Short Nerd Chief

Archive for March, 2008

Tribe Stat Preview, Part 2

Posted by Fred on March 31, 2008

Opening Day is now but hours away, so let’s wrap up our look at Spring 2008 with a look at the DH and OF positions.  Last time we reviewed the infielders.  Away we go…

DH – Travis Hafner

  AB R H HR RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 545 80 145 24 100 102 .266 .451 .836
Spring 2008 51 8 13 2 11 13 .255 .431 .840
Spring – Adj. 545 85 139 21 118 139 .255 .431 .840

2007 was clearly a down year for Pronk.  He got his 100 RBI again, but his HR dropped from 42 to 24, his lowest total since hitting 14 in 91 games in 2003 for the Rangers.  A large part of this was a falling GB-FB ratio; when he hit it in the air, it was just as likely to go out, but he hit more on the ground than in previous years.  The question was whether this was bad luck or part of a trend.  Unfortunately, Pronk’s spring numbers look more like 2007 than 2006, with lower power numbers and a low-800s OPS, as opposed to 1.098 in 2006 and 1.003 in 2005.  Hate to say it, but I’d guess were looking at .260/25/100 this year, continuing last year’s downward slide, unless the spring is an aberration.

Outfielders

It’s not clear what Wedge plans to do with the outfield this year.  If, as expected, Marte gets the early starts at 3B, you may see Casey Blake in the outfield again.  You may also see a platoon with Michaels and Delucci.  Here’s a look at what really should be an outfield of the future (putting aside kids still in Buffalo) – Grady Sizemore, Franklin Gutierrez and Ben Francisco:

Grady Sizemore

  AB R H HR RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 628 118 174 24 78 101 .277 .462 .852
Spring 2008 45 12 15 5 7 5 .333 .822 1.256
Spring – Adj. 628 167 209 70 98 70 .333 .822 1.256

Raise your hand if you think Grady’s going to hit 70 homers, drive in 100 runs, get 200 hits and score 167 runs.  Anyone?  Didn’t think so.  Grady’s spring numbers show the problems with small sample sizes.  However, it does tend to suggest that last year’s calls to move him down in the lineup to a power hole will continue (he hit the same number of HR last year as Pronk, after all).  The problem with that scenario is that there’s no one to lead off, as Cabrera isn’t right for that spot and Kenny Lofton has moved on again.  Although the spring pace won’t hold up, expect a big year, an MVP-caliber year.  Say .320/30/90, with a run at Brady Anderson-style leadoff power numbers not out of the question.

Franklin Gutierrez

  AB R H HR RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 271 41 72 13 36 21 .266 .472 .790
Spring 2008 49 10 18 2 11 4 .367 .571 .986
Spring – Adj. 271 55 100 11 61 22 .367 .571 .986

Ben Francisco

  AB R H HR RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 62 10 17 3 12 3 .274 .500 .803
Spring 2008 47 8 17 3 9 4 .362 .617 1.021
Spring – Adj. 62 11 22 4 12 5 .362 .617 1.021

Do you see now why platoon is a dirty word?  Gutierrez and Francisco both tore up spring pitching, each posting OPS at or above 1.000.  Only Sizemore had a better spring.  Project the spring numbers over 500 AB, and Gutierrez is at .367/20/112 and Francisco is at .362/32/96.  Can each keep up the pace?  Probably not, but they both posted far better numbers than either Michaels (.905 OPS) or Delucci (.692).  Give them each a full season of playing every day, and they’d probably each hit over .300 and combine for 50 HR and 160 RBI.  Unfortunately, there’s no sign that either will play every day, barring injuries.

Conclusion

Detroit’s offense is, obviously, the best in the Central this year.  It’s the best in all of baseball, and one of the best ever (at least on paper).  But the spring numbers suggest Cleveland should hold its own, and need not win 2-1 (something the bullpen-deprived Tigers will have a hard time doing).  Expect big things from Sizemore, Martinez, Gutierrez and Francisco.  Expect Pronk to continue his slide, and Marte to play himself out of a job (again).  Garko and Peralta should be about where they were in 2007, and Cabrera is a huge question mark.

Advertisements

Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Only 3 days until the real start of spring – Opening Day!

Posted by Fred on March 28, 2008

The calendar says Spring started with the Equinox on March 20th, but everyone knows that spring doesn’t really arrive until the first pitch is thrown at [insert your favorite ballpark here].  For me, that means Jacobs Progressive Field on March 31.  Ah, Spring. When all teams are 0-0, all fans dream of October, and lazy writers start baseball previews with hackneyed phrases like “Ah Spring”.

Too much ink has been spilled on too many pages previewing the AL Central race for me to add anything to it.  Suffice it to say, on paper the Tigers should have the race sewn up on about April 1, provided their pitching holds up.  Of course, that’s a mighty big “provided,” and there are far more “on paper” champions than there are actual ones.  For a franchise like the Tribe, which can’t match Detroit, Boston, NY or LA in payroll, the issue is really whether the team can continue building, not whether it wins a division title in 2008.  To that end, rather than offering predictions, lets look at a projected lineup and how they’ve fared this spring:

1B –  Ryan Garko

  AB H HR R RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 484 140 21 62 61 34 .289 .483 .842
Spring 2008 51 12 2 4 11 5 .235 .412 .710
Spring – Adj. 484 114 19 38 104 47 .235 .412 .710

The last row just projects the spring production over the same number of AB as the 2007 totals for comparison purposes.  Over this small sample, Garko’s production dropped a bit, although he did walk a bit more, and his RBI totals project higher even though his hits and HR totals are down.  Expect to see Garko in the .275/20/80 range, which is not great for a corner infielder, but not horrible either.

2B – Asdrubal Cabrera

  AB H HR R RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 159 45 3 30 22 17 .283 .421 .775
Spring 2008 48 15 3 11 6 5 .313 .583 .953
Spring – Adj. 159 50 10 36 20 17 .313 .583 .953

I actually expect that Jesse Barfield will get another chance at 2B this year, given Cabrera’s to-be-expected sophomore slump, but the spring numbers are promising.  He’s still hitting for average, and his bat actually shows a bit of pop (over a 500 AB season, he’d be at .313/30/62). Cabrera’s not going to hit 30 homers this year, but if he plays a full year, you may get .290/20/60 out of the #2 hole in the lineup.

SS – Jhonny Peralta

  AB H HR R RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 574 155 21 87 72 61 .270 .430 .771
Spring 2008 49 15 0 8 7 5 .306 .449 .819
Spring – Adj. 574 176 0 94 82 59 .306 .449 .819

Here’s where spring projections start to break down.  Peralta is clearly not going to have 82 RBI and a 819 OPS without a single home run.  Spring stats are just spring stats, after all.  Jhonny’s spring average and run totals are promising, however.  Look for 2008 production in the .280/20/80 range, although I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jhonny make a run at .300 this year.

3B – Andy Marte (only because he’s out of options now)

  AB H HR R RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 57 11 1 3 8 2 .193 .316 .549
Spring 2008 53 11 5 11 13 10 .208 .528 .856
Spring – Adj. 57 12 5 12 14 11 .208 .528 .856

Now that’s a line to make your mother weep.  Marte is the patron saint of what-might-have-been.  Tribe fans hoped he was the next Chipper Jones in the Atlanta organization, but he looks more like Russell Branyan. A horrible fielder who is as likely to strike out as hit one out. Expect to see a lot of Casey Blake at 3B before the All-Star Break.

C – Victor Martinez

  AB H HR R RBI BB AVG SLG OPS
2007 562 169 25 78 114 62 .301 .505 .879
Spring 2008 55 19 2 9 7 2 .345 .491 .859
Spring – Adj. 562 194 20 92 72 20 .345 .491 .859

Victor is just being Victor, and should again lead the team in most hitting categories. His spring power numbers are off a tad, but playing 82 games in Progressive Field should help there, and the RBI totals will be up if Cabrera and Sizemore do their jobs.  This biggest question mark is what sort of lineup projection Pronk provides.  Martinez has been remarkably consistent over his six-year career, so expect another .300/25/115 season and another All-Star Game appearance.

We’ll save the OF and DH for next time.  Overall, I expect roughly the same performance from Garko, Peralta and Martinez compared to the first half of 2007.  Cabrera will be an improvement over Barfield, and Marte likely a decline over Blake. What do you think?

Next time: Hafner, Sizemore, Gutierrez, Francisco, Michaels and Delucci (pick three of the last five).

Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

"Former Nuclear Safety Officer" says Large Hadron Collider is a Doomsday Machine, sues to stop the apocalypse

Posted by Fred on March 28, 2008

061229_lhc_hmed_6p

 

Proving that a little scientific knowledge is a dangerous thing and that a lawyer with a little scientific knowledge is an even more dangerous thing, safety gadflies Walter Wagner (described as a former nuclear safety officer – no word whether he ever worked in Springfield or whether he is a big fan of donuts) and Luis Sancho have filed suit in Hawaii to stop the Large Hadron Collider, a scientific facility under construction on the French-Swiss border:

The suit calls on the U.S. Department of Energy, Fermilab, the National Science Foundation and CERN to ease up on their LHC preparations for several months while the collider’s safety was reassessed.

“We’re going to need a minimum of four months to review whatever they’re putting out,” Wagner told me on Monday. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order that would put the LHC on hold, pending the release and review of an updated CERN safety assessment. It also calls on the U.S. government to do a full environmental review addressing the LHC project, including the debate over the doomsday scenario.

The LHC is hardly the first such particle collider, but don’t worry, Wagner thought previous efforts, such as the Relatavistic Heavy-Ion Collider, were apocalypses in a bottle, too.  It’s not clear why these defenders against science think a US federal court in Hawaii should have jurisdiction over CERN (the tenuous jurisdictional thread relies on the magnets for the collider, which are produced by Illinois-based Fermilab), nor why they think this particle collider will destroy all matter in the universe when the previous fifty years of such experiments have failed to do so.  Hopefully, the courts will throw them out on their ears.

Documents related to the case have been posted on the paranoid meeting space LHC Concerns, which leads one to ever more entertaining rants, such as one from “Agent 1266” comparing the LHC to a suicide bomber:

in regards to my dialogue/conversation(s) with f.b.i. and u.s. secret service offices of pensacola, fla. on jan. 18th, 2008 and my claim under the federal false claims act. I, agent 1266, of Milton, Fla.  do hereby further reiterate claim of my rights under the federal false claims acts/titles/laws/statutes/subsections and provisions in regards to the fact that Nasa and The National Science foundation has fraudulently claimed that CERN’s LHC super cooled magnets are colder than space when in fact they are NOT. I claim these rights as a documented disabled american citizen in relation to the americans with disabilities acts, titles, laws, statutes, subsections and provisions as set forth by the Department of Justice  pertainant to aforementioned rights aforded me under my constitutional “we the people” and “e pluribus unum” rights which we find under “U. S. Constitution”.  Disparage of which exists in substantial and prima facie evidence form shall also be substantiated by TCP|IP packet dumps in place/use at time of aforementioned dialogue with said f.b.i. agent, contrary notwithstanding…

NASA scientists/ websites/ research claims that LHC’s super cooled magnets are colder than space when they are in FACT NOT the coldest place in space due to the FACT that the boomerang nebula IS in FACT known to be at 1 kelvin…altho 0 kelvin is a theoretical temperature and not at all proven in FACT: It is a documented FACT that scientists can agree that 1 kelvin IS colder than 1.9 kelvin. If Large Hadron Collider super cooled magnets are claimed to be (fraudulently/criminally) colder than space at 1.9 kelvin; then how is 1.9 kelvin colder than ‘1’ kelvin?…the temp. of the boomerang nebula…

These rights and claims are regarding the FACT(s) that NASA and other u.s. agencies, including but not limited to; the national science foundation.,etc, has fraudulently claimed and/or channeled money into CERN based on the FACT that the temperature of space is in FACT not FACT but theoretical based data…Many who oppose CERN and the Large Hadron Collider argue that the machine IS going to destroy the world when it goes online this May 2008. Evidence on this page substantiates opponents arguments based on FACTS not mere ‘theory’…Physicists at RHIC in Brookhaven, New York have already potentially imposed the death sentence on us all by creating a blackhole in 2005…Are we going to sit idly by while similar experimentation/negligence is allowed to continue?

Posted in law, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Is the Mid-Major Era Over Already?

Posted by Fred on March 21, 2008

Yesterday’s sixteen first round March Madness games suggest that we may be in for a repeat of last year’s chalk run, which gave us two #1 seeds and two #2s in the Final Four.  In 2007, there were but five upsets in the first two days, with three nine seeds (Purdue, Michigan State and Xavier) and two eleven seeds (VCU and Winthrop) coming out on top.  Once Winthrop decided not to play defense on Duke’s final possession yesterday, the biggest surprise was Kansas State over USC (which, given that K-State was near the top of the Big 12 all year wasn’t much of an upset).  All the talk over the last few years has been the Rise of the Mid-Majors, with debate over whether to exclude second-tier ACC teams to let in a second or third team from the WCC or Missouri Valley. So what happened? Have the smaller conferences gotten worse, or was it all a charade in the first place?

I looked at all of the first weekend games over the last 10 tourneys, and it appears that the sense that the smaller conferences are on the rise may be more myth than reality:

Conference W-L Pct
Big 6* 365-197 0.649
Big 6 + A-10 and C-USA 399-240 0.624
Everyone Else 81-240 0.252

* Big 6 includes the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac 10 and SEC. Teams are assigned to the conference they are in currently (i.e. Louisville’s record goes in the Big East for all years).

There have been 480 winners over those 10 years (32 in the first round and 16 in the second each year). 83% have come from the eight power conferences, and 76% from the six BCS conferences.  Ah, but certainly the big upsets have come from the little guys, right?  Not really.  Since the NCAA began seeding all teams, there have been 299 victories by teams seeded 9 or higher (299-841 in all games, for a winning percentage of 26%).  The eight largest conferences are 151-269, while the remaining 24 are but 148-572.

The number of non-major conference victories in the first two rounds hasn’t changed all that much over the years, either:

nonmajor_1998-2007

There have always been a few victories, usually from the WCC, Colonial, Horizon or MVC.  But even in 2006, a year that eventually saw George Mason go all the way to the Final Four, 75% of the victories came from the big boys.  The question isn’t who will be this year’s Cinderella.  It’s whether the basketball version of the glass slipper wearer is any more real than the Disney one (with all that said, watch out for the #10 seeds today).

Posted in Sports | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

IE7 vs. Safari 3.1 vs. Firefox 3 beta 4

Posted by Fred on March 20, 2008

ie7_logosafari_logo firefox_logo 

Apple has released another update of its Safari browser for Windows, and claims in usual hyperbolic Cupertino fashion that it is “the fastest, easiest-to-use web browser in the world.”  Mozilla is on beta 4 of the next version of Firefox, and Microsoft released IE7 not that long ago (and is beginning to test IE8).  So I decided to do a few quick tests to see how much Safari has improved.  When it was originally released, I kept it installed for about 15 minutes before returning to FF.  For purposes of the following, I created a new FF profile with no extensions, but kept everything else as a stock install.  The test PC is a Compaq Presario A900 notebook (1.6 Ghz dual-core Pentium, 2 GB RAM, Vista Home Premium SP1), which is squarely middle-of-the-road these days.

For the first test, I loaded the default home page of each browser (MSN for IE, Firefox Start for Firefox and Apple Start for Safari) and used the Vista Sphere Timer gadget to time the startup time.  I did this three times and averaged the results:

IE7 Firefox 3.0 b4 Safari 3.1
7.15 sec 5.70 sec 6.63 sec

Firefox has an advantage in this test, as the Google-driven start page is sparse and relatively graphic-free. While I’d argue that this is relevant as indicative of design philosophy, nevertheless I set the default home page to be about:blank in all three browsers and ran the test again:

IE7 Firefox Safari
4.04 sec 3.30 sec 2.64 sec

Safari is noticeably zippier when not asked to load the Apple start page.  How many users ever change the default start page, however?  In any event, the differences here are minor.  Apple also claims superior HTML and JavaScript rendering speed for its new browser, based on tests using iBench 5.0, a test suite developed in 2003 by PC Magazine and VeriTest.  It has been criticized, however, for giving Safari an advantage because Safari reports that a page is loaded before calculating layout of the page.  Other tests show different results.  I decided to use the JS test at Celtic Kane, running each browser through the test ten times:

IE7 Firefox Safari
1336.3 ms 676.7 ms 394.6 ms

Test results are only as good as the test, but this test tends to support Apple’s claims regarding JavaScript speed.  I have not, however, noticed much of a real-world difference on AJAX-heavy sites like Gmail.  Finally, I opened four tabs in each browser to check memory use.  In this case, two different Gmail accounts, Google Reader and my blog Dashboard at wordpress.com.  It appears Mozilla’s efforts are paying off:

IE7 Firefox Safari
189.96 MB 63.64 MB 131.62 MB

Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story, of course, and each browser has additional advantages.  Safari has SnapBack, resizable text areas and proprietary color and font management.  Firefox has an open and extendible structure, which allows users to add virtually any conceivable functionality via extensions.  IE has ActiveX (which is as much curse as blessing, of course, and achievable in the other browsers with some tweaking) and a shrinking but still sizable library of sites that work better (and sometimes only) in IE.  The latter also comes preinstalled on the dominant OS, obviously.  I plan to use each browser extensively over the next week or so and cover features and real-world performance later.

Posted in internet, software, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Rent vs. Buy Myths? Not Really.

Posted by Fred on March 19, 2008

Jason Kottke links to a post purporting to expose the “rent vs. buy” myths that contributed to the housing bubble.  The claim seems to be that people who should have been renting bought instead, making the housing bubble worse:

Potential buyers bought into all sorts of rent vs. buy myths to justify buying houses that they could not afford during the boom. Now that the U.S. housing market is in shambles, people are starting to realize that renting may not be a dirty word after all.

It’s an interesting theory.  Unfortunately, most of the five “myths” aren’t really myths at all. First some parameters for our discussion — to compare renting and buying, the appropriate comparison should be renting a single family home vs. buying a single family home or renting an apartment vs. buying a condo.  It’s not really a fair comparison to examine a two bedroom apartment and a four bedroom house, and the options have entirely different cost-benefit analyses. Given that I have children, I’ll look at the single family home option, not the apartment/condo one.  We’ll also assume this house is being rented from a private landlord, as is the case with the vast majority of single-family detached homes available for rent.  These assumptions may skew the analysis, so YMMV.

On to the “myths”…

Myth #1: Renting is Like Throwing Your Money Away

Buyers throw their money away for the first five years they own a home, because they simply give money to the bank for the privilege of borrowing money. Renters, on the other hand, pay for one thing every month: shelter. They don’t pay interest to the bank, property taxes or maintenance fees. They pay rent.

There is a nugget of truth here.  The amortization schedule for a 30 year mortgage provides that you pay mostly interest in the early years.  For example, if you have a $300,000 mortgage at 6.0% interest, here’s how it breaks down:

  • Year 1: 17% principal, 83% interest
  • Year 2: 18.1% principal, 81.9% interest
  • Year 3: 19.2% principal, 80.8% interest
  • Year 4: 20.4% principal, 79.6% interest
  • Year 5: 21.7% principal, 78.3% interest
  • Cumulative years 1-5: 19.3% principal, 80.7% interest

Based solely on the principal payments and assuming no appreciation in housing prices and a 100% initial mortgage, you’d have equity of $20,836.86.  That’s not a lot, but it’s not zero.  The argument for home ownership is that you get something for your housing expenditure every month, not that you get wealthy. The return is low, however, and can’t the renter invest what he doesn’t spend on interest, maintenance costs or property taxes?  The problem is that renters do pay for property taxes, maintenance fees and insurance. They just don’t pay them to the government, homeowners association or bank.  Landlords aren’t charities, and the rent they charge is going to be equivalent to their mortgage payment, expected maintenance expenditure and some amount of margin.  If you’re saving money, it’s because the landlord either (a) has paid off their mortgage or (b) bought the house when housing costs were lower and therefore has a lower mortgage payment.  Given how quickly most landlords flip rental properties, the difference between renting and buying in this scenario isn’t that much.

Most renters do pay less in rent than they do when they buy, but a large part of the difference (at least around here) is that they buy a much nicer house than they were renting.

Myth #2: There are Tax Benefits to Owning

Contrary to popular belief, buyers do not get back the mortgage interest they paid throughout the year at tax time. Mortgage interest can only be deducted from taxable income. This essentially means that buyers pay a dollar just to save 30 cents.

Furthermore, deducting interest has no tax advantage unless a buyer pays so much in interest that the amount exceeds the standard deduction that everyone–including renters–is allowed to take.

When it comes to owning, the only guarantee is that buyers will be required to pay property taxes. Since renters are not required to pay any taxes on the property they rent, it seems downright foolish to factor the ‘tax benefits’ of owning into a buying decision.

If someone thinks they’re going to get back every penny they spend in interest, they’re an idiot.  It’s a deduction, not a tax credit.  And it, in and of itself, is not a reason to buy.  But it does factor into the equation.  Take the example above, for instance.  Our hypothetical buyer pays $1,798.65 each month.  In the first year, they pay $17,899.80 in interest.  Assuming a marginal tax rate of 28%, they’ll reduce their tax (or increase their refund) by $5,011.94, which means that for the first year, they are effectively paying $1,380.99 each month in principal and interest.  For most buyers, the tax deduction goes a long way in erasing any cost benefit to renting.  Plus, the landlord isn’t eating his interest expense; he’s passing it through to you and keeping the tax benefit for himself.

The standard deduction argument is an almost completely irrelevant one.  The 2008 standard deduction for couples filing jointly is $10,900.  If you itemize, you’ll deduct not just mortgage interest, but property taxes and state/local income taxes as well.  The number of homeowners who can’t itemize is a number statistically indistinguishable from zero.

Myth #3: It Doesn’t Cost Any More to Buy Than It Does to Rent

People can usually rent a home by paying first month’s rent, last month’s rent and possibly a security deposit. All the money that is paid initially actually goes towards monthly payment obligations, with the exception of the security deposit, which is nearly always returned to the renter in the end.

When a person buys a home, the money that is paid upfront is more significant and may or may not be seen again. For example, a buyer must pay closing costs (typically five percent of the loan amount) and real estate agent commission (typically six percent of the loan amount) before being called a homeowner. This 11 percent ‘investment’ ensures that the home must appreciate by at least 11 percent before the buyer can hope to break even.

Initial costs aside, there are also other costs a buyer is responsible for that a renter is not, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance and maintenance. These costs can add up and may even increase significantly over the years.

There’s actually a nugget of truth here.  The upfront costs of renting are generally cheaper than the upfront costs of buying.  Assume a $1,200 rental payment against our hypothetical $300,000 mortgage.  The renter is probably out $2,400 up front.  The buyer’s closing costs are going to depend on the loan, but will probably be around $4,000, assuming you’re not paying points (and if you are paying points, you get another tax deduction).

This is one of the places that “eFinanceDirectory” prints a blatant falsehood. The seller, not the buyer, pays the commission.  Further, the renter may not be directly responsible for mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance and maintenance, they are indirectly responsible for them, as the landlord will expect to recover those costs through the rent payment.

Myth #4: Buyers Have Assets, Renters Do Not

At best, buyers have depreciating assets. Home prices are falling in nearly every area of the country. An estimated 50 percent of the buyers whose loans were originated after 2002 now owe more than their homes are worth.

Homeowners who have been paying on their homes for ten years or more are seeing their equity disappear. This means that the ‘investment’ they made through mortgage payments is gone–dried up virtually overnight through no fault of their own.

Renters may not co-own a home with a lender, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t have assets. Many renters have a large and prosperous portfolio, Star Wars collectibles (just an example) and other assets that can be sold IMMEDIATELY for cash. The reason they own these things is because they haven’t been paying a lender to ‘rent’ money so that they could pretend like they own an asset.

In the current housing market, especially on the coasts, housing prices have certainly fallen.  There are borrowers who are upside down on their mortgage and will take a loss if they sell.  This is certainly not true everywhere, and unlikely to be true over time.  Here in Richmond, housing prices have continued to appreciate, albeit slowly.  In markets that went crazy over the last decade, prices have collapsed, although many of the people now taking a hit were both buyers and sellers during that period.  So the reality is that some buyers have equity and some don’t.  On the other hand, no renter has an asset they can pledge as collateral (just try to get a small business loan based on those Star Wars collectibles).

Myth #5: Houses are a Good Investment

During the housing boom, everyone thought that housing was a great investment. Many people bought under the assumption that home prices go up, not down. The result of this madness is the biggest foreclosure crisis in the history of the United States.

The reality is that housing is not an investment. It’s shelter. That is all housing has ever been. Self-serving organizations like the National Association of Realtors like to tell people that buying a home is a good way to build long-term wealth, but this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Again, there is a nugget of truth here.  If you have money to invest, you’re better off buying mutual funds than buying a house.  But that’s not really a proper comparison.  The issue isn’t homeownership vs. stock ownership; it’s homeownership vs. renting.  The former has a small return.  The latter has no return at all.

Essentially, these 5 myths boil down to this: renting is cheaper than buying, and if you invest what you save by renting, you’ll make up any benefit you get from buying.  That’s not necessarily the case, given that landlords have mortgages, too.  The money you save is mostly because renting a crappy house is cheaper than buying a nice one.  You can save money by renting an apartment instead of buying a house, and many people are better of renting an apartment instead of buying a condo.

This comes off as a puff piece for home ownership, but it shouldn’t be.  Renting is right for some and wrong for others.  You certainly shouldn’t buy more house than you can afford based on some ephemeral tax advantage.  But there are benefits to home ownership, and there are reasons to buy other than the evil influence of the Realtor/banker/mortgage broker cabal.

Posted in economics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Blogger Bracket 2008

Posted by Fred on March 18, 2008

I’ve decided to move ahead with a blogger-only NCAA tournament pool.  Details are on the Blogger Bracket page.

Posted in Blogger Bracket, Blogging, Sports | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

FF3 beta 4 Gmail bug, with a fix

Posted by Fred on March 13, 2008

Have you upgraded to Firefox 3 Beta 4? Gmail giving you fits?  When I upgraded, I found that Gmail would no longer open messages, and would just hang on loading.  Disabling a Gmail-related extension didn’t help.  IE7 continued to work just fine.  There is a workaround, which solves the problem in two steps.

gmail_old_version.png

(1) Switch to the old version of the Gmail interface, which you can do with the link in the upper right corner of the page.

gmail_new_version.png(2) At this point, Gmail will open messages just fine, but to get to where you were with Beta 3, switch back to the new interface by clicking the link.

That’s it.  Gmail will work fine, and will continue to work fine after logging out and back in again.  Don’t ask me either why it didn’t work before or why this workaround fixes the problem, as I have no idea.

Posted in internet, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hey Bloggers – Win Prizes in the Blogger Bracket NCAA Pool!

Posted by Fred on March 7, 2008

bblogo

March Madness is almost upon us, with conference tournaments starting today in the Colonial, Missouri Valley, Southern, Horizon, Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley, America East, Metro Atlantic and West Coast Conferences.  The big boys wrap their regular seasons this weekend, culminating with conference championships and Selection Sunday on March 16.  The NCAA tournament thus really gets underway in 13 days.  Lots of people have blogs, and lots of bloggers like basketball, so I propose the first annual Bloggers Bracket, a tournament pool for bloggers.

The eligibility rules are simple.  To play, you must:

  1. Have a blog.  It is of course trivially easy to start a blog, so you must have at least ten posts prior to Selection Sunday.  Sploggers will be disqualified and humiliated to the extent possible.
  2. Provide a valid e-mail address on the entry, in case you win.
  3. Promote the contest in at least one post.  I’m not looking for a Page Rank boost, just more players, so write it out as a text link instead of a hyperlink if you have ethical concerns.
  4. There is no 4.

There will be prizes.  If you want to donate prizes, feel free to send an email.  If we get entries from at least 10 individuals, the grand prize will include at least the following:

  1. A $50 gift card from your choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iTunes.
  2. Your choice of one of the following: 50 credits from wordpress.com, a two-year Flickr Pro upgrade or a one-year SmugMug membership.
  3. Eternal Glory.

If there are at least 25 entries, there will be an additional prize for the best picker of upsets.  If this is something you’re interested in, leave a comment here or check back for more updates (Blogger Bracket archive, feed) …

Posted in Blogger Bracket, Blogging, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Apple announces that iPhone to become what it should have been in the first place

Posted by Fred on March 7, 2008

About a year after it’s initial release, the iPhone will finally have a fairly complete feature set.  Apple calls the software version 2.0, but given that the primary features are push email support via ActiveSync and a development environment for third-party software, wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it 1.0?  This makes the iPhone fairly complete, but there’s still (of course) no 3G data, no GPS, no support for software not approved by Cupertino and distributed via the iTMS, no access for developers to all of the iPhone hardware.  Maybe iPhone 3.0 – until then, it’s still an overpriced but pretty semi-useful pile of plastic, glass and chrome.

Posted in Mobiles, Technology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »