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Wouldn’t you agree, more income is the answer?

So a friend of a friend came over the other night, pitching a pyramid scheme. He just told me he’d started a business. I figured (and kind of hoped) he wanted to sell me handyman services. Actually he wanted to get me out of debt.

“But I have no debt,” I said. He told me I needed to keep an open mind.

I remember the last time someone told me that. It was two Mormon missionaries. To be nice, my wife and I let him keep talking.

Read More »Wouldn’t you agree, more income is the answer?

Getting more screen real estate in Firefox

Web browsers take entirely too much room on the screen. I’ve seen tips for putting Firefox on a diet, but nothing that frees up as much space as my bag-o-tricks.

So let’s go.

First, go to View, Toolbars, and Customize. Drag the address bar and search bar up to the top, next to the File/Edit/View/History/Bookmarks menus. Drag the arrows up there too, if you want them. Click OK. Now to back to View, Toolbars, and uncheck the navigation and bookmarks toolbars.

Now do a Google search for "classic compact Firefox theme." Install it.

You’ll have significantly more screen real estate.

Diving into real estate

You’re not going to believe this. This week my wife and I applied for a mortgage.

Not on our primary house. We’re buying an investment property. I’m still struggling with the mortgage bit.The greatest real estate investment books of all time (for mere mortal working class people, at least) were written by a man named William Nickerson, starting in the 1950s. Nickerson took one and only one shortcut in his investing. He saved up 25% for a solid downpayment, and bought property. Usually property with something wrong with it. He liked small apartment buildings and humble single-family houses.

Then he fixed the property up. Depending on the situation, he’d sell it if it made sense, or more likely, he’d rent it out, then sell when the right opportunity arose.

And when he had enough money to buy another property, he’d buy another one. An outright sale usually would yield enough to buy multiple properties. Or if he could make a trade that made sense, he’d trade properties.

His initial $1,000 investment (which would be more like $10,000 in today’s dollars) grew to $1 million in property by the time he wrote his first book, to $3 million by his second edition in the late 1960s, and $5 million by his final edition in the mid 1980s.

Nickerson argued that his method was the safest investment in existence. He had a point. Land is the one thing God isn’t making any more of, but God is still making new people. People who need land to live on.

But how do you find tenants? What if the house sits empty for a long time? After all, my Dad rented out a property for several years and it was a nightmare. It sat empty a lot, and his tenants trashed the place.

A couple of months ago, I saw a house for rent two miles from me. The asking price was $900. Two days later the sign was gone. Now there are cars in the driveway. So someone rented it. I looked up the house on Zillow. You could buy the house for less than that, if it were available at current market value.

I kept watching. Rentals in my zip code don’t stay vacant long. So when a HUD-owned home a couple of miles away came up at a price we could afford (my wife found it), we went and looked at it. We liked it. It needs work, but that’s why it was cheap. We made an offer, and now we’re a few steps away from buying.

We have some luxuries Dad didn’t have. We’re in a hot market, so we don’t have to rent to the first guy who asks. We can get a family with references. We live close, so we can keep an eye on the place. We can use a management company to help keep everything smooth. We’ll pay more for that privilege but it’s probably worth it. And the mortgage payment is low enough that if it sits for a few months here and there, it won’t break us.

Where house flippers–at least the ones you see on TV–seem to get into trouble is dealing in big, expensive homes and being too leveraged. If the market for $200,000-$500,000 houses goes south, they’re stuck.

This house will never be on TV. Well, the Extreme Makeover guys would love to tear it down and build a sprawling, awkward castle on its L-shaped lot. It’s a low-end house, the kind of place a young family would buy or rent, live in for a few years, and then probably vacate once the kids are done with grade school–if not a bit sooner.

People want large houses in outer-ring suburbs, but they don’t need them. But a young couple that’s outgrowing an apartment does need an affordable house for a few years, and when they outgrow that, there’ll always be another family in the same situation, ready to move in.

So why don’t they just buy the house we had our eye on instead of us? I’m sure some do. But not all of them can afford the downpayment and the money it will take to fix it up.

A friend and I discussed the ethics of buying a down-and-out person’s house, back when Robert Kiyosaki was at his peak in popularity. Kiyosaki appears to have no qualms about it. We were less comfortable about that.

As far as I can tell from the records easily available, this house finished up the foreclosure process in May. A bank somewhere in New York had it for a couple of months. Then HUD ended up with it. I don’t completely understand the process yet.

As it stands now, the house is no good to anybody. HUD’s doing the bare minimum to keep it from getting much worse. It’s eating up taxpayer dollars and making the neighborhood look worse.

The best thing for the house and the neighborhood is for someone with money and who knows what he or she is doing to come in, make it inhabitable again, hopefully make it look a little better, and get someone living there just as quickly as possible.

In my wife and me, they got someone with a little money. We’ll have to learn what we’re doing on the fly.

We’re taking advantage of the former owners who got in over their heads, but when I go to work every day, I’m taking advantage of whoever made the decision to replace a working, reliable computer system based on VMS and Unix with a sprawling monstrosity based on Windows. And my wife would argue that they take advantage of me.

By buying a fixer-upper below market value, fixing it, and renting it at market value, we’re taking advantage of the house’s situation and the future tenants. But the future tenants are taking advantage of us, because they get to live in a house they couldn’t otherwise afford.

I’m not crazy about all aspects of the situation but I’m comfortable that I’m doing more good than harm.

Now, back to that mortgage question. I’m still arguing how quickly and how to pay that off. The math suggests I could ultimately pyramid at least seven properties, using rents from the first two to pay the mortgages on all of the others. And a few short years ago, a bank would have been more than happy to lend me the money it would take to do that.

One latter-day follower of Nickerson makes it his goal to pay off one of his properties per year.

I like the idea of fixing a property, holding it for as long as the tax code encourages you to hold it, then selling and using the proceeds to pay cash for more than one property to replace it. The growth is theoretically smaller, but I really don’t like debt.

But that’s really a question for another year.

How does the live-within-your-means movement apply to the current recession?

Joseph brought up some good points in the comments for the previous entry, and I don’t think a short response does them justice. He wants to know what the personal finance experts have to say about the current economic crisis.

Suze Orman actually went on TV a few weeks ago and called it an opportunity of a lifetime. I’ll explain.Joseph says this feels different from other recessions. I think it’s because it is. It’s more like 1929. The major difference is what people were investing in.

The biggest problem in 1929 (besides the crash) was that Herbert Hoover didn’t realize until it was too late that we had a big problem on our hands. That’s not the case this time. Although Bush and McCain were denying it for a long time, both readily admit now that we have a problem.

The cause of our problems today is twofold. One, we should have had a recession in 2000-2001 and we didn’t have much of one. The Fed lowered interest rates to stave off recession, and the result was something of a boom. Both political parties blame the other for this, but basically, under their encouragement, everyone and his uncle was willing to loan people way more money than they could realistically pay back. (Republicans liked this because it was deregulation; Democrats liked it because minorities who previously couldn’t get loans suddenly could get them in spades.) Then, when too many people failed to pay those loans, the banks ran out of money, so now we have banks failing.

I remember seeing Suze Orman come on TV on Sunday morning years ago and warn this was coming. The reason was simple: Too many people were in over their heads in debt, and eventually it was going to catch up with us. She even had the timeframe about right.

It didn’t take a prophet to see it. We started having problems when large numbers of adjustable rate mortgages started resetting. One month, people could make their payments on everything. The next month, their mortgage skyrocketed and there wasn’t enough money left to buy a day’s supply of Ramen noodles, let alone make car and credit card payments.

Soaring gas and food prices didn’t help either, of course. Then again, that’s all interconnected too. Back in 2001, Ford and GM started offering 0% financing, and their primary products were big gas guzzlers. Increased consumption raised fuel prices, which in turn raised the price of everything.

But for those who are able to pay their bills and keep their jobs, the opportunity of a lifetime is nigh.

Stock prices are down. Nobody knows if they’ve hit bottom yet or not. But they came back after 1929, and they’ll come back after this crisis too.

My grandfather was a wealthy man. He started his medical practice sometime during the Depression. He died in 1980, long before I could have a meaningful conversation with him about money. I can only speculate how he made his money, because the living relative who might have firsthand knowledge isn’t especially honest or reliable. I believe he bought stock in the 1930s at depressed prices sometime after he graduated from medical school. While those investments certainly didn’t pay off immediately, by the time the ’50s and ’60s rolled around, he still owned that stock, which he’d bought at Depression prices. At those prices, he might as well have stolen the stock.

I believe the same opportunity exists today. This isn’t the time to cash out your 401(k) accounts–it’s time to max out your yearly contributions, if you can afford to.

A similar situation is beginning to exist in real estate. If William Nickerson (the original make-a-fortune-in-real-estate guy) was still alive, he’d be having a field day. Nickerson made at least $5 million in his lifetime by buying distressed properties and turning them around. Before this crisis is over, there’s going to be a lot of distressed property that needs fixing up.

The bottom line is that the people who have no debt, or who have a reasonable amount of debt under control don’t have anything to be afraid of right now as long as they’re able to stay employed. They have numerous opportunities, in fact.

For one, they’re in an ideal position to convert pre-tax retirement plans into Roth IRAs, which are tax exempt on the back end. You take a tax hit when doing that, but this is the time to take that hit–prices are down.

Two, they can buy stocks and/or real estate at depressed prices, hold on to those assets, and in 20 years they’ll be rich. Once again, let’s go back to 1929. The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked that year at around 380. If you take the worst case scenario, buying at the peak and then crashing, it took 25 years (1954) for the DJIA to get back above 380. But once it did, it stayed above that level for good.

But aside from that extreme scenario, it’s very difficult to find any 10-year period where stocks didn’t make money.

About a year ago, the DJIA was near 14,000. Today it’s below 9,000 and threatening the low 8,000s. There’s no historical precedent for it to drop lower and stay lower, and there’s no historical precedent for it to stay stuck at any level either. There’s every historical precedent for it to reach 14,000 again, and it’s much more likely for it to do it in less than 7 years than for it to take 25 years like 1929. Between now and then, individual companies will go under, but that’s why you don’t invest solely in one company. Buying an index fund that tracks the S&P 500, for example, spreads your risk over 500 large companies. If General Motors evaporates, you lose a little. But if GM gets its act together and the stock soars, you share in the gain.

Finally, when it comes to real estate, all those people who had bad mortgages have to live somewhere. It’s a terrible market to sell, but if you’re inclined to buy properties and rent them out, the environment is ideal for that and will be for a very long time. People who have enough saved up to pay cash can pretty much monopolize this game for a while, since loans are hard to come by.

There’s a positive for the country as a whole too. Did you get sick of the rest of the world buying up our companies because their economies were booming while ours stagnated? Now everyone’s in the same boat as us, so we’ve probably seen the end (at least for a while) of ruthless international conglomerates buying U.S. companies and then slashing everything that moves.

Overall, I do think this bust is a net positive for society, and not just for the reason I just mentioned. I read not long ago that many people under 40 consider the American Dream a birthright, not something that takes work and ambition. Society as a whole has been using borrowed money to artificially raise lifestyles up into the next-higher income tax bracket. Today’s crisis may put an end to that, and ultimately, that’s good for everyone, although it will be painful in the short term.

An old formula for making money

I picked up a copy of a financial classic today: How to Make a Fortune Today, Starting From Scratch by William Nickerson. In it, he presents a proven, old formula for making money.

While I don’t necessarily agree with everything Nickerson says, I’m not a millionaire and Nickerson was by the time he was my age (or well on his way at least). And his tactics are far, far safer than anyone writing about money today.

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Still no (legal) prosecution for the Megan Meier Myspace suicide

St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas announced today that he won’t prosecute the online vigilantes who drove Megan Meier to suicide in October 2006. Here’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, which has more details than the AP story.

Not only is the legal system failing Ron and Tina Meier, it’s also failing Lori Drew, her husband Curt, and Drew’s employee and co-participant, Ashley Grills.Here’s why I say that. Since the legal system offers no justice in this case, we’re seeing a mob of (rightfully) enraged people take matters into their own hands. Through these means, there is no due process, there’s no innocent until proven guilty, and there’s no constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. There’s also collateral damage.

The real estate firm where Curt Drew used to work continues to get harassing phone calls from vigilantes. They dismissed him the week the story broke. The company did all that it could do, weeks ago. Now it’s someone’s job to sort through the legitimate phone calls and the calls telling them what rotten people they are for employing Curt Drew. Given the comments I see on online forums, it’s probably not a pleasant job.

According to another account I read, for all intents and purposes, Lori Drew’s junk-mail company, Drew Ad Vantage, is out of business. But the companies that once advertised with her continue to get phone calls. Some of them pulled their ads pretty quickly. The point is moot now, but the phone calls continue.

Police are having to patrol the neighborhood more often now because of threats and random acts of violence. Right now the neighbors don’t seem to mind–they’re as mad as anyone else, and have been for more than a year–but won’t that eventually grow tiresome?

This Riverfront Times article (the RFT is St. Louis’ equivalent of The Village Voice, if you want context) quotes Ron Meier as saying that now the Drews are tasting a bit of the hell he’s tasted for the past year.

I have a difficult time feeling sorry for these people. But the Internet isn’t exactly known for restraint.

It bothers me that Banas doesn’t think this case meets the requirements for state laws for either harassment, stalking or endangering the welfare of a child. To mock the Megan Had it Coming blog, I showed all this to a friend of mine who is not only in college, he has two college degrees and is really smart, and he says that harassment over the phone or mail is illegal (celebrities prosecute people for it all the time, after all). You just prove point of origin. On the Internet, it’s possible to prove point of origin (it’s how the RIAA prosecutes people who download MP3s off P2P services). So what’s the difference? It’s just coming over a different pair of wires. Well, and it’s digital instead of analog. I guess that makes a difference, since everyone knows digital is better than analog.

It’s too bad The Honorable Jack Banas, Esq. didn’t ask my friend if it’s possible to trace communications over the Internet. Having degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, he would know. Or he could ask me (I have to trace origins from time to time as part of my job), but my friend actually lives in St. Charles County, so he’s a constituent. It would probably be more appropriate to ask him. Plus, my friend is smarter than me (and not just because he has twice as many degrees as I have).

Banas says that some of what we’re seeing in news accounts isn’t true, actually going so far as to deny that Lori Drew participated in this harassment. In that case, she’s guilty of filing a false police report, since she stated as much in the police report, which anyone can read on the Smoking Gun.

I’ll share one final observation from my friend who’s really smart. I’ve seen pictures that purport to be of Lori Drew. Other people claiming to know her have surfaced on blogs and various other online hangouts and stated she is not an attractive woman. Tina Meier is a traditionally attractive woman, and Megan looks good in the most commonly used photo of her. It’s not hard to imagine that Lori Drew and her daughter were jealous of the Meier women, and some of their actions were motivated by it. Perhaps the things they said were things people had said to them, or things they thought about themselves.

I will grant the people who insist on playing devil’s advocate that Megan Meier has been sainted and the media accounts don’t provide a complete picture of her. But we do know she was getting treatment for her problems, she was taking her medicine, she was playing sports and she was losing weight. For a time, up until October 16, 2006, she was handling her problems in a constructive and proper manner.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been any good news on this front since that day.

Upgrade diary: Compaq Evo D51S

Compaq Evo D51S

The Compaq Evo D51S is a well-built, small computer and it offers a few upgrade options

I upgraded a Compaq Evo D51S today. This was also sold under the name D510, and may have also been sold under the HP or Hewlett Packard brand. It was intended to be a low-profile, relatively affordable business computer.

Upgrading it poses some challenges, but there are some things you can do with it.This one has a 2.0 GHz Celeron in it. It will support a 2.4 GHz P4 without any issues (and a lot of them were sold with that chip), but I think that’s as high as you can go with the CPU.

The 2.0 GHz Celeron that came in this system will bog down with a heavy Photoshop filter and I’m sure some of the things I do in Adobe Premiere would bring it to its knees at times, but if your primary use of the machine is word processing, spreadsheets, web browsing and e-mail, it’s plenty fast. I would max out the system RAM before I replaced the CPU.

You can forget about motherboard replacements in this machine. Everything about the motherboard inside is odd, to get everything to fit in a smaller case. Compaq used to be criticized (sometimes unfairly) for using proprietary motherboards, but this one’s definitely proprietary.

Inside, you’re limited to two DIMM slots. I pulled the memory and replaced it with a pair of PC2100 DDR 1 GB DIMMs, which is the maximum the system supports. According to Crucial, PC3200 memory is compatible. Of course if you’re buying new memory, it makes sense to buy the faster stuff, in case you ever want to put the memory in another system.

In late 2010, 2 GB of PC3200 RAM sells for about $90. That’s close to the price of the computer itself, but more memory is probably the best thing you can buy for one of these machines, especially if it came with 256 MB of RAM.

The onboard video is the Intel 845G integrated video. It was better than I expected, but it steals system memory and, at least theoretically, it reduces memory bandwidth. The AGP slot is oriented vertically, so there’s only room for a low-profile card. That limits your choices somewhat. I had a low-profile ATI card with an early Radeon chipset on it. It’s not the most exciting card in the world, and may not even be better than the integrated Intel video, but it freed up some system memory for me. For what I want to do with this system, it will be fine. I’m not sure that Sid Meier’s Railroads! will run on it, but Railroad Tycoon 3 will, and from what I understand that’s the better game anyway.

There are a number of low-profile AGP video cards on the market that would be a suitable upgrade for this machine. None of them are cutting edge, but there are a few that are DirectX 9-capable, and prices range from $20 to $40. The built-in video is adequate, and while my first impression of it was that it didn’t bog the system down nearly as badly as the integrated video in the P3 days did, I’m still not a big fan of it. I think adding a discrete video card is a good move.

The stock Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 is a pretty good performer. At 40 GB it’s relatively small, and it won’t keep up with a brand-new drive, but for a lot of uses it’s plenty fast. From what I understand it will support hard drives larger than 137 GB but you may have to mess with IDE modes in the BIOS to make it happen. The trick appears to be to set the BIOS to use bit shift instead of LBA. Additionally, you have to be running Windows 2000 SP4 or XP SP2 to see the full capacity of the drive. I don’t have a large drive to put in it, so I haven’t tested that.

There’s no room for a second drive in there, so if you want additional storage beyond what’s already there, it will have to be external. Or you can jettison the floppy drive, but then you’ll have a goofy-looking hole in the front of the computer. That’s the price you pay for a low-profile system.

The CD-ROM drive in my particular unit was pretty balky. I’m going to replace it with a CD-R/RW drive for the short term, and eventually (probably early next year) put a DVD burner in it. I’m primarily interested in putting home movies on DVD. For backup and data transfer, I pretty much use USB flash drives exclusively now. They’re a lot faster and more convenient than messing around with CD/DVD burning software. Any drive with an old-school 40-pin IDE connector will work.

Speaking of USB, the USB ports all seem to be USB 2.0, which is nice (installing software off a USB 2.0-based flash drive makes you want to swear off optical media forever), but the ports on the front are recessed far enough that only a standard cable or a very low-profile flash drive can plug into them. My SD reader would only plug into the back, which is inconvenient.

The system has two full-size PCI slots for expansion. I put an IEEE 1394 (Firewire) card in one of the slots, since I want to do some light video work with it. The other slot will probably get an 802.11b wireless card. If I needed that PCI slot for something else, I could plug in a USB adapter for wireless networking.

I used to be in the habit of buying the biggest case I could afford or find (they weren’t always the same thing), so a really low-profile desktop like this Evo 510 feels a little strange. But a lot of things are different now. I could put a 1 TB hard drive in this system if I needed an obscene amount of storage. USB ports eliminate the need for Zip or Jaz or Syquest drives and even, to a large extent, for CD or DVD burners. If it weren’t for my interest in video, I wouldn’t bother with a burner in this machine at all. And since sound and networking are built in, there’s no need for a lot of expansion slots. It would be nice to have three PCI slots instead of just two, but I would imagine a lot of people never even fill two.

As it is, this computer fits on a small desk, and if you put an LCD monitor on top of it, the combination will take less real estate than a 17-inch CRT monitor does.

There are a lot of these machines on the market now, either coming off lease or being replaced due to business upgrade policy. They’re cheap ($75-$150 depending on configuration) and I think they make an excellent home PC. They’re cheap, unobtrusive, and surprisingly expandable.

A decked-out 510 probably won’t run Vista all that well, but a lot of new PCs don’t run it very well either. I think a 510 running Windows XP or Linux can be a very useful computer for a good number of years.

How to retire a millionaire without doing much of anything

I just finished reading The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach. It’s a good book. It promises to turn just about anyone into a millionaire in one easy step–if you do it right, you can make one phone call, do nothing else, and retire a millionaire.

I recommend the book.He’s saying essentially the same thing a lot of popular financial advisors right now are saying, but the spin is a bit different. You have to market something.

Essentially, what he says to do is to open up some kind of an IRA, be it a 401(K), 403(B), or Roth, and set up automatic deductions every month that happen before you get a chance to spend any of your paycheck.

If you were to start doing such a thing at age 16, it’s entirely possible to pile up more than $13 million by retirement age. Of course the later you start, the less you’ll pile up, but $1 million is within reach for most Americans.

It’s a boring way to make money but it works.

Of course he also advocates paying off all debts early, which makes it possible to save even more.

I believe that over the next decade, the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer, maybe much poorer. People will blame the politicians, but I don’t know that politicans have much control over this situation. Here’s what I expect will happen.

A lot of people are getting non-traditional mortgages without necessarily understanding all of the terms. In many instances, at the end of five years, they will owe the entire cost of the house. Large numbers of people aren’t going to be able to afford to do this, and they aren’t going to be able to afford to refinance because they won’t be able to afford the higher monthly payments.

The homeowners will be forced to sell. And since so many of these mortgages are being handed out now, at some point there will be more sellers than buyers. That will be the end of today’s real estate boom. Thosee who have cash will buy these houses at depressed prices and rent them out to former homeowners who can no longer afford to buy a home.

When the real estate market recovers, which it will, the people who bought lots of real estate at bargain basement prices will be extraordinarily wealthy–both from the rising value of the property they bought, and the money they made by renting it out.

I know what I need to be doing. I’m ahead of the game on paying off my mortgage. I need to get better about dumping money into a Roth IRA. And right about the time I make the last payment on the house, I expect I’ll get my yearly bill from the county, and for the first time ever, the number on it will be lower than it was the year before. That’ll be when I know it’s time to go for a walk and look for For Sale signs.

This is a good time to be buying financial books, using their advice to get your finances in order, and wait for up-and-coming troubled times. Because for the people who get out of debt now, the next depression (let’s not mince words here–when the economy is in the toilet, it’s called a depression) will be an opportunity.

Lionel bankruptcy

It was all over the news when it happened. Lionel, the train maker, filed Chapter 11 on Nov 16, 2004. But a lot of the news stories got some critical details wrong. It’s not the first time a Lionel bankruptcy confused people.

Lionel has been bankrupt before, but the company has changed ownership numerous times so it’s not the same legal entity that went bankrupt in the 1930s and 1960s. There have also been numerous rumors about bankruptcy after 2004. These are usually dealers trying to create artificial demand to clear inventory.

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A first look at Mozilla Firefox 0.9

I upgraded to Mozilla Firefox 0.9 today. My initial impression is pretty good, with one caveat.

If you’re running an earlier version and haven’t upgraded already, make a backup of your profile first. I upgraded from version 0.8 without uninstalling version 0.8 first, and lost my saved passwords and bookmarks. What I lost isn’t anything I can’t type in again or find again but it was annoying.

But that’s pretty much where the problems end.This new version feels faster than the old one did. It also seems a bit more stable, but a few hours of messing around isn’t enough of a test to declare something stable or not. I’m also not about to assume that any other living human being’s browser habits resemble mine.

I did notice that memory usage has a tendency to go back down as I close tabs. That’s an improvement–that didn’t always happen with older versions.

The ultimate test is going to be leaving it open for about a week of heavy use. Older versions tended to not like when I did that–memory usage would balloon and over time the speed would degrade. We’ll see how this version handles that torture test.

Since I had to go back and re-customize it, I can tell you the tweaks I make to the browser. Maybe you’ll like some of them too.

First, I type about:config into the address bar to bring up all the hidden options.

I set network.http.pipelining to true, and network.http.pipelining.maxrequests to 100. This speeds up page rendering, at the cost of occasionally mangling a page. (This happens most frequently when I visit Slashdot, ironically.) Reloading usually clears it up. The problem happens infrequently enough that I live with it–I like the speed.

I set image.animation_mode to “none”, since I find animated GIFs distracting. Try browsing with image animation turned off and I’ll bet you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. You can also set the string to “once” if you like animation. That way you can still see the animation but it doesn’t continue to loop while you’re trying to read.

I set browser.popups.showPopupBlocker to false. I don’t care to know when Firefox has blocked a popup–these days it’s pretty safe to assume that every site up there sent you a barrage of popups.

I set browser.blink_allowed to false. Few people use the dreaded blink tag anymore, especially since it was a proprietary Netscape tag that few others implemented. It doesn’t hurt anything to disable it just in case someone used it somewhere.

Since you can never have too much screen real estate, I customize the toolbars as well. If you go to View, Toolbars, Customize, you can drag the icons and menu items you use wherever you want. Drag things you don’t use down to the bottom. For example, if you never use the Go and Help menus, drag them down to get rid of them. I drag the address bar up to the top, next to the Help menu. Since I don’t use anything else on the navigation and bookmarks toolbars (I use keyboard shortcuts), I turn those off, which opens up lots more screen real estate. If there are some icons you use, you can drag them up to the menu bar and turn off those toolbars to save some space. It’s cheaper than a bigger monitor and takes up less space on your desk.

And as much as we tend to live in our web browsers these days, it’s almost as good as having a bigger monitor, isn’t it?