Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Top of Europe

A few posts back I mentioned I was going to be doing some travelling while on sabbatical this fall. I hinted at  three destinations. I've since added a fourth. Sometimes there are places you know you've always wanted to see. My wife always wanted to visit Japan. I always thought I'd like to see Tahiti. We've been fortunate enough to accomplish both of those.

Sometimes you don't even know about a place, but when you learn of it, you know you want to go there. This is one of those. It's called the Jungfraujoch and sits over 11,000 feet amidst the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps.

Matt Lauer went there in 2011:

Contestants of the Amazing Race went there in 2012:

And I'm planning to go there in 2013. As part of my 3rd planned trip this fall, I will spend a couple of days in the Swiss mountain town of Grindelwald, and if the weather cooperates I will fulfill my desire to visit the Top of Europe.

Take a look at this zoomable Gigapixel view:

Friday, June 21, 2013


I recently heard this factoid: 100 shares of McDonald's stock purchased when McDonalds went public in 1965 would have split 12 times and now equal 74,360 shares. The current value at yesterday's closing price would be over 7 million dollars.

Of course, it's never that simple. First at 22.50/share, a 100 share investment in McDonalds stock would have cost $2250. That doesn't seem like that much today, but in 1965 you could almost pay cash for a new Mustang. The median family income was around $7000. Not many people could afford such an investment. And even if you could, putting that many eggs in one hamburger basket would probably have been ill advised.

But let's say you were in a position to invest a couple of grand in a fast food chain. You'd make your first million in 1993. Assuming you didn't sell then, or when you made your 3rd million in 1999, the next challenge would have been having the guts to hang on to your shares as they steadily lost you over 2.6 million dollars between November of 1999 and March of 2003. And finally, it would surely be difficult to keep from cashing out when MCD's price recovered to an all time high in 2007 or anywhere else along the steady climb for the last 10 years.

So could I have held on to an investment long enough to become a millionaire? I don't know. Ask my bitcoin heirs in 30 years. :)

Monday, June 17, 2013

50 Big Macs

That's how many I haven't eaten since April of this year. I actually haven't eaten any, but given my previous lunch habits I might have consumed that many, substituted by an occasional Quarter Pounder or maybe a Crispy Chicken Classic. Instead I have resolutely followed the Isagenix program with few exceptions, and seen resulting measurable reductions in my weight and waist.
I've made other changes to my daily diet as well, but eliminating the calorie packed lunches probably had the most impact. So much impact in fact that I've achieved another milestone along my path to a healthier weight. I now tip the scales at under 200 pounds for the first time since probably the 1990's. This actually happened last week, but I again waited for the achievement to survive the weekend intact before claiming it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trading For Dummies

How to get more bitcoin? Mining didn't pan out as I would have liked, and I'm not really willing to risk investing more cash at this point. Still, I was interested in growing my bitcoin holdings so I thought I might give bitcoin day trading a try. Initially, I hoped to trade using my Bitfloor account which had some really favorable trading rules. Unfortunately, the Bitfloor exchange ceased operations before I had a chance to start trading there. Fortunately, the Bitfloor exchange ceased operations before I had any significant funds in an account there. Instead, I opened an account on Mt Gox, the largest bitcoin exchange in the world. Hoping to take advantage of the volatility of bitcoin prices, I transferred 1 BTC into my account.

The golden rule for any kind of trading is "buy low, sell high". This rule applied to my bitcoin trades as well, except that since my goal was to increase my bitcoin, I needed to apply the rule in reverse: Sell high, buy low. By selling bitcoin at a high price and then waiting for the price to come down, I could buy more bitcoin than I sold for the same dollars. There are two things that make this difficult.

The first is the trading fees. Mt Gox charges a 0.6% fee for every buy or sell transaction. That means I needed to make a 1.2% profit on my trades just to break even. I hoped to earn 1-2% on my trades which means I needed a price spread in the neighborhood of 4 dollars to hit my target. Bitcoin often has price swings of this magnitude and more, but catching the top and bottom of them is challenging.

And that brings me to the 2nd, and most important difficulty of profitable bitcoin trading. It turns out that trying to predict the direction of bitcoin prices using technical analysis like dojis and trendlines is just plain silly. Buying low and selling high is more a guessing game of chance than anything else. I'd probably do as well playing red and black at roulette.

My results? I executed 20 trades over about a 1 month period resulting in a net loss of about 0.14 bitcoin. I guess I'll consider that the cost of tuition for my bitcoin day trading education.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Around the World in 80 Days

I'm fortunate to work for a company with a policy that says after 10 years of service you are entitled to a 2 month paid sabbatical in addition to your regular paid vacation that year. I begin my sabbatical in 80 days. I have a number of trips planned during that time, and while I'm not actually going to travel around the world, my total miles travelled will exceed the circumference of the globe.

Actually, travelling the circumference of the earth is not particularly unusual in my case. I have travelled the equivalent of twice around the world each year for several years now. I try to maintain frequent flyer gold status with my airline of choice, and to do so requires flying a minimum of 50,000 miles a year. The trips planned during my sabbatical are in part intended to help me reach that goal this year.

I'll leave discussion of my destinations for some future posts, but here are a few clues: Seine, Isar, Parramatta.