Big Lift’s Happy River

Big Lift’s Happy River

NPR has been tracking retail prices, to gauge the effects of tariffs on consumer costs. They picked a particular Walmart in Georgia and compiled a shopping list of a 100 items. Items selected to run the gamut of all the many different things that Americans regularly buy. They published an article that compares the prices from a year ago to now. Here is a link to their article. Cod and cabbage lead the list with the largest jump in price, but these price increases have more to do with bad weather than with tariffs. While garlic, with the third largest price jump is a good example of the effects of tariffs. What got me interested in this subject, was the higher price of toilet paper that I had already noticed. Apparently, this price increase is not tariff related either, but is because of higher transportation costs for its raw material, wood pulp. Some things on their shopping list have gone down in price, but unfortunately I had failed for the most part to notice these changes. This is because for the most part I don’t but those items often enough to notice the changes. China’s reverse tariffs have forced down the price on some seafood items like shrimp and lobster. Even though Saint Louis is as landlocked as you can get, I’ll have to have to start shopping for more shellfish. Most of the items on the NPR list did not change in price.

The pictured salty is not likely to carry any of the shopping items on the NPR list. With its larger than normal cranes, it is designed to carry outsized cargos. A popular example of this type of cargo are wind turbine blades. With this ship’s name, Happy River, I leapt to the conclusion that it was of Chinese origin, but now I am not so sure. It was built in the Netherlands and was likely deadheading back down, after dropping off turbine blades that usually come from Germany.

I think that the protectionist trade policy that the current administration has adopted is horribly misguided. Trade wars are not easy to win. Especially, when you try to go mano a mano and all alone against a command economy. The latest round of US tariffs have been delayed until after the rush of this year’s holiday shopping season. That means that the real bite from tariffs won’t be felt until next year, which also happens to be an election year. We’ll see how happy voters are about getting a huge sales tax, just in time for next year’s election.

Nothing but Nose

Pachyderm Ball or Nothing but Nose

What a year! What a sports town Saint Louis is this year. First, the Blues won the Stanley Cup! Next, STL scored a Major League Soccer team. Now the Cards look like they are playoff bound. Even the elephants at the zoo have got game.

Last week, I had my annual physical checkup. Today, Anne and I had our annual fiscal checkup. Fortunately, both checkups checked out just fine. We don’t have to stock up on cat food, at least not anytime soon. When I retired, three years ago, we looked into getting a financial planner, but the one that we spoke to was asking 1%, which is nominal for the industry. Still, at the time, I balked at the price, figuring that I could do as well and for free. In the intervening years, I’ve come to a different conclusion. I think that getting some help would be a good idea now. It just so happens that I’ve had a financial advisor all along. They are an online, super cheap (0.15%)  service that I got through my last employer. They never have cost much, but I never felt that they did all that much either. I think that has changed. Anne and I had a face-to-face meeting today, with their local representative. It was illuminating and I look forward to working together.

With our new found feeling of wealth, however illusionary that it might be, we went out to lunch. We ate at the Frisco Barroom in Webster. It’s only been open for a year. We’ve tried to dine there before, but have always been shutout. There were no problems today though. We each had sandwiches, which we both saved half, making lunch for tomorrow. Feeling virtuous, we split some key lime pie. There was some confusion on the pie order and the waiter brought us pecan pie by mistake. He ended up comping us that piece of pie. Now we have dessert too.

Oculus Station

Oculus Outpost Primaris

Dan has launched a Kickstarter campaign. His company, Fallen Tower Designs has created a line of laser cut terrain called Oculus Station. It is modular terrain for use in the 28mm miniatures game, Warhammer 40K. This line of terrain features a modular design and easy assembly that can be reconfigured to fit your game. Build the battlefield using this sci-fi industrial design.

He makes this terrain using his Glowforge laser cutter. He has been showing prototypes of his designs on his Instagram site, Grimmest Dark and it’s good to see it going now. Unfamiliar with the concept? Kickstarter is a crowd-sourced fund-raising website. Glowforge used Kickstarter to launch its laser cutter.

I think that he launched it yesterday and already has a few backers. As part of this campaign, he offers varying investment levels, with commiserate rewards. I believe that the above photo represents the highest such level, Oculus Outpost Primaris (Figures not included). Checkout his Kickstarter page for the straight dope though. On it is a rather well produced movie featuring his product line.

He has given himself about a month to raise his goal of $5,000 USD, which would cover his investments in the laser cutter and materials. The pictured terrain set runs $145, but rewarded contributions can be as little as $25 and if you just want to support the arts, as little as a dollar. Check it out!

Bad Newegg

One Bad Egg

One Bad Egg

This post is a complaint about the online seller Newegg. Our two sons ordered us a flat screen TV for Christmas from them. It arrived while we were in Ann Arbor. While Dan was at home, he unpacked the TV and powered it up. It did not work. His photo below shows its ‘picture’ right out of the box:

Bad Newegg TV

Bad Newegg TV

Earlier this month I returned the broken TV to Newegg. Following their return policy, I obtained a return code (RMA #). I had never dealt with Newegg before, but have had frequent interactions with Amazon. I am even an Amazon Prime member. My experiences with Amazon led me to believe that Newegg would treat me in a similar professional and satisfactory manner.

Monday, I learned how wrong I was. Newegg had sent an email saying that the TV was broken and that they were sending it back to me and the email included a link to the manufacturer, with a suggestion that I should contact them, because it appeared to me that Newegg was not accepting any responsibility. Calls to the Newegg customer service line yielded other conflicting instructions like when I receive the TV again, I should launch an appeal to the shipper. Since now the TV has crisscrossed the country three times, I don’t hold out much hope that any sort of appeal will be fruitful.

I feel like I’ve been ripped-off. It is not just about the money, although I do still expect restitution. I feel like I have been cheated and I want justice. To this end, I will play out the final hand of this appeal process, even though I don’t think that it will go anywhere. More importantly though I want to get the word out about how Newegg has treated me and let the court of public opinion judge.

Big Shark Bicycle

Anne Checking-Out Beer Jerseys at the New Big Shark Bicycle Store

Anne Checking-Out Beer Jerseys at the New Big Shark Bicycle Store

Saturday night, Anne and I attended the grand opening of Big Shark Bicycle’s new store. There was free pizza and beer to be had. It is just up the street from the house, in easy walking distance from home. Located in the old Hi-Fi-Fo-Fum property, it and the adjacent old post office were dueling construction sites all winter and formed a gauntlet that I had to run every morning in order to get to work. Big Shark is finished and the post office looks to be done next month. Both new properties will be a boon to our neighborhood.

We both looked around, but didn’t buy anything. I made a joke to a sales rep that the neighborhood has just gotten a lot more dangerous. I don’t think that he caught my drift. I meant that having another high-end bike shop so close by would be dangerous to my wallet. Later, we spoke to the owner, Mike. Almost as if he had overheard my joke, he told me how much safer it is in the new local than their old place in the Loop. He recounted the first theft there. The store was still under construction, when a workman’s table saw was stolen right out from under him. Security cams captured the whole thing, including the workmen’s surprise at his missing saw. Mike said the next thing that the thieves took were the cameras. It turns out that Mike got his start in the bike biz just a couple of blocks away from where he is now. The old Touring Cyclist store must have been an incubator for almost every bicycle shop owner in town. I’m sure that I bought stuff from him back then, just like I’ll be buying stuff from him again.

The Big Short

Anne on the Forest Park SE Pedestrian Bridge

Anne on the Forest Park SE Pedestrian Bridge

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

“The Big Short” is Adam McKay’s movie based upon the Michael Lewis book by the same name. It is a historical drama about the great recession, from the point of view of the few that profited greatly from our national economy’s demise, by betting against it. It’s a boy’s club tale, starring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt. There’s plenty of fourth wall interaction in the movie, Gosling acts as both character and narrator through this medium. One effect that I appreciated were the many period stills that punctuated the movie. I know, it hasn’t even been ten years, but a lot has changed since then. The movie has a lot of technical financial terms to explain, read boring. It relies on cameos for this function. One of my favorites was Margot Robbie’s bubble bath scene. Hey, I’m a guy. Anyway, it’s a first-rate movie and I highly recommend it.

Truth is like poetry. And most people f-ing hate poetry.
– Overhead in a DC bar

Gosling does a voiceover near the end of the movie where he explains all the ramifications from the great recession, “100s of bankers went to jail, the big banks were broken up and Congress enacted sweeping financial regulations.” Then with a record needle’s scratch, he corrects himself, “None of that stuff happened. Instead, it was all blamed on immigrants and the poor.”

All that is solid melts into air; all that is holy is profaned.
– Communist Manifesto

Then there was Carell’s interview with the Standard & Poor’s bond rating representative. She had just come from an appointment with the eye doctor and was wearing one of those disposable sets of wraparound shades. She was the perfect image of blind justice, until she ripped them off and admitted her culpability, in selling AAA bond ratings for fees.