Monday, March 31, 2014

The history of social media.

Some time this year, we’ll hit a milestone that will pass without much fanfare – the 10-year anniversary of social media.  The exact dates our modern social media originated are subject to interpretation and debatable, but most give credit to the inception of Facebook in 2004 as a way for college kids at Harvard to interact online.  From there, the timeline of social media follows a few twists (like the dotcom bubble burst in 2000) and dead ends (remember MySpace?), but it never diverged from a meteoric rise as the defining phenomenon of the 21st century.  What will the future for social media hold?  We’ll have to wait and see with baited breath what groundbreaking, fun, and fascinating technologies are around the corner, but if the quickening evolution of social media is any indication we can be sure of one thing – we won’t have to wait long for the next big, revolutionary idea!

CompuServe was the first major commercial public Internet provider in the U.S., founded way back in 1969.  It’s Internet service relied on dial-up modem technology that prevailed through the 1980’s and mid 90’s.

Developer Ray Tomlinson sends the first email, a nonsensical bit of text, “QWERTTYIOP,” between two computers sitting next to each other.

Two Chicago computer enthusiasts come up with the idea for the BBS, bulletin board system to share information, post announcements, and exchange events just like in real life.  Duke University and the University of North Carolina use the BBS to connect.

The Prodigy Internet service was born.  It grew in popularity and by 1990, was the second-largest service provider with 465,000 subscribers (CompuServe had 600,000.)  It was sold many times and later bought by AT&T.

The first domain ever registered is  Now, it stands as a historic site.

AOL, the American Online Service, was introduced.  Who can forget that voice, “You’ve got mail!” when you logged in?!

The seed that was to become the World Wide Web was planted when British engineer Tim Berners-Lee started work at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Switzerland.

CERN donates the WWW technology to the world.  More than 200 Web servers quickly came online.  Students at the NCSA, the National Center of Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, displayed the first graphical browser, Mosaic, that showed web pages as we know them today.

More than 1,500 Web servers were online, leading people to call it the Information Superhighway .

Geocities, which let its users create their own web pages based on types of urban areas, was released.  It reached 1,000,000 users by 1997 and it grew to 38 million users by 2009 when it was closed down to U.S. users.

Yahoo opens its search engine and web index platform.

Earthlink started their interest service provider.

The first banner ad is unleashed on, a simple ad promoting 7 art museums and sponsored by AT&T.

Newsweek released an article with the auspicious headline, “The Internet? Bah!  Hype alert: Why cyberspace isn’t, and never will be, nirvana.”

The first item sells on eBay (back then it was AuctionWeb) a broken laser pointer for $14.83. sells its first book, Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.

By now the Web has over 1,000,000 sites.  Blogging begins, the name coming from a Web Log, or the joking mashup, Blog.

The website lets users create profiles and list their friends, a precursor to modern social networking.

Internet users can chat with AOL Instant Messenger.

Educators and university start Blackboard, an online course management platform.

A tiny search index with a weird name, Google, sets up shop.

Friends Reunited, credited as the first prominent online social network site, is founded in Great Britain as a way to locate past school mates.

The blogging platform, is launched.

Seventy million computers are connected to the Internet.

The bubble bursts, sending the stock market plummeting and investors and techies reevaluating the value and nature of social media innovations.

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is started.

Apple starts selling iPods.

The social networking website, Friendster is released to the public in the U.S. and blows up with 3 million users in three months.  

AOL has grown to 34 million members by now.

MySpace starts as a social networking site intended to replicate Friendster.

LinkedIn is established as a social media networking site for professionals and business.

Apple introduces iTunes.

Skype is introduced for the general public.

A college version of Friendster is rolled out for students at Harvard College, called Facebook.

Podcasting begins via the Internet.

Digg, a social news website, and Flickr, an image hosting site, are launched.

Facebook releases a version for high school students.

YouTube begins storing and replaying videos for users.  The first video uploaded was a test video at the San Diego Zoo and has been watched more than 10 million times.

There are more than 8 billion web pages.

Twitter is established as a social networking and microblogging site.  Founder Jack Dorsey sends the first ever Tweet, “Just setting up my twttr.”

Facebook memberships is opened to anyone over 13 years of age,

Google is growing by leaps and bounds, already indexing more than 25 billion web pages, 400 million daily queries, and 1.3 billion images.

Microsoft buys a stake in Facebook.  Facebook adds the capacity for third party applications.

Apple releases the iPhone smart phone.

Facebook passes MySpace for the total number of monthly users.  Facebook tries to acquire Twitter, unsuccessfully.

Facebook is the most populated social network with more than 200 million users.

Microsoft releases Bing as a search engine to compete with Yahoo and Google.

It’s estimated that 25% of the earth’s population uses the Internet, with anywhere from 27-58 billion web pages.

Facebook hits 400 million users while MySpace declines to 57 million.

Apple releases the iPad.

Social media first sees a role in national politics in President Barack Obamas’ campaign and White House administration.

Almost 2 billion people are using the Internet.  It surpasses newspapers as the primary way for Americans to get news.

QR codes are created.

Smartphones and tablets give us access to the Internet and social media everywhere.  Facebook has 550 million users, 65 million Tweets are sent a day, LinkedIn has 90 million professionals, and 2 billion videos are viewed daily on YouTube.

Questions over privacy exhibit growing pains with omniscient social media.

Wordpress, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, and Wikia grow in popularity.

Advertisers and businesses start using Likes, Tweets, and the like to promote their brands.

Facebook hits 1 billion users.  YouTube has 1 trillion views per year, 70% of which come from outside the U.S.

Twitter obtains the video site, Vine.

Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion.

Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion.

Apple users have downloaded over 50 billion apps.

Yahoo purchases Tumblr.

There are more than 156 million blogs.

Social media and especially Twitter have a major role in organizing political action like the Arab Spring.

As of December 2013, Twitter has 241 million active users every month and Facebook, 1.23 billion.

Friday, March 28, 2014

California's draught is getting critical - but how can we help?

California has a history intertwined with precious natural resources.  First, it was gold that led people to go west, young man, establishing our home state around the epicenter of Sacramento and its well-panned hills and rivers.  Next, it was oil in the 1970’s and 1980’s, as shortages drove the most populous state in the country scrambling for alternatives to big cars and big power.  Now, it’s water shortages that pose the most daunting dilemma for our Golden State, a crisis so profound that it goes far beyond jut cutting back on watering lawns and turning off faucets around the house, and even a spell of good rain won’t solve this problem.  It’s an issue two decades in the making, culminating now with looming shortages so profound that water might be the most singly important issue this upcoming political season. 

The central valley and the seat of government of the world’s 8th largest economy are now some of the most affected areas, and experts are now screaming for politicians and the populace alike to pay attention.  Will the necessary adjustments be minor inconveniences or substantially impact our quality of life?  Will these shortages push us into a new green era of efficiency and sustainability?  Just how bad are the water shortages in California and the Sacramento region?

Last year was the driest in state history since records started being kept in 1895, and this year looks to be significantly drier.  One of the largest single sources of water for California, the states’s snowpack from Lake Tahoe and other peaks, accounting for one-third of the water used by our cities and farms, sits at only about 20% of its normal water content.  The water level in crucial reservoirs is even lower than in 1977, one of the two driest years on record.  Recently, a state spokesman announced that 17 rural communities were within 100 days of running out of drinking water if its current pattern of water supply and usage continued unchanged.  Even if it rained every other day through May, the drought still wouldn’t be alleviated because it’s been so dry the past two years.

Anecdotally, the impending water shortages are leading some to anticipate a modern version of the 1930’s Dust Bowl.  Governor Jerry Brown, whose reelection bid could be hinged to his ability to negotiate water shortage solutions, warned in February that the state was facing a mega draught. 

In January, Gov. Brown called for California’s to reduce their water usage by 20%, followed by emergency draught legislation that promoted the use of recycled water, among other measures.  Placer County declared a Drought Emergency on February 6th, looking for reductions of indoor water usage by 25% and outdoor usage by 50%. 

These water saving measures sound great, but rarely do they take hold and actually cause significant conversation.  At least, that’s the consensus based on the last legislation, 5 years ago when Gov. Brown called for Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20%, a goal we were supposed to hit by 202.  But new studies show we’re not anywhere close to achieving that.

There’s plenty of finger pointing to go around – homeowners for not having water meters installed on their homes, environmentalists for blocking new damn and waterway construction projects, and especially farmers, who still use water-wasting open irrigation techniques.  In fact, farmers are seeing the biggest consequences to this draught already, which supply about half of the countries fruits, nuts, and vegetables.  They’re proactively destroying certain crops, like almond trees, that are thirstiest.  It’s expected that half a million acres of agricultural and farmlands will go fallow over the next couple years because of water shortages, and food prices have already started to creep up, reflecting that.

So what might this look like to the average person?  Small measures – often interpreted as inconveniences – trickle down first.  Local governments have called for restaurants to stop serving drinking water unless specifically requested.  Driveways can’t be hosed down, cars can only be washed with water in buckets, and showers should be voluntarily shortened.  Hotels are supposed to wash linens daily only if customers specifically ask, and landscapers are being asked to plant only drought-tolerant plants. 

What are the best ways responsible citizens can do their part to cut back on water usage? 

Where do families and homeowners use the most water?

A typical three-bedroom single family home in California uses 174,000 gallons a year.  That's broken down as:

-Shower 17%
-Kitchen and bathroom faucets 9%
-Toilets 4%
-Clothes washer 4%
-Landscaping 57%
-Over watering 9%

Water saving solutions:

-Low-flow toilet $60-$200
(Saves 6.4 gallons per flush)

-Faucet aerators
Cost $2
(Saves 1.5 gallons per minute)

-Low-flow showerhead
(Saves 2.5-3.5 gallons per minute)

As we can see, rampant overwatering of landscaping and lawns is the single biggest wearer waster.  Consider watering manually, or definitely set the auto timers on your sprinklers for recommended watering days.  Take a weekend trip to Home Depot or have someone install low-flow toilets, shower heads, and faucet upgrades to cut back.  Additionally, it’s important to pay attention to the water-saving legislation already in effect.  California Senate Bill 407 calls for changes for homeowners by January 1, 2017 - all residential properties in California that were built prior to 1994 will be required to retrofit with:

-Toilets that use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush
-Showerheads with flow rates of no more than 2.5 gallons per minute
-Other interior fixtures that use less than 2.2 gallons of water per minute.

Data from the CA Homebuilding Foundation and CA Association of Realtors.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Take our real estate and mortgage quiz!

Are you a savvy homebuyer?  Do you know the in's and out's of selling your home?  Are you so knowledgeable about the world of real estate and mortgages that you think you could pass the state exam today?  

Take our real estate and mortgage quiz and let's see what you've got!

1. How long is the typical escrow period?

a) 90 days
b) 30 days
c) no set period
d) 15 days

2. When someone is making a “contingent offer,” they typically:

a) Need to sell their home before they can close on a purchase
b) Need to refinance first
c) Want a 20% price reduction on your home
d) None of the above

3. Which matters more: being prequalified for a mortgage or preapproved?

a) Prequalified
b) Preapproved
c) They are the same thing

4. When buying a home that’s “For sale by owner,” can you use a realtor?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Only if you use the same realtor
d) It’s illegal

5. How much are typical closing costs?

a) 8-10% of purchase price
b) 20% down
c) $1,000
d) 3-6% of purchase price

6. The appraised value of a property is based most prominently on:

a) Price per square foot of all properties in your city
b) The appraiser’s judgment
c) Prices of comparable properties that have sold in the area
d) Market fluctuations

7. As a new homeowner, what costs can you deduct from income when you file your federal taxes?

a) Mortgage interest
b) Property taxes
c) Points paid at settlement
d) All of the above

8. Which of the following are covered by real estate’s Environmental Hazards Law?

a) Petrochemicals
b) Lead Based Paint
c) Silica
d) Diammonium Phosphate Fertilizer

9. Which of the following is an example of joint ownership?

a) Vacation home
b) RV or mobile home
c) Condo
d) Basketball arena

10. If you rent a home and the water heater breaks, who is responsible for fixing it?

a) The tenant
b) The landlord
c) The previous seller
d) The home builder

11. When your property tax bill comes, there is no way to appeal or adjust it.


12. A short sale is when you buy a previously foreclosed property.


13. REO stands for what?

a) The band REO Speedwagon
b) Really Excellent Offer
c) Residential Escrow Officer
d) Real Estate Owned

14. What percentage of U.S. homes sit vacant?

a) 35%
b) 13%
c)  2%
d)  19%

15. What’s the approximate percentage or renters versus homeowners in the U.S.?

a) 50% rent/50% own
b)26% rent/74% own
c) 40% rent/60% own
d) 80% rent/20% own

16. Traditionally, a down payment is how much? 

a) 20%
b) 10%
c) 80%
d) 100%

17. If there was a murder, epic flood, or a satanic cult operating in the house, does the seller need to disclose that?


18. What are the two most important factors when qualifying for a mortgage loan?

a) Down payment and job title
b) Credit score and income
c) Bank statements and size of retirement nest egg
d) The lenders look at everyone as equals

19. When someone says the house is a “2/1” what are they referring to?

a) 2 units on 1 property
b) 2,100 square feet
c) 2 bathrooms and 1 bedroom
d) 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom

20. Buyers pay how much for their real estate agent?

a) 3%
b) Split 50/50 with the seller’s agent
c) $0
d) 6%

21. When you’re selling your home, who decides what price you list your home for?

a) The listing agent
b) The homeowner
c) The listing agent’s broker
d) It’s a team decisions between you, the buyers agent, and the listing agent.

22. Are all appliances automatically included in the sale of a home?


23. Is the garage counted in the home’s appraised square footage?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Only If it’s 3 car or bigger.
d) Counts as ½ the normal square footage

24. Can agents tell the buyer about the ethnic makeup and crime rates of a neighborhood? 


25. You’re writing an offer to buy a house and the selling agent tells you they have other bids.  Do you have a right to demand proof?


26. If the escrow period expires, can the buyer and seller still go through with the sale?


27. Are you obligated to get your mortgage with the same bank or loan officer you were preapproved with?


28. If you go through a short sale or foreclosure, do you always need to wait 7 years before getting another home loan?


29. What does the mortgage term APR stand for?

a) Aggregate Property Rating
b) Adjusted Prime Rate
c) Annual Property Ranking
d) Annual Percentage Rate

30. You have to be a U.S. citizen to get a government-backed mortgage.


31. How many signatures does it usually take to close a real estate transaction – buyer and seller combined?

a) 350
b) 240
c) 49
d) 108

32. Mortgage interest rates are most tied to what financial instrument?

a) Treasury index and futures
b) Price of oil
c) The bond market
d) The stock market

33. Is it legal for realtors or loan officers to get kickbacks from inspectors, appraisers, vendors, etc.?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Sometimes
d) Only if they divulge to the buyer

34. What is an easement right?

a)    A right of way granted for someone to access your land.
b)    The rights of a city to annex your land.
c)    The right to inspect the attic or foundation of a home.
d)    A right for someone to inspect your land.

35. The real estate “TDS” stands for:

a) Total Disaster Statement
b) Transferred Documents Standard
c) The appraisal
d) Transfer Disclosure Statement


How many answers do you get right? 

0-10 Don't quit your day job!
11-20 Rookie!
21-25 Not bad at all!
26-29  Great knowledge.
30+  You're a genius!
All of them.  Stop Googling!

1. b) 30 days 
2. a) Need to sell their home before they can close on a purchase
3. b) Preapproved
4. a) Yes
5. d) 3-6% of purchase price
6. c) Prices of comparable properties that have sold in the area
7. d) All of the above
8. b) Lead Based Paint
9. c) Condo
10. b) The landlord
11. False
12. False
13. d) Real Estate Owned
14. b) 13%
15. c) 40% rent/60% own
16. a) 20%
17. Yes
18. b) Credit score and income
19. c) 2 bathrooms and 1 bedroom
20. c) $0
21. b) The homeowner
22. No
23. b) No
24. No (Disclosing ethnic, crime, or even school stats is illegal to prevent the practice of redlining.)
25. No (Agents do not have to disclose or prove other offers.)
26. Yes
27. No
28. No (In most cases, you can buy again in 2-4 years if all other factors are in order.)
29. d) Annual Percentage Rate (The APR factors in the interest rate and all costs over the life of the loan.)
30. False (To buy you need to be a legal resident, but not a citizen.)
31. b) 240 (It's estimated there are 108 buyer signatures and 132 seller signatures in a real estate sale, but of course this will vary.)
32. c) The bond market
33. b) No (According to RESPA, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.)

34. a)  A right of way granted for someone to access to your land.

35. d) Transfer Disclosure Statement