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Archive for June, 2009

Too funny

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Booked my flight

I’ve now booked my flight to Switzerland.  The current plan is to fly into Milan, Italy for a couple of days and then take the train to Geneva where I’ll spend the rest of the week.

My total travel time is 8 days.  It’s not a long trip, but I figure I need to budget my holidays in case something comes up.  You never know when something might come up.

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The Iranian elections have come and gone, and it has been a very interesting election.  President Mahmoud Ahmadbinejad won re-election in a landslide victory, capturing 62% of the vote compared to 35% for his nearest competitor, Mir-Hossein Mousavi (sp).  Mousavi and his supporters claim that there was election fraud.  While possible, it is difficult to believe that he could have engineered vote manipulation of this magnitude with that wide a victory of margin.

There are some suspicious things, of course.  Mousavi lost in his home town which almost never happens (except with Al Gore in 2000) and Ahmadinejad was proclaimed the victor just a couple of hours after the polls closed, suggesting that the vote outcome was pre-determined.  Of course, against this, if preliminary polls came in giving Ahmadinejad a wide victory then it is unlikely that Mousavi could have ever made up that ground.  Mousavi had a lot of support in the city of Tehran where they had more advanced infrastructure, but much of Iran is rural and poorer and that’s where Ahmadinejad had most of his support.

Since the election, have been lots of protests in Iran claiming that the election was rigged and that Supreme Leader Khamenei wanted Ahmadinejad to win.  There hasn’t been a lot of evidence of vote rigging, just a lot of sour grapes (like the Democrats in 2000 and 2004).  But the protests continue.  Violence, or rather reports of it, has been reported.  On Friday, Khamenei gave a rare public sermon urging the public to stop the protests or else there could be violence.  He also warned that these protests are backed by the West, particularly the United States and Britain.

Now, to some observers, this is a serious protest and the accusations against the West are baseless.  Iran rigged the election and the protestors have a right to annul this canard and get the candidate they want, reformist Mousavi.  However, that’s not how I see things.  This is how I think things played out:

  • The western media misread the probability of the election before hand and were genuinely surprised when Ahmadinejad crushed Mousavi, a la Lyndon Johnson vs Barry Goldwater.
  • The affluent, young hippies in Tehran are pro-American and couldn’t believe that their candidate lost and so therefore the election had to have been rigged (even though it most likely wasn’t, they just need an explanation about why they were so wrong).
  • Here’s where things get interesting.  Protests start to develop, but it isn’t clear that Mousavi is leading them.  But these protests are delighting the US and the British.
  • Officially, the US and British are not saying anything either way.  Indeed, President Obama has said that the difference between the two candidates are maybe not as great as once thought (in other words, no matter who was elected, the US was still going to have to deal with a hostile Iran).  However, covertly, the US and British are supporting these protests by funding them — somehow, I don’t know how — to create civic unrest in Iran.

    Why would the US do this?  Because turnabout is fair play.  Iran has made life difficult for the US in Iraq.  It is because of Iranian interference that the US cannot create the conditions necessary to withdraw.  So, while Iran is busy with internal conflict, it gives the US a huge window of opportunity to consolidate gains in Iraq.  It also gives them a negotiating tool – stop screwing around in Iraq and we’ll stop screwing around in Iran.

  • Meanwhile, the other day, 24 hours after Khamenei gave his speech to stop the protests because it leads to terrorism (?), a bomb blast goes off in Tehran near the mausoleum of Islamic Republic of Iran founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, located in southern Tehran, has left one person dead and at least two others wounded.  No doubt that Iran will use this as an excuse to crack down on the protestors and tighten their grip on the regime.
  • It is unknown whether or not that will work.  Tightening up may bring more security but it will also bring criticism from the international community.  It’s not like Iran cares, they get anything they want from China and Russia anyhow, who ignore UN/NATO sanctions.

That’s how I see things.  I think that the Americans are definitely supporting the anti-election protests, and the Iranians don’t have evidence of it but are probably correct in their accusations.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out from here.

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Last week, I was at the dance studio where I go to and I performed Any Card for a girl that was there.  Before hand, I didn’t shuffle the cards but did the trick where she names a card and names a number.  I pull out the cards, count down that many cards et voila!  That’s where it is!  She was impressed but she pointed out that I didn’t shuffle the cards.  I replied that it doesn’t matter (because it doesn’t) and that I had shuffled the cards ahead of time.  That was a lie but I didn’t care; when I perform I lie all the time.

Still, she was stumped.  I felt good about that.  Sometime later I performed a book test for someone else and it went off without a hitch.  The first girl came up to me later and challenged me to do something else and I started to do the book test.  I got partway through and she interrupted me and started making all kinds of wild and crazy accusations about what I was doing.  I aborted the effect.  If a spectator is going to get out of control I just stop performing and quit.  I have no patience for that.  I then asked her to dance where she prodded me to explain the trick (the first one). 

I said to her "Well, normally I don’t reveal how my tricks are done…" and got her hopes up.  I then continued "… and today will be no exception" thus crushing her hopes.  She laughed and said "Ha, you suck!" and gave me a bit of a punch in the chest. 

Oh yes, before that dance I said "If you come out to the floor with me, I’ll explain how I performed that effect."  After the song ended, I was going to walk away but she asked me "So, how did you do it?" 

"Oh, when I said earlier that I would explain it…" I began, "that was just a lie."

Well, fast forward a week and I asked her to dance again and we got out there and I noticed she was kind of playfully ignoring me.  I figured it out real quick what was going on.  I said "Are we still on that?" and she laughed.  We both knew what I was referring to (she was pretending to be miffed that I didn’t explain the trick).  Afterwards, I decided to go for a double-dip and perform The Invisible Deck.

Everything was going fine until I got close to the reveal.  I revealed my Invisible Watch but I don’t think she noticed, even though I made it really obvious (I grab it with my other hand and tug on it, and look at it… apparently that was too subtle).  I continued and asked her "What was the name of the card that you turned over in the deck?"

She wouldn’t tell me.  She refused.  She said to me "Give me the deck, I’ll take the cards and see if that was it."  In other words, she was challenging me. 

Now, recall that when a spectator challenges me and gets out of hand, I abandon the trick.  She then tried to grab the cards out of my hand so she could check for herself.  I wouldn’t let them go.  When I do a trick, I’m in control of the cards and I never let a spectator gain control unless it’s part of the act.  The whole point I’m trying to make here is that she was wasn’t playing along the way most people do.  I’m a performer and if things start to deviate away from my plan, I abort it.  I don’t perform for tough spectators.  So, logic dictates I don’t perform in the future for her.

But yet… I see this as somewhat of a challenge.  I learned from this experience.  She started making all sorts of baseless accusations on how I did it.  I neither confirmed nor denied anything (though I did think about lying).  I’ll likely see her again and I started thinking to myself about what sorts of tricks I could do.  Because if I did pull it off, I’d look like a superhero.  I can’t do things where I get her to think of something and then have me handle the prop because she won’t let me do that; she’ll think I’m cheating (which I might be).  So, I either have to do some serious sleight-of-hand where the prop is in her hands nearly the entire time or I have to do a prediction effect.  I am leaning towards a prediction effect because it’ll be difficult to reconstruct.  In fact, I have just the trick in mind because pulling it off would be freaking amazing.

I think she’s leaving in a few weeks anyhow so if it doesn’t work out… meh.

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That was a bust

The other day, it was later in the evening and decided that I was going to perform myself film a card effect.  I filmed it, got 3/4 of the way to the end and had to stop because I had messed up the effect.  The trick is basically a "demonstration" where I show people how to cheat at cards.  It’s actually an amazing display of sleight-of-hand because of the way I control the cards and arrange a randomly shuffled deck of cards into their order, along with controlling the 4 aces along the way.  It really is impressive, or so I thought.

I took a look at the footage and was impressed with my sleight-of-hand.  Sometimes, I realize that my moves are so smooth that I actually fool myself (seriously).  But I realized one thing – the trick was actually kind of boring to watch.

When I noticed that I decided that I couldn’t put it online.  Yes, taking a shuffled deck of cards and pulling the 4 aces out of the middle is cool… and doing it over and over again dealing myself the 4 aces under impossible conditions is entertaining… but just showing it to the camera isn’t interesting to watch.  I decided to cut the trick, painful as the decision was.

I’ll have to come up with something else.

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The other day, I went down to MS Dance – this is a group of people at Microsoft who get together after work once a week and learn a dance.  It’s mostly new people who show up but there are a group of regulars as well and I see them sometimes at the studio where I go to close to where I live.

I hadn’t been there in a while, but as I said I went there the other day.  They were learning the Waltz, and since the leads outnumbered the follows 2:1, I decided to stay on the sidelines since I already know the basics of Waltz and wanted the newbies to learn.

I noticed that there was one girl there who I didn’t recognize who seemed really young and bouncy.  After the lesson was over, I watched her (for some reason).  Anyhow, she went up and started talking to a guy (also a newbie dancer).  Based on the way he was reacting, it didn’t seem like they were a couple but I could tell she was attracted to him.  I could be wrong on whether they were a couple, but I definitely wasn’t wrong that she liked him.

Ever since I learned to read body language, one thing that I have found is that I am good at observing other people when I am not involved in the conversation but not so good when I am in it.  I have to force myself to think about it.  Usually I can do it about half the time and even then it takes a bit for me to remember to do it.  But anyhow, there are body language cues and there are also cues to attraction.  The girl was clearly interested in the guy because she gave three clear signals and one semi-clear one:

  1. The hair flip – We sometimes hear that when a girl is interested in a guy, she will play with her hair.  Now that I know about body language, I understand that this is a pacifying behavior, but a playful one.  This girl was playing with her hair nearly the entire time she was talking to him.
  2. The Neck Show – When we expose our necks to someone, it is a sign of comfort.  In the case of a man and a woman, if the woman does it, it is a sign of interest.  If you think about it, our necks are vulnerable so if you lean back and give a really good laugh, exposing the neck it is a sign of comfort (conversely, rubbing the neck is a sign of mental stress).  On a few occasions, this girl lifted up her chin and exposed her neck to the guy, an obvious sign of interest.
  3. Bobbing hips – This is not an official sign that I have read about but it seemed to be unique to her.  I observed that when she rotated in line with other guys, she would skip to the next one.  After, when she was talking with the guy, she stood square on to him with both feet square.  Normally this might indicate discomfort but she didn’t stay square — she shifted her weight from one leg to the other, "bouncing" from side to side.  Thus, she wasn’t square on, she was was off-balance.  People only stand off-balance when they are comfortable.
  4. Open posture – This one is not unambiguous but it is useful.  When we are comfortable with someone, we don’t put walls between us.  For example, if we were sitting at a table, we would clear the space between us.  If we weren’t we would set up barriers over time like glasses, cups, sugar packets, etc.

    For this girl, what I noticed is that she stood with her hands to her sides or briefly on her hips.  What she wasn’t doing was crossing her arms — no barrier between the two of them.  Combine this with standing square (and bouncing); she wasn’t standing with one foot behind the other with weight back in defense, she was standing barrier free.

Put all these together, and it’s really obvious she was into him.

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Maybe a furball

For most of my life, I have had a cat.  The only times I haven’t are the 18 months I lived in England and the 21 months I have lived in the United States.

On a regular basis I think about how I could go about getting one, but there are two major obstacles to me getting a fuzzy feline.

  1. The cat litter box smell.  When I had a cat, the cat was an outdoors one.  From time to time, we would bring the cat (or cats) indoors for a while but afterwards we would always put them back outside, usually in the garage where they had their own cat house. 

    The problem is that with a cat, you need a place to put their litter box.  And a cat’s litter box, no matter how small the cat, can produce a smell.  Cats in the house permanently can produce an unpleasant odor.  Back when I had a cat, it was no problem because the litter box was outdoors.  The cats were smart enough so that if they were ever inside and wanted to go to the litter box, they would run to the door indicating they wanted to go outside.

    My current apartment has no garage.  There’s no place I can put the litter box somewhere so that it is hidden away in a corner somewhere.  So, I cannot isolate any unpleasant smells.  But apparently, there are mechanisms that can reduce the odor and neutralize it so that it isn’t noticeable.  That just makes it a space issue; I might have to investigate that one but it is still a deal-breaker.

  2. Cats shed.  My previous cat sheds a lot, even though I lived in a cold climate.  Aren’t animals supposed to grow extra fur in the winter?  Well, even though it was freezing cold in the winter my cat would still shed during the colder time of the year!  What was she thinking?

    Now, for a cat who only spends a little bit of time inside, I could handle it.  For a cat to spend all of its time inside, I’m not so sure.  I don’t know if I want to spend more time cleaning my place up.  Although, it’d probably be good for me.  My place isn’t messy nor has it ever been, but I go to a great deal of trouble to not mess it up too much so I don’t have to clean it up every few days.

Those are my current thoughts on the subject.  On the plus side, I’d take my cat for walks down to the mailbox when I go to get my mail.  I’d take her paws and put the key into the keyhole and then somehow manage to get her to turn it.  I’d probably then have her help me sort it because I get a lot of spam in the mail.  There’s a recycling box right there so now I save myself the time of bringing it back to my place.

Oh yes, I prefer female cats.  I have had both, but I find that the male cats have a bit more of an attitude than the female ones.

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Too many decisions

This September I am going to Geneva, Switzerland to attend a conference.  I am paying for it myself and my company is not giving me the time off to go.  Thus, the trip comes out of my own pocket and I am using up my own vacation days.

I’m trying to figure out what else I want to do when I am over there.  I have to be there from Sept 23-Sept 25, a Wednesday to Friday.  But I’d also like to take in another city while I am there.  However, if I leave on Saturday, Sept 19, I won’t get there until sometime Sunday, Sept 20.  That means I lose a day and therefore I need to be economical with my choice of second cities.

  • Rome – Rome would be really cool to see, I’ve never been there before and it has tons of history.  The drawback is that I have to get to Geneva.  So if I get there on Sunday, I can take a train but the only train from Rome to Geneva leaves at 8 pm and arrives the next day at 10 am, a 14-hour train ride.  If I left on Tuesday, Sept 22, I’d arrive on Wednesday morning for the conference.  I’m not sure I want to be attending a conference after traveling all night. 

    If I leave on Monday, I’d get to Geneva on Tuesday with a good 1-day buffer, but that leaves only a day and a half in Rome.  That’s too short.  But the plus side of traveling overnight is I save money on a hotel.

  • Zurich – Zurich is another option, I could fly into there.  However, I’d really like to take in a city in a different country to get a flavor for another city.
  • Milan – Milan is a good option.  It’s only a 3-hour train ride to Geneva so I could leave anytime on Sept 22 and still have plenty of time in Geneva before and after the conference.
  • Vienna – I’d like to go here but it’s not going to happen.

You might wonder why I just don’t take more time off and see more of the places I want to see.  The reason is I am trying to squeeze in another trip to South America later this year so I need to save up holiday time, which is only 15 days per year.  I also plan to take a couple of days in August, which means I am currently down to 8 days.  And if I return to Canada this year for a few days, suddenly my holiday time is evaporating.

I like to have buffer in case I need it.  As you can see, I don’t have a lot of buffer time.

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The hand tell

One of the things I have read about in body language is in a relationship between a man and a woman, there is something called the hand tell.  When a couple is holding hands, the more dominant one in the relationship has his hand in front.  When the hands are held side-by-side, it doesn’t change anything because one person still has to have their arm in front of the other so if the hands were rotated, one person’s hand would be in front.  In relationships, this is always the man. 

To verify this, I went down to a shopping complex and observed whether or not this was true by watching couples who were hand-in-hand and seeing whose hand was in front.  I continue to do this every time I go out. 

In something like 20 cases, 19 of them had the man’s hand in front.  This was so universally true that it could not have occurred by chance, it really is telling that men are the dominant ones.  In fact, this goes further.  If you ever watch a woman holding hands with her younger children, the woman has her hands in front, leading her kids.  Her hand position will be reversed from when she is with a man.  If you doubt the accuracy of my statements, try it yourself.  Every time you see a couple holding hands, check to see who has their hands in front.

At the dance studio I attend, whenever I ask a lady to the floor, I extend my hand forward and she takes it and then I lead them onto the floor.  When I do this, I extend my hand, palm up, like an invitation.  But if I do this, I noticed (after learning about the tell) that when we rotate our hands around it means that my hand would always be behind hers when walking to the floor.  My invitation of "Let’s go" would mean that for the short 10-15 foot walk, my hand would be in the submissive position even though I extended the invitation.

This had to change and I started to change it subtly.  I now extend my hand for an open invitation and as soon as the lady takes it, I rotate my hand around.  Actually, I do it right as she grasps it — I don’t create any pressure to take her hand, I simply slide my hand over top of hers and take it from on top instead of on the bottom.  It’s actually a little awkward doing it.  You might wonder why I do it that way instead of simply extending my hand out in the proper position, and the reason is that an open palm is an invitation.  A downwards palm is a sign of aggression… or confidence, I suppose.  But in any case, I now deliberately make this move to make sure my hand is in front as we walk out onto the floor.

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People are often puzzled at the behavior of the market.  A company can announce an increase in earnings year over year, and the stock sells off sharply.  Conversely, a company can announce a decrease in earnings, or even a quarterly loss, and the stock goes up!  What gives?  In fact, why does the market even go up or down at all?

To oversimplify things, the market looks at the future ability of a company to make money.  When a company announces earnings and it is different than what most people were expecting, the market reacts by selling off.  So, when Microsoft two months ago announced that they had the first year-over-year drop in revenue (for the first quarter) in company history, the market responded by driving Microsoft stock up.  The reason, I believe, is because investors were thinking Microsoft was going to announce even worse results.  When they weren’t as bad as believed, they decided to buy the stock.

That’s partly how the market works.  When investors believe things are going to get worse, or when there is uncertainty, the market performs poorly.

Now, if I were a stock, then I would have been in a steady downtrend since March 2008 for the following reasons:

  1. Poor investments – I bought a foreign currency CD at the worst time, right when the US dollar was bottoming.  That caused me to lose a good chunk of change.  Since that CD expired, I have bought a lower-interest US currency CD.  Slower growth but predictable.
  2. Housing – I bought a condo and it was sitting empty for a long time.  This was a period of uncertainty.  Remember that the market hates uncertainty and if I were a stock, the bleeding money of empty real estate would have sent my price into a tailspin.
  3. Extra spending – I was never broke from month-to-month, but there were a couple of expenses that I either had to incur (medical bills) or chose to incur (private dance lessons).  Those are behind me now, so I am spending less.

All of that would have caused investors to think that I was a risk.  But since then, things have turned around:

  1. Real estate bandage – I am still losing money on my real estate "investment" but it is a lot less now.  Investors would see this and be able to calculate that my forward earnings would be more than they were previously.  I also refinanced and got a lower rate, so that also goes towards my bottom line in that the refinance charge would pay for itself in 13 months.
  2. Investment groove – I recently made an investment where I doubled my money in a few weeks.  It was only a small amount, just $100.  But it doesn’t matter.  a change in fortune is a change in fortune.

Thus, just like the market, I bottomed in March and have been in rally mode since then.  If I could somehow get that condo slow bleed into a revenue neutral state, that would really send my value soaring.

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Taking a break

Since my last dance performance on May 9, I have taken the longest voluntarily break I have ever taken from dancing since December 2007.

For you see, ever since that time, I have been taking lessons which requires me to go down there once a week, at least.  Then, if I went down there for the regular dance parties on Fridays, it would mean I would go down there twice a week.  That pattern continued until September 2008; I stopped taking lessons because I was either sick, or knew I was going to be traveling.  That was the case in October, except I was in China.  In November, I was recovering from hip surgery.  Then, in December, I was traveling again and the rest of the time it was snowed in.

But, in those cases, I wasn’t choosing to stay away, circumstances dictated it.

Starting up this year, because I was working on a performance, I was again going down multiple times per week.  But during the past 4 weeks, I haven’t taken any lessons at all, even though I still have a few private sessions left.  The reason I haven’t gone down so much is three-fold:

  • I was planning on slowing it down a bit.  I felt that after I did my second performance, I didn’t have to work on another one.  I was also planning on working on magic and mentalism more, and so having the additional time to do that naturally dove-tailed with taking fewer dance classes.
  • I’m recovering from the financial hit.  My finances are under control now that the condo is rented out so I am not bleeding as much money.
  • I just felt it was time to take a break for a while.

I’m not sure when I’m going to get back into it, but the first bullet point is keeping me busy.  I’ve been reading up a lot on mentalism this year and I’m trying to add more performances.  Eventually, that will shift back in the other direction and I shall return to the studio.

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From Investor’s Business Daily:

The greenback hit an ’09 low vs. the euro on fears about record budget deficits, spurring nations to mull alternatives to the main reserve currency. Treasury Sec’y Timothy Geithner backed a strong dollar.

Is it just me, or could we have written the following article back in 2004?

The greenback hit an ’04 low vs. the euro on fears about record budget deficits, spurring nations to mull alternatives to the main reserve currency. Treasury Sec’y John Snow backed a strong dollar.

Nothing has changed.

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