Best sites of Mendocino, Fort Bragg, CA – Trip Report/Review


We visited Mendocino during the Memorial Day long-weekend in 2008. The trip turned out to be a very relaxing experience. That is a grand statement in itself considering we were lugging our two kids ages 6 and 8 to a place devoid of any fancy rides.

This was our third trip to Mendocino and as such we knew what to expect. As the saying goes first time – you observe, second time - you understand - third time - you appreciate. The drive up from the Bay Area is a treat, especially if you take the longer route of sticking with Highway 101 and 1 instead of the shorter Highway 101, 128, and 1. The 128 route is shorter but as it cuts through the woods, you miss out on the some of the ageless views on Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway - PCH). Both routes are windy and sometimes narrow single-lane highways. The single-lane mandates going at a relaxed pace well below speed limits as otherwise you will be chasing RV’s after RV’s. This is a benefit in disguise as it allows one to relax from the start.

We took the 2-mile detour to visit Point Arena Lighthouse. The location is roughly 40 miles south of Mendocino and about 20 miles north of Gualala. Between those two points, services are limited and there are no gas stations. The lighthouse was decommissioned a while back, but tours are allowed with the purchase of the admission ticket ($5 adults, $1 children under 12, open all days from 10 AM – 3:30 PM). The lighthouse features the French made first order Frenel lens – entry to the top platform is not allowed but peering from the stairs provides a good view of the lens. There are four houses around the lighthouse available for renting, but as others have pointed out, the drawback is that the facility is in need of renovation. The area around is pretty steep and dangerous and hence is fenced off with the result that there are very limited areas to hike with kids.

Between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, there is another small detour that gets you to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Parking is a half-a-mile away from the lighthouse, but there is parking for the disabled, right outside the lighthouse building. Hiking trails are aplenty in the area and the views are outstanding. Admission to the lighthouse museum is free – there is a $3 suggested donation. The lighthouse is open 11 AM to 4 PM all days, and the nature preserve is open till half-an-hour before sunset. Tours to the top of the lighthouse are only available certain days of the year.

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is another attraction that merits a visit. Admission is $10 for adults and $2 for children between 6 and 12. Beyond the main gated area where they have a variety of local flora is a much larger area on the ocean, which provides excellent views and an opportunity for a relaxing stroll. Seeing the sun set at the end of Ocean Avenue and a drive along Mendocino’s main street completed our first day of the trip.

Accommodations and dining options range from minimalist to extravagant. We stayed at the Pine Beach Inn between Mendocino and Fort Bragg and grade it to be a good basic option – The private beach, tennis courts (badly in need of maintenance), breakfast (basic), and on-site restaurant should make it a fun experience for families with kids seeking a mid-priced option ($80-$150/night). For dining, there are plenty of specialized seafood restaurants but more economical alternatives also exist.

Related Posts:

1. Avenue Of The Giants – Trip Report/Review.


Last Updated: 10/2008.

MCG Capital (MCGC) – Part 3 - Outlook

Below is a comparison of MCGC’s Price to Net Asset Value (NAV) ratio over the years:






















YearNet Asset ValueShare PricePrice To NAV ratio
200311.9819.831.66
200412.2217.131.40
200512.4814.591.17
200612.8320.321.58
200712.7311.770.92


MCG Capital’s NAV at EOY 2007 was $12.73 and currently the stock is trading under $6, more than 50% below the NAV. As a Business Development Company (BDC), MCG Capital shareholder approval is required to issue equity at a price below NAV. The other available choice for the company to raise capital is to offer rights. The associated dilution along with confusion about the details of the offering has sent the stock tumbling 40% in the last month.

MCGC’s debt is structured by maturity level as follows as of EOY 2007:



















MaturityAmountPercentage of Total Debt
Less than 1 year168.9M22.17
1-3 years175.8M23.07
4-5 years4.3M0.56
After 5 years412.9M54.19


More than 45% of its debt is due in the next three years. MCG Capital is finding it increasingly hard to issue debt to restructure some of this debt in this tight credit environment. The company has already paid a heavy price for its current tough liquidity situation. Management was short-sighted in choosing short-term debt maturing in 1-3 years, not anticipating the tough credit environment. MCG Capital has plans to alleviate the situation by liquidating some of its debt and equity in portfolio companies. MCG Capital’s ability to sustain dividend levels is directly associated on their success in raising funds. Further, without new funds, originations will also decline.

The management is entrusted to make the right choices in both capital requirements and portfolio selection. Looking back, it is evident that MCG Capital was overly aggressive in both acquiring capital and originations. Also, some of the investment choices were mediocre and the timing was less than optimal.

Investment in a BDC is a good proxy to investing in small private companies. The sizeable yield compensates well for some of the risks associated with investing in a basket of small private enterprises and their debt. An investment in MCG capital fits this profile well. Even with the problems and management missteps, one has to recognize the sizeable discount to NAV. It must be understood that the investment will under perform the overall market in an extended downturn in the economy. Allocating a small amount of the small-cap portion of ones diversified portfolio in MCG Capital should provide good overall returns over the long-term.

Related Posts:

1. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 1 - Introduction.
2. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 2 - Business Issues.
3. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 3 - Outlook.

Currency conversion fee anti-trust settlement (Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club) Claims

The filing deadline for this settlement was May 30, 2008. The settlement is for a hefty $336M. After administrative fees of $23M, attorney expense cut of 27.5% applies and expense reimbursements add up to $5M. Around $220M will be available to claimants. The information from the website reads as follows:

The lawsuit is about the price cardholders of Visa-, MasterCard-, or Diners Club-branded payment cards were charged to make transactions in a foreign currency, or with a foreign merchant, between February 1, 1996 and November 8, 2006. Plaintiffs challenge how the prices of credit and debit/ATM card foreign transactions were set and disclosed, including claims that Visa, MasterCard, their member banks, and Diners Club conspired to set and conceal fees, typically of 1-3% of foreign transactions, and that Visa and MasterCard inflated their base exchange rates before applying these fees. The Defendants include Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, Bank of America, Bank One/First USA, Chase, Citibank, MBNA, HSBC/Household, and Washington Mutual/Providian.

Any transaction conducted with these cards outside the United States in the concerned period makes one eligible to file a claim. The process consists of filing the claim form along with the supporting documents and can be filed online. There are three versions of the form and depending on the situation one can decide which one to use:
  • Request an Easy Refund of $25. This Option is recommended if you traveled outside of the U.S. for less than one week or had foreign transactions of less than $2,500 using your eligible cards during the 1996 to 2006 period. (Green Form); OR
  • Request a Total Estimation Refund based on typical spending during travel and your answers to a few questions about your own travel outside of the U.S. This Option is recommended if you traveled outside of the U.S. for more than one week or had foreign transactions of more than $2,500 using your eligible cards during the 1996 to 2006 period. Refunds will be a maximum of 1% of estimated foreign transactions. (Blue Form); OR
  • Request a refund based on information that you provide concerning your annual Estimated foreign transactions during the 1996 to 2006 period. This Option is recommended if you had extensive foreign travel or foreign transactions and are willing to provide year-by-year information. Refunds will be a maximum of 1% to 3% of foreign transactions. This is the only Option you can use to get a refund for corporate card use. (Red Form)
As the net settlement amount available to claimants is roughly $220M, it is highly likely that the amount will suffice to cover claimants. Further, at the $25 level, the requirements to submit the form are very easy and straight-forward and so this should translate to a $25 check with minimal fuss. For people who travel at least once a year outside the US or has spent more than $2500 over the 11 years of class period, the second option would be a better choice. Here again, the form doesn’t require one to submit proofs. The form only asks for ONE of the applicable credit card numbers and the total number of days traveled outside the US. From this and other public information, an estimated value can be obtained. For amounts spent on corporate cards or for the meticulous one, the best option is the last one, as that does not rely on an estimate.

Update: The checks were issued in three chunks: January 2012, July 2013, and October 2014. The estimated total payments for the settlements under the Easy Refund ($25 claim - Green Form) category was around $15 (all claims were reduced based on a pro-ration formula as the number of claims exceeded the perceived maximums).

Last Updated: 01/2015.

MCG Capital (MCGC) – Part 2 – Business Issues

MCGC has built up a good business over the years with debt acquired at 6.6% and the yield on investments averaging approximately at twice that amount. The arbitrage income, yield achieved from equity capital along with opportunity for appreciation on equity investments, has a good return potential.

A large portion of its debt is due in 1-3 years. In a tightening credit environment, odds are that the company will have to capitalize at less favorable terms. As their recent rights issue suggests they may have to resort to issuing equity for raising capital to avoid unfavorable terms. The Broadview IPO expected sometime in 2008 could improve this situation dramatically. The ownership interest of 46% valued at $266.9M should benefit the company as it tries to restructure its shorter-term debt.

Risks:

MCG Capital’s investments will under perform in a recession and that could result in portfolio companies being unable to satisfy their debt and interest payment obligations. MCG Capital might have to write off such investments and reckon with the big losses that directly affects the company’s bottom line. Worst case, MCG Capital’s equity can end up being worthless if the value of its investments in private companies deteriorates to a level below the total issued debt. Currently such write-offs and assets in non-accrual status are fairly contained at less than 5%. The 1:1 debt-to-equity regulatory requirement contains these risks somewhat but since the investments are in high risk mid-market private companies, in an extended downturn the risk is very much real.

More than two-third of MCG Capital’s total investments are in the subordinate secured/unsecured debt and equity categories. This ranks the entire portfolio as higher risk compared to less than one-third of the total investments in these categories in the 2003-2004 timeframe. But then again, with higher risk comes the prospect of better returns – MCGC gets to participate in any increase in the profitability of the portfolio companies.

The net cash from operating activities dropped dramatically from $70M in 2006 to $55M in 2007 following realized losses in investments due to write-downs in its Cleartel investments and increased Payments-In-Kind amounts. Operating cash requirement for the coming year should be around $150M given dividend payments at the current level add up to about $110M and interest payments come to above $40M. Assuming the same level of net cash from operating activities for next year, the gap of about $80M will need to be bridged efficiently. The alternative in a tight-credit situation is to slice dividends. However MCGC may not be able to drop dividends dramatically as it could lose its preferred tax treatment due to the RIC status.

Related Posts:

1. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 1 - Introduction.
2. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 2 - Business Issues.
3. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 3 - Outlook.

Navigating The Tax Rebate Check Retailer Promotions

As most people are aware, IRS is mailing out rebate checks as part of its economic stimulus package. Below is a table that summarizes the details:
















Last two digits of SS#Amount of Rebate Check*Date**
00-20Up to $600 for individuals, up to $1200 for joint + $300 for each childMay 2
21-75-- same --May 9
76-99-- same --May 16

As paper checks have a delay associated with them, the inclination would be to choose direct deposit as the better alternative – NOT! Most retailer promotions are applicable for paper checks only and the better promotions add up to 10% additional value, hence the prudent preference would be paper checks.

Once the paper check is in place, the next step would be to stretch it while spending it. Below is a list of retailers that have announced rebate check promotions along with details:
















Retailer NamePromotion Details
Kroger, Meijer, SuperValu – Parent of Acme Markets, Albertsons, Bristol Farms, bigg’s, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher’s, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Save-A-Lot, Shaw’s Supermarkets, Shop ‘n Save, Shoppers Food & Pharmacy and Star Markets$30 for every $300 exchanged for store credit.
Sears, Kmart, Lands EndAdditional 10% if the entire amount is entered into a gift card.
RadioShack10% discount on purchases of $50 or more funded with a rebate check or tax refund.


RadioShack offer is outstanding as it applies to tax refund checks as well. Some retailers are instead keen on conducting a sale of some sort in the coming months to tap into that revenue.
  • Home Depot is promoting a green sale during the coming months,
  • Staples has a $50 off offer on $500 of purchases and a $150 off $1000 or more furniture purchase that expired May 11th, and
  • Walmart will have extra rollbacks on groceries and consumables. 

Last Updated: 05/2008. 

MCG Capital (MCGC) – Part 1 - Introduction

MCGC Capital Corporation (MCGC), a Business Development Company (BDC) provides debt financing to small as well as mid-capitalization companies. They are required to invest at least 70% of their total assets in private or thinly traded public companies. The company has elected to be treated as a Regulated Investment Company (RIC) as of January 2002 and is thus exempted from paying corporate taxes on any income they distribute to their stockholders as dividends. To qualify as an RIC, it is required to distribute at least 90% (98% to avoid a 4% excise tax) of the taxable income and also continue to qualify as a BDC. There are also certain other miscellaneous restrictions.

BDC Primer:

BDC’s stimulate public capital to private businesses in an efficient manner. They are structured like a closed end mutual fund, the variation being instead of investing in public companies, the fund invests in private enterprises. As with closed end mutual funds, the Net Asset Value (NAV) is an important measure of valuation for these companies. The unknown for BDC’s is the level of difficulty in asset valuation, as they are not generally traded.

BDCs are very risky as it invests in high-yielding sub-ordinate and mezzanine debt. Further, the investments are on small-cap enterprises that by its very nature are risky. These risks are somewhat mitigated by the following factors:
  • Regulations limit leverage to be 1:1, and
  • BDC’s provide a way to gain exposure to small-caps along with high dividend yield.
Correlation to small caps and high-yield debt make BDC investments more risky in a recession.

Financing Options for Small Private Businesses Primer:

There are three types of financing options for small enterprises:
  • Senior debt (Bank Loan) – least expensive, but needs collateral.
  • Mezannine/Sub-Ordinated Debt – more expensive with interest rates in the range of 10-14%. No collateral is required per se, but is usually secured through warrants on the equity in the company. With warrants, a put-option is usually executed where there is an agreement for the company to buy back the warrants at a pre-arranged price based on the valuation of the company. With warrants, investors (usually funds) try to realize an internal rate of return in the 20-25% range. Recommended for relatively high-growth businesses with established revenues and are on a path to positive operating income. In priority of payment, this type of debt falls right in the middle – before equity but after senior debt. It can act as an equity cushion that supports the senior bank debt.
  • Equity – most expensive. Ownership in one’s company is diluted and can potentially lose control as the financers could seek board representation, etc. Recommended for high-growth high investment risk business – operating cash flow may not be substantial.
MCG Capital is active in all three of these financing categories. They have focused on optimizing asset mix for risk and returns, as shown in the following table:



















Year20032004200520062007
Senior Debt71.970.449.53132.6
Secured Sub-debt14.7163039.334.2
Unsecured Sub-debt005.62.02.5
Equity13.413.414.927.730.7


The following table indicates the portfolio diversification achieved by the company over the years:






















Year20032004200520062007
Media54.4%42.1%25.9%20.8%19.9%
Communications27.5%21.7%25.7%28.5%21.5%
Information Services9.4%10.9%6.9%3.8%2.9%
Technology5.6%7.2%6.0%2.9%3.0%
Diversified / Other1 3.1%18.1%35.5%44.0%52.7%


MCG Capital’s business is dependent on acquiring capital efficiently and then allocating it so as to enhance NAV and interest income. The total borrowings and minimum rental obligations together stands at $761.9M and the total of all investments at fair value are about $1.56B as of EOY 2007. That makes the ratio of debt-to-equity very close to the regulatory requirement of 1:1.

Related Posts:

1. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 1 - Introduction.
2. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 2 - Business Issues.
3. MCG Capital (MCGC) - Part 3 - Outlook.

Home Depot’s Competitor Coupon Acceptance Policy – Fluff With Little Substance

Home Depot, like many retailers, claims to accept all competitor coupons. Getting them to accept competitor coupons at the checkout counter is an entirely different ballgame. The outcome depends on a number of factors but largely on the experience of the person at the counter, manager’s interpretation of the internal policy and on the time a consumer is willing to invest in it. Home Depot does not officially publish anything regarding this policy and their website provides no information either.

Should you have an original competitor discount card, the experience should be relatively painless but can be time consuming. What ensues will be one of the following, in increasing order of frustration:
  • The cashier just accepts the coupon with a smile.
  • The cashier calls the manager, checks, and accepts the coupon.
  • The cashier will show a completely surprised face and then say something like “Sorry Sir, but we are not ”. Asking the cashier to check with the manager usually solves the problem.
If you have an email printed coupon, the experience will be painful at the minimum and in many cases, the store won’t accept it. Below is our experience at our nearest Home Depot store, trying to use a Lowe’s $10 email coupon, that can be signed up for online.

Us: We have a Lowe’s $10 coupon. Will you honor it?
Cashier: Let me check with some one.

She calls the manager and waits. As it was a weekend, the store is busy and there is a line behind us. The manager says to accept it. The cashier tries to scan the UPC code and it says “invalid UPC”. We point out that the only requirement was that we charge it using a Visa card. She rechecks with the manager and says it is a printed coupon. The manager at that point replies that they don’t accept any printed coupons. I pointed out that the Lowe’s coupon could only be obtained that way and the wording on the printout tells as such. She rechecks with the manager and the reply is a strict No. The Lowe’s Store is much farther away compared to our nearest Home Depot and so we made the purchase without the coupon. Patience and time would probably have changed the outcome but we didn’t think it worthwhile for us at the expense of the other consumers also waiting to get on with their business.

Similar experiences posted on the web makes it clear to us that the policy really is to honor the coupon only after making the customer jump through hoops!
  
Update: The discussion above was based on our experience in May 2008. Currently, they do have a competitor policy in their website, although coupons are not clearly mentioned. Coupons are not listed in the excluded list either and so that is a good sign.

Last Updated: 01/2015.


Acoustic Piano (Yamaha M-460, Cable Nelson Yamaha CN-116, Kawai K-15, etc.) - Review, Best Values, Pricing, & Shopping Experience


Our kids started on piano lessons through learnpiano online some years ago. At the time, we owned a Casio keyboard (CTK-515 - current model is Casio CTK-2400) and soon upgraded to a Yamaha portable digital piano (P65 - current model is Yamaha P45B) from Costco. A number of years ago, our then eight year old started taking lessons from a live teacher. Even to the untrained ear, there was a distinct difference in the sound emanating from his Grand Piano and our digital piano. Per his recommendation, we decided to upgrade to an Acoustic Console Upright Piano: his opinion was that we should consider either a new piano for several thousand dollars or an older one for several hundred with the intention of upgrading in a year or so. Console Uprights are pianos over 40” in height while those shorter than that are termed spinets. Spinets did enjoy popularity for a while but the plug was pulled on its production some years ago with the advent of digital pianos. Our piano teacher specifically told us not to get a spinet.

Craigslist vs Piano Dealers:

Our initial source for a used acoustic piano was Craigslist though we did visit a few piano dealers. In the price range we had in mind (several hundreds to a few thousands), it was very clear that the Yamaha was regarded as the gold standard. The lowest price for a Yamaha we saw listed on Craigslist was a 30-year old P2 for $1000, and by the time we contacted, the piano was already sold! The closest we came to buying a used piano was a 35-year old Baldwin 52” upright that was listed in Craigslist by a used piano dealer in San Leandro for $700. The piano sounded excellent but we ultimately decided against it for two reasons:
  • The piano did not show very well and the cabinetry would not go at all with the rest of the decor in our home, and
  • The 52” seemed a little too tall a piano for our room.
Craigslist listings from private parties definitely command a price advantage over similar pianos sold by dealers (their Ads are also on Craigslist). But, buying from a private party has potential headaches:
  • They generally do not come with any warranties whatsoever;
  • Transportation could be a hassle and employing a professional piano moving outfit can get expensive, and
  • Tuning will add to the overall cost.
All three of these factors are generally accounted for when you buy a used piano from a dealer. They usually come with a 1-year warranty along with moving, setup and tuning. The premium when buying from a dealer can be anywhere upwards of $500. For example, used 25-30 year old Yamaha P2’s in good condition can be purchased through Craigslist from private parties for an average of around $1500 while from a Piano dealer the average is well above $2000. The blue book pricing on these are about $1000 or so higher. Sometimes, dealers offer good deals such as 100% credit towards an upgrade down the line.

We decided against buying a used piano primarily because of our instructor’s suggestion that we should be prepared to upgrade even if we spend several hundreds for a used piano immediately. Rather than having to purchase another one, it made more sense for us to go with a piano we can use for a longer time period.


New Piano Shopping Experience:

In general, piano shops in the bay area do not discuss pricing over the phone. For this reason, it is necessary to visit the stores to be able to compare pricing. We visited Piedmont Piano in Oakland, CA and DC Pianos in Berkeley, CA and had phone conversations with Music Exchange in Dublin, Pianos Plus in Castro Valley, Gordon’s Music in Fairfield, and Carnes Piano in San Mateo. Of these, “Piedmont Piano”, “Music Exchange”, and “Pianos Plus” are Yamaha dealers while “Carnes Piano”, “DC Pianos”, and “Gordon’s Music” are Kawai dealers. It was explained to us that the same dealership does not function as both Yamaha and Kawai dealers because of the fierce competition between these two companies.

The phone conversations were useful to an extent in gathering information, but could not convince us to consider visiting. “Carnes Piano” claimed they had a big sale running on the Kawai and said they had a sizable inventory marked for this special sale. They couldn’t give the pricing over the phone but said the sale was 30% off the list price of the pianos and that the Kawai K-15 list price was around $4500. The pricing did not include transporting and tuning. “Pianos Plus” asked us about our experience at “Piedmont Piano” and said they would beat Piedmont Piano’s pricing although they could not give quotes over the phone.

“Piedmont Piano” is a very professional outfit. They were very helpful and gave us the strengths of all the Yamaha piano models they carried. When we mentioned that our preferred range is around $1000 he gently guided us on the fact that their lowest priced acoustic is the Cable Nelson-Yamaha co-branded CN-216 which was on sale for $2695 ($2595 for the CN-116). They also pointed out that their store in San Francisco carried used pianos and we may find something there although at a somewhat higher than the $1000 price point. There was no explicit pressure to buy or to commit to anything. But, they made it a point to stress the fact that the sale ran through that month and that they have heard that Yamaha is set to increase pricing the following month. The next higher model they had was the M-460 BC priced at $3195. Also, on the Cable Nelson branding, they said the spruce was made of laminate and the warranty was 5-years compared to wood sprucing and 10-year warranty for the other Yamaha products. The 5-year warranty contradicts the 10-year warranty that Yamaha publishes on its website. The pricing includes transportation and two tunings for the Yamaha’s and transportation and one tuning for the Cable-Nelson’s.

“DC Pianos” has an understated store, although they are dealers for Kawai, Pearl River, and Baldwin pianos. Dennis Croda, the owner of the store was also extremely patient with us. He directed us to an older Wurltizer spinet for $995 when we mentioned our price range. When we mentioned our preference for consoles, he showed us a used Yamaha P-22 he had listed on Craigslist for $1995. He also had other used Yamaha’s at higher price points. He then proceeded to show us the low-end consoles of Pearl River, Baldwin, and Kawai. Pearl River is a Chinese manufacturer which also manufacturers pianos for other brands. They had the lowest pricing among the 44”-45” consoles at $1695. The lowest Baldwin console (44”-45”) was priced at $2000. The one we liked best was the Kawai K-15 with contemporary black styling and no front legs. It was priced at $2795. Dennis offered a 10% discount off these prices for the new pianos. The price included transportation, first tuning, and a 100% credit for upgrades.

We also looked briefly at Costco’s Suzuki offerings. The console uprights were priced starting in the mid-2000’s and had a 10-year warranty.

Our Choice:

We decided against Pearl River given the possibility that the value of the piano will depreciate much faster than the other piano brands. Baldwin went through a bankruptcy and Gibson bought them a few years ago. Even with the revival, the new Baldwin’s are considered a notch below in quality compared to the other brands. That left us with a choice between the Kawai’s and the Yamaha’s at higher price points. Both the Kawai K-15 and the Cable Nelson Yamaha CN-216’s sounded good. Looks wise, we preferred the Kawai. We compared the Kawai K-15 side-by-side with the Yamaha P-22 used model they had for $1995. The Yamaha had a slightly brighter sound even to our untrained ears. Dennis explained that the Yamaha’s sound like that as they were geared towards the institutional market. Kawai K-15 sounded just right – neither imposing nor weak. We really liked the mute facility of Kawai. In the end, our decision was between one of the used Yamaha P-2’s or P-22’s and the new Kawai K-15. The mute facility along with the sleek looks made us go for the Kawai K-15.

In early 2010, we used DC Pianos twice to transport the Kawai K-15 over a period of a few months. The first was a short local move. The mover pricing came in about 75% more than what DC Piano offered - part of the reason for the higher pricing with the movers was the fact that they required crating even for a short move. Our second move was a relocation half way around the globe. DC Piano confirmed the Kawai's should perform well in Asia and offered to put silica gel inside just as a precaution. Crating & loading came to just under $200 - they try to reuse crates from the new pianos that come to their store and that accounts for the lower pricing - the piano came intact and we are happy campers - now, well past the 6-year mark after that big move  - it is still performing very well, although getting it tuned has been a struggle as there are not many professionals qualified to do it in this part of the country.

Acoustic Piano Buyers Resources:






Related Posts:

1. Portable Digital Pianos - A Comparative Review.
2. Non Portable (Home) Digital Pianos - A Comparative Review.
3. Digital Pianos (Yamaha, Casio, Roland, Kawai, Korg) - An introduction for Digital Piano Shoppers.
4. Portable Yamaha Digital Pianos - A Comparative Review.
5. Non Portable (Home) Yamaha Digital Pianos - A Comparative Review.
6. Yamaha Digital Pianos - An Introduction to Different Models.
7. Acoustic Piano (Yamaha M-460, Cable Nelson Yamaha CN-116, Kawai K-15, etc.) - Review, Best Values, Pricing, & Shopping Experience (this post).
8. Yamaha P65 & the new Yamaha P45 Digital Piano Review.
9. Teach your kids Piano with learn piano online for free – well, almost!!

Last Updated: 10/2016.

Yahoo Offer Withdrawal: Microsoft Finally Coming Back To Their Senses

Microsoft finally called it quits and walked away from the offer to purchase Yahoo at $31 per share on a half-stock half-cash basis. The deal originally valued Yahoo at almost seven times sales and over 65 times earnings. The offer price was 60% over what Yahoo was trading the previous day and was exceptional given that analysts expect Yahoo to grow earnings at 20% in the coming years. This premium reflected Microsoft’s desperation for market share in the Internet space.

Both Microsoft and Yahoo erred in their judgment of each other’s reaction to the renewed offer. Microsoft anticipated any negotiation will be for an all-cash deal as opposed to a higher price from the Yahoo board – Jerry Young the founder, and big holders of Yahoo stock such as Capital Research and Legg Mason. Yahoo’s board on their part assumed Microsoft to easily increase the offer price by 10-15% given the resources they have. The mentality of the Yahoo board was delusional in that they failed to recognize that the offer price was steep by any measure and there was no way to justify a higher price for Yahoo. By focusing on what Microsoft could afford, rather than what they were worth, the Yahoo board failed their fiduciary responsibility to Yahoo shareholders.

In hindsight, the deal would probably have gone through easily at around $30 a share, had Microsoft sweetened the offer with a premium of about 30% initially and shown a willingness to up the bid significantly in exchange for co-operation from the Yahoo board. An approach similar to what Larry Ellison at Oracle did with People Soft, where they reduced the initial offer significantly in response to push-back from the board, would have resulted in a better outcome.

To summarize, mistakes on both sides were the order of the day with this deal. Both the companies will pay dearly for the distraction in the short-term. Over the long term, walking away should do well for Microsoft shareholders as their management gets a chance to steer the ship in the right direction.

Related Posts:

1. Google vs Microsoft: The Ad-Wars: A Contrarian Opinion.

SCO vs Novell – Darl McBride’s Ludicrous Testimony

Information on some of the issues in the SCO related lawsuits were identified in our website a couple of months back. On April 30th trial became underway to determine the scope of what SCO owed Novell in unpaid royalties regarding its unauthorized licensing of Novell’s copyrights. The proceedings went rather predictably with SCO latching on to certain technicalities on the timing of payments. Specifically, SCO argued that even though SUN and Microsoft should get their unauthorized license payments back, Novell should not be holding money in the interim.

The hearings were aplenty in rather ludicrous testimonies by SCO executives. SCO’s SVP, Chris Sontag testified and stated the following:

Question: "Is there any UnixWare code in Linux?"
Response: "There very well could be, ... I've never done that analysis, never seen that analysis."

Later, when SCO CEO Darl McBride took the stand, the following ensued:

"We have evidence System V is in Linux,...When you go to the bookstore and look in the UNIX section, there's books on 'How to Program UNIX' but when you go to the Linux section and look for 'How to Program Linux' you're not gonna find it, because it doesn't exist.”

Needless to say, this is a case of top SCO executives contradicting each other in court. The witness exclusion rule in place meant the executives were unaware of the other’s testimony and oblivious of the contradiction they presented. The analogy by Darl McBride is ill advised and one has to wonder whether it is really incompetence that provoked such a suggestion – for any Hari, Tom, or Wo in the tech field, it is fairly obvious that though there is not a surplus, because of the narrow scope and fairly legacy nature of those topics, both Linux and Unix related books are in abundance at bookstores – not to mention the literature on the web. The bizarre nature of that testimony continued with the following nugget:

“Linux is a copy of UNIX, there is no difference...”

It is evident that SCO executives are promoting themselves as unbelievably ill informed. It could also be that the executives are purposely feigning ignorance to avoid personal litigation issues. The above statements coupled with Darl McBride’s testimony on how he steered the company in this direction following a brain-storming session immediately after he joined the company lends more credence to the idea that SCO’s management were ignorant…

FEIT Electric Energy Saving Bulbs – Consistently Low Quality!


Costco stocks these energy saving bulbs and periodically promotions from energy companies makes these bulbs very economical to purchase. We used these bulbs extensively on our electric sockets controlled by normal switches – those did not work with dimmer switches as explained in one of our articles.

The bulbs came in a variety of wattage ratings and replacement ratings and we have had experience with most of the available replacement options – 40W, 60W, 100W, and 125W. These products boast a good warranty of one year from the time of purchase. The catchy claims on their packaging adds to their appeal – “Lasts up to 7 years” and “This bulb lasts 10 times longer than a standard 750 hour bulb”. Sadly, in our experience, all these claims are inaccurate and the bulbs are inferior in quality. Further, this experience does not seem solitary as the reviews are less than glowing. None of the bulbs we purchased were able to make it past a year of normal use. Some succumbed much earlier. Of course, the warranty is good on paper, but in a practical sense worthless as it requires you to ship it back to their headquarters for a replacement. Given that the per-unit cost of the product is low, this additional step involved is not worth your time as the shipping charge outweighs the value of the product. For some inexplicable reason, Costco continues to carry these bulbs to this day.

For our part, we switched to other brands (GE especially) for CFL lighting, even though the PG&E promotion did not apply to those. Currently, LED bulbs, which are even more energy efficient have become available and some brands come with an outstanding 5-year warranty as well.

Last Updated: 01/2015.

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