Stocking up on Stacks

My brother has been saying it for years. I haven’t been listening, but I suppose I have woken up from a nascent dream based in Candyland. Its coming, the real depression, that is. I talk to people all day long and they simply don’t get it, or don’t want to get it. I am not sure which, but the cold hard truth is out there and Agent Mulder is hot on it’s tail.

While you and I have been de-leveraging our personal debt load, the U.S government has run up a massive and quite simply unpayable debt. So, while I paid off my 20K worth of debt following 2008’s crash, The US government has run up a debt for every single person in the US of almost 51K. While it took me 3 years to get out of credit card debt, the government was spending at twice my rate running up the tab. Surely, you see this can’t keep going on this way. Last Summer Congress created a task force to shave 1.2 trillion off of spending. Did they get anything done? Nope.

Unlike most people who simply don’t see the connection to the US debt and my own future, I get it and it is terrifying. So, for those of you who don’t quite understand how this impacts you let me give you a clear example. As the USG runs up this crazy debt that is closing in on 20 trillion dollars, the US dollar becomes weaker. How much weaker, you ask? Well, if you bought a book 10 years ago you probably have noticed that the Canadian dollar was almost 50% higher than ours. So, if it cost $10 US to buy a book it would cost roughly $15 Canadian. Well, within 10 short years that has been erased. The US and Canadian dollars are at parity with each other. This means Canadians can now come into the US and get a great deal on just about anything, and they are buying up real estate, to the tune of more than $20 billion a year. The dollar has literally dropped in value by 50% when compared to a Canadian dollar. Does the USG seem too concerned? Not really, they have continued to run up massive debt loads and refuse to address the problem.

 

So, even if we hypothesize the USG can turn off the spigot of debt, which is doubtful,we likely will  approach and pass $20 trillion of debt. The USG will have to print money, because it can, and frankly it will have no choice to cover its bills. Its the one tool it has untethered access to. It can print ’til the cows come home, ’til the ink runs dry, or ’til no one will take the dollar. The dollar is nothing more that an arbitrary agreement among the world that it holds value. Here is the rub, just like any fine art print, the more you copy it, less valuable it becomes. Currency is no different. The minute you have too much currency in the economy chasing too few goods, hyperinflation starts ramping up. So imagine pumping an extra 10 to 20 Trillion dollars into the money supply over time to pay down the national debt. The result would significantly devalue the dollar. $10 cup of coffee, $200 tank of gas, $30 movie tickets? That will become the norm as the dollar approaches a net value of zero. Now the Federal reserve has a neat trick too (bare in mind they are the government), they can buy US debt from the treasury and put it in a vault for keeping. They currently own $1.6 trillion worth. See how this makes no sense? While the right hand spends heavily, the left is picking up the bill with freshly minted money. Of course the real question is what will the Federal Reserve do with this massive debt the USG owes them. Umm, delete key anyone, it is all just data somewhere on some massive computer.

I’ve never been a savvy investor, the internet bubble of 1999, cost me more than half my IRA. Then 2001 nailed it another 20%. Then we hit 2008 which saw everything peel back 60% plus. So after 20 years of playing the stock market all I have to show for it is pocket change and lint. It is unequivocally a gamble at this point, and the crazy part is it has run back up on no real changes in the economy or fixes in the system that sent it over the edge in 2008. What this says to me is it will crash back down when reality sets in. I pulled out of the market when it 11,000 last year, irrational exuberance is what I call this rally and it appears to be running out of steam.

That leaves me with no other options except to hedge my bets. After listening to some advice and cajoling I finally started buying silver US coins minted prior to 1965. Here’s something for you to chew on. A 50 cent piece back in 61 was worth 50 cents. It had 90% silver in it, giving it a real tangible value. In 1965 the USG debased the coins and removed silver from them. The result is that same 50 cent piece today can be bought for around 10.50 in today’s dollars.   What this tells you is that had you been smart enough to horde 5K worth of these coins in the 60’s they would be worth more than 100K in US dollars today. While that seems impressive and like a great investment, you are probably not seeing the point. The US dollar has dropped in value over that same 50 year period by a whopping 2000%.  Now extrapolate that forward with a 20 trillion dollar debt load paid of with money becoming ever more worthless. Silver is currently at around $28 dollars an ounce. Seeing it go to $150 or more seems quite probable in the next several years. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see if silver is moving up the dollar is going down in value.

 

Dallas’ Hail Storm and the aftermath

Hail hath no fury like a dry Summer day gone a muck. The news didn’t do a great job of covering this event,  I don’t think, and once again I am left pondering an ever larger pile of evidence that global warming is not a apparition as many of my conservative friends love to claim. Rather, extreme weather events are becoming the norm, not the exception. I think as more people are impacted by these changes they will pull their heads out of their asses and acknowledge that what was, no longer is, and we must change our ways or join the morlocks in middle earth as the surface becomes untenable. I personally estimate this 15 minute hail storm with cue ball sized hail did 15K of damage to my house and truck.  I have a small house, so I can easily assume the larger houses around me have 30k+ in damage. The path of the hail seemed to have snapped a chalk line at Munger Ave and decimated everything East, with its power focused around Gaston and depreciating as it moved away. I biked to the lake today and noticed a clear path of destruction that seemed to fade as I reached the lake, which is about 3 mis east of me.  Anyway, Here are the videos I posted of the event and images I took to show just how much damage was done locally.

Here are the two videos taken during the storm:

 

Here is my drive around 30 minutes after the storm. Hail is still everywhere and just about every car has destroyed windows.

 

Images of damage to my house:

The tree canopy is about half gone and laying in the yard.

All I need is a case of beer to cool in this.

 

 

My neighbors new Fiat. Back window out and side window. She was at Lakewood Shopping Center at the time.

A few of the 10 windows I lost.

My truck window, truck likely totaled out.

 

This is half an hour later and it is still huge.

 

The end of AT&T, Verizon and Sprint’s contracts

It’s coming, I don’t know when, but the days of contracts for phone service is doomed, DOOMED!  I say this because I just found out that Google Voice now allows you to port your mobile number to them. What is google voice, read my earlier post about this great, free service. I use it from my desktop computer more than my mobile phone now. I call from my computer, text from my computer, and listen to voicemail from my computer. Essentially a mobile phone with Google voice is now nothing more than another device that connects to the internet for me and allows me to make calls, text and browse the internet.  It just happens to be a mobile device that works on Sprint’s crappy network at $130 a month that I have locked myself into until 6/30/2012.  I am counting the days til then hoping my EVO phone can make it to the middle of Summer. Its going to be close, my video no longer has audio, my camera won’t adjust to light, and my phone reboots when I try to browse the internet. It has survived almost 2 years, that is 4 times longer than my shitty iphone on AT&T lasted a few years ago.

But, that is my point, these carriers extort $1500 a year plus from me for their crappy service and crappy connections. Google voice eliminates all of this. Now that I can port my number to them for a small $20 fee I can move my phone service to the internet. Here is the part I really like, I have always thought my phone service should cost sub $50 a month, not a dime more. Anyone with a smart phone knows that is a ridiculous goal with the big carriers. I have always wanted to go to Virgin Mobile, Metro PCS, or one of the half dozen cheap as crap phone providers, but I couldn’t risk that the service would be sub par. With Google handling my calls, I don’t have to worry about it. I simply move my old number to them and have them forward my calls to whatever cave, mobile phone or destination I want. Its just that simple, the phone company is no longer my “life line ” for my business. I can swap my phone company out like a Lithuanian light bulb and throw it to the curb if I’m not happy.

So I am going to start saving $840+ a year as I switch to a cheap carrier. That puts a smile on my face. Of course the thing I find the most interesting about all of this is how quietly Google is going to put the screws to the phone companies as they muscle into their phone service with a superior product and give customers ultimate freedom. It will force these domineering behemoths to actually compete in an open market as contracts become a thing of the past.

How I removed my harmonic balancer

Removing the harmonic balancer on any car is akin to trying to skin a cat with a hairbrush.  To accomplish this Herculaneum feat you need massive leverage, fire and a mouth like a sailor.

I did this about a month ago with my Lexus ES300 and thought I would post the how to here and the video.  The bolt that holds a harmonic balancer in place is quite large and about 2″ long. It generally will be rusted in place and if, like my car, yours has 150k in miles, then the screw has been screwed down even more with time.

Things you will need:

  1. Rent or buy 1/2″ large breaker bar ( 3 feet ought to do it. Autozone has them for free with a deposit)
  2. Extension rods to bring the clearance out enough to work with the breaker bar. I used 2 12″ to get the job done.
  3. A jack to leverage against

  4. A high temp torch, no cheap ‘ole propane torch will do the work
  5. A breaker bar to hold onto the harmonic balanceer ( I made my own after watching a youtube video

I watched all sorts of videos to figure out how to do this and I had to try all of them to come to a solution that worked for me. I would under no circumstances suggest starting the car with a breaker bar attached to the balancer. That simply

didn’t pass the smell test with me and sounded like a great way to fuck up the engine. I opted for elbow grease and fire. Once the harmonic balance is exposed and ready for removal, you need to set up the system with a large breaker bar and a jack that will support the load of you standing on the breaker bar and trying to torque the nut off. If this doesn’t work after several tries ( I applied well in excess of 300lbs of torque with no luck then it is time to try fire. I broker out my

oxygen/ propane kit and got a nice hot flame and set it on the bolt for about 20 seconds to

get it really hot. I then tried standing on my breaker bar again and successfully broke the connection.

Breaker Bar I made from a metal rod and 1.5" pipe floor flange. I notched the floor flange with a grinder to fit over my balancer and drilled 2 holes to accomodate 2 bolts to fit in the harmonic balancer's threading.

The harmonic breaker attached to the balancer with the jack stand supporting my breaker bar.

Close up of the pipe flange with the grinder cuts I did to fit into the balancer.

Lexus ES300 Head Gasket Replacement

I have a 1995 Lexus ES300 that I enjoy working on. I bought it from my brother a few years ago and drove it until the head gaskets went bad this Summer in the 104 degree heat we experienced here in Texas. I decided it was not worth the money to fix the car with a Mechanic, it would cost what the car is worth. So I had to make a decision, sell it as a junker or do it myself. This was a much bigger repair than I have ever tackled with a car before. I like working on cars but I have always had 2 rules: stay out of the motor and transmission. But, I decided that worst case I sell it for junk and I am out the cost of a rebuild gasket kit, radiator and machining job.

I decided to use the Lexus/ Toyota Manual on line and carefully follow the instructions and bag and label everything as I went so I wouldn’t have a bucket of bolts left over at the end. I also decided to take dozens of photos and videos just in case I needed a reference point. The images are below. I have to upload the videos to youtube. I hope this helps someone else. This is not a job for a person who does not like to tear things apart. I took us 2 days of slow work to get this done.

 

Blown Head gasket in Lexus ES300