Monday, April 30, 2007

Social Networks Can be Useful

As much as people waste time on things like Facebook, they serve a legitimate purpose. There are literally hundreds of people that I am connected to on there from high school, a job, college, or whatever, whom I would never hear from or be able to contact without having that connection.

I was reminded of this when I recently got an invitation to join a network that is growing in South America. One of my friends from my semester in Chile, Kalbuco, added me. I had been emailing him repeatedly on his old email address. Later I found out he stopped using that one, and we started catching up (hopefully I'll get down to his city at some point this year). Then he had added Fernando (also in the same link as above) who then added me. I was just in Montevideo (where Fernando lives), and he too didn't use the old email address I had so we couldn't get together.

Anyway these things are useful. Don't dismiss them as child's play.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'm an Idiot, Part 2

(Hopefully last in a series)

Now I know why the upper classes don't go to soccer games!

I was so excited to go to the Rio league championship today. They are so crazy about soccer that they have an entire league just for Rio. This game promised to be extra interesting because it involved Flamengo, which is like the Yankees or Man U, against one of their main rivals, Botafogo.

I went with a friend from the place I volunteer with and we met up with her boyfriend, a Brazilian and Botafogo fan. We got great seats in the Botafogo section and the game was as advertised. Botafogo went out to a 2-0 lead, and with each goal the crowd went nuts.

At one point in the second half, the Botafogo goalie grabbed a Flamengo player that was about to score a goal, which got the goalie a red card and gave Flamengo a penalty kick. For those that don't know about soccer, a penalty kick is when you get an up close kick with nobody between you and the goalie. Usually this leads to a goal. So the Flamengo side went nuts in anticipation. They started jumping, and hundreds waved large banners. They also lit hundreds of flares, Roman candles, and these things that look like big cigarettes that create flashes of light. It was quite a sight to see, and I started filming it. This was the first mistake.

A girl came up to me and pushed my arm with the camera. "Are you for Flamengo? This is Botafogo." She said in Portuguese. She then noticed I was a foreigner, but didn't care. She started speaking in broken English, "you want a video, make a video of Botafogo, idiot." She said a few more things, and kept repeating idiot (clearly the only insult she knew in English) but things were eventually fine. I said sorry. She threw her cigarette at me and eventually went back to watching the game (Flamengo made the penalty kick).

My second mistake was that I wanted to be like, "I'm not for Flamengo" just to calm her down. I had bought a shirt of the Botafogo team (it's hilarious. One of you will get it as a gift). I showed it to her. But she was drunk, and yelled, "he's for Flamengo." Her boyfriend came up and started yelling. I was like "tranquilo, tranquilo", and he really just wanted to be loud and yell. But then a huge drunk guy came running down the steps, just looking for a fight. I started getting away, trying to make my way down the aisle to the exit. My friends were still talking with the original guy. This of course caused a scene, and a bunch more people started chasing after me. I started going very fast down aisles and across rows. I contemplated trying to jump like an 8 foot barrier between sections, but then saw I had a chance to get to one of the exits in that section. Apparently there was a group of people after me at this point, and 6 or so police officers were coming in from the exit. I eventually hopped over the railing to the exit, and by then was surrounded by police officers.

This part was a bit wierd. So first they wanted to know if I was okay. Later I realized I had sprained my ankle, and I had lost both sandles running, but I was fine. Then they wanted to know if I was a Flamengo fan starting stuff on their side. I was like, "I'm just a gringo and there's a misunderstanding." The girl's boyfriend explained everything, and eventually things calmed down. One officer was escorting us, but there were tons of other fights. There were multiple people lined up against the wall, multiple ambulances hauling people off, and multiple injured people. The newspaper says there was going to be over 1,000 police officers at the game, and now I see why they need every one.

That was ridiculous! I couldn't believe how fast that escalated. Anyway I probably won't go to any more soccer games, and now I see why my upper-class friends have never or rarely been to a game. I'm glad to be safe. I was just happy to walk away. As I was leaving the drunk guy that more or less started it was fighting someone else in the walkway, and the police broke it up and tackled him. Walking out barefoot was awkward, but we found a cab, made it home, and everything is fine.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Quit saying "to be honest"

It bothers me when people say "to be honest" when it has nothing to do with honesty. Here's an example:
The Chiefs have selected WR Dwayne Bowe with the 23rd pick. I love this pick. They haven't had a premier receiver in a long time. Their top guy right now is Kennison but he is an aging guy. Bowe has great size, great physical skills and to be honest, he has one of the highest upsides of any receiver in this draft.

This is just bad English. Does the statement that follows have anything to do with honesty? Is it a secret or revealing opinion? No. Is it something people ever lie about? No.

To be honest should be reserved for something that people sometimes lie about or to lesson the blow of a statement. About to say someone doesn't look good in that dress? Then use to be honest. But when it's meaningless, drop it.

I wouldn't care, except somehow it's a trendy phrase and I hear it all the time from all kinds of people.

Note: I should hat tip Jeff Berens, who first mentioned how annoying it is that people say to be honest all the time and usually the wrong way.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Rio Office

After my retreat a couple weeks a go with my future employer (side note: I know it's annoying I don't mention it by name. It's not a secret to those that know me or even those that just look at my Facebook page. I just don't want to have it up here), I met someone from Brazil who was friends with a girl in the Rio office. I wanted to go to it anyway, and when they offered to have me for a day, I couldn't refuse.

The office is on the top floor of building in Botafogo Beach (see picture, which is the view from the balcony), which is by the famous Sugarloaf (the point on the center-left of the picture and where 1/2 of the famous pictures of Rio are taken, with the other half from Christ the Redeemer). The way all company offices work is most people are traveling for 4 days a week and then are in the office on Friday. Thus the only real day to visit is Friday. Still, the Rio office only has 30 or 40 people including staff. The Rio office is basically an extension of the Sao Paolo office, which is the hub for Latin America. But whether you're there or not, you can get staffed on LA projects or projects anywhere else in the world. Case in point- the girl who met me worked on a project in Houston and met a boyfriend and now is permanently transferring to the Houston office next week. She just got her visa today (the questioning she got at the US embassy is accidental comedy, but she got it without a hitch. Summary: Are you a terrorist? Okay, welcome to the US).

Here were her tips for me:

1. Personality counts a lot
2. Be a "duck" - calm above the surface but working hard below.
3. Pay special attention to first impressions.

There were others, but those are the three most important (I have a list I made. I find that after an important meeting like that going somewhere and just sitting for an hour and processing is useful).

Anyway I met a handful of other people, and am going with Claudia (the girl I met with) and her boyfriend (in from Houston) to a soccer game on Sunday. A group is also going surfing tomorrow morning. Or rather surf lessons. I said I'd go at least once before I leave Rio. Should be fun.

Can't wait to start in Dallas next January!

Quote of the Day

Found here
"being misinterpreted by cold-hearted bastards does not make one a cold-hearted bastard."

Movie Premier

(I'll have a photo here later)

Apparently someone at the Fulbright has connections with someone in the movie premier industry, because we've already been invited to two. The first was the Brazilian premier of 300, which included the director there in person. It was sponsored by the US Embassy. I actually didn't make it, but I did see 300 this week in Buenos Aires. It is probably the most gory movie I've ever seen. I didn't mind it, but apparently a group of people wanted to walk out but didn't just because the director was there.

Alas this time it was a more appropriate movie, Cafundo. I have never tried reviewing a movie before, and I'm not going to here, but the spectacle was just as interesting. It was held in a theater in the center of town called Cine Odeon. I showed up an hour early just for fun. Yes they had a red carpet. At that time there wasn't a line so I just walked up and the lady with the list stared at me. She must have thought I was a confused tourist or something. I told her my name, and she was like "oh you're on the list?". So I was in. There were a bunch of photographers and movie cameras interviewing the director, the producer, and the main actor mostly, but also others involved. This went on for quite awhile. Me being the curious gringo, I stood right by the cameramen and watched. It's amazing what a big difference a) lighting, and b) where the interviewee looks can make on the intangibles of the shot.

This went on for awhile, including the awkward part where the second main actor showed up with a girl more than twice his size (horizontally). This elicited a few snickers, and I felt bad for the girl.

The next awkward part was when the band started playing. Part of the movie includes a band, and this was supposed to represent that. The awkward part was when one of the photographers asked the director to go stand with the band while they played, and so he kept pretending to read the music and hum along, all while smiling. He clearly was not enjoying it, but they asked him to sustain it for like 5 minutes while they took pictures.

Before the movie started, the director introduced everyone, and then made a speech. The movie started. A few more awkward parts:

a) how awkward must it be for the actress that gets naked to be sitting in the theater during that part. Everyone turned to look at her.

b) same for the main actor (though you didn't actually see anything)

c) I really really wish there were English subtitles. Even the most fluent Fulbrighters were having trouble. We often found ourself confused - the movie had abstract plot elements, and lots of symbolism and such.

Right before it ended the band marched through the theater, and then a chorus was singing as the movie got out.

Every cineplex should have the same.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why do I need to live in the US again?

So I am currently watching the Suns-Lakers Game 3. I'm watching TNT on Tucson's Cox Cable. But I'm in Rio de Janeiro (where only games on ESPN and ABC are on TV). How do I do it? A friend's SlingBox. Basically the way it works is that it hooks up to a Tivo or TV or something and then you access it via the Internet.

Today I also made Skype calls and scheduled a palm-tree trimmer in my old house in Tucson.

Why shouldn't we all just live on a beach in Thailand again? Go Suns.

Consulting is a Bullshit Job

Here's a satirical list of 50 bullshit jobs (hint: your job has a good chance of being on there). This link goes straight to #20, consultant.

The downside of being a consultant:

Your kids can never explain what you do to their friends.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Back in Rio

So when I said I was going back to Rio I really meant I was going to Rio through Buenos Aires, but I wanted to surprise Vanessa. Spent two days there. It happened in a pretty interesting way.

So the Fulbright had booked a round trip ticket from Rio (where I was) to Montevideo (where the conference was) leaving on April 15. My employer's retreat was April 12 to April 15. So I would have had to miss the last day of the employer's retreat to make the Fulbright retreat. Instead the employer just said they'd fly me to Montevideo so I didn't have to miss the last day. So I bailed on the first leg of the flight from Rio to Montevideo. I told the Fulbright people this, and somewhere in between me and the Fulbright and their travel agent, we thought all I had to do was go to the Montevideo airport on Saturday when the original flight was leaving. But I didn't have the physical tickets, which were issued in and still waiting in Rio, so the airline wouldn't let me on. So the Fulbright said to buy a new ticket.

So I spent the night in Montevideo with my new friend Andrew (who is an amazing musician and did all kinds of demos with his keyboard hooked up to Apple Garage Band on his computer. His Fulbright Project - "Rock'n'Rol in Uruguay", and is actually quite interesting). Then I found a flight that passed through Buenos Aires to see Vanessa. So it all worked out. Vanessa is living with a 22 year old American girl who has been there 3 or so years dating a 29-year old Argentinian guy, Augusto, who is awesome. Anyway one random bit about him is he's buying a large hostel so of course I wanted to hear all about it and all of the different dynamics in Argentina (about how lease rates are rarely fixed and fluctuate based off of formulas and such, and typical contracts practices etc).

Finally hopped on a plane today and am home for the first time in a couple weeks. All three stops were solid, but it's good to be back.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Leaving Uruguay

(note: I accidentally posted this on Vanessa's Blog before. I was wondering why my family wrote saying I hadn't had a single post in a long time. Also I get a kick out of both my sisters saying my blog sucks because I'm too serious. Sorry! I'll get more pictures and more light-hearted stuff up here soon.)

I'm in the airport headed back to Rio after a week in Montevideo for a conference of the South American Fulbrighters. A few observations from very limited time in Uruguay:

•Very European. Visually Montevideo is much like Buenos Aires - 10 story buildings, Italian and Spanish ancestry, etc.

•Interesting statistics - Uruguay has about 3.3 million people, and for each one of them there are 4 cows and 3 sheep.

•Mate is out of control. I'm typing this in a cafe in the Montevideo airport and just looking around about 20% of the people are actively drinking mate. I wish I had a picture. It's a small bowl with a metal pipe sticking up. The bowl is filled with the mate, and they carry around a thermos and put hot water in their bowl and suck it through the metal straw (getting the flavor of the mate without letting through the actual leaves)

•Very cheap. There was some discrepancy as to whether Buenos Aires or Montevideo was cheaper, but they are both bargains. And Montevideo Real Estate is just as well priced as that in BsAs. You can get a badass house on the beach for $250,000.

•My cab driver knew all about the NBA. I know that's just one person but he knew quite a bit. This rarely happens in Brazil.

•Again this is anecdotal, but I found people from Montevideo to be quite friendly.

•Never did get in touch with my old friend Fernando from when I was in Chile. Too bad. Now I don't think it's so weird that he was always sipping mate in Santiago.

•The park next to the airport is named after FDR. Is there any country in the world that would name anything after Bush?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Is owning any real estate a good idea now? The difference between a well-calculated purchase and an average purchase.

I tend to trash real estate a lot, yet we still own and are even buying real estate, so what gives?

The basic answer is that the average house in the market is something completely different than the single best deal in the market.

So while we sold all but one of our properties in 2005/early 2006, that reflected that the price we could get for all of them was greater than what we valued them at (even taking transaction costs into account). Without really changing our minds on the future of the market direction, we then bought an additional 7 a year or two later, but why?

The short answer is that they have very strong cash flow, or rental income in excess of costs. This single barometer is probably the best indicator of whether you should buy a house. It is quite robust as well, and applies to a lot of situations. You need to make adjustments (by answering questions such as is this high rent sustainable, or can these low rents be raised, and what kind of one-time costs will there be?). If you do those and you're still doing well enough with cash flow (as with our recent purchase of 6 houses on Park St. in Tucson), there is plenty of protection from any potential blips in the market.

So while overall REITs (real estate you can buy on the stock market) are not a good value, if you know enough about the market you can still do well as a small property holder. Just don't buy a bunch of REITs or average houses.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Arizona Board of Appraisers Makes Bad Decision

The Arizona Board of Appraisers recently ordered Zillow.com, the growing site that among other activities provides estimates of home values, to stop offering values for homes in Arizona. Their logic is that, besides being inaccurate at times, it misleads owners, buyers, and real estate professionals.

While Zillow estimates are indeed not always perfectly accurate, they are surprisingly useful. The fact that most homes in your neighborhood or the neighborhood you're looking into moving to have some estimate allows you a basis to decide where to look for more information. Zillow doesn't pretend to be perfectly accurate, though it is surprisingly accurate at predicting it's own inaccuracy, if that makes sense, as the WSJ found out.

Any real estate professional that is competent will know they need to use all data points to price a home. There's a reason mortgage companies still require in-person appraisals. I worry much more about real estate agents doing harm to consumers than a site that merely provides information.

The real explanation for the decision is probably that the BoA is heavily influenced by the real estate lobby, and represents their interests. Any site that provides real estate information is harmful to real estate agents, because people will have one less reason to need an agent. People are increasingly realizing that real estate agents rarely offer any value, and agents know they are on the same path travel agents went down, and one of their only hopes is to lock in advantages using politics.

Momentum is Huge

This article talks about how the rich get richer and how popular hits (be it music, etc) get more popular because of their popularity. It makes things much harder for marketers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Socialism Sucks Ass

Just spent three hours at dinner arguing with a couple about socialism v capitalism. She is doing a Fulbright in Uruguay and he is her fiancee and came along. He graduated from Stanford, but alas in comparative literature, thus no job...

Anyway I just want to start by saying that socialism is about the worst idea I can imagine. Despite the fact that it has no practical examples of working, people continue to insist it would work. So instead they latch onto countries with moderately socialist policies. And they pick examples like Sweden which have many many things going for them anyway. Yet any time you bring up one of a litany of countries that improved dramatically because of more capitalist policies, the example isn't relevant for one reason or another.

I was polite the entire time, but I couldn't believe some of the things they wanted to happen. They wanted the government to run everything, all the way down to retail stores. This would be an absolute disaster, but somehow an example like the fact that toasters are worse now than 50 years ago means consumers are getting screwed. Maybe when I have more time I'll explain how we actually prefer a lower quality toaster than one that costs 10 times as much. Have you ever seen how much stuff costs at a restaurant supply store?

They kept bringing up a series of but-what-about-this-problem scenarios and my responses were always that the government could address these problems without taking over the industry.

They just went on and on with illogical statements. Legal structures aren't relevant, the government should eliminate money, it goes on.

Just for the good of the country these views can never be mainstream. Make that for the good of the world.

Should the lower 40% of earners pay taxes?

Ari Fleischer writes a WSJ op-ed criticizing the federal tax system. He is unhappy about the burden the top earners have and that 40% pay no taxes. It is interesting to read, because a lot of people feel this way.

A few points- one, despite this tax burden the high earners are earning even more, and even more proportionally, and I'll bet few will argue that taxes have done a lot to discourage earning income. The big problem with taxes, which many fail to bring up, is that they are distortionary. The income tax is distortionary (though not as much as the tax-haters say), so I would use this as another opportunity to talk about pigouvian taxes (taxing things we want to use less of, like cigarettes and gas). Also, the political economy of 40% not paying taxes is interesting because when they don't pay ANY they are more likely to support expansion of the state. If that 40% became 50%, I'll be there would be a lot of interesting consequences. In any regard, almost all perspectives can agree that simpler taxes would be better. Complicated tax codes only allow for special interests to get their loopholes in there, as this piece brings up an example of.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Uruguay

I'm in Uruguay this week for a regional meeting of all the South American Fulbrighters. I'll write more when I have a bigger break. Today I'm making a presentation on my project, which is a bit difficult considering that multiple others have cursory knowledge of the issues present, and one has done a full-blown transportation study on Curitiba. I've only been in Brazil doing my project for a few weeks, and honestly I've spent little time on my actual project so far because I've been getting settled and learning Portuguese. But lots of people are in the same boat. There are some people that started last summer and they have much more, but people realize there are a good chunk of people that have been on it only a matter of weeks.

Here was a funny headline on the WSJonline today:

TIME WARNER EXECUTIVES ARE WEIGHING
whether to substantially reduce the company's cable-TV holdings amid Web competition. Some inside Time Warner wonder whether it should buy a major Internet company.

It's such an insult to the AOL merger when they are now thinking they should buy "a major online company." Shareholders that got burned are thinking, "didn't we already give 55% of our entire company for a 'major' Internet company?"

Friday, April 13, 2007

In Naples

I'm in Naples, Florida with Vanessa for a retreat with my future employer. I can't believe I am lucky enough to have a job with this company. The perks are better than I thought and what you get to do is better than advertised. The people are great. Very very little arrogance at all. You'll be talking to someone that's completely down to earth, and then you realize they're, for example, one of the top graduates at Harvard Law.

My peer class in Dallas will have 6 people total. I have met 2 of the others so far and like them.

Anyway back to the retreat. Here's an interesting article on how to reformat the draft process in the NBA to prevent end-of-season tanking. The author, the amazing Bill Simmons, proposes that the league end the season slightly early with 6 of the 8 playoff spots per division set, and then the remaining 9 teams per league play a mini-tournament for the last 2. Great idea.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What I've said for awhile

This article in the NYTimes talks about how the rents vs. mortgage payments equation has shifted in many instances such that it actually makes sense to rent now, even if that means foregoing the mortgage interest deduction. Not always the case, and just because it applies on average doesn't mean there aren't good deals out there, but it merits strong consideration. In many parts of Phoenix for example you can rent a $750,000-$1,000,000 home for the same amount that would be going to a mortgage on a home half that value. My friend Eric rents a $800,000 house and pays $2,400 a month. A mortgage payment on that house would be about double that. Even taking into consideration the mortgage interest deduction, it's well it to rent that house.

The market has a long hangover of inventory that is going to be there for some time. Fortunately so many people won't sell at anything other than the peak that prices won't come tumbling down, but the flipside is that you can't expect much appreciation, if at all, over the next 5 years. I said back in mid-2005 that house prices would be where they were then in 5 years in nominal terms and where they were then in inflation adjusted terms in 10-years. I still expect something like that now, but we'll see. These things of course depend on a lot of things, but you can't be super optimistic right now.

Bonus: listen to the realtor's ad in the NYTimes article (they have the audio clip). Notice that they say it is a great time to BUY a home, and then right after it is a great time to SELL your home. Either way a real estate agent gets 3% of your home value that they don't deserve. Never ask the barber if you need a haircut!!!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Awesome Article

Steve Levitt called this the "most interesting article I've read in a newspaper in a long, long time."

In it the Washington Post sets up a stunt where one of the best musicians in the world would play some of the best songs ever written to a packed subway station, with his case out to get money. What happens sparks a big philosophical discussion of modern life, and makes everyone consider their daily routine.

Don't buy art on cruises (or anything else at a party-auction)

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0408artworks0408.html

Addendum: I see the biggest problem here being that people pay attention to what a painting is worth based on some appraisal. However, the painting is worth what the highest bidder will pay, and if you believe that someone selling you the art can provide an unbiased appraisal, you're ripe to be taken advantage of.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Video making fun of economics

Maybe you have to be a nerd to think this is funny, but I like it. Maybe that says something...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Chico

The cat at my homestay. They picked him out because of his "interesting" face. He is quite unfriendly. Despite being only 3 years old, he moves like molasses. He sleeps all day and just waits for the daughter Julia to get home. Then when she does he slowly creeps over to her, taking a full minute or so while he stretches on the way. He doesn't like being touched, hates being picked up, poops while you're eating, barely blinks, never sleeps with or lies on anyone, has never been in my room despite walking by all the time, and is generally not that fun. But alas they love him, and I still like having an animal around. But it is no kitty (my nameless cat. Would Chica be a good name?). I wish they had a dog as well. But they can't because "Chico doesn't get along with dogs."

I'm an idiot

Almost got robbed today, saved only by a vintage distance run. I was looking for a bus stop and could either have gone 1/2 mile one way or 1/4 mile, but through a tunnel. The long way was lit, safe, and with people. The tunnel was dark, and you passed by a sort of park right before. This should have been a fairly obvious decision, but I wasn't thinking. So I'm walking toward the tunnel and there's a couple people just talking. Then there's a boy about 15 years old in an oil stained shirt. He asks the time. 9:30 I say, no harm done. I keep walking and there are older boys, probably 20 or 25, behind a small tree. There are three of them just talking. So at this point I think I may be in for trouble; I make a little bit of eye contact, they didn't seem to be coming for me, so I figured they were just shady characters but not going after me. Still I thought about running once I got to the tunnel, which was out of view of where they were talking. I keep looking back and see nobody. About 50 feet into the tunnel I see the boy that asked the time, and now I'm like crap. Then I see one of the older boys, in a dirty white shirt and shorts. I kept walking, picking up the pace. Shady characters always know how to walk much faster than you thought possible. Then they were maybe 15 feet behind me. The boy says, "one question". I'm not quite that stupid. They didn't have weapons, and my instinct was to run. I started bolting to the end of the tunnel. I briefly considered jumping the railing that separated traffic and the walkway (it was 5 feet or taller, but I was sure I could make it in a pinch), but then decided the danger of a car would be worse. Cars never ever give people the right of way and assume you will quickly get out of the way even on quiet, empty streets, and this was a four lane tunnel. Instead I just kept running. I was pretty sure they would catch me, but I ended up gaining on them. Finally they stopped, but I kept running for good measure. Coming around the corner at the end of the tunnel was a bit scary, because I worried they had a friend waiting at the other end. Instead there was nobody, and there was a police car stationed not far from the tunnel exit. I was safe. I wanted to tell the police, more out of curiosity than anything (what would they do?), but they weren't in the car. Instead they are talking to a guy, who they tell me later was telling them about "a guy running down the tunnel with two other guys running after him. Then I talked to them. They were friendly. They were like "be careful, you shouldn't have been there alone. We can't be everywhere." They didn't go see if the boys were there or anything. They wished me luck, and I was off. Anyway I should have known better. I got on a bus and headed back home.

Friday, April 06, 2007

State of Argentina

This article is a good primer on the current state of Argentina. It mentions cartoneros, the influx of tourists, cheap real estate, political history, etc. Anyone wanting to read more about the crisis should read And the Money Kept Rolling in (and Out) by Paul Blustein, who also wrote the excellent The Chastening, the account of the East Asian Financial Crisis.

A bit on the real estate: one of the most important determinants of real estate prices is
interest rates both nationally and for borrowers. So when places have high interest rates (like Argentina, for example) that holds prices down. But at some point the "rent yield" (the percentage of the value that typical rents are) is high enough that it can attract cash buyers from abroad who want the absolute return. I wonder how much of this is going on in Argentina, but I suspect that more typical is people that want a vacation home. And hey if that's what they're going for, its a great place to do so.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Portuguese word of the day

Wow- Uau (though pronounced about the same)

Doh

Today is the first school day off for semana santa (Easter Week), so a lot of people were out last night. Since the two most popular teams in Rio (Flamengo, which is like the Yankees, and Vasco, which is like the Red Sox) were playing, plus another game, it was a big soccer night.

I ended up sitting next to a guy from New York who is half Brazilian and moved here and has been working here for six years. He went to Stuyvesant High School (probably the best or at least most competitve public school in the US), then Colombia University, then did I-Banking in New York, and now is finance manager for the subway system here. Perfect. Interestingly, the subway is run by CitiBank Venture Capital on a public concession, so he works for them. Anyway we talked a bit about that, he blasted Brazilian business culture as being politically oriented rather than results oriented. He was complaining that he deserved a promotion and didn´t get it because it required a 100% vote by stakeholders, and he got only 92%. And since it would have tripled his salary, he was not happy. He also had strong opinions of Brazilian girls (positive ones), but I won´t spare you the details.

We walked home the same way, and apparently I pocket dialed my professor. An angry guy calls up, and then he realizes it´s me and he´s like, ''why don´t we talk on the way to school tomorrow. I´ll drive. How about I pick you up at 8:30." So despite going out drinking and it already being late, I was getting up on a holiday to go to school with my professor. I´m at the university right now. There are a surprising number of people here regardless. Anyway I really like the professor. We´re going to be here all day, and then he´s giving me a ride back. Compared to the hour plus journey on buses, getting a ride with him is well worth waking up early.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Alpacas


Some of you received alpaca gifts from Peru during my last stint back. Alpaca's are sheep like animals in Peru that produce exceedingly soft fur. Today the Wall Street Journal talks about how Congress' 2003 tax cuts led to a boom in alpaca farming for tax breaks. Alpacas can legitimately be used to make money for fur, but these guys mostly just use them against uncle sam.

Travel Pains

Traveling has become a much bigger pain now that liquids, gels, etc can be no less than 3 ounces. I was in the middle of what ended up being a 43-hour ordeal from Ilha Grande to Phoenix when I had my toothpaste, deoderant, and contact fluid confiscated at a "supplemental" United Airlines check. Talk about three things you need most. As one passenger commented to Vanessa one the way from Phoenix-LAX-Guatemala City in January, "Just hope that we never have an underwear bomber."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Water in the West

The NYTimes reports on the American West doing more to ease the need for water, such as a pipeline from northern Nevada to Las Vegas. My big wish is that people would more strongly consider a higher price for water as an alternative. Water-saving shower heads, efficient swamp coolers, etc would be so much more appealing if water were say 10 times as expensive. And if the extra revenue were offset by decreases in taxes such as the sales tax it wouldn't harm consumers and would help society as a whole greatly. In the meantime, people have no incentive not to take a 15 minute shower.

Illegal Immigrants Paying Taxes, I Love It

Amazing. I wonder if this will make it harder to boot them out.

KJ a Hall of Famer?

Here is an article on ESPN about players that deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Glad to see KJ on there. He was the anchor for the Suns for a long time and deserves it. Not many realize that at one point the Suns has KJ, Jason Kidd, and Steve Nash on the same team at the same time. Amazing. Three of the best point guards ever on the same team at the same time. Amazing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Real Estate Scams

Here is a story about real estate scams. All of those "we buy houses" signs really just want you to sell it to them grossly undervalued. Some are fairly legit, but the article talks about more nefarious practices. One thing that I do support that may get a negative rap from this article is lease-to-own agreement. They can be great for owner and renter, but not in the ways mentioned in the article.

Are you too busy?

Interesting column over at the NY Times. Here's a highlight-

In our busy, busy world, however, I sometimes feel as if I am the odd one out. Although those who are overworked and overwhelmed complain ceaselessly, it is often with an undertone of boastfulness; the hidden message is that I’m so busy because I’m so important.
or another -
“You can feel like a tin can surrounded by a circle of a hundred powerful magnets,” he writes. “Many people are excessively busy because they allow themselves to respond to every magnet: tracking too much data, processing too much information, answering to too many people, taking on too many tasks — all in the sense that this is the way they must live in order to keep up and stay in control. But it’s the magnets that have the control.”

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I just won't leave the Wildcat

I loved loved loved writing for the Arizona Daily Wildcat back in the day. Now one of the current columnists cites one of my old columns in her column about students living at home. I love it.