Satellite Photos of My Friend's Beachfront Galveston Home - What's Left of It

A good friend bought a beachfront cottage in Galveston, TX a year or so ago. She was told it would probably be a month before anyone would be let back in to assess the damage. But she just got a satellite photo from NOAA and her cottage is one of 3 that at least are standing. There used to be 11 of them. The larger house 3 feet away from theirs is totally gone. Here are before and after photos.


How Can You Make Some Extra Money in Bad Economic Times?

My favorite Forum has had some great topics concerning staying afloat and even making some extra money during these tough economic times. Someone said they read that average person in danger of losing everything, their house, car, etc., was short in income by about $500 a month. Think about that. With another $500 a month of income they would be OK. That got everyone throwing out ideas as to how someone could create additional income without taking on another W-2 job.

This forum is heavily populated by entrepreneurs so it didn't take much to get them going. Selling items on eBay, doing landscaping, painting numbers on curbs, house cleaning, auto detailing, dog walking, cleaning out garages (and then help them sell on eBay!), home repairs, house painting; techie types could offer to help with computer stuff, setting up VCR's, home theaters, etc. All things that you could get going quickly and get extra money. And, they'd have a business which would give them all sorts of possible tax deductions.

Sometimes it just takes someone to get you thinking. Our forum host has a weekly meeting with her family about how many ways they might be able to generate additional cash that week. Clean out your own garage and have a yard sale or sell the things on eBay, fill out old rebate forms, call and cancel those automatic subscriptions that you don't want, pack your lunch all week, call about an overcharge that needs to be credited, etc., etc.

And your business can benefit from this idea, too. That's how I happened to get involved in referring businesses to a Merchant Service Provider (For Ethical Merchant Services Click Here!) - Because of a "rant" post on our Forum about a problem with their Merchant Account Provider I was reminded that I hadn't checked out our rates in a couple of years . Being the "information addict" I am I not only researched better rates for our company, I researched the issue she had as well. I learned more about the subject than I ever would have imagined. Then I talked about the subject with our friends who own a retail store and heard another horror story from them. That really got me digging.

Bottom line is I found a Merchant Service Provider that does business the way I do, honestly, above-board and with the highest degree of ethics. And I searched the web for complaints about them (none), pulled their D&B report (great), checked out their BBB report (excellent). They are saving me hundreds of dollars a month and also made me aware that we had an odd situation in that all of our transactions were being put through as "non-qualified." This was costing us hundreds of dollars a month as well and when I looked into it it was because our processor trained our people to not answer any of the qualifying questions they were asked when processing a credit card.

Right then and there I called the VP of Marketing and said I wanted to refer business to them, could we work out a referral arrangement. It's very small dollars, but the gratification I get when another business person is shocked by how much they can save makes it all worthwhile.

So this post started with one thought, but flowed to another and ended with yet another! Isn't that what makes it interesting and exciting?

Great Source

I was doing my usual spacing around on the internet and found a book on utilizing the features of my Sony VIAO notebook. I followed links to the Sony website and what a wonderful surprise I found...Online courses for Personal Computing 101, Home Entertainment 101, Digital Photography 101 and Digital Video 101.

The Personal Computing 101 has courses on Creating Your First Website, Power Point, Excel, etc.

They have Articles, Courses, Tutorials, Videos - a wealth of information - definitely check it out! There is so much great information on the web but when I find something that is so full of information somewhere I'd never think of looking I love it!


I'm the type of person who just jumps in and figures it out as I go, but with all of the options and complexity of programs nowadays it can be frustrating as I know enough to get myself in trouble! So every once in a while I go back to the beginning, the basics, and work my way through what I probably should have gone through to begin with!

So maybe I will finally figure out all the things I can do with my digital camera, and understand all the things I can use Excel for!


And Still More on Credit Card Credit Limits Being Reduced

Another person on my favorite Forum just got her AMEX card declined when she thought she had plenty of credit available. More on that tomorrow when she calls them.

And as I suggested, Automatic Payments are being affected - I just got a notice that a monthly charge I had set up with my AMEX card got declined. Since it is my "card of choice" (ha! not any more!) I know a bunch of other notices are going to start rolling in soon.

To add insult to injury I did find the letter they sent and not only did they reduce my credit limit, they also reduced my cash advance limit to $200.00! Are they kidding? And it is all based on how much credit I have outstanding, not on anything remotely connected to how much I make and can afford to carry in debt.

I have two kids in college with tuition just being paid, just spent $10,000 on my dog who collapsed and was diagnosed with cancer while we were 3,000 miles away, our daughter had an ambulance ride to the emergency room (another $5,000!) for a suspected kidney stone and I bought some furniture for a re-do of our home office. That ate up a lot of credit on my cards...does it mean anything? Just that I had a rash of unexpected or one-time expenses that got put on my cards while I re-grouped. Does it mean I'm suddenly going to stop paying my credit card bills, or be late with them?

This is a much bigger issue than it may appear on the surface. When FICO scores start reflecting this how will it affect people's ability to get a loan for a car, never mind a house? And as your FICO score drops more lenders will take notice and the cycle of reducing credit lines will extend even further. It's a vicious circle. "Round and round it goes, where it will stop, no one knows."

More On Credit Lines Being Reduced and The Ramifications

I've been on a Forum talking about this subject and got some interesting thoughts and comments.

A while ago I saw an article on this issue and here's a quote - the bigger (??) issue is what all of this does to your credit score, so take heed:

"Here's how that happens: Let's say a cardholder has a credit limit of $10,000 and a balance on the card of $4,000. The card company worries that large balance may increase the prospects for default, so it lowers the credit line to $5,000.

But in doing that, it completely changes what is known as the credit utilization rate, raising it from 40 percent to 80 percent. That is then factored into the calculation of one's so-called FICO credit score, which measures creditworthiness, according to Craig Watts, a spokesman for FICO-creator Fair Isaac Corp. "

Here's the link to the full article:

So this situation is going to have far-reaching effects - and on people with good credit, not just people in over their heads. When everyone's FICO scores start dropping are they going to revise the scoring range????

And it may have an effect on businesses as well. If people's credit is shrinking they may not be able to buy the stuff they would have if they could have put it on their credit card and paid it off over a few months.

That also brings up questions as to what impact this will have on businesses? Someone brought up the question of what will happen to the Automatic Recurring Payments a lot of us have set up to pay for various monthly charges. I know I put a lot on my credit cards because I get mileage points. Plus if it's an internet vendor I think most people are more comfortable giving them a credit card to bill to than their banking information. And most aren't even set-up to do an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) from a checking account anyway.

What else can you think of that will be affected?

It's Official...Your Credit Lines Are In Jeopardy

I went to the grocery store the other day and used my AMEX card as usual and it was declined. I download all of my credit card transactions into my Quicken account every day and I knew I had several thousand dollars of available credit on that card. Thinking it was a fluke I used a different card. Last night (yes I go to the grocery store pretty much every day!) it happened again.

Just now I called AMEX to see what the problem was and found that they had reduced my credit line down to what I had outstanding. Poof, thousands of credit line dollars, gone. Being my argumentative self I contested it with the young man who claimed it was because of a negative credit report from Experian. Well, I also subscribe to a service that alerts me to any changes in my credit reports and/or FICO score on a daily basis. And nothing has changed.

He transferred me another person in another department that again tried telling me it was because of my credit report. I have had this card since 2003, never been late with a payment, actually in over 30 years my credit report shows I have never been late with any payments. So of course I pointed that out and asked exactly what in my credit report were they referring to. He just kept repeating the same memorized line over again so I told him I wanted to speak to his supervisor.

A woman got on the phone and repeated the same information. But when I pressed her she said that it had nothing to do with my personal credit report that AMEX and other financial institutions were reducing credit lines based on the current negative economic environment and it had nothing to do with my personal credit. They would not budge.

My husband Googled AMEX and found this article from June in the NY Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/21/business/21credit.html?_r=1&oref=slogin which talks about AMEX and other credit cards reducing lines of credit across the board. And it doesn't matter what your credit score is or how much you make, if you carry high balances or own a lot of property and therefore have several mortgages on your credit report you're going to see your credit lines reduced. If it hasn't happend to you yet, be aware that it probably will.

Now you'd think that with the current economic conditions requiring banks to tighten their belts that they'd be encouraging credit worthy people to carry balances so they can collect interest. I mean, they've got to do everything they can in these tough economic conditions to tighten their belts and cut costs to keep AMEX financially sound, right? Especially since the chairman and chief executive of American Express, Kenneth I. Chenault, received compensation valued at $53.2 million in 2007, nearly double the $27.3 million he received in 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/business/26amex.html

Oh? Wasn't it the mismanagement of these same financial institutions that created this current economic mess? But it must be tougher now to manage them, so the top management really need to take more money from their struggling companies in order to compensate them for the terrible job they did in the first place!


Is Anyone Else Reeling From All the Economic Fallout?

I don't know about anyone else, but I find it difficult to think of all of the potential issues that this housing bubble has created. People loosing their homes, walking away from upside down mortgages (they call it "jingle mail" because they just mail the keys to the bank), empty developments but for an occasional occupied house, empty rentals getting vandalized and not having insurance coverage, and on and on.

With the news about Merrill Lynch being bought by Bank of America (who also bought Countrywide a short while ago) - will B of A be able to handle both of those company's problems without creating problems for them? And Lehman Brothers declaring bankruptcy, continuing talk about whether WaMu and Wachovia will fail...what more economic fallout lies ahead?

A friend in San Diego just wrote about how people are living in RV's parked in lots. Some have kids (are they going to school? Doubtful) and they have to move them at night or the police come by. Do they just drive around all night and sleep during the day?

What about what all of this is doing to our society, not just our economy?


Finding Balance in the Information Age

I admit I'm an "information-aholic" - but my husband isn't and he's always asking me why I'm glued to my computer! But now I have the perfect quote to cite:

"I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way."

Franklin P. Adams

And isn't it so true? I always follow links and then that site's links, etc. and find enormous information. A friend recently exclaimed "How do you know all this stuff??!!" and honestly it's just because I read, and not just books, but articles, newsletters, websites, etc., etc.

But when is enough, enough? That's the question I struggle with. I love it, but the "-aholic" part can create issues. Hours can go by while I'm happily gaining useful information, but we live in a beautiful place and I'm not in the pool or taking a drive down the coast, or taking my dog for a walk, I'm at my computer.

How do others find balance?

A Treasure of a Museum in Florence, Italy

I was lucky to have found this very amazing, yet not well-known museum in Florence when doing research for a trip in 2002. We are going to Florence with another couple in October and I was at a loss because I couldn't remember its name. But thanks to the internet I was able to find it again!

Even if you can't make a trip to Florence any time soon, just looking at the amazing photos and reading about the man who collected all of this is well worth your time. Look at the new releases as well and click on the photos they posted about renovations to different rooms.

So check it out the Stibbert Museum and be sure to remember to visit it if you're ever in Florence...it's a little off the beaten track, but well worth the effort!

BTW, if anyone has any favorite places in Paris, Venice, Florence (and surrounding area), and Rome I'd love your tips! I've been to all before, but I'm always looking for something new and unusual!