Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Operation HomeOwner Phase I: WSTF

I just took my first step in building up enough assets to buy my home. I purchased 500 shares of Westaff (WSTF). The company used to be a running joke where I work now, because a few of us went through their payroll system as contractor's before starting full-time. We didn't know if their name was intended to be pronounced "We Staff" or "West Staff", or if the confusion was intentional.

A few weeks ago I was looking over the San Francisco Chronicle's, "Chronicle 200" list of the S.F. Bay Area's largest companies and Westaff was on it. Initially I just cracked up, but I looked at the company's details anyway. Surprisingly their price to earnings ratio was better than just about every other company on the list. An indicator that the stock might be undervalued. Then I noticed their assets exceeded their liabilities by US$20 million, and they had a lot of cash.

Then, during that time, they sold one of their foreign operations, and their CFO bought US$13,000 in company stock. When the company's finance expert decides to put his own money on the table it's usually a show of confidence in future growth. also has a nice little tool called the Price Check Calculator that can determine a company's actual stock value. As of today Westaff's stock is worth nearly three times more than it is currently trading at based on an Earnings Per Share growth rate of zero percent.

All this combined with the fact that a lot of people have been saying that the job market is improving was enough to get me to drop some dough on this temp agency/payroll processor. Hopefully they'll go in the right direction.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

5000 Miles and the Title

Last week I got the title to the Corvette. In some ways, it's a relief, and in other ways not so much. Now that I've transferred my auto loan liability to my home loan, I'll be paying almost $500 less per month, the refinance gave me 2 months of income since I don't start paying on the new loan until August, and I own the car outright. The car is mine, mine, mine.

Now the bad part. With the cost of funding the refinance and the cost of the car, I'll now be paying at least an extra $200/month for the next thirty years. Thirty years? That's a lot of time, and that amount is on top of my current mortgage payment. So, my new goal, as stated here a week or so ago is to pay off the house in 5 years.

As I see it, my options are to generate income through a salary, through investing in businessses (my own or someone else's), or putting more money into real estate. Realistically, I'd have to have a bullet-proof personal network in order to get a job that would pay off the house in 5 years. In order to use the sale of real property, I'd have to leverage my time, assets, and credit to nearly a breaking point. Then I'd have to be able to successfully sell the property or get a lot of tenants. Tough.

My last, and probably most favorable option is to start my own business and/or invest in someone else's. To that end I bought a couple of books to help me along, The Warren Buffet Way by Robert G. Hagstrom and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz. Oddly enough, both books strongly connect lasting business success with traits like trustworthiness, honesty, and generosity. Being the son of a preacher, those traits are right up my alley. I'm about halfway through the first book, and I've read maybe a quarter of the second. I'll give a more complete opinion once I've finished.

So what does this mean for me in terms of investing in a business that will pay off my house in 5 years? I'm not quite sure, but in "The Warren Buffett Way" there is a lot of discussion about companies in commoditized markets maintaining their success through logistical expertise and a strong brand following.

Actually, I have a pretty good idea of what I'd like to do, and what the first few steps will be, but committing the time to do it isn't so easy. I'll definitely have to back off the martial arts stuff a little, but in the end the rewards should justify the sacrifice. I really like fighting though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Aches and Pains

After nearly two months of combined jujitsu and kali, my body is starting to give me some unwanted feedback. Let's see, there's the bruised ribs, the two aching elbows, a bruised knee, the mild hammy pull, and there's always the surgically repaired achilles to keep an eye on.

No pain, no gain has been a mantra I've been familiarized with from a very early age, and I suppose there's some truth to it. However, being so badly beat up in practice that you can't practice seems to defeat the purpose. I'm not that bad, though. Just ranting.

There's nothing more frustrating in competition than having to go at 70% when you're opponent is going at 100%. I've been drinking water like crazy, which has probably kept the injury count down as well as the severity.

Maybe I should just spend more time drumming ... naaah. What I've learned most from the past week's kali and jujitsu is the importance of "blending"; keeping in contact with an opponent in order to more easily complete a follow-up attack. Much easier said than done, but man does it work well.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Being Alone

When I first launched my site back in 2000, my goal was pretty simple: create a collection of the best looking sites on the web. In doing so I noticed after the first few years that my interaction with black folks online was close to nil. It wasn't really a surprise, because it's been the same in most of my management and engineering jobs. Outside of my extended family, I really don't have an opportunity to interact with many black people in my day-to-day routine.

It's partly my fault though. I don't drink, smoke, or do any kind of drugs. Like many technical folks, I don't prefer large crowds. Through my upbringing I take the Bible seriously, although you would be hard pressed to ever find me preaching to anyone. Living by example has always meant more to me than telling people how they should behave. I've always been extremely monogamous. If extreme can be used as characterization for monogamy, that would be me. So, once I'm in a relationship, my social life pretty much goes out of the window. Ask Shab. :-) This is why not having black folks at work and in the online community probably has a bigger effect on me than most.

What's great about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is that I'm fortunate enough to hang out with people from a multitude of backgrounds. I can't stress how great a gift that has been, but even still, when things aren't going so great, it's nice to have a group of your peers to fall back on. When you're with a group of people from the same cultural background, there's a level of understanding about that background that's understood.

If you're latin, asian, middle eastern, African-American, white, or some combination, having someone you can relate to on an unspoken level in a professional or extracurricular environment is a huge benefit. Being a black male in the U.S. makes this especially true. After a while it begins to get frustrating explaining to people why it's so much harder. In a professional setting, because there are so few black folks (men especially) to begin with, the type of bonding that leads to advancement, or just plain job satisfaction is harder to come by.

Typically, after hanging out with me long enough most of my friends will eventually see what I'm talking about, and will commiserate, but it's still something they don't have to worry about in their daily lives. Black folks know exactly what I'm talking about, though. To explain the issue to them, would be like preaching to the choir.

This is why whenever I identify a talented black person online, it's like Christmas. It doesn't happen everyday. I never mean to take away from all of the other gifted people from every other nationality that I encounter, because talent simply cannot be ignored. Through, I've seen amazing work from and have communicated with people all over the globe. From The Netherlands, Germany, China, Brazil, the UK, every region of the US, Russia, the Middle East, etc.

To me, though, finding a skilled African-American on the web is a special event that deserves to be recognized. If you're black and have a site worth mentioning, post it here. Like me, although you may feel alone in the online world, and perhaps in your professional life, you are not. Or at least you don't have to be.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Benefit of Intranets

Most of the people that happen on to this site are either students or web designers/developers. This entry isn't for you. This is for you intranet newbies that still don't know why intranets are important.

First, let's start with the low-hanging fruit. Employee data is about as easy as it gets. If you have more than a handful of employees, and there is frequently a need for one employee to contact another one either by phone, email, instant message, or in person, then having employee contact information on an intranet would be a big time-saver. There's also the added benefit of viewing subordinates, supervisors, and titles for an individual, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Next, there's spreadsheets. Twenty years ago this was cutting edge technology. Now, that same information that gets captured in Excel can be put on the web and updated instantaneously. Instead of passing spreadsheets from person-to-person, the data can be captured in a website where anyone needing to review or update the information, can. There are still companies out there that expect to pass information back and forth using spreadsheet documents. In the case where a spreadsheet document requires information from multiple people, the time required to fill it out is multiplied. A web-based version of the same document, is accessible by everyone all the time. This means decisions and reports can be made much faster. What used to take weeks can now take a day.

I can go on and on about this stuff for pages, but I'll stop here. The company I work for just got bought out by a company that I understand does not have a well-developed intranet. It's probably good for me since it's what I do for a living, but it's still spooky nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

This Week's Events.

Kali: I thought I was going to have four days in a row of martial arts again, 1 day jiujitsu, 3 days kali, but since my daughter's flying in to visit this week, it'll only be 2 days of kali. Last night's class was kind of cool. We did an exercise where we had to fight like someone else in the class. It was kind of awkward, but it was fun and I learned a little more kali and a lot about my peers.

Then we went into open hand one-on-one. I went against someone, who, after 3 years, should have the good sense to not use outstretched fingers to the face when practicing with other people in the class. Especially considering that his level of control doesn't seem to have improved over the past 2 years since I've been in the class. It's both dangerous and disrespectful. After my face got scratched, I lost it just a little, and started throwing flurries and combinations. Being both stronger and faster, doing stuff like that doesn't help my kali technique at all, but I think I got my point across.

Jujitsu: In Monday's class I ran into a former Kali student who recognized me. We did some grappling, and I accidently scratched his face. Hmmm. He's a cool guy, but hopefully he stick to jujitsu longer than he stuck with Kali.

Class was kind of odd, because the usually packed 7pm class only had a handful of people. We're all pretty aggressive, and I think about half the class is injured. I don't feel so much like a little punk for drinking water and gatorade throughout class, though. Dehydration has been the source of too many injuries for me to not drink a lot of liquids.

Shab and Drumming: Last week I got to drum once more for Shabnam's troupe Ooh la la. The worst part about going to these events used to be having to sit through hours of average bellydancing. In this case, the worst part was once again going into an environment where I was the only black male.

It's hard to understand unless you've been in the situation. For example, a woman immediately knows when she's in a room full of men. When that happens, it's hard to be yourself. Knowing that a friend's professional career is at stake if you make a mistake emphasizes that point. I don't mind being in that position too much, but it's draining.

My Daughter: She lives in Kansas with her mom and stepdad, and it's always a treat when she visits. She'll be out here visiting for a couple of days this week, and she never seems to mind that I rarely have anything planned. What a great gift to know someone who truly appreciates the opportunity to hang out with you.

Next year she starts high school, so she'll have a lot on her plate during the school year. She's a great student, so when she visits I never really make her do anything other than exercise. Being a parent is an enormous blessing.

Corvette Title: Today I signed all the papers I need to refinance my home, and use the extra cash to pay off my Corvette. That'll be a big relief, because the auto loan and insurance payments are a nightmare. Now I can chop off $500/month from those payments, deduct the new payments as interest paid to my home equity line of credit, and I have the title to the car. Time to figure out a way to pay off the house in 5 years. Is it possible? Yes. Will I do it? Maybe. If I figure it out, it'll be here for everyone to see.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Flossing, Heart Disease, and Diabetes

I went in to the dentist this morning for a cleaning for the first time since before I had my root canal twenty years ago. My teeth are great, but my gums around my molars began bleeding easily. This is when the dental hygienist gave me some shocking news. Ninety-nine percent of people with heart disease and diabetes have bleeding gums and it's not a coincidence.

Apparently when your gums bleed, the bacteria that causes plaque can get carried into your bloodstream where they can begin causing plaque in your heart. Scary thought. From what she told me, this has only recently been proven to be a fact. I should have asked for more information about her source, but if this is true, flossing has just become a whole lot more important. If anyone has any more information on this, please post it and share the info.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Art of Art

I was talking to a friend of mine, Eric, a few days ago, and we got to talking about what we had been up to over the past week. I had 3 days of Kali, a day of Jujitsu, did some drumming for Shab (who is now officially the best bellydancer in the country after winning her fourth national belly dance title in four years last weekend) and her dance troupe Ooh La La, and helped her where I could for her competition. That meant sending out a bunch of emails to some news media outlets (she was only interviewed by one local newspaper, though). I also consulted with some friends on their new Voice over IP startup all in addition to my regular nine-to-five. I don't think I did any juggling or racing though.

E's reaction to all that activity seemed to imply that I had a lot on my plate, and it occurred to me that he might be right. However, in the process of doing all of this stuff I'm finding that new things are a lot easier to pick up. Fighting (in any style), racing, juggling, drumming, graphic design, illustration, programming, or just dealing with people can all be taken to a high level of expertise. The people who reach those levels I consider to be artists - and I'm finding that in the painting sense of the word that is literally the case.

In fighting, the most effective moves require the least effort, but generate the largest returns. For example, if someone punches at you, move. Many people are so stunned they can't do that. Some styles teach you commit force to force. Block the incoming punch with all of your might, which uses up a lot of energy. Energy that could have been saved by leaning 3 inches to the left or right. To deflect an opponent's strike and use that energy against them, however, requires a movement that is very similar to an artist stroking with a big paint brush to create a curved line or a highlight.

In racing, it's the same. If you can find the smoothest path from point A to point B, you can stay on the gas longer and use the brakes less. Abrupt movements in racing is always an easy indicator of an inexperienced (i.e. slow) driver. What's more, when you hit a turn perfectly, it's like the tires are your paint brush and the road is your canvas. The more evenly and smoothly your tires begin and end their skidding, the easier it becomes to manipulate the gas and brake and gain a few seconds (I need to get back on a racetrack soon).

Programming is a different kind of art. It's not really physical, but it still shares many of the same traits. The best path from point A to point B again requires the least amount of computing time and energy. This is why an expert programmer's code is so valuable.

One of the traits of a great programmer that I just realized recently is that the better the coder is the more failure he or she is willing to put up with. In other words, frustration tolerance becomes really high. As with drumming, and especially juggling, you know you're going to fail. What will turn someone into a true artist though, is how much failure can be endured.

It seems that failing frequently has a direct relationship to how good a person can get in any given field. In that failure, I've learned the easiest way between points A and B in a lot of different areas because I've done it the hard way enough times to know which way takes more energy than another. I guess it boils down to understanding wasted effort. I don't really consider myself to be good enough to be considered an "artist" in any field, but I am finding that the more I do, the faster I learn new things. To me the art of art is being willing and able to endure failure, and quickly identify the difference between useful and wasted energy.