Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ron Paul on Mad Money

The cognitive dissonance on this video is amazing. I saw Jim Cramer's explosion on the air about the Federal Reserve a while ago, and while I appreciate the fact that both of them oppose the Fed, they probably oppose it for differing reasons. Cramer was upset that Ben Bernanke didn't act quickly enough to save the markets (and therefore bail out Cramer and his stock market, banking, and hedge fund buddies). Ron Paul hates central banking in general, because inflation created by central banking tends to hurt the lower and middle classes, and central banks are an enabler of government deficit spending. Jim Cramer seems to be in it for extracting revenge, as Ben Bernanke isn't "Easy Al" with the "Greenspan Put" on hand (though my prediction was wrong--Ben Bernanke has relented and dropped rates recently). Also amusing is their disparity in arguing their points. Cramer is his typical insane self, hopping in fury, while Ron Paul, the elder statesman, speaks about the matter calmly and rationally.

To be fair to Cramer, he is an entertainer, and people should view him as such: take his antics and advice with a grain of salt. I must give him mad props on having Dr. Paul on his show, and advocating Federal Reserve transparency.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Gloom and Doom from the CTA

As Chicago's CTA falls further into decay, gridlock, permanent construction projects, the ominous threat of fare hikes and service cuts persists. The president of the CTA is reduced to panhandling as this just-received email attests:

Letter from CTA President Ron Huberman

Dear CTA Customer:

Today, I unveiled the CTA's proposed 2008 budget that lays out a series of painful service cuts, fare increases and lay-offs that will happen on January 6, 2008. These actions are required to meet our legal obligation to submit a balanced budget and are in addition to those service cuts and fare increases that will take effect on November 4th.

All of us at the CTA understand that these service cuts and fare increases will cause you a tremendous hardship. We know that you will face fewer travel options, less frequent service and more crowded buses and trains. To make matters worse, the drastic measures described in the 2008 budget are in addition to the service cuts, fare increases and lay-offs that will take place on November 4th if the Illinois Legislature does not enact fundamental funding reforms.

It is important for our customers to know that all of us at the CTA do not want to see this budget become reality. We remain hopeful that the Illinois General Assembly will pass a long-term funding solution.

Please know that we sought to minimize the impact of our budget deficit wherever we could. For example, we reduced our costs by over $38 million this year alone - without impacting service. The CTA and its unions have also agreed to an unprecedented five-year contract, contingent on legislative action, which would enable the CTA to reduce costs and manage itself more like a business. The Illinois Legislature, however, has yet to pass the bill that would give the CTA authority to put these reforms in place. This inaction is costing the CTA more than $11 million each month.

So, while the CTA continues to look for every opportunity to cut costs, there is simply no way we can manage our way out of a $158 million deficit in 2008.

The CTA continues to fight for sufficient transit funding and we need your help. Please contact the Governor and your state legislators and tell them how important mass transit funding is to you. In addition to calling or writing your legislators, you can go to www.transitchicago.com where a link will allow you to easily send a message.

With your support, we are hopeful that we will finally get a long-term solution to the CTA's funding shortfalls and put future "doomsdays" to rest. If the State enacts pending legislation before November 4th, these service cuts and fare increases will not go into effect.

Sincerely yours,

Ron Huberman

Where is the outrage? This is what happens when you have half-assed neither-free-market-nor-socialist crony corporatism. If the CTA were a public company, even as a monopoly there would be a shareholder revolt. I'm not exactly a fan of socialism, but if the people of Cook County were the actual owners of the CTA (since the taxpayers ultimately pay for it anyway), this never would have happened. Instead the people of Chicago are at the mercy of a political elite, who use the CTA as a way of rewarding their minions with easy jobs, and simply milk the populace for more money when the patronage jobs run out. To paraphrase James Howard Kunstler, this transportation system would be the envy of a third world nation like Bolivia. I see only a few options for the average citizen:

  1. Vote with your feet. Do not reward piss poor performance with more fares. Use alternate transportation like the Metra, bicycling, walking, driving, and cabs. I got to work downtown faster on my bicycle than I ever would on the Brown Line.
  2. Demand that the monopoly be broken up. The most basic study of economics would reveal that competition reduces prices and improves quality.
  3. Demand that the monopoly be bought out by the government. This would be the least desirable solution, but a government funded monopoly is far worse than a government agency. At least this would put the CTA's decision making process into the hands of the people and make it easier to monitor. No taxation without representation!
Please read my previous rant on this subject.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Collation of Ron Paul's answers all the All-American Presidential Forum

This is somewhat old news, but here is a video consisting of all of Ron Paul's answers at the All-American Presidential Forum. In the latter link, You can watch the show in its entirety, as well as see full transcripts. The show was hosted by Tavis Smiley at Morgan State University, a prominent Black college. The debate dealt primarily with minority issues. What was shocking was that the four Republican "front runners" (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Thompson) decided to snub potential minority voters to squeeze more money out of the 3rd quarter. Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee seemed to have come out the winners in that debate. Tom Tancredo looked absolutely terrified (of the audience perhaps?), and Alan Keyes' theatrics were thoroughly entertaining.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Longest Ferry Ride Rudy Giuliani Ever Took

The World Student Press Agency reports that Rudy Giuliani took the "longest ferry ride in his life". Apparently he was forced to share the ride back from Mackinac Island (Michigan) with 100 boisterous Ron Paul supporters. From the article:

It was the last ferry back from the island to Mackinac city. Nearly 100 Ron Paul supporters were waiting on the dock when they were surprised to see Mayor Giuliani appear with his bodyguards walking toward the ferryboat. The crowd started cheering Ron Paul’s name and Mayor Giuliani’s smiling face suddenly turned thunderstruck.

. . .

Giuliani was “hiding” beneath the window in the captain’s cabinet, with bodyguards standing around him to block the sight. The crowd kept cheering Ron Paul’s name again and again all the way, for almost 20 minutes, many of them were calling their friends and family to give them the play-by-play.

You can watch some of the footage yourself below:

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ron Paul Speech at Johns Hopkins University

Ron Paul recently spoke at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, on September 11th 2007. "A Traditional Non-Intervention Foreign Policy" was the name of his speech. The speech and discussion period were moderated by Robert Guttman (CPFR director) and Andrew Ward (Financial Times White House correspondent). He spoke of how non-interventionism is not isolationism, how an overly aggressive foreign policy can actually encourage worldwide terrorism, and how the Federal Reserve indirectly plays a part in military misadventures. The countries he focused on were Iraq and Iran, though he did speak of Korea and Vietnam as well. One of the methods of combating terrorism that he brought up was the old school concept of Letters of Mark and Reprisal. Ron Paul faced some tough questions from the audience, but was able to defend his views eloquently. Venues that Allow Dr. Paul more time to speak with fewer interruptions such as Johns Hopkins demonstrate that he is a true statesman who is not reliant on talking points to support his positions. The JHU SAIS should be commended for allowing him to speak, particularly since Ron Paul's positions probably differ from many of the academics there. His full speech is available below:

You can also download this speech for offline listening. You can also view detailed information about this event.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Saving the CTA - No Magic Bullet

As most citizens of Chicago and its outlying suburbs are already aware, service on CTA, and to some extent, Metra has been worsening as of late. Nearly as many have heard that due to Governor Rob Blagojevich's politicking and refusal to play ball with both Democrats and Republicans in Illinois, there has been a budget shortfall, and the CTA will lose funding, forcing a corresponding hike in fares and a reduction of service.

On my way home using Metra (as I refuse to use the CTA unless absolutely necessary), I was handed a flyer entitled "Are slow zones in you [sic] future?". It was a proclamation of dire warning that the CTA, Pace, and yes, even Metra, would be facing fare hikes and drastically reduced service, and I should contact my government representatives immediately to correct the situation. At the bottom was a url to a website, savechicagolandtransit.com.

Thinking this was a grassroots campaign started by a concerned local citizen to restore some kind of dignity and either resurrect or terminate our regional transit currently on life support, I dutifully visited the website. However, the fact that is's not .org and .com, that it's linked to from the CTA page, and it advocates massive bailouts at the taxpayer's expense, I suspect that it may be astroturf.

I agree in principle with the aims of the website: public transportation for Chicago. Economies of scale make it cheaper, faster (at least in theory: Metra is fast but CTA is slower than biking), better for the environment, and more comfortable than driving. Also, I agree with the website that Chicago transit needs a massive overhaul. While I'm satisfied with Metra, the CTA is an embarrassment. When riding it I feel like I'm in a third world country, compared to the experiences I've had with other systems: Le Métro, The Tube, Metrorail, and the Las Vegas Monorail.

Is is the proposed solutions proposed by this "grassroots" effort that I find, quite frankly, disturbing. Those are found here. Here are some of their ideas that I take issue with:

  • We must prevent service cuts and fare hikes, and bring our existing system into a good state of repair. Yes, we need to bring the system into a good state of repair, but, I think rate hikes are in order and are actually a good idea. When fares are too low, you have the free rider problem. Increasing fares will eliminate the use of the CTA as a homeless shelter, as at the moment, a $2.25 fare can allow you to ride the trains almost indefinitely with free transfers. In fact, I think Metra-style zoning should be instituted, and transfers between trains treated just like transfers between buses and trains. Since fare cards are used instead of tokens, the need for a universal fare for all kinds of rides is obsolete. Raising fares also has a psychological factor; if you think people are complaining now, as fairs increase, citizens will demand better service, and as they say, "it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil." Of course, we should continue to have reduced fares for children, seniors, students, and the disabled.

  • The last state capital bill, Illinois FIRST, expired in 2004. A statewide capital bill—which would typically cover transit as well as road and school construction—is desperately needed. In particular, a new capital bill is essential for securing federal transportation funds and bringing our transit system into a state of good repair. I vehemently disagree with this. Under no circumstances should people of other states, nay people of other counties be paying for our transportation network. It is the responsibility of the citizens of Chicagoland to pay for the RTA, be it using fares, gas tax, sales tax, or whatever. People of Cook County should pay for the CTA, and people of surrounding counties pitch in to help Metra, but that's it. The vast majority of users are local commuters.

  • A dedicated, reliable source of operating funds to support the current operations and growth of CTA, Metra, and Pace. The way we fund public transit operations in the Chicago region is ripe for change. The 1983 RTA funding formula was a last-minute political solution that was never meant to last. The revenues it has supplied to each service board have grown more slowly than the costs of providing service. A new means of funding area transit that addresses today’s realities—such as reverse commuting, suburb-to-suburban commuting, and urban revitalization—is needed. This is going to sound like a radical proposition, but if the 1983 was intended as a temporary solution, then we should let it expire. CTA started as a corporate monopoly in 1952, and it was bailed out multiple times by the government. I don't think taxpayers should be bailing out corporations, therefore if the system is ready to collapse, we should let it collapse. Put the assets up for auction. I'm sure there are many entrepreneurs or even neighborhoods who would love to take over a piece of the CTA (such as a bus route). You could have Pete's Clark Street Bus Line compete with the Lakeview Bus Circuit. Let's see raw capitalism compete with raw socialism, instead of the half-assed corporatism we have right now.

  • Measures to eliminate the paratransit deficit. Chicagoland’s disabled residents deserve quality door-to-door transit service. But we need to find a funding source to support this costly service, while increasing its efficiency and encouraging its users to try accessible fixed-route services. I agree with the second half of this proposition, but not the first. We should reduce the fares for the disabled, and encourage them to move closer to accessible stations, but door-to-door service should be left up to charity (yes, they do exist) or up to private services.

  • Support for CTA’s pension fund. CTA’s pensions, which cover retirement benefits and healthcare for retirees, are severely under-funded. Additional funds must be found to help bridge the funding gap. In addition, laws concerning CTA’s collective bargaining agreements process must be changed to allow the agency to negotiate pension benefits with its unions more fairly. I sympathize with people's needs for benefits, but this should remain an issue between the workers and management, and not become a politicized issue for taxpayers. In fact, focusing on this might alienate some potential supporters. For instance, in my industry, there is no union, no pension (though a possibility for 401k usually), and all employment is "at will" - employee or employer may terminate the job at any point. Personally, I think things are great: I negotiate directly with my employer without a union boss breathing down my neck, and I fund my own retirement as I please. The fact that this group wants taxpayer money to become a bargaining chip in a labor dispute really annoys me. The only reason why there's a union is because the RTA is a monopoly - there is no other employer for these workers except for perhaps Amtrak. This creates a very dangerous situation: the union, management, or the government can stop the trains to force citizens to do their bidding.

In short, these are my summarized suggestions:

  • Increase fares (as noted above)

  • Eliminate waste, such as politically connected jobs, excessive cigarette breaks, strict labor contracts - though waste is more easily removed using competition (see below)

  • Open up competition with different transportation. Allow competing bus lines or tram lines. Allow revenue-losing train lines to be bought out. Legalize rickshaws.

  • Clean up the CTA trains! There's no reason that CTA can't be as clean as Metra

  • Give us express service on the CTA rail lines. Delays notwithstanding, it takes an hour and a half to get from downtown Chicago to downtown Evanston when not at rush hour.

  • Automate electric rail cars. This is the 21st century for chrissakes! This would mean cheaper, safer, and more reliable service.

  • Another controversial point: outsource construction and maintenance (not to be confused with offshoring). There's no excuse for having only a couple guys working at once on a station upgrade while the rest watch, and they only work on a daily shift.

  • Example of a FREE CAPITALIST RAIL STSTEM that fulfills most of the suggestions above, costs no taxpayer money, and charges no fares! We can do better than that!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Jim Cramer: Wake Up Bernanke!

It looks like Ron Paul isn't the only one who's choosing to stand up to the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke. Jim Cramer goes ballistic on the air, demanding that Ben Bernanke "Wake up" to the carnage happening in the economy, and lower interest rates. Cramer cites the collapse of the stock market, and the millions of people soon to be facing foreclosure due to tightening credit:

I hate to disappoint Jim Cramer, but I highly doubt the Fed Chairman is going to lower rates. This is because there is one major concern that trumps all for the Federal Reserve: protect the currency at all costs. Ben Bernanke doesn't care for the troubles of condo flippers and day traders. Nay, even if it meant bankrupting every businessman and homeowner, the dollar must be preserved. You see, if we drop rates at this critical juncture, every single foreign government that is holding our debt, as denominated in dollars, will dump dollars so fast the what happened to the Weimar Republic will look like a picnic. Ben Bernanke will do two things: raise rates to keep people buying up our debt, then perform a massive helicopter drop.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Does anyone still support the war?

I have to admit, I initially supported the Iraq War back in 2003. I listened to the war propaganda, and while I didn't believe the whole uranium bit, I was hopeful that we would finally prove the UN wrong and get all the WMD. I chose to ignore the fact that we gave him the WMD in the first place, but it wouldn't be hard for an evil genius like Saddam to make some more.

So the war dragged on, and we didn't find the WMD. Well, at the very least, I thought, we were liberating them, correct? Unfortunately, Rumsfeld ignored the advice of senior commanders to use the number of troops required to pacify a nation the size of Iraq. "Shock and Awe" would be enough to bring down Saddam Hussein, and the people would rise up and spontaneously create a new, peaceful, democratic, multicultural government. Then I watched in horror as these newly "liberated" people proceeded to pillage their own museum without nary a US soldier in sight. Since the Iraqi army disbanded, it was up to Iraqi Citizens to take up arms and patrol their own neighborhoods, and soon an insurgency set in.

Well, I thought, if we just ship some more troops over there, drastically lower the unemployment, and provide basic security, the country will right itself. Unfortunately, all the sweet sweet contracts assigned to Iraq go towards hiring Americans at over 100 grand apiece. Some of these hires were going towards outsourcing duties the army ordinarily performed, at much lower costs than private contractors. Of course, we COULD have hired a dozen Iraqi's for the same price to do a lot of the reconstruction and truck driving. Perhaps the administration cynically never trusted the Iraqis to rebuild their country? Regardless, massive unemployment likely fueled the insurgency, as pissed off young men tend to want to break things when unemployed.

Allright, fine. So we screwed up on the reconstruction front. And we don't nearly have enough people patrolling the country. Well, at least from an imperial standpoint, we have their oil right? Well, instead of nationalizing their oil industry and selling off the crude to the highest bidder to repay for the war and reconstruction effort (as promised) we simply let foreign corporations come in and do the drilling operations as they please. I'm not being anti-capitalist, I'm just pointing out that we gave away their oil reserves without conditions for paying back the American Taxpayer or the Iraqi Government. Also, due to the aforementioned lack of policing, the pipelines are constantly bombed. The end result is that to fill a tank of gas where I live it costs $3.50 per gallon (I live in Chicago), so the Iraq War didn't put a dent in my gas bill as promised. Also, the American Taxpayer is stuck with the 10 billion monthly tab. As a comparison, the experimental fusion reactor in France, which will lead us to true energy independence, costs just 12 billion US dollars.

So where does that lead us now? I say just give up, and bring the boys home. Sure, that does sound like cowardice, but at this point, it's the most rational thing to do. Yes, people will die, but people will die regardless if we stay there or not. Eventually one of the three ethnic groups in the country will assert dominance over the other two, and stability will be restored. If and when they are ready for a democracy, they will have one, because at this point, we can't afford to force it down their throats.

I would also like to point out how this war has eroded our civil liberties, and how the Abu Ghraib Scandal helped to tarnish our reputation, and made us lose the moral high ground when it comes to things such as torture and the Geneva Convention.

The knee-jerk reaction in this election cycle will be to elect Hillary Clinton to pull us out of this mess, but don't be fooled. Hillary Clinton is not anti-war. The three truly anti-war and anti-Patriot Act candidates are Dennis Kucinich (Democrat), Mike Gravel (Democrat), and Ron Paul (Republican).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why the recent stock market high wasn't that high to begin with

The pollyannas rejoiced recently when the Dow Jones Industrial Average at last broke 14000 on July 19th 2007. "See!" they thought to themselves, "The economy is doing great! Who are these fools who constantly warn about doom and gloom?". These are also the same permabulls who tend to believe every statistic the government publishes. Here I will show that this new "high" was never high to begin with, and any profits made by tracking the DJI are more akin to a statement issued by the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland fame:

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

Here I will compare the two previous peaks, the aforementioned from this month (14000), and the peak of the internet bubble: on Jan 14th 2000, the Dow Jones reached 11,723. The reasons why I compare peaks, and don't measure from trough to peak are because of hindsight bias and because I want to compare apples to apples (peak to peak, trough to trough).

I'm not going to use inflation to measure the change in the stock market in real terms, as it would involved a longer discussion about what the "true" inflation is. Instead I will compare the purchasing power of the dollar compared to other currencies. The currencies I have chosen roughly correspond to the G8. I chose gold and silver as traditional currencies and stores of value.

Data from Onanda.com 2000/1/14 2007/7/19 purchasing
power drop
British Pound 0.60750 0.48770 19.7%
Canadian Dollar 1.45080 1.04360 28.1%
Euro 0.97530 0.72470 25.7%
Gold 0.0035210 0.0014870 57.8%
Japanese Yen 106.150 121.9560 -14.9%
Russian Ruble 28.670 25.44230 11.3%
Silver 0.19610 0.075990 61.2%

The change in the purchasing power of the dollar compared to other currencies is absolutely astounding. The only currency that the dollar has actually increased its purchasing power against is the Yen, but this is mostly due to the fact that the Japanese have been pusruing a Zero Interest Rate Policy for many years now. For those not familiar with it, basically the Japanese have been "running the printing presses" like crazy to stop deflation, but it hasn't been working quite the way they expected (see Carry Trade).

Get ready for the big surprise: the peak-to-peak increase in the stock market was only 19.4%! As an intellectual exercise, if you had bought Euros or Pounds and put them in a regular savings account, and not invested in anything you would have made more money. If, like presidential candidate Ron Paul, you had put all your money into Gold and gold mining stocks, you would be making out like a bandit.

This is why I'm voting for Ron Paul for this presidential election. The Federal Reserve has been devaluing the currency so much, it's no wonder that the stock market seems to be shooting through the roof! Ron Paul will tame the federal reserve at the very least, and eliminate it entirely if he can.

Friday, July 27, 2007

International support for Ron Paul

It seems as if the message of liberty, peace, and prosperity is loved not only in the United States, but throughout the world. People in other countries have spontaneously picked up the message of Ron Paul. Witnesseth:

And then there is, of course, The Austrian School of Economics (English) who is behind Ron Paul.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ron Paul Cures Video Game Addiction

Put down that controller, boys and girls, Ron Paul may just cure you of video game and television addiction! Witness this young man attest to this fact:

Ron Paul noticed this effect early on:
"Remember the complaints that kids were addicted to TV and video games, and ignored the world around them? There are plenty who don't fit that bill. And the tool in their hands and ours is the internet. With it, we can circumvent the biased media."

The Low Unemployment Myth

There is a fairly simple law in economics. If unemployment is low, in means that there are more jobs available for the unemployed to choose from, and employers must make better offers. Wages must also rise for current workers, because it is harder to retain employees: many be tempted to find better work due to less competition from the unemployed. Low unemployment = wage growth.

Unemployment is on the decline, but wages have not increased significantly. I refer you to this chart: "Ah," one may ask "But this shows that wages have been increasing at about 4% per year!". These increases have not been corrected for inflation. According to the government, inflation has been running at around 3.3% for 2007. In real terms, the average wage increase has been 0.7%. This is a low number, considering the fact that it is constantly trumpeted that we are in a "job recovery".

The point is that the government isn't giving you an accurate picture of actual unemployment. The unemployment percentages are low, because unemployment pretty much just tells you the total percentage of people receiving unemployment compensation, not the percentage of unemployed in this country. Barry Ritholtz gives a simple summary of how the numbers are fiddled with.

So, unemployment is worse than it should be: maybe it's a few percentage points more. So 0.7% real wage growth doesn't seem that bad. But hold on a moment: what if the government not only fiddled with unemployment numbers, but also fiddled with inflation numbers? When I first looked at how inflation was calculated--by measuring price increases--the amount of tinkering to make the number look lower was astounding. Shadow Government Statistics attempts to reconstruct the number as it was calculated before the Clinton administration. The number he comes up with is actually around 6%. So now we're looking at -2% real wage appreciation. The average working American is therefore getting poorer.

However, measuring inflation using price increases is simply measuring the effects of inflation, not inflation as defined in the dictionary: "Expansion in the money supply beyond the increase in available goods and services. Often misunderstood to mean a rise in prices, which generally accompanies such an expansion." So to look at inflation, one must also look at the rate of increase in the money supply. There are three major "categories" of money supply: M1, M2, and M3. M1 measures "hard" currency like dollar bills and coins and checking accounts. M3 reflects savings accounts and other US money sloshing around the planet. The Federal Reserve in its infinite wisdom has decided to mysteriously stop publishing the M3. Shadow Government Statistics once again has picked up the pieces and recalculated it, and it's at a frightening 13% yearly increase. So, some simple arithmetic here: 4% - 13% is -9%. The average American is falling behind by nine percent a year.

Ron Paul wants the Federal Reserve to start publishing the M3 again. Will you vote for him?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Why I will no longer work on Mursatron 5000

As some of you have seen in a previous post, I had already started creating artwork for the game Mursatron 5000: A Casey Serin Simulator. But whenever I sat down a done research on using a third party game engine or created my own, I got the sensation that I was doing work not having fun. "Nonsense!" I'd tell myself, "This will be awesome! This is for Casey Serin fans and haters everywhere!". Then I thought about it some more. All I was doing was fan service. Casey Serin is going to shut down his blog in August anyway, and after the hatred simmers, he will eventually fall into obscurity. That is, until the day the IRS, FBI, CashCall, and LossMitPro catch up to him and wring him dry. My three book covers I think are enough entertainment.

I have come to the conclusion that I have more useful things to do than to slave away on a video game for several weeks that is likely to turn out pretty mediocre, or worse yet, would be as incomplete as any task that Casey Serin puts his mind to. But, more importantly, I have discovered a more important purpose to my free time: supporting the Ron Paul political campaign. I had actually been following him for a while, as I discovered him to be the lone, sane, honest politician in Congress. He isn't tied down by lobbyists. He holds the "quaint" notion that the Constitution limits the power of government and should maximize the freedoms of individuals as well as the states to make their own decisions. He's for sound money, as opposed to having our money controlled by unaccountable private institutions (the Constitution says only our government can control money... and there was never an amendment to change that). He wants to stop our country from engaging in nation building, as we don't have the moral authority to bully countries into doing our bidding. Why the hell are our troops still in Germany after the Berlin Wall fell? Nation building should only be the result of beating another country in a just war, not en end to itself. Also, continuous warfare on non-entities (War on Terror, War on Drugs) drains the economy and erodes our civil liberties. I digress; my point is that my skills are better served than making a silly game about some naive, amateur, fraudster.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Operation Afternoon Rush a Complete Success!

Chicago Ron Paul supporters recently banded together to spread the message of freedom in Chicago, in an event called Operation Afternoon Rush. We simultaneously canvassed both Union Station and Ogilvie Station. Hundreds of leaflets were passed out, and many who had already heard of Ron Paul gave us the thumbs up. A sweet older lady came up and said "You know, I've heard a lot about Ron Paul from my son!" so the message is spreading.

Recently, Barry Manilow has contributed to the Ron Paul campaign, and is the top candidate of the United States military. If the troops are supporting Ron Paul, which candidate do you think really supports the troops?

Oh and if you don't vote for Ron Paul, Sweet Betsy is going to get you:

To join events similar to this one in Chicago, please join the Greater Chicago Ron Paul 2008 Meetup Group

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Immigration Post on Blue Collar Republican

I was invited to write for bluecollarrepublican.com after I bravely mixed things up by defending some unfair accusations towards Ron Paul and his supporters. I tested the waters by writing an extensive opinion on immigration, which mostly reflects a libertarian position, and I look forward to its reception.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Europa Barbarorum for Barbarian Invasion

EB for BI is no longer hosted here. It has been released to the public domain and is now on sourceforge.

Note: Europa Barbarorum is an amazing mod for an amazing game called Rome Total War. To those not familiar with Europa Barbarorum, Rome: Total War is an amazing ancient era civilization and combat game, which allows you to manage ancient armies much like an ancient general would. EB takes it to the next level by making the game as historically accurate as possible.

From Zero To Hero: Ron Paul Is Now a Top-Tier Candidate

Just a few months ago, Ron Paul barely recognized in polling statistics. Before the election race started however, he was a favorite among libertarians and admired on a few economics blogs. Due to more people hearing his message on the internet, ABC news reports that Ron Paul has topped McCain in campaign financing with 2.4 million dollars. This is heartening, because this financing consists almost entirely of personal donations instead of the usual special interest or corporate donations. This also omits "in kind" financing due to the fact that donations of time and money aren't calculated until later. In terms of financing, the makes Ron Paul a top-tier candidate. This is a sign that his campaign has momentum, and his poll numbers should undoubtedly go up. He is already the top republican candidate on youtube and a top search in Technorati, but due to this surge in financing, the mainstream media will find him hard to ignore.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mursatron 5000: A Casey Serin Simulator - The Planning

I've been batting around a Casey Serin video game idea in my brain for a while. I decided to finally put my ideas on paper (or HTML of you prefer). Mursatron 5000: A Casey Serin Simulator will be a 2D top-down view action game. The purpose would be to get cashback at close from houses for sale, and other little loans such as from cash call, as quickly as possible. Obviously, no money will be spent on debt repayment or living expenses, save for trips to Jamba Juice and Starbucks which will speed up Casey. After a while, houses purchased will fall into foreclosure and random haterz and collectors will come after you. Haterz will simply slow you down, while having a collector catch you will make you lose the game. Eventually, I will think about putting in other powerups that will make you temporary invincible to detractors, in the vein of Packman.
The Platform:
Originally I was going to use the XNA system developed by microsoft. I ran into several technical difficulties, namely, that not only are you limited to windows, but your graphics card MUST support Directx 9! My development machine doesn't have a decent graphics card, so I couldn't even compile a test project! So I might just do it in OpenGL, so it it will run on any system. But since I'm kinda lazy, and making a multi-platform game would take forever, I might just hack into the windows drawing routines since I plan on only making a 2D game anyway.
I don't have much artwork at the moment, but I have some stuff in the works and will be updating this post as graphics become available.
Akubi Nacho Calico Koi Golden Koi Ruddy Koi

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Silver into Gold

In the good old days when money was actually backed by something real like gold and silver, the exchange rate from silver to gold was set to 16:1. As much as I grow a rubbery one at the thought of a gold-backed currency, such goverment tinkering resulted in some serious imbalances. To make an instant profit from arbitrage between gold and silver, one had to simply accumulate a large amount of silver money and exchange it for gold money. For a long explanation on how this worked, I refer you to this article. Now that silver, gold, and cash have been decoupled from each other, the rate of exchange between the two metals can float freely.

I have a small amount of bullion hidden away that I fondly call my "apocalypse fund", just in case really bad things happen. Now, hopefully these things will not happen, but my investment will not be in vain since bullion has beaten inflation in the past few years. What is the reason for this title? Well, I don't want to hold silver anymore for one simple reason: outside of the United States the sale of silver is subject to a VAT tax. The fact that gold is easy to carry than silver is offset by the fact that it's harder to make small purchases with gold than silver.

Now, since the silver and gold ratio vary wildly lately, and it's hard to time the market, when taking fees into consideration, the conversion ratio was about 45:1! Which means that this much silver:

converts into this much gold, plus a small hit to my credit card:

Kinda sucks, doesn't it?

EDIT 2007/6/29: My fiancée is understandably concerned that I'm revealing sensitive financial information on the internet. For those willing to come looking for my pot of gold (and a disappointingly small pot it would be), rest assured that it lays in a securely locked chest an the bottom of a well in an undisclosed location while guarded 24-7 by sharks with laser beams on their foreheads. And koi.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Casey Serin writes volume 4 of his book

Casey has done the impossible and released the fourth and hopefully last in his collection of print. May God have mercy on the soul of the poor fellow who has to read this one. (Okay guys, this was fun, but I'm seriously burnt out now, lol)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Casey Serin launches volume 3!

Casey serin has just released the third book of his chef d'oeuvre, titled "A Million Little Leases", all in the space of 24 hours! Talk about a massive focused action of late-nite business mettings!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Casey Serin releases a new book!

Casey Serin has released a new book... and it's not "The Foreclosure Code"! His new epic is entitled "House Crash": (All apologies to Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Haterzcast on 06/22/07 cancelled: backup talkcast held instead

Poor CHJTS got into a car accident yesterday, so that night's Haterzcast was aborted. A few of use gathered together to hold a Backup Talkcast, hosted by gordonsanders. There was some Casey Serin hating there, but it was mostly about Annie discussing legal options available to Galina, in case of divorce or separation. Here it is, below:

(if the player above doesn't load, click the image below)

Powered by TalkShoe

Players: gordonsanders, Annie[?], Egosumabbas. Other players, please leave a comment so I can add you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

David Crisp: Can I have $1.8 billion too?

This may be old news to some of you, but real-estate scammer David Crisp got a $1.8 billion line of credit to start the "University Towers" project in Bakersfield, Kaleeforrneea. Astonished, I sent in a prank email to his newfound financiers Neuflithz Wisenthall & Schlumberger:

To whom it may concern:

Thank for the time in reading my email. I was wondering if my corporation could get 1.8 billion dollars in financing for a commercial project of ours. It consists of multi-pronged business campaign aimed at several markets. Real Estate does this all the time in high-rise construction: offices, condos, and retail are often located in the same building. I was considering doing the same, but on rural property. Consider the following possible uses of formerly country farmland:

1) Llama farm - llama wool sells at a premium. The llamas could also be featured in a petting zoo. Possible advertising revenue could be done with state and country fairs.
2) Wind farm - wind turbines could be installed along ridgelines on the property to maximize power generating efficiency. Some of the debt being taken on could be easily paid in the long term thanks to government subsidies.
3) Hydroelectric - small hydroelectric turbines could be installed on small streams on the property. It is a myth that only large rivers produce abundant hydroelectric power.
4) Ethanol distillation - extra switchgrass not consumed by llamas could be processed into clean-burning ethanol technology. It's been proved that switchgrass is a far more effective ethanol crop than corn, and can also be consumed readily by llamas and other grazing animals. It is also a perennial plant that does not need fertilization.

I'm sure you'll agree that this would be a wise investment. I look forward to hearing your reply. Best regards,

Any rational investment firm would promptly relegate my email to the spam folder and block my IP address. However, I actually got a polite reply from these fine gentlemen. I thought to myself "I think I smell a scam here". First, Mr. Crisp claims that these are "high-level financiers from Europe", and when further pressed said "Do I feel confident about this as a funding source? Yes, I do, 110 percent [...] I'm confident with people that are working on it, I'm confident that it will get done." Their reply to my email as follows:

For International Investment & Financial Services
Tel.: +971-4-2236322 / Fax: +971-4-2279800 / Mob: +971-50-5443571
E-mail: nws@emirates.net.ae P.O. Box: 42556 Dubai, U.A.E. License No.: 530866
Website: http://www.neuflithzwisenthallschlumberger.com

C.C. : Credit Analysis
Pages : 6 (including this page)


Dear Mr. Nadolski,

As per Dr. Dias' instructions, annexed please find relevant documentation relating to the above mentioned subject.

Please inform us for our records how you came to know about our organisation, i.e. , personal references, Time Magazine or International Herald Tribune advertisements, Financial Press, Internet, etc.

Best regards,

NWS - Dubai Office

C.C.: NWS - London Office
[Personal information and credit request form omitted]

If they are "high-level European financiers", then why is their headquarters in Dubai? And why are they so eager so lend me money? Maybe they actually liked my business proposal. Should I take them up on their offer?

You can read more about David "It's all about image" Crisp at the Bakersfield Bubble Blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Casey Serin Limericks

Since IAFF has been getting a tad dull lately, with Casey Serin once again begging from his Haterz™ to help dig out of the superfund waste dump he created for himself, I have decided to repost some hilarious limericks I've come across on iamfacingforeclosure. These were all written by the poster known as "Wishful Thinker".
When he filled out the loan forms he knew
That the words he filled in were not true
Checking numbers was rare
and the banks didn't care
Now their loans have turned into poo poo
KC is today's Peter Pan
And Caseyworld is like Neverland
When reality intrudes
And darkens his mood
He says" I'll never grow up" life is grand

To read more Casey Serin limericks by "Wishful Thinker", Google can lend a hand.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why does radioshack continue to exist?

A recent failed purchase at a nearby Radioshack store made me wonder at how much life imitates art. The onion published a hilarious article entitled Even CEO Can't Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business. Read it for a good laugh, because unfortunately, the funniest material they write is firmly grounded in reality.

Here is a shining example as to why Radioshack's business model is fatally flawed. I have a computer hooked up to my HDTV that I use to play DVD's and recorded movies off my network. I wanted to improve the picture by switching from a VGA cable to DVI cable. These aren't obscure parts, even though Radioshack traditionally has been known to carry a motley assortment of electronic parts. Many of you probably recognize the cables easily from the pictures shown in the links.

There is a Radioshack close to home that is within walking distance. But just to be safe, I went on their website to verify that they have a number of DVI cables to choose from. It seemed like they had a wide variety, from the useless, overpriced Monster brand to a less overpriced in-house brand. I figured the extra expense of buying the cable in person would be made up by the convenience and speed compared to the shipping costs and waiting time of buying online.

When I went to the store one evening, the first rack near the door contained an army of overpriced monster cables. This was expected, since the markup on those monsters is monstrous, and probably reel in a hefty profit. You see, since the DVI specification is a digital signal, there is absolutely no benefit to having the higher priced monster cable. Unless there is a fundamental flaw in the cable you buy, you're better off getting the cheapest cable you can find, though I'll get more into that later. Thankfully, they had some in-house generic brand cables there too. However, not one single cable of these was a simple DVI cable. They had lots of HDMI cables, and they even had a DVI-to-HDMI converter. I could have cobbled together some kind of hack to get the DVI signal to go to an HDMI plug in my TeeVee, but the total cost would have been over $100! Frustrated, I asked the sales clerks (who were by now hovering around me like flies gravitating to a freshly laid turd) for some aid. Naturally, they guided me right back to the rack full of Monstrosity Cables, and didn't find a DVI-to-DVI cable either (no shit sherlock). I told them that they had lots of these kinds of cables online, but assured me that I was probably looking at internet only products. They then suggested I cobble together that same DVI-to-HDMI hack that I mentioned earlier. I promptly told them not to waste any more of their time and bid them adieu.

This is a picture of the clever hack I would have had to buy at Radioshack. The product on the left is the Monster DVI to HDMI adapter. That costs 34.99. The shortest Monster HDMI cable they had was 79.99. Total cost (before tax) is roughly $115.

So feeling a bit disgruntled, I decided to surf over to amazon.com, among many choices of web vendors. I searched for DVI cables, ordered it by cheapest, and found found 6 FT. DVI SINGLE LINK CABLE for the shockingly low price of $1.50 new from one of the independent sellers (Amazon's price was $7.99). Even with 4 bucks of shipping it and using the Amazon price, it was still massively affordable. Figuring there was a catch as to why it was so cheap, I did a little research. According to wikipedia's DVI article, there are two flavors of DVI: single and dual. Single supports 1920×1200 resolution compared to dual's 2560×1600. Single is therefore the cheaper of the two. Since my HDTV is 1336×768, a single link DVI cable is more than enough to satisfy my needs.

I received the product in plain packaging a few days later, and the picture on my TeeVee is crystal clear, since it's a "perfect" digital signal, far superior to the original VGA cable. All this from a product that cost less than 10 dollars.

This goes to show that the success of Radioshack is based on the ignorance of the general public to its price-gouging activities by pushing Monster products above all else. Buying Monster only makes sense when the best performance is needed: wiring expensive high-fidelity and high-wattage audio equipment over 40 feet, such as at a club or at a rock concert, using analog cables. For digital video and digital audio, the cheapest quality cable will be more than sufficent. Even if you feel compelled the highest quality goods to simply show off to your friends, you'll be better off buying your monster cable online. As more an more people are drawn to the internet, Radioshack will increasingly find fewer and fewer reasons to exist.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Best Ben Bernanke Parody Ever

This has to be the most hilarious Helicopter Ben picture I've ever seen: Lost all your money flipping Las Vegas condos or daytrading sub-penny gold stocks? Maxed out 100 grand on your credit cards? NO PROBLEM! Helicopter Ben to the rescue! Thanks Bull (Not Bull) for the graphic.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Chicago Spire Is a Pipe Dream

The buzz in Chicagoland has been about the newly redesigned Chicago Spire. The Chicago Plan Commission recently approved this new design. Architecture fans are gushing over its sleek, winding, glass superstructure, politicians are fawning over how it will add to the sky line and the city's marketability for the Olympics, and your average citizen is wondering why the silhouette of the building resembles a popular sex toy. More importantly, the people of Streeterville living in the immediate vicinity of the future 150 storey structure worry about the building's impact on traffic and public space.

However, I think the biggest roadblock to the project is simple economics. I'm going to assume the popular estimate of the project costing $2.2 billion to be accurate, though I'm sure cost overruns are going to push it higher. The biggest folly is the fact that it's going to be mostly residential with some retail shopping on the ground floor. No mixed-use, with partial office space: it's pure condo.

Since I work downtown, I've witnessed many new condo and hotel constructions planned and under construction. Also, more than a few office buildings have been converted to condo as well. The market is clearly saturated. If you don't believe me about the Chicago housing market having too much supply, these numbers on housing inventory back me up. All these condos are going up downtown, but the amount of office space is proportionally going down. You need high paid workers to live in all these fancy luxury condos.

So what do these other condos have to do with the Chicago Spire? The Chicago Spire will be competing against all these other condo developments. Given, the Chicago Spire will be the tallest building in North America when completed, I'll give it that much. However, a simple calculation based on the projected costs of the project ($2.2 billion) against the number of units for sale (1200), reveals a very disturbing statistic. In order for the project to break even, the average price of each condo will have to be $1,830,000. A quick search on ziprealty shows that you can get yourself a mammoth greystone rowhouse from the 1880's for that price fairly close to the city center. To each his own.

Let's take a different approach to that condo price though. Traditional methods of calculating housing affordability suggest that one should not spend more than 30% of one's income on housing payments. Another way is to multiply your household income by 2.5-3.0 to determine how much house you can afford. Let's be generous and assume a multiple of 3. This means to be able to afford living in this glass and steel phallus you must make about 610,000 a year. How many people make that kind of money? According to the latest US census data (2005) only 31,506 households make more than 200K a year in Chicago proper. The number making more than 600K a year is probably a fraction of that. That's not a lot of high-rollers go to around. My educated guess is that they will try to find more value for their money, like an all-stone Victorian mansion.

But never fear, the mainstream-media says all is well! National Public Radio interviewed some economic experts for us and broke it all down. The first person, a Realtor®, stated "if we're able to get a totally different and new group of buyers into the marketplace they're going to create more demand... it will help push up pricing especially in the premium buildings in the city". He thinks the key is to sucker foreigners who don't know any better to buy up our overpriced property. Expert number 2 from the Trump International Hotel and Tower says that Chicago can definitely handle the higher prices, because we have more luxury projects in the works (i.e., more supply of expensive condos will mean more demand for expensive condos). And of course, the baby boomers will swoop in and save the day! The pulverizing logic of faith-based economics has won me over. It's all good, build away.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Funniest Casey Serin Comment Ever

This has to be the funniest (and truest) comment by far that I've ever seen posted on iamfacingforeclosure. Thanks for the laugh Scott:
We’re not haterz, we’re just watching the train roll by, yelling at you to pull the brake:

I started out just surprised that someone managed to get so badly in debt without a plan, then became engrossed in watching the trainwreck. Not just any ordinary train wreck, mind you. No, Casey has managed to set up conditions that are well beyond a normal train wreck. It’s all in the details, too, and that’s how I became a Haterz(tm).

Going through his blog week by week I found that Casey has managed to assemble a frightening collection of rolling stock. What’s in this freight car? Oh, a bunch of cases of dynamite. And in this one? Some kegs of gunpowder. Another is full of matches. We find the latest is now filled with tons of rotten, spoiled food because, D’oh! Snowflake forgot to turn on power to the refrigeration car.

Robert Kiyosaki watches the train roll by, gathering speed, since it’s on a downhill. How steep? Oh anywhere from 8% to 14% slope, it seems. RK points and laughs. “Kid, you are *so* screwed” he yells.

Casey’s in the engineer’s cabin, staring at a big lever labelled “BRAKE”. Does he pull it? No. He pulls some other lever that’s unlabeled. He thinks about pulling the brake lever, but PrLinkBiz flashes her thong. Casey’s distracted and forgets about the brake lever.

Tim from MBA calls on the radio, trying to coach Casey into at least slowing the train down. Tim describes to Casey what a brake lever looks like and how to use it. Casey smiles and nods in that way people do when they don’t speak the language, hangs up, and decides to eat some vegetarian shrimp.

Casey thinks again about trying to find the brake lever. Nobody flashes their thong. Casey’s distracted and forgets the brake lever.

Casey pulls on some things that don’t even remotely look like levers, becomes distracted, sets the alarm for 5:30, and goes to sleep so he can be well-rested for pulling on everything but that brake lever the next day.

Casey sees Homeless Bob hop on his train. Homeless Bob starts throwing sticks of dynamite out the door. Casey notices, thinks about shaking his fist in rage at Homeless Bob, then decides taking a nap is a wiser course of action.

People lined up along the route are yelling at Casey to pull the brake lever. “It’s the one with B-R-A-K-E written above it!”. “Spelling’s for loosers, I’m an ideas man”, Casey yells back.

Casey watches the couplings pop and the freight cars behind him go lose(tm). All Casey can think of is how sweet it would be to add 200 more freight cars to his train.

Casey puts out a sign advertising “Become a Locomotive Engineer! $39 Training Course”.

Nigel flashes his thong (leopard print, did someone say?). Casey’s distracted and forgets that he’s on a train.

Finally, the train approaches a curve. The locomotive is going too fast and jumps the rails, with Casey merely holding onto his blue ball in the hope that it will cushion the blow. Before the locomotive and Casey have a chance to slide to a stop, the freight cars that had all popped lose(tm) come flying around the corner, each jumping the rails and hitting Casey from behind (I’m too lazy to work in any jail metaphors here - y’all can think them on your own). All these hits have pushed Casey towards a cliff.

One final freight car is jumping the rails. It’s full of about 15 million pennies. They’re heavier than ordinary pennies because they’re dirty. Lots o’ momentum here, enough to push Casey over the cliff.

Down below? A river. Is this the end? Naaah, this trainwreck has so much more to play out. There’s a barge that Casey might land on. Not any ordinary barge, though. This one’s engulfed in flames. Steering wheel’s broken. A few hundred yards downstream? A waterfall. Sharp pointy rocks below, piranha in heat swimming around. There’s also a plane with CashCall written on the side that hovering around. Seems the engine’s stalled and it’s starting to plummet, aimed right at our “hero”. It just goes on and on.

Come all you Haterz(tm) if you want to hear
A story ’bout a flipper with no fear,
Casey Serin was the investor’s name
“Twas in the Central Valley that he won his fame.

Casey Serin, he wanted passive income.
Casey Serin, chugging wheatgrass shots with glee.
Casey Serin, how can he be so dumb?
Thinking that no work will bring him money for free.

View the original post here

Friday, March 30, 2007

Casey Serin No Stranger to Pyramid Schemes

At long last, I've finally stumbled across Casey Serin's original Chain Letter, written when he was just 14 (it's from February 8th 1997, he was born September 10th, 1982). When he says he has "business experience", he's not joking! Ten years of creating pyramid schemes, apparently. This is why the "cash out at close" "fix 'n' flip" scam was a no brainer. He takes out a zero-down stated income loan, ignores the interest rate since he has no intention of paying back every dirty penny, gets cash back greater than the legal limit. The cash back is used to fund real estate seminars (undoubtedly to discover better ways to game the system and extract cash, also known to him as "standard industry practices"), jamba juice, a hawaiian vacation, and trips to see his various properties (with as little "fix" of the flip as possible). Like a man buying more chips at a craps table, the cashback is inevitably not enough (as he quit his potentially lucrative job as a PHP programmer), and this is where he commits his critical mistake. A true con man would realize that foreclosure is an inevitability and would take the next plane to Mexico or Uzbekistan. However, like the famous Charles Ponzi, he believed in his own scam, and like a moth to the flame, clings to the limelight as much as possible. So he starts grabbing money from "private lenders" (read: loan sharks) like CashCall. The mistake is that you can't "return the keys to the bank" with this company. They will get a Writ of Execution and take all his stuff, and if he's not careful, all his wife's and sister-in-law's stuff as well. In short, Casey Serin is nothing but a pyramid schemer, and a bad one at that, who got bitten by the narcissism bug of 21st century internet celebrity. A Con Artist knows when to move on, but he fell into the seduction of YouTube and blogging somehow thinking that exposing his own gross incompetence was a way to cash in. Whether or not he can make money off his notoriety like Monica Lewinsky or OJ Simpson by writing a book remains to be seen.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Casey Serin Techno Remix

Just recently I came across a techno remix of Casey Serin's webcast/podcast/talkshow. It perfectly crystalizes the whole 2 hour ordeal into a few minutes. In fact, I would say it perfectly summarizes Casey Serin and the entire contents of iamfacingforeclosure.com:

You can also download the CASH-IN CASEY by The Fannnnnnnnnn remix to put on your favorite mp3 player. If you have 2 hours to kill, The original podcast itself is available here, and you may also read the transcript of the first hour, and the transcript of the second hour. If you're listening to the full podcast, beware the 15 minute "intermission" between the two hours. The last 20 minutes of the podcast are by far the most entertaining.

As far as the music goes, it's your typical mid-90's club-head eurotrash techno. However, there are some amusing musical references to The Girl from Ipanema, and Brahm's Hungarian Dance No. 5.

EDIT: After a number of google searches, I could not find the original author of "Call-in Casey"! If the original artist comes forward, I will buy him or her a jamba juice of their choice along with a free wheatgrass shot.

EDIT on 6/12/2007: It seems that the author is none other than Casey Fannnnn (the number of n's is variable), who often posts to Exurban Nation. The original mp3 link is here. The original post that it appears in is here. He even has his own entry on caseypedia Dude, Casey Fannnnn, give me a shout out and I'll order you some Jamba Juice next time you're in Chicago!

EDIT on 9/16/2007: It appears that the original source for the MP3 has disappeared, so I've redirected it to a mirror.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Loudness War and Replay Gain Follow Up

In my Prevous Post I discussed the loudness war, and how to correct some of the distortion present in your music files, and how to bring them to the same loudness as the rest of your collect. However, I only showed how to do this with Ogg Vorbis files (*.ogg). You can also do this with your MP3's using MP3Gain.

This program, fortunately, has a GUI for those averse to the command prompt. Most of it is straight forward. You click add folder, and it automatically scans it and adds all the MP3's contained in all its sub directories. To use it, you may optionally do a track analysis first to see the varying amounts of loudness of all your files. This may take a while though, so be sure to do this before lunch or going to bed. You will only have to do this once however, so it doesn't matter if you do it now yourself, or if you let the program do it for you later. You have several options when applying the gain to your tracks. The default is track gain, which makes all your MP3's the same volume relative to each other. The other popular option is album gain, which normalizes all tracks by album, that is, all the tracks from one CD will be at the same volume relative to each other from the original recording, but the whole album will be set to a loudness relative to other albums. This is for audiophiles who want to preserve the difference in volume between tracks on a classical album for instance, where one movement might be piano, and the other forte. I'm not sure what the "constant gain" option does, so you may want to research it yourself later.

Before you go click happy and hit the "Track Gain" button, there is an important feature for you to consider. Some tracks may be marked as "clipped", due to a sound engineer pushing the loudness of a track way beyond its limits, and causing a jarring distortion known as "clipping". By default, MP3Gain may not always correct this clipping problem, or may accidentally introduce its own clipping when amplifying a track that was originally very quiet. To fix this, go under options and check "Don't clip when doing track gain". Other options to note are under Options->Tags. This allow you to optionally skip already-calculated tags or to force them to be recalculated.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How the Suits Stole the Life out of Music, and How You Can Steal It Back

While recently browsing wikipedia I looked up Depeche Mode's Playing the Angel, and discovered something odd in the footnotes:
The album is considered by numerous fans to be poorly mastered, relying on heavy compression to intentionally and artificially boost the output. Due to the format's inherent characteristics, vinyl versions are unaffected by the poor mastering of the CD versions.

This led me to a blog post about how the audio mastering on Playing the Angel is yet another victim of the Loudness War. What this means is that many new albums (including remasters I afraid) are purposely mastered to be as loud as possible at the expense of dynamic range, audio fidelity, and possibly introducing errors like clipping. Sure enough I listened to "Precious", and heard the telltale "popping" of clipping during beats. Sure enough, the waveform of the song looks like a wall of noise:

Wall of Noise

What does this picture mean? In layman's terms, in most recorded sound, the "green blob" should look like a fuzzy sausage, not a solid rectangle. It should be lumped mostly in the middle, with little spikes hitting near the top on bottom throughout. Sometimes (during the softer parts of the song), the sausage shape should get skinny. The spikes repesent things like beats and cymbal crashes. In the case of "Precious" every single possible microsecond has been "normalized" (cranked to 11 if you will).

Why would the suits do such a thing? Well, two reasons, really. First, louder albums make more sales. Given two heavy metal albums, would you pick the louder or quieter one? Second, "audio compression" (different from mp3 compression) makes the music consistently loud in a noisy environment or public environment (your car or the dance floor). When listening with headphones though, the distortions can become noticeable, such as every part of a song being at the same volume, the music sounding "muddy", and the clipping I mentioned earlier.

So, how can you correct this travesty? Well, fortunately, there are tools that can fix the clipping errors and alleviate some of the muddiness. The dynamic range problem can't be fixed though. The only way to fix that problem is to find a vinyl copy of your album, record it on your computer to a lossless format such was FLAC, then record it back to CD.

Here's what you can do if you have your music on CD, MP3, or Ogg Vorbis. There is a standard called Replay Gain. The wikipedia link has a number of implementations, but I will explain here how to quickly bring all your Ogg Vorbis music files back up to par. Coincidentally, this tool will also help your classical music albums sound almost as loud as your rock albums on your player, so you don't need to fiddle with your volume dial as often. It is called VorbisGain and is available on Rareware's list of ogg utilities. It's a command line utility, but don't let that scare you! Click on the download link under "VorbisGain v.0.37". Open up the zipfile. You'll see a bunch of code files, ignore those and go into the "Release" folder. There will be a single exe file. Save the exe to your windows directory (usually c:\windows). Then click Start->Run... and enter "cmd" into the box (without quotes) and hit enter. A DOS prompt will show up. Type in the following:

VorbisGain.exe -r "YourMusicDirectoryGoesHere\*.ogg"

The -r means it scan all your folders and files recursively for Ogg Vorbis. YourMusicDirectoryGoesHere is the location of your music. In my case it is g:\Music, yours will be elsewhere. Some may be thinking "Woah buddy, I'm not going to just run some dos command to garble my music!" This program will not modify the actual audio data. It will simply mark your file with a "loudness value" that will be used by your music player. Now for the last step. Most music players have a plugin to use Replay Gain. I happen to use WinAmp, and all you have to do to turn it on is to go to Options->Preferences->General Preferences->Playback, turn on "Use Replay Gain" and select "Apply Gain / Prevent Clipping" for the Amplification Mode. Other programs will differ. If your player does not have a Replay Gain feature, your files will simply play as they did before. If you don't think Replay Gain sounds good or screws something up, you can always undo your work with the -c switch:

VorbisGain.exe -r -c "YourMusicDirectoryGoesHere\*.ogg"

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Problems Installing Linux

Since Windows Vista makes me sick, I decided to to give Linux a spin, as I remember the KDE interface to be quite tasty. I'm now on my FIFTH flavor of Linux trying to get it installed. My system is neither bleeding edge, nor obscure, but it is rather new. It is made with off-the-shelf parts and assembled myself. Windows XP 64-bit installed perfectly and runs amazingly well. The specs are as follows:

So I fire up Kubuntu 6.06 Dapper 64-bit edition, the latest stable release of that flavor of Linux. A half-minute through the standard install selection, and I get this un-userfriendly obscure error:

PCI: Failed to allocate mem resource #6: 20000@50000000 for 0000: 01:00.0

Even with a Computer Engineering Degree from a Big 10 University and 2.5 years experience in software development, this doesn't mean squat to me. Some googling later reveals that this release of Kubuntu/Ubuntu doesn't have the latest kernel of Linux, and therefore doesn't support the Intel Core 2 Duo. Why Windows XP-64 with SP1, an operating system that dates from April 25 2005 (according to wikipedia), doesn't have any problems is a mystery to me.

Thinking that the kernel is the problem, I download instead Kubuntu 6.10 Edgy. I got the following problems with this installer:

/bin/sh: can't access tty; job control turned off

Some searching for this problem revealed that my SATA drive might be to blame (really?). I tried some command line switches that people suggested in some forums, and got the same result. Another post recommended I use the Alternative installation CD. So, I download this one, burn it, run it, and choose the text installer. After choosing some initial options, I get this lovely error:

No common CD-ROM drive was detected

No CD-ROM? Are you joking? How the hell did this installer run in the first place? I tried manually selecting one, but nothing was detected this way. It kindly suggested that I abort the installation. Later on I discovered this happened on machines who happened to have windows installed on the primary partition of a SATA drive.

Having exhausted most flavors of Kubuntu, and not wishing to download the absolutely-bleeding-edge developer's nightmare edition, I opted out, and browsed the other breeds of Linux on distrowatch.com. I was disappointed in not being able to install Ubuntu/Kubuntu, since it is the most popular one on there. I opted next for SimplyMEPIS 6.5 RC1, another Debian based Linux, and reportedly similar to Kubuntu. Two episodes of Babylon 5 later, it's downloaded and ready to go. Things looked promising at first until in unexpectedly left the install GUI and went into an infinite loop of printing out the following line of text:

/etc/init: 5 /linuxrc: not found

Apparently this is caused by the fact that I have an Intel 965 motherboard. So much for off-the-shelf parts, eh?

Despairingly, I decided to simply pick at random from the list of the top linuxes on DistroWatch. OpenSUSE 10.2 seemed promising for one particular reason: it had an optional "mini-install" that downloads packages directly from the internet. Sick of downloading large ISO files, I opted for this one. I popped in the CD and started the installer. At first it seemed to have the same problems as Kubuntu in not liking my SATA and DVD-ROM combination, but eventually the prompt for an internet installer. I followed the instructions verbatim from SUSE's website, and eureka! it started downloading without a hitch.

The installer is quite pretty and intuitive. It intelligently set up extra partitions on my hard drive, detecting my windows partitions and leaving them alone. It automatically set up a pagefile partition, which is something I have to do manually for Windows using a special partitioning boot CD. The defaults were nice, but gave you the option of specifying your own partitions, so either a novice or an expert would be happy. The default software packages were intelligently picked as well, assuming that I wanted a standard selection of desktop applications. The only thing I had to add in "expert" mode was an optional 32-bit environment (for WINE to run windows applications). Optionally there were server and developer packages advanced users could install. I could also pick which GUI I wanted to download: Gnome, KDE, or "other". It gave me a nice summary of my choices at the end, allowing me to go back and fix any choices. It then started downloading, giving me the estimated size remaining of the download, number of packages, and time remaining.

Looks like it will continue downloading during the night, so my user experience will have to wait for another post. Hopefully, I will be able to figure out how to get it to interact on my Windows network. Though I was frustrated with the install process at first, I reminded myself that at least I didn't pay for this operating system. All it cost me was some internet bandwidth, a couple evenings, and a few blank CD's. This is more than I can say for people's experiences installing windows vista.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Casey Serin: An elaborate hoax?

Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory. Take the Flat Earth Society's opinion on the Apollo Moon Landings. I propose here that one should consider that Casey Serin's story on iamfacingforeclosure.com is an elaborate internet hoax, like Primate Programming Inc. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Nobody could get in 2.2 million dollars in debt so quickly at such a young age with no employment history. It's true that 0% down no-doc neg-amortization loans have been out of a while, but 8 properties? Didn't the subprime mortgage market start to collapse in 2006? Then again, Casey Serin wonders aloud why is my credit score so high, since it takes a few months for one's credit rating to be affected.
  2. Despite Casey's loathing of "haters", Casey is willing to put up a collection of satire on himself. This is an indication to me that the whole site itself is satire.
  3. Even though Casey Serin is constantly mocked and parodied in comments and in other blogs for abuse of the word "sweet", Jamba Juice product placements, and obsession with wheatgrass shots, he continues to do so. Even today, he has a whole post dedicated to juice.
  4. Deliberate irony in several posts. The foremost on my mind is the post entitled Homess Dude Trespassing on my Property, despite the fact that he himself is homless (he lives with in-laws) and soon will not own the property either. Another is the post with the foreclosure auction, where the auctioneer is wearing a hat that says "flop", and uses a trashcan as a podium. There is also the above-mentioned posting of satire pictures.
  5. Despite comitting mortgage fraud on a massive scale, among other scams, the State and Federal governments have not yet used him as a posterboy for mortgage fraud, despite his high profile public image.
  6. Nobody posting on Casey Serin's blog has yet met him in person, as far as I've read in the comments (can somebody prove me wrong?).
Despite all of that, there are a number of things that are not in my favor:
  1. Numerous photographs of properties that would be time consuming to steal from other pages, and pictures of events that require paying for entry.
  2. Pictures of legal and financial notices that might be tough to fake.
  3. Appearances in the media and with Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) that would make it difficult to fake one's story.
  4. The fact that many real estate purchases were timed to have a minimal impact on credit score (though this may not have been intentional), and they were done in multiple states to allow for easier committal of fraud.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

First Post

Setting up a blog has become almost painless these days, so I decided to join the foray. I'll be looking forward to making posts on various topics in the near term. A few topics that have been rattling around in my brain have been: posthumanism (or transhumanism), Casey Serin, forthcoming deflationary collapse, peak oil, programming, and so forth. Stay tuned.