Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Break

This Spring Break, Ellen and I spent four days in Kansas visiting my family.  I'm sure this type of travel does not meet the "glamor test" for the girls when comparing Spring Break stories among their peers.  There are sacrifices that come with being distant from extended family.  But this visit (with it's wonderful 80 degree sunny weather) was much better than last year's complete week of rain in Hilton Head Island.

Four days of being gone were immediately apparent from the pink and white blooms on the three apple trees planted last fall.  Outside our family room window, it is a sea of green as Spring takes no break from her early painting.  A short shower last night, nourished the foliage and replenished the water fountain.  Today will be a day to enjoy the respite from Spring Break travel and relax before the celebration of Easter.

Funny -  taking a break - from Spring Break.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mosaic Memories

Jenna and Ellen gave Susan a 20x30 Mosaic picture of themselves for her birthday gift.  Actually it consists of 2400 small photos (Jenna worked hard to submit over 400 unique photos for this mosaic).  The link to the computer site version is even more interesting than the physical print since you can double click on a photo and it blows up in size (the print version has photos about 1/2 inch square.  It is a very thoughtful and creative gift  from the two girls - A mosaic of 20 years of memories.

It is a beautiful collage from afar and up close and personal.

As you can see below -  "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" :)


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pennies in the Fountain

Something is refreshing about the clear water of a fountain.  Yesterday, I changed the water of our front fountain - a "spring cleaning" ritual.  Now there are three reserve watering holes for the dogs.  This year I hope the new filter matter will suffice and require less cleaning. 

Our decision to replace the flower box with a fountain (even with the required maintenance) was a good one.  It is good Feng Shui to see the clear water and hear the bubbling of a fountain as you enter our house.

 Feng Shui literally translates  "wind-water.  While we didn't research the deeper puesdo science, the "experts" say that placement of a fountain in the right location will bring you wealth and fortune (good luck).  Naturally there are divergent opinions among the "experts" so I guess I will pick the one that suggests it is excellent Feng Shui to have a fountain near the front door.

Here's what one "expert" (Rol.vn - Source: Love To Know) says: 

(1) The front of the house is always an excellent choice for the location of an outside water fountain as it activates and retains positive chi, allowing it to freely enter into the home.
(2) Water flowing toward the front door of the house symbolizes wealth and prosperity.
(3) Chosing Copper is good.  If fountain is made of stone or cement (ours is surrounded by brick), remedy the destructive cycle (of blocking the water) by placing copper pennies in the fountain.

Here's the summary of another "expert" (Lin Mai):

(1) It is also important to make sure that the water in your wealth fountain is clean at all times. This will reflect how clean and steady the flow of your financial feng shui life will be, constant and never slowing. Skipping regular water maintenance will cause a stoppage in the flow of wealth and energy will be stagnant so make sure to keep it well looked after.
(2) When placing a feng shui water fountain by a door, make sure that the water flows towards your door and not away from it.
(3) Water fountains are effective regardless of size, but in this case, larger can sometimes be better.
(4) Placing a feng shui water fountain in the Wealth area of your home is one of the most effective cures to attract more money into your feng shui life.

So there you have it - get more wealth in your life by putting pennies in your front door fountain.  People visiting will throw more pennies in.  :)  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Counting Cool Heads

Mom always said, "Who does that anger (or hate) hurt?"  I should think about this more when I'm fuming over a technical problem, or on the phone with some Customer Service Representative trying to resolve a problem or dispute.  Booker T. Washington said, "I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him".  How true - the wasted energy of kicking a brick wall only to break your big toe!

So what is the key to rechanneling the energy of anger into the virtue of joy and unlimited love?   Is it as simple as counting to 10 slowly?  Sir John Templeton writes that most of the expression of hate is the result of fear.  If this is true, then controlling the fear eliminates the hate.  It is our choice to control our thoughts - this is our ultimate Godly endowed freedom.  When someone or something generates emotional energy of anger and hate inside of us, then we are out of control - in fact we have chosen to allow that person or thing to control us.

Self control is one of the 24 strengths within the six virtues of the CVS (Character, Values, Strengths) theory.  Building your self control is a way of showing the vitue of Temperance.  So counting to 10 slowly may be one technique to remind yourself of self control - redirecting your mind away from the emotion to the logic of numbers. 

"Heads are wisest when they are cool and hearts are strongest when they beat in response to noble ideas"  Ralph J. Bunche

One Beat, Two Beat, Three Beat ......

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Investing Behavior

I have long studied the stock market and enjoy the quantitative nature of technical anlaysis - charting, forecasting, modeling, trend analysis... the list is infinite.  I'm not a day trader, but  my frequency of trades is apparent in the average number of days of my combined portfolio.  The constant battle between fundamentals and technicals, allows me ample opportunity to analyze the macro and micro nature of the economy endlessly. 

But it is the emotional side of investing, that has also intrigued me.  Consequently, I have 20 volumes of notes and research from Oct 4, 2004 to today.  I use these notes to review when I need a "cooling off" period during fear or greed.  I started these journals to force the discipline of time between  my brilliant idea and  any resulting trade.  Also I started these logs based on the advice of a smart financial mutual fund manager - Ralph Wagner.

I remember a seminar set up by my financial advisor (T.A.) where Ralph Wagner (who was retiring from the Acorn Fund - 2003) was speaking.  He mentioned the research team at Acorn and one of the key data fields they used in their research database - "why you bought the stock".  A mistake many people make is that they forget the source of why the stock was purchased in the first place (they always remember the purchase price but not the purchase reason).   

If Uncle Joe gave you a "hot stock tip" - that may be a valid source.  But too often you don't monitor the reason.  Six months later you see Uncle Joe and ask him about the stock (which has tanked), only to discover Uncle Joe sold his position three months ago at a profit.  Lesson #1 - Write down your reason for buying.  Lesson #2 - Monitor your reason for buying. Lesson #3 - Sell when your reason is complete (right or wrong).

Too often, I abuse Lesson #2 (remaining in an infinite loop) and develop spreadsheets of the opportunity gain or loss of any decision (buy or sell) that I made.  For example on July 15, 2011 - I called my Financial Advisor to move 25% to cash (against his advice) because of the congressional vote about the debt ceiling and the impending downgrade of the U.S. debt rating (I got Lesson #1 down on paper).   That decision turned out to be correct  (I watched the congressional proceedings - Lesson #2) but I failed on Lesson #3.  In fact my cash still sits (now with a 4% opportunity loss) idle with a new reason - modified by my emotion of wanting to be "more right" missing the low of Oct 4, 2011 (avoiding a 22.5% loss). So I watch each day the "result" of my intial decision - frozen in action, as that decision goes from right to wrong to right to wrong to ..........

I've always said the "Stock Market is the best place you can always demonstrate how suboptimal your decision was .. and infinitely second guess your daily decisions to buy or sell"

This caused me to develop my own Carl Richards (Author of "The Behavior Gap") sketch about how I feel most of the time:

Monday, March 19, 2012

God Laughs

I just finished Carl Richards's "The Behavior Gap ... Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money".  How coincidental that I also just recently added Barry Ritholtz's blog RSS feed "The Big Picture" who provides the cover testimonial "Carl has a wicked way with a Sharpe".

Carl's book has just entered my Top Ten list of Financial Books (Number One is William Bernstein's - "The Intelligent Asset Allocator").  In fact Bernstein is on the back cover with his testimonial - "Carl Richards's deceptively simple sketches will make you laugh, change your relationship with money, and leave you the wealthier for it.  This one is bound to be a classic!"

It's not often I read a book cover to cover in one sitting (all 178 pages).  Carl is entertaining, informative, educational, and engaging with his practical stories that illustrate his napkin sketches.  I've scanned one of Carl's sketches that is very meaningful to me:

Source:  The Behavior Gap pg 62  Carl Richards
 

But my favorite quote (regarding financial life planning) is:  "You plan, God laughs".

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Internet Shopping

As gas prices increase, I suspect internet shopping will increase also.  Today was a good example of that for me personally. I was looking to replace the filter bag and media for our small fish and water garden in our front courtyard.  My first choice was to drive 3 minutes to the Milford fountain store. Once there, it was closed and I diverted to Pets Smart (no luck there) and Lowes (also not the right parts).  Time spent: 1 hr;  Gas:  12 miles - $2.60

Frustrated, I began searching the internet and BINGO - there must have been thirty choices.  This is where the power of the search engine can help the online retailer.  How to get "grab" the attention and dollars from the internet surfer.  After I had determined the merchanise that I wanted, I began to compare prices (filter media can be expensive).  Then, I remembered that I had signed Susan up for the Amazon.com Prime shipping advantage (free shipping).  So I abandoned the pondoutlet.com site that I was initally connected with, and found the same material on Amazon.

Much to my surprise, Amazon's prices were higher (and significantly higher).  So back to pondoutlet.com I went.  I was about to order from that site and upon checkout the shipping and handling of $14.89 appeared.  That was pretty steep for a $22 order.  I went back to Amazon to see if the free shipping outweighed the higher retail price.  Interestingly, the total price with tax was higher by $2. 

Time, gas, convenience, selection, availability and price comparison are overpowering the local retail advantage.  As internet shopping becomes a habit (and ubiquitous with smart phones), local retailers must find other ways to differentiate - service, knowledge transfer, and proactive sales.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kate

Guest Blogger and Poet Ellen:
Kate
By: Ellen Wisner

When I met her
She was not yet two
Laying in her crib, oh so peacefully
Like a new born cat
Listening to the tiny snuffles
I felt comforted
As the bed welcomes me with open arms
I become drowsy and drift to sleep


When the sun says “Hello!” to the world
She wakes up
My heart starts fluttering
We play dress up and school
Her giggles are beautiful songs
As time passes, the baby girl has grown


No more does she want
Anything to do with me
That was the most dreadful day
When she put me on her
Shelf with all of the
Other misfit and forgotten toys
They say” Don’t worry! She’ll come around.”


Ever to this day
I’ve been waiting for her
To come back and play with me
No luck so far
I’ll have to keep dreaming





Monday, March 12, 2012

I see your point

 Click for larger view


Today while researching when Israel had last bombed a country suspected of nuclear threats (Iraq in 1981; and Syria in 2007), I happened upon an interesting visual in the Economist - "Trending Topics".   The visual clouds were available for one day, one week, two weeks and thirty days.  You can even change the number of words (the chart above is 50 words).  So here is your test - which chart is for today and which chart is for 30 days?

You have a 50/50 chance.


P.S.  Operation Opera, Operation Orchard ....... Operation OH NO??   I - ran from the market.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Teenage Rituals

Today was the third weekend for me to walk in the mall.  Ellen is at the age where everyone wants to meet at the mall to socialize.  The start of teenage independence - a sort of semi chaperoned way of having freedom of visits outside of the homes.  A place for chance meetings with other groups of mall girls or even a boy or two.  I used to just sit and people watch but upon A.M.'s suggestion, I have taken up walking for exercise.

My teenage ritual was getting dropped off by my parents at the rollerskating rink.  Everyone (boys and girls) met a the rink and rollerskated to the top 40 hits.  It was a way the guys could enjoy the music and simulate a "dance" without asking the girl individually to the floor.  There was even the illusion that if your skating pattern followed the right girl, you were "dancing" with her (maybe that's like the guys walking along with the gals in the mall nowdays).

M.I. asked, last night, what was the purpose of physically being at the mall, when the kids were not with you, and independently walking elsewhere.  My response was easy -  "The purpose of chaperones is to give just enough space for the teenagers to have the illusion that they are completely free - yet provide the random probability that your presence would appear at exactly the time they would least expect it."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lambs or Lions

Today is a gorgeous day to be outside.  Sunny and clear with a temperature of 54 degrees.  Fitch and Bella are already acting like lambs beginning to shed their winter coat as they lazily lay in the sun, soaking in the rays.  This has been one of the mildest winters I can remember (see First Snow).  It has snowed  just over 4 inches of snowfall this winter (last year it was 34.2 inches and the normal for Cincinnati is 23.6 inches), but it is not a record low. 

March 2012 has entered as a lamb (vs the March 7-8, 2008 lion with 10.7 inches of snow) and continues to tease us with spring feelings.  Cincinnati Red's merchandise appeared in the stores this weekend and last night was a comfortable campout for the squatters who stood in line for a chance at the 1,500 opening day tickets on sale today (Opening Day is April 5th). 

Tonight is the combined birthday celebration of Susan (now officially a senior) and Doreen.  It's nice enough to grill outside and act like it's a summer celebration. Badminton anyone?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Collateral Damage

"There will always be collateral damage in the fight [War] between Good and Evil", Rev. Stover said in this morning's Mens Bible Study (reflecting on 1 Peter 2: 11-25).   In my bible, the headline on this section was - Live Godly lives in a Pagan society.   Naturally I keyed in on this headline since my personal mission statement (revealed at a Vistage meeting) was:

What did the passage say about how to live a Godly life?   Maybe this passage would reveal the guiding principles to clarify my mission statement.


I discovered that leaving the word good crossed out - was pretty close:   (v12)"live good lives" ...."good deeds";  (v15) "by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people"; (v16)  "live as free people"; (v17) "show proper respect to everyone";

And what did Greg Stover mean by collateral damage in the fight [War] between good and evil?  That is addressed in the first passage  (verse 11) "abstain from sinful desires, which wage WAR against your soul". 

The battle is within you - and within your control.  Collateral damage is the disharmony you create in others when you veer from the guiding principles and miss the mark of your mission.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Musical Reality

I was nine years late in getting addicted to music reality TV - American Idol.  Ellen and I started watching it together in Season nine and even got Jenna and Susan interested during Season ten.  This 11th Season continues to attract sizable viewers (21.6 million) with a TV rating of 7.2 and is the most watched TV Series (number one for eight consecutive years) .  The X-Factor (originated in U.K. now in season 8) had its first season in the USA for 2011 - I was one of 12.6 million viewers of the finale just before Christmas.  Simon Cowell has created quite a franchise with an innovative business model, all around creating musical superstars (that I'm sure he and his company hold the rights to).  I suspect the next program will be a Superbowl playoff between American Idol and X-Factor. 

Actually the idea of creating a musical superstar is depicted best in the 1980 movie "The Idolmaker".  One of my favorite movies about music, musicians and the industry. The movie depicts the cut-throat, oneous contractual ways of the entertainment industry (definitely a power mismatch with plenty of abuse).  Even Ellen and Jenna loved watching this movie with me - especially the colorful performance of "A Boy and A Girl" by the Sweet Inspirations.   So it is natural, that all of us enjoy watching the competition among the potential superstars on American Idol.



Part of the appeal of this realtiy series is you get to see the journey of the unknown artist in their  "American Dream" - to hit the "big time" and become a "Star"  However, I suspect when you "pull back the covers", the superstar artist doesn't get the bulk of the rewards - it is the distribution and marketing engine that wins.  But that also is the American way - the person who risks the most - gets the most return.  But the real excitement is the "opportunity" - the chance to make it big but only if you have what it takes - talent, stamina, perserverance and some luck.

Tonight - Season 11 begins the "survivor portion" of the program - where the result of America's vote begins each week to  narrow the field to one American Idol.  I better stop blogging and watch the show. :)

Postscript:

Maybe the American Idol format would be a good way for our parties to run their Presidential primaries.  Let's put Simon Cowell on it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Speed, Data or Location

The need for ubiquitous high speed internet (broadband) and instant access to data is growing exponentially.  From this New York Times chart it is easy to see that technology adoption rates (notice electricity in the 1900's) has compressed from about 50 years to 20 years (see cell phones).  I would love to see a chart showing the adoption rates for  high speed broadband and the exponential rate of downloaded data. 

Click for larger view

Now when our internet speed slows (or there is a break in service) at home, the family cries out for me for technical support.   Once again Cincinnati Bell's DSL service has proven irratic and sporadic (we have been down since Friday).  Like electricity, when the internet is "down" the family activities almost halt.  Access is critical to schoolwork and homework;  Susan has email needs; My blogging;  the list goes on and on.

One answer to this is to avoid the wires and go to wireless broadband (3G or 4G).  The problem with this is that the carriers are limiting the data access by charging about $10 per gigabyte.  Many people thought they were grandfathered with unlimited plans.  Then they discovered their speeds were mysteriously slowing (called throttling). ATT has taken some real grief about "throttling down" the speed of it's "5% heavy data users" and  so unlimited data plans are becoming a thing of the past.  Which is more important (and valued) speed or data or locational access?

My 3G Sprint datacard (which is "grandfathered" on an unlimited data plan) has 600kbs to 1mbs speeds. But what is important to me is the unlimited data and access everywhere - not the speed.  The cost - $60/mth.

The 4G networks advertise speeds of 3-6mbs but limit the amount of data you can use to 4 gigabytes ($30/mth) and charge $10 per gigabyte over the 4 gig maximum.   ATT has an interesting site to estimate your data usage - http://www.att.com/standalone/data-calculator/index.html.  At 5.1megabytes per minute of Netflix streaming video, you can eat up your entire 4gigabyte data plan with 5 - 6 movies. I discovered this limitation in my test of the Droid Bionic.  Or said another way - to watch a two hour movie on your iphone it costs about $6.12 (at the margin).  And that only works effectively on a 4G network because of the need for speeds above 1mbs.  Unfortunately the 4G network limits your access to major metropolitan areas (e.g. location limitations).

I  thought I could gain some "speed" benefit (and save some money) by switching to Sprints 4G unlimited plan only to discover, when Jenna and I went to the store last month, that Sprint had discontinued unlimited 4G plans and even forced prior customers to a maximum of 4 gigabytes.  Below is my data usage for 2011. Notice the data usage has been trending up - and I suspect everyone else is trending up also - a real problem (or opportunity) for the telecom industry.

Click for larger view

So what's the point?    We all want  it ALL - unlimited data; high speeds and ubiquitous access!  But what to pay?

So ---- back to the Electricity analogy.  Both technologies - Electricity and Internet usage are complicated by what they measure. Afterall, what is a kilowatt hour or a megabyte? Does the average person know what a light bulb (is it 60 or 100 watt?) uses in kilowatt hours, or what  is the data size of an email (does it have attachments?).   Electricity, unlike the internet, doesn't have the added complexity of speed - it's either on or off.
I pay about 8-9 cents per kwh at home for electricity, but think nothing of plugging another appliance in at home when I need it.  At home with a wireline connection I never worry how many people are accessing the internet downloading data because the cost is fixed at $30/mth for "up to" 5mbs speeds.

Outside of the house, I use other people's electricity. Internet users use other people's Wifi network to access data for free (although this is changing as more security is put in place).  However, when I use a wireless device outside of a free Wifi, it costs me about 1 cent per megabyte for data.

I think the telecommunication industry is struggling with how to price access to the internet -  speed (which partially equates to data usage) ;  by data; or by access location.

The telecom industry could take a lesson from the electric utility industry - get the price so low per byte that the consumer forgets to turn off the lights and allows anyone to plug into their outlet.  Forget speed or location - just charge by the byte.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Teachers vs Teaching

Last night Susan, Ellen, Paul and I sat down to play bridge.  Well not to play bridge, but to try to teach Ellen and Paul how to play bridge.  Paul who had played Euchre growing up, already knew the concept of "trump" but Ellen was at "ground zero" of "card sense".  It was clear Susan and I had different teaching styles. 

What makes a good teacher?  It was a field that Mom excelled in for over 50 years (she just stopped substituting about two years ago).  I think the first attribute of a good teacher is someone who understands the process of learning.  Someone who can put themselves into the students shoes and see exactly where the student is in the learning process.  The best teachers are those who then understand the individual style of the student's learning process and can vary their approach to meet the students needs.  Finally, there is the ability to make learning fun and provide the incentive and reward to motivate the student to want to progress.

Try to remember who your best teachers/mentors were.  What things do you remember about them?  My best teachers were the ones that took a genuine delight in seeing me progress.  They were not married to my outcomes - just enjoyed the process of seeing me progress at the optimal rate of my capability.  Mrs. Harding, Mr. Keinor, and others whose names have disappeared from my memory - but who helped introduce the ingredients of my success. 

Last night the most important word was to teach Ellen and Paul how to PLAY!   Learning should be like playing - fun at all times!

The BEST teachers give the students the gift of fun - and the ability to teach themselves, thereby becoming a teacher.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Joy in Life

A sidebar in my research of Joy (and it's measurment), reminded me of the best scene in the "Bucket List" (see my previous blog "Giving - It Takes Two").  There on top of the Great Pyramid, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson discuss the soul, heaven and joy:

 
Tough two questions to answer - After all what is joy?  Giving?
 
The clip: Have you brought joy to others? from The Bucket List (2007)

You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death.
When their souls got to the entrance to heaven...
...the gods asked them two questions.
Their answers determined whether they were admitted or not.
Okay, I'll bite.
What were they?
Have you found joy in your life?
Uh-huh.
Answer the question.
Me?
Yeah, you.
Answer the question, "Have I found joy in my life?"
Yes.
Has your life brought joy to others?
Ah, this type of question, I...
I don't know, uh...
I don't think about how other people gauge, uh...
Ask them.
I'm asking you.
Fine.
Fine
 
To see the clip -  Start the Youtube link below - fast forward to 6 minutes 43 seconds