The Great Stock Experiment

Back at the end of 2015, I had about $500 kicking around. I’d watched the stock market from afar, particularly the tech stocks. I felt like I had seen so many tech stocks skyrocket in price, and that I’d known ahead of time those stocks would do well. I knew the tech was good, so I figured the stock would be solid, as well.

I decided I’d finally put my money where my mouth was.

Square was a company I’d followed for some time. They made little portable registers that people can use on their phones to take credit card payments, and they’d recently branched out to making full fledged devices. They were brand new on the market, and I bought 40 shares of their stock with my $500, resolving to see how things went.

For the first while, they didn’t go so hot The stock that I’d bought at $12 went down to $9, and I felt kind of dumb. But I held onto it, and eventually it rose back to $12. Then it hovered at $14.

Earnings were good. People gained faith in the stock. The company branched out into new areas. And the stock kept going higher.

Today it broke the $45 mark, and I was faced with a new decision. The company has branched out into Bitcoin, and I am quite skeptical of that currency. I feel like that’s the reason the stock has gone higher the last bit, and I don’t feel like it’s sustainable. I had first bought the stock expecting to hold onto it for ten or twenty years, but I had about tripled my money in two years. Did I want to bet that the stock would keep going up, or did I want to get out while the getting was good?

In the end, I got out. My logic was as follows: it’s like I’d gone to Vegas and put all my money on Red for a couple of spins. And I’d gotten lucky. Red was hot. So now I could either let it ride or walk away. There’s certainly a chance Square will keep going gangbusters. And perhaps in a couple of years, I’ll be looking back and wishing I’d kept it in.

But there’s also a chance the stock goes down a ways, and then won’t I feel good about myself.

So anyway, I’ve taken the money out, and now I have to figure out what I want to do with that money next. Maybe I’ll celebrate and buy $1,800 of Magic cards, but something tells me I’ll put the bulk of it into a safer investment and then take that initial $500 seed money and pick another stock to invest in.

I’ll have to mull it over some. But in any case, it’s certainly been a fun (and profitable) experiment.

Fighting Burnout

The end part of a drive is always the hardest part for me. It doesn’t really matter how long the drive itself is. If I’m going on an hour drive, then I begin to get antsy at the 45 minute mark. If I’m on an 8 hour drive, then the last hour or so will be rough, but I breeze through that 45 minute mark. (This is one of the reasons that I try to trick my mind when I go on trips. I say to myself that an 8 hour trip will be 10 hours, and I keep focused on that 10 hour mark the entire trip. Surprisingly, this actually works for me. Perhaps I’m just that good at deluding myself.)

It’s been a tough semester. Denisa’s been teaching three classes and tutoring students, we’ve had multiple renovation projects going on, I’ve had writing deadlines to worry about, I’m pushing my diet hard, and I’ve gotten a new calling at church that’s keeping me on my toes. And I’ve been handling it all pretty well, more or less. But the closer we get to the end of the semester, the harder it seems to have gotten. This past week there have been multiple times when I just have felt like I have nothing left in the tank. I’m persisting on sheer will power alone, and there’s not much of that left, either.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to have. Some of it must be because I know I’m going on vacation soon. I’m at the tail end of the drive, and I’ve hit the point where I know I’m almost done, and so it’s the hardest to keep going.

At times like this, I try to think of what I would tell someone else if they came to me asking for advice on how to handle it. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. You can lighten up for a few days and be just fine. This is a marathon, not a sprint.” But it’s one thing to know what the advice would be, and quite another to actually follow it. The thing that I’m having to push on the most the past bit is my writing. I get home from work and am just fried. I have pretty much no desire to do anything other than read a book, watch a movie, or sleep. But I know I have writing to do, and so I plop myself down in a chair and get it done. I always feel better having done it, but I wish I could feel better when I’m actually in the process of writing.

I didn’t really set out to complain about stuff in this  post. Many many things are going great, and I have to remind myself of that. But the end part of a drive is always the hardest part for me, and that vacation can’t come soon enough.

Speaking of which, I’m hereby stepping back from the blog for tomorrow and all of next week. This is me, giving myself permission to not blog if I don’t want to. If I have something I really want to say, I’ll pop on here and say it, but don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me until the 27th. I’ll be on Facebook. You can catch me over there.

Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

There comes a time with a series that you can begin to have too much success. Where people begin to take your skill and craftsmanship for granted. It’s the same thing that happened to Pixar. We all became so used to Pixar churning out great movies year after year, that those movies began to feel less great.

“Huh. Another fantastically animated, wonderfully scripted movie with superb character development. Par for the course, Pixar. Try to wow us next time.”

I believe Marvel is doing the same thing. They’ve got a recipe, and they’re sticking to that recipe fairly faithfully for the most part. So the question then becomes, where do you go from there?

Obviously one approach is to start making some bad movies. Pixar did that with The Good Dinosaur, though people watched it and ended up blaming Disney more for that movie than Pixar. “A *bad* Pixar movie? It must not have been Pixar, because those movies are always great by default.”

Marvel has come up with a new approach: stick the recipe for the most part, but inject different flavors. Guardians of the Galaxy is a great example of this. It took the superhero movie and inject craziness and a killer soundtrack. Antman turned into a heist movie. Spiderman: Homecoming is the high school flavor. Marvel is doing riffs on a theme at this point, and surprisingly, that’s working really well.

Enter Taika Waititi, a director known for quirky comedy. His What We Do in the Shadows is flat out awesome. The Office meets Dracula. And Marvel hired him to . . . direct the third Thor movie? You know they had to have done it on purpose. He’s got a style that’s unique, and they handed him the keys to Thor, a series that has been one of my least favorite Marvel films thus far. It’s taken itself too seriously, just like its titular character.

I took the kids to watch Thor: Ragnarok last week, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It’s quirky and funny, peppered with characters that are oddballs. It’s got a lot of humor, some great action pieces, and I really recommend it. That said, I walked away only giving it a 7/10. Why? Because the quirkiness wasn’t quite enough to really set it apart from the other Marvel movies. It was another well produced superhero film. The quirkiness kept it from feeling tired, but it didn’t raise it to a new level, if that makes sense.

(Also, as a side note, this was my first movie I went to in a theater since I got my projector at home. And in the middle of the movie, I found myself wishing the screen were bigger, like the one I have at home. It’s all about perspective and seating distance, folks.)

So good on Marvel for keeping up the quality. I’ll gladly continue to keep paying for it. But I am beginning to wonder how much more they have left in the tank. At some point, things turn from “another quality Marvel movie” into “just another quality Marvel movie,” and from there it’s not too far to “just another Marvel movie,” which is followed by people not showing up at all. Something to think about.

Some odds and ends:

  • I wish they hadn’t spoiled the appearance of one of the Avengers in the film. That reveal would have been epic if they’d been able to keep it under wraps better.
  • I really enjoyed the soundtrack. Enough that I had to look up the composer: Mark Mothersbaugh. The name didn’t mean anything to me, so I dug deeper. He was one of the founders of Devo, which vaulted the soundtrack even higher in my eyes. Great synth feel to it. Having more unique soundtracks would very much be a plus for Marvel.
  • Cate Blanchett’s character development leaves a whoooooole lot to be desired. At this point, I think my biggest beef with the Marvel movies is how generic a lot of their villains are beginning to feel. The superheroes get a lot of development and backstory, but the villains, not so much. You could swap villains between movies, and I don’t think it would make a difference in many cases. That’s a flaw.

Anyway–do check the movie out. Already seen it? Let me know what you thought!

When the Team Becomes More Important than the Player

I’ve been generally disgusted with politics lately. So many people involved in getting so little of real worth accomplished. It’s depressing, and that’s before you trot out Trump and take a long look at just what he’s doing to this country. (Case in point: we’re now focused on bolstering our nuclear defenses, and Congress is examining just what sort of nuclear powers the President should have. This is 2017, by the way. The Cold War has been over for coming up on thirty years. And yet suddenly we’re worrying about this, and I think you can plop pretty much all the blame right at Trump’s bloated feet.*)

But one of the things that has disappointed me the most has been the trend of people more and more focusing on what “team” each politician plays for, and less and less on the character and quality of the actual players/politicians themselves. In the presidential election, many seemed to vote simply because of what the party each candidate belonged to stood for, holding their nose or overlooking anything that candidate might have done or said personally. And I certainly believe Trump and Clinton can have this accusation lobbed at them.

This has become much clearer now with this Roy Moore nastiness. For those of you not following along, Roy Moore is a Republican candidate for Senator in Alabama. The Washington Post published an article detailing an investigation they ran, encompassing thirty interviews with people who knew Moore and connected him with sexually assaulting girls as young as 14 back in the late 1970s, when Moore was in his young 30s. Other women have since come forward, confirming the allegations.

I get that it’s basically a he said/she said situation at the moment. (Though I’ll note that when you have multiple people willing to make the same allegations, that actually turns into a he said/THEY said, and that’s quite a different equation in my book.) Is it possible Moore is innocent and wrongly accused? Sure it is. And some people are taking that line, saying he should step down from the race “if the allegations are true.”

The thing that baffles me—that has my jaw on the floor—is how some others are actually defending his actions, even if those actions are true.

“Take Mary and Joseph. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus,” Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler told theWashington Examiner. “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

And this one:

Joel Pollak, an editor-at-large at Breitbart, criticized the Post’s report in an interview on MSNBC, saying “the 16-year-old and the 18-year-old have no business in that story” because Alabama’s age of consent is 16. “As far as we know, there’s only one relationship that’s been alleged that is problematic,” Pollak said of the encounter with 14-year-old Corfman.

You have politicians and talk show hosts and public figures defending the man’s actions, even if they are true. And the reason many of them give for it? It’s important Moore gets elected to that Senate seat, because otherwise the Republicans have an even more tenuous hold on the Senate. Better to put a child molester into power than to risk the Republican agenda. Let that sink in for a moment. These aren’t people who are defending his character or saying he’d never do such a thing. They’re saying even if he did it, it doesn’t matter as much as politics.

I don’t know why it should surprise me. People voted for Trump to keep the Democrats out of the Presidency, and Trump was on the record saying and doing awful things. It wasn’t he said/she said. It was just “he said.” And you had him on tape actually saying it.

This is not right, plain and simple. And anyone who wants to show up and start accusing Democrats of terrible behavior in order to excuse Republicans for terrible behavior is equally at fault. I literally do not care what party a child molester belongs to. I’m sure there are terrible Democrats out there. But this isn’t football. Two penalties, one against each team, do not offset each other. Play does not continue as normal. I would much prefer an inherently good person be in office, even if I disagree with that person’s politics, than an evil person who might happen to vote the way I’d prefer from time to time. I don’t think that statement should be groundbreaking, but sometimes it feels to me that it’s heading in that direction.

The best way to make it stop (that I can see) is to break up the parties, which might (in turn) break up the talk radio and biased news reporting. When it becomes less of us vs. them, perhaps Americans can start actually caring that good people represent them once more.

Or maybe I’m just dreaming.

Disclaimer: I do not actually know if Trump has bloated feet or not. Perhaps they’re very dainty. Tiny, even. I have no real desire to find out.

Rewatching Gangs of New York after Trump

I was a fan of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when I first watched it fifteen years ago. I thought the acting was fantastic, and it was great to see the way the historical details of New York City in the mid-1800s came to life. The place looked so foreign from the New York I knew in 2002, and it was crazy to think it had been like that less than 150 years before.

Over the weekend, I decided to give it another watch to see how it held up. The acting was still spot on, the historical details were still engrossing, but what surprised me most this time through was how . . . similar New York looked to me now. How we seemed to have come full circle in just 15 years.

I don’t mean that New York has devolved into a place where violence rules the streets and gangs and politicians work hand in hand to control the way the city is run. Certainly no one’s getting bludgeoned to death in full daylight, and I haven’t read of anyone dying from being stabbed with a meat cleaver recently. But the city in the film is, broadly seen, very similar to the situation we have today in America.

For example, one of the big conflicts of the movie is the Natives (led by Bill the Butcher) vs. the Irish (led by Amsterdam Vallon). Bill is upset that so many Irish are flooding the country, and he’s dead set on keeping America for Americans. People who had been born there. Essentially he wants to Make America Great Again, which shows how tenuous the argument is. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. I believe many people look back to “the way things were” as a return to simpler times. How things were in your childhood. But from my experience, the only reason things seemed simpler to me when I was a child is because I didn’t fully understand the forces at work in the world. So it’s easy to think back on the 80s and reminisce about how great they were for me, because I wasn’t up to date on the Cold War or the AIDS epidemic, for example. Yes, they were concepts in my head, but they weren’t nearly as important to me as Transformers or the latest Nintendo game to be released.

Bill the Butcher wants things the way they were. He blames his current problems on an exterior force: the Irish. Now that enough time has passed, we can look back at his views and see just how close-minded they are, and yet those same views still hold sway today in the rhetoric of Trump. All that’s changed is the minorities that are blamed for the country’s woes.

Another huge issue in the movie is the disparity between the haves and the have nots. At the time, the North instituted a draft as it continued the Civil War. The catch? If you were drafted, you could pay $300 to get out of your obligation. So it became a draft of the poor, who couldn’t dream of affording that payment.

The movie essentially shows how all of this turmoil and anger boiled up and changed the city in one fell swoop. For the first 4/5ths of the film, we see a depiction of how life in New York worked, and we have expectations for what will be the climax of the movie. But then the city is hit with massive riots, and suddenly everything changes. That rang true to me. We can easily think that “the way things are” will never change, but often it changes in the matter of a day or less. Think about Pearl Harbor, or 9/11. The stock market crash in the 20s. Everything gets turned on its ear, and a new normal is established.

I have no idea what the future holds for America. But I was reminded in my rewatch of the movie how much things can change in a day, or 15 years. And as we see this wave of Nationalism sweeping across much of Europe and the US, I just hope we can get through it without the same conflicts we’ve experienced in the past.

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