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Archive for March, 2010

Last year, I traveled to Switzerland, Peru and Winnipeg (Canada) on vacation trips.  I ended up draining all of my holidays and dipping into 2010’s.  At the moment, I think that I currently have 3 days banked that I have earned since the start of the year.

However, that doesn’t mean I cannot travel.  For work, things have kind of ramped up nicely.  In February, I traveled to San Francisco for a conference where I presented.  In June, I will be going to New Orleans for a conference to present.  In September/October, I will be going to Vancouver to present at a conference.  That one’s going to be especially fun because the next day after the conference there is a Winnipeg Blue Bomber game at BC which I plan to attend.  And, today, I submitted a presentation to present at a conference in London, England, in October.  That one’s kind of a long shot and I don’t expect to get it.

I really enjoy presenting at these things.  What I do is I merge magic into my presentation and also spew out tons of stuff about fighting spam.  It combines things that I really enjoy doing and is a ton of fun.  Plus I get to try out new tricks.  And I also get to travel.  So here’s keeping my fingers crossed for London!

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This evening, myself and my quasi-girlfriend rented and watched the 2009 animated film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  It’s the story of a young scientist who makes plenty of inventions but they all happen to go wrong.  He tries to win the respect of his father but cannot.  Eventually, he hits upon a successful experiment that goes awry but in the end, he saves the day.  It’s very similar to Disney’s Chicken Little in terms of the story.

Despite its similar, I recommend it.  Not for its originality (it’s not that original) but for it’s very funny comedy value.  There were a number of times that I laughed out loud at it, there are some very clever one-liners and stuff that just makes you chortle to yourself.

If you haven’t seen it, you should.

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2002 vs 2010

In 2002, during my first trip around the world (London –> Singapore –> Melbourne –> Sydney –> Auckland –> Los Angeles –> Toronto –> London), I made a stop in San Francisco.  San Fran is a very nice place and while I was there, I got my picture sketched by a street artist.  Below is what I looked like back then (I still have that green shirt):

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This past February, myself and my quasi-girlfriend (girlfriend at the time) traveled to San Francisco.  I was there for a conference and I flew her down to join me on the weekend.  Once again, I had my picture sketched by a street artist, observe below how they capture my muscular frame and physique perfectly:

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What a difference 8 years makes.  What’s weird is that in my 2002 trip, I had gotten my hair colored with dark and light blond streaks and it is accurately reflected in the top picture.  In 2010, I did not have any hair coloring done at all, and yet my hair is a much lighter blond than it is in the first picture even though it is darker now than in real life.

Odd.

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Yesterday, I went to a so-called “Mustache” Party.  The idea was for everyone to wear fake mustaches, and there were mustache themed events.  It was quite a bit of fun.

One of my goals, for some reason, was to dress up as a Jewish rabbi for whatever reason.  And that’s what I did.  I went down to a costume store and bought a fake beard.  I then dug out an old wig that was rock star hair but in reality is simply black hair that flail everywhere.  I wore my magician’s bowler hat and then put on my suit with a white shirt, but no tie and left the top button undone.  I certainly looked like a rabbit, or at the very least, Amish.

Now, myself and my quasi-girlfriend (we’re more like very good friends now) are not drinkers.  I don’t like the taste of alcohol at all except for one – the White Russian.  This is a mixture of 1 part vodka, 1 part Bailey’s Irish Cream, and 1 part Kahlua.  It’s a very strong drink and I can’t have too much of it.  The two of us were at a friend’s place one time and he made it for us.  I didn’t have much but I was certainly feeling a bit of a buzz at one point.  Luckily I was having food with it and stopped as soon as I felt a little bit dizzy.  I stopped drinking for the next couple of hours because I still had to drive home.  My reflexes were still sharp but I knew that the drink was powerful.

But we both like White Russians.  So, we decided to bring the proper drinks to the party but since I am not a drinker, I was going to have to stop by the liquor store and pick them up because I have no alcohol in the house.  To demonstrate how much of a non-drinker I am, I had to phone up a friend and ask him where the liquor store was in town because I wasn’t quite sure.  I thought I knew, but had to confirm.  It was where I thought it was.  We headed down there and bought fairly small quantities of alcohol and this was another first for me – I have never bought alcohol for myself for the purposes of straight consumption (I think – I may have bought it for some desserts such as bananas flambé, but that doesn’t count).

We went into the liquor store in full costume.  I looked like a rabbi, and when I went to the checkout stand, I said “Shalom.”  The lady started laughing and asked what the occasion was, and we explained that we were on our way to a costume party.  The clerk at the other check stand even took a picture of us.  I handed over my debit card, swiped it, paid for it and we left the premises.

Here’s the thing – they didn’t ask for my identification.  And you know what else?  They didn’t ask me to remove my costume, either!  I was in full beard and wig with a hat, and for all they knew I could have been 19 years old (the drinking age in Washington state is 21).  And I got away with it!  Of course, being 31, it doesn’t really matter that much but the point is that I could have gotten away with it had I been younger.

I was pretty proud of that.

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One of the things I have been attempting to do for the past few weeks is eat at least one piece of fruit every day.  At the beginning, knowing myself, I wasn’t sure it was realistic so I scaled it back to 5 days out of 7.  Then I thought that was too easy, so I upped it to 11 days out of 14.  That’s enough to require me to take decisive action but not so much that if I miss one day, I feel too bad.  So far, I have been executing on this plan.

I recently went to QFC and bought a bag of oranges. They are quite small oranges and they are the kind I like.  I like it when oranges are small because the pieces all fit in my mouth at one time.  These ones were also very easy to peel.

I finished off that bag and headed down to Safeway wherein I picked up another bag of oranges. The problem is that these ones:

  1. … are slightly larger
  2. … have seeds
  3. … do not taste as good
  4. … are harder to peel.

Regarding that last point, I hate oranges that are difficult to peel.  They could be the best oranges in the world, if they are tough to peel I will skip them and buy something else.

Anyhow, this morning I had brought one from home to eat at work.  I unpeeled it and it was tougher to peel compared to the others.  I made the decision that I was not going to buy them anymore.  Anyways, the problem with oranges that are tough to peel is that when you have to work harder at it, you are naturally applying more pressure.  When you do that, you squeeze the orange harder and the juices tend to fly around a bit.  This orange was no different and I ended up getting a bunch of orange juice over my fingers.

But that is not the worst part.  Orange juice on the fingers is no big deal.  But the juice also kind of sprayed out onto my pants, around my mid-thigh.  And furthermore, it took me a while to notice.  It’s not overly bold in color, but it’s definitely there.  My clumsiness at peeling this sub-par orange (for some reason this one tasted bad) ended up making a mess on my clothes.  It won’t come off easily, I will have to wash these already recently washed pants.

The moral of the story is to be careful what fruits you buy, you could end up regretting it.

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More on body language

The other day, I was in a meeting with a problem customer of ours.  This is a customer that has given us headaches for many months now, so much so that I will never buy their product (even though they make good stuff).  I was in the call with another Program Manager, and I observed some pretty clear body language.

She is the one responsible for most of the call and therefore takes the most heat.  The customer was on the line, beating us up and she was responding to the statement (basically, they told us we suck and don’t know what we’re doing).  As she was listening, she was fidgeting with the ring on her finger, rolling it around over and over and over again.

This was pretty easy to decipher.  Fidgeting with your fingers, especially jewelry on your fingers in a situation like this is a clear sign of mental distress.  Of course, given the situation I could hardly blame her but it was easy to tell that even though she wasn’t saying anything, she was still uncomfortable.  A couple of times her hand went up to her throat, the little gap between the collarbones.  That is also a pretty clear tell of mental duress, especially among women.

Sometimes reading body language is pretty easy.  Not always, of course, but in this case yes.

Oh yes, the other PM I saw before has pretty consistent confident body language.  He is always stretched out, arms extended and legs extended too.  He exudes a sense of being in command, even when he is asking questions.  It’s interesting to watch.

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I was talking with a colleague from another division at work yesterday.  We were chatting and somehow we got on the topic of dancing.  I asked him “Are you a dancer?”

He indicated that he was.  I asked him what kinds of dances that he does and he named a few.  I can’t remember any of them except for hip hop, and I didn’t do any of the ones that he did.  He then said that he tried swing a few times, I assumed it was east coast swing.  One thing about swing dancing is that anyone ever says that they do swing dancing, it’s usually east coast swing (or a variant) because if it was west coast, they would explicitly say so.

Anyhow, he then mentioned that he was looking to get into salsa and tango.  I almost added that I did salsa but then said something else instead.  “Tango?”  I asked.  “Really?  That’s one of the tougher ones.”  I say that Tango is more difficult because it doesn’t follow a particular timing or rhythm to the music.  It’s much more about a connection between the lead and follow.  Indeed, all dancing has that connection between lead and follow but I would say that this is truer of Tango than any other dance.

He went on to explain further.  “The girl that I am seeing,” he said, “is an accomplished Tango dancer.  And I’m a little nervous about picking it up.”  He then said that the reason for his nervousness is that as a newbie, he feels a little uncomfortable asking an experienced dancer to dance.

I can totally relate.

And I probably have nothing to worry about, but asking someone who I know is really good at such-and-such a dance when I am quite mediocre at it intimidates me.  I over think it into thinking that the follow will be bored, or summarily unimpressed, at my display of 6 moves which I repeat over and over ad nauseum.  It certainly isn’t true in the reverse case, I have danced with lots of inexperienced follows in plenty of dances and not really thought very much of it, I just get out there and show them the moves.  Furthermore, I find it to be an exciting challenge to lead them where I want them to go even though they are unfamiliar with the moves.  It’s quite fun.

But I still get nervous asking experienced follows to dance when I know (or believe) that they are at a skill level far above my own.

The one caveat is that if I know the person (follow) outside of dancing reasonably well and are comfortable with them, then I don’t mind so much.  The anxiety dissipates.  Other than that, though, I still feel the psychological pressure for some reason.

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People sometimes ask me for investment advice.  It’s true that I like to trade stocks and I read a lot about the markets, but I am most a part time speculator.  I don’t think I am all that good since I am much more of a holistic technician – I mostly read the main articles on Yahoo Finance and read numbers of individual stocks.  I don’t read Investor’s Business Daily anymore and that’s a shame; there was a wealth of great information in there.

Still, the way I trade vs the way I invest is carefully crafted.  Here’s the differences and similarities:

  • In trading, I buy individual stocks.  In investing, I buy indexes (usually ETFs, or mutual funds if I have to).
  • In trading, timing is important both for buying and for selling.  In investing, timing is less important on selling, slightly important on buying.
  • In trading, selling is important.  In investing, I usually hang on for the long term.
  • In trading, dividends are not that important; potential for growth is.  In investing, dividends are very important.
  • I have switched my arrangement of capital.  In my Scottrade account, about 25% is devoted to trading while 75% is devoted to investing.  This used to be 100%/0%.
  • This should not be confused with my retirement saving.  In that, I have always been a passive investor and just thrown money in willy-nilly with little active trading.
  • Investing is more boring than trading.  And less stressful… most of the time.

The thing about trading that makes it more important is the second bullet point, which is timing.  I followed the stock Newmarket (NEU) since November 2009.  I finally bought it March 2010, a period of 4 months.  I made a note back on Nov 6 that it was very strong and watched it for some time.  After the market mini-swooned January and February, it was one of the stocks I targeted for a comeback.  I waited for the market to put in a potential bottom and start finding strength.  When it did, I went and picked up a few shares.  In two weeks, I am up 15%.

Gains like that are difficult to come by and are actually unusual.  I make most of my money when the market actually moves.  In this case, the market moved down quickly and snapped back quickly, and I was ready to take advantage of it.  But I had to wait a few months, and I was “lucky” that the market actually did rebound.  If it would have continued to downtrend from there I would have lost money.

In trading, making money is more of a function of being prepared to jump on opportunities when they arise (by doing research and having sufficient trading capital on hand to make a move), by recognizing those opportunities, by cutting losses when you are wrong and by riding the winners when you are right.  It’s difficult to be right in trading because the market does so many unexpected things.  In order to survive in the market when trading, you really do need a money management strategy to mitigate risk.  My general strategy, among other things, is the following:

  1. Protect capital
  2. Consistently make money
  3. Hit the occasional home run

It’s tougher to do – consistently – than you think.  So, if someone were to ask me “What do I think of gold?” the question is multi-faceted.  I may think it’s going up due to inflationary pressures due to the Fed, or maybe going sideways (or even down) due to deflation and Fed tightening, but it still has to fit into those 3 goals.  If gold really does go much higher, then it falls into category (3).  It would be a home run but it would also be subject to the same risk mitigation as all of my other positions.

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Since my acquisition of a girlfriend in December 2009, one of the things I have started to do more of is make food from scratch.  This is something I used to do regularly when I lived in England, and once in a while here in Seattle.  However, that “once in a while” is actually quite irregular.  What I have found is that with two people, it is easier to buy more food since between the two of us, we eat more of it and therefore it doesn’t go bad between cycles.  In other words, let’s say I buy some ingredients that call for an onion.  I can’t put the whole thing of onion in there so I put it in the fridge.  But I don’t necessarily eat the same thing every day so the onion sits there.  And then it goes bad.  And the food is wasted.  By contrast, with two people, I go through fresh vegetables quicker and so eating at home turns out to be quite economical.

And when I say that one of the things that I do is make food from scratch, I really mean “we”, as in, the two of us.  It’s kind of a tag-team effort where we make differing sets of ingredients in parallel and the bulk of the time cooking is not in preparation per se, but in waiting for it to actually heat up and cook.  It’s a system that has worked quite well for us and it’s actually fun.   

Since the pair of us have started cooking together, we make a number of things from scratch.  These have included the following:

  • Pizza (turned out well)
  • Lasagna (turned out well, currently eating leftovers as I type this)
  • Banana bread (did not turn out well as I burned the top a bit)
  • Creme brulee
  • Some funky meat dish from one of my cook books
  • Honey garlic chicken wings

Two things that we will never make so long as air is passing through my lungs:

  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut

You can bet on that.  We only make things that the both of us like.  If neither of us likes it… then it shall not enter my kitchen!

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The other day, I went into a meeting at work and one of my co-workers asked me if I watch Lost.  “Why yes, yes I do,” I replied.  “Why do you ask?”

My co-worker answered “You look like Benjamin Linus.”

Hmm… is that true?

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Note: I can write this freely on my blog because I know my sister does not read it.

One of the habits I used to notice about my sister is that she always used to fall asleep on the couch, with the lights turned on, with the TV on.  This was kind of annoying to me personally because my room was right outside and so all the light would seep into my room and I could hear the noise from the TV.

If she did this once in a while, say every two months, I’d be like “meh”.  But she would do it very frequently.  Eventually, what I would do is turn off the TV, turn off the lights and then leave it at that.  I found that saying “Just go to bed already” never produced my desired response – that of her turning off the lights and going to bed.  I’d say to myself “Man, have a little discipline to notice that when you are tired, don’t stay on the couch where you don’t plan to stay anyhow.”

After she got married, about a year later I asked her, in front of her husband, “So, do you still fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV all the time?”  Immediately she started to laugh and smile and her husband looked at her.  I got the answer I was looking for, it was an obvious yes.  And she didn’t even have to say anything.

Fast forward to me two years later.  Ever since I got back from Peru, on occasion, I have once in a while fallen asleep on the couch late at night.  I don’t do this too often, but every time I have been able to discipline myself to get up and go to bed.  That was before Peru.  But since then, I have discovered that I am sometimes too lazy to actually get up, turn off all the lights and change rooms.  My thought process is “Meh, I’m too tired to get up, turn off all the lights, and change rooms.”  And then I just decide to nap on the couch.  Around 4 in the morning I eventually do get up, and then I say to myself “Sheesh, I should have done this a while ago.”  But I don’t.

I’m becoming undisciplined just like my sister.

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A brief history of everything:

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In early January, the market started to go into a correction.  Yet on Friday, February 5, it made a pattern of what is called a hammer.  A hammer is a chart pattern where in a down movement, if a stock/index has a large daily range but closes in the very upper end of the range, it is referred to as a hammer.  It resembles a letter ‘t’ where the cross is near the top of the ‘t’.  It means that the market opened high, traded low, but rallied high.  It is usually interpreted as a reversal pattern.  When I saw this, I went and deposited a big chunk of cash into my trading account.

Yet I didn’t take action for several weeks.  The market is still kind of funky and wonky and so I wanted a bit more confirmation before I made a move.  It regained the 50-day moving average (a good sign) and has managed to maintain it.  Based upon this confirming indicator, I decided to put that cash to work.  It’s a bit late, about 4 weeks after the bottom, but I’ll take it.  The market is kind of overbought but the positions I bought are long-term positions.

Recall from my lazy portfolio I have four positions:

  • VTI, which tracks the US market (35%)
  • EFA, which tracks the international market (50%)
  • VNQ, which tracks real estate (10%)
  • BND, which tracks bonds (5%)

As of this writing, EFA was about flat for me, as was BND.  However, VTI is up 10% while VNQ is up 15%.  Normally I like to wait for a pullback before getting into the market (it makes me feel better to buy that one extra share) but whatever.  I should have, but didn’t, act two weeks ago.  Regardless, I am acting now.  Incidentally, that EFA is flat after 4.5 months and underperforming VTI is a reversal of history; normally the international market leads the US market.

Anyhow, I went into my trading account and figured out how much money to allocate to each position.  I wanted to leave a bit of money out there in case I wanted to buy another stock (I bought GMCR a month and a half ago and NEU on Tuesday… and it’s now up 10% since then).  I went to my Excel spreadsheet, put in the distribution and proceed to make four orders for the various ETFs I wanted to buy.  I entered in BND first, then VNQ, then EFA and finally VTI.

But I made a typo on VTI.

Rather than putting in 39 shares like I wanted, I accidentally put in 161 shares (!).  That’s 4x the amount I wanted to put in!  I looked at what I did and said “Oops…”  That was clearly a mistake and for the first time ever, I was trading on margin (borrowed money).  Margin is great if you know what you’re doing.  Not so great if you try to limit your risk.  So here’s what I did: I determined that 161-39 = 122, I immediately entered in a sell order for 122 shares of VTI.  I entered the order and it executed, thus reducing my overall position in VTI back to what I wanted it to be.  I breathed a sigh of relief and I decided to check out how much money I lost in the few seconds I had the shares.

Scottrade charges $7 per trade, so I figured I lost at least that much.  But as it turns out, in the 1 minute I held onto the shares, I made about 5 cents per share.  I sold them at a slight profit, so 122 x ~5 = $5.  That means that the $7 charge – the $5 gain means I only lost $2 on the trade.  My mistake allowed me to get off pretty easy.  I think I got lucky.

But sometimes you have to be lucky to be good.  I’ll take it this time.  Now let us never speak of this again.

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Not in my yard

This past Sunday, Feb 28, 2010, Canada won gold in the Olympic Men’s Hockey final, 3-2 against the United States.  If you recall, a couple of weeks ago I posted my prediction that Canada would win.

Well, I was right.

After some unimpressive round-robin play that included a shoot-out win over the Swiss and a loss to the Americans, Canada got its act together and knocked off Germany 8-2.  They then defeated Russia 7-3, the Slovaks 3-2 and the Americans 3-2.  The American game was nerve-wracking for me.  When the US scored to tie it up 2-2 with 24 seconds left, my heart sank.  I was all set to cheer and then Niedermayer let two US players get behind him and have a clear shot to the net in front of Roberto Luongo.  How’s he supposed to stop that shot?

It wasn’t to be, however.  The Canadians dominated the overtime period and rather fittingly, Sidney Crosby scored the game winning goal in OT to give the Canadians the medal that they deserve.  Honestly, Canada had to win this.  They could have won every other event in the Olympics and if they had lost this, the games would have been a disaster.  Thank goodness for this win.

Incidentally, my American friends were a little confused about the US victory the first time in the round robin.  Most of them seemed to think that it was a big deal that they defeated Canada in round robin tournament, assuming that they had knocked Canada out.  They hadn’t; all they accomplished was forcing Canada to win against Germany, in addition to clinching a first round bye in the “playoffs.”  The rematch was all that counted.  After all, New England went 16-0 two years ago in the NFL season but lost in the Superbowl.  What matters?  The Superbowl, that’s what.  The Saskatchewan Roughriders were ahead of Montreal for 60 minutes in last year’s Grey Cup but lost on the final play in regulation after time had expired.  What counts?  Leading for the entire game?  Or losing the actual game?

You see, my American friends, you did win in round robin play.  But Canada lost a game in round-robin play in Salt Lake City as well.  Guess who won the gold medal then (hint: it was Canada).

See you all in Russia.

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