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Comment Re:Birth Control (Score 1) 637

I doubt it would make much difference. A rational person of either sex is going to look at that list and sort it into two categories: things I need in order to fix the cash crunch (i.e., get a job) and things I don't. If there's no money left after making sure I'm positioned to find work, I'll have to find other ways to solve those problems -- in the case of birth control, skipping sex until I'm getting a paycheck again is an obvious answer.

Comment That's 'cause they're chimps (Score 1) 313

If they had the higher reasoning skills of humans, they would recognise that meat and sex are both perishable. The correct trade is to exchange unneeded meat for gold, which can later be exchanged for meat when your hunt comes up short. Sex? Who needs that? The survival of the species is irrelevant to the individual.

Comment I told you so (Score 1) 785

You didn't believe me when I told you Obama is just another politician like any other, no better and no worse. You've probably forgotten Bush's attourneys general already, but Eric Holder is definitely stamped from the same mold and you're really going to enjoy his antics for the next several years. You're also going to love the new old FCC, and of course Turbotax Timmy is busy destroying or giving away your wealth at the same time. Clinton's kept a low profile, but she's bound to bungle it soon and make you wish for Condi back (yes, really - she was the best of the Bush lot by a wide margin). Bottom line, this might be the worst administration since Grant's, and the guys at the top are not fundamentally better or smarter than the ones they replaced.

If you can manage to remember anything for as long as three years, please do. Then you can join me in voting for Ron Paul again. Or, you know, just vote for more of the same. Again.

Comment Re:Really? (Score 1) 600

The problem with Fry's isn't that they don't carry the thing you want; they probably do. The more obscure it is, the better - I've had good luck finding Molex connectors and solder, stuff that's hard to get locally. But when it comes to computer equipment, they're usually out of whatever you want. Worse yet, you may find that they have 3 of the thing you want, and all 3 are open box returns. Or perhaps they'll have 2 of them with three different prices marked - one on each of the items and one on the shelf (and perhaps a fourth when you ring it up). All of this combines to make it very difficult to obtain the item you want.

Fry's is a good place to find commercial supplies on short notice, like your spool of cable or a 23-inch 2-post rack. They may not have the model you want but they probably have something close, and it's hard for these things to be broken in non-obvious ways. But far too much of their stock of more complex parts consists of open box returns, and my experience matches anecdotal evidence from around the web: these items were returned for a reason.

Anyway, Fry's has some redeeming qualities, like carrying the kind of components and tools that Radio Shack used to be good for but isn't any longer. But as a computer shop it's pretty awful. And it doesn't help that they tend not to be conveniently located (as you note) - the closest one is 28 miles away in Concord, more than half a mile from the BART station - removing one of the prime advantages of B&Ms. I must confess that I don't really understand the Fry's business model. It's the chaos of a third-world bazaar, the prices of a typical B&M, the convenience of an online dealer, and unreliable selection. I don't think they make enough money from the few things they do well to stay in business, but somehow they seem to be sticking around. Lack of competition seems to be their main pillar of strength.

Comment Re:Really? (Score 5, Insightful) 600

The real problem is that unless you are looking for a very mainstream part your local shop probably doesn't carry it or is out of stock. Sometimes this is true of even very basic stuff, and the big box stores are rarely any better than the independents (the worst of all is, of course, Frys). It's surprising that the B&Ms don't understand that the ONLY reason anyone does business with them is because we want/need something RIGHT NOW, but they clearly don't.

My canonical example is Central Computer, which has a reasonably convenient store in the City two blocks from a bus stop. They're local and I really want to like them despite their Taiwanese sketchiness, but they never have what I want. Wifi router? On the web site but not in stock. SATA disks? They have hundreds of the desktop grade one in stock but the enterprise grade are on backorder. A case? They'll have to have it shipped in from another store; maybe 2 days. The last time I was there I spent a lot of time wandering around just to see what they DO stock. What I learned is that there are plenty of USB cables, CPU fans, about 2 dozen of a single model of 24-port 100Mbit Ethernet switch, and single display case boxes of just about everything from graphics cards to parallel ATA controllers (I guess for emergency repair of those boxes you bought in 1998). It's anyone's guess how many of them are actually available for purchase, but I'm willing to bet that the one you want isn't.

This is exactly the sort of reason B&M retailers are doing so poorly. Circuit City of course had its own company-specific problems, but the problem is much bigger than any one company. The bottom line is that there are only three differences between B&Ms and Internet retailers. Two of them work for the B&Ms: in-person sales and service, and instant gratification. The third works against them: the difference in cost per square foot between a retail storefront in the City and a warehouse in Fernley, Nevada. In order to stay in business, B&Ms need to put their two advantages to work at least well enough to offset the differences in their cost structure. Circuit City clearly failed at the service side of things; I don't know how good their selection was but if they're anything like Best Buy they probably failed there too (I don't need 3000 square feet of CDs; this is a bloody electronics shop, not a record shop!). Other B&Ms will all go the same way unless they wise up and start using their differentiators to win business. Head-to-head competition by doing away with in-person sales and service and stocking only a few items in a space clearly focused more on promotion and hype than selection isn't going to win my business, and I doubt it's going to win yours either.

I really really want to like B&Ms but they are forcing me onto the Internet for just about everything but food. We are all Just In Timers now.

Comment Evaluate as an investment (Score 1) 315

Figure out what you're forgoing by taking the shares. Then ask yourself whether you'd pay that much for them. This is the fundamental principle.

To help figure out what the shares are actually worth, you need to perform a discounted cash flow analysis on them. What dividends do they pay, how likely are those dividends to be maintained or increased, and how risky do you consider the investment? A DCF can assign a present value to the stream of payments you expect to receive based on your assessment of price inflation and the risk of the investment.

Specific questions to ask:

1. What's the vesting schedule? Others have touched on this. It is the single most important factor to consider. Half now and 1/120th per month for 60 months is a lot different than a bulk grant that vests in 2014.

2. Can you vote and/or receive dividends on unvested shares? Control matters, and dividends matter even more. In many states, you can be fires without cause at any time. That includes one day before your shares vest.

3. What kind of shares are they? I would not accept common shares in this situation; I would insist on preferred shares. Preferred shareholders are paid dividends first and if the company is liquidated they receive the proceeds first (though a consulting company isn't likely to have much in the way of assets).

4. What is the company's existing and potential future capital structure? If the company has a great deal of debt, you aren't likely to receive much money. If your approval is not required to issue more shares, especially more preferred shares (possibly senior to your own) then you may find your stake nearly worthless when future employees or investors are issued new shares.

5. What does the company's balance sheet look like? Most small companies have little or no assets. This means they should also have no debt. But in either case, be aware that you are buying shares that have little or no liquidation value. If the company's operating performance suffers, it is likely to go bankrupt and your shares will be worthless.

6. What do the recent income and expense reports look like? What do the current bookings look like? You need to know exactly who the customers are, how diverse they are, and what their future commitments are.

7. Do you trust management? Are they owners? Do they have control?

8. Will you get a seat on the board? If so, who else is on the board? Do you trust them? Are any of them independent?

9. Last, and deliberately least because we are considering an investment here, do you like the work? Your coworkers? Is this an environment in which you want to spend your time? This helps you figure out what you're giving up by staying; you might also earn a higher salary elsewhere or enjoy other perks that you must value against the compensation you would receive by staying.

Quite frankly, as a dotcom bust veteran, I don't value equity very highly. This is especially true of companies with little in the way of tangible assets and even more true if it's common equity. This situation would have to be almost perfect for me to even consider it; i.e., the answers to almost all of the above questions would need to be favourable.

Let's ask one more question, of ourselves, that might help lay the issue to rest:

10. Why wasn't I inquiring about buying shares in this company before the offer was made?

Comment Re:80 hours (Score 3, Interesting) 1055

Worse still, your employer probably isn't getting much for all your effort. I just finished a 12-month run of pretty consistent 70-hour weeks with the occasional 80- or 90-hour marathon thrown in for fun, including a (record, for me) run of 49 consecutive days worked. I was probably getting only about 1/3 as much work done per hour as I might when properly rested and working 45-50 hours a week.

Of course, I knew this at the time, too - the problem was that the alternative was taking a couple days off, which would mean that instead of getting (1/3) * (14/9) * 2 days' worth of work done in that time, I'd get nothing done. That would of course mean that when I got back I'd still have all the work that needed doing before, plus two more days' worth, and an extra 2 days' worth of schedule pressure added as well. While the first day back might be ok, I'd need to work extra hours to start catching up, and after another 12-14 hour day or two I'd be right back where I started: unproductive and working way too much, but even farther behind. It's really a Hobson's choice at that point.

Anyone can work extra time to get past a crisis or a single near-term deadline. But the constantly intensifying pressure of a looming but obviously unachievable deadline really makes scheduling your work a vicious circle. No matter how hard you work, the deadline will just keep getting pushed farther out, and there is no work schedule that would allow you to meet it. But you have to try, so you work more but get less done, and the pressure ratchets up another notch! Ugh. All you can really do is make whatever progress you can, try to stay sane, and look for any possible opportunity to dump work on others (who btw are probably just as loaded down as you are).

If you're in this spot, you have to really want to do whatever you're doing. If you don't, you should be looking for a new job and/or trying to get yourself onto the next RIF list. It doesn't really matter that "you have a family to feed" or whatever else you're telling yourself. As the parent said, you don't have any quality of life. You're just going to have to learn to get by on whatever pay is available to someone with your skills and experience willing to work hard 40-50 hours a week. That might mean less "stuff" in your life. So be it. Of course, the problem is that there are very few jobs available at all that don't require long hours; I blame the high fixed costs of hiring and compensating most developed-world workers. At many companies, these fixed costs are over 50% of total compensation cost. If employers stopped offering these large fixed-cost benefit packages, they could afford to hire enough workers to get the job done (and as a side benefit, their employees would be free to choose how to spend their money). Instead, they have an incentive to understaff and get more hours out of existing workers, amortizing all those fixed costs over a larger amount of work. And with a generally weak labour market - though frankly not nearly as bad as in 2001-2003 - they can really put the screws to you right now. A job that offers at least somewhat interesting work and mostly requires 40-50 hours a week is an absolute treasure, whatever it pays.

The Internet

Submission + - Winds of free weather data changing?

ThOr101 writes: "A few hurricane seasons ago while searching for the Hurricane (Tropical) Prediction Center I accidentally came across the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center instead. This group produces and provides links to a lot of great weather data. Products like the satellite water vapor loops, animated frontal movements, and the Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts for 3 days and beyond. I noticed today a survey posted containing this questions 8. Do you feel it is appropriate for NWS to provide this product/service? I'm wondering if our friends at the NWS/NOAA are still battling to get taxpayer funded data to the taxpayers as mentioned previously on slashdot."

Submission + - Adieu to Google Answers

philippic writes: According to the Official Google Blog, Google has scrapped Google Answers. They say, "Google is a company fueled by innovation, which to us means trying lots of new things all the time — and sometimes it means reconsidering our goals for a product. Later this week, we will stop accepting new questions in Google Answers, the very first project we worked on here."

Yahoo! Answers still seems to be going strong, I wonder why Google canned theirs?

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