Stock Market Facination

About a month ago, my wife sent me a link to CNBC's Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge, saying that she thought it would be something I'd be interested in. That probably came from my participation in ProTrade over the last year, which allows you to trade stock in athletes and teams based on their performance. Granted, it's nothing like the real stock market and is much more volatile (as can be seen by my 3600% portfolio growth since last April). I had tried making the transition to stock market games before, but it usually wasn't long before I lost interest.

Nonetheless, I decided to take up the challenge anyway. I figured that maybe with a few right moves, maybe I'd luck out and win the challenge.

A month later, I'm hooked. Plus, I've finally taken the time to do some of my homework and learned some of the key indicators for long-term stock performance (I just won't end up being a day-trader…it's not in my nature). It's not that it's easy, but the right indicators certainly help. So, right now I'm sitting with an entry already in the top 10% of all participants, with over a month and a half left to go. Hopefully, I can keep up the pace.

It's definitely piqued my interest, and I'd love to try my hand at some actual stock investing in the near future now.

The Andromeda Strain-ed

I enjoy the work of Michael Crichton. I've read most of what he's published, and I think his combination of science and imagination is fascinating.

The Andromeda Strain is one of his most understated works of suspense, as he puts a team of scientists in a high-security lab as they try to figure out what exactly killed off an entire small town in a matter of minutes and how to stop it before it kills more. It's an interesting mix of science, humanity and nature all put together in a solid novel.

Now, the book did get a movie treatment back in the day. I've seen it, and it sticks pretty closely to the book, but it's kinda hard to watch any more because the look of it is just so dated.

Well, recently A&E and Ridley Scott decided to try and turn it into a two-part, four hour TV movie with all the fixins. They even got a solid bunch of actors (Benjamin Bratt, Daniel Dae Kim and several others who have made a career of being on various TV shows). Even the special effects weren't bad for a made-for-a-cable-TV-channel movie.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure the screenplay writer lost his copy of the book…

Maybe a quarter of what went on in this movie comes from anything found in the the original work. Instead of being a story about science, the unknown, and immense pressure, they turned the whole thing into a government conspiracy pseudo-science piece of crap. They even made the leap to wormholes and time travel (probably from Chrichton's Sphere) and nanoparticle communication in neural networks (probably from Crichton's Prey) and even stole the deep sea drilling protests from the Cloverfield backstory. It all turned into a hodge-podge of pure, unfettered crap.

If you've never read the book, this movie might even seem excusable. However, the story was so mutated and corrupted that it just ruined my night.

So, if you see this on TV, make sure to keep on passing by. You'll thank me later…




Yes, I Am A Penguins Fan

It has been a long time since I really followed hockey.  Probably since the Whalers left Hartford, I just haven't been as interested in the sport.

penguins But I have to admit that last year around playoff time, I started rooting for the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They were just a young, talented but scrappy team that was just starting to figure out how to play together.  They were a hot team that just got knocked off their rocker by the Ottawa Senators when things ramped up into playoff speed.

And that basis made it so easy to continue rooting for them this year.  They really began to see what they could become, added a few grizzled vets, and called up a few more young guns.  Losing their goalie, Fleurry, and Crosby for a significant portion of the season forced a few of the players to step up and play like they could have been all along (see Malkin and Staal).  Now that everyone is back together, they're easily one of the most talented teams in the NHL, and they'll put that on the line tonight against the team with the best record in the league, the Detroit Red Wings.

If you haven't followed hockey much in the past few years, you really should turn it on tonight for these Stanley Cup Playoffs.  These are probably two of the most talented teams to ever play for the cup, and it should be some great hockey to watch.

GO PENS!!!

Dickenson College Graduation '08: Worst. Graduation. Ever.

This past weekend, my wife and I traveled out to Dickenson College in Carlisle, PA for my sister-in-law Marissa's commencement ceremony, and it had to be one of the worst graduation ceremonies I've ever seen:

  • The held it outdoors, despite a forecast of heavy rain (which we were told is a Dickenson tradition, which the college's president decided to stick with despite the complaints from the students). It was a lawsuit waiting to happen with all the cables for audio and video running around and the number of grandparents who were there for the “festivities”. At least they had TVs with the ceremony on them in most of the buildings, but even that was kinda slapdash as there was nowhere enough room for those seeking refuge from the weather.
  • Nobody seemed to know what was going on. There were no proper introductions. People just stepped up to the podium and started talking. Even when they went through the graduates names, they then had them walk down some steps (wet ones) and into a mob of people. Yea…lots of great photo ops.
  • They gave away three honorary degrees to people already holding advanced degrees in their fields. This from a college who offers no post-graduate educational opportunities. Brilliant.
  • They invited a philosopher to give the commencement address. Nobody knew he was going to talk until he started either. His speech was slow and incoherent, but somehow he drew the conclusion that every time the amount of information humans have surmised doubles, that means all the people alive then become twice as smart. Not that you need to apply knowledge or anything like that…probably because he's never had to apply any.
  • When handing out diplomas, all students who had relatives or close friends who were Dickenson alumni in attendance had their degrees given to them “with the help” of that person. I've never seen a school do this before, but I guess it's cool to be part of the clique. I mean, only me, my dad, and my uncle could have helped give my brother his degree when he graduated from Hiram.
  • Despite braving the weather, all student speeches were cut from the program. Honestly, the whole thing wasn't about them anyway, so that seemed appropriate.
  • Finally, for the student's final meal on campus, a family brunch, they served chicken fingers, quiche, and hash browns. Talk about going the extra mile.

The whole event was simply a display of aggrandized self-importance by the college, and they failed miserably. They may be a good school, but they are not the elite school they seem to believe and act like they are. I'm proud of Marissa for graduating, and know that she has a lot of opportunities ahead of her, but her school put together one of the most miserable “significant events” that most of those graduates will have to remember.

So queue Comic Book Guy:

Worst. Graduation. Ever.

Some "Spygate" Perspective

Shortly after I posted my thoughts on Sen. Specter earlier, I found the following posted on Mike Reiss' blog at the Boston Globe:

Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said yesterday that he feels there should be an independent investigation of the New England Patriots' videotaping procedures, similar to what took place in baseball with the Mitchell report.

The following are the thoughts of Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy (D-Ma.) regarding the issue.

“With the war in Iraq raging on, gasoline prices closing in on $4 a gallon, and Americans losing their homes at record rates to foreclosure, the United States Senate should be focusing on the real problems that Americans are struggling with,” Kennedy said through a spokesman in response to a question posed by a Globe reporter. “I'm looking forward to another great Patriots season where they can let their play on the field speak for itself.”

Kennedy and Specter sit together on the 19-member Senate Judiciary Committee.

Glad there's someone on Capitol Hill with some perspective!

Good Ol' Wastin' Specter

Well, Senator Arlen Specter is at it again folks, beating his dead horse. After all, it's just one big conspiracy for the NFL to save face and protect the Patriots. We all know that either the Steelers or Eagles should have won every one of the previous 42 Super Bowls, and the NFL has just been plotting to keep that from happening year after year. He'll keep on pontificating until he gets just that!

And politicians wonder why people think politicians never get anything useful done?

Dynamic Fraction Display For ColdFusion

Ever want to store a value in a database as a decimal value, but then display that value on your ColdFusion website as a fraction.  Well, now you can!

The following function (cut out of a more general CFC) does just that for fractions as precise as 1/100, and will handle the whole number parts as well (i.e. displaying “1.25″ as “1 1/4″). 

<cffunction name="displayFraction" output="false" access="public" returntype="string" hint="Generates a fraction from a decimal.">
    <cfargument name="formatThis" type="Numeric" required="true">
    
    <cfset wholePart = int(formatThis)>
    <cfset fractionPart = (numberFormat(formatThis,".999") - int(formatThis)) * 100>
    
    <cfif fractionPart NEQ 0>
        <cfloop from="2" to="100" index="d">
            <cfif (round(fractionPart * d) MOD 100) EQ 0>
                <cfset denominator = d>
                <cfset numerator = round(fractionPart * d) / 100>
                <cfbreak>
            </cfif>
        </cfloop>
    </cfif>
    
    <cfif wholePart GT 0>
        <cfset fraction = "#wholePart#">
    <cfelse>
        <cfset fraction = "">
    </cfif>
    
    <cfif fractionPart NEQ 0>
        <cfset fraction = fraction &amp; " #numerator#/#denominator#">
    </cfif>
    
    <cfreturn fraction>
</cffunction>

I wrote it for a recipe storage application for personal use, and thought others might find it useful as well.  If you do find a good way to use it, feel free to drop me a line!

Discovering Pittsburgh: Monterey Bay Fish Grotto

grandviewPic Last week at my job, we had one of our clients in town.  Looking for a nice place in town to take them, we decided on the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto, a beautiful seafood restaurant that sits up on the top of Mount Washington overlooking downtown Pittsburgh.

First of all, the view is simply amazing.  From our table, we had a direct view of all of downtown, the two stadiums (Heinz Field and PNC Park), and could see for miles in the distance.

Secondly, they have some of the best seafood in town.  To make a point of it, I say that and I don't even like seafood.  However, everything I've tried there has been excellent.  That includes tuna, swordfish, Maryland crab cakes, shrimp and calamari.  Seeing as I avoid seafood almost everywhere else, that is quite the ringing endorsement.

And yes, while it is definitely among the more expensive restaurants I've had the pleasure of dining in, it is well worth the price.  Whether you're out to enjoy a special evening, impress a client, or simply indulge yourself, the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto is one of the premier places in Pittsburgh to consider.

Workin' Hard Or…

Yea, I wish I could say “Hardly Workin'”. Instead, it's been a crazy week with lots of time critical projects, meetings, and face-to-face time with clients. Between Monday and Wednesday, I put in over 32 hours of work!

Thankfully things are calming back down now, but I really don't have many urges to go near my computer this weekend.