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Archive for March, 2008

Banned food

Since I have been here in Seattle, and starting from the beginning of 2008, I have begun to compile a list of banned food and restaurants where I will not go to.  There’s enough of them that I have to actually have a list.

  1. Red Robin – every time I have been to this place, the service has been lousy.  I like the food but not the service.  They never refill my glass of water.  I have to always get by on one.  This happens whenever I go there.  But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the last time I went.  My friend and I experienced terrible service, but afterwards the food made me queasy.  Bad service + food that makes me sick = no return.
  2. Priht’s Indian food – I like Indian food.  A lot.  I’m hooked on it.  But two weeks ago myself and a friend went to an Indian place but we didn’t like the food.  Actually, I thought it was okay.  Well, maybe the level below okay.  He didn’t care for it at all.  It was nothing to write home about and apparently it was the best thing on the menu.  That means there is no incentive to come back.
  3. The Korean place I went to last week – Last Monday, my co-worker wanted to go for lunch to a Korean place, so I agreed.  Now, back at the Forks in Winnipeg, there is a Korean place in the food court.  I really like it.  However, at this place I had the gazpacho, soup served cold.  I hated it.  It was not good.  Perhaps other stuff on the menu is fine but this place has soured my appetite for it so it, too, has made my list of banned restaurants.
  4. Milkshakes – this one is the biggest disappointments.  I really like milkshakes but they consistently don’t agree with me.  In July 2005, I had a milkshake from the Forks and afterwards didn’t feel so great.  Consuming milkshakes since then has been spotty, at best.  Sometimes I’m sick, sometimes not.  However, yesterday when bowling I had another milkshake and later on my stomach did not agree with it.  In fact, it continued to this morning.  It was definitely the milkshake in this case.  This means I have to ban them from my diet because I can’t take the queasiness. 

That’s all of them for the time being.  I’m sure as time passes that I will be adding more.  As you can see, however, all of my listings are justified.

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Tonight, myself and a bunch of friends went bowling.  It’s been a while since I last went.  I’m not a great bowler, I’m actually quite mediocre.  I don’t really stand out at all.  I’m particularly bad and I am not particularly good.

We went 10-pin bowling.  Now, while I may be okay at 5-pin I recall that I am weak at 10-pin.  The first time I ever went 10-pin I really struggled.  The balls are larger and when I throw them they really tend to carry for me in either direction.  Again, at that first time, I threw 8 gutter balls in a row before I finally hit something.  It’s because I kept throwing and my follow through always pulled in one direction (usually left).  That memory is still implanted in my head.  Since then I have improved somewhat.

Whenever I bowl it is always my goal to get as many points as there are points available in a frame.  So, in 5-pin I always shoot for a score of 150 and in 10-pin I shoot for a score of 100.  I’m proud to say that in both games I played, I achieved my goal both times.  I got almost the same score as well, only differing by 3 points.  I’m consistent if nothing else.

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I have a lot of co-workers from foreign countries.  In fact, in my division, I’d say that maybe 1 in 5 people are white.  Maybe 1 in 10 are white North Americans (ie, born in Canada or the US).  That means that there are a lot of people whose native language is not English.

Unlike university, almost everyone speaks English pretty well.  The thing is that they must have learned British English because quite often I am asked a strange question.  Co-workers ask me for my location of residence.  The question is phrased this way:

"Where do you stay?"

The first time I heard that, I was like "Where do I… what?"  The question they are asking me is "Where do you live?" except they substituted the word stay for live.  You see, to me, the term "stay" implies temporary residence.  If a friend came to town and I wanted to know where his hotel was or if he/she were staying with friends I would ask "Where are you staying?"  Plus, I’d also use the present tense by applying the -ing to the end of the word.

So, when I was asked where I stay, it was as if I was being asked what my temporary place of residence was because I was only planning to remain here for a short time.  Plus, also consider stay vs staying.  The grammar doesn’t quite work.  Using the -ing for stay is reflexive: I am staying over there.  I would never say "I stay over there."  Technically, I guess both are proper use of the terms but the second sounds awkward.  The non -ing form of the verb is more of a command.  "Stay here!" or "You stay there" or "Stay at the Super-8 motel!"  It is non-reflexive and that’s what also confused me.

However, now that I have learned what "where do you stay means" I can answer the question without having to pause and think about it.

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As some of you know, the US economy is in a tailspin.  Bears are wandering into the streets, eating people whole!  So, in their wisdom, Congress decided to pass an economic stimulus package.  Taxpayers would be getting back up to $600 per person, $1200 per couple, from the government.  The idea is that we should all spend this money and stimulate the economy.

Even though this theory is wrong-headed, I don’t mind getting back $600 from the gov’t.  After all, it’s my money anyways.  The gov’t is simply giving it back to me.  The US dollar may be collapsing but since I am now a US taxpayer, I was looking forward to getting back some money.

Of course, there are some caveats to this.  Not every taxpayer is eligible for a refund.  I figured that was reasonable, people who don’t pay taxes are excluded.  The following are not eligible:

  • You don’t file a 2007 tax return.
  • Your net income tax liability is zero and your qualifying income is less than $3,000.
  • You can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return. For example, this would include a child or student who can be claimed on a parent’s return.
  • You do not have a valid Social Security Number.

I suppose these are all reasonable, but there’s one more.

  • You are a nonresident alien.

Gah!  What?  Are you serious?

I’m on a TN Visa.  This means that I am considered a nonresident of the United States because my work visa is temporary.  A TN visa means that I have temporary intent to reside in the US and therefore I am not a resident.  This means that I am ineligible for the tax payout!  What the heck?

I paid a lot of taxes in the US last year.  This year, too.  I have to tell you that I am not happy at all that I won’t be seeing any of my money simply because my visa renders me ineligible.  Boo-urns.

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I recently started looking at some head-to-head polls between the three main competitors for presidency of the United States.  Here are my thoughts.

  • I still believe that Obama will defeat Hillary for the nomination, but he will not be declared the winner until much later in the year.  He can’t get enough delegates in order to sew up the nomination until perhaps the Democratic National Convention.
  • What has surprised me is that in head-to-head polls, while McCain and Hillary are still tied, McCain is beating Obama.  This is a reversal from only a couple of weeks ago.
  • The remarks of Obama’s pastor at his church are hurting him worse than I thought they would.  My guess is that white Americans are now uneasy that Obama attended a church where the pastor called the majority of white Americans a bunch of racists.  If his pastor said this, and Obama went there for 20 years, does he think the same thing?

I had resigned myself to the inevitability that Obama was going to win.  Now it appears he may not.  My stomach can’t take this volatility.

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Following up from my previous post, I’ve been in a dilemma on where to put my money.  Stocks?  Bonds?  Commodities?

I finally decided to take some action.  There is a bank out there known as Everbank that sells foreign currency.  They sell foreign CDs (Certificates of Deposit) that pay rates of interest tied to that country’s interest rates.  US and Canadian CDs pay between 1-2%, not exactly great.  However, countries like Australia and New Zealand pay higher rates, 5% and 6% respectively.  So, knowing what I know, one strategy I have decided to employ is buying a CD in New Zealand dollars paying 6%.  This is a fixed rate of return better than anything here in the US.  If the US dollar declines more, then it is an added bonus.  How do I know that the dollar will decline?  I don’t.  But, the theory is that if the US keeps dropping its interest rates and the New Zealand central bank keeps theirs high, then the US dollar should continue to go down in value.

I was looking at playing commodities by buying either an Oil/Gold/Wheat ETF DBC, or a gold mining ETF GDX, consisting of mining companies.  However, I was holding off on buying it because I thought that gold and oil was a little extended.  By this, it had gone straight up without a correction.  Well, the correction started this week and at this point I am patting myself on the back for waiting to get into them (while kicking myself for not selling all my other positions which are tanking).  Gold is down about 10% from its high in only 4 days.  It does worry me in that New Zealand is tied to gold and this could negatively affect my strategy.

Finally, the other part of my strategy are bonds.  There are a bunch of bond ETFs that I wish I had my money in.  Bonds pay a dividend and they move inversely to stocks (or at least they have since last summer).  One day I’ll buy some and keep a small part of my cash in there.  It’s all part of a proper strategy of diversification.

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Biting the bullet

Man…

Readers of this blog will know I am unhappy with my brokerage account, TD Waterhouse.  I have been planning to switch for a while but have been unable to because I have a joint account.  Switching from a joint account to a single account is an ordeal.

I recently opened an account with TD Ameritrade.  That’s the US brokerage while TD Waterhouse is the Canadian one.  You would think it’s basically the same thing, but no.  Switching from TD Waterhouse to TD Ameritrade is like switching from TD Waterhouse to Scottrade, ie, there’s no difference.  Of course, I didn’t know this before.  I phoned up TD Waterhouse and talked to three different representatives.  If I open an account with you guys, can I roll over my account from TD Waterhouse?  Every rep told me yes.  So, I opened the account and sent in all the paperwork.

I got a phone call this morning.  It was from TD Ameritrade (US).  They said that they can’t roll it over because it’s a joint account going to a single-name account and everyone who said that I could was wrong.  I have to get the other name taken off the account.  Argh!  So I phoned up TD Waterhouse and asked how to do this (I’ve been down this path before but can’t remember what they said) and I have to apply for another TD Waterhouse (Canada) account in my own name and roll it over that way.  In other words, roll it over once and then roll it over again.

Well, I took down the information but here’s what I have to say to this idea: f**k that.  I updated my current address information with them, but my plan is to wait until the first up day on the market and sell everything in my account.  I wanted so badly to hold onto my existing positions to avoid all the fees ($30 x 6 = $180) but I’ve lost way more than that in this current bear market anyway.  I’m then going to withdraw 100% of my funds and put it all into my US accounts here.  I’m going to take a hit, both on fees and in the current market conditions… but it’s worth it.

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Robert Kiyosaki says that the most expensive advice you can receive is free advice.  By this, he means that if friends or family offer you advice about what to do with your money, it can cost you a lot of money in missed opportunities, or even worse, bad investments.  So, if your brother-in-law says you should put your money in a bank CD yield 2% because it’s a safe investment, that’s one place to park your money.  Yet if an investment advisor suggests putting it into a dividend paying stock that has a 4.5% yield, that doubles your rate-of-return.  So you see, an investment advisor is advice you will probably have to pay for but the quality of that advice can end up making you lots of money.  The moral of the story is be careful who you take financial advice from.

The corollary to that is this: if the person giving the advice is no better off than you are or has less money than you, take that advice with a grain of salt.

Having made those two disclaimers, I am now going to give you, my readers, some financial advice.  Or rather, I am going to talk about my dilemma.

I have six open positions on the stock market representing about 2/3 of my stock market capital.  This does not represent all of my open capital, I have a bunch of money in checking accounts.  But for now I’m going to talk about my trading capital only.  Of my six positions, I am happy with two of them, two more are treading water, one is taking on water and then other is at the bottom of the ocean.

I bought a stock in the energy industry in October and it has returned absolutely nothing.  It doesn’t even pay a dividend!  So, I am making the decision to cut it loose.  The stock is a piece of garbage.  The entire sector sucks.  Given that I am doing that, it means that I will have about 40% of my capital free for investing.  Do I sit out the current bear market or do I put some to work?

I have been doing piles of research over the past two weeks.  I have found a bunch of things to invest in.  I am looking at (1) Energy ETFs (2) Energy stocks (3) Gold ETFs (4) Gold stocks (5) Bonds.  Those are a lot of options.  My strategy for investing is not to put too many eggs in one basket.  The three hottest sectors right now are oil, precious metals (gold and silver) and agriculture.  If I were to invest in only these three sectors, the optimal alignment would to have about 1/3 in each.  Of course, I’d prefer to have no more than 20% in any one sector.

My problem right now is that I have about 25% in Agriculture, 8% in Energy (which I will sell) and 12% in Metals.  But it’s not precious metals, it’s a copper company paying a 5% dividend.  So what do I do?  I thought about buying a Commodities ETF, DBC.  It is composed of oil, gold and wheat futures.  I thought about buying an Energy ETF, DBE.  It is composed of oil futures.  I thought about buying oil companies.  Those are hot and are paying dividends.  Should I buy gold stocks?  The market is slow right now and companies are struggling.  I could buy a Gold ETF but there’s been a huge run-up in gold and silver and it looks extended.

You see, my problem is that I only want to buy two or at most three stocks or ETFs.  But I don’t want to commit too much to any one sector. What do I do?  That will be the subject of another post.

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In January of this year, I started visiting a physiotherapist in order to get my leg better.  I have to go once per week, in addition to seeing a chiropractor.  My leg still hurts but I think it’s gotten a little bit better.

The physio gave me some exercises to do at home in order to strengthen my core muscles (stomach, back and upper legs).  These take quite a while to do them, including all the stretches.  I prefer to do these ones at home because they can be a little awkward (but at least I don’t have to do the move known as the American Taxpayer).  Anyhow, as one of the consequences of doing these exercises I have had to cut back on going to the gym.  I simply don’t have enough time during the week to get to all this stuff.  I still go to badminton, but then with PT exercises and some other activities I have during the week, the gym was the one that had to go.  I will pick it back up in the future when my leg is better.

The PT exercises, while difficult, are less physically demanding that my regular gym workout was.  But the thing is that I think I have lost 5 lbs in the past three months.  In fact, I’m certain that I am.  Whenever I went to the gym I used to weigh myself afterwards.  Over the past couple of months I noticed that my pants tended to be a little looser.  I thought to myself that maybe I had a laundry mishap but one would think that would cause them to shrink, not embiggen.

Today I went back to the gym and afterwards I stepped on the scale.  I removed my shoes (like I always did before) and sure enough, I was about 5 lbs lighter than I remember was in November.  This is despite the fact that I am probably exercising a little bit less than before in terms of intentional exercise.  My diet hasn’t changed at all, I still drink as much water as I always did.  I do bring my lunch from home, however, as opposed to buying it in the cafeteria.  I’ve been doing that since the start of the year.  But I wouldn’t have thought that would have caused me to lose all that weight.

Strange, but true.

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Are we in a crisis?  Well, that depends on what you mean by the word crisis.  Everybody on Wall Street and in Washington is panicking over the current one.  Here’s a list of previous financial crises:

1962 – Cuban missile crisis
1970 – Penn Central
1974 – Franklin National
1980 – Silver Bubble
1982 – Drysdale Securities and Mexico default
1984 – Continental Illinois
1987 – Black Monday (this one would have really sucked)
1990 – Savings and Loan crisis
1994 – Mexican peso crisis
1997 – Asian currency crisis
1998 – LTCM, Russian default crisis
2000 – Nasdaq meltdown
2001 – Terrorist attacks on World Trade Center, Pentagon
2002 – Argentina currency crisis, Enron, Tyco, etc.
2003 – Iraq war
2007 – Subprime mortgage/credit market crisis

Before the disaster, everybody is humming along swimmingly but when the piper comes home to be paid, we hear screaming from Congress for more regulation.  The Democrats are pretty smug now but they were equally smug when banks were lending to low income folks (ie, their demographic) in order to buy homes.

But from the list above, you can see that there has always been fear and panic in the market.  This too will pass, but not without some pain.

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5.5 years ago, I started learning about the stock market.  I learned a specific way of investing and did a lot of general research.  I learned quite a bit.

Or, at least I thought I did.  3.5 years ago, I started trading in real life.  I learned way more about trading when I did it for real than I ever did when I was doing imaginary trading.

1.5 years ago, I had to change my trading style.  I got promoted and never had time to do trading during the day.  That, and my trading fees tripled through crappy TD Ameritrade.  So, I moved from a short-term trading and frequent trading approach to a more long-term approach.  I hang with positions longer and don’t make moves unless I’m feeling confident.

And now, this past year, I am adding another type of investment style: fixed income.  I had never had any interest in bonds or money market funds.  The returns were too low.  However, three things have occurred to get me to change my mind.

  1. My trading style is long term and I don’t move my money around much, so it makes sense to have it in fixed income paying a small return rather than in checking paying no return.
  2. I recently picked up the book The Dick Davis Dividend.  He lists 28 model portfolios, and most of them contain domestic stocks, international stocks and fixed income.  In other words, the brightest investment minds recommend some sort of fixed income product.  I should take note and pay attention.
  3. The current stock market is now in a bear market, in my opinion.  Of course, the fact that I am calling it out means that it has now bottomed and will start rallying.  But the point is that during market corrections I need a hedge.  The fact that I am not 100% invested at the moment (only 53% right now — and 50% of that is passive which is where I want to be) means I have outperformed the market on half my holdings.  The part that is sitting on the sidelines waiting could be earning a superior return.

Fixed income isn’t particularly appealing, it only gets you about 5% per year.  However, it is part of a strategy of diversification.  I’ve been looking into various bond funds, money market accounts and CDs.  I’ve also began looking into foreign currency markets as a hedge against the US dollar.  I plan on making a move in the next week or so to get some better return and hedge my position against the bear market and US dollar.

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As I said a few weeks ago, upon moving here and joining a badminton club, I came to the realization that I really suck at it.  I play doubles all the time, and my team always loses.  That’s because one of the teams has a really lousy player on it that drags the team down (guess who that player is?).  In fact, I think I went four consecutive weeks without winning a single game.

That changed 3 weeks ago.  I finally won one, and I was ecstatic.  Then I won another one the following week, and I was very happy again.  Then, today, something completely amazing occurred.

I was playing doubles as usual, and I won my first game.  In fact, we won quite handily.  Then, I lost my next four consecutive games.  Three of the games were close, but I have noticed a pattern – every time my team is up by a couple of points halfway through the match I think to myself "Hey, I might win this game!"  That is the exact time that I fall apart and my team inevitably loses.  It usually happens when we have about 8 to 10 points and we’re up by a couple.

Then came the final game of the night.  I teamed up with another guy against a couple of other players.  My partner was someone whose style I’ve come to recognize.  He’s got a great smash; so much so that whenever I play against him my strategy is to avoid putting it up for him so he can’t smash it.  My strategy in this game was simple: try and get the other team to pop it up so he can smash it down at them so they can’t return it.  The strategy worked fairly well.  I think he scored 90% of all our points that way.

Anyway, we were playing the game and ran into some trouble.  My teammate was doing his part – smashing the birdie.  I was doing my part – not sucking.  The problem is that we ran into some bad luck – I started sucking and he couldn’t recover.  We were down 14-10 and they had the serve.  One more point and the game was over.  They served it to me and I returned it.  We battled back and forth a couple of times.  I had the back of the court which is not where I want to be because my strength is my net game.  Then, something amazing happened.  My teammate hit the birdie to the other guys and they return it cross-court on a pretty hard shot.  The game was about to end when I reacted.  I lunged to my left and took two long strides.  I switched hands with my racquet (meaning I transferred it to my left from my right) and knocked it back to them the same angle it came from with my opposite hand.  The birdie flew over the net and dropped in their court.  Everyone was amazed.  "Nice shot," they said.  Little did they know it was complete luck.

I then got to serve next.  I scored four points in a row due to my awesome serves.  I was on a total roll. It was all tied up.  We bounced back and forth and it was then 15-15 and we got the serve back.  My teammate did his job and I picked up my second victory of the night!  Success!  It’s the first time I’ve won two in a night!  I was especially happy because of my super awesome return to save the match, followed up by my super awesome serves to pull off four points to force overtime means I pulled my own weight in a game for once.  I think my suckiness has dropped from 9 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

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Back when I used to live in Canada, over the past three years, I had a real knack for getting good stuff for free.  These included a computer mouse, a wireless router, a network card, a Gamecube, a TV (which broke three weeks later but I still had a free TV) and so forth.  I won’t go into the details about how I managed to pull all of this off, but let’s just say that sometimes I can be in the right place at the right time.  And, I manage to snag this free stuff without appealing to the taxpayers! (Hillary, Obama, are you paying attention?)

This past week, my talents served me well.  One of my co-workers has a very comfortable chair in his office from Ikea.  It’s a chair that has a slight spring in it and has a foot bench it is very comfortable.  I go into his office quite regularly just so I can sit in it.  Well, this co-worker is off on vacation in India for 4 weeks.  I said to myself “Gee, he’s going to be gone for 4 weeks, I better go into his office, move his chair to my office where I can protect it for him while he’s gone.”  Snap!  I just landed myself a free chair for the next 3 weeks!

But the story gets better.  The next day I was sitting in my chair, typing on my laptop (doing work, of course) when another one of my co-workers walks by.  This co-worker is moving to England tomorrow.  He says to me “Hey, I see you’ve got yourself a chair.  You know, I’ve got one just like that.  I’m trying to get rid of my furniture now, I don’t want to haggle with price, I’m just giving stuff away.  Do you want it?”

I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  “Sure,” I said.  “I’ll take it.”  So the next day he brought it in and I set up a second chair in my office.  So here’s the situation: I’ve got a comfortable chair from my co-worker for 3 weeks and then my own chair to keep after I have to return this one.

But wait, the story gets better.  Another one of my co-workers popped by my office and asked “Where did you get those from?”  I replied that it was a secret.  But she really liked the chair and said “Do you really need two?”

“Well,” I replied, “I have to be on the safe side.  One is the primary chair, the other is a redundant backup.”  But she really wanted to have the chair.  I explained that I had to give one back in a couple of weeks, but I made her a deal.  She could borrow my backup chair for two weeks if she bought me lunch the next day.  She agreed instantly.  That means I got a free lunch and a free chair!

Seriously, sometimes good fortune just rolls my way.

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