Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cleared probation

Today was a pretty nondescript day at the office. Showed up around 8. Wrote some code; tested some code; thought about the next code to write; did the Perforce promotions for the build. Finished up and left at 5. Typical Wednesday stuff.

Which is good. I've now been at my job over six months. So I've cleared probation. There wasn't much too it. The date passed without any fanfare. Just like the other companies I've been with over the years. In my years in high tech I've only seen one instance out of hundreds of hires where someone didn't clear probation. And that guy was just a disaster, a mistake, an obvious bad hire from the start. Still it's a risky time for the new employee especially as external events and the markets would be making everyone jittery.

So I'm glad to be more on the inside now. I feel I can speak my mind a little bit more. And it's nice to at least have some access to severance if unexpected changes happen. But I really hope the company can continue to prosper as it has over the last several years.

I finished off a book recently. It was Airframe by Michael Crichton. It was a pretty good book, like most of Crichton's work. Definitely a good read. I've read a number of Crichton titles and they are all good. There's a few of I still haven't read so I'll cycle back to him again later on.

I've got a number of books to read now and a couple of others that I want to get. So lots to read in the coming months.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Late for work

Once or twice a month I check out NVG over on twoplustwo. Usually there's not much there, just a bunch of noise. But once in a while there will be a good or really good thread. Like the Jenny McCarthy vaccine discussion. Today there was a Johnny Hughes thread where he tells old Texas gambling stories.

In that Hughes thread was this gem.

The Reverend often insulted his major producers and crew of inside men. Once when I was late for work, he told a full room that,"he saw two dogs doing it in the road and stopped to tell them how to do it better."

Man that was funny. I should say that some time at work if someone is late for a meeting. I wonder how that would play. Johnny knows how to live.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nova Scotia Power and epost

Things are going pretty well so far with epost for my pay stubs. So I've been looking to add some more service providers.

I thought my power bill would be a good choice. Everyone gets power from Nova Scotia Power so they should be on the ball I would think. My power bill is actually pretty good right now. I'm on monthly budget pay and last year I used less electricity than NSP thought I would, so for this year my power is adjusted down to only $6 a month.

I checked on epost and saw that NSP wasn't registered there as a mailer. On the Nova Scotia Power paper bill they point to their own website for e-billing. I e-mailed their customer support and told them they should have epost as an option. They replied the next day with this.

Dear Customer

Thank you for your email. We will be re-launching our ebill services in
mid November with easier functionality and new options. One of those
options will be the ability for our customers to pay their bills online
directly through our website. We had considered ebilling options and
costs associated for various ebill vendors, including epost, when
selecting our ebill vendor. While will not rule it out for the future,
we will not be using epost at this time. Please keep an eye out for
information on our ebill launch very shortly.

Have a safe day
Customer Service

Well that's annoying. They should be using epost. There are at least a couple of reasons that epost is the best choice.

Think of how many bills a typical person might get in a month. This could include
  • phone
  • power
  • cable
  • cell phone
  • water
  • pay stub
  • Visa (1 or more)
  • Mastercard (1 or more)
  • Amex
  • gas station card (1 or more)
  • department store card - Sears, The Bay, Future Shop (1 or more)
Anyone can see that electronic bill presentation is the way to go. It's better for everyone and for the environment.

Under the Nova Scotia Power scheme, every customer would have to set up dozens of electronic accounts, a separate account for each service provider. The customer would then have to keep track of dozens of web site URLs, usernames and passwords.

This is absurd and not customer friendly. There's no reason for that. There is a proven solution to this problem available today; and the solution is to standardize on epost. There is no reason for service providers to be launching their own separate service when epost is the trusted standard.

I wonder if they are just trying to save 1 penny per bill or something stupid like that by hiring their own "cheaper" service provider for e-billing. Look what happened to the World Bank with India contractors. I'm sure they saved a few dollars too, up front.

From a customer perspective, e-billing is a risk to me because my personal billing information is online. If I had 12 e-billing sites then that's 12 points of failure where my information could be compromised and used against me to launch identity theft. I'm not going to expose myself to that kind of risk.

At least with epost I know who I'm dealing with and they are more likely to be reputable and trustworthy. epost is actually legally backed by the post office itself so attempting to compromise it is a serious federal offense [equivalent to stealing regular letter mail] with stiff prison sentences.

The other thing is that Nova Scotia power has been mailing paper bills to customers for around a century. The logical successor to the post office for power bills is, well, the post office. Just like the power company has been a generally benign monopoly in our lives, so has the post office. The post office is a part of the Canada identity. It's been there since pre Confederation and is still relevant today. An institution like Nova Scotia Power should do its part and utilize our own post office.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

went to the airpot

I did something yesterday I enjoy doing. I went out to the airport. I picked up my parents who were returning from a visit with my sister to Ottawa.

I always enjoy going to the Halifax airport. Ever since I was young it was a treat going there. And it was pleasant as always today. Hardly anyone around. The plane arrived a few minutes early. The bags were there just a few minutes after. Parking was a breeze. I even got a bit lucky. Driving through the metered area I happened on one with 43 minutes left on it. I slid in there and didn't even end up paying to park. yay.

There's something exciting about the airport. People coming and going from everywhere to everywhere. The international aspect of it. The 24 hour operation, thinking about the wee hours when it's still always open and people are around in the still quiet. The size of the place with the planes and hangars.

I've always liked the big powerful infrastructure. Planes, ships, trains. Chugging along in the quiet hours. I should have gotten into that for a career.

Friday, October 17, 2008

ex SupportSoft lunch

I had a much more enjoyable lunch today than the usual peanut butter and jam sandwich.

I met up with some former coworkers from SupportSoft. We met at the Red Fox in Bayers Road. The Red Fox is pretty good. The food is good and the prices are all right. It's comfortable with lots of seats and parking. Usually when I go to the Fox it's at night with the DJ and bands so this was a nice change.

It was a good time seeing my former colleagues again. Two of the former SPRT are at CGI now and I guess they got talking that it would be cool to meet up again. So they e-mailed me and some other expats and after a number of e-mails we settled on the date and time. Me and another guy who landed at RIM drove down together.

We talked about the old days, and what we're up to now. Plus some of what we've heard about the old office since we left. Some good stories from the past.

It was rough at times back at Core/SupportSoft but we did have some good times. The camaraderie was good, it was good people to work with for sure. We wouldn't be meeting up well afterwards like we did today if we didn't care or have some connection and nostalgia to the old times and the characters we worked with [of course we were all part of the character of the place too.]

Sometimes I miss the old days at Core/SupportSoft. The commute, the orderly world of the ACS, the Friday lunches, the familiar and comfortable, status, Chris and James [among others], being able to speak directly to the CEO in the lunch room, the kids Christmas party, dogs in the office.

Change happens and people move on but still even if you're better off in some ways there's usually stuff to miss about what you left behind.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fooled by Randomness

I just finished reading Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It's a good book. The author NNT also wrote The Black Swan. Fooled by Randomness is a good challenging read, but a bit lighter than the black swan. I recommend it.

He has some interesting points, especially about the dangers of judging the performance of say a mutual fund manager over a short time series. NNT seems to speak well of George Soros writing so I'll have to pick up a Soros book in the future. I think I'll do some light reading first though for balance before hitting the nonfiction again.

Fooled by Randomness talks some about options trading and NNT has also written some books on options trading. I don't know much about options trading but it sounds interesting. I should learn more about it in the future. There's something pleasing about finding profitable opportunities especially when you judge you are an underdog to hit - hmmm, now where does that come up in my life?

There is a an interesting probability problem in the book. I'll repeat it here.

It's related to medicine.

A certain disease affects 1 in 1000 people.

There is a test for the disease. The test is 95% accurate; it produces a false positive 5% of the time. The test never produces a false negative.

An individual tests positive for the disease. What is the chance that he has the disease?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Signed up for PayPal

I recently did something that many did a long time ago. I joined PayPal. I bought something online and the merchant pay was through PayPal. So I joined and linked it to the credit card I wanted to use. It was easy to get set up and everything worked easily and successfully the first time through.

There's something I find exciting about online money outside of the plain President's Choice chequing account. It's like when I cashed out stock options those times in the past. Just a few clicks and there it was, free money for me!

Of course with the stock options I had put in hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime to get there. If you divide the amount of the stock options cashout by the unpaid overtime then it was probably around $5 an hour. Still that was highly satisfying voting that money to myself on etrade.

We don't get stock options where I work now so if I want money to just wonderfully "appear" then I guess I'll have to come up with a scheme to get people to send money into my new PayPal account. Need to think a bit about that one.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Becoming an investor again

My six month probation review period is coming up at the end of this month. I hope I can clear it. It's pretty crazy what's going on in the financial world these days. Every job I've had I've been a bit nervous around the end of probation time.

Anyway one of the things we have to do for post probation is fill out a form around the RRSP payroll deductions. My employer has a generous program where they will 100% match your RRSP payroll deductions up to 3% of your gross pay. The deductions go to a group RRSP managed by Manulife. A simple calculation shows how lucrative this is to the employee.
money out of your pocket    $1.00
employer 100% match         $1.00
group RRSP 2% gain          $0.04
income tax credit 50%       $0.50
total                       $2.54
As you can see for every dollar the employee spends out of his own pocket his personal wealth increases by $2.54. That's a sensational 154% return.

So given that obviously I should be putting in the max 3%. However my plan is to start at 1% for now and reevaluate after 6 months with the intent to increase it to 3%. One step at a time. It's nice to finally be in a position where I can set aside even the token 1% of my gross pay. It's been a while and it feels good. The last time I did any investing was 1999 I think with some mutual funds. Those investments were later withdrawn and wiped out with nothing to show for them.

Although it is more profitable to minpay the debts and put any extra money into this I want to still focus on eliminating the consumer debts and just getting them out of my life, hopefully forever. It's just a personal emotional thing about wanting them gone and never to come back.

I had an opportunity like this before. Back at xwave in 2001 they introduced 100% matching as well. Unfortunately at that time that was in the dark period financially and I couldn't even think about participating. It makes me sad to think about the past, the missed opportunities. How things could have turned out if better choices had been made along the way.

As part of the registration I did the online retirement calculator. It turns out that if I retire in 25 years [which is gross, so depressing] at age 65 then I'll have a projected income of around $23,000 a year. That's not very good. Enough to live by myself in the city. I'd probably have to go carless [assuming I'm even capable of driving at that age]. I should target increasing it to at least $30K a year which would be more comfortable and I could still drive at that income level. Now assuming I even live 25 more years it's far from certain I can be employable that long. I wouldn't want to ask an actuary the probability that I'll be actually able to work full time up to age 65.

As part of the registration I had to do an investing profile. They said I was a 'balanced' investor. That pleased me in some way. Now I don't know or really want to know much about investing. I know the Fundamental Theorem of Investing by the great man David Sklansky. But I'm not sure how to apply it to my own investments. Of course being balanced seems good, per the Nash equilibrium. But again I'm not sure how to apply it. So I just give money to the "experts" [who the great thinker NNT has debunked] to manage, and hope for generally positive variance. If I had any meaningful wealth it might not be horrible to be 80-90%+ in Canada Savings bonds from here on out. But I guess I don't have that problem right now.

I had to pick the allocation for the balanced strategy as part of the registration. I may not have got it right [since I was basically guessing]. This is what I went with. I should probably go over it and check somewhere if I have the funds and percentages right for my time frame and objectives.
2001 - ML Conservative AA a4   15%
2002 - ML Moderate AA a4       25%
2003 - ML Balanced AA a4       35%
2004 - ML Growth AA a4         15%
2005 - ML Aggressive AA a4     10%

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Some subprime links

If you're new to the housing and credit crisis, where have you been the last 16 months! Hopefully not buying a house. Anyway here's some background stuff you might like.

comical cartoon describing subprime securitization

hilarious British take on subprime

and of course the infamous Century21 commercial featuring doughboy and harpie