Archive for August, 2008

It’s here

It took me 7 weekends of shooting, piles of mileage on the car, new video editing software, and one fender bender, but I finally got my secret project finished.  Plus this proves Rudy Regehr wrong (long story behind that one.

So behold, all 109 Microsoft buildings in the Puget Sound area.

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According to the latest polls at RealClearPolitics, Barack Obama current has a 1.5 point lead nationally over John McCain.  Or, at least he did before Obama announced Joe Biden as his running mate.

I find this very surprising.  A few weeks ago, Obama had a 7-10 point lead nationally over McCain and he was cruising to victory.  McCain hasn’t really done anything and yet Obama’s lead is shrinking!  The only things I can think of are the Republican ad portraying Obama as nothing more than a celebrity has resonated with some swing voters, they liked McCain more on Rick Warren’s interview, and the Georgia-Russia conflict has some voters thinking that maybe foreign policy experience is important after all (though George Bush didn’t have that much foreign policy experience prior to his election).

I’m somewhat conflicted.  I don’t want the Democrats to control the White House, Congress and the Senate.  A monopoly on those usually isn’t good for the market.  On the other hand, I bet a friend of mine (loser buys lunch) that Obama was going to win.  So you can see my dilemma.

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Magical updates

The other day I was out at a church camp out and they had a talent show.  Being talented (or thinking I am), I decided to enter the "contest" (for which there are no prizes) and do a trick.

I decided to perform a trick that I had only performed twice before, the last time being a year earlier.  The first time I did the trick it went well, the second time… not so much.  The trick is this — I borrow a dollar bill from the audience and hand it to someone else.  I never see the serial number on the bill because it is folded up before it is handed to me.  The other audience member opens the bill and I then proceed to recite the numbers one-by-one, entirely accurately.

The trick went off very well.  I didn’t really practice it very much, I just went through it in my head 3 times before performing it.  During the trick, I made sure to enunciate all of my words, forcing myself to slow down, and I made use of some principles that I learned in Strong Magic.

  1. I appealed to emotion, not logic.  When I recited the numbers of the bill, I had two kids from the audience come and cover my eyes, preventing me from seeing it.  Logically, having myself blindfolded with a sleep mask or two is better at preventing me from seeing than having two kids hold their hands over my eyes; kids move their hands, have cracks between fingers, etc.  However, it makes a strong emotional impact to the audience to use kids.
  2. I repeated the impossibility of the conditions.  Generally speaking, I don’t mention that I never saw the bill since everyone can plainly see it.  But this time, that’s exactly what I did, I stated that when I handed the bill over, nobody had seen it, least of all me.  When I had the audience member write down the number while I was "blindfolded" I said that everyone here knew the number except for me.  Again, appeal to emotions.
  3. I reacted to audience gaffes.  Whenever you perform and you need the audience to do something, there is always the chance that they will do something unexpected to mess up your rhythm.  In this case, while I was reciting the numbers, the two kids covering my eyes kept saying "No" every time I got a number right.  Ordinarily I would have ignored it.  But this time I said "Hey kids… stop lying!"  Everyone laughed and it got a good reaction.

This is why I like to continue to perform magic – I keep getting better and I want to make use of the things I learned in Strong Magic – Close Up Tips for the Magician.

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I have noticed a recurring theme in my favorite movies; I really like the ones that deal with (mis)perceptions and reality.  Consider the examples from my Facebook profile:

  1. The Prestige – one of the major themes in The Prestige is the lengths that some performers will go to in order to carry the act forward.  Of course, in the end, it is all about appearances and what assumptions we made throughout the movie turn out to be false.  Very cleverly done.
  2. The Corpse Bride – This has been on of my favorite movies for a while and I think I figured out why.  It, too, deals with perceptions and reality.  One of the families in the movie are the hereditary rich, that is, their family has been wealthy for generations.  While they appear to be rich, in fact they are not.  The reality is different from the image they are trying to convey.
  3. The Dark Knight – I really liked the new Batman movie.  It’s all about appearances and reality.  Harvey Dent says you either die a hero or see yourself live long enough to become the villain.  He eventually becomes the villain but they cover it up to keep him a hero, while Batman remains a hero but appears to be a villain.  His butler, Alfred, even conceals the truth from Bruce Wayne by burning the letter Batman’s flame sent him indicating that she was going to marry Harvey.  Again, perceptions and reality.

I also like the story of the Wizard of Oz, particularly the part of the wizard – the man behind the curtain.  Hiding behind the illusion of power, the wizard possesses no special abilities at all.  It is all, once again, about perceptions and reality.

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Random thoughts

I was driving home tonight and I thought to myself "You know what I should post on my blog?  A few of my favorite foods."  So, here goes:

  1. Warm bread – I am a big fan of bread.  Whenever I go to a new restaurant I say to myself (and others) "I hope that they have free bread!"  That’s why I like Indian food so much; I like to order the garlic nan bread because it’s served warm and man, does it taste good.
  2. Cold orange juice – did you ever feel like it’s really warm in the evening and you need something cold?  Not water, and not carbonated?  For me, a cold glass of orange juice does the trick.  No pulp, of course, because pulp in orange juice just ruins the experience.  And calcium in orange juice makes it taste funny.  If you want calcium, drink milk.
  3. M&Ms – I must confess I have a slight weakness for M&Ms.  When I lived in Canada, a family I used to visit had a candy jar at their front door, and sometimes it contained M&Ms.  When I moved to Seattle, I got myself a candy dish and put it by my kitchen table and keep it stocked with M&Ms, both for myself or for guests.  I eat a couple every day.  Not too many, of course.
  4. Cream soda – I gave up drinking soft drinks/soda/pop about 2 or 3 years ago.  By "gave up" I mean that I cut back.  I now drink it a maximum of once a week.  I don’t have any pop in my fridge… except for one time earlier this year.  I went to the store and saw that they had Cream Soda in bottles.  I couldn’t resist and I bought it.  It took me six weeks to finish them, but man, they were good.
  5. Chicken Tikka Masala – whenever I go to an Indian restaurant, I almost always get the same thing (in addition to the nan bread) and that’s chicken tikka masala.  It’s a special Indian dish and I love that stuff.  Lamb?  No thanks.  Beef?  Tempting, but no.  Got to go with the chicken. Not butter chicken, but tikka masala.

That’s all I can think of for the time being.  I think I’ll go have a glass of orange juice.

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Feeling frustrated

This past month I have been feeling very frustrated, particularly over the past two days.  2008 is turning out, by far, to be the worst year I have ever had in investing. 

In March, I bought a New Zealand currency CD that pays 6% on the theory that US dollar will keep its interest rates low and New Zealand would keep its interest rates high.  Higher rates = high dollar.  Well, it turns out that’s exactly what has happened… except that the US dollar has appreciated 12% (!) against the Kiwi since I opened the CD!  In other words, the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen, happened.

I bought an oil company back in April and an ETF that tracks Oil and some gold and grain.  I made some money on both… and then promptly gave it all back and then some in a matter of a couple of weeks. 

In real estate, I searched long for a good property and then yesterday I found out what rate the lender was going to give me.  6.5% for a 30-year fixed; not only that but the extra charges and fees that I get nickel-and-dimed with push that rate up to 7.2%.  Now, my profitable real estate investment is no longer attractive.  In fact, it shows a loss in the first year and a small gain later on.  I had hoped the lender could get me a better rate; they didn’t.

To summarize, everything I touch this year turns to garbage and it’s becoming incredibly frustrating.  For stocks, I decided to change my trading strategy and not get into and out of trades so quickly.  That hasn’t worked and I think it’s worked against me and hurt me more than helped me.  My fixed income investment was supposed to take advantage of global fundamental conditions and it has hurt me instead.  My real estate investment was supposed to turn a positive cash flow but the factors that I couldn’t control have come back to hurt me.

It’s especially frustrating because I spend so much time and effort into educating myself about investing.  The stuff I learn that is supposed to work… doesn’t.  I’m not sure where to go from here, do I hang on and hope that things will turn around?  I know that most of my stocks that I have sold at losses usually turn around and come back.  But what about my fixed income?  Should I bother holding onto my real estate investment?

At this point, I’m unsure of where I need to go.

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When I lived in Canada, I didn’t hear much about Michael Phelps.  Now that I’m down here in the United States, I’m hearing a lot about him.  This guy is a machine, he is the Tiger Woods of swimming.  Except more dominant.

Phelps is an American swimmer.  This guy won 6 gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and 2 (shameful) Bronze.  So far in China, he has won 5 gold medals in the five events he has competed in, and still has 3 to go.  So he could do a full sweep and take 8 gold medals.  That would be absolutely incredible.

The United States sure has a history of producing champions, I tell you what.

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Off to Florida next month

Next month I am going to a spam conference in Ft Lauderdale, FL.  It’s for 3 days, and then afterwards me and another guy are going to drive up to Orlando and fly back to Seattle from there.  Then, 11 days later, I leave to go to China.  And then 3 days after I get back, I go in for arthroscopic hip surgery.  So basically, the week of September to the first couple of weeks in November is going to be a bit of a write-off in terms of work.

I better make sure all of our spam filters are up to date, because you just know that the spammers are waiting for me to take leave.

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A couple of weeks ago, a representative for Verizon came to my place and tried to sign me up for internet service.  They actually wanted to sell me internet, TV and local phone, but I don’t have local phone so I said “No, thanks.”  They kept insisting and bugging me and I was hungry for dinner and just wanted to get them off my back, plus I didn’t know off the top of my head how much my current provider charges me.  So I said “Fine.  I’ll take internet.”  They made an appointment to come down and install it a month later.

During the process, the agent was kind of rude.  He phoned up the local back office to schedule the appointment and ended up having a rather lengthy conversation with the person back there for quite a long time.  “Hey, how’s it going?  I haven’t talked to you in a long time!  How are you?  What are you doing this weekend?  Blah, blah, blah…”  And it was right in front of me!  I thought that dragged the process out more than it needed to.  Quite frankly, I just wanted to accept the meeting and then cancel it later.  I’m sitting there thinking to myself “Do you really have to do this now?  On my time?”

I later on checked my Internet bill and discovered my current provider was about $1 per month less than Verizon would be.  So my plan was to cancel Verizon which was exacerbated by the fact that I was annoyed at the agent who signed me up.

So anyhow, I got an automated phone call today reminding me that my appointment was next month.  They asked me if next weekend was still good for me, and I said no.  They routed me to an agent where I said I wanted to cancel.  Here’s where it got interesting.

I said that there was no cost savings to me and that I wanted to cancel my installation.  They then said “How about if we give you $10 off per month?”  I hesitated.  I was really interested by that because you know how much I like to save money.  But I turned it down, I didn’t want the service.  They then came back with “How about if we waive the $30 setup fee?”  That was even more enticing.  But I thought it over… I just didn’t want to go with Verizon because changing my service provider was going to be a hassle and I simply did not want to go to the trouble of phoning up Comcast and doing this song and dance with them.  They’d try to retain me as well and I couldn’t be bothered.  Then I’d have to phone up Verizon again and cancel with them.  Plus, I am still irritated at the rude agent who sold me the service.  Plus, I had to run to another meeting and I really needed to end the conversation.  I wanted to cancel and I didn’t want to argue with anyone.

So, the bottom line of the story is this — while it certainly was a decent deal to switch over to Verizon from Comcast, I didn’t want the service in the first place and agent annoyed me.  Plus I didn’t want to take the time to cancel my existing service and waste even more time, plus I didn’t have time to debate the matter.  This was a deal but it didn’t come cheap.

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A few weeks ago, I blogged about winning a game of mini-golf by a single stroke.  It was quite the game because I managed to sink a 30-foot putt to help seal my victory.

Tonight, myself and a group of 14 other friends returned to the same mini-golf course.  We split up into groups of 5 and played the course.  I went first in our group most times, and going first is a bit of a disadvantage because you can’t learn from other players the intricacies of the hole.  I didn’t know which way the hole course breaks, and so forth.

I fell behind early in the game.  However, I settled down and continued to do par, 1 under par, and so forth.  Slowly but surely I climbed back.  This time around, there were no magnificent shots, only a consistent set and no major setbacks.  When all was said and done, I once again managed to win by a single stroke!

I’m not very good at sports.  I haven’t got enough strength or size to play most sports, and my co-ordination is about average.  However, mini-golf is something that I have some talent in.  I’ve known this for a long time.  I don’t play very often, but when I do, I normally do well.  At least I have something to hold onto because I’m certainly not going to win any sports competitions any time soon!

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Off to China

A few months ago I posted that I might be interested in taking a trip to China.  Well, as it turns out, today I booked that trip.

Realizing that my company will probably not send me there anytime soon, I took matters into my own hands and planned my own trip for October 2008.  My journeys will take to to Beijing and then a trip to the interior where I shall dance on the Great Wall of China.  After some country site-seeing (alas, no Tibet) I shall finish off in Shanghai.

The trip starts to pick up speed from there.  I leave Shanghai for a 2-day trip to Taiwan.  From there it’s a 2-day trip to Seoul, South Korea.  From there it’s back to Seattle (but first a 3-hour layover in Tokyo, Japan).  All in all, it’s a 2-week trip.  Yeah, it’s kind of busy… but it’ll be fun.  I’ve never been to the far east, other than Singapore.  Should be good times.

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The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer since it refers to my skill in badminton.  I don’t have merely one weakness in my game, I have a whole bunch of them.  However, yesterday it was brought to my attention one of my failings.

For the longest time I could never figure out why I couldn’t do an end-to-end clear, that is, hit the birdie from the back of the court to the other side of the court.  The best I could do was maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the way there.  Well, I figured it out.  I started warming up with another player yesterday and he said to me "Want some tips?"

"Yes," I quickly replied.  Consciously incompetent, I am all for trying to improve my lousy game.  He said to me that when I hit the shuttle, I need to fully extend my arm.  I basically had my arm at a 90 degree angle and was trying to clear it, thus, all the power was coming from my elbow and forearm.  That’s not good enough.  He told me to stand sideways and swing the racquet with my arm fully extended and swing from the shoulder.  He further told me to hold my left arm up and track it with my index finger so it made it easier to swing/hit.

Well, I tried it and it made an immediate difference.  I was able to clear it way better.  But there were two drawbacks:

  1. Timing – the reason why I was hitting it using the 90 degree elbow form was because my timing sucked.  Waiting for it to come down if I tried to hit it too high, I would always miss it.  Well, I don’t always miss it now, I miss half the time.  It’s further from my head so I need to adjust my timing.
  2. Ouch!  – After practicing about a half-dozen times, my shoulder got really sore.  After 5 or 6 times!  He would set it up, I’d turn sideways and smash it with a full extension, and it became painfully obvious that I had never used those shoulder muscles to swing my racket before.  I felt it quickly and I now realize that I had definitely not been doing it properly.

The good news is that being able to do a high lob to the back of the court is extremely useful.  It should help neutralize my opponents’ advantage over me because I admit that my back of court game is quite weak.  This should go a ways towards my desuckification at badminton.

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