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July 2007

All Over the Map
by Rob Grace
July 18, 2007

So, a preacher calls our office manager.

"Why didn't you put the announcement in your paper that I sent about our vacation bible school?" he asks.

"What announcement, sir? We get so many."

The preacher tells her the name of the vacation bible school.

"I sent the announcement twice," he informs her. "And your paper didn't print either one."

"Well, sir," our office manager politely says, "I apologize. As I said, we do get so many announcements, and sometimes we can't print all of them because of space limitations."

"That's not good enough," he said. "The camp starts this week."

"Oh, dear. I'm sorry. We've already printed this week's paper."

"Well. What are you going to do?"

"Sir, I will be more than happy to take down the announcement, and we can put it on all six of our radio stations. I can make sure it will be announced often."

"That's not good enough," the preacher repeats.

"Sir, I understand your unhappiness, and I am sorry this happened. But since we print such announcements in our community calendar as a free service, we're still really under no obligation to even offer the space."

"I think you're a bunch of atheists! I wouldn't buy advertising in your paper or on your radio stations -- ever! And if anyone ever asked me if they should buy advertising in your paper or on your radio stations, I'd tell them no!"

And with that, according to our office manager, the phone call ended.

In relaying the conversation to me, she said that if she had thought about it at the time she would have told the preacher this:

"Well, sir, if anyone ever asked me if they should send their children to your bible school, I'd tell them no!"

* * *

iPhone mania has swept America if you haven't noticed.

The cell phone/monthly planner/digital camera/web browser/iPod went on sale June 29. Tech geeks as well as regular Joes from all over the country lined up outside Apple and AT&T stores for days just to be the first ones to buy it.

News reports on June 30 noted that the most expensive version of the phone -- the one with the biggest memory -- was sold out. One enterprising individual even placed his unopened iPhone on eBay with a "Buy It Now" tag of $12,500. And one wealthy sucker bought it at that price.

That's about a gazillion percent profit margin for the $599 phone.

The news reports of the availability of iPhone did not take into account rural areas, however.

A gentleman I know woke up on the Saturday morning after the iPhone went on sale, drove to the AT&T store in Searcy, walked in to the nearly empty store, and purchased the $599 model without any type of hassle.

That weekend, his nephew helped him set everything up, and the iPhone came to life.

When the price for the iPhone hit the news media, I scoffed. Look, I told myself, I'm an admirer of all things Apple, but what idiot would pay six hundred bucks for a cell phone on steroids? Then when I actually had the opportunity to play with the iPhone for a while, I completely changed my tune.

This thing is amazing.

First, there is only one button on the face of the phone. No dial pad. No keyboard. Nothing except for one button.

When the iPhone turns on and the brilliant color screen lights up, the drool started to puddle in the corner of my mouth. Icons for phone service, iPod, email, Internet, calendar, weather, your stocks, the digital camera, YouTube, etc. -- they all popped up on the screen, and with a simple pat of my fingertip, I could choose what I wanted to do.

I cruised the Internet with relative ease (there's even a magnifying element that springs up so you can easily read the text of websites); took goofy, crystal clear photos of my son; and read and sent emails from my Yahoo account. The virtual keyboard takes a moment to get used to, but once you figure it out, you can thumb-type with ease.

Plus the iPod portion of the phone is beyond smooth. Instead of a list of songs, images of the album covers appear and with a flick of the fingertip, you can glide through your music library with gleeful simplicity.

(My bet is that come early fall, Apple will release a touch-screen iPod with this fun feature -- just in time for Christmas.)

With sadness, I turned the iPhone back over to its owner. But just to rub it in, I told him about the iPhone owner who sold his over eBay for $12,500.

"That's like a gazillion percent profit," I helpfully noted. "Too bad you didn't think about it."

* * *

Finally, it is with great personal regret that I tell you this: I finally shaved.

My wife, who somewhat liked my peach fuzz beard at first, eventually told me it had to go. Then my daughter said the same thing. Then my son. Then my grandmother. Finally, I got the picture.

So, now my face is whisker-free and smoother than silk.

Alas, 1979-era Kenny Loggins I will never be.

You can write Rob in care of Arkansas Weekly, or e-mail him at rgmax99@yahoo.com. You can view Rob's blog at http://suburbanvoodoo.blogspot.com.

All Over the Map
by Rob Grace
July 11, 2007

And now another column comprised of odds, ends and other trivial matters.

First: a correction. Last week's column in which I attempted to astound readers with my newfound financial philosophies contained the following paragraph:

"These days, however, most publicly held companies seem to live or die by the dreaded quarterly report -- when a company tells you how much they made or lost over a four-month period."

Let's overlook the horribly constructed sentence and focus on what I said, specifically these words: "...the dreaded quarterly report -- when a company tells you how much they made or lost over a four-month period."

Quarterly. Four-month period.

Dick Bernard, a local resident and a reader of this column, completely ruined my 4th of July evening when he came up to me at a barbecue and pointed out the obvious error: "You meant to write 'three months' didn't you? Because wouldn't quarters be three months out of the year and not four?"

Quick thinking on my part led to this response to Mr. Bernard: "You caught that! I thought I would test my readers' mathematical skills and intentionally write four months to see if anyone would notice the error. So, congratulations Dick! You were the first reader who passed my sly test!"

Of course I was lying through my teeth. How ironic is it that I would write a column on finance and completely foul up the most basic arithmetic.

* * *

Next: my facial hair.

By the time you read these words, I will have gone two weeks without shaving.

With the exception of about six days in college, I have never spent so much time away from a razor.

Heck, I reasoned. I'm 40 years old. Shouldn't I at least see what I look like with facial hair once in my life?

Before I continue, I will let you in on a completely humiliating secret: part of the fascination with whisker growth dates back to my junior high days. See, when I was in the seventh grade, I thoroughly enjoyed the music of (...gulp...) Kenny Loggins.

Go ahead. I'll wait until you finish laughing.

Finished? Good. Allow me to continue.

Remember in 1979 and 1980, this was not the plastic music of the Kenny Loggins "Danger Zone" or "Meet Me Half Way" era. The Kenny Loggins I enjoyed happened to be of the Nightwatch and Keep the Fire period. The soundtrack of my puberty included songs like "Keep the Fire," his remake of "Down in the Boondocks," and of course the classic Caddyshack theme, "I'm Alright." Plus I liked some of his Loggins & Messina stuff as well.

Anyway, the embarrassing point of all of this is that when I was 13 I thought Kenny bloody Loggins looked damn cool with long dark blonde hair and a beard, all right?!?

So when I finally and thankfully made it out of my insane puberty years around the age of 16, I thought I would try and grow a beard.

Instead I realized that I would end up looking like former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Bork, on whom you can do a Google Image search, had the rattiest, patchiest beard I've ever seen. And based on a few days growth I reasoned that, for me, a full Kenny Loggins beard was never meant to be.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I finally have a face somewhat full of whiskers. It's still not Kenny Loggins-full; it's more of a Justin Timberlake-thickness which, by the way, is still sad. My wife won't let me kiss her, but she begrudgingly admitted to me that she kind of likes the way it looks on me.

And here's the weird thing. When I shaved my head completely bald a few years back on a lark, my hair returned Steve Martin silver. Yet my new patch of facial hair is dirty blond -- the color of my former head of hair.

* * *

Finally this week, there is this: I drove to Little Rock earlier tonight (it's Friday, July 6, 3:37 a.m. as I write these words), and I noticed that gas prices in Batesville were $2.79 a gallon. In Jacksonville, gas was going for $2.64 a gallon.

Not to state the obvious, but that is a huge difference.

Something is completely wrong with this picture, and it seems as no one is doing anything about it.

* * *

Next week, I'll tell you about an area church leader who claims Arkansas Weekly is an atheistic publication. Plus, I'll give you my quick thoughts on the iPhone. I had the opportunity to play with one for a few days, and we'll discuss.

Until then, as my man Kenny says, "Keep the fire burning..."

Seacrest...out.

You can write Rob in care of Arkansas Weekly, or e-mail him at rgmax99@yahoo.com. You can view Rob's blog at http://suburbanvoodoo.blogspot.com.

All Over the Map
by Rob Grace
July 4, 2007

You're about to read a column I thought I would never write.

Never in my wildest dreams would I think that one day I would write on this particular subject.

It's a subject so far from my realm of regular topics that I think there might be something wrong with me.

This column has nothing to do with my kids, music, movies, rude hotel attendants, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears or big oil.

Well...wait. I do mention big oil in this piece, but the other stuff is nowhere to be found.

This column, dear reader, concerns the American economy.

Now, hold on a second: don't turn the page. I'm not morphing into Mad Money's Jim Cramer, here. But an article caught my attention the other day that completely took me by surprise.

It had to do with Amazon -- the Internet superstore and the company's recent stockholders meeting.

Before I go any further, let me explain a few things. First: I am as knowledgeable about major finance as Madonna is about monogamy. (A lame 80s joke, I realize, but work with me here.) When I try to read financial reports from companies in which I own stock, they end up making about as much sense as the television show, Lost.

Which is to say my eyes glaze over and saliva begins to pool in the corners of my mouth after I read the table of contents.

I'm basically a meat and potatoes kind of man when it comes to holding any kind of stock. My vanilla stock rationale: buy something you know a little bit about and keep holding onto it through the rough times. If the stock is up over a few years -- good. If it's well below what you bought it for over a few years -- bad.

I've learned my lesson many times. I used to own tiny bits of stock in Apple, Qualcomm and Best Buy. If I had not sold those three stocks in my younger days, I would likely be living on the Redneck Rivera and sipping a tropical drink as you read this.

(Not really, but my I.R.A. would be worth a lot more than it is now.)

These days, however, most publicly held companies seem to live or die by the dreaded quarterly report -- when a company tells you how much they made or lost over a four-month period.

To me, it seems drastic and somewhat imprudent decisions are made based on one quarterly report. If some little margin is negatively off by a couple of percentage points, then everyone panics and the stock price for that particular company drops. The board of directors goes nuts, stockholders rage and before one can scream "SELL!" a product or potentially great idea is dropped and/or the head of the company is canned. The short term view seems to rule over the long term. Knee jerk reactions prevail.

Sometimes such moves can even be based on a few comments made by the company's C.E.O. Exhibit number one: Apple's head guru, Steve Jobs, recently made a presentation at a programmers trade show -- a venue Jobs usually utilizes to introduce a new product like the iPod or the iPhone. The biggest announcement during this particular speech only revolved around a new Windows version of a popular Apple web browser.

The result? Apple's stock dropped $4.00 (!) in one day.

That is ridiculous.

Which brings me back to Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, recently presided over the company's stockholders meeting in a Seattle theatre. He told the group that things were looking good, but in the short term, profits were going to be down a bit because they were spending a lot of cash on items relating to customer satisfaction.

Wait a second: customer satisfaction? Since when does a big corporation care more about satisfying and solidifying customer relationships than the prospect of making a larger profit? Is this nut a communist or something? The market demands maximum profit!

Think back to the recent inane collective comment from major oil companies stating that it was not in their stockholders' best interest to invest more of their insanely enormous profits into oil refinery expansion if they were going to have to eventually invest a portion of cash into government-required bio-fuel refineries. The economy and American livelihood be damned, it's the bloody stock price they're worried about.

So kudos to Jeff Bezos for having the backbone to weather through weaker short term results to ensure better long term results.

Stick someone like Bezos in the Exxon C.E.O. seat. Then perhaps real progress will be made and -- long term -- everybody will win.

You can write Rob in care of Arkansas Weekly, or e-mail him at rgmax99@yahoo.com. You can view Rob's blog at http://suburbanvoodoo.blogspot.com.

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