Garybsmith

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

Month: May, 2012

Belly ache

For 54 years old, I can objectively claim I’m in pretty good health.  In fact, I’d put myself near the top of the pyramid.  My body fat is ungodly low and my resting HR hovers around 42 (thank you, cycling.)  I get sick once a year and it’s almost always a sinus infection.

I do have the occasional muscle strain, soreness, and related middle-aged niggles, but never anything serious.

Of course, I can barely hear out of my right ear, my blood pressure has been high (but under control) since I was 16, and I was pretty much legally blind until lasik fixed my eyes.  Still, nothing I can’t manage

The one area I’ve always had a problem with, however, is my stomach.  Nothing serious, but let’s just say I focus a lot on “GI management.”

Now, I say nothing serious until about 2 weeks ago.  It was then, I started experiencing regular, painful stomach cramps.  Not the kind of that make you cry (trust me, I’ve had those in spades), but the kind that eventually wear you down.  The good news is that the pain comes in waves.  The bad news is that those “waves” have been non-stop for 14 days.

Yes, of course, I’ve checked the internet.  Looked up everything from kidney stones to Crohn’s disease.  Just kept figuring it’d go away on it’s own.

But, after a one day respite on Sunday, the pain came back yesterday.  So, I’m going to give in and go see a GI specialist.  Which I hate to do, by the way, because from what I can tell, diagnosing stomach pain is about as easy as trying to figure out a headache.

Which probably means a battery of annoying tests and 2 weeks out of my life.  And then it’ll be something unsolvable like IBS (http://tinyurl.com/5rh5fy6.)

I do know this, by the way.  Even at a pain level of “2” on a scale of 1-10, I could not handle this constant battering.  Given that, if I ever have to suffer through something much worse like chemo, forget it:  give me the max dose of morphine and just let me be!

Thinking about Facebook

Don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a lot of talk about Facebook lately.  Or at least Facebook, the stock.

In fact, the question I’ve been asked most lately has been what I thought about FB.

The answer: nothing.  Oh, I know there’s a lot of talk about whether it was priced correctly.  Or whether institutions had insider knowledge.  Or how and why the Nasdaq screwed up fills.  And on and on.

But, I steered clear.  Not because I’m so smart about the stock.  In fact, I’m fairly agnostic for one simple reason: I have zero edge.  And 99% of us are in the same camp.

In fact, let’s compare 2 stocks, FB and say, MCD.  With the latter, you can look at it, touch it, and eat there, as well as see 30 years of financials and 30 years worth of stock charts.  In short, you can — if you study it enough — get a feel for how the stock might act in different situations.  With that knowledge, you can at least make an informed decision of when to buy and sell.

But with FB?  There are what, 3 days worth of stock history?  In addition, there’s questions reqarding how much they make, how much they will make and if this whole social network thing is a fad.  The stock may well soar…or it may bust.  I have no idea.

And because of that, I stayed away.  (I do think social networking is overblown, but I also thought Ipads were going to be a bust, so I’m not the best indicator.)

There are roughly 5000 other stocks to hone in on.  Why folks are obsessing about Facebook is kind of a mystery.

I need your input!

Regular readers will know that Nancy and I have recently taken up tennis.  However, if you know anything about our family, we never quite take up something just for the enjoyment!  No, we have some gene-driven quest that we have to be THE BEST!  (Actually, I am just speaking for myself.  Nancy does seem to enjoy tennis at a recreational level…..for now.)

In any event, where I need your input is on the topic of taking lessons.  The conventional wisdom, of course, is that when you embark on anything new, the first thing you should do is “see your local professional.”  So, I did.  For one half hour.  An “evaluation lesson” if you will, where the pro approximated my “level.”  (Tennis aficionados will know this at the NTRP rating.  More on that in a bit.)

So far, I’m coming down more and more on the side of “no lessons.”  But, let me give you my background and thinking.  Perhaps you can steer me in a different direction.

1.  I achieved a very high level in racquetball…and never took a lesson. (I’m not certain there WERE lessons back in my day.)  By very high level, I’m not bragging. (well, I am bragging to an extent..)  I was able to play even with top women pros, but I was a cut below the top men.  Maybe 2 cuts.  So, in tennis terms, I would have been about a 6.0.

But, the main point is that I learned “on the job” if you will.  I’d play better players and get the crap beaten out of me.  But, I’d go back, figure out where I was weak and work on those areas.  Then I’d improve until the next time I’d get beaten up.

However, no one ever told me how to hold a racquet or what position to take, or how to put spin on the ball, or anything really.  (One time, a player did tell me I looked horrible in all-white, and I thank him to this day for that advice!)

No, I just did what came naturally and let my body figure out the right way to go.  It worked for racquetball.  Squash too.  And golf pretty much.  Can tennis be that different?

2.  I have taken lessons in things like golf and skiing.  But, I found 99% of instructors have a set formula where you either conformed to their algorithm or you didn’t.  And if you didn’t, the entire lesson consisted of having them fit you into their box.  A true waste of everyone’s time.

3.  For certain, I don’t know tennis tactics.  But, now that I know what to watch for, can anything be better than watching things like The French Open, Youtube videos, and local tournaments.  And then playing in local tournaments?  No, I think even just by the latter, you’ll quickly learn what to do and not do.

4.  Getting back to that rating thing, the Pro put me at 3.5 after 2 months of playing.  My serves are shoddy, but that’s just practice since in squash and racquetball you don’t serve overhead.  On the other hand, I have a bunch of squash/racquetball skills (drop shots, lobs, half-volleys) that are pretty much at the 4.5/5.0 level.  And objectively, I’m probably in better shape than 99% of the seniors I’d play.

5.  This may offend tennis fans, but I can’t help thinking it’s a lot easier sport to learn than golf.  Why?  I constantly run into folks who are pretty darn good.  A few of my financial buddies played in college and/or were teaching pros.  Another friend is a ranked 45+ player.  So, just in that small sample set (and I don’t have a lot of friends!),  there’s a ton of good tennis players.

But when it comes to golf, I almost never ran across low-handicappers.  (By low, I mean lower than say a 5 handicap.)  In fact, most folks I know couldn’t break 80.

So, assuming the tennis/golf population is the same, golf has to be harder, right?

Anyway, that’s my “no lessons” stance.  Now, if I was talking piano, or pottery, or something else I had zero knowledge of, sure: I’d be the first to see a pro.  But, tennis?  Tell me I’m wrong.

How did I miss Hershey??

I may have written about this before, and if so, forgive me.  But I was reminded the other day of a) how simple investing can be and b) how stupid I can be.

As for the investing part, I have a rule that I would estimate, works about 99% of the time.  And the rule is really simple: as soon as I start using a product or service (that I pay for), I should immediately buy the stock.  In fact, I bet the same applies to you.  Think back about the first time you used Netflix.  Or Googled something.  Or bought an Ipod.  Right: if you had bought NFLX, GOOG, or AAPL the very next day, you’d be swimming in money.

Now, I know this style doesn’t adhere to rigorous fundamental analysis, and surely not technical analysis…but it works.  And it seems to work on even the doggiest of stocks if you adhere to one other rule: as soon as you stop regularly using the product or service, you must immediately SELL the stock.

Case in point: I frequent Rite-Aid (RAD) frequently for the simple reason that it’s in the same area as the Safeway (SWY) we visit.  So, I own RAD stock.  But, if I ever stop going there and decide the Walgreen’s across the street is better, I’ll sell RAD and buy WAG.

In fact, I’m such a believer in this strategy, that I regularly do a mental scan to see if we’ve started using any new products that are made by companies listed on a U.S. exchange.  For example, we recently bought some new Head tennis racquets.  Love ’em, but the stock is listed on the Vienna exchange.  So, a no-go there.

Anyway, on a kitchen counter, we always have some snack stuff I can nibble on during the day, primarily pre and post cycling or tennis.  One of those jars used to contain some organic chocolate squares we’d buy from the local crunchy-food store, but we figured simple Reese’s peanut butter cups would have the same effect, and they’re a lot cheaper. I’ve been having about 2 or 3 a day since March.

Then, a few days ago, I hear on the news the Hershey company is killing it in revenue and profit.  A light goes off: “Wait, I’ve been eating Reese’s for a few months.  Are they made by Hershey??”  A quick Google search reveals the awful truth: they are, and I missed the big move.

 

 

Ugh.  That one was tough to take because once again, my personal usage pointed out a great stock.

On the other hand, it’s nice to know my strategy worked again.  Just wish I had the discipline to follow it!

 

God will tell us.

Nancy said something interesting the other day.  We were talking — for about the 1000th time — about when we were going to sell our house and move, and she noted that “God will tell us.”

Now Nancy is not a religious person.  And I’m pretty sure she’s agnostic on the whole God thing.  Instead, what I think she meant is that circumstances will “tell us” when to move, not some pre-ordained plan we set in motion.

Of course, I’m all for planning things ahead of time, but over the past few years I’ve found that things that give us the greatest enjoyment have evolved from situations that presented itself and that we merely took advantage of.

That paragraph may be confusing, so let me give you an example.  I love to bike.  But, I never made a conscious decision to start cycling.  Instead, I took it up, because a) my local golf club was closed for 18 months, so I had time on my hands and b) Nancy was riding her bike back and forth to the DC boathouse, so I decided to join her one day.

One thing led to another, and all of a sudden I was  “cyclist.”

The same thing happened with our recent venture into tennis.  Diana had started playing, and we bought some racquets to tag along.  We found we loved it more than we thought and started playing so much, we recently joined a local club just so we’d have a place to play in the winter.

So again: the situation presented itself and we evolved to be tennis players.

But, back to the house.  We’re pretty happy here in DC and the thought of packing up everything is almost overwhelming.  But, we’re pretty certain “God” will tell us what to do when something happens to force our hand (i.e. Fox decides they no longer need me; or we desperately need the cash, or someone knocks on the door and offers us a big bag of money.)

And at that point, we’ll finally get off our collective butts and do something.  But, probably not before then.  At least I hope that’s what “God” is telling us.

I came, I saw….I went home!

Last week marked the start of my cycling racing season.  The event was early Saturday morning.  A 5.5 mile uphill time trial.  I had been training for it for the past 6 months.  My equipment was state-of-the-art.  I was in the best shape of my life.

I never made it to the starting line.

Now as background, the race was held in Montague, NJ, just over the Pennsylvania state line.  Since it was nearly a 5 hour drive from Bethesda, and the race kicked off early Saturday morning, I decided to drive up the night before, pre-ride the course, stay overnight, and attack the next morning.

Problems started on the drive up.  Mental problems, that is, as you have to drive right through the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.  Now, I don’t know what it is about that part of PA, but whenever I go there, the weather is the same: “Overcast, not a hint of sun, cold, windy, depressing.”

That immediately put me in a sour mood, as I don’t mind the pain of time-trialing as much as I hate cold, windy days.  They literally suck the life out of you.

In any event, I put my “don’t let it bother you” hat on, and arrived at the race course about an hour later.  I knew the topography, but wasn’t prepared for the exact route: while the last 2.5 miles were through a beautiful state park.  The first 3 miles…..were on a 4 lane highway!

Yes, take your local 4 lane road with cars whizzing by at 50 mph.  Then imagine riding a 12 lb bike on the shoulder for 15 minutes.  Fun, huh?

Now with an uphill time trial in cold weather, you have one of two bad choices.  You can park near the top, warm up, and ride down to the start, getting a little chilly before you go back up.  Or, you can park at the bottom, warmup, start with loose muscles, ride up, then freeze on the way down.  But, at least when you’re freezing, you’re done racing.

For my pre-ride, I chose the latter.  Big mistake.  One, I had to park in a strip mall parking lot, as there aren’t many parking spots along a highway.  And two, I had no place to warmup other than riding back and forth through the Burger King drive-thru.

Even worse, the wind was blowing at 15 mph, making the windchill about 32 degrees.  And oh yeah: still no sun.

But, still wearing my “I’m an idiot hat” I set off amongst the traffic, and finished about 25.5 minutes later.  I was going at about 85% effort, so I estimated my race time might have been just north of 22 minutes.  Most likely a podium position, so I wasn’t unhappy.

On the ride back to the car, though, things really went south.  The wind was even more severe, cars seemed to be going faster, and I was freezing my a** off.  It then occured to me: I was having ZERO fun.  In fact, worse: I was hating it.

Back at the car, I opened my Ipad and checked the forecast for race day.  More of the same….only colder.  The thought of spending a lonely night in a hotel room, then getting up at 5Am the next day to do this doing this all over again was depressing.

It was then I made an executive decision: I’m 54 years old, and if this isn’t any fun, why in the h*ll was I doing it?

I phoned Nancy, though, and if she said, “stick with it, it’ll be fine” I was going to plow through.  To her eternal credit, she said to come home.  Immediately.  She felt the same way: the whole thing was just nuts.

So I started up the car and drove 5 hours back.  Did I have any regrets?  No, not one.  I didn’t quit during the race (that’s something I’ve been tempted to do, but never had the nerve), but just decided that my hobby should at least be a bit enjoyable.  “Persevering,” “being tough,” and all those other athletic bromides could wait for another day.

 

 

Gary’s big night out.

Anyone that knows me even vaguely, knows I’m the ultimate homebody.  Oh, I venture out to buy groceries and travel to the occasional regatta or bike race.  But, activities that normal people do like, you know, eat at a restaurant or see a movie?  Uh, no: not in my wheelhouse.

But, I’ve recently become a Capitals fan (yes, the ultimate in fair-weatherness), and my younger daughter — infinitely more connected that I am —  hooked Nancy and myself up with suite tickets to the recent playoff game.  The situation called for a rare night out.

And I have to say, pretty darn enjoyable.  First, Capital fans are a damn loyal bunch.  “Rock the Red” isn’t just a slogan: if there were more than 5 Caps fans without a red jersey or tee-shirt, I’d be surprised.

Rock the Red!

 

 

Second, in person you can actually see the puck!  Of course, we pretty much had the best seats in the house, but it was nice to figure out what was going on without the help of replays.

Finally, my big bugaboo with almost any sporting event is the hassle of getting there, parking, and then getting home.  But, with the Verizon Center it was zero problem as we drove, parked, and were at the game in roughly 40 minutes.

Now, would I have felt differently if I was in the nosebleed seats (where, sadly, I usually am.)?  Uh, yes.  Catered food, free drink, and a private bathrooom all ensconced in a suite directly opposite the owner’s box…well, it’s nice to spend a night like the rich people live.

Nancy and Di (who, yes, is apparently a vampire.)

 

 

In fact, I was so pysched about my big night: I’ve already scheduled my next outing:  Washington Nationals…if they make the World Series…and I can watch from a suite!

 

Where I’ve been.

It hasn’t been lost on me that my WordPress postings have become a bit erratic.  I seem to go through a period of nice consistency, and then completely lose interest.  Although, “losing interest” isn’t quite right. More like I feel I don’t have anything to add.

(Sidebar: I’m wondering if Twitter’s popularity will also hasten its demise.  By that, I mean you see everyone posting this and that, and it’s hard not to feel… irrelevant.  And once you feel irrelevant, you start to tune out.  Just a thought.)

Anyway, let’s see: as I posted a few weeks ago, I’m really getting into this tennis thing.  Nancy and I have been rallying everyday, but we’ve gone one step further by acquiring a ball machine.  They’re pricey, but I can tell you, our games have taken a parabolic step forward.  Just the ability to return hundreds of balls coming at 70mph with topspin is a godsend if you want to improve.  (“return” is generous.  Maybe “attempting to return.”)

Naturally, I’m now thinking of entering a tournament just to see how I fare.  I did watch the 60+ National Hardcourt championships on youtube recently, and the talent didn’t look all that fierce.  The guys were deadly accurate, of course, but I didn’t see any athleticism I didn’t think I could handle.

Of course, watching via video and seeing it real-time are two different things.  I saw Lendl/McEnroe courtside in their prime and couldn’t believe how hard they hit it: much different than on TV.

So, I’m going to go watch the local Mid-Atlantic Masters championships in a month or so in Virginia to see how the old farts play. I’m also going to hit with a ranked 45+ friend of mine in a few weeks.  I really want him to go all out to see where I stand.

Other than that, not much new.  I’m still cycling with my latest adventure being to drive all the way to upstate NJ for a race, pre-ride the course, only to bag it before the race even started.

But, more on that later.