An experiment

So I figured out the caching feature in Slacker radio. Essentially, I pick the station I want to listen to on my iPod and then tap a button to tell it to cache that station. I’ve read that it saves about 100 songs per station. I’ve set up 12 to do that, classics (as in Beatles and Stones), New York Dolls, Potishead, Modern Punk, UK Indie, Silversun Pickups, Pixies and stuff, Buddy Holly Radio, ’80s alternative, Indie hits, Classic Jazz, and Indie.

I have decided to go with an all “picked for me playlist” approach for a while. So I’ve got the Slacker stuff on there, and I’ve also put some genius playlists on there as well, Punk Mix, New Wave mix, mainstream rock mix, jazz mix, Indie rock mix, Brit-pop and rock mix, alternative pop/rock mix, and Alt. singer/songwriter mix.

What I like about this approach is that I still get the music I like, but it is a surprise for me, and I spend zero effort getting it on my iPod. You laugh, but when you have 34,000+ songs in your library, it’s a pain to go through and actually make playlists. Even if I did, I would then face the monotony of knowing exactly what was in them. This approach keeps things fresh. As strange as it may sound, even with 34,000+ songs, you can get into ruts. That’s where Slacker comes in. I can once again have the thrill of finding the song on the radio, but I get to skip the songs I don’t like.

 

Ahhh, life is good! Who needs cellular service to enjoy internet radio?

Just subscribed to Slacker Radio

I’ve been enjoying Slacker radio on my squeezebox ever since I got it. I love the genre stations I’ve picked out (Indie, indie hits, 80’s alternative, and classic jazz) and the custom stations I’ve created have also been great. I have never been able to get Pandora to do what I want, but slacker has done the job for me. At 4 bucks a month, it’s well worth it to me.

 

I’m intrigued by their cache option. They say I can cache the station on my iPod touch and then play it offline. For you iPhone users, you do this over wi-fi so you don’t chew through your bandwidth limits. That would come in real handy for the car. I’ll update you on how that goes. I also have to figure out how to do the song request thing on my squeezebox. I love having the radio without dealing with FM!

The only actress I’ve ever dreamed of

I saw “Pandora’s Box” in film school. It was the longest silent film I had ever seen, and it was amazing. The thing that made that film, the thing that absolutely cemented it in film history was Louise Brooks. I don’t think that there has been another actress so striking, so unforgettable, and so heart breaking since.

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“Pandora’s Box” was shocking, even to a college student, especially when we thought that all movies from back then were staid and rather conservative. Sex was front and center, as was violence. She managed to combine desirability, innocence, and danger all in one character. She ensnared every man and woman she came in contact with and destroyed them.

 

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It turns out that one of the reasons that Louise Brooks could play the part so well was that she was essentially playing herself. Her hedonism made her notorious back then. In her later years she talked about the many lovers she had and her love of going to lesbian bars in Berlin. She left  lovers and husbands with broken hearts in her wake. Luckily for her, life did not imitate art, her character of Lulu in Pandora’s box ended up being killed by a sexual predator while Louise Brooks lived to her 70’s and reinvented herself as a writer. The rap on her when she was in films was that she couldn’t act, that she didn’t “do” anything. Film acting was still developing, actors still a tendency to use really big, stage inspired actions. Brooks was quite a bit more restrained, and her style led the way to modern film acting.

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If you ever get a chance, please check out “Pandora’s Box.” It will change your attitude towards silent films and what was possible. Louise Brooks’s career was cut short by her self destructive habits and her constant diva antics, but she has become the icon of the 20’s and 30’s. They don’t make them like that anymore…

 

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Charity update

A while back, I mentioned a “charity” called Kiva. They are a sort of grey area when it comes to charities. They are actually in the micro-finance world, the people that get this money need to pay it back. Some say that micro-finance is an awful thing, poor people should just be given money, no strings attached. I agree when it comes to life or death things, or things that are of a humanitarian nature. The people looking to Kiva for help are different, they are business owners looking to improve their business. They want to make more money, but capital is difficult to come by in developing countries. That’s where I come in…

I loan money to these folks and I do not collect any interest on it. That’s the charitable bit. Yes, the companies that administer the loans make money, and some people think that those rates are too high. I don’t. The fact is that whatever is being charged by Kiva’s partners in the field is still less than the alternatives available to folks in those areas. The other good thing about charging interest is that it eliminates free loaders and makes sure that the money is used productively.

What I love about this is that the money I put in comes back so that I can loan it again. I have done this for 10 months now. My finances have only allowed me to make one loan per month so far. So that’s $250 I have lent to folks in developing economies. I have now gotten $120 of that back so far. See how this works? If all goes well, I will be able to put $300 a year towards this a year, and I will get most of that back every year as well. So far, there have not been any defaults and the default rates seem to be very low according to Kiva’s numbers. By next year, I’ll have $600 circulating, the year after that, $900, etc.

It’s pretty exciting to have a growing pool of resources to lend to folks. If times ever got really hard for me, I could withdraw those funds and use them myself. What’s not to love? I encourage you to check Kiva out, it’s a worthwhile thing to do…

It’s sexual because we think it’s sexual…

Saudi Arabia is the home of many ludicrous laws based on the premise that it might ignite sexual desire. Any number of things are disallowed or forbidden outright all in the name of keeping people’s morals in compliance of a designated morality. I ran across this news article that was about women smoking water pipes in Gaza. Most telling is the quote from an official “It is inappropriate for a woman to sit cross-legged and smoke in public. It harms the image of our people,.” Later, the article goes on to say that women smoking water pipes are frowned upon because of the “sexual connotations.” It’s a wonder that they allow them to eat… I’m not going to get into why it’s OK for a man to do it…

The thing is, unless someone told you that there were sexual connotations with smoking a water pipe or crossing your legs, you would never think that there was. I have long held that the crackdown on anything that might possibly have a sexual connotation actually puts sex into the forefront of people’s minds. When you live in a place that thinks that water pipes, wet hair, or even the opposite sex immediately brings sex to mind, I think you are pretty sexually repressed. When I was in Yemen, people there would comment on how sexual our culture is. That’s true enough, but all of our sexual connotations were about, you know, sex. We don’t wig out if someone goes into public with wet hair, eats a banana, or God forbid, talk to a member of the opposite sex. We can do normal things without thinking about sex because we are allowed to think about sex on its own terms. I honestly believe that the cultures that try to enforce laws like that are the most sexually obsessed people on the planet.

 

The Associated Press: Some Gaza women smolder over Hamas’ water-pipe ban: “”

(Via .)

Son of Sam and redemption

A friend of mine posted this article on her facebook profile with the comment “Sad proof that people will look anywhere for answers to life’s questions…” The article is a NYT piece about David Berkowitz, a.k.a the Son of sam, and his transformation over the years from a crazed serial killer to someone that is almost completely different.

I’m not sure what Jen’s issue was with the article, but I found it quite compelling. He found Jesus a while back and has since tried to reach out and share some of what he has found. He is also trying to act as a cautionary tale to younger folks. There are some skeptics out there, the article got some statements from some of the folks that tracked him down and helped prosecute him. They are having a hard time believing that someone that was like that could be anything else. In Berkowitz’s defense, he has written to the governor and expressed his opinion that he should never get parole and he doesn’t make any money from his appearances or writings. He also spends his days as a mobility guide and as an assistant to mentally ill prisoners. It certainly looks like he’s on the up and up. If he’s not, he has managed to fool a lot of people without any obvious gain for himself.

I find this story interesting on several levels. First off, this is a perfect example of why capital punishment just is not a good thing. Even serial killers are redeemable. Those of you that say, “Sure, he’s a nice guy now, but he should PAY for what he did!” I hope you can hear the vengeance speaking. Does killing him make up for 7 lives? Does it change anything? No and no. Locking him up, protecting everyone else from him was the right thing to do. In the meantime he has changed considerably.

The idea of redemption is a tough one for both atheists and Christians. On the one hand, many people that don’t believe in God do believe in people’s ability to change and get better… unless of course the guy is a monster, then he should probably die. Similarly, Christians hold life sacred, unless of course you do something really bad, then “God’s laws” say that you should die. It is people like David Berkowitz that really show us where we stand when it comes to the value of a human life. I have a binary view on that, in my mind you either value life, or don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I would be sorely tempted to kneecap Stalin or Pol Pot but I like to think that I would manage to not kill them if I had the chance.

 

I am heartened to see evangelicals paying attention to Berkowitz, there are too many of them that scream “An eye for an eye” instead of “Turn the other cheek.”  I’m going to do another post on the religious aspects of this but suffice it to say that I think this is the kind of effect Christianity should have on people. Some may sneer at his evangelical beliefs, I myself refer to that type of Christianity as “comic book religion” in my less charitable moments. But as my friend Dana pointed out, “Anything that makes someone not a serial killer is a good thing.” Simplistic or not, Berkowitz’s beliefs have changed him, and they have the potential to change others. Does that forgive him for what he did? Well, no. Forgiveness can’t be earned, it can only be asked for. I will leave it up to you as to whether he should be forgiven, I am happy to see him asking at all.

Image Makeover From Admirers of ‘Son of Sam’ – NYTimes.com: “”

More on AOCS (the problems with real money)

Previously, I linked to the American Open Currency Standard and said that I would look into what they were about. As it turns out, they are an organization that is trying to get people to use “hard currency” in the form of silver coins (or their backed currency I think). They have a variety of coins that have passed muster and carry their official blessing. I assume that any silver coins would work in their system, not sure what the appeal of their currency in particular is. They have over 22,000 merchants lined up that will accept their silver for payment.

The Free Lakota Bank takes it one step further. They actually are trying to make a go of doing a banking system with hard currency. There are no dollars talked about there, it is all ounces of silver. You deposit ounces of silver, you are charged fees in ounces of silver, and interest is paid in ounces of silver. Here’s as close to a mission statement as I can find from them:

 

“At the Free Lakota Bank, we issue, circulate and accept for deposit only AOCS Approved Silver currencies and other .999 fine silver bullion. Silver is a store of value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Since we deal only in real money, we do not participate in any central bank looting schemes.

Money is made possible only by those who produce. Paper is not money, instead merely a promise to pay. We hope that some day the rest of the world will awaken from the American Dream: the dream that a person can sustain life by consuming more than producing. We call it the American Dream because you must be asleep to believe it. Well, that dream now has a silver lining; as people discover the dream is really a nightmare, the only solution is a return to value: value that comes from production and honest trade.”

They offer a transactional account and an investment account. There is a one ounce per month fee for the transactional account and there is a dividend for the investment account, paid in silver of course.

 

I like what these folks are trying to do, I am a believer in both hard money and backed currencies, but they are fighting an uphill battle. As of right now, silver and gold meet one of the requirements of something being money, and fail two rather critical ones. The metals are an excellent store of value. Their value in terms of dollars varies over time, but it never goes away. You can compare the metals to any currency and find that they always have value. You can’t say that about every currency though. Gold and silver have an issue with portability. That stuff weighs a lot. Right now, with silver at all time highs (forgetting the Hunt brothers nonsense) a 100 bucks would be more than I would want to carry around coming in at just under 4 ounces. You can get around this with metal backed currency, but then you run into some of the same problems you do with any currency. Specifically, it is very difficult to ascertain if the currency really is backed up by actual metal. Whoever printed it could, you know, just print it up. Kind of defeats the whole point of hard money.

The big problem facing all hard money proponents is the minor issue that most people and businesses will not accept it in exchange for goods and services. Seeing as that is the most basic definition of money, it’s kind of a show stopper. Until I can walk into a 7-11 and pay for stuff with silver (or copper), it isn’t actually money. With bad enough inflation people’s minds might change, but it would have to be pretty bad. I wonder if anyone has tried a tax dodge by using the actual face values of coins? 1 oz. American eagle gold coins have a face value of $50. That’s a laugh of course because the gold in the coin is worth over $1200 at this point. Here’s the potential scenario. What if you buy something big, like a house or a car with gold coins? The value of the thing would be covered by the value of the gold, but you could report a legitimate cash transaction at 1/24th the value! Hmmm, I wonder if that’s legal?

I received my Amero coins the other day and they are gorgeous. These are really little works of art, and they are more of a collector’s thing than a money thing. I will say this, there is something deeply satisfying in holding an ounce of metal in your hand. There is also something very nice about the fact that it has a value intrinsic to it, no matter what is printed on it or where it is from. Paper money seems pretty lame next to it and in the hand. I think the next coin I get will be a Canadian Maple Leaf. They aren’t collectable so I won’t mind carrying one around with me to show to people. Plus, I can get them with my Amazon rewards points:-)

I promise I’ll shut up about this soon, but I’ve got long term money on the brain right now. Silver and gold are going to play a role in my future, especially if the dollar keeps getting devalued…

Tine to take charge

My 401k has been rather disappointing the last couple of years, I’m sure I’m not alone in that either. I, like everyone else, had a massive drop in value in 2008, got about half of that back in 2009, and it has been piddling along ever since. A big problem for me is the lack of flexibility in my 401k accounts. One of the really cool things about my current 401k is that I am allowed to do my own stock decisions. The ones I had before only allowed me to pick from a handful of mutual funds, now I can pick from any of them or from any stock.

Yes, that has its dangers, but there is a lot of potential as well, especially with the current economic situation. I don’t think that any mutual fund or index fund is going to trend in a positive direction any time soon. Here’s my plan, I am going to concentrate in stable businesses that aren’t going anywhere, have low levels of debt, and most importantly, pay decent dividends. If stocks are going to be going down, I might as well have some that will allow me to add shares so I can benefit when things turn around. I’m still undecided on what to do with my Apple shares. I do think we’re going to continue to go up in value, but I’m always nervous about tech stocks. A large part of me says I should take my profits and pour them into a long term position, but we’ll see when I get my shares…

There are also a handful of speculative stocks that i would like to buy as well. These are are true penny stocks, most of them trading below a buck a share. Here’s the thing, if a share is only 50 cents, a move of 50 cents will net me 100% return, more than that would be wonderful as well… And since they are so cheap, I won’t be risking much money on them. There is an outside chance they could blow up for crazy money, but the key will be the small movements. Once again, low debt, good cash flow, and possible break outs are the keys with those guys. It’s worth a flier in a gloomy economic climate.

It’s also a good idea to keep a certain amount in cash. I am truly, really afraid of big time inflation coming our way, so I am going to avoid CDs for the time being. Instead, I am going to put my money in metals. Gold and silver are expensive right now, but they continue to rise in price. Plus, my worldview is such that even if the dollar does become stronger against the metals I think it would be a good idea to have a position in them.

We’ll see what the future brings economy-wise. I hope that things are not going to be as bad as I think they will be, but I will be prepared if they are. With any luck I’ll be in a stronger position this time next year, wish me luck! Here’s to a return of a healthy economy and a strong dollar!

More protest coins (The root of all good)

Check out the American Open Currency Standard (AOCS) page. They have a whole slew of private currency (for barter only of course. It is illegal for anyone but the US government to make currency….) featuring a bunch of interesting topics for the artwork. Examples include the forgotten founders, the John Galt Libre coin (based on the character in Atlas Shrugged), the 2nd amendment, Ron Paul, etc. I love some of the quotes based around these coins too. How about this one from Atlas Shrugged:

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Anconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?” It’s time to shift the paradigm. Honest money, like AOCS Silver, is the Root of All Good.

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Or how about this statement from the Free Lakota Bank? So really, what do you guys think of the current system?

“At the Free Lakota Bank, we issue, circulate and accept for deposit only AOCS-Approved silver and gold currencies. Silver & gold are a store of value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does not exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Since we deal only in real money, we do not participate in any central bank looting schemes.”

 

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There is even a “legalize it” coin with, what else, a marijuana leaf on it. An interesting way to spread the word…

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I am going to do a little digging into AOCS organization and see what they are all about. If it’s interesting, I’ll report back.

A sobering perspective

I subscribe to a financial news service, one that is aligned along the ways I think about the economy and has more than a little Austrian econ flavor. Anyway, one of their commentors was discussing all of these countries with all of their financial issues. He pointed out that huge debts and deficits are common during times of war. Wars are expensive and there is a lot at stake. Sometimes, you have to deficit spend just to keep the barbarians from breaking down the gates.

Here’s the thing, the wave of budget problems, enormous deficits, and ballooning debts sweeping across countries had almost nothing to do with war. Countries seem to be running themselves into the ground by just doing business as usual. That should make everyone pause and question what the government should really be doing, and yet that doesn’t seem to be happening to any great extent.

Yes, the US is fighting a war, and it does have a big effect on our bottom line. But what about Ireland? Greece? California? What excuse do they have? What excuse do the people living there have? Will the US be able to cope with a war AND ballooning deficits and debt? We’ll see, but seeing how some of the European nations have fared doesn’t make me real optimistic…