Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Food rationing... in America!

Shades of things to come?
Many parts of America, long considered the breadbasket of the world, are now confronting a once unthinkable phenomenon: food rationing. Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.
From here, via iTulip.com. Expect more of this in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of vegetables, for instance, become increasingly scarce as California and the rest of the southwestern US become more desertified.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Exposing corruption... by being corrupt?

The Cambridge Times has an interesting comment from a local MP, Gary Goodyear, on the recent RCMP raid at the Conservative Party's Ottawa headquarters:
Although some argue over the political timing, Goodyear said it was the Conservatives who actually brought the campaign finance issue to the fore when it filed a claim against Elections Canada to seek reimbursement for advertising expenses. The Conservatives have taken the matter to Federal Court.
As a friend of mine points out, when a party that's accused of illegal activities claims credit for drawing attention to the problem, it's a bit like a drunk driver saying "Without people like me going out and killing people every so often, they'd never do anything about drunk driving!" Takes a certain amount of chutzpah to say something like that.

On the home front, packing and preparation, including trying to balance quality time with friends (some of whom are incompatible with one another) continues apace. I actually had to work Saturday of all days, because we were still doing surveys at the Centre Wellington landfill, asking everyone who showed up with garbage or recycling a short questionnaire and putting their garbage and putting it in our truck if they gave certain answers (very few people were actually sampled). On the plus side, this means I'll get tomorrow off, so I'll have the opportunity to do a lot of preparation.

Among the things I must do is to decide whether or not to keep my bike, and to get a bike rack for my car if I do decide to keep it. It's a good, solid, reliable bike, in excellent mechanical condition, and has rendered yeoman service over the last four years. On the other hand, it only cost me $50 at a yard sale, and I am reminded of the reason for this low price each time I have to pedal it up a significant hill or carry it up or down a flight of stairs. Of course, significant hills are not exactly common in Winnipeg, but staircases are. And it's been pointed out to me that a bike rack for a car is one of those things that you almost never use as much as you think you will. This is doubly true for me, since although I use my bike a lot, it's usually because I want to get somewhere, and driving out to Bird's Hill to ride my bike around isn't the sort of thing I'm liable to do.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That's it! We're going back to Winnipeg!

Well, they made me an offer I can't refuse. I've been offered a job in Winnipeg that pays more than my current one, requires a lot less travel, and is still related to my field. I can't emphasize how good this is.

You see, it's been a long time since I felt consistently optimistic about my own future. For instance, I don't put a lot of stock in such things as horoscopes or fortune cookies, but if I did, and I got one that said "You will be surrounded by friendship" I would assume that it meant that I was going to end up living at the House of Friendship. Or, if it said "There will be a lot of change in your life very soon", I'd assume it meant I'd be wandering the streets looking for spare change... you get the idea. But now it looks like something is actually turning out well.

Of course, this means I've got a whole bunch of things to do very soon. Number one is giving notice at my present job, which I'll do tomorrow. Then I've got to start packing my shite to be shipped by Greyhound (except what I can fit into my car), and find someone who's interested in my apartment. If you're reading this, and are interested, it's a two bedroom apartment for a very reasonable price in a pretty convenient location (right on the #7 bus line). I'd be willing to throw in a bunch of the furniture, to get rid of it. Then there's forwarding my mail, and finding an apartment in Winnipeg (preferably close to downtown); again, if you're reading this and know of anyone who's trying to sublet or the like, please let me know.

And last but not least, any KW friends reading this, I'd really like to hang out with you before I leave, so drop me a line.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Propellers are coming back!

Ever fantasize about the days when propeller planes reigned supreme? Well, they're coming back in a big way:

With oil prices hovering at close to $110 a barrel, many are betting that new technologies — biofuels, hydrogen cells and solar power among them — will solve the world's energy crisis. A large part of the airline industry, however, is looking back to basics: planes with propellers.

In the market for passenger planes with fewer than 70 seats, turboprop aircraft, once condemned for the relatively noisy and bumpy ride passengers endure, are now outselling the equivalent regional jets by two-to-one, according to industry estimates.

"Propeller-driven craft enjoy massive fuel benefits on shorter journeys," Kapil Kaul, the chief executive of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said.

For a journey of less than about 600 nautical miles, or about 90 minutes' flying time, a turboprob may use as much as 70 per cent less fuel than a similar-sized jet, he added.

Via itulip.com. The only turboprop I ever rode in was a Dash 8 between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, back in 1990. They are indeed a lot noisier and slower than jets, but with fuel savings like this, expect to ride on them a lot more often in the future. Fortunately the reliability of their engines is more like that of jets than that of piston engines, though.

Incidentally, I have ridden in piston-powered light planes a few times. By far the most interesting flight I took was in 1991 in Australia, with this outfit. Back then, the whole aerobatic flight deal was something like $115, so I jumped at it. And there is most definitely something cool about sitting in an open cockpit aircraft while it's in a spin, steeply banked so that you can watch the city and the ocean rotate below you. Notably, the price has more or less tripled since then.

Friday, April 11, 2008

OK, so I may have prematurely jumped to conclusions...

... in this post, when I said that I hadn't seen any quarters from 2000 or earlier in a while and speculated that they might be getting called in. Since then, I've accumulated sixteen, as well as nine pre-1982 nickels (which are also pure nickel). So they're still in circulation, though Gresham's law will no doubt change that over time. Indeed, several coin shops are now paying more than face value for the old nickels.

Meanwhile, you've no doubt heard about the rising price of copper and how it's becoming more and more worthwhile to steal. Some people's efforts in this department are Darwin-worthy, like this chap:
Last Saturday in Pickering, east of Toronto, a man apparently trying to steal copper wiring at a power plant died after being electrocuted.

The victim was found atop a power transformer after being zapped by 44,000 volts of electricity.
Unfortunately, it isn't only the thieves who can potentially suffer, though fortunately no disaster resulted when thieves cut the power to the landing lights at an airport.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Who's a better investor, God or Satan?

Here's an amusing article I came across:

The market is amoral and agnostic. It has no interest in your virtues or vices or God, except insofar as they help make money. But just as morality and faith have taken a larger role in all of American life, so are they also playing an increasingly prominent role in investing. For the secularly progressive, there are socially conscious mutual funds. Jews may be partial to Israel bonds. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, which sounds like the setup for a Garrison Keillor one-liner, offers more than 20 mutual funds. Putting money to work in ways compatible with your overall worldview is clearly appealing to growing numbers of investors.

And this has produced a very odd market anomaly: Both virtue and vice seem to be increasingly effective investing strategies. God and Satan are both winning on Wall Street. In recent years, people who have invested in a particular brand of virtue—the Ave Maria Catholic Values Fund—and people who have invested in a particular brand of vice—the Vice Fund—have both handily beaten the market.

Interesting enough. More interesting still, though, are some of the questions that arise:

Now let's answer the two questions I am sure you have been asking yourself. First, do the funds share any holdings? In other words, what vice is also a virtue? The answer, of course, is war. Both the Catholic Values Fund and the Vice Fund own General Dynamics. And Ave Maria's bond fund owns bonds of United Technologies, which is also in the Vice Fund.

Second, in the competition between virtue and vice, who's winning? Alas, as this chart shows, vice has been winning by a small margin over the past few years. In the past year, its margin has been impressive.

I suppose I can see the reason why that both funds invest in arms manufacturers; the Ave Maria fund sees them as virtuous because they help to kill the infidel, while the Vice fund sees them as belonging to their mandate because they help to, well, kill. Which suggests that one vice that the Vice Fund doesn't have is self-deception; they recognize killing people as a vice. Maybe this clear-headedness is part of the reason why they're more successful.

Speaking of vice and investing, since I've quit smoking I've had an extra $25 or so per week to play with. On a whim, I decided that I'm going to spend this money on silver Maple Leaf coins, at least for a while. That way, I'll have a nice tangible reminder of how much money I was wasting, and possibly a valuable asset. After all, regardless of the dodginess of investing in precious metals, it surely can't be any worse than investing in cigarettes (unless you're willing to risk getting busted for smuggling).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Finally some good news...

... though not on the job front so far. But check this out:

Coffee may cut the risk of dementia by blocking the damage cholesterol can inflict on the body, research suggests.

The drink has already been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer's Disease, and a study by a US team for the Journal of Neuroinflammation may explain why.

A vital barrier between the brain and the main blood supply of rabbits fed a fat-rich diet was protected in those given a caffeine supplement.

UK experts said it was the "best evidence yet" of coffee's benefits.
Nice to know that not every drug I take is bad for you. Although, actually, I haven't had tobacco in nearly two weeks (except once as an adulterant), though I was sorely tempted to indulge more than once.