Saturday, February 27, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
Recently the state of Vermont decided not to allow the renewal of the license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. This decision was made by the Vermont Senate not the NRC itself (the NRC has allowed all licenses to be extended that have been requested so far, I believe). The NRC originally licensed reactors for 40 years and can provide a 20 year extension; Vermont Yankee went live in 1972 and thus it will not be in use past 2012 unless the license is extended. Per this article, Entergy intends to fight the state decision:
Late Wednesday, the Vermont Senate blocked the company's application for a 20-year operating license extension for its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Entergy said in a statement that the effort to win the renewal, "is far from over." The power company said it'll work to prove its case to the Vermont legislature, state officials and the Vermont public. Entergy may be forced to shut down the plant in 2012.
Of course this begs the question as to how Vermont will now get its power; this plant provided 35% of all power (according to the Wikipedia link above) for Vermont in 2006 and certainly losing a fully paid for, base load nuclear station is going to require a lot of expensive replacement power from other sources. Since Vermont is on the east coast and there is a heavy transmission grid there other power sources should be available, but this likely will have a rate impact on the citizens of Vermont when they begin paying a higher price for out of state power.
Entergy and Spinning off Nuclear Assets
The plant is owned by Entergy. Entergy is run by Wayne Leonard, one of the smartest guys in the electrical utility industry, who purchased this plant back in 2002 (here is a link to the original purchase announcement, before it officially closed, back in 2001). It isn't a "done deal" yet that the plant won't get re-licensed, but if so, it would be expected that this would be a financial negative for Entergy because they likely assumed that the plant would have been re-licensed (because they are routinely approved by the NRC) when they purchased this asset back in 2002. Entergy is also thinking of spinning off their nuclear plants to shareholders; this is smart because the value of the nuclear assets are impaired by the fact that they are owned by distribution companies; as a stand-alone asset, they can charge whatever the market will bear and the distribution company will have to pay up or go without; when they are part of an integrated utility you can only raise rates so much without causing yourself problems since you own both sides of the value chain.
The state of New York woke up and realized the problems that independent nuclear plants would cause. Per this article:
New York's utility regulator said on Thursday its staff found Entergy Corp's (ETR.N) plan to spin off six nuclear power units, including three reactors in New York, to a new company, Enexus Energy Corp, was not in the public interest. The New York State Public Service Commission said in a release it was considering other options, including changes to the transaction to improve the financial stability of the three New York reactors and provide benefits to ratepayers. The staff concluded that the level of debt needed to finance the Enexus spinoff "is excessive when the business risks of this new merchant nuclear plant enterprise are considered," the agency said.
The re-licensing of Vermont Yankee isn't a done deal yet. It is likely that Entergy will continue to negotiate with the state of Vermont and they want some sort of additional clean up or concessions to allow the sale to go forward, or a guarantee of some sort of rate reductions below what could be charged as "market" rates. Like the state of New York, the states have to move while they still have some leverage (when the plant owners are changing the license or getting re-licensed by the NRC, which may or may not require state approval) because the Federal Government is pretty much approving everything right now without significant conditions.
Given that the states don't actually believe that significant new capacity will be coming on line anytime soon, and that renewables haven't made any sort of significant supply contributions to date, letting these nuclear plants charge whatever the market will bear will have ruinous impacts on utility customers because there is no viable competition on the horizon in terms of significant new plants. There has never been a better time to own a paid-off nuclear plant than right now.
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz
After my annual fall shop cleanup I’m often left with a pile of scrap wood from various furniture projects I’ve completed throughout the year. Mostly cutoffs and short planks, they’re really not useful for much -- a guy can only use so many clamping blocks and push sticks -- but I always feel bad about consigning premium hardwood to the burn pile.
A few years ago I came up with a simple cutting board project that makes full use of scraps and looks way more impressive than the few hours it takes to complete. It also makes a great gift and as word has spread, I now make it a part of my year-end holiday tradition for an expanding group of friends and family. All you need is a table saw, a hand-plane and a couple of spare hours on any given Saturday afternoon (although a power thickness planer will speed production and router will allow you to apply a few more decorative flourishes). Here’s how to do it:
First, assemble your scraps. Anything at least 1-inch wide and 10-inches or more in length will do. Short 18 to 24-inch planks are ideal. I typically use good old American maple, cherry, and walnut for my projects throughout the year which makes an ideal color contrast for the resulting cutting board, but any non-porous hardwood will work. I’d exclude pine or poplar as too soft. I’d also steer clear of red oak or mahogany with their open pores. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes and I’ve had good luck with the occasional African exotics as well as white oak and beech.
Next, set your table saw to the starting THICKNESS you want the cutting board to be plus about ¼-inch to allow for final surfacing. We’ll be turning the slats on their sides and face-gluing them up into a laminated board so don’t worry about saw marks. For a full-sized cutting board, I usually rip to 1-1/4” which is eventually planed down to 1-inch after glue-up. For a small cheeseboard, you can go ¾” and plane down to ½” for the final product.
I find it handy to next crosscut cut the slats to rough dimensions of the final product. The final length of the wood is usually determined by the shortest straw in the pile. For a full-sized cutting board, 12 x 16-inches is ideal so if you’ve got 10 or 12 slats long enough, crosscut them evenly to 18-inches or so. If the majority of your slats are shorter, no sweat. Just cut them to 12-inches and use more to make up the 16-inch width laterally as I did for this example or make a smaller board.It’s now time to get out your clamps and glue, but first a couple of tips. In the past, I used a plastic-resin glue sold under the name of Weldwood. Mixed with water to the consistency of molasses, it dried waterproof and stronger than steel. Lately, though, it’s been tough to find, so I’ve experimented with other readily available off-the-shelf alternatives rather than doing a special order.
I’ve been using Titebond III glue for the past couple of seasons with good results. It’s probably the easiest to use bottled waterproof glue you can find. It cleans up easily with a wet rag, has good open time, requires no mixing, and holds up to kitchen abuse like nothing I’ve seen in a squeezable product. Polyurethane (e.g. Gorilla Glue) is another option, but it tends to be hard to clean up and leaves you with brown-stained fingers unless you use the care of a surgeon. Marine epoxy is another decent choice (especially if you’re using oily exotic woods like teak) but it’s not my first choice for domestic hardwoods since it’s tricky to mix and apply. If you DO use epoxy, just make sure you get the long-set version and work quickly on the glue-up.
I’d also highly recommend covering your bar and pipe clamps with waxed paper during setup and cover your bench with newspaper too. Regardless of your glue choice, you’re going to move quickly and get a lot of squeeze-out so it’s much easier to peel and pitch the wax than chip away at hardened glue.
Now, just glue your board up piece-by-piece. Be generous with your coverage. Clamp progressively from one end. The slats tend to shift a little so you can adjust them as you go. And don’t over-tighten. You should see glue squeeze out from the joints but if you jack the clamps down like Hercules, you may starve the joint and suffer a split board under regular use.
Let it dry overnight.
Next time, I’ll show you how to size, surface, and finish the project for years of active use.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The fun part about the show isn't the judging or the events, it is the fact that you can walk around and see all of the dogs being groomed and prepped by their owners before the show. It isn't every day that you see 5-10 of every type of dog breed imaginable in fine form. Here is a you tube video I made last year at the 2009 show (I had a song to it but they stripped it out so the video is silent; if I actually knew much of anything about dogs I could narrate it).
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
With all the news on the Toyota recall problems I think back on my old 1976 Toyota FJ. Here is an old Polaroid photo that has been on my bulletin board for a long time.
In 1982 we had just settled into out first home. In anticipation of our first dog, potential offspring and the need for a new car we settled on a Ford Fairmont station wagon. It was the most boring automobile I ever owned. The wife had an uncle who worked for Ford and was able to get us in on the employee purchase discount. We paid $5500 for it new. It allowed us to haul stuff and the mileage was OK.
A year or two later a professional photographer I traveled with on many company on-location assignments mentioned that he was selling his Toyota Jeep, or “FJ” for $2500. It was a 1976 model he had parked at his summer home near Hayward WI. and used it for running to town and four-wheeling on old logging roads. Being bored to death with the Fairmont and feeling the need for a 4WD vehicle for deer hunting trips and towing the boat peaked my interest. After convincing the wife that having a backup vehicle was a good idea and that this was a good price we bought it.
Toyota had yet to become a top brand. I also had issues with buying foreign. Because I was buying a pre-owned vehicle it eased my guilt about not buying American knowing a fellow American was benefiting from my purchase.
This thing was more of a truck than a Jeep. If I remember correctly it took eight quarts of oil. The inline 6 was powerful but far from quick. To engage the 4WD I had to stop it, get out and manually twist a knob on the front hubs. It had 4WD hi and low ranges and as with all 4WD vehicles at the time it was not recommended engaging it on dry pavement,
The thing was a rust bucket from front to rear. During the four years I owned it you could hear the rust form. The turn signals mounted on the front fenders were plastic and they attached to the metal fenders without much engineering thought. When rust ate away at the area where the turn signals mounted I used what else? Duct tape to the rescue. Problem with that was eventually I needed to replace the duct tape about every other month. No matter, it provided me with many great memories.
Once my grandmother asked me if I would help remove a pine tree that was in the way of her driveway expansion. I dug a hole under the roots and attached a chain to the hook on the front bumper. Using 4WD low in reverse the FJ pulled the 20 ft. pine out of the ground, roots and all. Now that’s power.
On a January day in 1985 the FJ and I managed to crank it up and go exploring on the coldest day ever on record for Chicago. It was -27 with the wind chill recorded at -83. Few autos were on the road that day. The metal frame made noises I never heard before or after but the thing just worked. Ice Road Fvckers we were.
I used the FJ to haul my 14’ fishing boat on trips, get back into the swamp where I hunted deer, dared many flooded cornfields and made general errands around town. If anyone ran into me they would get the worst of it. It felt invincible. The term "SUV" was just a gleam in Algore's eye.
One day I decided that watching rust fall off this thing onto my driveway and cleaning it up each week was enough and put it up for sale. It sold within a few days.
No regrets. It as a ton of fun and one in a long line of Jeep / 4WD vehicles I would own.
The best part about the FJ was that the accelerator never stuck and the brakes always worked.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
In partnership with "The Smoking Gun", a web site that I get a kick out of sometimes when they post police reports and also the "riders" that music stars fill out when they come to tour in your town, there is a TV series called "world's dumbest" and they have the usual cop chases, car crashes, and other ridiculous items.
This photo is from when a crane in Argentina was trying to pull a bus out of the river but they apparently failed to calculate that the bus would weigh more when it was full of water so the whole crane fell in. Then they also have the usual comedians commenting on the proceedings - one guys' take was "That's why Argentina can't have nice things".
Another scene showed some sort of Fiat race in Brazil where a little car went about 100 feet off the track, hit some sort of embankment, and flew about 40 feet into the air and over the fence and into a forest or something. The best part was that this was apparently "no big deal" and the race just kept going. Then ANOTHER car does pretty much the same thing.
In addition to the comedians that you haven't heard of that are pretty funny they intentionally went out to scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel to find completely washed up celebrities to do skits and narrate the proceedings. I am talking Tanya Harding, the Willis from Diff'rent Strokes, Lief Garrett, and Gary Busey whom they periodically hand an open mike to and let him talk which is just insane.
This is on my TIVO list and if it is 2am and I've had a few drinks and can't sleep I know just the thing.
Tuesday night I could not sleep. The pain was intense. My jaw was swollen. I never had a toothache but it was obvious this was one.
Called my dental clinic as soon as they opened and went in to find about twenty others ahead of me. After a one hour wait the xrays and visual examination made it clear, this was an infected tooth. He sent me home with a prescription for antibiotics and pain killers. I would return the next day for a root canal.
Some dentists will perform this procedure but most will send you to an endodontist, a specialist in root canal work.
My local dental clinic is large, five dentists, one endodontist and too many hygenists and assistants to count. One partner dentist was a friend and neighbor of mine until he built a mansion.
The lady endo is Chinese and less than five feet tall. She was very nice and explained everything that would happen. The pain was so intense I did not care what I had to go through to get rid of it.
It turns out a tooth (that they had filled about four years ago) had been drilled so close to the root nerve that eventually a gap occurred allowing the infection to eventually happen. She would remove the filling, expose the root and remove all root nerve tissue. After that she filled the root canal with antibiotics, sealed it and placed a temporary cap on top of it.
It took 1 ½ hours in the chair with my jaw spread wide as possible with a spreading device. They covered my mouth with stretched latex isolating the tooth. I do not know what was worse, the tooth pain or the jaw pain afterwards. The jaw is still swollen.
In three weeks I go back and she will do the same thing all over again but instead of antibiotics she will plug the root canal with a permanent filling. They will then make an impression of my lower jaw so a crown can be made.
Three months and $1500 later the jaw will be back to normal. That cost is after my insurance picked up 45%. After experiencing the procedure it’s hard to argue with the cost.
One benefit of this ordeal is I have not been able to eat for over three days and woke up today with a sour gut again. It is somewhat painful to chew but my belly wants nothing to do with food but I managed to eat two pieces of toast yesterday afternoon. I can’t even look at food. I think this is caused by the antibiotics and pain killers. This morning I will call when the office opens to find out if this is normal, they said nothing about it when I departed.
The downside is missing an annual wild game dinner held this afternoon in Whiting. My contribution was to be a pheasant, andouille sausage (which I made myself) and shrimp gumbo. I will miss the dinner but more than that I will miss the characters who show up each year for what is a great hunter’s party at a cool old private club/bar.
Friday, February 19, 2010
To give Interactive Brokers some credit, the ad was kind of "tongue in cheek" in that it was made to look like it was written on a napkin like the classic business plan but there were enough elements there to get me thinking about what an odd state of affairs this represented.
Just recently this model started coming under siege. The Fed recently began tightening interest rates, increasing the discount rate to 0.75% from 0.5%. While the Fed has been denying that this is part of a long term policy shift, the markets have started to feel otherwise, as markets went down and yields increased on government debt. This won't directly impact the 1.25% that they are able to borrow for on the "napkin" today, but it seems to be trending that way, even if this is just a first step.
On the other side, 2 large European firms just cut their high dividends. Daimler Benz (DAI), manufacturer of Mercedes autos, suffered a loss and canceled their dividend, leading to a drop of 4.6% in their stock price in one day. Socite Generale, a large French investment bank, cut their dividend from $1.2 Euros to $0.25 Euros (a drop of 79%) and their stock also fell 7.2% in a day.
The question is - how can companies pay out such high dividends in a sustainable manner when there isn't much growth in the world economy and many of them are in mature industries? While 2 stocks don't constitute a balanced statistical survey, they show that dividends are a function of profits and long-term profit view and to talk about them in an "historical" view is backwards.
The other side of this is that investing for yield in such a volatile area as stock prices shows that not only did the long term value of the income stream from dividends drop significantly (in the case of Daimler it dropped to zero, and for Socite it dropped by 79%) but then you can also see the impact on the underlying value of the shares, which dropped 4.6% and 7.9% in ONE DAY.
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz and Trust Funds for Kids
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Who could go to the auto show and miss the auto babes? For the new tiny Fiat model the Italians went all out.
There were some hot cars at the show. The Audi R8 Spyder convertible was fantastic, although you can't see the engine through the rear window hatchback like you can on the hard top. There is a new Mercedes gull wing, and don't forget the GTR, with a sticker at a mere $80,700.
A lot of custom cars caught the eye of the younger crowd. Scion in particular and Suzuki too had some great customization.
Fun for all, see you next year.
Monday, February 15, 2010
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You mean revolver, right?”
“Nope. I’m looking right at it and it’s an auto,” replied Sarge testily. “I mean they DID teach us a few things in the Marine Corps like how to tell a wheelgun from an automatic.”
“Ok then, you mean it’s a .38 Super or maybe a .380 Auto, right.”
“Dude, I’m telling you I can read too and it’s stamped right here on the slide in big block letters: .38 Special.”
I had never heard of .38 Special in anything other than a revolver, but as usual, Sarge was right on the money. After further investigation, it turned out we had a vintage Smith & Wesson model 52-2 on our hands designed for shooting .38 Special Wadcutters.
He quickly snapped off a couple of camera-phone shots and I was immediately skeptical. The blued steel and ungainly appearance of the well-worn custom grips looked like something from a bygone era. I was thinking we’d be lucky to get rounds to fire at all, let alone hit the paper. Boy was I wrong.
Originally manufactured in limited quantities during the 1960’s the Model 52 is still considered by some to be one of the finest target match-grade pistols ever made. But the word “unusual” doesn’t begin to describe the gun.
Let’s take the ammo for starters. True wadcutter ammunition is a rarity these days and Sarge had to custom order it after finding out that the gun stores in his area didn’t routinely carry “specialty loads”. I’d never seen wadcutter rounds before so at first I thought Sarge mistakenly bought a box of empty shell casings. Upon closer inspection, we learned that the cast lead bullet of a wadcutter is completely encased in the brass shell giving it its signature blunt appearance. We also learned that the powder charge is deliberately light to keep the round sub-sonic and that wadcutters typically fire at about 700 feet per second (versus 950 fps for standard .38 Special, and a supersonic 1,300 fps for .357 Magnums).
To me, the aerodynamic concept of sending a 148-grain flat lead cylinder down range at 500mph versus a smooth copper-clad round-nose bullet seemed a bit like the ballistic equivalent of strapping an engine and wheels on grandma’s refrigerator to race the Indy 500. Visions of tumbling rounds and wild shots ricocheting off the range walls reminded me to double check my range bag for backup eyewear.
And then there’s the magazine. In today’s shooting world, where high capacity handguns reign supreme, the underwhelming five-round mag on Sarge’s Model 52 seemed quaint. Contrasted with fast-paced USPSA matches where we shoot rapid double-taps at moving targets and swap 15-round magazines like a pit boss changes tires, I imagined a group of pipe-smoking, tweed-jacketed, gentlemen leisurely popping away freehand at stationary targets amid accolades of, “nice shot old chap”.
Then again, bulleye shooting is about accuracy, not speed and volume of lead downrange. The custom-machined flared barrel with ratcheted bushing, fully adjustable blocky sights, and personalized wood grip further cemented the model 52’s status as a specialized precision instrument as opposed to an all-purpose tool.
I finally got a chance to hit the range with Sarge last weekend up in Minnesota and was blown away by the high performance of such a unique combination of elements. The heavy steel of the gun provided excellent balance and the weapon just felt like a natural extension of my hand. The well-worked slide racked like silk and yet had no hint of slop or play.
The .38 “blunts” fed perfectly and fired off with a pillow-soft recoil akin to a .22. The trigger was one of the lightest and crispest I’ve ever shot (we didn’t measure it, but I’d put it at 2lbs) leading to a couple of initial errant rounds as I took up what turned out to be zero trigger slack while getting on target.
Sight adjustments aside (grandpa clearly had the pistol dialed in to his own preferred sight picture and range to target) the groupings were ridiculously tight as the flat lead slugs paper-punched perfect circles with no ragged edges. With a little more range time and tweaks to the sights, I’m sure we’d be putting all five through a single hole in the bull.
Sarge and I will be researching this quirky but endearing pistol in the weeks to come. In the meantime, if anyone has any experience or insights on the Model 52 specifically, or wadcutter shooting in general, we’d love to hear from you here in the comments section.
The railroads of north central Arizona were all built to support Arizona’s richest copper mine located in Jerome, in the Mingus Mountains above Clarkdale. The Verde Canyon Railroad (formerly the Verde Valley Railroad, operated by the Santa Fe, Prescott & Phoenix Railroad,) was financed by Senator William A. Clark for $1.3 million dollars in 1911. Built miraculously in only one year, the 38-mile, standard gauge line from Clarkdale to Drake, AZ was constructed by 250 men using 200 mules, picks and shovels and lots of DuPont black powder explosives. Today, the same railroad would cost in excess of $40 million to build.
As always, I marvel at how fast these types of operations used to be built, in the days before government and lawyers strangled the life out of everything. I also doubt their "$40 million" figure, because you probably can't build much of anything and get the permits to do so within our lifetime (the train line runs near a bald Eagle nest, which probably makes it impossible to construct anything).
If you have kids I really recommend this trip. It is not quite as good as the railway in Skagway, Alaska that I reviewed here but it still is a great trip (and a lot more accessible than Alaska). The trip is also fun because it is a bit of a "booze cruise" and they serve (OK) food but have a variety of alcoholic beverages and decent beers and local wines to choose from. Due to this on the way back (it is about 4 hours round trip) most of our rail car was snoozing. We also went in a first class car which I'd recommend - it was a bit more but the food / drink was better and it was roomier. You can also rent the caboose if you have a small party which sounds cool, too.
This is a video of what happens when you go into a tunnel. They tell you to keep your arms inside which makes sense because it is a long tunnel with no lights and you go pretty close to the side. There are lights in the car but I wanted to see it from one of the open "viewing" cars for fun.
When you get to Perkinsville they switch the engines around on a parallel track which is fun because you can see them up close. I love the detail on these engines. If you watch the video in HD it looks even better.
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz
Well, I was half right, half wrong, and half confused. Always give 150%, I say.
I had a talk with my instructor and he brought up some good points and made me think a bit about what I needed to do and where I was going. He is a good guy and it was nice of him to sit down with me for a half an hour to have a chat.
I have been going to that gym for almost three years now pretty much without missing one Muay Thai lesson (if I wasn't on a business trip or vacation), and the last year and a half staying late to help train the fighters (pro and amateur). I have now ratcheted up my workout schedule to five days a week. I really like the combination of anaerobic (kickboxing, strength) and aerobic (running, biking) training. I think it is the best of both worlds.
Part of my problem, I have found, was that I simply wasn't putting enough into my Muay Thai lessons. The enjoyment was slowly going away for me because I didn't have my heart into it. The last month or so I have been blasting through the lessons and the old thrill is back. Sure, I am gassed at the end of the hour, but so it goes.
I am taking a break from training fighters. When I go to the gym (twice a week) I first do my strength training, then have class, then fighter training. Those nights get late and unless you have trained a pro fighter before, you can't imagine the toll on your body. Holding pads for a 20-something amped up fighter smashing as hard as he can with fists, elbows and kicks isn't for the weak. In fact, at our gym you have to go through a several month training program before you are allowed to hold for the fighters. I will admit I liked it and was honored when so many of our guys asked me to be in their corner for their fights.
I was humbled shortly after I decided to take this short break when all of the fighters asked me where the heck I have been, that I am their best pad holder, etc. etc. It made me feel wanted and helped me understand that I was doing a good job.
But fighter training, as much as I love it, was the lowest on the priority chain for me, and I am taking a break from that until April. Already I can tell that my attitude is better at the gym when I walk in, as I don't dread the damage that is inevitable holding pads for the fighters.
I still go to the gym two days a week, but "only" for two hours at a crack instead of three. Then I also push out three hard cardio runs/rides a week. So that is a total of five days a week that I work out. I think that is plenty and I am happy with my new schedule.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Recently I was walking in the north side when I came upon these beautiful horses off Sedgwick Avenue in the north side hanging out in an empty lot. They were well tended and obviously they pull carriages around in the loop for tourists and locals. Probably getting a little rest and recovery before they will be put into service on Valentines' day.
Here we find ourselves in the most boring season of the year. We’re stuck indoors unless you are a ski, snowmobile or ice fishing enthusiast all of which I have done many many times and enjoyed in my younger days. Go to the mall shopping today? I don’t think so.
I could go out to the farm or the local indoor range and blow off a c-note or two worth of ammo. Nah. I will just wait for man made global warming to return. So. What to do?
For starters today is Valentine’s Day and I did my due diligence as all attached men must. BTW, if you have yet to discover ProFlowers.com it comes highly recommended by yours truly badda-boom-badda-bing. Easy, affordable and a longer lasting product than local florists provide as well. Wimmens dig It too.
Well, the wood fire is going and I will be settling in to watch
All the hype I have seen leading up to today’s Daytona race leads to female driver Danica Patrick, that skinny brat b!tch who feels entitled to grab as much attention as any driver who actually wins races without having the lead car pit on the last lap for her only IRL vistory. For the past few years she plagued my Indy Car race experience but she’s NASCAR’s problem now and they can have her. Not that I have a problem with female drivers. Sarah Fisher is a class act and Milka Duno is way sexier, all Milka needs is a fast car.
Little miss hissy-fit is a tight young little brunette with the body of a ten year-old boy. She can be seen in commercials for GoDaddy.com along with Sports Illustrated and FHM Magazines flaunting her lack of a womanly figure in skimpy outfits like that photo above. Yuck. None for me thanks. I prefer curvy women who look more like women below the neck.
I love this video of Danica going after the Milka Duno in the pits. Can we have a bowl of cat chow for two, please?
Hey Danica, never bring a knife to a gun fight especially when you confront a spicy South American chick.
One thing I have noticed recently on broadcasts of major sporting events are the obligatory live concerts. The NFL SuperBowl had the Who at halftime along with many others during the pregame. Daytona will have pop country acts for sure before the race. I was watching Tim McGraw a while ago. The Indy 500 tries hard to use boring gritty grunge style bands in order to draw the younger crowd. Since I know nothing of the acts they mean nothing to me and after listening they mean even less. Ever see a live concert with a sporting event before or between acts?
What’s next, big fat Oprah squealing start your enginessss peeepooollle?
Loan Guarantees and Financing:
One giant barrier to building new nuclear plants in the US is financing. We haven't built a new nuclear plant in the US in decades so no one really knows what it will cost (and it depends on which design is chosen) but it is safe to assume that they will cost more than $8-10B each. Given that the entire market capitalization of most US electric utilities is smaller than this figure, as I discussed in this post in June of 2009, the idea that new nuclear plants would be built in large numbers was a pipe dream.
The Federal government (Department of Energy) was trying to assist by providing loan guarantees for these projects. I started reading through the Federal web site about what this really means and found this document which describes the arguments about 1) whether or not nuclear plants really qualified under this program because they aren't really new technologies 2) how much equity the companies should be required to contribute to the project 3) various other data points that summarize the state of nuclear energy in the US (as of 2007, but still mostly relevant because not much has happened since then). If you are interested in nuclear power I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to download and read this PDF because it is filled with facts and opinions from the various actors.
The original proposed Federal loan guarantees were too small relative to the tiny equity capital available from possible players and the large, looming overruns likely to hit these projects. The Federal government seems to agree because they raised the amount of guarantees per this article:
Budget for the coming year would add $36 billion in new federal loan guarantees on top of $18.5 billion already budgeted -- but not spent -- for a total of $54.5 billion. That's enough to help build six or seven new nuclear plants, which can cost $8 billion to $10 billion each.
When these items were discussed back in mid-2009 I noted that the only company listed as a potential candidate with financial strength to pull off one of these plants was Southern Company. Also as I noted, it was amazing to me that the "journalists" who wrote up that story couldn't do the rudimentary financial research that would have told them that same thing. In any case, today they announced that Southern Company was going to be the first company to receive a Federal loan guarantee for $14.5B for 2 units to be built near their existing plants at Vogtle.
Financial Impact on Electric Utilities:
It will be interesting to see the impact of this effort on Southern Company's financial statements and stock price over the years to come. It would seem to me that this would be a giant negative overhang because many negative things can occur (delays, lawsuits, spiraling costs, protests, etc...) and it seems unlikely that positive events will occur (on time construction, on budget, fast approvals, etc...). Even if it does come on line, it isn't necessarily going to be a giant money maker - this will depend on the market for energy a decade from now when these plants start generating electricity.
I noted also that NRG, which is building a plant two units in Texas, seemed rather thinly capitalized to take on such a giant effort (and potential strain on their stock price). The Cities of Austin and San Antonio also started to awaken to the difficulties of financing these plants, as well as their own prior history of cost overruns. NRG is now negotiating various options to wind down the effort or complete the site with other partners, and has an excellent power point presentation that they put on the investor relations section of their site which both lays out the opportunity for "first mover" status with nuclear generation and the risks. Should the other partners continue to frustrate the project, note what NRG says on the bottom of page 8 on their slide (they are using all caps, not me):
NRG WILL NOT EXPEND FUTURE SHAREHOLDER CAPITAL IN A PROJECT THAT IS NO LONGER FINANCEABLE NOR WILL IT EXPOSE NRG SHAREHOLDERS TO THE BURDEN OF FURTHER DEVELOPMENT COST RISK SHOULD CPS CONTINUE IN A POSITION WHERE THEY CAN FRUSTRATE THE PROJECT
No Solution for Nuclear Waste:
The Federal government has officially abandoned the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada as a long term storage option for spent nuclear fuel. If you want to see a sad story of missed deadlines, useless bureaucratic stumbling, billions of wasted tax dollars, and most importantly wasting decades on a solution that was bound to fail, go to the wikipedia page and read through your government at work.
Now storage will have to continue at every individual site indefinitely, which means over 100 sites will need to stumble through this morass in their own fashion. Perhaps we could have come up with some standards or best practices for solving this problem locally, but instead we wasted billions of dollars and decades of wrangling on a "mega" solution that was never going to work. Don't forget about this looming issue when you point to the illusory "renaissance".
Failure to Disburse "Stimulus" Funds:
About a year ago I noted in this post that there weren't "shovel ready" projects available for stimulus funding due to the near-impossibility of getting anything done in the US involving financing, legal issues and rights of way. As predicted, the Energy Department has not been able to spend their allotted stimulus money. According to this article:
Energy Secretary Steven Chu expressed frustration Thursday that most of the roughly $37 billion in stimulus money Congress gave his agency last year had yet to be spent, but said the agency could manage a new round of funding for clean-energy projects as part of an expected jobs bill. At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Dr. Chu said his agency had handed out only a fraction of the authorized stimulus funds. According to the agency's Web site, only $2.1 billion has been spent.
Now that same department which was unable to run a $37B budget is going to get a lot more money as the Federal loan guarantees for nuclear power also come under their responsibility. This does not appear to bode well.
We still are struggling to figure out what to do about "clean coal" here in Illinois. This article describes the over $1B spent on 2 proposed projects in Illinois, and all the years of wrangling as this project has gone on since 2003 and is far from completion.
Key recent updates would be summarized as follows:
- new drilling technologies are making natural gas in the US cheaper, which makes other types of investment (nuclear, coal) less financially feasible
- while many companies were potential investors in new nuclear plants, only one (Southern Company) was really feasible, and they seem to be first out of the gate (woe to their shareholders, however)
- NRG jumped out first with their Texas plant but it is looking like they are going to pull the plug on that under-capitalized effort
- the Federal government is continuing to be completely inept in their activities 1) unable to disburse stimulus funds, as predicted 2) no plan for waste after abandoning Yucca Mountain 3) can't figure out what to do about "clean coal" projects after spending over $1B in Illinois and 7 years to boot
- not covered here is cap and trade, which needs its own post to do it justice. It looks like the recent change in the senate will stop this in its tracks, but legal efforts to stop the EPA from implementing new draconian rules continues
If you are interested in energy policy and nuclear power I strongly recommend reading that PDF I linked to above from the department of energy site as well as the investor presentation from NRG related to their South Texas Project.
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz
Saturday, February 13, 2010
This article from the Wall Street Journal is titled "Escape from Taxation" and reviews the negative impact on the state of New Jersey caused by ever-increasing state income tax rates. As you can see in the table, the highest marginal tax rate on income in New Jersey has increased from 2.5% in 1976 to 10.75% in 2009. New Jersey's growth used to be in part attributed to its lower tax burden when compared to New York state; today that gap has been (mostly) erased and with it has gone inbound migration of wealthy individuals and corresponding growth.
There are different types of tax burdens and they can be mitigated to varying degrees. Federal income taxes cannot be avoided by moving between the states, but as a resident you "implicitly" choose your 1) property tax burden 2) sales tax burden 3) state tax burden 4) estate tax burden. When these burdens are considered in total, one way to measure the state's competitiveness is "tax freedom day", which is the day in the year when you have finished paying off your consolidated tax burden (state, Federal and local) and start earning money for yourself. In 2009, according to the Tax Foundation, this date for New Jersey is April 29, the latest in the nation with the exception of Connecticut at April 30. Note that even New York is ahead of New Jersey now, with a date of April 25 (down from a high of May 8 two years ago). And without being condescending, New Jersey has to have some advantage over New York in order to attract citizens.
Of all the taxes, however, state income taxes have the most perverse impact on entrepreneurial activity. High income earners, who can choose where they want to live and invest in businesses, look closely at the state income tax rate since this rate goes up with their earnings and there are alternatives where this tax can be completely avoided.
To put this in perspective - property taxes are interesting to the wealthy but not a source of tension to the degree that they'd move. Whether it is a few thousand or fifty thousand on their mansions that is a cost that they can modulate depending on the nature of the property they own and this is more of a 'fixed cost' that doesn't increase with earnings. Sales taxes impact them to a lower degree because they consume less as a portion of their total income (and since they are mobile they can often avoid sales taxes on art and jewelry through creative purchasing). Income taxes, however, go up infinitely with their earnings and are viewed as a particular burden since they can be avoided completely merely by changing residency. Many states, such as Florida (cited in the article above as a big source of fleeing New Jersey citizens) have ZERO state income taxes; if you are earning millions this is a very significant difference in your pocketbook (relative to sales and property taxes).
High state income taxes will drive the wealthy out; this is a stone-cold fact and this article only shows the latest instance of this to be tracked, which is the out-migration of higher income earners from New Jersey. The net population loss doesn't tell the whole story; rich individuals are leaving, and being replaced by poorer individuals. This will have a chain reaction on the state, since the level of state workers and services was set during the high water mark of the economic peak and cuts from there will be painful to implement (for the best example of this see Detroit which has a large number of city workers and rich deals for their salaries while the thriving economy that once supported them has long since drained away). Another impact is an estate tax in New Jersey at up to 16%; this also will be another push for the wealthy elderly to leave the Garden State (other than the weather, of course). Like the state income tax, this estate tax (beyond the Federal estate tax) can be avoided or minimized by moving to another state with more favorable rates.
Driving out the wealthy has additional follow-on effects; less new businesses being started (since they are the entrepreneurs), less money for local charities, and a "death spiral" effect where rates have to keep being raised on the remaining citizens in order to keep the level of state services constant (remember, the state workers all get raises every year, and all keep their jobs, even while your business cuts back).
The new governor of New Jersey has his work cut out for him; a stupefying state income tax rate, a virtually bankrupt state, and state workers used to receiving constant raises and gold-plated benefits and ready to oppose him at every turn.
New Jersey has to be made more fiscally competitive to nearby states or they will lose to them and then inexorably lose older and wealthy residents to other states with better weather and more favorable tax regimes. Of all Illinois' problems, about the only thing Illinois does right is having a state income tax rate of 3%, which makes it very competitive with these sorts of states. Sadly enough, it is probably only a matter of time before this rate is raised, making Illinois competitiveness even poorer against the other states.
Cross posted at Chicago Boyz
I was out walking in the cold when I saw a house that looked dilapidated enough to be a post-college rental when I noticed Silly String on the side of it. I immediately thought of the Big Nasty, a bar Dan and I used to go to on Lincoln avenue which has long since been closed. They pretty much only sold king cans of beer, silly string, and jello shots. Seemed like a good idea at the time. I would like to say that I have fond memories of that place but really not too many memories at all.
I found this link to the pictures of the Big Nasty back in its glory days. Make your own memories.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
When Winter started here back in November and December, I decided to steel myself much more than in previous Winters. In the old days I would cry, bitch and moan praying for warmer weather and no snow.
Well, the facts are that I am not moving, and Winter is part of the deal. So since it isn't going away, I need to deal with it. This year I have gone running outside when the temps are 25 or higher and it is absolutely wonderful. I never knew. Still too cold to go biking though.
To that end, I decided to go along with my horse crazed significant other and kids to a sleigh rally in Columbus, WI last weekend. They had horses of all different shapes and sizes pulling sleighs.
I also took a couple of videos. It was a fun and interesting day.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Through some business associates I get the tickets for the Illinois Wisconsin basketball game every year here in Madison. This is a photo taken from the seats - that is the Illini before the game getting ready to run back into the locker room after warming up. Yes, I am there really early, but I like watching warmups, what can I say. This is about 40 minutes from tip off.
The Illini let the Badgers get out in front by a dozen early, but kept their cool in the hostile environment of the Kohl Center. They ended up winning by 7 in a very well played game. Below is after the game, with the heroes, Tisdale, McCamey and coach Weber getting interviewed by the BTN.
Monday, February 08, 2010
Having a getaway room in the home works for me. I now have three of them including my garage, the basement and my upstairs office. None would be considered a “Man Cave” according to what seems to be the new definition of what was once known as the recreation room.
An email landed in my inbox this morning from a DYI television show, which I have never seen since my cable does not carry the DIY Network, called Man Caves. The program is co-hosted by a licensed contractor named Jason Cameron (a very manly name) and retired football player Tony Siragusa (for added testosterone I guess). The network is offering a $50,000 Man Cave build out. Yes, I entered the sweepstakes.
A link provided in the email led me to watch various episodes where a homeowner wants his basement turned into his own personalized living space. This program wasn't much different from those HGTV home makeover shows that women (and…well…some guys) like to watch. Watching people renovate structures bores me to death. Watching “how-to” programs are fine if they actually can teach something but most are for entertainment purposes generally attractive to women looking for decorating ideas.
In my first home I hired a retired carpenter to help me turn totally unfinished empty attic space into a bed, bath and office adding a lot of sweat equity to the home. Going from a two bed one bath into a three bed two bath for less than having a contractor do it was a smart move financially but it removed one year from my personal life.
Television editing cuts out all of the time consuming labor to make renovation projects appear as if anyone can do it in a snap. Without the part time help from the old carpenter I could not have done it myself. It needed plumbing, electrical and heat. That’s where old Frank came in and made me pleased I hired him and he came cheap.
But Man Cave? Is this manly or some new suburban metrosexual trend?
On the television show the hosts take the owners hobbies and interests then use that as a cute, coordinated visual theme for the lucky fella’s new Man Cave. Here’s one they did for a ski enthusiast.
Each of the four episodes I watched had the obligatory 52' big screen flat panel television, surround sound home theatre and of course a bar.
I watched a few other examples where they constructed and decorated Man Caves using outdoor, motorcycle, pub, rock star and other themes. It was too cute for me and a bit chick-like even though there was not one person on the crew who I would call a gay decorator. That doesn't mean there's at lest one in the background off camera judging by some of the Man Cave makeover looks they did. While I am somewhat artistic there's something creepy about interior decorating to me. Picking out stone, flooring, colors, wall treatments, nick-naks and coordinating the whole schmear. Some of the stuff I saw looked like it may have been heading too far into a Disneyworld theme bar territory for my taste.
We turned our basement into a finished room years ago but never decorating it in any theme. There was space built for a bar but I never got around to completing it. There’s a pool table, television, refrigerator. hide-a-bed for overnight guests and a toilet room. It's a nice space to have when hosting Thanksgiving for thirty.
The Man Cave program has inspired me to consider finishing the bar area. Maybe I will get into some wall treatments such as beaded wood planks and cabinets or something. Old weathered barn siding may be nice. If I went with a theme it would be the outdoors and it would be rustic. Any photos or taxidermy would be my own, not some replica crap. I also have my old, and I do mean old American Flyer electric train set. It will be included in my own "Man Cave" makeover if I go that far.
What I may attempt is completely within my skill range since the plumbing and electrical is already in place. It would give me something to do when business slows down, which it has. One thing I will not do is to start collecting mAntiques.
Maybe I’ll get started on it. Tomorrow.
Everyone who reads here knows that Carl's all time favorite band is none other than .38 Special. I was at an activity this weekend (more to come on that later) and while I was there I saw this gem hanging on one of the walls. It is an enormous painting of the cover of the album "Wild-Eyed Southern Boys", .38 Special's magnum opus. For scale you can see the actual album on the bottom right. The painting itself isn't too bad, but I just don't understand the content one darned bit.
Pete missed at least a half dozen times during the performance - stuff like that is more noticeable when you have heard a song eleventy million times and know exactly when which note is supposed to be played - or not played.
I guess I was hurting a bit inside because I always want to remember them in their young, awesome stage. I refuse to give the name "The Who" to that sh1t I saw yesterday. Watch this and you will see what I mean. Ignore all the hippie crap after the Who are done playing.
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Following Dan's lead, we not only don't do much in the way of self promotion, we actively AVOID self promotion. There aren't any ads here (so we don't make the 25 cents / day we could make) and we don't want a bunch of commenting trolls that make us have to delete their rants, because they are too painful to look at.
A couple of years ago I "claimed" our blog on Technorati. We don't put their gadget on the site or anything, and we don't want visitors "pushed" on us who wouldn't come here on their own volition.
When we first started our rank was way down, in the 20's or so (the other blogs I work on have a rank of 1, if that tells you anything). I was astounded to see how high up our rank has climbed over the last couple of years. I recently updated their brief description to note that we have 4 bloggers now.
I did some quick math and there are about 60,000 or so claimed blogs at Technorati from what I could see. Our blog is about to cross in the top 10,000 or so, which I guess means something, although I don't know what. We have an "up" arrow next to us, which is better than a "down" arrow, I guess.
I have to say that it does fill me with a bit of pride how much our blog has improved over the years. Dan and I have had encounters with journalism professionals and they have been struck by the high quality of our site. And that is because - we are GOOD. Our photos are also great, with my own quality bringing up the rear, as usual.
So while it doesn't mean much, it is better to be on the way up, than the way down. Even though I am not sure where we are going, since blogging may turn out to just be a fad in the grand scheme anyways.
One cool thing about living in the River North area of Chicago is that all of the new, hot cars get valet parked outside the clubs nearby. This lets me walk right up to these great cars and ogle them. The only bad thing is that it usually is at night so it is more difficult for me to do the autos justice by taking a photo with my crummier "blog" camera (my good camera is too big to keep in my pocket so it stays at home unless I am on vacation or know I am out taking pictures).
I did a double take when I spotted an orange Tesla in front of Sushi Samba. I know that Tesla makes electric cars but don't know much about them so I looked at the company web site here. This car is a 2010 Roadster Sport and it looks great. From the web site apparently these cars are very fast and have great performance statistics. Here is a CNET car review with video and the car retails for $129,000 (don't know if it actually costs more or less, some times these sorts of cars are in high demand and go for way more than sticker).
I like the wireless weather forecasters that double as clocks and show the forecast for the next few days. Here is a "review" I wrote back a couple of years ago.
I recently bought an upgraded wireless weather forecaster from ambient at Best Buy. Here is a link to the product on the Ambient web site. It has only been one day but I really like it a lot. The old ones required 2 AAA batteries (which seemed to die out more and more frequently as the device got older) but this one you just plug into the wall. You can dial up or down the brightness on the device which is cool because it might be eerie at night if too bright. This one also can see 152 cities so you can scroll across the country.
The "knock" on these devices is that reception can be spotty; it can go days without updating (although the clock always stays correct). It has only been 1 day but reception has been good so far, and hey it only cost $100 at Best Buy so you can't expect the world.
There is a feature that allows the device to receive text messages; kind of a gimmick but if you gave one to someone who doesn't do much text messaging it might be a cool feature (I think that they charge for them, I haven't read through the manual yet). Also they get kudos for at least including a decent manual; most products don't even bother anymore or it is written in an unintelligible manner. Actually I tried it and it accepts only email messages (their clock radio accepts text messages - you get a specific device with a URL attachment at .myambient.com and it shows up right away on the device - it comes with 20 of these for free but you can buy more online, it is a bit expensive.
One element of the ambient devices is that they like to use "color" to give you, at a glance, an understanding of some key elements. For example their stock market devices are "green" when the markets are up and "red" when they are down. This device has a color on the selection wheel based on color; the weird thing is that it starts at this "pink" color in the 20's, then goes to the blues, and then up to the reds way up in the 80's and 90's. You'd think pink would be a hot color, but they are just humoring us, I guess.
Since whenever I buy something I look at the reviews online I figured I should start putting up online reviews for stuff that I buy that is at least reasonably expensive to help others. Kind of a pain but it also seems like a bit of karma payback, as well. One thing that surprised me about the device is that it was a "plug in" not battery powered so I put that in my review; it impacts where you can place the weather forecaster so I figured I'd at least highlight that.
The sad part, of course, is that every day looks cloudy on the forecaster here in Chicago. I need some SUN! Can't wait for this winter to be over, already.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
The Super Bowl is one game not to be missed. I have watched each and every one and even attended the 1976 SBX at the Orange Bowl. Since the Bears have only been in two of them the rest of the time I wil pull for the NFC team to win. Without having interest in the outcome watching sports can bore me as much as watching the view.
This year will be different for me because I am pulling for the AFC Colts to win for two reasons.
#1) I live in Indiana. After years of listening to the way Chicago media hacks trash Indiana, especially when the Bears played the Colts in SBXLIV, it would feel good knowing the city of Indianapolis owns one more Lombardi trophy than that center of culture and corruption to the north.
Chicago may have more museums, operas, symphonies, pro sports teams, yuppie bars and corrupt politicians. This year Indianapolis may have them beat in NFL championships. You tell me what’s more important.
Indianapolis is a fine American city. I have spent a lot of time there, my son lives and works there and I go there every year to watch the Indy 500. There is plenty to see and do in Indianapolis, more than you may think. It’s a place I could easily live in or near.
#2) The Super Bowl Indicator, or SBI.
This is news to me.
From the article, “According to the Super Bowl Indicator a triumphant team from the AFC foreshadows a down market but a winner from the NFC means the bulls are coming. “The SBI has been on the money 32 years out of 40 which represents a success rate of 80%”.
What clouds the theory is league expansion, franchise moves and conference shifts. Does that mean the Colts qualify as an original NFC team?
Whatever, I am also pulling for the Colts to win and take that stock average down another thousand points or so since I sold 50% of my common stock in late December in anticipation that an early 2010 down market could be delivering some bargains. So far so good. Who Dat say dey gonna time dat market? Who Dat, Who Dat. We'll see how this works out. I am not putting much faith in the SBI but using it as a rabbit's foot couldn't hurt.
One more thought. Payton Manning is a class act. He could be his generation’s greatest quarterback. If he wins two SB’s he enters that rare territory and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.