Look for 30 Percent Consumer Market Contraction

Talking heads and media pundits are all talking about how we are nearing a bottom or “leveling off” of the current recession. Personally, I don’t think we’ve found the bottom yet. I think once we find the bottom, the world is going to stay there for a long time. The “turn around” everyone talks about will simply get us back to the condition we were in several weeks prior to the bottom, then we will stay there a long time.

I’m not basing this line of thought on doctored up accounting data or other reports seer sizzled up by the same accounting firms who participated in the stock market and mortgage fraud cases we’ve been hearing about. I’m basing this on current trends and human nature. I think it will be at least a 30% contraction and it will last for 3-8 years.

Prior to our finding out just how void of ethics the mortgage/housing industry was (we always knew about the Realtors), the credit card companies were held out as the bowels of the Antichrist. They would issue credit cards to people’s dogs if an application had been filled out. (That’s not an exaggeration, I know someone that actually got a credit card for their dog.) Credit card companies had a seemingly endless list of tricks to jack up interest rates or charge excessive fees. Consumers got used to being rectally violated by these practices and started playing the “ 0% Interest Balance Transfer” game as a way of getting even. Of course, that game would only yield victory to those who stopped using their credit card for anything until the entire balance was paid off. You see, you had to pay the 0% balance off before any payments were applied to your new charges.

Eight years ago, it was nothing to run into someone with five credit cards in their wallet. Nearly everyone of these cards would have some kind of balance that was older than one month. There was a large group of people who thought it was OK to buy $140 pair of sun glasses, then make minimum monthly payments to their credit cards. Of course, the credit card companies encouraged this behavior. They even paid Congress to change the bankruptcy laws without lowering the maximum allowable interest rate. Retailers flocked to accept credit cards and also encouraged consumers to pay it off over time. If it wasn’t for consumers living well beyond their means, CEOs couldn’t possibly get those multi-million dollar bonuses.

Today, we see that the White House is about to spank the major credit card companies like they’ve never been spanked before. When they left the meeting in Washington almost none stopped to talk with reporters. They knew it was coming. There has been a mad rush to jack up interest rates on every card out there. Granted, a lot of that money grubbing is because the credit card issuers had a lot of exposure to the mortgage crisis. They think if they squeeze unemployed people who are behind on their mortgages harder from the credit card side, those people will suddenly pay things off. Make no mistake, it is usually “mortgages” for these people. They bought a house, went hog wild with the Martha Stewart decorating thing, ended up with massive balances on their credit cards, took out a home equity loan to pay off the credit cards, then ran balances up again. Now they are upside down on a mortgage and have just had their credit card limit slashed below their outstanding balance to generate more fees for the issuer.

Being a consultant, I try to never carry balances on my cards. I also try to never finance a car. I’ve seen too many consultants rack up large debt while on a long term contract only to have that contract suddenly end due to some funding/policy issue at the client site. Those are the consultants you find slithering into those absolute shit contracts offered up by EDS or the worse ones offered up by Verizon through the illegal alien vendor management system. The billing rate doesn’t even begin to touch a living wage, but it generates cash flow to keep gas in the tank and food on the table. It won’t begin to pay off a single debt. Those consultants will spend each day on the phone continuing to look for a new contract which actually pays a living wage. It doesn’t take long before they are fired, not because they couldn’t do the work, but because they put forth the level of effort such a wage deserved.

Enough consumers have either now been thrust into this undesirable situation or know people in such a situation, that credit card practices are going to change. The credit card companies have already started one massive push to bleed people while they can. I just got rid of my Bank of America card because they sent a letter stating the new interest rate minimum would be 8.65%+ the highest prime rate published in the Wall Street Journal for the prior two weeks. Talk about assholes! Since I don’t carry a balance, I called to cancel the card. My final bill arrived today. I also ordered them to remove me from their contact list. Most people forget that step. They have to actually remove you if you request it at the time of card cancellation. This stops all of those annoying “We Want You Back” letters.

I don’t think I’m alone in my actions. While I don’t consider myself the cream of the crop for credit card companies, (and since I locked down all of my credit to avoid identity theft, they can’t tell what I am), I can’t imagine people who don’t have a balance on a card getting a letter like the one I received and not cancelling the card. There was a time I was one of those people with five credit cards in my wallet (though I usually didn’t carry a balance on any), now I’m a person with exactly one credit card. From what I hear a lot of people are getting down to one or fewer credit cards. Now that most banks pass out debit cards for free and you can even use them to buy on-line through any vendor that accepts the credit cards of the same label, I don’t see a lot of overspending happening in the future.

How does this equate to a 30% or better global economy reduction? Many economies relied on Americans living well beyond their means. Some countries had even banked their entire economic and infrastructure growth on being able to sell as much as they wanted to American consumers. China is feeling our downturn even more than we are feeling it. The world economy isn’t ready to face American consumers having fewer than two credit cards in their wallet and never carrying a balance, but that day is quickly approaching. Once we hit bottom, that’s as high as we are going for a long time. It took over 50 years after the Great Depression hit before Americans started to live beyond their means in any serious way. It’ll take twice that long now. This time we don’t have to carry cash and checks.

 

Today I Realized Just How Much I Miss Lotus Wordpro

Today was one of those days where my mind wandered a lot. This happens on weekends when I’m writing. It happens to a lot of writers I’m told. You are “supposed” to be writing chapter X, but your mind decides to paint a really intriguing scene before its own set of eyes. The scene has absolutely no place in the chapter you are supposed to be writing, it may not even fit in the book you are writing, but you know it’s good.

Those who try to teach people to be professional writers tell them to write these things down in a notebook or in a new document file. There is a reason why those people tend to not be professional writers themselves. You need not only the scene, but the context which caused it to appear. A notebook or directory full of well written yet unconnected scenes is a cross between Chinese Water Torture and failure for a writer.

WordPro had one feature no other word processor has bothered to implement. If there was a good way to get the Lotus SmartSuite running under Ubuntu I would still be using it today instead of OpenOffice. WordPro had tabbed document divisions. Not only did you make each chapter a tabbed division in your file, you added tabs for these wonderful scenes right there, when they happened. A simply glance down the right margin told you the chapters which gave you the most inspiration and the chapters which captivated your attention. Most importantly, everything was kept in the same file. At the end of your process, you could then choose to collect or discard the tabs which didn’t make it into the final document. Each division which made it in made it because you had a frame of reference as to “why” you wrote it.

I used WordPro for a lot of technical documentation writing over the years. Novel, short story, system user manual and developer’s guide all benefited because a word processor worked like a writer’s mind worked. Today, the industry is awash with word processors that all have the same boring and nearly unusable interface. One of the real reasons so few books and movies fail to inspire us today is that writers don’t have a word processor that helps their mind put the story together.

 

Salvaging Evolution Addressbook Data

I’ve been in the process of migrating from Ubuntu to OpenSuSE 11.1 this past week. While I really liked Ubuntu, they put out a 64-bit kernel update which was any direction but “up”. Problems were spread far and wide, yet they didn’t send out another update backing this update out. Given the company putting out Ubuntu wants to become the desktop of choice when corporations dump their legacy Windows desktops, this was not a smooth move. It alienated a lot of users at a time when most of the off-shore consulting companies have already begun abandoning Microsoft products. The first cut has been to get rid of Outlook and Exchange, replacing them with Gmail. The second step has been to remove MS Office and replace it with OpenOffice. Pretty much every corporation which will still be here in 3 years has moved to the Open Document Standard. Even IBM has now released a free Lotus Symphony word processor which runs on a lot of platforms and creates the Open Document format as its default output. (Not only that, but it can read Lotus WordPro and other IBM document file formats. There may very well be some quirks when reading complex documents, but so far this is your only “free” option.)

I dutifully did an image backup and even copied my home directory off to a USB drive. I nuked the Ubuntu partitions and performed the process of installing SuSE. Then I performed the process of installing all of that software you don’t have the option of choosing when installing from DVD. When I started configuring email, I learned of a real bug-a-boo with Evolution. You cannot simply copy the addressbook.db file from your backup copy to the correct place in the newly created folder. That trick works with the email tree, but it is a prescription for heartache when you try it with the addressbook.db file.

Needless to say, I’ve spent the better part of the last few days searching the Web and trying various things. The bottom line is that you are nearly pooched if you forget to use the “export” function in Evolution before moving to a new OS or even re-installing Evolution. Then I found this Web site: http://members.cox.net/mraswan/work/perl/AddressbookViewer.html

In case the site moves, I’m going to post the code here. It requires you have the BerkeleyDB package for perl installed, but you probably already do, if not, I haven’t found a distro that didn’t include it. You want to direct the output to a listing file because it is pretty ugly. A little time spent with a text editor and your new Evolution installation will allow you to salvage most of your data.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

use strict;

use 5.008;

use BerkeleyDB;

package addressbook;

{

sub new {

# Create new object

my $class = shift;

my $self = {};

bless $self, $class;

}

sub getBook {

# initialize variables

my $self = shift;

}

sub printBook {

my $self = shift;

use vars qw( %h $k $v ) ;

my $filename = “/media/USB_250/addressbook/local/1/addressbook.db” ;

tie %h, “BerkeleyDB::Hash”,

-Filename => $filename,

-Flags => BerkeleyDB::DB_RDONLY

or die “Cannot open file $filename: $! $BerkeleyDB::Error\n” ;

# print the contents of the file

while (($k, $v) = each %h) {

print “\n$k -> $v”;

}

untie %h ;

}

}

package main;

{

my $addressbook = new addressbook();

$addressbook->printBook();

print “\n”;

}

exit;

 

Why I Hate Toshiba

I really should have known better. Last summer I got caught up in the back to school sales and purchased a Toshiba Satellite A215-S5848 notebook. I was sick and tired of dealing with the WinBook I had purchased from Micro Center. Someone who used to work there had told me they thought the WinBook notebooks were private lable Toshiba, but they weren’t certain. After dealing with this p*ss complected puddle of puke, I know for certain that they are.

You should know right off the bat when the ad for the notebook claims it has a fax modem and you find out it has just a modem. How much did they really save by leaving fax capability out of the firmware? Where they hell did they find someone making a modem only chip in this day and age?

Then you get into the real issues. Nearly every piece of “bootable” software you purchase on CD cannot boot on this machine. They all seem to use a Linux or other kernel which expects industry standard USB, A20, and APCIC. Toshiba couldn’t be bothered with that. Non-industry-standard was much cheaper, so that is what you got. Most other notebook vendors don’t bother with these non-industry-standard components because they cause oceans of compatibility issues.

Oh, they didn’t stop there. While the notebook included a card slot, it didn’t include a PCMCIA card slot so you could use your old faxmodem cards to get around the shafting you took on the fax-only hardware in the notebook…noooo…new style card slot only. You get to spend another $100+ dollars if you want to actually fax from your notebook. If you don’t want to do that, you scrounge around in your cast-offs bin to find an old external faxmodem, then pray to the chip gods you can get a USB-Serial adapter cable.

Injuries don’t stop here, however. They found a cheaper than cheap wireless chipset which can sometimes function with the pre-installed Windows Worsta Home Premium Edition. You had to wait a full year for someone else to get ticked off enough to write a Linux driver for it. The vendor never bothered. Had they used the industry standard chipsets it would have worked just fine. The chipset they included didn’t give you anymore than the low end industry standard sets, it was simply cheaper. Not like it had N capability.

Ah, but they saved the best for last. They used an ATI chipset for graphics, sound, and other functions. Oh the humanities! Oh the insanities! I realize my favorite CPU vendor now owns ATI, but they really need to stop production on the horrible chipsets which were designed prior to take over. These chipsets require the drivers to be linked into the kernel. Naturally the driver writers at ATI have very little kernel skill. Any time you get an automatic update from your OS vendor, it doesn’t include the ATI stuff. Your video display is trashed until you manually go get the updated kernel from the ATI sites.

Never, ever, again.

I might even stop buying stuff at Micro Center after receiving two shafts like this. They seem to be in bed pretty thick with Toshiba, so I doubt they will start carrying better notebooks.

Oh how I wish Pro-Star would go back to putting AMD CPUs in their notebooks. Their notebooks were solid!

 

It’s All About the Packaging

With the current global recession, rural areas have started being hit by a wave of thieves that ordinarily wouldn’t bother driving out to the country side. I guess the competition in the city is getting to intense. These aren’t the ordinary burglar type thieves, they are junkers. They drive around looking for building sites that don’t have anyone living there and pull in with truck and trailer looking for things that can be sold quickly at a junk yard. Ordinarily we were immune to such thieving, but recently they wheeled into two farms we have and made off with an International 302 gas truck engine along with some sweep augers. That got me thinking about why we were immune in the past.

Over a decade ago, a group of guys came over to go pheasant hunting. We had a fairly good day. Got a few birds and managed to stumble across the world’s dumbest coyote. Instead of turning left and running away from all of us it turned right and ran across all of us. Thankfully the last guy took time to aim, the rest of us were just burning powder as fast as we could.

One of the people in the hunting part was a relative whose spouse was teaching at a college. She told him before he came out that one of her classes were studying coyotes and if we happened to get one to bring it back so she could take it to school. We helped him load it up and the students took pictures, measurements, and every other kind of thing except cut it open for internal biology study. About a week later he called up wondering what to do with the coyote. Disposing of it in town was going to be a problem, but out in farm country we are still allowed to burn, so we told him to drop it off one day and we would take care of it.

Several days went by and he showed up one day when nobody was home. The dogs were quite excited to have something new out in the yard to sniff when he dropped the thing off. As luck would have it, later that day a delivery truck arrived with something I ordered. The driver had a new employee with them and was showing them the ropes of delivery out in rural America. When the new kid went to get out of the truck the driver yanked him back and had him close the door.

“Don’t get out.”

“Why not?”

“See that, it’s a dead coyote. Those dogs killed that coyote. You won’t make it back. Wait a few minutes and see if anyone comes out.

I know exactly how the conversation went because the truck stopped at a gas station in town and the new recruit told people working there the story. It doesn’t take long in a small town for news to travel. Pretty soon nobody got out of their car until they saw someone and salespeople quit stopping by.

That was a long time ago, and we no longer have two dogs. Apparently people have forgotten about the packaging as well.