Aug 272004
 

I haven’t talked about the stock portfolio I self-direct inside my IRA for a while. Here’s what I’m holding these days:

Chemed, formerly Roto-Rooter (NYSE: CHE). This stock is not very well respected because Roto-Rooter’s core business has not been all that great. However, they have done an excellent job investing their spare cash, and have recently acquired a hospice company that is rock-solid and looks to contribute a lot more to the bottom line than Roto-Rooter in the years to come. I think this is a sleeper waiting to be discovered.

Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD). I went to eat at the Bartlett location with my friend Kenny and Rick last year. It was a Tuesday night about 5:45, and the place was packed to the gills. No kidding. The only open seats were at the back bar. All types of people there – families, frat guys, people stopping by after work. And not only were they eating the wings, they were also drinking – and that’s where the real profit is, at the bar. This stock has stayed flat since I bought it due to concerns over the price of wings, but I think the market is failing to consider alcohol and other menu items. I subscribe to the Motley Fool’s Hidden Gems newsletter, which picks undiscovered stocks, and this has twice been picked as the gem of the month.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT). The S&P 500 is trading at a P/E of 22 as of yesterday. According to the Motley Fool, MSFT is trading at a P/E of 21. I cannot believe that one of the finest companies in the world is trading at a discount to the market as a whole. Investors seem to have ignored everything this company has done since about 1998 – including releasing Windows 2000 and XP, which were monumental improvements over their predecessors. MSFT has also increased their dividend and announced a special one-time dividend of $3/share for later this year to pay out some of the cash it has been hoarding. The company has settled most of its legal challenges. I think the fair value of this stock is at least 50% above where it sits now.

Alderwoods (Nasdaq: AWGI). My newest addition, bought just this morning. Another two-time Hidden Gem recommendation. Alderwoods runs a chain of funeral homes. They went bankrupt in 1999, but have since fired their management and hired a CEO who has 25 years’ experience turning companies around. They’re paying down debt, and the CEO’s incentives are tied to further debt reduction. Management shows integrity in an industry not known for it. Death rate will begin to increase as baby boomers approach their 60s. Stock had gone up to 13-14, then they had an earnings miss and it fell back down. I was happy to scoop some up for 9.30 a share. The Fool thinks it will triple over the next five years, and I agree.

So far this hasn’t been a great year for my stocks – I’m about even after being up over 100% last year. I’m going to start watching it a little more closely. When you self-direct an IRA in stocks, you have to stay on top of everything with the companies you own, and those on your watch list.

That’s all for now – have a good weekend everybody.

The Pie Lady

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Aug 212004
 

For years I have heard about the Pie Lady who is famous for baking the best pies in Memphis. Well, lo and behold, last week she turned up at my favorite coffee shop – Empire Coffee at Madison and Main. She has moved her oven in there and is baking pies fresh every day. And they’re just unbelievably good. My favorites are the chocolate pie, and the “glory hallelujiah” pie which is made with pears and assorted spices.

But that’s not all – she’s cooking lunch, too. Today I had the best quiche I’ve ever had. It didn’t even taste like quiche. It was a spicy southern one with sausage, corn, and spinach. If you like chili and tamales you’ll love it. She also has a vegetarian quiche which is quite good. And, sometimes she bakes chicken pot pies.

She has a website: www.sarahclayborne.com Internet Explorer needs a helper application that lets you smell the pies.

Empire has also started serving beer, and they are going to start having bands in the basement in the next couple of weeks, as they used to do when it was the Map Room. So come by, drink a beer, hear a band, eat a pie. Most likely you’ll see me there.

My other journal

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Aug 212004
 

In addition to this online journal, I keep a second journal – a private one. I try to write in it each day. I write down what I did, who I met, what I learned. Sometimes when I’m reading a good book I will include quotes or passages that I find instructive.

I started my private journal back in September 2001. At the time, I thought about going to the bookstore and buying a fancy journal to write in. But then I decided it was the content, not the packaging, that mattered, and grabbed a steno pad. I am now on volume 45 of my journal. After this one I’ll be out of steno pads and will switch to notebooks (they were cheaper due to back-to-school sales).

One sign that being self-employed full-time was stressing me out was that I hardly wrote in my journal between about July 20 and August 10. It’s rare for me to miss one day, but during that period I went two, three, even five days at one point without recording anything. I was running away from myself, I think. As soon as I made the decision to give up the credit-card biz on a full-time basis, I began writing again, and have filled the better part of a 60-page steno pad in the past ten days.

I highly, highly recommend keeping a journal if you want to learn more about yourself and how you relate to your world. For a long time, I resisted this suggestion. At first, a journal sounded like a diary – too girly. Then, there were several times in school where I was assigned to keep a journal, so I had a bad memory of it being busy work. But now I’m keeping it for me and it’s really made a difference.

Aug 162004
 

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m looking for full-time work, either as an employee or on a temporary/contract basis. My background is in IT but I’m willing to consider anything – I’m looking at this as an exciting opportunity to possibly break into something new, or build on the skills I already have.

Below is a summary of my qualifications. You can also check out my complete resume on my site.

Technical background

Have developed complete commercial application from start to finish using Visual Basic 6.0

Strong background in relational database design: Have worked with Access, some experience with SQL Server, ADO Recordset, Command, and Connection objects, DataEnvironment Designer in Visual Basic, MySQL

Have developed dynamic websites using Active Server Pages/Access, PHP/MySQL, server-side JavaScript/Oracle

Proven track record working with nontechnical people, taking their requirements and producing software that meets their needs

Teaching background

6 years’ experience teaching Computer Literacy, computer programming and undergraduate math at the U of M – 5 years’ full-time faculty + 1 year graduate assistant

One-on-one tutoring on various computer applications and in math; have tutored everyone from grade-school students to corporate presidents

Experience teaching corporate training classes

Management/Leadership

Director of Computer Literacy course at U of M for two years. Totally responsible for the success of a required class serving 500 students per semester. Hired and trained 12 lab assistants; rewrote in-class assignments to enhance student learning; redesigned lab grading system to eliminate errors and bubble sheet expense.

Supervised student workers at the U of M Tiger-LAN labs, 1993-94. Trained workers to improve quality of help in labs. Successfully lobbied for raises for student lab assistants.

Mpact Memphis – Board of Directors, At-large Member, 2004-2005

Organized Courting the Groove Squared, outdoor concert by Mpact Memphis. Oversaw hiring of bands, acquiring permits, logistics. Co-wrote a sponsorship proposal that resulted in a $2,000 corporate grant.

Helped organize Memphis Really NETworks, an Mpact Memphis program to teach college students how to network. Was responsible for the content of the program. Lined up emcee, networking experts, testimonials. Worked with logistics committee to ensure event went smoothly.

Aug 142004
 

This week I have decided not to stay in the credit card merchant services business on a full-time basis. I just typed up a long post explaining why, but then realized I could sum it up in one sentence: It isn’t fun for me anymore.

So, I’m going to start hunting for a full-time job. Will make a post shortly listing my qualifications and the types of positions I’m looking for, in case anyone reading this knows of anything.

I’m not disappointed about this. I tried something and it didn’t work. That’s it. In fact, the minute I made the decision to give up full-time self-employment, my mood improved considerably. If anything, I’m considerably happier now than I was a week ago.

All right – I’m off to enjoy a beautiful weekend and will post more soon.

Aug 102004
 

(Based on the discarded boxes outside the liquor store around the corner, which caters to the $3-a-bottle-and-under category)

Wild Irish Rose (2 cases)

Burnett’s Vodka

Heinz Mustard (??? there was an empty case along with the liquor cases)

Calvert Extra

REDS “A Wine for the People” (never heard of this – let’s look it up online)

Wow, this REDS stuff has actually received praise from wine-enthusiast sites. It’s a mix of different kinds of California grapes. Hmm, the box was discarded not long after the first of the month; perhaps the bums who receive government checks decided to splurge on something a little bit better than usual.

Aug 062004
 

Last Sunday, while having brunch at the Blue Monkey downtown, a guy sat next to me at the bar, told me he was neither a Democrat nor Republican, then proceeded to spend two hours offering his unsolicited opinion why George W. Bush is the greatest president ever. Here’s an excerpt from the conversation.

Him: I’ll tell you why we should support the president. Kerry is weak on defense. No one will buy him as commander in chief. We can’t change horses in midstream. This is war. We have to re-elect George Bush because he will continue to invade countries and spread democracy to the rest of the world. (no kidding, he really said this)

Me: Like North Korea and Syria and Iran?

Him: Absolutely. George W. wants to spread democracy to everyone in the world.

Me: I see. So Bush believes that his form of government is the best in the world, and he wants everyone in the world to be able to experience it, at any cost.

Him: Exactly! You’ve got it.

Me: Well, in the ’60s Fidel Castro thought his form of government was the best, and he sent expeditions into South America to spread it. How is that any different from what Bush is doing?

Him: You’re not listening. We’re talking democracy here. There are women in Afghanistan who can vote now. They can go to school. They have the right to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. That’s democracy.

Me: That’s democracy?

Him: That’s democracy.

Me: Well, why then, not in Afghanistan but in this country, does Bush oppose allowing two men to marry each other? They’re not hurting anyone. If we truly have a democracy here, I’d think Bush would be for it.

Him: Again, you’re not listening. Let me ask you something. (points at the bartender) Do you want to see me and her have sex?

Me: (as bartender moves as far away as possible) I don’t even know how to answer that question.

Him: That’s right. Because you have no answers. That’s what the world would be like if we allowed gay men to marry. People having sex in public. I’ll give you an example of democracy. Remember 1980? Iran was holding our citizens hostage and Jimmy Carter couldn’t do a thing about it. Ronald Reagan said, I’ll get those hostages free if I have to kill every person in Iran, if I have to blow them off the map.

Me: He really said that? I was just a kid but I don’t remember that.

Him: Reagan said it. And that’s why we kicked Carter’s ass and elected Reagan. He won the war against Iran. And it was a war, believe me.

Me: But I thought you said Americans shouldn’t change horses in midstream in time of war. If that were the case in 1980, it seems like you would have supported Carter.

Him: You’re not listening…

(After two more hours of blabbering, he paid his bill. He had previously paid a $40 tab, tipping NOTHING. However, he enjoyed talking to me so much that he re-opened his tab and drank an additional $21 worth of beers during our conversation, again tipping NOTHING. And then he proceeded to walk outside, having drank 10 beers in the past 3 hours, and he drove his car home.)

I think the Bush campaign should make this guy a spokesman. He embodies the intelligence, common sense, and people skills that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are known for.

Aug 062004
 

…a site that breaks down the presidential election state-by-state? i.e. which states are pro-Bush, leaning Bush, neutral, leaning Kerry, pro-Kerry? I’m tired of polls that say one candidate is two or three or four percentage points ahead of the other nationwide. As the 2000 election taught us, it doesn’t matter which candidate leads the popular vote – it’s all about the electoral college. So if you know any sites that can shed some light on this, e-mail me and let me know. Thanks.

Aug 062004
 

The downtown Walgreens at Madison and Main is open until 8 pm weekdays, 7 pm Saturday, and 6 pm Sunday. This type of schedule made sense when downtown was merely a place people worked. But now downtown is a full-fledged neighborhood with 10,000 people. Just within walking distance I can name several large apartment/condo complexes – No. 10 Main, Shrine, Echelon at the Ballpark, Porter Building, 66 Front, Exchange, 99 Tower, Claridge, Gayoso, Pembroke. Plus, there are a half dozen hotels within walking distance. We need and deserve the late-night drugstore service that every other neighborhood in town enjoys.

Many nights I have sat across the street in the coffee shop, and watched people walk up to Walgreens only to discover that it’s closed. What do they think this is, a real city with a thriving downtown? The last night I watched I saw at least 25 people walk away in frustration between 8 and 10 pm. How dare they expect service in the middle of the night!

Worse, the criminals know people do this, and prey on them. By now most locals know it’s pointless to make the trek to Walgreens after 8. But tourists (who are perceived as targets) don’t know any better. So when criminals see someone walk up to the door after 8, they know they have an easy mark. Just today some Iragi dignitaries in town visiting were robbed at gunpoint at 10:45 pm as they walked away after discovering the store was closed.

Two businesses on that same corner, Empire Coffee and Six50, stay open until 10. Why can’t Walgreens do the same? Madison and Main could become the late-night mecca for downtown residents (as opposed to tourists, who have Beale Street). But Walgreens needs to take the lead.

If you agree, please go to

www.walgreens.com, click on Contact Us, then click on Store/Pharmacy Inquiries. Fill out the form – the address is 2 N. Main St., Memphis, TN 38103. Don’t know the store number. Tell them they need to stay open later. Maybe if enough people do this they will listen.

Aug 052004
 

The John Edwards rally on Beale Street this afternoon was positively PACKED. At four in the afternoon, during work hours, in 90 degree heat, and it was still packed. I’m really beginning to think that Tennessee is in play, and not definitely in the Republican column as has been predicted.

Interesting rumor I heard today: Microsoft declared its recent one-time $3 a share dividend (which caused me to get MSFT back in my stock portfolio) because they think Kerry has a better than 50-50 shot at being elected. If he is, he will roll back the tax cuts on the rich, which would cost the big shots at Microsoft a lot of money. So they want to go ahead and pay out before Kerry takes office.

Quote of the afternoon – this was from one of the dignitaries who spoke prior to Edwards’ arrival: “Voting is a lot like driving. If you want to go forward, move the lever to ‘D.’ If you want to go backward, move the lever to ‘R.'”

After the rally, I went to an Mpact the Vote event at BB King’s. This was planned before it was announced that Edwards was coming to town (Mpact is nonpartisan). I must say, I hope we never have an event at BB’s again. I bought a Corona there. Now, usually when I buy a Corona, I hand the bartender a $5 bill and say, “Keep the change.” Coronas and most imports are $3.50 off Beale and $4 at most bars on Beale, so they’re getting at least a dollar tip. But at BB’s it was an incredible $4.75. So the bartender got a quarter tip. Sorry, but I’m not paying six bucks for a bottle of beer. Not in Memphis.

Plans for this weekend:

Friday: Empire Coffee just got their beer license and is planning to kick off the first day with some cheap beer specials. Needless to say I’ll be there.

Saturday: Hmm, don’t know, will probably ride the bike to Midtown again and hope I don’t fall off.

Sunday: Champagne brunch, of course. I’m switching my brunch alliegance back to the downtown Blue Monkey at Front and GE Patterson. You gotta try their brunch menu (weekends between 11 and 2). My favorite: The prime rib (I get mine cooked medium rare) with aspargus and new potatoes.

Monday: Turbo 350 is playing a show at the Hi-Tone. According to the ad on the back of the Memphis Flyer, it’s a free show, so I guess I’ll make the car ride to Midtown to see them. Of course, if I drive that means I can’t drink, but I suppose I don’t need to be doing that on a weeknight anyway.

That’s it for now. Got my 7:15 meeting in the morning, so it’s time for bed.