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Archive for July, 2010

Trading update

I’ve been tracking my trading on options for the past 3 months, and I put together a little chart.  My trading has been very frustrating.  No matter what I do, I always seem to give money back to the market.  I started out with a trading timeline of 3-5 days and extended it, and figured out that was a mistake.  When I switched, I made money.  Now, even 3-5 days is too long.  I have lost money on 6 out of my last 7 trades.  The frustrating thing is that all of them were profitable at one point.  Every single one.  Out of my 14 losses, all but 4 were profitable at some point.

My latest two sting.  I was profitable after one day and under water the next.  The only positive I can take away from them is that I am cutting my losses short… but otherwise more or less flat.  Below is my equity curve:

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You can see I really have not made any money (the green is my total overall profit).  I make some money and give it back, make some and give it back, make some and give it back… If I go long, I am up and then the market takes it away to reduce my gains by 30%.  If I go short, I get up by 25% and then the next day I am down 25%.

This is getting incredibly frustrating.

On the other hand, perhaps I am being too hard on myself.  Rather than see the negative, I should look over my goals and figure out what I am doing well.  My goals in trading, as I have had for years and iterated on this blog, are the following:

  1. Protect capital.  My initial losses were my smallest and my middle losses became much, much larger.  However, after that, after my recent string of four in a row and now two in a row, those did become smaller.  Over my last few bad trades, I have been quicker to reverse my position and get out when the market starts to go against me.  Before, I would get out when it went against me too far, now I get out sooner than that when I think it’s going against me.  In other words, I wait for confirmation much, much sooner.
  2. Consistently make money.  This is the goal that has been so very elusive for me.  No matter what I seem to do, I can never hold onto those gains.  I started to play around with the idea of (trailing) stop orders, that is, when the stock goes down to a certain price, it executes automatically.  I had not been doing this because I wanted to let my positions ride and give them room.  I am now finding that virtually never works for me.  All it does is give the market time to erase my losses before I turn on my computer.  In five of my past six losses, stop orders would have kept all of my losses as small gains.  For my gains, it would have hurt me by taking me out too soon with a stop order, but a trailing stop order once I am already up would seem to work.
  3. Hit the occasional home run.  Ah, this is what got me hooked on options trading to begin with – the ability to double my money in a short time frame.  I have managed to do that a few times early on, only to give back everything in short order.  But I know that I can do this and with options it’s only a matter of time before I do it again.

Looking at it this way, I see that I am probably not that far off from achieving (2) by refining my strategy.  I have managed to make progress by making my time frames short.  I know now that in an uptrend, I have to trade more volatile stocks in order to make it worth my while to catch a down movement.  I went long on CREE again today (after having gone long last week) because I think it has pulled back to a logical entry point.  I resisted getting into another position because I have been trading so poorly lately.  However, if I can discipline myself enough to put in a trailing stop after I am up a certain point, then I can let myself collect profits and then wait for the next entry point.

I have now made 27 options trades this year, this is not yet my most busy trading year but by the end of 2010 it will be.  When it comes to the end, I think I will have a pretty good view at how good (or bad) a trader I am and if I have made improvements over time.  The chart above currently says no.

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Trading update

I’ve been tracking my trading on options for the past 3 months, and I put together a little chart.  My trading has been very frustrating.  No matter what I do, I always seem to give money back to the market.  I started out with a trading timeline of 3-5 days and extended it, and figured out that was a mistake.  When I switched, I made money.  Now, even 3-5 days is too long.  I have lost money on 6 out of my last 7 trades.  The frustrating thing is that all of them were profitable at one point.  Every single one.  Out of my 14 losses, all but 4 were profitable at some point.

My latest two sting.  I was profitable after one day and under water the next.  The only positive I can take away from them is that I am cutting my losses short… but otherwise more or less flat.  Below is my equity curve:

image

You can see I really have not made any money (the green is my total overall profit).  I make some money and give it back, make some and give it back, make some and give it back… If I go long, I am up and then the market takes it away to reduce my gains by 30%.  If I go short, I get up by 25% and then the next day I am down 25%.

This is getting incredibly frustrating.

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And speaking of travel…

A couple of weeks ago, I booked a trip to Central America.  This is the same one I was talking about earlier.  Myself and my girlfriend, who is also really big into traveling, are doing a trip to Belize with stops in Guatemala and Honduras.  Interestingly, she has probably traveled a bit more domestically (ie, within the United States) than I have. 

I’m actually quite looking forward to this trip, probably even more than my trip to Peru last year.  Even though this trip does not contain any locations on my list of life-long dreams, it does contain some stops at various ruins, including Tikal, Guatemala.  I like ruins, and this trip will also have time to do scuba diving.  I haven’t done scuba since I went to the Great Barrier Reef in 2006.

We were originally thinking about doing New Zealand but ended up switching to Central America.  With my condo still sitting empty and draining me every month, I can’t really take the financial risk of doing a larger trip.  The airfare, including taxes, to go to Belize is $623, whereas a trip to NZ is about double that.  Furthermore, the cost of “living” in NZ is higher than it is in Central America so that also factored into the decision.  Finally, Central America has warmer weather than NZ.  Even though we would be going in summer in the southern hemisphere, we’d be going mainly to the south island which is cooler.  In Invercargill, the southern-most town in NZ, it was only about 58 F on Dec 3, 2009, the same temperature it is here in Seattle in winter (on a nice day).  Actually, that’s not that far off from an atypical summer day in Seattle…  Thus, if we want to go in summer and can expect it to be like the Pacific NW, that’s not a guarantee of nice weather.  The fact is that we both want to go someplace warm.

Finally, below is a snapshot of us on a recent trip to the San Juan islands in northern Washington on the ferry ride over there.  Look at my hair, blowing all over the place…

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Last night, I was given a cruel reminder of what can happen when you travel out of the country.

I had some pizza around 6 pm, and then around 8 pm I went to the gym to work out.  On the ride home, somewhere around 9:30, I started to experience pain in my stomach.  By 11 pm, my bowels and intestines had conspired to declare a jihad on me, requiring several trips to the bathroom.  But if that wasn’t enough, the pain in my stomach wasn’t a normal stomach ache.  It was so bad that at one point it literally brought me to my knees, causing me to groan in agony.  It hurt.  At one point I wondered how I could keep going to the bathroom because I thought I was “emptied out.”  I was proven wrong.

The reason I bring this up for traveling outside the country is that the last time this happened, I was in Peru.  Me and my friend Frank had gone out to dinner in Nazca and, coincidentally, I had pizza.  Later that night, I was awakened to a severe pain in my stomach.  Over the course of the next two hours, I required several trips to the bathroom.  Not only that, I was similarly writhing in pain.  Only two weeks before that, I had a similar episode when I ordered a pasta carbonara dish at a restaurant and experienced similar discomfort.  The point is that my misadventure in South America is not that dissimilar to other friends who visit Mexico – going down there, the food and cooking oils are different and many people get sick, just like I did in Peru… and did last night.

I am now a little worried about getting sick in Belize/Guatemala/Honduras.  When I went to Peru, I brought along a lot of stuff for sinus congestion since that’s how I usually get sick when I travel.  I never considered that my stomach would also give me problems.  But as I have gotten older and started clamping down on the foods I eat, my stomach has not gotten more resilient.  In fact, it’s the opposite; it has gotten more finicky about what it finds to be acceptable.  A lot of rich foods it rejects within 1-2 hours after consumption (sometimes as early as 15 minutes).  And if what happened in Peru and last night happens again, that’s going to make for a less enjoyable experience.

But I did learn one lesson – always bring enough antacids, Pepto Bismol and Tums to last a month.  I’m probably going to need them.

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I’m from Canada, which is a cold country.  We can count on cold weather pretty reliably from November through until April each year.  We may have warm days in March, but they are unpredictable.  If March is cold and miserable, nobody would be surprised.  If April had snow, nobody would be surprised.  So, it should come as no surprise to people that I am not a big fan of cold weather because I dealt with extreme cold for many years of my life.  If you combine that with the fact that I am rather thin and have very little body fat on my upper body (which causes me to get colder faster than most people), you can forgive me if I am not thrilled by the prospect of cold weather.  Or cold anything.  Swimming in cold water is something to which I’d say “Pass.”  I have no insulation and would be affected by the effects of exposure quicker than the average person.

But does that mean I prefer hot weather?  For example, if I were to travel someplace, would I prefer it to be hot?

This past weekend, I went up to the San Juan islands in northern Washington.  While we were there, in the morning it was a little cool but it eventually got really warm.  It got so warm that I ended up feeling really sluggish throughout the day.  I have traveled to a number of very hot places (Fiji, Singapore, Australia, Mexico) as well as dealt with very hot weather in my regular life during the summer.  They all have the same tendency, and that is to slow me down and make me feel sluggish.

I contrast that to some of the cooler weather places I have been – Peru, New Zealand (it was never hot there, only warm), Switzerland, and China.  At these places, while it was pleasant enough for me to walk around in short sleeves some of the time, most of the time I had to wear a light jacket in order to stay warm.  It just didn’t get hot.  It was never cold, but not wearing a jacket at night would have meant I would have been cold.

So which do I prefer (when I travel)?

I think I like the cooler weather better.  Sure, in hot weather places I can wear shorts and sandals with a minimum amount of clothing which eases the burden, but the hot weather always manages to put me into a lethargic state.  Cold weather is less pleasant, though, because that prevents me from even doing anything outside.  But I think I like warm weather that is in the mid-20’s when I travel (that’s 70’s for you Americans).  Warm enough to walk around outside in sandals and no jacket, but not so warm that I want to sleep all the time.  I may not be able to go to the beach, but at least I will not get sunburned and I can walk around no problem without overheating.

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Market turning point

Last week, I was expecting the market to go down.  There were a bunch of stocks I was further expecting to weaken and fall a significant amount.  I ended up buying put options in 3 positions and 2 days later (last Friday) I was up 25% on my money.  All of my market signals suggested lower prices were soon to follow and that I should hang on, even though I only like to hang on 3-4 days.  At 2 days I figured I was safe.

Monday came by and it was an up day.  No biggie, nothing goes down every day in a bear market.  However, on Tuesday the market had a big up movement although it was a weak movement with a possible head fake.  Wednesday it started strong and faded into the close and I figured that my initial analysis was right: it was still a correct (bear market?) and that there was more weakness to come.  However, today (Thursday), I have to change my tune.  I have to flip my bias to up and that the earlier weakness is fading away.  My 25% gain in 2 days is now a 30% loss in 6 (6 trading days, 8 calendar days).  6 trading days is too long for me to hold anyhow, I should have sold after 3 days – my optimal holding period.  Not sure why I held on more, that wasn’t a good idea.

Below is a stock, CREE, that I bought a call option on at 5.15 and last Friday it was at 7.2, which is a 40% gain in 2 days (before trading fees).  Yet today I had to sell at a loss.  You can see that after it peaked in April, it came down to test the 60 level 4 times.  However, this last time it failed to test the 60 level and it seems to have broken out above it’s previous high as well as broken the trendline.  To me, this indicates a change in trend from down to up, and that’s where fortunes are made (supposedly).  I decided to go long here and picked up a couple of options.  Hopefully I can recover those losses.

Man, I should have sold on Monday or Tuesday…

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I don’t mean that I have the ability to go backward or forward in time (anymore), but rather, when it comes to the concept of time, I am a machine.

Yesterday, I was driving over to my girlfriend’s place and I got a text asking when I might get there.  I was driving along the highway and I checked the time and estimated where I was.  I then texted her back and said “15 minutes.”  I continued to drive along and finally arrived at my destination.

I pulled up in the parking space, got out of my car and checked the time on my phone.  I then checked the time that I sent the message by going through my Sent folder.  The difference in time?  15 minutes!  Not 14, not 16, but 15 minutes on the nose.  I nailed it!

Sometimes I am so good I amaze even myself.

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So I’ve been thinking to myself that this condo is one major albatross around the neck.  I have a number of options available to me:

  1. Try to sell it at a reduced price. This is not working, nothing is moving in this market.
  2. Massively reduce the price and sell it.  I could do this, but that would really hurt me and I don’t think I could afford to take that hit.
  3. Rent it back out and continue to take the monthly hit.  This was something I had planned on doing and is my current plan of record.
  4. Move into it myself.  This is the advice that most people give me.

The other day I was seriously considering option (4).  After all, if I move into myself I can stop the bleeding and don’t have to worry about having an empty place.  But is it really the best advice?  It turns out that the answer is no.

Currently, my place is costing me $1447/month, including mortgage, HOA dues (!), real estate taxes and mortgage insurance.  I live in an apartment that costs me about $1015/month, including rent (= mortgage and HOA dues, and taxes), and water/sewer/trash.  Those are included in my HOA dues at my condo.  So, if I were to move out of my condo, then to maintain my current living style (I see no advantage to living in the condo as opposed to living where I am) I would be paying an extra $432/month for no real equivalent improvement in lifestyle.

If I rent out my condo at $875 per month minus 10% management fees, then then my living costs are $1447 – 90% x $875 + 1015 = $1673/month.  So, if my place is rented out all year long and I stay living where I am living, then it costs me an extra (1673-1447) = $226/month to live there vs moving into it and no longer renting an apartment.  Is it worth $226/month to live where I am living?  Hmm, that’s stretching it close to the brink of what I find acceptable.

But that’s not the full story.  The fact is that by renting it out, I get tax breaks that are available to me as a renter/business owner than are not as a mere homeowner.  As a renter and homeowner, I get to deduct my mortgage interest and real estate taxes from my income.  But as a renter, I get two additional deductions that are not available to me as a homeowner – I get to depreciate the cost of the property over 27.5 years (~$6000 per year) and the HOA dues (~3000 per year).  This means I get to deduct ~$9000 in taxes every year.

At my tax bracket, my federal tax liability is 25% of the amount of income I have between $34k and $83k.  By deducting that $9000, it saves me ~$2250 in taxes each year.  This translates to $187.50 per month.  At this point, living where I am currently living only costs me (226-187.5) = $38.50/month.  In fact, it’s more than that because I get to deduct the cost of my management expenses, and that drops my burden to only an additional $16/month to stay where I am.  Because I put in some upgrades this year (it’ll be ~$2000 worth), it will actually be cheaper for me to stay where I am than it will be to move into it.

This, of course, depends on a couple of caveats:

  1. I can deduct everything I think I can deduct with no limits as set out by the IRS.
  2. I hit the “happy path” – I actually manage to get my place rented out and I can charge a certain amount for it.
  3. My costs of staying where I am remain fixed.
  4. My costs of my condo stay fixed at where they are (HOA dues and real estate taxes).

So you see, flat out moving into myself doesn’t really buy me very much.  But by holding onto it, I’m in the same boat I am now and I get to impress my friends about how I own rental property.

Things can really change when you do the math.

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Good news/bad news

Over the past couple of weeks, I have opened up a couple of trades.  Yesterday I closed two of them.  The good news is that both were profitable.  The bad news is that had I waited one more day, it could have been a lot more profitable… like twice as much.

On June 30, I opened up a position in a Google call option.  Google had sold off 9 days in a row and I thought that was excessive.  It continued to sell off for four more days, taking it down 13 days in a row!  I held on on the assumption that it would spring back.  And I was right.  Yesterday I closed it for a 140% gain in two weeks.

I also opened up a position in Medifast on a similar theory that it would snap back after excessive selling.  Again, I was right and I closed it yesterday for a 110% gain in less than a week.  Not bad, I’d say.

The problem is that had I held on and closed today, I’d have a 230% gain in Google and a 220% gain in Medifast.  I basically missed out on banking another $1800.  The Google trade would have replaced Baidu from two months ago as my new all time best trade.  Had I waited, it would have been enough to eradicate 75% of my massive string of losses that I experienced in June.  As it stands now, it only erases 40% of it.

So did I make a mistake?  Well, I knew that Google would snap back but I didn’t know how far.  I probably could have held on to it another day but it hit my conservative target.  And I like selling too soon rather than too late.  Stocks tend to go up in runs for 4 days on average and I had hit the fourth day.  Should I have known that 13 days of selling would have implied another up day?  Maybe.  Who knows.

Medifast is another story.  I probably could have predicted that it would have hit its 50-day moving average.  So maybe I should have held on there, too.  Indeed, at least here I bought 5 option positions instead of 1 (unlike Google) so maybe I should have sold only half my stake.  Oh, well.  Better luck next time.  At least I didn’t lose money.  And opportunities are made up easier than money.  Besides which, I sold into strength and that’s what you are supposed to do.  Maybe I didn’t sell into extreme strength… but better than selling into weakness.

Finally, I bought a position in Intuitive Surgical.  That one was down 60% in less than a week but today is slightly profitable.  That one I did hold on to.  Maybe I will let that position ride.

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Could it have been me?

I’m currently watching America’s Got Talent and they are at the part where the final 48 are auditioning for a chance to go to Hollywood to perform for the chance to win the show.  But first, they have to audition for the celebrity judges in Las Vegas before they go on.  They are now at the part where they are telling the various people if they make it… or not.  The people are either extremely happy, or their dreams are crushed.  Their emotions are written all over their faces.

I remember when I auditioned last year and I didn’t get a call back.  They just said “Okay, you can go” and let me go.  I wonder now whether or not what would have happened had I managed to get through?  Back then I was just a fledgling mentalist.  I didn’t have the high excitement that I started putting into my shows starting August 2009.  If I were to go back, how would I fare now?

And if I were selected to go forward, how would I react to the news that I was getting through?  Would I be overjoyed and jump with all my might?  Or would I take it in stride and smile and say “Thanks” ?  Would I immediately quit my job at Microsoft?  Probably not.  I wouldn’t quit until I was certain that I had won the show and had a Vegas contract signed to perform for a year and they would pay me a nice chunk of change for doing so.  And I am not even sure I could win because I don’t have an hour and a half’s worth of show quality material.  30 minutes, yes.  45 minutes?  Maybe.  90 minutes might be a bit tougher, although I do think that I have enough stuff to go from start to finish.

Maybe it could have been me.  Maybe next year.

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Last year, starting around June, I started to do sit ups.  I kept this up roughly 5 days out of 7 per week, and at the end of 3 months I could approximately 300 in a session.  I would do sets of 120 – 100 – 80.  That was the only way for me to do it consistently because I failed to achieve 300 consecutively.

Well, I stopped last September and finally decided to pick it up again.  The result?  I’ve lost my edge.  Last Tuesday, I managed to do 120, three sets of 40.  That’s not too bad and immediately afterwards I felt alright.  The next day, however, my stomach was sore.  I guess that is to be expected, so I took the day off.  When your muscles are damaged like that it is categorically unwise to work them some more because you can injure yourself.  Athletes are different but I am not an athlete.

Yesterday (Saturday), I decided to give it another shot.  My stomach was still sore but I figured that 3 days was enough.  The result?  I could barely do 40.  My stomach muscles still hurt.  I was able to do the sit up relatively easily, but the sit down (ie, going from a curled up position to lying back on the floor) was painful.  I couldn’t lower myself slowly, which is what I do to ensure that I am not merely doing it by momentum, without saying “Ow! Ow! Ow!”  In other words, I could do half the sit up, but not the other half.

It appears that I have a ways to go before I can recover the level that I attained last year.

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From time to time I check out the approval ratings of the president over at Real Clear Politics.  You can definitely see that his ratings have slide over time since his inauguration a year and a half into his first term.  It had been teasing for a while but this past week his disapproval ratings have exceeded his approval ratings.  This is still slightly within the margin of error but the trend is clear – Obama’s domestic support is weakening.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that he will lose the next election but it does mean that members of his party will start to abandon him in order to save their own skin (ie, get re-elected).

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What is ironic is that over the past few months, mostly in 2010, I have agreed with Obama’s agenda.  My approval rating was neutral for the most part but this year I think I would mark it as approve.  I am not a single-issue voter, I consider the full spectrum.  Overall, I tip the balance in favor of approve:

  1. I find that Obama has chosen to bog himself down with domestic issues.  He spent about a year trying to implement and pass health care reform and in the end got something.  I am neutral with regards to this bill; it’s not socialized medicine but it is “better” than it was.  There are worse things to spend tax dollars on than public health care.
  2. I approve of his foreign policy.  Vice President Joe Biden, earlier this year, went to Russia and gave a speech which essentially said “You guys suck, your power is waning and your demographics imply you will continue to decline.”  Biden was right, of course.  But the US is trying to extricate itself from Iraq in order to counter the new Russian threat (to eastern Europe).  They can’t do that when they are stuck in Afghanistan.  That war is a total quagmire, escalating it probably isn’t worthwhile.

    The US is starting to distance itself from its relationship with Israel in order to improve its relationship with other countries in the region, especially Turkey.  That makes sense given the US’s relationship with Iran.

  3. The bill for financial reform is good.  It doesn’t completely fix the problem we just had that led to the recession, but it does address some problems.  I have long since learned that you can’t always get what you want in life, so you have to count your victories where you can.
  4. Expanding the size and scope of government is something I disapprove of.  But focusing on cyber security and climate change is probably a good thing.

So there you have it.  Like most things in life I am always the contrarian, and I guess in this case – as usual – I am no different.

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As I round out my stories from this past weekend, you can see that I am currently a little dry for material because this is my fourth consecutive post about my weekend trip.  But while I was traveling I made a bunch of mental notes that I could write about later on and so here I am.

Anyways, on my recent trip to eastern Washington, my girlfriend and myself stopped for lunch in the town of Winthrop.  Winthrop is an interesting town because it is western-themed, like something out of a movie. 

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We stopped at Jack’s Saloon, pictured above, for lunch on the Monday and ordered a pizza.  The pizza was merely m’kay.  We got Italian sausage and mushroom.  I found the cheese to be a little thick and when pizza is like that… well, let’s just say I like my pizza crust crisp.  The cheese has to be there to taste it, for sure, but I don’t like it when the pizza is “heavy”, know what I mean?  That makes the inner part of the dough a little soft and floppy, and I think we can all agree (other than how awesome I am) that crispy pizza, but not burnt, is the best type of pizza there is.  This one was alright, but I’ve had better.

Anyhow, the two of us didn’t finish the pizza and we put three pieces into a box to take home.  I actually would have been okay not taking it with us but didn’t debate the point.  Either way worked for me.  So, the two of us left Jack’s Saloon and walked across the street where my girlfriend wanted to take more pictures.  “What, more?” I quipped.  “You’ve already taken five of this town already!”  My Jedi powers of persuasion clearly were not working and so we (ie, she) proceeded to take some more photos. 

For some reason I decided to put the pizza, now in its box, down.  Yet in my sheer brilliance I didn’t put it on the ground.  That would have been the smart thing to do.  No, instead I decided to show how clever I was by balancing it on the bike rack that was next to me.  I kind of balanced across three prongs of the rack and did something or other.  I suspect I posed for a picture, I really wasn’t paying attention.  Anyhow, the next thing I know, the box of pizza is slipping off the bike rack and in slow motion crashing to the ground.  The sidewalk, actually.  It hit the ground and the box spilled open, and the pizza came jumping out of the box.  I was unaware that pizza was capable of moving that distance when you consider that it is an inanimate object.  Anyhow, the pizza, too, spilled out of the box and onto the ground.

I had mixed feelings at that point.  On the one hand, I could have finished it off later.  On the other hand, I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over this piece of pizza.  After all, the quality was merely meh-tacular.  “Well,” I said, turning to my girlfriend, “so much for that.”  I picked it back up, put it back in its box, headed over to the nearest garbage can and gave it to a homeless guy.

Just kidding.  I tossed it in the trash.  The five second rule does not apply when you are outdoors.

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Back when I was single, I used to think that if I were in a relationship that I wouldn’t really be comfortable with public displays of affection.  After all, a couple sitting on a bench having an extended kissing session is something that is best relegated to privacy.

Yet, as I am now in one, I reflect back and think that I am not nearly as uncomfortable with it as I thought I would be.  To be sure, “making out” in public is something that I am not on board with.  But smaller things, like holding hands, or me with an arm around the waist… that’s not such a big deal.  After all, have you seen the things I have done in public?  I’ve danced in public, made funny noises in public, jumped around like a crazy person in public (during a magic routine), sang songs in public doing a very poor job, and so forth.  When I put it in that context, doing the things I mentioned above are not that big a deal.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, is less comfortable with it.  She would say things like “No one needs to see that” if I would run my hand along her back while were out.  If there was a chance we might be seen she would shy away.  I managed to figure that out pretty quickly, and me being me, decided to playfully use it to my advantage.

One of my current health kicks is that I try to watch how much sugar I consume, not to mention how much junk food I consume.  Sugar is bad for your digestive tract, it is full of unhealthy calories, and it is bad for your teeth.  Thus, I try very hard to limit its intake so in the future if I ever do have to cut back (due to being overweight) it will not be a big deal.  This is something I am trying to push onto my girlfriend as well.  So, when we’re out and she wants to consume some junk food, I say to her “No more junk food for you… or else I’ll kiss you in public!”  Her mouth drops at me when I say that and she lets out a gasp, as if I would dare use such a threat and put substantive meaning behind it. 

The problem is that it appears I have either been overusing the threat or she doesn’t care as much anymore.  While we were on our trip to eastern Washington this past weekend, there was one occasion we were out and about and she did lean into me – in public – and kiss me.  And then there was another time when I used that same threat again and as if to counter it, she leaned in and kissed me again!  I was taken aback.  On the one hand, I had no problem with the PDA but on the other hand, I was clearly losing my leverage!  You can see how there was a battle going on in my brain and I really had no idea which side I wanted to win.

I then said to her that the threat I had been using before was losing some of its impact.  She just kind of smiled at me and agreed with that statement.  At this point, I think (but have no definitive proof) that since we were in a part of the country where no one knows us, that’s why she let down her guard.  Were we to be around people that we know, things would be different.

That’s my current working theory.

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Quirks

The people who know me really well know that I can be very quirky.  You might not know this if you are an acquaintance of mine and see me in regular social situations.  But the reality is that those in my inner circle only see that side of me.

But it’s not because I am ordinarily quirky and hide it in public, but instead the other way around.  I am ordinarily not quirky and go out of my way to be so in private with people who are in my close circle.  I do so in order to express my own sense of individuality and tie together various experiences I have had over time, such as throwing in Simpsons lingo, pronouncing words wrong (or right, such as caramel), making odd noises, and so forth.  It’s difficult to describe but it’s something that seems to amuse the people around me (other than my friend Frank).

My current girlfriend has her own set of quirks, as I have discovered over the past several works.  I think she might be in a contest to out-quirk me – heh, good luck with that because I have no problems raising that bar…

  • Between the two of us, she is the picture taker, not me.  When I go on holidays for a period of two weeks, maybe I’ll take 200-300 pictures.  That’s a lot for me.  A heck of a lot.  Over this past weekend, she took 70 or 80 (we were gone for the July Fourth weekend).  Now, you might be saying “Meh, so what?”  Well, she takes pictures of things like every bridge we drive over, and when she’s driving in the car she will shoot photos while she’s driving instead of getting me to shoot it.  That’s a quirk.
  • She takes a water bottle everywhere.  Everywhere.  With water in it.  If we go into a restaurant… yep, she takes it with her.  Seriously, who does that?
  • She likes to eat at odd hours of the day.  Small portions at multiple times.  Healthier for you?  Sure, but who actually does that in real life?  Well, I know one person who does.

Of course, this doesn’t really bother me at all.  It’s just an oddity.  And like I said, she has a ways to go before catching up to me.  I just enjoy pointing it out.

BTW, don’t mention to her that I wrote this post.

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Grand Coulee Dam

This past weekend, for the Fourth of July weekend, my girlfriend and I traveled out to the Grand Coulee Dam in Grand Coulee, Washington.  You might be wondering why we decided to go out there.  Well, it was my idea and there’s a story behind it.

About a year ago, a fellow spam-fighter turned general science blogger wrote a book called The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Around the World Important to Science.  These are places that you won’t find in a typical tourist brochure because they are things that are really only of interest to geeks.  For example, one of the places listed is Bletchley Park in England.  This was the place in World War II where the allies broke Enigma, the encryption code used by the Nazis.  Another place is CERN just outside of Geneva, Switzerland.  This is where they do a lot of ground breaking nuclear and particle physics research.  Yet another location is the birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, credited with inventing the telephone.  These are not places that interest most tourists but science made a lot of developments at these locations.

The Grand Coulee Dam is on the list because it is the largest hydroelectric dam in North America (or maybe it is only the United States).  Since it is in Washington state, and since I live in Washington state, I decided that I wanted to go and see it (the fact that I am a bit of a geek notwithstanding).  I’ve been to Oxford in England already, and the American Museum of Radio and Electricity in Bellingham, Washington, so here’s another one to cross off my list.  I have two stories to share about this:

  1. The Grand Coulee Dam (oh, yeah, tours are free) harnesses the power of the Columbia river to generate its power and power most of the northwest.  Yet while I was there an interesting fact leapt out at me.  The dam is a generating station, not a storage station.  They generate electricity and transmit it, they do not store it anywhere.  So, if there is no demand downstream, they are not going to generate any new power.

    And that has happened.  The tour guide has said that sometimes he takes groups through there and no new power is being generated.  The reason is that the company responsible for consuming that electricity, and distributing it to consumers (ham-and-eggers like you and me) tells the dam guys whether or not to generate new power.  So when they have enough, they phone them up and say stop.

    When I heard that, a chain of events kicked off in my mind.  If no new power is being created, then there is no demand.  After all, the principles of supply and demand apply to everything, including electricity.  No supply means no demand.  But if there is no demand, it must mean that there is an excess of energy supply.  Too much supply means that prices should drop.  This all led to one question that went through my mind:

    Why is Puget Sound Energy charging me so dang much for electricity?

  2. I don’t curse very much in public.  Swearing, for most people, is an emotional outburst expression of anger, or flippancy.  I do my best to control my emotions (or rather, how I express them) and so swearing doesn’t really fit my personality.  To be sure, I curse incessantly in private when the market goes against me for too many days in a row, or I am using computer software that never works, or I am waiting in line forever at the DMV.  But these are all privately, usually in my head.

    But this tour of Grand Coulee Dam allowed me, and my girlfriend, to play on words.  “So, when are we going on the dam tour?”  “Well, first we have to find some dam parking.”  “That dam tour guide was pretty interesting.”  “Yeah, his dam information was valuable.”  “We should find a hotel in this dam town.”  “Is there a dam hotel nearby?”

    Immature?  Yes.  But we still did it.

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More benefits

So, one of the benefits of my current girlfriend is that each Wednesday, she goes to her parents’ place for dinner.  My Wednesdays during the year are typically booked, but for the next few weeks they will be empty.  And that presents an opportunity.

She invited me down there yesterday and her parents cooked not just for her, but also for me.  It was pretty good Chinese food, and afterwards there was plenty of food left over.  What do you do with leftover food?  Why, you give it to your guests (ie, myself and my girlfriend) so that you can eat it the next day for lunch!  And that’s what I am currently doing, eating leftovers.

This is clearly advantageous because I like the food and I also don’t have to spend any money on lunch.  And, I think that her parents like me (because I’m so awesome).  It’s a win/win situation.

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Yesterday, I had a flower – an orchid – sent to my girlfriend at work. 

I knew that orchids are her favorite flower.  I can’t recall how that came up in conversation, but I stored it away for random access.  Anyhow, one day I was driving down the highway and a thought popped into my head.  I should send her flowers at work.  “Hmm,” I said to myself, “that sounds like a good idea.”  So, I went online, got a couple of quotes and did everything over the Internet.  I even got a base (cup) that I knew she would like.

Now, you may be wondering what my motivation was for doing this.  Are we celebrating an anniversary of some sort?  Am I trying to apologize for something?  Am I working some other angle?  The answer is none of those.  I had no exterior motivation for doing this other than the thought popped into my mind and I thought she would like it.  I was right.

Sometimes I do things just because.

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