Tuesday, October 31, 2006

ENGL302: Critical Review of Freakonomics

Freakonomics, co-written by economist Steven D. Levitt and author Stephen J. Dubner, aims "to explore the hidden side of ... everything" (Levitt and Dubner, 14), without the need for a "unifying theme" (205). Each chapter starts with a quote from a 2003 New York Times article that Dubner wrote about Levitt, and proceeds to ask a question and employ statistics and economics to try and reach a conclusion. Economics is the social science that discusses how personal choices and market forces allocate our scarce resources; it can be discussed positively, meaning how things are, and normatively, meaning how things should be.

Each chapter is filled with memorable questions about everyday life that are wrapped up into allegories. A tale about the Ku Klux Klan shows us that knowledge is power. Statistics and regression prove that "perfect" parents come from who you are, not what you do. Chapter 3 begins with a very well stated anecdote about so-called experts and the manufacturing of statistics. Mitch Snyder, an advocate for the homeless during the 1980s, continually invented facts because he didn't want journalists to walk away empty handed. His numbers never added up: that there were 3 million homeless people in the United States (1 in 100 people), and 45 homeless people died every second (1.4 billion a year) (90). It continues that experts may be self-serving to the point of deceit, but journalists need experts just as badly. Together, journalists and experts become the architects of conventional wisdom (91). This segues nicely into an observation about advertising, where scholar James B. Twichell is quoted as saying, "Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." Before Listerine's ad, which showed young men and women disgusted by their mate's bad breath, halitosis was not considered a big deal.

The most compelling chapter in the book poses the question, "Where have all the criminals gone?" which uses the rise and fall of Communism in Romania to make its point. Romania outlawed abortion in 1966 and even instituted a celibacy tax for woman who failed to get pregnant. The birth rate more than doubled in 1967, and compared to children born a year earlier these children would be worse off in every measurable way (118). Steven and Stephen take our hand and walk us to the conclusion that the drastic reduction in crime during the 1990s came not from better policing, an aging population, or capital punishment; it came from the legalization of abortion in 1973.

Though the reader is told throughout the book that Levitt's work has no unifying theme, nowhere is that better illustrated than the second chapter. The first part of the chapter emphasizes that knowledge is power, and uses the fall of the Ku Klux Klan, the insurance industry, casket and car sales, and the power of the Internet as examples. Hanging on to the idea of information awareness, the chapter diverges to online dating and discrimination on The Weakest Link. Where the first half of the chapter showed that those in the know had an advantage, the second half simply meandered through statistics as though the publisher had said, "No book deal until you have 242 pages!"

"Drug Dealers Living with Their Moms" is probably the best-written chapter in the book. Sudhir Venkatesh was a graduate student at the University of Chicago who, in the process of doing research for his graduate advisor, happened upon a drug gang and was taken in by their leader. He was allowed to observe their operations and eventually came upon their detailed financial records. Not knowing what to do with this information, Sudhir later shared these financial records with Levitt who helped analyze them. They found that this drug gang ran like most American corporations, and each gang operated like a franchise. While the wages of most dealers were comparable to a McDonald's employee, they had a 1 in 4 chance of being killed. The most dangerous job in the US, a timber cutter, had a 1 in 200 chance of accidental death on the job (104). The conclusion was that people don't take a job dealing drugs to make minimum wage and risk dying, they take a job dealing drugs with the hope that they'll work their way up the chain where the big money is.

What sets Levitt apart from most pundits is his distaste for politics and spin; he simply reaches a conclusion and tells it like it is. Not being a storyteller himself, Levitt leaves that task in Dubner's literary hands. I found Dubner's writing style distracting however; he tends uses parenthesis after making a point to editorialize or think aloud. On parenting: "The first is that neither of us professes to be a parenting expert (although between us we do have six children under the age of five)." (156). On regression analysis: "It should be said that regression analysis is more art than science (In this regard, it has a great deal in common with parenting itself)." (163) On baby names: "By 1980 she received a name that was twenty times more common among blacks. (Boys' names moved in the same direction but less aggressively -- probably because parents of all races are less adventurous with boys' names than girls').)" (183) I felt two-thirds of my time reading this book was spent inside Dubner's head. The editorial clarifications should have been weaved into the story, footnotes should have been used, and Dubner's opinions should have been left in his head.

Despite a handful of faults, this book is an interesting and quick read. These two facts make it easy to see why the book has been a best seller for so long, and why it graces the coffee tables of so many homes. Whether or not you agree with Levitt's conclusions, the impartiality of the data might just erode your convictions until only Freakeconomics remain.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I'd kill for writers block right about now

I've been a naughty blogger since school started. I'm taking an English class this semester, and though the papers aren't terribly interesting I've been trying to blog them once they're done.

When I haven't been writing for class, I've been writing for work. I handed in a 17 page report on Content Management last Friday. Though it was based on some surveys, and several people had editorial input, the word-smithing fell on me.

I'm tired of writing; that's why you're getting bullshit videos from YouTube.

Suck it up.

The Many Names for October 30th

I'm getting old. Some days I feel like I'm 18, some days I feel like I'm going to die of old age.

I had forgotten that the night before Halloween is traditionally reserved for the mischief of children.

Growing up in NY, we (like the guilders from VT) used to call this Cabbage Night. Apparently the name for October 30th is not universal:

Mary: haha I always called Oct 30th Moving night
Mary: never knew it was a baltimore only thing
theAlphaJohn: moving night?
Mary: yeah in Baltimore we don't call it Devil's Night
Mary: its Moving night or mischief eve
theAlphaJohn: gotcha
theAlphaJohn: man i forgot about 10/30
theAlphaJohn: i'm old
Mary: hahaha
Mary: we use to stash eggs for months before
theAlphaJohn: so they'd be good and rotten?
Mary: because you can't buy eggs, shaving cream or toilet paper that night
Mary: and yeah nice and rotten
theAlphaJohn: totally
Mary: I mentioned moving night to Rob and he looked at me like I had four heads lol
Mary: "we're moving?"
theAlphaJohn: we used to call it cabbage night
Mary: cabbage night?
theAlphaJohn: yeah
theAlphaJohn: that's the new york word for it
theAlphaJohn: what did rob call it growing up?
Mary: devil's night
Mary: moving night isn't in urban dictionary
theAlphaJohn: but cabbage night is
theAlphaJohn: it says that's what it's called in VT
Mary: it says Devil's Night is detroit

Friday, October 27, 2006

Virginia Ballot Issue #1

An email sent by the Provost of George Mason to all faculty and staff:

On behalf of the faculty, staff and administration of George Mason University, we are writing to express our concerns about the potential impact of the proposed Amendment, “Ballot Issue #1.” It is unclear what the specific consequences of this amendment will be upon the operations of our own state institution. The amendment would prohibit the courts from “recognizing” or giving “legal effect” to arrangements that provide to unmarried people rights, obligations and protections similar to those that are available through marriage.

The economic wellbeing of Virginia and all of its public agencies and institutions depends upon attracting and retaining talented workers and dynamic new enterprises, and this proposed amendment could have the chilling effect of discouraging high-value workers and businesses from locating in our state or accepting employment at our university, thus putting us at a competitive disadvantage relative to neighboring states in the region where no such broadly proposed restrictions now exist.

If Mason is not allowed to offer competitive benefits for all employees, and if benefits for unmarried individuals are reduced, we will lose the competitive advantage of both our location and our status as a nationally recognized institution of excellence. Mason could lose its ability to recruit and retain top quality students, faculty, staff and researchers if the Commonwealth of Virginia is seen as a less tolerant state where discriminatory state law is allowed to persist. Over time, heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual students, faculty and staff, could choose to go to states more tolerant and embracing of diversity.

The office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia, has provided an advisory opinion which states that it is their position that the proposed amendment will not affect the current legal rights of unmarried persons involving contracts, wills, advance medical directives, shared equity agreements or group accident and sickness insurance policies, or alter any other rights that do not “approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage” or create “the rights, benefits, obligations, quality or effects of marriage.” Furthermore, the opinion states that passage of the marriage amendment will not modify the application and enforcement of Virginia’s domestic violence laws.

We encourage you to educate yourself on the language of this proposed amendment, and vote for what you believe is in the best interest of all citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We promise you that irrespective of the outcome of the vote, we will do all that we legally can do to ensure that Mason continues its rich history of embracing diversity. To the extent possible under the law, we will ensure that equal benefits will be available to all students, faculty and staff.

But no matter how you feel about this important issue, we urge you to vote on Tuesday, November 7.

Morrie Scherrens, Senior Vice President
Peter Stearns, Provost
Sandy Hubler, Vice President University Life

Thursday, October 26, 2006

FBI: What's in a file anyway?

As I mentioned last week I finally received a copy of my 96 page FBI file through a FOIA/Privacy Act request.

I didn't make this request because I'm paranoid. Not everyone has an FBI file, and certainly not 96 pages worth. I knew I had a file because I had (or attempted to get) a security clearance when I contracted at EOP in 1999. I was not in the job long enough for them to complete my background investigation.

The process started with a security interview and filling out an SF86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions. This is the same form used for government and military positions, and the process is essentially the same. The form asks (for the past 7 years):
  • All the places you have lived
  • Where you went to school
  • Employment activities
  • People you know (or knew) well
  • Information about your spouse
  • Relatives and associates
  • Citizens of relatives and associates
  • Your military history
  • Your foreign activities
  • Countries you've lived
  • Police record
  • Alcohol use
  • Drug use
  • Financial delinquencies
  • Civil court filings

The whole process only looks for a few traits: (1) can you keep a secret? (2) is there something in your background or character that makes you want to job for the wrong reason (leak/manipulate information, etc)? (3) is there anything in your past that someone could blackmail you with to then leak/manipulate information on their behalf?

The most fascinating part of reading my file is trying to follow the agent's through process of how you answer those questions. It starts with the information you provide in your SF86, but quickly deviates. After all, if there were unsavory people or activities in my past, I'd omit those from my SF86 so the agents didn't find them out, right?

Rest assured, they will find them. They questioned people I'd never met (half a dozen neighbors and classmates) to see what their impression of me was. They talked at length with my fifth grade English teacher. It felt to me like every stellar interview sent them in search of two other interviews. Specific quotes were included, but the contents were in summarized report format to answer the dozen or so questions each interviewee is asked.

While the insight itself was stale, that kind of honest perspective from so many different people is eye opening. There is little resemblance between 1999 me and 2006 me, but imagine what it must be like for your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, people at work and school you barely interact with to describe you unfiltered and in complete detail. These people are told that you won't find out what they say, and are asked detailed questions about your affiliations, character, and if they think you should be trusted with state secrets.

Some companies do 360 degree evaluations on their employees, but I think everybody should get one about their character.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Internet(s): What ever happened to...?

Just last week, Mary, Rob, and I were fondly remembering Kozmo. When I worked at AAAS, on more than one occasion we each ordered a pint of Ben & Jerry's at 3:00pm.

There is some chatter today on CNN Money about Napster's desire to get bought like a cheap whore. Which made me wonder, "what ever happened to that tool Shawn Fanning, who invented Napster instead of doing his homework and going to class?"

Turns out he started another company called SNOCAP that MySpace is planning to use for music delivery. His company bio, however, proves that he's still a tool:

Out of the frat, and into the bay...

Borat on Puppies

This apparently never aired:

Borat: Could I train her?
Woman: Uhh...probably not to sniff out a Jew.
Borat: Why not?
Woman: Because Jews are Jesus' children. She probably love Jews.

Sacha Baron Cohen is a fucking maniac.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Iota Kappa Awesome

Will likes to use the word awesome, and once told me he invented his own frat in college called "awesome". I decided that wasn't Greek enough and renamed it Iota Kappa Awesome.

Will IMed me to ask where Amy and Mary were:
Will: is amy and mary up at that convention this week?
theAlphaJohn: yeah
theAlphaJohn: back thursday i think
Will: nice
theAlphaJohn: lucky them
Will: yeah
Will: i was going to ask if i could go
Will: hahaha
theAlphaJohn: i'm hoping this report will be done by the time they get back
theAlphaJohn: we should go to another conference will
Will: the awesome conference ?
Will: because i am already signed up for that one
theAlphaJohn: i think Electronic Awesome(TM) is in Amsterdam next weekend
Will: yes!!!
theAlphaJohn: let's go
theAlphaJohn: bring a spare liver
Will: hahaha
theAlphaJohn: and the corporate card
Will: for real
theAlphaJohn: god i need a vacation from all this

Without giving too much away, we have a new hire in the food chain who (so far) has been very impressive:
theAlphaJohn: have you met [new hire]?
Will: i don't believe so
theAlphaJohn: i'm totally in love
Will: hottie?
theAlphaJohn: not because she's hot (she is attractive), but she's like the most professional person who works here
Will: oh nice
theAlphaJohn: the hottness is just a bonus
Will: that is unusual
theAlphaJohn: she was like "we need to tell each other when we're working on major projects so we don't duplicate effort"
theAlphaJohn: she used like 4 buzzwords in an hour, all correctly
theAlphaJohn: she's visionary and organized
Will: WOW
Will: i want to work for her
Will: duplicate effort
theAlphaJohn: and she looks good in a sleeveless tank
Will: and she was at that meeting?
theAlphaJohn: yes
Will: nice
theAlphaJohn: she's [redacted]'s peer
Will: k
theAlphaJohn: only she smells like peaches
Will: someone's got a crush ;)
theAlphaJohn: smart women get me every time dude
Will: yeah
theAlphaJohn: like not nerdy
theAlphaJohn: we had an oracle consultant who mentored me at Science when I was like 20
theAlphaJohn: she had her own business during the 90s and sold at the top of the dot.com lunacy and then just kept doing things on her own
theAlphaJohn: she was prob in her late 30s and just a knockout
Will: nice
theAlphaJohn: and she'd get rambling about transportable tablespaces and i just drifted off ... ...
Will: hahaha
theAlphaJohn: usually you expect "hot" to disguise "dumb"
theAlphaJohn: when hot disguises brilliant, that's when i lose my cool
Will: nah
Will: smart is hot
Will: when the physical hotness matches smart hotness
Will: it's like
Will: what up? you come here often?
theAlphaJohn: LOL
theAlphaJohn: umm....sup....you uh...need a drink?
theAlphaJohn: when Will gets out his Iota Kappa Awesome frat tee
Will: hahaha
Will: what lady does not dig the Iota Kappa Awesome ?
theAlphaJohn: lesbians
Will: hahaha
theAlphaJohn: they are threatened by the awesomeness of IKA
theAlphaJohn: no keg stands, no usuall frat homo-ness
theAlphaJohn: just like...hours of awesome
Will: true that
Will: but they aren't "ladies"
theAlphaJohn: they're more like young gym teachers
Will: just because you rock a vag, doesn't mean your are a lady
theAlphaJohn: LOL
theAlphaJohn: we should put up fliers for Iota Kappa Awesome and see if anybody wants to pledge it
Will: hahaha
Will: sweet
theAlphaJohn: we'll make a logo and be like "our frat takes men, girlie boys, and lesbians, but no emo dorks"
Will: i am down
Will: no emo kids
theAlphaJohn: then make it like a pyramid scheme
theAlphaJohn: and get rich $$$
Will: hahahahaha

Friday, October 20, 2006

How do I move to this alternate reality???

Washington Post writer Peter Baker speculated today about two scenarios: Bill Clinton as First Husband, and Bill Clinton as Vice President.

The prospective presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton has given rise to plenty of speculation about the notion of Bill Clinton as the nation's first gentleman. But what about another role? How about, say, vice president?


"In preventing individuals from being elected to the presidency more than twice, the amendment does not preclude a former president from again assuming the presidency by means other than election, including succession from the vice presidency," they wrote. "If this view is correct, then Clinton is not 'constitutionally ineligible to the office of president,' and is not barred by the 12th Amendment from being elected vice president."

Others share that opinion. Three former White House lawyers consulted by The Washington Post (two who served President Bush and one who served Clinton) agreed that the amendment would not bar Clinton from the vice presidency. A federal judge, who noted that he has "no views on the matter," said the plain language of the amendment would seem to allow Clinton to "become president through succession."

Even though it will never happen, I will probably skip for the entire rest of the day.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

18 years...in 96 pages

Back in March, I requested a copy of my FBI file. I called about two weeks ago to see what the status was, and got a voice mail last week that it had been sent for printing and should arrive this week.

When I got home today, all 96 pages were there in my mailbox. I read the entire thing tonight in two sittings, and now I'm digesting...

Robot Humps

Surprise, George sent this.

New Scientist: Imagine Earth without people

A fascinating article in New Scientist that talks about what would happen if people disappeared from Earth tomorrow:

All things considered, it will only take a few tens of thousands of years at most before almost every trace of our present dominance has vanished completely. Alien visitors coming to Earth 100,000 years hence will find no obvious signs that an advanced civilization ever lived here.

Yet if the aliens had good enough scientific tools they could still find a few hints of our presence. For a start, the fossil record would show a mass extinction centered on the present day, including the sudden disappearance of large mammals across North America at the end of the last ice age. A little digging might also turn up intriguing signs of a long-lost intelligent civilization, such as dense concentrations of skeletons of a large bipedal ape, clearly deliberately buried, some with gold teeth or grave goods such as jewelry.


But these will be flimsy souvenirs, almost pathetic reminders of a civilization that once thought itself the pinnacle of achievement. Within a few million years, erosion and possibly another ice age or two will have obliterated most of even these faint traces. If another intelligent species ever evolves on the Earth - and that is by no means certain, given how long life flourished before we came along - it may well have no inkling that we were ever here save for a few peculiar fossils and ossified relics. The humbling - and perversely comforting - reality is that the Earth will forget us remarkably quickly.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Opie & Anthony: Fatty Pig Fatty tee shirts

Apparently Brother Elmo made a tee shirt for the Fatty Pig Fatty contest (previously mentioned). Rumor has it that a new 530lbs ringer is coming in next week to break the scale.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Boner of a Benz

Mercedes has a new factory-armored S600. From Autoblog:

Like the other Guard models (E and G-Class rides are also available) the S-Guard is built on its own assembly line, which lets Mercedes armor up the car as part of the original production process. As a result, they're able to build in the protective features better than any aftermarket program and still tune the car so that it doesn't lose much (if anything) in terms of handling and comfort. The 517-horsepower V12 underhood is more than capable of providing adequate thrust.

If the vehicle comes under threat, it's B6/B7 armor level is enough to stop standard military-grade small-arms fire (such as 7.62mm and 5.56mm rounds), protect against grenade shrapnel and offer protection against other explosive devices. Run-flat tires, a self-sealing fuel-tank, and an integrated fire-extinguishing system round out the Guard package. Despite all the reinforcements, the S600 Guard is visually indistinguishable from the garden-variety V12 S-Class.

Now that is P-I-M-P. I'm gonna write me some rap lyrics right now and record me an album. Wait until I roll up on your white malls in that shit...

To Catch a MySpace Predator...using Perl


From Wired:

I've been invited here to witness the end-game of a police investigation that grew from 1,000 lines of computer code I wrote and executed some five months earlier. The automated script searched MySpace's 1 million-plus profiles for registered sex offenders -- and soon found one that was back on the prowl for seriously underage boys.

That's something that MySpace has said it cannot do. Rather, it is seeking new laws that would make it easier to ban sex offenders from the site through an e-mail registry.

I'm going to go buy some Google Adwords right now for "Sex Offender? Don't want to be caught on MySpace? Click here for more..." and make my riches on kid-touchers and pagefuckers.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Self Actualization at 35 Degrees Fahrenheit

Mark has been training me for about 7 or 8 weeks now, and he's used the phrase "died and reborn" on many occasions. Today, while running bleacher sets out in the cold, he showed me what he meant by it.

Mark wins line of the day, [laughing] "There's steam coming off of you. Not your breath, but coming off of you."

Fucker. =)

Friday, October 13, 2006

I Wanna Be a Minority

A Kurdish dude, a black dude from France, a South Korean dude, an Afghan dude from Burke, and the Alpha John stood outside for an hour after English class discussing the three hour civics lesson we were given instead of discussing Freakonomics.

There's no punch line, except that I'm hopelessly white. Alternately, the punch line could be the horrific run-on sentence I just wrote about English class. Which makes this a "choose your own adventure" blog post.

Spy Shots of Cameron Manheim

Snacking as usual...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Playing Catch Up

Though last week's news cycle was interesting, my week was really just busy. I decided the week before that since I didn't have class on Colombus Day, I would take (yesterday) Monday off from work and go see my parents for the weekend.

School: I got both of my previous week's exams back. Accounting 90% and Economics 86%. My conference in English went well the week before.

Work: Some ongoing sillyness here surrounding Portal, lots of fits and starts. Two companies have contacted me about jobs in the past two weeks. I had one phone interview already and probably another this week. It's more likely that I'd stay than go, but we'll see.

Myrtle Beach was a good trip. Saw the folks, saw the cats, sustained 100 mph on the trip down for a bit (and a record 26 mpg). I made it home 450 miles in 6 hours 30 minutes including about 20 minutes in traffic.

Now back to: real life, status reports, English papers, et cetera.

Friday, October 06, 2006

ENGL302: Explaining Paper

Getting the best deal on your new car
by: theAlphaJohn, grade 4
We all want a new car, but the only thing we want more is to get a great deal on it. Whether you love to haggle or you detest it, the payoff comes from showing that fine ride to your friends and bragging to them about the great deal you got. So how do you get a great deal? You need to know how the system works, which is to say you need to know more than the drivel you can read on the Internet.

Hammering out a deal at a car dealership has two steps: negotiating the price and "getting out of the box". Most people think the best shot at a deal is though research on how to get the best price, but this is only half the battle.

The modern age offers many new ways to haggle over the price of your dream car without ever leaving your home. Credit Unions and big box stores likes BJ's and Sam's Club offer car buying services where the "best price" has already been negotiated with the dealership. If you would rather not involve a third party, dealerships now list their current inventory on their web along with their "Internet Price". Any haggling or add-ons can be negotiated through email, and then you simply show up and sign the papers. While either of these options offers very little stress, what you get is not likely to be much of a deal either.

You can, however, get a much better deal with just a little more effort. For starters, leave your game face and bad attitude at home; every salesperson I've ever spoken to has a story about the jerk customer who paid for it in the end. Chances are good you're not a professional actor either, so wearing your "lemon face" all afternoon will distract you from remembering all the tips you're about to learn.

Websites like Edmunds allow you to see the invoice on a particular car you're considering, but that is only one part of what the dealer has to work with. Dealers typically have what is called a holdback that is given to them by the manufacturer to advertise that particular car. If your new car went straight from the port to your driveway without ending up in print, the dealer keeps that money. Many websites detail how different manufacturers structure their holdback; it's anything but a secret these days.

More important though, most people do not understand what floor plan and stair step incentives are. Dealerships don't actually own the cars on their lot; they are on consignment for the first 90 days, after that dealers pay interest on them called floor plan. If a dealership has two identical cars on the lot, you will always get the older of the two to minimize the floor plan they pay. In Virginia, cars are inspected when they arrive from the port, so you can validate your floor plan advantage by looking at the inspection sticker to see how long they've had the car.

"Stair step" incentives are another advantage you may have in negotiating. Dealerships are given several sales targets to meet every month by the manufacturer called stair steps, and depending on the manufacturer they may have three or more. When the first goal is reached, they receive a bonus for each car sold; at the next goal they receive a larger bonus for all the cars sold. For example, if I sell 40 cars I receive a bonus of $500 per car, for 50 cars I receive $700 a car, and for 60 cars I receive $1000. If 50 cars were sold this month, the dealer receives $25,000 in stair step money, and if I sell 81 cars they receive $81,000. There is incentive to sell every car, but buyers 40, 50, and 60 are in the best position to bargain. The number of cars already sold is typically posted on the sales floor for all to see, but it is unlikely the number they need to hit will be, so you can't always be certain of where you advantage might be.

Any profit the dealer makes on the price of the car is called "front end", which amounts to very little anymore. A new VW Rabbit has less than $700 of markup in the sticker price! Once you shake hands with your sales person, you need to pay for your new car. Most car buyers do not pay cash, nor do they bring their own financing from a bank or credit union. They will need to finance the vehicle through the dealership.

Most manufacturers have their own lending arm called a captive lender; they are responsible for the TV ads that offer 0% financing for 60 months, and only offer this to buyers with excellent. If there are no special financing rates, or the buyer has less than perfect credit, this is where the dealership can make "back end" profit on your loan. The finance manager can "hold points" by selling you a car loan at fractions of a percent higher than the lender is offering it. If you are buying a new car for $20,000 and your credit is less than perfect, the lender may offer to buy the loan at 7.25%, but the finance manager may hold 0.5% giving her a $1000 profit.

A lease is another financing option where the lender owns the vehicle and you operate it for a set period of time. When leasing a car, the manufacturer gives the finance manager guidance on the residual, or how much the car will be worth if returned with a certain number of miles in good condition. If our fictional $20,000 car has a residual of 55% on a 3 year / 36,000-mile lease, it will be worth $11,000 when turned in. The depreciation, in this case $9,000, is spread out over 36 payments and multiplied by the money factor, which is the cost the leasing company charges to borrow. A lease often has an acquisition fee or early termination fee, and choosing to buy the car you leased is almost never a bargain.

A third type of financing few people are aware of is called a balloon or a driver's option, and is similar to a mortgage balloon. Again, the manufacturer provides guidance on the residual value of the car over the term, but this time the depreciation has a more traditional interest rate and the individual owns the car instead of the leasing company. So in our previous example, our $20,000 car has a 55% residual value after 3 years / 36 months, but this time we apply 3.9% interest to our $250 a month loan and pay $259.75 per month. At the end of the term, you can return to the car and owe nothing or keep the car and finance the residual with a used car loan. A balloon has no acquisition or termination fee.

The final part of the financing experience involves the various add-ons that the dealership can offer you. An extended warranty will protect you from costly repairs after the original manufacturers warranty expires, and sometimes includes oil changes and major service. GAP insurance covers when you put no money down and finance 100% of the cost; should your car be totaled and insurance only pays the book value, GAP will pay the difference. Tire and wheel warranty pays to replace a tire or rim that may be damaged by a pot hole, something neither the manufacturer's warranty nor an extended warranty will cover. Many people think these are a waste of money, but for drivers who drive aggressively and plan to keep the car for a long time it might make sense.

No two car buying experiences are the same, even if you total your new car on the way home and return the next day to buy the identical car. Any number of factors can affect the outcome, but it is within the power of an informed buyer to control the outcome and get the best deal possible. The best hagglers are no longer the only ones who get the best price, and bankers are no longer the only people who get the best financing. By being well informed, you are guaranteed years of bragging rights about what a great deal you got on your new car.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Marginal YouTube freaks must be stopped

Last week, Will pointed out the existence of Leeroy Jenkins on YouTube, a dude who made videos of his MMOG raids. +5 loser

Today, Will made me aware of Angry German Kid, another weirdo character on YouTube.

Apparently, some bigger freak on YouTube has created a video where he combines Leeroy Jenkins and Angry German Kid:

Why are people making movies using other movies they see on the Internet(s)? This kind of silliness was not what Apple had in mind when they created iMovie -- they intended for people to make their own pr0n and upload it to X Tube. Just like when video cameras first hit the market, who really wanted to make videos of their stupid kids??


theAlphaJohn: there is some sort of mating dance going on outside my office
theAlphaJohn: rotc jarhead meets skanky blonde
theAlphaJohn: i'm telling his DI that he's hugged and smooched his honey 18 times
theAlphaJohn: shameful
Will: 50 pushups
Will: now
theAlphaJohn: dude their workout is so sad
theAlphaJohn: remember the first 15 mins of every gym class? situps and pushups and something eise stupid?
theAlphaJohn: that is what rotc does every morning
theAlphaJohn: do you realize that we were 1 more year of gym class away from govt issued weapons?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I hope the CEO of Chase Bank dies in a fire

I called Chase from my work phone Saturday morning for two reasons: find out my interest rate, and to talk them down to 0% for 12 months. Now this tactic rarely works with credit card companies because they (like cell phone providers) treat new customers like gold and existing customers like rust.

I spoke to a woman in customer service who could not help me, so she transferred me to some other department. I waited on hold for almost 5 minutes before the phone hung up on me. Thinking nothing of it, I just decided I'd conduct this negotiation online using their (horrible, awful, hideous, user-adversarial) website. I exchanged three emails with three different agents who clearly didn't read what I wrote to them.

Around 4:00pm, I decided to run to Wegmans and get some groceries. I filled up my cart with a weeks worth of tastiness, swiped my little Chase Mastercard, and bang...declined. Since I had Just done my bills, and I knew I had about $9,200 in available credit, I knew I was in for a treat.

I called the 800 number on my card and was directed to the consumer fraud department. Miss Shanaynay answered and done-asked me a half dozen random security questions to make sure I was me, and was all "what can I do for you?"

"Umm...why am I talked to you? And why was my card declined?"

"Well sir, you called in from a number we didn't recognize yesterday, and you never spoke to the person you were directed to so your account was suspended."

"Wait...so...I called in from my office number, which you should have on file, I answered all the security questions I was asked, and because I was transferred to another department and disconnected before I got there my account was suspended?"

"That is correct."

"And no one called me back?"

"No sir, we don't do that."

"Well I exchanged three emails with customer service about my interest rate after that. None of them thought to mention there was an issue with my account, or indicate that I really should call in to discuss this so you could verify my identity?"


"Alright. Are you authorized to close my account? Because that is who I need to speak to right now."

When I finally got to the retention specialist, dude was like "I can give you 10.74% on your account." I told him, "I am already an American Express customer, and I have an offer in my hand: 0% for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers. If you can't match that then close my account and go fuck yourself."

He closed the account. My car loan is with Chase, and when that fucker is gone in January they're not getting my business again.

CMU builds Quasi, a robot cuter than children

I am going to kidnap this adorable little android and pretend it's my child.