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Archive for June, 2011

Perceptions

Recently, my girlfriend has been threatening to take me hiking on overnight trips.  I think this means that I have to carry a bunch more stuff with me on my back for a thousand mile journeys.  Apparently people consider this fun.

Anyhow, when I talked to her about it, I said “You just want me to train in preparation for New Zealand because you think I’m fat and out of shape.”

She then replied “I don’t think you’re fat!”

To which I said “I noticed you only denied one of those things I mentioned…”

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Man, did you ever have one of those days where you get up late and just can’t seem to get anything done? Well, today was the opposite of that.

I ended up getting up late today and did not really get going until 11:30. It was then that my girlfriend and I went down to Renton to meet up with her family for brunch at noon. We got out of there two jours later. You’d be tempted think that a large part of the day was now drained.

You’d be wrong.

From there, we went to a store in Bellevue and rented a tuxedo for myself and set aside reservations for the rest of my wedding party groomsmen.

Next, we headed on over to Redmond to check out a bridal store. I also picked up mail from my PO box.

After, we went to Bed Bath and Beyond and spent some money that some people from our in Winnipeg gave us. We bought some kitchen stuff, a bed chair pillow and a large garbage can that does a great job of covering the smell. Oh, yes, we also bought a paper towel thing to hold them.

Then, we headed on over to Home Depot to look at a couple of thing: flooring, because I want to redo my floors, and kitchen counters and cupboards because I don’t like mine.

We then headed on over to Target to buy some random things for my girlfriend.

After, we stopped by DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) for some reason, as we walked in, looked around and then exited.

From there, we went to Half Price Books where we picked up some thank-you cards and a guest book for the wedding.

We then headed over to Flavor Bakery where we decided to get them to make a wedding themed sheet cake for us, and we decided to put our own design on it.

Finally, we headed to QFC where we picked up some food – cod, salad and soup – whereupon we returned back to my place and consumed said food.

Not bad, methinks. I consider that a successful day.

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More tools of the trade

Continuing on from my previous post about tools of trade, the common thread running through my hobbies is that I try to minimize the amount of stuff I have.  This works for stock trading, but not for magic.  I am always getting magic stuff.  Come to think of it, I am also always reading trading books.  Anyhow, here are my other hobbies.

Dancing

Ballroom dancing is something I picked up in late 2007.  All I need for dancing are a pair of dancing shoes and a bag to keep them in.  That’s it.  I require nothing else other than lessons and a place to go dancing.

Dancing is great because you can do it wherever there is a place where there is music and you don’t have to feel like a self-conscious dope whenever others are out there doing stuff.  I can do several dances either reasonably well or enough to get by.  I have no interest in competing, only going out socially.  I will admit that over the past year my attendance at the dance studio has dropped substantially.  But I still go out when I can and I enjoy it.

Hiking

This is a hobby I started last year (in 2010), and I got into it because my girlfriend dragged me into it.  There are lots of different hikes you can do in and around Seattle. I had no idea about any of them a year ago.

We go out hiking on a regular basis (more than we go dancing).  If my girlfriend doesn’t go out once every five days, she gets antsy.  You might say “Do you go hiking during the week?”  No, we don’t.  “So you only go on weekends?”  Yes.  “But the weekends 7 days apart, and your girlfriend gets antsy every 5 days.”  Yup.

Hiking requires more equipment if you want to do it right.  While you can get away with wearing runners, I have a pair of hiking boots.  I also have a set of hiking poles (come in useful when my girlfriend has picked a hill that goes straight up and then claims “Gee, I didn’t realize it was so steep!”… Whatever).  Other things you need are a backpack, a hat, and sunglasses.  All of that stuff I already had.  My girlfriend brings her own water bottle but I usually just buy a couple of bottles of water.

In terms of snacks, I really like beef jerky.  I also bring along Luna bars, or as I call them, “loser” bars (heh, heh, heh).  Sometimes we bring along sandwiches that we make at home and then eat them on the trail.

The minimum I like to go hiking for is six miles.  Anything shorter than that and I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything.  However, 8 miles is starting to get difficult.

I’m really not in any better shape than most of my friends.  I’m not overweight but I’m not a marathon runner or anything.  Still, I like the exercise that I get on the trail.  However, I must confess that sometimes my mind starts to randomly wander after I’ve been up in the mountain for a long time.  I could probably dictate my memoirs if I had the right equipment.

 

Well, those are the main hobbies I can think of.  In a future post I will describe my tips for traveling abroad.

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Rent-a-cat is gone

Well, the rental cat is gone.

He used to hang out back behind the neighbor’s place.  They had a couple of chairs out there with cushions on them and that’s where he would hang out with his friend, Black Cat.  When I would come home I go out and look for him, and that’s where he’d be. He’d casually stroll into my place and request some food.

I don’t know if the neighbor owned him or not.  He belonged to one of my neighbors but I thought it was the one upstairs (since that’s where Rent-a-cat would go early on).  But my neighbor is getting foreclosed upon.  I saw her moving her stuff out one day.  And in the past two or three days, I haven’t seen Rent-a-cat anywhere, so now I no longer have a furry feline to harass when I am bored.

I knew this might happen.  He actually belonged to someone else until such time as he would be given away to a lady who was going to take him when her other cat died or some other event happened (I forget the details).  But at the same time, this leaves me open to possibly getting my own cat. My girlfriend constantly flip/flops between wanting to own a cat – When are we getting a cat? (10 minutes later) We’re not getting a cat.  (Repeat every single day).

So long, Rent-a-cat.  “Owning” you was an interesting experience.

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Tools of the trade

My girlfriend and I (she is actually my fianceé but it is a pain to type the letter é every time; after we are married I will upgrade her to wife but until then it is girlfriend.  If you don’t like it, start your own blog) met up with a friend of ours who is making up our customized wedding invitations.  We weren’t going to be too extravagant with these, but I have to say that our friend did a fantastic job and they look great.

Anyhow, she brought a long a bunch of doodads as she is a graphic designer. They were really handy tools to have.

It got me to thinking about what sort of handy dandy tools I have in any of my own hobbies.  I have a few of them, so here they are in no particular order:

Magician

I have been studying magic since 1994 when I saw a magician at a church picnic, although I got my first magic trick (the cups and balls) at a birthday party a few years before that.

As a magician, I have gone through a few stages.  I have wanted to do larger physical illusions, did close up magic for a number of years, and am currently on a mentalism kick. 

Due to my time spent doing street magic, I had to economize my toolset.  I couldn’t bring large illusions with me because I didn’t want to drag them around like other street performers.  I also had to be careful about what tricks I wanted to do because being outdoors, light props would blow away in the wind. 

My own particular personality is such that I lean heavier towards sleight-of-hand.  I got into sleights in the late 1990’s and have stuck with them ever since.  I have tended to shy away from gimmicked props (such as a trick deck).  I have a few gimmicked props but rarely use them.  The reason is that the number of tricks I can do with them are small, and if I ever don’t have it with me, my repertoire is limited. 

Conversely, with sleight-of-hand, I can do a whole routine with a coin or an ordinary deck of cards.  If I don’t have these items on me, I borrow them.  The ability to do impromptu magic is one of my favorite qualities about my style of magic.  True, I do require some special props but my favorite routines are the ones where the objects are normal and can survive inspection.

Mentalism is a different genre.  It leans heavier towards misdirection and less towards sleight-of-hand.  However, many of the effects that I do use sleights.  And if they don’t require them, I frequently toss them in.  People will often attempt to reverse engineer some of my effects but the reality is that this is a fruitless effort – I use some sleights that I perfected from my close up days and therefore catching me out is difficult.

I like to use cards, coins and post-it notes.  Those are my favorite props. Sometimes I have to modify them in order to make them work better, but they always survive inspection.  Nowadays, all of my props fit into four boxes at home.  That’s considerably less than a few years ago when I had larger things when I wanted to do larger illusions.  Luckily, mentalism packs small but plays big.

Stock Trader

As an amateur stock trader, I have very few tools of the trade.  I have read a ton of books and consider them all valuable, but at this point I try to execute on what I already know because I get fewer and fewer returns with new information.

I only use the following pieces of information:

  • A stock charting program, TC2000, which I use to view charts of stocks.
  • My broker, Scottrade, which I use to buy and sell stocks.
  • I read three blogs about trading.
  • I read five or six other sites about financial information.

I have found that with trading, more is not better.  For the most part, the market moves either up, down or sideways.  If I trade more, I just lose more money and so following the major trends is what works for me.  If the market is going up, I go long and ride it.  If it is in a bear market, I go short.  If it is sideways, I hold on.  Attempts to hop in and out are wrought with failure.

I spend a long time doing research for each stock.  I used to spend two hours a day doing research, now it is closer to 2-3 hours per week.  Usually, before I buy something, I have been tracking it for a few weeks to a few months.  I have a few pretty good indicators of market turning points from down to up, but not nearly as many from up to down.

Still, by simplifying my strategy, I have greatly improved my trading in 2011 compared to 2010, 2009 and 2008.

 

Well, I was going to write about a couple of more things, but that will have to wait for a future post.

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For the past few months, the condo complex where I live, and which I am a board member, has been grappling with the idea of replacing the roofs on an accelerated schedule.  We were going to do it over a period of 5 years, but now we have to do it over a period of 3 years.  The roofs are falling apart (so I hear) and we have been told we have to replace them.

We voted to have a special assessment done.  In plain English, this means that everyone has to pay a certain amount to bump up the funds in the reserves so the homeowner association can pay for them.  We looked at ways to weasel out of this, but the fact of the matter is that we have to do this.

Since I’m on the board, I voted to do this.  It hits me just like it hits everyone else, and the total cost that I will have to pay is a little less than $4000.  If I were renting this place out, this would make me really mad.  However, since I am now living in it, it’s not so bad.  I just say “Well, at least I’m not renting it out.”  Half of it is due next March (2012) and the rest due next Sept (2012).

The downside to this is that I cannot write this off on my taxes.  That was the good thing about renting out the unit – stuff that I normally have to absorb I could at least get a “discount” on because I could deduct it.  A $4000 payment is more like $3000.

Even though I have 9 months to pay half the money, I plan on doing it as soon as I can to avoid having this hanging over my head for the foreseeable future. 

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If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen the movie Supersize Me, by Morgan Spurlock.  In the film, Spurlock decided to eat at McDonald’s every day for a month, eating everything on the menu.  He gained 30 lbs and felt awful.  He also criticized the company for marketing to kids and contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Two weeks ago, I watched the movie Fathead.  This is a documentary by comedian Tom Naughton.  He, too, decides to go on a fast-food diet but with some modifications: he doesn’t eat the French Fries and instead drinks diet sodas instead of regular Cokes.  His results were different – at the end of 30 days, he lost weight, his cholesterol and triglyceride levels were better and he was healthier.  As a result of going on a fast food diet his health improved.

The movie Fathead turns weight loss on its head.  The main points of the movie are the following:

  • Spurlock’s claims are spurious.  Nobody forces anyone to eat as fast food places.
  • There is no obesity epidemic in America.  We are getting heavier but it is not because of fast food. 
  • The reason we get fat is not because we eat too much food and then fail to burn it off; it is because the foods we eat trigger hormones which cause us to get fat.

The last point is the most controversial.  Everyone knows that weight loss is simple mathematics.  Eat too much and you get fat.  Eat less than you burn and you lose weight.  Simple.

But it’s wrong.  That is not what happens.  The reason we gain weight is because of the hormone insulin.  Basically, when insulin is released into our blood stream, it tells our body how to break down the food energy we have put into it.  Too much insulin tells our bodies to store food energy as fat. 

And that’s pretty much it.  This means that there are some people that are predisposed to being heavier because their bodies produce more insulin than skinny people.

That’s not to say that diet doesn’t have something to do with it, as in the case of Type II diabetes.  The foods we eat have an affect on our insulin levels.  When we consume food that raise our blood sugar levels, our pancreas (or liver, I forget which) releases lots of insulin.  Eating lots of donuts and candy?  The liver releases lots of insulin which tells our body to store the food as fat.

Sugar makes our bodies release lots of insulin, but so does white bread, rice, and potatoes.  When we eat those foods, we are eating foods that have a propensity to make us fat.

So what about calories?  Don’t they count?  Sort of.  But depriving yourself of calories is not a good way to lose weight.  The reason is that our bodies have ways of compensating for calorie depletion.  If you are not eating enough food, then the body realizes what you are doing and starts to slow you down to conserve energy.  Thus, you feel tired and sluggish because you are eating less.  How do you shrug off that tired feeling?  By eating more.

My brother-in-law was at a barbecue recently and we were having pork.  Before deciding to eat another piece, he wanted to know the caloric content of the meat.  That really isn’t necessary because the body is perfectly capable of breaking down meat; it contains plenty of protein.  But the body is not capable of breaking bread, rice, potatoes or soda.  I don’t bother counting calories, I just know which foods are not good for me (I rarely eat sugary goods but I love bread and potato salad).

According to Fathead, people do not gain weight because they are eating more.  Instead, they eat more because they are gaining weight.  Because your body is storing food energy as fat, it is not getting the energy it needs from normal food levels.  This causes hunger which causes us to eat.  We are not lazy and sluggish naturally, we are lazy and sluggish because it is our body’s way of conserving energy.

After watching the movie, and assuming that it is correct, I can now eat McDonald’s burgers in peace – I just don’t have any Fries.

I can live with that.

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