Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nursery School World

Continuing my earlier rant, I like having physical possession of my things; I want them to be here, rather than off in the ether where I have to conjure them into my presence.  Further, I want to be able to do what I want with them, not what Steve Jobs or Bill Gates thought I should do with them.

Once upon a time, there was a thing called "thin client".  It was basically a reincarnation of what we originally had with the first desktops: The monitor and keyboard on your desk did nothing but provide access to the central computer.  If the computer or the connection went down, you sat at your desk playing with your paddleball until the large piece of beige decor on your desk cam back to life.  Everybody hated it except the IT guys, who were ecstatic.  They were again the spider at the center of the web, and they could keep everything safe and secure by preventing the rest of us from having access to anything that mattered (I swear the firewall at the office works like this; all the Interwebs are presumptively blocked.  Reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Bart goes to the Flanders', and they have 125 cable channels, all blocked.).  We screamed, and once again we had something other than a dumb box on our desks.

And then one day our apps migrated to the Web.  And our data.  So although we didn't have dumb boxes on our desks, we had empty boxes.  It's all for safety and security, to keep bad things from happening.  And it stinks like last week's diapers.  I want my data on my box, not someone else's.  I want the software I want, not what I'm obligated to stream from Redmond or Cupertino with random "upgrades" that require new hardware and turn my earlier work into Linear A.

In short, I want to use my stuff my way.  Unfortunately, more and more producers consider you too much of an infant to be trusted to do anything on your own.  So with things from computers to cars to household appliances, you do it their way or you don't do it at all.  I call this "Frank Lloyd Wright Syndrome."  Wright's later clients told stories about Wright dropping in for visits.  If they had moved the furniture he had designed, he moved it back.  If they (Horrors!) had put in their own furniture, he made them take it out and put his back in.  Some may call this the price of genius.  I call it a crippling case of OCD.

I have a picture of a boy strapped into a "new model" potty chair.  Astronauts aren't this securely strapped in for a launch.  The picture is a joke, but only barely.  Everything has to be safe these days.  Safe and convenient.  We build in safety and convenience to the point that the thing doesn't work anymore.  Computers are a good example.  Cars are another.  Your car practically runs itself.  Until it doesn't.  Then you need a Cray computer and Roger Penske's shop just to find the problem, let alone fix it.  And how convenient is "convenience food" if it's so loaded with crap that it kills you instead of nourishes you?  I suppose it's convenient for the undertaker if you're pre-embalmed or if you're so full of grease that cremation is instantaneous.

It isn't just products.  Our entire society has gone this way.  Kids are regimented in ways that make Marine basic look like Woodstock.  TSA secures our airports by making everyone prefer walking 3,000 miles or simply wish they could blow the place up.  The Wars on Drugs and Terror compel us to rat out our friends and families (Ah, Soviet-style security.  I feel safer already.).
Here's the deal, people.  Risk is unavoidable.  Deal with it with what's between your ears.  Stop trying to find a magic wand that will make it go away.  And stop putting up with people who claim to be making it all go away while ushering you through the door to Prison Planet.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Block Busted

I was driving down the street yesterday and saw the neighborhood Blockbuster was closing down.  This weekend.  Everything had to go.  Now, while I picked up some very nice deals, long-term this stinks.  I am one of those dinosaurs who does not stream movies on line.  Oh, I will, but it isn't the way I like to do it.  I'll have more of this, particular rant later, but for now I'll just say that I like having the hard copy in my own hands.  I don't like depending on someone else's servers and someone else's connections.

Anyway.  A little digging told me what was going on at Blockbuster.  Back in July, Blockbuster was trumpeting the successful conclusion of a Chapter 11 liquidation, having sold the farm to Dish Network.  90% of the stores would remain open, jobs would be saved, landlords would not be facing yet more dark space, blah, blah blah.  The sun was bright, and all was right with the world.
A happy ending is a story that hasn't finished yet.

Digging through Dish Network's latest 10-K yields the following on page 31:
In addition, our Blockbuster retail store operations face increasing competition from video rental kiosk, streaming and mail order businesses. These competitive pressures have contributed to weak store-level financial performance at many of our Blockbuster retail stores. We expect to close over 500 domestic stores during the first half of 2012 as a result of weak store-level financial performance.

We continue to evaluate the impact of certain factors, including, among other things, competitive pressures, the scale of our Blockbuster retail operations and other issues impacting the store-level financial performance of our Blockbuster retail stores. These factors, or other reasons, could lead us to close additional Blockbuster retail stores. There is no assurance that we will achieve the expected benefits from the Blockbuster Acquisition.

That's 1/3 of the stores Dish bought being shut down now, with more coming.  So much for saving the stores, the jobs, etc.

And that's the dirty, little secret of Chapter 11.  You can negotiate and strategize for months.  You can force a plan through.  You can even walk in with a pre-pack and all your ducks in a row and be out in a month.  And a year later, it can still all be gone.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Amazon Triangle

Meanwhile in Seattle, Clise Properties, which owns about two-thirds of the Denny Triangle, has sold a big chunk (three blocks to be precise) to Amazon.  Amazon intends to build a big office tower on each block and fill them with cube farms, managers, and executives.  I don't know how to think about this.  My first thought is that Paul Allen better invite Jeff Bezos to his next barbecue, because this has to boost Allen's South Lake Union play.  My second thought is that, if Amazon can't fill this space, it's going to enter the leasing market, which will further exacerbate downtown vacancy rates.  My third thought, at least for now, is that, if Amazon can fill this space, the physical bookstore market must be spinning in at terminal velocity, which saddens me to no end.  I'll always want a store I can actually walk into.

Labels: , ,

But I Want More Stuff!

It never ceases to amaze me how many of my bankruptcy clients ask, "How soon can I get a credit card/car loan/mortgage."  Geez, kids, cool your jets.  First, one of your problems coming out of bankruptcy will be that you'll start receiving credit card offers right away because they know you're stuck with the bankruptcy waiting period and can't stiff them any time soon.  Are you really so eager to feed the vultures?  Second, incurring debt you couldn't service is what brought you to my office in the first place.  You may think you're flush, but you're still just one job loss or medical emergency from being back in the tank.  Try this thing called "saving" for awhile.  Ask your grandparents; they can probably tell you all about it.

Look, we all want things.  I want a new car and house, too, but here's a news flash: Tomorrow will come, and if you spent it all today, tomorrow is going to hurt.  Badly.  So I maintain my cars (Memo to me: Get that front end looked at.), and I keep renting.  When we moved from Washington to Utah seven years ago, My Dear Wife wanted to buy another house.  I said, "No dear, this market is whack."  She was incensed that I would do something so un-American as fail to incur consumer debt.  But guess what?  I was right.  And we'll keep renting, too, much to her chagrin, because in less than 10 years, we'll have an empty nest, so why do I want to go buy extra bedrooms and baths?

It's called "thinking," people.  Do it or pay the price.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 09, 2012

"Show Me the Note" is Now the Law

A lot of foreclosure defense has been riding on the "show me the note" argument, namely, "Hey bank, where's the promissory note you claim is evidence of the debt?"  The state courts and the federal district courts have been quite loose on this and generally allowed the banks to proceed with little more than a shoeshine and a smile, but the bankruptcy courts have tended to be stricter.  The reason is inherent in the nature of bankruptcy: Note issues come up normally in two situations, claims and motions for relief from stay, and in both the claimant (the bank) has a stricter burden of proof than in nonbankruptcy proceedings.  Now that fact has been writ large courtesy the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in In re Miller.  The Tenth Circuit, reversing the bankruptcy court and the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, holds essentially that, if you want to come to the table as a note holder, you'd better be holding the note.

This approach is perfectly reasonable and long overdue.  There is an issue that remains open, though.  The Tenth Circuit, as with every other court I've seen address the issue, relies on UCC Article 3 to determine if the claimant is in fact the holder of the note.  There is a growing debate, though, concerning whether standard mortgage notes qualify as negotiable instruments under Article 3.  If they do not, then Article 3 does not apply, and we must look to other law to determine who holds the note.  Stay tuned, we may have this all sorted out in 10 or 12 years.

Labels: , , , ,