What I'm Reading
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Wednesday, June 28. 2006
This e-mail requires no explanation or introduction:
Dear Gentlemen of the ECS Building,
(Absolutely no laughing is permitted while reading this message. I’m trying my best to use appropriate wording.)
It has come to my attention from a number of gentlemen that the waterless urinals in ECS present a “backsplash” problem. This is because the urinals are a gel-coated porcelain which repels “liquids” to allow clean and quick drainage into the cartridge which prevents odours. This can also cause backsplash if the “optimal point of usage” is not “aimed at”.
All the urinals will be marked with “target” bees. Yes, little graphic bees like the ones in the urinals on the 6th floor. This is the worldwide target “symbol” I have been told by people who travel extensively. Please don’t ask me why as I do not know. Apparently there is some geometry involved in these urinals and the bees will help. I really do understand the issues and I hope we can resolve them.
(I can hear some of you laughing!!!!!)
You might be interested in know that these same urinals are used in the Taj Mahal and lots of other ‘impressive places”……so they should work for us in ECS. For more information please visit the manufacturer’s web site at http://www.falconwaterfree.com/flash.htm as it is quite useful.
Call me old fashion, but I prefer good old fashion American-made urinals that requires water to flush as opposed to water-free. Give me an American Standard any day. Green technology is kinda gross.
However, if we get fair tickets for everytime we hit the urinal bees, and we can trade in those tickets for prizes, then I'd be happier. Reward for accuracy == fun! We could also have a high score board in the men's washroom.
Tuesday, June 27. 2006
The other week, I was checking my web statistics, and came across a strange anomaly, apparently I had 1800 unique visitors this month. This sounded really fake. I looked through the database, and noticed that I was using a lot more space than usual. It turns out that my blog had been hit by a crap load of comment/trackback spam. This is where some jerk decides to leave comments and trackbacks with web links that promote their website.
Leaving links helps the spammer because Google will see these links and boost the spammer's webpage rank because there's more links pointing to it. Furthermore, these spam attacks are automated by computer, so it takes no time for a spammer to do this. It's a pain in the butt because I leave my blog open for all to use, and spammers come through and take advantage of this.
The spam attack is a distributed attack which means it comes from hundreds of different computers. This is annoying because you can't pinpoint the source of all the spam, and blow away that computer. Most likely, some hacker has taken over hundreds of random computers, and have them sending out spam all the time.
In either case, I cleared out 2,000 pieces of spam from my blog, and I reprogrammed a part of my blog to prevent automated spam attacks. So far it seems to have worked. However, they seem to have stepped up their attack. Now I'm getting spam through e-mail because they're using my contact form that I have on this blog. Well played spammers. This weekend I'm going to have to do some more coding to beat the spammers.
If things get worse, I'm going to upgrade my blogging software to the latest version which sports some advanced anti-spam features. Hopefully this will keep them at bay for a while. It is a digital arms race though, sooner or later, they will break through the defenses.
Anyway, hopefully I can keep up against the spammers because I want to keep my blog open and interactive as it has been for all these years.
Sunday, June 25. 2006
Alrighty, it's almost time for our fantasy stock market game to start, so it's time to give you a quick introduction to trading stocks. You still have time to sign up for the game if you wish. You start off with $4,000 and you will try to make as much money as you can within a year.
So if you've already picked out the stocks that you like, then it's time to buy and sell them. There's several different ways to buy/sell... yes that is fairly strange. So lets go over them.
The other thing I have to mention is about the margin account. Everyone in this game has a margin account, and what this means is, you can borrow money to buy stocks. Using margin money can boost your gains, or boost your losses. Margin money is very tempting because say you borrow $1,000 and invest it, and you make 10% by investing it. You got $100 for free essentially. However, the flip side is scary too, if you lose 10%, then you owe money. A lot of people do use margin, but I never use it. I don't believe in getting into debt to buy stocks. I only use money that's part of my discretionary money (ie, money that can be burned). You can get seriously burned by using debt to invest.
One of the things that you need to be aware of are commissions. Every time you buy or sell a stock, it costs $29.95 to execute the order. This is just a reality of investing in the stock market. Why is this important?
Consider a $1 stock called XYZ. If you buy one share of XYZ, then the transaction will be $1 + $29.95 in commissions. So the total bill comes out to $30.95 (also known as the book value, or how much you paid to get this stock). Your average cost per share is $30.95/share. 96.7% of this transaction was the cost of commissions. This is horrible. Now the XYZ stock has to reach $30.95 before I even break even right? No, because when you sell, you get hit with commissions again. So in order to break even, you need the stock price to go to $30.95 + $29.95 = $60.90/share. That's crazy!
Now consider buying 1000 shares of XYZ. The transaction will be $1,000 + $29.95 in commissions. The bill (or book value) comes out to $1,029.95. Your average cost per share is $1.02. Only 2.9% of the transaction was due to commissions. When do we break even? We go $1,029.95 plus the selling commission of $29.95, so that equals $1059.90. So the break even price would be $1059.95 / 1000 shares = $1.06/share. So, the stock needs to move to $1.06 before you start making money.
Notice the huge difference here. Essentially, the more shares that you buy at a time, the smaller the impact commissions will be. Generally, the minimum amount I would use to buy stocks would be $1,000 at a time. Jim Cramer recommends orders to be at least $2,000.
Sane Investing In An Insane World
Jim Cramer also has a book about investing, and it's entitled "Sane Investing In An Insane World." It has 25 rules about investing, and they're super useful. His website has a brief explanation of each of these rules, and these rules help you stay in the market and hopefully, prevents you from getting burned. One of the best pieces of advice is that you have to be able to explain what your company does to a friend. If you can't do it, it means you haven't done your homework on the stock.
So next week is when our game starts. Be aware that it's going to be extremely volatile next week because the federal reserve is having a meeting about interest rates. They will be meeting on Wednesday and Thursday. In those two days, they will tell us if interest rates will continue to rise, or if they're pausing. If they're pausing, then the markets explode, and we're going up up up. If they say that they're going to move interest rates even higher, then it's going to be a house of pain.
The take away is this, don't use all your money to buy on Monday morning. You want to have some money left over to react to the news on Wednesday and Thursday. It's almost certain that the markets will move lower on Wednesday, so it's a good time to pick up stocks because the market will throw a sale.
Good hunting all.
Friday, June 23. 2006
When I read this Time article, I shook my head in disbelief in disgust. The article is entitled, "A Countersuit In The MySpace Case."
A 14-year-old Austin, Texas, girl and her mother filed a $30 million lawsuit against MySpace.com, where the teenager claims she met a man who assaulted her. Now, the college student charged with the sexual assault also is considering suing the popular social networking site.
The defense attorney for Pete Solis, the 19-year-old Texas community college student charged with sexually assaulting the girl dubbed "Julie Doe" in her lawsuit, told TIME that if the Texas courts accept the premise that MySpace is liable because the two met there, then his client also has a claim, since the alleged victim falsely portrayed herself on the webiste as 15 years old.
"He's been, in effect, just as much a victim — if not more," says Adam Reposa, the attorney for Solis, who is facing up to 20 years in prison on charges of second degree felony sexual assault. Since the lawsuit against MySpace also names Solis as a defendant, Reposa said he will "cross-file" and also sue MySpace and its owner, News Corporation. "MySpace wasn't there when they went to Whataburger. MySpace wasn't there when they went to the movie and MySpace wasn't there when they climbed in the backseat," Reposa said. "Meeting on MySpace — if that alone is enough, then we can make the same claim for damages."
So a girl meets some dude on a blogging site, and they get together and the girl gets sexually assaulted. Girl sues blogging site for $30 million because they say the site is liable. Guy who sexually assaults girl also sues site saying the site is liable. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD?!?! SANITY CHECK PEOPLE!!!
Firstly, yes getting sexually assaulted is a horrible thing, but why on earth would you sue the MySpace for going out with a guy you hardly know from the Internet? The story says that the two exchanged cell phone numbers and communicated that way prior to the assault. By that logic, shouldn't you sue the cell phone company as well for facilitating a sexual assault?
The even crazier thing is that the guy is ALSO suing MySpace, even though HE ASSAULTED THE GIRL. This is insanity. MySpace didn't hold a gun to your head and ask you to do what you did. They claim that the guy is as much of a victim as the girl. I disagree completely with this statement. Technology is not at fault here, it's human nature.
America has become far too letigious. No one's willing to take responsibility for their own actions any more.
Wednesday, June 21. 2006
First off, thanks to all the people who have joined the International Bank Of Chan Fund Challenge. This is a fantasy stock market challenge designed for new investors to try their hand at the stock market. You still have time to join now, and the challenge starts next Monday.
Anyway, I've already gotten questions from a few of you about how to find a stock? You need to start off with a little inspiration. The standard advice that's given is think about the companies that you deal with in your life that you really like. Look around your house and see what kind of products you own. Chances are, you'll find something that comes from a company that's traded on the stock exchange.
Here's a few questions you can answer to get some leads:
Another good source of inspiration is to go with sectors that you understand. For example, I know a lot about technology since I'm a computer scientist. Naturally, my portfolio is fairly tech heavy because I understand the field fairly well. If you're a car person, then the automotive sector might be for you. If you're really into fashion, then the retail sector might be right for you.
The main place that I go to get ideas for stocks is TheStreet.com. They offer a free daily podcast radio show, entitled Real Money, which is hosted by their top analyst, Jim Cramer. I really like this program because the host speaks in plain English as opposed to Wall Street gibberish. It's fairly easy to understand. I also like this analyst because his average annual return is 24% over his entire career. That's absolutely amazing. Furthermore, he survived the dot com bubble, and actually made money during 2001-2002 when the bubble burst. He sold tech before the bubble burst. That's my idea of a good analyst. He also helped the U.S. government bring legal action against the management at Enron which was the biggest stock scandel in a long time. Anyway, TheStreet.com has a lot of free articles that will help you find good stocks.
If radio isn't your thing, then you're in luck. Jim Cramer also has a TV show on CNBC (the station's most popular show). It's called Mad Money and it airs on channel 29 every weekday at 6pm and 9pm. The show is fairly over the top, but you get used to it. I admit that when I first watched the show, I thought, what the heck is wrong with this guy? He's throwing chairs and screaming all the time, but you learn to get used to it. Mad Money has been described as the financial equivalent of the Daily Show by Jon Stewart. If you have iTunes, you can download a 12 minute video of Mad Money every day.
Big disclaimer. Since this stock analyst is so popular, there's something called the Booyah Effect. Whenever Jim Cramer recommends a certain stock, it usually goes up 5%-7% the next day. After a few days, it comes right back down. This is known as the Booyah Effect. Jim hates it when you rush out and buy the stock right away because it artificially boosts the price, and then it comes back down, and you lose money, and then you're mad. The key is to treat any stock recommendation like a shopping list. You keep watching the stock until it goes on sale (ie down), and then you pick some up, especially when the stock market throws a sale. You need to stalk your prey. The other disclaimer is that you can't blindly go out and buy any stock he recommends. You have to do your own research and make sure that you understand the company. Research has to be done because Jim Cramer sometimes gets it wrong.... very wrong, so you have to make your own judgement. When you buy a stock, you need to be able to explain to a friend, what the company does, how does it make money, and why is this a good company.
Stock Game Picks
So for the stock market challenge, I'll give you a shortlist of companies to consider. If you already know what you're doing, then go ahead and choose to your heart's content. This is just a list of companies that I consider are good. What I want you to do is, after you see the list, to go out to finance.yahoo.com and do a little research about the companies that interest you. Look at the recent news about the company, check out their website, etc. Later in the week, I'll give you a few hints about how to tell if a stock is cheap or expensive, and how to buy and sell.
Ultimately, for the stock market challenge, you'll be starting off with 3 or 4 stocks in your portfolio. For diversification purposes, the three that you pick should be in different sectors. For each sector, I'm going to put in at least one bad stock so that it forces you do some research about the company before you buy.
The list will break up the stocks by sector. Each company will have their associated stock symbol next to them.
Continue reading "Stock Market Challenge - Part 2"
Monday, June 19. 2006
One of my friends issued a challenge to me. He wants to buy a $1,400 computer, but he doesn't have disposible money to purchase it. However, he has $4,000 to invest and he wants to use any profits from investing to go towards buying a new computer. So the challenge is to build a portfolio that will turn $4,000 to $5,400 in a year. Or if you like, a 35% annual return.
This challenge is extremely difficult given two factors. Firstly, he took the investor risk tolerance quiz and he came out as a moderate risk investor. This is an investor that can tolerate a loss of -9% loss, a maximum of a +19% gain, and an average return of 9%. Clearly a 35% annual return is not looking feasible. I've learned that if you take on more risk than you're comfortable with, you're going to panick and lose a lot of money, so it's important to build a portfolio that realistically reflects your risk tolerance.
The second factor that makes this hard is that the market is very volatile right now. It's up and down all the time. Stocks don't go from $20 to $40 in a straight line. It goes up and down and gradually makes it way up there. There's a lot of worry and uncertainty in the markets right now as well. Sources of worry include inflation, interest rates, Iran's nuclear program, high oil prices, terrorism, a weakening American dollar, etc.
Anyway, this got me thinking. It would be fun to hold a stock market challenge to see which investment strategies pervail.
I present to you the:
This is a virtual stock market game that I'm hosting. You start off with $4,000 and you pick the stocks and mutual funds, and we see how much money you can make. You will build a portfolio which is viewable by other game players. This is a game for beginners, and I'll be offering help along the way. Intermediate and advanced investors are welcome of course. In either case, I thought this would a be a fun and interactive way to learn how to invest.
Now, a 35% annual return is an insanely difficult goal, so I don't expect anyone (including myself) to make that. However, we will be judging how well you do based on the type of risk you can handle. If you're a conservative investor, your target will be 6%. Moderate investors should get 9%. Growth investors should get 12%. Aggressive investors should get 15%.
Anyway, this virtual stock market game is extremely realistic, so any strategies that you pick up in the game will work in real life. You get real news from real companies, and real stock prices.
Please sign up to my game, the International Bank of Chan Fund. The game starts next Monday, or June 26, 2006.
Here's the rules of the game:
Starting Cash: $4,000.00
Stock Markets You Can Buy From: Nasdaq, New York Stock Exchange, American Exchange (sorry no Canadian markets, however a lot of Canadian companies are listed in these exchanges.)
Cash Interest Rate: 4%
Margin Interest Rate: 6%
Allow Users To Reset Portfolio: Yes
I'll quickly explain the interest rates. If you keep cash in your portfolio, it will grow at 4% per year. So, in a year, $4.000.00 will become $4,160.00. The margin interest rate is where you borrow money to buy stocks. The money you borrow will cost you 6% interest.
So, please join the game. It will be a fun learning experience. It starts next Monday. I will be giving some advice later on the week about building a good portfolio.
Saturday, June 17. 2006
Every month, our department has a technology committee that convenes to talk about our information system. The decisions that come out of this committee obviously impacts my work since I work on their information system.
In either case, last week we added a whole bunch of new features and what not. We sent a liason to the technology committee to inform them of the changes. It turned out to be the worst meeting ever. People on the committee were completely out of line. They complained about all of the new features even before a demonstration was given. Part of this has to do with office politics which I won't get into. Anyway, our liason was on the verge of quitting because everyone was being so mean and harsh at the committee. The committee for some reason began to open up old issues that were resolved and started ranting about that as well.
These committees are really awful because group think takes over very easily. If someone says something, then everyone jumps onboard and parrots the same ideas over and over again. If the meeting starts on a negative tone, then the whole meeting goes negative. It's especially frustrating because most members on this committee are not experts when it comes to technology, so they're easily mislead.
Anyway, it's committees like this that are a drag since we put so much time and energy in improving their system, and they don't appreciate any part of it. This is why, you need a good sense of humour to survive this insanity.
We felt bad for our technology committee liason, so we sent a funny poster to her which was perfect for disgruntled office employees. I present to you a demotivational poster from despair.com which comments quite nicely on committees and such:
Anyway, you have to keep a positive attitude and a sense of humour about this sort of thing to survive in this industry. Otherwise, you'll become very jaded and bitter.
Despair.com has plenty of other demotivational posters. Go check them out. They're great!
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"Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment."
--Zephram Cochrane (2030-2117), Inventor of the warp drive
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