Meanwhile, news of the Xbox 2 and PS3 continues to trickle in. The Xbox 2 seems to be taking the low road Ė no hard drive, virtually the same controllers, only uses regular DVDs, not a huge amount of RAM, no backwards compatibility, out by December 2005. The PS3, of course, uses the hideously complex ďcellĒ processors and will likely take another year to arrive. It will most likely utilize the new Blu-Ray/HDDVD standard. It will probably cost more. Itís supposed to be significantly more powerful than Xbox 2 (but also difficult to program for), and Iím sure all sorts of online applications will be promised, much like we saw before the PS2ís launch.
My brotherís been splitting his time between UTís various incarnations and World of Warcraft. His character is a giant cow shaman. Heís with a clan of sorts, although I get the feeling the organization is much looser than in UTís clan community. The game didnít do a lot for me. Other than the ability to chat with anonymous humans (through the keyboard only), it seemed stuck in a perpetual ďleveling upĒ phase with some repetitive fetch quests thrown in. I didnít see much involvement from the overseers from Blizzard Ė where are the sweeping changes, the overarching plotlines, the vast battles, the seasonal events and new discoveries? Iím not missing much.
Iíve been playing Alpha Centauri during what little spare time I have at home. I upgraded from version 1.0 to 4.0 and it makes a good difference in some spots. The game is incredibly impressive. Every time I play I learn something new that changes the way I approach it. Iím so drawn in I was considering buying the novel trilogy based on the game, but the reviews arenít too promising.
I went to the Fort Worth car show. Not as big as the Dallas Car Show, but not bad. The Saturn Sky wasnít there. Neither was the new Miata, the new VW GTI, the turbo RX-8, or the new 3 Series. There were very few exotic cars. I did get to sit in the new Boxster, and fell briefly in love. The ultimate Porsche is coming: the Boxster-based Cayman coupe. Itís beautiful in pictures and will be tuned even more aggressively than the Boxster (in addition to having better aerodynamics, less weight, more power, and more structural rigidity). It could truly be the best Porsche ever. I already think Porsche makes the best cars in the world. And Iíll relieve the suspense: my father is not upgrading to the C6.
The all-new 3 Series has hit the initial ďfirst driveĒ features in the magazines. Itís one of the most techologically-advanced production street cars ever made. The engine is the first one to use large amounts of ultra-lightweight magnesium. Theyíre getting 255 crank HP out of a normally aspirated 3.0 liter already (for perspective, GM had a 3.8 liter V6 for years that only put out 160 HP); canít wait to see what the new M3 puts down. The engine management system is impressive Ė Valvetronic eliminates a standard throttle, kind of the ultimate evolution of variable valve timing; there are variable length intake runners and a powerful fuel/air computer. Unfortunately, the styling of the front end is shamefully ugly and too plain-looking. And the mags are complaining about the active steering (basically ďsteer by wireĒ), I-drive interior controls, sequential manual, large amounts of intrusive active handling systems, etc. While Porscheís Boxster has become even MORE elemental and direct with its new iteration, BMWís most popular machine has lost a lot of what made it such a wonderful driverís carÖ apparently.
Fareed Zakaria has a hopeles article in Newsweek (March 7, 2005, Martha on the cover, page 27) in which he asserts that 500 MPG cars are definitely just an easy Presidential edict and four short years away from being a certainty. Wouldnít that be wonderful? I already didnít give much credence to his words in print or on This Week, but now I see how deluded he can be. He touches briefly on the many billions of dollars worth of infrastructure change that would be needed (and fast!), but doesnít see it as a problem at all (easy: taxpayers will pay for it all!). Basically, he wants the government to announce Monday morning that it is going to blow up the automotive industry and the energy industry and basically pronounce the end of all consumer choice in transportation.
His approach is that the government (that wonderfully efficient and benevolent organization that will one day save all us drones) should do everything (because theyíre the only ones who can!) and that since no one really cares what they drive, weíll all be quite accepting of these mini-sub-economy class utility devices (which completely ignores the popularity of powerful, rear-wheel driven banner cars like the 300C Hemi, CTS-V, 5-Series, the luxury Japanese brands, and many others, as well as SUVs Ė or, to put it succinctly, THE MARKET). He reminds me of Chairman Yang from Alpha Centauri Ė the drones will take what crumbs we sprinkle on them, and how dare they decide theyíd rather have this or that Ė the wants of an individual are nothing next to the needs of the group mind.
Do liberal socialists just sit around and dream of how great it would be if everyone would all just use the same utility device for transportation with the same contented stare on all their faces? And the only barrier to this utopia, of course, is that mean ole George Bush. Of course they do, Iím just surprised one of them gets his musings published in a ďrespectedĒ news journal. This is the same magazine that reported a few months ago that Ė oh my gawd! Ė a 2005 ZX-10R is now quicker in 0-60 acceleration than a Ferrari 360! (every real sportbike of the past fifteen years is faster in 0-60 and 0-100 acceleration than every Ferrari road car ever made and probably every non-F1 Ferrari race car ever made). Clearly there are more informed and relevant opinions (and facts!) regarding the future of transportation published elsewhere; Dennis Simanaitis of Road & Track and Patrick Bedard and Brock Yates of Car & Driver are three of my favorites. Fareed Zakaria is not.
Iím cashless in 2005. So far, I havenít had in my possession any bills or change. In the past, Iíve sold books at the school bookstore and received cash, or needed cash for bike show tickets, or needed change for the airport toll. Note that I also havenít paid a penny of finance charges on my card in four years.
I completed my taxes for 2004. I was able to take a few deductions. I paid a significant amount of my school debt down in 2004, so I got to deduct all the interest paid (this deduction was outside of the itemized deductions (which I couldnít take) and modified my Adjusted Gross Income). I got a tax credit for my 401(k) and Roth IRA contributions, which I could only take because my income was below a certain point (since I worked less than half the year). I changed the tax year for all the contributions Iíve made this year, which was worth $120 more to me. The taxation of the capital gain from the mutual funds sold in my trust account to send me the fat check is odd Ė they only reported $105!! I was expecting thousands in gains. The net result of all this is that Iím getting a pretty nice refund deposit -- $1343 or so. I wonít be able to take so much next year. I will probably donate the Saturn to charity soon, but with tax reforms, it wonít do much (or anything) for me.
I understand the tax forms so much more now. But some of the instructions, such as the computation of tax for Schedule D, is hilarious. In its attempt to ďsimplifyĒ and not burden taxpayers with any computations beyond 2nd grade arithmetic, the IRS, in its infinite wisdom, has burdened taxpayers with miles of ďadd this,Ē ďsubtract thatĒ bullshit. It literally takes 38 lines and a full page of tedious directions to find a number that could be easily found with ONE SENTENCE.
Enterprise only has a few episodes left. Canít imagine too many people will miss it. The third season is what killed it. I was surprised it came back this year for another half a season. The last two episodes were very good, and the three-episode return of Brent Spiner wasnít too bad. The Vulcan chokra plotline was awful, and the WWII time travel was disappointingly standard. Last yearís Xindi War bored the hell out of me. Overall, the first half of Season Two was the seriesí strongest period.
I got charged with my first trading error this week. I lost $22.57. Two more in the next twelve months and Iím out of here. This gets written up on my permanent SEC registration. A guy was placing seven trades with me, four in one account and three in the other. I placed three in the first account and four in the second, and then he went and tried to use the proceeds from one of the sales I DIDNíT make in the first account, in the process overbuying his IRA and violating the SECís Regulation T (T+5 absolute settlement). Not a good day. They decided to push me into equity trading training next week anyway; this means five days of waking up five hours early. The day people donít see what the big deal is; they wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 every day; but wouldnít an equivalent wake up time be 12:30 (just after midnight) or 1:00am? That doesnít seem to occur to them.
The manager Iíve had since January is very good. Plenty of coaching sessions of various types (call reviews, peer to peer listening sessions, peer call reviews, weekly meetings with round table discussions, etc.), quite reasonable and accomodating, gets things done.
I got the biggest jerk ever the other day. Most of the pricks I talk to are 50-65 year old near-millionaires who live in New York, Chicago, New Jersey, or Boston (or suburbs). This guy was younger, has a paltry $19K with us, and lives in Hawaii of all places! He was extremely profane and condescending. He declared me imcompetent almost right off the bat. He implied that Fidelity was a market maker in a stock that he lost a lot of money in back in 2000 and that weíre criminals. He said he wanted me to understand that I work for a ďterrible company.Ē I shot back several times but he seemed to enjoy that. Foul-mouthed motherfucker has a history of escalations, violations, profanity, and hatred toward Fidelity (I examined all the past records).
The best Simpsons intro ever is the one where they show the family on the sofa and then zoom out to show the neighborhood, city, continent, planet, solar system, galaxy, universe, and then atomic structure, molecular structure, DNA strands, cellular structure, and finally the skin on Homerís headÖ
An article at Slate the other day stated that employees who donít save are like smokers who wonít quit. The employee knows he NEEDS to save for retirement; the smoker knows ne NEEDS to quit smoking. But for some reason, they donít do it. No such problem here. Iím contributing a full $4000 to the Roth this year and 5% plus 5% company matching plus 10% profit sharing to the 401(k). I estimate that by 2008, Iíll be putting in $20,000 per year across both, and this doesnít include my pension, my trust fund, and whatever the hell Socialist Security becomes. I aim to have several million dollars by retirement.
I got a 32 MB USB storage pen. Itís a real pen that unscrews to reveal a USB plug. Itís very quick and quite convenient, especially for someone without home internet access. No more crappy floppy discs.
I watched several episodes of Penn & Tellerís BullShit, an award-winning Showtime show which is kind of like an edgy version of John Stosselís ABC bits. In fact, both Penn & Teller and Stossel are libertarians who do work for the CATO Institute. The episode on ecoterrorism/environmentalism as religion/moronic green rally attendees was very good; a little light on critical analysis, but it does the job. They basically work to debunk all kinds of both liberal and conservative myths as well as various hoaxes. They bash the Drug War and conservative attitudes toward stem cell research right along with liberal social programs and anti-capitalist hysteria.