Archive for February 2013

More Burrito Monday tweets

BurritoMonday@BurritoMonday

Hi #Everybody I am back!

I am in control of my chugging destiny #VanillaCoke

I will chug when I want to – #VanillaCoke

I demand Chugging Freedom – no more Chug Tyranny – more Vanilla Coke Zero!! #DietCoke #ChugFreedom

When will @DavidVitter do the right thing and resign?

@BurritoSunday Now we need to get @BurritoTuesday to join the Twitter Burrito Chain #winning

I am tired today – I hope I can make if through @BurritoTuesday

“We won, because winners win.” Truer words never spoken.

The #burrito: Just as pleasurable on the way out as they are on the way in #TMI

Trying to have @BurritoTuesday on a Monday is like mixing matter and anti-matter: You can do it, but don’t cry to me if it goes badly

Big Tony is back and ready for #lunch

I survived the #blizzard – I will consume burritos another day

Despite the snow, #Burrito Tuesday is still going to happen here in Chicago. I’m stronger than that #fistpump

Just used http://twilk.com to put my Twitter followers on my Twitter background. Check it out!

Looking forward to getting a #Burrito with Darth Vader

Only Vader triggers the bot

I must fight the Sith Lords with the Force

I want to be a Jedi like my father

I want to be Darth Vader

Yes! I was mentioned by @Yoda_Bot – now I am a Jedi

Giving a #ShoutOut to Darth Vader to trigger @Yoda_bot

We got ice cold #Coke in our fridge; Get them while they are cold!! Goin’ fast

Stop throwing the #football and get to work!!!!!

Feeling sick in the cold weather? Try some #burrito #soup – just like #mom used to make

The solution to partisanship: Give people who watch Fox Noise a @NetFlix account

Ready for more #burrtio happiness in 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rant About the Software Industry

This is sort of another “Technology is useless” post. Recently I sent it as an email to a few people I know after I said I was becoming disillsioned about the software industry. I think the software industry is getting better at looking at how it makes software, but nobody seems to be thinking about what the software or the company they are at actually does.

I am kind of frustrated with the software industry. I am trying to transition to another language (Ruby) that companies say they are clamoring for. Yet they all want someone with a few years of experience. I could probably get a Java job, but then the next time I look for a job, people will look at my resume, and say, “Hey, he’s done Java. Let’s give him another Java job.” I would like to get out of that trap. I don’t hate Java, like some developers do, but I would like to have some choice in the matter. I went into software to have more control over my life, but that does not seem to be happening.

Plus a lot of what goes on in software seems pretty stupid. Everybody keeps talking about startups, and counting on that to save the economy, yet a lot of them do stuff that is pretty stupid. Like finding bars that are not crowded. Or they are replicating some particular vertical from Craigslist (selling furniture, finding a babysitter). Or they have something to do with Facebook or Twitter.

Meanwhile peak oil and climate change are still bearing down on us. Shale oil may not be the savior that people hoped. We are still using hydrocarbons for transportation, while using more of it for plastic would be better (since plastics can be reused and recycled) and we are not doing enough to push electricity for transportation. Norway is going to try using thorium as a nuclear fuel. I am not sure why nobody tried this sooner. (If thorium is even half as good as its boosters say, it would still be worth it in my opinion.) I would like to be involved in finding and using energy, but I don’t have a degree in engineering, and I am not a grad student willing to work for half-price.

Startups and a lot of consulting firms do have a better process for making software than large corporations. It is more iterative and more responsive to users’ needs. It is easier to test, tested more often and in more ways, and generally easier to change. Larger firms, on the other hand, use what is called the “waterfall process”: make all the decisions up front, have a Bataan Death March to implement it, and hope that the users’ requirements have not changed in the meantime. So the people with the best process are making the least relevant software.

The last place I was at managed the electrical grid for a few states. (So far they have not asked me to come back, and for a variety of reasons I may or may not apply for another job there.) People complain about brownouts, but if the grid were to be overloaded and shut down, it would take three days for it to be turned on again. So the lives of 20 million people would be on hold for three days. They were pretty bureaucratic and slow, but what they do is pretty important. Go ahead, tell me how important your startup is. Tell me how important Facebook is.

But most startups think that what they are doing is a big deal, either due to the specific product they are pushing or because they are a Startup, and as we all know, STARTUPS ARE MAGIC. (Why? Because it’s a startup, silly. The reasoning always seemed kind of circular to me.) They go through incubators that cycle wave after wave of Zuckerberg wannabes, not seeing any irony that they are all depending on electricity from the same boring utility they all probably think they are too good to work for.

I think a lot of people are too enamored of their processes and technologies to ask themselves if what they are doing is useful to society, or even to themselves. I know someone who left Groupon who is now dedicated to helping software developers improve their skills. On one level, that is a good thing and should be encouraged. But once again, I wonder how much thought he has put into it. On his twitter profile, he says that “Latent human potential pisses me off.” Wonderful. But does he think about that human potential is doing? If all of the mental energy that people expend on sports and their iPhones was devoted to evolution and particle physics, we could probably cure cancer and have fusion in a decade. Nobody is predicting the oil will last beyond a century. What happens then?

I was at a tech meetup recently. The guy running it said he would start letting recruiter emails through to the list. He will still filter out the ones for people who are just cloning Groupon and Pinterest. Everybody else laughed when they heard that. But I wonder how many of them laughed at Groupon or Pinterest. Nobody would laugh if they heard about someone building another power plant, or building another desalination plant, or converting more land to farmland. Nobody would ask why anyone would want more electricity, water or food. Nobody would say, “Don’t bother, it’s been done.” If you think the clone of something is a dumb idea, then the original is a dumb idea too.

(When Groupon started, I needed people to explain it to me more than once. It’s like curling: It’s so stupid, my brain kept rejecting it)

In the past couple of years I have seen some interesting changes in the industry. People are now talking about the process of learning and productivity. The Pomodoro Technique and sites like LifeHacker are improvements. I don’t remember software developers ten years ago approaching the process of making software from that angle. There is also more attention paid to process, testing and workflow.

But sometimes I think that the infatuation with learning goes too far. I think for a lot of developers, the ideal is to be a trainer or an educator, to bring new people into the fold or help veteran developers do their jobs better. Another highly esteemed goal is to make software that other developers use in their toolchain: A library, a framework, an editor. Then there is all the obsessing about toolchains and workflows that developers do, and chasing trends. Should I use vim or Sublime? Moving the industry forward is necessary. But what about the users? When do we stop obsessing about how we make software, and start thinking about the people who use it but know nothing about how it is made? What about all the real problems our world is facing? I don’t mean the fact that many IT shops are on old versions of their software, or using bad processes or languages that you don’t like. Things like the fact that the world’s population is increasing, while crop yields are flat. The fact that the processes of producing and procuring energy are taking more energy. Perhaps software can do nothing for any of these issues. But let’s not confuse making your life easier with helping humanity. I just think that people with college degrees should do more to help the world than people who are less educated.

Some agile developers write books, make videos and put on conferences about their processes. Then they go back to writing software for startups that clone other startups. If the only people who take your advice are irrelevant, doesn’t that make you irrelevant too?

There is an article out there called “Facebook the Devourer” with a good line: “The best and brightest have been lured into the beast with giant paychecks, childish perks and the idea that somehow a new blue square button on Facebook is the best possible way they can change the world.” But what does changing the world mean? For me, it means find new sources of energy as well as more ways of utilizing current ones and designing and building the infrastructures to use them.

So anyway, I don’t have a degree in engineering. Should I just go to some startup or corporate job and suck it up while the world’s fuel tank goes to “E”? Maybe one person can’t change the world, but I am not too thrilled with where I see things going. I have had jobs that I have hated. Even though it can be good money, having a job you hate can be more stressful than having no job at all. I have this hope that if I learned some more math that maybe I could make software that is actually useful. I am involved with a library to implement math functionality in a language usually associated with web apps (Ruby). Perhaps I could be some roaming math/energy consultant before the seas rise and there really is no money to do things we should have done 30 years ago.

A Few Thoughts On Dividend Kings

I have been thinking a lot about my stock portfolio. As I stated before, I started out buying $1000 worth of shares of stocks. I quickly dropped that, and went for 50 shares of each stock, although I still have less than 50 of some of them. I am now starting to go for 100 shares of each stock, as well as getting a few more stocks. The market has been going up a lot lately, so I might wait a few more months. For a long time the best time to buy stocks for the long term was between May and October. That pattern was disrupted during the Great Recession, but I think we are getting back to it again.

I found this site called Buy Upside with some great tables on it. One is the Dividend Map: Dividend Aristocrats Annualized Dividend Growth Rates and Dividend Yields  You can find Dividend Aristocrats that have decent yields and fairly high yield growth. A few that look good to me are KMB, PG, BMS, ADP, APD, CLX, COP

There is also a concept called the Dividend Kings. It is the group of stocks that have been increasing their dividend for at least 50 years. This list seems more colloquial than the Achievers, Aristocrats or Champions. There does not seem to be one person or group that keeps track of this list. Granted, that might be unnecessary, since there are not that many stocks that meet the criteria.

There is a site called Dividend Kings, but it seems like a general investing blog. I have only glanced at it, but some of the posts mention companies that I do not see on other dividend sites. Plus it is not updated too often.

One site that has listed the Kings is Dividend Growth Investor.
Here are the stocks on the list that I have: AWR, DOV, NWN, EMR, PG, MMM, VVC, KO, JNJ, LOW
Here are the stocks on the list that I do not have: GPC, PH (low yield)
In a couple of years, there will be a couple of more socks added, both of which I own: CL, ITW

Dividend Aristocrats is a probably a trademark of S&P. Dividend Achievers is probably a trademark of Indxis. This site has a disclaimer.

Dividend Journey 007: A (small) defense of Jim Cramer

While I was starting to get into dividend investing, I also read a few books by Jim Cramer that I checked out from the library. I read Real Money, Stay Mad For Life, and Getting Back to Even. I did not start watching his show until I had gotten through those three books. I found out later you can download it for free from the Mad Money RSS feed.

I used to post the feed entry if there were any typos. I might get back to doing that.

He is known for making some bad calls (Bear Sterns, Lenny Dykstra). He did some questionable stuff at his hedge fund. His show certainly has a lot of energy. Some would say too much.

But having read his books before watching his show, I think Cramer is worth listening to. In his books he talks about dividend investing. He talks about how to look at companies and value stocks. He talks about how to read financial statements. He tells people that they should study companies they want to invest in.

And between the yelling and the throwing stuff, he says the same things on his show.

I know a guy who was a trader on the floor of the stock exchange in the late 1980s-early 1990s. He says a lot of the same things Cramer does. One favorite: Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs and sheep get slaughtered.

One criticism I have is that he tends to have a lot of the same CEOs on: AGN, HAIN, PVH, SAP. SAP is pretty big. The  others, not so much. Although I do like hearing from the CEOs of NAT, ETN and HON. He doesn’t always ask them the hard questions, especially with oil and gas companies that engage in fracking. “Could you tell our audience how safe fracking is?” Seriously, what do you think the CEO of a driller will say to that? Once he asked the CEO of Pepsi about the safety of tap water, and she recommended that people just drink Aquafina, and he let it pass. Going with bottled water would be expensive. People don’t just drink water. People cook and clean with it as well.

And the talks with CRM are always a real love fest. You’re so great, Marc, really!!! XOXO

He is a bit wacky. He does make a lot of recommendations. But he tells you to make your own decisions and teaches you how to look at companies and what to look for. I think he does advocate a lot of good ideas: Looking at financial statements and listening to conference calls, diversification, and investing (and reinvesting) in dividend stocks.

I wish he would do a segment every now and then on dividend growth stocks and talk about some of the lists of dividend growth stocks that are out there. Perhaps he could have David Fish or David Van Knapp on his show to talk about the Dividend Champions or Dividend Aristocrats.

Notes On Apple

I started getting involved with software about 12 or so years ago. My first job was with a company that ran Solaris machines. I got Linux installed on one of my machines, and since then I have always had a Linux computer as well as a Windows computer. I also drifted into the Java world. What the Linux and Java crowds had in common was a distrust of Microsoft.

A lot of people did not like Microsoft because they were too proprietary and controlling. A lot of people thought that open source was a better way of making software. People were afraid of Microsoft becoming too powerful. There were also security concerns: not only that Microsoft’s software itself had security issues, but there were concerns that software monocultures could increase risk. There were people who did not like the interface, but that always seemed like a secondary concern.

Anyway, I still believe a lot of the things that I believed back then: Open source is good, monocultures are bad. I run a Windows machine because whether I like it or not, some things are just easier on Windows (like DVDs). I do watch videos on my Windows machine. I do financial stuff on my Linux machine.

But I guess not everybody still supports open source they way they used to. Or at least not as consistently. I was at a Ruby meetup a while back, and the presenter was going on about how great Ruby was because it was open source and that meant no coproration could control it. And like most Ruby/Rails gatherings, I was the only one there that did not have an Apple laptop, or iPhone, or an iPad. Some people have all three. Call them iDrones.

Apple seems just as proprietary and controlling as Microsoft did. See http://www.defectivebydesign.org/apple (I thought I had bookmarked a page detailing all the anti-open source sins Apple committed, but now I can’t find it; this one will have to do for now). You cannot get an app on the iPhone without their permission. Their operating system may use open source software, but it is not open source. And if the phone drops calls, well, you’re holding it wrong. People don’t put up with this stuff from Microsoft. Why do they put up with it from Apple?

It just seems like people give Apple a pass over and over again. One reason may simply be that they are not Microsoft. If you don’t want to run Windows on your laptop, get a PC-based system and install Linux. Sure, you would have to pay for a Windows licence. But how much money does MS get when you buy a laptop with Windows installed? Maybe $50? I would rather not give them the $50, but if your answer is to give Apple $2000, you need to have your head examined.

Another answer people give is that Macs are easier to use. I have never found them easy to use. I like my mouse to have two buttons. Having some pompous ass in a turtle neck tell me I really like a one-button mouse (and I just don’t realize it yet) does not convince me.

It seems like a lot of developers who use Apple machines use them and do things that they could do on any computer.

One is that a lot of developers using Apple laptops are using vim. I think this contradicts the Apples-are-easy-to-use argument. Even people who like vim concede it is not easy to learn. If you are going to take the time to learn an editor as unintuitive as vim, then maybe you can say you care about productivity, but not ease of use.

I have also noticed that a lot of developers tend to use a lot of keyboard shortcuts and keyboard commands when they use Apple, both within apps and to go between them. Every OS and just about every app has keyboard commands and shortcuts. If you are willing to learn them on an Apple machine, why not learn them on a Linux machine?

Sidebar: I see a lot of devs sharing keyboard commands on mailing lists, Stack Overflow and blog posts, and then getting many people thanking them for the shortcuts. I get the impression that few people read any documentation for keyboard commands, they just stumble upon them in their journey.

So are Apples easier to use than other OSes that use keyboards? Even if you think they are, I still think there is a double standard. Ten years ago, people were not as concerned about the UI of Windows; the primary complaint was its proprietary nature and the character of the company behind it. Now we have another aggressive, controlling, bullying company pushing trying to get everyone to do things its way, and now all of a sudden the metric is how it looks. That is the definition of a double standard.

Plus we have seen Apple have a negative impact on companies in other industries due to the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone. If MS had this sort of influence in other industries, people would be horrified. Apple does it, and people just marvel at the convenience.

If you want to change your standards, that is your decision. But if the only reason you can give is “shiny object”, don’t expect me to change mine.

I have noticed that people are not as blindly following Apple now that Steve Jobs is dead. Perhaps the Reality Distortion Field was more powerful than I thought. But I never understood why people followed this guy the way they did. From what I have heard, he seemed like a real asshole. Some defend him because he saved Apple and made people a lot of money. Wall Street banks make a lot of money. So do oil companies. So does WalMart. Nobody defends them. Henry Ford changed an industry, but nobody gives him any slack for being an anti-semite. Why make excuses for Steve Jobs? If Steve Jobs were on Wall Street, he would fit right in. And most of the people who love him would hate him.

The guy seemed like a phony. He was mad because he thought that Android was a ripoff of iPhone, but Apple would be nothing if he had not ripped off Xerox. And I have to wonder how smart he really was. Oh, sure, he built a big company, but when he was diagnosed with cancer, does he go to the best doctors? No. He tries BS snake oil remedies. The guy was a billionaire. Why would he NOT go to the top doctors? People go to witch doctors when they have no other options. If you make a stupid decision when you really really really need to make the right one, you are an idiot. If anybody else had done that, people would say he was a moron. Why should Steve Jobs get a pass?

Does “shiny object” really trump everything? I guess for some people it does.

Another ‘Star Trek’ Post

I posted this to the Liberal Gun Club forum. I had been thinking about writing about it for a while, so I am re-posting it here:

Growing up, Kirk was my favorite TOS character. Now McCoy is my favorite. He seemed to be the ethical/moral voice of the three main characters.

I liked TNG, but the first two seasons were not that great. It got good in season 3. I think if Roddenberry had not been involved in it at the beginning, it would not have lasted.

I liked DS9. But at some point I did not have TV access (I have never owned a TV myself), and when I came back there were a few story arcs going and I was kind of lost.

I never watched Voyager. Perhaps when I get Netflix.

I liked Enterprise. It kind of bugs me when people say “TOS is teh bestest ever and all the others suxx!” There were some klunkers in every series. If TOS came out today, people would be more critical of it than they are. WRT Enterprise, I liked the second two seasons more than the first two. (It seems to take a few seasons for spin-offs to get good.)

One thing about Enterprise that I found interesting is that it takes place before all the other series, yet the technology looks the most advanced. But I guess that’s what happens when you go backwards in time. But it did seem more military. The Enterprise on TNG looked like a cruise ship. I was never in the military, but it seems to me that a spaceship that is out for months would be a bit cramped.

I saw the new movie a few months back. Once again, I liked McCoy. I think they got the perfect guy. A lot of people rave about how much Zachary Quito looks like the old Spock, but I think with the ears, eyebrows and the Spock haircut, you could make a lot of guys look like Spock. The guy they got for McCoy does look a lot like the old McCoy. I did not like the new Scotty. He seemed too goofy to be an engineer.

I don’t like having to wait four years for a new installment. I think a TV series would have been better.

Postscript: Karl Urban is younger than DeForest Kelley was during the original series, but I still think there is a strong resemblance.

I think that in the new movie the two characters that were most like the original were Spock and McCoy. Uhura was the most different. Sulu, Scotty and Chekov were not fleshed out very well. Squeezing all those characters into a movie can be tough. One thing I noticed about the spin-offs is they always tried to give each main cast member at least one line in each episode. Usually it was someone stating something obvious. So obvious you could feel insulted if you were actually paying attention. Perhaps there were contractual reasons.

Top image from Memory Alpha, bottom image from Memory Alpha, copyright owned by CBS, assumed allowed under Fair Use.

Dividend Journey 006

I looked around at a few brokers to see where to put my money. I had my Roth and a taxable account at T Rowe Price. Their brokerage fees were pretty high. ScottTrade did not allow the purchase of fractional shares. The big bank had its 401(k) plan with Fidelity. I called them up, and after finding out their fees and features I decided to stay with them. I moved my Roth over there. (I was unemployed and used the money from the taxable account for living expenses.)

I looked at the financial statements for the stocks on two of the Dividend Aristocrats list: the S&P 500 list, and the High Yield list. There is a lot of overlap.

I did not buy shares in every stock on the list. I can remember why I passed on a few of them. Old Republic was losing money then, and they are losing money now. Pitney Bowes still has a high yield. Everybody says that is a red flag, yet they are still paying it. Better safe than sorry. Leggett & Platt had a pretty high payout ratio. (I could see from their cash flow statement they were paying out as much as they were earning. I don’t think I had heard of the term “payout ratio” at that point.)

So I started out buying $1000 worth of shares in each stock. I don’t know why I did not just start out buying 50 shares of the ones I wanted. The absurdity of buying so few shares hit me when my 12 shares of 3M got me a whopping $6.30. It’s been almost three years, and I still have not accrued an entire share of 3M.

Since then I have sold some of them. LLY stopped raising their dividend, CINF has slow yield growth, UVV went down in price and sells something fewer people are buying, and EV is a financial stock.

Eventually I also got rid of FDO PNR, and CAT. FDO has a low yield. PNR also has a low yield, and it overlaps with a few other stocks. I had 20 shares of CAT. I got a letter from them offering to buy up my shares, or offering me enough to get me to 100. Either way they wanted to charge me $2/share. They can jump off a cliff. I sold on the open market.

Some might say buying a stock solely on the dividend is a bad idea. But is it any worse than blindly buying 500 because some firm decided to group them together? Besides, indexes are dragged down by stocks that do not pay dividends. If I wanted to get excited about price, I could become one of those gold nuts who keeps predicted the societal collapse that never happens. (I don’t think buying gold based on price is any different than buying a stock based on price.) Cash may be king, but cash flow is the king of kings.

Dividend Aristocrats is a probably a trademark of S&P. This site has a disclaimer.

2013-01 Dividend Report

Here is the dividend income report for January, 2013.

The income for the month was only $110.12. The income for January, 2012 was $188.68. This is because a lot of companies paid dividends early. This is the lowest monthly income since July, 2010, when I made $103.25.

(Is it proper to say I “made” dividend income? Technically, other people make it for me.)

A few of the accelerated dividends paid in December, 2012 were dividends that normally would have been paid in February, so I think that February’s numbers will also be lower.

Here are the stocks:

  • Automatic Data Processing: $24.00
  • Kimberly-Clark: $38.95
  • Chubb Corp: $8.67
  • Altria Group: $23.74
  • Sysco Corp: $14.76

Image from Wikimedia