allow small businesses to defer a portion of their profits (over $250k) for future investment without being taxed. Sort of a section 175c capital expense in reverse. I would propose that this deferral must be spent within 2 years, or be taxed at the then current rate.

Example: Let's suppose I have profit from a sole proprietorship of $400k. This is my only income, and I need $250k to support my family lifestyle. This option would allow me to defer tax on $150k of the income for up to two years so that I can accumulate enough capital to grow the business. I take the $150k into the next year purchase some additional capital equipment and hire 2 new employees. The capital equipment is purchased for 75k as a section 175c investment and is paid for with the BID money. The net is 175c = $0 and the deferred amount is now 75k. My business income profit for the next year shrinks to $250k but I am still whole. Everyone is happy.

Something like this might work. I won't begin to argue that $250k is way to low a number to call someone rich, but that's a whole different argument. What it does is differentiate the difference in a small business with profits over $250k, and an individual or family with total taxable income over $250k.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Will the iPad be as revolutionary for me as the iPhone?

I resisted carrying a cell phone for years. I finally relented when I did my last consulting assignment, and now carry one at all times. The first one I really liked was the Blackberry Pearl. It did Phone as well as PIM functions and was small enough to carry in a pocket, which I much prefer to a case.

I got an iPhone when they first came out. The original iPhone. I have since upgraded to 3G, and now 3GS. I consider it the greatest techno widget I have ever owned. The sheer magnitude of the functions it performs is staggering. Consider, as a frequent business traveler, the difference between traveling to strange cities alone in the mid-seventies, and traveling with the iPhone now.

Then: Get a map at the rental car counter
Now: Key in destination for turn-by-turn directions
Call Home:
Then: When you get to the hotel, call and give phone number and room number to spouse
Now: Place safe arrival call as soon as you land while taxiing to gate.
Find a place to eat:
Then: Ask desk clerk at hotel, or read hotel guide
Now: Bring up location based services app such as Around Me, Zagat, or Yelp
Then: Find a place to call police
Now: If phone not stolen, use phone to call 911. If phone stolen, use computer to find phone.

To be fair, there was a period when I had some of these before iPhone. I had an IBM x40 Thinkpad (very small and light). I had a USB connected GPS and Delorme Street Atlas. It would give me directions, show points of interest, but it always took a few minutes to get it going, was difficult read in bright sun, and the biggest thing, it wouldn't fit in my pocket. Small as it was, it still needed an over the shoulder carry bag.

What the iPhone did for me was replace all of the needs to carry a computer when traveling unless it is needed for business. For me, the only significant issue with the iPhone was that it's small size causes eyestrain for this old man if I try to read for a long time, watch TV, or anything like that. I wished it could be just a bit bigger.

Enter the iPad

When I first started hearing rumors about an Apple tablet, I was really excited. There were a lot of different screen sizes rumored, and the one I so fixed my thoughts on was one that would be about 5x7 in size and had all of the hardware, including the phone, that came with the iPhone. It would still be small enough to be carried in a pocket (such as a vest pocket in a jacket), but would be large enough to be read as easily as one of the millions of paperback books of that size.

What Apple announced is cool, really cool, but it is too big. For my lifestyle, it's imperative that it fit in a pocket. I want a senior size iPhone. If one appears, I will trade my existing iPhone for it. Until then, even if I buy an iPad for whatever reason, I'll still need my iphone as the current iPad will not replace it. The iPad, as announced, will not revolutionize my life the way the iPhone has.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Life's Little Irritants: Breaking News Abuse

Breaking News banners are going the way of the 'boy who cried wolf'!

I used to stop what I was doing the moment I heard of 'Breaking News' on the TV, Radio, or whatever the source was. Breaking News was truly a new and newsworthy event. No more!

Not only do the cable news networks such as CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, and others use the 'Breaking News' for stories that just aren't worthy, they use it over and over again, declaring Breaking News on the same identical story they reported in the previous hours.

If there could be a law on 'Breaking News', it would be that it can only be used the first time the story is broadcast. Any repeat can be labeled 'Top News', but by my definition a repeat is not 'Breaking News'

While this gripe applies broadly to all of the Cable TV News Networks, I do want to commend those breaking news SMS feeds for not following this practice. If TV is annoying, imagine how repeat SMS would be.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Driveway Container Experiment

I created a container garden on my driveway earlier this year because I believed that my prime vegetable garden spot wasn't getting enough sun. It's between two brick walls and was only getting about 4 hours of direct sun a day.

As a comparison, I planted some of the identical plants in containers in the old spot so I could directly measure the differences. I installed automated watering for both, attempting to apply similar water in both locations.

The control plants were:

Heatwave Tomatoes
Texas Sweet Onions
Burpless Cucumbers
Jalapeno Peppers
Green Onions
Curly leaf Parsley

Observations as of mid-July

Early in the season, the driveway garden won hands down. The driveway garden receives twice the sun of the sideyard garden, and it was evident in early tomato production. The strawberries and Texas Sweet Onions also did much better, the onions producing fully formed onions sooner, and the strawberries thrived where in previous years they bore poorly in the sideyard.

However, as of today, the sideyard garden is producing good tomatos, cucumbers, parsley, and basil, while all plants except the strawberries, peppers, and basil in the driveway garden are showing extreme heat stress. More water isn't noticeably helping.

I'm thinking of changing the experiment in the fall. The driveway container garden sits on a white concrete driveway, and is on the East side of a 6 foot brick wall. It gets sun from about 2 hours after sunrise until about Noon, and then becomes sheltered from direct sun after that. I'm thinking the combination of the direct sun, the collection and reflection of heat by both the brick wall and the concrete may just be too much.

My plan is to move the container garden to the center of the driveway, forming a single mine down the center with a lane for a car on each side. This would provide for more sun, more air circulation, and less accumulated heat from the brick wall.

This past year, I planted winter lettuce in the sideyard garden. My observation is that it really didn't do well until late winter, when the lettuce produced quite well until about mid May. My hope is that the center driveway location will provide more sun for lettuce growth during mid-winter.

I'll report again next Spring on the results of the next experiment.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Life's Little Irritants: Food Labeling

I've been trying to count calories and cholesterol lately, and at times it get's really frustrating. It has to do with trying to look good without necessarily being so. Take an example on a can of Pam Organic Canola Oil Spray.

The label says 0g Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 0mg Cholesterol. Also 0 calories, and 0 calories from fat. Sounds good, right? Well then, look at the serving size: 1/5 second (spray time). Servings per container: 419. WHAT? Did anyone ever try to cook with 1/5 second of cooking spray? It looks like if you can list 0 for a value if the true value is less than 0.50 of a gram, and perhaps less than 0.5% of daily value. At the serving size specified, all the values are zero. The label certainly doesn't tell you anything. It is totally useless. From reading a label on a bottle of Canola Oil, Canola Oil contains about 14g of fat per tbsp., which is also 14g of product.

Doing a little math, it takes spraying about 10 seconds to get 1 tbsp of product by the spray. I probably don't spray 10 secs, but I do probably spray 2 secs. That would make a reasonable serving 2.8 g of fat.

Now why can't they just say that on the label?

Another example is content by deduction. An example, Total fat: 6g. Saturated fat: 2g. Of the 4 grams not specified, any idea how much is polyunsaturated fat and how much is monounsaturated fat? I haven't a clue!