Will baseball cards ever be valuable again?

“Will baseball cards ever be valuable again?” someone asked me recently. The answer is that it depends. Not all cards were valuable in the first place.

Part of the problem is there was a time when 90% of boys collected cards. Now they don’t. Prices dropped due to simple supply and demand.

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Busted at the Safeway for phone phreaking

Software developer, author, and blogger Jeff Atwood wrote his confessions of the 1980s this week. As a teenager and not-quite-adult, he was a phone phreaker.

More of this went on than anyone wants to admit. Rob O’Hara has podcasted about it. Read more

Greenberg’s Marx Trains Pocket Price Guide, 9th edition: A review

I received my copy of the new 9th edition of the Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx trains this past weekend. Marx used to print on its packages, “One of the many Marx toys. Have you all of them?” This book won’t completely answer that question, but at the very least, it gives you a start, and helps you avoid paying too much for the ones you don’t have yet.

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I didn’t cause the depression

Various analysts are blaming the current depression on people like me. The reasoning goes like this: I have money in the bank, therefore, I should be out spending it, for the greater good, to stir the economy.

Let’s correct that right now.People like me “hoarding” cash didn’t cause this depression. I played by the rules. I didn’t lie on my mortgage application. I bought less house than the bank said I could afford, because I didn’t see how I could make that payment and still buy groceries. I bought a Honda Civic because I didn’t see how I could afford a car that cost $25,000 or $30,000 and I really didn’t see how I could afford to put gas in it. I made this decision when gas cost $1.59 a gallon in Missouri.

Basically, I made a budget and then I made the decision to stick with it. It wasn’t rocket science. Any time I thought about buying something, I sat down with a spreadsheet, entered in all the money I paid out each month, entered what I made, and figured out if the money left over was enough to buy whatever it was I wanted.

We were due for a depression, or at least a recession, at the beginning of the century. The dot-com boom and Y2K was a bonanza, but then two things happened. Y2K came and went, the world didn’t end, and people quit buying survival supplies in large quantities. Meanwhile, these startups failed to come up with viable business plans, continued to spend money faster than the government, and ended up going out of business. This hurt those companies, but it also hurt companies like Cisco and IBM and Intel, because as these companies went bust, their inventory of technology equipment, some of it unused, went on the market at bargain prices. There was no reason to buy a new Cisco router from CDW when you could buy the same thing, still sealed in the package, from a liquidator for half the price.

Then 9/11 happened and it really looked like we’d get our recession. But the government slashed interest rates, changed bank regulations, and encouraged people to buy like there was no tomorrow. GM started offering 0% financing on its cars in order to move them. Soon you could get free financing on anything but a house, and interest rates on houses were ridiculously low. And anyone could get a loan. Republicans loved it because it made the economy go boom-boom again. Democrats loved it because people at any income level could get mortgages.

But the problem was that many of these loans had onerous terms and conditions, and just because you could afford the payments one day didn’t mean you’d be able to afford them in two, three, or five years after some of the back-loaded terms kicked in. Of course, nobody worried about that because they were living the high life.

And then it all fell apart. It wasn’t quite as rapid as it seems. I think people started having problems paying their bills in 2005 or so, but it didn’t quite hit critical mass yet. It hit the smaller banks first. I know because the banks who had my mortgage kept going under, and every year or so, a slightly bigger bank would end up with my mortgage. But those weren’t any match for this monster either. Countrywide got my loan in 2007, but Countrywide wasn’t a dinky little bank. It went under, and when I made my final house payment, that payment went to Bank of America. Now it looks like even the mighty Bank of America might make me look like the kiss of death.

But that wasn’t the only problem. These bad loans got packaged up and re-sold. And somehow, these bad loans got higher grades than they deserved. A guy working as a slicer at Arby’s making $9/hour living in a $150,000 house isn’t a good investment. When everything’s going right, he can afford to make his payments, but the minute something goes wrong, he’s going to start missing payments and might not ever recover. So unless the guy gets a decent job, he’s not going to be able to afford to stay in that house. Yet somehow, a bank could package a bunch of loans like this and spin it as a grade-A investment.

Imagine me going around to my neighbors’ houses on trash day, filling boxes with trash, and selling the boxes, legally able to tell the buyer that the box contains something valuable. That’s great, until someone opens the box and realizes it’s just a box of trash.

No, this depression wasn’t caused by people like me. It was caused by people living beyond their means for too long, and not being able to pay the piper when the time came.

There’s another word for what’s happening right now, besides recession or depression. That word is “correction.” When the economy has been going in one direction for too long, it corrects itself. Sometime in the future, there will be another correction, and the economy will start improving again.

But I read my ultimate proof yesterday. Supposedly, if people like me would just spend their money, things would get better. So why does someone walk into a Jeep dealership with $24,000 in cash, intent on driving home in a new Jeep, and end up driving himself and his still-heavy wallet home in his old car?

And let’s look at people like me one other way. When I nearly lost my job in January, I had almost six months’ worth of income in the bank and a plan in place to be able to live off it for a couple of years, potentially. It wouldn’t have been a comfortable living, but it would have been doable. There would have been no need for me to go collect unemployment. I would not have been a burden on society. And when I retire, I’ll retire with enough money to get me through the rest of my life, with or without Social Security. I won’t be a burden on society either.

People who save their money might not spend it at the most opportune time for everyone else, so they might fail to even the economy out like a capacitor evens out electrical power. But they are never, ever a drag on society.

Was California Republican Tony Krvaric Strider of Fairlight?

A story today about the possibility that a prominent California Republican, Tony Krvaric, was once a co-founder of the Commodore 64 warez group Fairlight caused an uproar on Slashdot today. The claim said Krvaric went by the handle of Strider.

Reading it brought back some memories.

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Atari vs Nintendo

Atari vs Nintendo

Every time a major anniversary for either system comes along, discussion of how the NES saved the videogame industry after the disastrous Atari 2600 comes with it. Your opinion of Atari vs Nintendo probably depends on your age.

I have to admit I scratch my head as I read this stuff. Did the people who write it live through both of them? By what measure was the 2600 a disaster? I can’t help but speak out in defense of Atari a bit.

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Working with idiots can kill you

My mom sent me a newspaper article today to make me feel better. Maybe I should say she sent what looks like a newspaper article. I don’t think it’s genuine, for a number of reasons: no byline, feature style in what’s presented as a hard news story, grammatical errors you wouldn’t expect to see in a newspaper, only one source, more than half the story is long quotes from the single source, and most convincingly, I couldn’t find any mention of it online.

Still, it at least makes an entertaining read. I present it verbatim.IDIOTS in the office are just as hazardous to your health as cigarettes, caffeine, or greasy food, an eye-opening new study reveals.

In fact, those dopes can kill you! Stress is one of the top causes of heart attacks–and working with stupid people on a daily basis is one of the deadliest forms of stress, according to researchers at Sweeden’s Lindbergh University MedicalCentre.

The author of the study, Dr Dagmar Andersson, says her team studied 500 heart attack patients, and were puzzled to find 62 percent had relatively few of the physical risk factors commonly blamed for heart attacks.

"Then we questioned them about lifestyle habits, and almost all of these low-risk patients told us they worked with people so stupid they can barely find their way from the parking lot to their office. And their heart attack came less than 12 hours after having a major confrontation with one of these oafs.

"One woman had to be rushed to the hospital after her assistant shredded important company tax documents instead of copying them. A man told us he collapsed right at his desk because the woman at the next cubicle kept asking him for correction fluid–for her computer monitor.

"You can cut back on smoking or improve your diet," Dr. Andersson says, "but most people have very poor coping skills when it comes to stupidity–they feel there’s nothing they can do about it, so they just internalise their frustration until they finally explode."

Stupid co-workers can also double or triple someone’s work load, she explains. "Many of our subjects feel sorry for the drooling idiots they work with, so they try to dover for them by fixing their mistakes. One poor woman spent a week rebuilding client records because a clerk put them all in the ‘recycle bin’ of her computer and then emptied it–she thought it means the records would be recycled and used again."

A good tool for salvaging really bad photographs

I’ve been playing around with the perspective correction feature in Gimp 2.0, and while it’s invaluable, I’ve noticed that it really has a tendency to blur up a picture.

You can reduce this some by not editing JPEGs–it’s always best to convert JPEGs into PNG or TIFF format before editing anyway–but it only reduces the problem. And Gimp’s sharpen tool leaves a lot to be desired.

Enter SharpControl.There’s something of a tutorial available online. To be honest, I really don’t know what most of the things he’s saying mean. What I do know is that I can just load an image into it, take the defaults, and get a better-looking image than with any other program I’ve ever used. And if I fumble around a bit, sometimes I can get lucky and improve it even more.

Hey, I was trained as a writer. I had to stay after class one day to get what little Photoshop training I did get.

The program only speaks TIFF or JPEG, so you’ll have to convert to TIFFs if you decide to load into the program from files. The alternative is to paste the contents of the clipboard into the program, manipulate the image, then copy it back to the clipboard and paste into your imaging program.

It’s a free download, so if you’re playing with fuzzy images, go download it now.

Good news for Optimizing Windows fans

O’Reilly wants to release my 1999 book, Optimizing Windows for Games, Graphics, and Multimedia , under an open content-style license. I’d love to see the thing released so it can gain widespread distribution, which it never really had.
The forms for me to sign are in the mail. My understanding of the license is that it permits changes, so long as the original author and publisher are cited. This will give me the freedom to make a few changes I’ve wanted to make since the book’s initial release, which I intend to take advantage of. I won’t spend months rewriting the manuscript, but I would like to incorporate some corrections I accumulated over the past three and a half years. Not to mention the tools that have changed version numbers since then.

I’m excited at the possibility. I’ll be sure to post an update once I know something. More and more obsolete technical books are getting released in some form or another, and this is a very good thing.

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