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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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