Archive for October, 2008

A new goal

Over the past few years, I have had some exceptionally good success at achieving some life-long goals.  In no particular order, here they are:

  • In the summer of 1995, I visited Microsoft in Redmond.  I remarked to my aunt, who was visiting with us at the time, that one day I wanted to work there.  12 years later, in 2007, I accomplished that by moving to the United States pacific northwest.
  • In 1994, I saw a magician on a television special "The World’s Greatest Magic" make the Space Shuttle vanish.  14 years later, in Sept 2008, I did the very same thing.  Myself and a friend visited NASA and they had one of the shuttles on display.  I made it vanish (I had a digital camera with me that shoots video).  I don’t know if I ever plan to release the video, but the point is that I accomplished it.
  • I started trading stocks in 2004 and I made a goal to make $1000 on the market.  I’ve done that over and over again, so I had to change that to make it more difficult – to make a gain in a stock of 100%.  I accomplished that, twice, in 2007. 
  • In 2003, I went scuba diving in Mexico off the coast of Cancun and really enjoyed it.  I made it a goal to go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.  Three years later, in 2006, I accomplished it.
  • Right after I got back from Australia and Fiji in 2006, I created a new goal: to visit China and go to the Great Wall.  Two years later (just a three weeks ago from the writing of this post), I accomplished it.

So you see, I actually have a pretty good track record of doing fairly lofty goals.  While on the trip, I commented to some of my fellow travelers that I needed a new life long dream and at the time I couldn’t think of one.  Well, now I have one – to dance the Tango in Argentina.  That is going to be my new goal.  A satisfactory accomplishment would also be to dance Salsa in a Latin American country, but Tango is the one I’m targeting.

The other goal is one I have had for a while and almost accomplished in 2005 – to perform magic on television.  I have magic on the Internet, but TV is where it’s at.

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So, it’s now been a week since I had my surgery.  Here’s some updates:

  • I don’t really need a cane to walk, but I take it with me anyways.
  • I don’t need the cane, but my leg tends to get tired quicker than normal
  • My walking/standing posture has shifted.  I’m kind of hunched over a bit, favoring my left side.  As a result, my right leg has had to pick up the slack, and it feels strained after a while.  Translation: my right (good) leg is sore from overcompensating.
  • I can rotate my left leg inwards without pain.  Outwards, I can’t really test it.
  • The incisions still kind of hurt, but they aren’t too bad.  I’ve had worse cuts, bruises and burns.  However, standing still, or laying down, they do bother me a little bit.

So that’s that.

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The Political Economist studied this last month:

I’ve run the numbers myself. Superficially at least, the Democratic claims are true: Since 1948, the Standard & Poor’s 500 total return (capital gains plus dividends) has averaged 15.6% when a Democrat was in the White House and only 11.1% when a Republican was in the White House.

You get a similar result if you look at growth in real gross domestic product. Under Democratic presidents, the average since 1948 has been 4.2%. Under Republican presidents it has been only 2.8%.

But it’s not so simple when you study that ‘study.’ … While stocks could be expected to react very quickly to changes and expectations of changes in the political environment, the whole economy doesn’t just turn on a dime. So when we compare real GDP growth under Democratic and Republican presidents, maybe we should lag the results by a couple years. That is, we’ll assume that the growth in a given year was the result of the president’s policies from two years ago.

When we do that … we find that the economy performed pretty much exactly the same regardless of the president’s party: 3.5% under Democrats and 3.4% under Republicans.

But then who ever said that the president alone determines the economy or the stock market? It’s Congress that makes the laws. The president just signs them. Based on congressional control, the study results look very different. Under Republican Congresses, stocks have averaged a 19% return, while under Democratic Congresses only 11.9%. Real GDP growth, lagged two years, has averaged 3.7% under Republican Congresses, and only 3.2% under Democratic ones.

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Well, not really.

So yesterday afternoon, I went into surgery for my hip.

I got there, went to sign in some forms, and then they took me to the back.  I had to put on some hospital gowns so of course, everything was open in the back.  Luckily, they gave me a robe with which to give me some modesty so everyone I passed would not be open to a view of a full moon.

They then inserted an IV into my arm (I felt it, mostly) and my hunger started to go away.  I hadn’t eaten that night so I saw starving. Next, they explained to me that with the anesthesia, I would basically go under and the next thing I remember would be waking up.  It wouldn’t be like going to sleep and awaking and being aware of the passage of time.  Instead, one moment I would remember being in the operating room and the next I would be in the recovery room. 

Well, it turns out that it was exactly like that.  I went into the OR and they had me breathe into the anesthesia mask but they were talking to me (and requiring answers) so they clearly hadn’t turned it on yet.  Next, they stopped talking to me and the next thing I remember, I was lying down on a bed and my right buttocks was really sore.  Actually, it was the bone by the right buttocks on the bottom side of the pelvis.  They asked me how I was and I told them – my right buttocks hurts.

I started testing my leg.  Right buttocks hurt?  Check.  Hip hurt?  Oh, criminies was it sore.  I couldnt’ move it and it felt super-fat.  I could not move at the hip at all.  Next, I tested my ankle.  For some reason, even it hurt.  To explain that pain, imagine running in a field and stepping into a hole and rolling your ankle inwards.  That’s what it feels like, and even today, 16 hours later, I can still feel it.

I felt dizzy afterwards.  Even though I had my glasses on, everything past 5 feet was blurry and the drugs were still in my system.  Not only that but my head felt heavy so it was difficult to concentrate.  My mind was amazingly sharp and clear.  I knew where I was, knew what time it was, and so forth.  I got out from the bed to get dresses and that was an experience.  Putting on my shirt was easy, but putting on my socks and pants was very difficult.  Bending at the waste was difficult.

Next, they rolled me out of the hospital on a wheelchair.  I stood up to walk to the car and asked for a cane.  I needed to walk with a cane.  I couldn’t move my leg any other way.  It just wouldn’t respond to signals from my brain telling it to move.  For one, it hurt, and for another, it wouldn’t obey (like my old dog, Cody).  I got home and walked up the stairs (somehow) and went to lie down on the couch.  Swinging my left onto there was a bit of a challenge because of it’s sore.  I later discovered that the muscles in the back of my leg and knee were also sore.  I guess when they did the surgery they had it in an awkward position which explained all the knee, buttocks, and ankle discomfort.

I didn’t really sleep much in the evening, but I did have to get up to go to the bathroom a lot.  At one point it was every 20 minutes.  Sheesh, what am I, a dog going for a walk who has to let everyone know he’s been there?  As the evening wore on, my leg slowly got better.  Whereas at first I could only move with the cane, now (this morning) I can walk without it for short distances but I still prefer it.  Moving with the cane slowed me down more than I ever thought it would.  And I still have to move slowly, but it’s much better. I also cannot lean forward, maybe a few inches at the most.

They told me I wouldn’t be able to do the slower dancing for 6 weeks, and the faster ones for 12.  That’s a little depressing, but if my progress over the past day is any indication, I will bet that I can cut that down in half.

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You might be wondering what the people in China are like.  Do they regard westerners as strange outsiders?  The answer to this question is "It depends."

Chinese people, in general, are sort of reserved.  The major exception to this is at the Forbidden City and Tianneman Square in Beijing.  The Forbidden City is called that way because it is a walled off area in Beijing that was off-limits to peasants for several hundred years.  Now, of course, tourism dollars are more important than the emperor’s prestige (and the fact that there is no emperor anymore).
There are a lot of long line ups in Tianneman Square to see the body of Chairman Mao.  How long, you ask?  I estimate that with all the people, about 6-10 people across, it was at least half a mile.  That’s one heck of a lot of people.  But enough about Mao.  To get into the Forbidden City, there’s a "queue" that you have to line up in and then go through some narrower doors.  I would show you pictures but I lost my camera a couple of days later.

They warned us that Chinese people don’t really line up, they just sort of gather around and move fowrad. This has an element of truth to it.  While there is a line, when it comes to your turn they tend to get a little pushy.  They told us that at the Forbidden City, when we got close, the Chinese would get a little pushy.  "Pfft," I thought to myself, "I live in the loudest, most obnoxious country in the world. How pushy can these little Chinese people be?  Ooh, I’m really scared!  Besides, aren’t most of them Buddhist?  Their religion forbids violence and aggression!  Har! Har! Har!"

Well, I underestimated them.  By a long shot.  We were waiting in "line" and then we started to get closer to the entrance, which really was a series of turn-styles, the kind you might go through at a theme park.  We were about 10 meters out (30 feet) when people started shoving.  When push comes to shove, the Chinese shove.  At first I tried to resist the shoving in my back by shoving back.  But then I couldn’t.  I was being shoved forward and swept along with the crowd.  Seriously, it was like a herd of elephants pushing me forward and if I would have fell over I probably would have been trampled to death.  It was the weirdest thing because the momentum of the crowd was shoving me forward and there was no turning back.

Anyhow, I got to the turnstyle and more or less handed the attendant my ticket and was swept through. I barely grabbed it back (not like it mattered, once you’re in no one checks anything anymore). But that was an experience I hadn’t expected.  The Chinese want to get in to that forbidden city.
There were no other experiences like that on the trip.  Most Chinese are polite, and while very few of the understand English once you get outside the main cities, they all understand Arabic numerals.  Many of them carry around calculators and punch in the numbers so you can understand and communicate how much something costs.

So that’s what the people in China are like.  They don’t really seem to be surprised by seeing westerners; I guess they see us all the time on TV.  However, the country is fairly homogeneous.  Whereas in Seattle you can see people of all races in good quantity (go to a mall and you’ll see what I mean), there are very few white people at all in China.  I saw maybe a handful my entire time there until I got to Shanghai.

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Continuing on from my previous post, some of you may be wondering what the food in China is like.  Well, wonder no longer because in this email I shall reveal all!

While in China, all I pretty much ate was Chinese food.  In terms of what that looks like, it is somewhat similar to what we get back in the States, but not exactly.  In China, you always get tea (usually green tea) at the start of the meal.  In addition, the order of the food in most restaurants is that you start with a cold dish, move on to the hot dishes, and then at the end of the meal you are served rice.  I found it odd that you get rice at the end, and our guide made a special point to get it ordered earlier in the meal.

In terms of drink, I generally got a bottled water.  Tap water in China is not safe to drink so bottled water was the way to go.  I sometimes got Coke or Sprite, Coke is one of the most recognized brands out here and I even learned to pronounce it – Koo-koo kay-lay.  THat’s one of the few Mandarin words I picked up.

The menus in most of these places are long and there’s about 50-100 dishes.  And there’s a lot of weird names.  In large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, they have Chinese descriptions and English as well.  Turtle, duck (very common), all types of seafood are on the menu, but so are things like intestines, throats, bills (like from a platypus), gizzards, etc.  Most of the time, we got pork, beef and chicken.  One more thing, in China, beef is less popular than it is in America.  Chicken is number one, followed by pork.  If you order beef, it sometimes takes longer to get delivered to you (they have to go and kill the cow first).

One has to be proficient with chopsticks over in China.  In the States, if you go to an Asian restaurant and always ask for a fork and knife, you’ll be out of luck in China.  It’s always chopsticks.  I actually got quite proficient with chopsticks, I can eat an entire meal with them.  You don’t actually need a fork and knife because all of the food is small enough to be able to be picked up and inserted into your mouth.  IOW, no cutting of meat or vegetables is required… and if there is you just rip it off with your teeth.
Finally, the cost of food is very reasonable in China.  The most expensive meal, by far, was the time we went to an upscale dumpling place in Xi’an.  That cost 120 Yuan, or about a little under $20 US. 

However, the least expensive place was the time we went for lunch in Xi’an and four of us wandered into a restaurant in the Muslim quarter.  The menus were in Mandarin entirely, so we had no idea what we were ordering.  We pointed to dishes that other people around us were eating.  In the end, we ended up with some sweet and sour chicken, some beef, four bowls of rice, 2 beers and 1 Coke.  The total cost of the meal?  47 Yuan for all of us, or about $7… for everyone.  I was floored, that is the absolute best deal I have ever gotten on food in my entire life, bar none.

So that’s what the food in China is like.  Cheap, but make sure you order bottled water.

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Notes from China

So I’ve now been back from China for a couple of days now.  I thought that some of you might be interested in my various (mis)adventures.

I arrived in Beijing around 3:30 pm on Wednesday, Oct 9.  It was a long travel day, about 16 hours in total.  No where close to my longest but still a long trip.  Anyhow, I caught a taxi to my hotel and proceeded to check out the city.  Well, the street.

The first thing I noticed here was the drivers.  They are crazy.  At least, that was my first impression.  Bicyclists, pedestrians, scooter drivers and motorists all share the same roadways, and for some reason bicyclists and pedestrians feel it is perfectly natural to not only cross the street when the light is red (ie, through passing traffic), they have no problem with walking against traffic if it will get them to their final destination.  I thought to myself "that’s just crazy."  I ended up thinking that a lot on the taxi ride from the airport.

I started walking down the street from my hotel when I came to my first major obstacle.  "Oh, shoot," I exclaimed, although I didn’t use the word ‘shoot’.  Same consonants, different vowel.  I had to cross a street.  Now, I’m no expert on Chinese culture, but I was pretty sure that a country that has people walking into traffic just to get to the other side without regard for their own personal safety probably doesn’t have drivers that are particularly courteous to pedestrians.  But this is where all my cleverness kicked in.  "I know," I said, "I’ll just wait until a bunch of other people cross and squeeze in with them!"  So that’s what I did; the theory was that if a vehicle hit somebody, it’d hit a local before it hit me.  Safety first, after all.

I managed to navigate the streets alright.  At this point you may be wondering "What about the langauge barrier?  How did you get around and get people to communicate?"  Well, that’s a fair question.  For you see, at least in Beijing, most of the store signs are bilingual.  They have Chinese (Mandarin) and English written beneath them.  And you know what’s better?  It’s not like Mexico where you talk to someone and they just stare at you clueless.  In Beijing, a lot of people speak rudimentary English and making yourself understood is not that hard.

In the cases where I couldn’t be understood, I used my secret weapon – waving my arms, flailing them about and pointing in random directions, speaking in Spanish until the person I was talking to understood.  That technique works wonders, I tell you what.  So, communication in Beijing is not a big deal.  None at all.

But the Chinese do have this one disgusting habit.  They spit all the time on the street.  I’m not talking "Eww, I got something in my mouth, I’m going to give it a quick spit out my mouth."  No, this is a deep, phlegm gathering, loogie hocking spit.  They peel back and spit on the street in full view of everyone.  It’s gross, it’s like being surrounded by a bunch of camels.  The younger people don’t do it quite so often, they agree that it’s disgusting and it’s a habit that really has to go.  The Chinese have a rich history and interesting culture… but this one should be retired as quickly as possible.

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Today it occurs

Today’s the day I go in for surgery on my left hip.  I have high hopes for this surgery, I’ve been living in discomfort for the past 20 months.

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A month ago I posted that I sold off all of my holdings, except for one.  I figured that we were about to hit bottom and that I was frustrated that I was selling at the bottom.

Well, as it turns out, that decision looks like it was a good one.  Here’s what has happened since then:

  • DRYS is down an additional 47%
  • DBC is down 14.5%
  • RIG is down 22%
  • VIP is down 21%

The one stock I held, BIDU, is down 18% but there was a point in September where I could have sold for a 10% profit.

The point is that I guess I didn’t sell at the bottom after all.  That makes me feel a lot better.  Even better than that, stocks I sold earlier in the year like Google, Apple and Potash are down 50% from their peaks.  That means that I managed to hold onto a whole pile of gains.  I didn’t make anything on PCU or PCP, but at least by selling I didn’t get killed by holding onto those losses even further.

And at least I didn’t buy Lehman or WaMu.

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Today, for the first time ever, I went to my traditional dancing studio.  I say the first time ever because I went on a Wednesday, not a Friday.  Wednesdays don’t normally work for me because I have something else on those days, and when I don’t, I go to the MS Dance thing at work.  But today, I had a special reason for going — I needed the practice. 

For you see, Fridays are mixed dancing where they do Swing, Waltz, Samba, Salsa, Tango, and so forth.  However, Wednesdays they only do Salsa.  I was a little nervous about going because Salsa is one of my average dances.  I know a few moves and I guess I do them well, but I could I do an entire couple of hours doing Salsa?

So I went down there, and as it turns out I recognized a few people from my traditional Friday nights.  However, everyone who was there who recognized me said "Hey, you don’t normally come on Wednesdays, do you?"  I responded in the affirmative, to indicate that I normally do not and this was, in fact, my first night out on a Wednesday.

Anyhow, the point being, sometimes it’s nice to be recognized, if even by my absence.  I suppose I’m now a regular at the studio.

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