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Archive for October, 2010

Hallowe’en 2010

This past year, I decided to put a little bit of cleverness into my costume.  Ironically, this one really didn’t take me a long time to come up with.

This year for Hallowe’en I decided to dress up as the CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs.  Dressing as him was actually pretty easy.  All I did was bring out a black sweater with a turtleneck-ish neck line, wear sneakers and blue jeans, grow out my beard a bit, wear glasses (already done) and make up a sign to wear around my neck to make it easy for people to see who I was:

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Compare to the real one:

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To make it clear to people who I was, I had to add a sign around my neck.  Steve Jobs has come out recently speaking against Google Android (competing with the iPhone) saying that the iPhone is superior because it is a closed platform.  Quite frankly, given that Android phones are selling like hot cakes and could potentially cut in to iPhone sales, it comes as no surprise that Jobs would make this claim. 

In addition, the iPad and iPhone has no Flash support, which is software from Adobe.  Flash is the software that makes a lot of different web pages look really nice and pretty.  The reason that Apple won’t support it (ie, render it in the Safari browser on mobile devices) is because it is buggy and prone to crashes.  Apple and Jobs are pretty big on preserving a great user experience and when Flash crashes on the iPhone or iPad, people think that it is Apple’s fault.  It’s not but that is the perception.  To counter this, Apple alleviates this possibility by doing their own YouTube app on the iPad and iPhone and not supporting Flash.  Jobs has also publically criticized Adobe Flash because of this and it has led to a bit of a war of words between the two organizations.

So, in order to make it clear about who I was supposed to be, I wore a sign around my neck indicating that I was against Flash:

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If you flipped the sign around, it was clear that I was against Google Android:

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This was a rather geeky costume and you had to know the inside story behind this, but the whole point of it was to be clever instead of obvious.  I call it “The Thinking Man’s Costume.”

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Right now, I am thinking of throwing in the towel when it comes to my condo. What do I mean by that? It means I am thinking of doing the one option I never wanted to – move into it.

It’s currently sitting empty, trying to get rented out and not moving. There is a glut of apartments on the market right now and my apartment is not renting even though it is cheap. I am sick of losing money, I could it to way better uses like LASIK, investing, a new laptop, charity or traveling. But no, I have to stay in a holding pattern because of this uncertainty. It is now starting to get to me and I want to stop the psychological anxiety. Sigh.

I have pretty much decided that if it does not rent by Feb 1, 2011, I will move into it. When I tell people that plan, they say “Oh, that’s a good idea! Do it!” In my view this is the least desirable option. It will bump up my cost of living by 50% compared to if I were renting (only) and owning a place is not a 50% upgrade in living conditions.

I keep getting told about the benefits of owning a place. t the end of it all, I will have an actual thing to live in. Maybe, but the total amount of interest I have to pay is more than double the cost of the place. And because I expect the place to be worth worth maybe 10% more than I paid for it at the end of 30 years due to the real estate glut, this means that I paid twice what the property is worth. And, that excludes the cost of property taxes, mortgage insurance, maintenance and home owner dues. I could have taken that $250,000 and invested in the market and gotten back more than half of my money the way I am with real estate.

However, I have no one to blame but myself. I am responsible for all of this. I am bitter and regretful of my terrible decision, but it is what it is. Time to move forward and figure out my next steps. And that is to move in. And if I am going to move in… And maybe I should just bite the bullet and do it sooner rather later. Admit defeat quickly, regroup, and move on. If that is what I am going to do then moving quickly on it is probably the way to go. I will lose some tax write offs, sure, but you have to do what you have to do.

Blargh.

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As I have commented in previous posts, I seem to have a habit lately of getting sick on airplanes.  Earlier, I had attributed this to breathing in recirculated air.  People on the plane cough, it gets into the circulation system and I end up breathing in that same virus and hence get sick.  I can’t really avoid it because like the rest of the mammal population, I need to breathe. 

However, it turns out I may have been wrong in that assessment.  Yesterday I was in the doctor’s office, waiting to get some advice on my hips (both of them, not just the one that still feels bad).  I picked up a copy of Readers Digest, something I haven’t done in quite some time.  I flipped through it randomly and came to a section on “50 Things an airline pilot won’t tell you.”  I was intrigued seeing as how I fly on planes all of the time.

They had stuff like if an engine died, they wouldn’t alert the people on board because they can still fly with one engine out (lots of planes do).  Or, flight attendants roll their eyes when they are carting the tray down the aisle and you get up to go to the bathroom.  Do you really have to get up now or can you wait a few minutes?  Or, you should always carry a pen with you because if you’re clearing customs, you are going to need a pen.  So carry one!

The one thing that caught my attention was about the quality of the air.  It’s recirculated but it also is filtered.  It is cleaner in there than it is in most office buildings.  The air quality is not the reason you get sick.  They do wipe down the bathrooms but not the seats, so if you press the button to recline the seat, that’s where the germ factories are.  Those things are covered in germs, you get them on your hands, put your hands to your eyes, mouth or nose and then boom – you’re infected.  It is not the air from my previous trip that got me feeling ill, it was my own ignorance of what I was doing!  It was my own fault (probably)!

Well, that’s the bad news.  The good news is that I can remedy this situation by (a) not touching anything, and (b) bringing along some of that anti-bacterial hand soap cleaner stuff and using it every five minutes.  Heck, I might just go through an entire bottle on every flight.  Man, that’s going to be kind of expensive.

This is an aside, but colds are caused by viruses.  They are not caused by being chilled.  If you are reading this today and thing that by going outside and getting chilled, this makes you catch a common cold, you are wrong.  A cold is caused by a virus and viruses have to be acquired from someone else, usually by you touching something and then putting your hands/fingers to your eyes or nose.  Being chilled might weaken your body’s immune defenses and make it more difficult for you to defend against a cold virus, but it is not what makes you sick.

I just had to point that out because certain family members of mine for years used to make that very claim.

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Why am I a sports fan?  The teams I cheer on are always letting me down.

Well, I should be more specific.  The football team I cheer for is always letting me down.  And this season is no different.  My Canadian football team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, are absolutely awful this year.  They are on track to likely finish with their worst record since 1998.  They have been getting worse each year since 2007.  They have 10 seasons in the past 16 where they have had a record less than 0.500 (only 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2007 were winning seasons).  They cleaned house this year and still suck!  Why am do I remain a fan after so much futility?

I guess because I am a loyal fan and not a fair weather fan.  Yuck.  When you get emotionally invested in a team, it doesn’t feel good when they lose.  Worse still, you get really frustrated when they lose all the time.  Players are not attached to teams (most players).  But fans are. 

You would think that in an 8-team league, the balance of power would eventually shift.  But geez, how do you miss the playoffs 4 times in 7 years (58% of the time) when you have a 75% to make it each year?  If we went by random chance, only making the playoffs 3 times in 7 years, then the probability of that occurring is only 7%.  This means that my team has to really suck to make the playoffs only 3 teams in 7 years when the odds of them making it is 3 in 4.

But you know what?  I’ll be back next year and I’ll be saying “Well, maybe this year it’ll be different.  Because, there are only 8 teams in the league.  Maybe this year’s the year!”

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Recently, over the past week or so (perhaps two?) I started feeling an odd pain in my knee.  It wasn’t “in” the knee but instead was in the back of the knee.  It felt like a kind of scratching, sand-paper pinching feeling and it only happened when I was walking and fully extending my leg, and only when I was walking quickly.  I also only felt it in the back of my left knee.  And more confusing still, it was intermittent.  I didn’t feel it all of the time, only occasionally and I couldn’t consistently reproduce it.

I wasn’t sure why I was feeling this particular feeling.  I was actually starting to get a little worried because I felt like my body was deteriorating.  Why does just walking cause me physical discomfort?  I started to jump to the worst case scenarios: I either have some torn cartilage in my knee (and the same problem in my hips never healed) or maybe some damage to my ligaments.  That worried me.

I started massaging the back of my knee, really working my fingers in there.  I looked up some symptoms for my pain and something bad sounded like Baker’s Cyst.  Yet when I looked up that condition, I was pretty sure I didn’t have it because I don’t have a bulge in my knee.  So anyhow, as I worked my fingers into the back of my knee, it felt a little sensitive.  It wasn’t as bad in both knees, mostly my left knee.  So, that me thinking: what kind of pain could this be?  Tendinitis?

As I was saying in another post, I went to the gym 4 times last week (Sun, Tue, Thurs, and Sat).  I went to a different gym on Saturday and I worked out on some elliptical machines, but they felt different than they normally do.  They forced me to take shorter strides and I didn’t like them.  It was awkward on my legs, although it was probably a decent workout.  Afterwards, I felt okay although a bit rubbery in my legs as I am trying to go a bit more intense.

Well, fast forward to today, and my calves are sore.  I have rarely felt sore muscles in my calves (it’s usually hamstrings or quads, especially after playing sponge hockey all those years).  The soreness is not in my lower calves but located primarily in the upper calf and extending… into the back of my knee.  And, I have it in both knees. 

So, what I am thinking is that the elliptical machines are the source of my knee/calf pain.  The ones at my normal gym have been causing a bit of pain, but the ones at the new one really exposed it.  Walking around now is actually kind of sore but I don’t get the knee pain (sand-paper pinching) I was getting before.  My theory is that I was not overdoing it with the other ellipticals due to the way I can extend my legs, but these ones forced the shorter strides, worked out my calf muscles more intensely than the other ones and ended up unmasking the source of the pain.  In other words, I most likely have not got any ligament or cartilage damage in my knee, my muscles are just not used to the workout.

Incidentally, the reason why people feel muscle soreness is because of exercise that lengthens the muscles, and not from exercises that shorten them.  So, doing bicep curls goes from a position of extension to a position of contraction – that shortens the muscles so you shouldn’t get bicep curls.  Exercises like going downhill stretches the quad muscles and therefore will cause people to feel sore.  I think that using the ellipticals stretches my calves and hence – the soreness.

Whew.  I may be getting old, but at least the only parts of my body that are deteriorating are my hips and not my other joints.

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On this blog, I have commented numerous times that I seem to be able to lose weight without even trying.  Indeed, I weighed the same amount a few months ago as I did 9 years ago living in England.  I felt pretty good about that and attributed it to my lifestyle of not eating much junk food.

Well, fast forward a few months from those blog posts and I now seem to have encountered the opposite situation.  I seem to slowly, slowly, slowly be gaining more weight.  It’s not a lot, at this point it is 3-4 lbs.  But the point is that it is 3-4 lbs.  I would weight myself in the morning and make note of where I was.  And I seemed to be a little on the light side.  Now, when I weight myself in the morning vs at night, at my lightest point (which is in the morning) I am most definitely not at the weight I was at only a few short months ago.

I find this very puzzling and it forces me to go back and evaluate my lifestyle.  What has changed in the past few months?  I think my diet is still more or less the same:

  • I still drink water and refrain from sugary drinks.  I do this as much as I have for the previous couple of years, nothing has changed in that regard.
  • I eat yogurt + cereal for breakfast for the past couple (few?) weeks.  Is that it?  Perhaps this breakfast contains more calories than what I had previously which was a couple of slices of toast, butter and jam or honey (plus a glass of orange juice).
  • My girlfriend makes lunch for me all the time (yep).  But she doesn’t give me anything particularly unhealthy (rice and chicken and vegetables with limited oils and sauces) which actually a bit healthier than what I would eat in the cafeteria (pasta, stir fries with rich sauces). 
  • I don’t go out to eat any more now than I did before… I think.  I’ll have to check my credit card records to verify this.
  • I go dancing less during the past few months than I was before, although dancing was never really that great of a work out.  I move, sure, but not enough to lose large amounts of weight.  However, I have been working out at the gym a lot more and a lot harder.  This week I have gone three times, and I work out for a bit more than an hour and then stretch for 20-30 minutes.  And I seem to be burning oxygen more efficiently because I have to lift more weight/run faster on the elliptical as my previous regime was getting too easy.

    Incidentally, the reason I started going back to the gym was to work on the muscle groups surrounding my hips.  I am trying to strengthen those rather than do a general body work out (arms, chest).  I’m not really in it to look better, only to ensure that the muscles on my hip do not degenerate.

So there you have it.  My life style is no more unhealthy and I think it is actually a bit healthier.  At the very least, the exercise I have been getting over the past month is certainly more intense.  The theory that I hope is true is that I have been converting some body fat to muscle and muscle weighs more.  If it’s not true, then it’s a sign that I am getting older and my metabolism is slowing down.  Ugh.  That would be most unwelcome news.

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Two days ago, my girlfriend as in my room (or maybe I was at her place, I forget… despite the fact that it was only two days ago) and commented that I should go to my couch and get my green pillows.

“Say what?” I asked.

“Your green pillows!” she reiterated.

“My what?”

“The pillows on your couch!  Aren’t they green?” It was more of a statement than a question.

“No,” I answered.  “My pillows most assuredly are not green, they are the same color as the couch!  Which is also not green!  My couch is black!”

“No, it’s not!” she protested.  “My couch is black!”

I became a bit more defensive.  “Perhaps it is,” I acknowledged, “but by no means is mine green.  Maybe it’s a charcoal-black or charcoal-grey color.”  Anyhow, this went on for about 30 seconds and then I finally offered to go and take a look at said couch/pillows.  Below is a snapshot photo:

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Notice the color on that pillow?  It isn’t green, that’s for sure.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  She didn’t relent, and tried to compare it to one of my green (olive colored) shirts.  But I rested assured in my knowledge that my couch and pillows are not green.  They are grey/black.

That’s the bottom line.

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Full time magician?

Yesterday, I was out at dinner with my girlfriend and three work associates (not co-workers, guys from the industry) and one of them knows that I am a mentalist/magician.  The other two did not, so I performed an effect for them.  I performed a variant of The Invisible Watch/Deck with a different ending.  Whereas the Invisible Watch has a watch appear on my wrist and a thought-of card appear reversed in the deck, the variant I perform has the thought-of card appear in the deck and it is the only card in the deck that has a different color (on the back) from the rest of them.  I intentionally drop the bit with the watch in this trick even though it would still fit.  The reason is that revealing the card is reversed is the climax to the trick, but showing that it is a different color is “the kicker.”  The kicker in a trick needs to be stronger than the climax and should appear shortly thereafter.  The different color-backed card is stronger, in my opinion, than the reversal.  Having a watch also appear on my wrist detracts from the kicker.  Surprise after surprise ceases to be… surprising.  In other words, I modify the trick to maximize psychological impact even though I am perfectly capable of including this part.  It just doesn’t fit.

My friends assured me that the trick was very well done, and very impressive.  I thanked them and acknowledged it because this is one of my stronger effects (probably in the top 5, I think).  They then asked me if I would ever want to stop doing what I am doing (fighting spam) and be a professional entertainer for a living.

This has crossed my mind a number of times.  Would I ever want to switch professions?  The answer is yes but it would depend on a couple of factors.

  1. I would only want to do it if I could make a lot of money doing it, such as having a TV special or TV show, or a recurring show in Las Vegas (or similar).
  2. I would only want to do it if I were really good.

Now, being really good means that you have to excel at a number of factors:

  1. You must be a technically proficient magician.
  2. You must be a good performer.
  3. You must be able to put together a series of entertaining effects that builds, that is, you must be capable of constructing a show that maximizes psychological impact.

If I were to rate each of these skills on a scale of 1 to 100, then in order to become a full time magician you need a combined score of 240 with no score lower than 70 in any category.  For example, suppose that I were a master of sleight of hand and rated myself 100 in category 1, but I was a boring performer and only rated myself a 40, but could put together a decent show and rated myself a 70, adding those together is 210.  That’s not enough to be good enough.  Even if my show combining skills were 100 and the total score were 240, the score of 40 is less than 70 for being a good performer and that would disqualify me.

Professional performing means you must be good in multiple aspects of a show and not just the technical stuff.  You have to be a well rounded performer.  I’m not sure how I rate myself at the above categories but I don’t think I’m there yet.  I think I’m not too far away, but I don’t think I am quite good enough to pull together a 90 minute routine and be entertaining for that long.

But one day maybe I will be.

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It has been about a year since I engaged in the creation of my lazy portfolio.  My lazy portfolio is my term for buying a bunch of index funds and then forgetting about them, rebalancing every year to match my targets.  I am going to review my trading over the past year to see how well things have done.

  1. My lazy portfolio consists of 50% foreign markets, 35% US market, 10% real estate and 5% bonds.  Since Oct 28, 2009, I am up 12% in one year.  In my opinion, 12% is an impressive return without having to do anything.  Including dividends, I am up 14.6% in one year.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a 14.6% gain than the 1% you might get in a savings account.  The only drawback is that the Bush tax cuts are going to expire and I am going to have to pay a heavy capital gains tax on these guys.

    However, a 12%/14% gain is only impressive when you compare it to a benchmark.  I may be up 12% but if the market is up 25% then that means I underperformed the market.  That’s not good.  So how did I do against the rest of the market?

    It depends on the benchmark I choose.  If I select the S&P 500, the broadest indicator of the market, it is up 13% since Oct 28.  That means that I underperformed the US market by 1%.  I don’t include dividends in this.  If I compare myself to the Nasdaq, it is up 18% since Oct 28, 2009.  That means I underperformed the Nasdaq by 6%!  Not good!  Even doing nothing I cannot beat the market!  If I compare myself against the Russell 3000 (a broader index that includes stocks from both), then I underperformed by 2.9%.  Ugh.

    However, I don’t use either of those three indexes as my benchmark.  My investing style specifically requires me to invest abroad across the entire world.  During 2010, the US market lead the rest of the world, which is unusual compared to the past few years.  However, next year it could reverse and my lazy portfolio could end up beating the US market by the same amounts I lagged it by.  Therefore, I need an index that tracks the entire world’s market (US, EMEA and emerging markets).  For that, I use the MSCI World Index.  This is an index that invests in companies throughout the entire world and represents each country in approximate proportion to the GDP.  The MSCI World Index is up 10.2% since Oct 28, 2009 meaning I beat my benchmark by 1.8% (excluding dividends)!  This is fantastic news for me!

    Ironically, the US market contributed 5.7% of my gains and the world ex-US contributed 2.7%.  Bonds contributed 0.2% (barely anything) and real estate contributed 3.8%.  Real estate did phenomenally well considering that it consisted of only half of my portfolio.  Overall, I am happy with this return on investment against my benchmark.  It is returns relative to your benchmark that is important.

  2. However, I did a second round of lazy portfolio infusion in March, 2010.  I bought more stocks/indexes and buffeted up my positions.  On that second round of investments, I am up 5.6%, and 7.2% including dividends.

    Against my benchmark, the MSCI World Index, I am up 1.2%, against the SP-500 I am up 2.1% and against the Nasdaq I am up 0.7%.  This suggests that from Oct 2009 – March 2010, the US market outperformed the rest of the world but from March 2010 – Oct 2010, the rest of the world outperformed the US market.  That’s why it is important to ensure that you are exposed to the entire world rather than one particular market.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict who is going to lead.

  3. While I m pleased with my performance, there is one mistake that I made – I did not buy an indexes in emerging markets.  I thought that my EMEA fund exposed me to these but I was wrong.  It’s mostly Europe and I want to be exposed than more than just Europe.  I did some calculations on world GDP and then looked for a fund that got me into these emerging markets and I found one that does – Vanguard’s VWO fund, which also pays a dividend.  So, yesterday I bought some shares in VWO and adjusted my other markets accordingly – 40% in EFA (Europe, Pacific Rim), 30% in VTI (United States) and 15% in VWO (emerging markets).  Had I bought some shares in these last year I would have had even greater gains than I do now.  It was a mistake not investing in emerging markets but it is one I have corrected.  This is an easy correction.
  4. My bad trades this year have been options trading, which in my case is down ~$1500 after being up ~$4000 after my first couple of trades.  This is mostly due to a string of 10 consecutive losses in August and September, 8 of which were all up.  I lost the ability to make money in options and in an intermediate up market (which we are now in and have been since early September), then I think it makes sense to switch to buying stocks or longer term options.  Thus, I plan to go back to my regular stock trading strategy or keep options at a mere 10% of my total portfolio.

    I wouldn’t consider my options trading a disaster, or even a bad investment.  It was a learning experience wherein I experimented with what works and what doesn’t.  I am a better trader because of it.  I don’t classify these as investments, these are trades.  They were bad trades, not bad investments.

  5. The one position that I would call my worst investment is my position in Microsoft, a large position I have had since I joined the company.  Microsoft stock is down -9.5% since Oct 28, 2009.  By contrast, Google is up 0.56%, Apple is up 56%, and Baidu is up 152%.  Those are all companies I have owned in the past but no longer own shares in.  Clearly, it has been an unequivocal mistake owning Microsoft and not owing any of those other companies.  There are pretty much no time periods in which Microsoft didn’t underperform the rest of these stocks.  Owning a position in Microsoft has been a mistake and a bad investment.  I really have no choice but to sell my position in Microsoft and pick up one of these.

So that’s what I have learned this year in my passive trading.  My active trading – options – did not work out so well.  However, I am bullish (for some reason) going into the next few months as the market climbs a wall of worry.  I think there will be a short correction soon to work off an overbought condition but other than that, we will probably see higher markets going forward.  There are a variety of reasons for this which I won’t go into, but I am going to get long with a partial cash position to make strategic trades.

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Unusual things

One of the odd pieces of furnishings that I have in my apartment is a stick.  This is not to be confused with my cane that is made out of wood and looks like a branch, it is a square piece of wood that is about three feet long and hangs out in my living or sometimes my bedroom.

People sometimes ask me what the stick is for.  The answer is that it is for fiddling with.  Many times, I will be sitting on the couch watching TV or something and I will have the stick in one of my hands.  I will hold it by one end and kind of flick it back and forth, whipping it from side to side.  Or, I will hold it by one end, let it slide between my fingers until it gets to the other end, and then repeat.  I can do this for quite a long period of time.

When I tell people that it’s for fiddling, they often get a puzzled look.  However, not long after I tell them that, they will inadvertently pick it up without even thinking about it and start fiddling with said stick themselves.  It is incredibly hard to refrain yourself from doing, the stick is just there, saying “Pick me up!  Pick me up!”  Who can resist a stick that says that?

Well, my girlfriend is no stranger to fiddling with this stick and she wanted one for herself.  So, while were down in central Oregon at the start of last month (Sept 2010), we went to a museum or something and there was a demonstration of logging going on. We wandered around the back and lo and behold, what did we find?  A stick!  I asked her if she wanted it, she said yes and so we claimed it for ourselves.  We simply walked out of the place with the stick.

Before I would let her have it, however, I had to sand it down.  It wasn’t very rough but if you handled it wrong it would cause slivers.  Finally this afternoon I got around to sanding it down and making it smooth.  It took about 15 minutes; sanding stuff down is tough work.  Your arms get tired and your fingers get cramped.  What the heck?

Anyhow, it’s a pretty inexpensive present for my girlfriend.

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Today on Facebook, I noticed a link shared by one of my friends that another (hippie) friend commented on.  The link said “It’s Official: More Private Sector Jobs Created in 2010 Than During the Entire Bush Years”.  The article pulls numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and thus demonstrates that in 2010, more private sector jobs have been added than if you add up all of the job gains and losses that occurred during the entire 8-year Bush administration.  My hippie friend commented “Yeah, we’ve still got a ways to go, but we’ve come a long way, baby!”  My friend, of course, is a deep blue Democrat who wouldn’t vote Republican even if the current President planned to revoke the Constitution, declare himself emperor and build a death star.

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If you were to look at the chart and read the article, you might be tempted to come to the same conclusion.  But it’s not nearly as simple as this, and the long way we have come off the bottom isn’t nearly as simple as what it sounds.  Let’s take a look at some of the nuances of problem of labor within the United States economy:

  1. The Bush administration lasted from 2001-2008.  If you add up all of the job gains and subtract the losses, the total net gain to the economy was 1.84 million jobs.  Prior to 2008, the net gain was 5.4 million jobs.  In other words, one year managed to wipe out 2/3 of all the gains.  The recession that started in 2007 lasted 19 months, ending in June or July 2009 according to the NBER.  This recession was particularly harsh due to all of the deleveraging that banks had to do.
  2. The article does some data mining and look at its snapshot – it compares the entire Bush administration tenure of 8 years which included two recessions (2007-2008 and 2001) and includes all of those job losses and compares it against a single year, 2010.  If we project the average number of job gains in 2010 to the end of the year, we will end up with a net gain of 817,000 job gains in 2010.  But is it really fair to extract a single year and compare it against the entire Bush administration record?  The single best year in the Bush administration was 2005 with a net gain of approximately 2.5 million jobs.  Compared this way, best year for best year, then the Bush administration has the superior record.  Of course, you can’t really do this because in order to compare which is better, you really need to look at the entire tenure of each president.
  3. I really have no idea where the article is claiming that in 2010, a total of 863,000 jobs have been created.  If you add up all of the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the author cites, then all you get in 2010 so far is 613,000 net jobs.
  4. The article omits 2009 which was a net loss of ~4.7 million jobs.  If you combine the entire Obama administration of Jan 2009 until today (Oct 2010), then it is a net loss of ~4.1 million jobs under the Obama administration.

The fact is that this article cherry-picked the data and presented it in a way to support his own personal bias, and my Facebook friends jumped on board because it supports their position that Democrats are better for the economy than Republicans.  The fact it is much more complex than that.  There are two branches of government that can affect the economy – the Executive and the Legislative.  Within the Legislative, there are two branches – Congress and the Senate.  How well does the economy do when either party is in charge?  What is the GDP rate of growth?  Economic growth rate?  Labor statistics?  Rate of inflation?

Even there, economic cycles are affected by more than just government legislation.  Monetary policy (ie, the setting of interest rates by the Federal Reserve, setting reserve requirements and open market operations) has a significant impact on the economy, probably more than Fiscal Policy (ie, government spending). 

When it comes to economic policy, I don’t lean towards Republican or Democrat consistently but instead let each idea stand on its own merits.  In this case, my friends posted something, patted themselves on the back for confirming their own biases, and will move on.  Myself, on the other hand, I’m much more interested in being right about my biases than I am about confirming them.  And that means not leaning Republican or Democrat but instead leaning towards research and understanding.

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As I was saying in my other post, I got sick in Washington, DC, by waking up Monday morning with a sore throat.  It was not a bad sore throat but I could definitely feel it and it was unpleasant.

Whenever I get sick, I can usually predict how bad it will be by how painful the sore throat is.  Yet ironically, the pain of the sore throat is not predictive of how long it will last.  Generally speaking, they last between 5-7 days with 3 days being the shortest and 9 days being the longest.  I’m currently at day 6 although the worst has passed.

My colds operate on a very predictive schedule:

  • It starts off with a sore throat.
  • The worst day is not the first or second day but usually the third or fourth.  After that it “peaks” and then starts to improve.
  • Either at its peak or after it shortly, I get a weird rash on my stomach centered around my belly-button.  The rash extends outwards from the belly button 3 inches in each direction.  It is the weirdest thing.  It doesn’t hurt at all, it isn’t itchy, it’s just warm to the touch.  I saw a doctor about this one time and he had no idea.  This rash lasts for about two days, with the first day being the most intense.
  • At about the same time, I get sinus congestion.  This starts off with a slight stuffiness and the steadily deteriorates into a serious stuffed nose.  I feel the pain and pressure of blocked sinuses and I cannot breathe through my nose at all, and it’s worse when I lie down.  I usually have one really bad day and then it gets slowly better.
  • But that’s not the end of it.  As the stuffed nose starts to subside, it’s followed up with a cough caused by post-nasal drip.  This is the easiest part of the cold because I can both breathe and swallow.  Unfortunately, I cough a lot and I end up getting sore stomach muscles because of the amount of hacking I end up doing.

At this point, I am just past the worst of the sinus congestion.  Every time I get sick, I think to myself “Maybe this time it won’t follow the same pattern because one time it didn’t.”  And every single time it follows the same pattern.  It’s predictable, just like clock work.

But at least today I am feeling better.

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One of the things I like to do is travel.  I particularly like to get on a plane and go somewhere.  The problem is that traveling in this manner has its drawbacks.

I’m currently in Washington, DC, and the day after I got here, I woke up with a mild sore throat.  It is not a bad one, but it is definitely there.  Usually when I get sick, it starts with a sore throat, moves on to sinus congestion (which can be pretty bad) and then rounds things up with a cough.  I normally do not have all three at once; generally speaking they are sequential with only maybe 1-2 days of overlaps.  It works this way like clockwork.  Right now, I am in the sore throat stage and I can feel the sinus congestion starting to work its way up.  This is very frustrating because like the rest of the world, I hate getting sick.

The problem is that many times when I am sick, it is during travel.  The last time I was sick was when I went to Winnipeg in December 2009.  I landed and the next day I woke up with a sore throat (which was worse than this one currently is). I ended up having to stay home from work instead of working remotely for two days because I was feeling so lousy.

In November 2006, I traveled to Australia and got sick 3 days after I got there.  I think that I caught it from another person on the bus tour I was on, but the fact remains that of my 21 day trip (the very one I nearly died on), I was sick for 17 or 18 of them.  I fell ill, recovered, fell ill, recovered, and then caught some sort of throat infection.

When I went to Italy and Switzerland in 2009, I caught some sinus problems that never quite materialized into a full blown illness, but I definitely had a runny nose and some congestion.

That is definitely the more annoying part about traveling.  When you’re on the plane, you’re breathing a lot of compressed and recycled air and if there’s a virus in the air, there’s a good chance you’ll catch it.  There’s where I seem to get it from all of the time, and this one seems no different.

Can’t wait to get home so I can recover.

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Ah, the sweet, sweet taste of victory…

The other day, I was commenting on the fact that I was trying over and over again to get first place on that crazy computer game in order to win an iPad.  Well, I’ve let the cat out of the bag and I did end up winning it.  But the story behind it is pretty good.

I came downstairs in the morning and saw that I still had the top score.  But after a couple of sessions and during the break, I saw that I was no longer number 1.  Indeed, my top score of 18,700 was now second to the first place’s 20,200!  What the—?  And worse yet, this was a new name!  This guy just kind of strolled up there, played two games and got the highest score!  Whatever!

Well, I played again and scored 19,700.  My best yet, but not good enough to reclaim first place overall to get that iPad.  I was frustrated that I wasn’t the best.  Actually, no, I wasn’t frustrated.  I was mad.  I was mad that I had played the game so often that my shoulder hurt.  And here comes this new guy, doesn’t put in any of the work and is able to take away my crown!  It ticked me off.  I earned it, not him.

So, I got to work.  I decided to take a short break and then play it again.  And that’s when I got into “the zone.”  Athletes will sometimes talk about being “in the zone” which is a heightened state of awareness where they are not thinking about what they are doing, they are simply executing.  I started playing and after 2000 points, I had already missed two viruses.  Oops.  And then I started executing.

I got on a roll.  I hit 5000 points.  Then 10,000.  Then 15,000.  I knew I was getting close and I was on a roll.  I broke my high score, and then I broke 20,200.  I knew I had broken the record, but I was thinking about what I was doing.  I just executed.  And when the dust cleared, my final score for that round was 30,000 on the nose, nearly 10,000 points more than second place.

I very calmly put the controller down.  I stepped back.  “Yeah, that’s right” I said.  “I want that iPad.”

Later on after lunch, I decided to play it one more time.  For you see, I was thinking that my new competition was pretty good.  If I could get 30,000 and he could get 20,000 on his second or third try, I needed a bigger buffer. People said that my record wouldn’t be caught, but I wasn’t so sure.  If you ever go into battle, you must ensure that you can win it with overwhelming force.  I thought I needed a bigger margin of victory.

I picked up the game once again, and once again by the time I hit 2000 points I had already let two viruses get by me.  But once again, I got into the zone.  I know this because there were several times in the game when a virus was on the right hand side of the wind tunnel, my brain said “Go left!” but my body did not obey – it automatically moved right without me having to think about it.  I did this a few times.  My mind made the wrong decision but my body took over and did the correct motions.  And I did it calmly.  No stress, no anxiety… just execution.  And in the end, I scored 36,800 points.  I beat my previous score by 22%.  No way anyone was going to catch that.  I announced that I was done playing.  I was happy with that score confident that it wouldn’t be surpassed.

Later in the day they announced the winner of the contest.  I was pretty jubilant that I was the winner.  But the lady announced second place, and the newbie had moved up on the list.  He had beaten my previous best score and himself scored 33,500 points!  Gah!  That means that had I rested on my laurels and taken the advice of people around me that 30,000 would not be caught, I would have lost the iPad despite playing the game 75 times and earning it.  That was so very, very close.

In the end, while it was close, my worthy opponent was not quite good enough to dethrone the self-proclaimed King of Whatever-this-game-was-called.  All that matters is that I got first place.  And with first place comes an Apple iPad.  So, I’m happy.

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Conference applause

So, at this conference I was at in Vancouver, as I was explaining earlier I did a trick.  The trick I performed was designed to invoke a psychological response in my audience.  I was explaining that the limbic system in our brains is what governs our emotions.  When our emotions kick in, that can cause us to act in ways that are contrary to our best interests.

There are two types of emotions, expected and immediate.  Expected emotions are how we think we will feel if an event comes to pass, such as if we don’t study for a test we will fail and that will suck.  By contrast, immediate emotions are how we feel at the time a stimulus is applied, but they are important because they are mental heuristics that save mental processing time.  But at lower levels of stimulus, immediate emotions act in more of an advisory role.  In order for us to take action, stronger stimulus needs to be applied.

My point in the trick was to invoke a fear response, a strong one.  In my presentation slides, I showed the address of the hotel and what room we were in.  I then said to a person in the front row “Get out your cell phone.  If I am doing this demonstration and I get hurt, it is not part of it.  Call 911, that’s the address.”  The idea here was to sell the setting that it was, indeed quite real with a possibility that something might go wrong.

I then set up the trick wherein there were 4 blocks of wood but in one of them was a 3 1/2” nail sticking out of it.  I then put a Styrofoam cup on top of each piece of wood and mixed them up, and then had a member of the audience mix them up.  In each case, the mix ups were shielded by either me or the audience member.  Now, nobody knew where the nail was.  I then proceeded to number the blocks of wood from one to four and had the audience member call out one of the numbers.  Whatever number he called out, I moved it forward and smashed my hand down on top the cup.  Clearly, if the wrong cup were called out, I would be severely injured.

I won’t describe the trick exactly because the finale is somewhat different than what you expect… and if you haven’t seen the trick I don’t want to ruin the surprise.  However, I completed the trick and as soon as it climaxed, people applauded!  That was pretty sweet because people always applaud when the presentation is over and it is expected.  This mid-presentation applause was spontaneous.  I didn’t ask for it but I still got it, and that was a nice touch.

I went on to explain that the fear response I generated in the audience (anxiety, nervousness and fear that I might get hurt) can be used to manipulate people.  I think that the point was made as people told me afterwards that I was successful in getting them to feel that emotion of fear.

It was pretty cool.

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I’m currently here at a conference in Vancouver for antispam and antivirus related stuff.  It’s interesting and I am learning some new things.  However, outside the conference rooms there are vendors selling things, and vendors with contests.  One of the contests involves the use of a video game using Wii remote.

It’s not Nintendo game, it is a computer game using a Wii remote.  Here’s how it works: There is a tunnel and the Wii remote controls an arm (you can choose to be either left or right handed).  The tunnel is mostly like a wind tunnel and what happens is small balls – viruses – come flying towards you.  You use the Wii remote to dodge back and forth and catch the viruses/balls.  Each virus you catch is worth 100 points.  Miss five and you’re finished.

There are two wrinkles to the game:

  1. The controller works pretty much the way you expect, move right and you go right, move left and you go left.  However, it’s a little hyper-sensitive, or non-sensitive.  It’s hard to come up with an adjective. What happens is that by far, the most times I miss a virus is that I try to move the arm in one direction and instead it moves in the other direction.  I try to go right and the on-screen arm moves left.  I’m like “WTF?”  What happens is, and this is my theory but I believe it is correct, that when players get excited, when they want to move right quickly (for a right handed person), they “swing” the remote a bit to the left and then to the right.  This jerks the arm to the left, causing the player to wonder what happened.

    It’s like of like digging a hole with a shovel.  You don’t just thrust the shovel into the ground, you wind up by pulling the shovel back and then go forward.  It is the same with the Wii remote; people don’t mean to swing one way and then go the other, it’s automatic.  It took me a long time to get that motion under control and it’s the number one reason why I die.

  2. The wind tunnel has air currents, and the walls are magnetized.  What this means is that if you get too close to the walls, you get stuck and it requires a serious thrust in the opposite direction to get off.  There’s a lot of finesse involved.

Now, people can come and play the game and most people don’t do very well.  I was the same way.  But here’s the thing: if you get first place in points scored by 3:15 tomorrow (Friday), you win an iPad!  Sweet!

I want to win that iPad so badly.

It’s not so much that I want the iPad, I want to win the iPad. Two years ago at a conference I won a pair of noise cancellation headphones in a limbo contest. There wasn’t that much competition and I took home the prize.  I want to win this because I control my own destiny.

The only problem is that this is a tough game to win because of the touchy play control.  So I played… and played… and played.  First place was 12,700 points and I could only ever get 8000 or 9000.  I would do well, try again and do crappy three for four consecutive times.  It was so frustrating that I wasn’t improving!  And I wanted that iPad!

Today, after lunch, I gave it another shot.  I got onto a roll and hit 10,300 points.  When I died the last time, I collapsed.  I was so excited I could taste it.  And I start getting self aware knowing I am so close to the prize.  When I do, my body literally starts to shake.  I ended up having to take a break and went back to my hotel room to check mail.  I came back and checked out first place (they have a top 10, and I have half of them), I discovered that first place was now 17,200 points.  I nearly had a heart attack, that was nearly 5000 points higher than before, and 7000 points higher than my best score.  Gah!  I went into a mini-depression.

But I had to focus. “Well,” I said to myself, “if I’m going to win this iPad, I have to get the highest score.”  It was easier said than done, though.  I have such inconsistent play and my arm was getting tired and my muscles were getting sore.  So, after the last session of the day, I went and played again.  I got 3000 points, 9500, 4500, 11,200… and 15,200!  Sweet enola gay!  I was so close!  I collapsed in weakness when the last virus sailed by me.

I decided to give it another shot.  I played it one more time and got into the zone.  I played, and started doing quite well.  And even better.  I missed one, two… but kept on going.  And then something strange happened; I passed 17,200!  I kept going and lo and behold, my final score ended up at 18,700!  A full 1500 points past the leader!

The game ended and I thrust up my arms to the sky in jubilant celebration!  I was now in first place! First place!  First place!  I played again and got a score of 18,400!  I now had both first and second (no prize for second).  However, for the time being, I am now in first place and if no one else surpasses it, I get an iPad.  I want it so bad.

Playing this game 75 times better work.  That is no exaggeration.

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