My notes as I explore various business and financial topics

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Excellent Resource for Microsoft Products

Check out Microsoft's site map; a great reference for the myriad array of Microsoft products. This is an invaluable tool for small business owners or home business workers and employees tasked with providing their own support.  Thanks to Deb Shinder of  Windows 7 News!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NASA Credit Union offers $0 down mortgage loans in the D.C. area

NASA Federal Credit Union is offering first time home buyers in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. area  a $0 down loan for loans up to $650,000 in a program called High Loan to Value Mortgage. This program also offers refinance of a primary residence. Loans up to $850,000 are also available with just 5% down. No mortgage insurance is required under these programs. Offers are available for non credit union members, but only borrowers with outstanding credit scores will qualify.  Check their website for additional programs.

source: Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Google Business Photo

One day I took my son to a toy train store so he could pick out his favorite trains. We had discovered the store from a web search and was surprised to learn that it was only couple of blocks away from Grandma's.  I had passed by it a hundred times, but had never noticed it before because it was nestled among warehouses and other industrial shops -- not a place I would expect to find a train store. We walked in and were astonished and the rows of toy trains of all sizes and all the train accessories that lined the shelves.

This scenario perfectly illustrates what Google Business Photo hoping to accomplish. You may never know what hidden gems are behind the endless store fronts that you see.   Google is sending out photographers out to  restaurants, hotels, retail shops and other highly searched business to take photographs of their interiors.  These photos will be featured on the business's place page, offering customers a virtual tour of the business.  Owners can also upload their own photos.

Google Business Photo is currently targeting Orange County, Phoenix, the Bay Area, San Antonio, and St. Petersburg, as well as other locations worldwide.  Check their website for a complete list.
Interested business can apply to Google Business Photo.

Check out their video demonstration.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Zuca, the amazing luggage - with a seat!

Zuca Bag Calypso- Brown Frame
To be honest, the Zuca brand luggage threw me off a bit when I first saw it.  The aluminum frame clashed with the body of the luggage, looking as if it was added in as an after thought.  And the much touted built-in seating didn't look at all comfortable.  Besides, when are you ever going to need to sit while toting  luggage around?  Perhaps once while waiting to check in?  Then once more waiting in the security line?  Granted, I don't travel much, but I do remember plenty of vacant seats at the airport concourses that I've been in.

Still, the luggage's uniqueness continued to pique my interest.  I love the inserts, which means that you only need to pack all of your clothes once.  Upon arriving at your destination, simply take out the inserts and place them in the draw, no unpacking required.  Customers love the Zuca's toughness, strong enough to sit on; it's giant wheels moving it smoothly and silently along; and it's compact size (19" x 13" x 10"),  which allows it to fit neatly into overhead compartment and easily roll down narrow aircraft aisles.

The Zuca's compact size means that it's not the best bag for over-packers.  Owner's reviews include claims that there's plenty of room for suits, shoes and outfits for the trip, while other's aren't satisfied with its capacity, claiming that the inserts are useless and takes valuable space.  Indeed, while watching the video below, I find it hard to imagine fitting all the clothes shown into the Zuca.

Also, starting at $285, the price is a bit steep.  You can get this 5-piece Samsonite luggage set for almost half the price.  Still, for frequent traveler, the Zuca luggage, with it's built-in seat and organization system, could be a perfect fit.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Find the Best Prices (including tax and shipping) with Google Product Search

ViewSonic VFM1024W-11 10-Inch Digital Media Frame -Features Music, Video and Photos with High Resolution 1024x600 (Cherry wood)

Use Google Product Search to find the best prices, including tax and shipping.  For example, I searched for the Viewsonic 10 inch digital photo frame.  The results show that Office Depot has the best final price of $64.95 for a brand new unit.  I also like and Amazon.  They used to be very competitive, but these days, many items ordered from their site are shipped by a third party vendor and shipping fees could really spike the price.  This is where Google Product Search comes in handy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How many feet are in a mile? Quickly now!

There are 5280 feet in a mile. How about, how many inches are there in 18 feet? The answer is 216 inches.  I just read an article on "Why America Should Use the Metric System" by Deborah-Diane in which the author lists several reasons on why America should switch to the metric system.  Its factor of ten makes the metric system more intuitive to learn and work with.  Plus, just about every country in the world, except for the United States, uses it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Giants Google and Facebook join the group discount coupon market

Ever since Groupon turned down their 6 billion dollar acquisition offer, we were wondering what Google's next move would be.  It was inevitable that they would enter the market, either by buying a major Groupon competitor, such as LivingSocial or by starting their own service, now in beta as Google Offers.  Now Facebook as jumped in with Facebook Deals, which offer discount coupons in five cities (San Francisco, Austin, Dallas, Atlanta and San Diego).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Closing my 19 year old Chase, Wamu, Great Western bank account

Well it looks like I will be closing my 19 year old Chase, Wamu, Great Western checking account. Although I tried to meet their requirements and increased my direct deposit amount to their $500 or more requirement, I was still being charged a $10 a month fee.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Unites States is one of the richest countries in the world . . .

Wait a minute . . . according to the CIA Word Factbook, with an account balance of -561 trillion dollars, there are 191 countries richer than us :(

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Does Bank of America Suck so Bad?

Ever since I started blogging about business and banking, BofA has consistently come up as the bank that people hate the most.  I've always wondered why?  I've had free checking with BofA for eight months now (and rec'd $75 bonus to open it) and enjoy their free Museum perk.  A quick search reveals that many customers are annoyed at their excessive fees

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

10 Unique Business Card Holders

I'm always looking for unique business card holders. Sadly, unique ones are rare and hard to find. Here are ten that I think are the most unique.

1. Atlas Holding up the Card

2. Hand Me a Card!

3. The Ark of Covenant Card Holder! I want one!!!

Friday, March 18, 2011

How to Unstick a Pen

Does your ball point pen always stick at the most inconvenient time? And, just as often, it's a fairly new pen with plenty of ink.You sit there scribbling madly on a catalog or business card trying to get the stupid thing to write, half the time, without any luck.

Try this instead - try writing on the sole of your shoes. If you're wearing shoes with rubbery soles, the friction will often be enough to unstick the pen

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Banks Offering Free Checking (and $100 bonus!)

The demise of free checking has been percolating ever since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010.  Wells Fargo was one of the first banks to announce the end of free checking for new customers.  Chase soon followed suit.  Now, Bank of America has also joined in announcing that it's eliminating it, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I lost my free checking after 19 years of loyalty

I first opened my account in 1992.  At that time, the bank was called Great Western.  They were acquired by Washington Mutual in 1997.  Wamu of course succumbed to the 2008 financial meltdown and was engulfed by Chase.   I can avoid this fee by having a direct deposit of at least $500 a month, which I did. But I had to cancel other accounts to implement this.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Quote of the Day: Nothing was useful which was not honest - Benjamin Franklin

As a boy, Franklin led a group of friends in building a wharf with stones that tey gathered from a nearby construction site. When the workmen discovered the missing stones, they tracked down the culprits, who were subsequently punished by their fathers.

Franklin later wrote, "We were discovered. Several of us were corrected by our fathers, and, though I pleaded the usefulness of the work, mine convinced me that
nothing was useful which was not honest."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Declutter Your Life. Trade objects for Memories

Yesterday, FrugalDad posted about obsessive hoarders and clutter--the kind where piles of piles and piles of useless stuff fills up a room or displaces living spaces. A-lot of readers commented how much of a universal problem it is. Some of  our observations on why people hoard things are:
  • some disasterous event occurred - a war or hurricane - where they lost everything and are now obsessed with saving things just in case they need it one day.
  • the ingrain belief that our net worth was somehow increased with more stuff we had. Quantity over quality. We assign way too much valley to the clutter.
The consensus is that obsessive clutter adds more stress as you worry about storing and safeguarding more and more things, spend more money on their upkeep and stress out when you can't find something you need.  It acts as an obstacle course for the mind.  Getting rid of things, makes your life simpler and more enjoyable.

My take on this--try to exchange clutter for memories.  Hold a garage sale and sell your stuff.  SurvivalWoman has an excellent strategy--set a goal, such as selling, giving or donating five things a week.  Now try to maintain it for four weeks in a roll.  When you reach your goal, reward yourself with a short trip or dinner at a favor restaurant hanging out with friends.  The key is to accumalate memories, not objects.

At the end of your life, about the only thing that you can keep, perhaps the only thing that you can take with you are your memories.  In the end, that's all that matters.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pay What You Want Restaurants

I drove down a main street in my town and tried to imagine just how much food there was on this stretch of road. How many restaurants and fast food eateries lined the streets? How much food were stored in pantries and freezers of all those restaurants? We have such so much food in the U.S., it's hard to imagine that people are still going hungry.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Stock up on Free Supplies at Staples

Home Offices! Staples has a bunch of FREE items that you can stock up on, including:

  • Free pens
  • Free paperclips
  • Free envelopes
  • Free photo paper

I also like their $1 Hammermil printer paper.  Sales starts Sunday 3/6 till Wednesday 3/9.  Check out other Staples sale items.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Award Winning Coffee, Great Price, available at Target

When dining at an upscale hotel or restaurant, I order coffee every chance I get. I'm always amazed at how much better it tastes compared to what I normally drink. Now, it seems that we can brew our own fabulous blend by picking up the award winning coffee such as the Archer House or Guatemalan coffee brand.

 Look for the Cup of Excellence sticker. One caveat - Target doesn't provide an optimum shelf life and most of the coffees here do not have a roast date. So, the quicker you pick up a bag or tin, the fresher and tastier the coffe.

Collaterization of Debt Around since 1999???

I stumbled across a paper on Japan's Lost Decade banking crash that proposed utilizing securitization and sales of bad debt to remove them from a bank's balance sheets.  Sound familiar?
The paper describes Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) and mezzinine tranches methods to implement the scheme.

I don't know what is more alarming: the fact that the paper refers to CLOs as a feasible scheme or the fact that these concepts were already known back in 1999!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The ECRI - Watching Your Financial Crystal Ball

Often, while trying to learn more about investing or about business strategy, I come across a technical analysis that goes completely over my head. The trend in ECRI is just one of many. Here is my summary of the ECRI.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Google Translate Speaks and Spells Other Languages

My mom took an epic road trip to Alaska and wrote a book about it . . . in her native tongue. I know that one day, I'll want to read it and so I'm trying to re-learn the language.   Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time grasping it despite being a former native speaker.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kiva Robots of the Future Roam Zappos, Staples Warehouse Today!

The mobile robot glides through a gloomy warehouse, a soft hum emanating from its motor, its status lights -- the brightest illumination in the room.  With unerring precision, it locates its target: a shelf filled with materials requested for delivery to a human manned workstation.  The bot quickly scoots under the shelf and starts rapidly turning in place, as a screw-like jack lifts the entire shelf up an inch or two. Its cargo secured, the bot efficiently hauls off the entire shelf to the waiting human.

The mobile bot is part of the Kiva Mobile Fulfillment Center or MFC.  The Kiva system is a revolutionary advancement in warehouse management and distribution.  Its customers include Zappos, Staples, Walgreens and the Gap.

The Kiva Mobile Fulfillment Center is all about efficiency.  Some highlights

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Need a Quick Photo Retouch or Editing? Only $5

Small Business Owners - need a quick edit or touch up on a product picture?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Setting Expectations - a Valuable Lesson Learned

I recently had a business deal fall through.  The buyer insisted that he was serious about the transaction and had asked me to extend my deadline . . . twice. Then, as we approached the last cutoff, he canceled on me, doing the complete opposite of what he had promised in his last email.  Here is an exerpt of his last message.

" . . . I am swamped for the next 2 weeks and then after that I can start with this. I will put you down if you will give me this extension and it will happen, i won't be flaky."

Needless to say, I was pretty pissed when he canceled after two months of waiting.

At least, I would have been--if not for these three valuable lessons.

Lesson 1 - I own a valuable but underdeveloped asset that people would pay money for. I need to get off my butt and get to work on it.

Lesson 2 - I successfully managed my expectations. I never considered the deal complete until I saw the cash in my account.  You've heard this one before - "don't count your chickens until they've hatched."

Lesson 3 - The only thing that you can control is your attitude and your actions.  I could have gotten all pissed off but that wouldn't have changed anything. It wouldn't have contributed to my success and would have alienated a potential/future business contact.

This event proved to be an extremely valuable experience--one of the best lessons I've had. I started working on my neglected account again. I never considered the deal closed despite reassurances from the buyer. And, I carefully considered lesson number 3 and acted upon them accordingly.

Lesson 3 is the most valuable one of all. I had done some homework and discovered that the buyer was in business with his family and I knew that he would need a consensus to complete the deal.  So, when the bad news came, it didn't surprise me.  If I hadn't known about the buyer's background, I probably would have been pissed with him for backing out at the last moment.

But, think about this for a moment.  Even if I had been intentionally deceived, what would getting upset have accomplish? 

Lesson 3 - the only thing that you can control is your attitude and your actions.

Instead, I got back to work.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You're Getting Paid for What? (a summary on carbon credits)

I worked for a financial leasing company once and was quite amused when they put together various financial packages and referred to them as their "product".

And then I read about carbon credits.  Wow!  Name one other item where you create a product out of nothing and then sell it for a 450% markup.

Here is a quick summary of how Carbon Credits works.

A pig farm in the Philippines normally dumps  manure into ponds, where they decompose, releasing massive amounts of methane (a big contributor of greenhouse gases).

Technology exists to cap the ponds and capture the methane, which can be used to generate energy. It costs $200,000 for the equipment, though.

Certified Emissions Reductions or CERs are created by preventing 1 ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.  Methane gas, a far larger contributor of green house gases, generates 23 CERs, also known as carbon credits

A broker buys the carbon credits generated by the pig farm at $4 each.  They sell these credits to European banks for $18 each.

The banks can either hold onto the carbon credits as investments, betting that the market value for these will increase, as companies hit their emmission quotas and compete to purchase more carbon credits to offset them.  Or, they can sell them to clients, such as power companies.

For a more detailed view, read more at the source below.

Source: Fortune Magaze 04/28/2008

Friday, February 11, 2011

Italics - Proper Grammer for Business Writing

Those confounded italics. I can never remember how to use them properly--particularly, am I suppose to use them when mentioning titles of books, articles, etc?

Since I often cited books as my source in this blog, I'm composing this as a quick reference. Use italics in the following scenarios:

To set forth titles of separately published works--plays, books, symphonies, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, and similar
  • Romeo and Juliet (play)
  • Gone with the Wind (novel)
  • Aida (opera)
  • The Dip (ebook/newsletter)
  • The New York Times (newspaper)

To emphasize or contrast
  • consider your present acts, not your past

To set forth names of ships or airplanes
  • Airforce One
  • The Titanic
  • The Spirit of St. Louis

To set forth words in a foreign language
  • she cried out, "C'est defender!" ("it is forbidden")
Note: if the word has become common in usage, then italics are not necessary, e.g.
  • Latin: bona fide, et cetera
  • French: encore, cafe, ensemble
  • German: delicatessen

To indicate a word, letter, or number
  • dot your i's and cross your t's
 Some sources also cite that italicized words should also be bolded.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Do You Believe . . . in Disney?

Do you believe that the economy will continue to grow this year? Do you believe that the stock market will reach new highs? If so, then maybe you should buy Disney stock. Why?

Here is a chart of Disney stock price. Note the upward trend.

Now, here is a chart of the Dow! Amazing how in sync the two are?!! All signs indicate that the stock market will continue to gain in 2011. If this pattern holds, Disney stock should gain as well.

 Oh, btw, the pattern holds up in the 5 year chart as well!

Does anyone know of any other stocks that track the market this closely? If so, please let me know in the comments!

Disclaimer: these are just my personal observations.  When it comes to picking stocks, I have no idea what I'm doing.  If you're going to invest, you need to do your own research and find out what's best for you!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ISM Manufacturing Index Moves Upward, Points to Recovery

The topic of the Zacks newsletter in my inbox was describing some obscure graph called the ISM Manufacturing index.

Normally, I would have written it off as technical finance speak that was way over my head and to be ignored. However, I had just read Professor Peter Navarro's book "Always a Winner" in which he describes the ISM index as one of the key indicators that accurately forcasts economic health.

Luckily, this extremely volatile market provides an excellent time to study these indicators, as the sharp trends helps emphasizes the patterns.

The ISM Manufacturing index is issued by, Arizona based, Institute of Supply Management. It gives overall indications of the health of the business sector based upon gauges in five main criteria

   1. Production levels

   2. New orders placed

   3. Inventory Levels

   4. Supplier deliveries

   5. Employment environment

You can see the ISM plunge to 34 points in Jan 2009. Anything under 50 signals an economic slowdown in business and manufacturing. 50 is considered neutral.

Since then, the index has been steadily climbing. The ISM climbing over 50 signals an expansion in business production. The ISM is suppose to lead actual real-time output and production by three months.

More info on the ISM Manufacuring Index here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Home Sales Lag - possible Monkey Wrench in Economic Recovery?

As one economic indicator after another trend upwards, one sector in our recovery is lagging.

Corporate profits are increasing relentlessly and the stock market reached new two year highs. But home sales are forecast to decline in 2011, according to HouseHunt Inc., a firm that tracks home sales statistics through its members-agents across the country.  HouseHunt's data, cites some of the following reasons for the struggle in home sales:

  • banks accelerating foreclosures this year, increasing supply of homes on the market
  • rising interests rates from the economic recovery pushing up affordability
  • tougher financing criteria reducing the number of buyers

These conditions will result  in maintaining the trend in declining home prices. Although real estate is just one leg of the economic picture, it is a significant one.

An exception to this are markets in St. Augustine, FL, Vail, CO, Carmel, IN, Eagle Point, OR, and Saratoga, CA, all of which have seen an increase of over 10% in home prices.