Archive for November, 2008

So here’s something that’s really irritating me lately.  It is the way people pronounce the word "caramel."  It’s pronounced "carAmel" and not "car-mull".  It rhymes with "Sara Bell", not carpal (as in carpal tunnel syndrome).  There is an A in there and it is not silent.

I’ve been asking a lot of friends lately and everyone is saying "car-mull".  When I say "Okay, then how do you say carmel?"  And then they proceed to say it the exact same way!  What’s up with that?  People are skipping their syllables.

Now, a friend of mine then quipped to me "How do you pronounce often?"  I said "Off-ten".  She then said "It’s actually off-en, the ‘t’ is silent." I venture to say that this is not the same situation.  I often pronounce that word as "off-en" because I am slurring the word together and omitting it.  But the correct way to say is "off-ten"; a short-cut is to omit the letter ‘t’.

Caramel is another matter entirely.  The first syllable rhymes with "bear".  To omit that middle syllable is simply wrong.  With "often" we are only omitting a letter, but with "caramel" you are skipping an entire syllable.  Instead of calculator, do you say calcutor?  Instead of hyperlink, do you say hylink?  Of course not, it’s ridiculous.

Like I said in the title, everyone I know around here is saying car-mull, which means that everyone else is wrong.

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New goal update

A few weeks ago, I was remarking that I had achieved a number of life-long goals like going to the Great Barrier Reef and visiting the Great Wall of China.  I said that my new goal was to go Tango dancing in Argentina.

I have decided to change that goal because I have a better one.  This new goal is more in line with my previous ones.  It is to go to Peru and visit Machu Picchu.  Machu Picchu is an ancient stone village built by the Inca empire, on top of a mountain.  It is relatively undisturbed and has hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.  I have seen the Mayan pyramids in Mexico, and I think that the Incan ones would also be really cool to go and see.

Thus, this new goal supplants and replaces my old one.

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I finally decided to take stock of all my losses to my net worth over the past year.  I had made a spreadsheet of my savings back in June, so all I had to do now was update it with my current losses.

What could have possibly inspired me to do this?  I got a newsletter that said that if I were a typical American family, my net worth would have dropped by about 50% in the past 12 months.  I had to go and make that calculation.  Luckily I first started tracking this back in June.

The result?  During the past year (since March) I have lost around 21% of my net worth.  That’s the optimistic case because I haven’t completely factored in the exchange rates for some of my retirement accounts that I still have in Canada.  However, over the past year, I’m still up by quite a bit.  So, the bulk of these declines have occurred over the past 8 months.  The top three drain-suckers:

  1. The condo I purchased has sapped a sh*tload of cash from my checking account
  2. My retirement accounts have taken some major hits
  3. My passive investment in foreign currency paying a high yield hurt me badly

However, the best investment (or rather, the least worst) have been the following:

  1. My personal stock trading account is only down 15%.
  2. My 401(k) is up since the start of the year… but only because my company matches is 50 cents on the dollar.  Basically, all the money that my company put in has evaporated.

If you look at those, the investments I don’t manage personally (RRSP), or don’t have experience in (foreign currency) or outside my expertise (real estate) are the worst ones.  The one that I am very good at, personal trading, actually looks half decent.  If the SP-500 is down 45% this year, then I am outperforming it by 30%.  The moral of the story is that I need to stick to what I know.

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Thanking my lucky stars

So a few weeks ago, I sold off all of my stocks.  All I can say to that is thank goodness I did that.  I was concerned that shortly after I did it, the market would bottom and turn around and I’d be stuck missing out on gains, all because I couldn’t be patient.  However,h Had I held onto all of my positions:

  • I’d be down in DBC an additional 39%
  • I’d be down in BIDU an additional 48%
  • I’d be down in RIG an additional 54%
  • I’d be down in VIP an additional 67%
  • I’d be down in DRYS an additional 93%

Man, did I ever dodge a bullet there.  I took a big beating in VIP and DRYS but had I held, I would have taken a major pounding.  My first rule of trading is to protect capital.  I think I have done a poor job of that for the first part of this year, but I started getting better at it in the second half of the year.

For example, at the end of September, one of my financial advisors was advising his clients that we had seen a period of large declines on the markets and that we should consider putting in a big hunk of money into the markets.  I wasn’t so sure if that was the time to do it.  The market was sliding and I don’t like to buy low without some confirmation that things are turning around.  I considered it but ultimately decided to play it safe.

That turned out to be the right decision.  If I would have made that big investment, that capital would be down 35% in only two months!  A 35% drop requires a 50% gain to break even.  Because markets take so much longer to go up than go down (consider that we have now had 4 years of gains wiped out in 13 months), I thought that the risk/reward ratio wasn’t there.  There was too much uncertainty in the markets for me to make a move.

I have made a number of bad investment decisions this year.  I stayed in some stocks too long, I didn’t realize that the US dollar would rally like a madman, and my real estate investment is killing me.  However, at least I came to my senses and stopped throwing good money after bad.  I could have gone short, but ultimately my current trading style is to stay on the sidelines until the market stops acting crazy.  That’s probably the best decision I have made this year.

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So recently at work, they decided to hire a bunch of people over in Ireland.  These guys speak foreign languages and they will cover a time zone differential for Europe.  Our technical team is not 24 hours (but our support team is) so we need people over there to handle customer escalations.

Now here’s the thing: they need somebody to go over and train the new hires.  They needed to send the best person they could.  But, since he wasn’t available, they turned to me instead.  So, that means that in December, probably the second week, I’ll be headed over to Dublin, Ireland for a week to train the new hires.

I’m looking forward to going.  I plan to stay a little over a week and on the weekend, I’m going to visit some other place in Europe.  While Spain, German, Italy or eastern Europe sound interesting, I’ll probably just end up going to Northern Ireland and then catching England to meet up with some friends.

I’ve fit in a lot of traveling these past couple of months.  Florida, China, Taiwan, Korea… and now Ireland.  Not bad, I’d say.

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Edinburgh, Scotland, 2001

When I was living in England in 2001, I started street performing.  Each weekend in the summer, I would head down to the town of Bath in the county of Wiltshire, which was only a 15-minute train ride from my house.  I never made very much money street performing; in fact, I struggled mightily at it.  But I did get a lot of experience performing and it was pivotal to my success today as a magician.  In other words, street performing de-suckified me.

I decided to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland in 2001.  The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest one in the world and performers from across the globe go to this one because it’s where you can make some serious money (or so I’ve been told because I sure never saw any).  For my street show, I created a makeshift table that I stuffed in a suitcase and took my close up show on the road in the hopes of making piles of money.  That goal I never accomplished and still haven’t to this day.

While in Scotland, I could either do a 45-minute street show with a reserved slot or try to do a bunch of smaller shows as the smaller venues, but there was no wait period.  I tried my luck at the big show but it wasn’t really my style.  I switched to the smaller close up show with my back up against the corner of one of the churches along High Street, not far from the Edinburgh Castle.  After 7 pm there was no schedule so I could just set up and do as many shows as I wanted because nobody else was waiting.

I was doing 7 or 8 shows consecutively at one point.  My show consisted of a lot of sleight of hand (which is my specialty) but back then I was doing even more than I do now.  I was doing a lot of coin work and some cards, but I was doing less cards then compared to what I do now.  One time, I completed a show, my final one of the day, and afterwards a guy came up to me and chatted with me.  He said that my sleight of hand was the best had ever seen.

As it turns out, this guy was a reporter for The Scotsman, Scotland’s national newspaper.  He was a reviewer of the various Fringe Festival shows and he went around reviewing the various venues.  Thus, this guy who had seen a lot of stuff thought that my stuff was the best.  That made me feel really good.  In fact, to this day, it is my number one Magical Performing Moment.

I have always planned to go back to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but haven’t gotten around to it.  If I do, I’d like to perform one more time and see if my skills have gotten better since then or if they have deteriorated.  For sure, I think much of the magic has improved considerably.  Perhaps in a future review, the reviewer will actually write an article in the newspaper!

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Magic Club of Winnipeg, Annual Show, 2005

This particular performance holds really fond memories for me.  The previous summer, I made two pretty good friends who were fellow magicians.  For 8 consecutive weeks, we used to go to an area in Winnipeg known as The Forks and perform magic for a couple of hours each Friday evening.  The Forks is kind of a touristy area somewhat similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle.  It’s a market with a museum, restaurants, skating rink, and so forth, and in the summer I did some street performances there.

One of the guys in 2004 came up with an entertaining routine.  He performed a trick called D’Lite to some disco music.  D’Lite is an effect where the performer grabs lights at his fingertips and proceeds to thrown them from hand to hand, and pulls a continuous stream of these from out of thin air.  I really enjoyed the trick because I thought it was creative.  Not only that, but he did his own little dance to the music.

The next year, in 2005, the Magic Club I attended has a show every May where the magicians in the club get to perform for friends, family, and so forth.  I had performed the previous year and wanted to perform again.  I also really liked the D’Lite effect and so I got a bunch of the guys together to do a group routine of D’Lite.  We started off with four performers but that whittled down to two.  But the two of us put on a great routine.

You see, the pair of us put together a disco dancing routine to the song Staying Alive.  We came out on stage dancing (thus foreshadowing my eventual switch to the hobby a couple of years later) and clapping.  I have to say that it wasn’t real dancing, it was mostly clapping and moving left and right, bouncing to the music.  We started off with what looked like dancing, and then we each plucked a light out of the air.  We tossed the light from hand-to-hand, and then tossed them high in the air.  We spun around and then "caught" the lights.

Next, we started tossing the lights (well, light — singular, since tossing two would be difficult to see) back and forth to each other.  We closed out the routine by walking off stage.  The music faded and we came in a took a bow.  The audience loved it.

We spent a long time working on that routine.  I would actually pop by my friend’s place before work sometimes to rehearse it and then we would sometimes work on it after work.  There was a lot of time and effort put into it, but it was worth it.  We got tons of positive feedback from everybody and even years later, people were still commenting on it about how creative it was.  Stuff like that is the reason I do magic.  When it pays off and a large crowd enjoys it as much as they did, it makes me want to keep going and never quit.

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Impromptu magic, Redmond (Seattle), 2008 

Every once in a while, I get a chance to do a special performance.  Earlier this year, I picked up the book Strong Magic, by Darwin Ortiz, about how to make your magic more impactful upon the audience.  I got the chance to test this out twice this year.  The first trick I performed I wrote about earlier, and it was The Invisible Deck with the invisible watch addition.  The second trick was Any Card at Any Number, a trick I have spent the past 5 months learning.

What made these two performances so special is that every once in a while, the stars align.  With both of these tricks there were three crucial elements: (1) I spent a good deal of time practicing each of them and really wanted to try them out, (2) I got a very strong reaction from the audience, and (3) While I always do my best for all my tricks and all my audiences, the audience for these two tricks were particularly special – they were very attractive girls and I had them as a one-on-one audience.  Seriously, there’s just something to be said for performing magic for very good looking girls, pulling off the trick flawlessly, and having them be impressed.

With The Invisible Deck, I had been waiting to perform the trick for a while.  I won’t go into the details because you can read about it in my linked post.  To summarize, my spectator was absolutely floored and my timing on this one was perfect.  The appearance of the watch is the best reaction I have ever gotten.

With Any Card, I have been working on that one for quite a while and it’s still not quite perfect.  However, one evening, I performed it for one of the girls/teachers at the place where I go dancing.  I just went up to her later on in the evening and asked her if she wanted to see a trick.  She said yes.  So, I asked her to merely think of a card, and she picked the Queen of Hearts.  I then asked her to call out a number.  She picked 27.  The number 27 is a good number because it’s right in the middle of the deck.  Because of the length of time it takes to deal 27 cards, it builds up a lot of suspense.  Obviously, the trick works with any number, but bigger numbers (greater than 15) build tension.

Anyhow, I gave her the deck and she dealt out 26 cards and I said "stop."  I reiterated that she not only had a free choice of cards but also of numbers.  The odds of the 27th card being the Queen of Hearts were not merely 1 in 52, but 1 in some astronomical number!  I then told her to turn over the next card… and it was the Queen of Hearts!  I could tell simply by the look on her face that she was very impressed.  There are some cases when I can read somebody’s response very clearly.  I read her expression and performed another card trick, also pretty good, known as The Ambitious Card.  I nailed that one, too.

These two performances will stick out as magical highlights of 2008.  I haven’t performed often this year, but once in a while the window of opportunity opens and I manage to seize the day.  Now, I’m absolutely 100% certain that neither of these two girls read my blog.  So, I’m going to post their photos (which I got off of Facebook) because I feel really good about performing for such good looking spectators.

image  card_fan   image

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Adelaide, Australia, and New Zealand, 2002

My fourth most memorable magical moment is actually a trio of moments.  I decided to travel around the world in early 2002 in order to see the world, but also to be a street performer in various cities.  One of these was Adelaide, Australia, where they had their Fringe Festival going on.

The first memory that comes to mind was the time I was copied by another performer.  As part of my street routine, two of the tricks I performed were the Cut-and-Restored Rope, and the Linking Rings.  I was doing a show one day and after I was done, another performer came up to me and chatted with me.  It turns out he was a magician.  I thought nothing of it and left.  The next day, I came back to the place where I performed.  This guy was there doing his show.  Fair enough, I thought.  I like to watch other magicians.  The thing is, this guy did the same tricks I did… and he copied the way I did them!

How do I know he copied me?  I have a couple of idiosyncrasies when I do those two tricks.  The way I hold the rings, the way I link and unlink them, the facial expressions I use, the timing about how I look at the audience, the way I get the spectator to restore the rope… this guy did them all the same way I did them.  I was watching him thinking I was looking into a mirror.  I actually wasn’t mad about this, I was kind of flattered.  I guess my act was good enough to rip off!

My second memory in New Zealand is the time I was doing the Cut-and-Restored Rope.  This was the next stop after Australia.  I was doing a street show with a member of the audience and I had him hold the rope between his fingers right before I had him restore it.  But I spiced things up a bit; I had him follow my fingers and move the rope up and down, up and down like he was hypnotized… but the way he did it was quite humorous.  His facial expression was priceless.  I can’t explain it, but he started laughing.  And then the audience started laughing.  And then I started laughing.  It was just so funny!  I can still remember laughing out loud and being unable to stop chuckling at the situation.  That image of the spectator laughing along with me will stick in my mind forever.

My final memory is also in New Zealand, not long after that previous incident I just described.  I was starting to get bored of street performing (because I was making no money) so I decided to take a trip from Auckland to the upper tip of New Zealand called the Bay of Islands.  I made a new friend on the bus ride there, and once we arrived we decided to go for a hike.  As we were walking for about an hour, a couple of other guys passed us and I heard one of them say "Mr. Magician."  I turned and looked, and they stopped and looked back and smiled at us.

Evidently, these guys had seen one of my shows a few days earlier.  They clearly remembered me but I didn’t recall them at all, but the point remains — I had made an impact on them and they recognized me when I walked by them a few days later.  That made me feel pretty good.

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I’ve started to practice my magic a bit more this year.  And, seeing as how I can’t dance for the next couple of weeks, I can at least perform magic for my friends at the dancing studio in between their own dancing.  Magic is, after all, my first love.  Giving up dancing would be hard but I’d do it if I had to.  Giving up magic… quite impossible.

So, I thought I’d go through my Top 5 Moments of Magic in my performing career.  These are the reasons I keep at it, why I keep performing.  I’ll tell you the good points of the performance and why it stands out in my mind.

It’s hard to narrow it down to only 5 moments, particularly when I currently have 3 in mind that are definitely in the top 5.  However, for my first big moment, I’m going to tell a story about the time I did a show way back in 1997 (or maybe 1998, I can’t remember anymore).

Oakbank, Manitoba, 1998

It was near Christmas time, and the youth group I was a part of at the time was asked to put on a magic show for their Christmas party.  I agreed to do it.  At the time, I had only been performing magic for 4 years but I hadn’t really done a lot of shows.  My skills were mostly in close up magic.  In addition, I was more used to performing for people I knew.  You see, if you know people, they are more likely to cut you some slack when you screw up and I just felt more comfortable performing that way.  I got nervous enough doing a show, but doing it for strangers?  Ergh.

I figured that the people going to the Christmas party would all be people I mostly knew.  However, the day of the performance, I went there and while there were some people I knew, they were mostly strangers or people that I knew of but by no means would I have considered us friends.  We were barely even acquaintances. 

That made me really nervous.  I was going to have to perform for strangers.  My stomach started to get full of butterflies but I had no choice; the show had to go on.  I really don’t know what tricks I did that day other than the Linking Rings (which I had a friend make for me in shop class), but when all was said and done, it came off pretty well.  Even the trick that went wrong went well!  For my opener, I had a couple of audience members select two cards and replace them into the deck.  I tossed a deck of cards into the air, intending to pluck two of them out of the spinning deck and catch the rest of them in my other hand.  Well, I did toss them into the air and pluck out the two cards… but the rest of the deck went spinning out into the audience!  "Oh, crap!" I thought.  It was supposed to go straight up, not up and forward! 

However, as it turns out, the deck went flying into the audience and one of the girls sitting at a table leaned forward and caught it.  "Whew", I thought.  The deck didn’t go splattering everywhere.  Even better, all the cards stayed in perfect alignment.  I went down into the audience and collected the deck, then showed that the only two cards in my other hand were the two that the audience members had placed there earlier!  Success!  Everyone thought that was the way the trick was supposed to happen!  At least, that’s what I think they thought…

So, I finished up the show and afterwards a guy I didn’t know very well came up to me and shook my hand.  That meant a lot to me because I had gotten used to praise from friends and family but not people I didn’t know.  I think that this was the show that started my performance transition; when I first started performing I preferred doing it for people I knew.  Now, it’s completely the opposite, I much prefer performing for strangers or other people who have either never seen me perform or have seen me only rarely.

But this memory (particularly the handshake and the girl catching the deck and preventing a possible catastrophe) is one that sticks out for me and will remain with me for some time to come.

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I don’t what in the world they are doing down there, but I can hear the sounds of something coming through the floor.  Almost every day!

It sounds like a loud stereo, or maybe a video game they are playing.  In any case, I can totally hear it through my floor.  I’ve thought about stomping around on the floor to see how they like ‘dem apples!

When I first moved to Seattle, I was on the bottom floor of a 2-story condo.  I had idiot neighbors there, too.  All this stomping around upstairs, they were so fricking loud!  When I moved out to my new place, I moved to the top floor of a two-story condo.  "Hah!" I exclaimed.  "Idiot neighbors can’t bother me now!"

Well, I was wrong.  The idiots downstairs are not quite as annoying, but they are close.  Somebody ought to give them a good beating.

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Today I’m calling it and making it official – no dancing for at least the next 2 weeks.  After 1 week, I was feeling fine but I still took it easy.  After a week and a half, there were a few moves I discovered I couldn’t do.  After 2 weeks, it has become obvious to me that the morphine and other pain killers have worn off from my body; there are too many tweaks and pinches in certain rotations and movements that I am forced to, temporarily, give up a hobby that I enjoy.

For many months, I have attempted to avoid the possibility that this injury was going to affect me.  After all, when I first started hurting I continued to play sponge hockey (although I did have a lousy season, maybe I can use that as an excuse).  The day I had the accident two years ago was the worst day of my life.  That evening was quite an emotional time for me, and no incidents before or since (not sad movies, not watching my football team get eliminated from the playoffs) has been able to affect me in the same way.  Reliving the events of the actual accident now doesn’t bother me, but thinking about how it has affected my life does. 

In February 2007, I was experiencing a bad case of forgetfulness.  Driving home one day, I began to consider that I was starting to lose it, and I could feel my eyes watering up and I couldn’t stop it; these symptoms started the day of the accident.  That sucked, but eventually my forgetfulness and absent-mindedness symptoms went away.  In January 2008, I went to see a doctor about my hip and it was there that the possibility was first raised that I may have surgery.  I wasn’t concerned about the surgery but again, on the drive home, the fact that my life was going to be altered by that incident really bothered me. 

Now, the realization that my life is going to be affected by this, and there is nothing I can do.  What if the darting pain, the pinching, is a permanent condition?  Giving up a hobby is not the problem; ultimately if I had to do it I would simply move on to something else.  What really bothers me, so much so that it makes me become somewhat emotional, is that that fateful day in November 2006 has imposed a new reality on me, it has affected my lifestyle, and I’m powerless to do anything about it.  It may be true that I don’t have much choice in the matter and I simply need to allow the passage of time, but that doesn’t make it any easier to endure.

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Last week I had a follow up appointment back at my doctor’s office with one of the other assistants there.  At the time, they told me that my hip might begin to feel worse over time as the morphine and other pain killing drugs wore off.  He also mentioned that as I started to become more active, it’d probably start to get more sore.

Well, it turns out he was right.  My hip is definitely more sore now than it was a week ago at this time.  Dancing is difficult, but moving from side to side is also bothering me.  I’m beginning to question the wisdom of returning so soon.  Whereas before my hip was "giving", it doesn’t give anymore.  Now it just hurts.  I guess that explains that.

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As I just said in my previous post, 2008 has been a lousy year for investing.  It’s downright sucked.  I lost about 22% in my trading account, and my retirement accounts are also taking a bit of a pounding.  Not a lot has gone right this year.

But, one thing has gone right.  I sold 80% of my stocks at the beginning of September, and the last one at the beginning of October.  That one move alone has saved me a boatload of money.  If I hadn’t done that, I’d be down at least 40% this year. 

So, while I definitely am feeling down on my luck, let me just say that I totally outperformed the market in September and October, and I feel pretty good about that.  I’ve done better than millions of other people.  How many other people can say that?

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This has not been a great year for investing.  Way back in April, I bought some New Zealand currency on the theory that the United States dollar was going to continue to fall since the Federal Reserve was injecting so much money into the economy.  With more dollars chasing the same amount of goods, this decreases the buying power of the US dollar (ie, it is worth less).  The New Zealand central bank kept their interest rates high, and NZ is a commodity based economy.  Ergo, the dollar should continue to slide against the Kiwi dollar since money should flow out of the US and into New Zealand.

Furthermore, this CD was paying 6%.  Where can you get a fixed rate investment for 6%?  I figured that if the dollar slid another 10% (a perfectly reasonable assumption considering that it fell 40% in 3 years), I could make 16% in a year with little risk!  What a deal!  I figured that I also had a stop loss; the US dollar would have to appreciate 16% for me to exceed my stop loss (-16% + 6% = 10% loss).  A 10% loss in this investment would be about a 1% loss to my total liquid net worth, slightly less.

That was the theory.  But then the unthinkable happened.  Not only did the dollar appreciate past my stop loss, I ended up losing 30% on this investment.  The dollar appreciated 30%!  In six months!  Sweet Enola Gay, I have never seen a currency rally like that in my entire lifetime!  When this recession hit, everyone decided they wanted to dump their foreign currency and hold onto safe (?) US dollars and the dollar skyrocketed.  And I lost a bunch of money that I will never see again.  When the time came to roll over that CD into another six month foreign currency CD, I said "Heavens, no!  Put it into a savings account paying 3%!"  That should temporarily stop the bleeding.

The only thing that makes me feel better is that millions of other people around the world lost as much money as I did.  And the people who were short the Japanese Yen?  They got dinged worse than me.  That cushions the blow to my ego as well.  Misery loves company.

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Funny picture

Especially befitting.


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Last Friday, a mere week after my hip surgery, I decided to return to my dancing place.  I figured my hip was feeling pretty good and I could sit out the fast dances.  I also could sit out a few more dances and only do maybe 1 in 3 or 1 in 4.  Usually I do at least half of them.

After that Friday, I was feeling pretty good.  I was careful to not do the higher impact dances like Salsa or Hustle and mostly did the slow ones.  The next day I was fine.  Fast forward to today, Tuesday.  I decided to sign up for lessons, and this should have been a good one because it was Rumba.  Rumba is a slower dance and the moves are not high impact.  I thought I’d be fine.

Well, I wasn’t.  Rumba’s basic step is a box step.  You take a step forward with your left foot (this is for leads) and then step right with your right and bring your feet together.  The motion is forward, side-together.  Then, step backward, left-together.  The first part was fine.  The second part was uncomfortable on my hip.

It hurt more than I thought it would (I thought it would be none).  It wasn’t a crippling pain, and I have experienced sharper pains in my hip/groin in the past, particularly after my hip injection in May.  But this one was definitely a lot less pleasant than I expected.  And it hurt in a different place, it hurt on the outside of my hip.  I found that by rotating my foot outwards a bit I could make it hurt less, but the fact remains: I am not invincible.

But I’ll still be back next week.

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Story time

This past weekend, I went to a free form murder mystery game organized by a friend of mine.  The object of the game is to solve the murder of who killed a certain character.  Here was the basic story of this game:

There was a pirate captain of a ship, a fierce captain who was feared by all, by the name of Captain Flint.  Six months ago, he was killed in his sleep by El Cuervo, the masked crusader.  After the pirate captain was killed, his fleet split into two but they were just a shell of their former selves.  The two captains of the split fleet are each wandering the ocean, looking for treasure.  Each have their own crew.

But there are other characters in this murder mystery.  There is Lord Percival of England and his daughter Elizabeth, who have been kidnapped by one of the pirates.  There is the captain of the British fleet.  There is Don Enigo Montoya, a Spaniard who is on the seas when his boat sank.  Finally, there is the native people of the island of Lakiyo — the chief, the shaman and the chief’s daughter.  Everyone is stranded on the island, and there are only two boats off the island, the pirates’ boats.  The over-aching goal of the game is to figure out who killed Captain Flint and determine the identity of El Cuervo.
My character was the shaman.  My goals for the game were the following:

  • I distrust Europeans, but I hate pirates.  I’d like to see them all hanged or driven back into the sea.
  • I want to get all Europeans off the island because the volcano has been acting up recently, no doubt because an evil influence is on the island.
  • If worst comes to worst, I was to get a human sacrifice and toss them into the volcano.  It didn’t really matter who, the volcano god wasn’t picky.

Basically, what you do is go around and talk to everyone.  If you help them with your goals, they might help you with theirs.  So, that’s what I did.  My main goal was to get everyone kicked off the island who wasn’t a native.  There was basically one way to accomplish this – kill the pirates so the British navy and Don Montoya could take their boats and sail away.  So, in order to do this, I had to do basically do two things.  (1) Lie to everyone, or (2) Double-cross the rest.  Here’s what I did:

  1. I told one of the pirates of one ship that the other was planning on stealing the treasure of the island and leaving the next morning.  In order to prevent this, the captain of one should kill the captain of the other.
  2. I told the other pirate captain that other pirate captain (the one I just talked to) was poaching members of their boat and to prevent this, they had to kill them.
  3. The daughter, Elizabeth, was supposed to be married off to Don Montoya but she didn’t want to because he was condescending and arrogant.  I told her I would help her out.  My secret plan was to have her tossed into the volcano because it served my purposes.
  4. Don Montoya, the Spaniard who wanted to marry Elizabeth, was having troubles of his own.  He didn’t have a boat.  I told him that he should kill the pirates and take their boat, and I would make that happen.  As the shaman, I wouldn’t heal anyone he killed.  He didn’t want to leave Elizabeth, so I offered him the native chief’s daughter (whose goal was to become a pirate).  This meant that I could get another European off the island, Elizabeth would be gone (tossed in the volcano) and to sweeten the deal I would throw in some treasure.  He took the deal.
  5. I found out that one of the crew members of the pirate ship turned out to be an interloper.  He was actually the younger daughter of Lord Percival (which meant she was the sister of Elizabeth) in disguise.  It turns out that she was sympathetic to pirates and wanted to see them pardoned.  This was completely against my goals but I needed her on her side.  So what did I do?  I lied.  I said that the pirate captain of the other ship was planning on killing her family the next morning.  If she wanted them to live, she had to kill him.  That got her on my side.
  6. One character was the ambitious chef of one of the pirate boats.  He wanted to commit a mutiny.  I told him that he should kill his captain and the captain of the other boat.  If he attacked them, I wouldn’t heal them.  He went for it and killed both pirate captains.  My secret plan was to have Don Montoya go and kill him.  While I wanted both of them off the island, it would be better for Quintus to die, even though he was quite useful at killing pirates.  So ultimately, I planned to double-cross him. 
  7. The doctor of one of the ships I needed on my side.  This doctor had the power to heal and I couldn’t have him healing any pirates.  I went to the doctor and tried to get him to acquiesce to my plan of replacing the ship’s captain with Don Montoya.  He didn’t agree right away, so I told him that his captain planned to kill him.  He agreed.
  8. The daughter of the chief wanted to get off the island to become a pirate.  I didn’t have too much of a problem with this.  She was to marry Don Montoya, which served my goals.  However, she created a plan wherein she wanted to have her father killed; she proposed tossing him into the volcano.  With them out of the picture, I would be the king of the island.  It sounded like a good deal for me.  However, double-crossing the chief was not to be.  Partway through the game, I learned that the island volcano was no longer active and was going dormant.  It wouldn’t explode and therefore didn’t need a sacrifice.  So, I planned to go along with the plan from the chief’s daughter but secretly let the chief know what she was up to.  Either way, it would have worked out for me.

    At this point, I was staring to have trouble keeping track of all my lies.  How does Michael Moore do it?  I figured I better start writing this stuff down so I could remember what I said to who.

  9. I lied and said there was no treasure on the island.  There was, and I heard that it was found.  I actually did tell the truth to some characters and used this information as leverage.
  10. One of the people on the island was Crazy Bill Pistol, some crazy guy.  I promised I would help him get off the island early in the game.  He was the second person I talked to.  I later changed my mind.  I had no intention of  helping him get him off the island.  I was going to double-cross him and break every promise I made by just not following through.  We ran out of time, but maybe he would have come in useful if I could have gotten him to kill someone, or maybe gotten him killed.

So you see, that was quite complicated.  I had a main goal to reach and double-crossing people was the best way to make that happen.  In the end, I didn’t win the game because I pretty much didn’t bother finding out who killed Captain Flint but it sure was fun trying to keep my stories straight.

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Thoughts on politics

Tomorrow is election day in the United States, so I thought I would post a little bit about politics.  To begin with, let me begin by officially predicting an Obama victory.  I’ve been saying this for months now.  I was wrong about Hillary gaining the nomination when I predicted it a year ago, but mark my words, I will be right about Obama winning.  He will win by 5-7 percentage points in terms of the national vote and this will translate to an electoral college margin of victory of around 150 votes.

People sometimes ask me who I would vote for and if I am a Republican or a Democrat.  They also, when talking politics, sometimes invite me to a Bush-departure party on the day before inauguration, or talk about how great it’s going to be when Bush leaves office (and presumably I am in agreement).  Even though I have pretty strong and clear opinions about politics, the fact that people either don’t know which way I lean or seem to assume that I’m on their (anti-Bush) side means that I have been successful in establishing my persona as a non-ideologue.

In pretty much all facets of life, I consider myself a pragmatist.  At work, even though I’m committed to delivering a good product and putting stuff through the software development life cycle, the fact is if we did that all the time nothing would ever get done.  To that end, I approve of taking short cuts (ie, cutting parts of features) if we can live with it.  Similarly, in politics, if I stuck to my guns about my positions I’d either be angry all of the time or if I ever were to go into politics, nothing would ever get done.  In other words, I’m willing to give up ideological positions for the sake of actually accomplishing something.

Unlike 95% of the population of Seattle, I actually don’t hate President George W. Bush.  I agree with his policies on some things, and I disagree with some others.  I pick them on an issue-by-issue basis (I also do the same thing with the current candidates, by the way).  This is what allows me to appear like I’m on someone’s (anti-Bush) side.  I make jokes about the current administration’s decision to invade Iraq even though I don’t really disagree with it.  But at the same time, I know why people are protesting the Iraq war.  But at the same time, I understand the underlying rationale behind the decision to go into Iraq.  So, I find I can straddle both sides of the fence even I lean one way more than the other.

I think Barack Obama is going to win handily, but I can’t really understand why he is so popular other than it appears to be a cult of personality — there is no doubt that public image he has presented through his campaign is calm and cool, and he gives great speeches.  His positions aren’t really new and I find most of what his campaign says to be utterly predictable for a Democrat.  Yet I acknowledge that he has run a much better campaign than McCain.  By contrast, I concede the McCain has transformed from a pseudo-Democrat/Republican to a more right-wing Republican.  He has done this to energize his base and get out the vote.  But his positions aren’t really a radical departure from the Republican party standard, either.

I think I’ve rambled on a lot in this post without saying much of anything.  I guess my point is that while there is definitely energy and passion on both sides, I have re-invented myself politically in the past couple of years to try to see things from a distance and stay at arm’s length.  It’s a technique that has served me, on occasions, in the past.

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In July 2007, I made the following comment regarding my leg:

As I have mentioned in this blog previously, in my upper inner leg I have been experiencing pain whenever I rotate my leg inwards or outwards. A few weeks ago I went to the doctor, had it x-rayed, and then went for a follow-up appointment. The result? There’s nothing wrong with my leg that they can tell from the x-ray.

However, when I had x-rays done down here, it was most certainly not the same case.  While the MRI came up negative, when I went to the orthopaedic surgeon in July 2008, the diagnosis was not that there’s nothing wrong with my leg or hip.  It turns out that I had a cam and pincer impingement:



A) Normal Hip

B) Cam impingement

C) Pincer impingement

D) Combination of cam and pincer impingement

You can see that with the impingements, the patient has some extra bone either on the hip bone or on the pelvis, or both (like me).  When the hip bone rotates, the extra bones come in contact with each other.  What a surgeon has to do is go in and cut away the protrusions in the bone so that the hip can rotate more easily.  In addition, because the bones were pinching against each other, they were also pinching the labrum which is probably what contributed to my labral tear.

So, all my initial diagnoses that found nothing were wrong.  No amount of physical therapy or massage could fix it, it was a mechanical problem and only surgery could have corrected it.  Regardless, it’s feeling much better now and in a few weeks it should be completely back to normal.

One thing that feels weird is when I open up and rotate on the hip.  There’s more actual, physical space in there now.  So, when I turn, I kind of have to turn slowly and move gingerly lest I lose my balance.  But at least I’m not walking with a cane anymore.

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