Welcome to Chase Bank

I checked the news on my phone this evening after a several-hours hiatus from all things internet. My phone told me I am now a Chase Bank customer.

The Office of Thrift Supervision, part of the Department of the Treasury, closed down Washington Mutual (WAMU) and sold it off to Chase Bank. As of 10:58 PM CDT, the Washington Mutual home page gives no hint:

An old curse is “may you live in interesting times.”

I am cursed.

Prediction: Microsoft Money is dead

Microsoft Money Plus Deluxe
Microsoft Money Plus Deluxe

Last Wednesday, Microsoft announced the end of Microsoft Money’s annual release cycle.

I think Microsoft actually killed it. Here’s why:

  1. The announcement was routed through a fanboy, not an employee. Bob Peel is a “MVP,” which really means he is not an employee and donates a lot of time to Microsoft. (As much as I like Microsoft products, I think it’s absurd to donate time to a for profit corporation.)
  2. “Customer feedback” apparently convinced Microsoft that yearly upgrades weren’t helpful. I have no idea why they suddenly realized this. The microsoft.public.money news group has lambasted the annual upgrades’ minimal net value for years.
  3. The current version, released in mid 2007, is Money Plus. Normally it would be named Money 2008. By removing the date, the current product’s name won’t expire.
  4. Microsoft discontinued retail sales. Why would you abdicate retail sales channels to Quicken? Because your product is dead. All future sales will be over download channels.

I suspect Money was unprofitable. The frequency of and poor added value of upgrades suggests that Microsoft’s true goal was milking the revenue out of a dead product. Money Plus is so long in the tooth–it’s slow, its database is terribly inefficient, and it doesn’t work well with other products–that it needs a huge rewrite.

What’s in store for Microsoft Money? Probably nothing, at least not anything I can install on my computer. If it has any future, Money will probably morph into a web site. But knowing how poorly Microsoft does web products, don’t hold your breath.

My recommendation? The desktop version is dead, and Microsoft sucks at online services, so explore alternatives.

Quicken is more primitive than Money, but Intuit promised major enhancements for the upcoming Quicken 2009. Barring that, there’s online services like wesabe.com and mint.com.

American Airlines’s $30 baggage tax: deceptive and dishonest

American Airlines Sucks!American Airlines’s new $30 baggage tax is deceptive and dishonest:

  1. DECEPTION: It’s not $15 as advertised. It’s $15 each way. That’s a whopping $30 tax for the vast majority of passengers.
  2. DISHONEST: It’s not upfront. All costs incurred by the vast majority of passengers should be upfront and non-hidden. Otherwise, it’s much more difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison of competitors. Orbitz and Travelocity won’t be able to tell you that American Airlines will cost $30 more than listed. (This is a big reason why service industry loves tips: lets them create an illusion of lower prices.)

In a lengthy missive, AA’s PR chief Tim Wagner claims this is necessary to recoup costs. Sorry, Tim, nothing justifies dishonesty and deception.

My wife and I may both fly this summer. Even though we will be reimbursed, we are doing whatever we can to avoid American Airlines.

Bubble economy?

I think we’re in a temporary economic reality where we jump from economic bubble to economic bubble.

Think about it: the late ’90s was the stock bubble, the early to mid-2000s were the residential real estate bubble, and now the late ’00s is a commodities bubble.

Remember the “goldilocks economy”, where everything was “just right” for growth? When that bubble popped, investors turned to the perceived safety of real estate, which in fact had been appreciating well for a few years. I remember representatives of the National Association of Realtors analysts ridiculously explaining away the bubble by exaggerating long term demand.

The popping of the real estate bubble was perceived to be so economically influential that investors ran for traditional “bad times” commodity hedges. Now we have oil, food, and metal prices that are likely far above prices justified by market fundamentals.

Seriously, is there enough sudden new demand across so many commodity categories as to drive up their prices so sharply in the past few months? I can’t see any. For once, I believe OPEC: world oil markets are sufficiently supplied. And sure, the number of mouths to feed and per-capita food consumption are increasing, but enough to suddenly cause a global food crisis?

If I had money to speculate, I would short sell commodities with a two year time horizon. I just don’t see this commodity bubble lasting, especially as the dollar appreciates and investors become interested in less speculative investments.

That being said, some long-term trends are undeniable. Oil has nowhere to go but up over the decades. But in the immediate term, I don’t see how current prices are justified.

Enormous variance in heartworm treatment costs

My dog recently got heartworms. I counted my pills and realized I missed two doses over the past two years. Apparently, that’s all it takes!

The treatment costs varied enormously. The most expensive place was 226% higher than the cheapest one. These prices were quoted to me in April 2007:

Vet Price Services
Hillside Veterinary Clinic
  • x-rays
  • bloodwork
  • medication
  • hospital time
Lakewood Animal Hospital
  • x-rays
  • bloodwork
  • medication
  • hospital time
  • fecal exam
Casa Linda Animal Clinic
  • 4 days hospitalization
  • 2 injections
  • exam, bloodwork, x-ray
  • weekly checkup for 6 weeks
  • 6 weeks of treatment
  • 7 week heartworm test
White Rock Animal Hospital
$450.00 – $550.00 (I didn’t write down the services they quoted.)
A&B Animal Clinic
  • 2 days hospitalization
  • 2 injections
  • exam, bloodwork
  • 2 week follow up appointment

I chose A&B Animal Clinic. Why pay extra for the same result: no heartworms.