"The more I find out, the less I know."


My entire vast fortune: Gone, in but a single day!

Monday - August 13, 2007 02:28 PM

Well, it was fun for a couple days, but my accidental $80 million fortune is now gone.
Right as expected, at 9 AM California time today I got a call from ShoreTel's corporate counsel. She said the first step is to verify that there was, in fact, a mistake, and that she'd get in touch with the transfer agent.

I asked for a logo mug, and she said she'd work on it.

A few hours later, I got a call from an embarrassed-sounding employee of ComputerShare, the stock transfer agent, who verified that there was, in fact, a mistake. All I needed to do was mail the certificates back, and they'd figure out the rest.

So I popped them into an overnight envelope, and off they went.

In the end, I suppose I'm a little disappointed that all I had to do was mail the certificates back. I had been envisioning walking into a mahogany-paneled meeting room with the share certificates in a briefcase handcuffed to my wrist. I would sign about 57 different pieces of paper under the watchful gaze of a half-dozen very distinguished looking lawyers, representing the shadowy venture funds I would be helping out of a very ticklish position.

Then, after all the papers were signed, I would hand the briefcase over, and the lawyers would carefully open it, and verify that all six certificates were inside. They would nod to each other, and the most senior of the lawyers would solemnly open his briefcase, thank me for my very valuable assistance, and formally present me with a logo mug and T-shirt.

As I turn to head out the door, that seniormost lawyer would stop me one last time to say, "You must understand that you've been of immense service to us. We don't easily forget who our friends are. We owe you a favor, a big favor, and if there's anything you ever need, just call. Got that? Anything."

Personally, I blame FedEx for taking all the romance out.

Posted at 02:28 PM | Permalink |

Stock Certificates

Sunday - August 12, 2007 06:44 PM

I've now been worth $80 million for almost 48 hours. I can't say it feels much different than before....though I am surprised I haven't heard back from the company yet. Maybe they decided to consult their lawyers before calling me.
Here's a photo of the stack of stock certificates--click on the thumbnail for a large version where the number of shares on the top certificate (4,477,132) is clearly visible.


I've been asking myself a bunch of questions over the weekend, and while I'm not a securities lawyer, I've come up with at least a few answers:

Are the stock certificates real?
Yes.

Do I really own 5.7 million shares of ShoreTel?
Sort of, maybe. Fifty years ago, if you held the stock certificates then you owned the stock. These days the stock certificates are less important, and the company's share register (the list of stockholders and the number of shares they own) is usually considered the legally binding way to know who owns the stock. Stock certificates nowadays are mainly used to demonstrate ownership and transfer it to someone else.

So if this is a simple printing error (most likely) then these certificates don't actually represent any ownership in the company. On the other hand, if the company's share register got mixed up somehow, then things are much more complicated and I might actually be the legal owner of the stock.

If I own the stock, can I sell it?
Even if it turns out that I'm the legal owner of this stock, there are some legal restrictions because it's all stock issued pre-IPO. Each certificate is stamped "TRANSFER OF THIS STOCK IS RESTRICTED SEE LEGEND ON REVERSE SIDE." The fine print on the back has two main restrictions: first, it can't be sold until 180 days after the IPO (which would be sometime in January). That gives everyone lots of time to sort out the problem without the risk that I would sell the stock first. The other restriction is that the stock needs to be registered with the SEC before being sold (this is called a "144 sale" after the form you have to fill out to sell the stock). That means that selling these shares will create a paper trail a mile wide.

Even assuming that it would be legal and ethical to sell the stock, it would still be very tricky. When you're selling 14% of a company, you don't just log on to your Charles Schwab account and click the "Sell" button. That much stock hitting the market all at once will cause the price to tank, and you won't get as much for it as you should. Instead, you need to work with an institutional stock brokerage to sell the stock in a controlled manner to buyers who are willing to take millions of shares at a time.

So there's pretty much no way to sell the stock quickly, and even if I could, it wouldn't be a quiet anonymous process.

How do I fix this mistake?
The short answer is: contact the company and do whatever they ask me (within reason).

How hard this is to fix will depend on where the mistake happened. If this is just a matter of the printer jamming and misprinting a few certificates, they may just reprint the certificates and ask me to destroy the ones I have.

On the other hand, if they messed up the share register and I actually own these shares, it might get more complicated. I may have to sign the certificates over to the proper owners in order to effect a share transfer, and there may have to be some nominal consideration for my giving up ownership of the stock (I would accept a logo mug or T-shirt from each of the VC funds whose stock I wound up with). The nominal consideration is something some lawyers insist on to make sure it looks like an exchange rather than a gift.

In any event, it's reasonable to expect the company to reimburse me for any direct expenses (for example, legal fees) I incur in helping correct the problem.

Is there any way I could get to keep the stock?
A year or two ago here in Minnesota, the state mistakenly sent a $5 million check to a small contractor, instead of the few thousand she was owed. The woman was convicted of fraud because she deposited it in her bank account and made no effort to try to return the money (she might have also spent some of it, but my memory is fuzzy on the details). The state argued--successfully--that the $5 million check was so obviously an error that the woman should have known it wasn't really hers.

My situation here is pretty much the same, though an order of magnitude bigger. These stock certificates are so obviously a mistake that anything I do to try to cash in on them could be considered fraud.

So my duty is to take whatever reasonable steps I can to rectify the error, which basically means contacting the company right away and asking them what they want me to do (which I've already done).

I've not yet heard back from the company, though, so I don't know what their response might be. It's conceivable (though extremely unlikely, given the sums involved) that the company might insist that there's been no mistake, or even affirmatively declare that the shares really are mine. In that case, there is a point at which I could give up trying to convince them of their mistake and take the company at its word.

As I understand it, the law asks me to make a reasonable effort to rectify this kind of mistake; it does not require that I martyr myself on the cross of insufferable bureaucracy. Given the sums involved, though, even if the company insisted up down and sideways that the stock is mine, I wouldn't make any effort to cash it in without the advice of some very expensive lawyers.

The way I figure it, the odds that the company tells me to keep the stock are about the same as being hit by lightning and winning the lottery. Simultaneously.

If I was dishonest, how could I turn this to my advantage?
Since I'm an honest guy, I'm pretty much resigned to the notion that all I'm going to get out of this bank error in my favor is a fun story to tell the grandkids, and maybe a free lunch or T-shirt.

Ah, but if I was dishonest....

The mind boggles at the possibility. Even though the certificates are basically worthless (and couldn't be sold for months in any event), the paper could make fairly convincing proof of great wealth, proof which would stand up to fairly close scrutiny. It could form the basis of an elaborate con job, one where I used the stock certificates to prove my investing prowess.

The simplest con might be to take them to a large bank (one which handles private banking for wealthy individuals) and ask them to hold the certificates for me, mentioning that I'll probably want their help with a 144 sale after the 180-day lockup expires. Then return a week later and ask for a personal unsecured loan for $5 or $10 million. It's illegal to borrow money using restricted stock as collateral, but it's perfectly legal for the bank to approve an unsecured loan using the stock as proof of my eventual ability to repay. Then, check in hand, I can hop a flight to the nearest third-world country without an extradition treaty.

It's a good thing I'm honest.

UPDATE (8/13/07): My vast fortune is gone!

Posted at 06:44 PM | Permalink |

Today, I Am Worth $80 Million.....

Friday - August 10, 2007 09:17 PM

.....and by the end of the day Monday, it will almost all be gone.

Here is my tale of how I became an almost-centimillionaire, and how my fortune will disappear like dust in the wind.
The story begins in the middle of the dot-com bubble, when I was working as a research analyst for an investment bank. At the time, like many of my colleagues, I made some personal venture investments in what I thought were promising startups. In retrospect, it turns out to have been a supremely bad time to be making venture investments, and nearly every one of my investments turned out to be worth nothing within a few years.

A couple of companies held on, though, and about a month ago one of them went public. I'd been invested in this company nearly a decade, though boom, bust, bridge loan, cramdown, recap, split, reverse split, and finally IPO. Not much was left of my original investment, and the IPO was at less than half the price I'd originally paid for the shares so long ago. Nevertheless, getting something back is better than nothing.

Because of the IPO and concurrent stock adjustments, all the pre-IPO shares had to be reissued, and everyone would get new stock certificates.

This evening I arrived home late with the family, since we took the kids to Chuck E. Cheese for dinner (Friday nights are special time with the whole family). There was a FedEx envelope waiting for me from the company handling the stock transfer.

I opened the envelope to find a stack of papers. The top sheet was a shiny new stock certificate made out to me, for a grand total of about 141,000 shares.

"That's odd," I thought, "I was only expecting a couple thousand shares at most. Maybe the enclosed letter explains it."

So I turned to the next page and discovered another stock certificate, with my name on it, for about 444,000 shares.

Then another stock certificate for a few million shares.

And another, and another. In total, there were about eight stock certificates in the envelope, all in my name, totaling about 5.7 million shares. No letter, no explanation, nothing.

That's about 14% of the entire company. At today's close of $13.99/share, it's worth about $80 million. My guess is that someone screwed up the database of shareholders, and put my name on a whole bunch of certificates which should have gone to other pre-IPO investors.

Sadly, those shares aren't really mine even if the piece of paper says so. As soon as I realized the mistake, I looked up the CFO (I hadn't actually talked to anyone at this company in probably six years) and left him a voicemail. Since it was already 6 PM California time, he'd gone home for the weekend.

I expect that they'll ask me to FedEx the certificates back on Monday. Maybe they'll let me keep a (voided) souvenir copy, or, if I'm a really tough negotiator I might get them to treat me to lunch for my honesty.

But at least for this weekend, I'm worth $80 million on paper. I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

P.S. If anyone knows Mike Healy, Chief Financial Officer of ShoreTel, tell him to check his voicemail. I'll be expecting his call.

Posted at 09:17 PM | Permalink |

Bridge Collapse

Thursday - August 02, 2007 10:51 AM

By now, I assume that everyone reading this blog has heard that the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis collapsed last night during the evening rush hour.
As rescue operations become recovery operations, I'm thankful that the human toll seems to be remarkably low for a disaster of this magnitude. Everyone I know is fine, though my oldest son was worried last night that some of his school friends were hurt (unlikely, as we live about 20 miles from the bridge in question).

It's going to take years before downtown Minneapolis is back to normal. This bridge is one of five major freeway routes into Downtown, and one of only two freeway bridges over the Mississippi in Downtown (there are also several bridges connected to city streets, but they're not capable of handling anywhere near the 160,000 cars/day which used to use the I-35W bridge). The collapse also cut off river traffic and a major rail line.

I used to live about a block from the bridge--you can see my old apartment building in many of the media photos and videos--and I was never that fond of it. Much of the riverfront of Minneapolis has been revitalized in recent decades, but the 35W bridge has remained an eyesore. I hope they replace it with something more attractive.

There will be a thorough investigation, and whatever the final report says will almost certainly have repercussions. These kinds of events usually have a chain of circumstances which ultimately lead to the disaster, so there usually isn't just one cause.

My totally uninformed and unexpert guess is that the final NTSB report will likely cite some combination of these factors:

1) Bridge design which met 1960's standards, but which isn't sufficient by modern standards (possibly related to traffic load and/or vehicle weight significantly above the original design parameters).

2) Structural weakness which was either undetected in recent inspections (possibly undetectable), or underemphasized in the inspectors' reports.

3) A sustained period of hot weather, and/or construction during the hot weather.

4) Vibration from construction contributing to the actual moment of collapse.

5) (Unlikely but possible) accelerated corrosion from the de-icing chemicals used on the bridge deck in recent years.

The wild card is whether the engineers and inspectors working on the bridge were under any pressure to overlook or de-emphasize known problems. Minnesota's budget for road construction and repair has been very tight the past few years--thanks to a gas tax which hasn't been raised in decades and a governor who refuses to even consider the idea--and replacing or overhauling the I-35W bridge would have been a hugely expensive and disruptive project.

While nobody has suggested this yet, I can certainly see how, in an environment of very tight budgets, it would be tempting to overlook problems with the I-35W bridge (which is, after all, only 40 years old) in favor of other pressing projects which would be cheaper and easier.

Posted at 10:51 AM | Permalink |

Ham Lake Fire

Friday - May 11, 2007 09:37 AM

After last year's Cavity Lake Fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, I thought I had seen The Big One: the giant forest fire we'd been promised would eventually happen after the 1999 BWCA blowdown.
It turns out I was wrong.

This spring the weather is starting out hotter and drier than last year, and the spring fire season has brought us the Ham Lake Fire. This monster started last weekend near the Gunflint Trail in northeast Minnesota, and is now some unknown size larger than 50 square miles. According to media reports, it may have grown by 20,000 acres yesterday alone. That would make it as big as the Cavity Lake fire last year, but without any hope yet of containment, and no significant precipitation in the forecast.

Worse, where last year's monster fire was mostly within the BWCA itself (where there are no cabins or resorts), this time the fire is right along the Gunflint Trail, a major route into the BWCA and hub of recreational activity. Hundreds of buildings are threatened, and dozens have been destroyed.

Since we have a chunk of land not too far from the Gunflint Trail (but about 30 miles from Ham Lake), I've been trying to track the fire's progress. I've been frustrated by the lack of timely dissemination of information through the Internet: the main information sites (such as MNICS and Inciweb) often are a day or two out of date--and for a fire which has been moving and growing as fast as this one, that's almost hopelessly old.

One alarming event happened late yesterday, when the wind shifted from mostly southerly to more northerly. The fire had been moving mostly towards Canada, but with the change in the weather it is now moving back down the Gunflint Trail towards Grand Marais. Alarmingly, the fire unexpectedly jumped Gunflint Lake late yesterday, which caused the authorities to close the Gunflint Trail at Poplar Lake and evacuate the entire area North and East of that point. Remarkably, and to the credit of everyone, there have been no fatalities or injuries so far.

To put this in context, the old roadblock had been near Gunflint Lake, which is about 3/4 of the way to the end of the Gunflint Trail. Poplar Lake is about ten miles closer to Grand Marais, and only halfway to the end of the Trail. Poplar Lake is also a third of the distance from where the fire started to my own slice of the north woods.

That's starting to get close to home.

As I understand it, the forest in the Arrowhead region of Northern Minnesota typically burns every couple hundred years or so. The last time our property burned was about a century ago, so with the right conditions another fire isn't out of the question. Firefighters on the Ham Lake fire are focusing (as they should) on protecting lives and buildings, since the fire itself is too difficult to contain at this point. The fire is going to pretty much do what it wants until there's a big soaking rain to keep it from spreading more.

Additionally, until there's more moisture, the whole region is a tinderbox. A fire started near Hibbing yesterday and within hours grew to over 170 acres, and any spark (or campfire or lightning) could have a similar effect.

We had been thinking of going camping up north over Memorial Day weekend in two weeks. Now we're not sure what we'll find.

Posted at 09:37 AM | Permalink |

Gandalf

Wednesday - March 28, 2007 03:19 PM

I found my first gray hair today. Actually, it was more like transparent white: nothing "intermediate between black and white" about it.
Of course, I immediately plucked it out and showed it to everyone else at the office: "My first gray hair! Cool!"

It looks like I'm destined to inherit my grandfather's full head of pure white hair (and beard).

Posted at 03:19 PM | Permalink |

Flying on 9/11

Sunday - September 10, 2006 12:08 PM

I didn't realize this at the time I booked the tickets, but I have a 7:30 AM flight for the 5th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I'm going to Seattle for a trade show.
If for no other reason than the symbolism of the date, I expect that all the airports will be on infra-red high alert. If water is the latest "threat," then I won't be surprised if they make all the passengers empty their bladders before going through security.

I am not expecting any real risk. Statistically, even if I had been flying on 9/11/2001, I would have had only a slight chance of dying in a terrorist attack. Tomorrow, I'm far more worried about falling down the dark stairs in my house as I leave before dawn than I am about being the victim of random (or unrandom) violence.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the collective paranoia of millions of my fellow Americans--especially those few hundred thousand specifically entrusted to keep the airways safe--will ensure an absolutely miserable flight.

Posted at 12:08 PM | Permalink |

Getting set for Winter

Sunday - September 03, 2006 08:38 AM

It's September now, and we've had a solid week of autumnal weather: cool, and alternating between pleasantly dry and solid days of rain. Temperatures the past week have been right around seasonal--which these days means "slightly on the cool side."
The pile of firewood is gone from the driveway, split and stacked in various places around the garage and yard for the winter. My firewood inventory is something like this:

Garage: Approx. 2 cords of dry cottonwood, and approx. 3 cords of dry oak.

Under the Spruce Tree: Approx. 2-3 cords of dry oak and ash, and approx. 2 cords of pine, birch, and a bit of apple.

Under a Different Spruce Tree: Approx. 1/2 cord of boxelder, not yet split, but reasonably dry.

Near the Pond: Approx. 1/2 cord of greenish boxelder, not yet split.

So, total it all up, and there's something like ten cords of dry firewood, about half of which is heavy dense wood (oak, ash, and apple), and half of which is lighter wood (cottonwood and pine). There's another cord not yet split and not as dry, which is boxelder, a moderately dense wood.

The light woods burn fast and hot, and so are good for early in the season when we don't need the stove going 24/7. They're good for taking a bit of chill out of the house, or those times when someone is around to feed the stove constantly.

The heavy woods have a lot more (2-3x) heat value per volume, so those are good for times like overnight or when nobody's home when the weather is very cold and we want to keep the stove going as much as possible around the clock. The stove loaded with oak will put out a lot of heat for hours.

I don't know if this will be enough for the winter, but we're certainly in a lot better shape firewood-wise than at the beginning of last winter.

In addition, there are some other firewood stocks I can draw upon:

* There's still a little bit of old, rotten logs by the pond. Last fall I couldn't get them out, but after a dry summer the pond is down and I may be able to recover a few more logs. This isn't much, and it isn't very good, but it should be gotten rid of.

* My parents have some firewood stocked at their house, and I plan to cut up some more downed trees for them. If we get low during the winter, I can draw on some of that wood.

* There's a big diseased elm tree which has been cut down and needs to be hauled off a few miles from here. The downside is that the bark needs to be stripped off right away (something of a nuisance) so that the dutch elm disease doesn't spread. Elm is good firewood, though this stuff needs to dry a little more.

It doesn't look like natural gas prices will be as high as they were last summer, though it could still top $1.00/therm for much of the winter. I'm going to follow the same strategy as last year: keep the thermostat turned way down during the week, up a little on the weekends during the day, and use the stove as much as possible to keep the main furnace from kicking in.

I think it is possible, depending on the weather and natural gas prices, to save as much as $2,000 on heat this winter. $1,500 should be well within our reach, given that we saved over $1,000 last year and only had the stove for half the season and lower-quality wood.

Posted at 08:38 AM | Permalink |

Cabin Fever

Tuesday - August 22, 2006 08:09 PM

A couple weeks ago, I checked the calendar and realized that the summer--as defined by Scooter's school schedule--was almost over. We hadn't yet had a chance to visit our place near Grand Marais on the North Shore of Lake Superior. So we did some quick organizing, found a cabin available at a nearby resort, and scheduled a last-minute Trip Up North.
Four nights, leaving Saturday and coming back Wednesday (tomorrow, actually--I'll upload this entry when we get home).

After about the first day of the trip, She Who Puts Up With Me and I had a minor epiphany. An epiphanette, if you like. For the past two summers, we've taken the kids on a road trip to Yellowstone. That's four days of driving, a couple of layover days, and three days actually there. Going Up North is only a half-day drive, and we all seem to enjoy it just as much. We get twice as much vacation in our vacation.

This has rekindled talk of building a cabin on our property. Right now, there's nothing there you would reasonably want to stay in: when I was in college, I tried my hand at building a couple small structures (a gazebo and an A-frame cabin), but the gazebo is now falling down, and the A-frame never got finished since I ran out of time. We don't want to camp in tents with two kids who are still toilet-training, so we pretty much have to stay at a hotel or resort.

The cabin we're renting this trip is just the sort of thing I'd like to have: it is basically a house in the woods, with all the amenities like electricity, hot and cold water, a full kitchen, three bathrooms with showers, etc. I don't feel like I have to prove I can live like my ancestors in the woods. Just being among trees and near water is sufficient.

Actually building our cozy little nest in the woods is a different issue. Any construction project is going to have to begin with road improvements: about 3/4 mile of forest road would have to be widened to accommodate construction trucks, and depending on the building site we select, up to an additional half mile of road may have to be built through the forest. We're probably talking $25,000 (minimum!) in road improvements alone. It could easily be more, since I think some of the best building sites are up on a ridge overlooking Lake Superior, a good quarter mile from where the existing road runs.

There's other issues, too. Power will probably have to be off-grid, since we're 3/4 mile from the nearest power line. Being off-grid in the middle of the forest can be challenging, since the trees block solar panels (unless we clear some of the forest around the cabin), and wind power means building a tower considerably higher than the tallest trees. It would be visible for miles, and might not even be allowed as an eyesore in the middle of the woods.

For now, dreams of a cabin are just that--at least until we have the time and money to start making it a reality. Someday, perhaps, this dream will come true.

Posted at 08:09 PM | Permalink |

Ready....Aim....

Tuesday - July 18, 2006 03:18 PM

Back in 1999, a monster thunderstorm blew down the forest across hundreds of square miles of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the Superior National Forest. Ever since then, we've been hearing "it's gonna burn."

Over the past seven years, a lot of effort has been made to mitigate the danger of a big wildfire. Area resorts and cabin owners have been given grants to clear brush from near structures and install sprinkler systems to protect buildings. Controlled burns along the Gunflint Trail (the only road through the area) reduced the amount of dead wood along the inhabited areas (by law, nobody lives in the Boundary Waters itself). A handful of wildfires have also helped clear some of the fuel from the forest, but there's only so much that can be done.

After several years of relatively good fire weather (that is, not hot and dry), this summer has brought just the kind of conditions that create big fires.

Last Thursday, July 14th, lightning hit a hillside just south of Cavity Lake, right in the middle of the blowdown area. While there was an effort to douse it with water bombers, the area was too remote and rugged for ground crews to fight the fire. So the Cavity Lake fire grew, consuming over 500 acres on its first day. On July 15th, it grew to 1,500 acres, and on the 16th it hit 6,300 acres.

With continued hot, dry weather and periods of goodly winds (and little or no rain), the fire hit 15,000 acres by the end of the day yesterday, skipping through some of the larger lakes and burning islands on Seagull Lake. It still has plenty of room to grow, with only a few percent of the blowdown area burned so far. While most of the attention has been on the large Cavity Lake fire, there is at least one other large fire burning (the Turtle Lake fire, which had burned about 900 acres as of yesterday, and has been going since July 7th), and recent lightning may have sparked dozens of other small fires which haven't yet been detected in the pall of smoke from Cavity Lake.

This could be the summer that the BWCA burns.

Supposedly, this part of the country burns about once a century or so. The last major fire was in 1910, when about 80 square miles went up in smoke. From 1911 until 1987, all wildfires were suppressed, until a "hands off" policy was adopted. Unfortunately, the 75 years of fire suppression plus the 1999 blowdown have created a situation where huge areas are all primed to burn at once.

My own slice of Northern Minnesota is about 40 miles from the Cavity Lake fire, and is outside the blowdown area (though there's a few trees on my property which got knocked down in the 1999 storm), so there's no immediate threat of fire. Even so, there's still months to go before the snow flies and ends the fire season, and if the dry weather continues, the risk will continue to get greater.

Posted at 03:18 PM | Permalink |

Rocketboom Redux

Wednesday - July 12, 2006 05:16 PM

Rocketboom is back, a couple days later than promised. I'll give them a little while to get their feet under before I pass judgement, but my initial impression is that they're trying way too hard to make the new host Just Like Amanda. This is not a good sign. Memo to Andrew Baron: find someone who can both write and act, and let her do her own thing.
In the Frozen North, this soap opera has been ample fodder for speculation and discussion over the past week. Every day brings a new installment, and we just can't help speculating about what's going to happen next.

It has also led to the uttering in our household of the Single Most Dangerous Phrase Ever:

"We could start a video blog!"

Posted at 05:16 PM | Permalink |

Amanda Unboomed

Wednesday - July 05, 2006 03:19 PM

Amanda Congdon, the host of the hugely popular video weblog Rocketboom, has left. Here's her farewell message, left on her personal blog rather than on Rocketboom.
Here's what Amanda said in her message:

"Hello, and good Wednesday, July 5th, 2006, I'm Amanda Congdon, and this is...oops, wrong show. Contrary to what has been said, or implied, in the Rocketboom comments section, I'm not on vacation. Not by a long shot. Um, I'm actually here to tell you guys, because I think, you know, it's so important to be transparent with the Rocketboom viewers, kinda what's going on. Um, so here I am, on Unboomed, as I apparently have been unboomed. Um, yeah, apparently my partner, Andrew Baron, is no longer interested in being my partner, and, um, since he owns 51% of Rocketboom and I own 49% of Rocketboom, that's just something I'm going to kinda have to live with, so I'm just kinda accepting it. And, um, yeah, I guess this is my last appearance in front of the map. But, um, you know I'm sure I'll be back, on Unboomed, hosting some crazy crazy stuff soon, and I just wanted to communicate with all of you and tell you that I haven't forgotten about any of you Rocketboom viewers, and I'm gonna be back, and I'll be back on Unboomed, and I hope to see you probably not tomorrow, but sometime soon thereafter. Say hi at unboomed@gmail.com. I miss you. And don't tell me I need a tan, I already know."

Here's the message posted on the official Rocketboom website:

"Amanda Congdon has decided to move to L.A. to pursue opportunities that have arisen for her in Hollywood.

We wanted to meet her request to move production out to L.A., however, we are a small company and have not been able to figure out a way to make it work, financially and in many other ways at this time. So sadly we bid Amanda adieu and wish her all the best.

Rocketboom goes on.

Andrew Baron, the founder and creator of Rocketboom, will stay with the company in New York and will continue to produce and direct the show. We are in the daunting process of recruiting a replacement for Amanda.

While Amanda will be sorely missed, we have big plans for Rocketboom and are determined to make the show better than ever.

After Field Week and a week on hiatus, we know that you are hungry for the news! Rocketboom will be back with a news episode and an interim host this MONDAY, JULY 10. "

Okay, speaking as a longtime Rocketboom fan, all I can say is....wow. Where to begin?

Would it be stating to obvious to point out that the two messages have basically nothing in common? Are they even describing the same event?

I would love to know the real story about what's going on. It really seems a shame that, after spending over a year working on Rocketboom, Amanda gets the boot just as it is really taking off and generating some actual revenue.

Let's face it, for most fans, Rocketboom is Amanda Congdon. She's the main reason I became a fan, and she's one of the few celebrities I've ever wanted to actually meet. She brought a fun, informal quality to the show that felt like this was just something she was doing off the cuff for a few friends--even though Rocketboom had something like 300,000 viewers and clearly took hours to produce each day.

I suspect that there is at least some truth to each of the two different statements about what happened, and I also suspect that the show's recent success (financial and otherwise) had a lot to do with the breakup. Sudden success has a funny way of straining relationships and exposing parts of people that weren't obvious before.

What more can I say?

I'll miss Amanda, and I sure hope she follows through on her promise to find another venue soon.

Posted at 03:19 PM | Permalink |

April Gas Usage

Thursday - April 27, 2006 02:13 PM

Here's an update on our gas usage, since we got another gas bill today. For the month from mid-March to mid-April we used 39 therms of natural gas. Last year our usage (for the same average temperature) would have been 125 therms, so we saved 86 therms at $0.95/therm. The price of natural gas has come down quite a bit since the beginning of the winter; in November we paid $1.35/therm.
So for the season as a whole we've now saved a grand total of $1,023. Not too shabby....If we'd gotten the wood stove back in September instead of December, we probably could have saved an additional 100 to 150 therms of gas, or around $200 at the prices we were paying at the time.

Just for laughs, I added a new column to my spreadsheet to calculate the amount of reduced CO2 emissions from not burning fossil fuels for heat. It came out to just under five tons of CO2 that we didn't add to the atmosphere this winter, or approximately what one of our cars emits in a year's worth of driving. So not only did we save a thousand bucks on heat, but we effective removed one car's equivalent of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Not too shabby.

The heating season is now nearly over. Our main furnace has actually been turned off for about three weeks now. We've been lighting the wood stove only intermittently when the mornings are chillier than usual. I expect that we'll still post some small gas savings on our next bill, but unless we get an unseasonable cold snap, we'll probably only show another $10 or $20 of gas savings.

My focus has now shifted to stockpiling firewood for next winter. I have a few sources lined up, and a few cords already put away (some of which is leftover from this year). I figure I need about ten cords stacked before summer begins in earnest so that it will have time to dry by autumn.

Posted at 02:13 PM | Permalink |

Disney

Wednesday - April 26, 2006 04:31 PM

I spent the past few days at a Disney World resort without my family.
I was attending a corporate boondoggle (more than just attending, my company was one of the sponsors), and despite the setting it was strictly business for me. I understand why the organizers want to go to a fun resort, but as far as I was concerned it would have been just as good in Des Moines, Iowa. Better, actually: Des Moines would have been a lot more comfortable (it was in the 90s and humid every day) and far far cheaper.

Disney is fascinating, though, in the same way Paris Hilton or a Pixar movie is fascinating: you know that everything you're looking at is fake, but you just can't tear your eyes from the brazen artifice of it all. It's actually more than fake, since you're not looking at a faithful simulation of the real thing, but an idealized representation trying to pass itself off as the real thing. Imagine if a cardboard cutout of Leonard Nimoy started talking and claiming to be an actual native of the planet Vulcan.

I stayed in Disney's Caribbean Resort, designed to look and feel like a tropical island, with buildings names "Aruba," "Trinidad," and so forth. Except that this island paradise has the advantage of having no poor people (none visible, anyway), and a guard checking IDs at the gate to keep out undesirables. Actually, I'm not sure exactly what the guard was checking for, since anyone who showed an ID was allowed in, and it's not like they give out special driver's licenses with TERRORIST stamped in red.

Our Caribbean Resort did have some things in common with the real thing: palm trees, sandy beaches, and water--though perversely, the Disney version is built around an island of water surrounded by land, rather than the other way around. Also, just like a real tropical island, this one stands an excellent chance of getting wiped out by rising sea levels or a major hurricane sometime in the next hundred years.

The conference itself was at Disney's Boardwalk resort, modeled after an idealized version of the Atlantic City, NJ boardwalk from the late 19th century (no poor people here, either). The entire complex, from the water to the shops to the dance hall, was just like the real thing, except with anything that might be remotely unpleasant or undesirable carefully removed or hidden from view.

Not everything is perfect. Travelers are cautioned to lock their cars and stay in well-lit areas at night. But you can rest assured that if you are mugged at Disney World, you will have been victimized by The Happiest Muggers on Earth (TM).

Posted at 04:31 PM | Permalink |

March gas usage

Monday - March 27, 2006 06:44 PM

In March, we saved 187 therms of natural gas in heating our home thanks to the wood heat and keeping the thermostat turned down. That's a little less than the past couple months, and I'm not sure why. My best guess is that we're down to the bottom of the barrel on firewood (we're now burning mostly green cottonwood), and the stuff we're burning now both doesn't burn as long or as hot as the better quality wood we were using at first.
The price of gas is also at its lowest point of the season, at $1.038/therm. As a result, we "only" saved $195 on our heating bill this month. For the season so far we've saved about $950.

We've now left the peak of the heating season behind us, and it won't be long now before we don't need the gas furnace at all (we've only barely used it this past week, when the highs have been in the 40's with lows around freezing). But we will probably still save a couple hundred more dollars on heat, since the heating season doesn't really end until the average temperature reaches 60-65 degrees. That won't happen until May (on average) in the Twin Cities.

I'm also starting to stockpile wood for next year. I've already scored about a half cord of boxelder (which burns very nicely), and identified several trees in our yard which need to come down. I'll need about ten cords of firewood to use maximum wood heat next season, and I'm not sure where I'll store it all.

Posted at 06:44 PM | Permalink |

Gas Savings Update

Monday - February 27, 2006 05:31 PM

We got our February gas bill today, covering the period from mid-January to mid-February. During this period, the average temperature was 25 degrees (tied with the December bill for the coldest month of the season), and we burned 2.9 therms/day of gas.
This was also the first full month which reflects our use of the wood stove for heat, and I'm suitable impressed with the savings. Comparing this bill to December's bill (December had the same average temperature, and was the last full month before wood heat), we are burning 4 therms/day less. Last year, correcting for temperature, we burned 10.0 therms/day.

So we're saving 2/3 of our gas bill during the coldest month of the year. We should save even more (proportionally) during the warmer months.

The cost of gas has been dropping, though, so in terms of dollars the savings is going down a bit.

Crunching all the numbers, in February we saved $246 as compared to what we would have spent without the wood heat and keeping the thermostat down. For the season so far, we've saved $759 (readjusting the savings from prior months slightly to use a more precise estimate of our savings).

We still have 3-4 months of heating season left to go, though the last couple months (April and May) are marginal. But I'm guessing that when we add it all up for the season, we will have saved about $1,500 total. That's nearly half the cost of the wood stove insert. Another year of expensive natural gas, and the stove will have paid for itself.

Gas Price Update: The bottom fell out of the natural gas market the past few months as it became clear that the mild weather and expensive energy prices were leading to low consumption this year. So I'm expecting that the price of gas will slip well below $1.00/therm before the end of the heating season.

Posted at 05:31 PM | Permalink |

Not what you want to hear on Valentine's Day

Wednesday - February 15, 2006 09:57 PM

...or any other time for that matter:
"I'm worried."

"What are you worried about?"

"My chest hurts. Its been hurting all day."

"Hurts like you want to see the doctor?"

"I think so, yeah."

She Who Puts Up With Me called the nurse line first, and after about a half-hour the nurse said that it wasn't an emergency, and most likely something minor, but that she should go see the doctor within a few days.

This morning the doctor examined her, and determined that the pain was in her ribs--fortunately not her heart, and not the lungs either. We're guessing perhaps a minor injury or motion-related problem. The prescription is to take it easy and consume mass quantities of ibuprofen.

So She Who Puts Up With Me is just fine. Thanks for asking.

Posted at 09:57 PM | Permalink |

Gas prices

Saturday - February 04, 2006 08:13 AM

You are probably sick of reading about our wood stove and how expensive it is to heat this winter. Too bad, because here's another one on the topic....
Gas prices are coming down a bit, thanks to the warm January (though today is getting back to the deep-freeze in Minnesota, so this long warm snap may be at an end). For February the price is set at $1.09/therm, down from $1.22/therm in January, but still 20% above the price last February ($0.91/therm). We never did quite see the $1.50/therm I had been expecting, but then the commodities markets only it that price briefly on a couple of occasions.

Posted at 08:13 AM | Permalink |

January gas bill

Monday - January 30, 2006 01:16 AM

We got our January gas bill, the first one since our wood stove was installed. This bill covered 35 days, of which about a week was before wood heat.
It has been unusually warm this month, so I'm obligated to correct the gas savings based on the temperature. This past month, we used 3.74 therms/day, as compared to 10 therms/day we would have used without turning down the thermostat or using wood heat (I based the 10 therms/day figure on our gas usage last year as a function of average temperature--it turns out to be an almost linear relationship, as you would expect). So we saved a total of 221 therms this month, at just under $1.20/therm, or $264.35.

While I was at it, I went back and corrected the calculated savings for the past three months for temperature. So far this season, we've saved $542.34, and the heating season is only about half over. We should pass $1,000 in savings by a big margin.

Posted at 01:16 AM | Permalink |

Miami

Monday - January 23, 2006 05:43 PM

I'm in Miami the first part of this week on a business trip. The most remarkable thing is the contrast from my last visit a couple years ago: the whole city remains visibly scarred from the after-effects of Hurricane Wilma.
I didn't bring my camera on this trip, but I should have. Every high-rise downtown has boarded-up windows (including the hotel I'm in), and some buildings have entire walls of plywood; there are piles of debris--mainly downed trees--in the middle of parks and empty fields; and blue tarps are everywhere.

As an aside, I think that particular shade should be named "FEMA Blue."

Construction and cleanup is going on all around me. The hotel (being a really nice hotel) is trying its best to pretend that nothing happened, but as soon as you take two steps out the door it is unmistakable.

Amazing. Just amazing.

Posted at 05:43 PM | Permalink |


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