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Month: August 2007

New job is final

New job is final

So, the new job awaits!

I’ve been doing graphics drivers for our Digital Home group at Intel the last two years, but it’s been mostly on mobile class parts and lower-level graphics drivers. While fun, it isn’t very cutting edge or particularly challenging.

A great job opportunity came up recently, so I interviewed for it and was notified that I beat out the other candidates late last week. The job is still here at Intel (heck, its with a group just down the hall).  So just a lateral move in the company.  However, my new work will be doing research and development of shader-based graphics algorithms for a new kind of high-end graphics architecture. Some of the information about the architecture is out in the public, but a lot is not. So, for fear of not spilling too many beans, you can check out this thread here for more information about what I’ll be working on.

I’m excited to begin – and begin I will in less than 2 weeks!

Penny-arcade Expo 2007!!

Penny-arcade Expo 2007!!

PAX (Penny-Arcade eXpo) was a blast. It’s getting bigger and bigger every year, almost doubling in attendance since last year. They had to moved to the convention center from Bellevue to the main convention center in downtown Seattle to fit everyone. One enforcer thought they might hit 30k attendees.

PAX itself is broken into 3 major branches: tabletop gaming, console/handheld gaming, and PC gaming. The was also a show floor and sessions all day long. The show floor was like a mini E3 with Sony, Nintendo, Intel and all the big players there. Valve was surprisingly missing. On the show floor I got some of the comic strip’s stickers and a pack of all 4 of their books.  They were out of the PAX shirts I wanted so I skipped the shirt. I got to play a demo of the new “Precipice of Darkness” game they made and watched folks playing/demoing the new Rock Band game with all the instruments. They had a stage set up and everything, and the developers did a great job with it. One of my buddies kept playing it again and again with random folks. The line went on around 3 booths.

There was also the usual Indie crowd of table-top gaming guys, small game developers, the Army had a big showing with their stuff, Halo 3 guys were selling hats/shirts, etc.  nVidia was having a contest where they gave out pairs of matching numbers to random folks. If you found who had your matching numbered ticket, then you got to spin this wheel and win a prize. Not bad prizes either: they had a slot for each of their 8-series cards. But it got annoying. Folks were walking around with huge cardboard signs with these numbers on them, a wall was impromptu pasted with paper, numbers scratched all over it, and ‘call me if you have this number’ cel numbers. It made getting around hard because folks would park in the bottleneck areas with their signs for more visibility – which made the bottlenecks worse.

Sessions were very good. Wil Wheaton was on hand, got a couple good shots of him but I didn’t bother to catch his talk. Most of the sessions I wanted to see were Friday (which I missed), so I only caught a few on Saturday. The Hothead game guys that made ‘Precipice of Darkness’ were there doing an open forum about the game. Amazing how many indie devs are switching to off-the-shelf engines and spending most of their money on art/content now with just like one/two coders.  The game looked very fun; but I didn’t see anything particularly new. All the dialog and story was written by the PA guys, so it follows a lot of their style/humor. Should be a fun one to get as long as it’s about the $20 price point.

The PC area was easily 2x in size what it was last year – half being BYOC and Intel supplied the other half as free-play boxes. They came from the demo unit that I sit right next to at Intel. The guys said they shipped up 330 machines alone. Very nice boxes (I went out and bought one of the mice because I liked the kind they used so much). Played CounterStrike Source with a couple buddies on their freeplay servers and cleaned up pretty well. Tried to watch the finals of CS:source, but they weren’t letting anyone watch for fear of folks yelling hints, signaling, etc. Bummer. I would have liked to see all the other contests going on all day but just couldn’t make it to them all.  You could just sign up for a game and play against others – everything from table-tops to console to PC. Some of them were quite large with multiple rounds of play and finals. The Frag Dolls were there whooping everyone’s butts on various games (mostly PC) – amazing players.

Only complaint is that it was beginning to feel less ‘Indie’ and a little more commercial. There weren’t as many weird cos play folks running around (though there were plenty), but it still had a good geek feel. There was still a great table-top showing and feel to those areas – but if they keep growing I’m afraid it will fragment into the different groups. When it was small, folks milled about and talked with other gamers of other genre’s (tabletop with consolers, etc).  But with so many folks in each discipline, people could stay in their zones without stretching out or meeting other folks. Still, the combined energy of that many gamers really getting into the contests, music, talks, panels, and demos just makes parts of it almost electrifying.  The Saturday night concert energy was also amazing. Watch the video clips on their website.

I watch a little of the Omeganauts on Saturday – pretty fun. Always drew big crowds and had lots of cheering and yelling. You could always tell when they were playing if you were even close to the same floor. Sunday, I went to my old seminary buddies ordination up in Everett – so I didn’t get to see the final round which was head-to-head Halo 3.

The freeplay console and table-top areas were bigger than ever before, and there were lines for the consoles most of the time. Bioshock was definitely the not-to-be-missed game of the whole event and Guitar Hero had its same showing. There were random DDR machines scattered around the playing area – but you can tell that DDR is waning quickly in popularity.  They did movie nights each night and I dropped in for some Tron to relax.  Listening to the crowd/geek commentary was just as entertaining as the movie.

At dinner, the Guild Wars guys rented out Gameworks downtown and I got in for a night of all the free food/beer you wanted along with freeplay of the whole arcade.  I won a mini-usb lava lamp racing on an Indy500 game. The concerts were that night, but I’m not much a fan of Frontalot and the other guys I’d heard 2-3 times already. So I hung out with my buddies until midnight when I got in my car and drove to my seminary buddies house to crash for 5 hours until I got up for his 6am ordination.

The ordination went great, got to see a bunch of my old buddies and one of my classmates get ordained to the deaconate. I took off about noon and drove back to Portland after a stop at Dick’s burgers and Archie McPhee’s for a double dose of Seattle burgers and weirdness (respectively).

I-5 SUCKED this weekend

I-5 SUCKED this weekend

For some reason, my drive up to PAX and a friend’s ordination was the worst drive I’ve ever taken on I-5 from Portland to Seattle. Granted, they are tearing up the Tacoma ramps (an area which always backs up) but then there was a crash on I-5 southbound that shut down the interstate for 5 hours. A guy jumped the median and created an eight car pile-up when he went head-on into southbound traffic. Amazingly nobody died, but they pulled down the median barrier and turned all 4 lanes of southbound traffic into the 4 northbound lanes. Then, some fool rear-ended a guy 2 miles past the accident and shut down 2 more lanes of the northbound traffic. 8 lanes -> 4 lanes -> 2 lanes. I got there just after both accidents happened and still managed to get through only an hour late.  Still, they shut the interstate down for 4+ hours and some people were stuck there most of that time by the looks of it.  Seattle to Everett was also closed down for construction and I got to take a 20-mile detour through town at 1am. More fun.

On the way back, traffic was heavy from Seattle almost all the way to Portland. The northbound lanes were even worse – random pockets of just slow/stopped traffic in the middle of nowhere. I made it back in 4 hours – which wasn’t bad considering.  But at one point I was sitting completely idle for over 40 minutes on a hot interstate miles from the nearest town.  Man was that exhausting driving.  I’m just glad I filled up before hitting the road.

This whole trip has just solidified my desire not to drive to Seattle anymore but to take the train, or even the Greyhound. It’s just too tiring and frustrating when the traffic gets like that. At least with the train/bus you can sleep and arrive relaxed (or take a nap!) When you lose about half a day just because you need to recover, it’s just not worth it anymore.

Two interesting thoughts from recent discussions

Two interesting thoughts from recent discussions

Thoughts from recent talks with friends/coworkers:

  1. If we went to government funded healthcare, it would likely have an impact on lawsuit cases. Instead of the astronomical lawsuits for injury claims, it is likely one could no longer sue for hundreds of millions for their medial care – since that care would be ‘freely’ available. Now, they could probably still sue for loss of limbs/ability to work/anguish/etc. They might also still be able to sue for special care needed for rehab or the like – depending on where govt care ended… But the burden of payment on these injuries would shift to the government (us) where it might be much more reasonably paid for (discounted rates) and half of it wouldn’t go to the lawyers.
  2. Having the tight urban growth boundary around Portland that we do (a line around the city where nobody can build houses outside of) has arguably kept it from experiencing a lot of the recent mortgage collapse pain or falling prices. The price of housing is a local phenomenon – primarily dictacted by demand, incomes, and availability. An urban growth boundary has kept availability lower than other places (no urban sprawl), and even if demand or average area income drops, the boundary keeps availability tighter and helps cushion any downturns.
2nd worse market day of 07 and mortgage bottom 9 mo away

2nd worse market day of 07 and mortgage bottom 9 mo away

As if it couldn’t sting more. It’s a painful article to read.

News article

The prediction now is that the bottom of the foreclosure and mortgage woes will not be till mid-2008. AIG reports that currently 10% of all sub-prime mortgages are 60 days or more delinquent; and an estimate 20% of all sub primes will default by 2011. Overseas lenders are having to freeze and inject funds to prop up their shaky markets. Unfortunately, the pain is spreading in the markets – driving folks to bonds. Could be some very rocky markets in the next 3-4 months.

Biggest problem is if this starts badly snowballing and collapsing. The slowing/dropping prices of homes causes people to default more than just gracefully selling/bow out since they can’t just sell the property and cover their mortgages. The defaults cause houses to come back on the market. If enough of this happens, a surplus develops – which drives the prices down – making it more likely you’ll default on your ARM since you can’t sell your house at enough to cover your loan, which drives house prices down, which …wash, rinse, and repeat. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be getting out of control, but people are going to take a pounding – investors, owners, and mortgage companies. Question is, how much of a pounding.

Fast and loose mortgage collapses and the stories on the radio

Fast and loose mortgage collapses and the stories on the radio

Nationally, the sub-prime and fast-and-loose mortgage broker collapses continue to grow and spread. The tone darkened as a Bill Wheaton, an economist from MIT predicted that nationwide, several million folks will probably end up losing their homes.Overall, though, I have mixed feelings about this situation. Even in the boom, I wondered where the heck the government, investors, and brick-n-mortar banks were on watching these guys. It was absolutely ridiculous what people were pulling on these mortgage contracts – such as no income verification to speak of (put whatever you want down for your annual salary, etc). Too many people were getting into mortgages that even 10 years ago would have been laughed off the table. When I took a cursory look at some of the mortgage deals people were pushing through a few years back – I could tell these guys were used car salesmen at best. Now we hear lots of stories about people who got into a house or refinanced and were ‘tricked’ and ‘duped’ into these products. Yes, there is a lot of blame to be laid on these sleaze-ball lenders and front-men who are now slithering away to have the company take the fall for them – they definitely ruined lives when they themselves knew the products were bad for most people. Those front-line scum, and the managers that pushed it, should see jail time or at least lengthy loss of licensing for financial products. It’s also time for some

But wait a minute people – didn’t *we* do our homework? There is still a bit of blame to be placed on us as consumers for not picking up “Mortgages for Dummies” and doing the most basic, bare minimal amount of work you needed to do. Ten minutes looking at historical interest rates the last 20 years, understanding the bare minimum of how a sub-prime works, and doing some math with what your budget can take would have shown you what would happen. There’s definitely a shame-on-you that I’m sure many are now getting in very painful monthly doses right now each time their ARM goes up; or for that roof repair you didn’t plan for, or your car unexpected breaks down, etc. I don’t envy or place tons of blame on all consumers for what is happening. However, it’s time we grew up and learn that living paycheck to paycheck in NOT the way to run your life; and that proper budgeting involves much more than just thinking about what monthly payment you can afford next month – as this guy knows. I find it staggering that so many folks entered into the biggest investment of their lives and didn’t do any more homework than read a brochure they gave or just took their word for it. Just doing math to figure out your next monthly payment isn’t doing your financial homework or being a well-informed consumer – it’s a recipe for disaster. We can all read crazy amounts of stuff about the latest fad diet’s detailed food analysis, or which renewable resource our products are coming from and ban those we don’t like – but can’t spent 1 hour on the biggest outlays of cash in our lives? Did we all fail high-school economics? The question now is what do we do to ease these folks out of something they couldn’t afford in the first place; and have an orderly exit to keep the market from collapsing (which seems to be happening at a reasonable pace right now).

That’s right – and orderly exit for these folks. Not a bail-out. Not a subsidy for 20 years. People and families are going to lose houses – houses they should never have been in in the first place. Should they lose everything and end in bancruptcy – absolutely not. We have a duty to make sure it doesn’t become a whole-sale disaster. But it is time to be honest. If you cannot afford the home you bought, it’s time to get out and move into something you can afford. We as a nation should help ease that process with generous helping hands and creative helpful financing, but it’s time to live more sustainably – and I’m not just talking about paper or plastic.

As Americans, we are disgraceful financially. In China, the savings rate is about 40% – thats 40% of their take-home pay goes into savings/investment verses less than 1% rate in the US, while other industrial nations are at least in the 15% range (as were we until 10-20 years ago). In the US, almost 50% of all people don’t even have $1000 on hand for an emergency. While the average credit card debt spread over all American cardholders is more than $8000 (misleading – but true and climbing), the median balance on an American’s credit cards is still at $1900. It’s time we stopped feeling ‘entitled’ to living beyond our means with a bail-out always at our back. While I think it’s a bit overly-conservative, Dave Ramsey recommends that you buy no more home than you can pay off with: a 15 year fixed mortgage who’s monthly payment constitutes no more than 40% of your monthly take-home pay (after-taxes/15% saving), with a large enough down that you don’t need a second mortgage. Then, when you have that number, you go looking for houses in that range only. Yes, it’s smaller than you expected, but you can afford it. And afford to live a little, and afford emergencies and repairs that will always come up.

It brings up the question of always bailing someone out vs forcing personal responsibility down their throats. I’ve seen both methods fail, and have thought about this a lot recently. But more on that tomorrow….

What’s the real story anyway? Thoughts of a potential buyer

What’s the real story anyway? Thoughts of a potential buyer

So, I started a little research into buying my first place. After doing a little number crunching, it looks like at least next year before it would be feasible. But I’m having difficulty trying to find an honest appraisal and state of Portland’s housing/condo market. It’s pretty clear that the meteoric rise of housing prices we saw the last 5-10 years has stopped. But things beyond that get very fuzzy. Previously very desirable neighborhoods seem to be seeing stagnation, new areas seem to be gentrifying fast, other areas are very hard to read, etc. Condos vs houses have conflicting anecdotal evidence. And that’s the problem – I can’t find any solid information other than what is gleaned from news stories and looking at the latest for-sale lists. Problem is, individual selling prices are all over the map – disproportionately high/low levels depending on the sellers motivation. It’s hard to get a read if a location is losing favor since people are all trying to sell at pre-slowdown prices. And that’s what I need to know as I make a minimal 5-10 year investment – will it be going up or down in the next 5-10 years? What’s the trending by location? What’s the trending by type: home vs condo?

It’s curious that local realtors’ websites are still quoting figures from the boom 2-3 years ago while updating their for sale lists every day. It kind of makes you think they know something you don’t. How come they could get those numbers in the heat of the boom, but they can’t seem to get them now? Why all the hush-hush? It makes me as a future buyer feel uncertain – and uncertainty is not a good thing when buying – makes me want to keep my money on the sidelines until patterns become clearer. The fed just announced no rate change, and inflation is ‘not a concern’. Sure, investors are pulling their money out of these high-risk, fast-and-loose mortgage places – so money is going to be tougher to get if you have tarnished credit. But if you’ve got good credit, there isn’t much to worry about. Prices are definitely not meteorically rising anymore and interest rates are likely to stay flat – so the pressure to buy isn’t there either. If I can save/invest my down payment and earn 8%, that’s roughly the same as investing in a housing market that’s growing by ~5% (for tax breaks, etc).

My concern is that I don’t want to pay a bunch of money and find out my property/area is in the middle of a decline that will probably last 3-5 years – and I just got in at the top of that drop. The few real estate agents I’ve talked with all seem overly up-beat about everything and don’t say squeak about any place’s declining values, etc. All three realtors I’ve chatted with were like: go ahead and buy now! It’s all good! And their not totally wrong, but they get more quiet when I ask where isn’t a good place to invest in.

If I were to guess, there is a lot of re-adjusting going on as the money leaves the market. And money is leaving the market as a whole; but there is no crash going on. Overall, things are probably cooling in some spots of Portland more than they thought. But where are those places? The hot and not spots of town are definitely moving around – just based on watching how much foot-traffic and cars wander through. If I had to guess, NW Portland is cooling – 23rd and 21st aren’t nearly as busy and hopping as they used to when I moved in a few years back. Alberta on the east side is going nuts with activates, new businesses, bars, fairs, etc. Hawthorn is flat to down. Condos? With lots of new buildings half-done, I suspect that unless they stagger their openings, there could be a glut. This condo developer seems to think so. But he did it too – oh – everything’s perfectly fine. I’m completely changing my business model – but there’s nothing going on at all. Yeah. I don’t think that’s the whole story.

I have been left with a bad taste in my mouth from the realtors. It almost feels like there’s this big inside secret – an elephant in the room – they won’t talk about. Because if someone does, then folks will start being told that their properties up in NW or the Pearl or Hawthorn, or wherever will -gasp- not be as good a buy as the area is slowing (or even declining) in value a bit more than other areas. And if somebody stands up to say the emperor’s clothes are off, and that certain areas are not such a good ‘buy’ – that might mean the prices for the whole area drop. And if the prices for one place drop, maybe the curtains will come down other places that are slower too. And then what will happen to our business as sellers? It’ll get tougher. What is going to happen to all those realtors that were coming out of the woodwork from real-estate school during the boom as there are less folks to sell to or a more competitive market? You’ll be shooting yourself in the foot needlessly. It’s simply not in their interest to be honest – it’s in there interest (and indirectly the seller) to get the sale. They’re long gone by the time you come around to sell again. So there is incentive from everyone in the industry to just shush, and let people wander around on their own.

This probably isn’t as dire as I’m painting it. The few figures I have found say the market is growing at the 5-7% year on year rate – pretty darn good really. But the lack of information that certainly MUST be out there and being done by these condo/housing developers isn’t getting out. It sure got out during the boom of how good things were, now, not so much – which tells you something in itself.