Tuesday, January 30, 2007

French for today

I listened to Radio France's Français facile this evening. Here are some words I recognized:
  • le climat - climate
  • (une) ville sainte - holy city
  • le corail - coral
  • l'interdiction de - ban (on)
  • acheter - to buy
Français facile has a nice feature: they print their transcripts so you can read along while you listen. I plan to play the broadcast a time or two, concentrating on understanding what I hear, before reading the transcript, in order to develop my French listening skills.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Water is restored

This morning, around 9 am, water was once again flowing in my apartment (in the good, expected way - from the taps, not from the ceiling!). As I suspected, the story from management was most interesting. Well, maybe not as interesting as I had hoped. They had not caused the problem - it was someone from the fire department, who had randomly shut off all kinds of valves to stop a leaking pipe that had burst when freezing/thawing elsewhere in the apartment complex. Oddly, this did not comfort me. And as for the fact that there was no one picking up the phone at the office all weekend long? They had no idea! There must be something wrong with their system. They'll look into it...

I hate apartment living, but I think you get the same sort of thing if you own a home. I suppose it's a toss-up.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cheese recommendation - Woodcock Farm

On an autumn vacation to Vermont a few years ago, I visited Woodcock Farm, and sampled a few of their cheeses. I was positively impressed; so when I saw a few wedges of cheese with the Woodcock Farm label in my local health food store, I didn't hesitate to grab one, barely able to suppress a sybaritic cackle.

I was planning on eating the cheese at room temperature, savoring its solitary goodness. It has a delicious flavor that way and leaves a slightly tingly sensation in my mouth. But I took a leap of faith and tried it in another capacity: I have begun making mini-pizzas with it. Not ordinary mini-pizzas, but gourmet ones, with Seeds of Change organic tomato sauce and Matthew's whole wheat English muffins. The flavor of the cheese doesn't stand up to tomato sauce very well when it's used for this purpose; nevertheless, these mini-pizzas are delicious. Highly recommended. Posted by Picasa

Apartment living

I am experiencing one of the many joys of apartment living today. The hot water in my apartment stopped working yesterday. And there's no water coming out of any of the fixtures in the bathroom. The only tap with normal water pressure is in the kitchen - thank goodness for that.

It's sort of like camping... only skipping the outdoors part.

I've called the apartment complex management phone number numerous times over the past 24 hours and no one is picking up - not even voicemail. I suppose the explanation that I get on Monday will be very interesting.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

French practice

I've discovered that once I listen to a Radio France broadcast online over my dialup connection at home, I can cut my connection and replay the broadcast as often as I want, provided I keep the media player open. This is great; when listening to French broadcasts it's useful to play certain sections over several times to better understand what is being said.

Here are a few words that I picked up from a broadcast today:
  • deuxième - second
  • (le) renseignement - information
  • les renseignements généraux - police department responsible for political security
  • malheureuse affaire - unhappy affair
  • ênquete - (police) investigation
I know most of these words and phrases already, but it helps to hear them spoken. "Les renseignements généraux" is a new one for me, and I'm not completely sure what it means still.

Krispy Kreme Class Action Settlement

I bought 100 shares of Krispy Kreme between 2003 and 2004. It was one of my more foolish/unlucky investments; I didn't investigate them much. My investment was based on personal experience. I love Krispy Kreme doughnuts, especially when they're hot, and I just knew they were going to be a big hit all over the world.

By the end of 2005, my shares had lost about half their value. I finally decided to sell and take the loss at that point, since I had some capital gains I could offset that year. I had a feeling that KKD was not going to recover for many years, if at all; taking the loss seemed about the best use I could make of the shares. And indeed they have yet to recover, as you can see by the Krispy Kreme stock chart.

I guess the story's not over. I got a thick packet in the mail this week from Krispy Kreme Securities Litigation, regarding the ongoing class action lawsuit on behalf of stockholders against the management. Here are some choice excerpts:
2. What is This Lawsuit About?
This case was brought as a class action alleging that the Class Settling Defendants manipulated and overstated Krispy Kreme's financial results by disguising debts as income and making other improper accounting adjustments, resulting in the artificial inflation of the price of Krispy Kreme securities between March 8, 2001 and April 18, 2005. Class Settling Defendants deny that they did anything wrong.
(In the words of George Costanza - "Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?")
Settlement Fund: $75,000,000 in cash... Depending on the number and type of eligible securities that participate in the settlement and when those securities were purchased and sold, the estimated average recovery per share of common stock will be worth approximately $0.33 before the deduction of Court-approved fees and expenses...
At $0.33 per share, it is not worth my time to participate in the class action. But after reading through the details, it looks like my shares could be worth more. I'll have to read through the papers a little more to figure it out. And I wonder what happens if I do get some piece of the settlement - how is that treated for tax purposes?

Cases like this make index funds very appealing in comparison to stock picking.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Les carottes sont cuites!

 I love that phrase, and I love my new Living Language French 2007 Calendar. I've been getting the calendars for a few years now, and I think that these calendars have contributed to the improvement in my French skills (despite my irregular study habits). I keep the calendar in the bathroom, by the sink, where I can glance at it while brushing my teeth twice a day.

I am going to get busy with some more intense French study, so that I'm ready for my ski trip to France next month! Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 08, 2007

Carbon footprint

I try to be ecologically friendly. I own a 3 cylinder, 1.0 L car that averages about 40 mpg. Last year, I signed up for the more pricey Clean Energy option with my electricity supplier (this is really gonna bite when the 50% electric rate hike takes effect over this year).

I'm sure I could do more; but I try to be aware of my behavior and ameliorate the damage I'm doing. I'm flying from JFK to Geneva this February, and I don't want to feel like I'm destroying my world to do so. So I took a look at the carbon footprint for the flight using this handy flight emissions calculator, which tells me "Your emissions from this flight are: 1.73 Tonnes of CO_2".

I'm doubtful about what carbon footprint calculators really calculate, and whether or not the whole carbon offset concept makes sense at all. The people at Carbon Footprint say: "we believe reduction in household, office, transportation and industrial carbon emissions is far more beneficial in the battle against climate change and has a greater environmental impact than carbon offsetting." That strikes me as a very commonsense approach. After all, if we continue to belch out emissions at the current rate, will it ever be possible to plant enough trees to cancel it all out?

Still, planting a few trees or investing in alternative energies seems like a positive action to take, better than doing nothing. I took a look at a few environmental organizations coughed up by Charity Navigator. The Pachamama Alliance has a great score (4 stars) and piqued my interest, but their site is so vague about what they have actually done that I crossed them out. At the moment, I'm leaning towards Conservation International. They've got 4 stars too, and they've got numerous details on their web site explaining what they do. Here's an example of how they are working to prevent climate change:

With offset donations of various companies, however, CI and its partners are supporting Malagasy communities in managing a protected area and transforming slash-and-burn farming into sustainable agriculture across some 864,900 acres of land.

Sounds good; I think I'll send some money their way.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Concept2 Holiday Challenge t-shirt

My new Concept2 t-shirt arrived yesterday, courtesy of Zazzle. I was a little worried that this t-shirt was going to be incredibly thin (for some reason women's clothing is often made of ridiculously thin cloth) - and it was. Nevertheless, I'm delighted to finally get a t-shirt that fits. This shirt cost me twice as much as previous Concept2 Challenge t-shirts have, and I bet it will wear out twice as fast. But... it fits! And I got to choose from a wide variety of styles and colors. I'm delighted! Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 01, 2007

This Game of Ghosts

I started in on Joe Simpson's "This Game of Ghosts" again, today. I began reading it several months ago, but left off because it started out slow. Joe Simpson is probably best known for his work "Touching the Void", a book which made a huge impact on me.

Like Touching the Void, "This Game of Ghosts" is autobiographical, but spans many years, going back into Simpson's childhood and detailing his early climbing experiences, which were rather wild. I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know where he leaves off. The book troubles me; I get the sense that it was written while the author was depressed (something like Robert Pirsig's "Lila"), and it tends to bring me down (although not necessarily in a bad way).

Despite that, I think I've come to a better understanding of what motivates mountain climbers, or at least what motivates Joe Simpson. I've never understood why mountain climbers do it. It seems to me one of the least pleasureful activities one could imagine doing voluntarily. But after reading just half the book, I think I get it.

Joe Simpson was raised a Catholic and early on became an atheist, a history which resonates with me. Here's an excerpt that struck a cord.

p 150: "...I had decided in my mid-teens that I didn't want to do those things that society expected of me. I didn't want to compromise anything and rejected the idea of marriage and parenthood for fear that these would rob me of the selfish desire to do what I wanted with my life; a life lived once, with no reincarnation, no afterlife, heaven or hell, finished at death....

"It never occurred to me that these early certainties would themselves become eroded by time..."