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Archive for January, 2012

I have a theory.

This theory is based on personal observation.  I have a lot of friends who are hyper-political.  They love to post articles that build caricature portraits of their political opponents, ridicule those caricatures, and then congratulate themselves for being so enlightened.

Nearly all of these friends are left-wingers, although as I understand, people who watch Fox News (or at least post articles in support of it) are similar.  I wouldn’t know, I don’t watch Fox News and have never watched it.  But the point is, there are people who occupy the far left and the far right.

My friends on the far left decry Fox News as right-wing outlet that occupies the far right and drag otherwise normal people from the center (or possibly the left) to the far right.  By contrast, conservatives think that people like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the New York Times draw people from the center and right over to the far left.

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After having observed everyone’s confirmation bias and that politics contributes to people’s self-actualization, and that there are a lot of people that just aren’t interested in politics, I don’t think that the the above diagram is accurate.

Instead, there are just crazy people on the left, and crazy people on the right, and the entertainment industry caters to them.  There’s a market for people who enjoy sports, and ESPN broadcasts every type of sporting event.  There’s a market for people who like home renovation products and HGTV caters to them.  There’s a market history wonks, and the the Discovery or History channel is for them.

There are crazy people on the left who believe crazy things, and there are crazy people on the right who believe weird things.  Media responds.  They are not creating the demand, they are responding to it.

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That’s how I see it.  People seek out media outlets that conform to their own ideology, and media outlets are happy to fill in that gap.  They don’t need to drag people over because there are plenty of people already there, happy to be part of the choir that wants to be preached to.

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As I was saying in my previous post, I nearly froze to death in Bath on December 8, 2001, because I was street performing in clothing unsuited to the climate.  It was fun doing shows but the cold weather made it too difficult to do more than one show.

Afterwards, me and another street performer decided to go to a pub and get something to eat.

The street performer culture is… interesting.  The people are not well off and nobody makes a ton of money.  Your clothes are all raggedy, you have to drag all of your stuff around and it gets beaten up; it’s not that comfortable a life.  But you do have freedom.

Oh, sweet, sweet freedom.

Anyhow, my friend’s name was Herbie Treehead.  I think this is his website but I’m not really sure.  The pictures on the website look like him but I haven’t seen him in 10 years.

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Herbie had kind of a clown act and did a little bit of magic and some juggling.  He showed me some of the ropes and I looked up to him as a performer, although I didn’t care for his lifestyle (as in, mine was too comfortable and I didn’t want to give it up).  I met his son a couple of times and he was a good dad.

I remember that Herbie gave me some feedback on my shows.  I can’t remember anything he said except the following:

  • I should incorporate the use of a magic wand into my show and use it like a real magical prop, the way that Harry Potter does.

  • Some of the things I did in my show were “f**king hilarious.”  I can’t remember what those things were.  He was probably referring to my witty jokes which the wife laughs at all the time.

Herbie and I both finished our shows and decided to call it day and headed down to a pub for some food and some warmth.  I don’t remember what I ordered but the two of us started talking.

During the conversation he says to me “Terry, why don’t you go to Australia?”

“Huh?” I said.

“Take your magic stuff and go to Australia.  And New Zealand.  Go on the road street performing!”

I was taken aback.  Go on the road, performing street magic?  Me!?!  I’m just a white Canadian kid from the prairies who was unemployed.  I couldn’t do something like that!  The very idea of traveling like that scared me.

“Yeah, go around the world.  Go to the far east, southeast Asia – or skip it – and go to Australia and New Zealand.  Then go to the States and then come back here.  Go around the world!”

I didn’t know what to say.  Go to Australia? (As I type this, I am getting really giddy recalling the conversation).  Could I do it?  I didn’t know!  The idea was so very enticing!

We continued chatting and he explained that I should take my street magic stuff with me and if anyone at Customs stopped me and asked me, I should say that it was a hobby.  That was true enough.  He explained that there was a buskers festival in Adelaide in March, 2002 (which I have always wanted to return to).

At one point I excused myself to the bathroom, prompting Herbie to roll his eyes and I corrected myself with “toilet.”  I came back, we finished up, and we left.  But the idea was stuck in my head – go to Australia performing street magic.  What an awesome idea!

I went home, toying with the idea.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go or not.  I was scared to travel by myself but I didn’t think anyone from my friends would come with me (they being too poor or had jobs).  I thought about asking another magician friend of mine, but then snapped out of it saying “He wouldn’t come.”  And he probably wouldn’t have, either.  I was on my own.

But by Monday night, I had pretty much decided that I was going to do it.  I didn’t make the formal decision to announce it until a week or two later, but in my mind I had decided to go because I started researching Round-The-World tickets.  It wasn’t that expensive back then, I think my total flight for seven stops around the world (London –> Singapore –> Melbourne –> Sydney –> Auckland –> Los Angeles –> Toronto –> London) was $2000.

The good thing about getting laid off in Europe is that they pay you money with a redundancy package. I got a nice payout and so I had the money to travel.  I was unemployed, was not in a relationship, and could go to the southern hemisphere and perform on the street again, scratching that itch!  There was no reason not to go!

Then, on January 28, 2002, I left England for my 3-month trip around the world.

And that’s the story of the time I went to Australia the first time, and travel the world.  It wasn’t even my idea, it was someone else’s.

It’s possibly the best advice I have ever received.

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Remember back when I was talking about the time I got laid off from my job?  Well, this is a follow up to that.

In the fall of 2001, it was tough slogging.  It was only 22 years old without a lot of experience, the dot com bust was in the middle of bursting, and I was a foreigner living in a country where if any employer wanted me, I had to have a work visa.

And I was unemployed.

Those days got kind of boring sometimes because I was trying to save money.  I also quickly suffered from demotivation.  I spent some of those days waking up later in the morning, watching TV for two hours and then wandering around town.  I would apply to as many jobs as I could and got a couple of interviews, but nothing panned out  I wondered what I was going to do because I sure didn’t have any leads.

During the summer of that year, I had started street performing magic.  I never made a lot of money at it and I struggled mightily at it (the most difficult job I ever had).  I don’t have the personality for it because you have to be really loud and boisterous and that just isn’t my personality.  I never really got the hang of that, and I still can’t do it (it has possibly gotten worse).

But still, week after week, I took the train ride from Chippenham to Bath, dragging all of my magic stuff with me on Saturdays, and would perform a show or two. I didn’t make much money but I got really good at sleight-of-hand.

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It was tough going during those shows.  I didn’t get many people to stop and when I did, I could rarely get them to sit through and watch an entire show.  After various tricks there is a natural “break” in the show and I was never good at retaining people.  I got the hang of drawing a crowd but not at retaining them for 30 minutes.

Or maybe I wasn’t that good a performer back then.  Who knows?

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Yep, these pictures are 11 years old!

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Anyhow, it was October and it turned into November and the weather started getting cold.  Now, I grew up in Winnipeg where it’s winter 9 months a year so I know what cold weather is like. However, winter in England is different.  It’s wet over there, and when the weather gets to just above the freezing point, you really feel the cold weather.  It gets inside of you and it takes forever to warm up.  That’s what England is like in the winter.

My only source of income during that time was street performing, and that wasn’t very much at all.  But I did enjoy performing if only for the reason that I liked getting better as a magician.  The problem is the weather was getting cold.  You see my picture above and I am in a shirt-and-tie; my performing costume was the same except I also wore the suit jacket to this ensemble.  This makes it too hot in the summer and not warm enough in the winter.  Yet that’s what performers do – anything to improve the quality of the show.

My last performance was in mid-November and I was prepared to put my cards away for the winter.  But on the second weekend in December, the 8th, I decided to get my stuff out and go performing one more time.  I missed it.  Even though it was cold outside, the itch to perform was too strong to resist and so that weekend, I went down to the town of Bath and set up in front of the Roman Baths to put on my final magic show of the season.

And nearly froze to death.

I don’t remember what I performed that day except for one trick, and that it was nearly impossible to perform.  Back in those days, I performed a routine where I had four red balls appear and disappear in my hands.  There’s a clip of it on YouTube a few years later when I performed in my basement on a snow day.

Anyhow, the trick requires a lot of manual dexterity to get the proper placement of the props in small amounts of time.  But because it was so cold, my hands seized up. I couldn’t move them quickly and I had to slow the trick waaaaaaay down.  By the time I was done, my hands were red and I had to get inside.

It was so cold that day!

More in my next post.

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If I weren’t married, I’d have a new car by now.

Way back at the very end of 2006, the last day of the year, I decided to get a new car.  And by new, I mean “a couple of years old.”

My then-car was still in driveable condition and I had put some repairs into it earlier that year.  Yet as is my strategy for selling stocks, it’s better to sell too early than too late.  Ergo, it only made sense for me to get a different vehicle.

Fast forward five years and I believe that it is time for me to get a different vehicle even though my current one is still in good condition.  Why?  Well, because it’s in good condition.  It’s better too sell too early than too late.

But the wife won’t let me get one.

I won’t even get a Lexus.  I’d stick with a Japanese car but not a Honda (they have some annoying features).  And I won’t buy an American-made car, either.  No, thank-you.

But I’m still not allowed to get one.

The wife plans to drive her car until it dies.  And after that, she plans to get a new car.  A real new car, not one that is only a couple of years old.  However, I veto that decision.  Under no circumstances would I buy a new car.  Why?  Because as soon as you drive it off the lot your resale value for it drops by 20% (this is not completely true but it’s mostly true).  This implies that the car is completely overvalued.

If you’re going to buy something that is going to go to zero, then get it a better rate with a slower churn down to nothing.  And that’s why I say “No new cars.”  A couple of years old with minimal mileage is acceptable.

Dave Ramsey and I agree on something.

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The wife and I have differing views on how to optimize for money.  I try to optimize around the big things whereas she optimizes around the small things.

For example, when we were in New Zealand, she wanted to rent a car for three days near the end of our trip so we could do our own thing.  This would cost approximately $340 (USD) after all the applicable fees and fuel costs (gas is 1.75 times more expensive in New Zealand).  Yet when we out wandering around, I wanted to buy a small jar of mayonnaise for $4 for sandwiches since we were just buying groceries from the store.

She balked at that.  “I don’t want to waste $4 on a jar of mayonnaise that we’ll have to throw out!”

“Right,” I said.  “We spend $500 on a car yet $4 on mayo is a waste of money.  Uh huh.”

Like that makes sense.

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One of the great things about Mint is how it tracks your spending.  How did I do against my goals in 2011?

Pretty good!

Here’s the pie chart of where my money went (cash withdrawals are lumped into Other):

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  • My goal in 2011 was to give more money to charity.  I didn’t have a goal other than I wanted to give more.  While it didn’t constitute 10% of my income, it did comprise 10% of my spending.

    The problem is that Gifts – to people – is lumped into charitable donations.  That overstated my charitable giving which I don’t like.  I may have to find another category to toss Gifts into.

    The good news here is that Charity and Gifts were my third largest expense!  I guess that shows where my priorities are.

  • Speaking of my priorities, Travel was my #2 expense.  However, business travel was lumped into that, and that things. 
  • Housing was my #1 cost which is no surprise, and Taxes (property tax) should be tossed into this.  The problem with housing is that it never goes down in price.  Except for me in 2012 because it will go down in price for a couple of reasons:

    1) I won’t have to pay to exercise an escape clause from renting my apartment.

    2) I won’t have to pay to have the roof of my condo redone since I already paid it in 2011.

  • The bulk of the remainder of my expenses were wedding expenses, health care costs and transportation.  There’s not a lot I can do about those.

Overall, my spending in 2011 was pretty good.  There’s some room for improvement but I have plans to work on them.

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We’ve all seen snow.  When water goes up into the atmosphere and it gets too cold, it falls as snow.  When it gets warm, it melts.  Easy, right?

But why does snow melt faster when it rains?  I always thought that the rain washes the snow away by breaking it up or something.  But as it turns out, one reason why rain helps snow melt is because when it falls and hits the snow, it creates a small amount of heat from the friction.  This heat helps to melt it faster.

I bet you learned something new today.

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