What a Mess. The Native American $1 Coin Act.

Oh boy.  Caught this article about The Native American $1 Coin Act.  What a mess.

In the final step before becoming a law, congress presented the president with H.R. 2358, Native American $1 Coin Act, for his signature. Introduced in the House of Representatives by Dale Kildee (D-MI 5th), and expected to be signed by the president, the bill calls for the reverse of the Sacagawea Dollar be redesigned every year to commemorate “of Native Americans and the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans to the development of the United States and the history of the United States.” The obverse will continue to have the Sacagawea design.

You know, this is pretty much “jump the shark” territory for coin series.  After all, it’s not like there is any demand for the Sacagawea dollar coins now.  Frankly, they haven’t even found a use for the original mintage from the year 2000.

The Presidential $1 Dollar Coins seem to have decent demand with collectors, but no one seems to be using these in circulation for obvious reasons – until the $1 Bill goes away, there’s just no reason to.

Creating new series of specialty faces on circulating coins is not a guaranteed winner… just ask the 10 people who actually cared about the 5 versions of the Nickel that went out in 2004-2006.  Oh, did you miss that series?  🙂

The US is already dealing with:

  • The end of the highly successful US State Quarter series, which finishes off in 2008 with the last five states.  Of course, H.R. 392 would like to extend it to the District of Columbia and the five US territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands).
  • The next decade of US Presidential $1 Dollar Coins, at a rate of 4 per year, through 2016 at least.
  • The next decade of US Presidential First Spouse gold coins, at a rate of 4 per year.
  • The new 24K Gold Buffalo 0.9999 pure bullion coin.
  • The 2009 Penny series to celebrate a century of the Lincoln cent.

So, my apologies to the US Congreesmen sponsoring HR 2358. You can count me out on any series based on the Sacagawea dollar.

US Mint Halts Gold Coin Sales Based on Gold Price Jump

Interesting article this week from CoinNews.net:

The price of gold has jumped in the last thirty days from a low of $648 an ounce to a high of $711.75. If you’ve invested in gold, you’re loving it. If you’re the United States Mint, you’re hating it.

The increased price of gold is affecting the US Mint’s bottom line. So much so that late this afternoon, September 13, the U.S. Mint suspended the sale of all their 2007 American Eagle Gold Uncirculated coins.

The Mint needs to adjust their prices, pushing them up higher. Here’s a listing of the suspended gold coins (at least so far) and their former prices:

  • 2007 American Eagle Gold Uncirculated One Ounce Coin, Price: $749.95
  • 2007 American Eagle Gold Uncirculated One-Half Ounce Coin,
    Price: $379.95
  • 2007 American Eagle Gold Uncirculated One-Quarter Ounce Coin, Price: $195.95
  • 2007 American Eagle Gold Uncirculated One-Tenth Ounce Coin, Price: $89.95
  • 2007 American Eagle Gold Uncirculated Four-Coin Set,
    Price: $1,379.95

The following statement was posted on the U.S. Mint web site for each of the coins they suspended:

Due to the increasing market value of gold, the American Eagle Gold Uncirculated Coins are temporarily unavailable while pricing for this option can be adjusted; therefore, no orders can be taken at this time. We expect products to be available with adjusted pricing on or after September 27, 2007.

I’m a little surprised.  After all, the US Mint is largely working off inventory that has already been created.  I didn’t think the Mint was that “margin sensitive”.  Still, in the end, it’s not surprising that a sharp spike in gold prices would make them revisit pricing.

I notice that they did not feel the need to reprice the 1/2 ounce gold first spouse coins.  Maybe they were scared to given all of the fulfillment issues.  I’m still waiting on Thomas Jefferson’s Liberty coin.

This should be a boost for anyone who did order gold coins this year.  The eBay price tends to quickly jump to the latest coin prices at the US Mint plus some margin.  So, if you got the gold eagles at a cheaper price, you might be able to sell for an immediate profit.

Getting Ready to Write an Apple Mail.app Plug-in for Mac OS X

Blowing some dust off the old compiler this weekend… after about 8 years, I’m actually getting ready to write some real client-side software again.  Just a personal project, for fun.

Nothing fancy, but I’ve decided to see if I can’t write some useful plug-ins for Mac OS X.  In particular, I’m going to see if I can’t improve:

  • Apple Address Book
  • Apple Mail

I tend to joke with friends that when I went to business school, part of the admissions process was officially “turning in” my compiler.  To show you how dated I am, the last serious Mac OS development I did was in Metrowerks Codewarrior.

Over my vacation in August, I went through Cocoa in a Nutshell from the O’Reilly series, just to refresh my memory.  Even when I was on the WebObjects team at Apple, I primarily wrote framework code in Java, not Objective-C, so basically I’ve got to come up to speed again on:

  • Objective-C
  • XCode 2.4
  • Five versions of Mac OS X (the version I worked on became 10.0)
  • Documented methods of extending Apple Address Book
  • Undocumented methods of extending Apple Mail

I managed this weekend to get a sample plug-in for Apple Address Book working.  This wasn’t a huge feat, really, since XCode includes a sample project for this as a default install, and it’s fairly trivial to customize the three Objective-C messages that define the functionality.

If you are looking for the documentation on extending Apple’s Mac OS X Address Book, check out:

Pretty basic really, although adding a contextual menu command for certain fields is hardly the best interface.  I’ve been playing with Plaxo Toolbar for Mac, and trying to figure out how they inserted their drawer into the GUI.

Creating plug-ins for Apple Mail is much trickier, because it’s completely not supported or documented.  Well, I shouldn’t say not supported… it’s not supported officially.  However, Apple Mail does implement a plug-in architecture, and with a few quick setting changes, you can install a wide range of third party plug-ins.

Here are some cool links if you are interested:

  • Demystifying Mail App Plugins.  This blog post covers some high level tips and source code, in Python, to write a quick Mail.app plugin.  Thanks to this post, I re-discovered class-dump, which lets you inspect the classes and methods for any Mac OS X application (very cool).
  • Mail Plugin Template 1.0. Aaron Harnly, you are my hero.  Aaron has posted an excellent XCode project template, with class-dump headers, for building your own Apple Mail plug-ins and installer scripts.  He even answered a simple project question for me over email.  Very cool.
  • CocoaDev.  This is a wiki site dedicated to Cocoa development.  Aaron’s code pointed me here, since it features “Method Swizzling”.  It’s a very sneaky feature of the Objective-C runtime, where you can effectively not only over-ride an method for an object you don’t own, but you can even replace the parent class method in applications that you don’t control!  Read this for specifics (very cool if you’re into programming).
  • Apple Mail Plug-Ins and Tools.  A whole directory site of Apple Mail plug-ins.
  • Apple Mail Plug-In Roundup.  This post on The Unofficial Apple Weblog covered a lot of cool Mail.app plugins.
  • Mail Act-On.  Very cool Mail.app plug-in that lets you map individual rules to keyboard commands.  My favorite Eudora feature, now on Mail.app

So far, I have an Apple Mail plug-in that compiles and loads correctly in Mail.app and logs data into the console.  But I’m going to put that in the “W” column for this weekend, given my incredible level of rust around the gears.

I’m going to be flying to Omaha this week to visit the LinkedIn customer service team… I’m going to try and use the flight time to get a little bit more working.

My biggest question now is how far can I go in terms of influencing the Mail.app UI.  I already know how to:

  • Create a plug-in
  • Insert menu commands and menus into the main application
  • Create my own preferences panel & preferences file
  • Create my own window

However, if I really want to integrate,  I need to figure out how to:

  • Add commands to existing contextual menus (I can’t find them in the NIB files anywhere)
  • Add views/panes to the existing windows (ala a toolbar)

I haven’t found sample code that does either of the above yet, but I’m still looking.

All in all, it’s fun to be compiling again.

Do You Know Where to Buy/Sell S&P/Case-Shiller Housing Index Derivatives?

This shouldn’t be a hard question to answer, but I’m having trouble with it. I’m looking for an online brokerage where I can buy and sell futures and options contracts based on the the S&P/Case-Shiller Housing Index. The S&P/Case-Shiller Housing Indexes are one of the newest innovations in tracking the value of home prices across the US.

A few years ago, Robert Shiller wrote a book called “The New Financial Order,” (although I didn’t get around to reading it until last June, during the evenings between the eBay Live 2006 event in Las Vegas). Robert Shiller had written a book in 2000 called “Irrational Exuberance“, and as you can guess by the title, it had quite a bit to do with market bubbles and what was happening with Internet stocks in 2000 when it was .

In his new book, Shiller argues that risk in the 21st century will be manageable by leveraging the innovations from the 20th century around risk management towards the truly large risks that individuals bear. For example, every individual bears a disproportionate amount of “local housing market risk”, because most of their assets are tied up in a house whose value is tied to the area of the country where they happen to live. Shiller also provides examples like “livelihood risk”, where people currently bear a huge risk that the profession that they are trained in will be unmarketable or less valuable in future years and unless you are in a particularly safe market, New York Sublets for example, then you might be in hot water.

Shiller proposes several steps towards solving these problems for individuals, beginning with the definition of well known, well defined indexes to measure them. Then, with derivatives like futures and options, these risks can be hedged by individuals as needed.

For example, a young software engineer could buy a put-option on the 20-year future income of a US-based software engineer. If it turns out that software engineers in the US have lower income in 20-years, the put should help hedge some of that risk, and potentially even fund re-training if needed.

Well, quickly after the book was released, Shiller followed through with indeces defining the local housing prices in 12 major US markets, and one aggregate index across them.

They are called the S&P/Case-Shilling Housing Indexes, and they are defined and marketed by Macromarkets, an interesting company to say the least:

MacroMarkets LLC is a growth company on a mission to add liquidity to valuable economic interests and important asset classes throughout the world. Our principal focus: to cultivate new markets which facilitate investment and risk management via innovative financial instruments.

The firm is led by a seasoned management team with over 100 years of collective Wall Street experience with structured products, exchange-traded funds, housing markets, mortgage- and asset-backed securities.

MacroMarkets holds multiple patents for MACROS®, a novel securities structure that can be applied to any asset class that can be reliably indexed. It also possesses exclusive licensing rights to The Case-Shiller Indexes® for the purposes of developing, structuring and trading financial instruments.

In May 2006, in partnership with MacroMarkets, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) successfully launched Housing Futures and Options for U.S. residential real estate. This landmark development created the first exchange-traded financial products for directly investing in and hedging U.S. housing. Various over-the-counter (OTC) U.S. housing-linked derivative financial products will also be originated and traded this year. Like the CME Housing Futures and Options, these OTC products will be linked to and settled upon the S&P/Case-Shiller® Home Price Indices.

So, I was interested in checking out the prices on potentially hedging local home prices in the San Francisco Bay Area for the next few years. I was just curious whether or not it would make sense to do on an individual basis. After all, Herb Greenberg says California real estate prices may dictate the movement of the national economy this time…

Problem is, I can’t find a quote for these futures or options, and I can’t find a brokerage where I could potentially trade them. This article suggests you can, and I found ticker symbols for both futures and options on the website. But I can’t seem to find a quote service or brokerage that understands them.

So, I’m asking my readers… anyone know the answer here?