The Haphazard Blog

Archive for March, 2010

Investools Investing Foundation Course Review

by on Mar.21, 2010, under Education, Investing

Through TD Ameritrade I recently was able to gain access to the Investools Investing Foundations course. I’m through about 25% of the course and thought I’d share some thoughts on the course. I only have access to the course materials and trading rooms. I do not have access to any coaching (by choice). So those are really the main areas I can currently review.

First, their stuff is expensive. Talking to them, the Investing Foundation course starts at $300 with no coaching and 6 months of access. The Options courses are over $1,000 and the high probability trading course is over $6,000. You could’ve guessed this since they do not reveal any pricing information on their web site.

I think the materials (course manual, videos, web seminars (they call these trading rooms)) contain good information. So far, it’s all stuff that I had learned from day trading index futures in the past: trading plan, risk vs. reward, psychology of trading. But it is all good information, especially for a new trader or someone who is struggling to trade. The course will teach a lot of things that are important to successful investing and for the struggling investor may help them identify where their struggles are.

For the experienced investor, the investing foundation course would serve as a good refresher (I believe it is included with the purchase of other courses). I’d have to leave the ultimate decision on whether the course is worth the price to the purchaser (we all value money differently). I was certainly taken aback by the pricing when I heard it. We’ll see if this course is able to help get me more active in the markets. Ultimately, my two biggest weaknesses in investing are my risk-averse personality and staying an active investor, not a lack of knowledge/understanding.

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Visual Studio 2010 RC Installation Problems

by on Mar.21, 2010, under Software, Technology

I had trouble installing Visual Studio 2010 Professional RC on Windows XP last week. My issue was when I was running the installer, it would start a little bit and then the installation dialog would just exit. Looking at the log files from the installation (located in your user account’s temp folder, usually C:\Documents and Settings\User Account\Local Settings\Temp) didn’t really point to a specific cause.

I was able to install it by using the following command from within the setup folder at the command prompt:

setup /q /full

This ran the installation from the background, but be warned, it will cause your machine to automatically exit applications and reboot. In my case, my machine rebooted twice and after the second time, it was about 30-45 minutes before the installer was done (I could only tell by monitoring the task manager and the setup.exe process along with the constant creation of msiexec.exe processes). Unfortunately, Visual Studio would crash constantly (with no error) when I moused over the Toolbox.

Finally, I came across something on the MSDN boards. I wasn’t having the problem the person who posted the question was having, but this took care of my problem. I also suspect if I did this first, I would’ve been able to use the installer normally. The solution is to disable handwriting support. Since I don’t have a tablet, I didn’t need it (I don’t know why it was enabled in the first place).

  1. Open the Control Panel
  2. Choose Regional and Language Options
  3. Go to the Languages tab
  4. Click the Details… button in the Text services and input languages pane
  5. Under Installed services under the Settings tab, Remove Handwriting Recognition
  6. Click OK
  7. Click OK

As I was getting the link to the RC when writing this article I saw there was an important note posted on the site:

Important Note: If you use IntelliSense on a device with UIA 3.0 (e.g., Tablet PC, touch display, some 3rd party applications), be sure to download these two hot fixes before using the RC (KB980610 and KB980920).

Installing those may also prevent the errors while maintaining handwriting recognition support if you need, but I’m not sure. I ignored those downloads at the time because I don’t have a tablet.

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Lost and FlashForward Musings

by on Mar.21, 2010, under Entertainment, TV

We’re right near the halfway mark for the final season of Lost and it seems like more mysteries have been added compared to how many have been solved. It makes me wonder if there is enough time to wrap up all the big mysteries.

I don’t think there will be an answer to the meaning of the numbers. They were used in so many contexts, they now just seem like numbers. Jacob’s numbering system for the candidates based on the placement of the lighthouse mirror? In a previous post I had wondered where was Kate. She had a number (51) assigned to her at the lighthouse. It doesn’t make much sense right now.

In the first couple of seasons, there were only flash backs. They seemed to show how many of the plane crash survivors had either unknowingly crossed paths or had some type of unknown relationship. Now in these alternate reality flashes, they seem to be running into each other and having their lives intersect. Does this mean they were destined to cross paths? Maybe the point is that some things are pre-destined, but how people get there allows for choice. It could explain why it’s hard to figure out if it is free will or destiny or who is good/evil between Jacob and not-Locke.

I thought the series would end with an explanation about why all those people were brought to the island and how they were connected. But I can’t make much sense of these new flashes. Some characters seem no different, while others seem to be living pretty different lives. What is the purpose of showing a what-if  Oceanic 815 landed? Does that mean both happened? Either could’ve happened? Is there an event that prevents it?

I thought I could kind of figure this whole thing out as it winds down, but I’m pretty much where I’ve been for the whole series. Just sitting back and waiting for answers. A couple more months and I guess we’ll have all of the answers we’re going to get.

Onto another show that just came back, FlashForward. ABC did a good job bringing this show back from a nearly 4-month hiatus. They had a special to recap what happened with the main characters and then aired a 2-hour episode. They gave us a lot of new information and filled in some blanks. We now know who suspect zero is, who (sort of) caused the blackout and the role of Lloyd in amplifying it. Oddly, neither Lloyd or Simon were asked about their captors. If any sketches were made, it would’ve been pretty simple to link Simon to his “uncle”.

With some of those questions answered, I think the next big thing is the events people saw when they blacked out and seeing how far Simon can get in figuring out who was behind the blackout and why they need him. It will be interesting to see if the flashes are destined or become self-fulfilling prophecies.

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Core Trainer, Week 7

by on Mar.14, 2010, under Life, Physical Therapy

I don’t know what I did to myself, but even resting until Wednesday wasn’t enough. I rode for about 6 minutes in manual mode at the slowest speed and could feel the pain in my left upper pectoral towards my shoulder. I really thought I felt fine before deciding to ride it.

I started to take Ibuprofen at that point and it is all I managed to do. I’m going to give it another day or two and try again. If I still have pain, I may need to go see the doctor.

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Core Trainer, Week 6

by on Mar.07, 2010, under Life, Physical Therapy

This week I started to have some pain in my left ribs and upper left pectoral muscle. I really felt it right after riding it Friday which makes me think I hurt it before Friday and aggravated a lot on Friday.

On Thursday I had bumped the speed up to the 3rd level for the whole 15 minutes. I think this the likely culprit. I guess I simply wasn’t ready for it. I was hoping to get the speed up higher so that I could eventually get to the 5th speed level and use the preprogrammed routines at a speed higher than the lowest.  I likely jumped the gun.

So I did not ride it this weekend and will see how I feel tomorrow. I still want to try the stir-ups again as well.

My plan is to update this blog with my progress for the next two weeks and then post updates when I have new information to share. If anyone has any questions for me, feel free to submit a comment or contact me (contact info is at the bottom of every page).

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Where Are Full Drive-by-Wire Cars?

by on Mar.07, 2010, under Life, Technology

My biggest regret since my accident was not driving. My rehab was moving so quickly in the beginning I thought I could easily get a wheelchair in and out of a car (like a Mustang) instead of getting a minivan. Way cooler, and at 16 or 17, that’s all that mattered. At the time (1995), getting a new minivan with a lift was $40,000, roughly 3x more than my parents had paid for their last car.

Once college started, I was using public transportation to and from campus. It was basically door-to-door and very convenient. When I started working, I worked in the same city as my Dad, so we commuted together. Then I started to work from home. So, nearly 15 years later, I don’t own a car. It’s the primary contributor to my total lack of a social life and that is why I do wish I had started driving when I started college. I’d be a whole lot more social now. I plan to have that change this year.

I started to look for a van last year. I was shocked to find out that the only thing that has changed in all this time is the price, and it has just gone up. Minivans and the conversions both cost more. I didn’t exactly expect a major auto-manufacturer to mass produce these types of vehicles by now, but I thought technology might be a little further along.

If someone wanted a full drive-by-wire system for their car (electronic steering, acceleration and braking), there is one company that makes the necessary equipment and it will cost in the neighborhood of $50,000. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs in the industry. You buy a brand new van and then pay $20,000 to have major modifications made to it to drop the floor. I don’t expect an auto manufacturer to tool a line to produce vans that would be equipped with lifts, but surely these companies can have some type of  collaboration to reduce the costs.

As evidenced by the Toyota problems, common cars now have electronic throttle and braking. No one has worked with a manufacturer to integrate the acceleration/braking controls into this system. It would allow for much simpler systems to accelerate and brake. Toyota also has cars (Lexus LS, 3rd Generation Prius) that have parking assist systems that can automatically steer the car for parallel and reverse parking. I couldn’t find details on exactly how those systems control the steering wheel, but clearly a computer is sending the signals and the wheel is turning. It seems the technology is here, but no one is making use of it to bring new/better controls for vehicles that require hand controls.

I’m fortunate that I only need a minimum amount of adaptive equipment to drive, but for many people, there is a very large price barrier to drive and be more independent. This seems like an area where the first entrant could have a major advantage. They could create exclusive agreements with manufacturers to work with their engineers and get their systems to inter-operate at a computer level. The agreements could be win-win for both sides.

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Patriots Free Agency

by on Mar.06, 2010, under Football, Patriots, Sports

NFL free agency is only one day in, so I won’t be jumping to any conclusions on how the 2010 Patriots will fair at this point. But I do want to talk about the Patriots some.

Looking back to the 2009 season, they had quite a few problems. Throughout the whole season, they were unable to find a third receiver in an offense that has the 3 WR offense as its base offense. They traded for Greg Lewis and they cut him. They acquired Joey Galloway and cut him. Julian Edelman emerged as a surprise, but I don’t see him as an outside receiver. Brandon Tate was there for 2 games before injury ended his already short season. Wes Welker had a horrible injury and realistically, the earliest he could be returning is Week 7. Randy Moss revealed he was dealing with multiple injuries and it is wishful thinking that was the sole reason for his below average (for him) season. Saying they need to address WR is an understatement.

At running back they went with the by committee approach they have employed since Laurence Maroney was supposed to replace Corey Dillon. With aging backs, there were a lot of games lost to injury (16 games for 4 RBs, 25%).  Statistically, they seem fine, but they failed on more critical short run plays than I’d like to  remember.

On defense, the Patriots had a hard time making the plays to close out a game. I’ve already detailed how uncharacteristic the team was in a previous post, so I’ll avoid rehashing that. They need to transform the pass rush. Bill Belichick says that it’s a combination of the secondary and pass rush, but I think this is just hos way of avoiding throwing anyone under a bus. The problem has been the linebackers for years. These guys are so important to the defensive scheme. Their heyday was when they had a rotation on the outside of Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin and Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson and Roman Phifer on the inside. They are all gone and the only complete guy they have now is Jerod Mayo on the inside. Adailus Thomas has been a disappointment. Tully Banta-Cain does not hold up well against the run. Gary Guyton is showing a lot of promise. They are in desperate need of two complete outside LBs. It’s a tall order to find guys who can stop the run (set the edge), rush the passer and drop back and cover when they don’t rush the passer.

So now they can start to build a better team. I think all of the news that came out yesterday was carefully (and smartly) orchestrated by the Patriots. They cut Chris Baker (another TE mistake, along with trading for Alex Smith and cutting him) early in the day and then re-signed 3 players. They made the big splash with Vince Wilfork (“highest paid NT in NFL history”) and kept Tully Banta-Cain with a 3yr/$13.5M after letting him walk away for a 3yr/$9M deal in 2007. They also kept Stephen Neal.

Banta-Cain and Neal were both unrestricted free agents. I find it hard to believe that neither checked the market to see who else was interested at that point when the Patriots had more than enough time to complete a deal. With former Patriots coaches and executives spread all over, surely someone would make a run at them. I believe all the deals were done before free agency started and they delayed signing them to end up with positive press. There were also rumors flying around that the Patriots had made an offer to Julius Peppers (it’s pretty obvious that Peppers didn’t think it was serious if they did) and they were chasing Anquan Boldin (it wasn’t a serious chase when they wanted him to play out his contract after all he has wanted the last two years is a new one and a big raise).

So the Patriots got exactly what they wanted. Not many people talking about their failure at tight end or the fact that they didn’t bring in any new players on day one. Instead the focus is on them re-sigining their players, particularly Vince Wilfork and rumors that they tried to get big name guys. The reality is that they haven’t made the team any different from last year. They still have a lot to do. I’m hopeful that maybe they can find some key veterans like they did in 2003 (Rodney Harrison, Tyrone Poole, Rosevelt Colvin) after the initial frenzy ends.

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