Tuesday, June 30, 2009

one for the duh files

The energy bill recently passed in the House puts limits on CO2 emitted in the US with a goal of reducing our CO2 output by 85% by 2050, but makes no effort whatsoever to address the CO2 output (or other pollution) from goods produced outside of the US.

Good thing the US doesn't share an atmosphere with any other countries.

Or a jobs market. (Making energy expensive in the US will push energy-intensive production overseas, taking factory jobs with it.)

How hard would it be to include an imported goods section? Something like:

All imported goods from countries that do not have equivalent CO2 capping programs must pay a CO2 tax equal to what a domestic competitor would pay.

Personally, I care a lot more about the arsenic and sulfur clouds floating over from China, but forcing them to participate in a CO2 program or come up with their own would be a good first step.

Monday, June 29, 2009

why motorcycles basically shouldn't be legal, except for Harleys

There are two types of riders:

1) Idiots who are willing to accept risk in exchange for performance.

2) People who prefer safety and comfort and are willing to wait their line in traffic.

The first type of people want bikes because they are the fastest machine you can get for the money. These people will love their bikes for all of the several weeks of their remaining lives. There is no way for these people to ever be safe riders, no matter how skilled. As their skill increases, so do the risks they are willing to take.

The second type of people could be good, safe riders, but never will be because they don't see the point in motorcycles. There is an exception within this group, of course: the fashionista Harley riders. They have no interest in performance (if they did, they'd be on a real bike), so they are likely to be perfectly safe. Their enjoyment from the ride has nothing to do with speed or performance, so they can rumble along perfectly contentedly and don't need to take risks or push limits to enjoy themselves.

If anyone cares, I'm the first type. Virtually everyone who has ever bought a bike is. Also just like virtually everyone who has ever bought a bike, I hope to own a ridiculous car someday. Maybe an S2000 or an Elise.

Friday, June 26, 2009

climate change is dead, long live the energy crisis

I have no specific opinion about human caused climate change.

I think the science is too complicated (and politically charged) to come to any kind of reliable conclusions and I see little point in artbitrarily choosing to believe one way or the other. Think about the number of factors involved between atmospheric composition, solar radiance fluctuation, surface reflectivity, cloud formation catalysts, and so on. It is a difficult question.

The WSJ thinks that we are seeing an international move away from belief that we're responsible.

I just hope gov'ts won't throw baby out with the bathwater. Other types of pollution and environmental degradation are undeniably real: deforestation, fish stock depletion, China's dirty coal addiction (the US and Europe use coal too, but we scrub our smokestacks to take the carcinogens out instead of fogging our cities with it), Europe's diesel particulate issues, soil erosion, worldwide groundwater depletion. These are all obvious and comparatively easily solved problems that have been pushed aside by the carbon debate.

And, of course, there is always the other side of the CO2 problem. The nasty, scary, possibly irresolvable part: that we are depleting the world's cheap energy reserves.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

falling prices are annoying

I'm looking to buy a place in a north Denver suburb.

I don't expect to make money on it, but I don't expect to lose a lot of money on it, either. I figure it'll be a good inflation hedge if things go that way, but mostly it is a lifestyle decision.

The only problem is that prices in the area have been nearly flat for a decade now. This sounds like it would be good news for a buyer, but it isn't. What it means is that there are three types of places on the market: distressed sales of run down houses, grossly overpriced HGTV-inspired amateur flips, and owners with unrealistic price expectations because they need to sell for at least 10% more than they bought for just to break even.

For a buyer, all of these options are bad. It means the only way to buy a place that hasn't been trashed by an angry debtor or abused by the HGTV-addled crowd is to pay significantly above market values. Nowadays, even that is not so simple, since appraisals have become so much more strict.

Friday, June 19, 2009

since when?

Nobody has been this tired of hearing about economic indicators at their worst since the Great Depression since (you guessed it) the Great Depression.

Why not mix it up a bit? Maybe say things haven't been this bad since before WWII, since Hoover was president, since Hitler graduated High School, since the Empire State building was completed.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the way RE pricing should work

Part 2 of my continuing series on what is wrong with real estate.

Listing prices often have absolutely no relation to reality and make the whole system inefficient. Between short sales listed at ridiculously low prices that the actual property owner will never accept and ludicrously high prices that no new lender will ever give a loan for, badly priced properties just waste everyone's time.

The obvious solution that has probably been suggested a million times before:

A proper appraisal by an actually neutral third party should step #1 in any sale process.

Not a realtor opinion. Not a zillow zestimate. Not a silly homowner guesstimate. An appraisal arranged through a lender. Or, better yet, an incorruptible third party.

You have to get an appraisal to get a loan anyway, few people are willing to buy a place too far above appraisal, and few people are willing to sell a place too far below appraisal.

So, what is the sense in listing a place without getting an appraisal first?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

diapers as CO2 sequestration

They say that disposable diapers can take a century to biodegrade when buried in a typical landfill.

I say maybe that is a good thing.

The process of carbon sequestration is just taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it somewhere else for a long time. So, in the case of diapers, trees took the carbon out of the air, factories turned that tree-captured carbon into a useful product through the addition of a carbon-based sealant (a thin layer of plastic, usually made from oil) and humanity briefly used this product, then put it in the earth.

So, the carbon cycle is atmospheric carbon converted into carbon chains by tree, sealed to prevent carbon returning to atmosphere by factory, stored underground for a long time by an indifferent humanity.

That is the definition of carbon sequestration.

Maybe congress should pass a bill subsidizing paper diapers, carbon taxing rapidly degrading diapers, and banning re-usables and paper recycling in general.

Yes, up to this point, I have been mocking CO2 policy, not really being serious at all.

But, if you really think about it, virtually everything a person owns during their life that isn't metal or water is primarily composed of carbon. Clothes, beds, carpets, computers, houses, food. Basically everything. If all of that carbon came from the atmosphere today and got put into the ground, that'd be a pretty significant carbon sink. Unfortunately, all that plastic still comes from oil.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

subsidize taxis

I pretty much hate mass transit, but understand that there is a place for it.

I mostly don't like waiting for things, or sitting next to strangers, or stopping every 20 seconds.

But I was looking at a chart last night that showed the comparative fuel efficiency of a variety of transport options and it is undeniable that buses are quite efficient when they are full.

They are also the least efficient transport option in existence when they are empty.

My idea: only run buses during times of the day when they are the most efficient option, then subsidize other transport options (like taxis) during the quiet hours. I don't know what the exact rate structure should be, but the city would save a silly amount of money by only running buses 10-14 hours/day instead of 24.

The reduction of diesel particulate emissions would be even greater than the reduction of energy consumption, since most buses are diesel powered.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

oh noes!

Eddie Bauer is going BK.

Where am I going to get my shirts now? They are the only place I've found that sells Large/Tall long sleeve shirts that fit me*. Plus they are wrinkle and stain resistant to boot.

Hopefully they'll have store closing sales and I'll just buy every tall shirt in the city.

They really are just so nice and fit 100% perfect.

*Yes, I have heard of Big&Tall's and yes they are 100% useless unless you are both big and tall (and willing to pay high prices for truly nasty low quality stuff, no offense).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

simple tech to reduce RE transaction costs

I don't really know why real estate agents still exist. I'm using one right now, but only because I have no choice in the matter. Selling agents won't let you see a place unless you have a buying agent. It is 100% ridiculous.

They basically represent a 5-6% transaction tax on top of the other transaction costs.

Many web sites exist to lubricate most of the process. The part that remains is the lock box. Buyers will only give the lock box code to a seller's agent. Not individuals.

The idea to replace the lock box is such:
It is a lock box that communicates via the cell phone network. The buyer contacts the seller to set up a time. The seller enters that time and the buyer's cell number into a permission database. When the buyer goes to the house, they text the lock box. If it is the right time and the right phone number, the lock box unlocks and the buyer can see the place.

If you wanted to get fancy, you could add cameras and such to the lock box to make sure the key gets put back in, etc. But this covers the basics. Or a temporary wireless security camera system to the whole house to make sure it doesn't get trashed while empty.

Other than giving access to places, I don't see that RE agents add any value to the transaction that couldn't be replaced by a good automated system. Certainly not enough to justify a 5-6% tax.

You'd replace the buyers agents first with a fixed cost discount service that is accessible to anyone - agent represented or not. Then buyers agents would slowly disappear.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

interesting times

This is the scariest blog entry I've read in a while.

In essence, the gov't is trying to keep interest rates low to keep the economy from tanking. Low interest rates mean lower operating costs for entities with large debts. Most American entities have large debts, so lower interest rates reduce operating costs, which means it is easier to keep a business or household running.

They recently failed and interest rates jumped 30% in one day.

Simultaneously, the value of the dollar is tanking. Down to its lowest value so far this year.

And the stock market is excited about a small bump in a Chinese manufacturing index.

What I think right now:
1) This sentimental stock market rally is running on fumes. I trusted it for 2 days, took my 6% return and ran.
2) If the Fed doesn't get things under control, interest rates are going to continue to rise, which is about the worst possible news for house prices.
3) For the Fed to get interest rates under control, it may need to throw the dollar under the bus, which would obviously lead to 1970s style double digit interest rates and a thoroughly toasted economy.

I expect the gov't to take the proactive approach and accept ridiculous inflation as a pain that voters don't understand well enough to care about. Because of this, buying a house now as a hedge against inflation and as a way to lock in still historically low interest rates is a good decision. Considering that it can still be done with basically zero money down, it is a bet that can't go too badly. Not for me, anyway.