Thursday, June 22, 2006

$200 and a couple of camcorders: that’s all it took for three struggling actors to create the original pilot of the irreverent and utterly hilarious F/X Network comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. As part of the network’s campaign to hype the much anticipated second season of Sunny, F/X is running a contest calling on Hollywood wannabes from all across America to submit 5 minute tapes showcasing their ideas for the next great low budget sitcom. From thousands of entries, F/X narrowed the field to the Top 20 pitches, each posted online at MySpace.com/SunnyFX for the viewing public to cast votes for the best ones. The winner will receive $50,000 and a production deal.

With absolutely nothing but garbage on the tube to occupy our time last night, the wife and I checked out the F/X contest entries online instead. I’m sorry to report that if the Top 20 contestants represent the best of diamond-in-the-rough comedic talent in America, then I fear for the future of television. Most of the entries were devoid of anything that would be considered even remotely "funny". They were loaded hackneyed sight gags, lame and/or indecipherable inside jokes, limp attempts at satire, and blatant rip-offs from successful sitcoms, both past and present.

When I first heard of the contest, I half-considered submitting my story about the twisted characters and strange machinations of a grassroots political organization based my experiences with the Arizona Young Republicans. Thinking a sitcom about the life of political nerds might be too esoteric to be considered funny, I let the idea go. Now that I’ve seen the pathetic standard set by the so-called Top 20, I’m kicking myself for not taking the time to scribble down a 5 minute screenplay.

I will, however, give credit where credit is due. There are three contest entries that are worthy of your votes. Go to MySpace.com/SunnyFX and vote for Party Animals, Side Show and John Wang’s Nebraska. These garage pilots may not be “laugh til ‘you spew milk out your nostrils” funny, but the creators showed just enough off-beat originality to be light-years ahead their competition.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Remember the posts on my OEX Option Model? Here are the results for November ’05 thru April ’06:

Nov 2005: 16.10%
Dec 2005: 4.48%
Jan 2006: 20.00%
Feb 2006: -12.10%
Mar 2006 : 7.08%
Apr 2006: 20.41%

Overall Return: 64.96%
Return after Slippage, Commissions & Interest: 58.68%

As you can see, the model did very well over the 6 month test period. The main performance driver came from accurately capturing the big moves in Oil & Gas stock options. I stopped testing the model after the end of April because I no longer work from home and can’t monitor the market properly while I’m at the office. Consequently, I missed an opportunity to test the model against the equities sell-off of the past several weeks. I think the model would have responded well compared to the broader market due to the fact that it was designed to capture gains from both long and short trend momentum for S&P 100 stocks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


It's safe to say that no one could accuse me of being a proud, flag waving Canadian. On a rare occasion, though, the swell of national pride comes over me, as it did yesterday whilst I listened to Hugh Hewitt's radio show:
Hugh: I'm talking with Bill Roggio, Counterterrorismblog.org's embedded correspondent from Kandahar tonight. It is the next day, it is Thursday in Afghanistan as we speak. Bill Roggio, which units have you been with, and how is the morale among them?

Bill: Sure. I've been with the Canadian soldiers from the Princess Patricia Canadian light infantry, 1st Battalion. The Canadians have the free run of Kandahar here at the Kandahar Air Base. We have Dutch...this is the main staging area for Southeastern Afghanistan, so there's British, Dutch, American, Canadian, a whole assortment of the NATO allies are out here. But I chose the Canadian troops, because they're fighting really hard, and I wanted the American public to understand that in Afghanistan, this isn't just an American mission here. This is a NATO mission, and the Canadians fighting here in Kandahar, this is again the heart of the Taliban insurgency. I spent...I actually got out in the field for about...since I got down here in Kandahar with these guys, with these Canadians, and I'm extremely impressed with how they operate. They look like U.S. Marines to me. Well, they dress like them, they use a lot of the same equipment, have a lot of the same problems that the Marines have, you know, as far as with training and equipment. They make do with what they have, and they fight really hard out here, and their morale is high. There is a big controversy in Canada, whether the Canadian army, are they peacekeepers or are they soldiers. And to a man, the soldiers will tell you no, they are soldiers first and foremost, and they're very proud of what they're doing here in Afghanistan...
You can read the entire interview here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

People who habitually make poor financial decisions annoy the crap out of me. I’m not talking about teenagers who max out credit cards, or welfare queens with lotto scratcher habits; I’m annoyed most by the people who should know better, the ones who are familiar with the basic concepts of money management, but choose not to employ them. These people annoy me because I am invariably subjected to incessant bitching about their woeful financial situation when the inevitable consequences of their poor judgment spoil their fun.

Money magazine recently profiled several people, mostly typical white bred suburban professionals, who now find themselves facing the prospect of huge jumps in their mortgage payments. Why? Because in the past few years they all bought homes they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford by using short-term adjustable rate interest-only mortgages. Now that the fixed rate period of the mortgages are due to expire, these homeowners will have to begin paying down the principal portion of the mortgage, along with more interest as rates steadily rise. Some of the profilees are about to see their mortgage payments nearly double overnight. What gets me is that they grasped the basic math, they understood the contractual obligations of the mortgage, they were aware of the risks of holding interest-only (I/O) loans in a rising interest rate environment, they knew full well that when the fixed term expired they would have to pay down principal plus bigger interest payments, they knew their income wasn’t going to significantly increase to offset the greater costs down the road, yet they signed on the dotted line anyway. Considering all of that, the bitching is really hard for me to swallow.

Out of curiosity, I logged on to the Maricopa County Recorder’s website and looked up the escrow documents of several of my neighbors to see who in my immediate vicinity is financially savvy and who is a complete moron, based strictly on the mortgage options they selected. To my dismay, I discovered I’m surrounded by idiots. Considering that almost every single one of them concurred at a recent neighborhood BBQ that it was their intent to stay in their homes for a good long time, not one of them has a mortgage with a fixed rate period that extends beyond 5 years. Most of my neighbors’ mortgages are of the I/O variety, including one couple who purchased their home with a 3 year I/O adjustable rate loan that carries a massive balloon payment, a huge pre-payment penalty, and an interest rate that was 2% higher than the prevailing rate at the time the home was purchased. I shudder to think of how low their credit score is.

Personally, I’m a big fan of I/O mortgages, and of any other non-standard mortgage that offers buyers more choices to creatively finance their real estate investments. That said, potential homebuyers need to investigate their options carefully and use basic common sense in choosing the right financial instrument for their situation. Short-term I/O loans are not for people who want to buy a massive dream house and live in it forever. I/O loans work best for people looking to flip a house within a couple of years in a hot housing market and save money in the interim by avoiding principal payments. If you could not afford your dream house if you had to get a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, then you should lower your expectations and look elsewhere. Forgo the temptation to sign off on a short term I/O loan because you will have to pay the piper for living beyond your means sooner or later.

The same common sense principle applies to car loans, too. The Detroit News recently ran a story titled, “Car Buyers Stymied by Negative Equity”. Duh! If you buy a rapidly depreciating vehicle with a 72-month loan you’re bound have significant negative equity until the car is about five years old. Don’t cry because you’re sick of the 2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse shitbox you thought was so cool a few years ago, and you can’t trade it in for a new Dodge Charger because you’d have to roll $10,000 from the old loan on top of a new one. Use a few brain cells for once and stick with what you’ve got until you can afford something else. Don’t go further into debt because you absolutely have to have the latest, hottest wheels on the road.

Case in point, I used to work with a guy who got it in his head that buying a truck with a Hemi engine was equally as important as eating food for sustenance. He traded in his perfectly functional Ford pick-up for a brand new supercharged Dodge Ram, complete with Hemi engine and a massive loan with $4000 negative equity rolled into it from the Ford. A year later, after months of bitching about gas prices to anyone within earshot (including me), he came to the conclusion that the 10 mpg fuel economy he was getting on the Ram was just too low, seeing as how he had a 20 mile one-way commute to work. He reluctantly traded in the Hemi for a sensible, fuel efficient, 2005 Subaru Forester. His net negative equity rolled into the Subaru car loan after the Hemi trade-in: $12000.

I could go on, but I’m getting peeved just typing about this craziness. Bottom line, it’s your money. You worked hard for it, sort of. Spend it as you wish, but don’t go complaining to your friends, your family, your co-workers, or your local newspaper when the consequences of your poor financial decisions come back to bite you in the ass. It’s annoying, it’s rude, and it’s a scathing indictment of your stupidity.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Warning: Poker Post Will Follow...

Thanks to my wife’s newfound interest in Texas Hold’em, I’ve been playing low limit poker at Casino Arizona practically every weekend for the past several months. Having logged nearly 100 hours at the tables since New Year’s, both locally and in Vegas, I’ve come to discover a few things about my hobby du jour:

- Limit Hold’em is maddeningly frustrating at the lowest limits. Too many people play the game too loosely, calling too many hands, sucking out too many miracle cards on the turn and river to make improbable straights and flushes at the expense of my bankroll. Geezers are especially bad, as most of them play like they are sitting at a bingo table. They’ll call raises and re-raises pre-flop with almost any two cards just in case they flop a shot at a bad beat jackpot. To fight these sorts of players, leading experts call for tight, aggressive play to take down the loose fish at the table. However, I have found many of the experts’ recommended starting hands for tight, aggressive play at the low limits a bit too tight. I have adjusted my play to allow for more suited and connecting hands in later position to outdraw the fish (thanks to suggestions at LowLimitHoldem.com), and the results have been encouraging thus far.

- The higher the limit, the better I do, at least according my results spreadsheet. I’ve played at 2/4, 3/6, and 4/8 limits this year, and so far my analysis says my per hour loss rate is highest on the 2/4 tables. It’s only about half as bad on the 3/6 tables, and on the 4/8’s I’m actually profitable, having no losing sessions at that limit yet this year. Unfortunately, since most of my playing time has been on 3/6, I’ve chocked up a small net loss overall. I’ll be playing more 4/8 from now on. It tends to be a slightly tighter game than the 3/6, and the competition in general is a bit better. The dumb-luck suckout artists (i.e. Geezers) don’t like to leave the 3/6 pool.

- Other players, and even some dealers, find it curiously odd that I play with a cheat-sheet, specifically a 2 inch x 1 inch card I printed with a tiny starting hand matrix on it. Honestly, I don’t know how occasional players even think of sitting at the tables without one. Anyone who has read a decent poker book knows that proper starting hands are critical to becoming a winning player. The problem is that memorizing the myriad hand/position scenarios is a big task, so why not use a cheat-sheet to jog one’s memory? They aren’t illegal in any poker room that I know of, and they can help you apply consistent rules that will keep you out of tough situations later in the hand, and hence, save you money. It’s just common sense to me.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen...

Allow me to introduce, Mongoloid Savant.

Friday, June 02, 2006

My first couple of weeks within the belly of a multi-billion dollar corporate beast was interesting to say the least. The company has dozens of systems, dozens of ongoing projects, and is short about a dozen critical technical employees. That means there’s plenty of work to be had, but no one can spare barely a minute to show a new hire like me the ropes. When they do take a few seconds to explain something, I can’t understand a word they say under their soft, mumbling, Indian-accented voices (see post below).

On my first day I was handed a requirements document that read like gibberish and told to work on some system called UTR. Two days later I found out what UTR was short for, but its purpose eluded me for yet another two days. By the end of week I was asked how the UTR project was coming along. I just did my best deer-in-the-headlights routine and shrugged my shoulders. My boss gave me a sympathetic “yeah, that’s how things are around here” look of resignation. I trudged forward, determined to put my deductive reasoning to the test by decoding some of the most convoluted programming logic I’ve ever seen.

Now I find myself riding out an unexpected lull in my work week. Yesterday I received an urgent email telling me to cease working on the one and only project I was tasked since starting this new job over two weeks ago, and await further instructions before proceeding. Summing up the internal corporate restructuring issues that prompted a sudden halt to the project, my boss’s boss had this to say:

“My perception is that things are so chaotic on the business side that they don't even know what they want. I am 100% for embracing change, but this is lunacy.”

And with that, I find myself idle.