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“Ancient Chinese Secret, huh?”

Chopstick Greeting

  • As long as I can remember noticing, 30 years ago, say, Chinese take-out places have used the same chopstick sleeve with the same horrible English greeting. Maybe that was forgivable when Nixon went to China but now I believe there are more than several folks in China who speak English quite well. Before the Olympics, the Chinese government found the practice of, er, liberal translations on signage in Beijing embarrassing enough that they sent squads of language police around to “help” business owners fix things. Given that around a million Americans see these sleeves every day, you’d think word would get back to the printer about this. Maybe they screwed up the order back in 1975 and printed 5 billion instead of 50 thousand. They’ll be gone in another 20 years.

    By the way, we said “Peking” back when the chopstick sleeves were written. If stupid Americans can get with the program, why can’t they?

    On the other hand, I read my VERY FIRST useful fortune from a cookie the other day. I keep hoping for something good like “Tomorrow at 3pm you will narrowly avoid being hit by an Entenmann’s bakery truck. The mortified driver will offer you cookies.” Instead I get “Puppies are nice,” or something.

    So anyway, you know how you lose touch with friends and you don’t want it to happen but it just does and the longer you put off contacting them the more guilty you feel about not doing it so you put off doing it some more and weeks become months and then years? I was in that state with a couple people and was trying to screw up my courage to invite them to my big 50th birthday bash. Then I cracked open a stale cookie and got this:

    Naturally, I took it as a sign, got off my ass and lifted my heavy burden with an email (which amazingly was still valid after all the years). Thank goodness the printer for the fortune cookies has a copywriter with decent English skills. The lucky numbers were garbage, though.

    BTW, the title of this post refers to the classic catch phrase in a Calgon laundry additive commercial from the 1970’s.

  • Oktoberfest 2008

    And, yes, it was my 50th Birthday party, but let’s not dwell on that. Yes, I did get drunk in front of my boss but let’s not dwell on that either.

    More sordid images below.

    Here’s more (and better) revelry from Lauren.  Check out the road beers (I mean train lemonades) in the purse.

    Even more (even betterer) revelry from Annika.

    Twice Flat Broke

    I came across a book at a flea market last year called “Cheer Up!,” published in 1933. It was written by Roger Babson, a noted investor of the day who predicted the 1929 crash and was the Prohibition Party’s (which still exists -shudder! – ) candidate for President of the United States in 1940. In between the covers of the book was a fascinating note:

    “Twice flat broke!” Get it? Har! I think this note is a gag. There was never a U.S. senator named Ramsbottom. The book does give good perspective though. There is nothing new under the sun and the current financial crisis we find ourselves in is just like all the other blow-offs of speculative excess we’ve seen going back to the tulip bulb mania. This too will pass so cheer up!

    Lies, Damn Lies and Charts
    Crowd Outside the NYSE after 1929 Crash

    Crowd Outside the NYSE after 1929 Crash

    Stocks Dumped as Loan Rate Mounts, Sending Wide List Down.
    Heavy Buying Orders in Five Pivotal Securities Help Stem Tide in Last Hour,
    300 ISSUES AT YEAR’S LOW $13,874,000
    Bond Sales Also Biggest for 1929, With Many Declines.
    – The Events of the Day.
    – Credit Curb the Big Factor.
    – Opening is Closely Watched. Tickers Fall Far Behind. –
    – Rally Comes Unexpectedly.
    – Feature Is Tremendous Volume –
    – Easier Credit Looked For. –
    – 1921 Situation Paralleled. –

    So said the New York times. Is this 1929 allover again? I don’t know but last week was sure scary. We can take some comfort from the fact the policy makers are trying to ease the crunch, not make it worse, as they did back then. This isn’t a post about that, though. This is a post about how some people are using charts to whip up fear. I was at the IMF meetings over the weekend and some of the speakers seemed to have a vested interest in making things worse. Robert Shiller, a Yale economist is famous for creating the Case-Shiller home price index, a widely used measure of the current housing crisis. He spoke on a panel and presented a chart overlaying stock prices from 1929 with stock prices now and suggested that Monday might be the “big one.” Here is what he showed:

    Looks like we are sliding down the same precipice. We may be sliding down, but this chart shows absolutely nothing. In fact, it lies by committing the sin of using different scales for the two series. Here is what happens when we make the percentage range the same for the Dow then and now:

    So, while we haven’t had the same 1-day percentage fall we saw on Black Monday, the Dow is already down every bit as much, and more, as it was back then. Why would a Yale professor show something so misleading. To sell his books, I think. If Monday had been a puke then he could say “see!”

    Then the next speaker did the same damn thing! He showed a 100-year chart of the Dow.  If you look at the chart below you might draw the inference that the last 15 years have been a crazy run-up for stocks and a reversion to the long-term trend would be catastrophic.

    Again, nonsense!  You can’t show long term growth trends on a linear scale like this.  That’s because the economy grows over time.  There isn’t a “normal” level for stocks.  There is a “normal” growth rate.  To show this concept properly you need to use a logarithmic scale, a “log chart.”  A proper depiction looks like this:

    Stocks look far less overvalued in this chart and the crash of 1929, which is invisible in the upper chart, is shown in it’s proper context vs. today.  As of today, the ’29 crash looks far more cataclysmic.  This chart is scary enough, though.  A reversion to trend would take to Dow to 7000.  This is a post about chart lies, not stock prognostication, though.

    Why would anybody show the linear-scale chart?  Turning on a log scale is a a one-click operation in Excel.  Is it too exotic?  The audience was financial professionals.  It’s just inexplicable.  I am a fan of good data visualization and you should be too.

    BTW, It won’t surprise you to learn there is a cult of data graphic geeks out there.  Their guru is another Yale professor, Edward Tufte.  Their arguments about the nuances of bar charts can resemble religious doctrinal disputes.

    What is that play list over there?

    In our house we use some internet radios that stream from our music in-house and the internet radio stations., a music social network, “scrobbles” the names of songs we play and sticks them in my profile and then let’s me stick a playlist widget back here.  Many of the songs on the list are playable on demand at if you click on them.  Wild.

    I like looking at songs on people’s iPods and books on their shelves so you might too.  It’s not a totally narcissistic exercise, I hope.

    Do note that the players are usually on random shuffle so forgive me when Christmas music comes around in July and how-did-that-Olivia-Newton-John-get-on-there.

    What are those links over there?

    We got the old with some images and CNBC appearances by yours truly. Everything I said turned out to be totally wrong , of course.

    We got a slide show from PunkinChunkin 2007. This is worth your time to look at. There is a lot of crazy stuff going on in this world you don’t know about.

    We got a tour of the hop fields of Bavaria. Fun if you are a beer geek. Some links got broken in the port. Working on it

    The New

    The purpose of is to provide a spot for friends of our family to catch up (or not) with our doings at their convenience without suffering the ignominy of sitting in front of the Kodak Carousel projector to see slides of Niagara Falls when they stop by. Instead, they can go straight to the wine fridge.

    If I had a Kodak Carousel projector and I had slides of my trip to Niagara Falls when I was 12 in 1970, this is what you might be forced to see:

    The Maclellans are a lovely family who did not give me permission to link this image
    The Maclellans are a lovely family who did not give me permission to link this image.  I could have swiped it but I linked to it because they probably will get excited to see some hits on their site, as I would.  This is what comes from allowing Google image search to find your stuff.

    It also gives me yet another time wasting hobby that I may have to make into a profession if the markets don’t improve.  Since I may be the only visitor I make no claim that this will be updated frequently, or at all.  The novelty of having the site may wear off very quickly.

    I am in the process of converting the stuff on the old site into something viewable here.  You can see bits of it on the sidebar on the, er, side.

    I switched the site to a blog format for two reasons.  First I was tired of paying $25/month to Earthlink when I didn’t use them for internet access.  I figured since I had to migrate the site anyway I would look at my options.  Second, I realized my infrequent adds to the site did lend themselves to a linear chronology which matches the blog model.  The ease of adding stuff via blog administration is way easier than hand-coding HTML, which I stink at anyway.  I use DreamHost to host the site and WordPress as the blog software.


    Hello world!

    We’re working on it!