Friday, October 24, 2008

Sign overload

I took this picture a couple of months ago. It looks like one of the signs is missing, I gues it didn't apply. The remaining eight Signs on the sign are: "Danger Hard Hat Area", "Danger Overhead Lines", "Restricted area no atmittance", "Fall protection required", "No tresspassing or loitering on this property", "Designated Drug Free Work place", "No drugs or alcoholic beverages allowwed", "Fire extinguisher located inside trailer"

[where: Bethesda, MD]

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are the Republicans true to their platform?

Here's an interesting article on ReasonOnline Nothing short of defeat will put the GOP back on its limited government track It makes a useful point. It says "The Republican Party has ... given up all pretense of any allegiance to limited government." The evidence? "In the last eight years, the GOP has given us a monstrous new federal bureaucracy in the Department of Homeland Security. In the prescription drug benefit, it's given us the largest new federal entitlement since the Johnson administration. Federal spending—even on items not related to war or national security—has soared. And we now get to watch as the party that's supposed to be "free market" nationalizes huge chunks of the economy's financial sector." Worse yet "This administration believes that on any issue that can remotely be tied to foreign policy or national security (and on quite a few other issues as well), the president has boundless, limitless, unchecked power to do anything he wants."

The article isn't optimistic about an Obama administration either saying "He'll just be bad in different ways". Nor is the argument about choosing the lesser of two evils. No, his argument is that since neither party is truely about a conservative, limited government, if the Republicans lose they will have to regroup and rebuild "around the principles of limited government, free markets, and rugged individualism".

It's a good read, not going to the level of insightful because it doesn't go in depth enough but it is an interesting opinion.

On a lighter note, one of the ads that was on the page had the text "Who's more likely to Cheat: Obama or McCain" Is that really the most important part of the election? Where is the "Who's more likely to put the country in an extended depression?" or "Who's more likely to piss other countries off more?" (Neither of which I know the answer to)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Of all the ridiculous things

A few months ago, they took out the perfectly speedbumps on Fernwood Road in Bethesda and replaced them with identical speed bumps. What was the point of that, there was nothing wrong with them (except for their very existance, I'm not a big fan of speed bumps). Yesterday and today they have been doing the unimaginable. They took out the speed bumps again, and are replacing them with....(wait for it)....speed bumps... that are just like the once they are taking out... you know, the once they just put in two months ago. What are they thinking? In the space of a few months, we have had three sets of speedbumps and there was nothing wrong with the first set. Do they have that much money lying around that they can replace them over and over? Did they forget they just replaced them? I'm not positive, but these new ones might be one inch smaller than the old ones, but is that a good enough reason to remove the whole thing and start over?

[where: Fernwood Rd, Bethesda, MD]

(did I use to much bold and italic?)

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's election time

The presidential elections are coming up quickly and I saw this great bumper sticker. Not sure if it will change my mind about who to vote for. Here is a an old Ford truck with a NIXON/AGNEW bumper sticker on it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can I leave Pallets there?

I noticed this sign on the loading dock of 3 Bethesda Metro Center Plaza. "Notice. No Trash, No Pallats. Violators will be charged" Is it ok if I leave pallets there? Does anyone proofread signs anymore? How long has it been there? If managment notices, will they replace the sign or just leave it?

Here's another sign on on the same loading dock. It starts "NO PARKING IN LOADIING DOCK. For Unloading Only". What's this, A loading dock where you can't load? Why don't they just call it an unloading dock. And, what if you need to load something, where do you do that? To be fair, there is yet another sign on the loading dock that says you can use it for both loading and unloading.

[where: 3 Bethesda Metro Center, Bethesda, MD]

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where is the stock market headed?

The Dow first closed above 10,000 on March 29, 1999. Here it is again at10,000. Is this what Prince meant when he said "Party like its 1999"?
With the DOW crashing down from over 14,000 to below 10,000, I start to wonder where the market is headed. Is now a good time to invest? Will it keep going down? Should I be planning the DOW 5,000 party? Will it just trade sideways for a while? I don't have the answer to any of these questions, but I did a few interesting tidbits.

Looking at the DJIA chart I can see that the rate of growth picked up significantly around 1995. In fact, if the rate of growth had stayed the same as it was between 1985 and 1995, we would be around 7,500 now. If the rate of growth had stayed where it was before 1985 then we would be somewhere south of 5,000.
Is 7,500 what the Dow "Should" be at? I think that there are fundemental changes to the world economy. Outsourcing has hurt U.S. workers some, but helped U.S. corporations and Indian and Chinese workers. The market largely reflects what is happening to Companies, not people. U.S. companies are more global now too. These things should push the rate at which the stock market increases up a bit. On the other hand, markets tend to go from overly optimistic to overly pessimistic, so they could well go below 7,500 before coming back.

The Dow is a pretty poor index to track, the S & P 500 is much better, extrapolating the growth rate from '85 to '95 out to today would give us right around 800, about 20% below where it is now. There are other things to consider.

Take a look at the average price to earnings (PE) ratio of the S&P 500, it has fluctuated from below 10 in bear markets to around 20. After 1995 it goes up and peaks above 45. The historic norm is 15 (but the period of 1995 to 2000 pulls up the norm a bit, I think the norm was around 12 pre '95). Figuring out the P/E is a bit tricky, but you can get close by looking at the PE of "S&P Depository Receipts" Ticker symbol SPY. That shows a PE of around 13. Of course, if earnings (the 'E' in P/E) deteriorate, that could push the P/E higher even if prices go down. If we are headed to a P/E below ten like serious bear markets in the past, we still have a ways to go by this measure, but it looks reasonably valued at this point.

Another way of looking at the value of the market is by looking at the dividend yield. For a long time, the yield has been going down and is quite low. Way back in 2002, when the Dow was at 8,500, Bill Gross, the manager of the worlds biggest bond mutal fund said the dividend yield of large market indexes need to be 3.5% for the index to be fairly valued. Getting there would result in the Dow going down to 5,000. (or companies increasing their dividends). The S&P is currently yielding 2.18%, so by that measure it still looks overvalued, even 8 years after the article was originally written.

You can look abroad too, the Japanese Nikkei average closed at almost 39,000 at the end of 1989. Right now it is at 9,200. 18 years after hitting it's high, it is still down over 75%. How is that for depressing.

To me, it looks like the market could go down a bit more, but then again, maybe it will go down alot, or maybe it will start going up. Dow 7500 is possible, Dow 5000 seems like unlikely, but I can't rule it out. Looking back in time only tells you past trends, it is myoptic to only consider these. Who knows what will happen next.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Oh look, fire trucks

I was driving on Old Georgetown Road on Tuesday and noticed that Del Ray Avenue was closed and there were lots of fire trucks. I took a look around and it seemed like the activity was around 4930 Del Ray Ave. home of the American Gastroenterological Association. (If we were playing scrabble, that would be worth a lot of points). It didn't look like there was a fire, no smoke or hoses, but I counted 9 fire trucks, two rescue squads, one ambulance, a couple of police cars and a couple of other fire-related equipment.

A bit of digging on the BCCRS web site suggests it was a Box alarm for a building of higher than 7 stories. This should bring out five engines, three trucks, one rescue squad, one ambulance, two duty officers. That is pretty close to what I saw. I had to look around the Bethesda Fire Dept website for the definition of a box alarm. As best I can tell, it just means they got an alarm call and this is the pre-planned set of equipment they send to the scene before they know if it is really a fire or not.

There is actually a difference between fire engines and fire trucks, fire engines have hoses and pumps, fire trucks just carry equipment. I am not entirely sure, but I think there were 5 engines and 4 trucks there.

If you know anything more, post it in the comments.

[where: 4930 Del Ray Ave, Bethesda, MD]

Dow 10,000 Party!

The dow first broke the 10,000 point barrier in March of 1999. There was much celebrating. On October 6, 2008 the Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed the 10,000 point mark again, but this time on the way down. In honor of it closing below 10,000 for the first time in years, the next day we had another DOW 10k party. It wasn't quite as festive. Hopefully we won't have to have a dow 5,000 party.

This is reminiscent of when the dow hit 1,000. I looked it up since I don't personally remember it. The dow first closed above 1000 in November of 1972. The last time it closed below 1,000 was in late 1982, a full 10 years later. We are about 9.5 years after the first close above 10000 and it seems likely that we have at least another half year, so we will probably beat the 1,000 record. So far, it hasn't been as bad though, after hitting 1,000 there was a horrible bear market and the dow bottomed at 577.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Looking back at the parks half marathon

It has been a few weeks since the Parks Half marathon in Montgomery County, and, as I posted earlier, I took a bunch of pictures. I figure now is a good time to reflect on the experience.

It was actually more fun than I expected. My expectations were fairly low, I mean, standing in one spot for a couple of hours hitting the shutter button over and over and over isn't high on my list of things to do before I die. Maybe I picked an unusually good spot (right after the tunnel under MD-355) because I saw several runners who were being encouraged by friends and/or family, even a family running together. I also enjoyed the person who started juggling when he saw the camera. I got a good percentage of the people who ran by, but there were many groups of people (more than I expected) and there were sometimes people who's number was obscured the whole time. On the flip side, there were also a couple of people who straightened out their number when they saw me. I was surprised at how good people looked. After 13 miles of running on a very humid day I expected to see more people barely hanging in there, but most people looked like they could keep going a few more miles.

After posting the pictures I went hunting for blog posts about the race. I found a few posts. It was interesting to read about the race from people I saw (and in most cases had photographed). One particularly interesting one was by a woman who found out she was pregnant after finishing the half marathon.

On the photography side, it wasn't hugely challenging, the hardest parts were trying to make sure that I got a photo of each person in a group, where that person was in focus. Framing wise, I wasn't sure if it would be better to zoom in on a runner, or show a bit more of the surroundings, and if I should take it as a portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal). Overall, I think the portrait close-ups came out best, however, if I had a more interesting background they might have come out better (your suggestions are welcome). Swapping memory cards was also a challenge, both getting a new one out while still taking pictures and making sure I didn't run out of space right as a big group went by. Once I got home going through the pictures and adding the bib numbers was a time consuming chore, it took much longer than I thought it would.

I'm not sure if I will do it again, in many ways I would like to, but the bib-numbering was a huge time sink. I could easily get to the start of the race, take pictures, then drive to the end of the race and take more. If I do it next year I will probably set up before the tunnel so there will be more trees and trail in the background instead of bare concrete.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Taste of Bethesda is coming up on Oct 4

It's that time of year again, Taste of Bethesda is on Saturday, October 4, 2008. If you've never been, you should go. It is a chance to sample food from a bunch of the restaurants in downtown bethesda. They close off some of the streets in the Woodmont Triangle area and you can buy tickets for samples of the food. They also have free live music and stuff.

[where: Bethesda, MD]

Testing out

Money Aisle is a web site that tries to match you to a good rate on certificates of deposit at participating banks. The concept is great, you tell them the amount of money and the term of the CD and 70 or 80 banks bid for the rate. The upside is you don't have to accept the winning bid, so trying it out doesn't cost you anything or commit you to anything. If you accept the bid, you open the account directly with the winning bank (all are FDIC insured)

I actually want to open a CD so I was interested in finding out if I could get a better rate there than anywhere else. I compared the results here with what I found on and (a single bank, but one with high rates). I ran several auctions, to find the impact of term and amount invested on the resulting rates.

First, $10,000 for 1 year (all of eloan's cd's have a minimum amount of 10,000). After a minute of bidding, the winner on MoneyAisle was... eloan, the site I had independently identified, and, the rate was exactly the same, so I gained nothing by using moneyaisle for that one.

Second, I ran an auction for a cd of $4,000 for a 3 month term, the winning offer was about 3.26%. I went to the winning bank's website and the rate they offered was 3.25%, so there was a very slight gain by going through moneyaisle. I re-ran the auction for $5,000 to see if more banks participated, but got the same winning bank, this time with a slightly better rate of 3.28% I liked this, I really was getting a higher rate from the bank by running an auction!

I then looked on and it turned out that there are half a dozen banks offering rates higher than that and I don't have to go through an auction.

In the end, the auction didn't get me the highest rate available, and didn't even get me a much higher rate from participating banks. The idea has promise, but if you try it, make sure you also look at to verify that you are getting the best rate. Until they can beat the best rate at bankrate, they are not the best choice for finding CDs.