Thursday, September 29, 2011


Desiderata is a poem with a lot of personal meaning to me. The last few weeks has been a pretty rough time and I've been searching for the best way to properly express my feelings in my TED talk carefully and poetically enough to honour Kim's life and Matt's struggles over the past year. This has been such a hard moment for him and I feel like it's absolutely necessary to make the dedication to them in my speech really count.

Max Ehrmann says some truly beautiful and poetic things in Desiderata, and I'm thinking about using this specific quote. My speech is not totally done yet so I don't want to write down the rest of the closing remarks, but I think I've focused in on this portion of Desiderata to use as a quote:
"Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Strive to be happy."
This part speaks to the conflicting ways of the world - how there is so much negative amidst the positive. It is deep, it's serious, and it adds some weight to your thoughts - life may go well a lot of the time (hopefully) but there are times where it doesn't. Dr. Seuss's "Oh, The Places You'll Go" has a section like this too. The book bounds along happy-go-lucky for quite a while and then hits a wall. But the part I really like about it is the hopeful turn at the end: "Strive to be happy".

Strive is a really interesting word choice. It implies that happiness is not a given, happiness is not always around ready for the picking. You must continually reach for it, pushing forwards desperately in the hopes of  attaining it and keeping it close. "Strive" implies there will always be effort required on your part. You can't just sit around and have happiness arrive at your doorstep - you need to want it and you need to keep working for it. At least that's what I get out of it. And that's a really nice message.

Here's Desiderata in entirety, in case you've never read it.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

WOW, Google just digitized and translated the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel museum. Nicely done, Google. Amazing extra-feature: mousing over text to reveal the English translation. Amazing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

TEDx Prep: Dan Gilbert asks, Why are we happy?

Here's another great TED video that is giving me some more direction for my talk. Haha, actually this is a little bit "meta", as it were - Dan Gilbert's talk is helping me narrow down the potential avenues that I could go down during my talk, and hilariously enough, that's basically what his message is that I'm keen to reference from his talk.

He talks about the benefits of "synthetic happiness", a form of happiness that we create in our own minds, a sort of "internal" happiness. I see this as tying into the work of Epictetus, the great stoic Philosopher who questioned happiness. He discussed how we should be aware of what we can and can't control - we cannot control someone else's behaviour, we can only control our own internal reaction to outside stimuli. The phrase, "You made me feel bad" is impossible - someone does not force you to have a certain reaction. Rather it should be "The way I am responding to your actions is negative" - if we could say that without sounding like the android character Data from Star Trek.

Anyway that was an aside, back to my point. Dan Gilbert here talks about creating happiness with our minds, and how that requires different tools than our methods to achieve "real" or "experiential" happiness. Freedom is a natural tool for experiential happiness - you can choose between one of many different outcomes and naturally that makes you feel good. What Dan argues is that freedom is the enemy of synthetic happiness - he says, "The psychological immune system works best when we are totally stuck, when we are trapped." In other words, having boundaries on our choices allows us to pick something, stick with it (since there was no option in the first place), and we just find a way to be happy with what occurs.

This is profound, this idea is damn amazing, and it really is well supported by my own experience. I may potentially reference a couple of his quotes in my talk (which - amazingly - is freely allowed by the TED conference).

One problem I have right now as I develop my TEDx talk, is that I have WAY WAY WAY WAAAAYYY too much choice. I feel like a kid at the grocery store, looking up at the looonnng cereal aisle and having absolutely no clue which one to pick. I have so many random stories from my childhood, all with a little bit of self-deprecating humour, some silly childhood photos to back them up... so many possibilities. Maybe TOO many possibilities. I'm trying desperately to narrow it down so that I can boldly choose some of them and then make those stories really work well in the speech - to be happy with my choice. How I'm choosing to narrow them down is a little tough - some stick out better than others and some have cuter or more ridiculous childhood photos to go along with them. All of these things weigh in on whether that particular anecdote will be usable.

One method I'm using is going to, filtering existing amazing inspiring awesome TED videos by the few topics I'm going to be covering with my talk ("happiness", "motivation", "success"), and watching and listening very closely. Today I found this one from Dan Gilbert and it's so solid. I can tie this to a story about my Grade 7 art teacher in Oxford, England. My parents came in for a teacher-parent conference and he said in a direct style very atypical for someone of British descent, "Michael is an excellent student. Very motivated, always on time, very excitable, great guy, hardworking, etc. But whatever you do, don't let him be an artist. He's a TERRIBLE artist."

Hahaha. Now, most people would say this seems like it would have been a huge hit to my self-esteem, given that I wanted to "make visual effects for movies". The thing was though, my self-esteem was already too high as my Dad would say, haha, so no trouble there. This phrase from my teacher helped re-iterate things I already knew. My Math and Computer Science marks were through the roof, and I absolutely LOVED that stuff. I was bad at painting, I wasn't motivated by drawing, I found I didn't really have any kind of creativity in artwork. My stick figures were even hard to comprehend. So this helped me with something very important, removing the overwhelming amount of choices in the modern world. I wanted to do visual effects for movies - boiling it down do a very over-simplified, basic core, there are 2 jobs inside of the visual effects industry: art, and science. You can choose one or the other. Some very very very very few, ultra talented, truly awe-inspiring people in this world like my buddy Matthew Parrott have been truly blessed with exceptional skills in BOTH. But that is hugely uncommon. Usually it's one or the other. For me, this moment was very important - it was a call to arms. It was a way to tell me to cast aside the things I was not good on, and put the required time and effort into something that mattered. Something that I loved and something I was already showing a lot of potential in. I could easily have squandered my childhood, sticking to my guns and saying that I *had* to be an artist to work in visual effects. But rather, I researched the positions further, I found out more about it, and discovered that art and science really work hand-in-hand to create visual effects. John Lasseter's famous quote is, "The art challenges the technology and the technology inspires the art." It's a great collaboration, a back-and-forth between the two. This "reduction of freedom" allowed me to narrow down all the potential avenues and put my time and energy where it counted - on something I loved and was actually good at. Removing the choice was a great tool for helping me focus, and commit myself to something that I knew would be worth sticking to.

And then I was set up nicely to be happy with any outcome. I started in a technical role in visual effects and found out there was a real sliding scale of art and science talents. I was bad at drawing, but I had a pretty reasonable ability at forms and silhouettes. So at Pixar they handed me the "paintbrush" (a mouse) and I got to dabble in modeling and shading, a sort-of "technical artwork." Things have a way of working out. My long term career has slid back to where my real talents lie, in the technical world, but it was cool to get a chance to experiment and see that things aren't quite as black-and-white as "you're an artist" or "you're a scientist". But that initial judgement call from my high school art teacher could not have been more helpful for keeping me focused on the best way forwards in my studies and focus at school.

TEDx Prep: Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

As part of my TEDx prep I've been watching a LOT of TED videos and picking out some really effective ones and studying them a lot. I have a lot of prior experience with public speaking, but the TED stage is very large (and frankly, pretty damn intimidating!) When you see a speech like this though, WOW. It just makes you want to work even harder and do the best job you can. I watched this speech by Dan Pink on the nature of motivation and... WOW. His speech style is just astronomically better than most of the TED talks I've seen. Looking at the details about him on - he was Al Gore's speech writer. :) I don't think I'll ever have speech writing or speaking skill to hold a candle to Dan Pink, but wow, am I ever impressed and motivated by his abilities. Fascinating. More videos to come as I keep burning the midnight oil...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A tribute to Kim

It's been a very hard week for my best friend, Matthew Lausch. You can read the details on his blog here, and I'm sure he'd like to hear any well-wishes that you'd like to send. Michelle, Kim's sister, just posted this beautiful video with photos of Kim's life. It's amazing to see how many lives she touched with her beautiful smile and hilarious personality.


New recording: cover of "Society" (Eddie Vedder)

It was a good distraction today from all of the sad news of the last week to put some energy into recording for a little bit. I did my first recording with GarageBand, my new Mac Mini, my new-ish sound mixer and awesome condenser mic. It was fun and got my mind on something else for a bit. Fun to practice the solo part too. It feels like it's based on a jazz chord progression.

"Society" (Eddie Vedder)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Being Elmo: Trailer

WOW, this looks friggin' amazing. I gotta see this.

Ben & Jerry's, I love you

It's been a horrible week and a little humour into the day has been really really nice and welcome. Thank you Ben & Jerry's for this hilarious flavour name, for referencing the hilarious SNL skit, and for this CNN reporter really going to the next level with this. Amazing video.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Girl is hilarious

Just watched the premiere of New Girl - hilarious new comedy. It was awesome!! Kinda like an actually-funny version of Big Bang Theory ;p The guys are hilarious, and the comedy combo with Zooey Deschanel really works. So funny.

It's also super hilarious that they are trying to make her plain and nerdy. Haha- it just makes her even hotter :)

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Chickpea Dill curry

Tonight's experiment: Chickpea Curry with fresh dill leaves from "5 spices, 50 dishes" by Ruta Kahate.

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More TED thoughts

Just watched this speech by Philosopher Alain de Botton.

It's really excellent. I love his quote around 14:00 where he discusses how success must be our own. We should "own them" and "make sure we are truly the authors of our own ambitions". This is so good I might actually quote it in my TED speech. The TED rules (cutely called the "TED Commandments") mention that you are allowed to freely quote any previous TED talk in your TED talk, pretty kick ass policy. So anyhow, I really like his message here, and I just recently read one of his books which was fantastic. Given that he's a Philosopher, I'm not completely surprised at his message - he's suggesting introspection. He's suggesting that people do not immediately jump on to one of their dreams and work for it at full pace. He's suggesting we stand back and spend some solid time on self-reflection and introspection to determine the true origin of our goal. We should determine if we want to achieve it for unwise reasons (fame, money, prestige, bragging rights at a 10yr high school reunion) or if we really have a true hunger for this goal. I like that message. I think I can use that as part of the "challenge" portion of the speech.

I'm working really hard on this now, full-tilt. It's 2:30am on a "school night" again, I should go to bed. Anyhow, super psyched about this. I'll prob be posting a bunch of stuff on my blog now about this as I work through my thoughts. I think this is going to help with my planning. Only 2 months to go.

Thanks for reading. :)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

TEDx talk prep

With only 2 months remaining before my TEDx talk in Toronto, it's time to kick preparation into high-gear. I wrote a draft of my speech back in April but re-reading it now there is a lot I want to change. The general biography elements are interesting and there are a couple funny moments but overall my message is not nearly clear enough in that draft. (That's why I'm glad it's a "draft") :)

My buddy Arjun sent along this incredibly helful page too with some great suggestions:

My real aim here I think it to try to distill the patented Jutan enthusiasm. I want to show how my wonder/enthusiasm is not just a part of my personality that is good but inconsequential - rather, it's a tool that I've honed and used very intentionally all throughout my life to help me achieve what I want from the world. It has been they key to achieving my childhood dream-job. It was the key to achieving many smaller (and larger) dreams all along the way. It has been my most essential tool to keep focused and determined to achieve what I want, and to be confident in the road to attain these goals. The flavour of this needs to be accessible - I can't go on and on about myself in a biography-style without tying it (even just briefly) back to the thesis. Little stories and anecdotes will be fun to listen to I think/hope, but this doc above has good advice - don't be preachy. I don't want to claim that I've got some secret method for achieving your childhood dreams, or I'm going to sound instantly like an infomercial. Rather I want to discuss a few anecdotes of where my enthusiasm and sticktoitiveness have served me very well, and let the audience distill meaning from my stories into actionable items in their own lives.

Really, I think the fact that I chose Computer Science is a less important point to discuss. What I've achieved with it is exciting (I certainly think so!) but the flavour I think I want to impart is that I would have brought my energy to whatever career I chose. Assuming the same level of enthusiasm, determination, effort and all that good stuff, it's certainly possible (or, maybe there was even a good chance) that I could have been successful in a different career. What I mean to say is, the point is the attitude and the intention, not the specific career or industry choice. In Malcolm Gladwell terms, I would have put his suggested "10,000 hours" (from "Outliers") into whatever the heck I decided to spend my time on. Doesn't matter that it was Computer Science rather than botany or marine life research or astronomy or high-board diving. The intention, the attitude, the determination: that's the message.

I'm starting to get some good ideas flowing here and I think it's starting to take shape. I am gonna spend a bunch more time working through these thoughts, and in the meantime start gathering some hilarious and nerdy photos of me as a kid. This is gonna be fun.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mysterious guitar recording feedback: solved

After some more fiddling around tonight on GarageBand with my guitar hooked up I've figured out the cause of the problem. As it turns out there is next-to-no issue with my sound board, powered subwoofer, recording input, etc. The buzzing noise from the guitar is... strangely enough... coming FROM the guitar!

I did a few more tests, unplugging the powered subwoofer to see if that was it and I still got plenty of feedback when listening to the guitar plugged in. Then I started to wonder, my acoustic-electric takes a single 9V battery but the cage where the battery sits has been a little loose lately. The connections in there are a little wonky too and I wondered if something might be causing the feedback.

I finally had the novel idea to connect the guitar to my amp, completely removing the recording and computers from the equation. Sure enough, guitar plugged straight into the amp, there is the same grounding buzzing hum noise!! Found it! The guitar amp is grounded too so that's even better than the sound board I was plugged into which isn't grounded. Interesting. So the problem must lie in some grounding issue inside the guitar's pickup itself. I betcha I can take this into Guitar Center and have them take a look and fix it. Awesome.

When I plugged my electric guitar into the same amp I tested to see if it had the same issue and it very clearly doesn't. I remember that I had some issues with the electrical connection on that a while back and I decided to have a go at fixing it on my own with my new mini screwdriver tools. That worked out great, just tightened up the connections and it's working nicely again. So that's good news, I don't need to take my electric in anymore, but I do need to take in the acoustic-electric.

After fiddling for a while I wanted to get back to fun stuff so I plugged the electric into the sound board and everything works nicely, no gross buzzing feedback and it seems to be working nice and cleanly. The other cool thing is I tried out the "Electric Guitar" instrument on GarageBand... holy cow!!!!!!!!!!! There are some amazing effects and I love the images of the stomp boxes and SO COOL that you can fiddle with the knobs and effects settings. The amps are REALLY friggin' cool too and it's amazing all the presets they have. There was one called Woodstock Haze or something that sounds very Jimi Hendrix. It is really badass. Definitely makes me want to play some electric more!

The acoustic effects on GarageBand are definitely nice (I am a sucker for chorus and some nice auditorium-style reverb) but the electric ones take it up a HUGE notch. I am so glad I have this software, it's really amazing. Definitely encouraging me to play some more guitar. Fun!

Anyway it's been a pretty crazy day so it was nice to change gears a bit and play some fun guitar and work with GarageBand a bit. Also nice to finally determine that my computer and sound board aren't causing the crazy feedback problem from the guitar, I'll just have to take it in and ask them to fix the pickup.

Happy Rosh Hashannah :)

Happy New Year, only 2 weeks away!

Minor website updates and fixes

A couple of quick website changes tonight.

I've added in 2 new icons to the Social Networking links at the bottom of each page: Google Buzz and the ATOM/RSS feed from my Blog.

Also fixed tonight was something that's been bugging me for a while, the pop-up images on my page were being rendered behind any embedded YouTube Flash videos. This was most easily seen on the Raytracing and Media Exposure pages. If you clicked on an image and there was an embedded Flash video (YouTube) behind it, the image would render completely behind the video on Internet Explorer 8 and partially behind the video on Firefox 6. This has now been resolved thanks to some random forums on the internet, Google, and my general sticktoitiveness. :)

Ha, that's the first time I've ever written out the word "sticktoitiveness". Is it a real word? seems to think so, but Blogger is underlining it in red and telling me it's a spelling error. Interesting. :)

New sunglasses

Thanks to my care for my eyes, the eye doctor said I still don't need glasses at all. I'm a very slight bit near-sighted but not nearly enough for a prescription. So I got some new cool sunglasses today.

They are really epic and from the Ray-Ban "Tech" collection. They have crazy awesome carbon fiber frames!!! They are so cool. I'm excited and it's a good reward for taking care of my eyes by not overdoing the computer time in the evenings after long days at work :) So apparently long hours on the computer add to eye strain, but would not necessarily make you need glasses sooner... but I'll take the compliment anyway and keep up these good habits of taking breaks and so on. Good times.

Also, man these glasses are so badass. The doctor asked me if I still had my previous sunglasses and I said, "Of course! I've never owned a fancy pair before and I took good care of them." She was impressed and said most people break them or lose them - ?!?!? Surprising. Anyway, I took the opportunity to get a new pair for fun, and I really like them. They didn't have the polarized version of these, but my Wayfarers from last time are still in excellent shape so I've still got a nice polarized pair for when I'm driving.

Carbon-Fiber style box, haha cool
Haha, the case looks like Carbon Fiber too
These are awesome
I picked them cause I really liked the blue frames

Image of glasses from the Ray-Ban website

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Noisy electrical buzz when recording guitar

I'm getting back into recording now that I've got my fancy new Mac Mini and some audio equipment. I remember trying this a while back and once I started I realized I still had an issue which was bugging me last time I tried to do this - feedback "line noise", a deep electrical buzzing sound on the track. Bah!!!

It sounds gross and there are a few ways to get rid of it, it seems. The one is to add a Noise Gate filter to my GarageBand project (a Hi Pass Filter), filtering out the low frequencies. Problem there is I don't know exactly the frequency level of the buzz and I don't want to negatively affect the low guitar tones as they really fill out the sound. So that's not the best solution. Also, if you post-filter the noise like this, then if you want to play and have instant "monitor" feedback through earphones, you get the buzz while you're recording which is really distracting.

I realized pretty quickly that it's a grounding problem. If I put my hand on the guitar cable going from guitar to the mixer then the buzz goes away as I am grounding it. So I looked into some grounding methods and one suggests that you fiddle with how your computer is hooked up. I've heard that before as well, that you should make sure everything is on the same powerstrip/outlet to reduce electrical noise on the audio line. That didn't fix it and I tried a few combinations and plugged the mixer in separately to the wall outlet and still had the problem.

Next up I am going to probably buy one of these Radio Shack Ground Isolation (or Ground Loop) Filters. That is some sort of mini transformer that filters out the electrical noise from an audio line. We'll see if that works. I think they are only about $12 so I'll prob just try that out.

As I'm writing this I just realized there's another solution I haven't tried - just attach the guitar DIRECTLY to the Mac Mini's record input port, it's probably shielded and everything so I bet it would give a good signal. The negative of that is I don't get to connect to the nice soundboard and split the connection up into a stereo feed but I wonder if GarageBand can already handle that situation. I might try that too, and then just use the Sound board only for the Mic recording.

[Update: I tried connecting the Acoustic-Electric directly to the Mic input of the Mac Mini via a 1/4" to 1/8" mono connector, then selecting Mono input in GarageBand. Still no dice. I get the same grounding feedback problems as I did when going through the mixer, but without the benefits and ease of using the mixer. So this isn't a good solution either. I am gonna try getting a Ground Isolation filter and see if that solves the issue.]

[Update #2: I forgot I also have a USB interface called the Griffin iMic, you plug your audio input into there and then plug that into a USB input of the computer instead of using the Line In port on the computer. I figured this would be a sure-fire win... and... nope!!! Still get the grounding issue. I'm starting to wonder if maybe it's an issue with the pickup on my guitar or something. Anyway I'm prob gonna try the Ground Loop Isolation filter dealie first since they are like $15 or so and that'll be cheaper than taking my guitar in and less hassle than more fiddling with these wires. So we'll see if that works, I'm a bit surprised that the USB interface still picked up the grounding noise. Guess it's pretty intense!]

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Money on my Mind

I've had the market on the mind for the last few weeks and have been reading like crazy about it.

While the stock market volatiles its way through the summer I've been sticking with my tried-and-true savings plan:
  • Don't spend money on stuff I don't need
  • Reduce costs further by minimizing unnecessary (and usually unhealthy) extras like ordering dinner in or eating lunch out at a restaurant
  • Manage multiple savings accounts with separate, distinct goals
  • Auto-withdrawls weekly (and separately) to each of the multiple savings accounts
  • Maxxing out 401k match contributions
  • Absolutely no revolving debt. Ever. Ever. Ever. There should be no excuse unless I'm buying a house. Not even for a car. If I can't pay for it in cash, I can live without it.
But as usual my savings plan is based upon one major thing:
  • Stay the hell away from the stock market because a mess of historical proportions is coming. I don't know when (no one does) but the storm clouds keep brewing and I don't want to be in there when the proverbial crap hits the fan.
Yep, I've been reading a lot of Bill Bonner at The Daily Reckoning.

The problem here of course is I'm not diversified, at all. My savings plan is a modern-day version of stuffing it all under the mattress and hoping inflation doesn't eat it all next time I reach under the mattress to grab a pile of it.

But, how to diversify? I'm not gonna just buy some stocks for the sake of diversification when I just said I think they are doomed in the short-to-medium term.

Emerging Markets? Not now. About 8 months ago I was planning to buy a NIKKEI index fund and maybe some Brazil or South America Emerging Markets index ETFs but the unthinkable natural disaster happened in Japan before I could invest there. When I traveled to Japan in 2009 I was really struck by how organized, focused and driven the culture seemed to be, and Japan has had a slump in their stock market for 20+ years. They are bound to go up but sadly it's not the time to buy in yet. Once things settle down some more I definitely believe in the spirit and energy of the Japanese culture and I'm very keen to invest in their future. But not quite yet. Everything is connected to the US, so a crash here will be bad for everyone.

Gold? Well... yes, but not yet. I was considering it at $1500 but waited too long, then reconsidered and decided where I *would* buy it from at $1650... that was the Friday before the week of big losses on Wall Street that sent Gold up to record highs of  > $1900. As Gold hit $1700+, I said to my friend Matt, "Am I too late for the party?" If you have to ask, you probably are. So as Gold continued upwards at an alarming rate I decided it was too late to make a smart move before the crowds and I had better wait it out. Bill Bonner and the folks at The Daily Reckoning are backing up my concerns, saying that Gold has risen 33% this year alone and that's "not natural". Now that Gold has become fashionable to buy by Joe Investor is not the time to rush into it. So while Gold looked like a good long-term play at $1500, it's a bit crazy to jump in now that it's nearing $2000. So I'm gonna hold off, hope that some investors get scared and run from it, and buy in at a price that isn't inflated by recent fear-driven purchases. Then I'll hold it for 5-10 years as a good hedge against inflation and a sinking US dollar. So my Gold plan is set.

Another diversification method: Bonds? Nope. Not with inflation ready to soar. As inflation goes up, Bond yields go up and Bond prices (i.e. Bond values) go down. Simple. So, not the right time for bonds either.

I'm starting to run out of options. Did I mention, "keep it in Cash?" Oh yeah, that's what I'm doing already, with 100% of it. I'm looking for other options to diversify, if that's still possible...

Enter the Inverse ETF. I learned about these and they attempt (quite well, historically) to match the inverse of daily returns on an index, say the S&P 500. This is done via short-selling, and the fund then offers the average investor a slice at the shorting pie without having to deal in the sales yourself and without the typical crazy risks of short-selling like losing more than your original investment. Now I don't really believe in the stock market as a good place to grow money at the moment, but I asked myself, "What am I willing to bet on?" Betting on the stock market going down in the short-to-medium term is in fact something I've been spouting for ages. If I want to put some money where my mouth is, then buying an Inverse ETF is a way to do that. Note that there are some major risks still with these inverse ETFs, like the leveraged (2x and 3x) versions are even more dangerous as they multiply wins and losses. Great if you're on an upward swing, but terrible if you're not. And with the market like it is, you've got a 50/50 chance of one or the other every single day. These tend to be viewed as more day-trader style, and I definitely don't have the guts for handling that. An issue is that they aim to match the daily returns of the market, not the long-term returns. So these also suffer from "compounding" which also erodes your investment. So it's complicated, but I feel like the non-leveraged one is a good experiment. I'm willing to bet the market will go down over the next while, and this is a way to "diversify" just a little bit. I'm only putting a small single-digit percentage of my savings into this, so it's a relatively small amount. But it's a way to get at least some exposure to something other than cash, and if it's not a totally ridiculous amount then I won't be too worried if I win or lose a lot with it. At least I feel comfortable making this bet, and if I keep the amount relatively low then I won't freak out if it decreases somewhat.

I experimented with a day or two of day-trading earlier this week and lost a little bit and got a good lesson. I had purchased overnight and then hoped the opening price would be good. But I learned that Opening prices can be wildly different than what the day ends up being. The stock can still "go up" compared to the previous day's close, but if you buy at opening price, it can still fall a lot and "go up" over the day but you can still lose a few percentage points. Not great. Also I've been reading a lot and somewhat obsessing about the news lately and I had wanted to experiment to see if I could make a short-term trade and then just leave it alone for a bit and wait it out. The answer, by clear margin, is "most-certainly-absolutely-definitely NOT"! I checked my account maybe 20 times yesterday, opened up the stocks app on my iPhone about a bazillion times and even woke up in the middle of the night (and couldn't get back to sleep as I was wondering about it). Terrible. The answer is clearly "no", I can't handle the stress of this. But I'm glad I tried, and now I know :) This is a very clear indication that I'm not the kind of person who should try to time the market. If it works out well I'll be too excited and stay in too long and then miss the correct selling point. If I lose, I'll get nervous about losing too much and I'll bail out when the stock is low and I'll lock in my losses. So it's good to have learned these things about myself and I feel like the small percentage I lost is a good fee to teach myself a lesson and also to come to some agreements with myself about what my investing strategy should be in the future.

So if I'm not gonna make any short-term choices, then how about long term ones? Is there anything I can diversify in? Well, I'm going to invest in Gold, very likely. But not now. Bill Bonner suggests it could drop in half of its current values and since I have no money currently invested in it, it seems a silly time to buy now just to make myself feel good about diversifying. The only other choice I'm comfortable with now is getting one of the standard inverse ETF funds (non-leveraged) and riding that out for a while. I believe even the non-leveraged inverse funds suffer from that compounding issue but if it's non-leveraged it's not AS dangerous. And looking at the historical graph of the SH fund (ProShares Inverse S&P 500), it looks like it tracks the inverse of the S&P pretty well historically. So I'm considering this (still considering, it's been several months!) and I'll try to buy in on one of these swings upwards, maybe due to the Obama speech this week or the Bernanke speech in a few weeks. This feels like a negative play, like a vote of no-confidence almost, but it's not really. It's just saying that I think this is a certain Bear market and I don't want to be caught in regular stocks, but I'm a little antsy of being completely on the sidelines in cash only.

Whew. So that's what's been rattling around in my head lately. I figured writing it down would help me get this all off my mind!

Note: I'm not proposing that anyone specifically follow my plans here. Don't take my post here as a suggestion to you for your own portfolio. This is simply an explanation of my thoughts at the moment and I am certainly not a financial adviser. So feel free to read these as points to think on, but please don't make a financial decision based on anything you're reading here. These are just my thoughts, and I could just as easily be making a stupid decision in these markets as not. My real advice is this: be careful, and make sure you stay on top of the news as things are really crazy lately.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Demetri Martin and Bob's Burgers

Bob's Burgers is in an interesting time slot right now: directly before the greatest show that has and will ever be made, The Simpsons (of course). As I suspect is the general aim, I've been quite easily encouraged to tune in a little early and watch Bob's Burgers. It's pretty frickin' hilarious, and the episodes I've seen have been pretty darn epic. The "mascot race" one was particularly insane/awesome/ridiculous. Great writing and great jokes too. Also the voices are hilarious.

Netflix instant watch has brought several new and awesome shows into my apartment over the last year, the most recent being Mad Men and Important Things with Demetri Martin. Mad Men was glorious, and I destroyed all 4 seasons in like a week. But Demetri Martin's show went even faster, I started Fri night (yes, I know), and now it's Sunday night and I've watched both seasons. It went quick and I hope they have another season planned cause it's pretty hilarious.

As I was watching I started noticing that a bazillion awesome comedians made cameos on the show (David Cross, John Oliver, Ellie Kemper)... a quick Google said that Demetri Martin and some of the other folks all used to write for Conan together. And connections to the Daily Show too. Ahhh, thus the pure comedic magic.

I then realized that one of my favourite actors on the show, H. Jon Benjamin, had a REALLY familiar voice. A quick Google confirmed: yep, he's the voice of Bob on Bob's Burgers. Brilliant.

This leads me to 3 conclusions:
  1. Everything good comes from The Simpsons. (Bob's Burgers is hilarious, H. Jon Benjamin is the voice of Bob and is on Demetri Martin's show, Demetri Martin wrote for Conan, Conan wrote for The Simpsons. Freezer-tight logic.)
  2. It's cool that funny comedians are friends with other funny comedians. I just checked out a few of H. Jon Benjamin's clips from his new show on the Comedy Central website. The first clip had him in a skit with the legend of Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk.
  3. I don't know how I did anything before Google.

Well, I think my wireless is working again?!

Today, mysteriously my Linksys router stopped serving sweet, sweet wireless signal so that my phone can download my email at blazing faster-than-3G speeds in my apartment. The usual fix for this is:
  1. Move the chair
  2. Crawl under the desk
  3. Unplug router and modem for 30 seconds ("power cycling")
  4. Laugh to self as "power cycling" sounds more like an Olympic sport than an electronic resetting method
  5. Crawl out from under desk
  6. Bang head on desk
  7. Curse loudly* (*if no children or small animals present)
  8. Go back to whatever I was doing when the wireless internet stopped working
As the XKCD guy would say, "My usual approach doesn't work here" - or at least it didn't today.

I fiddled with the settings, deductively inducing that it must be the Wireless Channel - there were lots of new wireless stations in my list today so I figure a new neighbour must have moved in next door and our wireless signals are fighting for superiority. Always the peacemaker/Canadian, I gracefully put down my sword/access to wireless channel #6 and switched to another non-default option. This worked. For like 5 minutes.

I came back on later and it was playing it's old tricks again, super slow and also I sometimes couldn't even see my wireless station in the list on my iPhone. So more fiddling, upgraded the router firmware (only from 2007?!), upgraded 8 versions up and got a fancy new login page.

Things seem back to normal now, maybe. I reset the router and powercycled (reminds me so much of the movie "Tron 2") again and looks like everything works again. My new theory is the dude next door must have bought a 2.4 Ghz wireless telephone and it's jamming my signal/harshing my vibe. We'll see if this holds up. If not, it might be about time I bought an 802.11N router or even go CRAZY and get a Gigabit one. To be continued... or, hopefully not, and this will just work without me needing to chuck this router out. :)

Saturday, September 03, 2011