Have You Ever Sold Your Home?

As mentioned earlier, our house is for sale. We’re moving to California. That means real estate agents and their clients often drop by.

They want to see the house. They don’t want to see us. When an appointment is made, Helaine, Doppler and I scram. Look for our car aimlessly cruising the neighborhood.

They also want to see the house neat and tidy. You know, as if no one lives here… but they do.

We knew agents were coming by today at 12:30. Then we got a text saying 11:30. Good grief!

When they arrived it looked as if water had never flowed to a sink, every light was always on and any sign of trash or trashcan had mysteriously disappeared.

No home is kept neater and cleaner than when it’s in the process of being sold.

Understand, we’ve changed nothing. We’re just trying to put its best foot forward. The process is interesting and understandable.

A Night Poorly Spent

I watched one show for ten minutes before saying, “You’re watching a show about ripping down steel girders and pipes. Is this what your life has come to?”

I am on the sofa. I am playing poker. I have been looking around on late night TV as I play.

I watched one show for ten minutes before saying, “You’re watching a show about ripping down steel girders and pipes. Is this what your life has come to?” There’s lot of worthless crap nicely packaged on TV.

There are lots of infomercials running too. You daytime people don’t realize there are hours when you can click infomercial-to-infomercial-to-infomercial. Everyone wants to help me. I can sell on the Internet, dabble in no money down real estate, clean my colon and get ripped abs. Late night TV people love me personally.

Poker tournament over–for me. I finished 79th of 1,980. It cost me $2.20. I won $5.50. Is this time better spent than the steel rip down show?

New TV For The Bedroom

Circuit City offers a service where, for a fee, they’ll come to your home and set the TV up. Does anyone really need this? It was out of the box with the base screwed into place in two minutes.

element-lcd-tv.jpgWe went out today to buy a new TV for the bedroom. This is a set used by me when I wake up and by Helaine before she goes to bed.

Is it possible nowadays to not feel guilty when spending money? I definitely felt guilty. Isn’t that attitude going to take us farther into recession?

We decided we’d like something similarly sized to what we already have. Our old set is 27″, but it’s 4:3. All TVs today at 16:9. Have no fear there are websites that will calculate and compare. A 32″ TV is within 6% of a 27″ “old school” monitor in area with lots of extra real estate when the content is HDTV.

This was definitely a price based decision. We went with a Circuit City “Element” brand 32″ LCD TV at $399. It is a no-nonsense model with a single HDMI input, VGA and the other standard methods of moving video and audio.

Circuit City offers a service where, for a fee, they’ll come to your home and set the TV up. Does anyone really need this? It was out of the box with the base screwed into place in two minutes. I couldn’t believe there was a Phillips head screwdriver included!

I attached the coax and power cable turned it on and went to the menu to scan for channels. A few minutes later I was ready to go.

The analog channels are what I was expecting. The digital channels are a mish mash of repeats and weird channels with few things of interest. At least two digital channels don’t seem to be on my Comcast provided digital tuner in the family room. That’s some sort of screw up on Comcast’s part.

The digital companions to our local on-air stations are at their on-channel positions. So, though WCTX is usually Cable 9, WCTX-DT is on Channel 59. WTIC, the local Fox affiliate, is 61-1 squeezed between CNN Headline on 61 and CNN on 62. Now Homer Simpson is in the middle of a cluster of news outlets.

As I tuned I began to notice a lot of channels running HD programming on their SD channels but formatted 16:9 so it doesn’t fill the entire screen. What you get is a 16:9 picture on a 16:9 set but with loads of unused black on all four sides. I could hit a button an expand it, but it’s a manual job on each channel and the video will be pixelated as it’s stretched.

The tuner on this set reminds me of the tuner in an LG set at work. It probably is the same tuner. I assume there are mix and match modules used to build modern televisions. Companies like “Element” are more marketing than manufacturing.

The picture is bright and sharp and it’s an improvement over the old set. I’m looking forward to watching it.

What Goes Up

We bought our house in the early 90s. It had been sitting, unsold, for well over a year. The housing bubble had burst and the developer was holding on, hoping to get his price. He did not.

That’s not to say we bought at a dip. The housing market continued to fall and it was years before our house was worth what we paid for it.

Even now, the best part of our housing investment has been our (and when I say our, I mean Helaine) attention to paying down the balance. Sometime over the next few years, the house will be ours, free and clear

The simplistic thought is, real estate always pays off. It does not. There are short term bumps and starts. We are probably in the early stages of a major nationwide housing bust right now. Buy or sell at the wrong time and you can get hurt.

This is all leading to the video I’ve attached just below. Someone took the average home cost, adjusted for inflation from 1890 to today, and plotted using “Roller Coaster Tycoon,” a computer game.

If you’re more ‘old school’ here’s that same data plotted as a standard graph.

This shows the real volatility of real estate better than anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s fun too.

I know I’ve been attaching a lot of ‘outside’ videos recently. I’m going to try and not let it become a crutch, but some of this stuff really deserves to be seen.

On Our Way

Greetings from Gate 6 at Bradley International Airport. Our plane is listed ‘on time’, though there’s no plane at Gate 6 right now. We fly to Baltimore, stop for dinner, then board another flight to Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque airport is called the “Sunport.” A little too cute for an airport.

I pulled up at the curb, took the bags out of the car and milled around, hoping no policeman would ask me to move along. The idea was to get the bags checked, then drop off the car at long term parking. It worked.

We passed security unscathed. If I would have removed any more clothing, I could have been arrested for indecent exposure.

Some folks were being sent through a ‘puffer.’ I don’t know what it does, but I feel no more secure knowing it’s there. I’m sure GE, whose large logo is festooned on the side, is thrilled.

As we removed our sneakers, a steady beep came from a line of passengers nearby. A fierce looking 80 year old woman was being given the once over. Something she brought through the X-Ray machine wasn’t making the screeners happy.

Considering my feelings about the screening process, you might think I’m making this up. I am not.

As we continued through the screening area, I flashed back to the first real estate closing I ever had – the one for our condo when Helaine and I moved to Connecticut. That morning I looked at all the people sitting at the table and thought, “I’m paying for all these people. Why?”

The TSA’s secure area is now plastered with signs printed on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper. Take off your shoes. Are your gels in small see-through plastic bags? Are you packing fireworks? It’s beginning to resemble the DMV with its institutionalized surliness.

Where are the good old days when the only signs you saw warned you about Murtala Mohammed Airport?

Oh, there’s one more thing about the airport. At least at this gate, the PA system is set at stun level.

At last check, the weather forecast for our Saturday morning balloon ride was still iffy. I’m hoping for better news.

See you from New Mexico.

Spam Is Down? No Way!

I was just over at msnbc.com where they’re running an AP wire story about spam:

Those annoying “spam” e-mails for Viagra or low-rate mortgages that clog computer users’ mailboxes appear to be on the decline, federal regulators said Tuesday.

Say what?

In the six hours I’ve been at work today, I’ve gotten 16 spams on my geofffox.com account and more on my work and gmail.com accounts.

Most of my spams are never seen by me. The filtering on Thunderbird, the email program I use, is good – not great. What does get through is often obvious enough that I can dispatch it before opening it.

There has been a veritable flood of spam for ‘hot stocks’ in the past few weeks. Though they look like text, they are really images. Thunderbird gives up and ships them to me.

On the other hand, there are also some false positives. Helaine ran into my friend Diane Smith today. Diane said she had mailed me… though the mail was marked as spam and filed away where I would have never looked!

I am surprised by the huge number of spam emails I get in Russian and Chinese! I don’t speak either language so I can’t tell you much about the content. From what I can tell, the Russian spams are often mass mailings for legitimate products, like real estate. That differentiates them from the spams I get for V1@gr@ or hot girls who want to meet me.

I’m sure there are guys who hot girls really want to meet. None of those guys have to shave their ears.

Even sending mail has become increasingly difficult because of spam. Messages I sent to my counterpart at our sister station in Springfield, MA bounced because the mail server I use was flagged as a spam site.

I can’t send messages to the NH Register either. No one has told me, but since I can get through via gmail.com, I assume it’s another site blacklisting my mail server.

I am neither smart enough nor well versed enough to come up with a spam solution, but I know it’s out there. The vast majority of spam is a chase for money. Money on the Internet means credit cards. Can’t we find where that money is going?

Electronic mail is so smart, so simple, so efficient, it must be saved. We can’t afford to go back. It’s got to be policed… soon, please.

Oh, and to the FTC; the people quoted at the beginning of this entry. What exactly are you smoking?

Someone I Played Against Is In The World Series Of Poker

I just looked at the list of the remaining 27 in the World Series of Poker.

Greg Raymer is there. He’s last year’s winner, and I’m pleased because he’s from Connecticut and seems like a good guy.

More interesting to me is number 13: Tommy Vu.

A few years ago Tommy Vu used to do real estate infomercials on late night TV. He had a yacht, big house and bikini clad babes. With his thick Vietnamese accent, he was anything but slick. That was probably the key to whatever success he had (at infomercials… if real estate was so good, why would he be hocking it on TV?).

Two years ago, at a real low stakes table at the Mirage in Las Vegas, I sat next to Tommy. It was most likely $2-$4 limit Texas Hold’em. $2-$4 is a level players of my skill set play so we can lose our money more slowly&#185!

He looked familiar. He was certainly well known in the poker room. Everyone said hello to Tommy. When he got up, someone told me who he was.

I remembered him immediately. No one watches more infomercials and other overnight crap on TV than me.

Obviously, Tommy has graduated. If he were to bust out now with 27 players remaining, he’d win $304,680. If he can hang onto his position, finishing at 13, he gets $600,000. This year, first place money is $7,500,000.

He probably didn’t learn anything from my play, though it’s likely I contributed to his buy in cash. Go Tommy!

&#185 – I actually think I play well enough now to clean up at $2-$4. That’s an easy statement to make while in my pajamas at home.

Going to Boston

Stefanie is a senior in high school. I’m not sure I remember too much about that time, but whatever it was, Steffie is under much more pressure than I ever faced. As Helaine pointed out, every school seems to be selective. Every school has difficult criteria. It’s a sad part of our evolving society. Seventeen should be more carefree.

We are going through the process of looking at colleges. So, Friday we set off to Boston to visit Emerson.

I think it’s great that Steffie is interested in Emerson, because it means she thinks communications is something she might want to do and is an honorable profession. 35+ years ago, I attended Emerson. Though I never finished (hey – I would have stayed… they wanted me out), my time there shaped my life. I will always be grateful.

Many of the skills I still use today, and certainly the skills which got me to this point in my career, were first born at Emerson. I met two of my closest, dearest, best friends while there. To have friends for this long is a good thing.

We left the house at 10:00, got on I-91 and headed toward Hartford. From there it was I-84 to the Mass Pike and then straight into the city. Luckily for us the weather was perfect and the Red Sox decided to hold their parade the next day!

I still remember a little about the city and quickly found my way to the garage under the Boston Common. Back when I went to Emerson, it was against my moral code to pay for parking. I also didn’t have much cash. I think this was my first time down there.

We came up in the Common just off Charles Street. We though it would be smart to find where we were going and then kill some time. Good idea. Emerson has moved since I attended and the admissions office is in one of many scattered buildings in the Theater District.

We walked along the edge of the Public Gardens up to Boylston Street. Some of what I saw was familiar. Other things, including prominent buildings and streets had changed radically.

We walked past a tobacconist where I used to buy bulk tobacco. As stupid as it sounds now, I started smoking cigarettes while in college. In the beginning, I bought tobacco in bulk and then rolled my own, using a hand operated machine. I have been smoke free for about 20 years.

We popped into City Place with its fast food stands. Helaine and Steffie shared something and I decided to go off my diet and have a slice of pizza. I didn’t know it when I ordered it, but this slice was the size of a small home. Unreal.

We finally decided the time was right and went to the admissions office for a video program and a tour.

There were 7 or 8 families sitting in this “L” shaped room. On the wall were some flat screen TVs and a computer monitor. Our host, from Emerson’s admissions office, walked in and the program began.

The video portion was produced by students using equipment at the school. It was slickly done. Some of the humor was a little sophomoric, but it was done by students for potential students. It worked.

The host then began to tell us about the programs the school offers. It was incredibly impressive. Of course, as someone in the business, I know that a recent graduate isn’t going to have the practical experience it takes as soon as they graduate. But these courses certainly give a firm foundation.

The families were then split into two groups and we set out to visit the school. We visited the radio stations, WERS and WECB. I had been on both of them during my time at Emerson. Back then, they were basically thrown together in old buildings. Now it looked like there was some planning and foresight… and cleaning.

The equipment was top notch. That really impressed me. I remembered the hand-me-down stuff when I was there.

We continued on to some TV studios and a working newsroom and then into a small theater. Again, this was nothing like the school I remembered. Emerson has definitely raised the bar over the years.

Finally, we went and saw a dorm. The room we visited was on the 5th floor without much of a view. It was moderately sized by dorm standards. I wondered, if Steffie went, how she’d decide what small percentage of her possessions to take.

Along with everything else that Emerson offers is this intangible – they’re right in the heart of downtown Boston. The subway is across the street. The Statehouse is a few minutes walk away. There are theaters and movies and everything that goes with being in a city. It would seem a great place to live.

I could see Steffie was excited. If Emerson was selling, Steffie was buying.

I would later send a note to a few friends who went there telling them how much the school had changed, and how much better it seemed now than when we went.

We left the school and walked toward what had been the administration building and, across the street, my dorm. The dorms will be used for another year, but the administration building is in the process of being converted to condos. Back Bay real estate is just too valuable for a college.

Before we left, we thought we’d go to Legal Seafood for dinner. It’s very Boston and we wanted that experience. It was good and any thoughts I had about only cheating a little from my diet were soon dashed.

We had bumper to bumper traffic for the first hour. Other than that, the trip home was easy and effortless.

We had been gone for about 12 hours. It felt like we had been gone for days.

Blogger’s note: I took my camera along (as you can probably see). Click on any of the photos for a larger version or go to my gallery for a look at all the Boston pictures.

My new LCD monitor

What could be cooler than an LCD monitor? They really look sharp sitting on a desk. For years I have been using a 17″ CTX CRT at 1280×1024 resolution.

Anyone who comes into my office asks how I can stand it. The text is really tiny. But, I appreciate having all that real estate, because I often have multiple windows open.

So, why didn’t I have an LCD monitor?

Money. They were just too damned expensive and the 15″ monitors, pretty much the desktop standard, only provided 1024×768 resolution. That meant things would really be squeezed.

Why spend the money and trade down?

This past weekend, Staples put a Pixo AT700S, 17″ LCD monitor on sale for $380, minus an $80 rebate. Fat Wallet had a link to a Staples coupon which saved me another $30.

The specs show this to be somewhat below top of the line. The contrast numbers are below some I’ve seen and is the lag time. However, a recent article in one of my computer magazines said most of the published LCD monitor specs were wrong… often in the consumer’s favor!

It didn’t make much difference. I’m not quite sure what all the specs are anyway.

I bought the monitor home, hooked it up, turned on my PC and… nothing… white screen. The low res text booting screens were there, but as Windows got ready to deliver, the screen went white. Not only that, I couldn’t get the on-screen controls to work.

I knew my computer sometimes started in a weird video mode where the Windows desktop was larger than my CRT, forcing me to scroll around until I could reset it. That seemed to be the case here. So, I hooked up the old monitor and reset the video… and created a hot key to easily reset it if this problem arises again.

The first thing I noticed was the brightness. This monitor is much whiter than any CRT I’ve used. Pictures were spectacular. Actually, maybe they were too good. I started noticing the artifacts of compression on images; something I hadn’t seen before. As bright as the whites were, the darks were deeper than the old CRT.

But, there were problems as well. Text looked ragged. This was especially true with what looks to be single pixel type, most often used for utility and menu purposes. Some letters looked thicker than others too and some straight lines weren’t quite vertical.

I opened the manual… actually a manualette and read. There were less answers than an Arnold Schwarzenegger news conference (OK – shoot me, I like the line).

What do phase and pitch do? Other commands seemed fairly straightforward, but these two, who knows? And, many of the commands seemed to be intertwined, in that doing one affected another.

PassMark has developed shareware monitor testing software. I downloaded it and fired it up. I’m not sure how you get a monitor to look good, but I do know what looks good. I started to play.

Pitch seemed to be very critical. It was the only control that caused visible screen pulses as it was adjusted. But, it was able to eliminate some thickness that letters only had on parts of the screen.

Does that make sense? It makes no sense to me either, but I’m not sure how else to say it.

Anyway, long story short, using the test screens I was able to tweak the monitor much better than I would have ever been able to just using my eyes. Yes, some very tiny type is ‘too sharp’ and displeasing to look at. But, by and large, everything is very sharp. Graphics are spectacular. There doesn’t seem to be any lag or problem when I use my TV tuner in the computer.

This 17″ LCD is much larger than my 17″ CRT (they are measured differently), meaning that at the same resolution, things are larger and more easily seen with this monitor.

There’s a 14 day return policy at Staples, with no restocking fee. I haven’t yet cut off the UPC for the rebate, but after some indecision, I think I’m going to keep it.

What I don’t understand is why these monitors are limited to 1280×1024? My 15″ laptop screen is 1400×1050 and it’s a thing of beauty. If Sony put one of those on the desktop… well, no, I probably wouldn’t spring for Sony’s prices. But, if Pixo put one out, I’d absolutely consider buying it.