Thursday, May 17, 2007

Danger Lurks Everywhere!

There was a piece on the news the other day, about one in three cars on the road having dangerously under-inflated tired. And they shows a harrowing video of a mini van swerving around cones at a high velocity with tires that probably needed an extra 20 psi in them, and you could see the sides of the tire stretching horizontally under the pressure.

The is the worst case of hype I've seen in a long time. I've seen a lot of car tires in my day, and while walking around the parking lot here, it's entirely possible that one-third of the cars have under-inflated tires. But not one--out of over one hundred-or-so cars I checked out--not one had tires as under-inflated as shown in this so-called piece of breaking news. At worst, the tires have been low about 5 psi of pressure, hardly a "dangerous" situation in my book.

My tires have an "ideal" pressure of 30 psi, and a maximum rating of 35 psi. I couldn't find a minimum recommended pressure, but the fact that there is an acceptable variance suggests that a tire that's not at the ideal pressure is not a safety hazard. Perhaps it decreases gas mileage, but it's not automatically a safety hazard.

And if you can believe that video, severely under-inflated tires are only a safety hazard if you drive a mini van through a series of curves like a race car. NOT LIKELY, I should think.

Stupid, fluffed up piece of news. *grumbling* That was the best they could come up with?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Evolution of a Newspaper Reader....

The other day, I was reading through the Seattle P-I, and it occurred to me that I've evolved over the years. When I was a kid, my favorite section was the comics. It was like that section was designed specifically FOR kids, and I liked that. I never understood why so many of the comics weren't very funny or didn't make sense to me, but they were cartoons! It was for kids, darn it, and I could enjoy some of the comics such as Garfield. That's a comic that kids can understand.

I outgrew Garfield. Too simple and not nearly as funny as when my brain was still in its formidable development years. Today my tastes lean towards Ziggy and Dilbert. Most of the comics I still don't think are very funny. Why do they call them comics again?

But that's not my favorite part of the newspaper anymore. Sometime around high school, I preferred reading the front page stuff. It was educational and made me feel smart. I learned about the political landscape, read about scandals, and so forth.

Somewhere along the way, though, I realized that most of it--it really doesn't matter much. Most the stuff on the front page doesn't actually have much impact on an individual such as myself. I don't have a paper handy at the moment, but a brief look through the major headlines includes such insights as:

Al Queda says holding U.S. soldiers in Iraq
Bush visits Jamestown on 400th anniversary
Airlines risk ballooning frequent-flyer payout
Pope decries rich-poor gap in Latin America

U.S. soldiers held by Al Queda in Iraq--sad (assuming it's even true--just because they SAY they have soldiers doesn't mean it's true), but there's not a whole lot I can do about that.

Bush visits Jamestown: I'd like to think he has better things to do than celebrate the conquering of the Native Americans, but that's REALLY old history and him visiting Jamestown doesn't have much impact on my plans for this afternoon.

The airlines impeding doom due to ballooning frequently-flyer miles? I don't have much in frequent-flyer miles--I actually prefer to use the few I do have for magazine subscriptions to Smithsonian or BusinessWeek--and even then I suspect the "problem" is being blown way out of proportion. Yes, perhaps airlines have built up a large number of frequent-flyer miles that are coming due, but people who use them have actually paid for them in one manner or another, regardless if it was by buying flights, milk at the grocery store, or renting a car. The airlines have essentially got themselves cash up front to collect interest and invest and don't have to pay out for months or years. Pretty good business, I should think. The more frequent-flyer miles grow, the better it is for the airlines. But still, it's not my problem. It's something the airlines have to deal with, and perhaps those who have a large number of frequent flyer miles, but for the average joe, it's not important.

The Pope decrying the rich-poor gap in Latin America. That's true, but what am I supposed to do about that? As individuals, we can't fix that problem. Heck, we can't even fix the growing rich-poor gap in our own country much less worry about Latin America's rich-poor gap.

These are the top headlines for today? And not one of them has any effect on my day-to-day living.

Then I moved onto the business section of the newspaper. That's now my favorite section. This is the section that can change my life. Invest in companies, search for ideas, and the pros and cons of various industries and companies. I can actually do something constructive with the information from the business section. I bought Boeing stock a few years back. Airlines were having a tough time of it after 9/11 and the recession, the company was having ethical lapses left and right, and they decided to develop the 787, a.k.a. the Dreamliner. The more I read, the more I liked. The hard economic times were temporary. The ethical lapses could be overcome. The company could fix itself, and I was thrilled when the CEO got the boot, and even more thrilled when the next one got the boot after an affair with a co-worker came to light. They're cleaning house. And I felt very strongly that the Dreamliner was going to be a huge success. I couldn't understand why Airbus was so focused on their mammoth big plane. The wave of the future is not a hub-and-spoke model.

I read a lot about Boeing back then, and finally decided to put a pile of money from my IRA account into it. The stock has done quite well since those dark days, more than doubling from my purchase price. I eventually sold half of those holdings to buy into Costco, another company whose stock I decided was suffering from temporary problems that could be fixed.

I wouldn't buy either of the companies at today's prices, and I'm actually leaning towards selling them for other companies with more promising prospects. They're both solid companies that are doing very well right now, and unfortunately everyone else knows it. =) Companies like Home Depot and Wal-Mart look much more interesting to me since everyone has so much fun picking on them. They've both stumbled badly, but they're still both behemoths, they're both still very profitable, and both will eventually get their acts together.

Once I become president of the United States, though, I suspect the front page will probably be of more interest to me. I wouldn't be able to invest in individual businesses (too many conflicts of interest), but as president I could do something about the problems on the front pages. =)

Okay, I don't really intend to become president--terribly thankless task, if you ask me--but it makes me wonder.... Will I always be a fan of the business section? Or will I continue to evolve and discover the joys of another section sometime in my golden years?