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.

Eat Here, Get Gas

CA SR 46 Oil Field

CA SR 46 Oil Field

The Perma-Bear texted me at lunch on Tuesday, “$2.04 gas on Natural Bridge.” I think that he is looking to pick up a little extra cash before Christmas. Here’s the back story, in ’08 I bet the Perma-Bear that gas in Saint Louis would hit $5/gallon before it hit $2. Loser buys the winner a gallon of gasoline. I liked the odds at the time. A few years ago, when gas hit $4.75, I had to remind the Perma-Bear of our bet, but as his text implies, he’s all in now. That night, Anne heard on the news that gas has broken the $2 barrier, in the Saint Louis area, with a price of $1.95. I will pay my debt, but the Perma-Bear is out of the office until Friday. That leaves me a little bit of wiggle room, because I expect that gas prices will continue to fall. If when I next meet the Bear and gas is less than $2/gallon, should I pay the two-bucks or should I pay the going market rate at the time? I think that if I pay him two-bucks and a gallon is less than that then I’m overpaying my debt, because fundamentally the bet was over a gallon of gas. I want to honor my debt and if that debt is $2 or $1.95, so be it. We’ll work it out, but what if I don’t see the Perma-Bear on Friday? That opens all sorts of possibilities. I’ll be off work until next year and that means two more weeks of falling gas prices. How low can we go? All of this might seem like weaseling to the casual observer, but I believe that the Perma-Bear enjoys this game-play as much as I do. I want to honor my bet, but since it will be a cash exchange, it has to be face-to-face. The question is when will we next meet?

Gas Wars

Stellar Jay at Nepenthe

Stellar Jay at Nepenthe

Remember those pre-gas crises price wars that would sometimes occur. Two gas stations on opposite corners would go toe-to-toe with each other in a gas war. It was fun to drive through those intersections every day, because each new day would bring a lower gas price. I image that post OPEC these gas wars do still occur, but not with the same frequency or ferocity as before. That is until the local gas war graduated to one of global dimensions. A worldwide gas war is now being fought between OPEC, or more specifically Saudi Arabia and North Dakota, by which I mean fracking. Fracking has greatly increased US oil production, given us greater energy independence then we have enjoyed in decades and lowered the global price of oil, albeit not without a serious environmental impact. All the while OPEC and other energy producers have continued to leave their spigots wide open. In just a few years crude oil prices have plummeted by a third and continue to freefall. When oil was running $100 per barrel, fracking was highly profitable, but fracking is expensive. It is estimated that this technique has a breakeven point of $75 a barrel. Prices are currently running $67. As in any gas war both sides suffer and eventually one side breaks. Either the frackers go from boom to bust or OPEC knuckles under. Not all members of OPEC are well positioned to weather this price war. So far, this war is all goodness to us consumers. We pay less at the pump, this nationally translates into a free $75B tax cut and for the first time in ten years economists are forecasting a 3% US GDP growth in 2015. Like WW II was to the Great Depression, this gas war maybe to the Great Recession. This time, no blood was spilled, just oil.

I have bet twice on oil and it looks like I’ll lose twice. In 2011, I bought a Prius when oil was high. That old adage, buy low, sell high, now comes to mind. I also bet on high gas prices with the Perma-Bear. Back in 2008, when the economy was tanking, he bet that gas would hit $2 a gallon and I bet that it would hit $5 first, here in Saint Louis. We each agreed that the loser would pay for a gallon of gas. Those 2.5:1 odds were just too tempting. A few years ago, when gas was flirting with $5, I had to remind him of our bet. He remembers it now though. Today, I filled up at $2.37 and another guy paid $2.25. A friend of a friend analyzes oil prices for the Air Force and predicts that gas in Saint Louis will hit $2 a gallon in a month. I fully intend to pay off my wager, but with quickly deflating gas prices, I wonder how quickly I should do that. In 2008, I was working daily with the Perma-Bear, now not so much. If I could duck him for a week or two, or even a month, would my debt fall from $2 to $1.75, or even $1.50? After all, I’m still making car payments.