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News, Updates, & Rants...
Beh!...there goes my crazy plan of going to mnt.washington (and/or katahdin) this upcoming weekend. There are apparently avalance warnings on mnt.washington, and katahdin trails are closed until all the snow melts :-/
- Alex; Thu May 16 08:05:35 EDT 2013
May 16th at wikipedia...
Japan: Is Abenomics working?. I had to lookup what Abenomics is. So much for not paying attention; I didn't even realize `yen falling 29% against the dollar since November'... This is some experiment. Hmm... Maybe a cheap time to visit Japan...
Georgia Tech Announces Massive Online Master's Degree In Computer Science. This is just a moneh grab by the educators. I mean really... $7k for... online courses? Hmm... On the other hand, someone who learns the materials for the degree, can then charge $5k everyone else to do the course work for them. After all, with this scheme, 1 person can literally be in 100s virtual classrooms (all teaching the same subject!) at the same time.
And in gruesome news, on a hike to Mnt.Marcy last February, I froze my toes... one of the nails just fell off :-/
- Alex; Wed May 15 08:04:44 EDT 2013
In other news, finally got first ticket. 3 years after I got car. Entered intersection on yellow (was going a bit too fast to stop on a dime), light turned red in middle, and... saw a red-light camera flash behind me :-/
- Alex; Thu May 9 08:06:02 EDT 2013
Probably caught a cold/flu or something during teh travels; feeling a bit under the weather the last few days.
In other news: [pix from Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting]. No pix from actual meeting (no cameras allowed during interesting bits); just before/after pix. Might as well post: [link to all albums].
- Alex; Wed May 8 17:06:24 EDT 2013
The Delta flight was delayed yet-again. Departure time 10:30pm. Delta gave everyone $50 certificate for the delay. Barely made it to Kansas in time to rent car (Budget closes at 1am; I got there 15 minutes to 1!). Budget also completely ran out of cars except for half a dozen odd-ball models (the rental parking lot was literally empty). They upgraded me to a Ford F150 (the other choices were either a minivan, or an actual fullsized van).
Drove to Omaha, with a nice relaxing nap at a rest stop. When I got to Omaha with-just-enough-time, apparently that whole area grinds to a standstill around 7am-ish---so spent half an hour in traffic driving perhaps only two city blocks. There was surprisingly plenty of free parking (the traffic to the paid parking lot---just 1 block difference in walking). So I parked free without any hassle.
The doors to the meeting were supposed to be open at 7am (so I timed my arrival to coincide with around 7am-ish), but this year they opened them at 6:30am, and everyone seems to have rushed in and grabbed the good seats (no fair, I was gonna rush in and grab a good seat!).
Anyways, after grabbing free breakfast (~1k calories of sugary and caffeine stuffs), went over to the `best' seating area, and managed to find 1 spot. It's on the left side of the stage, and close enough to see faces of board members.
The presentation was pretty neat. No free candy, but funny and insightful as last year. The movie was pretty funny too (buffet wants to be the evil terminator in the terminator 5 movie, and arnold thinks it's the stupidest idea of all time, and instead picks charlie to be the evil terminator :-). Then the Y-M-C-A song parody only with B-R-K-A-B-R-K-B and other clever commentary for words. Questions ranged from developments in various places (EU, etc.), low Fed interest rates (and what it means overall), berkshire valuations, share repuchases, aquisitions, ideas for stuffs, etc. It's not something I can summarize in a paragraph.
Will likely go again next year.
Aftre the presentation went to the shopping place and contributed to BRK profits a bit. Geico is my favorite desk: they sell all sorts of neat things, and take a free pic of you with the lizard.
Then onto the cookout at the Nebraska Furniture Mart... and shareholder disconts on stuff at NFM.
And that's pretty much it. Back to Kansas airport, and now drinking spiked orange juice and typing this; flight won't board for another hour or so.
- Alex; 20130504
This is the future of gaming: Turbulenz WebGL Engine using Quake 4 assets. Not nessasarily Turbulenz, but the whole idea... you go to website, click, and play a full blown 3D game. If there's stuff to download, your browser manages that (e.g. a few features built into a web-browser, and no reason for things like steam or itunes to even exist).
And... Epic Citadel.
Feh, the 6pm flight got delayed until 10:15 :-/ Flying out to Omaha, Nebraska tonight. I hope. Delta sux.
And in other news, I'm now on twitcher: Follow @profphreak.
- Alex; Fri May 3 17:46:05 EDT 2013
ECB cuts rates to new low as recovery fades. Hmm... The problem is leverage. If I have $10 worth of bets behind every $1, the economy is operating on $10, and when I start deleveraging the money supply shrinks by 10x... at that point, even low interest rates won't help. In the last decades, folks have been increasingly leveraging the money supply for all sorts of crazy things (that has a tendency of increasing money supply by several orders of magnitude---life is good when there's more money everyday), and now with slowing economy, some of those positions are unraveling: It's either a horrible deflation (where about 10 other folks are desperate for your $1; and businesses are failing since there's literally no money around), or horrible inflation (0% interest rates won't do; the money supply needs to expand tenfold to make any meaningful impact). The US Fed is on the case---they're buying up as much as they can; just keeping pace with the unraveling of leverage, but even they realize that's not enough. ... and the best part: the folks who benefit most are exactly the folks who caused the problem in the first place: the leveraged positions are very lucrative when the money supply complies and actually increases.
- Alex; Thu May 2 08:06:12 EDT 2013
Went to hike a bit around Sams Point. The ice-caves were unfortunately closed (due to too much ice :-).
- Alex; 20130427
Finished reading The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics by Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky. Guess nobody warned these folks about ``every equation in the book the readership would be halved'' principle, since this book is full of equations! And not the easy kind either!
My next book is... re-reading this book. Then probably re-read it again after that. In short, this book is amazing. A huge bulk of the book went right over my head (bare minimum indeed!). I didn't struggle this much with Feynman's lecture books. I know differentiation, but some use just... went from easy to magic a bit too suddenly.
This book does an amazing job at summarizing what makes for a law of physics, how it ties into symmetries, how symmetries are equivalent to conservation laws (in fact, all of the laws are just paths that conserve some quantities; energy, momentum, etc.). It's really like magic---you see math working out physics laws. In physics courses I've taken, you take some quantities, plug'em into equations, and get an answer. In this book, you learn the source of those equations, and why they have the form they do---and that they're all very similar. Now, the way it goes about doing this was a bit too technical for me to appricate on the first reading... calculus of variation isn't my cup of tea. But that's probably correctable via a second reading (I hope).
- Alex; Thu Apr 25 00:47:56 EDT 2013
Finished reading The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - but Some Don't by Nate Silver. Not a bad book. Not great, but definitely not bad. Talks about various aspects of predictable things and why they're predictable, and unpredictable things, and why they're unpredictable, even with lots of data. For example, weather is predictable (like tomorrow's temperatures), since roughly we have a good grasp of the model, and uncertainties---so more computing power and data helps us get progressively more accurate temperatures. Earthquake and terrorism is a different kind of area, where we don't have a good model (we can predict likelyhood of magnitude), and more data often acts as noise, without contributing towards better understanding of the model. For example, we can say "there will be so many magnitude 5 earthquakes this year around the world" but can't predict exactly where one will strike. Same with terrorism: we can say that there's a good chance that around N humans will die from terrorism this year, but exactly where and how that will happen is beyond us. And once it happens, it doesn't help us in predicting the next event.
- Alex; Sun Apr 21 17:27:28 EDT 2013
Booked trip to Omaha, Nebraska for first weekend of May, and to Utah for last weekend of May [wanna go Zion national park to hike Angels Landing; then visit Capitol Reef and do some hike there, and perhaps great basin national park, if there's time].
- Alex; Thu Apr 18 08:02:42 EDT 2013
Social Security: Many pay more in taxes than they'll get back. Uh, oh! But...isn't this exactly how taxes work? (and supposed to work?, e.g. you pay what you can, you get what you need). And what about those folks who drop dead at 65? This is yet another article biased towards "retirement savings accounts" that lots of folks are trying to turn SS into. Why? Because there's LOTS of moneh to be made.
Right now, there are a few major participants in the market: private funds (rich dudes, holding corporations/hedge funds, etc. strategically holding stuff long term; generating money by swings in the market and perhaps a bit of proprietary knowledge), trading funds (tactically holing stuff short term; generating money by clever buying/selling; the middleman), induhvidual investors (generally stupid short/long term investors who hand over their money to strategic and tactical investors), and institutional funds (corps that manage large retirement funds, etc.). [there are also the corps trying to raise capital, but they're tiny by comparison].
For the most part, retirement/pension funds buy into the position and sit on it for decades. Bulk of the money in the market is tied up in those. Just consider retirement/pension fund for a modest corporation, say MTA (new york city `public' transportation)... lets say they have 100k workers (I have no idea whether this is anywhere correct), each with a pension perhaps averaging 100k (young workers, old workers, etc.; again, have no idea of accuracy). In any case, that's $100B right there! Yes, they might have 10k workers, average account could be higher/lower, but in any case, we get into billions pretty quickly. Consider that this is just 1 of many such corporations in the COUNTRY, and you realize that a TON of money is ``out there'' but is untouchable by private funds or traders.
So what would a privatized social security look like? All the current SS funds (again, many many many billions) will be funneled into institutional accounts (e.g. the Fidelities of the world). While that is happening, private funds and traders will have a field day, skimming off billions. Not to mention that such a huge dump of cash into the market would wipe out current investors (and current retirement funds).
- Alex; Mon Apr 15 08:07:52 EDT 2013
OMG: U.S. retail sales decline 0.4% in March, hurt by weakness in electronics and gasoline, government says.
- Alex; Fri Apr 12 09:01:46 EDT 2013
On way to Pike's Peak, noticed a road sign for Great Sand Dunes national park. Since Pike's Peak is open until 3pm, and it's just mr0ning, why not see the sand dunes?
So I get to sand dunes national park, and... it's just huge mountains of sand! With biggest one of them being around ~700 feet high... and I'm wearing sandals... for sand walking... this calls for a hike to the top. An hour or so later, I was at the summit of the biggest seeming sand dune (e.g. ``The "High Dune" is neither the highest in elevation nor the tallest in the park, but it looks that way from the main parking lot.'').
Sand is surprisingly tough to walk on---you take three steps forward, and you slide at least one step back. And for some obscure reason, it's damn cold and very windy. I must've swallowed a ton of sand during that hike---(no face mask on this trip). Yes, you do get sand in your eyes, and shoes :-/
Right after the desert hike, drove to Pike's Peak... and it was even colder up there... 14.1k feet elevation. It was a snow blizzard at times. Just as with Mnt.Washington, I decided to get pizza right at the summit. It was much crappier than Mnt.Washington pizza :-/
After Pike's Peak, stopped by for a walk around Garden of the Gods.
And later, went for dinner at IHOP. I remember a while back I had a very unusual ihop meal consisting of waffles with chicken and icecream, all together. So ordered that. Apprently that was a one-time-thing and isn't one their regular menu, but this IHOP did their best to bring me all the ingridients---I mixed chicken/waffles/icecream/syrup (otherwise known as calories overload, or heart-attack-waiting-to-happen) into one big meal :-)
...and off to the airport.
- Alex; 20130407
Since I kinda screwed up my feet last weekend hiking across the grand canyon, I decided that this trip will be strictly "road trip" with no walking around. To semi-ensure that, I didn't carry any warm clothing (no hat, mittens, socks, etc., and only sandals for footwear).
Arrived in Denver (again). Rental ran out of cheapo cars so gave me an almost new (~1k miles) Chevrolet Captiva (e.g. SUV crossover). First time had backup camera on a rental car (and leather seats, moonroof, etc.).
Drove to Trinity site (first A-bomb test site). Hung around there for a few hours. It's quite a gathering... I'd imagine roads in that area don't get much traffic regularly, since just about every car was turning into the white plains misile range.
After Trinity, drove to Rosswell. Original plan was to visit UFO museum, and then head to Carlsbad caverns, unfortunately those apparently close at 2pm, so no point in going there after that.
So alternate plan is to hang around the desert looking at the night sky. In morning, drive to Pike's Peak (back to Colorado---this is only a 2-day trip).
Then during one of the rest stops on I25 (no-facilitles parking spot), I ran into and discovered a very peculiar thing about the shiny new car. I got into the back seat, pressed the remote "lock car" button, and went for a nap. About an hour later, I wake up, get behind the wheel, attempt to start the car... and the key doesn't turn! (yey, let the fun begin).
Apparently, (as I found out later; after reading the owner's manual cover to cover), the car has the ``immobilizer'' feature. Which is activated when someone tries to start the car with an invalid key... but which invalid key you ask? Apparently, if a valid key is locked inside the car, it is deactivated and will not start the car.
The user manual goes on to say that if a key is deactivated, use the OTHER key. Yah, the one that's on the same exact key ring, was also locked inside the car, and is also deactivated. So that didn't work. The user manual goes on to say more... if both keys are deactivated, contact the dealer.
At that point, I f*cking hated Chevrolet. I still do because of this. What moron came up with the idea of deactivating a valid key??? The car itself is almost perfect (had auto-dimming side mirrors---brights don't blind ya at night), is relatively efficient, etc., but this immobilizer almost ruined my whole trip.
So here I was, in the middle of nowhere-New-Mexico, at 1am, with no phone service, and a locked car (well, the door is unlocked, since I'm in it, but I can't start the damn thing, can't open hood, can't do nutn).
After a lot of headache, and looking for all sorts of workarounds in user manual (only way apparently is to have dealer reset key), I decided to call for roadside assistance. Problem is that there's no mobile phone service... remembering stuff from upstate New York, perhaps there's an emergency phone spaced every 2 miles on the highway (we're talking about I25 here, there's got to be an emergency phone somewhere).
So in my sandals and light clothing, I head out into 40F degree night-time walk-by-the-side-of-the-highway. Walking up the highway (north). It didn't take long for me to start freezing. About an hour later (I'm guessing 2 miles?) and not finding a phone (this is crazy!!! Why can't there be a phone on the highway???!), I decided to turn back and wait for morning. Car may not be perfect, but at least it's warmer than being outside. Perhaps someone else will pull into that rest stop (?).
So I get back to the rest stop, very upset about the whole ordeal; just wasted hours of the trip worrying about this stupid car problem---a problem that shouldn't have existed to begin with (my car, toyota 4runner, also has immobilizer---but it's not as stupid as to disable its own valid keys when they're locked inside).
I get into car, and what the heck, I try to turn the key, and IT TURNS! Car starts!!!
So here's how it works: (pieced together from manual and rental dude): When you lock the key in the car, it is disabled. However, if you subsequently take that key out of the car, and give it "sometime" (definitely longer than a few minutes, perhaps 30?), the car will re-validate that key. (so this is what happened when I went for a walk at night by the side of the highway).
...and I got to see plenty of stars at night!
- Alex; 20130406
Embarking on another one of my crazy trips today: road trip around New Mexico.
- Alex; Fri Apr 5 07:21:58 EDT 2013
As Market Heats Up, Trading Slips Into Shadows. That's perfectly understandable. The article is making out dark pools as somehow bad, however: just about ALL exchanges support dark interest (you can send a large undisplayed pegging order to any exchange). The only thing that makes dark pools even better is that there's less information leakage---if others know there's a "big order sitting there" they can start to bid up the price ahead of it---the big order will naturally follow (peg to new price). Then opposite side orders get to have a field day.
The bad thing about dark pools is their quirky price discovery mechanism. Often they rely on the displayed markets for price. So it's like trading 100m shares at the price that 10k shares discovered---it's much easier to manipulate price of 10k shares than it is of 100m shares... so trading (all trading, displayed and non-displayed) often takes place at less than optimal prices simply because not all shares participate in price discovery.
In other news, it seems I'll be going to Omaha, Nebraska this May :-)
...and to New Mexico tomorrow :-)
- Alex; Thu Apr 4 07:06:15 EDT 2013
Investors still bullish on stocks. Hmm... For one: many investors have no choice. They're the folks who are contributing to their 401k plans, their IRA plans, pensions, etc. They have no way of taking money out without a penalty, and it's still better than paying taxes, so, eh, everyone's buying, 'cause the situation calls for it, not because they think the market will double over the next 7 years.
- Alex; Wed Apr 3 07:58:42 EDT 2013
There's still plenty of time before airplane flight... decided to drive to Canyonlands walking around for a bit there. Though it hurts to walk :-/
Went to the islands-in-the-sky park. There's a nice short hike there, so hopped around rocks there.
Then it's a drive back to Denver...through the Rockies :-)
- Alex; 20130331
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