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Archive for January, 2008

I ran across this image on the web.  Very funny.

 

Handouts_for_troubled_wall_street

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For the last few weeks I have been thinking about buying stock in the company VMware (VMW).  They are a company that makes virtualization environments.  In English, that means that you can run a different operating system on top of another one (such as running Linux on Windows).  Something like that.

Anyway, VMware has been doing quite well but has come back to retest its lows.  I was thinking of buying it based solely on its technical action.  I seriously considered it.  However, two things kept me out of the market:

  1. The market is still quite poor and I don’t want to buy stocks in what looks like a bear market.
  2. Microsoft is getting ready to enter the virtualization market.  On Friday, I learned that they are planning on entering the market with a product that costs 1/3 of what VMW charges.  Erk; that’s quite the undercut.

For both of those reasons I held off.  Thank goodness I did that because it release earnings today and after hours, it’s getting killed.  It’s currently down 26% after missing expectations.  Had I gotten in, I would have taken a major beating.

Sure, I got killed in Apple.  But at least I didn’t get killed in VMware.

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You know you live in a great country when somebody else screws up and the government decides to give you money.

As we all know, the stock market is imploding.  Everybody is panicking, thinking it will lead to a recession (for the record, I never believed that).  However, the Fed cut rates by 3/4 of a point (which is quite a drop, btw) and now Congress and the President have gotten together to work out an economic stimulus deal.

I’m not a big fan of the government meddling in the economy in order to bail it out.  But, get this: Congressional leaders announced a deal with the White House Thursday on an economic stimulus package that would give most tax filers refunds of $600 to $1,200, and more if they have children.  Well, I’m a tax filer without kids, so that will get me at most $600.  I’d expect that since I’ve only been here for four months, it will only be half that at the most.  Still, for the government to give this money to me is rather generous; I’ll take it.

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So, last week I had an MRI scan to diagnose a potential torn labrum in my leg (a ring of cartridge that runs around the hip).  If it were torn, then I was probably going to have to undergo surgery to have it fixed.

As it turns out, my labrum is perfectly fine.  It looks 100% normal, so that means I won’t have to have surgery.  When I got the news, I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or not because while it would mean I wouldn’t need surgery, it also meant that I still didn’t know why my hip hurts.

The diagnosis so far is that I have problem with my sacroiliac joint, which is out of alignment.  That is the joint that connects the base of the spine to the pelvis.  I managed to avoid surgery but instead I have to go to a chiropractor for a few sessions (what would Penn and Teller say to that?).

I’m telling you, this is starting to get a little fatiguing going to all these medical specialists.  So far, I have seen 3 doctors, 1 MRI specialist, 1 massage therapist, 1 physiotherapist and now it will be 1 chiropractor, for a total of 7 people (1 in Fiji, 2 in Canada and 4 in the United States).  Good thing I have health insurance.

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I’m watching the US presidential primaries and I find the races this year to be very interesting.  Here’s my take on it.

Democrats

My money is on Hillary getting the nomination.  I privately predicted many months ago that Hillary was going to win the nomination.  I’ve been saying for a couple of years at least that the next president of the US might even be a woman.  The only problem is that I’m not a particularly big fan of her economic proposals.  I read an article on MSNBC about what she was proposing to stimulate the economy and it all included tax increases, increased regulation, retraction of free trade, and so forth.  On the plus side, it’s no worse that Barack Obama’s plan(s).

Republicans

This one is way more difficult to predict.  I don’t think Mike Huckabee will win the nomination.  I think it will be between Mitt Romney and John McCain.  Rudy Giuliani has an outside shot if his strategy works.

Giuliani so far is dug into a hole.  He hasn’t campaigned in any of the early state’s primaries, leading to no national news stories and the media jumping on his bandwagon.  However, Rudy’s strategy has been to concentrate on Florida, where winner takes all.  You see, in early states, the candidates divide the delegate seats, but in Florida the first person past the gate takes all the delegates.  So, if Rudy wins, he gets all the seats and jumps right back into the race.  But we all know what’s going to happen – if he wins, his strategy was brilliant from the start.  If he loses, he made a big mistake by ignoring Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

I think that’s ridiculous and is an example of confirmation bias – the tendency to judge decisions based on their outcomes rather than their validity at the time they were made.  Either Giuliani’s decision is a good one right now or it’s not.  Don’t change your story to say "I told you so."

But I digress.  Currently, Romney is in the lead, followed by Huckabee and then McCain.  Yet, McCain leads all the national polls.  I think Huckabee may do well in southern states but will fail in the northeast and midwest/west.  Romney won’t have the staying power either, so I think that ultimately McCain will gain the Republican nomination.  Fred Thompson is toast, will shortly pull out of the race and throw his support behind McCain.

You heard it here first.

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Weird timing

Today, on Facebook, I went through my Zapp Branigan quotes.  The one I almost picked was the one where Zapp says "Kiff! Where’s the little umbrella?  That’s what makes it a scotch on the rocks!"

And then, just now, I turned on the TV and Futurama was on.  The TV had been on no more than 30 seconds when Zapp said that exact phrase from the episode where he said that particular sentence.  Now that is quite the coincidence, wouldn’t you agree?

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This morning I had a neat experience.

I was driving in to work and was passing between building 34 and building 33.  Building 34 is where I work, and 33 is a conference center.  As I was driving up, at about 8:50 am, I noticed two people walking to building 33.

I recognized one person immediately.  It was Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world (estimated at about $15 billion).  I did a bit of a double-take.  He was walking next to another one of the execs.

I really should have waved, or stopped, or something… but no, I kind of smiled and kept on driving.  If I would have had my camera, I definitely would have stopped and asked for a quick picture.  Sigh… I’ve got to learn to think faster.  And, I need to start bringing my camera with me everywhere, because you never know who you are going to run into.

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MRI scan

Today I went for an MRI scan on my hip.  Actually, it wasn’t quite my hip, it’s the part where the leg attaches to the torso (ie, the groin).  This is the injury I have been complaining about for months.

I went to a physiotherapist a week and a half ago.  What motivated me to do it was that I was sick and tired on the pain in my inner leg.  It stopped getting better and in fact, I thought it was getting worse.  At various times, whenever I would stand up quickly I would experience darting pains in my outside hip.  So, I went to see a physiotherapist.

He checked me out and I told him the story of how I got injured.  I had a hiking accident in Fiji but the leg pain didn’t occur until six weeks later when I turned from the counter and experienced a stabbing pain in my leg.  He then moved my leg in a whole bunch of directions and then told me that he thought I had a tear in my acetabular labrum.  Basically, it’s a ring of cartilage that runs around the hip bone.  He referred me to a doctor who agreed that while I have some sleight rotational problems in my hip bones, there’s definitely a problem with my inner hip so she sent me to have an MRI.

I didn’t really think about my MRI scan very much until I got to the doctor’s office and was sitting in the pre-examination room.  They told me that they were going to mark my leg with a marker to place the injection, then they cleaned it with alcohol.  Next, they told me they were going to inject some anesthetic to make my leg numb and then pump it full of dye (so it showed up in the MRI).  Right before they started that procedure, I suddenly realized I was very nervous and no longer wanted to be there.  But what choice did I have?

They inserted the needle and I felt a bit of a pinch.  Next, they injected the dye.  That was actually quite unpleasant.  I felt pressure, but I also felt like there was a serious bruise on the inside of my leg.  After a minute or two, it was over.  I got up and because my leg had more fluid in it that it was used to, I had to walk quite a bit slower.  I felt sluggish and my leg didn’t feel very good.

I made my way to the examination room.  If you’ve never had an MRI before, they put you and a platform and slide you into a machine.  It’s not good if you are claustrophobic (which I am not).  They put a mask over your eyes and give you headphones to listen to music.  I picked Vivaldi, but I only had about 30 seconds to decide.  While in the MRI, you have to lie perfectly still while they do a series of tests.  A loud noise rings in your ears; you can still hear it over the music but it’s not too bad.  Actually, the noise is quieter than a lawn mower, and I am used to that.

The MRI scan took about 40 minutes or so.  Afterwards, I got the MRI’s given to me and now I need to have a follow-up appointment with my doctor.  I looked at the MRI results but they really mean nothing to me.  I can’t decipher them, it’s the equivalent of looking at a stock chart about 6 years ago before I learned to interpret them.

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NFL Playoffs

Yesterday, myself and a friend watched the Seattle Seahawks take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFL playoffs.  The game was played in Green Bay.

Seattle jumped out to a 14-0 lead with less than 5 minutes gone in the game.  Unfortunately, after that it was 42-6 for Green Bay.  At one point during the game, Seattle still had a shot to close the gap and were driving for a touchdown.  The Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck faked a handoff and then tossed the ball into the endzone.  The receiver, Pollard, was wide open.

Everybody in the place where I was watching the game cheered because the ball came right to him… but it sailed right through his hands and fell incomplete.  The place let out a groan and went quiet.  It was a very easy catch and Pollard missed it.  I turned to my friend and said "I guess that guy will be playing in the CFL next year."

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As I alluded to in a previous post, I recently incorporated an Invisible Watch into my Invisible Deck routine.  There’s a story behind the invisible watch.

It took me some time to find the right watch.  I didn’t go out right away and start searching for one.  Whenever I was in a store, I would casually check them out to see if I could find the right one.  The method I ended up finding it, though, is interesting.

The watch had two requirements:

  1. It had to be gold-colored.
  2. It had to fit my wrist comfortably.  To elaborate, I wanted a watch with a thick band, but not too thick that it looked ridiculous.  A small, thin watch would work but it wouldn’t look good as a prop from an aesthetic point of view.

I wandered through a lot of stores before I finally ended up buying a cheap watch from Walmart.  However, shortly after I got it, my mother reminded me that we had a bunch of old watches in a ziplock bag kicking around somewhere.  She went and dug it up and I went through them.  Lo and behold, I found the perfect watch (almost perfect).

One of the old watches in there was gold colored, fit my wrist nicely and the band was thick (my Walmart watch was too thin).  How ironic that after months of casually looking I had one the whole time.  The only problems with the watch is that it doesn’t work anymore and there is a crack on the face of the watch.  I may get it fixed sometime in the future, and then the trick itself will be perfect.

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Those of you who have known me for a while will know that one of my favorite card tricks when I perform magic is The Invisible Deck.  Briefly summarized, the invisible deck is a trick wherein I show the spectator an invisible deck of cards.  They shuffle the cards and turn one card face down in a face up deck.  I remove an actual deck of cards and then show them that the card they selected is the only one in the real deck of cards that is turned face down amongst the entire deck.

This past year, I have added two new twists to the trick.  One I got from another performer, the other I stumbled upon myself during a trip to serendipity.

First, the one that I invented myself.  When I first bring out the deck of cards, I say to the spectators "What I have in my hands here is an invisible deck of cards.  Have you ever seen an invisible deck of cards before?"  The spectator answers in the negative.  I then say "Right, they are invisible, you can’t actually see them."  Just recently, I added the following joke off the top of my head: "That’s a bit of a trick question there… and you passed the test."  I just threw that in one day and people laughed at it.  I used it again and it gets laughs every time.  It’s going to stay in my routine as the first improvement in the trick.

Secondly, earlier this year I attended a lecture by Alain Nu.  Alain had a spectacular twist to the effect — he adds an invisible watch.  He calls attention to his invisible watch and we see his wrist is empty.  Later on in the trick, he turns his wrist to the audience only to show that he is now wearing an actual watch.  When I first saw it, I was blown away.  I thought "This is the best improvement to the trick I could have ever thought of!"  I couldn’t believe how fooled I was by not seeing the watch even though it had been in plain site for at least 30 seconds.

Well, I finally added those two improvements to my repertoire.  Tonight, I attended a social event and at one point in the evening, I approached a couple of girls who were taking a break from the festivities (one of which was pretty good looking).  I asked them if they would like to see a card trick and they said yes.  So, I decided to perform the invisible deck. 

The one girl (the cute one) was very responsive to the effect and played along.  Now, I have performed the trick a couple of times (only recently adding the watch because I had to practice and perfect it) and gotten a good response from the watch.  However, this time I was doing the trick within a few inches from her.  When I asked her to give me back the deck and I recapped the trick, I then shifted my wrist with a quarter-turn upwards, calling attention to the watch.  Whereas before it was invisible, now it was visible.  She did a double-take.  No, it was more like a quadruple-take.  She absolutely couldn’t believe where the watch appeared from.  It was a very great moment for me.

And that’s why I like the trick.  The Invisible Deck is a fantastic effect, but the Invisible Watch improvement has the potential to impress people even more.  I am thankful to the Magic Club of Winnipeg for inviting Alain Nu to lecture last year in 2007.

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On Barack Obama

Am I the only one who is totally underwhelmed by Democratic candidate Barack Obama?  The press in some places has anointed him as the greatest politician since sliced bread.  Yet his ideas are very typical for a liberal.  Allow me to explain:

Here’s a direct quote from his site on the economy:

“I’m in this race to take those tax breaks away from companies that are moving jobs overseas and put them in the pockets of hard working Americans who deserve it. And I won’t raise the minimum wage every ten years — I will raise it to keep pace so that workers don’t fall behind. That is why I am in it. To protect the American worker. To fight for the American worker.”

— Barack Obama, Speech in Des Moines, IA, November 10, 2007

This is the type of anti-capitalist rhetoric that is nothing new.  Raising the minimum wage does not have the effect of making Americans richer.  Labor is a commodity like anything else and is subject to the forces of supply and demand.  When labor is artificially made more expensive by the government, yet private capital does not get more value for that increased price, the result is not more hiring by private business.  When price goes up, demand goes down and then supply increases.  Logically, this leads to either more unemployment, or more employer outsourcing.

Note the inherent contradiction – he’s going to raise the price of labor and then punish companies (by removing their tax breaks) that try to evade the implications of artificial price controls.

Here’s another quote on Personal Savings:

And the personal savings rate is now the lowest it’s been since the Great Depression.

This is bullsh*t.  The only reason the personal savings rate is low is because of the way the government measures it.  It does not include how much Americans are saving for retirement by investing in 401(k)’s.  It also excludes saving through owning your own home (ie, paying off your mortgage while the equity accrues, along with the residential home price).  With interest rate savings so low it doesn’t make economic sense for Americans to save by holding their money in savings account.

On Social Security:

Obama believes that the first place to look for ways to strengthen Social Security is the payroll tax system. Currently, the Social Security payroll tax applies to only the first $97,500 a worker makes. Obama supports increasing the maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security and he will work with Congress and the American people to choose a payroll tax reform package that will keep Social Security solvent for at least the next half century.

This is nothing more than yet another tax increase.  In case anyone is counting, since Social Security was implemented in the 1940’s, it has increased in payroll deductions 23 times.  It is currently at 12.4% of a person’s salary (6.2% the employee pays and another 6.2% that the employer pays, meaning it’s 6.2% that the employee will never see but should get).  Furthermore, the return that Social Security gets is negative.  If I were in a retirement plan that returned negative amounts year after year and required that I pay more money all the time, I’d switch funds.  Yet Obama wants to keep it and expand it!

Perhaps he is also unfamiliar with the Supreme Court ruling in the 1960’s that said that people who pay into Social Security do not have the right to actually collect money from it.

On Foreign Policy with regards to Iran:

  • The Problem: Iran has sought nuclear weapons, supports militias inside Iraq and terror across the region, and its leaders threaten Israel and deny the Holocaust. But Obama believes that we have not exhausted our non-military options in confronting this threat; in many ways, we have yet to try them. That’s why Obama stood up to the Bush administration’s warnings of war, just like he stood up to the war in Iraq…

    Obama is the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions. Now is the time to pressure Iran directly to change their troubling behavior. Obama would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation. Seeking this kind of comprehensive settlement with Iran is our best way to make progress

This is way too simplified.  The problem is not that Iran supports terrorism because it wants to be a pain.  It supports terrorism in Iraq because it is trying to get the Americans to give up and go home, wherein they can fill a power vacuum effectively giving them majority control of oil resources in the middle east. 

The solution, ramping up economic pressure and political isolation, is also overly simplified.  If the US wants to isolate Iran, they have to get the international community to co-operate.  What motivations does Russia have to engage with the US?  So long as Iran and Iraq have the US engaged and distracted, Russia is free to move about central and eastern Europe and consolidate its power.  So, Russia simply doesn’t want the US and Iran to come to an agreement and will therefore refuse to co-operate with the US in isolating Iran.  The view of middle eastern politics on the Obama site is really lame.

Those are a few of my beefs with Obama.  Nothing in his platform impresses me at all.  The press anoints him as a great reconciler who can work in a bipartisan way; they said the same thing about George W. Bush before he was elected in 2000.  So, my response to that is merely "meh."

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This past Thursday, January 3, was the beginning of the Democrat and Republican caucuses to see who each party’s nomination would be for President in November.

Each of the states holds their own caucus primary.  Whichever candidate wins the most votes in the state gets the support of the delegates, and obviously, whoever wins the most delegates to be the party candidate for President.  The theory is that if you win early and win big, your momentum can carry you through to the rest of the primaries.  The press jumps on board and says you’re the clear-cut winner early, your opponents give up and go home and you can cruise to victory.

According to the press, the big surprise (!) is that the Hillary Clinton came in third in the Iowa caucus.  She was the national frontrunner by up to 30 points nationwide only a few months back and she lost this one.  Supposedly, according to the press, this was a major shocker and a huge setback to her.

I don’t know what polls the press was watching, but this outcome in Iowa wasn’t much of a surprise to me.  RealClearPolitics tracks the polls on a daily basis.  I watched the polls for a long time and Hillary had been trailing Barack Obama in Iowa for a long time.  Ergo, when Hillary lost, I wasn’t at all surprised.  In fact, I would have been surprised had Hillary won.  Either the press is ignorant of the polls or they are looking for a story to play up.  I think it’s both.

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Below is a tale of one of my good jokes that ended up backfiring.

A couple of weeks ago I went to what is known as a white elephant gift exchange.  In Manitoba, this is known as a Chinese auction.  Basically, you buy a gift for $10, wrap it up and people randomly unwrap presents and get to exchange them.  You know what I’m talking about.

Anyhow, the day before, myself and a friend (I’ll call him Tobias) went down to Pike Place Market here in Seattle to pick something up because he needed a present.  I already had one but thought I’d look around in case I found something better.  We were wandering through the market and if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know that Pike Place Market sells all kinds of fresh food, including fish.

I said to Tobias, "Hey, Tobias!  You know what you should do?  You should buy a fish, put it in a bag and add some ice, wrap it up and give that away as a gift!"  He looked at me with a weird look but refused to do it.  I continued to harass him.  "Come on, Tobias, it’d be really funny."  Oh, I tried to get him to do it but he wouldn’t comply with my demands.

The next day, before the gift exchange, we were getting a ride to the party with another couple.  We started talking about the gift exchange (which had yet to occur).  I said to the other couple "Hey, you guys?  You know what Tobias wanted to do?  He wanted to buy a fish, wrap it up and give it away as a gift but I had to talk him out of it!"

"That’s not true!" he protested.  "That was your idea."

"Tobias," I scolded, "stop trying to weasel out of it.  You know that’s what you wanted to to."  Of course, this continued over the next few days.  Whenever we were out with someone else, I would bring up this story that Tobias wanted to give away a fish for Christmas even though it was my idea.  Heh, heh, it was really funny.  I was flying high.

A few days later, I went to his aunt’s place for Christmas and they gave away real presents.  I was very surprised to actually get some stuff from his family, which included cookies and candy.  I then got a present from Tobias.  Not thinking anything of it, I began to unwrap the present.  I got the wrapping paper off, and I noticed that the box felt cold.  "Oh, no…" I murmured under my breath.  I opened up the box and found an insulated bag.  I opened it up and looked inside.  "Oh, no!" I cried. 

Inside was a fresh fish.  Tobias had used my own joke against me and gotten the better of me by serving me a dose of my own medicine.  I have to admit that I totally deserved it and he successfully managed to pull one over me.  I definitely did not see that coming.

Later that week I ate the fish.  It was pretty good, it was trout.

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