Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dog Heroes of 9/11

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, special observances and media presentations abound. When I saw this book I knew it was something unique.

We often forget about the highly trained canine workers that help save lives every day. Here are collected stories of their tireless contributions in the wake of those barbaric terrorist attacks. They arrived from all over the country to search for survivors (which were few) and body parts (which were many). A number of the same dogs also helped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At this writing, every single review on gives this book 5 stars -- the highest rating. It includes more than 250 color photographs and 77 interviews with handlers and rescuers.

Sales of the book will benefit the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and help to train more four-legged heroes. So here's your chance to entertain and educate yourself while helping our nation to prepare for future disasters.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Oil Prices Up; Covering Most Shorts

Oil prices (and oil stock prices) are up over the weekend, partially reflecting geopolitical factors. It may not get down to the $65 per barrel area -- at least not before bouncing up to $80 or so. The uncertainty means it's probably not a good idea to be selling, or remaining short, on oil or oil stocks. You don't want to be in a trade like this unless you have an "edge," and it appears the edge has dissipated.

It turned out that during this period, shorting oil itself (such as the oil exchange-traded fund, USO) was much better than shorting the oil stocks (such as XLE).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Easily Invest in Clean Energy

We all know we need more oil and natural gas supplies, and more reliable supplies at that. But the other side of that coin is that we also need more alternative energy supplies and conservation. I've discussed how to make money in the former; now I'll tell you about the latter.

There are numerous companies engaged in what is often termed the "clean energy" business. But there are so many different variations. Which technologies will be the ultimate winners? And which companies will be the ones that actually are able to cash in?

Enter the PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio. It's a member of the growing collection of ETFs (exchange-traded funds) in existence today. These are "baskets" of stocks that are conveniently combined into one unit -- and the unit trades just like a stock. It has price quotes that vary throughout the day, and you buy and sell it at your favorite broker (hopefully one with low commissions).

This fund, according to its site, invests in about 40 companies "that focus on greener and generally renewable sources of energy and technologies facilitating cleaner energy." Its trading symbol is PBW.

My sources are saying that PBX seems to be ending a major 4 month correction, and is starting a new advance. So this is your chance to save the environment, enhance our national security, and make money all at the same time.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Oil Stocks Down; Covering Some Shorts

About 3 weeks ago I mentioned it might be time to sell some oil stocks, and/or short them. But not all at once, which was a good thing, since prices rose after that.

Oil prices, and oil stocks, are down sharply today because of the peace efforts in the Middle East. I'm hearing that XLE (the commonly traded energy ETF) is close to its short-term target and has a good chance of rising again before continuing further down.

Moreover, the next 2-3 weeks tend to be a seasonally positive period for the stock markets, on average.

So if you shorted some during the higher prices, today looks like an opportune time to cover some of those shorts and take some profits, if you're a short-term trader. Or for long-term investors, you might want to buy some more oil stocks now. But remember we still could go lower, especially after summer driving (and hurricane season) is over.

Of course nothing is certain, but basically in the upcoming weeks to months, you should be prepared for about a 10% decline in oil prices (maybe to $65 a barrel in the futures market, give or take), and a similar decline in oil company stocks also. But in the upcoming years, you should also be prepared for oil at $100 a barrel. Goldman Sachs predicted $105, and they have a reputation for being right more than wrong.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Free Online Backup - Completely Private (Encrypted)

Why backup online? Can you say "Hurricane Katrina?" (Or fill in your own natural disaster. And don't forget fire, theft, terrorism, etc.) One rule of computer backup is to keep your backups somewhere else.

There are a number of online backup services springing up, but Mozy Backup is the only one I've seen that (1) gives you a really substantial free allocation, and (2) lets you encyrpt your backup data.

Point #1 is very nice -- you can back up 2 GB worth of data 100% free. And if you join by clicking any link in this blog entry (like here), you'll get 2.25 GB instead of just 2 GB. Don't backup your entire system disk -- just your important data. It's pretty easy to pick and choose which folders to back up. After the first "big bang" backup, it just transmits the changes, which goes pretty quickly.

Point #2 can be important for privacy. If you choose the option of supplying your own encryption key (i.e., password), then no one can get it -- not even with a government subpoena. And they use a really, really strong encryption code that realistically, no one is going to crack in your lifetime.

And yes, they have a paid service, which lets you back up 30 GB for $4.95 a month. Some people need it, some don't.

Oh, and every time you refer someone else who starts using the service, you and they both get 256 MB more space. So maybe you can get all the space you need, free.

Here's the link again :

Sunday, August 06, 2006

NEW Student Financial Aid Breaks for Business Owners, Welfare Recipients, Military

Several aspects of the regulations for student financial aid calculations changed on July 1, 2006. If you own a business, if you receive some kinds of government assistance payments, if you are active military, then you need to look at these changes. Then you might want to change your financial aid application -- or, if you hadn't bothered before, you might want to apply now.

OK, first a little background. If you are a student this fall, any time after January 1 of this year you should have filled out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The goal of this application is to for the Feds to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your job is, as far as legally permissible, to minimize your EFC. The smaller the EFC, the more aid you can get. If you get loans, this could even be the difference between a subsidized vs. an unsubsidized loan. The subsidized loan is better because the interest is completely paid for you till you graduate.

Part of the FAFSA involves listing the assets of student and parents. In the past, if you had a business, you had to list the business as part of your assets. Business assets aren't counted as much as household assets are -- but still, higher assets of any kind results in higher EFC, which is bad.

Well, now I see this on the page of the 2006 changes on the FAFSA web site:

"Small Business - The net worth of a small business should not be reported if the family owns and controls the business and employs fewer than 100 full-time or full-time equivalent employees (FTE)."

This is really big news. If the student and/or parents own and control a small business, it might have tens of thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of dollars in assets. All of a sudden, these assets can now be completely left off the FAFSA. This could make an enormous difference in your financial aid.

So if you didn't know about the change, and if you listed any business assets when you filled out your FAFSA, you can change it to remove those assets, and thereby reduce your EFC. It is not too late to apply, or change your application, for this fall!

Other 2006 changes listed on that page give ways to reduce your EFC if you are active military, or receive government assistance. There are changes in the way you report things like 529 plans and Educational Savings Accounts, and there is also information about a new grant program for freshmen and sophomores.