Garybsmith

Trading, Golf, General thoughts. Not necessarily in that order.

College is a waste

A recent email informed me that 2014 marks the 35th reunion of my college graduating class.  I won’t be attending, of course: regular readers know I’m a) not a big traveler and b) not really a “get together” kind of guy.

The notice of the reunion did make me think about my college experience.  In fact, President Obama spoke about giving everyone more access to a college education.  My view though is simple: college was a complete — or almost complete — waste of time it was.

Now, it’s not that I attended a “party school” by the way.  My school was, and still is, a respected institution of higher learning.  I’m sure yours was too, but let me give you a smattering of courses I took and what I learned:

Freshman Year
Freshman Comp — I’m pretty sure we had to read “House of the Seven Gables.”  Hawthorne wrote it.  That’s all I remember.  Netted me a B-.

Intro Philosophy — A big zero.  Plato was a philosopher, right?  Oh, and I remember the class was held on East Campus.  I received a B-.  Apparently, I wasn’t very strong in the humanities.

Probability/Statistics — This was in my major.  Got an A-.  Can recall some statistics terms.  No idea how to use them in real life.  A-

Sophomore Year

Decision Models — Huh?  Well, whatever: A

Managerial Accounting — I remember this was easier than Financial accounting which I completely sucked at.   B.

Intro to Information Systems — Finally, a “skill” course.  I learned to program.  Albeit on punch cards, but it was programming. B-

Junior Year

Roman History — I took this?  A

Senior Year

Coaching Basketball in Secondary Schools — Yes, this was a class.  I took it with the entire varsity basketball team.  The star player — who was dumb as a post — got an A.  I got an A-

State & Urban Finance — Apparently I aced this and yet can’t recall taking it.  A

 

So there you have it.  Except for the programming stuff, four years of zilch.  And mind you, I graduated Magna Cum Laude and had a double major.

Now, compare this “education” with things I think I’m good at and where I acquired the skill.

Presentations/Public Speaking: I’m pretty good on my feet.  But, almost everything I learned was honed either on my High School debate team, being Fraternity secretary, or giving IBM presentations.

Writing:  I’d say I’m a decent writer.  Not great, by any stretch.  But, about 2000% better than I was in college.  Learned most of it by doing.  Writing for theStreet.com, Foxbusiness.com, etc.  Learned nothing from Nathaniel Hawthorne, except to know what BORING is.

Analysis:  Or, at least business analysis.  I’ll give college a little credit here: I may have at least learned HOW to think about business.  But, the real guts came in graduate school and IBM.

So, my takeaway is this: if you go to college to acquire a skill — engineering, music, heck, even pre-med I guess — college is just fine.  But, unless you plan to pursue a Masters or Ph.D in your undergraduate major (my daughter Katherine in English), liberal arts is a waste of time.  Seriously, I would have been much better off going directly to graduate school, doing case analysis, and then doing the 18 month IBM training.

Now, am I glad I went to college?  Of course.  Met great people and have good memories.  Certainly gave me the all important check mark on my life resume.  But, at a cost of $50,000 (in 1975 dollars)?  Well, if I had invested that money in the market, I’d have a $1,000,000 right now.   That and being a plumber or even owning my own plumbing company, sounds just fine to me.

 

Please — Dear God — don’t be this guy.

Every week for the past few months, I go through the same mind-numbing experience.  I’m sitting at Fox minding my own business, when a fellow commentator starts yakking at me.  I try to engage, be cordial, ask questions.  You know, converse.  But, I quickly figure out the conversation is all one-sided.  You know: he’s doing all the talking, and I’m doing all the listening.  Like I’m Jay Leno without the big paycheck.

The problem, though, is that no matter how I try to disengage — eyes back down to my laptop, answering a fake phone call, getting up to grab a drink — he KEEPS TALKING.  Like he has no off switch.  Every clue I send seems to bounce off his forehead.  It’s maddening.

Now, I don’t want to be rude, so I maintain my positive attitude.   Or, at least try to not be a total jerk.  However, I find myself edging more and more into that territory….with zero effect.  He’s Bizarro Superman where even my green kryptonite is powerless.

Nancy calls people like this “Captain of the Talking Team.”  Honestly, I’d be fine with that, except this fellow’s the Commander-in-Chief.

Now trust me, you’re probably not anything like him.  But, if you find someone staring off into space when you’re talking, please take the clue and end the conversation.  You never want to be “that guy.”

How to be a Pro

I’m not ashamed to admit I watch American Idol.  Frankly, I came to the show after the glory years, but it’s mindless entertainment that Nancy and I enjoy watching.

I particularly enjoyed the few years I saw Simon Cowell as judge because even though he could be mean, at least he was fairly honest in his appraisals.  Contrast that with the Steven Tylers of the world who seemed to thing everyone was a STAR.

The show has taken a turn for the better, though, with the addition of Harry Connick, Jr.  He’s the definition of a pro and while I can’t say I’m a fan of his music or movies (I really haven’t listened or watched enough to form an opinion), he brings so many things to the table, it’s hard not to admire the guy.

What do I like?

1.  He’s self-deprecating.  Look, the guy is a star.  Maybe not in the J-Lo orbit, but definitely a star.  Yet he never acts that way.  In fact, he acts like the kind of guy you’d want to share a beer with.  Unlike judges on other shows, it’s not about him.

2.  He’s honest.  If he likes you, he says so.  If not, he says that too.  He’s not there to get you to like HIM, but rather to give honest feedback.  Right there, that puts him above any other judge on TV.

3.  He knows his craft.  I get the sense from a lot of singers that they’ve never actually studied music.  Or music history. They don’t know different genres, techniques, or have the ability to differentiate talent from glitz.  Connick is different, though: you can tell he’s studied music even outside his niche.  He wants contestants not just to be good entertainers, but good singers.  There’s a difference that I’m not sure most judges grasp.

Now, there are other aspects of being a pro, I can’t judge.  I don’t know if Connick works hard, gets along with his fellow judges, or secretly has a big ego.

I can only judge on what I see, and in that light, I wish there were more Harry Connick’s in entertainment, politics, sports, and well, everything.

 

 

$%^&! Mr. Murphy

We just brought a new puppy home.  A puppy that needs a regular walk so he’s at least somewhat calm when inside.  We don’t mind walks at all.  Love doing it, in fact.  Don’t like doing it when it’s either -239 degrees outside, raining 3″ per hour…or both.  That’s been the weather pretty much EVERY SINGLE DAY since he arrived.  $%^&! Mr. Murphy!

We have a leak in our roof.  Some unidentified, maddeningly obtuse leak that has now infected the paint, drywall and probably the foundation for all I know.  As soon as we noticed it, we called a roofer.  He said he’d come by as soon as the weather permitted.  See above for previous 10 day weather and, by the way, $%^&! Mr. Murphy!

I’ve had our snowblower for 15 years.  Empty out the gas at the end  of each year and make sure its running properly.  We get our first snow fall of this year, I go to start it up…and nothing.  Take it to the snowblower repair guys.  They fix it pretty promptly.  I go to pick it up, and immediately break some tension wire holding the handle.  $%^&! Mr. Murphy!

The market has been pretty choppy so far, so even one great trade can make a big difference.  I had that one trade: bought SIRI the day before it gapped up 10%.  Only problem: instead of buying X shares like I intended, I “fat-fingered” my order and only bought .1X shares.  I did catch the error almost immediately and entered a limit order to buy the remainder.  SIRI ran past that, so I decided to wait until the next morning to fix the problem.  By that time, SIRI had already gapped up.  $%^&! Mr. Murphy!

Look, I have a pretty nice life.  Really, no complaints.  Still, when this Murphy guy starts to run interference it, you pretty much want to scream!

Battle of the Borch

People seem to have a lot of names for an expanding belly.  Gut, beer belly, Joe are all acceptable.  In our household, it’s called a Borch.  I think Nancy started using it, with the derivation being Belly + Porch = Borch.  I hate it.  Not the word…but the look.

Now I have numerous pet peeves.   Far too many, I think, for someone in their mid-50s.  But, near the top of my list is having any kind of gut.  My Dad — who played handball, golf, and bowled until his mid-60s — had one.  About 99% of the men my age have one.  Every single guy save maybe 3 on the PGA Tour has one.  Heck, I noticed Roger Federer — Roger Federer! — has a little one.

And for everyone who has one now, it’s only going to grow larger like some nasty fungus.  Maybe it’s a sign of prosperity, or maybe it’s just good cooking.  Whatever it is, I’m determined not to go there.

Now, as background, I’ll confess to both having good genes and always being pretty active.  I did hit 170 in my early 20s, but that was due to a steady diet of pizza and beer.  Generally, though, I’ve never had more than a 34″ waist, and in the past 25 years, Nancy has us eating pretty healthy.

Still, I didn’t notice anything unusual until after we returned from a recent vacation and started looking at pictures.  Yes there, peeking out just above my belt…was the beginning of a Borch.  It wasn’t much, mind you.  Kind of like a spec of melanoma a dermatologist might see.  But, for me it was the beginning of what I knew would be THE END.

Ironically, Nancy spotted the same thing on her…and she’s 125 lbs of ripped muscle!  (I think she was just being sympathetic to my plight….)

So, it was on that day — September 1, 2013 — that CHANGES NEEDED TO BE MADE.

Out went the bagel and lox for breakfast.  In went an 80 calorie greek yogurt and slice of wheat toast.  Lunches remained the same: turkey breast on wheat toast.  Dinners were a drastic change, though.  Out went pretty much the entire menu and in came a steady diet of soups and salads.  Sure, there’s the occasional pizza (maybe every 3 weeks), and Chinese food, but I don’t feel deprived eating a regular rotation of Navy Bean, Chicken, Veggie, and Beef Barley soups.  Thankfully, Nancy is a great chef.

My traditional bedtime snack of either cookies and milk, cake, or pie was out the window.  Now it’s grapefruit and maybe a small piece of candy.  I’ll cheat with some low-fat ice cream some nights, but not regularly like I used to.

And I weigh myself.  Regularly, like some demented Rainman character.  Morning, after workout, before bed.  I know within .5lbs if I’m on track or starting to slip.

And on top of that, we became walkers.  It started with walking the dogs for maybe 20 minutes a day, and now — in our usual obsessive/compulsive way — a 6 mile jaunt.  I even got a Garmin running watch to track our mileage.  (As usual, we take things WAY too far, but that’s been the case for me for 56 years….)

It’s now 4 months later.  I’ve lost 10lbs.  Waist is about 30.5″.  Body fat is back to my 25hr per week cycling days.  Kids say I look like a Concentration Camp victim.  But, damn it, the Borch is gone.

Newport Beach, here I come.

I tried to avoid it.  I made every effort to do new things.  I even sold all my equipment, clothing, and accessories.

But, after 5 years away, I’m back playing golf.  Yes, cycling was interesting.  Tennis was fun.  And I wasn’t half bad at either.  But, at golf I’m actually, well, good.

Of course, I never intended to come back.  But, there was a fraternity get together with guys I hadn’t seen in roughly 30 years.  And seeing as there was golf on the agenda, Nancy suggested I might want to hit a few balls so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.  Well, if you know me at all, you know where that was headed: one basket led to two.  Two baskets led to a few times a week, then some new clubs, then some casual rounds, and then — inevitably — my normal 7x a week routine.

Ironically, I found I hadn’t lost all that much.  Maybe a half club shorter than I was 5 years ago.  And my short game is rusty.  Oh, and in the one tournament I did play in — a municipal “club championship” — I choked so badly on the first hole, my tee shot landed in the driving range.

But, that can all be fixed with a few thousand balls, about a hundred rounds, and maybe 10 tournaments.  Of course, I can never go out and “just play.”  No, I’m hardwired so that I have to have a goal.  And being as I’ll turn 56 in a few days, the U.S. Senior Amateur in Newport Beach, is just the ticket.

Oh, I’m not talking about winning it.  (Although, I suppose it’s possible.  First I’d have to qualify, or course, then make it to match play, beating a bunch of former pros and such.  But unlike tennis and cycling, I’ve never competed with anyone in my age group who I thought was just head-and-shoulders above me.  Still, I’d say the odds of winning are maybe 1%….and that’s if I’m really on my game.)

But, as I mentioned, first I have to qualify, and even that’s no easy task.  I mean when I was in my late 40s I played lights out in the US Mid-Amateur quali and still fell 2 shots short.  But, that was against young bucks 25 years and older.  At least now I’ll only be tackling other old farts.

But, so far, I think I’m doing everything I can.  With this cold, I’m hitting balls indoors, but with a launch monitor so I know where they’re going.  I’ve already taken a lesson with our local pro to get a baseline.  I’ve rejoined my old club.  I’ve contacted a few old buddies about playing some 2-man tournaments in the spring.  And, I have a full complement of tournaments lined up in the early summer and fall.

It’s going to be fun.  And a lot easier than cycling.

Change #3: We wuzz robbed.

All in all, I lead a pretty calm life.  I suppose trading gives me a few thrills, but I try to mitigate those as best as possible.  Certainly one wouldn’t say golf rivals mountain climbing, and raising Poodles isn’t nearly as taxing as caring for Border Collies.

On the flip side, being robbed at knife point (or more accurately, crow bar point) in the middle of the night….in your own home, certainly has to be at the pointy end of the bell curve.

Now as background, I sleep upstairs, Nancy downstairs.  She has trouble sleeping to begin with, and gets up at 4AM anyway to coach.  Long ago we decided “separate but equal” bedrooms was the way to go.

In any event, my bedroom door sticks and as the dogs sleep with me, I always shut it at night.  That was helpful, because about 11:30PM in late July, the noise of it being opened woke me up.  That and two fairly large men wearing ski masks, waving flashlights, and coming towards my bed at a high rate of speed had me screaming.

Now, I’m not Rambo.  I’m not a trained martial artist.  I have minimal defense skills.  But, I do have a nasty — although hidden — temper.  That, combined with a healthy dose of adrenaline, and my first reaction was to  tackle assailant #1.

It was pure instinct, but somewhere along the line I realized it was going to be him or me, so I fought like crazy.  That is, until Nancy heard the shouting, came upstairs and turned on the lights.  She asked everyone to calm down, which was fortunate because the Head Thug was instructing my wrestling buddy to slug me with the crowbar.

So, in orderly fashion we were herded down to Nancy’s bedroom where they helped themselves to all her jewelry, my watch, and a few handbags.  Ironically, they left my wallet, the Ipads and the laptops.

They ordered us into a closet with the obligatory, “don’t come out or we’ll kill you” command straight from The Robber’s Handbook, and left after about 20 minutes.

Wearing gloves, ski masks, and black SWAT team outfits, the Police had no chance of finding them, and so far there’s not been a clue.

A few thoughts, then:

1.  It was scary, but for me, only about the first 30 seconds when I was startled awake.  The rest of the time, I wasn’t scared at all.  I was pissed.

2.  We do have an alarm.  Shame on us for not setting it at night.  If we had, and it had gone off when they entered the house, I would have had at least a minute or so to grab a baseball bat or golf club.

3.  So much for dog protection.  I’m pretty certain ours slept through the commotion.

4.  Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover the bulk of jewelry losses.  You need a separate rider for that.  Playing the odds, we didn’t have that rider.  Ugh.

5.  We don’t own a gun, although I did contemplate and even tried a few out after that night.  Believe me, I’d have zero problem using it if forced.  My concern is that I’d end up shooting Nancy or one of the kids.

6.  Somewhere along the line, I was hit pretty hard with that crowbar, as I woke up the next morning with a 6 inch welt on my side in the shape of a capital J.  Never felt it at the time, and I now understand how a Mother can lift a car off a trapped child.

Sort of back…again.

Every time I get an email or comment from somebody asking about my blog, it makes me think: yes, people REALLY like me!

Pathetic, really, but it does cause me to get back at it.  At least temporarily.  However, I noticed my last hiatus lasted nearly 14 months so I’m not sure I missed writing all that much.

I do have a few changes, though, so I think I’ll bring everyone up to speed.

Change #1: Alex (our poodle) passed.  Along with his brother Indy, Alex was the first dog we had acquired after about a 7 year layoff.  Like some poodles he had developed Addison’s and tacked on cancer a few months ago.  Frankly, he was a strange dog, but we loved him all the same.  I had to take him to the VET — I’ve been the grim reaper 3 times now — and the Doc put him under.  I couldn’t bear to hang around, but the poor guy was in so much pain I’m certain we did the right thing.  RIP big guy.

Change #2: Charlie arrived today.  We “replaced” Alex with a miniature poodle we named Charlie.  Dog naming is a tricky business and I’m not sure we got it right.  We never give our dogs “dog names” but I was fond of Lucky.  Charlie was my second choice, and I think it’s fine.  Frankly, he’s more “Luvie” than anything else, but that’s probably a tough one for any male other than Luvie Smith.

Image

I’ll have more changes next outing.  Oh, and btw: happy New Year!

Back at it.

A friend of mine emailed me that he missed my blog.  Trust me, I have too large an ego to ignore even that small bone, so I’m back it.

That begs the question as to what I’ve been doing.  The answer is not much, but it breaks down into  three discrete areas.

1.  I don’t spend a lot of time actually trading, but I spend a fair amount of time thinking about my trading.  That is, forming hypotheses, testing those hypotheses, and subtly tweaking my many approaches to the market.

For me, the market is an ever-changing puzzle, and I’m constantly trying to figure out how it works.  I’m positive I’ll never have a definitive answer, but I do like the challenge.

2.  I have been spending an inordinate time on my tennis.  Lessons, tournaments, regular games, drills, reading up on strategy.  Pretty much the whole gamut.  It bugs me that I never pursued tennis when I was younger, as I’m positive I’d be a highly ranked 55+ player.  On the other hand, I might have burned out on it by now, like I did with golf.

I’m even getting up at 4AM to play some regular guys at 6am.  Crazy.

3.  The rest of my fairly boring life, pretty much fits into the “misc.” category.  If I play tennis at 6AM, I’m back at the house by 7:30.  I do all the standard time killers: email, twitter, Flipboard, etc.  Heck, I’m having “lunch” no later than 10:30, and lately we’ve been eating dinner so early I’m IN BED by 8PM.

All in all, I think I’ve gotten fairly boring in the past few years.  On the other hand, watching “Homeland” each week is about all the excitement I really need.

 

Post-Sandy

We made it through Sandy with minimal disruption.  We did lose power for about an hour, but there was no damage to the house or exterior.

So, I’m thankful for that, but truly feel for my friends in the Northeast.  But, what can I do to help?  The only thing I know how, and that’s a few words of someone who’s been there: (House-leveling fire in ’03, Deracho, Snowmaggedon…)

1.  Get everyone safe, comfortable, and back on schedule.  For now, don’t worry about your house, the damage, the insurance, etc.  Instead, find friends, a hotel, etc, and make sure everyone is eating, sleeping, and going about normal business as much as possible.

2.  Divide up repair and insurance.  Dealing with contractors, handymen, and all repair folks is a full-time job.  Likewise, making sure your insurance company is on top of everything is also a full-time job.  One person can’t possibly handle both, so divide up the tasks accordingly.  For our house fire, I took insurance; Nancy handled the rebuilding.

3.  Everyone is lazy.  Insurance companies, builders, etc, will all want to take the easiest path possible.  But, no one cares about your welfare as much as you do.  So pester, nag, cajole.  Whatever you need to do to get everyone working FOR you, not for themselves.

4.  Remember, it takes time.  Even the best insurance companies process claims a LOT slower than you’d like.  Repairmen are never as speedy as you’d like them to be.  But, everything will get done.  Eventually.  It’ll drive you crazy, of course, but keep plodding away.

Okay, all the above easier said then done.  There were times when we were rebuilding our house, I just wanted to walk away and settle in Bali.  You’ll feel that way too.  But, some months from now everything will return to normal.  And you’ll realize you can get through anything.

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