Friday, February 29, 2008

1999 Flashback

Some fun OLD photos we found of our trip to China back in 1999:
Rob @ Tienanmen
Rachel in Xi'an
Group Photo with Buddha
Pictures borrowed from our sponsoring program, CCCU's CSP.

These photos go way back to the pre-millennial days when Rachel and I were just considering ourselves a couple. Very exciting and frightening at the same time. At the end of the semester, we figured if we could survive a relationship in China, we could survive a relationship anywhere. And that theory was strangely accurate: making a relationship work in the USA was so much easier! During the trip to China (Fall 1999), we spent most of our time in Xi'an, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai. We visited many other cities along the way.

Our favorite moments in China (in no particular order):
1) Top of the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai
2) Trekking around Xi'an on the famurs "City Wall" (you're not suppose to go around the whole thing , but we did).
3) 37-hour train ride from Guangzhou to Xi'an
4) Horseback riding in Gansu Province
5) Tai Chi lessons (cloudy hands!)
6) Street food vendors (hepatitis on a stick)
7) Beijing: Great Wall and Rachel's 21st birthday bash (same day)
8) Beijing (Continued): Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs, Silk Alley (which is now lame. No more "authentic" North Face copies. Now they're flagrantly "Noryth Face.")
9) Xi'an's Old District / Muslim Quarters / Terra Cotta Soldiers
10) Starbucks in Beijing. You wouldn't understand unless you lived in a developing country with little familiar around you, then one day seeing the blessed Green Mermaid in a window across the street after being away from home for 4 months.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Temporary Space Filler

Here are the only thoughts going through my head at this time:
1) My wife is really cute and smart. She works hard and I cherish the brief four hour window we see each other between 6:30pm and 10:30pm. I love getting ready for the day together (between 6:25am and 7:15am). And I look forward to us seizing the weekend with a trip to the mountains, downtown, Oregon, the beach, or even to a humble local coffee shop.
2) We like Jackson, our little 8-lb bundle of energy. No matter how long or tired our day was, Jackson always greets us with a supercharged tail wag, a few hops of excitement, and a low growly-gurgly roar.
3) I don't like to write about myself.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Real Estate Mess: Scapegoating

There must be no crisis, because everyone is convinced they didn't do anything. Why don't their Pollyanna attitudes make me feel warm and fuzzy? Greenspan, Bernanke, Bush, Century 21, mortgage brokers, appraisers, Countrywide, Moody's, FICO, WAMU, speculators, and my favorite: HGTV and "Flip That House," have all come out to say they were just victims of a systematic shift in the underpinnings of our socio-economic reality.

So if it's any consolation, I'm happy to take the blame. My bad. While Rachel and I were in Romania herding sheep and teaching their Gen Y to speak idiosyncratic American English, I was plotting a diabolical scheme to secretly signal to the Fed to keep interest rates low after the tech bubble burst and convincing banks to unload their liabilities into investment vehicles (CDOs) that people all around the world could buy in small "risk-free" chuncks (according to S&P), thereby aleviating the barriers to entry for sub-prime borrowers and creating a supersized proletariat uprising of home buyers and flippers - egged on by dreams of riches as promised by HGTV. As you can imagine, Rachel and I had quite a bit of extra time in the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Online Investment Portfolio Optimizer Tool

If anyone knows where to find an online tool to optimize your investment portfolio, please send the link my way. I'm tired of guessing: "Hmm, I think I'll take 62% of Diversified Value Fund #3, 30% of International, and 8% of Bond Fund #A ... no Bond Fund B, yes! Now I'm diversified!"

For a company like Yahoo / Google Finance, Reuters, MarketWatch, etc, it would be super easy to develop one. Just enter the security ticker symbols (or if no ticket symbol exists, just enter a few assumptions about your asset), and voila - it tells you exactly what percentage of each asset to invest in to optimize your portfolio (the easiest way is to just maximize the sharpe ratio based on historical returns).

These companies already have the historical price information, from which you can calculate variance (risk), and return (reward). All they have to do is create an asset optimization function. This may sound like bizarre jargon, but I'm not a financial wiz and even I created an asset optimization function for up to 6 assets (my story in a previous post). Just have someone brighter than I make a function that incorporates more than 6.

Final thought: if this doesn't exist for free, then whichever company develops the investment optimizer tool first (it's super easy) will be rewarded by good press and TONS of money from users and advertisers. These do exist, but they either cost money and don't use historical information, or they do and they're closely guarded by Wall Street money managers (even though it isn't hard replicate!)