Friday, December 17, 2010

Portfolio changes

Made quite a few adjustments to the portfolio today. General approach was to raise cash to deploy in the coming weeks should better options present themselves.

Some recent actions:
- reduced MSFT Microsoft position by about half. Was my top holding and the oversized position was too big for my comfort.
- sold one of my drillers NE Noble Energy. The drillers just aren't acting right and wanted to lighten up. I still hold DO Diamond Offshore
- sold LLY Eli Lilly. The more I thought about it I just didn't know enough about it and the only reason I owned it was metrics and dividend. I need to stick to mutual funds for pharmaceutical exposure.
- sold AFAM Almost Family home healthcare. Yep... that was me selling about a half an hour before the stock rose by $1.63 to close up 4.3% for the day... Dangit! Some huge upside volume started hitting the stock soon after I sold. Not sure what was going on.
- added to WDC Western Digital. It had dropped pretty severely in the past few days on no news so I took the other side as most other related tech has been pretty solid.

Top Holdings in order now (excluding mutual funds) are:
INTC Intel
MSFT Microsoft
WDC Western Digital
CHL China Mobile - telecom/wireless
UFPT UFP Tech - packaging
TEO Telecom Argentina - telecom
DO Diamond Offshore - offshore driller
LHCG LHC Group - home health
MDF Metropolitan Health Networks - healthcare facilities

After the activity today my cash level is up to almost 50% so I'll look to redeploy some of this next week. That cash level is a bit excessive and surely I can find 1 or 2 places to put it.

Some I'm looking at: CSCO Cisco, KMB Kimberly Clark (again), MCD McDonalds?... ABT Abbot Labs... maybe a few others. I'll know better after I work on things over the weekend.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Protecting yourself in nuclear detonation

This is one of the most interesting things I've read in a while. I saw this link a NYTimes story today about best way to survive a nuclear detonation. The new studies indicate there's lots we can do to substantially increase odds of surviving. Two keys to surviving.

1. Hide fast from radiation. Brick concrete basements of big buildings are best, or middle interior rooms of big office buildings. My initial inclination would be to try to get away as fast as possible, but it sounds like finding cover from radiation is by far the best way to go.
2. Stay put. The radioactive fallout is worst in the first few hours after the detonation and radiation levels quickly fall.

Here's a Fact Sheet from the Dept. of Homeland Security. Note the first image shows how radiation levels spike in the first hour after a blast and then fall off considerably after 6 hours or so. Taking cover can significantly reduce your exposure.

The second image on the second page shows levels of protection provided by different places and building types. Like mentioned above, lots of brick and concrete between you and radiation is good, and if you can combine that and get underground it's even better. But failing being in a big concrete building basement, an average home basement seems to provide sufficient protection.

In the article the experts make it clear that the event is more survivable than expected if shelter from the radiation can be achieved.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Get this - students know who the most effective teachers are

I've always felt it was fairly easy as a student to tell who the best teachers were, and thought it was strange that schools never asked students who the best teachers were. (I guess I'd assumed the unions didn't want there to be comparisons between good and bad teachers?) Now a big study by the Gates has confirmed it as reported in the NYTimes.

From the story: “Kids know effective teaching when they experience it,” he said. “As a nation, we’ve wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school reform efforts.”

"Thousands of students have filled out confidential questionnaires about the learning environment that their teachers create. After comparing the students’ ratings with teachers’ value-added scores, researchers have concluded that there is quite a bit of agreement."

Here's the full story. Pretty good read.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jack Handey

Sometimes I wish I had fingers on my toes so I could pick up ice cubes more easily when I drop them in the kitchen floor. How convenient. But then I wondered if I had fingers on my toes would I instead walk on my arms and view the world upside down? And when I was on the internet would that mean I'd have to type with my keyboard on the floor?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Intel's Andy Grove on importance of manufacturing - what a great read!

I'm a fan of Intel founder Andy Grove (and coincidentally I'm currently an investor also!). But I was very impressed with Mr. Grove's article about the importance of manufacturing - and the importance of keeping even low skill jobs to maintain a presence in the evolving knowledgebase of future new technologies, but also to simply provide employment as an end in-and-of-itself.

Without scaling, we don’t just lose jobs -- we lose our hold on new technologies. Losing the ability to scale will ultimately damage our capacity to innovate.

In a sense he's saying you can't have the high skill jobs without bringing along the low skill jobs too. In effect - you need alot of low skilled jobs so you can know enough and be innovative enough to be involved in the next big thing. There's alot of value in doing things on a very large scale - and we lose alot of know-how by farming so much of it out overseas to lower cost producers.

This definitely flies in the face of prevailing economics, but there's a cohesion to his argument that has some resonating qualities. I found this perspective definitely worth the read.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Couple of cool things I read today - Friedman and Tyche

Here's a very good Thomas Friedman piece from the Times on what Chinese diplomats are likely saying about us (if we could see their diplomatic cables).
quote: "Things are going well here for China. America remains a deeply politically polarized country, which is certainly helpful for our goal of overtaking the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy and nation. But we’re particularly optimistic because the Americans are polarized over all the wrong things. " read the whole op-ed

Here's a very interesting story that hypothesizes an unknown/unseen larger-than-Jupiter-sized planet way way out there that might be responsible for throwing comets into the solar system. We've heard this and similar theory before, but what I find interesting in this story is that there's a smidgen of evidence, and that a current mission might be able to find it if it exists despite it's great distance and coldness.

"The researchers noted that most comets that fly into the inner solar system seem to come from the outer region of the Oort cloud. Their calculations suggest the gravitational influence of a planet one to four times the mass of Jupiter in this area might be responsible.

Two centuries of observations have indicated an anomaly that suggests the existence of Tyche, Matese said. "The probability that it could be caused by a statistical fluke has remained very small," he added"

Wouldn't it be cool to uncover another planet?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

S.Korean Civilian perspective on Incheon shelling

Qoute: “We shouldn’t attack them, because we have become a democracy, and I can still remember when we were still like them, poor and eating out of cans. But if we give them any more money, they’ll use it to kill us.” - Choi Byung-soo from South Korean Island of Incheon that was shelled by North Korea.

Here's a good article from S.Korean civilian perspective from those on the island.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I came across these cool series of images on the BBC website - well worth a look

Landscape Photography

Odd Architecture

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why do zebras have stripes?

I was watching a TV show today prior to football with Bill Hanna and got to wondering why zebras had stripes. If anything to me it seems like they make the animals stand out / more obvious to predators.

From what I can tell from brief reading on several websites there aren't many explanations that make good sense to me, but some of the leading ideas include.
1. Form of recognition between animals in the herd. My thought is this is plausible, but why would such outlandish stripe displays be so rare amoungst herbivores - most are just brown?
2. At key point when lions pounce on the zebra herd the swirling stripes can cause just enough confusion to help survival - especially to make it harder to find/track the younger zebras as prey. This to me seems plausible - although wikipedia notes that field observers don't notice any particular confusion amoung lions in the hunt.
2a. In a tight herd it makes it difficult to isolate individual animals, they all blend together.
3. Simple camoflauge. Apparently lions are color blind and the white black stripes would not be noticed (Like orange hats and deer), and the striking black/white color isn't such a big deal for primary hunting times of lions - dusk/dawn/and at night. I can't speak to this other than no other animals have adopted coloring close.
4. thermal effects - black absorbs heat, white repels heat, and the difference in the coat colors creates micro-air-currents around the body creating a cooling effect. Net effect a large amount of heat is deflected, and cooling current produced near the body. I would've never thought of that potential. Who knows - kindof strange idea, but maybe?
5. Visually the stripes serve to confuse the tse-tse fly. I guess if it reduces the load of flies on the animals it might have some merit, but would it be enough?

None of the answers are really very satisfying if for no other reason than no other similar animals seem to find much value in such crazy coats.

Part of me wonders if the stripes are a by-product of something else going on, or a byproduct of something that used to be advantageous that now is just leftover from history.

Heres some links with ideas:
story 1
story 2
story 3

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Obligatory post

I haven't posted here in a while.... Not much interesting happening I guess. Mind in neutral. Eyes glazed with slobber slowly dripping from the edge of my mouth.

Things of note:
- I turned 40. In hindsight that probably wasn't a good idea. That's way too long to be taking up space and not getting much good or interesting done. Gotta try to do better in that regard. Maybe I need a new career.
- The Microsoft trade seems like it's working against me at the moment. The stock looks so cheap to me right now, but the action is not favorable. Gotta keep an eye on it. I don't understand the the selling, but clearly more sellers than buyers right now.
- Need to check on how to do some concrete. My driveway is busted up from where a tree root grew up under it. I'll get to play red-neck in the city and see how bad I can mess that up while embarrassing my wife. Maybe there's a youtube video explaining how to properly mix and pour concrete to repair a small section of driveway.
- Have you noticed Diet Mountain Dews are really expensive in the stores right now? I'm having withdrawal waiting for prices to come back down.
- It sure does get dark early now.

Well, that's about all for the excitement now.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Constitutional" Amendment

I went to vote today and we had what I considered a strange amendment on the ballot. The amendment passed and put the right to hunt and fish into the state constitution. Not that I have anything against hunting and fishing, subject to reasonable restrictions (ie no hunting on main street in rush hour). But really? Do you put this in the constitution?

At the next election I would like to offer my own "constitutional" amendment guaranteeing all citizens the right to take a dump and a leak - of course subject to local sanitary and decency laws. You know, just so that it's understood. I want free and ungoverned bowel and bladder movements - well not _too_ free, but free within reasonable bodily control. And I want the right to flush included in that amendment.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Investment Update - 10-30

Just a quick update.

Added a few stock positions this week.

ARO Aeropostale - teen retailer
WDC Western Digital - tech / hard drives
MRK Merck - major drugs
DO Diamond Offshore - offshore drilling, mostly shallower water (gulf of Mexico exposure)

AZN Astrazeneca - drugs. This one wasn't acting right, and decided to sell and swap into MRK instead.

My Stock portfolio has largely become dominated by Tech / Healthcare / Consumer Brand/ Retail over the past couple of months. It looks like this now from large to small:
MSFT Microsoft
INTC Intel
DECK Deckers Outdoors
TXN Texas Instruments
GILD Gilead Sciences
TEO Telecom Argentina
NE Noble Energy
DO Diamond Offshore
WDC Western Digital
ROST Ross Stores
MRK Merck
ARO Aeropostale
GES Guess

Still sitting on a whole lot of cash.

New Theory of Money

I found this to be a very interesting read on financial systems.
Time for a New Theory of Money

I find the central arguments around the purpose of banking very interesting - that banks should exist for reasons other than the profit motive - that they serve a public role of money creation (due to fractional reserves banks essentially create money when they create a loan). It places banks somewhere between a pure economic animal and makes it a hybrid public/private institution. The discussion attributes much of the recent economic problems to banks getting into businesses they were never intended for, and argues for back to basics banks, even if state owned.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stock update - 10-26-10

As part of my ongoing series of position trades I sold out of JNJ Johnson and Johnson for about 10-11% gain. In from 8-16 at 57.93 and out 10-25 at 64.08 and picked up a dividend along the way. The overall market moves have helped me considerably on the position trades that I've done up to now (KMB, PEP, WMT, CMCSA, and JNJ). I also group ongoing positions in MSFT and INTC into that same basket, although they fit into the Greenblatt Magic Formula approach I'm working on also.

Additionally I sold a smaller position in BID Sothebys after holding for a few years. Sothebys is one crazy acting stock. It's been bouncing all over the place.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Revising Greenblatt's Magic Formula approach

I've been spending alot of time working on Joel Greenblatt's Magic Formula approach to stock selection, and thought I'd refine an initial model that I'd put together to help select investments. Over the past week I've spent almost every free waking hour away from work working on this new model (I say waking hour because I'd often fall asleep at my PC at night while building out the calcs). The new model was designed to take into account several more factors than the one he describes in his book. I added several variations of return on capital, a few more measurements on valuation, added an entire section on growth measurements, and added a couple of components on balance sheet strength and price strength.

Well, the new model is pretty much completed and I downloaded new data, sorted things, and .... despite all the changes I pretty much end up with the same list of stocks that the initial simplified model supplied. Maybe in slightly different order, but they're all there. Greenblatt's initial criteria of Ranking stocks based on Return on Capital and EBIT earnings yield seems to be pretty robust, even when supplemented with quite a bit of other types of similar desirable measurements.

Stocks at the top of the interest list are same as before: ARO Aeropostale, WDC Western Digital, TJX TJ Maxx, MRK Merck, BBY Best Buy, GD General Dynamics, and so forth for the bigger names.

I'm still digging around with some of the smaller company names, but overall I'm being presented with a similar set of companies as before.

I guess the next step in working with this is figuring out buy/sell points to make this an ongoing/workable approach.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stock purchase activity

I had the day off work and spent some time working on my investments. I'd been doing a lot of work on a new investment method advocated by Joel Greenblatt called Magic Formula Investing. Greenblatt is the author of "The Little Book that Beats the Market" where he describes his quantitative value investing approach - an approach that suits me well since I like stock screens (from AAII Stock Investor software) and working with and modeling data in Excel.

Today I opened positions in quite a few companies that seem to score highly using a modified version of the Greenblatt methodology. I'm still not completely comfortable with what's going on, but there's nothing like having real money on the line to make me pay attention better and learn from the trades I do using this method. Greenblatt's methodology directs us toward some underperformers and many of these companies have well-known issues, but that's the kind of company that often scores well using Greenblatt's approach: it's often "hold your nose and buy" because he's found that stocks with issues are often undervalued (when they meet certain criteria).

Purchases today
INTC Intel - semiconductors
NE Noble Corp - oil drilling
GILD Gilead Sciences - Drugs
AZN Astrazeneca - Drugs
TXN Texas Instruments - semiconductors
ROST Ross Stores - retail apparel
GES Guess Inc - branded apparel
TEO Telecom Argentina - telecom

The most troublesome stocks to me are the drug companies because I don't understand the industry, patents and pipelines, so I'm just going with the approach on these so far. I also had a buy order in for MRK Merck today that didn't fill. I may end up getting MRK at a future date. There are tons of drug companies showing up on the screen right now, and I'm also currently in JNJ Johnson and Johnson. I'll watch and learn how to deal with Health Care stocks as things progress. The drug companies pay big dividends so I like that cushion with these stocks.

Normally I should exclude ADR's from the screens, but I often don't do that just to see where they fall in the rankings. That left foreign stock AZN in the mix for me, and also left TEO Telecom Argentina in there. I liked the return on capital they're getting, the growth rate, and the 7% dividend (albeit likely not sustainable) given the 100+% payout ratio. We'll see how this goes. (edit: I see the dividend yield was mis-stated. It's an irregular dividend - likely not more than 4% in practice, maybe less depending on if it's paid every year)

I've got my eye on several other retailers, but I started today with ROST Ross Stores and GES Guess. TJX TJ Max is one I'm looking at, as well as companies like COH Coach, BKE Buckle, ARO Aeropostale BIG Big Lots, PETS Petsmart, BBY Best Buy... and several others. My wife likes TJ Max so that may be the next one I go with.

In the Tech side of things I added INTC Intel and TXN Texas Instruments. I already had a pretty big position in MSFT Microsoft from a month or two back, and also have my eye on WDC Western Digital which I likely would've bought today if it hadn't have jumped abut 9% last Friday. WDC ranks well here too.

The last one to talk about here NE Noble Corp. They're a deep sea driller that's been hurt by the spill disaster in the Gulf. The other options I was looking at included DO Diamond Offshore and CEO CNOOC. The purchase in the energy segment was really done more in the spirit of diversification than anything else. I'm uncomfortable with capital intensive companies whose business can dry up /boom with uncontrollable moves in the price of oil.

In the end I'll plan to follow a rotation with these companies and keep updating the Greenblatt approach and changing stocks as appropriate. Most of these are in retirement accounts so I don't have capital gains to worry about.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crooked Still

Check out this tune by one of the more interesting bands I've come across in a while. They're called Crooked Still and this is one of my favorite songs by them: "Come into my Kitchen"

Friday, October 8, 2010

Naica's Los Crystales cave

See this video of the Naica's Los Crystales cave in Chihuahua, Mexico. Is this not one of the most unreal things you've ever seen? As you watch imagine 130F degree temps and 100% humidity as you slowly bake.

Read more about it on Wikipedia. There's a show on Natural Geographic about the caves also (where I heard about them in the first place).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My new hero: Peter Schiff

Whoa, I just saw a link to video from Peter Schiff on, an investing website with alot of great articles.

I'm going to have to read more about Peter Schiff but this guy called the economic mess we are in - and he put the other talking heads to shame. Watch this video of him on various news shows as he's literally laughed at by commentators and other guests when he warns about the coming mortgage crisis, banking collapse, and economic recession.

Peter Schiff is my new hero! Prepare to see who was clueless (utterly) - and consider whether you should listen to these guys ever again. They couldn't even imagine Peter Schiff's argument being accurate - to the degree that they dismissed him with laughs and giggles. It's scary how right Peter Schiff was and few others could see it.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I for-the-most-part try to keep political topics off of my blog, but I found this post from Politico interesting and curious at the same time.

How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll? .... With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stocks - still cautious

The stock market's run-up has surprised me over the past month or so. I've been gradually raising cash along the way.

I recently cleared my largest position in CTSH Cognizant Tech - a company I'd been in for around 5 years. I've closed out a few other longer term holdings too, including HANS.

Today I closed out a short term swing trade in WalMart WMT. I was in for about 3 months, picked up a dividend along the way, and sold for about 7.5% net gain in total. So far I'm enjoying the opportunities to move in and out of positions in some of the big companies that just seem cheap to me.

While I'm still taking a very cautious stance on the economy and stock market, I still want to stay partially invested, so after looking over some options I'm thinking MSFT Microsoft will be on the buy list for tomorrow.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Swamp People

I don't watch much TV anymore, but I ran into the Swamp People series on the History Channel this morning. It's about Gator hunting with the Cajuns down in Louisiana. If you get a chance check it out. I can't turn it off.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Check out the story on the new dinosaur discovered in Utah, an apparent relative to Triceratops called Kosmoceratops that has 15 elaborate horns on it's head/shield. The picture is in the linked article.

Here's another article with a different picture from Utah's Salt Lake Tribune.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quote of the Day - Jimi Hendrix

"Just listen, and you'll hear" - Jimi Hendrix

I saw that quote in an NPR story about Jimi Hendrix earlier today. Here's the link to the story and the link to the podcast.

The 40th Anniversary of Hendrix's death is this weekend September 18th. He'd be 67 years old if he was still alive. I've never heard the song mentioned in the article... only problem is I can't find a copy of the song anywhere to download.

Over the past year or so I've gotten into Jimi Hendrix's playing in a very big way and now have a high level of admiration for what Hendrix was about. When I was younger I just didn't "get" Jimi, but I guess now that I've aged a little I have developed an unexpected level of admiration and respect. And most of the respect comes from listening to Hendrix's back-catalog - and the fine work on those songs that you'd never hear unless you searched them out. The popular rock songs that blanket the classic rock airwaves are O.K., but there's a whole different Hendrix out there that creates a whole new dimension - and without checking out his back-catalog via my subscription I probably would've never heard most of it.

edit: after looking around here's a youtube video of the song that I came across. I guess the track was never officially released?

Monday, September 13, 2010


I saw this article by Douglas Coupland and laughed:

"BELL’S LAW OF TELEPHONY No matter what technology is used, your monthly phone bill magically remains about the same size."

How true.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Remembering 9-11

My wife forwarded me a link from author Meg Cabot's website relating the author's experience of 9/11 in NYC. This is a powerful read and will likely have you recalling where you were and the confusion surrounding the day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Almost Famous

I just saw this. I participated in a stock investing board on the Silicon Investor website where Michael Burry used to post. It sounds like he went on to become a successful hedge fund manager with keen insights into the market bubbles of the last decade.

Anyhow, I saw the Bloomberg story and was just like "Hey - I remember that guy!"

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Six Million Dollar Man

I just happened across this intro to the Six Million Dollar Man. This used to be one of my favorite shows when I was little.

"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology"

"Better.... Stronger... Faster..."

Oh yeah, that's classic. I want to run around the house in my jump suit now.

And all that for only $6 million dollars. I guess that used to seem like a lot of money.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interesting research on effective Study Habits

Here's the story.

1. Vary the location where you study. The associative nature of memory works better in more dynamic/changing environments.
1a. Break up the times when you study. 2-3 hours over several days are better than 2-3 hours in one sitting.
2. Study multiple but related material together (rather than intensely studying one topic)
3. Test yourself. Learning and Recalling seem to reinforce each other. Just looking at notes over and over isn't the same as studying notes and then forcing yourself to retrieve answers with quiz questions.

I found this particularly interesting - there's apparently very little support for the idea of "learning styles." Quote from article:

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

One final thought: Have you noticed how sometimes it's very hard to accomplish a task on a given day no matter how hard you work at it (maybe something at work, or a guitar run, or a certain hurdle in a video game)? But if you take a break - maybe even sleep on it - then the next day it becomes much easier to do? Isn't that what they're suggesting above? Break up you study time - give your brain opportunity to digest what's learned - test yourself by trying again. (I personally find sleeping on an idea is very good for clarification - but they don't seem to outright suggest sleep between learning as a part of study schedule).

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thinking Different

Here is a great little story about a Doctor and Scientist Donald A. Redelmeier who favors odd and non-traditional studies and observations.

Re winning an academy award. Do you tend to live longer because you win an Academy Award, or do you tend to win an Academy Award because you possess longevity increasing characteristics that attract votes?

Also - more accidents on election days? I agree it's seems what you'd expect. It's an extra trip for most people that carries some additional risk of accident. That's kindof like accidents going down when gas goes to $4/gallon. People drive less at $4 - (I work for an insurance company and can confirm frequency (accidents) went down when gas price went up, but accident levels are back to "normal" now despite approx $3 gas.)

And I really like his quote from the story:

“Do not get trapped into prior thoughts. It’s perfectly O.K. to change your mind as you learn more.”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Assorted cool stories

- In search for extra-terrestrial intelligence expect to find "Artificial" intelligence. The argument here is that in a few hundred years the processing power of a technological civilization will become so immense that it will likely swamp biological intelligence.

- About the "slippery slope." How small decisions and actions can significantly color our world and perception of the world. Apparently the little things matter alot. Makes me wonder if the effect of spending money we don't have (credit) functions similarly.

- Is this Gould's punctuated equilibrium?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Let the Fever play out

Here's an interesting post advocating the benefits of fever - and just letting the body's natural immune response play out. Apparently there's a surprising lack of studies to show that taking aspirin or other fever-reducers helps - it probably just keeps us sicker longer but makes us feel a bit better while we're sick (my read).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Iraq soldier point-of-view

Here's real good American soldier point-of-view article about the winding down of the war in Iraq.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bats hunting skills

Here's an interesting article on bat hunting techniques, and some of the evolved defenses of moths to prevent themselves from being eaten by the bats.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Large Caps look inexpensive

I've never in my investing life been a fan of big blue chip stocks - they've always looked expensive to me - until now. Add a nice dividend on top of a low earnings multiple on top of a financially strong company that's growing earnings and in this environment they look pretty good. I think I posted about Kimberly Clark KMB and PEP Pepsico. I recently also purchased WMT Wal-Mart and a couple days back added JNJ Johnson and Johnson.

There are others of those big blue chips on my radar too. I've decided to try to swing-trade some of these as they tend to oscillate - because my main interest at this point is preservation of capital at low risk while picking up income from dividend and/or small price moves.

Today I sold KMB and PEP for about maybe 5-7% gains each. Will keep each of these on the radar for re-entry points. I've never really done these longer term swing trades but there are alot of these big stable companies with dividend that seem to kindof oscillate a bit, and I really don't mind owning them - especially if I can pick up a few dividends in the process, while at the same time being in a decent % cash seems a decent low-risk alternative too while I wait for other buying opportunities.

Like I mentioned I moved into WMT Walmart and JNJ Johnson and Johnson recently, and am interested in Comcast CMCSA amoung some others depending on the price moves from week to week. The market seems to want to be manic and indecisive right now, and all my old growth screens aren't turning up much new of interest right now - so I'm trying something new.

As I work out how to value these big blue chip dividenders I think I'll have some interesting work ahead of me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stock update

It's interesting to me that there have been alot of upside earnings surprises out there. Many commentators are reporting the dichotomy between earnings reports and employment, and it is a bit confusing, but there have been several good earning reports from companies I track.

Of those I track and/or own that seem to have business going well for them: CTSH, EBIX, HANS, DECK, KMB.

I'm actually looking to add to the EBIX position again. I want to be careful and not get top heavy without the market validating reported results, but I feel like EBIX's results deserve upping the ante a bit.

KMB Kimberly-Clark has had a good run (I recently purchased this consumer staple company as a dividend stock and it's up nearly 10% since then - so I'm considering cashing out and waiting for a pullback as KMB has pretty much traded in the same price range for nearly a decade and I've more than made what I was expecting to get from the dividend in the first place.).

Other recent additions to the portfolio including PEP Pepsico and WMT WalMart. I may try a similar in-out on PEP like KMB as I bought it similarly for dividend and have more cap gain than dividend in short period. All of this is in retirement accts so no tax implications.

Anyhow, overall I've been pleasantly surprised with earnings so far, especially given such a pervasive bearish mood that seems out there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Russian Fires

Have you seen the devastating fires from the heat wave in Russia? This looks terrible - entire communities burning.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

High Frequency Trading funkiness

I came across this very interesting post about how high frequency traders are able to use ultrafast connections to find and take advantage and uncover your supposedly hidden stop and limit orders. It's yet another recent story that our financial system has evolved primarily to the benefit of the perpetuation of the financial system itself. It's become a parasite on the rest of society by skimming money out of our 401ks in the name millisecond level "liquidity".

It upsets me to read this because the solution for most folks is simply not to play the game - but that's not really a good use of your capital either. I guess ultimately it's just disappointing that a stock market system designed to help companies raise money and let investors create a market for the investments has turned into a poker table where the guy on the other side with the fastest computer in-a-way gets to see your cards before he places his bet.

Apparently Senator Chuck Schumer is working to get the SEC to act to limit/restrict the use of these flash orders that are supposedly letting high frequency traders see info that other market participants can't see or respond to.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Affluence and freedoms

I was watching Book TV today and Ralph Nader was a guest for a couple of hours. For years he's been a consumer advocate (notably auto safety) and grassroots activist, but one thing that stuck with me from all the questions he took regarded the increased difficulty in organizing now.

He indicated it was very surprising to him that the information revolution and the internet has not spurred people to action. He says it's easier than ever to find out information now, but that it seems more difficult than ever to respond to do anything about the abuses they see. One line of thought is information overload - there's so much information available that you just can't make sense of all of it. For example: He remarks how he's so frustrated with how workers continually get screwed as their pensions are shredded by the companies they work for - but he finds it very difficult to organize a coherent push around that issue to help protect people.

Is it possible that there's so much information that the corporations with very narrow but very focused interests are much better able to use this knowledge to their advantage, while the attention of most average folks gets so diluted they can't make sense of it all - or at least can't stay focused on it long enough? That's sortof like John Bogle's argument about why the managers (CEOs, boards) are running companies for the interests of the managers nowadays, and are often no longer attempting to maximize returns for the greatly diluted shareholder interests who find it difficult to stay on top of boards - especially when so much investment is diluted in 401K and pensions etc?

Bogle sees the later as a challenge for capitalism, and Nader sees the former as a challenge for our democracy - and certainly sees corporate power stronger now than ever before - and growing.

An additional thought here - what role does affluence play in this? And is there a concern that once a certain level of affluence in society is reached are we sated - like on our happy drugs of Brave New World - and are we happy just to go along for the ride distracted by the relative abundance around us?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I might be the most boring person in the world

My big plan for today was to go get my broken mower and mow the yard. That didn't happen - mower still not done. So instead I do a couple loads of laundry. Watch a sorry movie. Take a nap. Pay some bills. Rocking out to late night Book TV on C-Span now!

Internet poker might soon be legal again

Internet poker and some other forms of online gambling was supposedly banned back (2006). "But I see ads for internet gambling on TV and online all the time?" you might say? I guess it's all run from offshore currently, and note that the ads will direct you to a dot net site that's a "play" site with fake money, but it'll have ways to link to the real sites where all the poker stars talk about playing.

Anyhow, it sounds like congress is looking at legislation to legalize internet gambling. It's not that they don't want to control your life (or more cynically protect campaign contributors like land-based casinos, or other forms of already legalized gambling - can you say the "lotto") - they're just out of money this time and need more revenues. In a way govt. debt has been good for cultural libertarians out there.

(Heck, even in some small towns I'm familiar with where nobody previously drank alcohol you can now go to an "upscale" O'Charlies because they've been willing to do the unthinkable - legalize liquor by the drink licensing - a needed profit center to attract new restaurants (and a new tax base for struggling city budgets).

Now with all this said, I know alot of folks struggle with gambling and other addictions so along with this I have to support programs to help people who can't control a gambling addiction. In my mind the two have to walk hand in hand - there has to be a recognition of the negative social costs of gambling, and some of the revenue _should_ be used to offset the negative effects it brings to society.

Anyhow, my post for the day.... it's not meant to be inflamatory, but I do find it interesting that societies have tendencies to want to control people's activities until it gets to the point of a) do I stand by my principles and support increased taxes, or b) do I just legalize it and tax the crud out of it? Often option (b) is the way we go. Option (b) comes with baggage often, and it's that compromise that makes govt. kindof icky - option b is usually not a nice clean solution - it has both positives and very visible negatives. But option C (not spending so much in the first place) hasn't proven very achievable either.

The really tough calls to me are the ones where the net negatives are equal to and/or outweigh the net positives. The derivative markets might be an example ;-) or certain activities classified as "predatory lending," certain life destroying drugs, or if your neighbor wants to put in a chicken coup. Tough calls are on the fringes - and there are those that would argue they have the right to do those things even if it makes society as a whole worse-off anyway. But we're off on an interesting tangent now.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Made good batch of home-made Chinese food

I made a pretty good batch of home-made Chinese food today. Whenever I make Chinese it always comes out a bit different so I never know exactly what the best way to make it, but today's batch was pretty good.

Get 1 cup of rice going.

For the rest:
3 or 4 chicken breast fillets, sliced thin into small pieces. Cook on medium with a bit of sesame oil and oyster sauce initially (not too much of either flavors), and then as it get's going better I add soy sauce a few more times. That was more chicken than I was used to fixing but they were all in the same freezer bag - so it took longer to cook than usual at this point, but it eventually all turned white. I added soy sauce a few times as I stirred it.

-small can of mushrooms, and
-small can of bamboo shoots, and
-big can of pineapple chunks. I put some of the pineapple juice in with the cooking chicken but remember drinking a bunch of the leftover pineapple juice too.
Added soy sauce a couple more times as it all cooked (I like the bamboo shoots to soak up the soy sauce), and added
- corn starch to thicken the liquids and turned back the heat

as all the excitement in the other pan is winding down in separate fry pan pour out some
- Asian frozen mixed vegetables from Kroger - mostly some type of long green bean, broccoli, onions, and mushroom (no carrots),
- another partial leftover bag of frozen broccoli, and
- a partial bag of frozen green beans.
On medium heat just got that going enough to heat it up but leaving the vegetables crunchy. Mixed in some soy sauce as it was cooking. Turned the heat back on that so vegetables were cooked but still crunchy.

Pretty much done at this point. Put down the rice on a plate, put on the cooked chicken w/ bamboo and pineapple, then on top put the vegetables. Had a real nice flavor. Probably just lucked out with the mix of soy sauce this time, but it was real good.

Plus, you can save it and it'll reheat very well in microwave for several more meals (or it's good straight out of the fridge if you like it cold).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Here's an interesting and critical article by the Washington Post on how large and unwieldy our security apparatus has grown.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yet another reason to avoid big name stock recs

I know we've talked about this before, but just a reality check in case that memory has faded. This time it's Goldman-Sachs.

From this NYT article
"Goldman Sachs can’t seem to stay out of the news, and I keep thinking about the amazing first quarter they had. In case you missed it Goldman made money on its own trades every single day in the first quarter. Meanwhile in the real world, people who followed Goldman’s recommended top trades for 2010 lost money on seven of the nine recommended trades."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lyric of the Day

I was downloading some tunes from emusic today and downloaded an Indigo Girls Live album that impressed me (alot of live albums aren't that good but I like this one). The lyric of the day comes from there. I love this turn of phrase:

"I got bitten by the bitter bug and now I just can't get enough
of ill will and my own conceits, and I'm weary of the world it seems"
- Second Time Around, The Indigo Girls

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

3 cool science stories from today

It turns out today was chock-full of interesting science stories. I thought all of these were really good.

1. Emergent Gravity - good story about "emergent gravity" and a paper that's bringing the discussion that gravity may not be fundamental but is instead just an emergent property of a complex system. I've seen several stories about this recently but this provides a good background for the clue-less like myself.

2. The Bacteria in us all. I am always hesitant to take medicines, especially antibiotics, because I've tended to view my "system" as myself and a whole bunch of beneficial microbes living in me in sortof a symbiosis - and antibiotics for me seem kindof like bombs that kill everything in your system good or bad. Here's a story that talks about how little doctors or science knows about the biospheres inside of us, and how promoting the correct type of bacteria in us may be what's needed in the first place.

3. Interesting finding about preventing brain damage during stroke. I found this a highly non-intuitive finding - brain damage in a stroke can be minimized/prevented by stimulating the brain area impacted - at least in a rat. Flicking a whisker makes all the difference, but there are obvious things to try in people.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Asteroid Lutetia images

Check out the images from the European Space Agency's Rosetta craft website - including a movie of the flyby. Lutetia is thought to be about 75 mi. wide at it's widest point. Very cool.

More on computers and lack of impact on educational outcomes

More info that computers in low income households don't help close educational performance gaps - it may actually help create greater gaps by creating more distractions from study and schoolwork. (Kindof like the youtube video below is more fun to seek out than studying.) Here's the story.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

You think I'd fit in one of these?

The hamsters are kinda phat. I love this commercial for Kia Soul. Doo - Dah - Dippety!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Einstein paper

Have you ever wanted to read how Einstein presented the concept of E equals M C squared?

It's only a 3 page paper, and the line of thought seems inspired by what is going on with what we now call radiation and what is happening when an object gives off energy as radiation.

we are led to the more general conclusion that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy-content;

In the paper he lays out a test of this hypothesis - by measuring the mass of radium salts over time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I thought this was interesting about Mozart and conspiracy theories surrounding his death. (the entire Skeptoid Blog is filled with interesting reads on all sorts of topics).

...and while we're at it, his original name was apparently Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart. The name "Amadeus" is apparently adopted posthumously by writers and is the Latin versions of Theophilus. There's more on Mozart's names on Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2 new dividend stocks

I didn't do much research on these, but I picked up a couple of dividend oriented stocks today: PEP Pepsico and KMB Kimberly-Clark. Again, not much research on either other than they seem to pass some screens and showed up in several articles trying to identify dependable dividend picks at reasonable prices. I simply did a quick look through a few of the companies and selected these.

The main goal here was to attempt to diversify my portfolio a bit away from the growth type stocks that dominate my portfolios, as well as make a little money at the same time via dividend since money markets are so lousy right now. Both companies have strong consumer brands, and Pepsico while a bit pricier still seems to have pretty good growth prospects.

I also had an order in for Comcast but that one didn't get filled.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

2 questions from Dinner

My wife and I were eating our Taco Bell this evening and two key questions arose.

1. Why is it called a Spork and not a Foon?

2. What is Xanthum gum?

Well, here's the answer about Xanthum Gum. In this case it's probably a thickener in the Mild Sauce packets from the restaurant - but it's a little disturbing that it's named for the bacteria that "form a slimy substance which acts as a natural stabilizer or thickener."

As to the first question, it turns out there's a Facebook page dedicated to the question. There's a long history on the Spork going back to the 1800s when it was a popular multifunction utensil. Old Sporks are collectible on ebay

Monday, June 21, 2010

Aurora from Space Station

Check out this awesome photo of an Aurora from the space station.

Here's the story.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tree Wall to halt the Sahara

I read about this ambitious project to try to stop the southward advance of the Sahara desert the other day and thought it was worth a post if for no other reason than the bigh-thinking scale of the project.

Push for 'Great Green Wall of Africa' to halt Sahara

It sounds like it's nothing more than a big idea at this point and there's not alot of support for the effort, I'm inspired by the thinking that drives it - kindof like trying to control mother nature on a continental scale.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quietly Not Going - On freezing and resuscitation

This article about reviving people from clinical death after "freezing to death" is very interesting. It talks about an experiment with both yeast and worms that shows extreme cold combined with oxygen depravation creates conditions necessary for a high likelihood of resuscitation. If the oxygen is present while freezing though - not so good.

here's a quote from the story:

When subjected to literally freezing temperatures, the embryos of yeast and garden worms do not live, researchers found. A full 99 percent of those in the experiment died after 24 hours of exposure to temperatures just above freezing.

But, when first deprived of oxygen in the manner described above, 66 percent of the yeast and 97 percent of the garden worms survived. Upon re-warming and reintroduction of oxygen, the "two widely divergent organisms" reanimated and showed normal life spans, said scientists in a statement.

Which brings me around to thinking about the cases of people who are able to be revived after disappearing under frozen lakes, or the skier who had a skiing accident and "drowned" trapped with their head underwater in a very cold stream. There are other cases the article mentions where drowning is not central - but people just being exposed to extreme cold to rapidly induce a state of suspended animation as they'd say in Star Trek.

So where's it lead? the article mentions handling of donor organs as an example, but what if somebody is way far away from medical care and is going to die unless these conditions (extreme cold/oxygen deprevation) are induced? Sounds scary, but if it's your only way to have a chance of survival do you do it? I think I recall doctors already using lowering the body temperature as part of the proceedure to improve results in some types of surgery.

Anyhow, thought that was very interesting

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oil dependency

Here's a good op-ed by Thomas Friedman today on how our oil dependency is creating many of the problems we face today, and that we each need to understand our individual role in the problem: This Time is Different.

It'll take a long time, but efforts to move to oil alternatives need to move forward. The problem is that the payoff may not be for 30-50 years. But then I tell myself we had an opportunity back in the 70s to change the course of things, but didn't change then either. Instead we became more dependent. It may not be clear where alternative efforts will lead us, but I think it's pretty clear where the current structure of oil dependency leads.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I saw the word Confusopoly today for the first time. It's a brilliant concept and word coined by Douglas Adams of Dilbert Fame.

Confusopoly "a group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price."

Here's a little more info.

We were talking at lunch about how confusing cell phone plans are and that it's nearly impossible to compare what should be a fairly similar product across carriers given all the differences in plans. Our thought was it's intentional complexity designed to confuse shoppers. Confusopoly sums up this business strategy perfectly.

BTW, the term is said also to apply to insurance - the business I'm in too - so don't trust a word I say. And don't pay attention to any new financial products which bundle:
- life insurance,
- an accident benefit,
- savings plan,
- investment plan,
- annuity,
- cash return at retirement,
- free airline miles, and
- a free 12 month subscription to your favorite magazine
in a single product that you couldn't possibly hope to understand without taking a night class.

Tip to the Blog of Diminishing Returns for the reference.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Corn chips a vegetable?

I was contemplating supper tonight wondering whether I had had any vegetables yet today. I had corn chips at the Mexican place today and thought maybe they were a vegetable? Corn on the cob seems like a vegetable so maybe?

Anyhow, at least this website from University of Missouri says corn chips are not a vegetable but instead a are a grain.

I guess that makes sense in the context that corn decended from grasses like a post a short while ago discusses.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Life on Titan?

Here's an interesting article about some intriguing atmospheric chemistry uncovered during NASA's Callisto mission around Saturn. The moon Titan has some atmospheric characteristics that some scientists intepret as compatible with some type of methane based alien life.

Here's the story on the new research from Science News: Life on Titan? New Clues to What's Consuming Hydrogen, Acetylene on Saturn's Moon

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Limits of motivators

Here's an interesting speech from TED that discusses the limits of traditional motivational techniques. The basic argument is that studies are showing that for a range of tasks that are ill-defined and require creativity carrot/stick type motivators can actually reduce productivity.

This video is long (18+min), worth a listen though:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The history of corn

I thought this was an interesting article, discussing research into the genetics of corn to find it's wild ancestor which looks to be from a grass from what is now Mexico - probably started becoming domesticated about 9000 years ago. There's a very cool photo if you want to see what the first corn farmers started with.

It's pretty amazing what they started with.

Brush twice a day

Here's an interesting study that finds brushing teeth twice a day can significantly cut heart disease risk.

From the article regarding the study to be published soon in British Medical Journal:

Neglecting to brush twice a day could lead to a 70 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a new large population-based study.

The hypothesis seems to be that maybe inflammation is associate with heart disease and promoting good dental hygiene can reduce one of the more common chronic sources of inflammation in the body (periodontal disease).

Anyhow, thought that was interesting

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hardware disease in cattle?

At first I laughed when I saw this ebay auction for an Alnico Magnet to help prevent hardware disease in cattle. My first thought was that New Age remedies have made it to livestock.... And "hardware disease"? really?

So I think about it for a while and do a web search and it turns out this seems for real. Cattle apparently will eat metal pieces they encounter and potentially infect/inflame their digestive tract. The magnets are fed to cows to stay in the stomach and keep the eaten metal from moving on into the more sensitive parts of the digestive tract where it can cause problems - or at least that's what's claimed. Seems plausible I guess. I'd never heard of it though. There's a wikipedia entry.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Developing World

A good editorial by Nick Kristof today in the Times. Not politically correct, but good. There's probably lots of ways to interpret it and it's probably too easy to just be critical and dismissive, but I just wanted to the it out there as I found it a very interesting read about spending decisions and priorities of the very poor in the third world. Moonshine or the Kids?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Time lapse video of solar flare

Check out this video from Astronomy pic of the day. A 10 second time lapse video showing one of the larger solar flares every recorded.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Something part 2

I was wondering a few weeks ago about "Why something instead of nothing?" and it turns out some physicists may have uncovered some new science behind why there's something here.

... not that I understand any of it, mind you, but I do find it interesting that if the unexpected finding is confirmed, the conditions of the very early universe seem to slightly favor something over nothing. But why this would be so just begs the question.

Burgess Shale

The story of the Cambrian explosion and some of the earliest forms of "bigger" life told in Stephen Jay Gould's book "Wonderful Life" is one of the more memorable things I read when I was about 20yrs old. I'd always liked Gould's scientific essays, but this was a full book on some of the craziest looking creatures I could imagine that they found in some shale in Canada's Burgess Shale.

CLICK HERE FOR SOME IMAGES - You've probably seen a TV show or pics of some of these strange creatures before.

I remember in the book he talked about how it was kindof a mystery why all this life exploded onto the scene and then seemingly disappeared from the fossil record. One of the working theories was that a major extinction event knocked many of the creatures out and that life had a false start and started over.

Well it turns out some descendants of the cambrian explosion have been found in Morocco - indicating that they survived and that probably the difficulty of fossilization of soft body parts is the reason for their scarcity in the fossil record. Here's the story.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Southern Sky

See this time-lapse photo of the southern sky on the astronomy pic of the day site. Lots of things in the sky we don't see up here.

It includes Alpha and Beta Centauri - the closest start to us, and in addition to the milky way they get other patches of light like the Megallanic clouds - a couple of neighboring galaxies about 180 to 210 light years away.

Makes me want to go there - note photo is taken from a national park near border of Brazil and Argintina

parts from Hong Kong

I've recently been doing some repair work on guitars, and in the process of buying parts I've often found that I'm buying parts on ebay directly from Hong Kong. This surprises me because I'd think it shouldn't make economic sense.

- 6 insulated lead clips (alligator) for multimeter (2.50 +free shipping)
- guitar tremelo springs (10 springs for 5.46 + 3.00 shipping)
- a couple string trees (to help hold guitar strings firmly down on the fretboard (1.63 + 2.00 shipping)

Now on one level this isn't totally surprising since so much stuff gets made in Asia already, but on another level it is quite surprising because to me how should someone in Hong Kong be able to sell me such small quantities and ship them clean across the ocean and still make money on them? Why should these types of micro-orders exist so that I can order something for a couple bucks in china and in 7-10 have it arrive at my front door for only a couple bucks shipping? Granted these are small items, but still - it doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lidar images

Look at these Lidar images taken of an archeaological site in Caracol, Belize. The technology is able to penetrate beneath forest canopy unlike other methods. I find it very interesting how you can see paths/roads and lots of what I interpret as terraces for growing crops. You can also see also other "foundations" of structures that appear to be man-made on the top of several other hills shown.

Anyhow, click here for the lidar image. Very cool.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Another the Darkness song - Is it just me

I posted a tune from these guys a short while ago, but I gotta say this is one of the better rock-n-roll songs I'd never heard. I don't come across these very often.

I think they came out with this song in 2005, but if they'd have come out with this in the late 80s I'm certain they would've had a hit with it. Not sure how it did in 2005 though. Anyhow - here's a performance from Letterman. Enjoy.

Quote of the Day - Marriages

I saw this today and got a chuckle:

“All marriages are happy. It’s the living together afterward that causes all the trouble.” - Raymond Hull, Canadian screenwriter/playwright

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A band called The Darkness

A friend at work mentioned a band called the Darkness to me today. I vaguely recalled the name but couldn't remember their stuff, but I was listening to some of it today and I'm liking alot of their cuts on YouTube. I'm particularly impressed with how well they can pull some of their songs off in a live setting.

Here's probably their most popular song

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mammoth blood

I thought this was an interesting story about researchers who used Woolly Mammoth gene sequences to recreate their blood proteins - finding out that they had a variant form of protein in their blood enabling their blood to carry oxygen at much lower temperatures than living creatures today.

a quote from the article:

"It has been remarkable to bring a complex protein from an extinct species back to life and discover important changes not found in any living species," said co-author Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My first (lame) guitar soldering job

I've been buying a few cheap older guitars recently - I'm a fan of the old Japanese guitars in particular - and that has caused me to learn some about guitar setup - stuff like fretboard/truss rod adjustment, string height, intonation ... that sort of thing. I'm too cheap to have pros do the setup work for me, and I figure I ought to learn how to do it myself anyway. Gradually the setup work led me to want to mess around with the electronics.

As my first test I was wanting to see if I could fix an old P-Bass that I'd had since high school. I'd used it to record bass on a 4-track way back then, but it had a short in the wiring and also an intermittent buzzing problem. Back then there was no such thing as the internet and I didn't know how to fix it so I'd just left it in it's sorry state for probably 20+yrs. Now with the internet though I felt I could tackle the project without making a bigger mess.

Here's my first soldering project. The hum/buzzing is gone now and the signal shouldn't have a short anymore. I'd bought some new parts with the intention of replacing the old parts, but this guitar used unusually small volume/tone pots and the new ones I purchased wouldn't fit so I just reused the old ones to see if rewiring would do the trick.

My soldering iron wouldn't quite get hot enough to solder in some places - too much heat dispersal - so I'm going to look into a better iron for future jobs, so please forgive some of the clumpy joints on the back of the volume pot - my iron just wouldn't heat enough to liquify everything. It works though and hopefully I won't have bad joints develop.

I told my wife I loved the internet after doing this project - it knows everything.
1. I watched the how to videos on you-tube. Some awesome folks have put up step by step video instructions for guitar electronics repair, including prepping the layout, preparing and tinning wires, soldering technique, along with tips on what to avoid. (need a how-too video? - search you-tube)
2. I found several appropriate wiring diagrams for this particular pickup/volume/tone setup for a P-Bass online. (It turns out the wiring on this bass was done wrong at some point before I bought it - that's probably why it was so cheap in the store. The grounding was messed up and the capacitor was wired incorrectly).
3. Internet bulletin boards helped me search for questions related to the problem this guitar was having to help troubleshoot. (search google for about any problem and you'll probably find solutions)

In a world before internet I'd have never even attempted any of this. It makes us all smarter. At least I feel a little bit smarter today - at least until the vapors off the lead solder start kicking in and making me dumber again.

Flood photos

see my wife's page for some flood photos she took today.

Oil spill

This editorial encapsulates much of my thinking on the oil spill and leaking well in the gulf. We'll end up blaming everything and everybody except our appetite for oil and reluctance to tax it's consumption and support alternatives. Simply, we want cheap gasoline and the negatives that come with that are somebody else's problem. And it's not like this well didn't have safety equipment - it just seems this is one of the rare cases where everything went wrong even with the best laid plans to prevent the accident. What's happening in the gulf is apparently routine in other parts of the world - it's just visible here.

Effectively, we’ve been importing oil and exporting spills to villages and waterways all over the world.

I admit I'm part of the problem. I drive a truck that uses gas, drive it about 6000 miles a year. I was annoyed with $4.00/gallon gas as much as anyone. But I noticed it created a different thinking about energy and for the first time in a long time people were looking for alternatives and responding differently to the costs of consumption. We've gotta make the economics work for alternatives to have a chance though, and part of that involves making the cost of oil reflect it's true cost of consumption. Internalizing that cost if difficult - but somehow internalize the environmental costs as well as all the political costs of having to militarily protect access to oil.

It makes sense to subsidize and encourage alternatives or tax oil consumption more - either way would work to me it seems, but for some reasons taxes are more difficult to get people to support. (I do think there are more people who would subsidize alternative energy and energy saving investments who would not support gas taxes although the end result might be the same). What's the right amount? I don't know, but I feel very bad for the folks whose livelihoods are about to get turned upside down due the spill in the gulf.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


It's rained a bunch here in Nashville today. I was out earlier today and ran through some big pools in the road on the way home about 2:00pm, but I had no idea it was this bad. Over 11 inches of rain, and some serious flooding going on. I just saw a building floating down the interstate on the news broadcast. Here's a pic from one of the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation camaras. (click to enlarge)

Nashville flooding on interstate 24 <br /> on Twitpic

And this next pic isn't from Nashville, but I saw this looking for the pic above. Poor little pigs.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Sometimes at work while a query is running or I'm waiting on something to download I'll pull up articles from my yahoo page. I have a lot of Science related links to choose from and this one about black holes, wormholes and an implication of a closed universe was an interesting read today.

But ultimately the circular arguments just got me to thinking about why there is something instead of nothing, and I came to the conclusion that nothing makes way more sense than something, but here we are....

And then I had to get back to work - you know - competitive position, quotes, pricing - that sort of thing. But then I'm glad my job isn't to dig around for rare giant worms.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Yep. Eyjafjallajokull. Say it with me. Now 5 times fast.

It's the name of the volcano that's erupting in Iceland that's shutting down air traffic all over Europe due to the ash it's spewing up.

Just though it was probably the most fun word I've seen all year.


There I said it. I haven't heard newscasters try to say it yet. Here is apparently the correct pronunciation from wikipedia.

Here's the wikipedia link.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Baritone guitar jam

I was checking out what baritone guitars sounded like and came across this cool little jam on you tube.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thank You - Sly and the Family Stone - guitar tab tablature

All, I was unable to find decent guitar tab anywhere for this song, so here's my contribution to the web base for the tune. It's really not that hard to play, but it's kindof hard to hear exactly what's going on on the recording. I might have some of the voicings wrong, but I think it's in the ballpark for most of it.

Please leave me a comment if you think it needs to be changed (or let me know if you think it's right)

I've put a couple optional ways of playing it, but I just finished tabbing it a few minutes ago and haven't played it enough to know what's the best - although I think the chunky chord part lower on the neck is probably closer to what's being played.

"Thank You" by Sly and the Family Stone
tabbed by Shane Milburn

Intro and early part of main riff in song:
| -------------------------------3-3-3------------------------3-3-3----- |
| -------------------------------3-3-3------------------------3-3-3----- |
| ---------------2---------------1-1-1-2------------2---------1-1-1-2--- |
| --0--2-----2-2-2-----0-2-------2-2-2----0-2---2-2-2----0-2--2-2-2----- |
| ---------------------------------------------------------------------- |
| ---------------------------------------------------------------------- |

Main riff variation:
It adds a little bit extra a little further in to something like
| ------------------------------3-3-3------------------------------3-3-3--- |
| ------------------------------3-3-3------------------------------3-3-3--- |
| ----------------2-------------1-1-1-2---------------2------------1-1-1-2- |
| --0-2-(0-2)-2-2-2---0-2-(0-2)-2-2-2---0-2-(0-2)-2-2-2--0-2-(0-2)-2-2-2--- |
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------- |
| ------------------------------------------------------------------------- |

Or alternate way to play the riff that makes sense too without using opens

| ----------------------------------------- |
| --------------------------------8-8-8---- |
| --------------------------------7-7-7---- |
| -----------------7--------------6-6-6-7-- |
| --5-7-(5-7)--7-7-7----5-7-(5-7)-7-7-7---- |
| ----------------------------------------- |

The main riffs above make up most of the song with lots of repeats, but there are a couple of noticeable changes where the singing drops out and the guitar changes the riff up slightly in those musical interludes. They're shown below.

Musical break in middle at about 1:12
I think this uses this version of playing up the neck due to the low open E,

| -----------------------------3-3-3-------------- |
| -----------------------------3-3-3-0-h2--------- |
| -----------------------------1-1-1-0--0--------- |
| -------5---------5-----------2-2-2-0-h2--------- |
| -4-5-7-------5-7-5----5-7----------------------- |
| ---0----------------------7--------------------- | X2

But it might be played like this too

| ------------------------------------------------ |
| -----------------------------8-8-8-0-h2--------- |
| -----------------------------7-7-7-0-00--------- |
| -------5---------5-----------6-6-6-0-h2--------- |
| -4-5-7-------5-7-5----5-7----7-7-7-------------- |
| ---0----------------------7--------------------- | X2

Another Musical break at about 2:15
| ------------------------------3-3-3-------------- |
| --------------------------8---3-3-3-0-h2--------- |
| -------(9)-------6--------7---1-1-1-0--0--------- |
| -----------------7--------6---2-2-2-0-h2--------- |
| ---5-7-------5-7------5-7-7---------------------- |
| ---0------------------0-------------------------- | X2
Tough to tell at the “?” – more of a string rake than notes with tone

Anyhow, that's my take on what's going on for guitar tab of the riffs. I really hope this helps and saves folks time trying to figure out how to play the guitar part for this song.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Study on how the strike zone changes with the count

Here's an interesting article I saw on how the strike zone becomes smaller when the pitcher is ahead in the count and becomes larger when the pitcher is behind in the count. The study is based on data from about 200,000 pitches at various counts, and whether they're being called strikes or balls. Click here for the story.

It's interesting to me that even smack dab in the middle of the strike zone is not 100% strike. I don't watch much baseball anymore, but when I was younger I remember being amazed that some pitches seemingly right down the middle of the plate would be called balls. (The strike zone grids shown don't have probabilities shown, but note that the middle of the plate both vertically and horizontally is not uniformly red - some get called balls.)

Tip to the Marginal Revolution for putting me onto the link.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some More Marcus Aurelius

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Been spending a lot of time practicing guitar and learning new songs. I was thinking that I hadn't posted any of my favorite Marcus Aurelius quotes in a while, so I figured I'd share a few more.

Here's one I need to keep in mind when I don't want to go to work in the morning (all of these are from his "Meditations")

5.1 At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?

and one that I'm particularly fond of

8.57 What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emporer from 161-180 A.D. Read more from Wikipedia.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Computer Vouchers / Subsidies

Here's an interesting study on the effect of vouchers to purchase computers given to low income households. It turns out they're mostly used to play more video games - and actually kids grades dropped because they were spending more time playing video games. Use for homework was negligible. In fact the subsidies let the low income households play more games than the higher income households.

So if you ask me what I think about internet subsidies for low income households - nah - let's not go there. Not exactly the kind of social equity to be looked for.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Social Insecurity

From the NYTimes today:

Social Security to See Payout Exceed Pay-In This Year

Presuming I make it there - 27 years to go for me under current rules. I've almost assumed it'll be gone by the time I got old, but it would be nice if the program were reformed so that all that money I'm paying into the system (I think it's @14-15% of income) leaves something for me. There's alot of my generation that won't have any pensions left, and the stock market savings aren't going to be sufficient- especially the way the market's been behaving recently.

I'd worry more, but the solutions are not painful - raising qualifying age for benefits comes to mind. Raising the Social Security tax is distateful to me though - fix the program using current revenue base from the working population.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Harry Houdini died

From Harry Houdini's obituary in the 1926 New York times - FULL STORY CLICK HERE. Lots of details of his life are included also.

According to statements made by the physicians, the playful punches he received in Montreal were the direct cause of Houdini's death, for one of the blows caused the appendix to burst, saturating his system with poison.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Too many scientists?

I love articles like this that challenge the conventional wisdom. In this case the article argues that the perception that there is a shortage of science, math, engineering and research talent in the U.S is entirely incorrect. In fact it argues the opposite: That large numbers of PHD grads in scientific fields have great difficulty finding work related to their field of study.

Here's the story from Scientific American. It's well worth a read.


many observers believe that the existing system of research by professors who constantly produce large numbers of scientists unlikely to achieve their career aspirations is near collapse. The real crisis in American science education is not young Americans’ inability to learn, or the schools’ inability to teach, but a distorted job market’s inability to provide them careers worthy of their abilities.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Market structure and high speed intenet

Here's interesting article on the growing power of cable monopolies over high speed internet access - and why our internet costs much more than other places in the world. I didn't realize that our costs were so much higher.

Here's the story.

It sounds like a building monopolies local in high speed internet is leading to a breakup scenario similar to the AT&T long distance monopoly breakup from back in 1982.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

World's tallest building - Burg Khalifa in Dubai

I was reading an article in the NYTimes that folks are beginning to move into the world's newest tallest building in Dubai - the Burg Kahlifa. If you're interested in the history of tall structures (going way back in time) and building techniques the article is an interesting read.

Here's a link with details of the building and a very cool photo. It really is a sleek and cool looking building. I don't know why, but these man-made marvels capture my imagination:

Here's a pretty cool video showing the opening cermony:

an AP story:

And an impressive video from the observation deck

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Planet X

Back in grade school or middle school I remember reading about the hypothesis of an additional large undiscovered but massive object in our solar system with an orbit far out beyond Pluto.

This idea comes back to life in this story that argues that the orbit of one of the recently discovered large "dwarf planets" (Sedna) can't readily be explained given known solar system objects.

In particular note this graphic that is linked in the story showing the relative distance and difference in orbit from the other solar system objects.

Sedna's location doesn't make sense.

"Sedna shouldn't be there," said Brown. "There's no way to put Sedna where it is. It never comes close enough to be affected by the Sun, but it never goes far enough away from the Sun to be affected by other stars."

Perhaps a massive unseen object is responsible for Sedna's mystifying orbit, its gravitational influence keeping Sedna fixed in that far-distant portion of space.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Toyota stats

Thought this was interesting regarding the Toyota recall.

Walking a mile or driving while using a cell phone are riskier.

From the article:

The accelerator problem is adding about six deaths every year.... Bottom line, it is important to keep risks in perspective," Fischbeck said. "The stuck accelerator problem does make driving riskier and needs to be fixed. But at the same time, the increased risk is very small.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fun commercial

I don't play the lotto - but I love this song ("More than a feeling" by Boston) and was cracking up at the commercial.

Now I gotta go jump in a big pit of balls.

Observation of the Day

Those that know me are often shocked by my Ninja-like reflexes, but sometimes even those are not enough. Have you ever noticed that despite your quickest reflexes, when you drop Nachos on your shirt it only takes a split second for them to soak in and leave a stain?

I was also spotted walking around Hobby Lobby today with a spot on my belly.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sold the rest of Garmin GRMN

I sold the rest of my Garmin GRMN position this morning. This is one of those stocks that looks so cheap to me on the metrics and their financial position is excellent, but I'm starting to buy into the idea that their business is trapped by new on-coming smartphone technology and they might not have a way out. I'm hesitant to write GRMN off because to me stand-alone navigation systems just seem so easy and make alot of sense, but the more I talk to fans of i-phones and google-phones I'm less sure of the future. I don't get really "get" what's going on here - but alot of people really seem to love their way expensive cell phone plans and - at least to me - "complicated" phones/multipurpose devices.

This is probably dangerous to me as one of my larger holdings at the moment is RIMM - makers of the Blackberry - and it looks very cheap to me also and growth is still there - but I'm keeping my eye open on it also.

I don't really have any other good ideas for where to put the proceeds right now, so I'll have to start some research for new companies.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chesapeake Bay - massive crater

I'd never heard of this, but I was watching a show on the Discovery Channel talking about pre-historic North American animals. Apparently about 35 million years ago a massive impact crater was formed in the Chesapeake Bay area. The crater has subsequently been buried, but investigation is showing the crater to be at least 50-60 miles wide and a mile deep.

Here's a couple of LINKS


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Steven Wright

A few Steven Wright jokes from here:

I was once walking through the forest alone. A tree fell right in front of me--and I didn't hear it.

Right now I'm having amnesia and deja vu at the same time. I think I've forgotten this before.

I went to the museum where they had all the heads and arms from the statues that are in all the other museums.

Ever notice how irons have a setting for *permanent* press? I don't get it...

There was a power outage at a department store yesterday. Twenty people were trapped on the escalators.

Every so often, I like to stick my head out the window, look up, and smile for a satellite picture.

I'm moving to Mars next week, so if you have any boxes...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Killing

A powerful piece by an Iraqi war vet on killing:

an excerpt:

Killing enemy combatants comes with its own emotional costs. On the surface, we feel as soldiers that killing the enemy should not affect us — it is our job, after all. But it is still killing, and on a subconscious level, it changes you. You’ve killed. You’ve taken life. What I found, though, is that you feel the shock and weight of it only when you kill an enemy for the first time, when you move from zero to one. Once you’ve crossed that line, there is little difference in killing 10 or 20 or 30 more after that.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


95% of the time that I go to get ice from the freezer to put in my orange cup, I drop 1 or more pieces of ice in the floor. I have come to believe there is no better slippery design for ice "cubes" than those produced by the automatic ice maker in my fridge. I'll go to grab some ice from the bucket, and even when I think I have a good hold one will slide out, hit the floor, slide across the kitchen floor, and hide somewhere that I can't find it... It's a fun game I play every day.