Book – A Man For All Markets

Book – A Man For All Markets

A Man For All Markets, by Edward O Thorp.

A few thoughts on this book – a book definitely of the proverbial two halves.

 

The first half is very autobiographical. We learn of Edward’s childhood and his developing ability in mathematics. This leads on to trying to figure out the odds in winning in games like blackjack and baccarat, and how card counting techniques can help to move the odds in the player’s favour (and in turn getting ‘asked to leave!’ from various Las Vegas casinos). Then on to the roulette wheel and timing the ball’s rotation in order to again move the odds towards the player’s advantage (and again being made rather unwelcome in the casinos). All of this was done not so much to become rich, but to show that the system could be broken.

A Man For All Markets

A Man For All Markets

There is then the move on to applying his mathematical skills to quantitative analysis of the world of finance, and in this case making a considerable amount of money through various stock-market ventures. There’s also the calling-out of fraudsters like Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.

This makes for some great reading, even if sometimes it does read a bit like ‘look what I did, aren’t I clever’.

If the book had ended here it would have made for a great read, however it’s as if the publishers wanted a bigger page count, so he expand it out. This second half did not impress me. It was rather like reading a poor quality text book reviewing the general American financial system (with the emphasis on the American system). A shame really as it left finishing the book with a negative feeling.

However I must look out for more from this author.

Compound Computation and possible student early retirement

About the use of compound interest, the eighth wonder of the world.

Talk to a typical young uni student about pensions and ‘old people’ and immediately eyes will glaze over and brain disengages itself from any idea of intelligent thought, switching across to ‘I’m in a lecture so can catch up on lost sleep’ mode. (To most students, ‘old’ means staggering around on a zimmer frame and probably smelling of cats – just wait till they are ‘old’!!!) However what about compound interest!

Have a think on this…

Let’s take a guy (and I’ll use the term ‘guy’ and ‘he’ as totally gender neutral terms) who, regardless of state pension age, would like to retire at 65 and has now reached 55. There will be the realisation that the ‘wonderful work pension scheme’ is not as ‘wonderful’ as it first appeared. Retirement time is now down to single digit number of years, it’s time to do something!!! So he decides to save £100 a month (£1,200 a year) into an investment based savings scheme.

If you look back at long term stock market returns (and I do mean long term) then you’re looking towards around a return of 8% a year. This may well be made up of around 4% or 5% of raw company growth and 3% to 4% dividend return. (This is only an average, there will be some fantastic years of gain, many relatively neutral years, some of actual loss – this just has to be lived with – but over say 50 years 8% is not unreasonable.)

So back to our guy with his £100 a month. (Remember that if we are looking at monthly growth over time we are looking at *compound* interest rate growth.) Throw our investment figures into a compound interest rate calculator or compound spreadsheet formula and see what you get. Over 10 years the cost in contributions will be £12,000 (£100 month x 12 months x 10 years) but working with our 8% getting back after this 10 years around £18,500. Take from this the £12,000 paid in and you’re left with an overall gain of £6,500. Not too bad (and I won’t even bother asking what you would have got by leaving it in a typical bank account!).

However…

Let’s take the guy at age 45. (Probably just come out of mid-life crisis, realises he is now ‘old’, getting out of bed in the morning is not anything like as easy as it was…) Decides to do the same thing of £100 a month for the 20 years that will lead up to 65. Total cost will be £24,000, however a 20 year return at 8% should bring in something around £59,000. Subtract from that the £24,000 paid in and you’re left with a £35,000 gain (or nearly 6 times the amount of the 10 year person!).

Let’s go one step further and someone aged 35. (Done education, got job which meant a lot of travel but now wants a bit of stability while children are at school.) So we’re looking at 30 years at £100 a month. Total cost, £36,000. Reward at 65, £150,000. Subtract the £36,000 cost and left with £114,000 profit.

Quickly move on to the 25 year old. (Finished education, has settled down into a job so now wants to save.) For the 40 years till 65 will cost £48,000, the reward being £350,000. Remove the £48,000 paid in leaving a profit of £302,000.

A quick summary:-

10 years, cost £12,000, reward £18,500 net gain £6,500
20 years, cost £24,000, reward £ 59,000 net gain £35,000
30 years, cost £36,000 reward £ 150,000 net gain £114,000
40 years, cost £48,000 reward £ 350,000 net gain £302,000

A final variation on this. It would be a bit unreasonable to expect a college or Uni student to save £100 a month, so let’s take the sum of £30 a month. (A cost students can relate to; a monthly phone contract, the cost of pizza, cinema then beer, Saturday night party…) Take a 18 year old student and do this £30 a month for 5 years. The cost £1,800, which will provide a sum of around £2,200. Take this £2,200 as an initial investment lump sum and leave it there for the next 42 years. (Not adding anything further to it.) At 65 look forward to getting back almost £63,000.

When it comes to saving, time is everything.

Microsoft Band 2 update.

Microsoft Band 2 update.

Some updates on my Microsoft Band 2 smart band.

 

It’s about 6 weeks since I got my Microsoft Band 2, so I thought it was time for some more comments. Two things first; I am not a fitness person so its main use for general long term background measurements; and I also no longer have it!

Band 2 on box

Microsoft Band 2

As mentioned in an earlier posting, perhaps the best thing of owning something like this was the inherent ‘motivation factor’ that came with it. Realising that you were being constantly monitored provided me with sufficient encouragement to take the stairs rather than think how the lift would be much easier (I can always do the stairs next time). Or if walking to work why not make the effort to speed-walk rather than my usual wander in of a morning. Do not underestimate the psychology behind these devices!

The web based health app is informative and reasonably well organised, though it does tale a little bit of tome to work your way around where everything is. I still find myself a bit underwhelmed by the iPhone app.

On the negative side I’m still unimpressed with the sleep tracking . It totally misses times when in the middle of the night I’ll not just be awake but have got up and walked around and perhaps gone to use the bathroom.

I’ve also walked ‘vigorously’ up 6 or 7 flights of stairs taking the stairs two at a time and then told the Band 2 to check my pulse while measuring it myself. Often find the Band is under-reading by say 30bpm. (It seems competent at giving a reasonable long term average but poor on responding to changes – even when you ask it to do readings.)

So why don’t I still have mine… by chance I was browsing the forums on a Microsoft Band 2 blog site and noticed repeated complaints about the strap splitting. A quick check on mine, and despite it only being a few weeks old there was a very small split exactly where people were complaining about. This within a couple of days turned into a major fail of the strap, so it was returned to the shop and got my money refunded. If it had not been for this strap problem I’d have been happy enough to keep the device, as despite its failings it still did provide both some useful body-related health information and as a wrist-based extension of my phone.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 First Impressions / Review.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

My Surface Pro 4

I have just got hold of a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 so thought I’d give some first impressions. There are very much ‘first’ as in it was just a couple of days ago that I got it from my local John Lewis store.

(I had not intended to get the Pro 4 but wait till the 5, however recent press comments indicated that the 5 may not come out till next year. I don’t mind waiting a few months but not a year, plus John Lewis were having a bit of an Easter promotion.)

As soon as I had my hands on the box it was straight to my favourite Starbucks, get a coffee, then head to the upstairs seating area and ‘investigate’.

Inside the box was the Surface Pro 4, a power supply unit, its Surface pen, and a sticky-back loop of material as a pen holder (if you want to fit it). Also an instruction manual whose content can be summarised in one sentence… Switch on and follow the screen instructions.

Before powering up I set up my phone as a mobile hot-spot (my local Starbucks does have free wi-fi, but it’s crap and rarely works properly) as a way of getting straight onto the internet. The Pro 4 quickly found my connection and it was then just a matter of logging on to Windows with my Microsoft account. The usual boxes to select / de-select various options common to any Windows 10 install, and within a few minutes (and it really was just a few minutes) Windows was up and running and was I downloading my usual things like Firefox, Dropbox and all that stuff.

After about 5 minutes I did get a prompt asking for a re-boot in order to enable some graphics drivers that Windows had been downloading in the background. One thing to note; it wanted a proper switch off then switch on, don’t get tricked into putting it to sleep then waking it up thinking you have re-booted!

I have a mid range model; i5 processor, 8 gig RAM, 256 gig SSD; and is exactly as I would expect, fast and snappy to use. The screen is really nice (and I mean *really nice*). It’s bright and crisp, and the touch aspect of it has worked well.

Surface 4 Keyboard

Surface 4 Keyboard

I also got its keyboard / track-pad cover. First impressions of this are also positive. The keyboard has a nice feel to it and is as good as I could expect from such a device. The track pad I’ll class as fully workable. It’s not brilliant, I’ve used far better, but still a perfectly good practical mouse substitute.

As for the touch pen, it’s slightly fiddly to use but I like this idea of being able to precisely touch or select a point on the screen without having your hand cover half the screen or worry about leaving greasy finger marks. I suspect for many people the pen will be one of those “like it or hate it” devices with the majority not bothering with it once the novelty of it has worn off. For me though fully integrated pen functionality is one of the reasons I bought the device.

I’ll need to use it far more as a keyboard-free item before I can make much of a comment on how good it is to use as a pure tablet-type machine.

The one thing I am disappointed with, and I knew this before I got it, is that Microsoft has gone down the route of using its own connector for power. I, like many others, wish they’d gone the USB route. Never mind, I can live with this.

Surface 4 high angled

Screen high angle

I can’t at his stage comment too much on battery life as I’ve not had it long enough to draw any real conclusions, however from reviews I’ve read that talk about 6, perhaps 7 hours of use seems consistent with what I’ve seen so far.

Other negatives; the keyboard cover, as nice as it is as a keyboard, is structurally fairly flexible. When resting on a firm surface like a table this is not a problem, but when resting across your knees it flexes a little too much for comfort.

Surface screen low angle

Screen low angle

It’s a bit heavier than I expected. The basic tablet weight is mid way between my iPad Mini 2 and my old (2011) 11 inch MacBook Air, however add the keyboard cover and it almost matches the Air. I could of course not bother with the keyboard cover when out-and-about, however I’ll want something to protect the machine when it’s inside my bag, so if I’m going to have a cover it might as well be the keyboard one. Neither of these two things are in any way deal-killers, just minor irritations.

So, overall first Surface Pro 4 impressions… I have NO regrets in buying this over the similar sized iPad Pro (despite being an Apple user), especially as the Surface Pro runs a full desk-top operating system rather than the iPad’s iOS one, originally designed for mobile phones.

Microsoft Band 2

Microsoft Band 2 first thoughts.

Band 2 on box

Microsoft Band 2

How about some first impressions of my Microsoft Band 2 that I got a week ago. (This is NOT a blow by blow review of all its functions etcetera, just some first thoughts on how I found using it.)

Let’s get something sorted out first – I’m not a fitness fanatic, I do not do ‘let’s go to the gym’ type stuff (I think the last time I went to do any gym related fitness activity was about 17 years ago) though I do like walking and occasionally ride a bicycle. Having said all that I do keep an eye on my weight and record my blood pressure fairly regularly and also quite like gadgets. So when Microsoft recently dropped the price of their Band 2 I thought I’d get one.

So, initial reaction – very mixed. I bought mine from one of the larger high street retailers who have a ‘return in 28 days if not happy’ policy which I yet may take advantage of – maybe.

First, what do I like about it. Knowing it’s constantly monitoring you does act as motivation to do things like use the stairs rather than the lift, or to speed walk rather than just ambling along. Even though I’ve only had it a week it’s still quite interesting to see how things like pulse rate changes through the day’s activities. I find its display easy to read and like having email and message alerts on my wrist. So much nicer than having to dig out my phone when all I want to do is just check for anything new. I’m quite happy with the limited size of its display; if I want to look in detail at an email then I wouldn’t want to be doing it on a wrist band anyway.
Its GPS seem to work well tracking my route with surprising accuracy, even picking up on quite small deviations (both in direction and speed). I do like that it is a band shaped rather than watch shaped. I prefer this longer but narrower compared to a watch-style square brick on your wrist.

Things I am neutral on. It’s reasonably comfortable. Not brilliant, nothing like a comfortable as my watch but still good enough to let me wear it through the night without any problems. I would have liked three days out of the battery rather than just two, but I can live with this. It’s iPhone app is just meh. Does a job but is a bit awkward to navigate around, the (browser/web based) desk-top dashboard display is so much nicer to use. Its operating routine – as in one large button on the side to activate it, then swipe on the screen to select your desired function, then a smaller button on the side to activate that function – is basic but workable.

However there are quite a few things I don’t like about it. Its sleep tracking really is rubbish (and that’s putting it very politely!). It tells me things like how I went to sleep quite quickly after going to bed (as in within 6 minutes), then soon after that of going into deep sleep, but I know I was fully awake thinking about and planning the next day’s work schedule. I do tend to wake up during the night and when I do I usually check my alarm clock (this involves me having to reach out and feel for it and then activate it, so actual physical activity) which it fails to pick up on. I often wake up before my alarm clock and switch on the radio (again physical activity) but this it sees as still asleep. As a comparison I occasionally use an old iPhone 3GS as a sleep tracker and that picks up on these activities without a problem.

It does its alerts through haptic vibration. However even on its highest vibration setting it’s easily missed so I’m still having to routinely check its display for any messages.

According to its step counter last week I climbed 132 floors. Sorry, no, I did NOT climb 132 floors worth of stairs, perhaps half that number (and that’s being generous).

Its pulse monitoring is usually fairly accurate but at times when I’ve done a manual measurement I’ve found the Band 2 to be out by up to 10 bbm. It can also take some time for its to catch up with a change in pulse rate. Perhaps not a problem for long term trends, but not good for short burst activities.

To charge it you must use its own charging cradle rather than directly via USB. So if you go away for more than a day it’s yet another adapter cable you’re going to have to carry with you, or if you are just out and about and the battery’s getting a bit on the low side you can’t do a simple top-up.

So overall I’ll class this device as something that has potential but at the moment is still a ‘work in progress’. I’ll use it for the next week then make a decision whether to keep it or not. Right now I’m undecided; it is failing to fulfil two of its primary functions, proper sleep tracking and proper step counting, while its pulse monitoring is ‘suspect’, but is still an interesting device.

what’s best for a web search

To search: Bing or Google?

search

What for searching

For performing a web search Google has become the dominant engine for much of the world, many now use the term as a verb (which gives the grammar police much to argue about; as a proper noun it is Google, but when used as a verb should it be “to Google” or “to google”).

However Microsoft has its Bing engine which has grown in popularity recently, especially with it being very much integrated into the Windows 10 environment. (Remembers back when you selected your search engine according to the subject area you wanted to search around – Alta Vista for technical, Lycos for general, Veronica for Gopher, and must not forget Archie.)

For searching (or for web browsing for that matter) I have no loyalty to any one product over another. They are all there to do a job, and I just want to use the best one that suits my situation at that time. So I have used both Google and Bing fairly extensively, and know which I prefer.

I have the simple routine of using one – usually Google if I happen to be browsing with Chrome, usually Bing if browsing with IE / Edge. I’ll then work through the search results and if I end up on the fourth or fifth page but not found what I was looking for I’ll copy and paste my query into the other search engine and start again.

How have things gone?

The number of times I’ve started with Google, failed, then switched to Bing – a few.

The number of times I’ve started with Bing, failed, then switched to Google – frequently.

So for me searching using Google has vastly outperformed searching using Bing. I can’t say I’ve noticed any particular pattern across search areas or subjects, just that I switch from Google to Bing far fewer times than from Bing to Google.  I’m quite happy to continue on with my routine for the foreseeable future, however should Bing improve in its results quality then I will happily switch to it as my first choice, but at the moment Google rules.

(It’s one thing to take Google as a verb and give it its past participle of googled, but then to take Bing and make that binged gives it a somewhat different meaning!)

It’s new academic year time

Time again to get back to some academic studying (maybe).

Also time for students to remember all those promises they made to themselves towards the end of last year about starting reports, projects and all that academic stuff shortly after been given them, NOT shortly before hand-in time!

castle

Stone castle. Solid, rather like a student’s brain!

If we accept that your typical student will, for the first two-thirds of their course, spend 40% of that time pissed out of their trees, the same amount of time hung over / feeling sorry for themselves, that leaves 20% for studying. (Get to the final one-third of their course and there’s the usual panic catch-up; it’s nearer the end than the beginning… I need to find a job… oh crap I don’t know anything… this can be an amazing student sobering up experience!) However this whole business of ‘discovering life’ really is part of the growing up process that makes up student life. ‘Discovering’ the Students Union, ‘discovering’ living away from home and being totally free of parental control…  looking back and ‘discovering’ that you’re a lot less mature than you thought… it’s life at Uni.

Despite this, if in the earlier part instead of spending 40% pissed, they could reduce it down to 30% (just a 10% difference – is that too much to ask), this in turn would reflect through to a reduced time feeling like crap hung over to around 30%, which in turn would double from 20% to 40% the amount of time available for productive work.

So for a relatively small change in body abuse time, the improvement in the Uni study time could make for a far less stressful period which must be a good thing (and even improve the bank account situation!). It would make the overall university experience such a nicer one which should lead to better results and improved chance of a better job at the end.

A general win-win situation (but then some things never seem to change).

remote desktop

Remote Desktop computer access.

Over time I’ve tried one or two different remote desktop applications but none have impressed me enough to make me want to continue using them. However the idea of accessing my home desktop machine from anywhere has become quite appealing so I thought I’d have another go.

A look around a few reviews showed that TeamViewer was highly rated so I downloaded it, created a Windows restore point (I always like to make my own separate restore point before doing anything like a program install); the TeamViewer create account and program install routine only took moments. Next was to sort out the TeamViewer app on my iPad mini, also a quick and simple process.

First impressions of this remote desktop system… very positive. It really was quite weird seeing my Windows 7 desktop filling my iPad screen, and also quite impressed with the lack of latency / speed of response between performing an action on my iPad and seeing the response. This was with both my iPad and PC working through my home broadband connection, so next was to tether my iPad through my mobile phone’s hotspot function (3G speed) and connect to my desktop machine that way. An ever so slight delay between iPad action and response, but no more a delay than I’ve seen on some not so well setup desktop machines anyway.

For individual use the TeamViewer software is (currently) free though the cost for commercial use seems quite steep. However for me so far it has worked very well and if I was a commercial organisation needing a robust reliable system I’d rather pay for something that’s going to work trouble free (and help me make me money) than something that may be cheap to buy but give me operational grief.

I’ll have to see how this works out over the long-term but first impressions are highly favourable.

TeamViewer site and TeamViewer on Wikipedia.

Panasonic TZ60 thoughts

Recently I wanted to get a nice pocket size camera.

Something a bit better than what’s on your typical smartphone but something that’s still pocket-size. Some time ago I had a Panasonic TZ10 and really liked it, so looked up to see what was the latest model in the range and found the TZ60. A look on the internet showed it had some good reviews, and though the cost was slightly more than I wanted to pay I headed off down the shops and got one.

I really dislike it!

The quality of image is not too bad and the camera has a nice optical zoom, however its usability (or lack of) makes it a real negative experience to use.

It starts off with the way you hold it. My old TZ10 had a raised area on the camera’s right side which made holding the device as comfortable as can be expected from a small item. This area on the TZ60 is flat, except for a small ‘finger bump’, which is far too small to give you something to put your fingers around, and just gets in the way. This means you are having to grip the camera relatively forcefully, in turn applying more pressure with your thumb on the back of the device. This is the area where there’s various buttons and a very sensitive jog-wheel. The net result –  you end up randomly pressing half the buttons so constantly changing settings as you’re trying to take pictures.

The rear display screen is not too bad. It’s not touch-screen, which is a bit of a relief as again your thumb would keep on activating it as you hold the camera.

As well as this screen for framing your picture, up in the top left corner is a small electronic viewfinder. This is too small for any practical use and I’d rather it wasn’t there. If they really wanted a separate viewfinder I wish they’d put a simple straight through optical one. At least this would have enabled you to frame your shot without having to turn the camera on every time.

On the front of the camera there is a rotary control ring around the lens. Because it is so close to the body of the camera it makes gripping it difficult which in turn (or lack of turn!) makes it almost useless.

On top there is a rotary wheel which switches between the usual program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and a few other modes. However these settings are restricted to still image use. For video recording there’s just a Record button right beside the main On Off  button (all too easy to press the wrong one) which starts the video recording process in a ‘take it or leave it’ style. No options to control aperture or shutter speed, so no control if you were videoing something fast moving or videoing in difficult lighting conditions.

The camera also come with wi-fi, however this has been very unreliable and a general pain to use. The software you have to install on your phone, tablet or what-ever is all right (I’ve a wi-fi enabled Panasonic GH3 camera and that’s never given me any real problems with the software) but getting this TZ60 to connect, stay connected, and then either controlling the camera or download images back to your device is terrible. Lost connections, limited availability of control functions and general unreliability makes it a time consuming frustration thing to use and not worth the effort.

As I now have this camera I shall keep it, it does after all take reasonable quality pictures, but I can’t recommend this camera to anyone as a worthwhile purchase.

HDTV update and excitement.

It’s new HDTV time!

It must have been about 8 years ago when I replaced my old style CRT type television with an LED model. This new 26 inch size screen was a nice move up from my old 23 inch television, and though it was a base model it had all the functionality I needed. Its main use was as a display device for my DVD player, occasionally plugged into my PC for internet related stuff, and very occasionally (and only very occasionally) used for standard television viewing.

However time goes by, terrestrial broadcast HDTV arrives, general video camera quality improves, YouTube moves up to HD resolution, there’s Netflix and other streaming services… and so on. So, time for an upgrade and I’ve just got hold of a 40 inch 1080p Samsung* LED TV. It’s a basic model down at the lower end of the range so no smart functionality, but connecting it to my PC will sort that out. Yet despite it being one of the cheaper 40 inch models it really did give me a bit of a ‘wow factor’ on first switch-on – the quality of the image is so much better than my old TV. I did expect an improvement, otherwise why would I be doing this, but I had not anticipated by how much that improvement would be.

This does throw up one problem however. Before, when you had a video source of ‘average’ quality being played back on a similarly matched TV system everything was in balance and you had an enjoyable viewing experience. With this new higher quality playback device all the imperfections there on the poorer quality source now become visible, and even multiplied up with my increase in screen size. A DVD of 720 x 480 or 576 looks great on a DVD resolution screen, but upscale that 720 signal to 1920 x 1080 and unless this upscaling is done very cleverly then it does not look so good. One thing I have quickly learned with this device – play things back at their native resolution. Even if it means a smaller image, this generally gives a far nicer viewing experience than altering / stretching and thus corrupting the picture.

So perhaps it’s no longer time to be buying DVDs but going Blu-Ray when looking for physical media, though now with more and more material being streamed over the internet (thank goodness for an unlimited connection) maybe this will just not be an issue.

* Samsung UE40H5000