Archive for December, 2007

It’s here

Well, it took me five days to film it, edit it, compile and finish it but I got it done.  It is my fifth installment of my end of year Magic Clips video.

Check it out, I think it’s my best one yet.

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Way back in 2002, when I was traveling in Australia and staying in Melbourne with a friend of mine, I had some orange juice that had calcium added.  It was okay, but I thought that the taste was rather odd.

Over the next few years, I occasionally had orange juice with calcium added.  It wasn’t very often, but I got a pretty good "feel" for the taste, enough such that I decided that I was going to avoid it whenever I could.  It adds a very distinct flavour to the juice and it is one that I don’t like.

Well, last week, I was shopping in the grocery store and I picked up some orange juice.  It was the store brand, which was a little cheaper than the Minute Maid stuff which I generally get.  When I got home and tried it the next morning, I was taken aback at the foul flavor populating my mouth.

"Yuck, what is this?" I said.  I looked at the expiration date on the juice and it was fine.  I tried another swig and had the same taste.  Is it the store-brand stuff, I thought to myself.  No, it couldn’t be, I bought store-brand (Safeway) before and it tasted perfectly fine.  Wait, maybe that was at Fred Meyer where I got store brand before and this is Safeway.  Different store, ergo, different taste.

No, I was pretty sure I had bought Safeway brand orange juice before.  I inspected the contents of the juice box.  It said it had added calcium.  That explained it.  My old nemesis, Calcium, was back to get me.  There are some kinds of orange juice where calcium does not ruin the flavor; Safeway’s is not one of them.

This means that next time I go shopping, even if the store brand stuff is cheaper, if all they have is calcium-added stuff I will select a more expensive brand.

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Some of you may know that a couple of months ago, Microsoft bought a chunk of Facebook.  5% of it, in fact.  That means that Microsoft owns 5% of Facebook.

I happen to own a few shares of Microsoft.  I did some of the math, and it turns out that I own 1/1.8 millionth of Facebook.  So, you Facebook users, you’re using an application that I (partially) own!

So in a way, you’ve kind of sold out to Microsoft as well.  You can’t go saying that you have no choice, the way you justify it with Windows and Office.  With Facebook you could always use MySpace… but you don’t.

Since you’re using my application, you should send me some money.

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The library is fantastic!

Ever since I moved to Redmond (a suburb of Seattle) I have had a library membership. I’ve never had a library membership before, other than when I was in school when I had it be de facto. Having this membership is great.

Before, I usually used to buy books that I want to read, but now I always check the library first. I’ve checked out and read about a half dozen books since being here. And today, I wandered in simply to browse around. I checked out the Investing section and sure enough, I came across two books that I had been wanting to read. These books usually run about $40 in the bookstores, whereas checking them out of the library is free! From a cost/benefit perspective, the library wins on that count.

I used to think that I wouldn’t want to merely borrow books, I would want to buy them and own them. That’s true to a small extent, but I think that many books I read, I only read once. The exceptions are my books on investing and magic. I have also found that borrowing books from the library, rather than owning them, doesn’t bother me so much as I thought it would. If there’s a book I really want, then I would go out and buy it. Until then, the price is right.

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I was browsing WallStrip today, and I came across the funniest stock market summary for the year 2007 that I have ever seen. You can view it here. Seriously, if you have even a remote interest in the market, click the link.

BTW, the girl in the video is the one that I met in New York last month.

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Well, at least it wasn’t Al Gore.

Time Magazine released its Person of the Year today, and this year’s winner is Russian President Vladimir Putin.  At first I was like "Putin?  Really?" but when I saw Al Gore was second, I was like "Phew, at least it was Putin."

Other contenders for the prize were JK Rowling, Hu Jintao (president of China), General David Petraeus (General of the mission in Iraq who stabilized the country) and Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  I think I would have been happy with any except for Hu Jintao, to whom I am indifferent because I don’t follow Chinese politics. Although, I think Petraeus would have been my pick, and then Steve Jobs.

However, I can’t argue with the choice of Putin.  For good or ill, Putin has had a tremendous influence on the world and that is what the award looks for.  Recall that in the 1990’s Russia was a complete basket case.  I mean, that nation was a joke worse than the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs.  Now, with the price of oil soaring, Russia has re-emerged.  It is an economic power, a military power and is no pushover.  This is thanks to Putin.  Not only that, but Putin has managed to constitutionally hang onto controls of power after his term as President ends by appointing his own successor and then accepting the role of Prime Minister.  How much do you want to bet that the new President will step down and the PM will step up?  We all know Putin will control the scenes.

So, while naming Putin is a bit of an infamous pick, there’s no arguing with success.  I can’t disagree with this choice.  The only better selection would have been me.

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I watch Deal or No Deal on occasion, only because it comes on after Mad Money and I’m busy working on my laptop and I want some background noise.

I was interested in learning the mathematics of the game and what the optimal point to accept the offer is.  Because the game is based on pure chance, you need to use probability and statistics in order to find the optimal stop point.  This post here on this blog explains it perfectly.  The goal is not to maximize your money but try to beat the mean, that is, the expected value based on probability.

I was watching tonight after finding this post, and I saw a lady who had four entries left (including her case).  $10, $75, $1000, and $200,000.  The banker offer was $65,000.  Should she accept the deal or go for the $200k?

Well, I calculated the expected mean, and it was $66,333.  So, by accepting the deal, she would only lose out on $1333.  That’s only 2% of the total.  At that point, I think it is wise to accept the deal since it is so close to the expected payout.

However, that’s not what she did.  She decided to keep going.  The next case was opened and it revealed $10.  So, she got off lucky.  But the fact is that if you’re going to play the game, you ought to know the odds.

Update: She went to the very end, the odds were 50/50 and she decided to play it out.  As it turns out, she ended up going home with $1000.

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And speaking of the great Thai soup I had the other day, I also did something I have never managed to do before — finish a meal by using chopsticks.

I have always found chopsticks very difficult to use while eating far east Asian food.  Something about picking up the food and holding onto it makes it virtually impossible.  I mean, my brother lived in Korea for two years and even he can’t do it!

This time, however, would be different.  I decided that I was going to try the first 10 bites using chopsticks.  Well, I got to three, then five, and then ten.  By the time I got to ten, I found that I was starting to get the hang of it.  I kept with it and didn’t ask for a fork.

In fact, I didn’t ask for a fork the entire time I was there.  I finished my entire meal while using the chopsticks the entire time.  That’s a first for me and I’m so proud of myself.

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Thai soup

Today, a friend and I went to visit a Thai restaurant. I like Asian food, but out of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai food, I like Thai the best. However, the last time I went to a Thai place, I found that I didn’t really like it and that it seemed like I was getting bored of ordering my favorite thing. I readily agreed to visit this Thai place but was somewhat uneasy about whether or not I would like it.

Well, I was not disappointed. While the main course was m’kay, what I really liked was the soup they served beforehand. It was some Thai soup that was incredibly good! It had chicken, beans, mushrooms and a couple of other vegetables in there, but the broth was great. It’s probably one of the best soups I’ve had this year.

We didn’t finish it so I brought it home with me, the stuff that was leftover. I’m actually looking forward to consuming these leftovers.

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Tin Man

The other week, myself and a friend watched the TV miniseries "Tin Man". It was loosely based on the children’s novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

I must say that after watching the film, I was quite disappointed. It wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it could be. The acting was wooden, it was very cheesey, and it was very loosely based on the Wizard of Oz. It was a modern re-interpretation of the Oz story. I felt like I had to finish watching it (it was a three-part series) but I think I would have preferred the original Wizard of Oz. Maybe an animated version like Shrek, that could have been pretty good.

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This morning, I woke up with a bit of a sore throat.  A couple of hours later I’m at work and I find myself feeling slightly stuffed up in my sinuses.

Hopefully this is the worst that it gets.

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Today, during a meeting at work, I really, really had to resist the urge to laugh at an immature joke.

To the computer people who are reading this, what I am about to tell you is nothing new. But to the non-techies, read on. In databases, whenever the data is backed up to another server, it’s called a database dump (of the data). The act of pushing the data to the backup server is called dumping the data. This can lead to some very immature jokes.

Well, today, during a meeting, something like that occurred. Now, normally only my brother tells immature jokes like these, and laughs at them. It took all my willpower to control myself. A group of us Microsoft folk were in a meeting and we were talking about getting some data from a production server and putting in onto a backup server where my team could play around with the data. I refer to this as playing in the sandbox. We don’t want to touch the actual production data, we want a copy.

We decided that the best way to get this data was to take a database dump of the data every day. Of course, the way it was phrased was "So, we should take a dump every day." It was something like that. I caught the text and it was not intended to be funny so I controlled myself. However, one of my other co-workers started smirking, and then another did shortly thereafter. Let me tell you, it was nearly impossible not to do the same.

Then another guy said "So, if we’re taking a dump every day, then we should do something-or-other…" This time, many more people started to smirk and even laugh a bit under their breath. Man, oh man, I was fighting with every ounce of strength in my body to keep from laughing. I managed to do that, but I was unable to keep the smirk off of my face. It wasn’t my fault! I would have overlooked it but a bunch of other guys were laughing and I couldn’t control myself! Seriously, when other start laughing it’s hard not to play along.

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I recently started playing badminton again. The last time I played regularly was in summer 2006, where I defeated my opponents due to my superior level of experience.

The experience at Microsoft is entirely different.  There are two skill levels at the gym where I go – advanced and regular-folk.  I made the mistake of heading over the advance side one day and promptly got clobbered in every game I played (in doubles; even though I had a partner I was still getting clobbered).  They also played this weird version of doubles where we went up to 21 points, and you could score regardless of whether or not your team served.  And, you only got one serve, instead of two like in normal doubles.

Anyway, after getting pounded again for the fifth consecutive game, one of my opponents came up to me and suggested that I head over to the other side.  I was beginning to wonder whether or not there was a good side and a regular-folk side.  For you see, I wandered over the regular-folk side two weeks earlier and had a good time, and this skill level seemed way harder.  I replied to my opponent “You got it.”

You see, I wasn’t at all offended that my opponent pointed out that my skills were below the good side.  I already knew that.  I just wanted to play on a side where I was competitive.  I headed to the other side and the skill level was lower, just like how I liked it.  I still ended up getting beaten most of the time, but at least I felt like I was in every game and not getting clobbered each time.  I don’t mind losing so long as I stand a chance.

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Some time ago, I was at a Quiz Night and one of the questions was which Rocky movie came out in 1983?  Was it Rocky II, Rocky II, Rocky III or Rocky IV?  Our team captain knew it… or did he?  He debated with himself.  “Rocky III!  No, wait, Rocky IV.  Hold on, put Rocky III.”  We decided to go with Rocky III, until the very end when our team captain second-guessed himself and switched it to Rocky IV.

It turns out that the answer to the question indeed was Rocky III.  It wouldn’t have been so bad except that our team ended up losing by 1 point.  That second-guessing was costly.

Well, this past Monday, myself and some friends went down to a Quiz Night at a local restaurant.  The questions were very difficult, we had no idea on most of them.  They did end up getting a bit easier as time passed, however.  One question was the following: What did year the Berlin Wall go up?  And what year was it torn down?

We all knew that it came down in 1989 (at least I did, I blurted that out as quickly as I could).  However, nobody knew when it was put up, at least not right away.  I knew that the city of Berlin was split right after the end of the second world war, but I also knew the wall itself was constructed much later.  I searched my memory and said “1961.”  The team kind of hemmed and hawed.  I was certain it was around that time period, but I wasn’t sure.  At the end, the team ended up changing it to some time in the early 1950’s.  I wasn’t sure of the date and acquiesced to their judgment.

At the end, the points were tallied.  They read out the answers and it turned out that the Berlin Wall did go up in 1961, just like I originally said.  That ended up costing us a point.  My team ended up coming in third place… by 1 point.  The second-guessing cost us a second place finish.  It was the difference between a $15 gift certificate and a $25 gift certificate.  What is with my team-quizzes and missing out by 1 point?

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