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Archive for July, 2008

The other day I bought some video editing software for my Mac.  The reason it’s for my Mac is because my digital camera takes videos in *.mov (Quicktime) format, and none of my Windows editing software plays/edits .mov files by default.  I have to convert them all.  This is unreasonable because I have over 100 clips and I can’t possibly convert all of them to .wmv or something similar.

Anyhow, on Sunday I went to the store and picked up Final Cut Express for $200.  I knew that I might be able to get a discount because I worked for Microsoft but I didn’t have my ID card on me so I bought it anyhow.  However, I didn’t open the software up.

Later, I found out that Microsoft employees get a discount on software at the Apple store.  I wondered if it was worth going back out of my way for it.  For a 5% discount I wouldn’t bother, but I learned it was actually 17%.  A 17% discount on software came out to $33.  For $33, you better believe I headed back there and got my refund.  Not too shabby considering that the Apple store is not far out of my way on the drive home from work.

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A few months ago, one of my co-workers traveled to India to get married.  His was an arranged marriage.  At the time, my other co-workers, who are about my age, asked me when I was getting married (almost like it was a challenge… or maybe a gentle needle?).  At the time, I lamented that theirs was a loaded question because they come from cultures where their marriages are arranged.  In western cultures, we select our own partners.

Last November, we went out to dinner to celebrate my co-worker’s marriage.  At the time, there were seven of us who went out.  1 was married, 1 was getting married (the guest of honor) and 5 of us were single.  So, my situation was pretty much the same as everyone else’s.  The question I was asked was loaded but at least we were all in the same boat.

Now, here I am seven months later.  Of the 7 of us who were there, 2 are married, 2 singles have left the team and 2 others have gotten married or engaged (via arrangement).  In other words, whereas before there were 5 singles, now there is just one — me!  How quickly these things can change.

By no means am I complaining about my situation or expressing my desire to change it.  As I have always said, there are advantages to being married and there are advantages to being single.  I am merely pointing out that circumstances can change in a relatively short period of time.  Oh, I guess I’m also pointing out that their questions indeed were loaded!  Pfft.

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This nicely sums up the stock market picture over the past year.

image

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The dilemma

So I’ve been talking about the Nouveau Riche program and my inability to weigh the risk/reward ratio.

The first thing I did when I got home is do a Google search, I mean Live Search, about a review of the program.  I found some negative reviews and then I found some rebuttals to those reviews.  I saw new members say how excited they were about the program, I saw disgruntled members, but I didn’t see a lot on long time members and how much success they had with the Investor Concierge program, which is what interests me the most.

I have a lot of experience in investing, I am not a newbie.  I have a good idea about how equities move (or maybe not since every investing decision I have made lately has been wrong).  What concerned me was how one of the presenter said a few things regarding investing that are popular with the public but are actually a myth.

He said that he invested in gold and it was a great time because gold is now trading at an all-time high.  Because the dollar is going down (and presumably will keep going down), gold is a great investment.  The problem is that this is a myth.  The first problem with this is sure, gold is a good investment but if you bought back in the 1980s you had to wait nearly twenty years for your investment to actually pay off.  That’s a lot of opportunity cost.  It wasn’t such a good investment for a long time.

Secondly, gold is a commodity.  It is subject to supply and demand like any other commodity.  It may have run up quickly but it can correct just as sharply as the rally.  In other words, it is not a done deal that gold is a great investment.  Different US administrations can promote a reverse dollar policy (like the strong dollar policy under the Clinton administration) and suddenly gold as an investment is not so good anymore.

My point is that if you are going to spout investment strategies, you need to support them with facts.  Real estate has averaged 6.5% appreciation historically, but stocks have averaged 9% (not sure if that is including dividends).  Oil may be going up and the dollar is going down, but they don’t have any significant historical correlation.  When the bond yield is higher than the earnings yield of the stock market, stocks are cheap and tend to outperform bonds and vice versa.  And finally, real estate investment trusts (REITs) do not show to significantly increase your total portfolio if you own them in addition to stocks, but they can smooth out the volatility.

So you see, my worry is that people who have gotten wealthy get wealthy by chance and are on the leading edge of the bell curve.  Investing should be supported with actual facts, not feel goodism and investment myths.

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As I was saying in my previous post, I attended a seminar put on by Nouveau Riche, a company that teaches how to do real estate investing.

The part that interested me the most is a program called Investor Concierge.  This is a program restricted only to members.  The founders of the program are primarily real estate investors so they buy properties wholesale (ie, deep discounted because of motivated sellers) and then sell them again to students of the program.  They assist in finding tenants and property managers and so the properties all generate positive cashflow, between $200 to $500 per month.  This is the part that interested me the most; all I have to do is plunk down the money and I can browse real estate at my leisure without doing much work.

All of this sounds great, of course.  But yet, I remain skeptical.  Are these people who are saying they are succeeding in the program a representative sample of students?  Or are these students on the far right side of the Bell-Curve?  You can make any program look good if you cherry-pick who you want to represent you.

Secondly, $16,000 is a lot of money to plonk down for the full tuition package.  I have no doubts about the quality of the education, investing in real estate is hard.  However, am I better off doing that and not learning on my own by reading books and gaining practical experience?  While the Investor Concierge is tempting, the problem is that if I put down $16,000 it will eat up most of my available capital.  So much so that I wouldn’t have much room to maneuver into a quick real estate deal.  So on the one hand, if I don’t do the course, I have to rely on my own experience and knowledge.  If I do it, I have way more knowledge but no flexibility to do a deal.

Third, if I put down $16,000 and I be lazy and don’t do much with it, I’m out a substantial amount of money.  $500 I could live with, even $2000.  But 8x that amount would hurt to fork it out and not do anything with it.  So if I went for it, I’d be in it all the way.  $16,000 is enough for a new car.  And that’s tangible.

I need to evaluate the risk/reward ratio.  Real estate is a slow, long-term investment but requires the ability to make decisions quickly.  Joining the program will affect my ability to make decisions quickly.

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The other day, I went to an investment seminar put on by a company called Nouveau Riche.  They are an education company that specializes in teaching people how to invest in real estate.

This particular seminar was on investing in foreclosures, or rather, pre-foreclosures.  The idea is to search country records, put ads in newspapers, posters, etc, and find people who are at risk of foreclosure.  If they are, they come and talk to you.  You go and show them their options (there are a bunch) and if none of them work for them, the last option is to sell to you and that’s where foreclosure deals are made.

However, the company put on this seminar but it’s not just a single-day seminar.  They are a real estate education company.  You don’t get to go to free seminars without getting to endure a little advertising and these guys are the same.  They teach people how to invest in real estate under the following topics:

  • How to do short sales
  • How to manage property managers
  • How to manage tenants
  • How to finance properties
  • How to raise capital

And so forth.  In other words, if you haven’t done it, they will teach you if you sign up for their courses.  If you buy their product, you get to go down to their complex in Phoenix and take a week’s worth of courses, depending on what package you buy.  More expensive packages allow you to take more courses. 

There is also a secondary marketing package where if people sign up to the program through you, you can earn a commission of $8000.  The first five sign ups you get, you don’t get paid, but you do on subsequent ones.  The people above you earn the commission on the first give you do; so if people you sign up sign others up, you get a commission from that.  It’s a bit like MLM.  They say it’s not, but I really think it is.  Of course, I don’t have any problem with MLMs… but at the same time I have absolutely no interest in getting involved in the marketing side of it.

I really didn’t believe that people could actually make money on this but they had a bunch of people in the Seattle area who are doing this go up there and talk about how much money they made and that it was verifiable.  Though I am skeptical, this does lend them some credibility.

More in my next post.

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Funny picture

I came across this today while searching for a different image.  It’s very funny.

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Backfiring

This is very frustrating.

Back in May, I bought a New Zealand currency CD.  It was paying a 6.3% yield and the the US dollar was weakening against the Kiwi dollar.  Since New Zealand is a commodities-based currency, the Fed was lowering interest rates in the US and the Kiwis were keeping theirs high, what should have happened was I get my 6% annual yield plus some strengthening of the Kiwi dollar against the US dollar.  I figured even if the US dollar only weakened 3% I would be making a 9% gain.  Not bad for a passive, conservative investment.

That’s the way it was supposed to work.  Instead, the NZ dollar has lost about 8% against the US dollar (since March) even though the Fed has done everything in its power to drive down the US dollar against most major currencies and the NZ Central Bank has not changed its policy much (it’s changed it a little).  So basically I’m going to lose money on this proposition even though the theory was good.

By contrast, the Australian currency CD was paying a 5.25% annual yield, 1% less than the New Zealand one.  I figured the two countries economies were about the same.  As it turns out, the Aussie dollar has appreciated 8% against the US dollar since March.  So basically, I had a 50/50 shot of making money here and I picked the wrong horse.  But the odds were only 50/50!

That is very frustrating.

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Any Card update

I’ve been working on my Any Card effect for the past little while.  It’s one of the tougher tricks that I have ever had to learn because of all of the background work I have to put in.  But I think it’s going to be worthwhile.  I’m at the point that in my beginner’s practice (I have multiple levels of practice for effects), I can get it right 4 out of 5 times.

One of my goals for this trick is to perform it on America’s Got Talent.  I don’t watch too many reality shows (or rather, I don’t watch them from start to finish, I catch parts of an episode here and there).  I could never win any of them, let alone compete on any of them, except for this one.  However, I do think that the trick is good enough to get past the first round, which is my goal.  Then when I advertise my magic services, I can say "As seen on America’s Got Talent!"

The trick I need to perform, however, has to be difficult to reverse engineer.  Many tricks I do, if you watch them on video over and over, you may be able to figure out.  However, Any Card is an effect that is very difficult to figure out and work backwards, even on repeated viewings.  Thus, my goal is to perfect this trick and next year when auditions roll around (hopefully they come to Seattle) I’m going to head down and give it a shot.

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Fear and investing

I go to investing and financial seminars from time to time.  One of the themes that comes out is that one of the reasons people don’t invest in real estate, stocks, or another product is because of fear.  One of the techniques used to get people over their fear is applying an acronym to the term: False Evidence Appearing Real.  While people may have genuine concern over getting involved in investing, in fact their fears are unfounded and are unlikely to actually occur. 

I don’t totally buy into this.  When it comes to investing, there are genuine concerns that could actually come to pass.  Consider purchasing real estate.  What are the risks?

  • You could buy a property that is considerably overvalued and upon renting it out, you don’t cover the mortgage payment so you slowly lose money.
  • You could buy a property that contains hidden problems that will require a pile of money to put into it that you won’t be able to recover for a long, long time.
  • You could buy a property and have to put down a lot of money… and then later require that money for an unexpected expense.
  • You could be stuck with a piece of property and lose a chunk of money before finally managing to rent it out.  Or you could spend a lot of time managing the property taking away time from things you’d rather spend doing.

So you see, this is not false evidence, it’s entirely plausible.  Instead, a better strategy is risk mitigation.  How do we mitigate the above?  What is the risk/reward ratio?  For example, to mitigate the first risk, you have to spend a long time looking for a property that is significantly undervalued so that when you rent it out, you can ask for market rate rent and still make a profit, even after all expenses. 

So, it’s not really false evidence.  Instead, what should be propounded is risk mitigation.

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I have decided to go ahead and buy myself a Nintendo Wii.  I really enjoy playing at friends places, games like Zelda and Mario Kart and Guitar Hero.  I figure it’s time to get myself a video game system that I can play in my spare time.

I have further decided that I will buy it in September of this year, meaning that I have to wait a couple of months.  Whenever I tell my friends this plan, the question they always ask me is “Why don’t you do it right now?  Why wait until September to get it if you have the money for it already?  There’s no point in delaying the acquisition.”

It’s really hard to explain my reasoning behind this, but I’ll try.

  1. In September is when my employer hands out the annual bonuses.  I also get some stock awards at that time so I can sell the stock, collect the cash and use it to buy the console.
  2. You can argue that if I’m getting the money, why not get it now?  That’s a good point.  The other reason I’m delaying is because it is an exercise in personal discipline.  One thing I have tried to be diligent in is delaying gratification.  I made a decision to acquire the Wii in September and I plan to stick to it.  That’s pretty much it.  I read once that successful people make decisions promptly and change them slowly.  Therefore, I will wait to get the Wii simply because that’s what I decided.

And that’s that.  I admit it’s not a satisfying answer but that’s all there is to it.

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I watched the move Wanted today, and I actually thought it was half-decent.  During the movie the main character decides to do a Google search for himself and nothing comes up, the point being that the character’s life is so mundane and insignificant that he fails to register any search results.

I, by contrast, do come up on Google searches.  In fact, my other blog is the number one result on Google.  My magician’s web site is the number result on Live Search.  I’m the number one result on Ask.com and also on Yahoo.

I feel pretty good about that.

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Any card

One of my favorite magicians is Alain Nu.  In terms of magicians whose performing style I have been greatly influenced by, in my early years it was Lance Burton and Guy Hollingworth.  Over the past year it has been Alain Nu.

One trick that I am currently learning is called Any Card.  It is a very difficult trick to learn.  Below is a Youtube clip of Nu performing it.  The trick doesn’t get going until about the 1:10 mark in the video so you’ll have to be patient.  It’s well worth watching.

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At work, whenever something cool with regards to spam filtering is created, I always make sure that if I was involved in the project that I put a little stamp in it.  For example, we created a blocklist of IPs called the Temporary Blocklist, or TBL for short.  Of course, it’s not actually Temporary because once you’re on, you’re on forever until you get delisted.  In reality, it stand’s for Terry’s Blocklist.  It’s named after me because it was my algorithm.

You see, the secret to living on is to make sure you let people know who invented stuff.  I’m trying to convince others to create a web portal called Terry’s Reputation Analysis Protection System, or TRAPS.  I recently suggested naming some other spam technique Terry’s something-or-other.  I can’t even remember what it was, I just wanted to name it after myself.

Besides, if Donald Trump can name stuff after himself, why not me?  Trump Casino, Trump Tower, Trump Water… Even Microsoft does it – Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Visio.

I’m just following suit. 

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Update

I finally got in to see an arthroscopic surgeon about my hip. They took an X-ray and he looked at my MRI – he thinks I have a tear in my labrum.  The labrum is a ring of cartilage that runs around the hip joint.  So, they’re going to go in there and take a look and hopefully fix it.

The earliest I could get in to do this is in October.  I would have liked it earlier, but what can you do?

I made sure to ask him the most important question – if I get the surgery can I get one of those handicapped driver stickers from my car?  He answered yes.  "Sweet!" I exclaimed.  That makes it all worth it.

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So, since the middle of May the market has had a major sell off.  I’ve been getting killed in the market, every position is down.  Even the one that I was up 20% is now down 25%.  The only exception is my position in DBC, a commodities ETF that is composed of oil and gold futures.

Anyhow, one indicator that I follow is the % of stocks trading below their 40-day moving average.  When lots of stocks are above their 40-day MA, the market is considered overbought and is due for a correction.  When lots of stocks are below their 40-day MA, the market is oversold and is ripe for a rally.

Currently, that indicator shows that 92% of stocks are trading below their 40-day moving average.  This is the 4th lowest reading of that indicator in the past six years, a time that comprised the great market sell off.  The last time the market was this low was in August 2007 which is when we had a pretty good rally.

When markets get this badly oversold, it usually rallies for a while.  Now would be the time to get into stocks.  But use proper position-sizing, of course.

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This post doesn’t contain any tips and tricks, only a status update.

There were two places I was interested in a couple of weeks ago.  I was going to consider making an offer on one place and it turns out someone beat me to it.  I was definitely going to make an offer on another place and someone else beat me to it before I got the chance!

Dang.  Missed it by one day.  So I waited a week and came across a couple of more places.  I found a place for $175k and made an offer… and it was refused.  The seller took it off the market and decided that they were not going to sell.  I was out of luck.

The next place I was interested in I submitted an offer and someone else did as well.  The seller took the other person’s offer instead of mine.  Doggone it.  This means that at this point I am now 0/4.

Back to the drawing board… well, not really.  Need to find some more places.

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