To those of us at street level, the mortgage lending behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac resemble giant wheels turning in the sky--in fact if I wasn't working for brass, I might have just assumed "Freddie Mac" was this guy pictured on the left. They're so huge, it can be hard for the average Joe to look up and take it all in. That is, until there's trouble. Over the past year, the state of the housing market has taken its toll on the industry's two biggest players. Now the giant wheels are in danger of going askew. Mortgage or no mortgage, debt or no debt, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are big enough players in the economy that their situation could affect everyone. Combined, the two government-created firms own or back about $5 trillion of home debt. That's about half of all the mortgage debt in the United States. So if they go under, it would be like a pair of hippopotamuses doing cannonballs into a pool. But the government won't let this happen. This week, the Fed and Congress are pushing to come up with a rescue plan for the two giants. A report today in the New York Times says Congress could be asked to extend a $300 billion line of credit to help the two institutions. To put things in perspective, together the two companies have lost about $12 billion since last summer and their stock share prices have hit 17-year lows. So how does this affect us? According to a CNN Money report, with the home and credit markets having taken a beating, the two companies have been the largest (and virtually only) source for financial institutions to find funding for home loans. Want to take out a home loan? There's a pretty good chance either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac make that loan possible. This all comes on the heels of the failure of IndyMac last week, which was huge in providing home loans to people who weren't required to provide documentation of income. According to NPR, it was the second largest failure of a financial institution in U.S. history. Such a fold is big, but analysts say most financial institutions are quite safe, and IndyMac customers are FDIC insured. Also, for all you students out there, I'd keep tabs on SLM Corp., aka Sallie Mae, which controls a huge chunk of student loans. According to Forbes Magazine, they're fairing better, but still feeling the pressure too. Check out Sarah's previous brass Blog post on the student loan crunch. It's time for all of us to look up at those wheels in the sky and cross our fingers. Stay tuned everyone. --Peter
Many of you sitting in sweltering second-floor apartments are doing whatever you can to keep cool. Several years ago, while sitting in my inferno-like dorm room, I came across a site claiming to show you how to build your own air conditioner! As I didn’t have a car to get materials, I put the idea in the back of my heat-addled brain until now.
The finished product should look something like this. For those of you who are visual learners, here’s a photo journal and a video. The system works on the principle of heat exchange. Basically, as cold water flows through the copper tubing, the air around it is cooled. The fan then blows this cool air around the room.
There’s far more technical, sciency stuff going on here, but my heat-wracked head wasn’t able to handle it. All you need to know is that it makes the room cooler than it was. However, don’t expect it to pump out cool air like your store-bought AC system. You won’t be able to turn it on high and send out a 55 MPH gust of the north wind--the heat exchange system isn’t as powerful, because it doesn’t use artificial coolants or a large motor.
In my (nonexpert) opinion, I recommend spending some coin on an aquarium pump. It makes the whole system more efficient, because water is cycled back into the tank instead of drained outside. You won’t have to refill your cooler as often.
In any case, have some fun with this. Sure, you can probably find a used air conditioner for under $100, but half the fun is making something yourself. Remember, water and electricity don't mix, check out these safety tips for using electricity near water.
Credit can be a good and often times necessary thing, but when debt goes bad--watch out. With the current state of the economy, the issue of mounting debt (and folks falling behind on payments) has grown. From this, third-party collection agencies are increasingly on the move, buying up debt and looking to collect. True, no one wants to ever be in the delinquent position of having a debt collection agency coming after them. Still, third-party debt collection plays an important role.
According to the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, there are 6,500 collection agencies in the United States; and in 2005, they returned $39.3 billion back into the economy. That being said, not all collectors follow the rules in getting people to pay up. According to a CNN Money report out this week, complaints against debt collectors are on the rise. Sometimes, aggressive collectors cross the line into harassment--doing things like calling at odd hours (up to six times a day) and threatening debtors with jail time. According to the Federal Trade Commission, here are some basic rights everyone has to protect against overly aggressive third-party debt collectors:
- They cannot contact you at odd hours (like before 8am or after 9pm) unless you agree. They also can't repeatedly call just to annoy you.
- You cannot be threatened with arrest, jail time or personal harm.
- They can't intimidate you with false statements like exaggerating how much you owe, list crimes you haven't been charged with or claim they work for a credit bureau.
- According to the CNN report, you can stop a debt collector from calling by writing a letter to the agency telling them to stop.
- Also, if you have an attorney, debt collectors must contact them and not you.
If you think a debt collector has crossed the line with you, contact your state attorney general's office and file a complaint with the FTC. Debt collection isn't very pretty, and undoubtedly there are delinquents out there who need to be chased aggressively, but everyone has rights--that's the law. For more information on debt collection, check out this brass article.
"Never judge a book by its cover," the saying goes. Turns out this saying is pretty much true… minus the "cover" part. I recently came across an interesting story of a blue M&M… and the brief-clad, guitar-playing cowboy who has stepped up to defend the use of his image. If you're not getting me yet, I'm talking about The Naked Cowboy. He is a NYC-based street performer who's leveled a $6 million trademark infringement lawsuit against Mars Inc., over a video billboard featuring a blue M&M allegedly made in his likeness. You can check out the story on CNN here. Sounds like a joke right? Well, the courts aren't laughing. Recently, a judge ruled the case fit for trial, despite a Mars Inc. defense arguing the parody was permissible under the First Amendment. This performer may come across as an eccentric character, but in truth there's more to him than just a guy looking for attention and photos with tourists. The cowboy's real name is Robert Burck, and he's actually a business owner who's taken all of the legal steps necessary to protect his image and likeness. Burck has capitalized on his unique persona, appearing in ads, cameos and even a Super Bowl commercial by Chevrolet. He may be goofy, but he's business savvy too. Anyway, I think this is a great story highlighting the importance of registering (and respecting) trademarks. If you have a business or a marketable public image, read up on registering for a trademark. That way no one will be able to make money directly off your image or idea without your permission. --Peter
- 16,000 fireworks shows will be held across the U.S. this year. 225 million pounds of fireworks are blown up across the U.S. on the 4th of July.
- $900 million--the value of the fireworks spectacle production industry in the U.S.
- $3,000 to over $75,000--the budget for a fireworks show produced by trained professionals.
Shows to see
- Washington DC: Half a million people, a huge parade, our capital, and all the history you could ask for.
- NYC, NY: 3 million people come to watch 40,000 shells explode in 30 minutes at Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks show.
- Boston, MA: The 23-minute show is synchronized to a live performance by the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra. Just loading and wiring the mortars takes two weeks of work.
- Lake Tahoe, CA: The 10th-deepest lake in the world is the mirror for this 5,000 explosion show.
- Seattle, WA: 10,000 effects, 2,300 shells, 21 minutes and the Space Needle.
This is a massively huge question in the media industry right now. Increasingly, viewers are accessing streaming or downloadable content on their iPhones, Blackberries and laptops. This shift by users away from the boob tube to new devices has a term--The New TV Ecosystem. In this new environment, folks are now consuming mainstream media on-the-go and on-demand.
According to a report by MediaPost's Online Video Insider, Internet advertising revenue--at $21 billion--outstripped both Cable and broadcast TV advertising in 2007. To illustrate the growth of the New TV Ecosystem even more, the amount of streaming content and podcasts online jumped 133 percent from June 2007 to March 2008. You can check out the full report here.
Here I go with connections again: a shift in user habits means a shift in the business landscape. It's left some pretty big corporate players scrambling to readjust and stay in the black. As for now, most major networks are offering popular TV shows streaming online. The business model used by broadcast TV for decades is really being forced to adapt now. The trick is to figure out how to monetize all this stuff and survive in the age of YouTube.
It's an exciting time, and a win-win situation for us viewers.
We recently got to catch up with Mary Osborne, pro surfer, former Surf Girls star and May 2006 cover story. Mary says things are going great, this past week she won a Pro Longboard Association event in Ventura, California. She had one thing to say about the contest--"Wahooo!!!" Surfing competitively isn't the only thing Mary's been up to; she filled us in on two other projects she's immersed herself in. First off, Mary will be hosting Surf Camps in the summer in association with Ventura Makos Surf Camp. Then in October, Mary is slated to be a featured surfer aboard The Surf Cruise Cup, a cruise that's all about surfing. Joining her will be three-time longboard champion Colin McPhillips, and Robert "Wingnut" Weaver--who starred in two Endless Summer movies, as well as the amazing 2003 surf documentary Step Into Liquid. "[The] Surf Cruise Cup is going to be a blast. I recommend all families, surfers and music lovers join in," Mary says. The boat will set sail on a week-long trip to prime surf spots in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. Be sure to check back here at the brass Blog for more past cover story updates. --Peter
Millions of stimulus checks and billions of dollars have been sent by the IRS to eager taxpayers. This infusion of funds is supposed to be helping out; but from an economic standpoint--given the current price of fuel and commodities--does this really spell stimulus, or does this simply spell relief? The good news first; according to a CNN Money report, the Stimulus Plan was credited for a 1 percent jump in retail sales in May (that's twice as much as what economists expected). Now the not as good news: according to a survey by the American Bar Association, 73 percent of Americans have changed their spending habits because of the economy. Whether the changes to cut back are big or small, Americans have their mind on their money and their money on their mind.
I received my stimulus payment the other week and happily danced around the mailbox. But thinking more, I realized it wouldn't really go to defray my recent camera investment as I'd hoped--rather, it'll likely go toward gas because of rising fuel costs. I asked around brass to see if folks have changed their habits and got about an even split between action and inaction. Some say they haven't made any changes in spending habits, while others say they've definitely made efforts to cut back. Common moves for saving included: carpooling, eating out less, cutting back on entertainment (from vacations to movies) and taking time to map out the most economical route to run errands to save on gas.
So now I turn the question to you, brass Blog readers--what do you think? Are you going about things differently to save?
Building credit can be a catch-22. You have to use credit in order to build it. In other words, you usually have to open a credit card or loan account to demonstrate that you are a responsible borrower. The promptness of your credit payment and amount of debt remaining are factored into your credit report and credit score, which ranges from 300 to 850 -- the higher the score, the better your credit. There are three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) that collect information about you; this includes your credit account payment history (go here for a full explanation).
Unfortunately, the payment of most common bills (such as utilities or rent) are not factored into your credit report from the "big three." That is unless you pay them late -- in which case they will have a negative impact on your credit score. However, there's a new credit bureau on the scene -- PRBC, and it's accredited by the Better Business Bureau. By registering, PRBC gives you a credit score based on your utilities and rent bills. They keep track of on-time payments, not just late ones, which allows your positive payment record to be part of your credit score. They do charge some fees, but getting credit for paying common bills on time might be a safer and easier way to build credit than through traditional methods like credit cards and loans. For more tips check out, this Ask brass article and Extra Credit.
Hello, interweb! I’m Cody Wetmore, the new Editorial Intern at brass. Over the next six months I’ll be blogging and writing articles when I’m not getting everyone coffee or doing compulsory push-ups. I spent five glorious years at the University of Oregon studying Electronic Media (basically Broadcast News). You may be asking yourself, “If you studied Electronic Media, why are you working for brass?” Well, let’s just say I’m trying to broaden my skill set in order to latch onto any cool job I can find (i.e. brass). TV news can be a little dry ("So Chet, are we going to see some sunshine this weekend?"), and this little bird needed to spread his wings. Plus, my high school English teacher always told me I have a great face for radio. However, don’t be surprised (though the video department might be) if I end up on our vlog or the brass|SHOW in the near future. Like most people our age, I’m not sure what the future will hold, but interning at brass should open a few doors. If anything, I’ll try my darndest to produce so much work for the website and magazine you’ll think I’m a full-time employee.