Archive for May, 2011

Well, if you’re on Facebook and you are friends with me, then you know that my girlfriend and I have decided to get married.  The date is Sept 24 of this year.

Hopefully people who know us will understand that this comes as no surprise.  We have been dating for 11 months and we spend a lot of time together.  The fact is that marriage is the natural and logical next step.  It’s like of like “Oh, you two are getting married?  Well, it’s about time, really.”

Having a wedding only four months in the future presents some challenges from the perspective of the timeline involved.  We have to book a ceremony venue, reception venue, send out invitations, get attire for the day, and so forth.  Can it be done in four months?

Well, to date we have done the following:

  • Agreed on a ceremony venue
  • Targeted a reception venue
  • Picked out the style of invitations
  • Selected candidates for the wedding party
  • Drawn up a list of people to invite
  • Picked out officials to do the ceremony
  • Analyzed our existing funds to confirm that we have enough to pay for it… while keeping costs under control.

That last one is key.  The average wedding in the United States costs $28,000.  We aren’t going to pay that, we are trying to keep it to $10,000 (give or take… most likely give, 10-15%).

One thing that we have decided upon is not giving out wedding favors at the wedding.  Those are the trinkets or doodads that you get at the wedding that everyone normally tosses away.  Instead, what we are going to do is that for each person who attends, we will donate $2.50 to Doctors Without Borders, and $2.50 to Engineers Without Borders.  Microsoft will match whatever I donate to charity, so basically it is a two-for-one.  I think that’s a better idea than doing random trinkets.

So there you have it.  Four months is a compressed time frame, but the problem is the following:

  • We had already planned to go to New Zealand in November/December.  Therefore, having it later than that wouldn’t work.
  • My girlfriend refuses to get married in October onwards, all the way through until April.  The weather is lousy (which I deem to be irrelevant since we will be indoors but apparently this doesn’t matter).  That means that either we have it in September (to give us 4 months to plan) or wait an entire year until next May.

    Do we want to wait an entire year?  What’s the advantage?  The advantage is that we have more time to plan.  But, the plan will still be the same.  We’d invite the same people, keep the costs under control, have the same themes and still travel to all of the same places as before.  In other words, there is no advantage to waiting a year other than… waiting.  The drawback is that we have to wait a year to move on with our lives and I don’t like the transition period.  It’s too… transitional.  It’s like how the stock market doesn’t like uncertainty.

So there you go.  I’ll continue blogging even throughout this life change (possibly about the same topics as before, and possibly not).  Stay tuned.

Read Full Post »

Last year, I mentioned that I had to write an article for a conference in Vancouver and I had writer’s block.  I had been working on it for 3 weeks and only had 2200 words.  I did end up finishing it and it turned out fine, however.

Well, fast forward to this year and I have similar problems.  It all started with me reading random books and having trouble coming up with an idea.  When I narrowed it down, I had to do research.  It took me forever to do the reading background on it.  Then when I sat down to write, the words would not flow off my fingertips.  That’s the thing about me blogging, most of the time it is easy for me to fire off a post.

I did something a bit different this time, I made myself a schedule.  I wanted to write a certain amount of words per day and finish with two weeks in reserve to send it around for editing and review.  I finished the initial draft this week and completed the first round of edits today.  I figure I have two or three more rounds to go before it will be done.

But the point is this – I always complain that I have writer’s block and that this time it’s different.  But it never is different.

Just like in stock trading.

Read Full Post »

The vanish of a coin

The other day I decided to show one of my co-workers some basic magic – a coin vanish.  I walked into his office with a 50 cent piece that I had received as change from a vendor a few days earlier.  I started talking about how unusual the coin way and let him see it.  It’s just an ordinary coin.

I then went to place it into my hand but as I did so, I accidentally dropped it.  I reached down, picked it up and put it back into my hand.  Both of my sleeves were rolled up as I started waving my other hand around it.  I opened it up… and the coin was gone.  Both my hands were shown empty, front and back. 

How did I do it?

This one is pretty simple.  I will reveal this one because it is a technique that I never use in real life because it isn’t practical.  The coin is ordinary and can be done with any coin.  As I placed it into my other hand, I “accidentally” dropped it intentionally onto the floor.  Oops!  Clumsy me!  I reached down to pick it up and as I did, I pushed it with my finger beneath my shoe and only pretended to pick it up.  I then placed the “coin” into my other hand, but of course it wasn’t there.  It was actually beneath my shoe.

With a wave of my fingers, I opened my hand, showing both of them empty.  The coin is completely gone!  Where did it go?  Nobody knows!

Of course, the coin is still beneath my shoe.  The real magician knows how to clean that up so that when he walks away, the secret is still concealed.  And that’s part of the magic that I will still keep to myself.

Read Full Post »

New experiences

Now that we have a rental cat, my girlfriend (who has never had a cat before) is starting to learn some of the habits of cats. Lesson #1 – they bring you gifts.

The other evening the cat came to the back door and started to meow like he always does. My girlfriend let him I. But I could see that he had left something on the ground. “Hold on…” I began but it was too late. The cat had had already walked in.

“What?” asked my girlfriend.

“He brought us a gift,” I motioned and pointed to just outside the door. My girlfriend looked down at the ground and saw a dead bird that the cat had caught and brought for us.

At that point, she kind of freaked out a bit. “Ahhhhh!” she shouted. “That’s so gross!” that went on for a minute or two and then I managed to get in a word or two and explain that’s what cats do. They bring their owners gifts.

She scolded the cat. “No more dead birds!”

Somehow I don’t think that will work.

Read Full Post »

Today at lunch, I had Thai chili beef on rice.  It’s a beef dish with a spicy sauce that is not particularly spicy, and served over rice.  It’s a pretty basic lunch at the cafeteria at work that is pretty easy on my palette.

Or so I thought.

The description of it said that it was served with peppers.  I like peppers, they are crunchy with a hint of flavor.  I saw a green thing in my food and figured it was a pepper and that I could consume it with little problem.  Sure, it might be a chili.  But I can handle it.

I was wrong.

I put the chili in my mouth and swallowed it and no more than 5 seconds later, my mouth was on fire!  ARGH!  I immediately grabbed for some water but it helped very little.  I darted to the drink machine for some milk because milk is good at dousing spicy foods (much better than water).  I walked there, ran back and chugged some of it down, getting some cool relief.

Let me tell you, the feeling of pain in my mouth was intense.  It wasn’t that this chili was spicy.  It was, but I have had worse.  No, this chili was also physically hot, as in put-your-finger-on-the-stove-and-burn-it hot.  The combination of heat + spice was too much to bear.  That was a very unpleasant experience, I tell you what.

I could not believe that a food could be physically hot to produce a literal burning sensation in my mouth.  That hurt!

Hopefully I never have to go through it again.

Read Full Post »

In my previous posts, I explained that the reason that Europeans conquered the rest of the world, and not vice versa, is because they were able to generate food surpluses and they had animals native to the area where they lived that could be domesticated.  With animals, they were able to generate food surpluses and also use them in military ventures. 

But better land and domestication of animals is not the whole story.  Europeans were also able to harness the power of germs.  From our human perspective, germs make us sick and sometimes kill us.  Notable examples of this include Black Death in Europe during the middle ages and the Great Influenza just after World War I.  If germs need our bodies to survive, why do they make us so much weaker?  It seems counterintuitive.

From the germs’ perspective, killing us is a side effect of survival.  When a germ infects us, it needs to also spread itself around in order to propagate the species.  Therefore, it causes us to cough, or are noses to run, or other sorts of things that we associate with sickness.  This is the germ’s way of spreading itself to other hosts so it can keep going.  It may kill its victim, but that’s what happens sometimes in the war of survival.  Of course, germs have evolved over time to incubate in its host so that symptoms do not appear at first and the host survives much longer.

Over time, humans develop a resistance to germs.  Like anything, when a great plague runs through a population and ravages it, there will be some people who are genetically resistant to the disease and survive to pass on their genes to the next generation.  This next generation inherits their parents’ resistance and the disease goes away.  Thus, history is filled with examples in Europe where disease ran through the population and killed many of them but gradually, Europeans developed immunity to the worst ones.

When the Europeans landed in the Americas, they brought over their diseases and those wiped out over 90% of the native population.  No diseases made it back the other way (with the possible exception of syphilis although this is disputed).  Why did the Europeans bring their diseases and wipe out the native population, and why were there no diseases waiting for them and send them back to the void from which they came?  The natives had not developed any resistances to the European diseases and this was the ultimate turning point in the European conquest of the rest of the world.

The answer has to do with animals.  When humans harnessed the power of animals, they generated food surpluses.  Food producing societies can support a larger population than hunters and gatherers, and therefore they have children more often.  The population is both larger and denser.  However, the side effect of supporting larger populations by harnessing the power of animals is that animals transmit their diseases to humans.  Humans and animals lived together in nearby compounds.  The humans would live in the house and the animals would live in the barn or the stable next to the house.  Humans would work with the animals every day.  Eventually, diseases jumped from animals to humans (for example, smallpox came to us from pigs).

Worse yet, epidemic diseases only spread when there are large, dense populations of humans living close to each other.  The disease jumps from person to person to person and spreads very quickly.  All of this led to a perfect storm:

  • Europeans were able to domesticate animals because the land mass where they lived were inhabited by animals that were suitable for domestication – pigs, horses, cows, etc.
  • By harnessing the power of the animal, they became food producers and settled in larger populations.
  • However, by living in close quarters with animals, disease eventually jumped to humans.
  • Because the population was large and dense, disease spread quickly among humans.
  • Those humans who were resistant to the disease survived to pass along their genetic resistance to descendants, thus making them more resistant than their ancestors.

Why weren’t there any diseases waiting for the Europeans in the Americas, or Australia, or New Guinea?  Because the people living there were not able to harness the power of animals because there were no animals suitable for domestication (the one exception is the llama in South America, but the native population never used them for food production – only carrying things; they also never lived with them in close quarters).  Because the native population had no animal diseases to acquire resistance, they were vulnerable to the ones that the Europeans brought with them. The disease that ravaged the Europeans’ ancestors now wiped out their native American contemporaries.

There is one exception to the European conquest using germs as an inadvertent weapon. In tropical areas, particularly in Africa, European settlers were beaten back by tropical diseases such as dengue fever and malaria.  Europeans had a much more difficult time penetrating into these areas because they did not have the resistance built up to fend off those germs.  The native Africans got around this problem by living in highland areas; even today, we still don’t have a great battle plan against malaria but modern states like Singapore and Malaysia have managed to eliminate it.

Had the Africans been able to domesticate rhinos, elephants, zebras and hippos, they could have easily used them to become food producers.  They also could have used them for military purposes.  Had they done that, I’d be writing this in Bantu instead of English.  There’s no doubt that elephants and rhinos could have defeated Roman horses.

But they didn’t.  The reason they didn’t is because rhinos, elephants, zebras and hippos are not suitable for domestication.  The ones that did become domesticated were located in Eurasia.  Thus, the answer to the question of why Europeans ended up with all the power is due to the powerful multiplier effect of being food producers and being able to support a class of people who could advance civilization, for better or for worse.

How did we get to where we are today?  It’s because of an “accident” in geography.

Read Full Post »

In my previous post, I explained that the reason that Europeans conquered the rest of the world, and not vice versa, is because they were able to generate food surpluses.  With this food surplus, they could support classes of people not dedicated to the production of food.  They could do this because they lived in a part of the world where the land was very good at producing food, and these agricultural techniques were imported to the region by people emigrating from the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia where food production arose independently.

But better land is not the whole story.  Europeans were also able to harness the power of animals.

With animal power, Europeans were able to hitch them to plows to till their soil.  They could also use them as a source of meat, which is high in protein.  The combination of both of these meant that they could generate even more food surpluses.

The thing about animals is that in order to harness them, they have to be domesticated.  Domestication is the process of taming animals and genetically changing them to be more useful to humans.  Dogs are domesticated wolves.  Elephants have been tamed, but they have not been domesticated.  The ones that work with humans have been caught in the wild and then tamed.

There are conditions to domesticating animals.  Carnivores are not suitable because it is so inefficient to farm them.  In order to feed a 1000 pound carnivore, you need to feed them about 10x as much meat.  So, a 1000 pound carnivore would require 10,000 lbs of meat.  That is clearly inefficient, so carnivores are out. 

Some animals take too long to grow, like elephants.  They have a two year gestation period and take 15 years to mature.  It takes too long.  Similarly, other animals do not reproduce in captivity, others are too skittish (like gazelles), and others yet have too nasty a disposition (like zebras and hippos).  The reality is that in order for an animal to be domesticated, a lot of different variables have to go right but only one thing has to go wrong to disqualify it.  It is not easy to domesticate animals.

Of the 148 mammals over 100 lbs that might be suitable, only 14 have ever been domesticated: horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, one humped camels, two humped camels, reindeer, llamas, yaks, and four more I can’t remember.  Of these 14, 13 of them were domesticated in Europe (Eurasia, technically), and one (the llama) was domesticated in South America.  No animals were ever domesticated in North America, Africa, or Australia.

That sounds surprising about Africa.  We think of that continent as the place where you see animals.  But none have ever been domesticated there.

Eurasians were able to harness the power of animals.  Africans, native Americans, New Guineans and Australians did not.  This factor gave Eurasians a huge advantage in food production.  But for the Eurasians, it also gave them another advantage – horses were used in warfare.  Up until World War I, horses were the primary mode of transportation in warfare. They were fast and efficient and could move armies quickly.  Because they had horses, when Europeans embarked on their conquests of other continents they were able to strike faster and harder than the people they invaded.

This sounds a bit odd to us because in the US and Canada, we tend to think of the native Americans (Indians) as expert horsemen.  But the reality is that there were no horses native to the Americas until the Europeans introduced them (there were species of horses in the Americas but they went extinct 13,000 years ago).  After horses were introduced, the native population within a generation became expert horsemen and used them to form pockets of resistance against the European settlers.

Unfortunately, these pockets of resistance were futile.  As we all know, when Europeans came to the Americas, the native population was wiped out with diseases that claimed somewhere between 90-95% of the population.  Europeans had gradually, over time, built up immunities to these diseases.  The native populations had not, and the diseases ravaged through them and wiping them out.  But why did the Europeans ravage the natives with diseases?  Why weren’t there any diseases waiting for the Europeans when they arrived which would have sent them reeling back to Europe?

That’s for my next post.

Read Full Post »

Recently, I finished a book by a biologist by the name of Jared Diamond.  Diamond is an expert on the bird life in Papua New Guinea.  But 30 years ago, he was asked a question by one of the locals of the island: “How come you white men have so much cargo?  And how come we Papua New Guineans have so little cargo?” (Cargo is the word for “stuff”).  It’s a good question.  Try to answer it yourself.  Why is there so much imbalance in the world?  Why is the distribution of wealth and science so heavily concentrated in Europe?  Why did the Europeans go out and conquer the rest of the world, instead of the rest of the world going out and conquering Europe?

At first you might say that Europe had better technology than the rest of the world.  But that only begs the question – why did the Europeans develop better technology faster than the rest of the world?  How is it that they came to acquire it and others did not?

Do you have any theories?

Diamond answers the question in his book.  The answer is very complicated, and yet it is also very simple.  20,000 years ago most humans were living more or less the same existence.  We were hunters and gatherers with stone tools and lived a very basic life.  We would go out and kill animals for food or gather nuts and berries and bring them back and eat them.  When the game moved, so did we.

But something changed.  Some societies developed faster than others – much faster.  When Europeans landed in Australia in the 1700’s, they found native Aborigines still using stone tools.  Why did the Europeans build complex states while the Aborigines were still hunting and gathering?  What advantages did they have?

The answer is not racial.  Europeans are not more innately talented than others.  To put it simply, the answer is food.  Food is the answer.

What do I mean?  In any society, survival is the basic requirement.  You spend your day just sustaining yourself and that requires food.  However, if you have a surplus of food, you can now support a class of people that are not dedicated to gathering food.  Instead, this class of people can invent things, create bureaucracies and maintain standing armies.  If one society is spending all of its time gathering food to live, while another only spends part of its time gathering food, it will develop more rapidly because the people who are not gathering food are advancing society.

That’s why Europe advanced more rapidly than others.  They had a surplus of food and was able to support a non-food-gathering class.  But that begs the question – why did Europe generate food surpluses?  Why not the Africans?  Or the native North American population?  Or the New Guineans?

It all started in a part of the world known as the Fertile Crescent.  It is called this because the shape of the landmass that it forms looks like a crescent moon.  It starts in the Palestine/Israel area and forms an arc over to Mesopotamia. 


The Fertile Crescent is where agriculture first started.  It is an area of land that is particularly receptive to growing crops.  It had the best soil and rain flow.  Mesopotamia is the birthplace of civilization (but not humanity), and the reason is that this is where large human societies first started to settle.  The crops that could be grown here are wheat and barley, two of the most important crops even today because of the high protein content.  The crops were native to the area and could be domesticated (domestication is the modification of organisms thereby making them more useful to humans).  When humans figured this out about 8500 BC, people began to settle in one area rather than wandering around as nomads (agriculture and hunting and gathering co-existed for a period of time before hunting and gathering was supplanted).  The Agricultural Revolution was beginning.

The people of the Fertile Crescent got a head start because they discovered at an earlier age that they could grow crops and reliably produce food rather than have to hunt it down.  However, food production began natively (without input from people who wandered into the area and brought it with them) in other parts of the world.  In southern China, they began producing food around 7500 BC.  Food production also occurred independently in Papua New Guinea (about 4500 BC? I forget), in Mesoamerica (Mexico) about 3500 BC and the northeastern United States around 2500 BC.  However, the crops grown in these parts of the world were not as useful as the Fertile Crescent because they were harder to grow (such as corn in Mesoamerica) or didn’t provide the same amount of protein as wheat and barley.

As the cradle of civilization grew, they expanded west through northern Africa and into Europe, bringing their agricultural techniques with them.  But you may be wondering – if Mesopotamia and the middle east started producing food the earliest, why aren’t they the world powers today?

Indeed, why aren’t they?  The reason is that humans are not very good at managing the land.  Because of deforestation, they would clear the soil and eventually the Fertile Crescent became more desolate.  Iraq today is a desert but it wasn’t always that way.

But look at Europe – it is farther north but has a much wetter climate.  It is more resilient to deforestation.  Humans can work on the land but it recovers much faster.  Thus, humans in Europe were able to produce more food and generate food surpluses much more than anyone else in the world because of the climate zone they lived in.  This food surplus enabled them to support a warrior class (soldiers) and develop technology to go out and conquer the rest of the world.  They were able to do this because they had the time to do it.

The reason Europe conquered the world, and not vice versa, is because the inhabitants of Europe just so happened to live in a part of the world that was conducive to food production.

More in my next post.

Read Full Post »

If there’s one thing that I know, it’s this – humans are smarter than cats.

As I have written about in the past, the rental cat that swings by my place is feisty.  He is prone to biting and scratching from time to time.  Obviously, he has never dealt with an adversary as clever as I am.

What do you do with a cat who sometimes scratches?  You let him scratch but prevent him from doing any damage.  You see, the other day I went and got one of my heavier oven mitts out of the kitchen drawers and put it on my couch.  When I start harassing the cat and he gets “scratchy” (he has clear signs that he is thinking about it), I put the oven mitt on.  I continue to bother him.  He then tries to bite and/or scratch me.  Of course, since I am wearing the oven mitt with a ton of padding, these bites and scratches have no effect on me.

“Ha, ha, ha!” I laugh at the cat.  “You can’t beat me!  You know why?  Because I’m a human and we’re on the top of the food chain!  And you’re just a cat! Ha, ha, ha!”  I’m not sure he understands that.

But it doesn’t matter.  The net effect is that I have figured out a way to cut down on the amount of punishment the cat dishes out to me and now most of it is one way.

It seems to be working.  He’s not as skittish as he was before.  Now he insists on coming inside, jumping up on a chair or couch or sometimes just the floor, and having a 2 to 3 hour nap.  From time to time I wake him up by rubbing his belly.  He seems to enjoy that because he purrs.


The other day while he was sleeping on the couch, I decided to put a pillow on him.  He didn’t react at all, I guess he didn’t mind.


He is learning to be a nicer cat after all.

Read Full Post »

My co-worker and I like to make wagers on sporting events.  Typically, if there is a tournament like in hockey (the Olympics or the NHL playoffs), we will bet money on the outcome.  The problem is that these normally come out even because if there are 8 series, we each get half of them right and therefore our debts cancel out.

However, this year is a bit different.  My co-worker bet me that Philadelphia would win game 3 of its NHL conference semi-finals, but they lost.  He owed me $5.  The next night, his beloved Washington Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs.  He was in a state of shock.

We were discussing these events today and he was in a state of shock.  I said “Don’t feel bad, Philly was down 3 games to 0 last year and came back and won the series.”  He didn’t believe me.  I said that just last year there was an inevitable come back.  He insisted it wasn’t true.  I offered to bet him $5.  He accepted, I did a Bing search, found out that it was true and I won the bet.

That leads to an important lesson – only bet on things that you know are a sure thing.

That’s true in so many things in life.  Make the odds work in your favor.  If you’re a politician, run in a locale where the people always vote for your party.  If you’re trading stocks, buy in an uptrend near the beginning.  If you’re betting on sports, only do it if you know what the outcome will be.  Take the easy path!  You’ll make more money!

This is really a post on risk management.  Don’t over extend yourself; many successful people get that way because of less competition.  During the 1930’s the birthrate collapsed.  That means that kids born during the Depression had an advantage because the schools were built for a larger demographic.  Instead of having too few classroom space, there was too much.  That made it easier to get into your choice of schools.

There’s satisfaction to achieving challenges, but even more satisfaction when it comes to success.

Read Full Post »

My girlfriend and I were browsing some jewelry pages the other day (gee, what on earth could we possibly be shopping for?) and she was showing me a web page from a company based out of Hippieville – I mean San Francisco – that sells ethical jewelry.  Basically, they sell “fair trade” precious jewels.  That is to say, they extract and import their precious metals from parts of the world that are politically stable such that their diamonds are not used as payment in human trafficking or political cronyism the way they are in the developing world.  Furthermore, they also come from regions where there are stricter environment standards (such as Canada).

Historically, I’ve never been a big fan of the left wing environmental movement, nor the left wing human rights movement.  In my view, they are a bunch of self-centered ignorant loud mouths who mean well and cause more damage than they prevent.  For example:

  • The environmental movement succeeded in their quest to ban DDT, a chemical that was sprayed to prevent mosquitoes.  The hippies got the chemical banned in the first world, but also went and got it banned in the developing world.  The result?  Millions of people die from malaria because of mosquito bites.  Nice work, hippies.
  • The environmental movement preaches about saving the rainforest, unaware (or maybe they are aware) that the reason people in South America are clear cutting it is for farmland in order to feed their families.  It’s really easy to eat your lobster and drink your chardonnay and then criticize others for wanting to do the same (when they don’t even have enough to begin with).  Quite frankly, unless you and your family are starving then you need to keep your mouth shut.
  • They criticize sweatshops as exploiting human capital.  However, people do not work in them because they are forced to do so, but because there are no other market opportunities in the country.  Thus, without the sweatshops, people would have even higher unemployment and poverty.  Now there’s a head scratcher.

Hopefully you can understand my reticence to associate myself with the environmental movement.  However, when it comes to purchasing jewelry, I am A-OK with purchasing from this particular web page.

As a consumer, I have a range of options of where to buy things from.  And while I don’t know exactly what goes on in the mines of west Africa, I do know that continent is plagued with corruption and human rights violations.  I don’t know for sure where my money goes if I send it there, but if I do buy from this other location, then I do know that the place if probably environmentally responsible because it gets its precious metals from Canada where there are stricter regulations.

Furthermore, Canada also has a strong record on human rights for its own citizens (that’s why we exported Celine Dion to the United States).  Thus, I feel much better about sending my money back to Canada where the extraction of the raw materials is (probably) done ethically as opposed to Africa.  Yes, Africans need the money and market opportunities are the best way to do that… but I don’t have confidence that sending my money there will actually get there and instead get distributed to the kleptocrats.

And thus, I buy from the land of the Hippies.  Even ones in San Francisco.

Read Full Post »

I got my tax refund this past week and I deposited it two days ago.  Today, the check cleared.

As I said I was going to do, I donated $1000.00 to the American Red Cross.  I was going to do a direct debit from my bank account, but instead I put it on my credit card.

I wonder what Dave Ramsey would say about that.

Read Full Post »

The other day, my girlfriend and I were in a department store – Target – and were picking some things up.

Now, I have been through this drill enough times to know that my girlfriend has a habit of getting lost and/or distracted whenever we have plenty of things already and are walking back to the checkout counter.  For example, we’ll have everything on our list and will walk back.  We will pass by something-or-other and she’ll say “Oh! We have to look at this!” and then spend 5 minutes looking at it.  To be clear, it is not we who are spending 5 minutes looking at it, it’s only one of us.  It doesn’t even matter what the object is, but with great reliability this disruption on the way back to checkout is frequent occurrence.

In my brilliance I decided to think ahead.  On our list of things to get was a couple of cases of bottled water.  We were getting this for a friend’s party as she was going to hand them out to the homeless.  Thus, we wandered through the aisles getting random doodads, and on the way back we passed by the bottled water.  I picked up two cases of 24 bottles each, giving me a grand total of 48 cases.  48 cases of bottled water is 24 kg, which translated to 53 pounds.  It’s not overly heavy (like half my body weight) but it’s not light.  It’s a struggle to carry it for a long period of time.

Pay attention – we picked these up after we had gotten everything else on the list.  And I made sure that it was obvious that carrying these cases of water was not easy and that we couldn’t dilly-dally.

And it worked!  As we were walking back and I was struggling a bit, my girlfriend got distracted by something or other in another aisle, as is her custom.  “Carol!” I said.  “These things are heavy!”  Realizing that I had been forced to carry 53 lbs of water, she stopped looking at whatever she was looking at and we headed off to the counter.  Making me stand in place and holding these things was clearly a drawback to looking at something that wasn’t very important.

Success!  My plan worked!  The very reason I picked up those heavy bottles is in order to signal to her that stopping by something random on the way out and inspecting it would not work; I couldn’t hold them in place that long.  The only option we had was to head straight to the check out counter and pay for these things so that I could put them down. 

As I was grunting and heaving, carrying these things out of the store, I was impressed by my own cleverness.  You see?  Thinking ahead really does work!

I was chuckling out loud as we were walking out, and she figured out my plan.  But it doesn’t matter, it was a plan that was flawlessly executed.

Read Full Post »

In case you’ve been living in a cave (bin Laden sure wasn’t), news broke last night that Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 terrorist attacks and founder of al Qaeda, was killed by a force of US Navy Seals and CIA operatives.  No sooner had the news broke than political one ups-man-ship began along with people putting their own spin on things:

  • Die hard Democrats started claiming that Obama accomplished what Bush could not.
  • Republicans claimed that Bush started the fight and Obama completed it.
  • Others claiming that we shouldn’t have anything to celebrate because celebrating the death of a person is sick and twisted.
  • Still others claiming that bin Laden was a normal person in need of spiritual redemption, and that we should not rejoice in the stumble of our enemies.

I think that administration officials did a good job in relaying the message when they said that they caught bin Laden and the people behind it did an excellent job in execution.  However, Obama warned that the struggle was not complete.  Indeed, the most reasonable voices out there are saying that the mission is not over.

Here’s my take:

  • Capturing and killing bin Laden is a great achievement for the American intelligence and military community, and even the current administration.  It should be celebrated because it was a goal that was set out ten years ago.
  • The problem is that bin Laden’s inner circle, al Qaeda Prime, has been mostly marginalized for years.  His death is largely symbolic and it remains to be seen whether or not his passing will demoralize others who take action in his name, or he inspires them with his death as a martyr (similar to Che Guavara).  Most elected officials are warning the latter.
  • Even though the Obama administration has stated that this does not mean that they will pull out of Afghanistan (the US is fighting the Taliban which provides sanctuary to terrorists, something the US fears will happen again if they do not defeat them), it will be politically difficult to maintain the operation there.  If the main reason for invading Afghanistan, as sold to the public, was to get those responsible for Sept 11, then with bin Laden dead that justification is no longer there.  Political opponents will exploit that fact, whether it be Republican or Democrat.
  • The US will have a lot of questions for Pakistan.  For years, the US has accused the Pakistani ISI of supporting the Taliban.  That’s the reason why they didn’t share their intel with Pakistan and acted alone – they thought that Pakistani intelligence would tip off bin Laden.  Pakistani officials denied for years that bin Laden was within their borders, but he was – only a couple of hours north from the capital in a large compound, not in the caves on the Afghan-Pakistan border like everyone thought.
  • Osama bin Laden knew what he was doing when he launched terrorism attacks, multiple times, against the United States.  There is no need to feel sorry for him.

That’s my take.

Read Full Post »

Well, Lent is over and I have lifted my self-imposed ban on politics.  I ended up banning or thinking about banning almost 20 people.  All but two of them were on the left, and the two on the right were borderline.  One was more libertarian but he posted a link to Reason who’s criticism of the Obama administration is too harsh for my liking.

I don’t understand how I can have so many friends who are so overtly left wing considering that I have a number of friends in the Christian community and those types of folks typically vote conservative.  Yet the ones who are conservative are no where near as militant as my friends on the left – they don’t post links, accuse others of being robots when they disagree, don’t make extreme analogies, and so forth.  They are much more tolerant of other people’s ideas – given differing political views – than anyone on the left that I encountered.

But yet I can’t make generalizations because there is no consistent pattern.  Back when I used to spend a lot of time browsing Christian discussion boards, there were equally as many mean and nasty people who advocated Christian positions.  These people were right wing (but we didn’t discuss politics).  I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter what the subject is – if you’re a jerk in real life, you’ll bring that baggage with you to politics or religion.  And your jerkiness will reflect in your comments and online persona even if you’re an otherwise nice person in real life.

One of the best books I ever read on stock investing was The Dick Davis Digest.  In the book, Dick Davis would talk about stocks but he would always provide the good points about a company and the bad points.  For example, Apple is a super hot stock that executes well.  But what would happen if a competitor came along and built a better iPod and iPad?  Or two tech companies got together and squeezed out Apples?  It was the balance that gained Davis a wide following and earned him respect.

I never see that in any of the articles my friends post on Facebook.  Not once.  And as I have learned in the past 10 years, everyone has a self serving bias; they will ignore the faults and inadequacies in their own positions and beliefs and play up and exaggerate the ones in their opponents (I do the same thing, in case you haven’t noticed).

A friend of mine recently posted a link to an anti-Conservative web page about all the things that were wrong with the Canadian Conservative government.  I posted a response saying that the article was biased, along with the links to it.  Someone else responded back saying that I was a Conservative robot and what I said was bullshit.

The article was one-sided; all it did was take a bunch of things that the Conservative government did without providing the context.  Why was a particular government program canceled?  Did they run out of funding?  Was it merged into another branch of government?  Was the funding conditional to begin with?

The government of Canada ran a deficit in 2010 whereas the Liberals previously ran a surplus.  This, too, is out of context because the last three years have seen the world’s worst recession since the 1930’s.  Of course government revenues are down.  Accusations like that without providing a counterbalance are biased, and that’s my point.  Instead, my friends accuse me of being a partisan hack.

My ultimate take away from this experiment is that I have very few friends whose political opinions I can trust.  When investing, I ignore a lot of the noise and do my own research; I have a few trusted sources of information.  It looks like I will need to do the same in politics and read the actual sources of data itself rather than relying upon my peers filter it for me properly.

Read Full Post »