Fun Site of the Day: StateTris (Tetris with the United States)

This one was too fun not to pass along.  I love web-based geography games.

This is a Flash game called “StateTris”… it’s Tetris with the 48 continental United States.

The controls took a little getting used to, but I managed to finish the medium level in under 8 minutes.  Not a great score, but not bad for a combination of spatial recognition of the states, and a bit of fancy fingerwork for the complicated shapes… 🙂

Try StateTris yourself!  Let me know what your score is.

Repeat After Me… I Will Not Read Harry Potter Spoilers…

Just one more day until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is out. The original post on the book is still this blog’s most viewed page, and is soaring in page views daily.

I’ve had my pre-order in with Amazon for over three months… and yet I am still considering going down to Borders at midnight on Friday. Yes, it’s a sickness.

The net is full of leaked pages, scanned images, quotes and comments.

Repeat after me:

“I will not read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Spoilers…”

🙂

Update (7/21/2007): Still waiting for the mail man with my Amazon order… so … hard … to …. resist … Wikpedia summary

Update (7/21/2007):  Got the special edition in the mail just a half-hour after the last update.  About 150 pages into the book …

eBay Should Buy Ning… But Can They Afford It?

There was an interesting post yesterday by Don Dodge on the recent financing for Ning.

Marc Andreessen’s Ning raises $44M – Social Network on a Freemium business model

Wow. $44M is a lot of money, and a $214M post-money is a lot for a company at the stage Ning is at financially. Not sure what the end game would be to justify it, unless they either see a multi-billion dollar company on the horizon of 3-5 years, or a quick flip for $500-750M in 2008.

This is one of the areas of Web 2.0, however, that eBay should be a part of. eBay, after all, was built on community. Not just one community, but thousands – coin collectors, auto parts dealers, book sellers.

When I look at Ning, I see a product that eBay should have built – a single profile for a user (much more Web 2.0 savvy and current than the current eBay My World product), and the ability for users to create and join as many groups as they want, with full social networking features. Rather than Google Adwords, the free groups could easily be featuring actually product & item recommendations. The natural search indexing benefits of the groups would be excellent. eBay could build features to help members share searches, classify products, highlight Stores, and make vibrant mini-communities on the eBay/Ning platform.

A couple of years ago, eBay tried to update it’s incredibly dated eBay Forums with the new eBay Groups product. But compare that effort to Ning, and I think you’ll see why I believe that eBay should be courting the Ning team actively. Ironically, the eBay Alumni network is on Ning already.

If the price is too high now, maybe there is a way for eBay to just do a deal to bring Ning functionality to its members, and merge the Ning profile with My World.

Try it out for yourself, and I think you’ll see. The combination of the eBay member base and the functionality of Ning could easily 10x the number of social networks on Ning, and bring the number of users into the tens of millions. The eBay community has always wanted to form social networks… they’ve just lacked modern tools to do so.  eBay & Ning could reach a scale together on a time table that wouldn’t be possible independently.

Please note: In the interest of full disclosure, I do have some good friends at Ning. And I do have some good friends at eBay. So, while I’m not a truly disinterested party, I have no financial stake in Ning. I am a current shareholder of eBay.

US Mint: 2007 Platinum Eagles Available at 12:00pm EST on July 17, 2007

Don’t say they didn’t warn you!

2007 American Eagle Platinum Proof and Uncirculated Coins Available July 17

From the press release:

Pricing and mintages of the 2007 American Eagle Platinum Proof and Platinum Coins are listed below:

Coin

Price

Maximum Mintage

Product Limit

Proof one ounce

$1,599.95

16,000

6,000

Proof Half-Ounce

$809.95

15,000

5,000

Proof Quarter-Ounce

$439.95

15,000

5,000

Proof Tenth-Ounce

$229.95

20,000

10,000

Proof Four-Coin Set

$2,949.95

N/A

10,000

Uncirculated One Ounce

$1,489.95

N/A

N/A

Uncirculated Half-Ounce

$759.95

N/A

N/A

Uncirculated Quarter-Ounce

$399.95

N/A

N/A

Uncirculated Tenth-Ounce

$189.95

N/A

N/A

Uncirculated Four-Coin Set

2,769.95

N/A

N/A

Note: Maximum mintages reflect the total number of individual product options and the coins included in the four-coin sets.

Orders for the platinum proof coins should be submitted early, as mintages are limited. There is no mintage limit for the platinum uncirculated coins. Household limits have not been set for these options. Additionally, the United States Mint reserves the right to limit quantities and may discontinue accepting orders at any time.

Wow. And you thought the First Spouse gold coins were expensive. $3000 for the proof set, and now there is an uncirculated version for collectors as well.

I don’t know what to make of the very low mintage. On the one hand, a low mintage usually means a good solid path to appreciation and rarity. On the other hand, how many people are really collecting the Platinum eagles? There has to be a diminishing return on pricing of coins. It’s the same issue I have with the First Spouse coins… how many people are really going to shell out $16,000 to own the whole set? And how much can it appreciate from there, since that’s just the up front cost?

In any case, don’t whine if you want these coins and you’re not there at 12pm to place your order. It’s as easy as going to:

http://www.usmint.gov

Happy hunting.

P.S. If you happen to pick up an extra 4-coin proof set, feel free to send it my way.

How to Search LinkedIn Like a Pro

Just a quick pointer to my new post over on LinkedIn’s blog:

5 Tips on How to Search LinkedIn Like a Pro

For regular readers of my blog, you may find some of the concepts familar, as I used the same approach to help people earlier this year learn how to search eBay like a pro.

In both cases, similar concepts can help you use the search engines much more effectively.  And although different sites use different search technology, once you learn these types of tricks with one, it is fairly easy to learn to apply them to another.

LinkedIn is a great search engine for people.  Check out this earlier post where I compare LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, and Google for people search.  Something to think about the next time you are looking to learn a little bit more about someone you know (or someone you don’t).

Enjoy, and let me know if you have any particular tips about using LinkedIn search!

Tough Choice: Picking an International REIT ETF

Tough choices tonight on the personal finance front.

I recently rolled over my 401k from eBay into an IRA. As a result, I now have the ability to better balance out my retirement portfolio across different asset classes.

In a previous post here, I discussed the launch of the first international REIT index ETF, the SPDR DJ Wilshire International Real Estate ETF (RWX).

Of course, in the months since then, a new fund has launched, provided by WisdomTree, the WisdomTree International Real Estate Fund (DRW).

The question is, which to choose?

Let’s assume first, for the purpose of this article, that we’re not going to debate whether or not now is the time to invest in real estate, international real estate, or whether ETFs are the right vehicle. Another time, another post. For tonight, the question is between these two funds.

Normally, picking ETF funds that track the same index is trivial – go with the one with lower expenses, unless the fund has a history of failing to track the index accurately.

However, when ETFs follow different indeces to track the same asset class, it gets a bit more complicated. In this case, there is a fairly radical difference in the two indeces that form the basis of these two funds.

I found this excellent table outlining the historical performance of the two on this Seeking Alpha post:

The first place anyone starts when comparing ETFs is performance, and here, it’s a mixed bag. For the 10 years ending March 31, 2007, the performance differential for the underlying indexes looks like this.

DRW 1

It’s worth noting that these returns are backtested, and do not reflect fees for the ETFs. But because the two ETFs have similar fees – 0.60% for RWX and 0.58% for DRW – the real-time returns should have been similar.

Mixed… DRW has lagged in the past 5 years, but is significantly higher over 10 years. Of course, this is backtested theory – neither fund existed that long.

In terms of the philosophy of the two funds, the question really outlines how truly you hold to indexing ideals versus value-philosophy in your investing. The SPDR is market-cap weighted, like the S&P 500 or the Wilshire 5000. The biggest percentage of the fund goes to the stock with the highest market cap. The WisdomTree fund is dividend-weighted. The biggest percentage of the fund goes to the stock with the highest dividend.

Personally, I’m normally biased towards simple, market-weighted indeces for the US market. However, deep down, I’m a value investor at heart, and the concept of dividend weighting, particularly in foreign markets where security enforcement may vary, is fairly appealing to me, especially in a dividend-focused asset class like real estate.

As another nod to DRW, the WisdomTree fund has both REITs (Real Estate Investment Trust) and REOCs (Real Estate Operating Companies) in it. Not all countries have the REIT structure, which originated in the US. As a result, DRW also has far more stocks (224) in it than RWX (154).

I found a lot of good articles comparing these two:

In the end, I was very close to just splitting my cash between the two funds. That might actually be the right answer if you have sufficient assets. However, I decided that since the real estate market has been anything but value oriented for the past five years, my bias is towards the WisdomTree approach for this asset class.

If you are interested in these funds, I suggest you read all the above material yourself. Post here if you reach a different conclusion – I’m interested to know why.

P.S. In case you are curious, I went with a straight, market-weighted index (Vanguard REIT Index ETF, VNQ) for the US REIT portion of the portfolio.

Gizmodo: Tivo Series 3 Lite: HD Tivo for under $300

As usual, 100% rumor, but worth passing on just because the quest for a reasonably priced, HD Tivo is worth the time and the text.

Very inexpensive case, likely due to the fact that this is a demo unit. Hard to believe these would be the final designs. Sounds like some enhancement to the CableCard support, including a multi-stream card slot (on-demand?)

This is a demo unit we have been provided so the actual units they put into retail may differ (they haven’t said one way or another) but for their sake, I certainly hope the actual units look better than this. I personally have a current S3 box at home and can say that this unit is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper looking and is lighter in overall weight (feels substantially so for some reason). Just my first impressions though&mdas;haven’t fired this unit up yet to see what other differences might be. The remote that came with it is also ‘cheap’—is lighter and not as good looking as the original shiny unit that comes with the current S3. As you can see the cable card slots have been moved up front and one slot supports the new m-card while the other supports only the traditional s-card.

From Gizmodo.