Toll tag

One thing about taking the tollway in Dallas is that it helps to use a tolltag. Basically, this is a credit-card shaped plastic transponder you paste to your windshield. When you go through a tollgate it automatically debits funds for the toll from an account you have with the North Texas Tollway Authority. This ends up being quicker for everyone since you don’t have to scramble to find change for the toll. In exchange for using the transponder, you are given a slight discount on the total cost of the toll. So, for example, if the toll starts out at 75 cents when you enter the tollway, you might pay only 60 cents, which ends up being a sizable discount of around 20%. As you use the tollway, the funds in your account are replenished from the credit card you put on file with the tollway authority.

The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is a self-supporting political sub-division of the State. The NTTA receives no tax funds from any source. Debt service, operations and maintenance are funded entirely from user fees (tolls).

I’m growing to like the tollway. It’s less crowded than the other major highways in Dallas and it is a straight shot to where I work up in Addison. It’s pretty much due north and it saves me about 20-25 minutes every day. Judging from the amount of traffic during the day, the tollways must be a big money maker for someone. If you figure each car is paying anywhere from $.75-1.50 per trip, twice a day you start to get some huge numbers.

Since the NTTA is a quasi-governmental entity you can review the financials on the NTTA website. From there you find some interesting information:

Total operating revenues were $165.3 million and $152.5 million for FY 2004 and FY 2003, respectively. System toll revenues for FY 2004 were $160.7 million, a seven point six percent (7.6%) increase over FY 2003 compared to an eight point two percent (8.2%) increase in FY 2003 over FY 2002. Traffic on the System continues to grow, with approximately 863,100 and 811,000 average daily transactions in FY 2004 and FY 2003, respectively, and almost seventy-one percent (71%) collected electronically. Collection of tolls electronically increased over 2003, which was sixty-eight percent (68%). Actual traffic on the PGBT continues to exceed Traffic & Revenue Engineer estimates.

It’s interesting to see what kind of funds are flowing into the system. Traffic and highway systems are hugely complex and important systems involving millions of people and trillions of dollars. Everything we enjoy about modern life is made possible by the ability to get people, goods, and services in and out of the city.

Weird McRib Promotion

On the way home from work yesterday I heard a bizarre McRib promotion on the local hip hop radio station. It was a man with a stereotypically black accent who went on about how even though the McRib is always only available for a limited time, this time it was going on a farewell tour because McDonald’s was thinking about shelving it forever, and if you wanted to save the McRib be sure to sign the petition at There are a couple things wrong with this:

  1. It’s obviously a McDonald’s advertisement. Why would McDonald’s ask people to sign a petition to fight their own decision to 86 the McRib? They don’t expect their customers to be very sophisticated.
  2. The idea of a farewell tour for the McRib is retarded. If you go to the website, you’ll see young people with tattoos and McRib t-shirts partying up at the McD’s with boneless pork sandwiches, showing off their saucy fingers and edgy tattoos.
  3. Oh, wait, the petition is on behalf of the Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America. McRib is not made of mechanically separated pork like other pork products. No way. McRib comes from “Grade A” Sus Domesticus Nobonius, otherwise known as the boneless pig.

Totally weird. On the other hand, I noticed so maybe it was effective, although I am attuned to all things McRib. They also provide several t-shirt designs for the prospective McRib supporter: no bones logo (a bone with a line through it), McRib farewell tour, and a diagram of how a McRib is composed.

Boneless Pigs

“Because our nuts are bigger.”

That time of the year has arrived. That’s right. It’s pecan season. My mom and step-dad own a pecan orchard, Boenig Pecans, near Seguin and they’re offering this year’s crop for sale. If you’re a pecan or nut fan you will love them. You can order from their site if you’re interested. If you’re not interested I guarantee your grandma probably is.

Pecan pie is the best variety of pie. If you don’t believe me then you haven’t had good pecan pie. And, everyone I know says “pee-kawns” or “puh-kawns”, so don’t go around talking about “pee-cans” as in “there is too much pepper on my poppykosh…but I’d be proud to partake of your pee-can pie!”.

I will be revamping the Boenig Pecans website soon, although I’m not sure if they should keep their motto, “Because our nuts are bigger.” This is a reference to the joke my mom repeats tirelessly about Jim winning an award for the biggest nuts in Guadalupe County. Groan.

Plunge Protection Team

Jorn Barger linked to a provocative article today on the Plunge Protection Team, a secretive group charged with manipulating the stock markets in the event of a potentially market destabilizing crisis.

The markets seemed on the edge of a meltdown, but the abyss failed to open up. This lack of a meltdown has generally been attributed to the Federal Reserve Board’s (FRB) steady hand and promises of liquidity. But sophisticated research on the events of those two days indicates that a sudden and unprecedented rise in the Major Market Index (MMI) sparked a recovery across the board. There is good reason to suspect that this recovery was the result of concentrated buying by a few firms.

Celebrating one year in business

I am proud to announce that my web hosting company, Duet Hosting, has been in business for over a year now. Since we have enjoyed a small amount of success (in other words, not losing money) I’ve decided to award some free stuff over the next week or so. Don’t miss out as it will probably be a first come, first serve deal.

Here’s a little cake I made in Illustrator. My first attempt at making anything. Hey, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either!

Cut them up now

Credit cards are not evil, but they’re darn close for the simple reason that they’re designed to encourage impulsive financial behavior. For example, I have a Mastercard that I rarely use and never keep a balance on. The starting credit limit was $1000 then it went to $1500 and then to $2000. What the heck? I carry a zero balance. Why would you raise my credit limit? Clearly, I don’t need the additional credit. But, what if I lost my mind one weekend and went out and bought a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t need? Everyone likes to spend money. That’s why raising your credit limit is like giving crack to a crack addict. Okay, if I asked for more credit, that would be a good reason to raise it. I’ve heard from people who said when they started paying down their credit card balance the credit card company raised their credit limit as if challenging them to spend more money they didn’t have. Something needs to change.

Overdue Credit Card Bills Hit Record High:

“Credit card companies are increasingly addicted to their fees,” said Daniel Ray, editor-in-chief at, an online financial service. “Six years ago, all fees — including late fees — contributed only a minor portion to overall revenue. Today it accounts for more than 30 percent.”

About half of all credit problems stem from poor money management. Credit problems due to the loss of a job, sickness or divorce play less of a role, said personal finance expert Susan Tiffany, director of consumer publishing at the Credit Union National Association.

“That tells us people have some ability to do a better job. They are not completely helpless in the situation, and that’s good,” said Tiffany, whose trade group also is involved in efforts to improve people’s financial literacy.

Related reading: Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt!

My BaseCamp Review

Project management is tough when you’re running your own business and trying to keep track of several different projects at once. I’ve used Outlook and it’s task request and calendaring functionality, but after syncing with services like Plaxo and duping all my appointments and tasklists I wanted something web-based so it would be available anywhere exactly the same. No more dupes, no more redundancy and confusion.

Now, I’ve toyed with project management software and groupware before, mainly in the form of free options like dotProject, but everything I’ve tried like that is so cluttered. As tight-fisted as I am, I am more than willing to pay for something I’ll actually use like ClientExec, for example. Since I read the Signal VS. Noise blog, I was somewhat familiar with BaseCamp and decided to give it a try.

In short here’s the good and the bad.

The good:

  • The interface is very slick, clean, and Ajaxy. There are some nice drag and drop features and the overall look and feel is very pleasant and user friendly. One thing that was bad about dotProject was that it was just so clunky looking. This often the problem when engineering types design things that people need to use.
  • It’s easy to keep various projects and people separate. Right now I have five separate projects going and each project has a different arrangement of people who can access each one. I certainly don’t want them to be able to view every project, just the ones that allow them access to.
  • Projects have their own syndicated RSS feeds. This allows you to keep an eye on what’s going on as people login and close out tasks. The feeds are password protected for your security.
  • You can see when people last logged in to check their messages and task list.

The bad:

  • For what it does (task management, project management) it’s too expensive. Free options like dotProject have tons more functionality and cost nothing. I would venture that this service is geared to those without their own webhosting yet to use some of the advanced features like file uploads requires offsite ftp access, so that isn’t a good argument. I can’t justify why it’s so expensive. It really possesses a limited range of application.
  • The only data export option is to XML. I want to be able to export my tasks, milestones, and contacts to Outlook or CSV.
  • You cannot copy file entries, tasks, or messages into other projects. This sucks.


If my clients and partners actually end up using this regularly I will keep it. It’s that simple. I have a hunch that email will continue to be the primary method of communication and tracking. After all, if someone wants to check to see if something has been completed they’re more likely to just email or call and ask me versus checking my online task list and milestone calendar. As long as they keep adding features I’ll consider renewing, but I have until the end of October to make that decision.

Here’s a little hack if you want to upgrade to one of the business-level accounts. If you sign-up for the basic paid account ($12 a month) and then upgrade to a higher level of service, they won’t actually bill you for the upgrade until the first month has gone by. So you basically get a free account upgrade for a month. That’s worth $12 at the very least.

You have to be kidding me: RAZOR WARS

This sounds like an article in The Onion. Gillette ups the ante, unveils 5-blade razor. The quotes from the heads of Proctor & Gamble are simply priceless:

“The Schick launch has nothing to do with this, it’s like comparing a Ferrari to a Volkswagen as far as we’re concerned,” said Chairman, President and Chief Executive James Kilts.

Some had expected Gillette to bring out a four-bladed razor, perhaps a self-lubricating one. Instead, it jumped to five blades, or six including the trimmer, and will sell Fusion-branded shaving gels and after shave balm.

“There was never a plan to go to four,” he said. said Peter Hoffman, president of Gillette’s blades and razors business, who said Fusion was in the development pipeline for several years.

Razor blades cost way too much. Mach 3 blades cost about two bucks a pop, which is patently ridiculous. Double-edge razor blades, the type popular among suicidal types used in razors until the 1970’s, cost about fifteen cents a piece by comparison. We’ve come along way from the sharpened scallop shells our ancestors used.

No quick fixes in the realm of finance

Troubling article from the AP, Katrina Victims Pile Up Credit Card Debt:

Still, financial experts say the couple is right to be worried. The Alciatores and other Katrina victims who thought they were financially secure must keep their debt in check while facing huge relocation costs and uncertainty about their income. It’s not easy.

“People in a crisis are not thinking clearly. Their emotions take over, and that’s not a good place to be when it comes to your finances,” said Deb Outlaw, a CPA and financial planner in Dallas. “Sometimes they feel like they have to get back to what they had before the disaster, but they need to be patient.”

This underscores the importance of saving for a “rainy day”. There is always the potential for unforseen costs to crop up. If you can arrange your affairs where you save a portion of your income this will create a buffer that will allow you to smooth out the inevitable ups and downs.

Slowing growth = time to make acquisitions?

From a CNET article on the acquisition:

Kessler noted that eBay has probably made more acquisitions over the past 12 to 18 months than it did in the prior eight or nine years, and that’s often a sign that growth will be slowing. Unlike the PayPal merger, which Kessler supported back in 2002, it is debatable whether eBay will derive the same growth in sales simply by adding voice features to its service, he said.