February 28, 2005

City: Chicago, Diagnosis: Cold

It snowed in the Second City on Thursday afternoon, though the wind was the real problem as we stomped around the Loop. Travel Tip: If you're trying to find a train, make sure you know whether it runs above ground or below ground. Travel Tip #2: Stay at a Clubhouse Inn. They have free breakfast, and it's a real breakfast, not the continental kind. Biscuits, sausage, bacon, pancakes...these were some of our choices through our stay. The place was also totally empty, which was nice. For our rental car, we ended up with a Malibu, which is a nice enough car, but it's no MINI. The direct flight was nice, though the hour delay ont he front end could have been avoided, but if it had, there would have been no chance to eat at the excellent Maui Taco just down the hall from Gate C23 (no joke, the tacos were good). The ride home was much smoother, as Janet and I each had a row to ourselves, though we did sit together. The flight attendant even gave us each a whole can of Pepsi and two bags of snack mix. 50 degrees never felt so warm when we got back.

That said, we had a good time. Chicago is big, but I hear it smells better than New York. Everyone there was pretty friendly, and the public transportation is excellent. Not quite sold on the Chicago style pizza. Part of me feels like the sauce should be under the cheese in a proper pizza, but I'd be willing to give it a second chance.

By the way, this is totally unrelated, but Iron Chef America: The Series is some seriously riveting television. If you have Food Network, that's where you should be Sunday nights at 9.

February 23, 2005

Out of Town

We'll be out of town for the next few days, so blogging might be light. Janet will have her laptop, and our hotel has Internet access, so there might be some updates, but don't count on any long posts about the economy or anything like that.

February 21, 2005

If I were a professional writer

Maybe my Walmart post below would have been as fun to read as this is.

February 20, 2005

Is Walmart a Good Thing?

It's a complicated question, and one that is asked quite frequently by econimists, politicians, Vermonters, etc. The answer is not a simple yes or no. I think it really depends on who you ask. For example. Ask someone if he likes the low prices he pays for dogfood. I'm sure he'll say yes without realizing that Walmart, the country's largest dog food retailer is able to set the market. On the other hand, ask someone who the store will not allow to work enough hours to require health benefits, and he might have a different opinion about the Arkansas-based retailer.

You see, there was a time, not that long ago, when Wall Street looked at this upstart as a bunch of hicks from Arkansas. Now the Walton family is worth over $100 Billion dollars, and there are 3,000 Walmart stores in this country. Over 1.2 million people work at U.S. Walmart stores now, making it one of the world's largest employers. They got to be this way by sticking to their business model. They thrive on razor-thin margins. They decided that they would make money by selling things at low prices, but with high volume. If they make one dollar selling it, but the competitor makes two, they still come out ahead if they sell three for every one the competitor sells.

In order to keep this business model profitable, the wages paid by the company in its stores are fairly low, though not entirely out of line with the rest of the industry. In addition, one of Walmart's practices that has garnered a lot of criticism is the fact that while they offer health insurance to full time employees, they typically will not schedule anyone to have enough hours to be a full time employee and qualify for employer-subsidized health care. They have also come under fire for their staunch anti-union stance, which has been challenged most recently in Canada, which is more heavily unionized than the United States these days. Finally, they have been the subject of a lawsuit concerning discrimination toward women. Some would suggest their backwards Arkansas country ways are finally coming back to bite them, but most of these issues are not yet resolved, so the final chapter has not been written on that story.

Some people criticize large stores for pushing out small businesses, but I say to let the wheels of progress roll on. It's no consolation to the small business owners to say that people ultimately choose on price, but that's just the way it goes.

Though they are heavily criticized, it's possible to see good in Walmart. Those 1.2 million employees in this country have to work somewhere, and perhaps some of them would be unemployed without Walmart. Also, people want low prices. Every retailer advertises on prices. Study after study proves that service and the niceness of the store are far, far behind price in determining where people shop. I know that is the main consideration in my mind. I rarely consider the plight of the workers or the political views or anything else except price and location when deciding where to shop. If the price is lower at the big store, the little store won't be able to compete, and it can't compete due to economies of scale.

Basically, if someone decided not to shop at Walmart because of some moral reason, I won't criticize him or her, since each person makes different things important to him, but I tend to choose on price and location. Right now, I rarely go to Walmart because it isn't convenient. I bought socks at Target today, and I know if Target and Walmart traded locations, I would be the proud owner of Walmart socks today. I'll agree that Walmart does not always act in a desirable way, but I'll also say that they provide low cost goods to millions of Americans. Is Walmart good for America? I think it depends who you ask.

February 19, 2005

February 17, 2005

A new kind of quiz

After that heavy tax talk in the previous post, I thought I'd give a test. This isn't the kind of thing where you tell me your favorite ice cream flavor or your middle name or when the last time you cried was. This is a quiz about the stuff I'm interested in. I know all the answers without looking them up. Leave your answers in the comments, and don't cheat with Google, or I will take away your birthday. I'll later post the correct answers and who got the most right.

1. Where do you store tomatoes? (bonus: Why?)
2. Quickly explain the infield fly rule.
3. What is the formula for Ohm's law?
4. How long is a college wrestling match (bonus: Each period?)
5. What is the difference between a traditional and Roth IRA?
6. What is the Maillard reaction?
7. Correct the spelling of the following words: aparantley and defanately.
8. What company is the largest employer in the United States? (bonus: Where is their headquarters?)
9. What do these acronyms stand for? SDRAM, NHSCA, PCA
10.What is the main regulatory difference between Division I and Division III in NCAA sports? (bonus: name another regulatory difference)

OK, that's it. Let's see how you do.

February 16, 2005

Tax Man

Being tax season, do you ever feel like filing income tax returns is far more difficult than it ought to be? I mean, there are the different tax brackets, which is simple enough to understand, but that doesn't begin to cover it. There is Adjusted Gross Income, exemptions, deductions, credits, earned income, investment income, 1040, 1099, W-2, and countless other components to consider. There are so many exceptions and provisions and laws designed to encourage this or that, no wonder so many people turn to a professional each year to fill out the return. H&R Block's entire advertising theme has surrounded getting a bigger refund. You know they wouldn't say this if it were simple to fill out the return and get the proper refund, but instead, they know how difficult it can be as they cite the amount Americans overpaid the previous year.

It's somewhat sad that it has to be this way, that it has to be so complicated. The tax refund isn't some bonus that we earn each year, it's the amount we overpaid our taxes by. It's not a gift from the government for a year of hard work, it's money that the government has been earning interest on instead of you.

To get this money, you have to go through any number of forms, depending on your situation. The average person spends 13 hours filling out his tax return. Thirteen hours to get your own money back, unless of course you happen to owe the government money, in which case you get to spend 13 hours figuring out how big a check to mail to the IRS. Of course, this is just an average. I imagine most people don't quite put 13 hours into it, but still, it's a chore and a half.

I can understand the people who advocate a flat tax to simplify things. Just have a certain percentage taken out of each paycheck or dividend payment, and then there is no return to fill out, no April 15th deadline, and you keep all of your money instead of letting the government hang onto it until you fill out your tax return. For IRAs and other tax deductible retirement accounts, just put money into them straight out of the paycheck before the tax is deducted from the amount, just like employee health plan payments. I'm sure there are reasons not to do this, but I just don't know them. The simplicity is a big selling point, especially in that the current tax code is so complex that no one person truly understands it.

This is why I file my taxes online. The computer knows enough of the rules to suit my situation.

February 14, 2005

Commercialize This

You'll never guess where Janet wanted to go for Valentine's Day, so I'll just tell you: Taco Bell. We should be a commercial for them. See the engineer and his wife who go to Taco Bell on Valentine's Day. It's OK, though, I think it means I picked out the right wife for me. She's pretty low maintenace when it comes to eating at restaurants and wanting jewelry. The alternative to Taco Bell was Pizza Hut, and that's just because there is no Friendly's in town. Let's just say she's not the target audience of all the Valentine's Day related advertising floating around this time of year. 1. Wants Taco Bell for dinner on Valentine's Day 2. Doesn't want diamond jewelry other than her engagement ring because she's afraid she would lose it 3. Drop her off at the local Big Lots and she's good for two hours, minimum, of just wandering around looking at stuff.

In other news, Janet was accepted into graduate school to study Public History, so she can stop worrying about it for crying out loud. I'm sure they spent all of five minutes looking at her application before deciding she was way smarter than anyone else who applied.

Lastly, I have been listening to some Fountains of Wayne, and here's a line I thought was funny from Mexican Wine: I used to fly for United Airlines/I got fired for reading High Times.....Ok, so it's not Shakespeare, but I laughed.

February 13, 2005

Ugliest and Best Looking Cars

Here are the five best looking and worst looking cars available new in the United States, in my opinion. Feel free to disagree, and don't take it personally if you drive a car on the ugly list. The cars are listed in no particular order, and the links are to pictures for your perusal. I'll try to leave the more exotic cars out of this one.

Worst Looking:
- Chevrolet Aveo Hatchback - a pointy-nosed terror
- Pontiac Aztek - age has not much improved this monster
- Honda Insight - paved the way for hybrids, but those real wheel coverings are awful (special note: there are a number of ugly hybrids, like the suppository-shaped Toyota Prius; I much prefer the new trend of making normal cars into hybrids)
- Hummer H2 - what do I have to say?
- Honda Ridgeline - saw this one in a Super Bowl ad, and the first thing I though was that it's the ugliest truck I'd ever seen, with those weird high sides to the bed

Best Looking:
- Mazda3 Four Door - nothing flashy here, it just works
- Audi TT Coupe - a personal favorite of mine for a long time
- Chevrolet Corvette - an old classic keeps looking good
- Ford Mustang - looking back never looked so good
- MINI Cooper - but I might be biased

That's my list. Comments? Questions? Snide Remarks?

February 12, 2005

Just so you know

Buying an SUV (or a truck) doesn't make you a bad person, just think twice before doing it again, unless you really plan to haul the stuff suggested by their size.

February 11, 2005

The coming SUV Backlash

Well, at least I hope it's coming. I sit in the parking lot at work and see SUVs, Jeeps, and other comically large vehicles all over the place. Mind you, this is in the capital of North Carolina, where it rarely snows, the terrain is tame, and the roads are pretty much all paved, especially in Cary, the upscale suburb where the office is located. I cannot even begin to imagine what makes a person decide that he needs to drive a four wheel drive behemoth back and forth to work everyday to the tune of 14 miles a gallon.

I really do hope that the SUV trend starts to fade, and for a couple of reasons. First, all these giant vehicles clog up parking lots and roads due to their sheer girth. Secondly, and most important, the horrendous fuel economy and pollution is starting to get out of hand. Now, I'm nobody's idea of a tree hugger, but I am starting to become a bigger stickler on efficiency, to a point. You won't find me driving a diesel Jetter or anything, and I won't be purchasing a hybrid until it makes better economic sense, but it seems a little common sense is in order. There are a lot of vehicles on the road today that average over 25 miles per gallon, or are at least approaching it. Most of these cars would suit your average Ford Explorer driving engineer just fine.

That's really the rub with me. These vehicles are so unnecessary as to absurdity. Someone was talking about a person they worked with that bought an SUV because flats of flowers couldn't fit in his convertible. You have got to be kidding me. He wants to cart around flowers, and he decided this warranted a four wheel drive monster. I guarantee your average four door sedan, and probably a lot of two doors, could carry pretty much as many flats of flowers as this man would ever want to plant. This continues on with people who say they bought an SUV to cart their kids around. A lot of these people don't have a whole lot of kids to cart. I don't think there's any way to justify a six or seven passenger grocery getter, unless you happen to need six or seven seats.

Like I said before, gratuitous fuel consumption is the main issue here. The Ford Explorer gets 16 miles per gallon in the city, and people are commuting in these things. This isn't lifeguards patrolling the beaches, it's accountants, schoolteachers, engineers, and doctors driving to work each day. With oil prices so high and a large chunk of the world's oil coming from politically unstable (or downright corrupt) areas, it would be better if the American economy could become less dependent on foreign oil. The need will never go away, since oil fuels much of our country, but a lower dependence on oil will help the United States have more flexibility going forward. It will depend on the people to lower the demand for gas-guzzling vehicles, because the automakers will continue to build them if people continue to buy them.

February 9, 2005

More Yankees/Patriots

I posted a more detailed and thought out comparison of the Yankees and Patriots over at Foul Territory, in case any one is interested in a look at it.

February 8, 2005

The New Evil Empire?

Two main thoughts for today, both inspired by Vikki:

First, big congratulations are in order for Giant Tim. After a few cracks at the MCAT and too many rejection letters, he is on his way to medical school, where I'm sure he'll excel, making all those crappy schools that rejected him jealous at what they're missing. Meanwhile, he'll be on the sunny island nation of Dominica (assuming I've got the school right) studying away. It will be big change from Annapolis for Tim, as Dominica is very small, with a population of just over 70,000 and a GDP per capita about one seventh that of the United states. They export a lot of bananas, and the volcanic nature of the island results in few beaches, but there is a lot of rainforest. Tim, watch out for snakes.

Secondly, the two reasons given for why the Patriots aren't like the Yankees do nothing but prove that they are. The most annoying thing about the Yankees for the last few decades has been the condescending fan base. The nation turned against the Yankees in proportion to the obnoxiousness of their fans and the fawning of Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, and Joe Morgan. The Patriots are well on their way in the same direction. Talk to a Boston fan about the team for five minutes and you'll see. Saying that the Patriots aren't like the Yankees is evidence of a lack of either thought or knowledge. The first assertion, that the Patriots don't cheap shot seems to be irrelevant, if not inaccurate. Everyone cheap shots in football. It's not really a secret. Imagine what goes on at the bottom of a pileup. Additionally, the Patriots had a five or six game playoff streak where they they were barely, if at all, called for offensive or defensive holding. I know they are a well coached team, but you can't tell me they never held. The officials should call the game equally. The second assertion is the most laughable, that the Yankees are just a bunch of me-first whiners. The late 90's era Yankees where a mostly home-grown team that played well together while their competent management supplied the pieces necessary to fill the holes when they appeared. This sounds a lot like the Patriots if you ask me.

A message to Boston fans everywhere: Please, just enjoy the wins while you have them. The Red Sox and Patriots are your teams, and you have every right to be excited about their victories. Just keep in mind the fact that, for the most part, the historical failings of the Red Sox and Patriots have not been due to some huge resource gap between Boston and New York, but instead due to failures of the team managment to construct teams that could win championships. The Red Sox victory over the Yankees last fall was not some David and Goliath battle. For that, you have to go back one year to see the low-budget Marlins take out the Yankees with a team full of young, cheap players, complemented by a few veterans. Enjoy the wins, but keep the attitude in check, or you will be the new Yankee fans.

February 7, 2005

The Darkness

I bought my HP Pavilion n5415 laptop around Thanksgiving of 2001. It has served me pretty well, as it got me through the next two and a half years of college and grad school as well as a summer spent in California with no car where I used it to watch a lot of movies. It helped me finish a senior project and stumble through the spring of 2004 where I had lots and lots of computer related homework. I spent countless hours trying to make my projects for grad school work. It's been a good laptop, even if the battery is worn down to the point of near uselessness, and I was looking forward to a few more years out of it, as my only real complaints were the lack of a CD burner and a paucity of hard drive space (just over 9 GB). At the time of purchase, it was a pretty good deal. It's only given me one real problem since purchase, and that was a malfunctioning cooling fan. I was able to purchase a new fan and install it myself at the cost of only $40, and it's worked like a champ since then.

Until this weekend, that is. I was attempting to use the composite video output to get the display to appear on the television in order to watch a movie off of the computer. I installed the proper driver, but when I tried to change a setting on the computer, the screen died, and nothing appeared on the TV. The thing is, the screen didn't actually die, it just got incredibly dim. I could see it if I changed to a white wallpaper, cleaned the screen off, and shined a bright light on it at just the right angle. I also had to put my face really close to the screen and make sure that I gave the mouse pointer a reference point so I knew where to look for it. I probably should have seen this coming, as three or four times in the last two months the monitor has not come on when I turned the PC on. This was easily remedied, at the time, by either restarting or putting the computer to sleep and then waking it up. Since it died mid-use on me, I haven't been able to rely on this method. The switch that a protrusion on the monitor presses when it is closed seems to be malfunctioning so that it remains in the "off" state even when it is not pressed down. Whereas I could simply replace the broken fan, this part doesn't look like it is replaceable, and repairing it would likely cost several hundred dollars that would be better spent on a replacement that doesn't have over three years of wear and tear.

A replacement is what I seek. I have spent some time looking around and trying to figure out what it would cost me to get what I want. There are two main options, as I see it: brand new and refurbished. Brand new should be the most reliable, but you pay for the privilege of being the first owner. Refurbished can allow you to get a lot of PC for your money, but a refurbished/open box laptop scares me just a little bit, as they usually have shorter warranties and less reliability. I'm working on figuring out how much of a reliability hit I would be taking, as there are some eMachines refurbished laptops that are pretty monstrous systems at rock-bottom prices. Another option is an IBM. Typically, IBM is really expensive, but we have the IBM friends and family discount as a result of someone Janet works with, so it's another option with a great reputation for reliability, as long as you're willing to take a small hit in your specification list. Added to that are all the electronics stores, both online and brick and mortar. It's a big decision, but I feel like I'm well on my way.

February 4, 2005

I Turn 24 Today

I remember when I was twelve, and now I've gone for two dozen. It was Mickey Mantle who said, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." Thankfully, that doesn't so much apply to me yet, and I've taken pretty good care of myself; at least as good care as you can take while wrestling for half of my 24 years. The body still works, even if it's not quite the specimen it once was (and oh, was it ever), and the mind is sharp as ever. I understand more stuff about more stuff than I ever have. I can speak halfway intelligently about the stock market, Social Security reform, and tax preparation, yet I still can explain the infield fly rule, zone blitz, and icing (both hockey and butter cream).

Some people decide to get depressed about growing a year older, and for some, I suppose I can understand it. Personally, I think I'm too young to get all worked up about clicking over from 23 to 24. Is there really a difference, in the narrative that is my life, whether I look back in 50 years and see some event that happened at 23 or 24? Not really, I'd argue. The main difference between last year and the previous 10 is that it was the first year of my life since I was in fifth grade that I went from birthday to birthday without stepping onto a wrestling mat and striving to have my hand raised at the end of it. Now that I've hit this milestone, I've finally tipped the scale back to where the number of years I haven't wrestled again eclipses the number that I have. I supposed I mean years that I've competed, as I don't plan to ever stop wrestling, at least as long as my body can handle it. I knew a man in high school named Lored, and he still wrestled with the high school guys at age 50. I'm not sure I aspire to that, but I plan to stay involved in some way.

Often, it can be tempting to look back at our lives, especially at milestones such as this, and wish that something had gone differently, or wished you could go back 1, 5, or more years and talk to your former self to let him know what he should avoid, and where he might avoid making the mistakes you made. This going back might help you avoid some pain, but it would also invariably affect your present life. I can look back at perhaps dozens of times where I wish I'd made a different choice, but I can look back at many of those times and realize how different my life would look right now if I'd made this decision or that decision. I might not have met people I call my dearest friends, or maybe I'd have missed some other opportunity. Sure, I can look at my life now and wish certain things were different, but it's harder to pinpoint what had to have been different in order to cause those changes. The events in my life are not interchangeable parts. It's all tied together like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. In those, you can go back a lot of choices, but any change you make precludes you from making the choices that come after the first one. It's the same way in life, except you can't go back, but you can think about it and realize that no one event put you where you are and surrounded you with the people you associate with.

I guess that's what I'll take from this birthday....a realization that it took a unique series of events to put each of us where we are today, and that my character is a result of those events. I wouldn't be the same person if any of them had happened differently. I guess that's what I'll leave you with on my birthday. We'll see what I have to say next year when I crack a quarter century. Now 25...25 is old.

February 3, 2005

Where did my retirement go?

The President officially introduced his plan for Social Security last night in the State of the Union Address. the idea of Social Security reform via the use of private accounts has been bandied about for some time now, but I believe this is the first time the President has made a pitch to the nation directly. From my understanding, the idea is to allow workers under age 55 to divert a portion of their payroll taxes to an investment account with a limited number of investment options. The idea of the limited options is to ensure that individuals can minimize risk while still attaining some returns. You wouldn't want some wide-eyed worker to throw his retirement away on penny stocks.

I'm not quite sure what to think of this plan. At first glance, it seems like a good idea. Let me decide where to invest my money, and I know that by the time I retired I would have walloped whatever small benefit I would have received under the current Social Security plan. Personally, I'd rather not pay any Social Security tax and just be allowed to invest that money in an IRA at a discount online brokerage, but I'm pretty sure that's not the way it's going to work. It's just my pipe dream retirement scenario.

The trick is, not everyone is going to be as conscientious with their savings. This is one of the reasons Social Security exists; to give people security. A staggering number of people do not save any of their own money for retirement, so it's vital that these people have at least the small amount provided by Social Security to fall back on. Not every senior citizen can fall back on family for care. This is the reason that the new Social Security program will still require people to save while also limiting investment options to those similar to investments available in the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees. In that plan, there are five options (see TSP.gov). Two are fixed income, bond and government security focused funds. There are also three stock funds available, all of which are index funds. Once invests in an S&P 500 fund, once in the Wilshire 4500 Small Cap Index, and one in an international index fund. These funds are broadly diversified, so it is unlikely any one of them will ever quickly lose a large chunk of their value, though the international fund is the most volatile of the three, due the relative instability of foreign companies in comparison with their American counterparts.

Every person who isn't wallowing in in high interest debt should probably be putting at least a little bit away each month into some sort of index fund, as the U.S. stock market has proven to be the best investment vehicle historically. Up to this point, I've probably sounded pretty positive on the deal, and I mostly am, but I have a few questions that I only have vague ideas about how to answer. There are of course the questions about how much the transition will cost and what it will me to current retirees and those who will retire shortly, but I feel like many people smarter than I have addressed those questions, and it's not hard to find a Democrat willing to poke some large holes in the President's plan, so I'll leave them to answer those questions. My main question is what this infusion of capital into the market will do to the market. As of the 2000 Census, there were over 165 million people in this country between the ages of 20 and 65. Assuming most of those 165 million will be paying into Social Security via the payroll tax and the increasing population of the United States, there will be a large influx of cash into the stock market should Social Security be privatized. This would greatly increase the amount of money invested in the companies that make up the S&P 500, for example. Even though those are huge companies, that large an influx would surely have an effect, and the mutual fund company would own a large share of said companies. As for prices, it seems to me that the share prices of the affected companies would skyrocket at first, as millions of shares are snapped up by the index funds. Rather than mirror the S&P 500, it seems more likely that it would influence it. Perhaps the only way to avoid this would be if the companies decided to issue more shares, but share dilution is something every smart investor despises, as it dilutes the value of his portfolio. I'm not sure how it would work out, but I'd hope that the people in charge are figuring out what would happen if this plan goes through.

February 2, 2005

Death to Windows?

According to one author(you'll have to watch a short ad), the Mac is going to finally figure out how to steal market share from the PC. You can read the article, but it seems less like a technical article than an Apple hagiography. The author tries to say that everyone using Windows has resigned himself to living with computing as a hassle, and that we should expect more. Not only should we expect more, but more is right under our noses with the shiny white computers pouring out of Cupertino, California, under the watchful eye of Steve Jobs. He makes a big blah deal out of the security advantage the Mac has, and tries to pin some of it on the superiority of the OS X kernel when the real advantage is that the Mac only has a 3% market share, which makes it unlikely fodder for the quickly replicating virus, malware, and spyware programs lurking on the Internet.

The article reads like this: the Mac is so much better than Windows based PCs, and it's a shame more people don't know this, since it would make their lives so much better. It's the world's best computer, don't you know? What's left out is any real explanation for why the Mac only has 3% market share, and it's not because of some great propaganda trick coming out of Redmond. First off, there's the price. The article calls it a "perceived" higher price for Mac, but go to the Apple Store and try to tell me that they can compete with Dell on a price basis. Another reason is that most of the world hasn't had any reason to switch from PC to Mac, unless they are a video editor or graphic designer for a living. Everyone else seems to like the familiarity and wide array of affordable software available for Windows. For others, they like being able to crack open the case and preform their own modifications and upgrades, something long impossible for all but the most knowlegeable Mac afficionados. A few years ago I bought a bunch of computer parts on eBay and put together my own machine. Try that with a Mac and let me know how far you get. For this reason, repairs and upgrades must take place at stores and repair shops that charge prices that seem exorbitant considering the ease and cost-effectiveness of repair and replacement on a desktop PC. Apple has had a consistent strategy of closely guarding their technology for the 20 years of the Mac's existence, and that strategy, more than anything else has resulted in Mac having a tenth the market share of Dell alone.

This is not to say that no one should ever own a Mac. Most of what is said about ease of use and application to graphical and video work is true. My only complaint here is the indidious one button mouse that actually makes it harder to get work done, but I'm sure you could get used to it. In my estimation, I would own a Mac under three conditions. 1. I could afford it 2. I wanted to do a lot of photo or video editing, organizing, and sharing 3. I could keep my Windows based PC. Under those three conditions, I could see myself happy with the Mac Mini or some other Apple concoction.

Ah, the Mac Mini. It's been billed as finally an affordable Mac. Why, it costs only $499, and it's barely larger than a CD-ROM drive. It really is that size, but it doesn't really cost that little, as you don't get a keyboard, a mouse, speakers, a monitor, or anything else, so add at least $300 to that price, as you're not going to use a big, clunky CRT with such a sleek computer. Thankfully, you can use regular USB keyboards and mice to operate it, both of which are fairly inexpensive and can be bought from companies other than Apple. As for what's under the hood, there's not a lot to get excited about. I recent bought a PC for my parents that had twice the power and memory, included keyboard, mouse, and speakers, and also cost less. You can't upgrade own memory either. You've got to head on down to the Apple Store, which is probably fine for most of the intended market for the Mini.

All that said, I could see myself using the Mini, under the conditions listed above. I'll likely never purchase one, but I can see the appeal of such a small profile, especially for an apartment dweller like myself. Add in a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and a good flat panel monitor, and it wouldn't take up much more space than my laptop. I mostly use the computer for the Internet, and when I want to do something more, I would still have my PC ready to go. I'm not ready to declare this Mac or any other as the key to slaying the Microsoft giant, but I'm willing to give Mac users their space, as long as they recognize the limitations of their beloved white boxes.