Archive for February, 2011

Movies I recommend

Over the past few months, there are a number of movies that I have seen that I recommend to others for viewing:

  • The King’s Speech

    This movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, and for once I actually agree with the selection.  I saw this in either late December or early January and it is now one of my favorite movies.  The movie is centered around King George V of England, the father of current reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II.  King George had a very bad stammer and worked with speech pathologist Lionel Locque to make it better.  In the age of radio, as opposed to newspaper, a monarch could no longer look good – they now had to sound good.

    The film goes through the struggles that George V had and how he progressed from having a bad stammer to giving an inspirational speech at the beginning of World War II.

    I absolutely recommend this one.

  • The Social Network

    This is a movie adaptation of the book “The Accidental Billionaires”.  It is the story of the founding of Facebook, the most popular web site in the world.

    The story traces through Mark Zuckerberg’s stormy relationship with the co-founder of Facebook, and how he “stole” the idea from a couple of other guys for the web site HarvardConnection.  In the end, Facebook and Zuckerberg lost both lawsuits not necessarily because he was liable but because Zuckerberg was not at all likeable towards a jury and settled out of court.

    Zuckerberg has come out and stated that the movie got a lot of stuff wrong.  To me, that rings true – Hollywood glamourizes everything or exaggerates everything for creative license.  Yet there are some things that no doubt are reasonably accurate – Zuckerberg’s dismissive attitude towards lawsuits, “stealing” the idea for Facebook, and being an inspiration genius and super-coder (programmer).

    I enjoyed this one and also recommend it.

  • Howl’s Moving Castle

    I have watched a number of Japanese anime film maker Hayao Miyazaki’s films and if you haven’t seen any, this is as good a place as any to start.  This isn’t on my list because it’s my favorite Miyazaki film but because it’s the one I have seen recently and thereby fits into the theme of this post.

    Miyazaki’s films have common themes running throughout them – young girl and/or young boy (always less than 17) as the two main protagonists, bizarre technology such as airships (not like a blimp) or castles with oddities, elderly “witch” characters that are dual realities wherein they are cantankerous and crabby on the outside but actually good natured on the inside, and some element of the supernatural.

    After watching a lot of these films I started to get a better sense of the cultural values of the Japanese that is reflected in their video games like Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger.

  • 9

    This was an interesting movie because before I picked it up I had never heard of it.  It’s produced by Tim Burton but not directed by him.  Still, you can see his influences in it.

    The story is another stop-motion animation movie similar to The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.  If you’ve seen the latter, it’s definitely easy to tell where Burton’s thought comes through because some of the characters look the same.

    The story takes place in a world where machines and humans have fought a war and nearly all life has been wiped out.  9 dolls have survived and come to life and are trying to survive in this new world.  Suffice to say, the movie is a good one and once again, if you haven’t seen this then you should.

That’s all of my recommendations for now.

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9 days ago, I posted that I was paranoid about the market.  It had risen up a large amount and I had a bad feeling about it.

It turns out that paranoia was justified.  That turned out to be the exact top of the market (well, my portfolio) and since then all of my positions have started crashing and burning.

Whereas before Baidu was up 34% now it is up 18% year-to-date.  Netflix was up 40% and now it is up 19%.  Acme Packet was up 41% and now it is up 27%.  Everything has given up a lot of gains in the past week and a half.  I am now faced with a dilemma.  My gut feel turned out to be 100% correct last time I posted about this.  I had no real way to explain it other than I felt uncomfortable.  I couldn’t rationalize or justify a move out of my positions and go to cash.  Yet going with my gut feel would have been the correct thing to do – I didn’t have to sell my positions, I could have purchased put options.  I even looked into buying some on Netflix.  Had I bought even one, I’d have made $3000 since then – not a bad way to offset market losses (I love making money when the market goes down).

Had I had a bit more money in my trading accounts I probably would have hedged my positions.  But I’m not sure how I would have explained it to my girlfriend.  Hmm, that’s a thinker… would she have bought the explanation “I have a bad feeling about this and am protecting myself from the downside”? 

Do I have good intuition about the market?  I’d really have to say no, for the most part.  But sometimes, every once in a while, I do.

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A few weeks ago, I was at the gym when I went into the locker room and headed to my locker where I had put all of my stuff away.  Yet next to my locker was an odd site: someone had put all of their stuff on the floor in front of the locker.  Not put inside of it, not with any sort of markings… just their clothes and shoes on the floor.  Unprotected.  Where anyone could have taken anything.

I couldn’t resist doing something.

I reached into my pockets and dug around for some coins and found a penny.  I pulled it out of my pocket, bent down, and put the penny into the guy’s shoe.  I found this unbelievably amusing to myself.  I can just imagine it now, the guy comes back to his stuff:

Doo, doo, doo… Well, I am now returning to my clothing where I could not be bothered to put my stuff into a locker but instead laid it on the floor for all to see.  Ah, let me just put on my shirt and pants… done.

Okay, now I shall put on my shoes.  <grunt> There we go.  [Guy takes step] Hey, that feels weird.  What’s going on?  [Guy removes shoe] What the—?  There’s a penny in my shoe!

Hee, hee, hee!

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When it comes to downloading and using software, I am a pretty ruthless consumer.  If I install something and I can’t figure out how to use it within two minutes of running it for the first time, I uninstall the software and delete it, never to use it again.  I don’t supply feedback to the publisher, I go elsewhere.  As a consumer, suppliers market to people like me and want my dollars.  I guard my resources carefully and if I don’t like what I want, I go to a competitor.  That’s how capitalism works, the good providers survive and the lousy ones do not.

I always feel that my feedback doesn’t really do very much.  I’m just one voice of many.  However, I can vote with my feet.  I can choose to put my money to work in a service that does work for me as opposed to one that doesn’t.  For example, I switched out Comcast and swapped in Verizon DSL Internet service.  Verizon is cheaper and their service works perfectly fine.  I like Toyota vehicles.  Hondas are alright, but Toyota is better.  I do not have a particular brand loyalty and thereby stick with them through thick and thin (like I do for underachieving football teams).  If you want my money, then you had best be prepared to earn it.  If you don’t care enough for your products to work, then I will seek someplace where the product creator does care.

That brings me to products at work – Microsoft software.  Just like in real life, when it comes to Microsoft products I am a ruthless consumer.  I don’t provide feedback if something doesn’t perform good enough for me, I just silently switch products.  Many years ago, I would not use Live Search because the search results were so bad.  However, now that Bing provides results that are good enough to Google in most cases, I use it.  I use Bing Maps because I think that they are better than Google’s.  I use Windows Live Writer to post my blogs.  I prefer Excel and Word over Google Apps.  I prefer Firefox to Chrome, and Internet Explorer to Chrome, but not Internet Explorer to Firefox.  I try out these products but if I don’t like them, I won’t use them.  It’s as simple as that.

So, internally, when we are asked to try out products, I don’t particularly care for it when we are migrated to another service (especially for email) and are asked to provide feedback.  Otherwise, if we don’t provide feedback, how can we get the feature ready to release it to the public?  While that makes intuitive sense, it’s not something I buy into.  I don’t like being forced to try something where the bugs are not worked out.  Like all of my other previous patterns, I don’t provide feedback.  Instead, I vote by moving to a competitor.  I don’t like being the one to have my service functionality interrupted.  Stuff should just work.  If you don’t care enough to test your own product don’t expect me to.

I bring all of this up because my email box at work was switched to a beta environment.  I volunteered for it a few months ago and it was a huge mistake.  I experienced very regular email outages and lost messages.  It was frustrating.  It caused me a lot of annoyances and irritations.  I regretted volunteering for the program, so I asked to move back.  When word of that spread, people seemed shocked that I would ever want to go off the pre-release latest version.  “Why do you want to leave?  Are you leaving the company? How can we get you back on there?”  The reason I left is because the cost/benefit ratio is more heavily skewed in the cost factor than the benefit.  I can’t do my work if I don’t have email.

People will say that I need to provide that feedback.  I’m not going to do that because I don’t do that.  I go elsewhere if the product doesn’t work.  If you’re working on a feature and it doesn’t work, then it’s easy to disengage yourself from the product if you are not using it.  I use our own spam filter and so if it doesn’t work, I can complain and fix it.  But since I can’t do anything when my mail is down (and this happens a lot) I just want to revert back to to the last known good state and have things go back to normal.

And that’s that.

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If you live in the United States, no doubt you have your own perceptions of Fox News.  Their tag line is that they are fair and balanced, but most people (particularly on the left) accuse them of slanting things to fit their own political views (usually right leaning).  Thus, the “fair and balanced” tag line is a misnomer because they are anything but.  I think that there is an element of truth to that, but the Fox network has always been a network that sensationalizes everything.  They’ve always been edgier than other networks and put up shows like “When Animals Attack!”  Thus, them doing the news really follows in that footsteps.  They are about entertainment, and not about information.

I contrast this with my list of friends on Facebook.  I think due to where I live, I probably have more friends that are left-leaning (Democrats) than right-leaning (Republicans).  However, every time I log in to Facebook and check out my news feed, there’s always 2 or 3 people that have posted a story about how dumb the Republicans are and how great the Democrats are by contrast.  It’s also not the same two people every time, it usually rotates through a group of 5 or 6 of them.

By contrast, I have no friends who ever point stories supporting Republicans or the right.  I only have one that prints articles from libertarian-leaning web site Reason (well, I guess I have a second friend that is conservative leaning but she doesn’t post too many political stories).  The fact is that the lefties out-publish the righties by a factor of at least 4 or 5 to 1.

I’m actually starting to get a little tired of it.  I try to stay in the middle and take positive points from both sides while avoiding the negative points from the other.  Unfortunately, the articles that the lefties publish are always so one-sided and uni-dimensional that there’s no point in me reading them and I have no interest in responding to them either.  Yet every day I get to see smug articles about how great their side is and how bad the other side is (I find it very ironic how divisive they claim former President George W Bush was for separating the two Americas and then proceed to do the very same thing).

Certainly, there is a lot of one-sidedness on right-wing blogs and right-wing talk shows.  However, I don’t listen to right-wing talk shows or watch Fox news at all.  I rarely read right-wing blogs (maybe once per month) but I frequently read articles from both sides of the aisle on RealClearPolitics.  I prefer to avoid the biased sources of information and actively go to the more balanced views.

Yet every day in Facebook it seems, I am bombarded by commentary of how awful a large percentage of the population is, and therefore by extension, how bad a person I am for agreeing with some parts of the views of that large part of the population.  Do I really need to login to Facebook and be told every day about what a bad person I am?

Maybe I should just defriend them.  I like to see their pictures and updates of the things happening to them in their lives, but I really don’t need their political views and snide remarks (wherein they pat themselves on the back for being so enlightened) showing up in my news feed.

Thinking about it.

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I have hit a wall in pushing weights.  Like I said a few weeks ago, I have been recording my workouts.  When pushing weight, I use a 5/5 approach – push up for five seconds and then lower for five seconds.  This gets rid of all momentum and is way harder to do.  The goal is to do 7 reps.  Once I can, I add 10 more pounds of weight to my next workout.

When I first started to do pull-downs (sit down, grab bars from overhead and pull down), I found my max limit for doing it quickly was that I failed at 120 pounds.  I then reset back to 100 pounds with the slow movements and moved up from there.  I failed at 5 reps for 100 pounds.  I kept at it and moved up in weight.  I repeated this process and eventually I failed at 120 pounds (again), 6 repetitions.  I came back next time and completed my 7 repetitions.  I then failed at 130 pounds, 2 repetitions.  The next time it was 130 pounds, 5 repetitions.  So you see, progress is slow.  How am I supposed to get to 200 pounds (my goal?).

The bench press is the same way.  I’m at a point where I can’t complete my 7-rep target.  I then leave, come back next time (after appropriate recovery time) and get in 2-4 more reps and then fail again.  This is taking forever!

The only one that is going well is the leg press.  But I made a mistake when I started doing it; I forgot to record the initial settings.  Is the seat at position 4, 5, or 6?  It matters because where you set the seat makes it more or less difficult.  I can do a number of reps at 6 at xx weight but zero at the same weight at position 4.  I may have to start that one over again.

My girlfriend says that she’s not really into big, muscular guys.  Well, that’s good because she’s never going to get one.

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2011 in stock trading for me has been an incredibly easy year to make money so far.  All I’ve done is sit back and do nothing and I have been making good money.

My lazy portfolio consists of 75% of my individual trading account but only accounts for 25% of my performance to date.  My individual stocks are 25% of my capital but account for 75% of my gains.

There were some corrections going into 2011, some of my individual positions were down.  But I have decided to measure my performance both from the time I bought the stocks as well as year-to-date – it’s just easier that way.  It really is.  Using the year-to-date criteria, my position in Baidu is up 34%.  In Acme Packet, it is up 41% and in Netflix it is up 40% (if you don’t subscribe to Netflix, please do so you can make money for me).  But the question now is that I am getting extremely paranoid.  I am ever fearful of the inevitable correction that is soon to come.

You see, 2011 has been a fantastic year for stocks.  I don’t think I am particularly brilliant at picking these winners, I’ve just been riding a rising tide.  But I keep wanting to lock in my gains.  Yet had I done so before I would have missed out on a lot more gains.  I want to go out at the top even though I know it is impossible… yet I fear that a huge correction will shake me out.  What do I do?

I trade better when I do nothing.  That’s worked for me so far.  Yet selling a winning position has always been my Achilles heel.  But I’ve wondered if I should use another strategy?  My girlfriend once asked me if I would tell her what trades I am doing.  I replied I would have no problem with that since my trading strategy is fairly boring.  If I wanted to sell my stocks, could I justify it to my girlfriend?  It’s easy to justify buying.  But selling?

The answer right now is no, I couldn’t justify it.  My position in Netflix is going up by leaps and bounds.  I want to sell.  Yet if I did, I’d have to justify it to my girlfriend.  On the one hand, it has gained too far too fast.  Yet on the other hand, they just announced today that they are going to support streaming on Android devices.  In addition, they are one of the heaviest shorted stocks which means that eventually the shorts will have to cover… and that means a lot of buying pressure which can send it up.  If I were going to explain selling my position to someone who isn’t a trader, could I justify it based upon that?  The answer is no; my gut feel isn’t good enough.  So I stay put.

Maybe it’s a good thing my active trading is such a small component of my overall strategy.  It keeps me from making too many impulsive decisions.

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