Sunday, September 21, 2008

Surviving Hurricane Ike: Monday

9 a.m. As of last night, they have restored power to 380,000 customers. Approximately 18% of the 2.1 million customers who lost power have been restored in, let’s say, 32 hours – depending on when they actually started. That still extrapolates out to about a week. However, given the impact of cherry picking, the two week estimate I heard somewhere may be more like it (and even after that you’ll still have the stragglers).
Breakfast was cereal and cantaloupe. The cantaloupe was delicious. Still cool from being in the freezer. I ate the whole thing! Have to remember to add cantaloupes to the hurricane prep shopping list.

10 a.m. Time to venture out. There is nothing that I absolutely have to have, but I would like to top-off some of my supplies. My sense is it is safe to travel, and I’m curious. (Note: The lead picture is the view from my balcony a week after the storm. In preparation for the storm, residents removed items from balconies, and the management boarded up the six large windows in the lower right. Other than that, this was my view immediately after the storm.)

I guess I had a somewhat distorted view of this storm. The “damage” that I have been viewing is not at all representative of the devastation that Ike has produced. My apartment location strategy has apparently worked better than I realized.
(Note: I took the pictures that follow in a neighborhood about two miles from my apartment – again a week after the storm. By then the residents had cleaned up much of the debris and, if you look closely, you will see that they have already cut some of the toppled trees into logs. I would not have been able to take pictures immediately after the storm since many of the streets were impassable. I took pictures of only 2 or 3 streets, but they were typical of the whole neighborhood.)

Noon. OMG, I have ice! After my quick neighborhood tour, I went to Kroger’s to pick up a few things. I don’t really need anything for a few days, but I thought I would feel better if I had ice and a few more batteries. Customers’ priorities have apparently changed. My understanding is that before a storm the biggest sellers in the stores are

Friday, September 19, 2008

Surviving Hurricane Ike: Sunday

1 a.m. I was awakened by a fire alarm in another section of the apartment complex. That’s unnerving when there is no water. Luckily, it was a false alarm. It’s almost too hot to go back to sleep. Why is it 82 degrees in here even though I have the windows open? A quick trip to the thermometer on the balcony provides the answer. Oh. It’s 82 out there too.

9 a.m. Time to toss most of the perishables from the refrigerator. It’s too warm in there. The floor of the freezer has a new color scheme – blue. That’s what happens when frozen blueberries melt. So, it’s time to toss the frozen food also. However, the freezer is still cool enough to serve as my new refrigerator – especially for the cheese. The water supply in the bathrooms seems fine. Maybe I imagined the slow leaks. Potable water supply is even better; at this rate it will last for at least a week. Breakfast is the same as yesterday except that I have a plum instead of orange juice.

10:30 a.m. Scanning radio stations, but can’t seem to get any info on the timeline for power restoration. I’m confident I can stay put for at least two more days with no problem. But, what if the power is out for more than a week? I’m

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Fed Proposes Insurance for Money Market Funds

This is clearly an historic period in global financial market history. Virtually anyone with a substantial portion of his portfolio in equities has taken a hit. One thing that has allowed me to sleep nights is having gone through a few bear markets before. However, almost no one alive has ever experienced markets like these. Perhaps the most important reason I have been able to sleep nights is that about half my portfolio is not in the stock market. I invest the “safe side” of my portfolio primarily in government bonds, and government insured certificates of deposit – and money market funds. Yesterday, I sold the money market funds.

Under normal circumstances, money market funds are safe. They buy short-term debt instruments, including commercial paper (short-term loans to businesses). In the history of these funds, almost no one has lost money by investing in them. However,

Surviving Hurricane Ike: Saturday

8:00 a.m. I’m awake from my nap. It’s still stormy, but not much worse than a typical Houston storm. My battery powered lantern burned out while I was asleep. Now I wish I had completed my battery usage inventory. Turns out the lantern requires four AA batteries, and I only bought eight. I have to save the other four for the radio. It could be a week before I have power again, so the radio is critical. Luckily, I have another lantern that takes D batteries, so I’m in reasonably good shape – especially since I also have a couple of flashlights.
The radio says the storm may not pass until 4 o’clock this afternoon, but the worst should be over in another two hours or so.

Breakfast. The juice in the refrigerator is cool enough for today, but this will be my last day with juice since it won’t keep until tomorrow. The milk, on the other hand,

Surviving Hurricane Ike: Friday

Note: This series of posts is excerpted from my “old school” blog (think diary, journal) during Hurricane Ike. I wanted to post “real time,” however, for various reasons that didn’t work out….

Friday, 9/12
Here we go again. I guess it’s the price Houstonians pay for the pleasure of all those 90+ degree days in May, June, July, August and September? After spending 15 hours to travel 30 miles during my unsuccessful hurricane Rita evacuation attempt a few years back, I have decided to stay in Houston and ride this one out.

Ike is an incredible storm. Technically, it’s only a category 2 storm. However, it’s only one or two miles an hour below category 3 strength. More importantly, it’s HUGE -- over 300 miles in diameter. Since storms typically travel at around 15-20 mph, give or take, that means those directly in Ike’s path will experience tropical storm force winds or higher for 15 - 20 hours!

For the last two days, I’ve been tweaking my hurricane prep plan and checking my supplies. However,

Friday, September 12, 2008

Saving Money on Energy: An Opportunity??

Many families are looking for opportunities to save money on energy, and at the same time help “save the environment.” Because of the dramatic increase in the price of gasoline, much attention has been focused on reducing transportation costs. However, some people spend more to heat and cool their homes than on gasoline. I spend about 50% more. Therefore, reducing those costs is more important to me. In this regard, I am wondering about two things.

Why Am I Cooling The Whole House?

When I’m awake in the middle of another intolerable Houston summer night and the a/c kicks on, I often ask myself, why am I cooling the whole house? There is nobody in the living room, or dining room, or kitchen, or guest bedroom, or my office, or…. At least I hope not. Why am I keeping those rooms so comfortable? I’m old enough to remember when there was no central heating and air conditioning. You heated, or cooled, only the occupied rooms – if you were lucky. That seems like a much more efficient approach. Or, maybe we could have central air, but with more effective ways to selectively heat or cool individual rooms. (Maybe what I really need is an air-conditioned suit!)

Why Is The Air Intake Near The Floor?

Hot air rises. If the air intake is near the floor, you’re sucking in the coldest air in the house. Is that a good idea in the summer? Would it make sense to have switchable returns? In the summer, they would bring in hot air from close to the ceiling; in the winter, they would bring in colder air from near the floor.


Obviously, we need to continue to pursue renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. However, it would also be helpful if we could find more ways to be more energy efficient regardless of the source. Since heating and air conditioning energy usage is significant for most families, there is an opportunity there. Does anyone know whether these ideas could be implemented cost-effectively, and, if so, how much money could be saved? Any additional ideas?

Related articles:
The Power of Attentive Spending, Scott Burns

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Houston Texans Expected To Win 8.78 Games In 2008

I’m excited about the 2008 NFL football season, and especially about the prospects for “my” Houston Texans. I expect the Texans to be a significantly better team this season. In fact, I "predict" that they will win 8.78 games.

Why the Texans Will Be Significantly Better

Here are three important reasons why I think the Texans will be better.
  1. Better talent: For the 3rd year in a row it appears the Texans have added at least four quality young players via the draft. Rookies that could make a significant contribution before the season is over include Duane Brown (OT), Steve Slaton (RB), Antwaun Molden (CB), and Frank Okam (DT). In addition, the second and third year players should continue to improve – especially second year starters Amobi Okoye (DT), Fred Bennett (CB) and Zac Diles (LB). Equally importantly, there were no significant losses to free agency, and there is only one starter who you might think is past his prime.
  2. Improved coaching: There were two significant additions to the Texans’ coaching staff this off-season – Ray Rhodes, and Alex Gibbs. Rhodes is a great addition to an already solid DB coaching staff. Gibbs is the “guru” of zone blocking. The foundation of Kubiak’s offense is the running game. However, it has been a major disappointment in each of the last two seasons. Last year the team averaged less than 100 yards/game rushing. The team must improve its running game, and no one has a better track record of doing that than Alex Gibbs. His teams have consistently been among the league leaders in rushing.
  3. Fewer injuries: Last year the Texans were among the league “leaders” in injuries. Key players out for a significant number of games included Ahman Green (started only 5 games), Andre Johnson (9), Dunta Robinson (9), and Matt Shaub (11). In addition, Shaub was unable to finish two of the games he started. These are arguably 4 of the 6 most talented/important players on the team. At the end of the year, the team had at least 18 players on injured reserve. It is unlikely that they will lose as many players, and especially as many KEY players, this season.

Why Their Record Won’t Be

Unfortunately, while I think this year’s edition of the Texans will be significantly better than last year’s, there is a very good chance that their record will not be. There are two major reasons for this:

  1. According to ESPN, last year’s opponents won two games more than they lost during the prior regular season (129-127). This year’s opponents won 24 games more than they lost last year (140-116). Eight of the Texans'16 games are against teams that were in the playoffs last year. That’s a very significant step up in the quality of the opponents. In fact, based solely on prior year records, only four AFC teams, and only five teams in the whole league, have more difficult schedules.
  2. The Texans won’t peak until the second half of the season. That’s partly because I think it is going to take a while before the offense really gets comfortable with, and proficient at, the new zone blocking schemes. It’s also partly because Dunta Robinson, their best DB, won’t be back from injury until the second half. In addition, the first and second year players that have the potential to play key roles will be better later in the season than early on. By the end of the season, I expect the Texans will be a playoff caliber team. However, unless they are a playoff caliber team from day one, they could well be 1-4 after the first 5 games (which include road games against the Steelers, Titans and Jaguars, and a home game against the Colts). To get to 10-6 would require that they go 9-2 the rest of the way – possible, but unlikely.

Why 8.78 Wins??

I think of 8.78 wins more of an expectation than a "prediction." When I calculate expected wins, rather than an all or none approach, I use a probabilistic approach. In the table below, for example, 0.20 means I think there is a 20% chance that the Texans will beat Pittsburgh. This means that if the teams played 10 times, the Texans would win twice. As a result, this counts as 0.20, 2 tenths, of a win in the total of 8.78. Ideally, this probability should be based on each opponent’s prior year record adjusted for free agency gains and losses, draft results, trades, etc. However, I only did a “quick and dirty” analysis of each opponent’s changes from last year. So, while this number is very precise, it’s still very subjective. Even so, I believe this is a more effective way of arriving at a prediction than the all or none approach.

Houston Texans Expected Wins
at Pittsburgh0.20
at Tennessee0.30
at Jacksonville0.40
at Minnesota0.40
at Indianapolis0.20
at Cleveland0.40
at Green Bay0.40
at Oakland0.75
TOTAL 8.78

Keys to the Season

Three keys to the Texans’ season will be whether they can develop a more effective running game, get better at winning the turnover battle (they were among the worst in the league last year), and get the defense off the field on third downs.

Improving the running game may be the most critical. For this offense to reach its potential, it needs to average at least 125 yards/game rushing. Alex Gibbs' history proves that he can get the team to that level. However, for the team to get there, either Ahman Green has to remain healthy, or the Texans have to have big-time seasons from the backups (neither of whom has ever started an NFL game), or the Texans have to add another proven RB. Improving the running game is critical because it will improve the team’s time of possession, open up the play action passes, and make the defense more effective by giving them more rest and better field position.

Getting off the field comes down to improving the run defense, thereby creating more third and long situations, and improving the pass rush and DB play in order to become more successful in those situations. Rookies Frank Okam and Antwuan Molden can help here, but how soon?

For what it’s worth, last year this methodology calculated 7.59 expected wins for the Texans, and therefore predicted 8 wins – which is how the year turned out. This year it predicts 9 wins. I would love that number to be higher, but I cannot justify a higher number given the challenges the team is facing. It looks like the Texans may have to wait one more year before making the playoffs. I sure hope I’m wrong.