Archive for May, 2007

Today, on my drive home from work, I nearly witnessed an accident.  Had it been rush hour, I think there could have been one.

I was parked at a red light with two cars in front of me.  The left turn was onto a bridge (two lanes in each direction).  The red light had no turn light so the cars waiting to turn left, which included myself, would have to wait until opposing direction cars passed by.

Well, the light turned green and the driver in the front waiting to turn left made her turn in front of the drivers going in the opposite direction who were going straight.  Was there some honking?  Oh, you better believe it.  But the story doesn’t end there.  This driver who cut off the drivers in the opposite direction must have gotten freaked out because they drove into the wrong lane (ie, going into traffic) of the bridge!  They pulled forward but rather than backing up or pulling a U-turn, they continued driving forward against traffic, into oncoming cars.

I was thinking “Oh, man, this isn’t good.”  Not only did the driver continue to not back up or pull around, they decided to continue to drive all the way down the bridge into traffic.  At one point a large delivery truck honked at the motorist and had to swerve out of the way.  Other cars honked their horns as well as if to say “WTF?”  Note that there was a concrete barrier separating the right way from the wrong way.  I followed the car from the other direction watching to make sure that if there was an accident, I could stop by and help.

Finally, at the other end of the bridge, the driver turned off the bridge and went the right way.  But seriously, had this been rush hour it could have ended much, much worse.

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Got my busking pass

I had a busking audition today.  We were given 5 minutes to perform for the crowd and if they liked us we were given a pass.

I did pass the test and got my pass but I wasn’t too happy with my performance.  I was performing one of my better effects but at the end I messed it up.  I was revealing a card in the deck where it was supposed to be reversed amongst all of the others but it was the wrong way.  I tried to switch it around but I ended up springing it out of the deck and it fell to the ground.  <sigh>  Up until that point the trick was going great.  That sort of thing never happens but whatever; I’ll make it up in the next performance.

I followed it up with a Cut-and-Restored rope effect and that went off very nicely so overall I was happy.

But the problem is that about 15 minutes before I performed, another magician went up.  I did not like his performance at all.  For one thing, he didn’t dress like a magician, he looked like another spectator (unlike myself who wore a nice shirt and a round bowler hat).  For another thing, he got up on stage and said "I need some volunteers so whoever wants to come up just do that," and he proceeded to set up.  I couldn’t believe that was done so flippantly.  Audience members should be chosen not non-chalantly like "Yeah, whoever wants to come up, come up."

He then did some card tricks but he had his back turned to 2/3 of the audience so barely anyone could see.  He did a couple of tricks and then did a final one, the same one I performed 15 minutes later but he performed it terribly.  I sighed because the trick absolutely deserves a great presentation (I thought I could redeem it by performing it better and I did until the final climax).

As a magician, it bothers me when other magicians perform badly and this was a bad performance.  It makes magic look bad in general and makes people think that magicans are unskilled and talentless (which is untrue).  If you’re going to perform the art, give it the attention it requires.

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A few months ago, I had the opportunity to compete in a Quiz Night.  The year before, I competed with the same team in another Quiz Night.  In both competitions, my team came in second, losing by one point in both years.

Today, I had the chance to compete in a third Quiz Night.  If you don’t know what that is, you get a team together to take part in a trivia contest.  There are 8 different categories (or so), and 10 questions per category.  There is one 5-point bonus question per category for a maximum of 15 points per category.  I started forming my team this past week and hand-picked my people.  I selected them for their skills in music, the arts, and general trivia.  I decided to pick the name of my team as one with an ironic twist – The Runner Ups.  Grammatically, The Runners Up would be correct but I decided to be different.

This time was indeed going to be different, but after the first round my team was in a hole: we were down by 4 points.  We slowly dug our way out and by the fifth round we were in first.  We held onto our lead throughout the end of the regular rounds and were up by 5 points.

Then came the final super bonus question.  The bonus question consisted of three clues.  If you got the question right after the first clue, you got 20 points.  If you got it after the second round, you got 10 points, and if you got it after the third round, you got 2 points (only one guess is permitted).  Well, we couldn’t figure it out after the first two guesses and we got it on the third guess.  Unfortunately, another team got it on the second guess, capturing the 10-point reward and beating our team by 2 points.

Not so ironically, The Runner Ups once again came in second.

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An idea for 2008

For a while now I’ve been trying to think of where I would like to go on my next big trip.  It’s now the end of May in 2007 and I haven’t got anything planned over than a trip to central America in late December/early January for a week, a trip to California in early August for a conference for work, and trip in June to Minneapolis for a magician’s convention.

A friend of mine gave me the idea for a trans-Chinese-Mongolian-Russian trip.  This would be a train ride that originates in China, crosses over part of Mongolia and heads into Russia.  There is an option to span the entire Russian continent and end up in London.  For me, personally, that is a little long.  It’d be cool but I’d be spending tons of time on a train.  With no internet access I’d go crazy.  So, the alternative is to take a shorter trip and see some of the interesting sights in a place I’d never been to before, and those three countries qualify.

On the website, in the FAQ question, it asks "When should I go?"  They say that summer is more expensive but going in winter should not be a problem because the trains are heated.  Yeah, I’ll bet.  I don’t know about all of you, but I think that the possibililty of a Russian train breaking down in winter in the middle of no where doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.  In fact, given my opinion of Soviet-era technology (ie, it sucks), I think I’ll pass on a winter trip and stick to something in the summer.

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I recently signed up for Facebook a couple of weeks ago and I have learned a number of interesting things.

In the company where I work, in July 2004, 12 of us joined the company.  Of those 12, 8 of us are still there.  Of the original 8, I am one of the oldest guys of the bunch, and I was only 25 when I joined!  I found all of this out when I found a bunch of my co-workers on Facebook and started adding them.  Actually, not only am I one of the older ones when the company started, amongst my current group of co-workers I am one of the older ones. 

I determined all this because Facebook has people’s dates of birth (if they choose to reveal them).  In fact, one guy was only 21 when he joined.  I thought I was quite young to be in that company.  Turns out I was wrong about that.  Now let us never speak of it again.

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For the third year in a row (excluding the lockout season) the NHL playoffs are returning to Canada.  First it was the Calgary Flames, who took Tampa Bay to seven games, then it was the Edmonton Oilers who took the Carolina Hurricanes to seven games.  Now, we get the Ottawa Senators.

The last time a Canadian-based team won the Stanley Cup was in 1993 when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings in 5 games.  The Vancouver Canucks lost to the New York Rangers in seven games the following year.  Then we had a long Canada-drought until Calgary made the finals.

The main difference in this year’s finals (we don’t know yet who Ottawa is playing) as opposed to the previous two is that Ottawa’s team finished much higher in the standings than either Edmonton or Calgary.  Both of those two teams finished 8th place in their conferences.  Ottawa finished 4th and they have defeated each of their opposing squads by 4-1 margins.  I have watched some of the playoff games and I have been suitably impressed; the team looks good.

So, will the Stanley Cup return to Canada?  I really can’t say but I think Ottawa represents a really good chance.  Go Senators, that’s what I say.

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A couple of weeks ago I predicted that based on a technical pattern that I saw in the Cdn-US dollar chart, the Cdn dollar had topped out.  Well, it turns out I was right… for five days.

The Canadian dollar has since long surged past its previous high and is now trading at 92.01 cents US.  It may very well head to par!  I don’t actually mind buying stuff in US funds anymore, it’s almost the same as paying for it in Cdn funds.  In fact, because the United States doesn’t have a federal sales tax it is nearly the same price.  Washington state has an 8.8% sales tax (which is ridiculous) but Manitoba has a combined 13% sales tax.  This means for a piece of merchandise that costs $10 US, in Washington state I pay $10.88 US = $11.82 Cdn.  In Manitoba, I would pay $11.30 US = $12.28 Cdn.  This is a difference of 46 cents, nearly on par.

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In case any of you are not aware, Fred Thompson is a former US senator who is considering running for President of the United States.  He has not yet entered the race but already he has some support among Republicans.  If you don’t recognize the name, you may know him better as the district attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s Law & Order.  He’s on the program right now, he’s not a former cast member.

Recently, "film-maker" Michael Moore challenged Thompson to a debate on the state of US health care.  Thompson had criticized Moore for taking victims of 9/11 who suffered inhalation effects of debris to Cuba for free health care, implying that Moore was circumventing the trade embargo.  Moore shot back challenging him to a debate, but also tried to needle him some more by saying (and I’m paraphrasing) "Why are you so concerned about my taking victims of 9/11 to Cuba when you smoke Cuban cigars?"

Thompson’s reply is priceless.  You can view it here.  He starts off the reply by smoking, of all things, a Cuban cigar.  For another article by Thompson about Cuba’s health care system and the American health care system, the article is here.

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This evening I did something I have never done before with regards to investing; I actually read the companies’ annual reports of the stocks that I am holding. Not only that, but I filled out the voting forms and I am going to send them in tomorrow. I decided at the start of the year that I was going to do things differently this year, and the way I trade and invest is no different.

In all, I reviewed the annual reports for Google, Apple and Intercontinental Exchange. I also got a report for Philadelphia Consolidated Holdings but I don’t think I’m going to read it since I’m not a shareholder anymore. Anyways, I learned a lot from reading those annual reports.

For example, in ICE, I learned that in 2005, the company was not making any money. In fact, they were bouncing back from negative earnings in 2006. I knew that they were growing and EPS growth was accelerating but I never realized how much in the hole they were.

The situation is the same for Google. They were profitable in 2004, 2005 and 2006, but I never realized how thin their profit margin was in 2004. It was only 10%. It increased to 25% in 2005 and 30% in 2006. But sheesh, 10% profit margin in 2004 and their stock price doubled within a few months of debut? Are investors crazy? Of course, it turns out that as Google has grown their profits and earnings growth have managed to outpace their costs. In fact, now that the stock price is flattening, I can see Google’s fundamentals as outpacing their stock performance (whereas when they debuted it was the other way around).

Apple revealed even more information. While I knew Al Gore was on the board of directors (but he didn’t invent the iPod), what I never realized was how many lawsuits Apple has against them. Seriously, there was like twelve pages of lawsuits in the annual report.

On another note, I remember hearing in the press that Apple was going to have to go back and restate their earnings. There was some fear among investors that this could be really bad and their earnings would go way, way down. Well, in their annual report, they restated their earnings and the result is… almost no change. Rather than making 1.56 per share in one quarter, they made 1.55 per share. This earnings restatement is almost (but not quite) nothing.

So, seriously, reading annual reports has been an enlightening endeavour. I think I made a mistake not doing this these past two years.

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In the province where I live, we’re in the middle of a provincial election.  This past week I got a phone call and email asking if I would be willing to help out with one of my candidates.  This is something I’ve done before, it usually involves phoning people up and asking if we can count on their support.

This type of campaigning isn’t something that I particularly like doing, but I understand that it’s important for the candidates to do this in order to get out their support.  In addition, I’m friends with my MLA and I think I should help him out, that’s what friends do.  So, I agreed to help out.

The problem arises that I’m actually a bit of a natural on the phone.  At first I sat with my back straight, following the script, but after a while I got comfortable with what I was doing so I leaned back, ear to my phone, sticking to my own script and phoning people up.

You all should realize that phoning people up asking if they will vote for your candidate is not an easy job.  Half the time people aren’t home, and plenty of time the callees are hostile.  Seriously, I haven’t experienced that many hang-ups and rejections since the last five girls I asked out.  Ha! Burn!  (That was too good a burn to pass up, even though the target was myself).  On the other hand, getting the rejection doesn’t bother me too much.  At least for today, it rolled off my back and I didn’t find the calling all that unpleasant.

I guess this is character-building for my eventual run for political office (in which I am unlikely to get elected).

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Magic show over

I had my magic performance this past weekend and overall the trick went pretty well. There were only two things that didn’t go over so well:

1. I made a glass of milk magically appear. It was supposed to disappear 60 seconds later but it didn’t work. That morning I switched from juice to milk (a correct decision) but forgot to allow for the fact that milk is more difficult to vanish. So, I ended ditching the disappearnce of the liquid. That would have been cool.

2. At the end of the trick, I make a cane magically appear at my left fingertips out of no where. I made the cane appear and I tossed it to my right hand where I bobbled and dropped it. The problem is that I had only gotten that prop earlier that week so I didn’t have as much time to practice with it. In rehearsal, I found that sometimes I made it appear so quickly that I couldn’t control it. In this case, I did control the production and I bobbled the tossing from my left hand to my right. Luckily, I allowed for this in my rehearsals and that in the case that I did drop it, I would say "Oops" and make it look like part of my show. It kind of fit in character. So, when it actually occurred, I didn’t panic and grab it right away. I looked at the audience, said "Oops" and slowly bent down to pick it up. I think it was a good recovery.

Now that it’s over, I can move onto some other effects. I have a whole bunch I’d like to work on and all of them are pretty cool. Stand by for details.

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As some of you may know, I run a second blog about what I do for a living (the link is on the right hand side of the page). It turns out a colleague in my industry is putting on a conference in Vienna, Austria about my particular industry.

He contacted me and invited me to come to said conference. While I would love to go, I don’t know if I can on the short notice. I’m going to another conference in San Jose in August so I doubt I’ll be able to go out to that one. However, the one in Austria is free (for me). Of course, flight and hotel is another matter but still, it’s nice to be invited.

Edit: So it turns out I can’t go.  Ah, well.  Better luck next year.

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Yesterday, Google released its version of a personalized home search page called iGoogle. I checked it out and I really like, so much so that I replaced my home page from Yahoo Finance (which has been my home page for almost two years) to iGoogle.

iGoogle allows you to customize your Google search page. You can add all sorts of gadgets on it, and on mine I have stock quotes, news articles, a Google map search, a calendar and a world clock. For me, that’s perfect because I use those features all the time. You can also pick the theme of your page. If you have a Google account you really ought to check it out.

Microsoft has a similar thing on their search page, Live.com. I have that one set up as well. I have iGoogle as my home page in Firefox and myLive in Internet Explorer. The one thing Live Search has that Google does not is a weather gadget that actually works in Canada. I tried setting up Google’s and I couldn’t get it to work for the city where I live. Live’s worked instantly, so the edge there goes to Windows Live. On the other hand, iGoogle has nicer themes than Live (in my opinion) and I like the fonts better.

Both get a thumbs-up from me, I like the customization.

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