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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Freezer Full of Meat: Nutritional Hedging Gone Awry

A Freezer Full of MeatSo, two years ago, when I was still making a good living, I decided to stock up on some steaks. I own a spacious deep freezer and I had plenty of room in it. The cuts I like (Porterhouse, Ribeye, Shoulder Steak, etc.) would go on sale every fortnight at my local supermarket, and when I'd find a sale of cuts I like, I'd buy up all they had. On some days, they'd have so much supply that I'd end up with a shopping cart stacked high with meat. Yeah, I got a lot of funny looks.

I thought I was pretty darn smart. It was nutritional hedging. I was buying quality meat at a very low price now, so that I could enjoy it a year or more later when the cost, at any given moment, would almost certainly be higher.

My plan, however, backfired on me. These days, I rarely eat red meat. I slowly and inexplicably lost my craving for it. I still like chicken, turkey, fish and pork, but the savory love affair I had with red meat, a food item I thought I'd never get tired of, is no more.

So now I find myself trying to limit the waste and financial loss as best I can. I gave some away last summer, to friends and neighbors who like to grill. I also sold some to a close friend who agreed to pay me $0.50 on the dollar for a number of frozen packages (she likes to feed her German Shepherd only the best.) As for the rest, I'm not sure what to do. I may be moving soon, and the meat probably won't survive the relocation.

Anyone need some old but still very pink meat?

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Batteries In The Freezer: Not A Good Idea

batteries in the freezer: not a good idea!Witnessing the birth of my only daughter was, as you can imagine, a very moving experience. My daughter shot out of her mother like a rocket, so fast that the obstetrician had to catch her like a football. I was so pleased, proud, excited and thankful to be the father of a healthy baby girl.

In anticipation of the big day, I had bought a very nice digital camera: The Fuji FinePix S602Z. I've been very happy with it since day one.

Imagine my disappointment when it stopped working a few months ago.

I assumed it stopped working because I had left some batteries in it for too long, and the corrosive ooze that leaks from the decaying cells ruined some critical components.

I cleaned the camera up as best I could, using cotton swabs and cleaning solutions that wouldn't hurt the camera. Despite my efforts, I failed to bring the camera back to life.

I gave up on it for a couple of weeks, and made plans to send the camera back to Fuji along with a letter expressing my dissatisfaction with the reliability of the camera. Before doing so, I decided to try a cleaning one more time. This time I used a tiny screwdriver to scrape off any hardened material that might be causing problems inside the battery compartment.

Bingo! The camera was back! Sooooo happy.

I disposed off the old batteries and went to my freezer to get new ones.

I was shocked to find that the batteries I had in cold storage were all rusting and falling apart (see the photo I snapped above.)

Seems that in trying to preserve my batteries, I ended up destroying them, and wasting money! And to make matters worse, I almost ruined an expensive digital camera. The theory of placing batteries in cold storage was sound, in my opinion, but in practice, I guess the cold has a deleterious effect on power cells.


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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reverse Mortgages: Look Before You Go In Reverse

Reverse MortgageA phrase has been densely clogging up the blogosphere of late in columns concerning financial loans and home mortgages. I am speaking, of course about reverse mortgages, also called home equity schemes or equity release schemes. These home mortgage products allow mature home owners to tilt the balance of equity in their paid off properties and enjoy spending cash, continuing income, and the good life as long as their mortality lingers. Sounds great, right? Sensible equity guardians get to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Right?

Yet, these are the same consumer home loan borrowers who claimed to get victimized by the refinance wave. As a real estate financier and an escrow processor, I saw my fair share of these "bewildered lenders' and uneasy borrowers eagerly come in to sign forms they barely paused to consider before signing the documents as fast as they could. There was no sign of the mortgage finance "victim" that would later emerge, who claimed to be hornswoggled by the terms of their loans. The potential borrowers of the reverse mortgage loans have that same aura....

Many of these borrowers are barely rescued from the Great Mortgage Debacle of 2008-2009. The media was full of displaced seniors and heads of households rapt in dismay over their plights. The buzzword causing all the ruckus was "family."

Most of those people who were crying foul as their mortgages entered default had a funny resonance between their stories. People with 17 inch rims in the driveway were crying poor, after years of conspicuous consumerism that blatantly demonstrated their inability or lack of desire (or both) to rein in spending. Nobody seemed to be looking at how these people actually lived as their credit margins moved to the left of red. But when the home mortgage applications were being filed, the story was much different.

I settled and closed escrows where wide eyed borrowers were amazed to discover they had childcare and alimony payments attached to their addresses. I saw hotel bellhops claiming $45K in stated income from undeclared tips get homes worth $650,000 or more. People with very limited education were minting fresh county recorder stamps marked "sold." And escrow agents making millions came down off the high and eyed their files uneasily, as if rabid wolves -- the Department of Corporations -- might leap out to consume them at any time.

Years later, these documentary chickens came home to roost. People who had convinced themselves they were "doing well" in fact had not won the paperwork lottery but crashed and burned in stated-income hell.

I processed refinance mortgages for people living in swanky hotels and divorcing celebrities who each wanted a payday no matter how the paperwork came out. I saw barely literate Latina women hugging infants show up to scribble their illegible names on $800,000 worth of documents as their eyes darted from all corners of the room. These people weren't living on a budget or using the two years adjustment period to prepare for stiff mortgage payments. They were looking for free cash on Uncle Sam.

Today we sit in one of the worst recessions in history, thanks in large part to a tidal wave of cash greedy borrowers turning their home mortgages inside out like piggy banks to get manicures, take vacations, and buy new gas-guzzling cars. Jobs are thin, foreign imports rule the markets, and many Americans are starting to figure out that, when the decade is done, they may end up with much less wealth than they anticipated. Hungry banks, anxious to call back the heyday of those heady refi limbo dances with home mortgage rates, have invented the reverse mortgage to slake consumer thirst for irresponsible spending.

As someone who used to work in escrow, I saw a lot of refinance applications cross my desk. These people called every hour on the hour to ask when their money would be ready. And they still obtained credit cards and maxed them out. I think reverse mortgages are putting the same dynamics back into place, but when the final round of mortgage loan jeopardy comes this time the Fed will be making sucking sounds.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Asking For A Salary I Deserve: MY 911 Story

One World Trade Center, Under ConstructionI've always believed that when negotiating a salary at a new job, one must price oneself right. Ask for too little, and you'll end up bitter and feeling unappreciated. Your job performance will probably be not so great too, because you'll feel like the company you're working for is ripping you off every day. Why do your best for a company that pays you significantly less than you deserve?

This is a story about using leverage to try and get a bigger paycheck. It's also my 911 story, which I'm compelled to share here on this 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Back in the year 2000, I was looking to make more money, and decided to go on some job interviews, even though I was working at a job I liked at a company that treated me quite fairly. All was quite well at this job: great coworkers, great benefits, Lincoln Towncar ride home every night, and more. But I wasn't happy with my salary, and that was enough to prompt me to look for even greener pastures.

At the time I figured I would use the leverage I had, i.e. being someone already employed at a prestigious NYC law firm, to achieve my goal.

I went on a few interviews, which were OK, but nothing special.

It was the fourth interview that I felt was the most promising. It was at a well known financial services company at the World Trade Center. The company needed a IT guy, fast, and they wanted someone who could hit the ground running.

I remember taking a long elevator ride to a very well decorated office. Actually, what I remember most vividly was the view from the lobby. It was breathtakingly stunning. Not only could I see the curve of the Earth, I was also taken aback by how small the Brooklyn Bridge appeared at that height. To give you an idea, imagine being in an office near the top of one of the towers, and placing yourself right next to a large window. Then imagine lining your index finger up with the Brooklyn Bridge below. The bridge, from that vantage point, was just a little bit longer than my finger.

The interview went very well. It was conducted by the department head and an employee who, if I ended up getting hired, would be my coworker. Most of the interview was consumed by an extensive, verbal quiz. I got most of the answers correct.

The next day, the man who would be my boss called me and gave me another test. He quizzed me on the 2 questions I got wrong the day before. I got them right this time. He was just making sure I was the right kind of person for the job, someone who would get stumped on something important and job-related, and would respond by getting knowledgeable as quickly as possible.

The next day I got a call from the same manager, and he asked me what my salary expectations were. With confidence, I gave him a figure. The angry response from the other end of the phone was:

"What?!!! There's no way in hell we're paying you that much!"

And, at that, he hung up the phone. I never heard back from him or from anyone else at that firm. The job was lost.

Do I regret giving him a figure that I thought was fair and commensurate with my experience. Heck no! However, if I had access to a time machine that day -- not an expensive H.G. Wells model but something simple like those sold at Wal-Mart -- I may have considered going back in time and changing my response to "negotiable" or something to that effect.

About a year later, the 9/11 attacks happened.

I'm no mystic. In fact, I'm an extremely firm secular humanist. But sometimes things happen in life that make me wonder if I have some sort of guardian angel watching over me.

A few months later, on Christmas Day, I found myself watching the Frank Capra classic "It's A Wonderful Life," and getting a bit chocked up, which is really not my thing. I then found myself praying for all those who perished on September 11, 2001. I have no idea if heaven exists, but I found myself wishing them godspeed to a peaceful afterlife.


I've never liked the idea of someone else dictating how much I deserve to get paid. Why should someone I don't know have that kind of power over me? Bottom line: why should I be happy letting someone else determine how much I am worth? I didn't get the job, but I retained my sense of self-worth, which I feel is very important in life. I guess that's just my personality, and it's why I knew I would have to break free of the 9-to-5 thing eventually.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tips On Becoming A Legal Resident of The United States

Legal Immigration to the United StatesDespite concerted efforts by the US government, the American economy is still facing serious challenges as it fights to return to prosperity. The Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates to record-low levels, and has used an astronomical amount of newly printed cash to help bolster economic growth. Yet unemployment remains high and the threat of another economic downturn continues to stalk the mighty economic animal that is the United States.

Without a doubt, America is struggling to return to sustainable economic growth. Yet, even with weaknesses in numerous sectors of the American economy, people from other nations still want to enter the United States and enjoy America’s freedoms and opportunities. Unfortunately, too many immigrants choose to enter and remain in the United States illegally, which often leads to living in fear, incarceration and deportation.

The following are some tips for those who entered the United States legally, but who are not sure about what it takes to become legal permanent residents:

  • Hire A Really Good Lawyer: Don’t settle for a mediocre immigration attorney. Find the best, and follow that lawyers instructions to the letter. If you think you’ve found a great immigration attorney, use your favorite search engine to research that lawyers background and experience. Look for credentials like Vice President of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. More often than not, quality attorneys are very busy and their fees are generally higher than lawyers who lack experience and professional credentials. The wait and the added expense, however, are most often worth it.

  • Don’t Commit Any Crimes: This may seem like obvious advice but it’s extremely important to stay out of trouble with the law. What may seem like a minor misdemeanor to you could be seen as just cause for deportation by a judge.

  • Don’t Purchase of Create Fake Documentation: This is probably the worst thing you can do. If you purchase a fake green card, or manufacture one yourself, it’s likely that you will eventually get caught and will at the very least spend time in jail. At worst, you’ll get deported.

  • Pay Your Taxes: All honest Americans pay their taxes. If you want to be a part of American society, do as honest and honorable Americans do, and that includes doing your part to help pay for roads, schools and national defense. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to defend your presence in this country, you may find that the authorities will want to know if you’ve been prompt and consistent about paying your taxes.

  • Participate Positively In Your Community: Donating your time to a worthy cause will look good to any judge, so volunteering is definitely something you should consider doing if you want to present yourself in the best possible light. You don’t have to give up a huge block of your free time on a regular basis. Volunteering just a few hours a week at a hospital or religious institution can help to convince a judge or other decision maker that having you as a permanent resident of the United States would benefit both you and the country.

  • Stay Employed: Even if you hate your job, don’t quit until you’ve got a new one lined up. Being unemployed will hurt your chances of becoming a permanent resident considerably, as no country wants to import people who will sap resources unduly from the state as opposed to being a productive, taxpaying member of society.

  • The Anchor Baby Trick Is The Worst Crime of All: Don’t get it into your head that getting pregnant and giving birth to an “anchor baby” is a good idea. Just because your child is an American citizen, doesn’t mean a judge won’t deport you. It’s very well known that certain unprincipled, female illegal immigrants get themselves pregnant at any cost in order to have an American citizen baby. Certain judges used to let such mothers stay in the country, even when the mother in question has committed serious crimes. However, the anchor baby trick is moribund, if not dead already.

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