Amazon Prime

I finally got a trial for Amazon Prime.

I did it so I could watch the rest of Star Trek that I had not seen.

I had gotten through most of the fifth seasons of Deep Space Nine and Voyager while there were episodes on the Star Trek site. For the past six months or so, they had only 11 episodes of Voyager. A couple of them were sixth season, so I skipped ahead to get my fix.

Then a few months ago, the put up 10 episodes of The Original Series. This past week, I was on You Tube, and I found a channel that was putting up full episodes of Enterprise. The only problem was part of the image was cut-0ff. So after a little hemming and hawing and searching, I signed up for the 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime. I hope that the free trial is really free, and that all the videos on Amazon Prime are included in the price. Otherwise I will be paying Amazon a lot of money in a couple of months.

(Sidebar: “Amazon Prime” sounds like it could be the title of an episode from almost any one of the series. Except perhaps The Next Generation; they seemed to prefer one word titles.)

So this has been eating up my weekend. I watched the four episodes of Enterprise that were never on the Star Trek site, as well as a few episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager from earlier seasons that were never on the site. I promised to give a presentation to a local technology group on Wednesday. I was planning to get it done this weekend, but I will have to whip it up on Monday. I also thought I would listen to a conference call for ADM this weekend.

Perhaps I will see Firefly, or Battlestar Galactica, or other stuff. Who knows? I have to watch it on my Windows laptop. For some reason the videos don’t load on my Linux laptop. I have no idea why videos on Amazon won’t load but videos on the Star Trek site will. I have never owned a television, which many people found surprising. One person told me I was the only person they knew without one. Now computers and televisions are merging.

Two of the Enterprise episodes that were never on the Star Trek site were parts 1 and 2 of “In a Mirror Darkly”. I can hear T’Pol’s voice saying, “Perhaps if Ms. Blalock had long hair in every episode, Enterprise would have been more successful.”

I also watched a couple of my favorite Enterprise episodes. “Future Tense” is still my favorite Star Trek episode ever, but I do have to make one quibble: If they assembled the warhead outside the launch bay, they could have made it work.

Two of the Enterprise episodes that were never on the Star Trek site were parts 1 and 2 of “In a Mirror Darkly”. I can hear T’Pol’s voice saying, “Perhaps if Ms. Blalock had long hair in every episode, Enterprise would have been more successful.”

I also watched a couple of my favorite Enterprise episodes. “Future Tense” is still my favorite Star Trek episode ever, but I do have to make one quibble: If they assembled the warhead outside the launch bay, they could have made it work.

Image from Memory Alpha, copyright owned by CBS, assumed allowed under Fair Use. If you watch “Future Tense”, you will understand why the last two paragraphs were repeated.

This website is dangerous to you. dflhas@089f0’Pauj_ph Temporal radiation.

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Language: Thoughts On The Word Public

I am a regular listener of Freethought Radio, which is produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. One of their activities is to prevent or stop government endorsement or support of religion.

When they talk about this, they will sometimes use the word “public” to describe the activities in question.

Usually it is something like prayer at city council meetings, or a city or county giving money to a church. They will describe it as “public support” or “public endorsement” of religion. This is the same use of the word “public” that we use when we say that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a “public” university.

Many of the opponents of the FFRF will use the word “public” differently when they attack the FFRF. They say that the FFRF wants to eliminate “public expression” of religion, or they want to “take religion out of the public square”. Here, I think the word “public” has a slightly different meaning. Here “public” means being a part of society, and does not refer to government support. Sort of like when parents tell their children to behave in public.

I wonder whether some critics of the FFRF are intentionally misleading people by this use of the word “public”. The FFRF does not have a problem with the “public expression” of religion, or of religion being in the public square. There are a lot of billboards put up by churches and religious organizations, and the FFRF does not try to have them taken down. The FFRF does put up its own billboards as well. They have no problem with religion existing in society. They simply do not think it should be supported by our government. And for the most part the courts agree with the FFRF.

The word “public” can also be a bit confusing in the business world. The “public sector” refers to the government. Many people in this country work for various levels of government, and are said to work in the “public sector”.

However, a “public company” is a company that is not owned by the government. It is owned by people and institutions in the private sector, but it is called a “public company” because shares of ownership in that company are sold on stock exchanges. A “private company” is a company whose ownership is not traded on an exchange. So a company in the private sector can go public, trade for years on an exchange, and then go private, staying in the private sector the entire time.

There are some government entities in the United States that do own shares in public companies. These tend to be the retirement funds for workers in the public sector, usually at the state, county or city level. Many people in the US do not like the idea of governments owning a company, yet public retirement funds is not considered a problem. These funds are generally given some independence from the governments whose workers’ money they are managing. Some of these funds (such as CalPERS) have been activist shareholders, but their goals are no different than other activist shareholders. Some retirement funds invest largely in index funds. But these retirement funds never get a majority stake in companies. At least not in the US.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

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Nobody Seems To Care About Apple Owning The World

Back about 10 or fifteen years ago, many people in technology pushed open source because they distrusted Microsoft. There were other reasons, but it seemed to me that was a major motivation. When the world runs on software, the idea of one company having oversized influence on the software industry scared people.

Now, I go to technology meetups, and I am usually the only one using a non-Apple laptop. Yet everyone thinks they are edgy, cool and an independent thinker simply because they use Apple products. Sometimes I am reminded of that scene in Life Of Brian: Yes, we’re all individuals.

As Microsoft got bigger and more powerful, people fear and hated them more, and trusted them less. As Apple gets bigger and bigger, people seem to love them more. Yes, their products look better. But does “shiny object” really change everyone’s opinions on things? Is it really enough to remove objections about market power? It seems to.

I once saw Jim Cramer on Mad Money rave about what a great company Apple is. He mentioned they had changed the music industry through iTunes and the phone industry with the iPhone, in addition to influencing their original lines of business. He pointed out they displaced a lot of companies (and a lot of jobs) in those industries.

Now there is an Apple watch. The co-inventor of the Swatch thinks the Apple watch could displace a lot of people in the Swiss watch industry. Now there are rumors that Apple might make a car (but some people don’t think they can pull it off).

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? Sure, the free market is great. Yes, things change. Yes, there is creative destruction, and people find new work. But we are talking about one company doing a lot of displacement in multiple industries. If a web site forced you to use IE years ago, people complained. If a service is only available on iPhone, nobody seems to complain. Unless they are mistreating Chinese workers, people seem okay with Apple eating the world.

I really don’t get it. People seem to want Apple to get bigger. I went to a meetup with the Austin Internet of Things group, and a few people expressed concern about what Google and Nest are doing with peoples’ information. Yet I rarely hear about this concern with Apple.

Am I the only one who thinks the standards have changed? Am I the only one who thinks it might be a bad thing if one company changes one industry after another?

A gilded cage is still a cage.

Image from the 19th century, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

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Thoughts On Synchronicity and Conservative Logic

I know many say the concept of synchronicity is BS, but I did notice an interesting sring of coincidences over the past couple of weeks.

Paul Krugman wrote a piece about Stephen Moore, a right-wing hack. He pointed out that a lot of these conservative hacks keep making predictions that are not true. Yet they never seem to suffer any negative consequences for constantly being wrong. The basic thrust of the piece is questioning why these “pundits” are not forced to find other work.

One of the commenters wrote something that explains it:

Ah but they’re not “predictions.” They’re simply statements about the world works couched in predictive language. You’ve got to remember, these people are deductive not inductive reasoners. They don’t build a model from observations and refine the model to reflect new observations. They know what they know and that’s that. Everything follows from first principles. You don’t *need* to make predictions if you have faith. After all, what’s a better demonstration of “faith” then believing something when all evidence points against it?

I supposed we could see if it’s turtles all the way down, and ask why they think that way. But it does seem to answer the immediate question.

Then there was a post on the Meditation subreddit in which the poster noted that of all the religions, the Buddhists seem to get more things right than everybody else, and asked why that is. Again, there was an interesting comment:

Generally I could say though that one camp is “sky religions”, prophetic.. and the other is “earth religions”, born out of observation and contemplation instead of prophecy. If you make conclusions based on observations you have a good chance of being right..

Then on March 7, CFI Austin had an event with Ryan Bella Seventh-day Adventist preacher who decided to go “a year without god,” and then decided to make it permanent (his website is here). He said becoming an atheist was a long process for him. A big part of it was that he had a hard time believing that people who believed differently than he did would go to hell, even if they were moral people.  He felt that way about people in other denominations, other religions, no religion, gay people. He could not accept that someone who treats others well will go to hell simply because they have the “wrong” belief.

At one point he made an observation about conservative Christians and liberal Christians.  Conservative Christians see the Bible as inviolable, revealed text, and that the world must be shaped around that. Liberal Christians look at how the world is, and try to interpret the Bible to conform to what they see.

If I had to choose one of his categories of Christianity, I would go with the liberal camp. But I think (and he seemed to agree) that eventually you keep interpreting the Bible so much that there is nothing left.

I also read a couple of articles recently that kind of hit upon this with regard to taxes. Minnesota increased taxes on the wealthy and increased the minimum wage, and things are going pretty well there. A column in Bloomberg pointed out that California is also doing pretty well since Jerry Brown raised taxes on the wealthy. I am sure that taxes can go too high, but a lot of conservatives always seem to think that raising taxes is always bad and cutting taxes is always good. Minnesota and California have not reached the breaking point. Cutting taxes has not worked out too well in Kansas (see here, here, here). And Scott Walker has not gotten the job creation he said he would either. Conservatives usually want to move everything to the right. The Laffer Curve is the only thing they want to move to the left.

The article on Minnesota was in HuffPo. The commenters there generally acknowledged reality. There was a bit more conservative distortion on the Bloomberg site. Some of the people there basically espoused the right-wing doctrine: If Plan A does not work, keep trying Plan A.

I would like to live in a world without tax. But I like having roads, being surrounded by educated people, and have some confidence that food at the grocery store has a good chance of not killing me. It would be nice to get all that for free, but just because I want it all for free does not mean I can get it for free. You can try to look at the world as it is and then try to make your way within that, or you can only think about what you want and then spend your life complaining about the price.

Image from source unknown, assumed allowed under Fair Use. I wanted an image of people synchronizing watches, and I found one of George Harrison. How cool is that?

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Update On Moving Accounts

I made some more progress on moving accounts and leaving JPMorgan Chase (see previous posts here, here and here).

I got an account with a credit union. The point is to get a credit card through them, and get rid of my credit cards with Chase. The credit union only has branches in Texas, but if I move I can still do online banking.

I opened the account via video conference. Someone led me into an office, and I spoke to someone in San Antonio. I filled out all the forms and scanned in my ID. I was able to join because I work for a company that has an affiliation with them.

They do offer a credit card that gives cash back. The teller told me that if I don’t redeem the cash, they automatically put it in my account once a year.

I was thinking about getting a credit card that is affiliated with the broker who holds my IRA accounts. I could get cash back and have it go into my IRA. But I did some digging, and I found out they are owned by Bank Of America. That would put me right back with a big bank.

Plus, I worked for Bank Of America for about nine years. I would say things did not end well. When the big financial crisis happened, they lost billions of dollars, and they made some of it up by canning me and a few thousand other people. I got a severance of a few months. I do not know anyone who made the headlines, but there was a bozo a few levels up who was able to negotiate a severance. Even though lots of us got the axe plain and simple. This guy was supposed to oversee three groups. I found out through the grapevine that all three of us thought we were being ignored because he was focusing on the other two. So what was he doing that whole time?

I honestly think once you make about $300,000 or so a year, you get to skate from one job to another without any penalty no matter how badly you do.

Image from Wikipedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use, linked on the page for theft

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2015-02 Dividend Income Report

Here is the dividend income report for February, 2015.

The monthly dividend income came out to $353.85. The yearly income total for 2015 through the end of the month was $567.34.

The income for February, 2014 was $336.61, and the yearly income for 2014 through the end of February was $496.28.

The income for December, 2013 was $594.59, and the yearly income total up through that month was $3,406.20.

I bought more AT&T and Verizon to get them up to 100 shares, so that helped bring the total up. Vodafone paid less than last year, but the difference was made up by Verizon. So I think the yearly difference will be more impressive for May.

I sold my shares of Abbott Laboratories after the payout. Based on P/E ratios, none of the stocks that I own and pay in February look too attractive right now. Of the stocks that I am looking at that I do now own and pay in February, Deere looks interesting right now.

Here is a table with the amounts, the year-to-date amounts and the three- and twelve-month moving averages for each February from 2012 through 2015:

Month Amount YTD 3MMA 12MMA
Feb 2015 353.85 567.34 492.40 375.72
Feb 2014 336.61 496.28 363.62 295.33
Feb 2013 248.39 358.51 348.20 287.16
Feb 2012 308.90 497.58 337.51 264.48

Here are the stocks and the income amounts for February, 2015:

  • ABM Industries Inc: $8.89
  • AT&T: $47.53
  • Verizon: $55.00
  • WGL Holdings Inc: $14.59
  • Lowe’s Cos Inc: $12.31
  • Vodafone: $16.48
  • Air Products & Chemicals Inc: $12.07
  • Texas Instruments: $18.59
  • Abbott Laboratories: $12.74
  • Clorox Co: $41.19
  • Northwest Natural Gas Co: $26.85
  • Colgate-Palmolive: $38.95
  • Hormel Foods Corp: $11.89
  • Procter & Gamble: $36.77

Image from Wikimedia,  assumed allowed under Fair Use

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Stock Update: Abbott Laboratories

I recently sold my shares in Abbott Laboratories (ABT).

I had a little more than 53 shares, and I got a letter about an odd lot tender offer. This is when a company tries to get shareholders with less than 100 shares to buy more to get up to that price.

I guess it is better for them, since small shareholders can require more bookkeeping. But I don’t think it’s always good for the small shareholder.

For one thing, if I read the letter correctly, I would have to pay $52 a share, plus a processing fee of $2.50 a share. That comes out to $54.50 a share. Right now it’s at $47.47, with an all-time high of $47.59.

I got a tender offer from Verizon when I had 14 shares. I bought more on the open market to get up to 100. They also offered to sell to me above the market price.

Abbott has a P/E right now of 31.88. I know PE ratio is not everything, but that is pretty high. I don’t mind re-investing dividends in stocks with a PE ratio that high, but I would not buy more shares or shares in a new company with a PE ration that high. I think 20 is as high as I would go. If ABT’s PE ratio goes below 20, and they are still paying increasing dividends with a good payout ratio, then I would buy more someday.

I was hoping to get more of my stocks up to 100 shares, but if some company with a high PE ratio forces my hand, I will sell. I will have to get that $12 every three months from somewhere else. I did buy more JNJ. Even after selling ABT, I am still going to come out ahead. I might just buy more JNJ to get that to 100.

Image from Abbott Laboratories website, assumed allowed under Fair Use

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MDU Resources

After being a dividend growth investor for five years, I have started listening to the conference calls of some of the companies that I own shares in. Eventually I plan on getting to the calls of companies I am interested in as well.

One of the companies that I started with is MDU Resources, ticker MDU. They are based in North Dakota. They have multiple lines of business: utilities, oil exploration, pipelines and construction. For the most recent quarter, the percentages of earnings from each division was: 38% from construction, 22% from utilities, 8% from pipelines, and 32% from exploration and production.

One reason I am listening to their calls is the decline in oil prices to see how it affects them. On one hand, they are not just an oil driller, so the price decline will not sink them. On the other, while they are diversified in terms of industries, a lot of their activity is in the Dakotas. Oil prices did decline during the period covered by their most recent quarterly report, but the consensus is that oil prices might fall further.

I have over 50 shares of MDU. I would like to get all my stocks up to at least 100. I think for now I will wait to see what happens with MDU. Their earnings increased last quarter, but not by much. Their exploration is concentrated in the Bakken, so there is some risk there.

On the other hand, they have paid a dividend for over 50 years, and raised it for almost 30. The company seems committed to keep raising the dividend. They managed to keep raising it during the financial crisis of 2007-2009. If they could keep things afloat during that period, I think there is a good chance they will keep the company profitable going forward.

Image from MDU Resources website, assumed allowed under Fair Use

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Language: Taking Responsibility

I used to listen to Loveline with Dr Drew, when Adam Carolla was on it.

Sometimes Dr Drew would tell people they need to “take responsibility” for their life. Sometimes people would object to that, especially if they were dealing with mistreatment from significant others or their parents.

I think that these people would object because they thought that Dr Drew was telling them to admit guilt or accept blame for the bad things that happened to them, or admit that they deserved it, or wanted their lives to be in bad shape.

I think instead of telling people to “take responsibility”, it would be better to tell people to take control of their life.

If someone mistreated you, then you cannot expect them to try to make things right. If they wanted what was best for you, they never would have mistreated you in the first place. It is not fair that you have to clean up someone else’s mess, but sometimes that is the way things are.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use

 

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Huckabee: Just Following Orders

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has been in the news lately.

First he said that we must become a god-centered nation, and that laws come from god, not from man. Well, Governor Huckster, god is not telling me what to do with my life, you are. Put if you are telling people what god wants, aren’t you putting yourself in god’s place? Isn’t that a sin in your religion?

He also said that he really, really doesn’t want to hate gay people, but he has to. He’s just following orders. He has to be a jerk until a new version of the scriptures comes out.

The Immoral Minority lists many other rules that Huckabee is choosing not to follow. He is not advocating helping the poor either, even though that is mentioned many more times in the Bible than homosexuality. He doesn’t think his god is telling him to help the oppressed, but it’s telling him to kick people around. I guess it’s another example of christians doing the easy thing instead of the right thing.

Christians use this excuse to evade responsibility all the time. This happened to me once on the CTA. Some bozo starts trying to talk to me about religion. I told him there is no god, and he told me I was going to hell. He said, “If you have a problem with that, talk to god.” I told him that god wasn’t the asshole pestering complete strangers on the bus.

You should not advocate a position and then evade responsibility for that position.

Image from Wikipedia,  assumed allowed under Fair Use. The picture is of Peter von Hagenbach, who used the Superior Orders Defense in 1474.

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