Archive for December 2011

I Got the Emerson Report Today

I got the annual report for Emerson Electric Company. On the cover it said, “55 Years of Increased Dividends”. On the inside cover it says, “For the 55th consecutive year, Emerson increased its annual dividend to shareholders”. I was pretty happy to see that.

Emerson Electric is on several dividend stock lists: Dividend Aristocrats, Dividend Achievers and Dividend Champions.

I have some shares, and I may buy some more this week.

Image from Emerson website


State Income Tax and State Rankings

Recently there have been a few lists ranking cities. The Milken Institute put out one. The Brookings Institute put out one that was reported in Business Insider: Most Miserable Cities and Least Miserable Cities. Also the Urban Institute put out a list on their MetroTrends website (I found out about this one from the twitter feed of the Urbanophile).

A lot of the lists are pretty equal. They look at things like the unemployment rate, the real estate market, gross metropolitan product, and recent trends in those statistics. Texas cities have done well, California did badly, Illinois did okay (but kind of on the bad side of okay).

When I would tell people that I was thinking about moving to Texas, a lot of people would regurgitate the fact that Texas has no state income tax. A lot of people seem to think that lowering taxes is the answer to all our problems. And the source of all our goodness. But is that true?

On one of the lists, Seattle ranked pretty low. Las Vegas scored the lowest. And everything in Florida scored near the bottom. Washington, Nevada and Florida have no state income tax. If no state income tax was the answer to all the world’s problems, then why aren’t those states doing better?

On top of that, some of the states that have no income tax (like Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska) get a lot of money by leasing land to oil and gas companies. Which sounds kind of socialist to me.

Image from Wikipedia

A Softer World

Map Of SpainI found out about a web comic called A Softer World. They put captions on photos. They usually use the same photo for different panels, changing the size or emphasizing different sections. Some of them are funny, some are bizarre, some are disturbing, some are a combination. It’s like Doonesbury meets Post Secret.

So here is mine for this week:

Panel 1: Her family in Spain is driving her crazy

Panel 2: Maybe when she comes back she will decide to stay for good

Panel 3: Does she want to have children?

Image from Wikimedia




There Was A Latino Atheists Presentation on Our Lady of Guadalupe

There was a meeting of the Latino Atheists this past weekend. I got there late.

There was a presentation on Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was recorded, and I made a few comments. So I will be on an upcoming podcast. I was told that another guy showed up. He claimed to be a shaman, and supposedly stepped out because he was losing his power. Or he just needed a cigarette.

When I know more about the podcast or about the presentation file I will post something.

Image from Latino Atheists Twitter profile


I May Start Editing Comments

I get a lot of comments, but a lot of them are just spam. But some of them sound complimentary, so for my self-esteem I may start approving them. Plus, some of them are kind of funny. One said that he would have given his right arm if he had found a particular post before he spent half a day searching.

But in order to prevent the spammers from getting any traffic, I will see if I can edit the URL to point to my main page. I will also try to add some text indicating that the comments have been edited.

2011-12-11 Blog Title

New Blog Title: Machines Of Choice

Why? Because I have free will, dammit!

Dividend Aristocrats Updated

S & P has updated its list of the Dividend Aristocrats. This is the first dividend list that I became aware of. If you want to use a dividend list as an investment plan to follow, this might be a good one since it is the smallest.

The stated criteria is that it consists of stocks that are in S & P indices have raised their dividends every year for at least 25 years. Yet there are many stocks that have increased their dividend for 25 or more years that are not on the list. Some of the additions this year are some of those stocks that were not on the list despite meeting the criteria.

Some other lists are the Dividend Achievers and Dividend Champions. The Dividend Champions list has a lot of stats and in my opinion is the best download of the three groups of lists. Some people prefer these because they are larger lists and more consistently adheres to their entry criteria than S & P.

The stocks that were added that I already own are AT&T (T), Colgate-Palmolive (CL), Illinois Tool Works (ITW) and Sysco Corp. (SYY). The stocks that were added which I do not already own are Franklin Resources (BEN), Genuine Parts (GPC), HCP Inc. (HCP), Medtronic, Inc. (MDT), Nucor Corp. (NUE) and T. Rowe Price Group (TROW). CenturyLink Inc. (CTL) was deleted. I never bought that one.

Quite a few of the new stocks that I do not own are financial stocks. I generally avoid financial stocks.

Dividend Achievers, Dividend Aristocrats and Dividend Champions are trademarks owned by other people. Google them.

Image from Wikimedia, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

The Prospect Agrees With Me

A few days ago I posted that we need to stop talking about “balance” and stop saying that “both sides are the problem”. Today I came across an article on The American Prospect called “The Fanatics of the Center“. It made the same case that I did, with a few more examples:

Evenhandedness is the characteristic pose of centrist zealotry. Democrats and Republicans, we are told, are equally to blame for seemingly intractable national ills such as the federal deficit. But, um, wasn’t the United States running a surplus before the Bush tax cuts in 2001? Didn’t President Barack Obama last summer offer a grand bargain with major concessions on Social Security and Medicare that the House Republicans turned down?

The article says that all that compromising has done is bring politics and policy further to the right. How’s that trickle-down thingy working out for most of you? Be honest.


Most Technology Today Is Useless

One thing that has been bugging me recently is that a lot of what is going on in technology is stupid and pointless. I think the big issues facing not only the USA, but the world as a whole are peak oil and climate change. If we don’t find something to replace fossil fuels, I think we will backslide technologically and deal with a lot of societal and geopolitical tensions.

Hedge funds and banks on Wall Street hired people with degrees in math and physics to develop software that figured out ways to trade more profitably. I think society would be better off if mathematicians and physicists actually worked on math and physics. And the financial-industrial complex nearly drove society off a cliff. So much for the idea that the best and brightest know how to allocate resources effectively. Or that they were all that bright to begin with.

The free market may be good at solving short-term wants, but it does not seem very good with long-term needs. Perhaps in a country where more people look at the web sites for Fox News and ESPN than The Oil Drum or Oil Price it’s a futile quest.

I was at a startup conference about six months ago here in Chicago. It seemed like most of the companies were “building mobile social networks so you can send your tweets to your friends’ iPhones.” I felt like playing “Worthless Copycat Technology Bingo”. There was one that was trying to commercialize a new process for manufacturing solar panels. Pretty much everything else was Garbage 2.0. One was a social network for men so they can get together and do manly things. They had pictures of guys playing cards, and mountain biking, playing video games. What they offer that you couldn’t get from Meetup, Craigslist or Facebook was unclear to me.

There were a few articles a few months ago on Business Insider about a presentation by Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, on their hiring practices. It went on and on about how they want “A-players”, and how to reward them, blah blah blah. A few commenters pointed out that it’s absurd for Netflix to talk about how they want the smartest people. All they do is rent movies; they are not curing cancer. Given that the stock price has gone from $300 to $66, that their plan to split the company in two was withdrawn after about 3 weeks, that they took a lot of heat for raising prices dramatically and that they are losing subscribers, I think it’s fair to ask if Mr Hastings deserves even mediocre employees.

If you are not solving an A-problem, then you don’t really need A-players.

Image from Kristian Dela Cour on Flickr

Thoughts On Lifting From Long Ago

I  have a degree in exercise physiology, and for a while I was a personal trainer. Here are some notes I wrote years ago to help answer a question I got a lot about weight training: How much weight should I lift?

First off, it depends on what change you want to induce in the muscles. Lifting for 15-20 reps will primarily cause muscular endurance. Lifting for 8-12 reps will primarily cause muscular hypertrophy (making the muscles bigger). Lifting for 2-6 reps will primarily increase muscular strength. I think if you are going to lift you should lift in all three ranges.

How much you need to lit to be in each range is something you have to figure out for yourself. Pick a light weight that you know you can handle, and see how many times you can lift it. If you pick a weight that is really easy, you can always add more for another set. If you start out too heavy, you could put yourself out of commission for a couple of days.

I cannnot tell by looking at someone how much they should lift for a particular movement in any of the three ranges. If I said something like, “You should bench press 200 pounds for hypertrophy” without seeing how much you can lift or how well you can control that much weight, then that would be irresponsible.