An example of what’s wrong with the world

Every year, I like to take a day near the start of the college fall semester and head up to the U of M. I just sit outside, watch people walk to and from class, talk to the people I know who are still there. This past Wednesday marked my 2004 trip to campus. “Just about this time every year I see you,” commented a math professor I used to work with. “It’s like, you’re in periodic orbit or something.” Periodic orbit – geez. You can always tell when you’re talking to a math guy.

Anyway – while there I picked up a beginning-of-school issue of the Daily Helmsman, the campus newspaper. I read an article saying that the U of M had a good chance of being a stop on the Rock The Vote tour this fall. This would be a Good Thing for students in the short term because there would be bands, games, a good time on campus. It would be a Really Good Thing in the long term because hundreds of 18-22 year olds would register to vote and get in the HABIT of having a voice in who leads this country.

But, I have since learned that Rock The Vote won’t happen here. And the reason why really pisses me off.

One of Rock the Vote’s major sponsors is Pepsi. The University of Memphis, however, has an exclusive contract with Coke. And Coke put their foot down and vetoed the tour.

So instead of fun and games and bands and voter registration, the students instead get a lesson – that Doing The Right Thing in America means doing what’s in the best interests of the large corporations.

I think that lesson sucks.

My mother has been telling me for years that I need to drink fewer Cokes and instead drink more water. If Coke keeps acting like this, I may well start listening to her.

That is all. Again, have a good weekend.

Plans for this weekend

Tonight (Friday): Turbo 350 is playing at the Tap Room on Beale Street. I’ll probably buy the $10 wristband that gets you in all the clubs, then spend most of my time at the Tap Room but hit some of the other clubs too.

Saturday day: The Center for Southern Folklore is having its annual festival. It’s on the Main Street Mall between Gayoso and Peabody Place. Good music, good food, good art and the people who run the center are really nice. They make Memphis a more diverse place and I’m happy to support.

Saturday night: Years ago, the Map Room used to have bands in their basement late at night. Well, the Map Room has become Empire Coffee, but this week they’re bringing back the bands. Cyrrus Range is playing this week from 10 to midnight. No idea what they sound like but I’ll be there because Empire’s basement is a damn cool place, and they actually CLEANED it, which is more than the Map Room ever did. $2 cover. They’re also selling beer.

Sunday: Getting drunk at the bars downtown. Around noon I’ll hit the Blue Monkey for champagne brunch and will probably hang out there until midafternoon. Afterward, I’ll probably head back to Main Street for the second day of the Center’s festival.

Monday: The FedEx Forum’s grand opening is today. They’ll be open from 11 to 6, offering tours, autograph sessions, and live music by the Venus Mission, After Dark Band, the Gamble Brothers, and the Dempseys. I know Venus Mission will be on first, not sure of the order of the other bands. I have seen the Dempseys twice in the past five days and will make it three times on Monday.

And I’m too lazy to start a new post, so here’s everyone’s favorite weekly feature, WHAT THE BUMS ARE DRINKING THIS WEEK. (Based on the empty boxes outside the liquor store around the corner, the one that caters to people who beg for money for food, then eat out of the garbage can and spend the money on cheap liquor)

– Mad Dog 20/20

– Dark Eyes vodka

– Grey Goose vodka??? WTF? A bum could buy a gallon of Dark Eyes for what a pint of Grey Goose costs. Bums are into quantity, not quality. I wonder if there’s a vodka named after a pigeon? Bet the bums would drink that.

– Calvert Extra

– A whopping FOUR CASES of Wild Irish Rose. Bums like “fortified wines” like Wild Irish Rose and Mad Dog because they contain 17-18% alcohol rather than the normal 12-13% found in regular wines.

That’ll do it for now. Happy Labor Day weekend everybody!

My stock portfolio

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

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

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.

Looking for a job – know of anything?

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.

Getting out of the credit-card biz full-time

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.

What the bums are drinking this week

(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.

A conversation with a Bush supporter

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.

Does anyone know of…

…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.