Seattle Barbies

My girlfriend received this from her friend Tricia. Whoever the origianl author is pretty much nailed it. There's also a version that's more Western Washington focused than just Seattle-area focused.


Mattel recently announced the release of limited-edition Barbie Dolls for the Seattle market:

Mercer Island Barbie

This princess Barbie is sold only at Bellevue Square. She comes with an assortment of Kate Spade Handbags, a Lexus SUV, a long-haired foreign dog named Honey and a McMansion on Lake Washington. Available with or without tummy tuck and face lift. Workaholic Ken sold only in conjunction with the augmented version.

Sammamish Plateau Barbie

The modern day homemaker Barbie is available with Ford Windstar Minivan and matching gym outfit. She gets lost easily and has no full-time occupation. Traffic jamming cell phone sold separately.

Tacoma Barbie

This recently paroled Barbie comes with a 9mm handgun, a Ray Lewis knife,a Chevy with dark tinted windows, and a Meth Lab Kit. This model is only available after dark and must be paid for in cash (preferably small, untraceable bills) ...unless you are a cop, then we don't know what you are talking about.

Medina Barbie

This yuppie Barbie comes with your choice of BMW convertible or Hummer H2. Included are her own Starbucks cup, credit card and country club membership. Also available for this set are Shallow Ken and Private School Skipper. You won't be able to afford any of them.

Kent Barbie

This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, a NASCAR t-shirt and tweety bird tattoo on her shoulder. She has a six-pack of Bud light and a Hank Williams Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and kick mullet-haired Ken's butt when she is drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get a confederate flag bumper sticker absolutely free.

Carnation Barbie

This tobacco-chewing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased beer-gutted Ken out of Southside Barbie's house. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans, fake fingernails, and a see-through halter-top. Also available with a mobile home.

Fremont Barbie

This doll is made of actual tofu. She has long straight brown hair, arch-less feet, hairy armpits, no makeup and Birkenstocks with white socks. She prefers that you call her Willow . She does not want or need a Ken doll, but if you purchase two Fremont Barbies and the optional Subaru wagon, you get a rainbow flag bumper sticker for free.

SeaTac Barbie

This Barbie now comes with a stroller and infant doll. Optional accessories include a GED and bus pass. Gangsta Ken and his 1979 Caddy were available, but are now very difficult to find since the addition of the infant.

Capital Hill Barbie/Ken

This versatile doll can be easily converted from Barbie to Ken by simply adding or subtracting the multiple snap-on parts.


Seattle -- Don't Mess With Our Coffee

Reward is now $2,800 in latte stand robbery


SEATTLE -- The cash reward for information leading to the arrest of the man who robbed Gourmet Latte in the Ballard area last week has grown to $2,800, the espresso stand manager said Monday.

The original amount of $1,000 came from a Seattle family.

Manager Leah Thornton said the new amount includes contributions from customers and a radio station.

Gourmet Latte was robbed for the sixth time Thursday, upsetting neighbors and customers.


Water Causes Fire

This is why I don't clean my ceiling.

Sprinkler accident sets off Seattle electrical fire

A sprinkler accidentally set off by a resident sparked an electrical fire in a First Avenue apartment building Saturday morning, flooded businesses and apartments, and shut down a city block for several hours.

A resident on the 21st floor of one of the Harbor Steps buildings hit a sprinkler while cleaning, said Jim Fosse, deputy chief with the Seattle Fire Department. The sprinkler flooded that apartment and an adjacent electrical room, then gushed down several floors. The water shorted out another electrical panel on the sixth floor, setting off another sprinkler, Fosse said



Shatner-Palooza: Creepy Negotiator Guy

I love the Action-Sequence opening.

After watching this commercial, though, I feel like I need a shower.

As Long as They Get Rid of that Damn Caterpillar...

State lawmakers aim to cut payday lenders' interest rates
By Elliott Wilson

Seattle Times staff reporter

Now a legislative push to slash small-loan interest rates could put the payday lenders in their own financial jam. State House leaders say there's widespread support to crack down on the industry.

Two House bills, one for those in the military and another for everyone, would cap interest rates at 36 percent annually. The lenders currently can charge up to 390 percent annual rates.

"If it does pass, we are done," said Kevin McCarthy, owner of 22 payday lending stores called Check Masters. Lenders say they must charge rates higher than more traditional lenders such as banks because their loans are so small.


Congratulations to Miss Piggy of Memphis, TN

There's a difference between a living aardvark and a dead one? Huh. Learn something new everyday.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oldest aardvark in captivity dies in Tacoma


Kikuyu, the oldest aardvark in captivity, was euthanized Tuesday at Port Defiance Zoo & Aquarium after suffering from congestive heart failure.

Kikuyu, born Jan. 7, 1976, celebrated her 30th birthday this month. But her medications stopped working and her condition worsened, causing her breathing problems.

In November, Kikuyu surpassed the longevity record set by an aardvark at the zoo that lived to be 29. The records were confirmed by the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Kikuyu celebrated her last birthday by "slurping" a "cake" frosted with avocados and topped with mealworms.

The oldest living aardvark now is Miss Piggy, who recently turned 27 at the Memphis Zoo, zoo authorities reported.


Today is my Blogaversary.

I started Cromely's World on 2006-01-23. In that first post, I set what I though was an ambitious target of writing 5 out of every 7 days. That would be roughly 260 posts in a year.

This is post 371.

I admit it. Once I start a project, I need to do more. If something's worth doing, then it must be worth over doing to the point of absurdity. It's probably not healthy, but that's what happened here.

It's okay, though. One reason I started this project was because the only writing I had done in nearly a decade was work related. I write a lot of email. And my word processor of choice is PowerPoint. Again, that may not be healthy.

And I started it because Jon made it look so easy and I got tired of leaving non-editable comments on his blog.

But this forum gave me an opportunity to write about other things. It gave me a chance to exercise atrophying brain cells. In the past year, I've covered:

Space Cuisine
Last Season's Apprentice (This Season coming soon)
Credit Cards
Free Speech Issues
Human-Animal Hybrids
(Thanks, Mr. President)
Star Trek

Personal History
Homeless Cats
Johnny Cash

...and more.

And of course, there are my favorites -- the TSA, Play Cole, and Book Reviews.

And I owe a special thanks to William Shatner. He continues to impress, scare, apall, surpise and entertain me. Long live Shatner-Palooza.

Since starting the blog, I launched:

Cromely's MySpace Page
PlayCole's MySpace Page
Cromely's Flickr Page

I also own Cromely.net, Cromely.org, and Shatner-Palooza.com

Somehow, I managed to push the real Cromely family off the top of the Google "Cromely" Search results.

I've had 4,600+ visitors.

And it's been a blast. I look forward to another big year, and hope you still get some mild enjoyment from my random thoughts, rants, raves, and trivia.


Substitute Teacher Faces 40 Years in Prison for Porn Found on Classroom Computer

I found this at dvorak.com/blog.

Here is the original article.

Here is an OPED/Analysis.


Piecing together the evidence, we can get an idea as of what happened that day: Teacher Matthew Napp logged [Julie] Amero, a substitute for the day, into the classroom computer, and told her not to turn off the computer, as he was leaving for the day. Amero used the computer briefly, and then allowed students to access the computer.

The children went to an innocuous Web site which, unknown to them, loaded a small program (a "script") that showed pornographic popups. Amero immediately stepped in and shielded the children from the images, pushing them away or physically blocking them from seeing the images.

She reported the incident, telling other teachers about the problem, one of whom promised to get the school principal to help (no assistance ever came).

At the end of the day, she reported the problem to the assistant principal, who told her not to worry.


The computer was also found to be riddled with spyware -- programs that generate popups and degrade system stability.

Spyware may or may not have played a direct part in this incident, but the fact it was on the system creates additional damning evidence of the state of this computer system. What is extraordinary is the prosecution admitted there was no search made for spyware -- an incredible blunder akin to not checking for fingerprints at a crime scene.

It was only through the expert forensic examination by W. Herbert Horner it became clear the machine was infected.

Sadly, further critical and exonerating information was not allowed in court.

David Smith, the prosecutor, said Amero intended to access the porn sites because she had to "physically click" to "get to those sites."

That is so patently wrong it boggles the mind.

When a popup occurs on a computer, it will get shown as a visited Web site and no "physical click" is necessary. The graphic images in the popup also get stored on the computer.

Was this false statement by Smith why Amero got convicted? No, much of the case apparently came down to the prosecution's self-righteous statement "she should have turned off the computer," which is absurd.

Consider Amero was not computer literate (and not trained on the equipment), working that day as a substitute teacher under orders not to turn off the computer, and was arguably shocked and feeling somewhat helpless by the situation.

It's not hard to protect your computer. Run updated anitvirus (can be automatic). Keep your OS patched (can be automatic). Keep your browser patched (can be automatic). Use a firewall (If you have a wireless router, you probabaly already have a firewall -- not recurring action needed). Run a pop-up blocker or pop-up hostile browser (can be automatic).

It's a shame the school district didn't follow such basic principles and even more ridiculous that a prosecutor is more concerned with headlines than justice.


Cost Cutting at PDX

During wet weather on 2007-01-07, the Alaska Airlines (ALK) Menzies ground crew saves money on rain gear by wearing plastic bags over their heads.

Alaska Airlines' Menzies Ground Crew with heads in plastic bags.
This practice also reduces retirement and long term health care costs for Menzies and the airline.


The Latest Canon Scanner Accessory...


Bernie climbed into the box while I was setting up the Canon CanoScan 9950F scanner.

I took pictures of the box while I was unpacking it so I would know how to put everything back in the way it came. For more pictures of this process, in case you buy one of these and then want to put it back in the box, click here.


My Favorite Line in Wikipedia Today

From the Schoolhouse Rock! page:

In the mid-1980s, when Schoolhouse Rock left ABC, it was replaced by Puerto Rican teen band Menudo.

One step forward -- Dance for the Headline -- One step back

Earlier this evening I though the Bush administration had finally cracked the spine on and actually read their copy of the Constitution.

Yesterday, they announced the end of the illegal surveillance program. This is the eavesdropping program the adminsitration claims is used only on terrorists. They felt they had the righ to listen in on any phone call originating overseas without a warrant.

This is, of course, despite the fact that they could go to the FISA court and get a warrant in secret. They could even get a warrant the next day if an emergency required them to eavesdrop without a warrant.

But that wasn't good enough. The administration felt it was apparently not subject to judicial oversight.

Then they relented.

Bush gives ground on domestic eavesdropping program

By Dan Eggen and Peter Baker

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration said Wednesday it has agreed to disband a controversial warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, replacing it with a new effort to be overseen by a secret court.

The change — revealed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in a letter to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee — marks an abrupt reversal by the administration, which for more than a year has aggressively defended the legality of the NSA program and disputed court authority to oversee it.

Under the new plan, Gonzales said, the secret court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will authorize eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails to and from the United States when "there is probable cause to believe" that one of the targets is a member of al-Qaida or an associated terrorist group.

Such intercepts previously were authorized by intelligence officers without the involvement of any court or judge — prompting charges by privacy advocates, many Democrats and some Republicans that the program was illegal.


Bush hardly has surrendered his effort to broadly define the commander in chief's authority to wage war, saying last week that Congress has no business trying to stop him from sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq. In other ways, though, he has engaged in a series of strategic fallbacks intended to fend off escalating political and constitutional challenges.

"You can only be at odds with two-thirds of the people on a limited number of issues," said Jack Quinn, White House counsel under President Clinton.

The latest move, though, represents a stark shift for a president who made the NSA surveillance program one of his central battles last year. Bush vigorously attacked Democrats on the campaign trail for opposing his program, accusing them of not wanting to eavesdrop on terrorist telephone calls. Democrats bristled, saying their main concern was the unchecked power Bush was claiming to override traditional constitutional liberties.

I'm gald they took this step, but this doesn't mean the administration is doing a good thing. It means they may stop doing a bad thing. Someone who is hitting you does not deserve kudos just because they stop hitting you.

But just as soon as the administration announced the plan, they back tracked on it. Sure they'll use the FISA court, but they won't tell us -- or Congress -- anything about the program.

Wiretap court still under wraps; no details given on review process
By Richard B. Schmitt, Greg Miller and David G. Savage

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — A day after announcing that it had scrubbed a controversial warrantless-surveillance program, the Bush administration refused to provide details to Congress of how a new court-review process for eavesdropping on terror suspects would work, triggering a fresh round of complaints and suspicions from Democrats. At the same time, President Bush and other administration officials indicated that little had changed in the electronic eavesdropping program, originally launched after the Sept. 11 attacks, other than the fact that a court had finally blessed it.

Pressed during a hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the administration had changed the legal justification for the surveillance program but not its essential elements. Gonzales revealed Wednesday that the secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to supervise wiretaps approved orders authorizing the surveillance last week.

Disputing the suggestion that the warrantless program, run by the National Security Agency, had been "terminated," Gonzales said: "It took us a period of time to develop what we thought would be an ... argument that would be acceptable to the FISA court."

When asked to explain the legal argument, Gonzales refused. "I don't want to get into a public discussion about the deliberations and work of the court," he said.

With Gonzales and other officials mum about the program's details, Democrats refused to accept their assurances. It was not immediately clear how that stalemate might be resolved. The administration supplied classified briefings to several members of Congress, but lawmakers said they continued to have questions.

"I don't think there were any assurances today" that the White House is not still bypassing parts of FISA, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a telephone interview.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and the ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said the chief judge of the FISA court had promised them access to the court orders approving the surveillance. But Gonzales indicated at the hearing that the administration might attempt to block the move.

"Are you saying that you might object to the court giving us a decision that you publicly announced?" Leahy said. "Are we a little Alice in Wonderland here?"

The administration's decision appeared to leave Congress with few options. Legal experts said the main option Congress has left is to change the FISA law under which the court has acted, although lawmakers acknowledge they have too little information at this point to know whether that would be necessary.

So things may or may not be any better. The administration is saying there may be some oversight, but denying Congress it's oversight duty. We almost got some of our 4th Amendment rights back.

Now,if only we could get back the right to a trial by jury, and the ability for anyone arrested to appeal their arrest to a judge.

(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.


No Tunnel For Seattle

One of the ugliest parts of Seattle is the Alaska Way Viaduct. It is a monstrous 1950s era highway slicing downtown Seattle away from the waterfront. It also took serious damage in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake. Parts of it are sinking. The next major quake Seattle has will simply bring down the Viaduct, along with its traffic.

Since the quake, Seattle has been having a dialogue about what to do with in. Six year later, it looks like there is a solution.

So what do you do when presented with a chance to undo a terrible design flaw? What do you do when you have the opportunity to reconnect the city to a vibrant waterfront? Waht do you do when you have the opportunity to bury the traffic, improve mass transit, reduce noise, and improve porperty values/tax revenue?

Well, if you're Seattle, WA, you throw out the opportunity like a used tissue. And you decide to tear down the Viaduct and replace it with a new Viaduct.

We've done this before. We had 4 public votes in favor of the new Monorail. But just to be sure, we had a 5th to kill it. We could have had a fantastic transportation system that would have lasted decades and established Seattle as a 21 Century Class city.

Instead, because we are too cheap and afraid to do something cool, we squander. We cheap out on our infrastructure. We take the opportunity to really improve the city and treat it like a homeless person coming to the house of Thanksgiving. Sure we'll talk to them and maybe offer to give them some food, but really, the other people in the house are trying to sneak him out that back door, becuase it might not work out well.

Seattle will never be a world class city while it is busy cheaping out on its infrastructure and short changing the future.


The Radium Girls

I found this link on Fazed.net

It's a fascinating story of new technology, corporate irresponsibility (or what would now be considered felonious behavior), power run amuck, and the rise of workers' rights.

Undark and the Radium Girls

In 1902, twenty years prior to Grace's mysterious ailment, inventor William J. Hammer left Paris with a curious souvenir. The famous scientists Pierre and Marie Curie had provided him with some samples of their radium salt crystals. Radioactivity was somewhat new to science, so its properties and dangers were not well understood; but the radium's slight blue-green glow and natural warmth indicated that it was clearly a fascinating material. Hammer went on to combine his radium salt with glue and a compound called zinc sulfide which glowed in the presence of radiation. The result was glow-in-the-dark paint.



Movie Reviews 01: Happy Feet

If the idea of cute, animated, dancing penguins seems way too cute for you, skip this movie. If that appeals to you, you might like Happy Feet.

It's an okay film that has gotten mixed reviews. The graphics are amazing. The critters are life-like. And the toe-tapping soundtrack may have you dancing in the aisle.

Mumble, a baby Penguin is born without the ability to sing. He is the only Penguin that can't sing and has no place in Emperor Penguin society. And without a heartsong, he can't expect to find love. He can, however, dance, and that is unacceptable to the Penguin elders.

As with all such stories, Mumble heads out to find his own way in the wilderness.

There is a heavy handed environmental message and story line that I expected. There is also a story line that attacks the Christian Fundamentalists. There is a family-acceptance story line. And, of course, there is the inevitable love story.

The main failing of the movie is that it tries to do too much in 109 minutes.

The primary story line probably should have been the love story or the tale of acceptance. Instead, it was the environmental story line that drove the action and was resolved in an exceedingly cheese-y manor. The story line itself built slowly and well. It started with subtle hints early on, without being overly pedantic. And it drove the heroe's epic quest of self discovery.

But I think the writers built the story and got about two thirds of the way through writing it but then hit the wall. They thought, "Damn. How do we end this?" And then they struggled with the rest of the script.

The Christian fundamentalist story line was well written. It wasn't a major plot, but was well integrated. It had a bit of a Footloose feel to it.

By choosing to focus on the environmental story line, though, they cut short the questing hero story line and the love story. Mumble goes from task to task and does the "right" thing to help the people who rejected him. But we don't see him grow. We don't really see the personal stuggle as he goes from being a child to being a hero. Mumble is always sympathetic and likable, but as a character, he is shallow. The story line needed more time to develop, but probably got cut for time.

We worry about Mumble and the other Penguins. And we care about them because they are cute, heroic, and funny. They face death frequently and struggle to survive. They build the tension and suspense.

In the end, though, I don't feel for Mumble. I don't get to be part of his growth and personal transformation from misfit, downtrodden kid to great Penguin saviour.

Maybe I'm looking for too much from a kids' movie. It's an enjoyable film that's worth seeing on the big screen. And if you can handle the sweetness, it's a good way to spend an hour and a half.

Batman and Robin -- A Play Cole Podcast

Batman and Robin was a terrible movie. George Clooney still apologizes for it during his talk show appearances.

In this podcast, Jon Clarke, Mike Drucker, and I listen to Joel Schumacher's audio commentary as he attempts to explain this terrible movie. We get steadily angrier as we go through this cinematic atrocity.

After listening to this recording, be sure to listen to our other podcast where we listen to William Shatner explain Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the use of a scrim, also at http://www.playcole.com/MovieNetCasts.htm


Credit Card Arbitrage

Most people associate arbitrage with investment banks and millionaires who travel back and forth between Europe. Many people have no idea what it is -- it just sounds impressive and scary. It doesn't have to be that way, though.

Arbitrage is really about making money from other money. If I borrow money from you and pay you 5% interest, and I loan that money to someone else at 20%, I can make money. I earn a profit of 15%. That is based on the spread between what it cost me to borrow and what I earned in lending it.

It's how banks make most of their money.

Credit card companies are alwasy trying to lure new business and poach their competitors' customers. To do this, they offer ultra low interest rates.

If you're feeling adventurous, have a high credit score, and are dilligent about paying your bill, you may be able to profit from these agressive marketing tactics.

Welcome to the wonderful world of credit card arbitrage.

Arbitrage 01: Making Money From Credit Cards

Arbitrage 02: Pitfalls

Arbitrage 03: Credit Card Transfers Only

Arbitrage 04: On Line Savings Accounts

Arbitrage 05: My Process

Arbitrage 05: My Process

Today wraps up Arbitrage Week at Cromely's World.

In the past few days, I covered the concept of the arbitrage program, some of the common pitfalls, options for more restrictive programs, and savings options. So how do you mechanically execute the program?

Execution is highly personal. It depends on your own bill paying system. If you have a system that works, there may be no reason to change it. Do what works.

The system I use relies on my favorite video game – Microsoft Money.

When I get a balance transfer offer, I deposit the cash in my checking account.

Once the check clears, I go to the ING website and transfer the funds from my checking account to ING.

Next I schedule monthly automatic transfers from ING to my checking account for the minimum payment to the credit card. Now, every month for the next 6-12 months, the minimum payment for the credit card will show up in my checking account.

Then I schedule one more automatic transfer from ING to my checking account. I schedule this transfer for two weeks before the 0% rate expires. It is for the entire remaining balance of the balance transfer.

Now that all the transfers are in place at ING, I go to Money, my banking software. Because I use electronic banking through Money, I can schedule automatic payments months in advance. I set up the monthly minimum payment to the credit card company, and the final payment.

The entire process takes about 30 minutes, including the walk to the bank to make the initial deposit. With everything set up, I just have to check my statements each month to make sure there are no problems, which I would be doing anyway.

And I can sit back, and wait for the interest to come in.

Here is a sample timetable. The dates, offers, and amounts are made up.

2007-01-03: Receive 12 month 0%, $20,000 Balance Transfer offer. The minimum payment is due on the 20th of each month

2007-01-03: Deposit balance transfer check in checking account

2007-01-10: Verify that the funds are available in my checking account

Here are the transfers I would initiate from the ING site:


And here are the ones I initiate through MS Money:

2007-02-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-03-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-04-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-05-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-06-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-07-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-08-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-09-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-10-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-11-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-12-13$390CheckingCredit Card
2007-12-27$15,210CheckingCredit Card

And then I can earn about $75-$100 a month in interest. Not bad for a half hour’s work.

Good Luck!


Arbitrage 04: On Line Savings Accounts

Now that you have the cash, what do you do with it?

Put it in the safest investment vehicle you can find. You have a limited time to profit on the balance transfer. While the stock market is tempting because of the historical gains, it is not an appropriate investment for the arbitrage program. You have to at least preserve your principal for the next 6-12 months and the stock market is too volatile for that.

There may be some options among bonds, Treasury Bills, Money Market Funds, and such. There is still some risk, but I do not have the knowledge or experience with them to comment in detail.

One of the best solutions is to use online savings accounts.

Online banks offer competitive interest rates and expertise in web transactions because that is their business model. They don’t have to pay rent for branches or hire a bunch of tellers, managers, and guards to service your account

Some physical banks also offer online only savings accounts not available at branches. These accounts cost the banks less so they pay their customers higher interest.

In the past, I’ve used INGDirect.com (4.5%), EmigrantDirect.com (5.05%), and HSBCdirect.com (5.05%).

INGDirect.com pays the least interest, but it has the best website. It is easy to open and manage one or multiple accounts. If you want to open an account with them, send me your email address. If you open the account with $250 or more, ING will give you an extra $25 and give me $10.

I like ING because the account opening process was easy, and the website is intuitive. Once you have one account open (which can take several days for security purposes) you can easily open an additional account -- simply click a button.

It’s also easy to schedule recurring transfers or one time transfers a year in advance.

If you want to maximize your interest, though, HSBC is an excellent choice. It can take several weeks to open an account. And once you open an account, it can take a while to authorize your checking account for transfers in and out of the account. The security is impressive, but can also be a pain.

Once you have everything setup and can access the account, the interface is fine. The options for creating transfers between accounts work well, though they aren’t as intuitive as ING.

If you’ve used HSBC in the past and didn’t like it, you may want to take another look. They made a bunch of changes in the past year and the website is a lot better.

A unique HSBC feature is the ATM card. Unlike ING or Emigrant, they send you an ATM card so you can access your cash from any ATM. It may not be a good idea to use that at all for the arbitrage program, but it’s nice to know you can get cash in an emergency. Like if you need bail money.

Emigrant is a nice solution, too, but there’s not much to recommend it over ING or HSBC. I’ve used it in the past, and had no problems, but the interface on both ING and HSBC is nicer. It’s easier to open an account at Emigrant than it is at HSBC, and, since there’s no minimum balance, it doesn’t hurt to have an account. I just don’t find them all that compelling.

There are dozens of other high-interest savings accounts out there, but these are three of the biggest. Check them out on your own and see what you like. If you decide to open and ING account, email me.

Do your research and form your own opinion. After all, it’s your money.


Arbitrage 03: Credit Card Transfers Only

To make the arbitrage program work, you have to get the credit card’s cash into your account. Usually when the credit card companies extend a 0% offer, they include “checks” that you can use to deposit the funds in your account.

Sometimes, however, they don’t. Instead, they ask you fill out a form with the account number of the credit card you want to transfer the balance from. Or sometimes the “check” they send doesn’t qualify for the 0% offer.

So how do you get around this obstacle?

First, you can call the company that offered the 0% transfer and ask if the will send those funds to your checking or savings account.

If that doesn't work, you can use another credit card.

If the card with the balance transfer offer is card 1, then you can use card 2 (if it has a $0 balance) for the transfer. With a credit limit of $30,000 on card 1, you can do the arbitrage program for $29,500.

Do a transfer from card 2 to card 1 for $29,500 by putting the account number for card 2 on the offer form from card 1. Once the balance transfer goes through, you will owe card 1 $29,500 (plus the balance transfer fee). Card 2 will now owe you $29,500.

Call up customer service on card 2 and ask them to so send you a check for your “overpayment.” Once they send you that check, deposit it into your savings account and proceed as normal.

There is more risk involved here. You may lose a month while card two process the large payment, and then processes your refund. And since there are more players involved, there are more opportunities for mistakes.


Arbitrage 02: Pitfalls

Credit Card companies offer Balance Transfers because they want to make money. It’s that simple. They don’t expect you to take their money and stick it in a bank. There are two main ways they can make money on this program.

The first is if you actually transfer the balance from another credit card. They give you 6 or 12 months at no interest with expectation that you will not pay it all off in that time. Once the program expires, your interest rate spikes.

The second way is if you make a mistake and charge something to the credit card you are carrying the 0% offer on. Or if you miss a payment and they spike your interest.

When you follow the arbitrage program, you are costing them money. There’s nothing wrong, immoral, or illegal about it. They are taking a gamble. If they win, you pay lots of interest. If you win, you use their money for free for a period of time, earn lots of interest and then pay it all back.

So you are both gambling. To win, you need to avoid some common pitfalls.

  • New Purchases

    Usually, the 0% offer does not apply to purchases. You should only do the arbitrage program with a credit card you already have a $0 balance on.

    When you make a credit card payment, the company will (usually) apply the payment to balances with a lower interest rate first.

    For example, Joe has a $30,000 credit limit on his visa. He spends $2,000 on clothes for whatever reason. The credit card has a 12% interest rate. Every payment he makes on that card means he will pay less interest the following month, because the balance is declining.

    If Joe now gets a 0% balance transfer offer, he might take $27,500 on it. That leaves him with two balances on the card – one for $2,000 at the purchase rate, and another for $27,500 at the balance transfer rate.

    Unlike in the first scenario, Joe will pay more interest each month because all payments he makes will go to the $27,500 balance, and none to the $2,000 balance. Additionally, since the purchase balance is not going down, but is instead accruing interest, that balance may actually go up.

    If you think you might need the card for purchases, the arbitrage program may not be for you.

  • Universal Default

    Some credit card companies include this clause in their agreement with you; others don’t. It means if you make a late payment to any creditor, your 0% BT can go away and they’ll raise your interest to (in some cases) more than 30%.

    If there’s a chance you will be subjected to the Universal Default, the arbitrage program may not be for you.

  • Credit Score

    Taking out a large Balance Transfer will lower your credit score. Exactly how much it will affect your FICO score is anybody’s guess. But your credit score affects mortgage rates, car loans, employment opportunities, and insurance rates.

    If you anticipate the sort of major life change that requires the highest FICO possible, the arbitrage program may not be for you.

  • Discipline

    • Paperwork

      The arbitrage program doesn’t require constant attention, but you do need to closely track your bills and credit card statements. You also need to monitor your checking and savings accounts to make sure all monthly transfers are happening correctly and on time.

      If you don’t balance your checkbook, or keep close watch on your statements and other paperwork, the arbitrage program may not be for you.

    • Bill Paying

      I mentioned it before, but having the discipline to pay the minimum on the monthly 0% BT bill on time is critical. It’s also important to pay all your other bills on time during the program to make sure the Universal Default doesn’t kick in.

      If you aren’t absolutely sure you can meet all your monthly obligations, the arbitrage program may not be for you.

    • Chunk of Cash

      While you are doing this program you may have a $40,000 balance in a savings account from your 0% Balance Transfer. The whole point of the program is the give that money back after 6 – 12 months. It has to be there.

      If you (and others with account access) do not have the discipline to leave the cash there, the arbitrage program may not be for you.

  • Random Errors

    Things happen. Credit card numbers get compromised. Billing errors pop up occasionally. Unexpected issues can derail the plan.

    If you are not comfortable handling these issues, the arbitrage program may not be for you.

For those that are aware of the risks, and comfortable managing them, the arbitrage program can be a great gamble. But beware of the pitfalls and details. And you just may beat the house.

Arbitrage 01: Making Money From Credit Cards

Please note -- Posts in my Arbitrage series describe one way a person can profit from differences in interest rates. I do not guarantee that anyone will be successful doing it. I am not a financial advisor. I'm merely a hobbiest. As with any program, there are risks that you need to evaluate for yourself. Things can go wrong. You could lose money. If you try this and it doesn't work out for you, I am not responsible. There may even be an error or two in these posts that I haven't caught yet. In short, please don't sue me.

Credit Card companies constantly poach one another's business with Balance Transfer offers. If you have a credit card, or an address, or maybe once smelled a credit card, you get these offers in the mail.

If the Balance Transfer is for 0%, you can make some money with it.

When I get a 0% Balance Transfer Offer on a credit card, I take it. I love it when the credit card company let's me play with their money for free. I stick it in a savings account and make more than 4% interest on their cash. In two years, I made $2300 using this strategy.

How to make Money from Credit Card Offers:

  1. Receive a Balance Transfer offer for 0%.
  2. Check the fee. They usually have a Balance Transfer fee of 3%, with a maximum fee of $75-$90. If there is no maximum fee (read the fine print) shred the offer, and return to your normal viewing.
  3. Check your outstanding balance on the card. If it's anything other than $0, shred the offer and return to your normal viewing.
  4. Check your credit limit on that card. If it's too low call the credit card company and ask them to raise your limit. How low is too low? That's up to you, but I wouldn't take the offer unless I have at least an $8,000 credit line on the card. If they won't raise your limit, or you don't want to ask them to, shred the offer and return to you normal viewing.
  5. Check your credit limit on the card. If you have a large credit line already, you may want to see if they can raise it event more.
  6. Check the Balance Transfer check to make sure you still get the 0% rate if you deposit it in your checking account. If not, read a future post on funneling the cash through another account. Or shred the offer and return to your regular viewing.
  7. Check the expiration of the Balance Transfer offer. Call the company if you aren't certain. This is very important.
  8. Deposit nearly your entire credit line in your checking account. Leave $100-$500 of available credit on the card in case something weird happens.
  9. Once your deposit clears, transfer the money to a high interest savings account. Ingdirect, HSBCDirect and EmmigrantDirect are all great choices.
  10. Schedule a monthly transfer for the minimum payment (usually 2-3% of the balance) from the online savings account to your checking account.

  11. Make the minimum payment to your credit card one week before the due date.
  13. Pay all of your other bills on time. This is critical. This is one of the potential pitfalls.
  14. Two weeks before the offer expires, transfer the remaining amount from your savings account to your checking account.
  15. Make sure the payment arrives at the credit card company one week before the program expires.

Congratulations, you have now made several hundred dollars in interest that is now earning even more interest in your savings account and you owe the credit card nothing.



Things you don't want to hear one flight attendant say to another

"Can you hand me the bio-hazard clean up kit?"

I don't know what happened back in coach, but I'm happy with my ignorance.


Shatner-Palooza: Home Videos

William Shater just posted this on one of his MySpace announcements. This is his behind-the-scenes take on the Conan show.

This and more videos are available on Bill's own ShatnerVision channel. No, really.

If you would like to be William Shatner's friend, you can add him here.

Blog Lawsuit in DC

Blog sex scandal trial could spank protagonists

By Matt Apuzzo
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – When Robert Steinbuch discovered his girlfriend had discussed intimate details about their sex life in her online diary, the Capitol Hill staffer didn’t just get mad. He got a lawyer.


I'd just like to say that everyone I have ever met is a wonderful human being who has never done anything wrong or negative.


A Correction

Obviously, I wasn't speaking Ex Cathedra yesterday.

My video of the 1968 RFK Funeral is not, in fact, of the 1968 Funeral. A commenter on the YouTube pointed out that it was more likely to be President Johnson's funeral than Attorney General Kennedy's funeral.

So I did some more research.

The first step was to check with my mother who still had the original slides I scanned to make this video. Over the past few weeks, I scanned about 450 slides from the 60s and early 70s. When the photo labs developed most of them, they put the developing date on the slide mount. Unfortunately, these were among the few slides that had no date.

So I looked into which state funerals the country conducted in that general time period. President Ford's recent passing made it somewhat challenging because of the sudden increase in data and commentary on state funerals over the past couple of days.

Because of how prominently President Nixon is featured, and since I don't think my parents had a 35mm camera in November of 1963, I quickly eliminated President Kennedy. That left three presidents who died in the general time period: President Truman, President Eisenhower, and President Johnson.

President Truman had a state funeral, but it wasn't in Washington. It was in Independence, MO. And it was scaled down from original plans.

Originally, he had approved plans by the U.S. Army for an elaborate State funeral. "A damn fine show. I just hate that I'm not going to be around to see it." His widow, however, insisted on a quick and simple ceremony.

So it wasn't his.

Eisenhower had a state funeral late March, 1969. Johnson's was in late January, 1973. So I went back to the pictures.

January in Washington is often snow filled and very cold. March can be blustery, but usually is not as bad.

Evidence from the pictures indicates there are no leaves on the trees, which makes January seem more likely. Since the annual Cherry Blossom Festival begins at the end of March, it is likely there would have been leaves on trees had this been a March Funeral.

President Nixon at President Johnson's (LBJ's)funeral

In this image, we see Nixon, assorted dignitaries, and what appears to be Vice President Agnew standing outside without coats. After President Harrison's death, I would think it would be standard practice for a President to wear a coat if it's cold.

I would also question the wisdom of having Agnew standing next to Nixon at at funeral, given the events of 1963. But that may not be Agnew.

Additionally, there is no snow on the ground. It looked more likely that this was a March funeral.
But then I checked known images from media, Google, presidential libraries, etc. And for both Johnson's and Eisenhower's funerals, there is no snow on the ground.

A check of the historical weather data indicates that on 1973-01-23 the high was 55 degrees and the low was only 42 degrees in Washington, DC.

During Eisenhower's funeral, however, the high was 44 and the low was 32.

So based on the foliage and the way people were dressed, Johnson's funeral seemed the more likely candidate.

Then I found a reference on Wikipedia about how Johnson's casket arrived at, and left from, the Capitol.

Normal procedure for a state funeral is for the casket to arrive and depart from the Center East stairs at the Capitol. In fact, the US Army describes this procedure in the 134 page "State, Official, and Special Military Funerals" manual.

There have been 2 exceptions in recent memory. Most recently, they used the Senate steps for President Ford's funeral because of his long and illustrious career in the US Senate.

And the other exception was Johnson. It wasn't because of his career in the Senate, but rather because of Nixon's second inauguration on 1973-01-20. The stands and stage were still set up on the Capitol's east center steps, so they were blocked.

So I went back to the pictures. Here is the best shot of the steps.

Senate Steps during President Johnson's (LBJ's) State Funeral

Unfortunately, without going to DC, I had to figure out which part of the Capitol this is. Detailed images of the Capitol are harder to find thanI expected, but here is one from the Architect of the Captitol.

East Side US Capitol Building

The Senate wing is on the right of the image.

Here is a tighter image.

US Capitol Senate Steps. Image form flick.com, user Sparky05

Image from Flickr.com, user Sparky05

In this shot, you see more of the center stairs.

US Capitol East Center Steps. Image from Flickr.com, user 0_ryl
Image from Flickr.com, user O_Rly

Unfortunately, they look a lot a like. The key was to look at the top of the original photo. There's nothing above the main part of the building. Since you can't see the dome in it, but can see the sky, it is likely this is the Senate steps. And if it's the Senate steps, it must be Johnson.

Finally, look on top of the TV in this image.

President Johnson's State Funeral

I'm pretty sure that's a Christmas card. Now, my family may like to leave the Christmas decorations up for awhile, but I think March would be really pushing it. This must be in January.
So now, I am confident these images and the video actually depict the state funeral for President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

I hope.


1968 VCR


Most people think the VCR was a creation of the late 70s. If you tried really hard, though, you could come up with one in 1968.

Of course the 1968 VCR didn't really have much video. And it wasn't casette based. And I suppose you couldn't really call it a recorder.

So how did the 1968 VCR work? You took the 35mm camera, stood in front of the TV, and snapped away.

Here is the resulting video my parents shot in 1968. It features Robert F Kennedy's (RFK's) funeral.


The Mad Rush Online Continues...

...As my mother becomes the latest person I know to launch a blog.

She is often on the cutting edge of technology among her friends and neighbors, and you can now catch her latest thoughts at expatnyc.blogspot.com.

Click on over and welcome her to the blogosphere.


4,768 Pages

I got a lot of books for Christmas. Anyone who knows me could probably guess that books dominated my Christmas list, so I'm quite pleased. I have 4,768 more pages to read this year.

It's a rather eclectic list, but with a decidedly geeky streak running through it.

Ray Bradbury -- Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury -- Something Wicked this Way Comes
Ray Bradbury -- Dandelion Wine
Sarah Vowell -- Take the Cannoli
Neal Stephenson -- Quicksilver
Neal Stephenson -- The Confusion
Steven Levy -- The Perfect Thing
Melvin Bragg -- The Adventure of English
Max Barry -- Company
Steve Wozniak -- iWoz
Donald Trump & Robert Kiyosaki -- Why We Want you to be Rich
Haruki Murakami -- Blind Willow, Sleeping Willow
Chris Anderson -- The Long Tail

Combine that with the Meatloaf CD, Devo DVD, and portable Sudoku, and I've got a busy couple of months ahead of me.

I get to dive into these 4,768 pages just as soon as I finish reading about libraries. And, no, libraries aren't boring.

Don't not do Stuff you Enjoy for Stupid Reasons

I had that quote taped up on my wall in Boise and Mountlake Terrace. I guess I shouldn't call it a quote since I wrote it out myself, but arrogance requires it.

It's a variation on the Carpe Diem theme.

And I think it's going to make a good guidepost for the coming year. Perhaps not quite a resolution, but a reminder to not let fear stop me from doing the things I really want to do.