All posts for the month June, 2006

For a pre-finals field trip, I took a couple of my students to catch a matinee of Superman Returns. Verdict? It’s a Brian Singer film; well-written story, excellent cast, beautiful direction, but, well, the action was about as exciting as betting on whether or not gnats can stop trucks. Superman is invincible. Plausible action sequences are entirely dependent on whether or not the citizens of Metropolis survive, since we know Supes will just be a little dusty none-for-worse after demolishing the biggest, flaminingest threat.

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I've just recently signed up for Morninstar's premium membership, and man does it rock. Their new portfolio manager is so easy to get up and running, and unlike Yahoo Finance, 5-10 year corporate finances data is accessible with a simple click. As someone who values long-term stability and earnings and debt trajectories, their charts are really convenient. They've also done a great job keeping their in-depth analyst reports up to speed. Out of the first five I went through, only one was dated over a month back.

Importing portfolios from Yahoo is the only thing painful, but I can deal. I was very happy to see that my fair value estimates for the stocks I was interested in roughly matched theirs. From now on, it seems way more efficient to take their values over trying to number-crunch mine everytime earnings reports come out. They also have a review on stewardship, which is piece of the puzzle largely missing from Yahoo and Google.

Finally, there is an excellent portfolio X-Ray that I've used before (it's incorporated into T. Rowe Price's site as well), but I think for folks only using Yahoo Finance, it's a much better way to step back and take a complete view of one's diversification across geography, industry, market cap, and risk. Anyways, highly recommended.

Housing market kinda pulled up the current bear based on some shady conclusions that largely ignored how weak future construction prospects looked. I'm feeling like people are grasping at all sorts of straws at the moment. New home sales aren't half the story, resale volume has been plunging and been mostly underreported, and construction momentum seems to be built of fulfilling backlogs rather than new contracts. The rally also had some short covering behind it.

I am not changing my stance- interest rates will rise, but inflation will ignore it as oil prices soar, and eventually the dollar will crack under stagflating duress. There are few places to be domestically that won't be disasterous. Inflation hedges? Hard to time. Deflation hedges? Even harder. Emerging markets? Hit or miss, and subject to liquidity leaking out of the asses of the rich and irresponsible. My current aim is to go for U.S. companies with costs in dollars, sales in foreign currencies, and good stability, low low price. Dividend helps.

Gundam wants to know… are you protected?

Wow. In the continuation of our theater binge (at today's prices, two theater features IS bingeing dammit), we took one incredible ride with Pixar's Cars, the first movie all year that has left me wanting to spend more. If its illusory two hours hadn't disappeared in blink later at 11:00 pm, we would have U-turned for another lap, it was that good. It seemed to hit a holy balance of fart jokes for kids and smart jokes for 9-5 kids, and layered it all in a nostalgic, cheesy, and overly sweet slice of American pie, keeping the patriot in me brinked on tearful. I'm a sap for a movie like this, which draws upon a mode of storytelling Hollywood blockbusters have forgotten, hell forSAKEN for predictable, inbred tautology sewn into pointless SFX.

Which is not to say Cars wasn't predictable or free of cliché, just that it delivered them through a veneer of empathy that really REALLY made cars into people. I left the theater expecting the parking lot automobiles to wake-up and wave at us. I found myself questioning the geneology of a Beamer. I expected Mustangs to look at me over-the-shoulder. I wondered if my Infinity had a Japanese accent. Once again, Pixar pulled the trick they know best… bringing everyday things to a life more vivid than we had ourselves.

Forget about the incredibly shading and lighting and composition. Forget about the perfect mechanical-anthromorphic animations. I can't express how touched I was at the premise that Radiator Springs was being bypassed to save ten minutes once folks took the interstate megahighway over a humbly scenic Route 66. I hear from Californians all the time how the rest of the country is a bunch of inbred hicks. Maybe this movie will take them a notch down for a sec. It was about time for us to get a story about self-centered urbanites being the fish-out-of-water in a mostly honest, hardworking American Etc. But that's the residual Bay Area in me speaking.

So, I can now only look forward to the next release from Pixar, the immaculately animated Ratatoille in the pic above. Summer has become fun again.

We braced ourselves and stepped into X-Men 3 with low expectations carefully normalized to the wave of negative reviews that deluged the gap Brian Singer left, and that Brett Ratner tried to fill. And honestly, it wasn't a bad flick, great action, funny moments, and lots of so-so special FX. I'd say decent FX if it wasn't for the abuse of particle systems and the "shattery" feel of the bridges and other exploding objects, which really got annoying since there is always something being explodeded. The X-men fan in the recesses of my soul, however, was indignant. Juggernaut, a mutant? Phoenix a double personality? Magneto so campy he should have sported a titanium handlebar mustache to twirl to tensile breaking point?

What the hell were they thinking? Sure, the movie was fun. I got my money's worth. But plucking the audience's money's worth is hardly a way to perpetuate the species, a species like the perennially entertaining James Bond money-tree. No, a species like X-men won't grow much without Miracle-Gro and respect. I mean c'mon… Psylocke is a Morlock?

Speaking of money-trees, the tumbling market these days makes for a great albeit risky buying opportunity, yet I am looking at some severely underpriced large-cap. The inflation fears keep rising, and while I had predicted long-term rate hikes from the FED long ago, I've grown to realize that inflation is only part of the reason for them. In fact, the FED doesn't fight inflation so much as create/hide it. M3 anyone? No, the FED is really fighting to keep the dollar high, yet is faced with keeping domestic equities attractive at the same time.

Inflation is the rising of prices, not the fall of money value, although that is the net effect. But such forces affect more than the U.S. economy, it affects entertainment as well. As the price to see Wolverine slash some nobodies up increases, the value of my time and cash spent at the cinemas, my "FandangoBucks" per se plummets, and will quickly lead other movie-goers like me to enter that deflationary spiral that entails sitting on the couch with five Netflix offerings upon the altar of the coffee table. Now that's diversifying your portfolio.

Mid last week, my two snakes died.

Xstine moved them outside onto the balcony thinking they needed some sunlight, and I mistakenly didn't stop her as I rushed to work, entirely ignorant of the tragic scene she'd find afterwards. She called me while I was on the road in a panic, and I sped through traffic with sickening lurches, the most dangerously I've ever driven. I ran into the apartment to find Xstine a mess and my two daughters limp under cold water running. The record San Jose heat that day was indelible now.

Needless to say, I was furious, particularly at the growing gaping hole that their lives had occupied before. Unlike a cat or dog, their deaths are not the death of a companion, not even the death of a thing loyal to you (or to which you are loyal). The death of a snake is a tragedy in the destruction of a beautiful, innocent animal whose survival among a species that is genetically predisposed to hate and mistrust it, strikes us, as caretakers, as more poignant than sad. Physically poignant, as I punched the wall in both anger and shame their deaths on our hands. It made me feel barbaric, so I responded barbarically.

Khetti was a ball python I had for 7 years. She was the gentlest, cleverest little beast you could be phobic of. Shiva was 4 years old, a gorgeous yin-yanged Argentine Boa, and a hissing, posturing paper dragon. I remember when Khetti stole Shiva's rat and Shiva was traumatized, hissing violently (and helplessly) from then on. I remember Khetti cleverly hiding in a new humanly unthinkable places in our tiny apartment time and time again, especially that time she lived in a subwoofer for a week. If not for her thirst, I would have never seen her little head pop out, and lost her then. I remember when Shiva sent our Thai lunch lady at ESC screaming into a corner, having done nothing but try to hide in my co-worker's hair. I remember Khetti wrapped around my monitor as I worked on Maya, popping her head out from behind it in comical positions, just before she poised to strike at a computer mouse.

I am looking a for new snake now, one who I've made Xstine resolve to be more careful with. When I choose one, it will be the snake who, like Khetti and Shiva before it, looks me square from the palm of my hand before winding around my arm and deciding that it owned me, that it was wild and real even when our relationship of Adam and betrayer was not. It will flick its serpent's fork and taste a being that did not domesticate it as we have our other beasts. And it will continue to frighten all but those who do not fear the unknown, no matter how much the unknown fears us.

R.I.P. Khetti and Shiva, I'll see y'all on the plane.

^baby Khetti looking up at her silly owners