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Useless Stuff

a great blog

I stumbled upon this blog this evening. It is called The View from the Sidewalk and is written by a guy named Michael Brown who has been homeless for the past month or so. I think he has gotten an explosion of visitors that all started with an article in the local Greensboro, NC newspaper, The News Record. I read through his entire blog and was really fascinated. If you have the time, I definitely recommend reading through the blog. One suggestion: start reading from the beginning (the earliest entries) because it would be confusing if you read through backwards in time.

So why do I find it so fascinating? 1) I think it is a great opportunity to publicize the problem of homelessness. His story shows how homelessness can happen to anyone and that many of the homeless are working hard to get out of their desparate situations. 2) The blog is very sincere and honest and 3) the guy is a terrific writer. He occasionally mentions politics which is understandable but has even mentioned that he doesn’t want to politicize the issue (which I higly respect – I have become very NON-political and lose interest if there is a lot of political ranting).

Anyhow, I hope you check out his blog. If interested, you can also make a donation via Paypal.

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Useless Stuff

fun little cartoon

If you have a few minutes to waste, this is a cool cartoon on Google Video. It is a basic intro to the weirdness of quantum mechanics yet is still fun and interesting to watch.

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Useless Stuff

cool link from lida

Here’s a link the my friend Lida, a fellow researcher in my lab, sent me: Learn how to dance with Napolean Dynomite

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Finance Jade Useless Stuff

coins, financial advisor, car, and jade

The highlight of my day – I deposited all of my coins in a CoinStar machine at the local Safeway. All together, I had approximately $185 in coins! After the service charge, I received $172. That’s a lot of money from pocket change.

Meeting with the financial advisor – So today I met with the previously mentioned financial advisor. We had a nice 30-minute conversation mostly about investing. As I mentioned earlier, I approached the meeting with a lot of trepidation since I generally think of financial advisors as just an additional and needless cost. Here’s some key points and my thoughts on todays meeting…

  • He introduced his financial firm and emphasized that they provided comprehensive financial advice and were independent from any particular investing firm. Comprehensive financial advice means that they provide advice in a huge range of financial topics from real estate, to investing, to estate planning, to budgeting, etc. His emphasis on independence was meant to indicate that there was no company pulling the strings in the background.
  • I asked him how exactly his firm made money. He said there were three ways – an annual fee, commissions, and recommendations. Although I didn’t ask for him to explain further, it is obvious that the majority of the money he earns comes from commissions. The annual fee was miniscule. This frightens me because there is an obvious reason for him to recommend bogus investments to obtain his commissions. This system is fundamentally flawed. But at the same time, I can’t fault the advisor. He has a life as well and will try to make money to support his family. There is an obvious incentive for him to supply recommendations that are beneficial to his well-being. I am not sure if this particular guy would do such a thing but regardless, the system is bogus and I feel that financial management on my own would be a better approach.
  • I also asked about investing strategies – specifically, why should I let you manage my investments when I can just put all my money in a low-cost index fund or exchange traded fund. Specifically, we discussed the Vanguard S&P500 and the iShares S&P500 ETF (IVV). He explained that they use modern portfolio theory (MPT) to build a portfolio consisting of ETFs that closely approximate the stock market but significantly reduce the risk. To reduce this risk, my money would be distributed among different forms of assets (US stocks, bonds, money market, international stocks, etc). I know very little of MPT and can’t really validate his comments. I don’t understand how MPT is different from diversification. Is it different from diversification? I am guessing that money is moved around between different asset classes depending on how the financial advisor predicts the future economy. For example, if he predicts a bear stock market, more money would be positioned in the bond markets. To me this sounds like market timing … and, based upon what I’ve read, market timing is a hoax. Hopefully, I can actually read a little about modern portfolio theory but it is at the bottom of a very long to-read list.
  • Overall, I came away from the meeting thinking that I don’t have any particular reasons to use a financial advisor in the near term although I enjoyed meeting with the advisor.

the car – the saga continues. So after spending $400 on tires, I took my car to get a tune-up today. I had a dead fuel injector, which cost me another $400, most of which is labor costs. I should really look into fixing these problems myself – I could save a lot of money.

jade – visited the vet today. Had to shell out $150 for a urinary tract infection. Once the vet told me this, I asked, “$150? Does the dog really need the urinary tract?” Unfortunately, it sounds like the urinary tract is necessary.

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Useless Stuff

gb study notes – chapter 1

Five Rules

Chapter 1: The Five Rules for Successful Investing

  1. Do Your Homework
    • “… sitting down and reading the annual report cover to cover, checking out industry competitors, and going through past financial statements [pg 2]”
    • why? because you have the possibility of losing your money, you should know about your investment
    • why? because you can’t always trust or rely upon opinions of others
  2. Find Economic Moats
    • moat – A deep wide ditch, usually filled with water, typically surrounding a fortified medieval town, fortress, or castle as a protection against assault [Answers.com]
    • economic moat – the ability of a company to keep “competitors from attacking a firm’s profits”, to protect its profits from the assault of competitors
    • the term economic moat was popularized by Warren Buffett
    • An Important Concept: Typically in a free market, a profitable company will attract competition that will eventually erode the company’s profits.
    • The Key Question: “How does a company manage to keep competitors at bay and earn consistently fat profits? [pg 3]”
    • Related Websites:
      1. A Look at Economic Moats – Investopedia
      2. Digging an Economic Moat – Morningstar (Pat Dorsey)
      3. How Morningstar Measures Motes – Morningstar
      4. Companies with Wide Economic Moats – Street Authority
      5. An Introduction to Economic Moats – Yahoo (Pat Dorsey)
  3. Have a Margin of Safety
  4. Hold for the Long Haul
  5. Know When to Sale
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Useless Stuff

new year’s resolutions

So it’s that time of year again to play the new year’s resolution game. I have lost 20 years in a row (I am not counting the first six years since I was too young to play). But I feel confident that this may be the year that I can actually accomplish one of my goals. I am older and mature-r – yeah, that’s it!

But anyhow, right now, I can think of three primary goals…

  1. HikingOne of my favorite outdoor activities is hiking. Tucson is a great hiking area, providing great hikes throughout the year. In the summer, you hike up in the mountains in moderate temperatures. And in the winter, you hike down in the desert, again to moderate temperatures. I also have a hiking companion now – my dog Jade. The only complication with the dog is avoiding the cacti and wildlife (i.e. snakes). But either way, I know a lot of my friends enjoy hiking. Plus it is a good form of exercise and a great opportunity to practice another hobby – photography.
  2. So my resolution is to do 30 hikes in 2006. This corresponds to approximately a hike every other week. I am not going to set any constraints on length or time – as long as I am out of the house and exercising – it counts as a hike in my book.

  3. The DentistThis resolution I really hate. I can hear the dentist drill as I write. But it has been way too long since I have been to the dentist. In all the student insurance I have had, I never get dental coverage so I have avoided going to the dentist for just that reason (plus the fact that I just generally hate the dentist). Unfortunately, I can’t wait till I get a full time job – I might not have any teeth by that point. So my second resolution is to find a dentist in Tucson, get a checkup, and then have my multiple cavities filled. Oh man! This is going to cost me a fortune
  4. PhotographyI have always enjoyed photography but seldom practice it. Right now, I have a point-and-shoot digital camera (Canon, 5MP). I am always tempted to spend a lot of money on a nice digital SLR. Before I purchase such a camera, I need to prove to myself that I can put in the effort to get out of the house and explore interesting, photogenic areas with my simple point-and-shoot. Consequently, my resolution is to take 50 photographs that I deem acceptable during 2006. As a reward, I can buy a Nikon digital SLR.