Archive for July 2004

Furniture Porn

First, some hot chair-on-chair action.

For the past couple weeks we’ve been looking for some decent office furniture. You know, a couple of L-shaped office desks with matching filing cabinets, and maybe a hutch.

The whole process has ended up being this weird set of conflicting requirements though. It goes something like this: We walk into an IKEA, Leon’s, or Staples and pretty much turn our noses up, muttering “Cheeeeeap” on our way out. No laminates or veneers for us.

But then we go somewhere a little more lavish like a De Boer’s or Ethan Allen where the furniture is solid wood, and balk at the price tags. Heck, we don’t even own a bed yet, so how can we be comfortable dropping upwards of $5K on a piece of furniture? It gets even worse if we start to play the opportunity cost game; “If we drop $3K instead of $5K, well that $2K difference sure buys a lot of …

I guess it kind of shows too. On Saturday we checked out this sort-of-upscale independent store in downtown Kitchener called Schreiter’s Furniture. Someone swoops in to help a few minutes after we arrive, and I mention we’re looking for office furniture. The conversation goes something along the lines of:

  • Are you looking for real furniture, or just the regular kind?

I stare at him blankly, because I’ve never been much good at multiple choice. Prompted by my silence, the conversation continues:

  • I hesistate to say it, but something IKEA-ish?
  • Uhh, yeah, I guess.
  • You should try IKEA, Staples, and Office Depot, because that’s one of the reasons why they’re so big now, because they have furniture. We have one set, but the desk alone is $1800.” <pauses to wait for my reaction> “We don’t even carry it, all we have is a picture. You’re more than welcome to look around the showroom though, there’s some clearance items on the third floor.

I was half waiting for him to say, “You break you buy!” Snooty old bugger.

So the office furniture’s probably not gonna happen anytime soon, but we might start with some of these. Can’t have enough leather stuffed animal ottomans, they come in 10 classic colours! We’re partial to the hippo and the elephant.

Walking in Memphis

Got back from Memphis late Wednesday night, I was at the FedEx head office for a couple days. I’m getting too old for this.

Almost every time I get sent somewhere for work, it’s because something isn’t working properly, and there’s a limited amount of time to diagnose the problem and fix it. This time around it was an 18 hour work day, five hours of sleep, a skipped breakfast, a crappy and expensive late lunch in the FedEx cafeteria, and a late, mediocre dinner.

Think business trips are about dining lavishly and lounging in five star hotels on company coin? Not in my experience. I’ve had to do this kind of thing on and off since my first co-op term, and I find the whole process quite nerve wracking, actually.

The key to thriving in situations like this is to cultivate a tendency to identify faults before strengths. Regular readers of this site (especially the posts with more lengthy comment threads) will have picked up that I have this trait down pat. I tend to focus on the root causes of problems and ways to eliminate them, which is great for my line of work, but can make for some pretty odd human interactions.

On several occasions I’ve caught myself openly assigning blame and fault to people in situations where perhaps I should have been less abrasive. What makes for even more awkward (though funny in retrospect) situations is that the more unreasonable and confrontational the other person is, the more abrasive and verbally abusive I become. “Victims” have ranged from the president of the company, to arrogant customers, to snarky old men in the supermarket.

When someone gets on my bad side I can do some pretty spectacular things that in the worst case are probably career limiting and bad for business, but in the best case make for some pretty amusing anecdotes. I know, it’d probably be better if I just held my tongue, but the fact that most people have never seen this side of me is a testament to how unreasonable a person has to be before I feel the need to bite back.

Mmmm, tasty tasty four dimensional graph

Apologies for the silence, I’ve been busy with moving and the fun that goes along with it. We used to be here, now we’re here. The old place was kinda dumpy facilities-wise, and we figured that with two incomes it was time to upgrade.

The new place stinks like smoke though, you wouldn’t believe the things we’ve done or had done to the place to try and get rid of the smell. There are few things I hate more than the smell of cigarette smoke, and the annoying thing is that there seem to be so many more smokers per capita in the K-W area than in Toronto. Stupid small town folk, if you’re bored you should be shagging, not smoking.

The dealing-with-other-people’s-messes thing is what I hate most about renting. So much so that I’ve started to seriously consider buying a house. Mind you, there’s a whole host of issues preventing something like that from happening anytime soon, but I’ve started to consider the logistics of such a purchase. Previously, I wrote about my habits when it comes to large purchases. I don’t like getting ripped off, and it’s doubly worse if the reason is because I didn’t do the requisite research beforehand. Yup, my impulse purchases are pretty much limited to the supermarket.

Housing has other factors that make it difficult to do research and make an informed purchase though.

  • Every unit is either unique, or from a limited run, so it’s hard to do direct comparisons.
  • House prices act like a thinly traded security – selling prices for similar units can have a high variance because there is so little supply. You don’t get the “law of large numbers” to smooth things out, so human factors dominate. i.e. In one case the sellers want out now so they’re willing to sell below fair value, in another case the buyers have their hearts set on the unit so they’ll pay above fair value.
  • Since the housing market is dominated by uninformed sellers and buyers, the laws of an efficient market do not apply. Specifically, before the central bank even announces interest rate changes, the expected change is built into stock prices. Not so with houses – information does not travel as fast or at all among the uninformed masses, so in theory there are more opportunities for arbitrage. Unfortunately, in practice it does not usually work like that, in fact the behaviour can even be opposite from what is rational.

For example, so far I’ve just been trying to answer one question: Is it better to buy when interest rates are low and houses are overvalued, or when interest rates are high and houses are undervalued? And the only answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how high/low the interest rates really are, and how high/low the house prices really are.

So it should be possible to graph interest rate, purchase price, and total cost in 3 dimensions. Then at any point in time when looking at housing, you can plug the current numbers in and see whether you’re at a maxima, minima, or somewhere inbetween.

Now that I think about it, there probably needs to be at least a fourth variable (time) in there as well. The longer you wait, the more you pay in rent, so the total cost goes up. Even for those people who don’t pay rent, you still need the fourth variable because yesterday’s “present value” is different from today’s present value. Meaning that because you delayed the purchase by a day, you earned interest on money in the bank, so the total cost goes down.

We were talking at work about how to represent graphs in higher dimensions without having to fix variables and graph the remaining ones in three dimensions. We came up with colour, taste, texture, sound, and smell as five more orthogonal bases. Imagine climbing into a chamber to “view” a graph – as you walk along the three dimensional portion, your other senses are stimulated. “It smells so good, but it tastes so bad! There’s something sharp jabbing at me, but this music is so soothing! … I think it’s time to buy the house.

That would rock, I’m gonna build an eight dimensional graphing machine.