Archive for January, 2011

Pill Robot Medicates Mom and Pacifies the Family

It’s like having R2D2 take care of grandma: A monitored automatic pill dispenser (MAPD – Say “Mapdee”) is a table-top machine that gives out pills on a strict schedule and calls you on the telephone if the patient doesn’t get her dose on schedule.   It’s about the size of  a crockpot.

We got one for my mother-in-law who is over 90 and lives alone. “At first I didn’t think I was going to like it, but now I really do!” says Mom. She looks forward to hearing the pill robot’s cheerful “Time to take your medicine” alert, spoken in a female voice. She then presses a button and Read more…

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 16, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Categories: Health, Uncategorized   Tags: , , , , ,

Adventures in Family Tree Research Online — Tips for Doing Genealogy

Your ancestors may be online, waiting for you to find them.   I found mine, sailing to America, settling the west, fighting wars, and having babies — oh did they have babies!

The internet has revolutionized genealogical research for  common folk.   You can find exciting, interesting things.  Here are examples of what may be waiting out there for you, taken from my experience: Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 13, 2011 at 12:55 am

Categories: Genealogical Research, The World Wide Web   Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The ABCs of REIT Preferred Stocks

By Jim Luckett, Ph.D., economics

If you want to invest in REIT preferred stocks, as suggested by Ralph Block in the accompanying article, then you’ll need the information below about risks, returns, call provisions and how to trade these odd ducks. If you need more information, then consider going to

First some basics: Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Categories: Finance, investing   Tags: , , ,

Does Sigmund Freud Need a Toy? A Sex Toy? Story of a Small Business.

By Robert Myrstad

In 1987 I decided to open a company called FreudToy Inc. The planned product was a stuffed, cuddly doll of Sigmund Freud – a doll which had not yet been designed or manufactured. I had no idea how much any of this would cost or how much the final product would sell for. I had no idea who my buyers would be. My first step? I opened a corporation.

Why, you may ask, was it important to sell stuffed, cuddly dolls of Sigmund Freud. I don’t really Read more…

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Categories: Small Business Stories   Tags: , , , , ,

Oatcakes (with a gluten-free variant)

Oats are healthy, oats raise your good cholesterol, oats are just the thing if you’re a fan of grains. If you want to feel your oats, but you’re not up for a bowl of oatmeal porridge, have a couple of oatcakes instead. You can take ’em with you, too.

Two versions here: regular and low-wheat/no-wheat/gluten-free. Serve with a little butter and brown sugar on top.

Read more…

2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by terrydyke - at 8:45 am

Categories: Breakfast, gluten-free, Recipes   Tags: , ,

American Basic Science Club: Story of a Successful Small Business

By Jim Kerr

Imagine the excitement kids felt back in the 1950s and 60s receiving a box of scientific gizmos in the mail they could assemble into a “mystery shock box,”  a strobe light and then a radio.   American Basic Science Club delivered that excitement.

The club was a small business my dad dreamed up which manufactured and sold science kits through mail order. The kits were sold mainly to young people in the 10 to 16 year-old range, and were advertised in Boys Life, Popular Electronics, Popular Science,  other magazines and various comic books.

The business was created and operated by my father, James S. Kerr, and ran from 1957 until the early 1980s. In later years, my father would often hear from past customers who said his kits had sparked an interest in science for them, and influenced their decision to pursue careers in science, engineering and medicine. 

The American Basic Science Club kits were unique in that:

• They were comprehensive, covering a variety of subjects including magnetism, electronics, optics, photography, atomic energy, land surveying, analog computers, and weather forecasting.
• They were sold as a kit-a-month club, with each monthly kit including multiple projects and experiments. There were initially eight monthly kits, but it eventually grew to 10 monthly kits in all. Each month the customer would receive a new kit until all 10 were received.
• The instruction manuals included were educational. You not only learned how to assemble each project, you also learned how they worked and the function of each part. For instance, when a new part was introduced, such as a capacitor or vacuum tube, you would have to perform several experiments to learn how that part behaved.
• The kits were affordable, with the price for each monthly kit being less than $5. To keep the price low, the projects included with each kit often made use of parts obtained in previous kits. For instance, the radio that was built in Kit 4 used parts from Kits 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Here are just a few of the projects that were included with the  kits:

Kit 1: Electrical Lab with Safety Power Transformer, Electro-Chemical Projects, Neon Lamp, “Mystery Shock Box”, Relay, Solenoid, Magnetizer/Demagnetizer
Kit 2: DC Power Supply, Voltmeter, Wheatstone Bridge, Low Speed Strobe Light
Kit 3: Amplifier, Oscillator, High Speed Strobe Light, Sound Experiments, Ripple Tank
Kit 4: Shortwave and Broadcast Radio, Audio Amplifier, Microphone, Transmitter
Kit 5: Telescope, Microscope, Lamp Housing, Optical Lab, Camera Lucida
Kit 6: 35 mm Slide Projector, Microscope Projector, Spectroscope, Ultraviolet Lamp
Kit 7: Analog Computer, Weather Station, Wind Vane and Indicator Board
Kit 8: Atomic Energy Lab, Thermal Energy Lab, Barometer, Anemometer, Sling Psychrometer
Kit 9: Photography Lab, Photomicrography Camera, Photo Cell Projects
Kit 10: Surveyor’s Transit, Telescope Mount, Talking on a Light Beam, Photoelectric Relay

During the 1960s, my father began expanding the business by selling a few of the kits through Sears Roebuck, Edmund Scientific and

Typical Ad for the American Basic Science Club kits.

other companies. The Weather Station, Photography Lab, and Atomic Energy Lab were available as individual kits. You can occasionally find these kits on Ebay.

By the late 1970s, the business was slowing down. Part of the problem was that people seemed less interested in building things, plus the electronics portion of the kits had become somewhat dated since it still used vacuum tubes. My father felt that it would be too expensive to bring the kits up to date, particularly since the demand for such kits didn’t seem to be there anymore. By the early 1980s, the business was closed.

My father was very proud of what he had done.   It was a great idea, well-executed, that inspired a lot of young people.

Another Small Business Story





143 comments - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Categories: Small Business Stories   Tags: , , , , ,

Piano Crawler: A Unique Occupation in Old Boston

A piano crawler is a very strong man who crawls up or down stairs with a piano on his back. I’m not kidding. I once worked with a guy whose dad was a retired piano crawler in Boston.

Piano crawlers worked for moving companies. When a moving company had a job that involved a piano going in or out of an upper story, they would call him. He would get down on all fours and the movers would lift the piano onto his back. He would then ascend or descend the stairs while the other workers kept the piano balanced on his back. It was cheaper than the classic method of hoisting pianos up the outside of the building and then swinging them in through a window.

Boston is, of course, an old city and many of the old buildings have very narrow winding staircases and no elevators. I don’t know if piano crawlers are still in use. I suspect they have found a more high-tech way of doing this by now that is cheaper. Probably, OSHA safety rules and the consideration of what your workers’ compensation insurance would cost if you employed piano crawlers have motivated moving companies to end the practice of piano crawling.

Another interesting fact about these old staircases is this: Structural engineers have told me that they absolutely cannot analyze why these old wooden winding staircases in the old buildings don’t fall down. By the formulas and methods of formal analysis engineers learn in school, these staircases have no right to be doing what they do, given how they are put together.

The old carpenters who built these staicases 100 and more years ago had their tricks, handed down through the generations of their craft, to make the support pieces fit together and lay one upon another around the turns such that they do hold up — and defy conventional analysis in the process. Of course, (continued below ad for this recommended book which is kind of a layman’s guide to structural engineering)

the reason these staircases came up in conversation with structural engineers in my former line of work as a consultant doing housing rehab is that these staircases often sag. I would ask the engineer what was the cause of the sag, and the answer would invariably be something like: “The question is not why its sagging. The question is how the hell it didn’t fall down the first time a heavy load was put on it.”

Maybe it was my friend’s dad with a piano on his back that put some of those staircases into their saggy condition.

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1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - at 10:55 am

Categories: Interesting Facts Not Widely Known   Tags:

How to Create a Sound Rental Housing Pro Forma (Budget)

Being overly optimistic doing the numbers for a planned rental housing investment is like taking off for a trans-atlantic flight with too little fuel in the tank.

Rental housing is a long-term investment. Once you’ve built it or bought it, you’re committed. If you didn’t budget realistically at the outset, when you discover that fact your alternatives won’t be good. This is a detailed how-to article for developers or investors.

As we go through the steps below, bear in mind that the pressure to cut corners will be immenses from the worser angels of your nature and from people you deal with in connection with the transaction. I’m going to be the angel sitting on your right shoulder saying “scale back your revenue assumptions,” and “increase your expense projections” and “don’t underestimate future capital needs.”

Your own eagerness to do the deal, the broker trying to sell you the building, and/or the public funding sources you seek subsidy from (if applicable) will be whispering in your other ear: “Don’t listen to that old fuddy-duddy. This baby is a gusher. Your numbers are too conservative. Increase your debt level.”

The goal of doing the numbers is to predict your bottom line. To know your future annual profit or loss, you need to predict your potential gross revenue, and then subtract:

  • vacancy loss,
  • collection loss (deadbeats),
  • promotional discounts on rent (“concessions”),
  • operating expenses (accounting, admin, legal, repairs, maintenance, cleaning, utilities, taxes,  etc.) ,
  •  mortgage payment and
  • recurring capital expenditures.

And then each of the above have to be projected far into the future,  going 15, 20 or even 30 years out.   With each step in this process, there is the opportunity to sow the seeds of your own destruction.   The opiate of excess optimism will be urged upon you at every turn.   Don’t smoke that stuff!

Gross Potential Rent

The top line in your pro forma is the revenue you would earn in the nirvana world in which every apartment was occupied every month, you gave no concessions (discounts) to entice tenants in,  every tenant paid the rent and every rent subsidy source paid the subsidy.   (This article is for both subsidized and unsubsidized housing projects.)   That world does not exist, but we’ll subtract the vacancy and collection losses and discounts in the next 3 steps.   Right now, let’s focus on getting a realistic projection for potential.

The arithmetic of calculating gross potential rent is easy:  Just add up the rents on every apartment.   But what will those rent levels really be?  Here is your first opportunity for self-deception.

[More to Come — This is a Work in Progress. One of the issues I will address is the chronic underestimating of future capital needs — big expenditures for things that last more than a few years, like carpet from Billige Teppefliser, roofs, counter tops, etc. Throughout the rental housing industry, and indeed throughout commercial real estate, this is a prime area for self deception. During my 27-year career the rule of thumb for budgeting capital needs, sometimes called replacement reserve, went from $275 per unit per year to $360 per unit per year. In other words, from one inadequate figure to another inadequate figure and even if you believed $275 was right in 1983 how could you then believe it would be only $360 27 years later given what has taken place with inflation in that time period? Every responsible actual study of the future capital needs of an actual housing project that I have seen has returned an estimate above $600 per unit per year. And, wall street analysts have finally caught onto this issue now that there are a substantial number of publicly-traded apartment owning companies. Wall Street calculates a figure called “adjusted funds from operations” which, roughly speaking is cash flow available to support dividends or expansion of the company after meeting all expenses and deficit and doing everything you should to maintain and update your existing properties so they don’t lose value. The apartment companies had always suggested a figure in the $300 area for recurring capital needs, and then every year was an exception. Capital needs just happened to exceed $300/unit because bla, bla, bla but that won’t happen again. The analysts caught on and started coming up with their own allowance for routine capital needs based on the actual spending history of each firm and they tend to be in the $600 area or even higher, as of last time I checked. I have seen perfectly good housing development where the right figure was north of $1,000 per unit per year, based on a careful analysis done system by system and building by building. The drivers of this high figure were the fact that the development has large units, with carpeting rather than more durable floor finishes like wood, and exterior siding and trim that required periodic repainting, which is very expensive.]

If you are eager to see the completion of this article, give me a nudge using the comment box below or my direct email address at Thanks for your interest.

The story of how well-intenioned public policy and greed destroyed the Jewish community in Grove Hall. Highly recommended by Jim Luckett. Click in the box below to read more (you are not committing to buy)

2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 8, 2011 at 10:58 am

Categories: Business, Finance   Tags:

Low Fat (but yummy) Barley Pancakes

These pancakes taste great and have no added fat. I eat them with homemade applesauce and pure maple syrup and never miss the melted butter I used to pour on pancakes. Read more…

2 comments - What do you think?  Posted by arleighluckett - January 7, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Categories: Breakfast, Diet and Fitness, Recipes   Tags: , , , ,

Lower Your LDL Cholesterol – Add Barley to Your Baking

Turn a health need into an opportunity. If you or someone in your family needs to reduce their LDL (bad cholesterol) and you enjoy cooking and/or baking, adding barley to your repetoire can make a real difference. Read more…

3 comments - What do you think?  Posted by arleighluckett - at 11:27 pm

Categories: Bread, Cakes and Cookies, Diet and Fitness, Health, Recipes   Tags: , , , , ,

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