Category Archives: Great Design

Great Design

3 Stock Market Ideas Contrary To Conventional Advice

A popular user post courtesy of reddit's wallstreetbets. Tattoo commemorates one user's massive gains of several hundred thousand dollars on an underdog stock.
A popular user post courtesy of reddit’s wallstreetbets. Tattoo commemorates one user’s massive gains of several hundred thousand dollars on an underdog stock.

 

Above I’ve posted an image from a user post in reddit’s wallstreetbets.  If you’ve been following financial news at all, you’ve surely heard about the frenetic run-ups in various underdog “meme stocks”.  These stratospheric gains have materialized due to massive crowdsourced interest in bidding these stocks up, which in turn has led to complicated secondary effects that have pushed the prices up even further, and this has made some people a lot of money.  In some cases, near-bankrupt companies are able to sell additional stock at those highly-inflated prices, rake in an unusually large amount of proceeds, get out of dire straits, buy some time, regroup, and inch closer to a self-fulfilling prophecy where that company might actually be valuable in the future.  I would definitely not recommend this line of investing for most people, but I think it’s genuinely noteworthy because of the sheer audacity of the movement, its disregard for conventional wisdom, and its discovery and belief in a new idea – whereas previously, people were simply set in their ways and couldn’t see anything of interest.

With that said, in my opinion, conventional stock market commentators, gurus, and authors have largely overlooked some of the best and simplest ideas for the average DIY stock market investor.  Below I’ll list 3:

1.)  Don’t just learn about stocks – learn about options also.  The stock market is never perfectly priced, which is why people buy certain stocks.  They buy them because they’re betting the price will rise, and that’s generally to say those stocks are mispriced.  Likewise, options can be mispriced, and this leads to a second area of potential profit.  Additionally, options can help people shape their risk and their bets more accurately.  Stocks are like a hammer, which is a useful tool, and options are like adding a bunch of extra tools to the hammer.

One of the most common things a retail investor does is buy stocks and then hold them indefinitely.  That investor is literally leaving money on the table each and every year by not selling call options for the stocks that they own.

In my opinion, one of the greatest sins committed by stock market gurus is this sin of omission.  It’s almost a crime when they don’t mention anything about simple option strategies that would bring in easy, ultra-low-risk money for many investors.

2.)  Strongly consider starting out in a Roth IRA or standard IRA.  The reason is pretty straightforward.  These IRA accounts only allow you to deposit $6,000 per year, only allow 3 day trades per week (until you’ve built up extra funds), and disallow the borrowing of stocks (which carries unlimited risk).  Thus, you’re much less likely to lose your life savings in the blink of an eye, before you’ve even had a chance to get the hang of the stock market.  In that sense, IRA accounts create very useful guardrails for those new to the stock market.

There are penalties for early withdrawals from an IRA account.  However, if you were planning on doing this for your long-term financial health anyway, that generally wouldn’t be an issue for you.

Although this entire second point sounds like common sense, to the point you’d expect it to be an axiomatic rule-of-thumb, I can’t say I’ve ever heard it promoted anywhere.

3.)  If you’re looking to day trade, and you’re not 100% certain that you’re a superstar day trader that can generate a ton of money right away with high certainty, give strong consideration to doing it in an IRA account.

This is completely unorthodox.

To start, you will first need to build up additional funds to access full day trading privileges.  A minimum of $25,000 is the FINRA requirement.  The reason to go through all this trouble to day trade is two-fold:

First, profits in Roth IRA accounts are 100% tax-free, except for the very obscure UBTI, which you probably won’t be dealing with.  (Standard IRA accounts have their major tax advantage on the front end.  Roth IRA vs a standard IRA is a big decision, but the point is both offer a major tax advantage.)

Second, tax accounting for day traders is a nightmare.  This is beyond what most people would ever want to spend time on, and so you will be spending money having someone else do it for you.  But, if you can make your day-trading profits completely tax-free, no IRS return will ever necessary for those funds (barring extremely obscure exceptions like UBTI).

Great Design

The English Snob

I’m kind of secretly a snob when it comes to the English language, which wouldn’t be as funny if I were actually fully and completely proficient at English.

Be that as it may, there are at least 3 things that need correction in American English, and they all stem from the same discrepancy:  There is an accepted paradigm that states that language should support ease of use, but yet there is sometimes a lag in the implementation of that paradigm.

 

1.) The first correction is to completely rescind the rule that states that numbers below 11 (some say only below 10) should generally be spelled out.  An counterexample of this is right above where I wrote the numeral ‘3’ instead of the word ‘three’.  Notice how it’s easier to read?  Easier-to-read trumps everything else.

In some cases, small numbers are actually easier to read as a word.  However, in my experience, it’s mostly when there are two sets of numbers being thrown around, and it’s possible to segregate one set (usually the smaller one) by spelling those numbers out.  The bottom line is whatever makes it easier to read is what should be adhered to.

 

2.) An example of the second problem can be found here in a local news story, at the very bottom:

Cameron and Starr counties did not report case numbers as of press time Sunday, with the former routinely skipping Sundays to report activity on Mondays.

Now, in 2020, why do we still tolerate word puzzles in our English-language publications?  If for some reason I wanted to struggle with a printed game, I’d look for something like a crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or maybe even some sort of Mensa challenge.

No one should ever be forced to pause, and use an ounce of mental energy, to figure out what “former” and “latter” are referring to.  Rather than just spell out what they’re saying, these authors are punishing us, and the question is why are we still accepting it?

Stylistically, the “former”/”latter” grammatical construct must literally go the way of the dinosaur, and be renounced unless it’s actually used to replace a sizeable amount of text.

 

3.) What exactly is the Anti-Vaxxers’ philosophy?  Admit it, you had to think about that term Anti-Vaxxers’, didn’t you?

The special-case apostrophe-with-no-s isn’t helping anyone.  It’s not perfectly clear, it causes people to waste mental energy, and adding an extra ‘s’ to the end of the word doesn’t make it especially vile.

In the worst case, there is no problem with the reading of the improved version.  However, I admit that the worst case does sound a little different – but it’s worth it!

“The Anti-Vaxxers’s philosophy…”

If it comes down to saying something that sounds a little different in the worst case, and having to spend mental energy thinking about what words actually mean, saving mental energy should always win, and will eventually win anyway.

 


  Note the British English spelling.  Totally inconsistent use of British English should be acceptable in cases where British English spellings are deemed easier to the eye in terms of comprehension.

Great Design

Things To Do With Cash When There Are Too Many Unknowns

Coronavirus-fueled uncertainty has swept the globe, leading to higher levels of volatility and chaos in the stock market.

If you have money in an IRA (or Roth IRA  or 401 K) account, you probably know that there is a penalty for withdrawing it before a certain age.  Additionally, if you actively manage the money in your IRA account, things have gotten a lot murkier in the past few weeks.  It may not be clear where to allocate the money inside your IRA.

Banks offer their own CDs (FDIC-guaranteed) and money market accounts (not guaranteed), but once again, the money inside an IRA account is basically marooned – you can’t withdraw it to re-invest in bank CDs without the hefty withdrawal penalty.

I discovered there are actually ETFs (exchange-traded funds) that simulate money markets.  The symbol MINT is one of them.  There are others, and certainly do your own research.  Broadly speaking, MINT basically ticks up a penny every day.  It’s a tiny increase, with a tiny amount of volatility, but it’s extremely reliable (although not guaranteed), and it beats having cash sitting in your IRA account doing nothing.

Below is a snapshot of what the MINT fund currently invests in.

What the MINT fund currently invests in as of 1/31/2020.

 

As you can see, there’s a mix of government bonds, private bonds, and bonds from overseas.  Again, it’s basically a money market adapted into a tradable security that, for example, you can purchase inside your IRA account.

(In the days when individual trades cost $5+, this whole idea might  never have made sense.  Luckily, many of the big brokers have waived trading fees.)

Finally, I almost didn’t even post this because private bonds and foreign bonds are definitely susceptible to “black swan” type crises – like a pandemic!  For example, let’s imagine Royal Caribbean issued a private bond and today the MINT fund foolishly purchased it, and then you purchased some shares of MINT.  Let’s say COVID-19 leads to people not going on cruises, which leads to Royal Caribbean defaulting on its bond.  That means MINT will not pay off its projected profits, and in a worst case scenario you could end up losing money.  (And standard money market accounts provided by banks would, likewise, tend to have the same problem.)

So again, certainly do your own research.

Great Design

Things I’ve Never, Ever, Ever Regretted

Laika was the first dog and first living being launched into outer space. She was launched by the Soviet Union in November 3, 1957. (Copyrighted image courtesy of NASA.)

Occasionally I feel the need to get something off my chest, and for some reason this topic has come to mind and it’s struck me with a great deal of clarity.

I have never, ever regretted not being an early adopter of something.

Whether it be technology, a fad, a trend, or something else, I invariably and intentionally wait until I see that it makes sense to use or adopt.

My personal opinion is I don’t feel the need to be a guinea pig that discovers and experiences all the problems, all the risk, and all the various wrinkles that need to be ironed out.  I have never regretted this philosophy.

Moreover, I realized this would probably be a subject ripe for scientific research and publication.  So I searched for “early adopter” on amazon.com and the top results included an ancient technical book dedicated to the niche software subject VoiceXML, and a song by that name performed by the artist “TRAKTOR”.

If those empty search results really do represent a dearth of study on the general subject of early adoption, then my bold prediction is that it’s just a matter of time because this subject is begging to be given a proper academic treatment.

Part of this academic treatment should definitely include higher-level analysis of what various creators and producers can do, given people’s different early adoption habits, as well as the fundamental dynamics of early adoption.  For instance, how could a technology maker more intelligently reason about its operations, and more fully optimize its operations, once this specific dynamic is more perfectly understood and taken more conscientiously into account?

Great Design

Optimizing Our Government

An unlikely tie-in to Phil Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.
An unlikely tie-in to Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.

I once joked that there must be a Japanese word somewhere for the visceral enjoyment of seeing your current political party torn to shreds after performing pitifully in office.  With the general poll numbers that we’re seeing, if there is such a word I think that word might soon become a loan word to the English language.

In a previous blog post, I stated that solutions to address the national debt can only be deemed credible if they actually have a reasonable chance of being accepted by both major parties.  In the days since that blog post, just as in the days before it, we have seen what we always see: politicians basically talking past each other, touting pet policy ideas that are or will be dead on arrival.

But what’s truly remarkable is the number of credible solutions you can actually come up with off the top of your head, without even putting that much effort into it, and how our so-called leaders in Washington somehow can’t operate similarly.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 government optimizations that are indeed credible national debt solutions.  I will list them in order of increasing impactfulness.

  1. Scrap the televised State of the Union.  This now-painfully-outdated requirement in the Constitution has slowly mutated into the absolute biggest waste of time and money in America.  A perfunctory written report from the President to Congress would satisfy the requirement.  It’s time to trim the fat!
  2. Create a national workforce administration to intelligently utilize prison labor, with the goal of offloading government projects and government work to prison inmates.  This is a win/win.  Prisoners represent a large, untapped labor pool.  For each individual prisoner, it would provide a positive, constructive purpose; a way to create a bigger, better résumé while serving their sentence; and presumably a merit system that could reduce their sentence.  For the federal government, it provides cheap labor to throw at federal projects that would otherwise be more expensive.  They could also accept bids from state and local governments for use of the labor, and the state and local governments would benefit in the same manner.  The same type of workforce administration could possibly be devised for homeless U.S. citizens, and it might be wise to keeps these two administrations tightly coupled; inherent differences would probably prevent them from being merged completely.
  3. Create a national workforce administration to intelligently utilize military personnel, with the goal of offloading government projects and government work to military personnel.  Same as solution #2 above, but with the following specific differences.  In order to receive college benefits and any other negotiated enlistment benefits, military recruits must perform 3 months in the workforce service on the back end of their military service.  The requirement gets waived if the individual is seriously injured, has served in an extensive number of active tours, has his enlistment lengthened, or satisfies the 3-month requirement during the main enlistment time frame.  The idea behind that last clause is that if soldiers are stationed somewhere (e.g. Germany or the Middle East), and it’s deemed that the peace-time situation does not require a full presence at all times, then some soldiers can be cycled out to perform some or all of their workforce duty within their regular enlistment period.  During times of peace, this should provide a major windfall for this prospective workforce; in times of war, the impact wouldn’t be as great and might be zero.
  4. Monetize state assets via advertising.  Yes, some things like the front of the White House should be off limits.  But other things – like the exterior sides and certain interiors of a Navy destroyer – must be open for discussion.  Money has to be balanced with dignity and function.  Sports stadiums figured it out decades ago.  Why is our government behind the curve?
  5. Create a National Monument of Debt Philanthropists and Heroes.  If I can walk into a hospital and see the silver, gold, and platinum donors for some pet project at that hospital, why can’t a find a way to donate to solve the federal debt problem?  If I can visit monuments dedicated to war heroes, why can’t we create a monument dedicated to those citizens who might help us avert a financial defeat?  If we created a simple mechanism by which corporate, group, individual, and anonymous donors could provide tax-deductible donations to be used only for national debt obligations, and also provided visibility and status for the greatest among those philanthropists, those donors will eventually donate a significant amount of money.

I think this last one is interesting to brainstorm a little.  You want micro-donations, and you also want mega-donations.  So create a monument space catering to both donation sizes.

For micro-donations, you have an enormous, next-generation TitanTron-esque digital display.  In front of the TitanTron, you have a sprawling landscape for picnics and BBQs.  People who submit micro-donations online can submit their name.  For larger donations, they can upload additional text (e.g. quotes, shout outs, etc).  Perhaps a picture for larger donations, and possibly even video for the largest micro-donations.  Video content above a certain time length requires an additional donation.  And for a few dollars more, they can have their content displayed completely ad-free.  In return, they receive access-code/log-in information that can be used to always determine the next day and time that their content will scroll across the Individual Heroes TitanTron.  Then, you can make a trip out of it – vaguely like the Mecca pilgrimage.  Take your family and friends to Washington D.C., see the standard attractions, and then have a BBQ picnic just in time to see and take selfies with your Individual Hero name/picture/video for 10 seconds or so, of course with important Washington D.C. buildings and monuments perfectly framed in the background.  Artists can bid to have their music played when non-audio content is displayed; of course free music can also be used.  If the people-watching aspect of the TitanTron content ever took on a life of its own and started drawing big enough crowds, you could even charge a small fee to enter the park, and of course add a gift shop.  (People who are scheduled to have their content displayed on that day always get in free.)  And of course, you can brainstorm any number of secondary uses for this enormous, next-generation display during very special holidays and similar events.

Then, behind and to the sides of the micro-donations TitanTron, you have the No Limit Donors park.  Unlike traditional plaque-based donation systems, mega-donors will have a plaque sized to their donation size, most likely snapped to various integer values.  For example, you could set it so that if someone somehow donated $20 trillion, a permanent, indelible No Limit Donor physical plaque would be built for him that is half a mile tall.  Based on a calculation like that, you just scale down from there.  And you aim to have a system where a good-sized rectangular square is what comes up the most often.  What’s important is that you create an incentive to have the biggest.

Americans donate almost a half a trillion dollars a year, and the bottom line is the United States government is not competing for any of those dollars!  If curing Cancer is worthwhile, then so is averting an grave nation-wide meltdown, which could easily lead to severe worldwide chaos.  Offering personalized immortality on what would be the nation’s biggest stage is a very compelling value proposition.

If you build it, they will come!

American excess (/əˈmerəkən/ /ikˈses,ˈekses/), n. bizarre superfluous pageantry lacking any discernible purpose, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
American excess (/əˈmerəkən/ /ikˈses,ˈekses/), n. bizarre superfluous pageantry lacking any discernible purpose, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

 

Great Design

Transparent Entrapment

In my previous post, I took a look at one government dysfunction.  Although bigger problems in Texas might theoretically exist, it’s really no different than any other dysfunction in terms of how it can be fixed.  The solution, in my own words, is transparent entrapment.

We are actually told by the Bible that it’s God’s preferred model.  We are told that God has designed transparent entrapment for humanity.

The Temptation of Christ by the Devil. By Félix-Joseph Barrias in 1860.
The Temptation of Christ by the Devil.  By Félix-Joseph Barrias in 1860.

It’s entrapment because the subject is being tempted to take an action he or she would not otherwise take.

It’s transparent because the subjects have been given forewarning or foreknowledge of it.

One can certainly debate the merits of entrapment, and plenty of other theological questions, but I will tell you this… I have trained a number of dogs employing this device.

For humans, the legal definition of entrapment centers around the use of coercion and other overbearing tactics to induce someone to commit a crime.  In general, this method is illegal, and a solid defense strategy in court is simply to shine a spotlight on it.

Opaque entrapment would simply be the use of entrapment, but without any advance warning that such activity was taking place.  Saddam Hussein was allegedly a prolific, incredibly successful practitioner of opaque entrapment.  And his long-time grip over his government and his people more than validated that attribution.  Iraqi government figures were solicited for betrayal, and if they chose betrayal, they vanished.

Opaque entrapment has an interesting quality, in that if the subjects start to suspect this model is being used, the model still works.  And it was said that this was indeed the case in Iraq.  Saddam’s regime acquired an unofficial reputation for using this model, and it still worked perfectly, and it still snuffed out nearly all hope of internal opposition, because the subjects could never discern whether a betrayal solicitation was genuine or a trap.

In the free world, it’s generally agreed that opaque entrapment borders on cruel.  However, a closer look must be given to transparent entrapment.

Why not tell federal judges they will be intentionally solicited for bribery several times a year?  That in fact, this is all part of the job description.

Why not tell members of the CIA that they will be intentionally solicited for betrayal several times a month?  And that their friends and family will also be intentionally solicited for use in soliciting them?  Yes, there’s obviously a cost there, but I think it’s easy to argue that it’s worth the cost.

And, for example, why not tell Texas Boll Weevil employees that they will encounter intentionally broken, busted boll weevil traps on the ground near their work sites – just begging to be taken back to the boll weevil laboratory?  Failure to return them is considered failure on the job.

Why shouldn’t our public employees be held to high standards?

The fact that it’s transparent may provide a legal defense of the method, but if not, constitutional-level changes would admittedly need to be made.  I really can’t see how it wouldn’t be justified.

This is perhaps the method for rooting out almost any undesirable trait, in any context.

Great Design

Down Home Country Solutions

We had some knives coming out of the dishwasher with little brown rust stains on them.  I tried a variety of methods to remove them, but nothing seemed to really work.

Recently I found some advice online that called for pure lemon juice.  So, I started searching for the internet’s best lemon juice, but the solution ended up being much more down to earth.  We have some lemon trees, and as it turns out, jabbing a knife into a lemon is a lot easier than applying liquid solvents or filling up cups to the brim with commercial lemon products.

lemons 1

And when you’re done with the blade… yes, you can simply flip it around and clean the handle.

lemons 2

 

The results?  UNBELIEVABLE.  I was truly shocked!  Lemons somehow solve this problem perfectly.  The stains get obliterated.  All of them.  They all come right off.

Great Design

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle?

Mr. Sandman

Victor Mr. Sandman
Was “Mr. Sandman” the nom de guerre of Victor?

Mr. Sandman had a few kills in his day.  So many in fact, that the metal parts became twisted and bent to the point the trap was unusable.

To make matters worse, we now favor more human methods (live traps), and best of all, finding and sealing up old rodent entryways.  But Mr. Sandman has moved on as well.  He’s reinvented himself as a sanding block (after going through the dishwasher several times).  Not a bad move on his part.

Sanding Block

Great Design

One Shot, One Kill, Plus Some Swagger

The Sniper movie franchise has been wrung out like a dirty rag containing just a few more drops of water.  After having seen the original Sniper film, I was somewhat disappointed when I heard all the sequels were bad.

Which is why, after seeing the box cover for Sniper: Legacy, I couldn’t stop laughing, and yet also half-wanted to see this film.

The main reason for these mixed emotions was Tom Berenger wearing a baseball cap half-sideways in the field.  This, coupled with the official tagline (“Like Father Like Son”), made it priceless.

Sniper Box Cover I

The unexpected swagger with the baseball cap implied Tom Berenger had finally ascended to the level of sniper deity.  He was so good at his job, he was now taking out his targets with style.  This was something new.  This was something fresh!  And not only that – we couldn’t tell for sure – but it looked like he wasn’t necessarily interested in passing the torch to any of his descendants!  Maybe not a figurative torch anyway.

But alas, a second box cover revealed the truth.  Tom Berenger was actually wearing some sort of fisherman’s hat.  And if you clip that image at just the right spot, it produced what looked to be a half-sideways baseball cap.

Sniper Box Cover II

Was this clever editing designed to produce different images that might appeal to different demographics?  Riding, perhaps, right on the edge of Gestalt Theory?  If I had to guess, probably not.  But at the same time I can’t rule it out.

Gestalt Theory. Composition by Impronta on September 29, 2011.
Gestalt Theory. Composition by Impronta on September 29, 2011.

 

Great Design

An Item That Really Sells Itself

Three rows of frozen fruit on the top shelf of my freezer.
Three rows of frozen fruit on the top shelf of my freezer.

I had just dropped off a bin or two of old household items for donation at the local Goodwill center.  Afterwards, I checked out their inventory inside the store, and by chance I stumbled upon an item for sale which I had never even heard of: Yonanas.

There are very few things, and even fewer products, that I am unabashedly enthusiastic about.  Yonanas is one of them!  I will unabashedly promote Yonanas to family and friends.  The name sounds a little goofy, but trust me, you need to get one of these machines.  The way it works is extremely simple.

  1. Freeze any type of fruit you like.
  2. When you so desire, take the frozen fruit out and let it thaw for about 15 minutes.
  3. Turn the Yonanas machine on and put the fruit or fruit combinations down the machine’s chute.
  4. Out comes something reminiscent of soft-serve ice cream, but with ingredients that consist purely of fruit and nothing else.  There are no other ingredients.
Yonanas product image on Amazon showing a strawberry and bananas combination.  I can tell you that the picture is accurate.  www.amazon.com/Yonanas-901-Deluxe-Cream-Silver/dp/B00532A6YK
Yonanas product image on Amazon showing a strawberry and bananas combination.  I can tell you that the picture is accurate.  www.amazon.com/Yonanas-901-Deluxe-Cream-Silver/dp/B00532A6YK

Simply put, this is fruit reimagined.  My fruit of choice is bananas, but eating them in frozen form, for some reason, is twice as good.  And when some bananas are losing their ripeness and I know I won’t get around to eating them, I just put them in the freezer.  No more waste.

If you had to sell one thing for a living, this would be the thing.  Every house should have one.  Restaurants should sell this as a desert.  I say these things in full sincerity.

Every single thing about this product is simple.  The ingredients are whatever fruit you feel like buying at the store and trying out.  The process of making it is simple.  The time involved is almost non-existent.  The final product itself is simple.  Anyone who can eat ice cream can eat Yonanas.  Children who are given Yonanas will probably like it as much if not more than ice cream, and will probably think it is ice cream.

Arguably, it’s also a healthier desert.  Eating fruit is said to provide many health benefits, plus this is arguably healthier than other deserts with extra added ingredients you can’t even pronounce.  At the very least, it’s as healthy as eating fruit.  If you eat fruit, this is exactly the same thing.  What you put into the Yonanas machine is what you get out.

And finally, as if that weren’t enough, your freezer actually runs more efficiently when it’s packed with more items. The more fruit you freeze, the more energy efficient your freezer becomes.

My Yonanas machine has positioned itself as a first-class, always-out kitchen appliance.
My Yonanas machine has positioned itself as a first-class, always-out kitchen appliance.

One word of warning.  Many fruits are rich in sugar.  If you do a search on Google for something like bananas sugar, you’ll get a customized search result that will tell you how much sugar is in a particular type of fruit.  All of that said, for various reasons, some believe that the sugar in fruit is less of a health concern than the sugar that’s added to most processed foods.

And here’s a final piece of advice that may be useful.  They say that people should not only watch the volume of sugar that they consume, but also the velocity in which they consume it.  In other words, when someone is savoring their Yonanas desert slowly, that’s probably optimal health-wise.

Give Yonanas a try!  People who have taken the plunge have come back to us and reported that it was a great decision.  And just as a basic disclaimer, I have no financial interest in this product, nor any connection to Dole, the company that makes it.