Sunday, October 30, 2005

Halloween Party

We hit up a rocking Halloween party last night. My costume was a hit, and it held up for the most part. To ensure that it would be ready for Monday, I had to do some minor patchwork on it.

Met a lot of fun people and had a blast. Had to take cab home last night because we all had a bit too much fun. Anyway, here are a couple of pictures of our costumes.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Trick or Treat

Been working on my Halloween costume all day. It's pretty much done now, and I'm just waiting for the silicone to dry. Hope it doesn't fall apart. It has to last through a party tonight and Monday at the office.

Anyway, here's a treat for you... a Quiznos coupon that gives you a free upgrade to a combo meal if you buy a regular sub. A pretty good coupon, really. And, I just got back from there so it's valid. You'll probably want to click on the image to get a full-sized one before you print it out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Harrah's: Worthwhile Gamble?

Sold off the Seagate (STX) for a minor loss of 13 cents a share.

Used the proceeds to add to my long-term Harrah's (HET) position. Harrah's has been hit hard recently (along with the entire gaming sector) due to the negative effects of the recent hurricanes.

Today, MGM Mirage (MGM) announced earnings that were clearly below what the Street had been expecting. Of course, much of the blame can be placed on the hurricanes. Nevertheless, the stock was pounded on and lost nearly 14% of its value today.

Other gaming stocks fell in sympathy. Among them was Harrah's. The MGM numbers weren't good, but there was still reasonably strong growth once the one-time effects were removed. So, Harrah's traded down a bit today and I snagged some at 59.45. Currently it is trading in the high 58's. But, the big day is November 3. On that day, Harrah's will be announcing their earnings. My view is that if they meet expectations the stock should move higher since the current sentiment is so negative. If the don't, then the stock might move lower, but not by too much since a lot of anticipated bad news has already been priced in. Let's not sweat the short-term moves too much. Long-term, I think the company is a winner.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dream Logging

Has anyone ever tried to keep a journal of their dreams? Just recently, I've forced myself to jot down notes about my dreams if I happen to wake up in the middle of the night. This way the notes would really be coming from me during a half-asleep state. I dream vividly each night, but usually when I wake up in the morning, I can hardly remember anything in detail.

Anyway, here are the notes for the first three dreams that I jotted notes about.

These are notes really came from a half-sleeping state. Even I don't know exactly what the dream was about. Just use your imagination.

Dream #1

1) Pick items -- 3 on the pedestal.
2) Make a large mess -- the final event.
3) Nevermind, but not enough.
4) Must have shoes -- a rule.
5) 90% will pass

Dream #2

1) Matching clothes -- a game
2) Family - Uncle and cousins
3) $600 in chips
4) Winner collects cards
5) Win all = 5x prize
6) If lose, then $5 only

Dream #3

1) Heated Poker Tracker argument
2) Self-assessment only
3) Moving large trees in wooded area
4) Friends driving to Denver

I might continue to do this, because it's really kind of trippy. I have read in the past that jotting down notes on dreams actually helps you remember your dreams going forward. Might be worthwhile.

The Big Week in Review

The week chock full of earnings has now ended. Mixed results, really.

Amgen (AMGN) - Slumps a bit due to their sales number. Earnings were fine and grew nicely, but their top line growth apparently wasn't good enough. It's had a nice run recently, and as a long-term holding, it should do fine.

Eastman Kodak (EK) - Fairly dissappointing. Due to charges, the company lost $1B. There is a strong possibility I will be selling this one by year-end to take the tax loss. If I choose to do so, I might still buy it back sometime later, but would be forced to wait the mandatory 30 days.

North Fork Bancorp (NFB) - Their profits doubled, but they missed their earnings target. Shares didn't do too much following the announcement.

Hibernia (HIB) - Posted a major loss due to charges resulting from the hurricanes. Stock moves with Capital One Financial (COF), who is acquiring them. The deal should close some time in late November.

Juniper Networks (JNPR) - This is a recent addition to the long-term family. It posted strong earnings and revenues. Its profits jumped over 70% on more than 45% sales growth.

Linear Technology (LLTC) - Posted a slight decline in profit. They cited increased R&D costs. However, this beat the street's views, and the shares traded higher following their announcement.

Altria Group (MO) - Earnings were mixed. Tobacco was strong, but Kraft was a real stinker. But, with the recent Supreme Court ruling in their favor, we should hopefully see a break-up of the company. When that happens, I might exit out of the Kraft component and channel those funds into the tobacco components. Cheese doesn't quite have that addiction power.

St. Jude's Medical (STJ) - Mentioned earlier, they made a major purchase and posted solid earnings.

Student Loan Corp (STU) - Shares moved a little lower following their earnings, which gave a mixed picture on their current business.

Now to the two positions that were awaiting expiration Friday...

eBay (EBAY) - Earnings were strong, but their outlook was weaker than the Street had hoped. Shares came down from $42 to $39s. This means that none of my shares will get called away. I will now need to figure out what I want to do. The situation at this moment is the shares have a cost basis of $37.58. I can sell another round of options as I did the first time (two-thirds covered, one-third left to ride). Or, perhaps I can wait for a spot to just dump the position, hopefully in the $40-42 range.

Seagate Technology (STX) - Mixed earnings picture, a Bear Stearns downgrade, and a CSFB reduction in earnings estimates caused shares to come down from mid-$15s to about $14.25. So, at this point we're nearly break-even on the buy-write. Just a tad underwater. Despite Seagate being the leader in their space, I will probably exit the position next week or so.

And, there you have it... the week in review.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Start of a Big Week

So far, October has been absolutely brutal to the markets. All the major indices are getting hammered. It's been a tough month. Today's events were a nice change of pace. The long-term portfolio has been teetering on the brink of break-even for the year. But, it is still ahead of the S&P 500 index by almost three percentage points.

Anyway, this is a big week for me. We start off with St. Jude's Medical (STJ) announcing the $1.3B purchase of Advanced Neuromodulation (ANSI) and also reporting great earnings. The Supreme Court rejected a Dept. of Justice appeal in the RICO case. On Wednesday, Altria (MO) will report its quarterly earnings before the market opens, and EBAY will do so after the close. And, we'll close out the week with the expiration of the EBAY options and Seagate (STX) options.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Windows Notepad Issue

So, I wasted some time today trying to track down a phantom bug in my code at work. Turns out it wasn't a bug in my code after all. What I encountered was simply odd behavior exhibited by Windows' Notepad program due to ambiguity in determining whether a text file is Unicode or not. Anyway, here's a way to reproduce what I ran into.

Try this:

1) Open up Notepad.
2) Enter the following text, but do not insert an endline: x = 5000
3) Save the file, but be sure to choose ANSI format.
4) Close Notepad.

Now, try opening up the file in Notepad. Notice that the text is screwed up. Use any other text editor, like Wordpad, Word, UltraEdit, etc. And, you'll see it works fine.

Lame. Here's a link to a text file that was created as I described in the instructions above (for those who can't get it working): Download Here using a "save link as..."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Umpire Blows It

Sick. Worst call ever. How does an umpire call a guy out, and then decide to change his mind when he sees the runner take off towards first base? Seriously ridiculous. The Angels were wronged. Here's the video of this event.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Secrets Revealed!

I apologize for having you go through FileFront to download the .bmp images. You see, the secrets would be lost if the images had been converted to Jpeg. And, since .bmp files are large, I needed a free file server that didn't care about space or bandwidth.

Anyway, I've created a user-friendly image decoder that is now available for download. This one can be downloaded here: Link to Decoder. Unfortunately, this is only for those using Windows.


0) WARNING: If you click on the Decode button when the Base Image and Output Image fields are invalid, the program will crash. I have not put in any error handling in the code.
1) Browse for the .bmp files you downloaded (from here) as the Base image. For example, OceanScene.bmp.
2) Do a Save As and set an output .bmp file.
3) Click on the Decode button, and the output file is created.
4) Have a look at the unlocked secret image.

With more work, I should be able to get way better than 25 to 1 ratio, and also allow the embedding of generic files. Think about hiding an Excel or Word document in an image. The idea is that without knowledge beforehand that some secret data was embedded in the image, no one would even suspect anything was there. This would allow the data to be not only protected, but truly secret. At some point, I would also like to add a feature allowing you to further scramble the data using a password.

There are a lot of ideas to make this useful and better... just wanted all of you to have a first glimpse. The current encoding is rather unsophisticated, but as I mentioned, the beauty is that no one would really even look for any hidden data since it's a fairly standard picture.

The encoder is not ready for general use. I won't be distributing that until I feel it's ready. So for now, enjoy the decoder.

Would love to hear any and all comments.

Update: Two people have now told me that there's a word for what this is... steganography.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Traffic Jams

Today, I read a commentary written by Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics, dealing with attacking our nation's traffic problems through simple economics. The basic idea is that if something is underpriced, then it will be overconsumed. The idea isn't a new one, and a similar view can be found here.

I think that too many people scoff at what seems like a drastic measure, but it really does make a lot of sense. Painful as it might be initially, the longer term effects of having a more appropriately priced traffic system in place might be quite good for the nation as a whole. One beneficial side-effect would be that a number of us would be forced to be more social. I'd much rather live in a society made up of more sociable people than not.

For those who think that increasing the cost of utilizing public roads would hurt the lower class... perhaps this could be offset by making public transportation free by having drivers subsidize the costs. I am sure there are many ways to make the system a bit more fair. Surely, many would hate what they perceive as a less convenient system, but it really would be a personal choice. You want convenience? Pay for it. If you don't want to pay for it, then don't complain.

What do you think?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Poker Weekend

This past weekend was all about one thing and one thing only... Poker. So, Alex, my Norwegian poker buddy, came over this past weekend. We both play a ton of poker online, and we have both been itching to play some cards in a live setting for quite a while.

Anyway, we hit Bay101 for two lengthy sessions of $6/12 hold'em, one for 8 hours and another for nearly 22 hours. After these two sessions of poker, I am spent and exhausted, even after sleeping for about 12 hours.

This weekend happened to be one of the best weekends to play because it is one of those special weekends that the alignment of paydays is achieved. This syzygy of monthly, semi-monthly, and bi-weekly paydays is a wonderful thing in the world of poker. It means tons of people have a lot of cash available, which they are more than happy to give away. To give you an idea of how many people were waiting in line to part with their money, let me say that Alex and I waited almost 3 hours to get a seat at a table on Friday night. Saturday night we only waited half as long, because many would-be players no longer had as much money at their disposal.

Here are some poker highlights from this weekend:

- 74 suited takes down a pot unimproved vs 23 offsuit. With betting and calling all the way to the river.

- One very special fish managed to get very lucky and win about 50 bets in an hour, only to give it all back plus another 150 bets in the next six hours rebuying into the game about 10 times. At least he had a ton of fun, as he was joking and smiling the whole time while giving up his money.

- Alex's 77 flopped quads and got paid off handsomely when a guy hits aces full on the river.

- After already having accumulated a mountain of chips, I added to the growing pile with a Royal Flush made on the river with KQ suited on an AJx flop with two of my suit.

- A man who really wanted to bust Alex and hurt him allowed a flop to get checked through with his top pair and top kicker, allowing me to spike a set and piss him off in a major way.

- On the turn, a very tight prop player announces to me that he has AA and allows me to look at one of his two cards after we both put in a lot of chips pre-flop and on the flop. At the turn, the board is Ten high, and I am sitting on QQ. I take a peek and see the Ace of spades. I lay my hand down. If he had AK, and thought that either card would scare me, then he made a wonderful move. But, I guess I will never know.

- A player has 64 suited in the blind. He is raised and calls. He sees a flop of Q64. He goes to war with another player when the turn is a 4. The players end up going all-in, and when the hands are turned over, we see that the other guy has QQ. The man with 64 says, great hand and congratulates him sincerely and is all about ready to push the chips his way when the miracle 4 hits the river. What a spectacle!

- After a guy folds and asks what he has, Alex tells a guy, "Pay me $2, and I'll show you my cards." The guy says, here you go, and shows him the bird.

All in all, it was an extremely fun weekend, but extremely draining, both physically and mentally.