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Monday, September 29, 2014

Don't Just Mind the Gap, Trade It

I don't often write about investing tips, but this morning's market action was such a classic example of a money-making situation, I feel obliged to share what I (think I) know.

Many investors know about the principle of "trading the gap." The scenario: A stock (or the entire market) gaps lower on the open, which of course simply means the opening price was lower than the previous session's closing price. Instead of continuing to go down (which sometimes happens), the stock immediately begins to trend higher.

When a stock gaps lower on the open (red arrow), it often fills the gap in the next hour.

This morning, the market indices were sharply lower on the open, but immediately began heading higher. This is a classic gap-trading opportunity, particularly if you pick stocks whose behavior you know well, and that have recently been trending higher, with no fundamental reason to go lower. Today's examples: AAPL, AMZN, YHOO. All gapped low on the open, then went higher.

The gap-trading philosophy says: When a stock gaps low on the open, then moves up, it will keep moving up until the gap is "filled" or "covered" (reaching the level indicated by the dotted horizontal line in the above graphic). No one knows why gap-filling occurs, but the fact is, it occurs often enough that you should consider "trading the gap."

I bought AAPL and AMZN call options about 30 miutes after the market opened. They went up smartly. Now because I don't have $25K in my account, I can't sell those contracts in the same session without triggering a day-trader warning. What do you do if your call-option contracts go up and you want to get out (but can't, without triggering a warning)? Buy corresponding puts. You'll lock in the profit until you can get out (and maybe make a little on the put, if the stock opens lower the next day).

I made a little money on AMZN call options on Friday. To lock in the profit, I bought corresponding puts. When the market gapped low (WAY low) this morning, I was delighted. My puts had gone in-the-money. I liquidated them and rode the calls back up again.

For the record: I consider AAPL a good buy in the $97-98 range and I think Amazon will be at $340 sometime within the next two months. Yahoo is severely undervalued at $40.

I am not an investment advisor and this is not professional advice. Seek the advice of a professional before making any investment decisions.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Young People Don't Know

Young people today don't realize what has happened to the U.S. economy over the past 40 years. Their sense of what's "normal" is shaped by current reality, not the reality their parents grew up in. They don't know how things were; how prosperous America used to be.

When I think back on what my life was like in 1980, it horrifies me to see how badly the economic environment has deteriorated since then. Let me put try to put it in concrete terms.

The value of the dollar over time. In this graph, 2012 equals 1.
In 1900, a dollar was 29 times as powerful as in 2012.
Four years out of college, I was making $25,000 a year (in 1980). Which doesn't sound like a lot of money, right? Well, consider how I was living at the time. I had bought a nearly new (three years old) two-bedroom house on two acres of wooded land in North Carolina, for $30,000. I bought a new Chevy truck for $4100. I owned a 9-year-old Cessna 182, which I'd bought from a Delta pilot for $16,500. I was easily able to make the monthly payments on all these items. The combined payments came to a little over $600 a month.

Today, the new Chevy truck would cost $25,000. The average home price in the North Carolina town I lived in is now $300,000. A nine-year-old Cessna 182 can be had for $189,000. Basically, everything costs 6 to 10 times more now.

To live the same lifestyle today that I lived in 1980, four years out of college, would require an income of at least $200,000 in 2014 dollars. Few recent grads make anywhere near that amount.

Life was good in America in 1980. It was really easy to live really well on not much money.

What can I say?

Things have changed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Don't Grinf*ck Me

You've seen the scenario play itself out a million times before. A client or coworker comes to you for advice; you offer your very best insights. The other person nods, smiles, thanks you, and agrees to put some of your ideas into action. But then you find out, hours or days later, the person not only ignored your advice but went against it.

You've been grinf#(ked.

The Urban Dictionary defines grinf*ck (noun form) as follows.
In business, when someone smiles and shakes your hand, assuring you that they have heard and will act upon your recommendation or concerns, when in truth you have already been ignored and dismissed.
I think the expectation of being grinf#(ked is why many of us are hesitant to take user satisfaction surveys when asked to do so by banks, e-commerce sites, etc. We suspect we'll get the nod, the sincere thank you—and see our suggestions ignored. (Have you ever dialed the 800 number listed under one of those "How is my driving?" stickers on the backs of trucks? Me neither.)

I'm not a psychologist (so if any specialists are reading this, please speak up here), but it seems to me that grinf**kery, in at least some cases, qualifies as a type of passive-aggressive behavior, meant to humble the advice-giver while bolstering the other person's authority. In other cases, grinf**king is just a byproduct of someone's opinion-gathering requirement. The person who asked for your advice was required to get a second or third opinion on something; there was never any intent to use that opinion to deviate from an already chosen agenda.

And then there are those who mean you no disrespect, but who simply feel embarrassed or timid about disagreeing with you to your face. These are well-meaning people who aren't trying to be disingenuous. They just don't like to appear disagreeable. Or maybe they're confrontation-averse.

Regardless of motivations, it seems to me we all have a duty to be honest and forthright in our dealings with clients and coworkers. We can always agree to disagree on things, if need be. There's room (or should be, in any organization) for honest divergence of opinions. Transparent, open debate of ideas is healthy and should be encouraged.

But don't be disingenuous. Don't camouflage dissent as agreement. Don't tell me one thing when you mean another. Don't deliberately mislead me into thinking you value what I'm saying, when in fact you intend to ignore what I'm saying. When I learn the truth, later, it does nothing good for our relationship.

Just be honest with me. Let me know what you really think. I can take it. I promise.

Don't be a grinf#(ker.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Google Plus Is Irrelevant

It's interesting to compare the social media sites on Google Trends to see how they're doing. Twitter and Facebook dwarf all the others, so I'm not going to dwell on them (but see discussion further below). What's fascinating is the comparison of Google Plus against Pinterest, LinkedIn, and challenger Wattpad. 
LinkedIn has been around longer than the others and has gained considerable traction in recent years, although it seems to be starting to plateau. What's interesting is that Pinterest and Google Plus both spiked in poplarity in 2011-2012, but Pinterest maintained its post-spike popularity whereas Google Plus quickly fell right back down to near-nothing. (This is all the more noteworthy in that if you Google "Google Plus," you get over 3 billion hits. You can't say Google Plus has no visibility on Google.) In the meantime, the tortoise in this race, Wattpad, has slowly overtaken Google Plus.

Naturally, Google Trends data should be taken with a bit of caution. Wattpad has an Alexa.com global rank of 1835, for example, while Goodreads (not shown above) is ranked much higher in traffic, at No. 280 worldwide, yet Wattpad outperforms Goodreads in a Trends graph (not shown) by a 4:1 margin. Clearly, interest is building in Wattpad, at least in Google searches. But it might not relate directly to site traffic.

I became curious about these relationships after a blog post of mine went to No. 1 on BigThink.com. The post in question garnered over 4,000 social shares. I was interested in seeing how the various social shares broke out: How do people share things? Which channels do they use?

The shares for the aforementioned blog (as of this writing) break down as follows:

Facebook: 3,600+
Twitter: 246
LinkedIn: 89
Google+: 64

The extremely poor showing by G+ augurs ill (I think) for Google's social platform. How can you claim to have a major social platform when not even two percent of people use it to share anything? Or is this another Mac vs. PC situation where the product with 2% market share comes from behind, over a period of decades, to overtake the category leaders?

I don't think this is another Mac vs. PC situation. I think Google Plus is finished.

I know many very smart people who think Google Plus is a great platform for various reasons. And it does do certain things well; the UI is less annoying (arguably) than Facebook's, at this point, and it integrates well with other Google offerings. (No surprise there.) But still, hardly anyone uses it, compared to the other major social platforms (look again at the above numbers), and it's not gaining popularity fast enough to keep up, so the inescapable conclusion is that Google (if it intends to keep G+ going) needs to remake G+ yet again, although who's to say another incarnation of it will achieve greater traction? Many would argue (and I would be among them) Google is merely flogging a dead horse at this point.

In the online world, as in the proton-based world, there's room at the top for, at most, two overdogs: Coke, Pepsi. GM, Toyota. Android, iOS. Chrome, Firefox. After the Top Two, all the other long-tail stragglers put together don't add up to much of a pie-slice.

This feels like a battle Google not only lost, but lost years ago (in 2011). If Google decides to walk away from G+, at this point, it won't come as a surprise to me. Its relevance is low and dwindling. The momentum simply isn't there. Even the mighty Google colossus (with its huge Gmail user base) can't move the needle on this one.

The social world has voted, and sad to say, Google Plus now very much appears to be (as some of us suspected from the outset) the answer to a question nobody asked.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Do Dashboards Have to Be Crappy?

 Paul Cothenet has written a terrific blog called "The Laws of Shitty Dashboards," which resonated with me and apparently, also, with thousands of other people. How do I know? I checked my Twitter Analytics dashboard. I found that only two hours after tweeting Paul's blog, 7200 people saw the tweet and 1.8% "engaged" with it either by clicking through to the blog or retweeting (or favoriting) it.

I happen to like the Twitter Analytics dashboard, but Paul is right, most dashboards are only better than the alternative: an Excel spreadsheet.

Interestingly, many dashboards (including the one for Twitter Analytics) provide a data export button. When you click the button, you get to download your data as a spreadsheet. Thus, a dashboard is really just a skin over a spreadsheet's worth of data: a CSV file in an HTML party dress. I confess, I would rather look at the party-dress version. But that's not saying much. Nothing beats a spreadsheet for Ugly. Who wouldn't rather look at a web page?

What's wrong with dashboards? They try to do too much, basically. And in the process, they stymie and befuddle, rather than empower, the user.

Here are Paul's "laws," incidentally:

Law #1: Most software dashboards are shitty
Law #2: If it’s called “Dashboard”, it’s probably shitty
Law #3: If you don’t know what to take away from your dashboard, your users won’t
Law #4:  Not talking to users will result in a shitty dashboard
Law #5: I don’t need no shitty control
Law #6: Because it was useful in a Powerpoint doesn’t mean it’s useful on a dashboard
Law #7: Because it moves doesn’t mean it’s not shitty
Law #8: You probably don’t need a dashboard


Try to think of a dashboard that's truly great. (Hard to do, isn't it?) I gave up on Google Analytics a long time ago, precisely because the dashboard sucks so much. StatCounter isn't any better. The WordPress admin dashboard feels horribly cumbersome and disorienting, no matter how much I stare at it. And I stare at it a lot.

Most content management systems are fronted by a dashboard of some kind. They all suck. It's really not a question of which ones are good, but which ones blow the fewest chunks. The number of clickable elements is usually excessive; the UI is almost always cognitively challenging (too many clickable elements); the ratio of unhidden to hidden data too high.

I suspect dashboard designers take delight in "empowering the user" by giving the user access to dozens of things all from one screen. But really, does the user want to be faced with that many choices? Does the user need to see that much data? Might this not be a case of "less is more"?

Might most dashboards not need to exist?

Do we really need another one?

Please, before you design a dashboard, see if there's an alternative. Prototype some simple alternatives. Huddle with customers. Do usability testing. (But be careful to observe how people actually use something, in practice; don't simply ask users what's good and what's not good. User surveys can be garbage.) Oh, and don't forget to test your UI on an iPad and a phone. If it doesn't work well on a small screen, chances are it's not going to be better on a large one.

If it's truly all about the data? Mail me the spreadsheet. I'll have my macros get back to you.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How Automated Comments Work

Anyone who runs a popular blog knows that many Comments are posted by bots. But they often sound surprisingly human. How does that work?

The answer is, certain text-generating programs, like Manhood, exist that can be scripted to produce semi-random variations on templated sentences that a human provides.

The other day, a person or bot with e-mail address of nicolaspeach@web.de left a Comment at Author-Zone.com, only they messed up. The comment contained the entirety of the script they were using to auto-generate "plausible" messages. The script is pasted below. Scroll to the bottom for my comments on the comment-generator.

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{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today,
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{It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if
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{nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} on building up new {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}.|
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{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I like|I love} {your blog|your site|your web site|your website}!|
Way cool! Some {very|extremely} valid points! I appreciate you {writing this|penning
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A lot of times it’s {very hard|very difficult|challenging|tough|difficult|hard} to get that “perfect balance” between {superb usability|user friendliness|usability} and {visual appearance|visual appeal|appearance}.
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{In addition|Additionally|Also}, the blog loads {very|extremely|super} {fast|quick} for
me on {Safari|Internet explorer|Chrome|Opera|Firefox}.
{Superb|Exceptional|Outstanding|Excellent} Blog!|
These are {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {great|enormous|impressive|wonderful|fantastic} ideas in {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} blogging.

You have touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.
Any way keep up wrinting.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what
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kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}! Keep
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{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey}! Someone in my {Myspace|Facebook} group shared this {site|website} with us so
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I’m definitely {enjoying|loving} the information. I’m
{book-marking|bookmarking} and will be tweeting this to my followers!

{Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog and {wonderful|terrific|brilliant|amazing|great|excellent|fantastic|outstanding|superb} {style
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{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone
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{This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}!
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{incorporated|added|included} you guys to {|my|our|my personal|my own}
blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey} would
you mind {stating|sharing} which blog platform you’re {working with|using}?
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P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic but I had to ask!|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind letting me know which {webhost|hosting company|web host} you’re {utilizing|working with|using}?
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{internet browsers|web browsers|browsers} and I must say this
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{Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks},
I appreciate it!|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together} and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}.
Great {blog|website|site}, {keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!|
Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.
Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from you!
{By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you a
quick heads up. The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem
to be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
I’m not sure if this is a {format|formatting}
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The {style and design|design and style|layout|design} look great though!
Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon. {Kudos|Cheers|Many
thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart…
{Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank you}!
{Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to {books|textbooks}, as I found this {article|post|piece of
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I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas} for your blog you might be interested in hearing.
Either way, great {site|website|blog} and I look forward to
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{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your
{site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the {bravery|courage} to go ahead and give you a shout out from
{New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!
Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!

I’m {bored to tears|bored to death|bored} at work so I decided to {check
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{I think|I feel|I believe} {that you|that you simply|that you
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{A great|An excellent|A fantastic} read. {I’ll|I will} {definitely|certainly} be back.|
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{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog
{occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar one and i was just {wondering|curious}
if you get a lot of spam {comments|responses|feedback|remarks}?

If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it,
any plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}?
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Greetings! {Very helpful|Very useful} advice {within this|in this particular} {article|post}!
{It is the|It’s the} little changes {that make|which will make|that produce|that will make} {the biggest|the largest|the greatest|the most
important|the most significant} changes. {Thanks
a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your
site|your website}.. {Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme.
Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this website|this site|this web site|this amazing site} yourself?
Please reply back as I’m {looking to|trying to|planning to|wanting to|hoping to|attempting to} create {my own|my
very own|my own personal} {blog|website|site} and {would
like to|want to|would love to} {know|learn|find out} where you
got this from or {what the|exactly what the|just what the} theme {is called|is named}.

{Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate
it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog post} {couldn’t|could
not} be written {any better|much better}! {Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking
through} this {post|article} reminds me of my
previous roommate! He {always|constantly|continually} kept {talking about|preaching about} this.
{I will|I’ll|I am going to|I most certainly will}
{forward|send} {this article|this information|this post} to him.
{Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going to} {have a
good|have a very good|have a great} read.
{Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I appreciate you for} sharing!|
{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just} like my old one!
It’s on a {completely|entirely|totally} different {topic|subject} but it has pretty much the same {layout|page
layout} and design. {Excellent|Wonderful|Great|Outstanding|Superb} choice of
colors!|
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to use {some of|a few of}
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It seems the person forgot to close off the script with a closing brace: }.  Instead, there's a backslash. (See it? Its the final line.) This caused the entire script not only to fail but to be inserted as raw code into the Comment.

The pipe character, "|", groups together alternative words or phrases to be substituted or cycled-through. This script contains numerous individual scripts for individual messages. Somehow the person posting this mishmash managed to post his entire script collection.

Thanks, dude. You're really on top of things.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Caution about Killing Apps with Task Manager

I just encountered a situation with Firefox that's distressing and potentially dangerous (but for which I discovered the workaround).

I'm a heavy user of Firefox (and Chrome) and often finish the day with Firefox eating 2 gigs of RAM or more. It sometimes runs out of memory and crashes. I know of no answer for that. Avoid using AJAX-intensive sites? Not easy to do. Keep fewer tabs open? Yeah. Thanks, Mom.

Many times, when I notice Firefox slowing down (because it's been open a long time and is using huge amounts of memory), I deliberately crash it with Task Manager, then restart it. Bringing it down with Task Manager is quicker than waiting for Firefox to exit normally.

But therein lies a danger.

I was noticing that Firefox seemed to be issuing duplicate mouse events. For example, I would click someone's Follow button on Twitter and see the button quickly toggle twice, back to Follow. Usually the button will just change to Followed. But sometimes, it would quickly blink and go back to Follow as if I never clicked it. That's because when you've followed someone, the button (after changing to Followed) will go to Unfollow when you hover over it. It becomes an Unfollow button in the hover state.

What I saw happening is Follow changing to Unfollow and back to Follow in the blink of an eye. This was my first tipoff to duplicate events being fired.

The second tipoff was that when I single-clicked in the header bar of the browser, it went to fullscreen (maximized), something that should happen only if you double-click the header bar.

I went to Task Manager and found two instances of Adobe Flash Player running. As soon as I killed those (with End Task) and reloaded my browser pages, the duplicate-event-passing stopped.

So the lesson is: If you kill Firefox with Task Manager, be sure to kill Flash as well. Otherwise a zombie copy of Flash remains, and can interfere with event-passing later on when Firefox is running again. (Apparently.)

The reason this duplpicate-event stuff is dangerous is that when you pay bills online, some sites need you to be careful not to click a Submit button twice by accident. You could issue two payment requests.

I'm sure there are other hazards associated with duplicate events; but you get the picture now.

Be careful killing Firefox (or any app) with Task Manager. You can leave zombie processes running, and they can have unwanted side effects later.