What I'm Reading
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Tuesday, September 12. 2006
I saw this really great comedian on the Comedy Network named Omid Djalili. He claims to be the world's only Iranian comedian. He does stand-up comedy about the Middle East and such, and it's pretty funny. He puts the fun in fundamentalism. Enjoy.
Monday, September 11. 2006
With the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, there has been a lot of coverage about the events surrounding 9/11. One of the most intriguing documentaries that I saw was CNN Presents, "In The Footsteps of Bin Laden." The documentary covers a good portion of Bin Laden's life.
There documentary revealed a lot of interesting facts. The most interesting was about how senior members of Al Qaeda disagreed over the success of the 9/11 attacks. They say tactically, 9/11 was a success, but strategically it was a massive failure. Insiders claimed that the attacks were a strategic error because of all the damage that the West has now dealt Al Qaeda. A good majority of the Al Qaeda leadership has been either killed or captured. The Taliban government which shielded Al Qaeda fell after the NATO invasion of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda couldn't use Afghanistan as a safe haven or a training area any more. Many members of the organization are also constantly on the run which puts them in survival mode rather than planning mode.
Interestingly enough, they say that Bin Laden's son was a big part of Al Qaeda's leadership. However, after the 9/11 attacks, he thought that his dad was stupid for planning such a massive strike on America because the retaliation was going to be huge. There was literally hell to pay. After NATO bombed the Taliban back to the stoneage, they say Bin Laden's son left his father's side in disgust and went back to Saudi Arabia.
The documentary also offered an interesting glimpse into Bin Laden during the Battle of Tora Bora, which is where they supposedly had Bin Laden pinned down. They say U.S. intelligence had recovered a radio from a dead Al Qaeda fighter, and using the radio, they were able to listen in on Bin Laden's orders. They heard Bin Laden apologizing to his followers of the destruction that was being brought upon them. This was because special forces were marking Al Qaeda positions, and calling down airstrikes on them around the clock.
Another interesting point was the religious criticism that Bin Laden got after the 9/11 attacks. Radical clerics complained that Bin Laden wasn't following the prophet's guide to warfare. Apparently the Koran explicitly states that before you attack an enemy, you have to give them a chance to surrender and convert to Islam. The clerics argued that Bin Laden never offered a chance for America to surrender before the 9/11 attacks. Bin Laden being a true Muslim then takes the advice to heart, and in the next three video messages that he releases, he offers the chance for America to surrender and convert to Islam. He says that this was the only chance for peace.
Anyway, with this anniversary, it serves as a reminder about why our country is fighting in Afghanistan. One of our allies was attacked, and we responded in mutual defense. We went there to take out Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It really ticked me off when the NDP were having their convention last week, that one of the delegations said that Canadian troops were terrorists because they were in Afghanistan killing civilians. They're also calling for a withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan. It seems somewhat opportunistic to be calling for a withdrawal during rising casulties. The Taliban's plan has always been to inflict enough casulties on Canadian soldiers (and other NATO forces), that the people back at home lose support for the war and demand a withdrawal. This is apparently the strength of our resolve. I think it's too soon for a withdrawal. If you look at Canadian peacekeeping in Bosnia, we were there for 10 years. Nation rebuilding is hard work, and it takes time.
Friday, September 8. 2006
So, the biggest news in the markets in the last two weeks has been largely dominated by oil. You've probably noticed at the pump that gas prices have come tumbling down. It is being attributed to a number of factors.
All of these factors have caused oil stocks to come tumbling down in a VERY short time. People are bailing out of them, and people that are staying in them are in a house of pain.
Despite all this doom and gloom in the oil sector, there has been one star performer, and that has been Energy Partners Limited (EPL). A company has come forward to buyout EPL. How a buyout usually work is, the buyer needs to buy +51% of a company's stock in order to buy it out. In order to get shareholders to sell their stock, the buyer has to offer a premium price. So, say the stock is currently trading at $20/share, the buyer may offer a 20% premium and tell shareholders, if you sell to us, we will give you $24/share. That is usually a good enough incentive for a lot of people to buy. The premium can be any value, depending on how much money the buyer is willing to buy the company for.
Another thing that usually happens when a buyout occurs is the buyer's stock will go down. The buyee (company being bought) will go up. This sometimes creates a buying opportunity in the buyer's stock because the stock price gets knocked down. AMD for example, when they announced they were buying ATI (graphics chip company), their stock price dropped to $17/share. This was a huge discount. The stock now trades near $26/share. So, the rule is, if you believe that the proposed merger is good, and the buyer will benefit from this, wait 3 days after the announcement, so that the stock price drops, and then buy it up.
Whenever a takeover bid like this does occur, the company that's being bought will have its shareprice skyrocket. This is exactly what happened to EPL. It jumped instantly 30% when the buyout announcement was made. The stock has jumped from $17/share to $25/share. So, this is exactly how Jordan has been able to jump to second place in our stock game. Kudos to you sir. This has been the biggest move in our stock game since Patrick made all that money from AMD.
In either case, anything stock related to energy right now is getting absolutely slaughtered. Whether it be natural gas, oil, alternative energy, etc. It does definitely create an opportunity to buy, but it's a matter of where the bottom is in this freefall. In the short-term, it's going to be pain. In the long-term, it's going to be pleasure. At one point this last week, I was only $60 away from catching Myron, but then oil started dropping which dragged my alternative energy stocks down, so I'm no where near him again. (Shakes fist).
While I'm talking about Myron, he did pick up some shares in Apple (APPL) in the last little while, and Apple has been soaring as of late. It is a beautiful stock.
One observation that I've made is that everyone who has borrowed money to buy stock in this game (ie Myron, cwing, and I) have been getting absolutely slaughtered. Meanwhile, people who only use their cash have been doing fairly well. I violated my own rule about only using money that I have to buy stock in this game, and I'm paying for it now. Luckily I don't do this in real-life. Borrowing money (Wall Street gibberish term: buying on margin) amplifies both gains and losses. Boy does that amplification hurt!
Here are this week's results. As you can see, the lack of hurricanes is killing my portfolio. Again, congratulations to Jordan for making HUGE gains in the game.
Wednesday, September 6. 2006
Hermit [hur-mit] - noun
As you may or may not know, I work in high-tech industry. Computers and technology are second nature to me. Heck, I'm even a grad student in Computer Science. So, this serves as a backdrop to the story.
A few weeks ago, some girl asked for my cellphone number, and I said, I don't have a cellphone. She goes, "What?!?! You don't have a cellphone number??? That's so wierd!" I quickly reply with, "What? You think I have a cellphone just because I'm Asian?" Playing the race card ends most debates rather quickly in my favour . There have been other situations where people have exclaimed, "What??? You don't have a [insert high-tech gadget here]?"
Then it dawned on me that I'm a bit of a technological hermit. Here is a quick rundown of stuff that I don't have which has shocked many people given my obvious geekish vibe: cellphones, DVD players, handheld gaming devices, portable CD players, CD burners, MP3 players, iPods, digital cameras, a high power computer, Playstation, XBox, laptops, USB keychains, anything remotely wireless, etc.
The thing that always shocks people is my computer. Everyone assumes that I have a pimped out computer with those glowing blue LEDs that Asians love so much, but I don't. Infact, any game made after 2002 will probably NOT run on my computer. For those who understand computer jargon, here are my computer's stats: Intel Celeron Processor 667Mhz, 10GB hard-drive, 64MB ATI Radeon 7000 PCI video card, 256MB ram, 52X CD-ROM, 1.44MB floppy disk drive. To illustrate, an average computer these have the following stats: Intel Pentium 4 Process 3200MHz, 250GB hard-drive, 2000MB ram, 52X CD-ROM/DVD-ROM/CD-Burner, etc. Things have progressed quite a bit.
Why the lack of stuff in general? Well, there's a fine line between what one needs, and what one wants. If you're paying for 6 years' worth of university tuition, and you want to minimize the amount of debt you exit with, you have to live fairly minimally. Furthermore, tech gadgets tend to become obsolete very quickly, so a lot of it becomes junk, so that's a big turnoff.
People who upgrade their computers once a year drive me absolutely insane. One guy that I know has a whole family of computers that he has running, and it's because he upgrades every year. Unless you're running a server farm, 5 computers per person is a bit excessive. It's also a lot of money down the drain.
I remember there was a survey on Slashdot that asked, what's the total value of all the tech gadgets that you carry around with you? If I were to answer, it'd probably say $80, as I carry a scientific calculator in backpack, but that's about it. However, there was a guy in my graduate seminar class that seemed to carry a crapload of gadgets with him everywhere. He brought along two laptops, a big one for doing his work, and a tablet laptop which he used for presentations. Accompanying his laptops was a gyroscopic wireless mouse and a laser pointer. He had an iPod in one pocket, and a cellphone in the other. On his belt, he carried a palm pilot, and on his keychain, he had several USB flashdrives. Actual retail value that he carried with him: $7500.00+.
In either case, I suppose I'm a bit of an oxymoron. I'm heavily involved in tech, but I don't own much tech at all. There is hope for me yet though, I am saving up for a new computer. My computer upgrade cycle is once every 6 years. It's absolutely amazing how cheap and powerful desktop computers are these days. It's shocking for me to know that grandparents are buying 3.2GHz computers and all they're using them for is surfing the Internet, and writing e-mails. These computers are faster than our servers at work which run the entire UVIC Co-op website and it serves over 6,000 users for crying out loud!
Friday, September 1. 2006
Tonight's youth group event was an Amazing Race car rally. The turnout to the event was quite exceptional. We had 25 people there total. In either case, we had three teams that traversed the city, finding clues and doing various challenges.
The first clue involved going downtown and finding a certain person, so we left the church and headed for the highway. It was a back and forth race between my car and Bethany's. When we got to the lights, we started revving our engines, and when it hit green, we were off. Most importantly, I beat her off the mark and took the lead.
When we got to the parliament buildings, that's when we had a problem. My car engine was venting steam and coolant. Crap, the engine overheated. So, I pull into the restricted parking behind the parliament building and try to figure out what was going on. It looked like my car was low on coolant so the engine overheated. My parents had been using my car the entire week, so I guess they weren't checking any of the fluid levels or anything. On top of that, when I gave them my car, I had a full tank of gas, when I got it back, it was empty. What the heck!
In either case, we grabbed the next clue, and the next pitstop was at Beacon Hill Park. My car couldn't go any further, so I told the team to proceed on foot to Beacon Hill Park. Meanwhile, I waited in the parking lot for 45 minutes, as I was waiting for my dad to drop off some coolant and water.
Once we got the car all sorted out, I started driving back to the church. Halfway there, my engine temperature light started flashing again, and I could feel the engine getting really hot again, so I headed back home and got a ride back to the church.
My team obviously came in last place, but it was wierd. They apparently stopped for ice-cream at some point. This is a race people! You can have ice-cream at any other point. If this was the real Amazing Race, it could have cost us the $1,000,000 prize! My brother's team came in second, but they apparently didn't finish the race because they misread one of the clues and missed one of the pit stops. Bethany's team won the race.
Funny thing is, my brother's car also ran into problems while on the race. His car's exhaust pipe which goes from the engine block to the catalytic converter fell off, so his car was really noisy.
So, this has been a great start to a weekend. Nothing like car troubles. I demand a rematch!
Anyway, I've been looking at the car, and I'm trying to troubleshoot why the engine fan isn't running. It's either a bad electrical connection, or its heat sensor is busted.
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