Brett is always endlessly speaking of market cycles, I found this to be an interesting take and an analysis I had not thought about before:

"During the first quarter of 2000, the dotcom bubble famously peaked after setting a new record high for corporate equity valuations. Today, we haven't quite matched that record in terms of equities, though, by some measures, we are very close. And when you look at corporate valuations more comprehensively, including both debt and equity, we actually have now matched that prior period. The chart below shows the value of nonfinancial corporate debt and equity relative to nonfinancial gross value added (data provided by FRED), essentially a measure of enterprise value-to-sales. I'll let you come to your own conclusion about what this might mean going forward."

Dylan Distasio writes: 

This is interesting, thanks. However, shouldn't duration and average interest rates on the debt have some relevance to using it to calculate valuations? I'm asking the question, not necessarily drawing that conclusion. Just wondering if my betters have an opinion on the linked chart.

Larry Williams writes:

So what if we have matched the all-time high valuations of 2008? Provided that the all-time valuation high was in 1960 8C would've stopped investing in 1995?
I am convinced there is one and only one thing that really causes bear markets– recessions. That's the key, certainly not technical analysis.

Happy bullish trails to all.



 Some may remember when Zerhouni, prior to his time served at Sanofi, directed the NIH. There are some rumors that he may yet be recruited back to that same job (if Peter Thiel's efforts are thwarted—taking the path Thiel has proposed would be akin to taking Ron Johnson and putting him in charge of a bank; I think the results of that approach can be seen in the near death spiral that Johnson put JCPenney's into).

In any case, Zerhouni has an observation that some of us have been noting for many years. Not all acquisitions should be integrated into a parent pharmaceutical company, and not all promising pharma start-up have value as acquisitions.

Dylan Distasio writes:

Tangentially, Thiel's pick of Jim O'Neill would be one of the best things ever to happen at the FDA. I, for one, am hoping Thiel's efforts are NOT thwarted!

If O'Neill was able to successfully roll back the Kefauver Harris Amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938, my assertion is that we could get back to a cheaper, quicker NDA process that would benefit everyone outside of power hungry government bean counters. IMO, efficacy should have never been added as a requirement to the drug testing and approval process. Getting rid of it could potentially usher in a golden age of treatment options and save many lives in the process.

David Lillienfeld responds: 

1. It is impossible to assess safety information in the absence of efficacy data.

2. In the absence of randomized trials, implemented principally to meet K-H Amend requirements, many adverse events due to the underlying disease would likely have been attributed to the drug with the result being a lack of use by the medical community and a withdrawal from the market.

The best example of the need for K-H Amend is laetrile. Wonderful drug. No efficacy. Lots of toxicity. Lots of criticism of FDA (for more than two decades that I'm aware of) for not allowing the drug on the US market and consigning hundreds (if not thousands) of patients to certain death. The laetrile hastened the deaths of many, and there is no data to suggest any benefit. (I'll leave aside the oral contraceptive story—1st and 2nd generations. Or clozapine.)—I've got other examples for off-list discussion.

I have all sorts of problems with the spontaneous reporting system institutionalized by KH Amend. But the need to show efficacy I don't quarrel with. You would be absolutely shocked to see what would have been unloaded into the marketplace in the absence of a need to demonstrate efficacy. I might not like the cost of the new HepC drugs, but they are cost-effective—they do cure HepC. Compare that with Panalba.

 The notion that you would have an outpouring of new drugs in the absence of the FDA is a myth. One of the biggest problems that we have in the US is that de facto cutbacks at the NIH and CDC have not only reduced the R&D workforce available to the US pharmaceutical industry (limiting its ability to produce the drugs need to address today's unmet medical needs) but also the lack of understanding of the pathophysiology of diseases. That's the single biggest problem, for instance, with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's (which is no longer just a movement disorder), and sepsis. There have been lots of drugs for sepsis put forward. Only one was allowed onto the market, with lots of concerns registered within FDA and by the medical community. While efficacy wasn't great, FDA argued that there was nothing else available that held any potential benefit approaching this drug's. The drug was a commercial flop and Lilly subsequently withdrew it from the market. Or aerosolized insulin—but that's a pretty involved story.

Alternative stories in which drugs that might otherwise never have made it to market in the absence of the FDA are Tracleer and thalidomide. (Yes, FDA facilitated re-introducing it back in 2000.)

I suggest looking into the history of the Biologicals Control Act (see my paper: The first pharmacoepidemiologic investigations: national drug safety policy in the United States, 1901-1902. Perspectives Biology Medicine 2008; 51:188-98) for an example where the industry begged for the FDA (actually its predecessor—see the paper) to implement regulations to assure the public of the safety of its nostrums.

If you prefer, you might think of it in terms of surgeries. Was every CABG in the 1970s and 1980s (and 1990s, for that matter) efficacious? No; there's pretty good data that single and double were not beneficial and probably resulted in lots of deaths, and not a small number of strokes (~5%). There are lots of other surgical examples, whether they be radical mastectomies (vs simple mastectomies), internal-external carotid bypasses, and some forms of bariatric surgery just as starters. Just because some surgeon figured out a way to cut doesn't mean it was beneficial to the patient, and it's not as though the surgery is without its own risk.Substitute therapeutics for surgical procedures, and one gets the same result. I've been offered surgical procedures many times that I have declined in the absence of data indicating that it was efficacious.

My father (chair of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins) declined to have a triple CABG until the data indicated that there was a benefit at least commensurate with the stroke risk (did you know that when the Cleveland Clinic first started CABGs, the post-op ICU was nicknamed "the stroke ward"?), never mind death.

There are lots of issues present at FDA, especially on the food side. But the notion that FDA is the reason why more life-changing drugs haven't ben introduced in the US is more a case of political philosophy trumping scientific data in the presence of asymmetry of information (Ackerlof's lemons come to mind). The biggest challenge in getting more drugs to market in the US has been the slowness in the development of our understanding of how disease happens. The NIH funded the work that indicated there may be a role for statins—the work on the HMG receptor. The industry took the risks in discovering and developing statins, not the NIH. But in having the NIH budget as a political football, the creation of new drugs has been retarded.

Little understood in all of this is that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the net exporters (big time) from the US, that the effects of the drugs that it does develop are usually cost-effective (despite the assumed to be outrageous prices for them (generics don't merit some of the pricing that they are allowed, though)—and save the economy lots of money, that 2% of the US GDP is now the pharmaceutical industry (not a small number of jobs or wealth production) or that the rate of return on investments in NIH/CDC research is pretty significant.

Bottom line: I don't think KH Amend are the problem they are often held up to be. The data simply aren't there to support the argument. Of course, if you want to oppose them on philosophical grounds, that's a different story.

There's lots of stuff that one can criticize the government for in regard to the health care system. The health care provided by the military and the VA is a great example—they've been underfunded for years and the result is some horrific health care being delivered (though it's better than it was 5-10 years ago). I could go on and on, even insofar as the effect that the way we fund medical education in revving up the use of procedures, like endoscopies or surgical procedures, of questionable need. But that's a different discussion.

But if one assumes homo economicus and no information asymmetries, then maybe the KH Amend might be superfluous. But that world exists only in the minds of economists—even the one-armed ones.



 Two interesting developments this week in the competition for smart home ecosystem.

Apple iOS 10 update which introduces the Home app. (note, Home is also the name for Google's competitor to Amazon's Alexa.)

Amazon's echo "dots" for those who prefer their Alexa services with a lower profile and footprint than the obelisk Amazon Echo.

Amazon is also offering Echo Dot bundles with Bose, Phillips Hue and ecoBee Thermostats for preorder.

Samsung SmartThings seems to be lagging but they are a bit distracted by the Galaxy Note 7. Perhaps released too early (arguably applies to Apple and Google as well.)

Full disclosure: Despite being a gadget geek and early adopter, I have not yet set up automation in my home for two reasons:

1. Waiting for the ecosystem shake outs–who wants to choose the equivalent to BetaMax and have to rebuy/reconfigure etc?

2. Not yet comfortable with security practices by the providers as well as data privacy concerns (they need to incentivize me to give such delicious consumer data away.)

Dylan Distasio adds:

I have been dipping my feet into the smart home waters. I was an early Echo adopter based on getting a good price on it. I have since picked up a Tap and FireTV on Prime Day, and plan on some Dots next now that Amazon has released v2.0. I am only able to turn lights on and off with the Echo ecosystem at this point, and have it integrated with Belkins WeMo and Philips Hue wireless lights. I also have a WeMo switch it can control that can be wired to anything I please, but I haven't gotten around to going nuts yet.

Regarding 1) I'm not sure if you're familiar with If This, Then That (IFTTT.com), but for me, it is the greatest thing ever for home automation across competing platforms and standards. While it is not comprehensive, you can create simple recipes for actions (or use existing ones) as long as your devices support IFTT (many of them do, including the Echo). I use it to control the lights from the Echo, and would highly recommend checking it out.

2) I agree with you on this, and don't have a great answer. I'd prefer to build the system around open source components and have the voice recognition done on an internal server in my house with no phoning home, but I've given into the dark side.



 This has very large implication for AI that go way beyond the already impressive ability to beat a human Go champ. We are starting to see the fruits of what started as neural networks decades ago. Kurtzweil may yet be proven right:

"Google's DeepMind beats Lee Se-dol again to go 2-0 up in historic Go series"

Google stunned the world by defeating Go legend Lee Se-dol yesterday, and it wasn't a fluke — AlphaGo, the AI program developed by Google's DeepMind unit, has just won the second game of a five-game Go match being held in Seoul, South Korea. AlphaGo prevailed in a gripping battle that saw Lee resign after hanging on in the final period of byo-yomi ("second-reading" in Japanese) overtime, which gave him fewer than 60 seconds to carry out each move.

"Yesterday I was surprised but today it's more than that — I am speechless," said Lee in the post-game press conference. "I admit that it was a very clear loss on my part. From the very beginning of the game I did not feel like there was a point that I was leading." DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis was "speechless" too. "I think it's testament to Lee Se-dol's incredible skills," he said. "We're very pleased that AlphaGo played some quite surprising and beautiful moves, according to the commentators, which was amazing to see."

"AlphaGo was more confident than professional players"

The close nature of the game appears to offer validation of AlphaGo's evaluative ability, the main roadblock to proficiency for previous Go programs. Hassabis says that AlphaGo was confident in victory from the midway point of the game, even though the professional commentators couldn't tell which player was ahead.

Until yesterday, the ancient Chinese board game of Go had never been played to a world-class level by an AI. Computer programs have long bested the world's leading human players of games like checkers and chess, but Go's combination of simple rules and intricate strategy has made it a major challenge for artificial intelligence research.



I thought this was an interesting opinion piece from David Deutsch who has some creative ideas in physics theory:

"Probability is as useful to physics as flat-Earth theory"

Gibbons Burke writes:

String theory, or more particularly, M-theory, which represents a current SWAG (Scientific Wild-Assed Guess) at the grand-unifying-theory-of-everything, requires some eleven dimensions to make it all work out.

Our mortal finite deterministic mental capacities can wrap our space-time evolved brains around four or five, with instruments perhaps a few more.

Perhaps randomness is how we get a handle on behavior which defies rational explanation in our four-dimensional flatland of what seems to be the 'natural' material world; if there are eleven or more dimensions, then perhaps what seems random for us has rules beyond our ken which govern the dynamics of the other invisible, shall we say, 'super-natural', dimensions.

Ralph Vince writes: 

I think people are missing the point of the article Dylan puts here. The author of this simple piece is discussing things that are right in my ambit, what I call "Fallacies in the Limit." The fundamental notion of expectation (the probability-weighted mean outcome), foundational to so much in game theory, is sheer fallacy (what one "expects" is the median of the sorted, cumulative outcomes at the horizon, which is therefore a function of the horizon).

To see this, consider a not-so-fair coin that pays 1:-1 but falls in your favor with a probability of .51 The classical expectation is .02 per play, and after N plays, .5N is what you would expect to make or lose for player and house, as the math of this fallacious approach - and I say fallacious as it does not comport to real-life. That is, if I play it on million times, sequentially, I expect to make 20,000 and if a million guys play it against a house, simultaneously, (2% in the house's favor) the house expect to make 20,000

And I refer to the former as horizontal ergodicity (I go play it N times), the latter as vertical ergodicity (N guys come play it one time each). But in real-life, these are NOT equivalent, given the necessarily finite nature of all games, all participants, all opportunities.

To see this, let is return to our coin toss game, but inject a third possible outcome — the coin lands on its side with a probability of one-in-one-million and an outcome which costs us one million. Now the classical thinking person would never play such a game, the mathematical expectation (in classical terms) being:

.51 x 1 + .489999 x -1 + .000001 x - 1,000,000 = -.979999 per play.

A very negative game indeed. Yet, for the player whose horizon is 1 play, he expects to make 1 unit on that one play (if I rank all three possible outcomes at one play, and take the median, it i a gain of one unit. Similarly, if I rank all 9 possible outcomes after 2 plays, the player, by my calculations should expect to make a net gain of .0592146863 after 2 plays of this three-possible-outcome coin toss versus the classical expectation net loss of -2.939997 (A wager I would have gladly challenged Messrs. Pascal and Huygens with). To see this, consider the 9 possible outcomes of two plays of this game:


0.51                     0.51    1.02

0.51             -0.489999    0.020001

0.51             -1000000    -999999.49

-0.489999            0.51    0.020001

-0.489999    -0.489999    -0.979998

-0.489999    -1000000    -1000000.489999

-1000000            0.51    -999999.49

-1000000    -0.489999    -1000000.489999

-1000000    -1000000    -2000000

The outcomes are additive. Consider the corresponding probabilities for each branch:


0.51          0.51                 0.260100000000

0.51          0.489999          0.249899490000

0.51          0.000001          0.000000510000

0.489999   0.51                  0.249899490000

0.489999    0.489999          0.240099020001

0.489999    0.000001          0.000000489999

0.000001    0.51                 0.000000510000

0.000001   0.489999           0.000000489999

0.000001    0.000001          0.000000000001

The product at each branch is multiplicative. Combining the 9 outcomes, and their probabilities and sorting them, we have:

outcome             probability         cumulative prob
1.02              0.260100000000    1.000000000000
0.999999       0.249899490000    0.739900000000
0.020001       0.249899490000    0.490000510000
-0.979998      0.240099020001    0.240101020000
-999999.49    0.000000510000    0.000001999999
-999999.49    0.000000510000    0.000001489999
-1000000.489999    0.000000489999    0.000000979999
-1000000.489999    0.000000489999    0.000000490000
-2000000    0.000000000001    0.000000000001

And so we see the median, te cumulative probability of .5 (where half of the event space is above, half below — what we "expect") as (linearly interpolated between the outcomes of .999999 and .020001) of .0592146863 after two plays in this three-possible-outcome coin toss. This is the amount wherein half of the sample space is better, half is worse. This is what the individual, experiencing horizontal ergodicity to a (necessarily) finite horizon (2 plays in this example) expects to experience, the expectation of "the house" not withstanding.

And this is an example of "Fallacies of the Limit," regarding expectations, but capital market calculations are rife with these fallacies. Whether considering Mean-Variance, Markowitz-style portfolio allocations or Value at Risk, VAR calculations, both of which are single-event calculations extrapolated out for many, or infinite plays or periods (erroneously) and similarly in expected growth-optimal strategies which do not take the finite requirement of real-life into account.

Consider, say, the earlier mentioned, two-outcome case coin toss that pays 1:-1 with p = .51. Typical expected growth allocations would call for an expected growth-optimal wager of 2p-1, or 2 x .51 - 1 = .02, or to risk 2% of our capital on such an opportunity so as to be expected growth optimal. But this is never the correct amount — it is only correct in the limit as the number of plays, N - > infinity. In fact, at a horizon of one play our expected growth-optimal allocation in this instance is to risk 100%.

Finally, consider our three-outcome coin toss where it can land on it;s side. The Kelly Criterion for determining that fraction of our capital to allocate in expected growth-optimal maximization (which, according to Kelly, to risk that amount which maximizes the probability-weighted outcome) would be to risk 0% (since the probability-weighted outcome is negative in this opportunity).

However, we correctly us the outcomes and probabilities that occur along the path to the outcome illustrated in our example of a horizon of two plays of this three-outcome opportunity.

Russ Sears writes:

Ok after a closer look, the point the author is making is scientist assume probabilities are true/truth based on statistics. But statistics are not pure math, like probability, because they are not infinite. Therefore they can not detect the infinitely small or infinitely large.

But the author assumes that quantum scientist must have this fallacy and do not understand. Hence he proposes that thought experiments or philosophical assumptions of deterministic underpinnings of physics must hold and should carefully supercede statistical modeling. Hence denying the conscious mind any role is creating a physical world outside itself.

So basically the author accuses others of not understanding the difference between the superiority of probability over statistics. So he tries to use pure thought to get pure physics devoid of the necessity of consciousness to exist. Perhaps he does not confuse the terms himself. It would be better written however, if he used the terminology a 1st year probability and statistics student learns. 

Jim Sogi adds: 

I believe that the number and size of trades at a price, or the lack of density at that price lead to certain gravitational effects. The other somewhat unknown are the standing orders at those levels but the orders and trade density are related.



 If you were the Government of China, what would you do to stabilize the Yuan and stock market?

Best answer gets dinner on me at Spec annual rendezvous.

Dylan Distasio comments: 

Somewhat tongue in cheek…

1.Eliminate all restrictions on position size for stocks/futures
2. Eliminate all restrictions on foreign ownership of A shares
3. Let the currency float with no intervention
4. Let creative destruction run its course
5. ???
6. Profit



In obedience to the command of the Constitution, it has now become my duty "to give to Congress information of the state of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures" as I judge to be "necessary and expedient."

But first and above all, our thanks are due to Almighty God for the numerous benefits which He has bestowed upon this people, and our united prayers ought to ascend to Him that He would continue to bless our great Republic in time to come as He has blessed it in time past. Since the adjournment of the last Congress our constituents have enjoyed an unusual degree of health. The earth has yielded her fruits abundantly and has bountifully rewarded the toil of the husbandman. Our great staples have commanded high prices, and up till within a brief period our manufacturing, mineral, and mechanical occupations have largely partaken of the general prosperity. We have possessed all the elements of material wealth in rich abundance, and yet, notwithstanding all these advantages, our country in its monetary interests is at the present moment in a deplorable condition. In the midst of unsurpassed plenty in all the productions of agriculture and in all the elements of national wealth, we find our manufactures suspended, our public works retarded, our private enterprises of different kinds abandoned, and thousands of useful laborers thrown out of employment and reduced to want. The revenue of the Government, which is chiefly derived from duties on imports from abroad, has been greatly reduced, whilst the appropriations made by Congress at its last session for the current fiscal year are very large in amount.

Under these circumstances a loan may be required before the close of your present session; but this, although deeply to be regretted, would prove to be only a slight misfortune when compared with the suffering and distress prevailing among the people. With this the Government can not fail deeply to sympathize, though it may be without the power to extend relief.

It is our duty to inquire what has produced such unfortunate results and whether their recurrence can be prevented. In all former revulsions the blame might have been fairly attributed to a variety of cooperating causes, but not so upon the present occasion. It is apparent that our existing misfortunes have proceeded solely from our extravagant and vicious system of paper currency and bank credits, exciting the people to wild speculations and gambling in stocks. These revulsions must continue to recur at successive intervals so long as the amount of the paper currency and bank loans and discounts of the country shall be left to the discretion of 1,400 irresponsible banking institutions, which from the very law of their nature will consult the interest of their stockholders rather than the public welfare.

The framers of the Constitution, when they gave to Congress the power "to coin money and to regulate the value thereof" and prohibited the States from coining money, emitting bills of credit, or making anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts, supposed they had protected the people against the evils of an excessive and irredeemable paper currency. They are not responsible for the existing anomaly that a Government endowed with the sovereign attribute of coining money and regulating the value thereof should have no power to prevent others from driving this coin out of the country and filling up the channels of circulation with paper which does not represent gold and silver.

It is one of the highest and most responsible duties of Government to insure to the people a sound circulating medium, the amount of which ought to be adapted with the utmost possible wisdom and skill to the wants of internal trade and foreign exchanges. If this be either greatly above or greatly below the proper standard, the marketable value of every man's property is increased or diminished in the same proportion, and injustice to individuals as well as incalculable evils to the community are the consequence.

Unfortunately, under the construction of the Federal Constitution which has now prevailed too long to be changed this important and delicate duty has been dissevered from the coining power and virtually transferred to more than 1,400 State banks acting independently of each other and regulating their paper issues almost exclusively by a regard to the present interest of their stockholders. Exercising the sovereign power of providing a paper currency instead of coin for the country, the first duty which these banks owe to the public is to keep in their vaults a sufficient amount of gold and silver to insure the convertibility of their notes into coin at all times and under all circumstances. No bank ought ever to be chartered without such restrictions on its business as to secure this result. All other restrictions are comparatively vain. This is the only true touchstone, the only efficient regulator of a paper currency–the only one which can guard the public against overissues and bank suspensions. As a collateral and eventual security, it is doubtless wise, and in all cases ought to be required, that banks shall hold an amount of United States or State securities equal to their notes in circulation and pledged for their redemption. This, however, furnishes no adequate security against overissue. On the contrary, it may be perverted to inflate the currency. Indeed, it is possible by this means to convert all the debts of the United States and State Governments into bank notes, without reference to the specie required to redeem them. However valuable these securities may be in themselves, they can not be converted into gold and silver at the moment of pressure, as our experience teaches, in sufficient time to prevent bank suspensions and the depreciation of bank notes. In England, which is to a considerable extent a paper-money country, though vastly behind our own in this respect, it was deemed advisable, anterior to the act of Parliament of 1844, which wisely separated the issue of notes from the banking department, for the Bank of England always to keep on hand gold and silver equal to one-third of its combined circulation and deposits. If this proportion was no more than sufficient to secure the convertibility of its notes with the whole of Great Britain and to some extent the continent of Europe as a field for its circulation, rendering it almost impossible that a sudden and immediate run to a dangerous amount should be made upon it, the same proportion would certainly be insufficient under our banking system.

Each of our 1,400 banks has but a limited circumference for its circulation, and in the course of a very few days the depositors and note holders might demand from such a bank a sufficient amount in specie to compel it to suspend, even although it had coin in its vaults equal to one-third of its immediate liabilities. And yet I am not aware, with the exception of the banks of Louisiana, that any State bank throughout the Union has been required by its charter to keep this or any other proportion of gold and silver compared with the amount of its combined circulation and deposits. What has been the consequence? In a recent report made by the Treasury Department on the condition of the banks throughout the different States, according to returns dated nearest to January, 1857, the aggregate amount of actual specie in their vaults is $58,349,838, of their circulation $214,778,822, and of their deposits $230,351,352. Thus it appears that these banks in the aggregate have considerably less than one dollar in seven of gold and silver compared with their circulation and deposits. It was palpable, therefore, that the very first pressure must drive them to suspension and deprive the people of a convertible currency, with all its disastrous consequences. It is truly wonderful that they should have so long continued to preserve their credit when a demand for the payment of one-seventh of their immediate liabilities would have driven them into insolvency. And this is the condition of the banks, notwithstanding that four hundred millions of gold from California have flowed in upon us within the last eight years, and the tide still continues to flow. Indeed, such has been the extravagance of bank credits that the banks now hold a considerably less amount of specie, either in proportion to their capital or to their circulation and deposits combined, than they did before the discovery of gold in California. Whilst in the year 1848 their specie in proportion to their capital was more than equal to one dollar for four and a half, in 1857 it does not amount to one dollar for every six dollars and thirty-three cents of their capital. In the year 1848 the specie was equal within a very small fraction to one dollar in five of their circulation and deposits; in 1857 it is not equal to one dollar in seven and a half of their circulation and deposits.

From this statement it is easy to account for our financial history for the last forty years. It has been a history of extravagant expansions in the business of the country, followed by ruinous contractions. At successive intervals the best and most enterprising men have been tempted to their ruin by excessive bank loans of mere paper credit, exciting them to extravagant importations of foreign goods, wild speculations, and ruinous and demoralizing stock gambling. When the crisis arrives, as arrive it must, the banks can extend no relief to the people. In a vain struggle to redeem their liabilities in specie they are compelled to contract their loans and their issues, and at last, in the hour of distress, when their assistance is most needed, they and their debtors together sink into insolvency.

It is this paper system of extravagant expansion, raising the nominal price of every article far beyond its real value when compared with the cost of similar articles in countries whose circulation is wisely regulated, which has prevented us from competing in our own markets with foreign manufacturers, has produced extravagant importations, and has counteracted the effect of the large incidental protection afforded to our domestic manufactures by the present revenue tariff. But for this the branches of our manufactures composed of raw materials, the production of our own country–such as cotton, iron, and woolen fabrics–would not only have acquired almost exclusive possession of the home market, but would have created for themselves a foreign market throughout the world.

Deplorable, however, as may be our present financial condition, we may yet indulge in bright hopes for the future. No other nation has ever existed which could have endured such violent expansions and contractions of paper credits without lasting injury; yet the buoyancy of youth, the energies of our population, and the spirit which never quails before difficulties will enable us soon to recover from our present financial embarrassments, and may even occasion us speedily to forget the lesson which they have taught. In the meantime it is the duty of the Government, by all proper means within its power, to aid in alleviating the sufferings of the people occasioned by the suspension of the banks and to provide against a recurrence of the same calamity. Unfortunately, in either aspect of the ease it can do but little. Thanks to the independent treasury, the Government has not suspended payment, as it was compelled to do by the failure of the banks in 1837. It will continue to discharge its liabilities to the people in gold and silver. Its disbursements in coin will pass into circulation and materially assist in restoring a sound currency. From its high credit, should we be compelled to make a temporary loan, it can be effected on advantageous terms. This, however, shall if possible be avoided, but if not, then the amount shall be limited to the lowest practicable sum.

I have therefore determined that whilst no useful Government works already in progress shall be suspended, new works not already commenced will be postponed if this can be done without injury to the country. Those necessary for its defense shall proceed as though there had been no crisis in our monetary affairs.

But the Federal Government can not do much to provide against a recurrence of existing evils. Even if insurmountable constitutional objections did not exist against the creation of a national bank, this would furnish no adequate preventive security. The history of the last Bank of the United States abundantly proves the truth of this assertion. Such a bank could not, if it would, regulate the issues and credits of 1,400 State banks in such a manner as to prevent the ruinous expansions and contractions in our currency which afflicted the country throughout the existence of the late bank, or secure us against future suspensions. In 1825 an effort was made by the Bank of England to curtail the issues of the country banks under the most favorable circumstances. The paper currency had been expanded to a ruinous extent, and the bank put forth all its power to contract it in order to reduce prices and restore the equilibrium of the foreign exchanges. It accordingly commenced a system of curtailment of its loans and issues, in the vain hope that the joint stock and private banks of the Kingdom would be compelled to follow its example. It found, however, that as it contracted they expanded, and at the end of the process, to employ the language of a very high official authority, "whatever reduction of the paper circulation was effected by the Bank of England (in 1825) was more than made up by the issues of the country banks."

But a bank of the United States would not, if it could, restrain the issues and loans of the State banks, because its duty as a regulator of the currency must often be in direct conflict with the immediate interest of its stockholders. if we expect one agent to restrain or control another, their interests must, at least in some degree, be antagonistic. But the directors of a bank of the United States would feel the same interest and the same inclination with the directors of the State banks to expand the currency, to accommodate their favorites and friends with loans, and to declare large dividends. Such has been our experience in regard to the last bank.

After all, we must mainly rely upon the patriotism and wisdom of the States for the prevention and redress of the evil. If they will afford us a real specie basis for our paper circulation by increasing the denomination of bank notes, first to twenty and afterwards to fifty dollars; if they will require that the banks shall at all times keep on hand at least one dollar of gold and silver for every three dollars of their circulation and deposits, and if they will provide by a self-executing enactment, which nothing can arrest, that the moment they suspend they shall go into liquidation, I believe that such provisions, with a weekly publication by each bank of a statement of its condition, would go far to secure us against future suspensions of specie payments.

Congress, in my opinion, possess the power to pass a uniform bankrupt law applicable to all banking institutions throughout the United States, and I strongly recommend its exercise. This would make it the irreversible organic law of each bank's existence that a suspension of specie payments shall produce its civil death. The instinct of self-preservation would then compel it to perform its duties in such a manner as to escape the penalty and preserve its life.

The existence of banks and the circulation of bank paper are so identified with the habits of our people that they can not at this day be suddenly abolished without much immediate injury to the country. If we could confine them to their appropriate sphere and prevent them from administering to the spirit of wild and reckless speculation by extravagant loans and issues, they might be continued with advantage to the public.

But this I say, after long and much reflection: If experience shall prove it to be impossible to enjoy the facilities which well-regulated banks might afford without at the same time suffering the calamities which the excesses of the banks have hitherto inflicted upon the country, it would then be far the lesser evil to deprive them altogether of the power to issue a paper currency and confine them to the functions of banks of deposit and discount.

Dylan Distasio writes: 

Thanks. The failure of Ohio Life Insurance and Trust in the panic is slightly reminiscent in broad brush strokes to AIG. The naive, good old days of specie, eh? No parallel there unfortunately.

Stefan Jovanovich replies: 

The Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company's failure did not come from doing an AIG - extending massively leveraged bad bets with financial counter-parties. Its failure was pure fraud: it was an Enron or, if you prefer, a Madoff. The insiders had literally looted the Cincinnati bank while publishing fictions about their outstanding loans to farmers and merchants. Its failure is one of the main reasons that Cincinnati lost out to Chicago as the center for the meat trade.

Anonymous comments:

The excerpt above is apparently from President Buchanan's annual message of the president to congress, December 7, 1857.



 "Evolving a Defense, Mimics Save Themselves":

The Canadian tiger swallowtail caterpillar is a plump green creature that spends all its time munching leaves. It ought to be an easy meal for a bird, yet many birds pass it by.

The caterpillar is protected by a remarkable defense, researchers have found: it tricks birds into thinking it's a snake.

The caterpillar grows concentric yellow and black rings that look like a giant pair of eyes. When the caterpillar senses a bird nearby, it quickly inflates the front part of its body, making it resemble a snake's head.

Astonishing as this deception may be, the tiger swallowtail is hardly unique. Many species have evolved ways to fool would-be predators. Some insects look like twigs, even mimicking the way that twigs sway in the breeze.

Harmless snakes scare off predators by mimicking the look of venomous ones. Some species of hoverflies have the yellow and black stripes of stinging wasps. They even pretend to sting their enemies despite having no stinger at all.

But mimicry has revealed a puzzle at its heart: Time and again, scientists find examples of overkill. Animals don't seem to receive an extra benefit from making their disguises more elaborate.



 I recently picked up Make: The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory: Build Over 200 Pieces of Science Equipment! to work on some science project ideas with my 7 year old daughter.

It was originally published back in 1963 when chemistry sets came with cool stuff that could hurt or maim the unwary. It has been revived and annotated by someone I have a lot of admiration for over at Evil Mad Scientist, Windell H. Oskay. He has done his best to modernize it with annotations, especially in the area of suggesting modern day ingredient equivalents or where to get some now harder to find chemicals.

It's a fantastic book that provides instructions on building out a home lab, while at the same time providing a ton of experimental questions to consider.

Anyways, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Here's an official blurb:

Raymond E. Barrett's Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory is a classic book that took on an audacious task: to show young readers in the 1960s how to build a complete working science lab for chemistry, biology, and physics–and how to perform experiments with those tools. The experiments in this book are fearless and bold by today's standards–any number of the experiments might never be mentioned in a modern book for young readers! Yet, many from previous generations fondly remember how we as a society used to embrace scientific learning.

This new version of Barrett's book has been updated for today's world with annotations and updates from Windell Oskay of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, including extensive notes about modern safety practices, suggestions on where to find the parts you need, and tips for building upon Barrett's ideas with modern technology. With this book, you'll be ready to take on your own scientific explorations at school, work, or home.



 I recently stumbled across the work of Peter Turchin, an evolutionary biologist, who is attempting to applying quantifiable scientific techniques to the study of history as part of a field known as cliodynamics.

From the Santa Fe Institute's blurb on it:

The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes," Mark Twain once said, a reference to the patterns of history, perceived anecdotally. Today, a new field is coalescing around the notion that historical patterns are, to some degree, measurable, and that the future can, also to some degree, be predicted. Researchers involved in the field call it "cliodynamics" after Clio, the Greek muse of history.

Scholars of human history traditionally have studied the past as a chain of idiosyncratic events, with each event a unique response to unique circumstances, says SFI External Professor David Krakauer. Historical fields such as paleontology have relied on collections of evidence—fossils, for example—to draw inferences about the past.

A few fields have made strides in approaching history as a science. In archaeology, for example, rigorous field survey methods have provided new, quantifiable information about the location, distribution, frequency, and organization of certain human activities. In population genetics, evolutionary outcomes are modeled as probabilities. Cliodynamicists would like to see the historical fields sharing methods among themselves and adopting approaches and theories from physics and other long-quantified fields.

The tools of complexity science are now beginning to make the task tractable, Krakauer says. Mathematical and computational techniques such as agent-based models, power-law relations, and more classical differential-equation models are in several fields helping scientists develop new theoretical frameworks, for example.

Although he did not perhaps agree with how reductionistic cliodynamics seems at first glance, I can't help but see echoes of Giovanni Battista Vico's New Science in this effort.

I have to give credit for the sheer audacity of this pipedream.

Turchin has published a book called Secular Cycles related to this topic and also maintains a website. I started to wade through his paper on analyzing the "Dynamics of political instability in the United States, 1780–2010" also. It's not without flaws, but is worth a look.

The whole field may end up doomed to failure and hopefully won't become another dismal science, but I thought it was worth a look, and was wondering if any other specs are familiar with it.

If nothing else, it might cross pollinate with some ideas for trading.

anonymous writes: 

This sounds VERY much like the premise behind Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series, the books that got me hooked on his work and Sci-Fi in general.

From the above wiki:

The premise of the series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. 



 I am sure you have seen and heard the story of Benjamin Franklin's 13 moral virtues, but here they are as a good reminder for all of us:

TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.

TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Stefan Jovanovich comments: 

Two grunts from the peanut gallery (where everyone is still unhappy about seeing the end of the Fed's career):

1. The maxims were written as a scold for his son William, who was Royal Governor of New Jersey at the time (1771) and hardly needed lessons from Dad about how to get on in the world. (He could have used some help later on when the Revolutionists threw him into their improvised jail; Franklin literally turned his back on the man and never spoke or wrote to him for the rest of his life. This matters because it is only through the efforts of his grandson that the autobiography was published.

2. One of Twain's early hits was his essay on Franklin's autobiography; it was not a favorable review but it was wildly popular when it was first published in 1870 (of course, these are the same people who voted twice for Grant so what can you expect.) My favorite line in the Twain essay is this one: "His maxims were full of animosity toward boys." They were and are.



 Refreshingly old school, and I thought a good fit with some of the other pursuits of dailyspec readers:

"Even in the Digital Age, These Young Champs Still Care About Marbles" :

PITTSBURGH—Bobby "Bobbo" Narr, a sunny fifth-grader with flaming red hair, can wallop a baseball but prefers shooting marbles.

His sister and cousin are former national champs, and this month he has been spending two hours every night with his coach doing marble drills at his neighborhood court, a 10-foot cement ring under a steel bridge.

"Gotta practice to get better," says Bobbo, who warms up his thumb with 50 short-range "tap shots." Every year, his goals are the same: Qualify at the county championships, then win a national title. The 91-year-old National Marbles Tournament, which runs Monday through Thursday in Wildwood, N.J., claims to be the longest-running youth sports event in the country. Last year, Bobbo finished eighth in the nationals.

Playing marbles has mostly died out but thrives in pockets across America including Pittsburgh. The city has thousands of mibsters, as players are called, and about 40 former national champions, including many from the same families. In some neighborhoods, the passion that normally follows Little League baseball and Pop Warner football surrounds little spheres colliding inside 10-foot cement rings.

Marbles, as old as Ancient Rome, and the root of billiards, bowling and golf, was popular in early America. Abraham Lincoln played to relieve stress during the Civil War. In Pittsburgh, a marble-playing tradition was fueled by the booming glass industry, which preceded the making of steel in Western Pennsylvania.



 Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw are MIT trained scientists with interesting ideas about life extension.

I read their most well known book Life Extension, A Practical Scientific Approach many years ago, and still have a now yellowed relatively beaten up copy of it. I think the tricky thing about what they are attempting to do is that the research on antioxidants is mixed at best. In fact, many of their earlier recommendations may have resulted in an increased risk of some cancers. In looking at their current formulation, they have greatly scaled back the amount of certain antioxidants, probably based on later research. Kurzweil is another one we have mentioned on this list who is doing everything he believes possible to extend his life via supplementation.

I am perhaps not the best poster child for life extension as I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life, but I have had a strong interest in it, particularly the area of supplements, for decades. I am still interested in supplements, but I am currently of the belief that vitamin D is the only one worth taking without a doubt. I also do take fish oil and more recently ubiquinol. Despite the mixed study record on fish oil, I think it is worth taking a chance on it.

It is very challenging to parse out what supplements may actually be of value in the quest to extend life.



 The beauty of a Martingale strategy is that we have price distributions that are bound at zero.

We are in a casino, where red can only come up on the little wheel X times in a row.

And no one in this business can get past their pre-conceived notions to capitalize on that.

No one.

Instead, the entire industry wants to focus on price direction, the immediate direction of price, which has nothing to do with what's going on after the next play. Nothing at all.

anonymous writes:

Mr. Vince, would you mind expounding on this concept of for the dunderheads like me. I get that a price of a stock is bound at zero (I'm hoping I at least understood that comment correctly), and that red can only come up a finite number of times in a row as a result. How does this help with a Martingale strategy in the real world with a limited bankroll and uncertainty over how many times in a row the wheel actually does come up red?I am obviously not looking for a grail with these comments and realize they got beyond a simple Martingale, but would like to explore your concept further if you're gracious enough to share more food for thought.

R. Vince responds: 

It gets messy quickly now, so I will try to keep it at 38,000 ft. Beyond the next, immediate play, or trade, or holding period, where <<what one has to risk is a function of what has happened to what they have to risk up to that point>>, you are somewhere on a curved line (for 1 proposition. For N propositions, you are in an N + 1 dimensional manifold. So, for 1 proposition, you are in a 2D manifold - a plane. I bound the manifolds at 0 and 1 for all axes except altitude - which is the cumulative expected return. So you are on a surface in an N+1 dimensional manifold.

Everyone is in this manifold, on this surface when the caveat (inside <<…>> above) holds, which includes those practicing portfolio insurance, any type of portfolio re-balancing, replacing components in an index, any type of short or levered ETFs, any managed programs, etc.

And I contend, ultimately, the only thing that really matters in trading (over consecutive trades or holding periods) is where you are on this surface, and possibly, how you are moving about it. Again, the most sophisticated, thorough and ultimately practical (some might argue otherwise) would be the most recent paper with Lopez de Prado and Zhu.

The point is, where we are on that surface, and how we are moving about it, we are either oblivious to or are using to satisfy certain criteria. For example, one who wishes to maximize their MAR ratio would want to be at those points on the surface that are in the sub-manifold of what we all "zeta-points" on it. Another — If one wants to begin to maximize time at or near equity highs, they traverse a path between some loci on the surface and 0,0…0 going downwards with sinning periods, upwards with losing.

Without violating the proprietary ideas of other colleagues, we can look at randomness, and at this hypothetical bounded roulette game in terms of this surface and our criteria.

What to me, at this point in my life, is most interesting about this now is not so much the trading implications, but the more broader applications of this. As a trader, we seek growth, but there are many more functions in life that comport to this same growth dynamic where we seek to diminish growth, and I find applications for it everywhere I look.



 The movie was a biopic of a complete scumbag given to excessive drug use and hookers (not that I have a problem with drugs and hookers). He worked the financial system illegally defrauding a lot of innocent people in the process and worst of all, in my opinion, was a rat. I think Leo captured his magnetic personality very well, and I think Scorsese made a very entertaining film about one example of testosterone driven excess. I really enjoyed the movie and feel that it holds its own with any of Scorsese's canon. It also appears to stick pretty closely to the details put forth in Belfort's purported memoirs and the legal record. I think he presented the story well; it WAS a story about debauchery and depravity. Also, small nit to pick, that was a Lambo he destroyed.



 We've had some talk (some might argue too much talk) about bitcoin this year on the site. I've come across a sentinel—about as good as one can get, I think—that the currency's demise is close at hand. "Bill Gross: The Bitcoin Age". This is one of those "End of Equities?" tells. The next few months should provide some insights into its accuracy.

Dylan Distasio writes: 

The Upside Down Man always has his own book to talk, so I take his comments with that always in mind.

Gross: Part 1of 2: We live not in a new gilded age but a bitcoin age where artificial money (from central banks) creates temporary prosperity

Unless I missed another tweet that speaks more directly to bitcoin, I interpret his comment as referencing the fact that central banks magically create money out of thin air. I'm not sure how this ties into the end of bitcoin just because he is aware of it, and using it as an analogy to central bank printing.

Bitcoin has a lot of issues, including the fact, as Stefan points out, that it's not legal tender. It also has a lot of digital competitors waiting in the wings. Maybe one of those like LiteCoin or dare I say DogeCoin ultimately wins out, or maybe they all fail and expire worthlessly. It's an interesting experiment either way.

Jeff Sasmor writes: 

The NYT reported about Overstock.com accepting Bitcoin.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

 Details, details. Here is the link on Overstock's web site for the search results for "Bitcoin".

A guide to using Bitcoin.

What is amusing is that the price for the book is itself in dollars.

When the printing press was developed by Gutenberg, its first popular use was for the printing of indulgences. The Papal State needed the money for its military budget and the minor detail of paying for the beginning work on the new St. Peter's Basilica. Luther gets all the press for the Reformation; what is not mentioned are the effects of the invention of printing by typesetting having reduced the cost of producing an indulgence 1000-fold. For an indulgence to be real - something that you could literally take with you when you died - there had to be a document. The printing press was able to do in a morning what usually took a scribe a month. The boom in the buying and selling of indulgences that followed was spectacular. What came next was the bust; entrepreneurs (mostly minor nobles who were themselves members of the clergy or had relatives who were) started producing indulgences that had not been approved by Tetzel. When buyers questioned those documents, they were told that these indulgences were the "real" ones, not the ones produced by that fraud Tetzel. A great deal of the violence of the earlier rounds of the religious wars came from the mobs of the people who felt they had been defrauded or feared they would be.



 I have read few less toxic examples in recent memory that demonstrate perfectly the idea that has the world in its grip, as the Chair would say, than this piece.

"The Wealthy's Compassion Defecit" By David Wolpe:

September 8, 2013

"We know that wealth does not always make people happy, but does it make them kinder? Studies suggest exactly the opposite. Instead of being more magnanimous, the rich are more likely to lie, cheat, steal and in general display less compassion than the poor. And this finding remains consistent even after controlling for gender, ethnicity and spiritual beliefs.

…As a rabbi, I see a spiritual explanation as well. We all know, deep
down, that most of what we have is a product of good fortune. No matter
how hard we work, we did not earn our functioning brains or the families
into which we were born. We didn't choose being born into an era, or a
nation, that allowed our talents to develop. We ride in cars and live in
homes we did not build, are warmed by heating and cooled by air
conditioning we did not invent, live in cities others created for us
organized by a government and protected by a military shaped by our
predecessors. Yet we still point to our accomplishments and proudly
proclaim, "I did this!"

No one likes to feel that what they have
achieved stems more from luck than merit. So the well-off salve their
consciences by assuring themselves that it is hard work and merit that
brought them success, which also leads them to conclude that it is a
lack of merit that keeps others from succeeding.

And so on.

This in particular sounds like the Rabbi is channeling Barry's "You didn't earn this" rant. I wonder if he is a supporter.



 For those interested in reading up further on the flexions and Ms. Wedel's work, the latest issue of Pacific Standard magazine has a nice introduction to this aspect of her work titled "Meet the Flexions."

I only have the print version and am unable to link to a soft copy, but the website for the magazine is psmag.com.

The article is particularly timely with the Prime Mover lately attempting to transmogrify himself into the creature from Jekyll Isle by sheer force of flexionic will.



 Before work I drink two double espressos. I wouldn't have the courage to leave the house otherwise and go to work. I just rely on jitters to move me uncontrollably and eventually I bounce out the door. An espresso around my house/work costs approximately $3.00. That's $6.00 a day. I drink these on weekends as well, so, that would be around $42 a week and there are two of us in the house. $84 a week. We go through around $10 beans per week. We also need to factor in cleaner for the machine, but I bought industrial bulk cleaner for $20…it'll last a year or two even with weekly double cleans. We also give others a coffee when they come around. I'll ignore that, however.

I bought the coffee machine for around $800 on special and it makes a very tasty cup. We've had it since late 2007. So, we've been drinking $4,368 per year for four years, so $17,472 for the life of the machine. Only $2,080 for the beans over four years. All up, I think we're ahead. There are power costs and so on, but, they're minor. We've probably saved, conservatively, around $13,000 in the last four years.

Here is a good article reviewing the best home coffee machines.

Jeff Watson writes:

I drink a lot of Cuban Coffee, which is espresso, and is very sweet. My pot cost $12 at Target and I've had mine for at least 15 years.

I buy Cafe Pilon which is priced at 4 bricks for $22 and that's a 2 month supply, figuring 4 cups a day.

It takes less than 5 minutes to knock out the coffee.

Dylan Distasio writes: 

My company recently eliminated the free Green Mountain brewed coffee as part of a bean counter initiative and switched over to Flavia packets which is a very poor substitute. I have been going downstairs to buy a large cup of coffee a day for $2.67 but am looking for a cheaper alternative.

I am about to order one of these aeropresses based on the reviews I've read of the device and the coffee it makes. It is essentially a gentle one cup espresso maker which can then be turned in a cup of Americano if desired simply by adding additional hot water.


 So I got my Aeropress and wanted to report back my coffee findings to the group. I am a huge fan of this device and believes it consistently brews a delicious cup of coffee quickly and easily. The only downside I see is that it can only brew one cup at a time. For me, this is a non-issue though since I am using it at work and not for a group. Even if I used it at home (I am considering getting a 2nd one for that purpose), my wife does not drink coffee. I have a Keurig I had bought for convenience at home in case I wanted a quick cup of joe on the weekends. There is no comparison between the two not surprisingly; the Aeropress blows the Keurig with its k-cups out of the water.

Just a little additional background on my coffee habits…I drink my coffee black with a few exceptions…I generally don't like SBUX brew. I am with the folks who call them Charbucks. I prefer McDonald's or Dunkin Donuts coffee, but will drink the SBUX Blonde or an Americano (espresso plus hot water) there under duress. I am not a coffee snob (at least not yet) so you will not be hearing me talk about brewing beans picked out of civet droppings or $1000 burr grinders.

I picked up a bag of whole bean Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee from Costco for my first brews with the Aeropress. I am using a burr grinder versus a bladed one but it is a relatively inexpensive Mr Coffee one I bought years ago when I was experimenting with a Braun Espresso maker. I am grinding relatively fine somewhere between espresso and french press.

Once the coffee is ground, it is a very quick, simple process to brew a tremendous cup of coffee. The Aeropress comes with a measuring scoop which I use to scoop around 2 - 3 scoopfuls into the device after placing a fresh filter disc at the bottom. I then pour relatively hot water obtained from the dreaded Flavia machine onto the grounds and stir with an included stirrer for approximately 30 seconds (they recommend 10 seconds). I then insert the plunger piece into the waiting grounds and with some elbow grease slowly press the coffee down through the filter leaving the grounds behind. After that, I add additional hot water to my coffee mug to craft an Americano. I have tasted it undiluted and it is also delicious. I'm not really sure it would replace an expensive espresso machine since it is not applying the same pressure, but for me, it is a nice cup of what the Aeropress folks call espresso.

Clean up is simple. You just unlock the piece that holds the filter in place, and plunge the grounds into the trash. After that, it's a breeze to rinse off.

One of these would also be great for travel and camping/backpacking. It is pretty small and easy to carry.

In case you didn't notice, I am sold on the Aeropress. I'd highly recommend checking it out if it sounds like a good fit for your purposes. I'm looking forward to experimenting with the grind settings and some different coffee beans in it.

Just to continue this discussion, does anyone have any whole bean coffee recommendations to try?

For those of you interested in debating how many angels can dance on a java bean, check out coffeegeek.com also. The minutiae available for coffee lovers there may blow your mind.



Modernist Cuisine is a scientific book about cooking using science rather than tradition to develop the best quantitative parameters and methods for cooking. A teaser for the book describes cooking poached eggs at 144 degrees rather than the usual boiling water. It takes 25 minutes but the eggs are perfectly consistent with a smooth soft texture throughout the white and yolk.

It turns out that egg coagulates at just over 140 degrees. The violent boiling water disturbs or breaks the whites before they are cooked; when water doesn't boil, the whites don't break, and it is enough to cook the egg.

There are a number of other foods that also can be cooked at lower temperatures such as steak which needs 138 for a consistently perfectly cooked medium rare steak evenly through the entire cut. The steak is cooked in temperature controlled 138 water inside a sealed bag to the correct temperature. Then just brown the exterior to seal it on the bbq or pan and to add flavor. Special equipment helps such as the Sou Vide cooker.

Dylan Distasio writes: 

I have been lusting after a copy of Modernist Cuisine since it was released, but have been unable to convince the wife to let me blow $450-500 of hard earned cash on it as an amateur cook, It's truly a labor of love. Nathan Myhrvol, one of the co-authors, was the CTO of Microsoft before moving on to pursue his love of food science. You may be interested to know that Modernist Cuisine at Home was released earlier this fall. It is one oversized volume as opposed to four separate ones and is geared to recipes and techniques that are a bit more feasible for a home cook.

It is also significantly less expensive and probably does not sacrifice too much for the home cook at a current price of $105 on Amazon. I have a copy sitting here waiting for me under the Christmas tree that my wife was kind enough to give me, but that I had to promise not to open ahead of time. If you're interested, I'll post my impressions to the list after I open it and have a chance to peruse it and cook from it.

Jim Sogi gives us an update:

Modernist Cuisine at Home by Nathan Myhrvold just arrived. Reading his CV is astounding. He has multiple degrees, Phds and has worked with Stephen Hawking. He made millions at Microsoft early on and after an early retirement, he devoted his genius to cooking. This book is to cooking what Ed Spec is to investing, using the scientific method to cook.

He used sealed pouches to seal in foods while cooking. He uses pressure cookers to bring out smooth caramelly flavors in vegetables which require higher temperatures than boiling water allows. The expensive part is buying the additional equipment such as the sealer, the sous vide bath, the induction stove. One could get by with a digital thermometer on a budget. If I ever get to another Spec Party I promise to demonstrate the techniques.



I was cleaning out one of my drawers recently, and came across an interesting pamphlet on Crises and Panics by James L. Fraser. It's an interesting if brief history up through the early 60s. I thought I would share his comments on identifying traits and causes of panics/crises. I am paraphrasing a bit and not completely quoting him on each bullet point here. Bear in mind, this was written in 1965.

1) Extravagance of living, first by a few, and then by many…
2) General belief in impregnable prosperity…
3) Lavish private expenditures, which appear to be natural offshoots of immense federal projects…
4) An appetite for speculation
5) Easy money and availability of credit

Indications of impending crises:
1) Rising prices
2) Increased activity of established businesses seeking more production, more sales…
3) Active loan demand
4) Strong increase in labor employment
5) Extravagant public and private expenditures
6) Speculative mania, together with dishonest methods, fraud
7) Labor strikes and increased general violence / social instability
8) Excessive pride of opinion, especially an "American First" attitude

1) Great failure of confidence at crucial moment(s)
2) Magnificent abuses of credit
3) Readjustment of conditions to changes in values/prices
4) General fall in prices
5) Changes in the monetary unit / revaluation
6) Contractions of or lack of money
7) Over production or under consumption
8) Psychological tendencies which covers a multitude of ideas, of which only a few ever hit the public press.

I also found his comments on "The Permanent Crisis 1960-?" interesting:

"Homer said 'After the event, even a fool is wise.' I suppose before the event, even a wise man looks foolish. Today, with strong opinions and solutions being voiced daily, a wise man tries to look for facts and thoughts which are forgotten in the heat of backing the opinion of the moment. Social control is exercised now more than ever before. We have a service-oriented economy, supported by the Federal Government as a prime mover in all walks of life. This is social action. We may not wish it or like it but we have it."

The rest of the pamphlet is also a great read, and reminds one of a quote from my favorite book of the good book (this is for Gibbons):

That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after.



 Perhaps someone can explain this one for me:

Facebook is valued at an astronomical amount. Its revenue base is, basically advertising. But FB is sustained, use-wise, by kids and young adults ( <30 ), who at one time had a fair bit of purchasing power and/or influenced significantly what a typical family bought.

Today, however, that demographic group doesn't have that kind of purchasing power. So what's the appeal for advertisers in supporting FB? Is there any data to suggest that ad buys on FB have a higher ROI than other media venues?

If not, is FB just a lousy investment, or a good one because these things are temporary?

Anatoly Veltman writes: 

Also, consider the theory of reflexivity in the case of FB, of self-perpetuation. I notice that my 11 y.o. daughter has gained self-confidence (and self-absorption) via FB-ing.

Those kids flaunt their "social edge" over the older purse-holders, and pull on purse-strings with ever-increasing zeal.

Like Henry Ford said, "I'll pay my workers enough to buy my cars", FB is fostering its own consumer channel.

Gary Rogan writes: 

The hope with large end-user software companies has always been that they (a) create dominance in their particular specialty (b) use this dominance to figure out as yet unpredictable way to monetize way beyond their current valuation (c) use this dominance and their speed of execution to stay ahead of adverse end-user trends. If often hasn't worked out this way, but of course when it does you get outsized returns.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

For the most recent quarter FB generated roughly $.5B in EBITDA - the same result that my favorite submarine with screendoor investment - AMAT - produced. FB did it with 1/4th the number of employees and 40% of the revenue. Does that justify a valuation 5 times what the market now pays for Applied Materials? Yes - if the belief continues that network effects will predominate in social media as they have in paid search. The world will need the production of foundries - both steel and silicon - but it will only pay a premium for businesses that promise that their profit margins will increase on marginal sales because there is no used/distressed inventory out there to compete with the "new" products. The answer will be No only if the world of corporations and teenagers decides that Google+ is a better way to sell their virtual images to the world. (Note to file: since those of us here at Chaos Manor now buy and own stocks as if they were cars and houses - i.e. once we find one we like well enough to buy, it is usually a decade and more before we even think about selling, these comments are only for people - all 3 of you - still willing to attend early morning mass at the church of Buy and Hold.)

Peter Tep adds: 

Above all else, Facebook is just a huge time sink and besides being a networking tool, is another place for people to gloat and boast or climb the social hierarchy — meant in a non negative way. With so many kids using it and literally connected to it 24-7, it's probably going to be a good investment if Facebook finds more ways to market to it's users on an even more emotional level. Has anyone seen the series posted on Ritzholtz blog about this?

I guess it is a great investment because it keeps people emotionally connected, like a great movie is playing out in front of them and they are part of it. If Facebook refines its marketing strategies even more using its users' data, then I guess the sky's the limit.

Jack Tierney writes: 

David asks some important questions regarding FB and its value. I agree that the current price is astronomical, but have very little knowledge of the operation — I am not a member and, barring any unforeseen developments, will not join. I have followed FB for sometime and have not joined because of the incredible amount of information they can gather regarding your personal history, preferences, and affiliations.

That very knowledge, though, explains why this could be a very rewarding investment. Back when I was still employed I did some work with the "research and marketing" groups. One of the first puzzling discoveries I made while going over some data was that, although our newspaper regularly received a huge amount of national food advertising, the relatively small markets covered by the Miami Herald and the Milwaukee Journal, received more.

It was explained to me that both cities were unique in that they were split almost evenly demographically. The wealthy, well-to-do, and upper middle class occupied one half of town, those not that well off, the other. This gave General Mills, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, etc. ideal platforms from which to launch new products, different packaging, innovative couponing programs, size and container preferences (12 oz. cans vs. 16 oz. bottles).

These two cities gave marketers some valuable insight into buyer preferences…yet it was no where near good enough. The Holy Grail, what each individual preferred, was not only impossible to discover, but impractical to reach. That may now be achievable with FB.

While many who are members argue that they reveal very little about their preferences, few are aware of how much their "friends", directly or indirectly, reveal about them. The most memorable story sent to me regarded an English woman who had been "on the dole" for a couple of years, receiving whatever that country's monthly stipend is for an unmarried, unemployed woman with two children. Someone from Inland Revenue (apparently the equivalent to our IRS) decided to check up on her. Rather than checking her page, he started with the pages of some of her friends.

He happened to come across one that featured a several month old picture of the woman in question, relaxing on a beach in some exotic, expensive European resort — with her new husband. Her friend also happened to mention how fortunate she had been to have an employer who let her take a month long paid vacation.

Well, the outcome was not a pretty one. But the story illustrates that if a "friend" should just happens to mention you're a pizza lover, expect to get an uncommonly large number of pizza promotions - from Pizza Parlors in your very own neighborhood. (How did they know???)

If FB plays this right, they could pull in billions. Marketing has always been about reaching the maximum number of potential buyers for the least cost. From what I've read about FB, this is within their reach. If they follow through, or allowed to follow through, their reach is incredible and I would consider buying.

J.T Holley writes:

I'm 41. I choose to "like" The Jefferson Theater so that I could see the feeds/updates of concerts that were being booked. I got notice that they were having a Southern Rock Band "Blackberry Smoke" play on July 25th. They also said that if you "liked" the announcement then you would be put into a drawing for free tickets. I won. I have two free tickets and allowed them (they asked) if they could say that I won.

GM and all others that don't understand the power of FB are foolish. It reminds me of A. Miller's "Death of a Salesman" and Charley's wise words:

"The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you're a salesman, and you don't know that." Charley

and he best double negative ever to be used in writing when Charley addresses Willy (foreshadowing).

"Nobody's worth nothin' dead." Charley

Google became the yellow pages.

FB is becomin' greater than the yellow pages.

It's a tectonic shift that many aren't willin' to accept or grasp. I'm nobody and humble and I get it.

Dylan Distasio writes: 

While I think your example is a good one of what Facebook COULD monetize, they are far behind Google on most advertising metrics and have a very low click through rate on the ads they do allow. It's understandable, Google is in the business of ads and has been at it for longer. Zuckerberg seems hesitant to admit or embrace the fact that FB is also in the business of advertising.

And the fact that Google is a yellow pages should not be scoffed at. It is a large part of why their ads in search work and demand higher prices. They are for things people are looking for and highly targeted.

I think with the amount of personal data Facebook has, they have great potential to monetize ads. The big question is whether they are interested, and if so, will they be able to execute.

The current issue of MIT Technology Review has a great article on a team at FB that is looking at the bigger picture in sociological terms of what they can do with the data. While their explicit goal is not focused on monetizing the data, some interesting techniques for doing so may come out of it indirectly.

Facebook has to be careful about how far they go in using people's data in the interest of monetizing it, and has to build a more sophisticated toolbox of ad types and techniques if they want to compete with Google. While they have certainly reached what appears to be critical mass as a social network, people can be fickle with their allegiances, and are happy to jump ship to something else when they get bored or feel slighted. FB will be forced to walk the same tightrope Google does if they want to seriously compete with them.

It should be an interesting couple of years watching this unfold. That said, I think based on the current view of things, FB is tremendously overvalued unless they are willing to start heavily exploiting the data in their possession. I'm not sure Zuckerberg is willing to, and he controls the company with 51% of voting shares. He's now a billionaire and can run his own agenda for quite awhile at the shareholders expense. As an example, I would question his acquistion of Instagram for $1 billion dollars but I guess time will tell. It will help them in the mobile space where FB is currently very weak, but we'll see if it was worth a billion to buy a company with no revenue.



 I think the following passage from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse has a lot of gems in it for speculators and gamblers despite the fact that Siddhartha is attempting to wash his hands of these filthy earthly pursuits in an attempt at spiritual nirvana:

The world had captured Siddhartha: voluptuousness, lust, lethargy, and in the end even greed, the vice he'd always thought the most foolish and despised and scorned above all others. Property, ownership, and riches had captured him in the end. No longer were they just games to him, trifles; they had become chains and burdens. A curious and slippery path had led Siddhartha to his latest and vilest form of dependency: dice playing. Ever since he had ceased to be a Samara in his heart, Siddhartha had begun to pursue these games with their stakes of money and precious goods- games he had once participated in offhandedly- with growing frenzy and passion. He was feared as a player. Few dared to challenge him, for his bets were fierce and reckless. He played this game out of his heart's distress. Losing and squandering the wretched money was an angry pleasure; in no other way could he have shown his contempt for wealth, the idol of the merchants, more clearly and with more pronounced scorn. And so he bet high and mercilessly. Despising himself, mocking himself, he won thousands and threw thousands away, gambled away money, gambled away jewelry, gambled away a country house, won again, lost again. That fear- that terrible and oppressive fear he felt with rolling the dice, while worrying over his own high stakes- he loved it. Again and again he sought to renew it, to increase it, to goad it to a higher level of intensity, for only in the grasp of this fear did he still feel something like happiness, something like intoxication, something like exalted life in the midst of this jaded, dull, insipid existence. And after each major loss he dreamed of new wealth, pursued his trading with increased vigor, and put more pressure on this debtors, for he wanted to go on gambling, he wanted to go on squandering all he could so as to continue to show his contempt for wealth. Siddhartha lost the composure with which he had once greeted losses, he lost his patience when others were tardy with their payments, lost his good-naturedness when beggars came to call, lost all desire to give gifts and loan money to supplicants. The one who laughed as he gambled away ten thousand on a single toss of the dice turned intolerant and petty in his business dealings, and at night he sometimes dreamed of money. Whenever he awoke from this hateful spell, whenever he saw his face grown older and uglier in the mirror on his bedroom wall, whenever he was assailed by shame and nausea, he fled further, seeking to escape in more gambling, seeking to numb himself back into the grind of hoarding and acquisition. In this senseless cycle he ran himself ragged, ran himself old, ran himself sick. Never before had it seemed so strangely clear to Siddhartha how closely sensuality was linked to death. Siddharta had spent the night in his home with dancing girls and wine, had made a show of superiority before others, of his standing, though he was no longer superior, had drunk a great deal of wine, and had gone to bed long after midnight, weary and yet agitated, close to tears and despair. For a long time he sought sleep in vain, his heart full of misery he felt he could no longer endure, full of a nausea that coursed through him like the vile, insipid taste of the wine, like the dreary all-too-sweet music, the all-too-soft smiles of the dancers, the all-too-sweet perfume of their hair and their breasts. But nothing made the nausea well up in him more bitterly than his thought of himself. He felt nausea at his perfumed hair, the smell of wine on this breath, the wary slackness and reluctance of his skin. Just as someone who has eaten or drunk too much vomits it up again in agony and yet is glad for the relief, sleepless Siddhartha yearned for a monstrous wave of nausea that would rid him of these pleasures, these habits, this whole meaningless existence and himself along with it…



 I am so removed from Wall Street that this may be an obvious point:

I think it will turn out that Greg Smith did Goldman Sachs a great favor. No amount of purposeful PR could have helped GS so much and turned the tide running against GS so effectively as Smith's pompous, self-serving and unsupported resignation op ed.

Except among the irrational haters of wealth and speculation, Smith's op ed will wind up generating sympathy for GS, and I predict this week will mark the bottom of GS both in reputation and stock price. It will be pretty much all up from here.

The true criticism of GS, of course, would be its corrupt, crony-capitalist relationships with current and prior Presidential Administrations. But that's too subtle and knowledgeable a criticism. Rather the criticism in the popular mind is "greed". Smith's attempt to cloak his resignation in anti-greed will be seen through and will lead to greater acceptance of a beleaguered GS just trying to go about its business of making Wall Street work.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

As a GS alum, I would like to offer a few observations, without directly commenting on Dan's point.

When I left GS as a vice president in 1989, GS was run by Whitehead and Weinberg, successors to the legendary Gus Levy. The firm was a private partnership, and importantly, the investment banking/capital markets side of the company dwarfed the trading side of the company. This is a critical distinction from today. Sure, Bob Rubin's risk arb desk was hugely profitable. Sure, we did some big block trades in equities; but the much higher commissions of that period, and the firm's limited capital, ensured that the focus was on flow and not on principal transactions. By then, Traders were second class citizens versus the hermes-wearing, first-class-flying I-bankers who, at that time, would never ever represent a company in a hostile takeover. Of course there were some guys who pushed the envelope on occasion (I won't name names), but there was a distinct belief that everything flowed from the profitability of the clients. For an analogy of the inherent tensions between Ibanking and trading, revisit the Gluckman/Peterson feud at the ancient Lehman Brothers (pre-Amex deal).

That really was the GS culture back then. Heck, Weinberg drove a crappy Ford sedan because we did the Ford IPO. And few things could get you in trouble faster than talking badly about an important client. It was unthinkable that we would push a client into a security that we thought would turn out badly. We looked down our noses at Bear Stearns and the other bulge bracket firms who were known for that sort of thing. (Aside: I posit that the GS cultural evolution can be gleaned from the type of car the CEO drove.)

The world evolves, and I believe that the evolution of GS into its current form is a reflection of:

1) The end of its being a private partnership — which ensured risk taking with OTHER people's money. I still remember having a particularly bad losing day when Eric Sheinberg walked up to me, whacked me on the head and said with a reassuring smile, "Don't sweat it. It's ONLY money…..and it's MY money."

2) The domination of trading profits versus investment banking revenues. Management realized you can only grow investment banking to a certain size due to its service nature; whereas you can compound capital by investment and trading in a theoretically unlimited way.

3) The growth of trading technology and impersonalization of counterparty relationships. (It's much easier to "screw" someone who you don't know.)

4) The 10 percent rule, where they fire the worst performing 10% of employees every year. Back in the Whitehead/Weinberg day, such a concept would have been unfathomable. It really was a family lifetime employment sort of feel, not dissimilar to GE before Jack Welch and IBM before Lou Gestner.

5) And many other examples that correlate with a 30 year bull market in debt as a pct of GDP.

I am not lamenting here. I am simply saying that Smith is right when he observes that the GS culture has changed.

Too, the world has changed.

And, to be honest, I don't really understand why Smith wrote that piece except as an attempt to be Michael Lewis-esque, but without the chuckle factor.

Jack Tierney writes: 

Notes of interest in the GS "time to buy?" discussion: Goldman's full-year net income hit a record $13.4 billion in 2009, then slipped to $8.4 billion in 2010 before tumbling to $4.4 billion last year. Goldman's share price has plummeted from its 2009 high of $192 to the current quote of $111. During 2009 and 2010, Goldman spent 71% of its net income buying back its stock. But last year, the company spent 264% of net income buying its stock (excluding the repurchase of preferred stock from Warren Buffet, Goldman still spent 140% of its net income buying its own shares last year - double the rate of 2009-10.) Last week, Goldman executives cashed in $20 million worth of stock that had been "locked up" for the last three years. Over the last five years, Goldman's management spent $21 billion of the shareholders' capital buying GS stock in the open market at an average price of $171 a share. Today, the stock sells for $111. On a mark-to-market basis, therefore, Goldman's stock buy-back "investment" has produced a loss of about $7.3 billion for shareholders…. Last week, nine Goldman insiders sold their stock as fast as the law would let them. They cashed out $20 million worth of stock at an average price of $107.44.

Fred Crossman replies: 

Great points, Jack, on buy backs. I noted that American retailers have continually expanded at a much greater rate than the population growth. In addition to declining per store sales and income these retailers have been furiously buying back stock since 2007 to goose earnings. LOW has reduced shares outstanding by 12%, BBY 18%, HD 20%, KSS 11%, WMT, 15% and SHLD 29%. All buybacks above book value (destroying share holder value). Especially HD, now trading at 4.1 times book. 

Bruno Ombreux writes: 

There is a very simple way not to be screwed by GS, or anybody else. I am talking about trading, not corporate finance.

If you are making trades directly with GS, you are presumably a company, not some small private speculator. So you have a tool which is called "Risk management policy" and you make it a sackable offense not to comply with it. In the risk management policy, you list the markets and the instruments people are allowed to trade.

For instance:

- only markets with at least 3 active market makers and x trades/per day
- only vanilla instruments like swaps In addition, you have procedures like "trader must obtain 3 quotes from 3 different counterparties prior to making a trade", and a track record of the consulted counterparties and their quotes must be kept in the trading system, for each trade. In these types of market, you are not trading every 5 minutes, so you have the time to do all this.

There is no way you are getting screwed if you restrict yourself to simple instruments and they have the best bid/ask available among several other market makers.

Rocky Humbert comments: 

Sorry, but I don't understand your distinction between trading and investing. I also don't understand your definition of vanilla. I am however a fan of "rocky road" flavor.

I agree with you that entering trades that you are not sure to be able to exit is risky. But if the market provides you with a sufficient liquidity premium, it's rational and it can be profitable. But only if you do it right of course.

Bruno Ombreux replies: 

Trading vs investing: this could be the beginning of an endless semantic debate.

But let's use a couple of examples:
- trading: I buy a basket of stocks this morning with the intention of reselling before the close
- investing: I build a portfolio of stocks with the intention to keep it a relatively long time, because I think that these stocks value will increase due to whatever reason, growth, value, the economy…

I also like the following classification, which I believe comes from Minsky:
- Profits on the position neither depend on price variation of the asset, nor on cost of carry: I am investing.
- Profits do not depend on price variation, but only on positive carry: I am trading.
- Profit depend on price variation of the asset: I am speculating.

The example and the definition are not equivalent, but they give a rough idea of what trading is and what investing is. The border between both activities can be blurry. But if you invest, you do not need a market. You can buy a bond with the intention of holding it to maturity. If you trade, you need a market to close the trades.

Now, to answer your second question, what is vanilla? Vanilla is anything that is simple, easy to understand and commonly traded. In the energy markets, everybody trades swaps and Asian options. These are vanilla. What is not vanilla would be a double-barrier option on Singapore 180 cst Fuel Oil, settled at the average CAD/EUR exchange rate lagged 3 months vs the Fuel oil averaging period. That is not vanilla, and definitely more simple than many equity derivative deals.

Dylan Distasio comments: 

But if you invest, you do not need a market. You can buy a bond with the intention of holding it to maturity. If you trade, you need a market to close the trades.

I will let those wiser than myself comment on the rest of your analysis, but the above jumps out at me as a poor definition of investing. Holding a bond to maturity may be a valid example of your argument, but there are plenty of people arguably INVESTING in other instruments who need a market to close their positions. A few off the top of my head include real estate, stocks, bonds not held to maturity but still held as investments, commodities including physical ones held in safes or other venues. Of course you need a market to close out most investments! I may be missing something but this seems obvious. If you cannot find someone else to buy or sell your investment at the time of closing the position, you have zero liquidity and for all intents and purposes zero value if you need that liquidity immediately. Without a secondary market, most investments cannot realize their value.



 I suspect that this video is a preview of something that will be the next great bull market, a bull market that will dwarf the dot com market, a bull market that will be representative of a society changing technology right out of a science fiction novel. This new technology will redefine, reinvigorate, and recreate the industrial revolution.

Ralph Vince writes:

This technology has been around a long time for prototying componentry. There is a particular file format (comprised of a tringualr mesh of 3 d vertices) which many CAD formats readily convert to OR can be converted into.

I think where the rubber meets the road on this is the ability, ultimately, to do away with the machining of parts, particularly out-of-service parts. Try getting parts to very old cars for instance. With a CAD drawing of such a part, the physical part — or, the physical components to the assembly of the part, could readily be recreated. I did a ton of work with this kind of stuff — what the video doesn't go into is that the drawing itself can have engineering rules embedded within it. It;s more fantastic really than the video shows!

Dylan Distasio writes:

I agree that this one will eventually be a game changer. Although what I'm about to link to is more of a hobbyist unit, it is still impressive in its abilities, especially for the price. I've seen demos of these firsthand, and they're pretty cool for a home user:

Shapeways is also doing some pretty cool stuff with this in the commercial space, and offers a lot of different materials.



 It's my experience that if you need to sell a portion, even if that portion is 100%, via a stop order, you're in too heavy to begin with. Being in too heavy is to be too dependent on luck.

Dylan Distasio writes: 


Can you expand on your definition of "need"? Let's use the case of HPQ as an example. x had an investment hypothesis that no longer necessarily holds true after the potential value destruction of recent company decisions. As a result, he decides to liquidate half. Maybe someone else gets in a few weeks ago after the discussion on HP here, as they agree it looks like a value play, but they have a rule to always attempt to minimize losses on new positions to a flat 10% to protect capital and to always use stops because they need them for discipline. So they get a ~20% haircut after getting stopped out on the gap down.

I'm not sure either situation of a 50 or 100% liquidation was based on what I would call need, but rather some kind of capital preservation or very basic risk management rules.

In all serious, how would you define need as I think it is worth looking into this further? Potential loss of all capital? Forced margin liquidation? I agree that being in with too much leverage or too large a position opens you up to getting taken out by noise, but what is need versus risk management?

Chris Cooper writes: 

I took a big loss on Monday of the week before last. I then cut my trade size in half, and manage to end up flat at the end of the week. The week actually would have been very profitable had I been willing to stay with my original sizing. But Ralph is correct, and I decided that if I am getting scared by a big daily loss, I'm trading too heavy, so I have left the trade size at that halfway point.

On the other hand, one might choose a rule that pares back the trade size when volatility increases. These were intraday forex trades, and clearly that week was exceptional in terms of volatility. The problem is that the volatility spikes that kill me do not appear to be predictable. Therefore I have to trade most of the time at a level that seems relatively placid in order to avoid being frightened into damaging behavior occasionally.

Gary Rogan writes:

I think this illustrates the point I was trying to make originally about the lack of logical underpinnings in the "sell half" decision: it's an emotional decision because you (a) get scared by the suddenness and violence of the move an its effect on your net worth (b) belatedly realized that you were in too much. Now the second part is sort-of logical, but it really points to the lack of imagination about what a position can do when you get into it: you imagine a slow gradual move and the thing suddenly loses a big chunk of its value without much warning. This is not theoretical for me, because for the first time ever I have faced the following: two days after buying a stock it suddenly loses 25% of it's value in a day. This happened TWICE in a row on top of that, and only underscored to me that you never know enough to say with confidence that you will not lose all, and quickly. Therefore you should assume that that's the case from the very beginning. 

Ralph Vince replies:


I'm really referring to liquidity concerns; Rocky's decision to liquidate half, I assume, is a risk-management procedure here, as opposed to a strategic one based on changed fundamentals (I may be, and, in retrospect, likely am wrong about this!).

Any risk-management concern where someone "needs" to get out, shy of that investment being entirely wiped out, will, in time, be entirely wiped out, or damn near whether by an Enron, or those gilt-edged AAA GM bonds at one time.

Dylan Distasio responds: 


Although I don't typically trade that way, I don't think the sell half is necessarily an illogical or emotional decision depending on the scenario. We have no way of knowing what the reason behind selling half is for a given individual. Reducing a losing position size is, in my mind, a way to mitigate risk of additional loss while still having some skin in the game. Keeping some powder dry is (I would imagine as an amateur) one of the more important survival skills in this game. The person selling half doesn't have to be in too deep to their overall capital pool to want to protect half of what remains of that position based on changing circumstances. Losses do add up over time.

Alston Mabry writes: 

I have found that trading breaks down into (1) analysis, and (2) execution. With "analysis" being a period of calm, quiet reflection (maybe with a cold beer) over a crowded spreadsheet; and "execution" being whatever I have to do to manage my lizard brain once there is real money at stake. They can be such radically different modes of being that sometimes it's very difficult to establish a link.

If I make "analysis" and "execution" the axes of a graph, I can place each of my trades on the graph in the appropriate quadrant: {analysis(good), execution(good)} = exhilaration, {analysis(good), execution(bad)} = regret, {analysis(bad), execution(good)} = relief, {analysis(bad), execution(bad)} = self-loathing.

The challenge of trading is that there is only one quadrant you *want* to be in.

Chris Cooper adds: 

Rocky wrote:

"I challenge anyone to demonstrate a single person who blew up while sticking to the rule: "Only add to a winning position.""

I can't meet your challenge, but I did have a week where I lost 50% of my equity. Your observation does not apply to those trading with leverage. I am now learning to scale back the leverage, make adjustments in trade size more frequently than weekly (should be real-time), and to write models which account for higher correlations during times of stress.



 One has found that when companies pay up like this it is the handwriting on the wall.

Anatoly Veltman comments: 

True. I wonder, in addition, if the new world order means that Gold also looked at that.

Mr. X. writes:

One notes that the target of this transaction was Motorola rather than a certain Canadian smartphone manufacturer who gained a certain personage's attention based on similarly superficial and glib generalizations.

One wonders what this personage's knee-jerk reaction to the deal would have been — had the CEO of the acquiror been a god-fearing male Democrat-leaning Yalie, over the age of 65, who cheats on his wife, plays golf on Sundays with government officials, and tennis on Tuesdays with other prominent financiers…. Might that have taken the writing off the wall?

Importantly, one notes that Bloomberg is reporting that the Google agreed to pay a shockingly high $2.5 Billion breakup fee if the deal doesn't close (an amount more than 6 times the typical amount). This is bizarre and hardly subtle — so the buyer is either an idiot or he knows something that we don't know. Before rushing to judgment, one is inclined to believe that there is more than meets the eye here — and some elucidation may be provided in the soon-to-be-filed merger proxy statement.

Dylan Distasio writes:

I think at the end of the day, when all is said and done, assuming this deal goes through, the price will appear to have been a bargain. Google has had phenomenal success with Android, and as a result is in the crosshairs of both Apple vis a vis their patent battle with HTC, and with Oracle who in typical Ellison fashion picked clean the bones of the once mighty Sun, and let loose the lawyers of war. Oracle is going after the core of Android by claiming infringment on their acquired Java portfolio. With 17,000 patents just added to the Google portfolio, give or take, a cross licensing agreement with either opponent is much more likely as a worse case scenario for Google, IMO.

Motorola, despite their tarnished reputation compared to their go go days, also brings a hardware design and manufacturing ability that Google is sorely lacking in house. They took a gamble on Android, and were there with the original Droid which with the help of Verizon's heavy advertising really did more than anything to bring Android to the forefront. Google will now be able to realize their vision of what a flagship Android phone should look like with more success than they had with the ill-fated Nexus launch. They will have the capability to leverage the hardware to the hilt with the guys and gals writing the drivers in house.

The one area they will have to be careful about is alienating other major Android players like HTC. HTC's CFO was towing the line so far this morning, welcoming the deal. Microsoft is going to be heavily courting the large players for the Windows 7 phone OS, so there will be at least one alternative available to other Android handset manufacturers. I'm relatively confident Google will tread lightly though, and at the end of the day, Android is now a relatively mature OS that is FREE to the other manufacturers.

Google had a large warchest of cash, and a smash in Android that needs to be protected. I think for once, the premium will be money well spent. The landscape of tech mergers and acquisitions is littered with disastrous decisions and lack of the ever evasive synergies. I'll go on record as saying, this time it will be different, assuming the deal is not derailed by the Feds.

Drinks are on me if this one doesn't pan out over the next few years.

Gary Rogan adds:

I can't imagine that Google will not sell or spin-off the hardware business or the mobile phone part of it and keep the patents. They got MULTIPLE Android makers mouth exactly the same party line today, and they either threatened them (unwise, and hard to achieve reliable results so quickly) or promised neutrality. Keeping the smart phone manufacturing is a sure-fire way to sow discord in the eclectic Android community which can't be worth it for them. All they need is the hardware slaves killing each other making more and more popular phones to keep the advertising dollars coming in.



For any Specs interested in brushing up on their artificial intelligence, Stanford is graciously offering what appears to be an excellent intro course online in October for free. Hope to virtually see some other Specs there to discuss the course. Let me know if anyone else is going to be taking it.



 This morning something called "OTR Global" started a rumor that RIMM will discontinue the Wi-Fi version of the PlayBook tablet. This was picked up by an exceedingly large number of blogs and later more serious websites. In particular, the widely-read, openly pro-Apple BGR blog I had mentioned before picked this up and published an article without the "Wi-Fi" in the title, with a headline that RIM is about to kill the Playbook altogether. It later added the "Wi-Fi" to the headline. In the article it now cited Mike Abramsky of RBC who has recently turned dramatically anti-RIM with the following: "In a note to investors Monday afternoon, RBC Capital Markets Managing Director Mike Abramsky reiterated an OTR Global report that Research In Motion is possibly planning to stop production of the BlackBerry PlayBook’s Wi-Fi model." Interesting choice of words, "reiterated…possibly planning". I could "reiterate" that Hu Jintao is "possibly planning" to personally pilot a new kamikaze nuclear-tipped missile into a major US city, and I wouldn't even be lying. I mean it's not very likely, but possible. Later in the day RIM tweeted that this is "pure fiction", but who will notice? This denial is now on a few obscure websites and some comments elsewhere, but the damage has been done. They are truly trying to kill it.

This morning some Forbes columnist in his blog wrote another deathwatch post on RIM that was widely distributed as well. In it, it stated that RIM is planning to release QNX phones at the end of 2012. I posted a comment on his blog article saying that the company had repeatedly said that it would be in EARLY 2012. He replied that that wasn't true, although I have personally heard it in the quarterly call and also read it in a live blog from the shareholders meeting. He was later called on it by another commenter.

I just find this to be an amazing effort.

Rocky Humbert replies:

Mr. Rogan: I don't think this subject is boring at all; it's a live laboratory experiment in all of what makes up speculating, investing and more generally, human psychology. It's generally accepted that a speculator should primarily concern himself with what other market participants are currently thinking — and what other market participants will be thinking in the future.

In contrast, an investor should be focused on his assessment of the intrinsic value of the enterprise and whether Mr. Market is pricing the enterprise sufficiently below its probable future intrinsic value so as to provide a margin of safety and attractive return on shareholder capital. It's critically important to not confuse the two, or as Keynes said, "In the short term, the market is a voting machine, and in the long term, it's a weighing machine."

If, based on your research, you have decided to own this stock for a few years (as an investor), you might consider tuning out the market chatter since it's value is relatively limited for someone in your shoes. However, I believe that chatter becomes important for investors only when the chatter (and speculative flows) cause feedback loops. A falling share price (and credit rating) causes an increased cost of capital for an enterprise. That harms the enterprise's competitive position (versus companies with lower costs of capital); it makes recruiting and retaining talent more difficult; and it can also scare off potential customers (even if the product is excellent). These feedback loops (a variation of Soros' reflexivity) can help explain why certain trending strategies appear to work.If you believe this pernicious feedback loop is underway, it may reduce the future intrinsic value. Lastly, assuming that RIMM survives in some form, I believe the most difficult question for a value investor is when and how much capital to commit to a stock that is declining while other sexier stocks are rising. If the investor's money management is flawed, or his timing is flawed, RIMM may prosper yet the investor doesn't.

Lastly, I'd argue that one of the biggest mistakes any investor can make is thinking "I just want to get back to even." Because if RIMM turns around on its business execution, you will surely be tempted to exit in the high 40's … whereas all of my work suggests that you should consider buying more RIMM should the fundamental turn — rather than selling.

Dylan Distasio writes:


If RIM actually delivered a quality product that people wanted, all of the below would be a moot point. People trading RIM stock might have skin in the game on the short side, and be enjoying churning the rumor mill, but again, if RIM actually made anything people wanted to buy, the stock price would eventually follow the sales/earnings. RIM is headed the way of PALM if they don't get their act together soon. Balsillie and Lazaridis are on another planet, and refuse to acknowledge the dire situation they have put their company in. In addition, they have not been making friends in the press or with analysts.

I'm not sure what is so amazing about this effort. The weak are preyed upon in both the marketplace and the stock market. The vultures are circling, and shorts are doing what they always do, piling on as much as they are able to. If you're buying what RIM is selling, look at this as a buying opportunity.

FYI, I have no exposure to RIM or any of its competitors, so I have no axe to grind, but what is happening now appears to be out of the standard playbook for a heavily shorted, potentially dying entity.



 I had meant to post this a while back about Intel making the leap to 3d transistor design in the commercial environment. From a layman's perspective, this appears to be a big deal. Intel has been working on this since the early 2000s and is now ready to ship by early next year. The 22nm design is a step forward as it allows more transistors per area than the 32nm one, but the big news is the tri-gate design. It should result in very low power chips potentially, with less leakage at the transistor gate.

I would be interested to hear Gary's thoughts on the technology, but I believe this once again demonstrates Intel's technical prowess and continued innovation. TSMC, a large competitor foundry, is nowhere close to the commercial deployment of this technology. They are not planning on commercial production until 2015-16 when they move to 14nm structures. The low power possibilities of these chips may open up the smartphone market to Intel and fire a shot across the bow of ARM Holdings which currently dominates the space. Intel may finally be able to grab marketshare in the smartphone and tablet market with Atom processors running this tech.

I have been considering picking up some Intel as a long term holding in my IRA based on a number of factors including their relatively fat dividend yield. The above would point to a solid game plan going forward. I think Intel is doing some interesting things from the technology standpoint right now:

Intel is taking nano-scale chip design literally to another level. After more than five decades of putting flat (or planar) transistors to work in billions of chips in billions of digital devices ranging from big-iron mainframes to minuscule embedded sensors, Intel said May 4 that it now will build the tiny processing units in three dimensions, instead of two. They are called Tri-Gates, and Intel first disclosed the technology that goes into this chip design in 2002. Intel's 3D Tri-Gate transistors enable chips to operate at lower voltage with lower leakage, providing a combination of improved performance and energy efficiency never before seen in the chip industry, Intel Senior Fellow Mark Bohr said.

The channels of electricity on three sides of the vertical fin structure make up the 3D nature of the transistor. The 22-nanometer 3D Tri-Gate transistors (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) provide up to 37 percent performance increase at low voltage compared with Intel's currently shipping 32nm planar transistors. This significant gain signifies that they are ideal for use in small handheld devices. These new transistors will reside on Intel's soon-to-come 22nm Ivy Bridge processors, due out late this year.

More in-depth analysis here



I try to stay true to the spirit of the dinner party, and avoid overt political comments, but I believe the following piece sums up well everything that is hateful and wrong with the current administration. At a time when small businesses need to be encouraged more than ever, Geithner dispenses the following wisdom:

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the House Small Business Committee on Wednesday that the Obama administration believes taxes on small business must increase so the administration does not have to "shrink the overall size of government programs.

The administration's plan to raise the tax rate on small businesses is part of its plan to raise taxes on all Americans who make more than $250,000 per year—including businesses that file taxes the same way individuals and families do.

Full story here .

I have never seen such outright hostility towards those who want to succeed than I have from this administration. It's incredibly disheartening.



 What higher purpose is involved in all the news about Greece? How does it help the flexions? And how does it make man small? The answer must lie somewhere related to these last two.

Vince Fulco writes:

1) "Only Govt has the answers…"
2) The powers that be must deliver bad medicine (aka taxes) regardless of one's individual responsibility/frugality/discretion/smarts.
3) Overcomplication hides the truth as long as possible.
4) Suffering should be shared by the masses, prosperity obtained/retained by the sharpies

Jeff Rollert comments:

Actually, I see the flexions losing control. The public has tasted information freedom. They won't give it up easily. If Greece says "No" then their world changes rapidly. In my circle, the banks are "reaching out in the community" with ever greater frequency. Yet, consumers interest in their products is waning, except at the mid/mega cap level and gov't.

Dylan Distasio replies:

Jeff, can you elaborate on what you mean by information freedom, specifically in reference to the Greek situation?

I think some of the flexions have already profited in the first round of the Greek bailout by offloading bad debt to the ECB from the private sector when the ECB agreed to take it. I'm sure the other ones tied up with the IMF have a strong incentive to make the Greeks take their medicine.

I don't see how the Euro will survive this situation long term. It is very unlikely that Greece's economy is going to improve enough to meet these payments especially with a Draconian austerity plan. All this new bailout is doing is delaying what appears to be the inevitable. It might take another year or two for the pain to become insurmountable for the ECB and Germany/France, but they will eventually be forced to stop throwing good money after bad. The Euro is a flawed currency and there was no exit plan built into it. Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland all need to devalue their currencies to one degree or another and are unable to. This situation is untenable.

  Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
   Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
   The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
   The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
   The best lack all conviction, while the worst
   Are full of passionate intensity.

Ralph Vince writes:

I agree with all except it "it could get real ugly part." Not that I don;t think the possibility exists, but my analysis leads me to believe we are on the brink of gigantic, unprecendented economic growth in America, that we are rounding the turn, given a trough of some sort around 2014-2015, things REALLY take off after that.

And as we saw with China post-Tiananmen, nothing quells the masses like economic growth.

This is an extremely sophisticated society that, in the main, on the level of the individual, produces, despite their governement. In the main, Americans are quite peaceful, self-organizing, self-reliant people when need be. The seeds of pare-to-the-bone efficiency are in place here like nowhere else, the technological advantages now in place and as-yet unfelt — a catalyst need only emerge. The amount of available capital, so desperate now for a return, will be the second great biblical flood.

Talk to the younger crowd, and you see they isotropically have little faith in the future, little appetite for risk. They aren;t going to all be right. We re in the prime years to push all of our chips as individuals out onto the table.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

I share Ralph's optimism about future returns in what the old men with canes would have called "sound securities". If I had the energy for it and did not still live in California (aka PIGS West), I would be buying and managing as many small businesses as I did 20 and 30 years ago. I don't find the absence of "faith in the future" among young people to be as alarming as Ralph does; I don't remember even thinking about the future when I was 15 and 20 and 25, and the young people I now meet who "have a plan" are basing their projections on what they have learned in school, not their dreams. The others - who are properly cynical about school - understand that their fate is largely at the hands of the marketplace. But they are not scared. Quite the contrary. They seem to be far more comfortable with risk and uncertainty than my generation ever was and still is (we seemed to think we had the divine right to complain and receive whatever medications were available to escape from the pains of actual life.) I think intelligent young people now understand the difference between risk (doing potentially dangerous things that require skill and practice to avoid harm) and the arrogance that comes from ignorance. Extreme sports have never been more popular; but Lack's kids and others are sensible enough to wear helmets voluntarily. The kids are all right.



 I find Tyler Cowen to be a very interesting, stimulating individual and am looking forward to his upcoming talk at the NYC Junto. I read his latest "The Great Stagnation" in preparation for the talk. It is a quick read, and well worth checking out. While I enjoyed it, I disagreed with many of his arguments put forth in it.

The premise distilled is that the US was in a unique spot in its younger days to take advantage of a large variety of low hanging fruit due to a variety of factors resulting in increased prosperity, and that since the mid 50s the pace of innovation has plummeted and the rate of return of technology has diminished greatly, requiring more and more dollars for less and less life altering discoveries. I take full blame for any misinterpretation in putting forth Tyler's arguments, but the above was my take away.

He references the work of Jonathan Huebner in attempting to quantify innovation rates, and put forth the argument that things are ugly from 1955 onwards. I believe there are major problems with Huebner's methodology despite a laudable effort, including a very subjective measurement of exactly what an innovation is by definition. He uses patent data also which while not without problems is at least measurable in some form compared to the other method he uses for counting innovations.

Here is one review of said work.

 Tyler also argues that "current innovation is more geared to private goods than to public goods…with only slight additional benefits to the majority of the population" and that "the basic material accoutrements of life (again, internet aside) haven't changed much since he was a kid."

I don't believe I am wearing a pair of rose colored glasses when I say that there has been tremendous amounts of innovation and technological progress since the 50s in the US with great benefits to large swaths of the population. The progress in integrated circuits and computers alone is absolutely amazing in my opinion. Materials science has also made great strides. Despite the BP mess, the oil and gas industry continues to innovate. These are just some areas I can think of right off the bat. There are many more, but I've got to call it a night soon.

I found the whole line of argument reminiscent of the perennial naysayer Paul Ehrlich.

I'm not sure if anyone else on the list has read the book yet, or has any opinions, but I'd be interested to hear what others think. I believe science and technology have delivered and will continue to deliver advances that improve our lot. I also believe there is plenty of innovation still happening and that will continue to happen which is a net positive to the majority of the population.



The debt crisis in Greece has taken on a dramatic new twist. Sources with information about the government's actions have informed SPIEGEL ONLINE that Athens is considering withdrawing from the euro zone. The common currency area's finance ministers and representatives of the European Commission are holding a secret crisis meeting in Luxembourg on Friday night.


Paolo Pezzutti writes: 

I think Europe will be in a serious crisis when a slowdown or recession comes. The system is so fragile and some countries are so close to the edge of non sustainability of debt payment that it is only a matter of time before we see them sink. However, the system is so resilient that you don't know how long this situation can last. I have been betting on this event for months and months now and I have put together only losses on this scenario.



 I just did a quick read of Fisher's Crashes, Crises, and Calamities: How We Can Use Science To Read the Early-Warning Sign s. Although I found it to be light on applied theory, I thought some of the general ideas put forth in it were worth some additional investigation.

He discusses the impact of negative and positive feedback on systems. In really simple terms, negative feedback is generally a stabilizing influence on a system but it needs to be applied quickly as a series of rapid small changes versus a larger more gradual one, and positive feedback near a transition point can cause a system to suddenly change states.

One of the more interesting phenomenon he talks about is the Allee effect in which a population can grow if it is above a certain level, but will enter freefall if it is below that cutoff density. He talks about a problem with flamingos breeding at a certain zoo due to this effect which was alleviated through the use of mirrors to give them the illusion of a higher density.

One of the other areas of interest is the idea of resilience in systems, and the fact that it is the loss of it that leads to rapid state changes in systems as they are more easily pushed through a tipping point. Loss of resilience leads to a system that is slow to recover from an initial assault, and less able to maintain equilibrium after a subsequent one.

He argues that there are 5 key early warning signs indicating a loss of resilience:

1) Increasing occurrences of extreme states

Fluctuations near a critical point can drive huge jumps between alternative states.

2) Fluctuations between different states

3) Critical slowing down

A progressively slower ability to recover from small perturbations as a crisis approaches. Under this section, he mentions Parkinson and his concept of injelititis as a disease that brings down companies. Parkinson's Law and injelititis are a subject worth an entire discussion on in their own right:

4) Changes in spatial patterns

5) Increasing skewness in the distribution of states

He also spends some time on Toynbee and his idea of the life cycle of societies corresponding to a musical rhythm of three and a half beats to the bar. This plays out as a period of initial growth followed by some event that marks an end to growth, and then a three and a half beat pattern of collapse…recovery…collapse…recovery…collapse…recovery…final collapse.

Overall, I found some interesting food for thought here.

Ralph Vince adds: 

Interesting post Dylan, thanks. I would add to this, though, a very simple amendment note– crashes in commodity prices are most often preceded by a contraction in open interest. 

If, in the midst of a price run-up (typically, what we would call a "parabolic-style" run-up, and OI begins to roll over (because a run-up is typically seen with expanding OI), as OI decreases and the price continues its rise, it's about over, and likely to come down symmetrically with how it ran up. I am speaking only of hard commodities here, not financial ones.

Henry Gifford writes:

This is similar to my old trick of watching the thickness of the multiple listings book to gauge interest in real estate, now there are gauges such as average time between listing and sale of property, etc. Proxy for OI.



 The enclosed list of best selling books of all time  is an excellent indicator of popular culture I think, and should have interesting market applications. How would one dig down into that, and do you think or do you think it's not applicable?

Steve Ellison writes:

The first thing I notice is what a diverse list it is. The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy book. Think and Grow Rich is a self help book. There are conventional novels, children's books, religious books, and even a book about science by Stephen Hawking.

Charles Pennington comments: 

Who'd have guessed that A Tale of Two Cities is the best seller (single volume) of all time? I didn't even know it was the best-selling Dickens novel, which apparently it is by a factor of 20, since no other Dickens novels appear in the list. That's very surprising; am I misinterpreting?

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

 No misinterpretation here. ATOTC was so wildly popular in the U.S. - like all Dickens' writings - that people in New York and Boston and Baltimore (? not absolutely certain about that one) literally waited at the dock for the packet to arrive from England with the latest installment. One reason Dickens disliked America and Americans is that some of our enterprising ancestors are known to have bought a copy of the latest serial, set it in type over night and had reprints out on the street the following morning for sale - at, of course, a suitable discount from the price of the legitimate copies.

Tale of Two Cities was also the last book that "Phiz" illustrated. Starting with The Pickwick Papers, Dickens has written "monthly parts" that were sold as part of a serial publication. (It literally revolutionized British publishing.) The serials were close to being graphic novels. Robert Seymour, George Cruikshank, and George Cattermole all did illustrations. Hablot Knight Browne (1815-1882) — "Phiz" — did the ones that are best remembered. When Dickens began self-publishing in his own weekly periodicals, Household Words and All the Year Round, Dickens fired his friend as chief illustrator. The parallels with Walt Disney are interesting.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

In digging down a bit one sees that 3 of the authors, with over 100 million copies sold, are buried within a couple of hundred miles of each other in England (within a shared cultural environment) and that some of their literary themes had connections with class or race distinctions and warfare /murder (Dickens–French Revolution, Tolkien–races of mythological creatures, Christie– see wiki article on And Then There Were None (which originally had a different title and is about murderers from different classes being tricked into meeting on an island and being tricked in some cases into bumping each other off).

There is a whole series of study devoted to the Chinese book Redology and (having not read it), " Dream of the Red Chamber" appears to involve issues of class mobility.

Tsao Hsueh-chin, the author of A Dream of Red Mansions, lived between 1715 and 1763. His ancestral family once held great power. As such, he led a wealthy noble life in Nanjing as a child. When he was 13 or 14, the family was declining and moved to Beijing, where life took a turn for the worse. In his later years, he even led a poor life.Drawing on his own experience, Tsao Hsueh-chin put all his life experiences, poeticized feelings, exploratory spirit and creativity into the greatest work of all time - A Dream of Red Mansions. Drawing its materials from real life, the novel is full of the author's personal feelings filled with blood and tears.

A Dream of Red Mansions is a novel with great cultural richness. It depicts a multi-layered yet inter-fusing tragic human world through the eye of a talentless stone the Goddess used for sky mending. Jia Baoyu, the incarnation of the stone, witnessed the tragic lives of "the Twelve Beauties of Nanjing", experienced the great changes from flourishing to decline of a noble family and thus gained unique perception of life and the mortal world. Revolving around Jia Baoyu and focusing on the tragic love between Jia Baoyu and Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai against the backdrop of the Great View Garden, the novel portrays a tragedy in which love, youth and life are ruined as well as exposes and profoundly reflects the root of the tragedy – the feudal system and culture.

Found here.

Terrible things can happen if you leave the rich and powerful unchecked and unpunished… is that close to the themes that may be partially beneath the success and appeal of the above best sellers of all time.

The meme being that it will be back to the dark ages of murder and mayhem on earth if government social services are the least bit underfunded and the rich continue to not pay their fair share.

Dylan Distasio writes:

I thought it might also be worthwhile to look at bestsellers by decade. There is a course on 20th century American literature that has been kind enough to share their materials with the interwebs. The full list by decade for the 20th century is at the below link and is worth checking out.

Pitt T. Maner III comments:

In my first paid job as a 12-year old library aide, Agatha Christie made shelving a pile of returned books easy– her works constituted 10% of the pile and were quickly put back with little effort to the same spacious shelf location. I remember reading "Jaws" then, a book hugely popular at the time.

It is doubtful, however, that the Palm Beach socialites checking out multiple Christie books each week would ascribe her popularity to the "Burkean paradigm".

The following is a piece on Christie from a self-described "Wilsonian". Perhaps an example of reading into things a bit too much…the retrospective reasons for success when starting with a point of view.

Her work conforms to Burkean conservatism in every respect: justice rarely comes from the state. Rather, it arises from within civil society – a private detective, a clever old spinster. Indeed, what is Miss Marple but the perfect embodiment of Burke's thought? She has almost infinite wisdom because she has lived so very long (by the later novels, she is barely able to move and, by some calculations, over 100). She has slowly – like parliament and all traditional bodies, according to Burke – accrued "the wisdom of the ages", and this is the key to her success. From her solitary spot in a small English village, she has learned everything about human nature. Wisdom resides, in Christie and Burke's worlds, in the very old and the very ordinary.



Composing in an art studio, I have tried a few ways of showing music alongside paintings. What I am thinking of for the next occasion in June is to put my music on the wall as flattened scrolls, to be read from left to right.

A notice would tell people to text a code to a number, which would result in them automatically being sent an MMS message inviting them to hear the piece on their phone. This would give an immediate, independent and private experience, preferable to the jukebox programs I have been using till now (which needs me there all the time to tell them what to do), and preferable to giving them links to online sources (in the context of an exhibition).

I have found out how to send music files to phones - the missing link for me is how to set up a service which responds to the person sending a text message code, which is common in business (e.g. talk radio auctions "text your bid to this number . . ." so I wondered if anyone on the List can shed light on how to do it.

Another approach which comes to mind involves those mysterious square boxes which look like Aztek patterns, but which I gather enable a smartphone user to point their device at the pattern and then be directed to a weblink, which I would of course ensure led to music - has anyone information about said patterns (I have only been noticing them for a few months)?

Dylan Distasio comments:

Hi Laurence,

I can't really help with your first question, but I can hopefully point you in the right direction on the second.

The Aztec looking patterns you're referring to are what is known as a 3d barcode. There is pay software that will generate these, but it sounds like for your purposes, this free web barcode generator will work. It lets you enter a URL and will generate the corresponding barcode for you to print, copy, etc. When users scan it with their phone camera and barcode software it will translate back to the url.

Hope that helps!

David Hillman elaborates: 

 Not to nitpick nor be contentious in any way, but to be precise, as I wrote Laurence off list this morning, the Aztec codes, including the QR code to which Dylan refers, are in fact what we in the industry refer to as 2D barcodes, i.e., they're constructed to contain data in the X and Y axes and are read by 'imaging' the code rather than 'scanning' it.

The difference is that, in imaging, an image of a 2D code is taken and decoded into digital data, where as in scanning, light emitted by a laser [typically] is shown onto the code, then reflected back to the scanner, where the difference in the reflectivity between the spaces and bars is measured and decoded.

The more traditional barcodes one sees, e.g., UPC codes found on retail product, are referred to as linear or 1D barcodes, i.e., the data encoded therein can be read only along the x axis by scanning and decoding the variations in the vertical bars and alternating spaces.

One might correctly observe that a linear code has a second dimension. Yes, technically, there is the y axis. But, data cannot be encoded vertically in a linear code, thus, we refer to a code's dimensionality by the number of axes along which data may be endcoded and stored. Think of chess. A traditional board has both an x and a y axis. 3D chess, however, having a z axis as well, is played in 3 dimensions. So it is with barcodes.

In addition, there are 'stacked barcodes' which are in fact a series of linear 1D barcodes stacked upon one another along the y axis presenting the general appearance of a 2D code, when in fact, it is not. Because these are 1D, they can be scanned rather than imaged by passing a laser slowly across the code from top to bottom.

There are indeed 3D barcodes, also called "bumpy barcodes", but those must have dimension beyond the x and y axes, i.e., a z axis. Therefore, for a barcode to be 3D, it must be embossed on [or depressed into] a surface in a process called direct part marking, or DPM, so that all three axes are present. 3D codes are then read by special devices designed to detect variation in height as well as along the horizontal and/or vertical axes.

There is another twist, though, which is the addition of color to a 2D barcode, including the QR of which we speak, which gives that code another dimension, however non-spatial it may be. I believe the use of color on QR codes was pioneered by the Denso Corp. of Japan, but I do not deal with them or their products, so I cannot speak informatively to that technique.

The Aztec code in question was developed in 1995 by Andy Longacre [quite a brilliant fellow, btw, a mathematician and pretty fair operatic singer] of Welch Allyn, a company with which I dealt for many years prior to its being subsumed by Handheld Products and that then by Honeywell a few years back.

That code as well as all other varieties are referred to as 'symbologies' and there are scores, some more or less industry specific, e.g., UPC used in retailing, while others are more widely utilized. The most widely used 2D codes are the 'matrix' codes, but Longacre's code, which is now in the public domain, was one of the first.

The advantage of adding a dimension to a barcode, from 1D to 2D, or from 2D to 3D, is that each added dimension greatly increases the amount of data that can be encoded. For instance, while a 1D code may hold 9 or 10 digits in a horizontal inch or two, a 2D code that requires less real estate than a postage stamp may hold 200 to 300 characters, and a 3D code in the same space may contain thousands of characters.

It is also important to understand that while imagers designed to read 3D and 2D codes can read a 1D, a laser scanner designed to read a 1D linear barcode cannot read a code with more than one dimension. It is critical in designing a system or application to ensure that a proper scanner is employed. The consequences of not doing so should be obvious.

That said, as far as I know, there are no smart phones currently capable of imaging and decoding what we in the industry call a 3D code. Given that new technology is released at the speed of light and I am not a telecom guy, there may well be some of which I am not aware. However, there are many phones very certainly capable of imaging a 2D code, including the one I wear on my belt that sports such an application.

The crux of the issue here is that when planning to use barcodes there are a few things of which one needs to be aware.

1. Barcoding isn't rocket science, but it can be complex and takes expertise to get it right. Seemingly inconsequential factors such as too much ambient light, refraction of reflected light, the angle at which scanners are held, inadequate contrast of the bars and spaces in a code, and near-invisible abrasions among many others can all make the difference between success and failure.

2. There are many people, including trained IT folks and engineers, who think #1 is BS. Among these are the many who call a pro to fix what went wrong when they tried to do it themselves and failed. DIY can be frustrating, not to mention extremely costly.

3. There is much misinformation regarding barcoding out there and the lingo is often misused, even by some quasi-professionals.

Otherwise, it appears Dylan has done his homework and the online barcode generator he has referred looks as if it may work nicely for Laurence given one's understanding of what he wishes to do. The only argument I have with the reference is the use of the term 3D barcode instead of 2D to refer to QR, which one sees referenced incorrectly on any number of websites, but it is still incorrect according to AIM [Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility, the preeminent trade organization] standards.

It may seem like a small point, but I make it given the 3 above items and in the hope of saving potential confusion and frustration in Laurence's endeavour, which, FWIW, I happen to think is brilliantly conceived and is something I'd love to experience.

One other thing learned in almost 25 years of doing this. Paraphrasing Dave [Richard Dreyfuss] Whiteman in 'Down and Out in Beverly Hills' speaking about owing his wealth to manufacturing coat hangers……barcoding ain't sexy, but somebody's gotta do it and it keeps a nice roof overhead.

Still, there are wistful moments during which I think it might be a bit more fun and exciting to be an international jewel thief. It's always about risk/reward, n'est-ce pas?



 I'm about to sit down to read L'Amour's memoir Education of a Wandering Man. One of the things about this book that immediately appeals to me is that he kept a record of everything he read between 1930-1937 that is available at the back of the book. As someone who loves to read, and also loves lists, it doesn't get much better than this. As an aside, if you're a list fanatic like me, check out Eco's The Infinity of Lists : An Illustrated Essay.

I thought I would share some tidbits on his reading appetite.

Over this 8 year time period, he read 731 books. This works out to roughly:

91.4 books a year
7.6 books a month
1.9 books a week

There are a lot of interesting items on his list. His interests appear to cover a wide range of topics and authors. Everything from detective stories to Nietzsche is on here.

Bo Keely writes: 

Thanks for the reminder & fresh info on L'Amour, who single-handedly thrust me into a lifetime of adventure and escape. My favorite short story is 'the strong shall live' about a cowpoke who gets stranded in the blazing desert near my rancho where one day and night I unintentionally re-enacted the plight and escaped, with a L'Amour tip, by finding a stone cistern of water and spitting guppies, but lived.



Here is an interesting article about oil: "we are in the middle of an epochal tectonic shift" by Lars Schall.

The hegde funds and banks, who control and own the NYMEX, the ICE Futures and the Dubai Exchange, are using the Middle East events. I think they want to try to use that to push the price up to maybe $ 150 to 200 per barrel over the next months. And why? In order to put massive political pressure on Germany and the European Union.


Since the end of the First World War, I would say, that the quality of the strategic economic thinking in Germany has become significantly reduced, especially after 1945 and the US-guided German "re-education" efforts. How well the Berlin government understands that this is a currency war against the euro, because the euro is the only currency on the block today worldwide, certainly not the Chinese Yuan or the Japanese Yen, which could challenge the hegemony as a reserve currency of the dollar, I can only speculate. That euro challenge has to be eliminated from the game. The next target will bw Spain. If they can crack Spain, then they will move on to Italy – and then it will really escalate into a colossal mess for the euro as an alternative to the dollar.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

The numbers for U.S. energy consumption suggests that the U.S. might only need to put one knee on the ground. 37 years ago, with 214 million people, the country consumed 6,453,000 Barrels per day of Gasoline and 2,552,000 Barrels per day of Diesel Fuel. The most recent numbers have consumption of Gasoline at 8,779,000 Barrels per day and Diesel at 4,099,000 Barrels per day for a population 50% larger.

Dylan Distasio writes:

I found your original link very interesting, and hearkening back to the 70s energy shock, I would not put anything past Henry Kissinger, but I don't know what to make of Engdahl's theories, quoted above. The conspiracy nut in me finds them appealing, and after what we've seen happen over the last few years of the "financial crisis," nothing would surprise me.

That said, and this may simply reflect my naivete, but I don't believe the oil market can be easily manipulated long term. I'm sure speculators help trends in motion stay in motion until the positive feedback loop breaks down and the music stops, but I am skeptical of his beliefs that this is a coordinated effort to bring down Europe and China.

This may be my ugly American speaking, but I think the only thing propping the Euro up is the interest rate differential between the USD and it, and the perception that the Fed will continue to allow easy money to flow while the good burghers are tightening the reigns. I don't see the underlying structural issues with the PIIGs going away anytime soon, and despite the US's fiscal mess, still believe it will end up growing faster than the Eurozone ultimately. I don't think it is going to take $150 oil to bring down the Euro.

But concerning this: 

CNG has always been 40 percent cheaper then gasoline," Oldham said. "Everyone fears that gas will hit between $4 and $5 a gallon, while CNG is expected to remain steady.

I guess Mr. Oldham, in that article, has not heard of the concept of supply and demand. Granted, the shale finds have changed the face of domestic NG supply, but if the demand were to change radically for NG, the price is going to go up significantly. There is still the issue of the cost of building out a national infrastructure as mentioned also.

I'm not arguing CNG is a bad idea, just that it is foolish to assume prices are not going to move towards a new equilibrium compared to oil if we start to get power plants converting over to NG on a widespread basis combined with this hypothetical fleet of CNG vehicles on the road.

Paolo Pezzutti writes:

The issue is about using energy as a strategic weapon to win currency "wars" and much more… Does it make sense or is it a delirium of pseudo opinionists or worse "conspirationists" at any cost?

Ken Drees adds:

"The conspiracy nut in me finds them appealing, and after what we've seen happen over the last few years of the "financial crisis," nothing would surprise me."

Do we all have a little conspiracy flake inside, the need to believe an extreme idea, the need to see one more card and maybe hit that straight, the need to go short against the trend, the need to date that "troubled yet sexy person", the need to get some action to offset the boredom of accepted reality, accepted principles, the correct fold of the hand, the trend is your friend continuation trade or the usual date or evening at home?

Our gambling flake needs to be rewired into a creative outlet that excites the spirit yet reshapes risky behavior into worthwhile enterprise. risky activity is rooted in ego and power–that force needs to be applied in a new direction instead of being repressed.




 This question is for the grain trading experts on this list…

I'm a novice at trading commodities and am still learning the ropes but have been focused on corn and wheat since last June…Please forgive me if this is an incredibly naive question to ask…

I've noticed in the last few sessions that nearby old crop corn has been correcting well off its highs, whereas new crop December corn closing prices have been holding in a very tight range. Does anyone have any thoughts on why this is happening?

I can understand the theory that new crop corn may not move up as much as old crop right now because the total plantings devoted to new corn are still wide open, and the nearby price level is encouraging farmers to lean towards corn when making crop choices for December, I find it interesting that December corn has not really budged downward as old corn has corrected.

Just trying to get ideas on possible explanations and maybe get a meal out of this situation…



 Thought this would be of interest to the Chair and other followers of Captain Pollard…

HONOLULU — In the annals of the sea, there were few sailors whose luck was worse than George Pollard Jr.'s.

Pollard, you see, was the captain of the Essex, the doomed Nantucket whaler whose demise, in 1820, came in a most unbelievable fashion: it was attacked and sunk by an angry sperm whale, an event that inspired Herman Melville to write "Moby-Dick."

Unlike the tale of Ahab and Ishmael, however, Pollard's story didn't end there: After the Essex sank, Pollard and his crew floated through the Pacific for three months, a journey punctuated by death, starvation, madness and, in the end, cannibalism. (Pollard, alas, ate his cousin.)

Despite all that, Pollard survived and was given another ship to steer: the Two Brothers, the very boat that had brought the poor captain back to Nantucket.

And then, that ship sank, too.

On Friday, in a discovery that might bring a measure of peace to Captain Pollard, who survived his second wreck (though his career did not), researchers announced that they have found the remains of the Two Brothers. The whaler went down exactly 188 years ago after hitting a reef at the French Frigate Shoals, a treacherous atoll about 600 miles northwest of here. The trove includes dozens of artifacts: harpoon tips, whaling lances and three intact anchors.

The discovery is believed to be the first of a Nantucket whaler, one of an armada of ships that set sail during the early 19th century when the small Massachusetts island was an international capital of whaling. It was a risky pursuit that led sailors halfway across the world — and sometimes to the bottom of the sea.

"Very little material has been recovered from whale ships that foundered because they generally went down far from shore and in the deepest oceans," said Ben Simons, chief curator of the Nantucket Historical Association. "We have a lot of logbooks and journals that record disasters at sea, but to be taken to the actual scene of the sunken vessel — that's really what is so amazing about this."

The discovery was, in some ways, as fortunate as Pollard was cursed.

The Two Brothers — which was bound for the newly opened Japan Grounds after whalers had fished out the Atlantic and parts of the South Pacific — was long known to have sunk on the night of Feb. 11, 1823, off the French Frigate Shoals.

Full article at NYT.



I found a very inspiring poem today, but alas,it was uncredited. I found so many lessons in life as well as markets that I felt compelled to share it.

If you think you are beaten, you are;

If you think you dare not, you don't.

If you'd like to win, but think you can't

It's almost certain you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you've lost.

For out in the world we find

Success begins with a fellow's will:

It's all in the state of mind. 

If you think you're outclassed, you are:

You've got to think high to rise,

You've got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize.

Life's battles don't always go

To the stronger or faster man,

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the man who thinks he can.

Dylan Distasio comments: 

Thanks for sharing, Jeff. The author is Walter D. Wintle.



 Raven minds are capable of all manner of sophisticated ploys and deceptions and signaling at a distance over time.

Here is a link to a 2010 film about the man who has spent quite some time amongst ravens and who has researched and written about their keen intelligence.

"AN UNCOMMON CURIOSITY: at home & in nature with BERND HEINRICH" follows Bernd Heinrich, one of the world's most insightful and original biologists, over the course of a year as he reflects on his past and shares his ideas about nature, science, art, beauty, and writing. Heinrich has been both a Guggenheim Fellow and a Harvard Fellow, and has been awarded two honorary doctorates. Considered by many to be today's finest naturalist author, Heinrich has written 18 books on various aspects of the natural world and published numerous scholarly papers, professional book reviews, book chapters, and articles for magazines and newspapers as diverse as the New York Times, Outside and Runners World. In addition to his scholarly work he is a world-class ultramarathoner currently holding a U.S. 100-mile track record.

Dylan Distasio adds: 

this isn&#8217;t happiness."

Although I have not had the pleasure of seeing this film (I didn't realize it was out there, thank you, Pitt!), I would also highly recommend his books, especially Mind of the Raven, since we are on the subject of birds. Raven's are arguably one of the smartest of all birds, and are able to solve puzzles that even many mammals would have trouble with.

I especially enjoyed his other book Winter World, about the ingenuity of animal survival about how various creatures make it through a tough, lean winter.

Totally unrelated, but on the subject of Scott's favorite nuisances, I saw a coyote walking on the snowy tracks of my Metro North train station earlier this week here in Connecticut. The air was cold and still and the moon and what I assume was Venus were up in the pre-dawn sky. The coyote was skulking nervously southwards down the opposite tracks. He stopped to stare at me for a few moments before resuming his nervous journey. I've also seen a beautiful red fox in the warmer months hanging around our birdfeeder looking for a quick meal. Quite a menagerie here in suburbia.



I'd like to share this thought provoking article, "It's Time to Make Insider Trading Fully Legal":

The newspapers in recent months have been full of bombshell stories about insider trading on Wall Street. According to an account in the Wall Street Journal, "the investigations, if they bear fruit, have the potential to expose a culture of pervasive insider trading in US financial markets, including new ways nonpublic information is passed to traders through experts tied to specific industries or companies." The basic argument made against what its detractors call "insider trading" is that the ability to act on nonpublic information creates an unlevel playing field that decreases faith in the stock markets themselves. If access to information is made equal, small investors will allegedly feel more comfortable placing their savings in the markets.

One problem with the above theorizing is that what most deem "insider trading" has never been defined by lawmakers or the courts. Worse, not considered enough is how both the economy and investors are harmed when necessary information is obscured, thereby perpetuating unrealistic share valuations.

Ultimately, it should be said that to ban insider trading is to block use of the very information necessary for markets to function properly. The better solution is to cease prosecution of what is already vague, and in the process reward market sleuths whose efforts will ensure properly priced shares, and in the case of poorly run firms, no further waste of capital.

Read the full article here

Dylan Distasio replies: 

I would assume the author of this article is attempting to ignite a controversy, but I will go a head and take the bait… He writes:

One problem with the above theorizing is that what most deem "insider trading" has never been defined by lawmakers or the courts. Worse, not considered enough is how both the economy and investors are harmed when necessary information is obscured, thereby perpetuating unrealistic share valuations.

To this I would reply: "When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck." or perhaps in the vein of Stewart "I know it when I see it."

Here's an example of what I'm referring to, although in this case, it's a goose not a duck:

Insider trading is an economic plus. Arguably the greatest reason that governments should encourage insider trading has to do with economic growth. To put it very simply, we live in a world of limited capital, and insider trading ensures that share prices will reach fully informed levels as quickly as possible.

To encourage the opposite, as in making insider trading a crime, is to delay the happy process whereby companies achieve a fair price. To the extent that market altering information is kept from reaching the marketplace, companies doing what investors want will necessarily not receive as much capital as they otherwise might. Poorly run companies will receive more capital than they can efficiently use.

This is a laughable justification…Insider trading doesn't help share prices to "reach fully informed levels as quickly as possible." It helps the few with privileged information line their pockets in an unethical manner. The fact that it is insider information by definition dictates that it is not being disclosed publicly and thus does little to allow share prices to quickly reach a new equilibrium. A public news release that a company didn't get expected FDA approval for a new drug, as in the recent case of MNKD helps the stock reach a new equilibrium rapidly.

Hypothetical insiders quietly dumping their shares and trying to cover their tracks as best as possible ahead of a news release serves no one other than themselves (This comment is not in reference to MNKD).

I thought I had seen everything until I read this article, I apologize in advance for feeding the troll.

Rudolf Hauser writes:

An officer or director of a company has a fiduciary duty to represent the interests of the company's shareholders. As such they should not be allowed to use material information about their companies that has not yet been reported to the public and shareholders for their personal advantage in changing their position ahead of shareholders in response to either good or adverse developments. Such insider trading should be subject to breach of fiduciary duty legal actions to reclaim an any advantage plus punitive damages. Given that a company with many small shareholders might not find it advantageous on an individual basis to sue the SEC should have the power to sue on their behalf. Those involved in arranging deals, etc. likewise have a fiduciary duty to the companies involved as their clients not to act on such information. This is what the law would look like if I were writing it.

When it comes to others who are not in a position of fiduciary duty, I too would not make such use of non-public information illegal. If the news is positive it provides the seller with a better price than he or she would otherwise have–which helps rather than hurts them. Likewise, with regard to such selling on non-public information, the investor intent on buying receives a lower price–which again is to his or her benefit, not detriment. The only ones who might be hurt are those who might decide to act based on the new price before the full impacts of the developments in question are reflected in the stock price. I would guess that the former are more likely than the latter instances. The wider the scope of what is called insider information, the more nebulous the concept and the more it discourages analysis. For example, if one has many industry contacts who can provide a feel for industry trends without any providing what would be considered information in itself, at what point does the interpretation of the law become so broad that having such a information network is itself considered inside information? The regulators have a tendency to try to keep expanding the reach of the rules they impose.

But of course, I am not the one writing the laws. So whether good or bad, the law is what it is and should be followed until such time as it is changed by proper legal process.



I am reading "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," the book excerpted in the WSJ article for which Mr. Coyle kindly posted a link. Aubrey is taking Mandarin from a disciplinarian Chinese native, and I said I'd be interested in her opinion. Her reaction to the article: She was furious. She had grown up under just such a mother, and it wasn't a happy memory. Her mother would say, "I would rather have given birth to a piece of roast pork than you" to shame her, and the recollection still stung, years later. We may admire the Chinese kids for their "A" report cards, but they in turn envy the American ability to think "out of the box," innovate and found big enterprises.

I like Ms. Chua's style, and the book certainly is thought-provoking. I agree that the best way to self-esteem is to master a skill. However, the short biography she provides in the book provides an unwitting clue as to the drawbacks of the Chinese approach. At Harvard, she was unable to ask questions in class, as her instinct was to simply take notes on everything the professor said. When it came time for a job interview for a Yale professorship, she found herself tongue-tied and wasn't hired. (She did get the job seven years later, after writing a cutting-edge book on how ethnic conflicts doom democratic majority rule in the Third World.)

Dylan Distasio comments:

David Brooks responds to Amy Chua with piece titled "Amy Chua is a wimp ".

I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.



 For those with more than a passing interest in the history of exploration, I would highly recommend checking out Howgego's four volume magnum opus the Encyclopedia of Exploration. For those unaquainted with him, he's a retired physics teacher who has spent the past 15+ years researching the history of travel and exploration. While no encyclopedia can be perfect, the amount of quality work put in by one man amazes. In the age of wikipedia, this collection demonstrates why there will always be a place for meticulous research.

The collection is broken down into 4 volumes:
Part 1 covers up until 1800.
Part 2 covers 1800 to 1850.
Part 3 covers 1850 to 1940 (Oceans, Islands and Polar regions)
Part 4 covers 1850 to 1940 (Continental exploration)

The sheer scope is improbably hard to imagine, and the writing is very well done for an encylopedia. There are also tons of citations.

For those who just want to dip their toes into the waters, Howgego also has a very nice condensed volume called The Book of Exploration which highlights 150+ of his favorite explorers and includes maps, etc.

More info from the publisher can be found here.



 There is something about True Grit that is truly loathsome. Each of the 3 main characters is deeply flawed. Marshall Rooster Cogburn is a drunk and dead beat who speaks unintelligibly. Texas Ranger LaBoeuf is a show off, loser, and a chauvinist. The girl is sharp tongued, litigious, and naive (no wonder she didn't get married). It all fits in with the idea that has the world in its grip, that the purpose of life is to keep oneself small by sacrifice. There is no chemistry or romance between any of the characters except for Pepper the Quixotian leader of the outlaws, who as could be predicted was the only man good in his every day business of being a outlaw. No wonder this Western follows the code of the west breaking, denigrating Brokeback Mountain and no wonder that Louis L'Amour's novels have sold more than all western authors combined since the beginning of time, and that they dare not make one of them or an Atlas Shrugged, in favor of this disrespectful Portis trash that violates all the rules of good mystery by having one hair breadth, extraordinary, lucky escape after another, and stereotyped snake bite scene (a la Larry Mcmurtry) release the tension.

P.S I have never written about a subject not directly related to the multivariate analysis of time series that Mr. Jovanovich has not corrected and amplified on where I was astray. And I must admit that I didn't realize that the Western Novel was yet another of his expertises. Okay, I want to know from him if he agrees with me, on this one point that Monte Walsh is the greatest western novel, (if the chapter where the accountant comes to reduce the pay of the hands that took vengeance on the trainmen doesn't make you cry, I'll eat that hat the accountant wore that was so tempting to Hat, Cal and Monte), and the best business novel of all time.

Stefan Jovanovich replies: 

Grub street used to honor the basic code for reviewers: read the book first, then slander the author. We should do the same. Portis' book is like neither of the movies; the John Wayne version comes much closer in spirit, but it is still far, far too "nice". The actual novel is a memoir written by a tough-spirited, one-armed spinster Presbyterian capitalist remembering the one man whom she loved and how they avenged the murder of her father when she was– by other people's standards– "still a girl". Blaming authors for what Hollywood makes of their books is like blaming men for the conduct of their ex-wives after they finish paying the alimony; all the authors can be held accountable for is the size of the check they cash.

I am old enough to have lived near (but definitely not in) Beverly Hills when Louis L'Amour still gave readings at the library. He was a great and good man, and– yes– Monte Walsh is the classic. As is often the case, my anger is misdirected; what infuriates me about this latest version of True Grit is what is says about the Coen brothers' decline and fall. The novel will survive their abomination of it; hell, it will probably be reread again. But for the Coen brothers, what hope is there now? Intolerable Cruelty is the best and funniest film ever about Hollywood and lawyers and now the guys who made it can only do splatter trash.

P.S. Eddy just called. She thinks our only hope is to pray that South Park's explanation once again holds true and blame it all on Matt Damon and his friend. 

Dylan Distasio writes: 

At the risk of raising some hackles, I'd make the argument the McCarthy's "Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West" is one of the greatest Western novels in that genre and one of the best I've read from 20th century authors in general.

J.T Holley writes:

If you like Blood Meridian then go read Suttree. IMHO, it is an existential masterpiece. Cornelius being a man of the "made, trust-fund baby, life of given not earned goes to be a fisherman in TN. Though the content could be considered as a rebellious misguided stab at the establishment, I found it a read that was of self-introspect, self-realization, self-reliance while battling vices with choice by going to the extreme to find such. Once again not oft mentioned amongst Cormac's works, I feel it is one of my favorite reads to crack open and read again. I'm a Southerner so the read is much suited to me, so some of the "in between the lines" stuff might not be appreciated.

Jim Wildman writes: 

My personal favorites in the Western genre.

"The Virginian" (Wister) if for no other reason than "Smile when you call me that"…and the baby swap prank.

"A Man Called Noon" (L'Amour) always makes me think about how I define who I am.

In "The Last of His Breed" Mr L'Amour applies similar themes from his Westerns to modern times. For my taste, the book is a bit long, but in fairness, it takes a while to walk across Siberia. And it has a great last line.

Trader Craft comments: 

Another great classic of the West is Thomas Bergman's "Little Big Man". Much better than the Dustin Hoffman movie.

Scott Brooks writes:

 As one who doesn't read a lot of westerns, (and I'm sure the purist will scoff at me) I have to say that Larry McMurtry's, "Lonesome Dove" is my favorite of that genre.

Good guys and bad guys. Multiple story lines all intertwined. Sudden and unforgiving death. Fortunes made and fortunes lost. Adventures piled on top of adventures. Good choices and bad choices. Friendships that are strong, but that don't override honor. Human foibles that override honor to do what is perceived as the "right thing". False friendship's that never were except to be used as seen fit by the "user".

Story of youth and aging and lesson's learned, lessons shared and lesson's taught. Love found, love spurned, and love lost. The superficial wannabes intermingled with the intellectual drivers. The high self esteem and low self esteem of characters revealed for the world to see.

Characters that arrive unexpectedly and stay and others that depart just as unexpectedly. Ego's that clash and feelings that are hurt. Life and time wasted on loves that can never be.

High risk adventures fraught with deadly consequences. People that love risk, taking more and more risk because the downside never happens to them…until it does.

Their are cowboy versions of "Eddie Willer's" (hard working and reliable) tying their horses to the wagon's of cowboy versions of "John Galt" (hard working reliable, but intellectually superior)…..but in a much more realistic sense….i.e. there's no mythical "static electricity generator" or "nearly infallible hero's"….just really smart people who make more good decisions than bad decisions…but who make bad decision…sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

I could go on and on, but something has just struck me as I write this general description of "Lonesome Dove"…..am I describing a Western Novel, or the modern day "Spec List".

Jack Tierney writes:

The Chair's mention of L'Amour reminds me that I've neglected to comment on the man's autobiography, "The Education of a Wandering Man". Unpublished during his life, the manuscript was found in his desk only later. The author of the Introduction speculates that L'Amour purposely put off publication fearing charges of braggadocio.

After reading the book, it's a possibility. For many years he kept a written record of the books he had read– the selections are so diverse and numerous that it's impossible to pigeon-hole his preferences or determine how he found the time.

Because of finances, he left home at early and, Hoffer-like, rode the rails in search of employment. He also shipped out for as many foreign ports as he could find, baby-sat an abandoned mine for three months in the middle of nowhere without any human contact, and took up small-town prize-fighting when he really needed money and the locals really needed a fight.

But no matter where he was or how broke, he always had books. If there's any drawback in his story it's the realization that one could have read much, much more if he hadn't been sidelined by trivialities.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

 It looks from L'Amour's autobiography that, from the years from 1930 to 1937 in particular, he tried to read approximately 100 books and plays each year. They were not what you would think a man writing Westerns would be reading.

Not a bad New Year's resolution if one has the time. It takes discipline too.

A quick perusal indicates he liked to read several books by one author or playwright that he liked within each year. Certain themes or genres captured his attention. Perhaps he was buying books in bulk or series from bookstores.

In 1930, for instance, he read many of the plays of Eugene O'Neill. In 1931 he read Flaubert. Shakespeare and Detective stories were popular with L'Amour in
1932. It looks like works by H.G. Wells and Conrad were favorites. L'Amour's lists are interesting because there are many books included that are not commonly read these days.

For instance "Trader Horn" by A.A. Horn and Ethelreda Lewis was a book made into a movie with filming done in Africa under extremely difficult conditions (they don't make movies like the used to).

The world was less explored and a bit more mysterious just 80 years ago.

The best writers often do a tremendous amount of critical reading and know a little bit about a vast array of subjects— even things that would be considered controversial today.



UPDATE 1/31/2011:

Contestants Summary:

- 31 Spec-listers contributed to the 2011 Investment Contest with "specific" recommendations.

- Average 4 recommendations per person (mean of 4.2, median and mode of 4) came in.

- 6 contestants gave only 1 recommendation, 3 gave only 2 and thus 9 out of the total 31 have NOT given the minimum 3 recommendations needed as per the Rules clarified by Ken Drees.

- The Hall of Fame entry for the largest number of ideas (did someone say diversification?) is from Tim Melvin, close on whose heels are J. T. Holley with 11 and Ken Drees with 10.

- The most creatively expressed entry of course has come from Rocky Humbert.

- At this moment 17 out of 31 contestants are in positive performance territory, 14 are in negative performance territory.

- Barring a major outlier of a 112.90% loss on the Option Strategy of Phil McDonnell (not accounting for the margin required for short options, but just taking the ratio of initial cash inflow to outflow):

- Average of all Individual contestant returns is -2.54% and the Standard Deviation of returns achieved by all contestants is 5.39.

- Biggest Gainer at this point is Jared Albert (with his all in single stock bet on REFR) with a 22.87% gain. The only contestant a Z score greater than 2 ( His is actually 4.72 !!)

- Biggest Loser at this point (barring the Giga-leveraged position of Mr. McDonnell) is Ken Drees at -10.36% with a Z Score that is at -1.45.

- Wildcards have not been accounted for as at this point, with wide
deviations of recommendations from the rules specified by most. While 9
participants have less than 3 recommendations, those with more than 4
include several who have not chosen to specify which 3 are their primary recommends. Without clarity on a universal measurability wildcard accounting is on hold. Those making more than 1 recommendations would find that their aggregate average return is derived by taking a sum of returns of individual positions divided by the number of recommends. Unless specified by any person that positions are taken in a specific ratio its equal sums invested approach.

Contracts Summary:

- A total of 109 contracts are utilized by the contestants across bonds, equity indices (Nikkei, Kenyan Stocks included too!), commodities, currencies and individual stock positions.

- The ratio of Shorts to Longs across all recommendations, irrespective of the type of contract (call, put, bearish ETF etc.) is 4 SELL orders Vs 9 Buy Orders. Not inferring that this list is more used to pressing the Buy Button. Just an occurence on this instance.

- The Average Return, so far, on the 109 contracts utilized is -1.26% with a Standard Deviation of 12.42%. Median Return is 0.39% and the mode of Returns of all contracts used is 0.

- The Highest Return is on MICRON TECH at 28.09, if one does not account for the July 2011 Put 25 strike on SLV utilized by Phil McDonnell.

- The Lowest Return is on IPTV at -50%, if one does not account for the Jan 2012 Call 40 Strike on SLV utilized by Phil McDonnell.

- Only Two contracts are having a greater than 2 z score and only 3 contracts are having a less than -2 Z score.

Victor Niederhoffer wrote:

One is constantly amazed at the sagacity in their fields of our fellow specs. My goodness, there's hardly a field that one of us doesn't know about from my own hard ball squash rackets to the space advertising or our President, from surfing to astronomy. We certainly have a wide range.

May I suggest without violating our mandate that we consider our best sagacities as to the best ways to make a profit in the next year of 2011.

My best trades always start with assuming that whatever didn't work the most last year will work the best this year, and whatever worked the best last year will work the worst this year. I'd be bullish on bonds and bearish on stocks, bullish on Japan and bearish on US stocks.

I'd bet against the banks because Ron Paul is going to be watching them and the cronies in the institutions will not be able to transfer as much resources as they've given them in the past 2 years which has to be much greater in value than their total market value.

I keep wondering what investments I should make based on the hobo's visit and I guess it has to be generic drugs and foods.

What ideas do you have for 2011 that might be profitable? To make it interesting I'll give a prize of 2500 to the best forecast, based on results as of the end of 2011.

David Hillman writes: 

"I do know that a sagging Market keeps my units from being full."

One would suggest it is a sagging 'economy' contributing to vacancy, not a sagging 'market'. There is a difference. 

Ken Drees, appointed moderator of the contest, clearly states the new rules of the game:

 1. Submissions for contest entries must be made on the last two days of 2010, December 30th or 31st.
2. Entries need to be labeled in subject line as "2011 contest investment prediction picks" or something very close so that we know this is your official entry.
3. Entries need 3 predictions and 1 wildcard trade prediction (anything goes on the wildcard).

4. Extra predictions may be submitted and will be judged as extra credit. This will not detract from the main predictions and may or may not be judged at all.

5. Extra predictions will be looked on as bravado– if you've got it then flaunt it. It may pay off or you may give the judge a sour palate.

The desire to have entries coming in at years end is to ensure that you have the best data as to year end 2010 and that you don't ignite someone else to your wisdom.

Market direction picks are wanted:

Examples: 30 year treasury yield will fall to 3% in 2011, S&P 500 will hit "x" by June, and then by "y" by December 2011.

The more exact your prediction is, the more weight will be given. The more exact your prediction, the more weight you will receive if right and thus the more weight you will receive if wrong. If you predict that copper will hit 5.00 dollars in 2011 and it does you will be given a great score, if you say that copper will hit 5.00 dollars in march and then it will decline to4.35 and so forth you will be judged all along that prediction and will receive extra weight good or bad. You decide on how detailed your submission is structured.

Will you try to be precise (maybe foolhardy) and go for the glory? Or will you play it safe and not stand out from the crowd? It is a doubled edged sword so its best to be the one handed market prognosticator and make your best predictions. Pretend these predictions are some pearls that you would give to a close friend or relative. You may actually help a speclister to make some money by giving up a pearl, if that speclister so desires to act upon a contest–G-d help him or her.

Markets can be currency, stocks, bonds, commodities, etc. Single stock picks can be given for the one wildcard trade prediction. If you give multiple stock picks for the wildcard then they will all be judged and in the spirit of giving a friend a pearl–lets make it "the best of the best, not one of six".

All judgments are the Chair's. The Chair will make final determination of the winner. Entries received with less than 3 market predictions will not be considered. Entries received without a wildcard will be considered.The spirit of the contest is "Give us something we can use".

Bill Rafter adds: 

Suggestion for contest:

"Static" entry: A collection of up to 10 assets which will be entered on the initial date (say 12/31/2010) and will be unaltered until the end data (i.e. 12/31/2011). The assets could be a compilation of longs and shorts, or could have the 10 slots entirely filled with one asset (e.g. gold). The assets could also be a yield and a fixed rate; that is one could go long the 10-year yield and short a fixed yield such as 3 percent. This latter item will accommodate those who want to enter a prediction but are unsure which asset to enter as many are unfamiliar with the various bond coupons.

"Rebalanced" entry: A collection of up to 10 assets which will be rebalanced on the last trading day of each month. Although the assets will remain unchanged, their percentage of the portfolio will change. This is to accommodate those risk-averse entrants employing a mean-reversion strategy.

Both Static and Rebalanced entries will be judged on a reward-to-risk basis. That is, the return achieved at the end of the year, divided by the maximum drawdown (percentage) one had to endure to achieve that return.

Not sure how to handle other prognostications such as "Famous female singer revealed to be man." But I doubt such entries have financial benefits.

I'm willing to be an arbiter who would do the rebalancing if necessary. I am not willing to prove or disprove the alleged cross-dressers.

Ralph Vince writes:

A very low volume bar on the weekly (likely, the first of two consecutive) after a respectable run-up, the backdrop of rates having risen in recent weeks, breadth having topped out and receding - and a lunar eclipse on the very night of the Winter Solstice.

If I were a Roman General I would take that as a sign to sit for next few months and do nothing.

I'm going to sit and do nothing.

Sounds like an interim top in an otherwise bullish, long-term backdrop.

Gordon Haave writes: 

 My three predictions:

Gold/ silver ratio falls below 25 Kenyan stock market outperforms US by more than 10%

Dollar ends 10% stronger compared to euro

All are actionable predictions.

Steve Ellison writes:

I did many regressions looking for factors that might predict a year-ahead return for the S&P 500. A few factors are at extreme values at the end of 2010.

The US 10-year Treasury bond yield at 3.37% is the second-lowest end-of year yield in the last 50 years. The S&P 500 contract is in backwardation with the front contract at a 0.4% premium to the next contract back, the second highest year-end premium in the 29 years of the futures.

Unfortunately, neither of those factors has much correlation with the price change in the S&P 500 the following year. Here are a few that do.

The yield curve (10-year yield minus 3-month yield) is in the top 10% of its last 50 year-end values. In the last 30 years, the yield curve has been positively correlated with year-ahead changes in the S&P 500, with a t score of 2.17 and an R squared of 0.143.

The US unemployment rate at 9.8% is the third highest in the past 60 years. In the last 30 years, the unemployment rate has been positively correlated with year-ahead changes in the S&P 500, with a t score of 0.90 and an R squared of 0.028.

In a variation of the technique used by the Yale permabear, I calculated the S&P 500 earnings/price ratio using 5-year trailing earnings. I get an annualized earnings yield of 4.6%. In the last 18 years, this ratio has been positively correlated with year-ahead changes in the S&P 500, with a t score of 0.92 and an R squared of

Finally, there is a negative correlation between the 30-year S&P 500 change and the year-ahead change, with a t score of -2.28 and an R squared of 0.094. The S&P 500 index price is 9.27 times its price of 30 years ago. The median year-end price in the last 52 years was 6.65 times the price 30 years earlier.

Using the predicted values from each of the regressions, and weighting the predictions by the R squared values, I get an overall prediction for an 11.8% increase in the S&P 500 in 2011. With an 11.8% increase, SPY would close 2011 at 140.52.

Factor                  Prediction      t       N    R sq
US Treasury yield curve      1.162    2.17      30   0.143
30-year change               1.052   -2.28      52   0.094
Trailing 5-year E/P          1.104    0.92      18   0.050
US unemployment rate         1.153    0.90      30   0.028

Weighted total               1.118
SPY 12/30/10               125.72
Predicted SPY 12/30/11     140.52

Jan-Petter Janssen writes: 

PREDICTION I - The Inconvenient Truth The poorest one or two billion on this planet have had enough of increasing food prices. Riots and civil unrest force governments to ban exports, and they start importing at any cost. World trade collapses. Manufacturers of farm equipment will do extremely well. Buy the most undervalued producer you can find. My bet is
* Kverneland (Yahoo: KVE.OL). NOK 6.50 per share today. At least NOK 30 on Dec 31th 2011.

PREDICTION II - The Ultimate Bubble The US and many EU nations hold enormous gold reserves. E.g. both Italy and France hold the equivalent of the annual world production. The gold meme changes from an inflation hedge / return to the gold standard to (a potential) over-supply from the selling of indebted nations. I don't see the bubble bursting quite yet, but
* Short gold if it hits $2,000 per ounce and buy back at $400.

PREDICTION III - The Status Quo Asia's ace is cheap labor. The US' recent winning card is cheap energy through natural gas. This will not change in 2011. Henry Hub Feb 2011 currently trades at $4.34 per MMBtu. Feb 2012 is at $5.14. I would
* Short the Feb 2012 contract and buy back on the last trading day of 2011.

Vince Fulco predicts:

 This is strictly an old school, fundamental equity call as my crystal ball for the indices 12 months out is necessarily foggy. My recommendation is BP equity primarily for the reasons I gave earlier in the year on June 5th (stock closed Friday, June 4th @ $37.16, currently $43.53). It faced a hellish downdraft post my mention for consideration, primarily due to the intensification of news flow and legal unknowns (Rocky articulated these well). Also although the capital structure arb boys savaged the equity (to 28ish!), it is up nicely to year's end if one held on and averaged in with wide scales given the heightened vol.

Additional points/guesstimates are:

1) If 2010 was annus horribilis, 2011 with be annus recuperato. A chastened mgmt who have articulated they'll run things more conservatively will have a lot to prove to stakeholders.

2) Dividend to be re-instated to some level probably by the end of the second quarter. I am guessing $1.00 annualized per ADS as a start (or
2.29%), this should bring in the index hugging funds with mandates for only holding dividend payers. There is a small chance for a 1x special dividend later in the year.

3) Crude continues to be in a state of significant profitability for the majors in the short term. It would appear finding costs are creeping however.

4) The lawsuits and additional recoveries to be extracted from the settlement fund and company directly have very long tails, on the order of 10 years.

5) The company seems fully committed to sloughing off tertiary assets to build up its liquid balance sheet. Debt to total capital remains relatively low and manageable.

6) The stock remains at a significant discount to its better-of breed peers (EV/normalized EBITDA, Cash Flow, etc) and rightly so but I am betting the discount should narrow back to near historical levels.

Potential negatives:

1) The company and govt have been vastly understating the remaining fuel amounts and effects. Release of independent data intensifies demands for a much larger payout by the company closer to the highest end estimates of $50-80B.

2) It experiences another similar event of smaller magnitude which continues to sully the company's weakened reputation.

3) China admits to and begins to fear rampant inflation, puts the kabosh to the (global) economy and crude has a meaningful decline the likes of which we haven't seen in a few years.

4) Congress freaks at a >$100-120 price for crude and actually institutes an "excess profits" tax. Less likely with the GOP coming in.

A buy at this level would be for an unleveraged, diversified, longer term acct which I have it in. However, I am willing to hold the full year or +30% total return (including special dividend) from the closing price of $43.53 @ 12/30/10, whichever comes first. Like a good sellside recommendation, I believe the stock has downside of around 20% (don't they all when recommended!?!) where I would consider another long entry depending on circumstances (not pertinent to the contest).

Mr. Albert enters: 

 Single pick stock ticker is REFR

The only way this gold chain wearing day trader has a chance against all the right tail brain power on the list is with one high risk/high reward put it all on red kind of micro cap.

Basic story is this company owns all the patents to what will become the standard for switchable glazings (SPD smart glass). It's taken roughly 50 years of development to get a commercialized product, and next year Mercedes will almost without doubt use SPD in the 2012 SLK (press launch 1/29/11 public launch at the Geneva auto show in march 2011).

Once MB validate the tech, mass adoption and revenues will follow etc and this 'show me' stock will rocket to the moon.

Dan Grossman writes:

Trying to comply with and adapt the complex contest rules (which most others don't seem to be following in any event) to my areas of stock market interest:

1. The S&P will be down in the 1st qtr, and at some point in the qtr will fall at least

2. For takeover investors: GENZ will (finally) make a deal to be acquired in the 1st qtr for a value of at least $80; and AMRN after completion of its ANCHOR trial will make a deal to be acquired for a price of at least $8.

3. For conservative investors: Low multiple small caps HELE and DFG will be up a combined average of 20% by the end of the year.

For my single stock pick, I am something of a johnny-one-note: MNTA will be up lots during the year — if I have to pick a specific amount, I'd say at least 70%. (My prior legal predictions on this stock have proved correct but the stock price has not appropriately reflected same.)

Finally, if I win the contest (which I think is fairly likely), I will donate the prize to a free market or libertarian charity. I don't see why Victor should have to subsidize this distinguished group that could all well afford an contest entrance fee to more equitably finance the prize.

Best to all for the New Year,


Gary Rogan writes:

 1. S&P 500 will rise 3% by April and then fall 12% from the peak by the end of the year.
2. 30 year treasury yields will rise to 5% by March and 6% by year end.
3. Gold will hit 1450 by April, will fall to 1100 by September and rise to 1550 by year end.

Wildcard: Short Netflix.

Jack Tierney, President of the Old Speculator's Club, writes: 

Equal Amounts in:

TBT (short long bonds)
YCS (short Yen)
GRU (Long Grains - heavy on wheat)
CHK (Long NG - takeover)

(Wild Card)
BONXF.PK or BTR.V (Long junior gold)

12/30 closing prices (in order):


Bill Rafter writes:

Two entries:

Buy: FXP and IRWD

Hold for the entire year.

William Weaver writes:

 For Returns: Long XIV January 21st through year end

For Return/Risk: Long XIV*.30 and Long VXZ*.70 from close today

I hope everyone has enjoyed a very merry holiday season, and to all I wish a wonderful New Year.



Ken Drees writes:

Yes, they have been going up, but I am going contrary contrary here and going with the trends.

1. Silver: buy day 1 of trading at any price via the following vehicles: paas, slw, exk, hl –25% each for 100% When silver hits 39/ounce, sell 10% of holdings, when silver hits 44/ounce sell 30% of holdings, when silver hits 49 sell 60%–hold rest (divide into 4 parts) and sell each tranche every 5 dollars up till gone–54/oz, 59, 64, 69.

2. Buy GDXJ day 1 (junior gold miner etf)—rotation down from majors to juniors with a positive gold backdrop. HOLD ALL YEAR.

3. USO. Buy day 1 then do—sell 25% at 119/bbl oil, sell 80% at 148/bbl, sell whats left at 179/bbl or 139/bbl (whichever comes first after 148)

wildcard: AMEX URANUIM STOCKS. UEC, URRE, URZ, DNN. 25% EACH, buy day 1 then do SELL 70% OF EVERYTHING AT 96$LB u http://www.uxc.com/ FOR PRICING, AND HOLD REST FOR YEAR END.

Happy New Year!

Ken Drees———keepin it real.

Sam Eisenstadt forecasts:

My forecast for the S&P 500 for the year ending Dec 31, 2011;

S&P 500       1410

Anton Johnson writes: 

Equal amounts allocated to:

EDZ Short moc 1-21-2011, buy to cover at 50% gain, or moc 12/30/2011

VXX Short moc 1-21-2011, buy to cover moc 12/30/2011

UBT Short moo 1-3-2011, buy to cover moc 12/30/2011

Scott Brooks picks: 


Evenly between the 4 (25% each)

Sushil Kedia predicts:


1) Gold
2) Copper
3) Japanese Yen

30% moves approximately in each, within 2011.

Rocky Humbert writes:

(There was no mention nor requirement that my 2011 prediction had to be in English. Here is my submission.) … Happy New Year, Rocky

Sa aking mahal na kaibigan: Sa haba ng 2010, ako na ibinigay ng ilang mga ideya trading na nagtrabaho sa labas magnificently, at ng ilang mga ideya na hindi na kaya malaki. May ay wala nakapagtataka tungkol sa isang hula taon dulo, at kung ikaw ay maaaring isalin ito talata, ikaw ay malamang na gawin ang mas mahusay na paggawa ng iyong sariling pananaliksik kaysa sa pakikinig sa mga kalokohan na ako at ang iba pa ay magbigay. Ang susi sa tagumpay sa 2011 ay ang parehong bilang ito ay palaging (tulad ng ipinaliwanag sa pamamagitan ng G. Ed Seykota), sa makatuwid: 1) Trade sa mga kalakaran. 2) Ride winners at losers hiwa. 3) Pamahalaan ang panganib. 4) Panatilihin ang isip at diwa malinaw. Upang kung saan gusto ko idagdag, fundamentals talaga bagay, at kung ito ay hindi magkaroon ng kahulugan, ito ay hindi magkaroon ng kahulugan, at diyan ay wala lalo na pinakinabangang tungkol sa pagiging isang contrarian bilang ang pinagkasunduan ay karaniwang karapatan maliban sa paggawa sa mga puntos. (Tandaan na ito ay pinagkasunduan na ang araw ay babangon na bukas, na quote Seth Klarman!) Pagbati para sa isang malusog na masaya at pinakinabangang 2011, at siguraduhin na basahin www.rockyhumbert.com kung saan ako magsulat sa Ingles ngunit ang aking mga saloobin ay walang malinaw kaysa talata na ito, ngunit inaasahan namin na ito ay mas kapaki-pakinabang.

Dylan Distasio comments: 

Gawin mo magsalita tagalog?

Gary Rogan writes:

After a worthy challenge, Mr. Rogan is now also a master of Google Translate, and a discoverer of an exciting fact that Google Translate calls Tagalog "Filipino". This was a difficult obstacle for Mr. Rogan to overcome, but he persevered and here's Rocky's prediction in English (sort of):

My dear friend: Over the course of 2010, I provided some trading ideas worked out magnificently, and some ideas that are not so great. There is nothing magical about a forecast year end, and if you can translate this paragraph, you will probably do better doing your own research rather than listening to the nonsense that I and others will give. The key to success in 2011 is the same as it always has (as explained by Mr. Ed Seykota), namely: 1) Trade with the trend.

2) Ride cut winners and losers. 3) Manage risk. 4) Keep the mind and spirit clear. To which I would add, fundamentals really matter, and if it does not make sense, it does not make sense, and there is nothing particularly profitable about being a contrarian as the consensus is usually right but turning points. (Note that it is agreed that the sun will rise tomorrow, to quote Seth Klarman) Best wishes for a happy healthy and profitable 2011, and be sure to read www.rockyhumbert.com which I write in English but my attitude is nothing clearer than this paragraph, but hopefully it is more useful.

Tim Melvin writes:

Ah the years end prediction exercise. It is of course a mostly useless exercise since not a one of us can predict what shocks, positive or negative, the world and the markets could see in 2011. I find it crack up laugh out loud funny that some pundits come out and offer up earnings estimates, GDP growth assumptions and interest rate guesses to give a precise level for the year end S&P 500 price. You might as well numbers out of a bag and rearrange them by lottery to come up with a year end number. In a world where we are fighting two wars, a hostile government holds the majority of our debt and several sovereign nations continually teeter on the edge of oblivion it's pretty much ridiculous to assume what could happen in the year ahead. Having said that, as my son's favorite WWE wrestler when he was a little guy used to say "It's time to play the game!"

Ill start with bonds. I have owned puts on the long term treasury market for two years now. I gave some back in 2010 after a huge gain in 2009 but am still slightly ahead. Ill roll the position forward and buy January 2012 puts and stay short. When I look at bods I hear some folks talking about rising basic commodity prices and worrying about inflation. They are of course correct. This is happening. I hear some other really smart folks talking of weak real estate, high jobless rates and the potential for falling back into recession. Naturally, they are also exactly correct. So I will predict the one thing no one else is. We are on the verge of good old fashioned 1970s style stagflation. Commodity and basic needs prices will accelerate as QE2 has at least stimulated demand form emerging markets by allowing these wonderful credits to borrow money cheaper than a school teacher with a 750 FICO score. Binds go lower as rates spike. Our economy and balance sheet are a mess and we have governments run by men in tin hats lecturing us on fiscal responsibility. How low will they go Tim? How the hell do I know? I just think they go lower by enough for me to profit.

 Nor can I tell you where the stock market will go this year. I suspect we have had it too good for too long for no reason so I think we get at least one spectacular gut wrenching, vomit inducing sell off during the year. Much as lower than expected profits exposed the silly valuations of the new paradigm stocks I think that the darling group, retail , will spark a sell-off in the stock market this year. Sales will be up a little bit but except for Tiffany's (TIF) and that ilk margins are horrific. Discounting started early this holiday and grew from there. They will get steeper now that that Santa Claus has given back my credit card and returned to the great white north. The earnings season will see a lot of missed estimates and lowered forecasts and that could well pop the bubble. Once it starts the HFT boys and girls should make sure it goes lower than anyone expects.

Here's the thing about my prediction. It is no better than anyone else's. In other words I am talking my book and predicting what I hope will happen. Having learned this lesson over the years I have learned that when it comes to market timing and market direction I am probably the dumbest guy in the room. Because of that I have trained myself to always buy the stuff that's too cheap not to own and hold it regardless. After the rally since September truly cheap stuff is a little scarce on the ground but I have found enough to be about 40% long going into the year. I have a watch list as long as a taller persons right arm but most of it hover above truly cheap.

Here is what I own going into the year and think is still cheap enough to buy. I like Winn Dixie (WINN). The grocery business sucks right now. Wal mart has crushed margins industry wide. That aside WINN trades at 60% of tangible book value and at some point their 514 stores in the Southeast will attract attention from investors. A takeover here would be less than shocking. I will add Presidential Life (PLFE) to the list. This stock is also at 60% of tangible book and I expect to see a lot of M&A activity in the insurance sector this year and this should raise valuations across the board. I like Miller Petroleum (MILL) with their drilling presence in Alaska and the shale field soft Tennessee. This one trades at 70% of tangible book. Ill add Imperial Sugar (IPSU), Syms (SYMS) and Micron tech (MU) and Avatar Holdings (AVTR) to my list of cheapies and move on for now.

I am going to start building my small bank portfolio this year. Eventually this group becomes the F-you walk away money trade of the decade. As real estate losses work through the balance sheet and some measure of stability returns to the financial system, perhaps toward the end of the year the small baileys savings and loan type banks should start to recover. We will also see a mind blowing M&A wave as larger banks look to gain not just market share but healthy assets to put on the books. Right now these names trade at a fraction of tangible book value. They will reach a multiple of that in a recovery or takeover scenario. Right now I own shares of Shore Bancshares (SHBI), a local bank trading at 80% of book value and a reasonably healthy loan portfolio. I have some other mini microcap banks as well that shall remain my little secret and not used to figure how my predictions work out. I mention them because if you have a mini micro bank in your community you should go meet then bankers, review the books and consider investing if it trades below the magical tangible book value and has excess capital. Flagstar Bancorp(FBC) is my super long shot undated call option n the economy and real estate markets.

I will also play the thrift conversion game heavily this year. With the elimination of the Office of Thrift Services under the new financial regulation many of the benefits of being a private or mutual thrift are going away. There are a ton of mutual savings banks that will now convert to publicly traded banks. A lot of these deals will be priced below the pro forma book value that is created by adding all that lovely IPO cash to the balance sheet without a corresponding increase in the shares outstanding. Right now I have Fox Chase Bancorp (FXCB) and Capital Federal Financial(CFFN). There will be more. Deals are happening every day right now and again I would keep an eye out for local deals that you can take advantage of in the next few months.

I also think that 2011 will be the year of the activist investor. These folks took a beating since 2007 but this should be their year. There is a ton of cash on corporate balance sheets but lots of underperformance in the current economic environment. We will see activist drive takeovers, restructures, and special dividends this year in my opinion. Recent filings of interest include strong activist positions in Surmodics(SRDX), SeaChange International (SEAC), and Energy Solutions. Tracking activist portfolios and 13D filings should be a very profitable activity in 2011.

I have been looking at some interesting new stuff with options as well I am not going to give most of it away just yet but I ll give you one stimulated by a recent list discussion. H and R Black is highly likely to go into a private equity portfolio next year. Management has made every mistake you can make and the loss of RALs is a big problem for the company. However the brand has real value. I do not want town the stock just yet but I like the idea of selling the January 2012 at $.70 to $.75. If you cash secure the put it's a 10% or so return if the stock stays above the strike. If it falls below I' ll be happy to own the stock with a 6 handle net. Back in 2008 everyone anticipated a huge default wave to hit the high yield market. Thanks to federal stimulus money pumping programs it did not happen. However in the spirit of sell the dog food the dog will eat a given moment the hedge fund world raised an enormous amount od distressed debt money. Thanks to this high yield spreads are far too low. CCC paper in particular is priced at absurd levels. These things trade like money good paper and much of it is not. Extend and pretend has helped but if the economy stays weak and interest rates rise rolling over the tsunami f paper due over the next few years becomes nigh onto impossible. I am going take small position in puts on the various high yield ETFs. If I am right they will explode when that market implodes. Continuing to talk my book I hope this happens. Among my nightly prayers is "Please God just one more two year period of asset rich companies with current payments having bonds trade below recovery value and I promise not to piss the money away this time. Amen.

PS. If you add in risk arbitrage spreads of 30% annualized returns along with this I would not object. Love, Tim.

I can't tell you what the markets will do. I do know that I want to own some safe and cheap stocks, some well capitalized small banks trading below book and participate in activist situation. I will be under invested in equities going into the year hoping my watch list becomes my buy list in market stumble. I will have put positions on long T-Bonds and high yield hoping for a large asymmetrical payoff.

Other than that I am clueless.

Kim Zussman comments: 

Does anyone else think this year is harder than usual to forecast? Is it better now to forecast based on market fundamentals or mass psychology? We are at a two year high in stocks, after a huge rally off the '09 bottom that followed through this year. One can make compelling arguments for next year to decline (best case scenarios already discounted, prior big declines followed by others, volatility low, house prices still too high, FED out of tools, gov debt/gdp, Roubini says so, benefits to wall st not main st, persistent high unemployment, Year-to-year there is no significant relationship, but there is a weak down tendency after two consecutive up years. ). And compelling arguments for up as well (crash-fears cooling, short MA's > long MA's, retail investors and much cash still on sidelines, tax-cut extended, employee social security lowered, earnings increasing, GDP increasing, Tepper and Goldman say so, FED herding into risk assets, benefits to wall st not main st, employment starting to increase).

Is the level of government market-intervention effective, sustainable, or really that unusual? The FED looks to be avoiding Japan-style deflation at all costs, and has a better tool in the dollar. A bond yields decline would help growth and reduce deflation risk. Increasing yields would be expected with increasing inflation; bad for growth but welcomed by retiring boomers looking for fixed income. Will Obamacare be challenged or defanged by states or in the supreme court? Will 2011 be the year of the muni-bubble pop?

A ball of confusion!

4 picks in equal proportion:

long XLV (health care etf; underperformed last year)

long CMF (Cali muni bond fund; fears over-wrought, investors still need tax-free yield)

short GLD (looks like a bubble and who needs gold anyway)

short IEF (7-10Y treasuries; near multi-year high/QE2 is weaker than vigilantism)

Alan Millhone writes:

 Hello everyone,

I note discussion over the rules etc. Then you have a fellow like myself who has never bought or sold through the Market a single share.

For myself I will stick with what I know a little something. No, not Checkers —

Rental property. I have some empty units and beginning to rent one or two of late to increase my bottom line.

I will not venture into areas I know little or nothing and will stay the course in 2011 with what I am comfortable.

Happy New Year and good health,



Jay Pasch predicts: 

2010 will close below SP futures 1255.

Buy-and-holders will be sorely disappointed as 2011 presents itself as a whip-saw year.

99% of the bullish prognosticators will eat crow except for the few lonely that called for a tempered intra-year high of ~ SPX 1300.

SPX will test 1130 by April 15 with a new recovery high as high as 1300 by the end of July.

SPX 1300 will fail with new 2011 low of 1050 before ending the year right about where it started.

The Midwest will continue to supply the country with good-natured humble stock, relatively speaking.

Chris Tucker enters: 

Buy and Hold


Wildcard:  Buy and Hold AVAV

Gibbons Burke comments: 

Mr. Ed Seykota once outlined for me the four essential rules of trading:

1) The trend is your friend (till it bends when it ends.)

2) Ride your winners.

3) Cut your losses short.

4) Keep the size of your bet small.

Then there are the "special" rules:

5) Follow all the rules.

and for masters of the game:

6) Know when to break rule #5

A prosperous and joy-filled New Year to everyone.



John Floyd writes:

In no particular order with target prices to be reached at some point in 2011:

1) Short the Australian Dollar:current 1.0220, target price .8000

2) Short the Euro: current 1.3375, target price 1.00

3) Short European Bank Stocks, can use BEBANKS index: current 107.40, target 70

A Mr. Krisrock predicts: 

 1…housing will continue to lag…no matter what can be done…and with it unemployment will remain

2…bonds will outperform as republicans will make cutting spending the first attack they make…QE 2 will be replaced by QE3

3…with every economist in the world bullish, stocks will underperform…

4…commodities are peaking ….

Laurel Kenner predicts: 

After having made monkeys of those luminaries who shorted Treasuries last year, the market in 2011 has had its laugh and will finally carry out the long-anticipated plunge in bond prices.

Short the 30-year bond futures and cover at 80.

Pete Earle writes:

All picks are for 'all year' (open first trading day/close last trading day).

1. Long EUR/USD
2. Short gold (GLD)

MMR (McMoran Exploration Corp)
HDIX (Home Diagnostics Inc)
TUES (Tuesday Morning Corp)

PBP (Powershares S&P500 Buy-Write ETF)
NIB (iPath DJ-UBS Cocoa ETF)
KG (King Pharmaceuticals)

Happy New Year to all,

Pete Earle

Paolo Pezzutti enters: 

If I may humbly add my 2 cents:

- bearish on S&P: 900 in dec
- crisis in Europe will bring EURUSD down to 1.15
- gold will remain a safe have haven: up to 1500
- big winner: natural gas to 8

J.T Holley contributes: 


The Market Mistress so eloquently must come first and foremost. Just as daily historical stats point to betting on the "unchanged" so is my S&P 500 trade for calendar year 2011. Straddle the Mistress Day 1. My choice for own reasons with whatever leverage is suitable for pain thresholds is a quasi straddle. 100% Long and 50% Short in whatever instrument you choose. If instrument allows more leverage, first take away 50% of the 50% Short at suitable time and add to the depreciated/hopefully still less than 100% Long. Feel free to add to the Long at this discretionary point if it suits you. At the next occasion that is discretionary take away remaining Short side of Quasi Straddle, buckle up, and go Long whatever % Long that your instrument or brokerage allows till the end of 2011. Take note and use the historical annual standard deviation of the S&P 500 as a rudder or North Star, and throw in the quarterly standard deviation for testing. I think the ambiguity of the current situation will make the next 200-300 trading days of data collection highly important, more so than prior, but will probably yield results that produce just the same results whatever the Power Magnification of the Microscope.

Long the U.S. Dollar. Don't bother with the rest of the world and concern yourself with which of the few other Socialist-minded Country currencies to short. Just Long the U.S. Dollar on Day 1 of 2011. Keep it simple and specialize in only the Long of the U.S. Dollar. Cataclysmic Economic Nuclear Winter ain't gonna happen. When the Pastor preaches only on the Armageddon and passes the plate while at the pulpit there is only one thing that happens eventually - the Parish dwindles and the plate stops getting filled. The Dollar will bend as has, but won't break or at least I ain't bettin' on such.

Ala Mr. Melvin, Short any investment vehicle you like that contains the words or numerals "perpetual maturity", "zero coupon" and "20-30yr maturity" in their respective regulated descriptions, that were issued in times of yore. Unfortunately it doesn't work like a light switch with the timing, remember it's more like air going into a balloon or a slow motion see-saw. We always want profits initially and now and it just doesn't work that way it seems in speculation. Also, a side hedge is to start initially looking at any financial institution that begins, dabbles, originates and gains high margin fees from 50-100 year home loans or Zero-Coupon Home Loans if such start to make their way Stateside. The Gummit is done with this infusion and cheer leading. They are in protection mode, their profit was made. Now the savy financial engineers that are left or upcoming will continue to find ways to get the masses to think they "Own" homes while actually renting them. Think Car Industry '90-'06 with. Japan did it with their Notes and I'm sure some like-minded MBA's are baiting/pushing the envelopes now in board rooms across the U.S. with their profitability and ROI models, probably have ditched the Projector and have all around the cherry table with IPads watching their presentation. This will ultimately I feel humbly be the end of the Mortgage Interest Deduction as it will be dwindled down to a moot point and won't any longer be the leading tax deduction that it was created to so-called help.


Short Gold, Short it, Short it more. Take all of your emotions and historical supply and demand factors out of the equation, just look at the historical standard deviation and how far right it is and think of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story and when he thought he was actually flying and the look on his face at apex realization. That plus continue doing a study on Google Searches and the number of hits on "stolen gold", "stolen jewelery", and Google Google side Ads for "We buy Gold". I don't own gold jewelery, and have surrendered the only gold piece that I ever wore, but if I was still wearing it I'd be mighty weary of those that would be willing to chop a finger off to obtain. That ain't my fear, that's more their greed.

Long lithium related or raw if such. Technology demands such going forward.


Long Natural Gas. Trading Day 1 till last trading day of the year. The historic "cheap" price in the minds of wannabe's will cause it to be leveraged long and oft with increasing volume regardless of the supply. Demand will follow, Pickens sowed the seeds and paid the price workin' the mule while plowin'. De-regulation on the supply side of commercial business statements is still in its infancy and will continue, politics will not beat out free markets going into the future.

Long Crude and look to see the round 150 broken in years to come while China invents, perfects, and sees the utility in the Nuclear fueled tanker.

Long LED, solar, and wind generation related with tiny % positions. Green makes since, its here to stay and become high margined profitable businesses.


Short Sugar. Sorry Mr. Bow Tie. Monsanto has you Beet! That being stated, the substitute has arrived and genetically altered "Roundup Ready" is here to stay no matter what the Legislative Luddite Agrarians try, deny, or attempt. With that said, Long MON. It is way more than a seed company. It is more a pharmaceutical engineer and will bring down the obesity ridden words Corn Syrup eventually as well. Russia and Ireland will make sure of this with their attitudes of profit legally or illegally.

Prepare to long in late 2011 the commercialized marijuana and its manufacturing, distribution companies that need to expand profitability from its declining tobacco. Altria can't wait, neither can Monsanto. It isn't a moral issue any longer, it's a financial profit one. We get the joke, or choke? If the Gummit doesn't see what substitutes that K2 are doing and the legal hassles of such and what is going on in Lisbon then they need to have an economic lesson or two. It will be a compromise between the Commercial Adjective Definition Agrarians and Gummit for tax purposes with the Green theme continuing and lobbying.

Short Coffee, but just the 1st Qtr of 2011. Sorry Seattle. I will also state that there will exist a higher profit margin substitute for the gas combustible engine than a substitute for caffeine laden coffee.

Sex and Speculation:

Look to see www.fyretv.com go public in 2011 with whatever investment bank that does such trying their best to be anonymous. Are their any investment banks around? This Boxxx will make Red Box blush and Apple TV's box envious. IPTV and all related should be a category that should be Longed in 2011 it is here to stay and is in it's infancy. Way too many puns could be developed from this statement. Yes, I know fellas the fyre boxxx is 6"'s X 7"'s.


This is one category to always go Long. I have vastly improved my guitar playin' in '10 and will do so in '11. AAPL still has the edge and few rivals are even gaining market share and its still a buy on dips, sell on highs empirically counted. They finally realized that .99 cents wasn't cutting it and .69 cents was more appropriate for those that have bought Led Zeppelin IV songs on LP, 8-track, cassette, and CD over the course of their lives. Also, I believe technology has a better shot at profitably bringing music back into public schools than the Federal or State Gummits ever will.


Long - Your mind. Double down on this Day 1 of 2011. It's the most capable, profitable thing you have going for you. I just learned this after the last 36 months.

Long - Counting, you need it now more than ever. It's as important as capitalism.

Long - Being humble, it's intangible but if quantified has a STD of 4 if not higher.

Long - Common Sense.

Long - Our Children. The media is starting to question if their education is priceless, when it is, but not in their context or jam.

Short - Politics. It isn't a spectator sport and it has been made to be such.

Short - Fear, it is way way been played out. Test anything out there if you like. I have. It is prevalent still and disbelief is rampant.

Long - Greed, but don't be greedy just profitable. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was the pilot fish.

I had to end on a Long note.

Happy New Year's Specs. Thanks to all for support over the last four years. I finally realized that it ain't about being right or wrong, just profitable in all endeavors. Too many losses led to this, pain felt after lookin' within, and countin' ones character results with pen/paper.

Russ Sears writes:

 For my entry to the contest, I will stick with the stocks ETF, and the index markets and avoid individual stocks, and the bonds and interest rates. This entry was thrown together rather quickly, not at all an acceptable level if it was real money. This entry is meant to show my personal biases and familiarity, rather than my investment regiment. I am largely talking my personal book.

Therefore, in the spirit of the contest , as well as the rules I will expose my line of thinking but only put numbers on actual entry predictions. Finally, if my caveats are not warning enough, I will comment on how a prediction or contest entry differs from any real investment. I would make or have made.

The USA number one new product export will continue to be the exportation of inflation. The printing of dollars will continue to have unintended consequences than its intended effect on the national economy but have an effect on the global economy.. Such monetary policy will hit areas with the most potential for growth: the emerging markets of China and India. In these economies, that spends over half their income on food, food will continue to rise. This appears to be a position opposite the Chairs starting point prediction of reversal of last year's trends.

Likewise, the demand for precious metals such as gold and silver will not wane as these are the poor man's hedge against food cost. It may be overkill for the advanced economies to horde the necessities and load up on precious metals Yet, unlike the 70's the US/ European economy no longer controls gold and silver a paradigm shift in thinking that perhaps the simple statistician that uses weighted averages and the geocentric economist have missed. So I believe those entries shorting gold or silver will be largely disappointed. However in a nod to the chair's wisdom, I will not pick metals directly as an entry. Last year's surprise is seldom this year's media darling. However, the trend can continue and gold could have a good year. The exception to the reversal rule seems to be with bubbles which gain a momentum of their own, apart from the fundamentals. The media has a natural sympathy in suggesting a return to the drama of he 70's, the stagflation dilemma, ,and propelling an indicator of doom. With the media's and the Fed's befuddled backing perhaps the "exception" is to be expected. But I certainly don't see metal's impending collapse nor its continued performance.

The stability or even elevated food prices will have some big effects on the heartland.

1. For my trend is your friend pick: Rather than buy directly into a agriculture commodity based index like DBA, I am suggesting you buy an equity agriculture based ETF like CRBA year end price at 77.50. I am suggesting that this ETF do not need to have commodities produce a stellar year, but simply need more confirmation that commodity price have established a higher long term floor. Individually I own several of these stocks and my wife family are farmers and landowners (for full disclosure purposes not to suggest I know anything about the agriculture business) Price of farmland is raising, due to low rates, GSE available credit, high grain prices due to high demand from China/India, ethanol substitution of oil A more direct investment in agriculture stability would be farmland. Farmers are buying tractors, best seeds and fertilizers of course, but will this accelerate. Being wrong on my core theme of stable to rising food/commodity price will ruin this trade. Therefore any real trade would do due diligence on individual stocks, and put a trailing floor. And be sensitive to higher volatility in commodities as well as a appropriate entry and exit level.

2. For the long term negative alpha, short term strength trade: I am going with airlines and FAA at 49.42 at year end. There seems to be finally some ability to pass cost through to the consumer, will it hold?

3. For the comeback of the year trade XHB: (the homebuilders ETF), bounces back with 25% return. While the overbuilding and vacancy rates in many high population density areas will continue to drag the home makes down, the new demand from the heartland for high end houses will rise that is this is I am suggesting that the homebuilders index is a good play for housing regionally decoupling from the national index. And much of what was said about the trading of agriculture ETF, also apply to this ETF. However, while I consider this a "surprise", the surprise is that this ETF does not have a negative alpha or slightly positive. This is in-line with my S&P 500 prediction below. Therefore unless you want volatility, simply buying the S&P Vanguard fund would probably be wiser. Or simply hold these inline to the index.

4. For the S&P Index itself I would go with the Vanguard 500 Fund as my vehicle VFINXF, and predict it will end 2011 at $145.03, this is 25% + the dividend. This is largely due to how I believe the economy will react this year. 

5. For my wild card regional banks EFT, greater than IAT > 37.50 by end 2011…

Yanki Onen writes:

 I would like to thank all for sharing their insights and wisdom. As we all know and reminded time to time, how unforgiven could the market Mistress be. We also know how nurturing and giving it could be. Time to time i had my share of falls and rises. Everytime I fall, I pick your book turn couple of pages to get my fix then scroll through articles in DSpecs seeking wisdom and a flash of light. It never fails, before you know, back to the races. I have all of you to thank for that.

Now the ideas;

-This year's lagger next year's winner CSCO

Go long Jan 2012 20 Puts @ 2.63 Go long CSCO @ 19.55 Being long the put gives you the leverage and protection for a whole year, to give the stock time to make a move.

You could own 100,000 shares for $263K with portfolio margin ! Sooner the stock moves the more you make (time decay)

-Sell contango Buy backwardation

You could never go wrong if you accept the truth, Index funds always roll and specs dont take physical delivery. This cant be more true in Cotton.

Right before Index roll dates (it is widely published) sell front month buy back month especially when it is giving you almost -30 to do so Sell March CT Buy July CT pyramid this trade untill the roll date (sometime at the end of Jan or begining of Feb) when they are almost done rolling(watch the shift in open interest) close out and Buy May CT sell July CT wait patiently for it to play it out again untill the next roll.

- Leveraged ETFs suckers play!

Two ways to play this one out if you could borrow and sell short, short both FAZ and FAS equal $ amounts since the trade is neutral, execute this trade almost free of margin. One thing is for sure to stay even long after we are gone is volatility and triple leveraged products melt under volatility!

If you cant borrow the shares execute the trade using Jan 12 options to open synthetic short positions. This trade works with time and patience!

Vic, thanks again for providing a platform to listen and to be heard.


Yanki Onen

Phil McDonnell writes: 

When investing one should consider a diversified portfolio. But in a contest the best strategy is just to go for it. After all you have to be number one.

With that thought in mind I am going to bet it all on Silver using derivatives on the ETF SLV.

SLV closed at 30.18 on Friday.

Buy Jan 2013 40 call for 3.45.
Sell Jan 2012 40 call at 1.80.
Sell Jul 25 put at 1.15.

Net debit is .50.

Exit strategy: close out entire position if SLV ETF reaches a price of 40 or better. If 40 is not reached then exit on 2/31/2011 at the close.

George Parkanyi entered:

For what it's worth, the Great White North weighs in ….
3 Markets equally weighted - 3 stages each (if rules allow) - all trades front months
3 JAN 2011
BUY NAT GAS at open

BUY SILVER at open

BUY CORN at open
28 FEB 2011 (Reverse Positions)
SELL and then SHORT NAT GAS at open

SELL and then SHORT SILVER at open

SELL and then SHORT CORN at open
1 AUG 2011 (Reverse Positions)
COVER and then BUY NAT GAS at open

COVER and then BUY SILVER at open

COVER and then BUY CORN at open
Hold all positions to the end of the year

3 JAN BUY PLATINUM and hold to end of year.


. Markets to unexpectedly carry through in New Year despite correction fears.

. Spain/Ireland debt roll issues - Europe/Euro in general- will be in the news in Q1/Q2

- markets will correct sharply in late Q1 through Q2 (interest rates will be rising)

. Markets will kick in again in Q3 & Q4 with strong finish on more/earlier QE in both Europe and US - hard assets will remain in favour; corn & platinum shortages; cooling trend & economic recovery to favour nat gas

. Also assuming seasonals will perform more or less according to stats

If rules do not allow directional changes; then go long NAT GAS, SILVER, and CORN on 1 AUG 2011 (cash until then); wild card trade the same.

Gratuitous/pointless prediction: At least two European countries will drop out of Euro in 2011 (at least announce it) and go back to their own currency. 

Marlowe Cassetti enters:

FXE - Currency Shares Euro Trust

XLE - Energy Select

BAL - iPath Dow Jones-AIG Cotton Total Return Sub-Index

GDXJ - Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners

AMJ - JPMorgan Alerian MLP Index ETN

Wild Card:


VNM - Market Vectors Vietnam ETF

Kim Zussman entered: 

long XLV (health care etf; underperformed last year)
long CMF (Cali muni bond fund; fears over-wrought, investors still
need tax-free yield)
short GLD (looks like a bubble and who needs gold anyway)
short IEF (7-10Y treasuries; near multi-year high/QE2 is weaker than



 Hi all,

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving… I was just wondering if there are any electronics aficionados on the list.

I've been working with an amazing little gadet called the Arduino which can be programmed to control a wide variety of devices, and have also been soldering some kits together like this one.

I am still very new to this stuff though, and was wondering if any readers had advice for a beginner including potential recommendations on books or websites for learning more.

Thanks, Dylan



 Do you all have any suggestions for childrens money books? Any ideas for a ten year old? I read The Richest Man in Babylon when I was 22– if that gives you any idea on the lack of money/market books in my young life.

Alan Millhone writes:

The money books I had when ten were by Whitnam, and there were slots for collecting dates of Lincoln pennies and buffalo nickels and mercury dimes etc.

Dylan Distasio responds: 

Hi Alan,

Thanks for bringing back some wonderful childhood memories for me. My father passed on coin collecting as a hobby to my brothers and myself when we were children. I haven't been very active with it as an adult, but I used to love sorting through change bags from the bank in search of silver coinage or old pennies to fill my Whitman coin folders. I grew up in the 80s when you still had a chance to come across some silver ones (granted they were not in very good condition). I also have some old Morgan heads and other assorted issues. One of my favorite coins as a child was the "steel" penny from 1943.

More recently, I've collected proof sets of the state quarters series, although not for hopes of financial gains, I just love the look of a proof struck coin and find the state quarters interesting.



 I really enjoyed Maker Faire! There were a ton of great activities, lectures, and geek gear. I was really encouraged to see the amount of young people there who were enthralled by science and inventing, and also appeared very eager to learn.

We hear so much about the decline of US competitiveness in technology and entrepreneurship, and the lack of interest in the sciences. Compared to the dark mood currently hanging over our great nation, this event was a much needed breath of fresh air for me. I saw rows of eager young kids attending workshops to learn how to solder and build what might have been their first electronics projects. Others were learning how to put together tiny BEAM bots. There was a sense of wonder in the air, which filled me with excitement and brought me back to my own early days of discovering the sciences as a child. Who knows what kind of fires these early sparks will lead to, and what amazing new technologies one of these kids may eventually come up with?

I got to finally see 3D printers first hand, that while not perfect compared to commercial models, may usher in a personal manufacturing revolution. For a relatively inexpensive amount, you can build your own completely open source 3d printer that allows you to make objects from different materials in a matter of hours limited mostly by your own imagination and ingenuity. Nigel could print his own custom designed chess pieces!

I was lucky enough to see a lecture from the creator of the Arduino, an inexpensive, powerful, easy to program chip with an assortment of customizable input/outputs that empowers tinkerers, artists, scientists, and others to come up with and control amazing creations.

One of my favorite talks was by a gentleman who had created a locked puzzle box as a wedding gift for a friend that would only open in a specific place to reveal its contents using an Arduino and GPS component.

I also got to see how to do some easy home electroplating which will make a great demo for my daughter when she gets a bit older.Finally, I treated myself to a kit to build an Ice Tube Clock for my next electronics adventure in the Maker Tent which had tons of interesting stuff to peruse and purchase.If any of this sounds interesting, I'd highly recommend checking out their magazine.

It was a wonderful day! As I left, my only regret was that I could not see everything they had to offer. I left full of hope for the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs, and I loved the Jet Ponies!



PrechterPrechter says sell this rally off of yahoo finance headlines–no need to link, that's probably all you need to know about this move.

But if it is a market bluff, yesterday the market bet before the flop and today you should see the continuation bet on the turn and then a big bet to come on the river. If it's a bluff, then they gotta sell it.

Anatoly Veltman comments:

He's often quoted out of context, just like everyone else– thus everyone's track record may appear roughly same.

Prechter does certain analysis well. Those who understand his writings can benefit by incorporating some of his effort into own analysis. Those few who would actually enter trade on his conclusions– risk not knowing how/why to exit.

Ralph Vince writes:

Entirely true, Anatoly. I may not agree with his prognostications, but he does his work very well. What's more, he is often quoted in overly simplistic terms– such as to be a seller on this rally. I am certain he has a point where he would flip and go long, an alternate count or something. I am also sure he has a downside target– is it Dow 5000 ? Dow 10,500 ? These quotes of his floating around don't really tell you want his strategy is, and that's key. He's a guy who, if/when he is wrong, I have found he has not been wrong by much, often able to adapt to changing market conditions as well as any I have seen.

Larry Williams observes:

Prechter go long? Has he ever? His bearish book riding the wave came out the low the 2002, at the recent market low the clarion call was to sell. Be alert to broken watch correctness.

Dylan Distasio asks:

Hi Vic,

I'm genuinely curious as to why you lump Livermore in with the rest of the financial ne-er-do-wells. I'm not an expert on the man by any stretch of the imagination, but I've read assorted stuff on him, and while he was far from perfect in both trading and life (but then again who is?), I've never seen fit to paint him with that brush based on what I've read. Why do you have such a low opinion of him?

Larry Williams attempts an answer:

Livermore and the Reminiscences are two different stories. The Saturday Evening Post serial that became the book is oh-so well written but it is not just about Livermore it is/was a novel with a fictional character that paralleled Jesse but was also a collage.

In real life once Joe Kennedy took over the SEC, Jesse seems to have never made another penny; in other words he was most likely a runner of stocks not some brilliant trader like Steve Cohen, etc.



 No doubt there's plenty of market lessons across the board in this lot. The ten bloodiest bed time stories :

Remember the cosy nights of your childhood tucked up in bed as mummy or daddy read you softly to sleep?Well have a read of this lot and you may discover that the tales you remember fondly are actually pretty gruesome.
From the Little Mermaid's suicide to Geppetto the child hating carpenter in Pinocchio, the shine applied to the Disney adaptation wears off upon closer inspection.

Tales of fathers selling daughters, matricide, serial wife killing and cannibalism. Sleep well children…

Kevin DePew writes:

My wife recently brought home a "classic Sesame Street" DVD from NYPL for our two-year-old. The beginning had a stern warning: "For Adults Only. These early 'Sesame Street' episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child." So we looked it up and found this Virginia Heffernan review from the NYT from 2007:

"The old "Sesame Street" is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper "Elmo's World" started. Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original "Sesame Street" might hurt your feelings."

Well, it's true that bull markets no longer seem normal.

Dylan Distasio writes:

I have a nice illustrated hardback of DER STRUWWELPETER, one of the darkest of the German books of which you speak that I am planning on introducing my daughter to…A free illustrated English version is available online on Project Gutenberg.

Victor Niederhoffer comments:

The literature on why children should read horrible stories is pretty voluminous and convincing. German kids are exposed to particularly horrible stories. I had the pleasure of receiving the original of one that he invented and illustrated for his family from the great MFM Osborne as a token of esteem for Gail, my first wife.



A very interesting article:

It's a mystery that presented itself unexpectedly: The radioactive decay of some elements sitting quietly in laboratories on Earth seemed to be influenced by activities inside the sun, 93 million miles away.

Is this possible?

Researchers from Stanford and Purdue University believe it is. But their explanation of how it happens opens the door to yet another mystery.

There is even an outside chance that this unexpected effect is brought about by a previously unknown particle emitted by the sun. "That would be truly remarkable," said Peter Sturrock, Stanford professor emeritus of applied physics and an expert on the inner workings of the sun.



 For anyone interested in learning more about what life is like inside North Korea, I'd highly recommend checking out "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" written by Kang Chol-Hwan who after returning to North Korea from Japan with his affluent family who dreamed of a Communist utopia, ended up in the Yodok concentration camp at the age of 9.

It's a heartbreaking description of his 10 years of internment there. He eventually escaped North Korea and even met with Dubyah.

It's available on Amazon and well worth checking out in either book or Kindle format.



 I introduced my 28 month old daughter to the Wizard of Oz recently, and we spent the morning watching the entire thing on Blu-Ray. It's hard to believe this movie was made 71 years ago! The Blu-Ray video and audio quality, by the way, is phenomenal. Warner did not skimp on the transfer; the technicolor pops off the screen, and the sound is crystal clear.

It is hard to imagine what this film must have been like to produce. The movie was shot with a film speed of ASA 8! As a result, the amount of lighting required almost defies the imagination, resulting in 100 degree non-air conditioned sets with most of the actors in heavy makeup and costumes. The cameras at that time weighed 500+lbs which presented a challenge for any type of shot where they needed to move. Early Technicolor shot colors differently from their underlying ones, so the ruby slippers and yellow brick road had to be tweaked painstakingly to find the right tone. The sheer number of custom costumes that needed to be designed and created is rarely tackled in a modern day feature.

Amazingly, Over the Rainbow was almost cut from the final movie! It may sound corny, but every time I hear Judy Garland singing that piece, I'm moved and saddened.

Anyways, my daughter is absolutely in love with the movie. I don't necessarily expect her to take away any messages from it as this age, but I think there are worse things to teach a child about than the importance and true meaning of brains, heart, and courage.

I've seen the WOZ many times at this point, having grown up with it on television as a kid, and now that my daughter is hooked on it, I'm sure they'll be more viewings than I care to imagine, but it never gets old. It's a great story, with fun musical numbers, and amazing production values.

I'd recommend giving it a viewing if you haven't watched it lately. The 71st anniversary just passed, Google had a cool homage for the day. My recent viewing has also re-ignited my interest in reading the original novel which somehow I have never done.



loukoumiMy best friend is Greek and has been in Greece for a month. He always brings me back some Loukoumi (a cheap dessert to offer your company). He was told that most likely he would not be able to bring any more onto the plane. Reason? Its texture resembles C4! Anyway he brought me a small bag packed in his luggage. I can taste the Rosewater as I savor a piece. He has bought at the same shop in Athens for many years. It comes loose in pieces surrounded by powered sugar and in a paper bag. I love the taste and texture.

Dylan Distasio writes:

On the other side of the aisle, they call these Turkish Delights. When I was in Istanbul many years back, the young children would peddle these to tourists. I am a fan also.

Alan, since you like Loukoumi, I would highly recommend checking out an American variation here. They are absolutely delicious. Our relatives out in the Pacific Northwest ship them out to us as a Christmas treat. 



 Now here is a good read for keeping a bad trade in the proper perspective– Cormac McCarthy at his best.

With these images in the front of the mind, every living thing looks like the gift of new life, here and now, just look out the window.

Dylan Distasio writes:

If you enjoyed The Road, I would highly recommend you check out McCarthy's Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West. As much as I enjoyed The Road, I feel Blood Meridian is his best work. It is at the top of my list of favorite books.

This is from the author's website:

Critics have compared Cormac McCarthy's nightmarish yet beautifully written adventure masterpiece, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West, with the best works of Dante, Poe, De Sade, Melville, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and William Styron. The critic Harold Bloom, among others, has declared it one of the greatest novels of the Twentieth Century, and perhaps the greatest by a living American writer. Critics cite its magnificent language, its uncompromising representation of a crucial period of American history, and its unapologetic, bleak vision of the inevitability of suffering and violence.The novel recounts the adventures of a young runaway, the kid, who stumbles into the company of the Glanton Gang, outlaws and scalp-hunters who cleared Indians from the Texas-Mexico borderlands during the late 1840's under contract to territorial governors. Reinvisioning the ideology of manifest destiny upon which the American dream was founded, Blood Meridian depicts the borderland between knowledge and power, between progress and dehumanization, between history and myth and, most importantly, between physical violence and the violence of language.



 For those interested, PBS is running a 2 hour documentary on the history of whaling titled "Into the Deep" tonight, Monday 05/10/10.

The focus is one that should be familiar to readers of this site, the 1820 wreck of the Essex by a sperm whale, but it covers the history of American whaling up until its decline post-Civil War.

Pitt T. Maner III writes:

This was a very interesting and enjoyable program. Thanks to Mr Distasio for the notice. Whalers as explorers, skilled manufacturers, salesmen, and spreaders to some extent of American democracy.

One wonders if we are not nearing the end of the petroleum era now (say 50-100 more years, Peak Oil possibly being close at hand). Ironic that we have a massive environmental release to go out on the tail end. The use of baleen as an almost plastic-like or fiberglass-type substance centuries ago was mentioned. Further googling indicated it was used extensively for awhile in women's hoop dresses. It was valuable material before plastic. Here is a somewhat amusing history from the 1870s NYT.

A strange whaling story was noted in the PBS show–the loss of the last old time US whaling ship The Wanderer in a hurricane in August 1924 after a large, nostalgic crowd came to see it off for a final trip. No crew was lost. But another one not mentioned was the sinking of a whaling ship by a sperm whale just before the publication of Moby Dick. Very strange.

The Ann Alexander was a whaling ship from New Bedford, Massachusetts that was rammed by a wounded sperm whale on August 20, 1851 near the Galapagos Islands. Her sinking may have contributed to the success of Herman Melville's book Moby-Dick. Melville was quite surprised to hear of the above:

For some days past being engaged in the woods with axe, wedge, & beetle, the Whale had almost completely slipped me for the time (& I was the merrier for it) when Crash! comes Moby Dick himself (as you justly say) & reminds me of what I have been about for part of the last year or two. It is really & truly a surprising coincidence — to say the least. I make no doubt it is Moby Dick himself, for there is no account of his capture after the sad fate of the Pequod about fourteen years ago. — Ye Gods! What a commentator is this Ann Alexander whale. What he has to say is short & pithy & very much to the point. I wonder if my evil art has raised this monster.

Letter to Evert Duyckinck, in response to news of the sinking of a whale ship by a whale, November 7, 1851

Melville, as noted in the PBS program, faded as a writer after the publication of Moby Dick and turned to poetry–not very successfully according to some, but he did continue to tackle deep themes and thoughts. One poem on the shark and pilot fish seems apropos (ah but to be a nimble pilot fish and avoid the jaws of Fate!)

The Maldive Shark 

About the Shark, phlegmatical one,
Pale sot of the Maldive sea,
The sleek little pilot-fish, azure and slim,
How alert in attendance be.
From his saw-pit of mouth, from his charnel of maw,
They have nothing of harm to dread,
But liquidly glide on his ghastly flank
Or before his Gorgonian head;
Or lurk in the port of serrated teeth
In white triple tiers of glittering gates,
And there find a haven when peril's abroad,
And asylum in jaws of the Fates!
They are friends; and friendly they guide him to prey,
Yet never partake of the treat -
Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull,
Pale ravener of horrible meat

—-Herman Melville



The fitbit--a popular self tracking toolThere is a very interesting article in the NY Times Magazine on quantifying how one's life is spent. Perhaps some nuggets in there applicable to trading:

Humans make errors. We make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention. Sometimes we can’t even answer the simplest questions. Where was I last week at this time? How long have I had this pain in my knee? How much money do I typically spend in a day? These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut.

That is, some of us do. Others use data. A timer running on Robin Barooah’s computer tells him that he has been living in the United States for 8 years, 2 months and 10 days. At various times in his life, Barooah — a 38-year-old self-employed software designer from England who now lives in Oakland, Calif. — has also made careful records of his work, his sleep and his diet.

A few months ago, Barooah began to wean himself from coffee. His method was precise. He made a large cup of coffee and removed 20 milliliters weekly. This went on for more than four months, until barely a sip remained in the cup. He drank it and called himself cured. Unlike his previous attempts to quit, this time there were no headaches, no extreme cravings. Still, he was tempted, and on Oct. 12 last year, while distracted at his desk, he told himself that he could probably concentrate better if he had a cup. Coffee may have been bad for his health, he thought, but perhaps it was good for his concentration.

Barooah wasn’t about to try to answer a question like this with guesswork. He had a good data set that showed how many minutes he spent each day in focused work. With this, he could do an objective analysis. Barooah made a chart with dates on the bottom and his work time along the side. Running down the middle was a big black line labeled “Stopped drinking coffee.” On the left side of the line, low spikes and narrow columns. On the right side, high spikes and thick columns. The data had delivered their verdict, and coffee lost.

Riz Din comments:

Interesting article. I've tried a few tracking experiments such as strict calorie counting, but it gets really obsessive because it is such an active process (I carried a little pen and pad around with me for a month). At present, logging activities such as time spent doing activity x, foods eaten, exercise taken, etc, has a strong reflexive element as the act of measuring interferes with the normal course of affairs. Even tracking tools on smart phones require a manual input element, which will distort affairs and can burden (as well as enlighten) the mind in many ways. On the upside, this is all great when you are striving to achieve a set goal over a short period of time, just less so when you are just getting on with life and want feedback on yourself. Because of this, I think data driven living will really take off when the data is collected passively and can then be reviewed periodically. I can imagine, for example, a technologically wired up house filled with sensors that silently logs your whereabouts and activities and produces a monthly report.

My favorite realizations from tracking exercises are that I tend to overweight recent experiences, and also that I am often caught in repetitious cycles. Another key benefit is that list keeping/tracking serves as a kind of photo album of memories: I've kept a booklist (in Google Docs) of all books read over the past five years or so, with a simple five star rating system, and by filtering to see my favorites I am able to see what type of person I was and the type of person I may be becoming. All very interesting.

Russ Herrold writes:

Here is an interesting read for those interested in a life ruled by numbers:

"Ubiquitous self-tracking is a dream of engineers. For all their expertise at figuring out how things work, technical people are often painfully aware how much of human behavior is a mystery. …"

This is not specifically applied to numercially driven trading or investing, but the emphasis on accurate and contemporaneously generated records mentioned in the latter pages of the article resonate with what our aspirational selves may seek to attain in the financial markets:

- trade from numerically validated setups ['Past results may not be indicative of future results' vs. 'History does not repeat, but it sure does rhyme a lot']

- do post-analysis on what worked, and when a plan was followed, and when it was not ['If you cannot put a number on it, it is an opinion, not science']

- Kelly criteria for binomial trades; Optimal-F for N-way position sizing; with the known problem of non-Normality of financial markets 



Francis GaltonI have been looking through the book The Art of Travel by Francis Galton for all its ingenious ways of prospering and surviving in African travel with a view to the pure enjoyment of a genius at work, (about the greatest in history), as well as all the things that can help us understand where we stand today in the markets; for example, how to cache a treasure in a tree, how to sleep with a gun by your privates, how silver may be used to start life afresh, of course the herd like tendency of oxen and humans, and the difficulty of finding a leader, et. al.

Dylan Distasio shares:

For those interested in checking it out as an ebook, it is available from Project Gutenberg and also as a free download from Amazon for those with a Kindle.



 I had a lot of interest in Google's Nexus One phone (the Verizon version) going into their presentation yesterday, but based on the limited T-Mobile pricing plan Google is going with, I'm put off. I would like to be able to get a family plan on this phone without having to buy it unlocked at $500+ a piece. Based on current info, this is not possible, at least at T-Mobile. I have concerns that the same single plan will be offered by Google / Verizon.

Basically, you're getting three things with the Nexus One that you're not with the Droid. A great OLED screen, a much faster processor, and Android 2.1. Motorola has already confirmed the Droid will be getting Android 2.1 shortly, so all of the cool OS features in Nexus One will be hitting the Droid with that. I am considering sacrificing the faster processor and more beautiful screen, and go with a Droid. They are available for $120 each right now with Verizon, so it is a tempting offer.

Fish or cut bait…fish or cut bait…



RingI was hoping some one here may be able to help me out. After four years of dating my girlfriend, I have finally decided to ask her to marry me. I am in the early stages of looking for a ring and am obviously wanting to get her the best ring I can. Unfortunately what she deserves and what I can afford are two different things. Therefore my hope is that someone on this list knows someone that would be able to get me some type of deal on an engagement ring. I'm not looking for a hand out by any means, I just want the best value for my money. I'm also looking to get it pretty soon as I believe both of us would like to get married before I leave for Afghanistan next year.  Thank you in advance to anyone who is able to help me out!

Dylan Distasio replies:

Good luck with the proposal! Unfortunately I don't know someone who can give you a deal on a ring. However, I would highly recommend checking out Blue Nile. They have beautiful diamonds at all price levels, quality levels, cuts, etc. at very low prices compared to retail. I am incredibly happy with them from personal experience. I was able to get a very high quality diamond for an engagement ring that my wife is now wearing. They also offer settings if you want to one stop shop. They ship quickly, and the diamond appraised at approximately 50% higher than what I paid. Most importantly though, it is a beautiful stone. My co-worker also had great luck with them. I'm not a Blue Nile shill, just a satisfied customer.

Charles Pennington weighs in:

T BoxBorsheim's is pretty good. With them I don't think you have to worry you're getting ripped off. You can call them on the phone and just talk with them about how much you're thinking about spending, and they'll provide a host of options for you. If you want, they'll even ship one or two out to you so that you can have a look. If they do rip you off, you can go complain to Warren Buffett at the next Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting!

Caution: She may want a ring from Tiffany, even though you both know the extra money is just for the blue box.

Dan Humbert takes an unconventional view:

Don't waste your money on something so ridiculously overpriced as a diamond (especially since you indicate you are short on funds and are off to Afghanistan, meaning you'll have a lot more important things for you and your fiance to spend your limited funds on). If you and your fiance want an engagement ring, cubic zirconiums are nearly as good, and I understand there are now even better man-made diamonds that a jeweler cannot distinguish from natural diamonds — it takes an expert with sophisticated equipment. Exact types and prices are well-covered in the recent book Spent by Geoffrey Miller. No one else will be able to tell, and you and your fiance have no obligation to confess that you were not so wasteful as to buy in to De Beers's monopoly and ridiculous advertising that you should spend 25% (or whatever obscene portion of your year's salary) on the diamond.

Taking it a step further — this being a libertarian-oriented site, why get married at all? You and your love should set the terms of your own wonderful relationship rather than letting the government, courts and lawyers dictate the terms. It's a lot more romantic to voluntarily win each other's love each day, than to be obligated by the government to stay together unless and until expensive and debilitating proceedings involving lawyers and judges allow you to change the terms.

The dissenting view gets support from Kevin Humbert:

Dan offers excellent diamond advice. After losing a number of "real" diamonds to both women and thieves, I decided to look into synthetic diamonds as an alternative some time ago. At the risk of sounding cynical you don't blow through as many ring-requiring ceremonies & occasions as I have without incurring significant financial loss… and that's before the rings are even factored into the equation. Man made diamonds vary wildly in price & quality. Even so, the discount to comparable high quality diamonds is high enough to make something man made a no-brainer for me. As for whether anyone notices if it is real or not, I can't recall having met anyone outside of the jewelry industry who is impressed with a diamond wedding ring one way or the other, either real or synthetic.

But Laurel Kenner interjects:

Gentlemen! A fake gem sends the wrong message. And relationships without marriage usually turn out to be fakes, too. Just ask a wife whether her marriage is real or not.

An anecdote from Chris Cooper:

I once had an employee who had already made a lot of money from stock options owned by her husband and herself as executives at a big tech company. When they got married he told her she could have a one-carat ring now, or for every year she waited he would increase the size by an additional carat. After several years she caved in, and could be seen flaunting a 5-carat flawless solitaire in important business meetings. A stone of that size does tend to attract the eye.

Legacy Daily sends a specific suggestion:

Congratulations! Engagement and marriage are indeed very special life events. I have jewelers in the family who would be happy to help. I just called them to let them know that they might hear from you. Feel free to contact Artinian Jewelry.

John Lamberg looks back:

A word of advice: When your wife to be picks out a wedding ring, no matter what price, run, do not walk, to the counter and purchase it. Do not repeat the mistake I made many years ago and say, “let’s think about it…”. Some mistakes are never forgotten.

Victor Niederhoffer also reminisces:

I bought mine for 25 cents at Woolworth on 86th and Third Avenue. And as the poker player said after he took his real diamond from her the day of the wedding to throw into pot, "she's still wearing it."



bookWhat is most troubling to me about the current situation in the financial markets is the global backlash against the "free" market and what is perceived as capitalism in general. Your average person is so angry right now, and it seems almost inevitable that anything related to the financial markets is going to be torn down and rebuilt in a nationalized or internationalized shell of its former self. Forget the amount of damage that has been done in dollar terms during this decline (easier said then done for some including myself); the real damage is that the image of America's version of market based economies may have been tarnished beyond repair. I hope this is an overly pessimistic view of where we are headed. I have a six month old that I would like to see prosper as she grows; I just can't help but wonder what damage will be wrought by the powers that be with the backing of an angry mob.

I found the below passage from The Road to Serfdom particularly relevant to the $700 billion package handed to Paulson and the Treasury Dept:

What is promised to us as the Road to Freedom is in fact the Highroad to Servitude. For it is not difficult to see what must be the consequences when democracy embarks upon a course of planning. The goal of the planning will be described by some such vague term as "the general welfare." There will be no real agreement as to the ends to be attained, and the effect of the people's agreeing that there must be central planning, without agreeing on the ends, will be rather as if a group of people were to commit themselves to take a journey together without agreeing where they want to go: with the result that they may all have to make a journey which most of them do not want at all.

Democratic assemblies cannot function as planning agencies. They cannot produce agreement on everything — the whole direction of the resources of the nation-for the number of possible courses of action will be legion. Even if a congress could, by proceeding step by step and compromising at each point, agree on some scheme, it would certainly in the end satisfy nobody.

To draw up an economic plan in this fashion is even less possible than, for instance, successfully to plan a military campaign by democratic procedure. As in strategy it would become inevitable to delegate the task to experts. And even if, by this expedient, a democracy should succeed in planning every sector of economic activity, it would still have to face the problem of integrating these separate plans into a unitary whole. There will be a stronger and stronger demand that some board or some single individual should be given power to act on their own responsibility. The cry for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement toward planning. Thus the legislative body will be reduced to choosing the persons who are to have practically absolute power. The whole system will tend toward that kind of dictatorship in which the head of the government is position by popular vote, but where he has all the powers at his command to make certain that the vote will go in the direction he desires. Planning leads to dictatorship because dictatorship is the most effective instrument of coercion and, as such, essential if central planning on a large scale is to be possible. There is no justification for the widespread belief that, so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it cannot be arbitrary; it is not the source of power which prevents it from being arbitrary; to be free from dictatorial qualities, the power must also be limited. A true "dictatorship of the proletariat," even if democratic in form, if it undertook centrally to direct the economic system, would probably destroy personal freedom as completely as any autocracy has ever done.

Source: Illustrated Road to Serfdom.

Bill Rafter adds:

"I see the Fed, the Treasury, the SEC, long ranks of the new oppressors who have risen on the destruction of the old, perishing by this retributive instrument, before it shall cease out of its present use. I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out."

My apologies to Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities, last chapter, spoken by Sidney Carton)



You may want to whip yourselves up one of these. I am making my wife and myself one for the first time tonight. My arteries are begging for mercy just looking at the pics. Someone has come up with the idea of using grilled cheese sandwiches as buns for a hamburger. I will be adding bacon, of course.



U BoltI have come across several conflicting ideas about the relation of speed and longevity recently. In Eric Sloane, the idea is that the slowest animals live the longest, but several studies show that that the fastest runners live the longest. I wonder how this would be resolved in the real world of markets. Speed and distance, and lifespan would seem to be helpful concepts to untwine.

Dylan Distasio adds:

Typically, larger animals have longer natural lifespans. This is likely related to their lower base metabolic rates (a smaller mammal is going to have a faster metabolism to offset greater loss of body heat). The most obvious analogy would be market cap and the idea that larger companies are slower to shift course.

Another factor is how prodigious the species is at reproducing. High fecundity usually means a shorter lifespan. Is there an analogy to this in the markets? If we use our imaginations, perhaps. Maybe an area of the market with many competitive companies, and a low barrier for entry like the Internet space.

For those who are gluttons for punishment, there is scientific journal article on body size, metabolism and lifespan that may be worth untangling.

Scott Brooks recalls:

I saw a special on either Discovery Channel about heart rate. They did a comparison between many animals and the number of heart beats they had in a lifetime. The one that stick out in my mind was the difference between some kind of mouse and an elephant. The difference in life expectancy was quite substantial in terms of years, but the average number of total heart beats between birth and death was essentially equal.

This didn't hold up for all species, but there were some striking similarities between mammalian species and heart beats.

If this is true, then am I using up my "lifetime heartbeats" each time I work out?

I know that my family doesn't live particularly long, with most dying at or near average life expectancy. I also know that for my entire life, my resting heart rate has been in the upper 80s or low 90s. I've worked diligently to get it lower, but it doesn't come down. When I exercise, I get my heart rate up into the 160s or 170s — if I'm really working our hard, then I'll get it up into the 180s or 190s.

Am I using up my heartbeats?

Marion Dreyfus reassures:

When I worked for the giant ad agency J Walter Thompson, the physican onstaff, with whom I consulted about all of my copy, used to tell me: "I have grown old walking in the funeral corteges of those more fit than I."

Kim Zussman, on the other hand, enjoys frightening people:

Don't forget, the healthier your heart (and the longer you go without heart attack) — the more likely you are to die of cancer.

Low fat diet, exercise, contol of blood pressure/blood sugar, have much bigger effect in forestalling heart disease than cancer.



I personally believe that the Uptick Rule should be reinstated or large money pools will be created to drive stock prices down on selected companies.

Alex Forshaw replies:

Why do you find it ok that speculators drive prices up, but not down?

Sam Humbert counters:

I will show you an article, the subject of which was how CNBC was unknowingly complicit in the fall of Bear Stearns. You might find it informative. 

Jason Goepfert says:

So one of the largest investment banks and securities traders in the nation was taken down because traders didn't have to wait for an uptick to sell short? It didn't have anything to do with the fact that they had bitten off way more than they could chew and should have been deleted as on ongoing concern? That seems a little fanciful to me.

There were hundreds of stocks that were taken off the uptick rule for a couple of years prior to July 2007, in a trial balloon run by the regs. They studied the trading patterns on those stocks extensively compared to those that were still subject to the rule, and found little difference in trading patterns. The rule was not lifted by whim.

With penny pricing, it doesn't take much to get an uptick in a stock. If a large fund(s) really wanted to take down a company, the uptick rule makes no difference. They would just buy a bunch of shares, get the stock on an uptick, then short the hell out of it again. Or buy puts, or any of the other derivatives they have available.

The stock would go to zero whether the rule was in place or not. See Enron et al.

Blaming the uptick rule is lazy.

Sam Humbert  comes back again:

Marty Whitman of 3rd Ave Value Fund has issued a statement in effect also blaming the elimination of the Uptick Rule as one of the factors that the bear raid on Bear Stearns was successful.

I agree with Marty Whitman.

As to driving prices up versus driving them down, there is a difference. Quickly falling stock prices can cause a panic which could cause money withdrawals from some stocks such as brokerage and banking firms, which in turn can cause bankruptcies and job losses. 

Dylan Distasio recalls:

The fact of the matter is that uptick rule was easily avoided prior to its elimination through the use of married puts aka "bullets." When I traded intraday (before the SEC essentially eliminated this use of them in 2003), we used to use them on a daily basis. 

Gibbons Burke also disagrees with the uptick rule:

If all the artificial barriers [such as the uptick rule] are removed the knowledge that stocks are more susceptible to bear raids will temper the irrational exuberance that lofts stock prices far beyond their real value, which causes them to correct just as dramatically.

Wall Street is institutionally bullish, and it extends even to the press covering the street, so support for the uptick rule is understandable, if not reasonable and rational. For example, I know from personal experience that Dow Jones requires all employees to sign agreements when they're hired on to never ever sell short, or be effectively short with options. No one on the entire staff of the Wall Street Journal has any interest in or ability to benefit from stocks going down. It renders the Journal a tout.

Mr. Albert has the day trader's perspective:

1) the nasdaq 100 had no uptick rule for quite a while before the general repeal

2) S stocks on the Nasdaq, certainly the most subject to bear raids as they have much shakier financials and tend to be story stocks, never had an uptick rule since I began trading in 1996

3) none of the SHO pilot stocks was more volatile than the comparable non Pilot stocks (in need to find the acedemic reference but it is there). IMO the specialist system (not the uptick rule) was a stabilizing force in the markets so now we have more vol

James Lackey has seen it all before:

All you get from more rule making, margins, uptick or program rules etc is bigger gaps at opens and closes. Restrict intra day moves and the energy must be transferred somewhere else. 

Steve Leslie updates:

Yesterday the SEC announced that they were selectively reinstating the uptick rule for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Why just those two stocks? I have no idea what this accomplishes other than a symbolic gesture. Could you imagine commodities having a limit up or limit down rule for just corn or beans? Couldn't they just raise the margin requirements for borrowing stocks ? As usual governments are late to the party. Back in 1987 the Government began looking at computerized trading and the use of collars. Of course this was after Oct 19th debacle. Look at Hurricane Katrina and see the government in action during a crisis situation. And yet there are still those who try to tell the public that the government is the solution to its problems. The bankrupt LA Times had a front page article arguing for government intervention in the financial markets, especially subprime. Politicians' cliches include "we can't drill ourselves out of the oil crisis and it is the speculator who is the cause of the problem." They are the ones who need to be ratted out and summarily chastised and shot. And then they use trite phrases like "We need to send a message to these oil companies and the speculator that they are going to be reined in." And then they hold a hearing in front of cameras, ask mindless, rehearsed questions formulated by their aides and attempt to project themselves as informed. Yet they expose themselves as what they truly are. Robots, empty suits whose prime objective in life is to get re-elected and retain their cushy phoney baloney jobs. And Nero fiddled while Rome burned. I think I will go outside and get a breath of fresh air.



Google strikes again. With its huge computing power it is changing the way science is done, according to The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete, an article by Chris Anderson in Wired magazine.

Some excerpts:

"All models are wrong, but some are useful." So proclaimed statistician George Box 30 years ago. […] Speaking at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this past March, Peter Norvig, Google's research director, offered an update to George Box's maxim: "All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them."


Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just noise. But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete.


There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.

Dylan Distasio replies:

I didn't see any compelling argument in that article that the scientific method is on the verge of becoming obsolete.

While cloud computing can be a great tool for analyzing protein folding or looking for extraterrestrial signals, I don't see how throwing "the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot" is a viable approach.

This sounds like the ultimate in overfitting data (although I guess there is no model!). Venter may have come up with a brilliant software tool for rapidly sequencing DNA, but it's only useful within the context of a genomic model that was built using the scientific method.

I still see noise without a framework to hang the data on, and a testable (i.e., potentially refutable) hypothesis. 

William Smith relates his experiences:

StatsI work with large amounts of data all the time. Failure to understand the mechanism and specify the model form based on the mechanism leads one to make worthless models that fail miserably.

The noise level is very high in these types of datasets. Many "patterns" are just random but algorithms will treat them as real. The "kitchen sink" approach of throwing many algorithms on a cluster of processors at a large set of data is guaranteed to find something. If all that's there is noise, they fit the noise. When tested on new data it had never been exposed to before, the model won't work. I have seen even the most sophisticated machine learning algorithms fail, support vector machines, for example.

I have worked with many modelers who have tried the automated brute force approach and they have never once managed to solve the problem they were working on.

I have built models in the field of chemometrics that I patented which use only two variables because I understood the mechanism. It was an iterative process, and I certainly didn't get it all correct in the first cycle. In fact, I have had some outstandingly stupid ideas. But the process of testing, refining, discarding, and generating ideas is hypothesis driven science, and that is a process which hypster computer scientists cannot perform. Never seen one of those guys capable of doing it in the last 15 years. If this is where Google is going, they are in deep kimchee and wasting a lot of money. Looking for patterns in the hay does not find the needle.



The argument can be made that a large portion of the current bull run in nearly all commodities can be explained by a combination of institutional asset allocation in commodities as an alternative asset class (some of it via swaps which allow for unlimited position size regardless of physical availability of commodities due to a loophole in commodity trading regulations) and trend followers, with the sick result of rising prices increasing price further in a positive feedback loop.

I'm generally libertarian and anti-regulation, but the use of swaps to get around position limits on a market that arguably isn't equipped to handle assets of this magnitude doesn't sit well with me. I'm all for speculators in commodities markets creating liquidity and assuming risk, but that's not what this institutional asset class is doing in these markets.

Here is a link to some recent testimony (PDF) before the Senate on the subject:

"In the popular press the explanation given most often for rising oil prices is the increased demand for oil from China. According to the DOE, annual Chinese demand for petroleum has increased over the last five years from 1.88 billion barrels to 2.8 billion barrels, an increase of 920 million barrels.8 Over the same five-year period, Index Speculators' demand for petroleum futures has increased by 848 million barrels.9 The increase in demand from Index Speculators is almost equal to the increase in demand from China!"

and some other articles on the subject,

Guardian (UK)
LA Times
Business Week

Stefan Jovanovich notes:

There have been only three periods of six months or longer since 1972 when Americans drove fewer vehicle miles than they did a year earlier: (1) the 3rd and 4th quarters of 1974, (2) the 4th quarter of 1979 and all four quarters of 1980, and (3) the 4th quarter of 2007 and the 1st quarter of this year. Six months into both of the prior periods was a close to ideal time to buy US equities, but that may be the result of coincidence rather than correlation. Most things are.



I recently began playing with Evernote, an application for capturing and organizing information featured in Wired recently:

Evernote wants to be a database for every bit of knowledge in your life. It takes all of the digital data you collect throughout your day, both the important and the inconsequential, and stores them in a centrally-located library that's accessible in an instant whenever you need it. The software, which runs on multiple platforms and exists as a web service, collects whatever you throw at it — photos, web clippings, hand-written notes — and indexes everything for you. The result is that your life instantly becomes annotated and searchable. You can tag items and add comments to remind yourself why you saved something. Evernote can even search text and handwriting within photos, thanks to some awesome text recognition capabilities.

It's currently in limited Beta release; if anyone would like an invite, just shoot me an note:Dylan D



DaHRiFDisasters and Heroic Rescues of Florida by E. Lynn Wright recounts the stories of 22 disasters in Florida starting with the Sinking of the Plate Fleet in 1710 and ending with wildfires in 1998 and a constellation of four hurricanes — Charlie, Francis , Ivan and Jeanne — in 2004. Florida is particularly prone to natural disasters because of its geographical position between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean and its 12,000 miles of rivers and streams. However, the extent and prevalence of the disasters that have visited it seems to go over and above its geographic and geologic characteristics involving what seems to me a manifestation of the kind of character, promotion, and hopefulness that is engendered by warm weather, and extensive beachfront and recreational activity.

The author believes that a common characteristic of all these disasters is carelessness, ignorance, negligence, and greed. I would add that an aura of utopian thinking that nothing could go wrong as well as a lack of appreciation that the same disaster can strike twice,and a failure to appreciate that many seemingly improbably events are linked and that their conjunction is much more likely than normal multiplication of independent probabilities might suggest.

Take the Veterans Rescue Train Wipe Out of 1935 as an example, where 600 veterans imported to build a highway paralleling the Flagler East Coast Railway were drowned by a tidal wave hurricane in a rescue train. There was the utopian idea of creating work by building a public structure with inexperienced workers without local knowledge at the heart, faulty weather forecasts of a tropical disturbance that turned out to be 200 mile an hour winds, the event occurring on Labor Day, when the holiday caused hours of delay in gathering workers to get the train to the Ismeralda rescue site, usually reliable equipment that this time turned out to need repairs, a torn cable that held them to a standstill, a crane that got entangled with the train that took another hour away, and then finally a 20 foot tidal wave that did them in.

Many of the disasters seem to have signaled the beginning of real estate disasters shortly thereafter. For example the Great Citrus Freeze of 1895 came when central Florida and Daytona were in a boom stage with the orange crops adding revenues to the vacation homes and farms in the area. Developers Deland and Stetson were so sure of the boom that they guaranteed all the real estate buyers their money back. But a freeze came on Christmas Day in 1894 and ruined the citrus crops, and then when the growers relaxed, as they at least still had the trees and had lost only their income for the year. But two months later they were visited with an even worse freeze that destroyed all the fruits and seems to have cast a pall on the area. As the Tampa Time put it, "The Beauty is all gone from Florida. Everything is dead."

Similar declines in real estate followed the Capsize of the Prince Valdemar in 1926 in Miami, which seems to have had a direct causal link with the real estate bust in Florida in 1927 and then the stock market crash in 1929, and subsequent Depression. The chain of events is eerily similar to those playing out today, at least to the extent that the real estate bust caused the stock market crash. Perhaps the flooding of New Orleans will be seen as playing a similar role in the recent chain to that of the closing of the Miami Port caused by the Prince Valdemar.

The 22 disasters that are recounted in this book provides a good caution for all investors. Utopian visions have time and time again been dashed. Disasters that seem totally impossible occur with astonishing frequency.

Sam Marx explains:

HurricaneI lived through hurricanes Jeanne and Francis, that were 2-3 weeks apart and made landfall within eight miles of each other. This was a highly improbable event. The hurricanes were Category 2 when they passed over my house, but may have been a low Category 3 (130 mph) when they made landfall.

Because of the new building requirements of 1992, (Andrew was the motivator), the damage to my house was minor.  Most of the damage was to the trees. Records indicate that the last Category 3 in this area occurred over 50 years ago in Jupiter, 20 miles south and none ever recorded north of here in the last 90 years.

The heavy damage occurs on beachfront property, which Florida Governor Charlie Crist now wants to be paid for by all US taxpayers. I live 14 miles from the shore, and with the hurricane history of the area and the new building code I feel safe, but who knows. You take the great weather with the hurricanes.

The safest type of construction is a round house made of poured reinforced concrete with reinforced glass windows on raised ground. The roof is the most critical part of a house in a hurricane and it should be firmly secured to the reinforcing rods in the poured concrete.

Jeff Watson adds:

Sam makes some excellent points about the new building codes that are required in Florida. On my key, just south of Sarasota, there is strong evidence of the new codes that are being enacted. Builders are tearing down the existing homes and building new McMansions, employing much reinforced concrete, and adding elevation. From a visual perception, it is obvious that 200+ mph winds are factored into the designs. The new housing on this key is built on such a grand scale that it has changed the whole vibe of the place. Meanwhile, our 1926 cypress wood Conch House stands out as the lone reminder of what once was. Our cottage has survived many hurricanes, tropical storms, and fires without missing a beat. The designers did a good job on our cottage 80 years ago. The floors were built with a slight peak in the middle of the rooms, to allow storm surge water to run out of the house. Living at the beach, one must appreciate the grand forces of nature, the temporary aspect of existence, and man's insignificance in the whole scheme of things.

John Tierney marvels:

SurgeVic wrote "Disasters that seem totally impossible occur with astonishing frequency," and someone added "All of this drags down property values in storm prone areas of the USA."

Why is this surprising? By definition, a storm-prone area should have lower property values and higher insurance premia. Storms in areas that have been historically prone to them are neither unusual nor disastrous. "Disaster" is a term we apply to occurrences that result in the loss of human life and, increasingly, the loss of wealth. More properly, these are natural and inevitable phenomena — they are, if you will, part of an unbreakable cycle.The cycle may be ever-changing but it is certain that these periodic maladjustments will continue to occur. And those who are uninsured, under-insured, or who paid too dear a price will be hurt — again and again and again.

As it is in nature, so it is in the market. Bad times are inevitable and as fat tails occur with greater frequency than our probability tables would estimate, we must learn to expect the unexpected. We must also realize that government intervention cannot alter the unalterable. On the contrary, intrusive government in its paternalistic actions, encourages re-building where any building, except by those willing to assume all the risks, is inappropriate; and, in the markets, continued Federal action (reaction?), has encouraged the same groups and individuals to rebuild their castles on sandy soil.

Without this insurance, these occurrences would be just as unexpectedly frequent, but less harmful to the general population: the ultimate guarantors of poor fiscal policy. As Davy Crockett, a noted Tennessean, stated of his fellow  Congressmen: “Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”

Steve Leslie writes:

HurricaneI moved to Florida 25 years ago and have lived in the same town since. I live on the Space Coast, equidistant between Jacksonville and Miami and 60 miles southeast of Orlando.When I first moved here, our city had swinging bridges that spanned the intracoastal waterway. They have long since been replaced with modern bridges. US1, a major thoroughfare, was two lanes and now is six lanes and cannot be expanded further. Most of the beachfront property has been developed and great restrictions have been imposed to slow down further building directly on the beach.

Commercialization on A1A is unmistakable and is beginning to look more like Daytona Beach than the sleepy town of Indialantic it once was. Beach erosion is a real problem and threatens property that has been around for decades. Laws have been passed to reduce lighting on the beach to avoid confusing loggerhead turtles who come ashore to lay their eggs.Wetlands have been exploited by real estate developers, and the challenge is to protect wildlife and retard the erosion of the Florida wetlands. The Florida panther, crocodile and alligator have been threatened species as are many other wildlife. Clams which used to thrive in the intracoastal have long since disappeared.

Probably the most profound real estate phenomenon in Brevard County is the largest manufactured home community in the state. Over 5,500 people who live in manufactured homes there. Many more manufactured home communities dot the county. This is a striking point considering the fact that Florida is particularly known for its hurricanes and unpredictable weather, especially lightning and tornadoes.

Florida is now the fourth-largest state in terms of population. Along with this come remarkable challenges. By all accounts, the trend will continue and populations will rise especially in the Latino community. Despite of what many think, not everyone in Florida is rich. There are vast pockets of poverty, especially in the Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa, that will continue to expand.

Yes, lessons have been learned, new building codes have been imposed, insurance laws tightened, yet it is like the horizon that one never reaches, it merely continues onward. There is a human cost to all thus that just can't be quantified. Yet I live here and this is my home and I will probably stay for some time. I hope I will adapt with the times and not become an anachronism.

Ken Smith extends:

LightningLightning strikes are another hazard in Florida. Discovery Channel once aired a story on a lightning belt in Florida. Government and university research people have placed structures in that belt to study lightning.

I am always excited by lightning storms, thunderstorms. I thought Florida would be ideal for living under them. Once my wife and I sat in our car — rubber wheels supporting us — on a lake in Glacier National Park, and watched a terrible, terrific, astounding display of lightning. Stayed until the little woman got nervous. I understand a vehicle should have a strap hanging from car frame to ground, although I have not researched this necessity.

The most spectacular storms I've witnessed were out in the deep ocean where only lone sailors are blessed with these visions. To see these lightning strikes accompanied by thunderous blasts of sound in the sky and 100 foot waves crashing into your home on the sea, these are ultimate experiences.

Dylan Distasio responds:

I've always loved lightning storms myself also. I remember watching a spectacular one when I was out in Arizona crackle across the wide open horizon.

Another time, I was actually caught in one while camping with my brother on a peak along the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts, which while breathtaking, was also terrifying.

By the way, you should be fine in a car hit by lightning without a strap (or rubber tires for that matter). A car basically behaves as a Faraday cage where the charge is spread along the outer surface. I remember learning that in a physics class at some point, although I wouldn't want to test it out myself.



I'm walking in a charity event called Light the Night tomorrow night in the NYC location that goes across the Brooklyn Bridge. The cause is leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers which is very close to my heart. I lost my father to Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia when I was a freshman in college, and 18 some years later it seems to be a wound that will never fully heal.



Symmetry is a basic characteristic of the universe and of the markets. Vic and Laurel have raised this concept in music, Lobogola, bridges. Weyl, in his book Symmetry, talks about symmetry in the history of human civilization, and how groups arise in the the study of symmetry. In Strange Curves, Counting Rabbits, and other Mathematical Explorations by Keith Ball, which Vic and Laurel recommended, is a discussion about the decimalization of fractions and how repetitive groups arise in the sequences. The combinations are endless as is the number of primes. There is a whole branch of math called Group Theory. The peculiarity is that a fraction is exactly stated, but most decimalization never are, and our digital computers never arrive at the proper result, only an approximation or rounding.

Such theory can be profitably applied to the markets, as we return to last week's S&P price after a Lobogola move of stampeding elephants charging down, and right back up over the same ground.

Dylan Distasio writes:

There is also a subset of evolutionary theory that points towards symmetry in nature as a sign of health, resulting in improved chances of mating for more symmetrical males across many species. The idea is that symmetry in living organisms requires a great deal of energy to be achieved, and hence the organism must be healthy if it has a pleasing symmetrical shape. And as an added bonus for symmetrical humans of the male (and by extension female) persuasion:

"Experiments have found that women are more attracted to men who have features that are more symmetrical than other men. One study even found that women have more orgasms during sex with men who were more symmetrical, regardless of their level of romantic attachment or the guys' sexual experience." 

As an aside, I would highly recommend "The Red Queen" as a fascinating primer on why sexual reproduction may have evolved as a means of reproducing.

Part of the theory is that plumage and symmetry in birds evolved as a sign of health, making them more attractive to females. It also deals with sexual reproduction as a panacea against the ebb and flow of parasites evolving in a constant battle across time with their host organisms.

I'm not sure what the equivalent of sexual reproduction would be in the markets, but I can see clear analogies between the parasites and market arbitrageurs (no offense intended) who are constantly in search of chinks in the armor of the market, looking for the fleeting free lunch before the opening is closed, and a new one has to be found.

In any case, the book is a great read with a lot of food for thought. 



 I've often wondered why the epithets Bull and Bear are used to describe the particular directions of market movements.

For instance, I have witnessed firsthand how aggressive the Bear is every day, just to survive. The Bull, on the other hand, is lazy most of the day, grazes when he pleases, and is not often dependable on the one thing he is used for: breeding. In nature it seems to me that the Bear is a much more eccentric, powerful, and aggressive beast than the Bull. If I were to use the same epithets for the markets I think I would choose just the opposite of how they are used now.

Scott Brooks comments:

I have wondered the same thing for years. I agree with your assessment. It seems like it should be the other way around. There has to be some kind of a story as to why "Bulls and Bears" were chosen, but I don't know it.

I have looked deeper into this bull/bear dichotomy and have come up with these conclusions. Bears do hibernate each year for a long time. Contrary to what you see on the Discovery channel, bears aren't all that aggressive all the time and are pretty laid back most of the time. They have to work hard for their food, and there is great competition associated with food, and they never know where their next meal is coming from. Further, the fun activities (such as breeding) are highly competitive.

Bulls, which do lay around a lot, are actually pretty aggressive until they've established a pecking order (similar to bears), but then again once that's established they go about living their lives and get along pretty well. But then when you look at a bulls, you are only really looking at a "successful" bull. You see, most bulls are not successful, they're hamburger in your fridge! The successful ones live long prosperous lives, eating good food, getting pampered (by bovine standards), and their most important job is to propagate the species!

Just think about that! It's every school boy’s dream (and middle-aged guy’s dream)! Spend your life being pampered, being fed good food, and hanging out with the guys! And all we've got to do to keep that job is have copious amounts of sex!

I'll take the job of "successful bull" over being a bear any day!

Reminds me of the joke about a father bull and his son standing on top of a hill looking down at a herd of cows. Son says to dad, "Hey dad, lets run down the hill and have sex with one of those cows!" Dad says, "No son, lets walk down hill and have sex with all of them!"

Dylan Distasio notes:

According to Mortimer's definitions, it would appear that "bull" and "bear" had much more specific meanings in 1785 than they do today. A bull wasn't just someone who thought — and hoped — that the market would go up. He was the equivalent of a modern investor who uses margin, and lots of it! The bull of 1785 bought stocks with no money at all and hoped to sell them at a profit before payment became due.

In Mortimer's day, a bear wasn't just a pessimist — he was a short-seller. Mortimer claimed that you could tell bulls and bears apart just by looking at them. It's been 216 years since Mortimer wrote Every Man His Own Broker. But it sounds to me like he could show up on 21st century Wall Street and find his way around just fine. 

Marlowe Cassetti comments:

I remember reading in one of the Senator's books about the "sport" of staging bull and bear fights for the amusement of the early miners and frontiersmen. The bulls would try to toss the bear with its horns and the bear would claw the bull down. Thus the liking of this contest to the early markets. A grizzly contest indeed, then and now! 



 Remarkably, each of the four days this week the S&P Index has traded above its previous all time high close of 1527.9, but then failed to set a new closing record.

Day High Low Close
Mon 1534 1526.6 1527.9
Tues 1533 1525 1525
Wed 1535.7 1524.3 1525.5
Thur 1532.5 1507.8 1511.6

Note the artful way that the market was able to be down on the week by a hair, as of Wednesday, setting up the longs to increase their positions, only to decline 25 fast points the following day. It would take a Rommel or a Stonewall Jackson to duplicate such cunning.

Thursday had the highest single day range since March 21st; it was up seven by 10 a.m., but then down 18 by 3.40 p.m. (NY time). This is about two and a half times the average range of last year, and shows the usual ability of the market to do the unusual.

Finally, there have been four serious down afternoons, and these are presumably related to the fake Drs. feelings about China … let us hope he visits there for a second time soon, as the first time he was only there for a day (with Paulsen, just 1 year ago). 

From John Floyd:

I think other contributing factors to the market's retreat are also tied to the cycling of rate expectations, economic data, and "carry trades." The beginning of yesterday's sell-off started not soon after the stronger U.S. economic data and coincided with a sell-off in interest rates and carry.

In addition to the Dr.'s comments, who does seem to be losing some of his "mojo," the directive of the latest comments were towards China and the market has disregarded the comments and moved to new highs since them. The overnight price action in carry and Japanese inflation data continuing to border on deflation should make today interesting.

Also of note, combined with other indicators, is that gold last Memorial Day was at roughly the same level and subsequently fell sharply.

From James Sogi: 

Why three times? It's like the old knock, knock joke. Who's there? Always three times of course. Three is the minimum number to create a pattern. "Knock, knock. Who's there? Orange you glad I didn't say banana?" The three tops were also the three-mountaintop candlestick pattern. Seems like the market likes threes. "On your mark, get set, go!" Seems like something deeper, but what? But it's something to ponder over a three-day weekend.

Speaking of weekends, here's a favorite barbecue: Yakitori.

It's great for sitting on the deck because you can eat holding the little stick and still have a free hand for the beverage and you can gesticulate with the little stick to make your points more emphatic. Serve rice of course, or better yet Musubi. Here's how to make Musibi.

From Dylan Distasio:

If you're in the NYC area, check out Yakitori Totto on the West side for awesome organic yakitori and a great sake selection. They actually have an East side location also. My wife and I have eaten at both fairly often, and the food is delicious. They cook most of it over the long slim charcoal grill on skewers, and you can order any piece of a chicken you can imagine (and then some). It's fun to just order an assortment of small skewers and drink some sake. There's a great atmosphere also. I've never been to Japan but it seems pretty authentic. We're often one of the few Caucasians in there; the rest are usually all Japanese-speaking, including the entire staff. I'd highly recommend it. 

John Floyd adds:

Actually if you want sake and good food the other place to try is Sakagura on East 43rd street, in the basement of an office building. There are several hundred of types of sake to choose from, anywhere from a few dollars to a hundred dollars for a masu (traditional wooden box cup). 

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