Friday, July 29, 2005

More Indications on the Real Estate Bubble

This story in USNews further supports the general indication that there is a real estate bubble about to pop. The data is pretty conclusive. I've been amazed in talking to people about how much blind optimism there is in the market!

Add those numbers to the chart shown here, which I got from this article at the, and you will see a correction in progress.

For full disclosure, I do own shares of real estate companies - Toll Brothers and MDC Holdings, despite my confidence in an impending crash. I am still trying to determine what an appropriate metric might be to determine when to sell them, but for now they are profitable and successful companies that seem undervalued.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why A Real Estate Crash Is Imminent!

I am currently reading about the bursting of the tech bubble, and the one think that strikes me, something I have thought about for the last few months, is how similar the present real estate market is to the tech bubble. I didn't believe a crash was imminent a few months ago, when many naysayers were forecasting it. But as crash failed to materialize, many bears became bulls, arguing now that things had changed, that traditional ideas about bubbles were no longer valid. This is the same as what happened in the tech bubble - the early bears missed tremendous profit opportunities, thought to themselves, jeez we must be wrong, and bought into the myth of structural change.

The tough part is predicting when the bubble will pop, and how will we guard ourselves? I don't own any real estate, but when housing markets crash, it will ripple through not only our stock market, but those around the world.

Nonstickware and Cancer

There is now a huge debate on whether compounds in nonstick cookware may be carcinogens (for more, see this story in the NYTimes (free registration required). Some tips to reduce the risks cited by the story:

- "Use Teflon pans at lower temperatures, and never put them on the stove to heat without food or liquid inside." This is interesting, because it suggests I may be doing two things wrong. I often pre-heat the pan before pouring oil (BAD!) and also usually run the range on high to cut cooking time (BAD! BAD!)

- Another solution is to cook the old-fashioned way. If cast iron pans are seasoned and heated properly, very little oil is needed for browning. OK, this didnt make sense to me. Why does it matter that less oil is needed, especially if the toxic compounds are from the Teflon rather than the oil? Or is it that the oil is needed to burn the Teflon (contradicts the previous bullet)

- Greasy food that is heated in a microwave oven in a cardboard container is a potential source of PFOA; take the food out of the container and heat it in glass or ceramic. So reheating your pizza in that cardboard box is OUT!

Hopefully they will figure all this out soon, but it does highlight how little we know about the chemicals we interact with. I'd be interesting in seeing if anyone has been able to determine if we have a higher true incidence of cancer than in the past (I use "true" to distinguish from increased incidence due to increased screening and reporting)

Inefficient Cars

While I am not a big proponent for regulation, I do believe the economy has hidden costs that need to be accounted for by laws and protections. This story in the NYTimes (free registration required) about the EPA holding back a report that suggests that cars today are on average less fuel efficient than in the '80s is tragic and shocking. For all the lip-service we give to environmental issues, the only way the marketplace will adopt clean technologies is if we account for the hidden costs of pollution. That we are failing to do is evident by the fact that for all the succeses of hybrids like the Prius, our roads are being swamped by more and more SUVs and gas guzzlers.

On the topic of hybrids, have you heard of the new Accord Hybrid. This baby has 255 horses on a V6 engine, and is faster than the other Accords on the road. The mileage is a lot lower than the Prius, but Honda seems to be trying to attract customers not traditionally motivated by environmental conditions into accepting cleaner technologies. A link in this posting gives a fascinating look into the thinking of Honda management on issues such as clean technology and fuel efficiency.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Etiquette and Life

I've been quite busy at work, and so never got to post this rant till now, so it's a little outdated. A few days back, the Today show had these silly girls of the lacrosse team from Northwestern University, who wore flip-flops to see the President of the United States! Their defense was basically that they meant no disrespect, while the mom of one of the girls was glad she was comfortable.

I'm sorry, but to me this is garbage ... and symptomatic of a serious problem we have - the Death of Etiquette. I'm sure the annoying person in the restaurant talking on their cell phone doesn't mean any disrespect, nor does the person who doesn't bother to hold the elevator for you. They are just being insensitive, something we didn't used to defend.

What about the bus? On a university bus, I apparently offended a likely feminist, who thought me offering her a seat was chauvinistic, while I have myself shaken my head a little at women who do accept that seat but refuse to consider it worthy of something as trivial as a "thanks". We are all so freaking caught up in our crappy existence we seem to forget that society is a collection of humans, and the decency that exists in society is a product of, well the decency of people in the past!

Ladies, did you really think it was appropriate to see the president in flip-flops? I mean, come on, you aren't worth shit, nor am I, compared to the man who gets to decide if he wants to nuke half the world. You may or may not like him, but for godsakes, he is the President and you are meeting him in the White House. If that doesn't qualify for your best dress, then maybe you are too self-obsessed to be a role model of any kind. It is much for important for me, for one, to have a daughter that knows respect than one that's talented!

The President's and a Woman's Right to Choose

Tim Russert had a clip of Bill Clinton as President saying he would only appoint judges who were pro-choice. That raises the question of why President Bush have the right to appoint judges that were pro-life. Bush won the election in part on the platform of voting conservative judges, and I think it's improper for Democrats to try to shoot the Roberts nomination on anything other than ethical or tempermental issues.

That's not to say that Roberts is anti-choice (his wife runs a feminist organization), or that I am resolved on the issue of abortion. In my early years, I was overwhelmingly pro-choice, and still fundamentally find the argument of women having freedom over their bodies appealing. But after seeing a 3-month ultrasound of a friend, I find it disingenous to deny that abortion is not an allowed killing! Where does a balance lie ... when does life begin ... these are questions I have not been able to answer. I would love to hear intelligent opinion on this issue (please use the comment section to do so).

Monday, July 18, 2005

Idiot Pol

OK, come on, how many of you are sick of idiotic politicians? The latest in a string of fools on the Hill is Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO). On a right-wing talk show, our elected representative suggested that if another terrorist attack were to happen, the US should retaliate by taking out Mecca, the holy site for Muslims. Yeah dickhead, nice way to state to the world that the war on terror isn't a war on Islam.

Listen, I'm sick and tired as all else about the failure of moderate Muslims to speak out more forcefully against the extremists, but silly statements like this marginalize those moderates and push the mainstream into the hands of fanatics.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


I saw the movie 'Marvin's Room' on CBS today. It was quite a good movie, especially since I had found myself recently contemplating adversity. Why do people have to have such struggles in life - from health issues to financial to emotional? This movie, staring Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Leo de Caprio among others, was perfect viewing at this time. I had heard 'adversity builds character', but I also realized it so deeply shapes the lives we lead. It forces us out of our complacency, out of our self-obsessed lives of indulgence, to look outside and within.

I recently spoke to an aunt I haven't spoken to in at least 15 years because of concerns with her health. I had thought of calling her before, but it was always, well frankly uncomfortable to do so after all these years. And yet, when hard times are on us, we leave our cushy lives and do things we think we are not ready for. And we always feel empowered when we leave our comfort zones, the freedom from entrapment!

The movie also made me contemplate growing old, growing dependent, death ... all these events we try to block out of our lives. So I'm forcing myself to contemplate these, even though I hope to have a half century or so left in me. Because I feel when we can accept death, we can accept life as it is.

I'd love to hear from my small pool of readers on their thoughts on such matters. Please use the comment form if you feel you have anything to say or share.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Blogs Come Back to Bite You ...

This story highlights the risks of being too expressive in blogs. My own policy is to avoid personal information as much as possible (even if most of my blog audience are acquaintences). I also reserve the right to always change my views at a later time. I used to be a communist in my teens, and stayed a liberal through much of the time, but in recent times have found myself getting more conservative (with age?) on a host of issues ranging from economic to social. But rather than dithering, I view this as a healthy acceptance of new information and a lack of rigidity that is so lacking in so much of our populace. I also recognize that sometimes rheoteric doesn't match reality, so while in principle, one approach may work (say, for example, governments involved in ensuring jobs for the poor), I may one day realize reality is very different (governments are more likely to feed themselves and ensure that the flawed systems that empower bureaucrats remain firmly entrenched!)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Rural Innovators

I was quite inspired by this story of budding innovators in rural India. It's a reminder that through dedication and commitment, we can make a difference, despite the lack of monetary and other resources. Hopefully, some entreupreneur can team with such talent to bring this ideas to the marketplace, rather than them having to rely on some stupid government official's benevelonce.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Horror in London

Tragic events in London! Just when we thought terror was on its way out, it rears its ugly head again. The sad part is that in the early hours since the blast, I was hoping it would be some local group (the French angry at London being chosen, G8 protestors, etc) since the alternative is that the evil Al Qaeda is still strong. Clearly this is a war for the long haul...

Monday, July 04, 2005


I read this beautiful quote on Steve Pavlina's Blog:

"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." – Susan Erz