Sunday, December 31, 2006
Here in North Carolina, making a gingerbread house is lame, especially when most of the ginger bread houses look like single-wide trailers:
A Carolina-style ginger bread house
Last week, Duke (our handyman) was driving down the road when the car directly in front of him smashed into a deer. Being a responsible driver, Duke pulled-over and asked "You gonna eat that"?
It was Duke’s lucky day and as he drove-off with his fresh road-kill, I was reminded of one of the best Holiday craft activities anywhere. For centuries American families have been sharing the joy of crafting artwork from deer rumps.
A decorative head made from an upside-down deer ass
Fortunately, the art world is now starting to appreciate the unique craftsmanship of animal butt art, making all sorts of wonderful decorations for your house:
Kitty cat butt home decor
For a real Holiday treat, read about how you can bring your family together for a fun and educational day of making animal ass art.
Friday, December 29, 2006
In our family, the phrase "Going Saleing" has nothing to do with sailboats. For us, Saleing has to do with going out on a bargain-finding adventure at yard sales and auctions. It’s the 21st Century outlet for the hunting man, a way to seek-out and capture rare and valuable antiques!
Don't let anyone tell you that successful yard sale buying is easy or lucky. It takes years of study, and just learning a minor area like Carnival glass or Depression glass can take years of study. It's impossible for anyone to memorize the value of the millions of items that have been manufactured in the past 250 years since the Industrial Revolution, and that's a great equalizer in the search for treasures.
Janet and I have been antique dealers for decades and we have made as much as $2,500 in a good auction. Over the decades I've witnessed some amazing deals.
I studied for several years under the tutelage of a museum curator and I used to love going to sales looking for colonial American glassware. You cannot tell that they glass is 250 year old by its outward appearance, and it's a rush to snag an ancient glass piece that George Washington might have used. It's also fun to seek out EAPG - Early American Print Glass. Here is an eBay search to see authentic glass from the 1700’s. This web site has an amazing collection of 18th Century glassware.
Carnival Glass profits
A few years ago, a fellow bought two Carnival glass vases in North Carolina for under $50, and they turned-out to be the only two of their kind, the rarest Carnival glass in existence. At the auction, the winning bidder arrived from Texas in a private helicopter and paid over $100k for the best vase.
The lesser vase went for over $50k, and the yard sale buyer made over $100k for a few hours work, not a bad profit. However, carnival glass collecting is very tricky. Prices are dictated by scarcity, not beauty, and some of the ugliest pieces are the most valuable. You need a reference book:
Finding Heisey is a huge adrenaline rush, especially when you snag rare Heisey piece at auction for a fraction of the retail price. Years ago, Janet snagged a rare Heisey Zircon set and sold it for a $1k profit. Heisey Zircon is a bluish color, and it's rare because it was so ugly that very few pieces were made.
Rare Catalogs are very hot
Year ago I stumbled across an old bicycle catalog from the 1800's and I was very happy to discover that it was the only surviving sample in existence! Thanks to eBay, I was able to find several wealthy collectors who absolutely had to have it. Niiice . . .
I've seen some amazing things at auctions, but the craziest was a bidding war at an estate sale. All the extended family was there to buy-up Granny's heirlooms, and when her old skillet went up, the grieving family went nuts, brother against sister, bidding-up Grandma's greasy old skillet to over $800!
To this day, I'm amazed at how many families hate each other because of crap like this . . . .
The biggest snatch that I've ever seen was at an auction in upstate New York. There was an original Indian bow and arrow set, complete with six arrows and a quiver with original beadwork.
I knew that the bow was old and valuable, but not being educated in American Indian collectibles, I had no idea of the tribe or the real value. It looked like it belonged in a museum, and I could tell that it was going to be hot because the top buyers were "pretending" to ignore it, a common trick to keep prices low . . .
An American Indian Bow and Arrow set
It was a madhouse when the bidding started and it sold for more than $8k! Later, I asked the winning bidder about it, and he claimed that it was one-of-a-kind artifact and that he flipped it to a collector for a six figure price.
Today, we still enjoy the rush of finding an overlooked treasure. If you are an Adrenaline junky, yard sales and auctions may be just the ticket!
The market has responded with other novel approachesthan time-share Learjet’s (see Netjets) and we now see ResidenSea, for owning your own stateroom on a private cruise ship.
In 2007, Four Season will announce the “Four Seasons Residences”, an opportunity for the moderately well-heeled to buy a permanent stateroom on a cruise ship. Prices range from $400k for a modest stateroom, up to multi-million dollar suites. You pay a yearly maintenance fee of $150 per square feet and the ship will circle the globe once every three years.
In my earlier publications I noted that cruise ships are getting ridiculously cheap and many older folks can live aboard a cruise ship for less then the cost of assisted living. A Caribbean cruise on Carnival now costs less than a room at a average motel, and they make great locations for training classes.
Next month I’m sponsoring a database class at-sea, and it’s been very popular, a sunny respite from the winter gloom . . .
Monday, December 25, 2006
Today’s topic was the North Carolina alienation of affection laws.
Under the alienation of affection law, the wronged ex-spouse can sue the person who caused their divorce, sometimes collecting millions of dollars in damages from the homewreaker! Let’s take a closer look:
Proponents say that the purpose of the alienation of affection laws is to provide a moral compass for citizens, and just like people are fined for littering, people who break-up marriages should be fined for their immoral acts.
They say that “homewreckers” destroy the families that they leave behind, and many children are traumatized for life when they learn that their beloved Mom is really a nasty floozy who showed her naughty bits to a guy other than Dad.
Only seven states have alienation of affection laws, but many people are clamoring for this type of justice. They argue that if a floozy causes their spouse to divorce them, the floozy should pay, especially if the husband is wealthy, leaving the ex-spouse without her lavish lifestyle.
This article says that North Carolina juries have handed out big awards in Alienation of Affection cases.
“In 2001, a Greensboro jury awarded $2 million to the Plaintiff. Another jury awarded $1.2 million in 1997 in a Forsyth County case. Other awards include $1 million to an Alamance County woman, $243,000 to a Wake County man, and $40,000 to a Durham County man whose wife allegedly ran off with another man.”
The enlightened States that allow lawsuits for alienation of affection laws include Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota and Utah, but many other States are considering enacting legislation to punish homewreckers.
The central question is whether society should punish those to disregard the sanctity of marriage and heap financial and emotional hardship on the spouse and children who are left behind?
This NEWSWEEK article titled “Heartbreak's Revenge notes that the adulterous spouse may have to pay-up large sums for being a home wreaker:
“Although alienation of affection is rarely invoked in most states, a series of high-profile judgments in North Carolina, including one in 2001 for $2 million, have inspired more than 200 suits annually in recent years. Lawyers say people typically file these claims as leverage in divorce and custody disputes. "A wife says I'm going to sue your girlfriend if you don't give me $50,000 more in property settlement.”
Alienation of affection is not just stealing the affection
It's not always the girlfriend of the adulterer who must pay for alienation of affection. This article notes that alienation of affection awards are for the emotional harm caused by a third party to the marital relationship.
“These lawsuits for “alienation of affection” and/or “criminal conversation” are usually brought by the innocent spouse against the guilty spouse’s lover; but an alienation action may also be brought against someone like an in-law or other near relative who has advised a defecting spouse to leave the marital relationship.”
Let’s assume that “Amy” (the local gossip), convinces her friend “Joyce”, a housewife who relies on her rich husband “Drewell” for her income and fancy lifestyle. Amy goes on long tirades about how Joyce deserves better, and say that Joyce should dump her no-good lowbrow husband. Joyce is convinced and sues for divorce. Under NC alienation of affection statutes, Joyce is entitled to a big financial award!
Many applaud the alienation of affection laws for their ability to allow a wronged person the right to seek revenge and justice, while others call alienation of affection archaic. However, nobody can deny that alimony does not adequately compensate the victim of a homewreaker for their lifetime of reduced household earnings.
This NEWSWEEK article titled “Heartbreak's Revenge”, they show testimonials about how the alienation of affection laws bring justice by punishing the home wreaker for her adulterous ways:
“For Berg, holding someone accountable for the destruction of his marriage was the point. "I loved my wife more than anything in the entire world," he says. The law did its job”
Ancient laws on cheating & adultery?
Many folks criticize these laws because they are ancient (like "thou shall not kill"), and sure enough, many of these laws have their origin in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy, we see these prohibitions, right next to Pythonism (the act of seeking-out fortune tellers, derived from the word “Pythian”, the Satanic Oracle of Delphi.
This article says that in cultures which follow religous law, adulterers are routinely stoned, but drug usage should not be a factor in punishing immoral behavior:
A criminal Conversation?
The wording of these ancient laws is strange, and they use the Victorian term "criminal conversation" to mean adultery!
It will be interesting to see how this turns out . . . .
Thursday, December 21, 2006
But what is "rich" really? Do we count the values of assets only, or is cash liquidity the measure of a billionaire?
I was watching TV the other night and heard the name of one of my old classmates from Highland High School in Albuquerque.
Normally this happens when one of my classmates has been charged with a serious felony, but I was surprised to hear that my old classmate Gavin Maloof (Highland High class of 1974) is now a billionaire, and he owns the Palms casino in Las Vegas.
I asked Jen3 to dig out our 1974 Highland High School yearbook pictures, and we were both quite stylish and handsome in our long quaffs:
Don Burleson High school photo
Gavin Maloof High School Photo
Gavin was a always the class clown, and I see that he still has a great sense of humor. At his Palms casico Gavin offers-up a $6,000 dinner at the Hardees inside the Palms, and the meal consists of a greasy cheeseburger served with a bottle of rare 24 year-old French wine (fries are extra).
Gavin's billionairehood got me to thinking about the dilution of the status of being a "millionaire", and why, in 2007, you must be a billionaire to be considered truly wealthy.
As John P. Getty once said, "A billion dollars is not what it used to be" . . .
Jeez, you practically need to be a millionaire today to afford a nice home! In Raleigh NC, there are new subdivisons coming up with home prices starting at "only $750,000".
Do you have billboards like this in your home town, advertizing homes with obscene prices?
For more details on changing wealth in America, you might enjoy my research on the future of millionairehood.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I just got a resume from a college dropout prick who had he nerve to award themselves the title of “Engineer”, just because they had passed the Microsoft Certified Software Engineer test!
I also see cretins who pass the Red Hat Certified Engineer Test and have the audacity to title themselves an “Engineer”. Bogus Posers . . .
A"real" engineer has an engineers license!
I’ve also seen people give themselves the title of “Software Engineer” without a four year degree in engineering. Personally, I think that it’s dishonest and demeaning to those who suffered through a rigorous college program to earn the right to call themselves an engineer.
Many countries (Like the USA) have strict laws that require a college degree and a license in order to use the titles of “Engineer” or “Architect”, while in the UK, any bozo can call themselves an engineer.
In many states it’s against the law to represent yourself, either expressly or by implication, to be an engineer and all engineers must have a four year degree in engineering and a state license before they can identify themselves as an engineer.
For example, a Canadian court recently ruled that Microsoft may not issue the title of “Engineer” (The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer program) because, by Canadian law, all Engineers must have a college degree in Engineering.
In fact, all professional engineers must meet rigorous licensing standards and they even have their own Professional Dress Code:
Let's start cracking-down on fake engineers and people who give themselves self-appointed professional titles. A
fter all, it's a serious crime to identify yourself as a policeman or doctor unless you have a license, and here in NC, it;s against the law to call yourself an auctioneer unless you are licensed.
It's like George Carlin says about those fake captains that you see running around marinas in dress white uniforms, calling themselves a "captain" just because they own a rowboat. Oh, and what about the polot who gives themselves the title of "captain" just because they fly an airplane.
"And who made this man a captain, might I ask?
Did I sleep through some sort of armed forces swearing-in ceremony or something?
Captain--he's a f**king pilot and let him be happy with that.
Tell the captain, Air Marshall Carlin says go f**k yourself!"
Monday, December 18, 2006
Quito is not your everyday destination. It's edgy, scary and a tiny bit dangerous because of the constant threat of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions (Quito is located at the base of an active volcano) and we also have the constant concerns about attacks by desperately poor people with nothing to loose.
Quito is close by, only a four and a half hour plane ride from Miami, with amazing scenery from the air. You can pass the whole time looking out over Cuba, Jamaica, Panama City and the Panama Canal, and the breathtaking western range of the Andes mountains of Columbia.
Quito is an amazing city, a mix of Switzerland with palm trees, rolling hills and lush valleys, nestled in the high clouds of the Andes mountains. If you like the green lush hillsides of a Swiss village, Quito is perfect.
Most of the Western American mountain range from Alaska to Patagonia is rugged and rocky, but the Andes near Quito capture the condensation from the Amazon basin, creating Quito's reputation of being a "city in the clouds".
Most of the beggars in Quito are harmless and many will entertain you whenever they can. At street corners, be prepared to tip the local gymnasts who will do handstand in front of your car for 25 cents, and be prepared to have people knock on the window of your car, trying to sell you something at every street corner.
A blind guitar player and a child holding his balls
For a fun diversion, grab your guide and get a seat near Independence Square or San Francisco square and watch the pickpockets. The Quito pickpockets can spot an American tourist at 100 yards and it's fun to watch then descend (they work in teams) upon their prey. Once you see how they work, you can join in the fun.
Just buy a cheap wallet for $3 and allow it to be stolen from your pants pocket.
Bigotry is alive-and-well in Ecuador
Evidently, some Ecuadorians are bigoted and many news reports say that Ecuadorian employers routinely advertise for job applicants who have a "good appearance," a Ecuadorian euphemism for non-Negro characteristics. It is also reported that landlords will openly reject applications from Blacks and that the Black communities do not receive the same share of government support as Latino areas.
The bizarre Mama Negra celebration is held each November where Ecuadorian men put on blackface and dress up like Black Women.
Have a seismic vacation!
There are many active volcano's and earthquakes in the Quito area, with the Sangay volcano erupting in December of 2006. In August 2006, the Tungurahua volcano erupted, killing more than 100 people. The city of Quito sits at the base of an active volcano:
The 1999 the explosive eruption of the 16,000 foot high Guagua Pichincha Volcano showered Quito with ash, causing the Quito airport to close. This eruption was totally unexpected and you need to be warned that seismic activity is always a threat in the Ecuador highlands.
For more details on this amazing city, check-out my travelogue on touring in Quito:
Friday, December 15, 2006
There is the myth that water will vortex in a clockwise direction in the southern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere.
What better place to test this myth than on the equator itself? We went to the exact equator about 15 miles north of Quito Ecuador (only a 4.5 hour flight due south of Miami). It's cool to stand with one foot in each hemisphere.
The Middle of the Earth
A village called “Middle of the earth” just a few miles north of Quito Ecuador is a great place to see the alleged "Coriolis Effect".
Everyone knows that tornadoes and hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise in the Northern hemisphere, but there has been the age-old debate about whether water will circle in a different direction north or south of the equator.
My Garmin GPS acquired five satellites and confirmed that “Middle of the World” is approximately at zero degrees latitude, give or take fifteen feet.
Our guide went on to say that you must be at the exact equator to examine the Coriolis effect because the vortex difference can be observed as little as ten feet into the Northern of Southern hemispheres. Her "proof" that water vortexes in different directions, was much more subtle, and it took me awhile to figure-out how she pulled it off.
Here is the tub that she used for the "proof". First, she proved that water drains straight down on the exact equator, and amazing, no vortexes
She said that a simple, repeatable proof can show the fact that water drains in a different direction in each hemisphere (I'm always suspicious of proofs). At equatorial sites in South America (Brazil and Ecuador) they commonly have a pail of water and a wash basin so skeptical folks can test the Coriolis Effect for themselves.
Next, we step ten feet into the northern hemisphere, where water should circle counterclockwise. Can you see her trick? Take a close look below:
Sho' nuff, the water circled in a strong counter-clockwise vortex when she pulled the plug ten feet into the northern hempsphere. Next we stepped ten feet into the southern hemisphere and repeated the "proof", with the water circling vigorously in a clockwise vortex.
I don't want to spoil the fun, but you can make water circle any way that you want with a subtle slight of hand trick. (hint: It's the way she pours-in the water).
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The tax laws are structured such that anyone who makes more then $10m a year must become a philanthropist, and it’s often hard to distinguish between those who give out of a true sense of charity from those who give because their accountant recommends a tax-deductible donation.
It’s funny, some celebrities want publicity for their donations while others take great pains to have their contributions remain completely anonymous. Some celebrities choose silly charities:
Rich folks can easily make donations that change people’s lives, but we mere mortals must work hard to have a donation make a major impact. When Janet and I trained Cuddles (a guide horse) for Dan Shaw, we spent hundreds of hours.
But it was well worth it to see the way that it changes Dan’s life. Dan now can go anywhere he wants without the help of a sighted person, and it was really rewarding to read Dan Shaw’s “My Turn” article in NEWSWEEK.
Personally, I like to give anonymously because I find it embarrassing to receive accolades from people, plus Janet and I don’t feel that it’s right to get any reward from giving. This week we are in Ecuador, and I felt guilty because I was enjoying playing the role of the dumb American and handing-out $5 bills to poor little nino’s, just to watch their faces light up. Giving should not be fun, right?
Because so many employees detest the shakedown tactics of employer-sponsored charities, Burleson Consulting forbids corporate interference in charitable giving.
To be completely fair, I also detest the tearjerker TV commercials where starving kids are paraded-out to illicit your sympathy. This sympathetic TV commercial shakedown claims to allow you to “sponsor” a child in a developing country and develop a personal relationship with “your” child.
Hogwash. In reality, the “letters” from “your child” are form letters, and you have to ask yourself who is paying the $30,000 fee for the TV heart wrenching commercials.
Take a bite to help the poor
If you are approached by a beggar asking for money for food and you suspect that they may use your money for drugs or alcohol, the easiest thing to do is to pop into a store and buy them a sandwich.
However, always take a bite before handing it to them, as we have watched beggars immediately exchange the sandwich for wine.
Witnessing poverty firsthand
We have been in South America for three weeks now and the poor are ubiquitous in South America. You can see everything from motherless children to grossly deformed cripples, begging on almost every street corner.
Most South America countries have limited social welfare systems, and hundreds of thousands of people for forced to resort to begging, prostitution and crime in order to survive.
It’s hard not to be moved by the abject poverty, and we recommend that you carry a large roll of five dollar bills to hand-out to the poor. Many of the street corner vendors earn less than $3 per day and it’s wonderful to watch the mothers’s face light-up when you hand them a five dollar bill!
Give the gift of livestock
According to our local guides, many of the poor people in South America do not handle cash well, and it’s sometimes best to buy them small farm animals. You can buy a case whole box of chickens for less than $5 and a whole family can have eggs and food for a long time. Plus, the chickens eat harmful bugs and their manure is very high in nitrogen.
Most city folks don’t know that it’s really easy to gift-wrap live chickens. Chickens have a darkness reflex and they go into a zombie-like state when the lights go out.
We stopped a local market and paired up sets of two laying hens with a nice rooster, placing the threesome in vented copy-paper boxes. Laden with 18 chickens sleeping soundly in their gift boxes, we set forth to the village. At the edge of town we stopped and got out of the car and directed our driver to give one box each to a worthy family. Perfecto!
Have your Christmas donation make a real difference
If you are not lucky enough to be near an impoverished village and you want your Christmas donations to go to people who really need your help, check out www.heifer.org, a great charity to give live farm animals to the poor. Every penny counts and even $5 can make a big difference to a starving family.
For a huge treat, spend $500 and give a family a live cow, the gift that keeps on giving. They can drink the milk, use the manure for fertilizer and breed it to provide a cow for their neighbor. In Peru, you can donate a baby Llama so the family can harvest Alpaca, and your donation goes directly to those who are in-need.
It's Christmastime here in Ecuador, and even though there are no seasons at the equator, the locals have put together a great display of lights on their statue of the winged Virgin Mary.
To everyone, have a Happy Holiday!
Friday, December 01, 2006
Janet and I manage a small consulting business and our company is undergoing unprecedented growth, doubling every year. As contentious managers, we know that customer relations are important, and we have found ourselves traveling the globe to meet our new clients. We have even worked in India, a country that is the home of computer “outsourcing”!
The irony is that even though we have a high hourly rate, yet our experienced experts provide the cheapest solution, even for developing countries on a limited budget!
It all started when we completed a major overseas project for a tiny fraction of the original estimate. The client told their friends, and Janet and I are now traveling the world arranging systems development projects.
In Peru, Linux and Oracle are catching-on fast, and its fun to be in on the ground-floor for a nascent yet burgeoning IT industry:
Peruvian Open Source Conference 2007
For more details on our adventures in Lima, see our travelogue on Lima Peru.
Lima Peru is a sprawling city which is about 30% Native American, 25% Spanish, with a 40% majority called “Mestizos” (Peruvians with a mixed Spanish and Indian heritage). The Mestizos are very proud of there heritage, although I did see this strange t-shirt commemorating the 1531 arrival of the Conquistadors. I’m not sure what it means, but it must have some unobtrusive meaning:
The national drink of Peru is “Piso” (a strong brandy, which is usually served with line and egg-white as a “Piso Sour”) and the ubiquitous Inca Cola, a yellow concoction the color of Mountain Dew, which has a nice bubble-gum flavor very much the special Junkanoo soda of the Bahamas, which is only made for the Christmas season:
Native Peruvian foods includes hearty meats, especially roasted Cavy (Guinea Pig), which is skinned, gutted and charcoal roasted on a spit, and sold for only about fifty cents each. They are just a snack really, and you should get at least 3-4 for a full meal. You eat Guinea Pig just the same a squirrel, starting with the hams, and working your way forward, making sure to scrape all the meat off of the ribs.
Before: Cute and furry
After: Juicy and delicous
Peru is a country where a programmer’s weekly income is about what I charge by the hour, and it was huge surprise that many developing nations are now requesting our computer consulting services.
People all over the globe are now beginning to recognize that an experienced programmer can build computer systems over a hundred times faster than a neophyte.
Hey, experience counts. . .