This looks like a lot of fun.
April 30, 2005
Dang it. I upgraded to QT 7.0 in order to watch some of the great new HD trailers at apple.com. Wouldn’t you know it, but the upgrade disabled my ability to save quicktime movies unless I upgrade further to the “Pro” version for thirty bucks. Guess I won’t be saving any movies for awhile. Dang it again.
Thank you, readers. As of today, thebigthink has gotten over 1,000 readers this month. These stats can be seen at the bottom of this page in the sitemeter link. Each person is only counted once per day to avoid overcounts. Thanks again!
April 29, 2005
A brilliant remix of George W. Bush “singing” the old tune Imagine. As an audio editor, I can appreciate the massive amount of work that went into making this sound so seamless. Fantastic and funny job.
April 28, 2005
Desktop nuclear fusion achieved! Reportedly, it won’t be a significant source of power, but it’s a great proof of concept.
No joke here, unfortunately. Due to the fact that American National insurance is trying to fund the care of half the elderly patients in Texas out of our premium increases alone, Erin and I have decided to do the All-American Semi-Annual Insurance Shuffle and cast our lot onto the sea of insurance policies in the hopes that we’ll find one that’s cheaper than the national budget of Borneo.
So we did the smart thing and contacted some friends to get their referrals for an agent. Since it’s the law that agents have to sell identical policies for identical prices, we figured one was as good as another. Off we went to the offices of our friendly neighborhood confidence man, er, insurance agent. After talking to us for an hour (and he really seemed like a nice guy), said agent was finally convinced that we *really did* want a new policy that was (gasp!) cheaper than our current policy. We told him what we were currently paying (mistake #1), who we were with, and what kind of coverage we were looking for in a new policy. He told us he’d “crunch some numbers” and get right back to us.
Apparently his abacus broke down, because it took the better part of a fortnight and several emails to get a response out of the guy, and when it came, it was in the form of a PDF email attachment from…. our current insurance company. Yup, he’d gone back to the spring of our discontent, entered our ages and a few other details, and then forwarded a pdf of the price quotes. And get this: the quotes are no better than what we’re currently paying. For this we waited a week?
So I jumped onto one of the many internet insurance comparators and spent thirteen nanoseconds entering in our sex and birthdays. And just like that, I had dozens of preliminary policy quotes to compare. And get this: the best one, from an A- rated company, was less than half what Mr. Agent quoted us. It was about now that I finally realized that Agents, acting on behalf of the insurance companies, are actually working against their best interest by getting you into a cheaper plan. Less money for the Conglomorated Risk Management Co. Ltd means fewer Harley payments for the old middle man.
When I wrote him and told him about the research that I’d done, he responded by saying “you have to be careful what you buy over the internet”. Laudable advice, to be sure, but it seems a little suspect coming from somebody who stands to lose a commission to a .com. Besides, it’s not like I went looking at seedy sites or anything. This is pretty much the standard in online insurance comparators right now.
This all reminds me of an article that’s running in the current issue of Wired. It deals with Realtors and the imbalance of information. See, if I know something that you don’t, chances are good that I can build a business model around selling you my expertise, my access to information, or my connections. Realtors do this all the time, and they’ve built a business around an exorbitant 6% commission rate for what can amount to a cab ride and a hand-holding session while you sign the documents. They used to have a lock on the market when the MLS was only accessible if you knew the secret handshakes and codewords of Fraternetas Realatatis, but now that Information (and the MLS) is available for free online, realtors are having to bend over backwards to justify their extortionate fees. I’m not doubting that there are agents out there who are worth it, but it’s definitely a minefield.
(Aside: why do realtors drive such nice cars? BMW’s, Lexi, Mercedeseses. I know they think it makes them look successful to their clients, but in reality it just sends the signal that they make a decent living for what is, and let’s be honest here, not a very difficult job. I’m all for making a good living, but when it takes your clients four or five years of mortgage payment just to pay off your commission, I think the pay schedules are a little out of whack. But I digress).
Quick story. When Erin and I were looking for our current house, we spent weeks traveling around Austin, looking into different neighborhoods, researching the MLS online, visiting over 50 houses, and getting a feel for where we were in that magic price/size/location triangle. When we finally broke down and got an agent (at the urging of a family member), what did she do? She faxed us three pages of addresses that she thought would meet our needs. Turns out they were straight out of the MLS and we had already visited most of them. No kidding. Well, it was our first house, and we thought we had to have an agent, so we hired her anyway. The sum total of her work as our agent was to show up when we went to the builder we had already decided on, dropped the ernest money on the house model we had already decided on, and signed the papers containing all the decisions we had already made. Total work on her part: maybe an hour. Total take: thousands. Unfortunately, if we had not had her involved, the builder would not have lowered the selling price of the house by the amount of the agent’s commission. They would have just pocketed the difference. But such is the power of the Realty industry now that the builder can’t negotiate price based on the involvement or lack of involvement of an agent. If they do, they can be sure they’ll be blackballed by the realtors in town and nobody will come looking at their homes. It’s a racket, I tells ya.
But Lo, the great turning of the capitalistic wheel has brought about Opportunity. For up has sprung the 1% Realty companies. Businesses that are willing to take one sixth the pay of the entrenched realty agents in return for many of the same services. Using the same online tools as the Coach-Clad Cabal, these new breed of realty specialists perform many of the same services for a far smaller piece of the mortgage pie, and I say good on them. God bless the internet, the public MLS, and the free flow of information.
To bring it full circle, I think the same thing is happening in insurance right now, and a lot of agents are going to start feeling the pinch. The days of assuming the customer doesn’t have the same information you do, easily accessible, are over.
April 27, 2005
New Serenity movie out September 30th! See the trailer here. If you missed the original series “Firefly” a couple of years ago, you missed an original, entertaining, and cancelled-too-early series. Looking forward the the closure the movie offers.
April 26, 2005
So the year is 2009 (or whenever the RepRap becomes available) and I need a pocket AM/FM radio or a cell phone or a toothbrush, etc. How do I get one?
You download a design from the web (free or paid for), buy a few chips, and set your RepRap machine to work. Next day you plug in the chips, add a battery, and tune in to Grieg or Green Day, according to preference. Or maybe you just clean your teeth…
T-Mobile has a nifty new app on their site that lets you check the signal strength of their cell service on a street-by-street basis. I can’t imagine what went into this, but it’s great to see them offering this service.
April 25, 2005
We said goodbye to our pastor and friend Jim Singleton on Sunday the 17th. Jim has accepted a call to be the head of First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Lucky guy. Jim and I share a deep love for the mountains, and I know he can’t wait to get up there.
We’ll both miss him. I’ll especially miss getting asked every week if we’re brothers:
I even have the start of those grey patches on my chin. Very distinguished, if you ask me.
Goodbye and take care, you old clay pot. Go climb a mountain for me…
I’m a home automation geek. Someday I’ll have to post a description of my setup. I use Xtension software running on an old G3 Mac (runs just fine, thanks). I think the total uptime was something like 400+ days until I had a mysterious lockup… and this is on the “old” OS 9! Reliable as Christmas.
Anyway, the guy who writes and maintains the software, the esteemed Michael Ferguson, cut his teeth in the opening days of the shuttle program. He left Nasa several years ago, but just recently got hired back because he’s one of the few grey-hairs around who still knows the old equipment and code! Just goes to show you how the concept of “outdated” can sometimes work in your favor.
He recently announced his new employment to the Xtension user’s group list. In a description of his job, he dropped this little nugget:
I was the guy who scrubbed the first launch back in ’81 with over
a million spectators on the island…later as I saw the newsreels about the
traffic jam, I guessed that I wouldn’t have been very popular that day.
But it had about as much affect on me as a skeeter bite in July…
How cool! So good luck to Michael. If his part of the puzzle runs as well has his home automation software, we should be back on the moon in no time. Clear skies.
Sorry about the absence, but Erin and I have been in Houston for the weekend helping her mother painter her new house. In two days we did three bedrooms (including one large master bedroom), two bathrooms, a walk-in closet, and a hallway. Three different colors of paint and everything got primed. The master got two coats of color because we were changing the color from “Happy-Happy-Lucky-Chinese-Restaurant Red” to an off-white.
We figured we put in 25 hours of painting in two days. Home now and have to scrape off the primer and let tired muscles rest.
Oh, and we have to paint our pantry now. 🙂
April 22, 2005
April 21, 2005
How about a piano concert from beyond the grave? Technology allows deceased musicians to perform, er, “live” again.
Dang it, I found something else I have to add to my daily reading. Top 11 lists. Gotta find something to drop from my reading or I’ll spend all day ‘catching up’.