Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gearing up for the NYC Trialthlon

I used to be in shape. I used to be an athlete of sorts. Years in front of the computer has sapped my senses and gifted me a nice buddha belly. So what is someone who recently turned 30 to do? Sign up for a triathlon, of course. Last July while scanning the NYT this article caught my attention. Besides the death, what grabbed me was that the hurt involved in the olympic distance triathlon was not as bad as you would have initially thought. Growing up, when I heard "Triathlon" I thought Ironman. As a non existent runner, the thought of running a marathon was beyond the pale.

At one point in my life I had been a swimmer. Even now I'll get in the pool from time to time, do some laps and maybe even play some water polo. For the last few years I've been doing the 6 mile circuit around central park and a 9 mile one way ride down the west side highway on my hardtail Gary Fisher mountain bike (with slicks). What I've never been is a runner. If asked what the worst exercise I could possibly afflict on myself would be, no doubt it would be running. So when researching the "Triathlon" I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they come in different flavors. If a 10k at the olympic distance was a bit out of my reach, perhaps a 5k run was feasible.

And so on October 12th, 2008, with about two months of half assed training under my belt I completed my first sprint triathlon, the Cedar Beach Triathlon, in an abysmal time of 02:46:37.723. The time was shit. Like really shit. Regardless, I didn't DNS (did not show) and I didn't DNF (did not finish) and I didn't finish last . I did exactly what I intended to do - finish. In my defense, the sea was angry that day, my friends. Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. Visibility was low due to the high chop, morning sun on the horizon and that I'm nearsighted. I veered off course and ended up hundreds of yards down the beach from the finish area. Compounding this error, turns out the shore of the Long Island Sound is littered with razor blade like demon shells that will cut your feet up. Who knew? I, of course, was cut up something fierce. So for future reference: never, ever, ever swim in the Long Island Sound without swim booties. All this threw my game off and I knew come the run I would be in trouble. Sure enough, I had to walk/jog the 5k. Lets not forget the aforementioned Gary Fisher.

To do:
-upgrade to road bike
-get swim booties
-... train more

With that first race under my belt and my eye towards the olympic distance NYCtri in late July, the decision was made to get up off the couch and start training in ernest. Its been about a month of regular training so far and I must say there is improvement. I wont attach a picture of my broken foot which I broke in late October and was all kinds of gross, but trust me - if you were to see it you would never believe I am actually up and running on it.

As a warm up for the NYCtri and to avenge my lackluster performance at Cedar Beach, I signed up for the Long Island Gold Coast Triathlon, to be held June 13th, 2009, just over two months from now. Lets set some goals... 2:15:00 or bust, 18 mph pace on the bike and 5 mph pace on the run. I'm confident I can shave 30 min off my last attempt. Hitting those goals will shave about 12 min off the bike and 11 min off the run. Combine that with a better, injury free, gps guided swim and I feel a 2:15:00 finish is justified. Let the games begin.

An olympic distance may only be twice the distance of a sprint, nevertheless the difficulty is not linear. This time around I thought it would be best to get some professional help. So I signed up for Team OneFamily. Beyond being a worthy fundraising cause, signing up for the group gains me access to some bona fide coaching to help me through the rough spots but most importantly establish a cogent workout regimen. With dedication to pulling off an olympic distance and a longer time horizon I'm actually delusional enough to think I can pull this off.

Stay tuned.

Cedar Beach Tri, 12 Oct 2008:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hmm, a budding love connection?

What's with Jim Cramer and Erin Burnett? I dunno about you but I watch a lot of CNBC. Everyday around 14:45 EST Erin has Jim on her show and I have to say they have quite a flirtatious relationship.

So just a few minutes ago Jim ends his segment with Erin by saying "love you guys" and she says "love you too." I think she was a bit flushed leading into the next segment. Intriguing? You be the judge. You heard it here first.
Doomsweek, continued

When historians look back at the history of financial markets and the general economy they will no doubt rank this week as one of the most extraordinary ever. I opened the week with this post and who knew on Monday the 15th of September 2008 where this roller coaster was going. Ranked, in my humble opinion, with the great crashes, recessions and depressions. It can not be underestimated how close we came to the brink. Take a look at this:

Ya, that is the alert blaring on the top of one of my brokerage accounts. Think about it. Our markets were so borked that the government had to change the rules of the game. Astounding. Now lets talk about the money. The numbers being floated, which have yet to be finalized, are being talked about denominated in "T", as in trillions of dollars.

CNBC: Breaking News (literally as I write this): GE may very well be added to the list of 799 stocks anointed by the SEC for government protection from short sellers.

So lets take stock of the situation:

-Pools of money loaned to people who couldn't pay for it.
-Financial Institutions bought and sold those credit instruments whose price was valued on a combination of underlying value and credit rating
-People who took money couldn't pay it back
-Valuation tanks, ratings tank
-Lending institutions, over leveraged (not enough real cash in the till), could not make payment on the debt they traded
-Insurance companies insuring those transactions could not cover their rate of default
-Ultimate back stop and the only entity with the power to make the bleeding stop is Uncle Sam, that's right - you and me.

Ultimately this had to happen or we were talking bank runs and bread lines. That's the dire straights that we faced going into this weekend. Ben Bernanke is perhaps the countries most accomplished student of the Great Depression. I have no doubt this guy saw the lines growing by the hour and felt compelled to act. The question became: Would the cost of a bail out now be more or less than the cost of a depression the likes of which we havent seen in 80 some odd years? Clearly, the answer was bailout.

When the rules change crazy things happen. I'm fairly certain every name on that SEC list is up today and up big. No? GE +8.75% ~$27/share just on the whisper that it will be added.

Interesting times, indeed!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Doomsday on Wall Street

If you've been watching CNBC, since 7am EST like me, you would think the sky is falling and rightfully so. The news has been coming fast and furious and the casualties are piling up. Lehman - gone. Merrill - gone. AIG - life support (according to various reports on CNBC the bond markets signal AIGs demise). Recall, we already lost Countrywide and Bear earlier in the year. AMBAC, MBIA shaken. Freddie and Fannie in custodianship.

The pillars of American finance are buckling under the immense greed and promiscuos financing practiced in the last decade. As I write this I'm watching Paulson chit chat about his perspective on the this mess. According to him the housing crisis is the crux of the matter. I can see that. Basically all these money bags were lending money on the order of 25, 30, 35 to 1 all on the basis of housing valuation. So why are we all so surprised this is happening?

How could the risk models not predict an outcome where the underlying assets depreciated so rapidly? Well, I can't imagine that they didn't. But why did they think it wouldn't? I'm all for home ownership, but honestly when loan officers are lending moeny hand over fist to unqualified buyers, this is what you get. Housing prices skyrocketed and in the end there were no qualified buyers to step in at those prices. So then you get a major contraction which devalues home prices that credit and mortgages were being financed and insured by the money boys on Wall Street.

In the end, more heads will roll. The financial landscape will change. It will be harder to get money. It will be harder to finance projects, business, homes. Eh, what can you do? In the end, if you are a normal guy working an average job and squeeking out a living, I would say: SAVE, SAVE, SAVE. Open accounts with banks that are FDIC insured, don't keep more than $100,000 with any one bank. If you have less than $100,000 with an FDIC insured institution then you are safe and secure and backed by the good faith and power of the US Government. If you are in the good fortune to have more than $100,000 dollars in liquid assets I would chop em up and move em around the large banks. Major banking institutions like BofA, JPM, Citi, USBank, Wells, Wachovia. Also note your retirement accounts. Some accounts are insured up to $200,000. Know your exposure.

Although there will be more casualties, here in America the list of big names is getting shorter by the day. This could mean we are reaching the end of the road and there is light at the end of the tunnel. What this means for foreign institutions I am less certain. Clearly they have been limiting their exposure and declaring their write downs every quarter like the rest of the players. But I think the story is not over there. International institutions are more levered to their local economies and a lot of those economies are starting to contract. Jury's still out.

With all the doomsday predictions and naysayers poo pooing the state of the American economy, I would still like to point out that we are the most transparent, liquid, largest and most powerful economy on the planet. If you are trying to run from this economy there aren't that many places to go. Stock up on cash and sit out the turmoil on the sidelines.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Freddie Mac on the offensive

So I'm watching some videos on CNN and what do I see? How about a nice marketing fluff piece by none other than our favorite mortgage sieve, Freddie Mac, FRE. Clearly all the hubbub surrounding these quasi governmental entities, Freddie and Fannie, FNM, going the way of the Dodo have prompted their officials to go on a marketing offensive. Seriously? What's wrong with these people?

For those who have been living under a rock these past few months, Freddie and Fannie are on the verge of collapse with a fully funded backstop ready to be dolled out by the taxpayer. With all this going on these guys figure a quick PR blitz is just what the doctor ordered. Good job, guys.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Another Virtual Market

Today, Google released details about their Android platform market. Following Apple into the new world of mobile application distribution, Google presents a familiar competitive offering. This is great news for the consumer who will now benefit from having two major technology providers providing markets for mobile applications. Competition is good for everyone. Their offerings will only evolve to provide all of us a better class of service.

I wrote about the merits of new markets a few weeks ago. We are truly living in a new age of quickly shifting technology. These new services mark the transition from ubiquitous wired computing to ubiquitous wireless computing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More NYT Double Talk

Just over a month ago we find an editorial in the good 'ole Grey Lady about T. Boone Pickens and his impressive plan to save this country from itself by augmenting our national power consumption by producing somewhere on the order of 20% of our electricity needs via renewable wind. Today's NYT brings us an article entitled "Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits." It has always amazed me how the NYT is singularly capable of playing both ends against the middle on any given subject. The electrical grid issue was mentioned in the previous editorial. Certainly the issue of power transmission deserves more attention.

I ask in what fashion should this issue be addressed? If you are a long time reader of our nations paper of record, you'll know that they are no fan of oil, drilling, refining, coal or anything else the world currently uses to turn on the lights. Then how is it that this national deficit is tied into the new talk of the town, renewable wind energy? The fact of the matter is that our transmission grid needs to be updated regardless of where or how we make it. Electricity is electricity. As the article astutely notes, "The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles."

If we were to build generation facilities using any of the available, proposed or yet to be discovered methods we would still need to create a better power transmission infrastructure. As Mr. Wald points out: "Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems." Why not an article on power transmission? Why tie the transmission deficit into wind? I appreciate the effort to focus attention on this issue. It just rubs me the wrong way as to how their headline writers go about doing it.

Regarding the power transmission he-said-she-said, I personally think it is the duty of the federal government to regulate and mandate solutions to this problem. Akin to the mandated roll-out of the national interstate highway transportation network in the 1950's on national security grounds. In my humble opinion, this issue is at least on equal footing meriting "national security" status. When making a decision on where to live in the country, I would hate to have to add to the long list of factors whether or not I live in a location that has adequate power availability.

Monday, August 11, 2008

New Markets

If innovation is the lifeblood of capitalism, then new markets are the pools that innovators wish to swim in. Today, the business world is aflutter with news out of Apple and Amazon regarding, what else, their relatively new devices. News those already plugged in have known for some time now.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article profiling Apple's new market: App Store. For those not in the know, imagine the App Store as the iTunes of software applications. Where iTunes was the location where you bought music for your iPod, App Store (which also happens to operate through iTunes and on the devices themselves) is the location where you buy software applications for the iPhone and iTouch.

Since the first release of the iPhone and its close cousin, the iTouch, I have been telling anyone that would listen that the iPhone is not a cell phone that plays music. Rather the iPhone is a computer that also makes phone calls. Once you come around to this point of view you really see the potential of the device as a whole new computing platform. Which brings us back to the App Store.

All new platforms create vibrant, profitable markets - if they are successful. According to the numbers detailed in the WSJ article Apple is making somewhere on the order of one million dollars per day. That figure is just their take: 30% of App Store sales. The remainder is apportioned to the application developer. This new market, which did not exist before the release of the new iPhone 3G on July 11, 2008 has delivered a new avenue of earnings potential for thousands of independent software vendors around the globe.

This symbiotic relationship between Apple and its developers, although not a perfect marriage, is good enough to attract new developers in droves which, in turn, makes the iPhone platform more appealing to new customers. This then translates to a larger market for Apple's higher margin offerings: The Mac (both desktop and laptop). All this exemplifies the vaunted Halo Effect.

Also today, Citibank released an analyst research report which talks up Amazon's own consumer device, the Kindle (most of this data comes right from Amazons most recent quarterly report). This device has been likened to the iPod of books. And quite frankly, it is. The Kindle allows you to download books and other reading material as easily as you can music via iTunes. I expect great things from Kindle. Just as the original iPod, released in 2001 was not universally adored and even ridiculed by some, the Kindle will undergo many revisions over the years to come making the device as user friendly and ubiquitous as the iPod is today.

The ease of use and space saving nature of electronic media distribution is very compeling to those that either do not currently participate in the print based market place or limit their exposure for any number of reasons. I firmly believe that instead of cannibalizing the established print market, Kindle, and other devices that will no doubt follow, will only act to grow the pie.

Just as Google validated the nacent online advertising market pioneered by their pregenetors creating a well established, thriving, marketplace so too will Apple's App Store and Amazons Kindle do the same in their respective areas. Content creators would do well to recognize these early forays into a new market and take advantage of them lest they be left behind with the likes of the RIAA and MPAA.