All in a New York Minute

Two New York games for the Caps this week. The first was against the Rangers, with the second on the Island.

The first, against the injury-depleted Rangers, was the Caps second-worst game of the season, I think (behind only the 7-0 drubbing from back in December). I saw nothing good in the newly two periods I watched of it. I turned it off after the second time I got up in the second period, and came back to find another goal scored. At 4-0, I was seeing no signs of any reason to hope. They weren't being unlucky (well, maybe a little, but not significantly), they were just getting out-worked, and generally worked over, by the Rangers.

How upset was management? Perreault got sent down, DJ got waived (about time, that), Marco Sturm was picked up off waivers, MarJo started the Islanders game centering OV and Knuble, and the lines were generally shuffled.

Tonight's game against the Islander started out just as bad. Actually, given all the horrendous turnovers in the first period, maybe even worse. But Neuvy had a stellar game, thankfully, and kept them in it. Actually, his game was even better than it appeared, as he can't really be blamed for either goal tonight. One was a very nice screen (on which Alzner made an uncharacteristically terrible play), and the other was just a fluke on a knuckling puck.

But really, the Caps only had, I think, two good shifts in the first period. One was the Caps first shot of the game; a nice one by OV. The other was some beautiful, sustained pressure that ended with seven minutes left in the period. And it only ended because one of the Islanders got hit by a puck, and the play was whistled dead.

The second period started out similarly listless, with a second goal being surrendered about a minute in. And it kept going like that until just after the midpoint of the period, when Laich got a fairly lucky goal off a turnover at mid-ice. Somehow, the Caps seemed to turn it on about then, and play very well for the rest of the game.

In fact, they played well enough to end up winning the game, with Knuble and Semin (playing on the again-reconstituted SOB line) getting the tying and winning goals, respectively. Neuvy kept the Islanders off the sheet for the remainder of the game, backstopping the win.

So it's with mixed feelings, and a bit of tripidation, that I say, "Yay".

Next up will be the Islanders again on Tuesday, this time at home. We will hope that the team that finished tonight's game will show up, not the team that started it.

Epic Banking Fail

The library finally got Malkiel's latest edition of Random Walk Down Wall Street to me earlier today (it took an inordinately long time; something like two weeks to inprocess the book. Dunno what's typical, but I'd think on the order of a day).

I must admit, I ended up feeling good that I'd gotten the previous edition (due to buying it a couple of months before this edition came out). I didn't go through the whole book looking for updates, but I looked for something on the mortgage crisis/bubble (there, but short and not very thorough) and to see if anything was updated in the derivatives section (actually removed). The rest of the changes appeared to be minor updates.

The reason I felt like I knew enough about the mortgage crisis to be disappointed with the handling of it in Random Walk was that I recently read Michael Lewis' The Big Short.

It wasn't the first Lewis book I'd read. I read about Moneyball, when it came out, on a number of baseball blogs; several years later, I finally read it. And a friend gave me The Blind Side when it came out, which I read very shortly thereafter. I've also read some pieces he's written for Vanity Fair.

He's a very funny and insightful writer. His descriptions of Michael Oher playing high school football had me laughing out loud repeatedly. But what really struck me about The Big Short was how good his analogies were. They really helped to simplify a very complex process.

And that's what I mostly got out of the book, was seeing the financial legerdemain that tried to follow the Yellow Brick Road. And that gave a great deal of insight into what happened on the way to the Emerald City.

But another good part about the book was being introduced to many of the major players (the big winners, as well as some of the losers).

One way that the book fell short, for me, was that his overarching thesis was that the 80s investment bank milieu (which he wrote about in Liar's Poker) had never really ended until this all happened.

My problem with that is that I don't see how it's actually ended, except, perhaps, in a sense so narrow as to be useless. The narrow truth is that all the big investment banks ended up as depository banks, or bought by same, or went out of business.

But the problem comes in in seeing how that actually made them change how they operate. The people who caused the problems still ended up rich (as Lewis himself points out) as Midas. There's no evidence that Too Big To Fail will not be the case in a subsequent crisis (you know, privatized profits with socialized losses). The banker's bonus money still flows like a river in flood. In fact, with the banking "reform" bill eliminating "mark to market", it could be argued that things are even worse now, systemically.

Another minor problem (minor because I'm sure Lewis would argue that it was beyond the scope of what he was writing, and my only counterargument to that is how big a deal this is) is that he doesn't get into just how close this mess came to bringing down the entire banking system. According to what I've read lately, we were days away from not being able to get money from an ATM, because the banks wouldn't lend to each other. Yes, it was that bad.

But despite those two issues, I thought the book was fabulous. I really appreciated how he laid out the trickery (and treachery), that built the house of cards. Next up on my reading list (for financial matters, anyway), is Matt Taibbi's Griftopia. We'll see how that adds to my understanding.



I heard yesterday, I think, that Obama had decided not to defend DOMA in court. I must admit, I'm very conflicted on this, on several levels.

On the one hand, I think DOMA must go. I think it's pointlessly discriminatory, and doesn't actually help anyone (though the homophobes certainly will claim it helps them. And I suppose if their peace of mind is a priority, I can't really argue with that).

But it isn't the President's place to decide that a law is unconstitutional; this is part of why the courts exist. Plus, the DoJ is basically admitting that Obama is giving them an order. Given that a significant part of the why the DoJ exists is to make sure that the executive branch is actually following the law, the President giving them orders certainly sounds like the DoJ doesn't believe in their own mandate. And that disturbs me greatly.

If the President does something clearly illegal, who else is going to pursue it? If the President is calling all the shots, then it seems to be nobody.


South-Least Division?

People have been calling it that for a long time (of course, I remember the Norris Division being a joke for a long time too, so you never know), but many were saying that it wasn't so anymore this year. And I believed that for a while.

But yesterday, I looked at the standings for the division, and noticed that the Caps were the only team with a positive goal differential (though at only +12, they're hardly blowing the doors off the competition). So I think it's a bit premature to remove that moniker, though it certainly looks more promising for the future.

Catapulting to Success

I keep up with a number of comic strips online (I usually catch up every 2-4 weeks, which is sad). But this one I found particularly funny. I think it's probably only a little bit less cleanly than just trying to put food directly into a young toddler's mouth.


But a Tiny Bit Sad, as Well

It's been seeming likely that this would happen for quite a while, but now it's actually happened. Borders has declared bankruptcy. They aren't completely liquidating; from what I understand, they got a loan to keep some of the stores running for at least a while longer, but they're essentially gone.

And that makes me sad, because I remember how I felt when I went into a Borders. Given that Waldenbooks (owned by Borders; not sure if they're now all gone), B Dalton (later bought out by Barnes and Noble; not sure if any of these are still around), and Crown Books (became, or were bought by, Books-A-Million some years ago) were the only bookstores at the time, it was really exciting to see how many options were available in a Borders.

But I can see how I didn't help keep them around, either, despite how cool I used to find them. I haven't bought a book at full price at Borders in years. When they've had 30-50% coupons, I've bought a few books here and there, but I've mostly bought all my books at Amazon for many years.

Feeling Great, of Late

Been a bit quiet of late, because my wife gave birth to our son about a week ago. As anyone with kids can tell you, that really makes it hard to do much requiring more than ten minutes.

So I've missed most of the Caps games since then. I saw the Sharks game, to some disappointment (and even greater disappointment when I heard that Boudreau had called out Neuvy after the game. The first goal there might have been a bit soft, but he'd played a fabulous game, and absolutely did not deserve that). The Kings game was pretty similar, with the Caps playing well for the first period and then falling apart. I completely missed the Yotes and Ducks games. I saw a bit of the latter Sharks game, but am having trouble calling any specifics of it to mind. And I totally missed the Sabres game last night.

But I've got this little guy to look after, so no worries.


Having the Answer

I heard this interview with Gordon Murray when it first played, on December 17th. I was impressed with him, particularly when he talked about his disease (he has a brain tumor that eventually took his life exactly one month after that). But I forgot about his book entirely by the time I got home that day.

But I had it suggested to me again last week, and ended up ordering it. The book is very small; only sixty-six pages. I read the entire thing between the two games earlier today.

As you'd expect, it doesn't get bogged down in details, but it is very good at conveying the important details. If you want more details, the Random Walk book I talked about previously has most of them.

But this one also talks about a few other issues, such as what to look for if you go searching for a financial adviser. That section was very good, and mentioned a couple of things I probably would not have thought about on my own.

It also went over diversification and styles of investing (active vs passive). Those parts weren't as good (to me, at least), but were still interesting. One important point in that section was on rebalancing, and how that helps you maintain your preferred risk profile. Again, useful.

I think this book is a fantastic introduction to investing; it really does hit the important points without a lot of fluff. And, being so short, it can easily be finished in one sitting.

Dunno if I'd recommend it for people with significant experience (almost certainly not, if the parts I mentioned don't sound useful), but I definitely would for anyone starting out.

Update: Forgot to mention... You might notice that that link to Random Walk is for a new edition of the book that came out last month. I haven't looked at it, but I might try to find it. Unfortunately, I doubt the library will have it. *sigh* It'd be cool if it addressed the issues I mentioned.

Update 2: Just checked the library; they have the new edition on order, and I'm first in the hold queue. Dunno how long that'll take, but it looks good.

Cheesehead Champs

Watched the Superbowl this evening, mostly in realtime. The Packers sure brought it at the beginning of the game, but took almost the entire third period off before sealing the win at the end.

The Steelers really shot themselves in the foot, though, with three turnovers. Well, probably shouldn't blame those on the Steelers; they were both very nice plays by the Packers (the first by the lineman who hit Roethlisberger as he was releasing the ball, the second by the safety who picked it off).

I did like the option play that the Steelers ran for the two-point conversion to pull within a field goal late in the game. I was disappointed that the Packers didn't do more designed roll-outs. The one that they did run worked quite well, but they didn't come back to it, for some reason.

I must admit one thing was disappointing. The reason I watched most of the game in realtime was that I wanted to see the commercials, but I didn't really think any of them were especially good. By far, my favorite was this Volkswagen commercial that I had already seen last week.

There were lots of upcoming movies; Kung Fu Panda 2, Transformers 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, and Fast and Furious 5. Non-sequels? Well, there were a few, though Rango is the only one that stuck in mind. It's too early to be too sure, but it's entirely possible that Panda is the only one of those I'll watch.

I thought the halftime show was reasonably good, although the bar there is so low that I'm not sure that's actually a compliment.

Anyway, congratulations to the Cheeseheads, you are the Champions again.

Side note: my dad called earlier today, and asked if the baby was trying to come out today. I was a little confused about that (he's due soon, but not today), until he reminded me that I was born on Superbowl Sunday, and said he was contemplating it being a generational thing. Thankfully, no.

Pen Pow

I think the Caps played their most complete game of the year earlier today. It wasn't a blow-out, but I thought Fleury actually had a fantastic game to keep it from becoming one.

The Caps mostly kept the play in the Pens zone, got a lot of chances, and didn't allow much coming back the other way. Neuvy got his second shut-out of the year, stopping all 22 shots he faced.

The penalty kill not only killed both penalties the Pens got, but MarJo potted one with a backhander past the defender, and over Fleury's shoulder with five seconds left in the first of those penalty's.

Actually, though, I rather disagreed with Hendricks getting that penalty. He was skating by the net, was pulled off balance by the defender, and fell (with some additional help from that selfsame defender) onto Fleury, which negated a goal that went in a second or two later.

Getting back to MarJo, his apparent improvement on the dot didn't appear today. The Penguins didn't have anyone win more than 38% of their faceoffs, yet MarJo didn't have a better percentage than the two who won that often.

I must have only noticed Matty P on the dot the one time he lost; he had a great day there, winning four to go with that loser. He was also helping his line keep buzzing quite a bit, especially in the first period, and had the secondary assist on Laich's goal that opened the scoring.

Knuble finished the scoring with an empty-netter in the last minute.

The only bad parts were the slapshot that Green took to the head in the second period (he didn't return), and the blow that OV took to the knee from Cooke. If Cooke doesn't get suspended for that knee-on-knee hit, I will be very upset. OV did jump up and try to go after Cooke, which bodes well for his status, but I'm still a bit concerned. Hopefully, neither of them will miss any time.

Let's hope the good momentum and mojo will carry over into Tuesday's game against the Sharks. And maybe we'll see Semin back? (No, I haven't heard anything to indicate that that's likely; I'm just hoping.)


Static Charge

I watched the Caps game last night with a definite sense of satisfaction. There were many good things to go around: the top line produced like one, the power play scored, MarJo only lost one faceoff, Varly saved 92% (although he'd definitely like to have that first goal back), there was effort from start to finish, and they even showed Tampa-specific strategy. Oh, and Hendricks and Bradley both had long fights where they acquitted themselves well. Plus, Hendricks managed to draw a roughing penalty on Roloson, of all people; I felt like I was watching Ron Hextall on the replay of that sequence.

More specifically, everyone on the top line scored a goal (Backstrom had an extra, as well, and almost made it a hat trick when Tampa's net was empty), plus they had six assists between them (Green and Carlson had the other two secondary assists on those four goals). OV, unsurprisingly (well, outside of this season, unsurprisingly), had the power play goal with a wicked wrister from the side boards that deposited itself in the net over Rolo's shoulder.

MarJo had kind of a weird game, from my perspective. The faceoffs were definitely the highlight of the game for him; this being his fourth consecutive game winning over 50% of his faceoffs, I'm definitely wondering if he's turned a corner. In any event, it's great to see. But, getting back to what made it weird, I didn't even notice him until almost the end of the first period. I was just watching, and suddenly realized that I hadn't noticed him up to that point (maybe 15 minutes in), and was wondering if he'd been scratched for some odd reason. Finally saw him shortly thereafter.

Matty P had a pretty good game. I thought he'd done ok on the faceoffs, but looking at the stat sheet, it was a disaster (I must have only noticed one of his losses to go with his three wins). He did, however, do a nice job overall; his assist on Laich's goal was very pretty (if a bit lucky he didn't end up high-sticking someone while pulling the puck between his feet). And thank goodness Boudreau didn't put him between Laich and Knuble again; those two should never be on the same line.

I mentioned the team showing some Tampa-specific strategy. Tampa, I guess, has just been clogging the zone really badly. In response, the Caps defenders were taking shots on Roloson from their own blue line to get the puck into the zone. Plus, after they had a lead, the defenders would just pass it back and forth between themselves to get Tampa to commit to pressuring them. Meanwhile, it seemed like the forwards (two of them, at least), would just skate big circles that occasionally brought them back all the way to the defenders.

The playing catch was really irking the crowd, but I was very amused. One of those sequences lasted over thirty seconds. Not exactly exciting, but a good way of saying, "Your strategy will not work". As I said, I liked it. Not only because it was a good move to throw Tampa off, but it also showed coaching to the opponent. I'm not a big fan of playing reaction to the opponent, but it was a good example of disrupting the other team's strategy.

Oh, and the long, long shots also seemed to torque Rolo. One of those shots, in particular, seemed to really piss him off. Throwing the goalie out of his comfort zone is always a good idea, especially facing one who shut you out the last two times you faced him.

Oh, and the Carlznerson line again shut down the top opposition. And this time, they were even +2 each. Nice.

Anyway, good job all around, guys. The score, combined with noticing each team's goal differential this morning, has me feeling a lot better about the Caps chances to catch the Lightning in the standings. Try to do it again tomorrow against the Pens; definitely looking forward to that game.

(Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, I didn't watch the Habs game on Tuesday, as I was busy taking my car in for service. Plus, I accidentally caught the score from the paper in the morning. *sigh*)


Save Early, Save Often

One thing all get-wealthy and financial-intelligence books will tell you is to save early and save often. I wonder if they understate the save early part.

To demonstrate, consider this example. If you save $1k/yr every year between age 20 and 30, earning 8% interest, you'll end up with $157k by age 60. On the other hand, if you save $1k/yr every year from 30-60, earning the same interest, you'll only end up with $122k.

Let me repeat that, just to emphasize how important it is. Starting ten years earlier, but only saving one-third the amount of money, you will still end up with 29% more money at age sixty. And remember that that gap will grow the farther out you want to take it.

To push this home even harder, if you up the rate of return merely to 10%, the numbers increase to $306k and $181k. This is almost a 40% gap.

It's also worth noting that a mere 2% increase in annual growth comes close to doubling the final amount, in the 10-year savings plan. This is the miracle of compound interest. Make it work for you, rather than against you (which is what happens with excessive borrowing).

One way that I've done so is that I've always put 10% of my salary away in my 401(k), even back when I had just graduated, and it seemed silly. This actually served a double (or triple) purpose. It got me started saving, and it got me used to having less cash on hand. As a side bonus, it saved me a little bit on taxes.

Some years later, I did a similar thing when I was planning on buying my first house. To get used to having less cash on hand, I split my direct deposit so a couple hundred (of every paycheck) went into an index fund while the rest went into my bank account. As a nice side effect, it helped me efficiently build up that down payment.


A Mind is a Terrible Thing...

My local NPR station (well, the one of the two that I generally listen to) is WAMU. Recently, they decided that they needed a slogan, for some reason. They came up with 'The Mind is Our Medium'.

I don't really have much issue with their choice of slogan; it's a bit pretentious, but that's a minor veniality.

The part that I can't figure out, and why I wrote this, is why they wanted to have a slogan to begin with. If this were a commercial enterprise (read: for profit), I would totally understand. But as a non-profit entity that gets a lot of its funding via contributions from listeners, I don't get it at all. Do they somehow think this slogan is going to increase listenership?

And if it does, what does that get them? They can't charge higher rates for advertising.

Are they going to stomp out the other local NPR station? That would be sad, on a number of levels, if so.

Or is this just part of the increasing effort to treat the university as a money-generating institution, which seems to be sweeping across many colleges and universities? The school did already lose one president a few years ago, because that was his MO, and he abused the fund-raising budget to stroke his own ego. (You know, thinking about it, part of the reason was that he used his chauffeur as an errand boy for personal errands, but I never thought to question why he had a chauffeur to begin with. I really can't see a reason for a university president to even need a chauffeur.)

I wish my snark-generator was working a bit better at the moment; this definitely deserves more mockery than I've written.