and has 0 comments

  A Lush and Seething Hell is a collection of two novellas: The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, where vast magical forces play with death and torture in a fictional Chile inspired South-American country, and My Heart Struck Sorrow, a story of dark magic working through verse and song.

  John Hornor Jacobs writes well, dragging the reader into the worlds of his mind, however I found it difficult to stay there. Perhaps it's the alert lifestyle of today, full of interruptions and distractions, but it felt easy for me to stop reading and it needed some effort to start again. It took me two weeks to read it all and even then it required a conscious decision to push through, though it's not a large book.

  Both stories have a common structure: people who are following the narrative of another and thus are drawn into the same world. Reading about reading, so to speak. They have elements of cosmic horror, although most of it is implied or not clearly explained - the traditional way of approaching the genre - intimating that even the tiniest brushes with these hidden realms are terrifyingly dangerous. What they both reminded me repeatedly is House of Leaves, though not so convolutedly detailed, and only marginally of any Lovecraftian work.

  Bottom line: I liked both stories, the world building, the style, the slowly getting under the skin horror elements, but I did feel the writing dragged a little.

and has 0 comments

  Something that feels inspired heavily by Octavia Butler, Semiosis starts with a very interesting premise and continues through generations of human colonists on an alien planet. However, each chapter introduces a new generation, thus abandoning characters and attachments introduced before. In the end it simply feels too clinical, with characterization lacking luster, while still remaining a captivating read.

  The plot centers around a human colony on a distant alien planet. There are only a few dozen people and, with some equipment failures, they find themselves at the mercy of the world's inhabitants. Which are intelligent plants! It is a very interesting premise and both the generational span of the story and the cold calculations of different species that must coexist despite their massive differences reminded me a bit of Xenogenesis. However, Sue Burke didn't have the cruelty required to thoroughly violate her characters that Butler had, so in the end the mood was more positive, perhaps reminiscent of '60s sci-fi, with lots of deliberations and rational arguments as a major part of the story.

  Bottom line: I liked the book. Could have been better, but as a debut it's pretty good. I will probably read the second book sooner or later, because the world of Pax is so full of potential, however I do believe Semiosis can be taken as a standalone story without the need for a continuation.

and has 0 comments

  Edward O. Wilson was a biologist who died at the end of 2021, aged 94. Nicknamed "ant man" for his world renowned expertise of ants, he championed concepts such as sociobiology and biodiversity. Reportedly, he was a very nice man, beloved by most of the people he interacted with. And yet, I didn't hear of him because of his scientific writings, but because of a vitriolic article published by Scientific American. In it, the author used Wilson's death and the renewed interest in his autobiography, Naturalist, to decry Wilson's views ("problematic beliefs"). He had tried to explain everything through biological lenses, for example that individual characteristics are caused by evolution and those characteristics cause the characteristics of a group or society or race in a particular environment. The article's author considered that as proof of "scientific racism", but was immediately shut down by scores of scientists who debunked her entire article and pretty much proved she didn't even read the books she was supposedly basing her writing on.

  So even when I try to filter out the political idiocy that pollutes every aspect of modern life and try to keep up to date with science and technology, I still fall into these toxic holes. Ironically, one of the last chapters in Naturalist talks about how weird it was for one of his colleagues to try to explain biology ideologically (in that case Marxism). Anyway, so I decided to read the book. I usually love autobiographies, especially those of scientists and other driven people, because it makes me feel as they did. Even if prompted by an ugly example of human stupidity and malice, still something good could come of it.

  Alas, while the book is interesting and takes the reader through much of Wilson's life and work, it merely describes his passion for nature, rather than evoke it. Even as it starts with a personal history and childhood, it feels strangely impersonal. A small boy with hearing issues and partial vision in one eye (accidentally caused by him trying to handle a spiked fish), he was nevertheless taught to never run away from a fight by his father, partially schooled in educational institutions that prepared children for military careers and had overall the belief that anything is possible, once you put your mind to it.

  I have no doubt that his approach to life wasn't as analytical as it is portrayed in the book, but what exactly that was is hard to glimpse from this biography. Wilson published Naturalist when he was 65 and, while I am sure he worked some time on it, he treated it as any of his scientific books at the time: facts, history based on journals, actions, expectations, results. I liked the book and I liked Wilson, but I wouldn't particularly recommend Naturalist for anything than a glimpse in Wilson's nature (pardon the pun).

  First of all, neither am I a philosopher nor have I read Nietzsche. The philosophical aspects that I am discussing are how a layman would interpret them. In this post I am going to discuss anime from the Baki Hanma and JoJo's Bizarre Adventures universes with a nod to Andromeda's race of genetically modified humans called Nietzscheans and also other media portrayals of similar concepts.

  Watching episodes from Baki or JoJo anime I got a weird feeling. Both series, while having completely different plots, focus on humans with superior abilities fighting each other. Nothing new here: both American and Japanese cultures are inundated with this cliché. Yet these shows are strangely humanistic in nature. The characters have impossible strong muscles, dress in their own special way and are proudly dedicated to particular philosophies that define their path in life. Compared to other people, they are intimidating, entirely dominating, and they are so strong that they defy the laws of medicine and even physics. They use their power in tactical and strategic ways, they hone their skills, they outthink their adversaries and use whatever the environment gives them in order to win. And this in order to gain power only over themselves.

  In so many ways, they reminded me of the Nietzscheans, from Gene Roddenberry's TV series Andromeda (before the show went to shit, so first season only). They also reveled in their physical, mental and knowledge prowess. Violence, to them, was justified as a way to eliminate weakness. The characters in the two anime shows are the same: they risk their health, their lives, in order to try themselves to the limit. As a result, they cannot exist in human society. People can't abide such obvious difference, when these guys are stronger than guns, impossible to detain through cuffs, chains, walls or cages and at any time they can just destroy a normal human being with little to no effort. It is this part that actually got me thinking and writing the blog post.

  Usually in media, people who care only about their own betterment to the point they eschew social norms are portrayed as villains. Human values are represented as communal values: caring about others, respecting their way to live, abiding social constraints and obeying laws, forming bonds and families, then dedicating effort to maintain and preserve them. The hero will defend, not attack, will arrest, not destroy, will consider, not dismiss, will protect, not invade. In fact, a hero is a social construct and can only exist as society's protector.

  In regular situations, the ones that are considered normal in society, heroes are not needed. Performance is not needed. There are some boundaries in which one is allowed to strive for better output, but only as cogs in a social mechanism that needs them to perform within expected ranges. Only when things go awry, from the breaking of a component (be it a tool, a flow or a person) to some huge disaster, some people "step up" and take over the load. Those are heroes. And here is the dilemma, because someone who has not made the effort of being better than expected of them will not be able to step up, while someone who does make the effort is inevitably vilified during "peace times".

  This reminds me of Rambo, in the first movie and not the ridiculous propaganda sequels. Here is a man who, through circumstances that needed to be tragic and out of his control so as to enhance his heroic status, reached a level above his peers, at least in one particular domain: fighting and killing. He was perfect as a soldier, but as he returns home he has difficulties integrating himself back into society. It takes only a small town sheriff bullying to bring the beast to surface. The old adage still stands: the best heroes are all dead.

  Going back to the animes, I found myself in conflict. Here is the usual portrayal of society, a safe place for everybody to live in, defining what human life is and should be like, but functioning as a soulless mechanism. And here is the usual portrayal of the self absorbed villain, a monstruous being of immense power who threatens the existence of all, but functioning as a proud individual constantly bettering themselves. I feel like the latter option is more humanistic, therefore truly being human is in antithesis to human society.

  Can there be a balance between the two? Could we actually imagine a benign Nietzschean-like society? One that would truly embrace diversity, specialization and performance while despising mediocrity and also not eating itself from within? I find it hard, if not impossible. Still, I can't but feel a sort of admiration for these larger than life characters and their dedication to a random thing than then defines them for ever.

  What do you think?

and has 0 comments

  Gonna try something different today, by sharing the analysis of someone else, which I can only assume is way much better than me at this. This is the Mengarini variation of the Sicilian, where a3 is the reply to Black's c5. Similar to a wing gambit, it serves the same purpose: to deflect Black's development towards a side pawn sacrifice in order to gain the center immediately.

  A very natural continuation is Nc6 b4 cxb4 axb4 Nxb4 c3 Nc6 d4, after which almost every White piece is ready to attack, the king is temporarily safe and Black has only developed a knight which has moved three times.

  From what I can tell, Ariel Mengarini was an Italian from Rome who emigrated in the US and became a psychiatrist. He was also pretty good at chess, having started at 6.

Here is the embed of JayBayC's analysis on LiChess:

Also, let's see a PGN directly on the blog, from an amateur game, just to see how fast things can go wrong for Black: 1. e4 { [%eval 0.33] [%clk 0:05:00] } 1... c5 { [%eval 0.32] [%clk 0:05:00] } 2. a3 { [%eval -0.08] [%clk 0:05:01] } { B20 Sicilian Defense: Mengarini Variation } 2... Nc6 { [%eval -0.09] [%clk 0:04:59] } 3. b4 { [%eval -0.55] [%clk 0:05:04] } 3... cxb4 { [%eval -0.13] [%clk 0:05:00] } 4. axb4 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:07] } 4... Nxb4 { [%eval -0.36] [%clk 0:05:02] } 5. c3 { [%eval -0.12] [%clk 0:05:09] } 5... Nc6 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:04] } 6. d4 { [%eval -0.18] [%clk 0:05:12] } 6... d5 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:06] } 7. exd5 { [%eval 0.0] [%clk 0:05:15] } 7... Qxd5 { [%eval 0.13] [%clk 0:05:07] } 8. Na3 { [%eval 0.14] [%clk 0:05:18] } 8... e5?? { (0.14 → 1.71) Blunder. Qa5 was best. } { [%eval 1.71] [%clk 0:05:03] } (8... Qa5 9. Nf3 e6 10. Bb5 Nf6 11. O-O Be7 12. Bxc6+ bxc6 13. c4 O-O 14. Re1 Qc7 15. c5) 9. Nb5 { [%eval 1.79] [%clk 0:05:20] } 9... Qd8?! { (1.79 → 2.76) Inaccuracy. Kd8 was best. } { [%eval 2.76] [%clk 0:05:01] } (9... Kd8 10. Bg5+ Be7 11. dxe5 Qxd1+ 12. Rxd1+ Bd7 13. Nf3 Bxg5 14. Nxg5 Nxe5 15. f4 h6 16. Ne4) 10. d5 { [%eval 3.32] [%clk 0:05:22] } 10... Na5?? { (3.32 → 7.92) Blunder. Nf6 was best. } { [%eval 7.92] [%clk 0:04:33] } (10... Nf6 11. Be2 Bf5 12. dxc6 bxc6 13. Qxd8+ Kxd8 14. Na3 Ne4 15. Bd3 Bc5 16. Be3 Bxe3 17. fxe3) 11. Qa4?! { (7.92 → 5.67) Inaccuracy. d6 was best. } { [%eval 5.67] [%clk 0:05:10] } (11. d6 Kd7 12. Nf3 Nc6 13. Ng5 Qf6 14. Bc4 Nh6 15. O-O a6 16. Ne4 Qg6 17. Qd5 Rb8) 11... b6?! { (5.67 → 10.14) Inaccuracy. Bd7 was best. } { [%eval 10.14] [%clk 0:04:29] } (11... Bd7 12. Qxa5) 12. Nc7+ { [%eval 10.12] [%clk 0:04:53] } 12... Ke7 { [%eval 8.36] [%clk 0:04:29] } 13. Ba3+ { [%eval 9.74] [%clk 0:04:55] } { Black resigns. } 1-0

Hope it helps!

P.S. Here is my own (and first) study on LiChess, based on human games and computer analysis: Sicilian Defense: Mengarini variation

and has 0 comments

  Strange the Dreamer was a book that, while not perfect, was well written and showing a lot of promise. If anything, I was surprised to see that Muse of Nightmares will be the second and final book of the series, because I couldn't understand how everything begun or hinted at in the first book could be wrapped up. And indeed it wasn't, which doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy reading the book. I feel the series lost a lot of unrealized potential, though. By focusing on the main characters, now starstruck lovers that would do anything for each other, Laini Taylor left all the others behind, without a growth arc or closure. Not only that, but she also brings in another antagonist, from the past of one of the slain gods, so she has even less space to work in.

  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first book so much that I immediately started on the sequel and I've read this one really fast, too. It was entertaining, it was exciting and it was intense in places. But it wasn't better than the first book and the way it ended, with everything nice and cozy and people realizing their dreams and resolving their inner conflicts and helping each other and so on and son on, made have a feeling of jarring fakeness.

  In short, it's a decent book to finish the story, but it went by too fast, paying no attention to characters dragged along from the beginning and left in the dust, focusing too much on love scenes and less on consequential events, using McGuffins all over the place and making people not think of solutions that were employed just pages later by the antagonist using their own powers.

  Like Minya using her powers to force ghosts to do her bidding, regardless of their own desires, so did Taylor corral her characters through the narrow confines of her planned storyline.

and has 0 comments

  There is something really cool about Twitter, but it's not what you probably think. Elon Musk wants to buy it to promote free speech, but also criticizes the way it started at the same time as Facebook yet it made no money. That's what's cool about Twitter: it made no money!

  Having the freedom to express oneself with the only limitation of constraining length to 140 or 280 characters per message is the core of Twitter. I agree with Musk that political censorship of content is evil and that it is slowly strangling what Twitter was supposed to be, but I disagree with the idea that it should be monetized more. That's what Facebook does and for better or worse, it covers that niche. I have to say that if there is someone who can make Twitter both make money and keep its core values intact, that's probably Elon Musk, but I dread the possibility of failure in the attempt.

  Now, don't get me wrong: I almost never tweet. I have an automated system to announce new blog posts on Twitter and lately I've started writing short (Twitter core!!) reviews on the TV series I've watched. In my mind, TV series - should I still call them TV? - don't deserve the attention that I give movies in my IMDb reviews or separate blog posts like books and that is why I write there. Nor do I regularly read Twitter posts. I have a system that translates Twitter accounts into RSS feeds and I sometimes read the content on my feed reader - thank you, Nitter!

  The reason why I am writing this post is ideological, not technical or self interested. If Twitter disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't really feel the loss. But I do believe its values are important for humanity as a whole. In fact, I don't fully agree with Musk that bots are a problem, because Twitter was designed with automation in mind. A public square, he calls it. I don't like public squares, or anything public, to be honest. What I value is personal and my belief is that this is what we should try to preserve.

  Strangely enough, the trigger for this post was a Netflix documentary about Richard Burton. Now, there is a man! He came from a poor, hard mining town from Wales. He started with a strong regional accent and trained every day to have an English one. From a family of 13 (or 11, if you discount infant mortality, as he did) he choose a drama teacher as a parent - and took his last name, with his family's blessing. Can you imagine being part of a family that is glad to give you for adoption, because that's what's best for you? He was beautiful, hard, passionate and articulate, charming, violent, ruthless, living life to the fullest and hating himself for it. He became a Hollywood icon, yet admitted he had no idea why. That's what men were like half a century ago. I am old enough to have seen some of his movies and to appreciate him as an actor. And while I was watching the documentary, I imagined what Twitter would say about Burton now and what the people behind those tweets would be. The petty, ugly, pathetic crowd that can't stand someone so vastly different, so as not to say superior.

  But it's not Twitter that would be at fault. In fact, when Richard Burton chose to leave his faithful wife for many years for Elizabeth Taylor he was sued by a "subcommittee" for indecent behavior. They didn't have Twitter, but they reveled in outrage just as well. And it's not like he was any kind of saint. He was rigid and cruel and judgmental and lacking any shyness at saying what he though or felt was wrong with you. The issue is not what you do, but why you do it for.

  That's what I believe is where the line should be drawn. It's not about the words you use, but why you said them in the first place. It's not about preserving some social contract that everybody should be forced to obey, but about one's position about particular events. It's not even about "do no harm", because one's harm is another's pleasure. It is about intention.

  Coming back to Twitter and its most famous side effect, cancel culture: I think cancel culture is despicable, but I also partially agree with its defenders or the people who deny its existence. Because the reason why cancelling someone is toxic is not because of people disagreeing, but because people fear being on the wrong side. Once there is enough momentum and energy poured into destroying the life of one person, it becomes a snowball of fear, with people refusing to be "associated" with cancelled people. It's that fear that is the problem, the weak cowardly fear that prevents one from staying the course or ignoring the drama or even supporting someone for mostly economic reasons. Yes, that's what cancel culture is: people afraid to lose their money or some other currency because of other people hating each other. Cancel culture is not new, it just become globalized. If people in Richard Burton's time disliked a person so much they couldn't stand their existence, all that person had to do is leave and start living in some other place. Nowadays, it's all public (heh!) and global. You can't escape being hated.

  Yet the problem is not globalization, is people who somehow care what people they don't care about care about. Yes, you got a bad rep somewhere in the world, from people I don't know. I will be circumspect, but I will use my own judgement about you. Not doing that is lazy and stupid and, again, petty. As George Carlin once said "I never fucked a ten! But I once fucked five twos!". A crowd of stupid, petty, lazy people does not a great person make.

  Bottom line: congrats for making it this far into my rant. People are bound to be different and disagree with each other. Fearing to associate with someone because they are shunned by another group of people is just a feeling. Your choice is what matters. Twitter is a platform, a tool, and what matters is the ability to express oneself and to filter out people you don't want to hear from. That's what a person does and that's what the Internet should preserve. Not the mobs, not the fake outrage to get social points, but the personal: freedom of expression and freedom to ignore whatever you want.

  If Elon Musk would ask my opinion (why would he?!) I would tell him that people need more filters. Enable people to ignore what they choose to ignore and they will be less hateful. That also applies to ads, by the way. Every time I see an angry person obliquely or directly attacking a group that I am even remotely part of I feel attacked and I get angry, too. I didn't want to read that person's opinion and I don't care for it, but it got shoved in my face. If I could just ignore them, I would be less angry and more positive, as would my tweets. And believe me, I used Twitter's word filtering already. It filters out stuff like -isms, politics, U.S. presidents and so on. You see? That's a personal choice, to move away from hatred and judgement. Do it, too, and life will feel so much better. Becoming an outraged activist for something is not an inevitability, it's a choice.

  When we connect to SQL we usually copy/paste some connection string and change the values we need and rarely consider what we could change in it. That is mostly because of the arcane looking syntax and the rarely read documentation for it. You want to connect to a database, give it the server, instance and credentials and be done with it. However, there are some parameters that, when set, can save us a lot of grief later on.

  Application Name is something that identifies the code executing SQL commands to SQL Server, which can then be seen in profilers and DMVs or used in SQL queries. It has a maximum length of 128 characters. Let's consider the often met situation when your application is large enough to be segregated into different domains, each having their own data access layer, business rules and user interface. In this case, each domain can have its own connection string and it makes sense to specify a different Application Name for each. Later on, one can use SQL Profiler, for example, and filter on the specific area of interest.

 

  The application name can also be seen in some queries to SQL Server's Dynamic Management Views (quite normal, considering DMVs are used by SQL Profiler) like sys.dm_exec_sessions. Inside your own queries you can also get the value of the application name by simply calling APP_NAME(). For example, running SELECT APP_NAME(); in SQL Management Studio returns a nice "Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio - Query" value. In SQL Server Profiler the column is ApplicationName while in DMVs like sys.dm_exec_sessions the column is program_name.

  Example connection string: Server=localhost;Database=MyDatabase;User Id=Siderite;Password=P4ssword; Application Name=Greatest App Ever

  Hope it helps!

and has 0 comments

  Strange the Dreamer is a fantasy book with good writing, characters and story. I will probably start reading the second book in the series immediately. The style reminded me of Brandon Sanderson a bit: beautiful and imaginative world, empathetic and compelling characters who are mostly good at heart, even when they are villainous and a bright spirit that celebrates love, curiosity and exploration.

  More than that, this is a normal book, one that is focused on the plot and characters and has no agenda other than telling a good story. I had feared the worst when I saw Laini Taylor is a writer of Young Adult fiction, has bright magenta hair and started with comics. Glad to see my fears so unfounded.

  The main characters are Lazlo, an orphan boy with a love for knowledge and myths, obsessed by the existence of a mythical city of the desert, and Sarai, a half goddess with blue skin and a rather sad existence. But there is more: libraries full of mystery, alchemy, magic, gods, desert warriors, young love, explosions, a sky fortress and more.

  What I felt was the biggest issue with the book is the introduction of so many characters that had an episodic effect on the story or even none at all. There is a part of the story where there are hints of rivalry and intrigue with another character, then it escalates and then... months pass, on the road, and those two characters don't interact at all. The desert trip itself is less than fulfilling, after reading so much about how cruel and difficult the desert is. And then there are characters like the warriors or the girl who climbs things for fun. I hope they will have more of a role in the second book, because otherwise why introduce them at all?

  Bottom line: I feel great promise from Laini Taylor. I liked this book a lot and it's her second, but I expect even greater things from her in the future.

and has 0 comments

  Four months and a half in my equities trading experiment and this is how the market looks. If you are not familiar with this kind of chart, it's the day's full chart of US companies from FinWiz. Red means that a square goes down, green that it goes up. My "portfolio", meaning my assorted stock that I created buying every month since the beginning of the year, is now 20% less valuable. This sounds bad, but it is even worse, since at the beginning of April it had not lost any value.

  I did not invest much, so I can only imagine the pain people feel when their portfolio is actually their savings and this happens. To me it's a game, to others it's life and death. And I know that in theory if you put all your money in stock, then you did it wrong, but it can't feel good. And now it's almost certain that a recession is coming, possibly a "stagflation", which is the finance sector's version of "Everything Everywhere All at Once". Sorry, I couldn't help it, since I've just watched that film. It was good. Also, very on point, I now realize.

  So what do you do when everything seems stacked against you? Well, why ask me? Haven't you read above? I am playing at trading and watching movies instead of learning to do it better. But I will tell you anyway, because that's the kind of person I am.

  Here is what has been going on the last few months.

First, the market started to lose steam from its heights in November, mostly because the United States stopped the "money printing" they used to handle Covid. Typical Americans, right? First try to blow it up, then they throw money at it. If you don't know what that means, the Biden administration pushed for trillions of dollars to be poured into the economy as the country was at a viral standstill. It may have been a bad choice, but I believe it wasn't the worse and possibly it was the only one they had. But now that the Covid pandemic is "gone", the money went away and it basically burst a bubble. In the U.S. there is the lowest unemployment since forever, but also the highest inflation. So their Federal Reserve started to increase interest rates, taking the steam from the growth of the country, basically.

Secondly, Covid itself did some damage to the global economy, rising tensions, making people crazier than usual - and that's saying something, but also disrupting the supply chains. These are the connections that countries, corporations and people have created over the decades in order to keep functioning. All this on the basis of past experience, where circulation of people and produce was relatively cheap and easy all over the planet. Not anymore! Every day we now hear of shortages of material and people. What that means is that you have a producer of something, be it material or service, and you have a buyer that is interested in it. When you have both demand and offer, you make money. Not this time! Because the producer can't produce things fast enough to cope with demand. They've "streamlined" their business for so long they can only do it one way and that way is gone.

Then, some Russian decided Ukraine was a nice toy and went for it. I don't know if you've heard of that. And everybody else decided they didn't want to have anything to do with Russia. It so happens that Russia and Ukraine are the main suppliers of raw material in a lot of economic sectors, including grain and natural gas. I guess it is an important moment to take stock (pun not intended) at how important these countries are for the planet (as well as many others that we've ignored because they are not in the spotlight). What that leads to is more shortages, which leads to price increases for the remaining sources of material. A minor thing to add here is that one of the supporters of Russia, at least partially, is China, a great supplier of work and material.

It's the perfect storm, yet most people still cling to the status quo they've had for possibly the entirety of their lives. Every low in the market is now a dip to buy even when the market keeps going lower. And lower. And lower. Every temporary high of the market is a bullish rally that will get us out of the situation. In case you didn't know the financial industry is at balance with nature, so everything is named after some animal: bulls, bears, hawks. It's like King-Fu, but with money! Every new startup is the savior of the market with their technology that will solve everything. And then there are the charts. People love to read the charts, like leaves in tea, and predict the future. They give pet names to patterns in the charts, they make analogies to things past, they criticize others and delight in their own perfect strategy for the future.

Only it's not that easy. There are money in the world, but they can't move. There are people in the world, but they are sick, at war or falling prey to opportunistic governments that use this moment of weakness to get the worst out of people. Old strategies (well, not that old, but an eternity from the viewpoint of a day trader) don't work anymore because the situation is different. This time, I am afraid, it really is very different.

Let's look at some investing strategies

First of all, everybody knows, when the market starts to fall, you sell the "growth stocks", meaning you stop betting that some companies will have a sudden growth spurt like tech companies and "disruptors", and you buy more stable things, like bonds. Perhaps you still want to keep stock, but you choose the safer ones: oil, retail, real estate. A lot of people did that and were wallowing in schadenfreude watching other still cling to their belief this was a temporary lull in the market. But then major retail companies like Target and Costco fell 12% in one day. Why? Because money is losing value (inflation), products are shit (supply chain disruption) and there is no energy to improve on them (stagnation).

Because of the Russian conflict, oil is through the roof right now. Oil is still good, if you bought it early, but if you buy it now it will keep at the same price for a while, then drop. Funny enough, this will lead to an explosion of renewables, but not immediately because they don't have the rare and specialized material they need to build it. As for real estate, that still works for now, but for how long? People will start losing jobs, their money lose value and with the entire economy down, they will not find estate buyers or renters either.

What about bonds, then? As I was saying, the Fed is increasing borrowing interest rates to stave off inflation. Bonds have an inverse relationship with interest rates. There.

What about utilities?! What about energy? What about Big Pharma?!

I could write on and on, but first of all I am not that good (have you read this far?!) and second it's simple: if there is less energy in the system, the system will slow. Probably pharmaceuticals are a good bet, because no matter how poor you are, health is important. But watch out, because a lot of companies rose to prominence lately on their work against Covid. With less Covid, these companies will still do well, but they will lose from their overall value. So you get in a situation where you kind of wish everybody has Covid except you... I personally think that's very funny, but I have a weird sense of humor.

What about money, then? Just keep the money in the bank. That's safe, right? Well, yes. It's safe, but during rampant inflation, what you see is that money is losing value. Same thing as with house renting. You maybe get enough to counteract inflation, but just that. Gold would work, but it's cumbersome, unsafe to hold and it's already pretty high because for a while everybody wanted to have it just in case the war expands. It might still do. You buy it now, it might deflate later.

There are things one can do, like "alternative investing". I couldn't tell you exactly what that means. Being alternative means they are like plan B when everything else fails. It sounds the right direction, but what should you choose? There are for example some platforms that allow you to invest in art, like you buy 10% of a painting. Or stuff like hedge funds, which is an entirely different can of worms. Or even private equity, which makes you more of a company partner than just buying publicly traded stock because only a few people have access to it, like the founders.

The end of investing?

Best strategy: sell your investments and start drinking it away! No. That doesn't really work, either, as fun as it sounds. In fact, investing is a good strategy at any moment. Yes, those are bold letters. Investing is the opposite of spending or, at best, doing absolutely nothing. For example learning new skills is investing, too, and maybe the best possible kind. But I am not here to tell you to grow up, so let that go for now. Spending some money, though, is not a bad idea. For example one could use some money to go on some cheap vacation or buy something that makes them happy. When nothing has value, everything does, right?

The problem with stagflation is that value goes down and then there is a plateau where nothing happens. If that is coming next, then you can buy stock at any time during the plateau and you see no result for years. If you buy too early, the market can still go lower and you lose. And we're not even sure a stagflation is coming, which means you don't know exactly when to find that sweet spot to buy, either.

But the silver lining is that you don't have to. The fact that companies went down is actually an opportunity. The only problem is that it's long term. No matter when you buy: now or further down the line, their value is guaranteed to come up. At some time. Four months and a half is not long term, decades is long term. That is why you don't keep all your savings in stock, either. You have cash for short term.

Does this period hurt investors? Hell, yeah. Especially if you started in November and not in January like me... Suckers! It is even more painful when you started somewhere in 2020 and you saw everything explode and go up and up and up, just to see it all crashing down again. And it all feels hopeless and you had dreams and you got just a little too greedy and if you had just exited at the right time and so on and so on. It's all bullshit. No one could have predicted this with any significant accuracy. Unless it's your job, losing money on the stock market is just normal. It's all chaos. What is not chaos is finding some companies that you trust (to not implode and disappear, like Blockbuster or Nokia, and to continue growing) and stick with it. Investing is not about winning, but about growing. Winning implies a moment in which it happens, but growing is a continuous process.

So no, it's not the end of investing, it's barely the start. These things happen and in the large scheme of things they are merely blips. The general principle remains: you either trust humanity goes forward or you don't. In the first case, you're an optimist, life is always ahead of you and investing is the rational thing to do. On the average it just goes up. In the second case, you're a grouch! Why continue living if the best of everything is behind you? On a more metaphorical level, every second of life is a compound investment.

What I wanted to convey in this post is that you have to thread carefully because there is a lot of shit happening, but it certainly not the end of the world... or is it? Ta da daaaaaam!

  As always, everything that is on this blog is free, including my ideas. If anyone wants to implement it, I am not asking for anything, although a little credit would be nice. It might already be out there, for all I know.

  This is a game idea. It's a multiplayer game of chess, assisted by computer engines. The interface is a chess board and a number of button choices holding the best N moves as found by a chess engine. Possibly the choice of opening should be slightly different, but the MVP product is just that: computer suggests N moves and player choses one. Making a choice will show the move on the screen, tapping the button again will send it to the server.

  It would be a more casual way of playing chess. Moreover, it would train players to choose between candidate moves, which is a secondary skill. The more difficult part of playing chess is finding candidate moves and usually most effort goes into it. This way, the computer takes care of that and lets the player focus on learning how to spot the better move.

  The advantage for the game builder is that they get a database of how humans (at specific levels) select the moves. Next step is to create an AI that can consistently choose between candidates just as a human would. This can then be added to any existing chess game to provide a more human feel, regardless of the underlying chess engine.

  The game could be played against the computer from the very beginning, by altering the probability to choose between top moves based on the supposed chess level. At maximum level the best move will always get selected, while at lowest level the choice will be completely random (but still pretty good, because it will only choose between top N moves).

  Choosing the opening from a list by name could also be interesting, and showing the player the most common replies and what the plan is. Perhaps the number of candidate moves could be a game parameter, so both players agree to play six candidate move game, but others would go for three.

  The interface is simple enough for people to play it on any device, including with a remote on a Smart TVs or on small screen devices.

  Implementation should be relatively trivial. Open source chess engines like Stockfish are available for most major programming languages, including JavaScript. It is the interface that requires most work. Perhaps the possibilities for optimization are the most interesting, as development goes, having a cache of common positions and the top moves, for example.

  Drawbacks include not being able to follow a plan, assuming the computer doesn't give you the choice to move in a direction you worked for. Also, the computer analysis should be consistent over devices, not giving an advantage to more powerful ones. That means both players waiting for the amount of time that analysis takes on the slowest device on the same number of plys.

  There are single player game modes (training) that can be added:

  • play the best move - choose the best move from the four presented
  • find the top moves - a position is presented and the player must make the top moves. When a move is found, points are given. When a move is wrong, points are removed.
    • yes, this requires actually moving pieces, which would not be "on brand"
  • find the best pieces - pick the best piece for either player in equal positions 

and has 0 comments

  Dave Grohl sounds like a very nice person. He says only good things about people, he is passionate and goofy and everybody seems to like him. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music has a whooping rating of 4.5 on Goodreads with many stellar reviews, especially the audio version that Grohl is narrating himself. But I only read the book, which to me seemed to lack a lot of the strong emotions I am used to associate with well written autobiographies. And a book called "The Storyteller" should feel well written.

  It's not like I didn't enjoy the book, but it never goes deeply into anything. Made out of disjointed chapters that factually focus on various events in Dave's life, it merely describes Grohl's feelings, but doesn't make the reader empathize and feel them. There is a scene (I call it a scene, because it really does feel like a PG-rated movie rather than reading an honest self reflection) where the band is playing in Sweden, Dave falls and breaks his leg. He doesn't feel the pain, because of all of the excitement and adrenaline (ahem!) and gets back on stage and plays from a chair while a doctor is holding his leg in position. After the concert he starts feeling the pain but the chapter ends. The whole thing is related just as deadpan as I did here. You don't get to experience being on stage, singing with a broken leg in front of so many people, the concern of other people washing over you, the pain, the fear or even the effect of having to play the guitar and sing from a sitting down position. It all feels remote, curated, antiseptic.

  You know when actors talk about their involvement in a movie and they praise everybody and everything, making it sound all great and perfect? That's what The Storyteller felt like to me.

  And I did check out the comments and reviews for the book and, while others feel like me, most people seem to have emotionally connected with Dave Grohl and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Is it because they were already fans and loved any piece of lore they could get about their favorite performer? Is it because I didn't get it? The book told stories, but I didn't feel them true. A better title would have been: "A Birdseye View of Dave Grohl's life: Random Scenes Seen From Afar"

  Bottom line: an informative yet ineffectual biography.

and has 0 comments

There is a war going on for the direction of Star Trek. It doesn't matter where you stand on it, if you want to make it a political platform, rather than a moral one, or if you want to make it flashier, more explody, or episodic and topical. What matters is that during 56 years, the show was always about mending things, solving conflict, bringing people together. The very fight for a single direction in which to trek is not very Star Trek.

I was watching the pilot for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, by appearance an attempt to bridge the gap between the numerous trekkie factions, and it was never more clear to me that we need to heal this silly feud. In the episode, two warring factions are about to destroy their world in a planetary conflict, but the captain of the Federation ship comes over and shows them how we were and where that got us. The scene was perfect for exemplifying this conflict between the cerebral and the emotional, between the money and the principle, between the political and the rational. Because on one side it said: if we think a little bit further before we act, if we consider the consequences of what we do, we might change our path for a better outcome. Yet on the other it said: we have the answers to everything and if we arrogantly intervene and give a speech backed up by technology, power and a single limited perspective we can solve what you couldn't in centuries of strife.

It's the American hubris and superiority complex wrapping a hint of principled good intentions. And this was always Star Trek, always on the verge of something, part arrogance and part compassion, science directed by human nature at its best, exploration of the possible. And sure, I can personally spout bile and vinegar at Star Trek: Discovery for being a woke piece of crap that destroys decades of careful threading on the edge of showing off and trying to make people think while entertaining them, I can complain about Star Trek movies that wantonly create different timelines in which they can destroy planets and ships and use lens flares and motorcycles and big explosions that mean nothing or cry at the desecration of beloved characters by Star Trek: Picard, but in the end we must reach a dialog in the Star Trek universe, a balance not a consensus.

Star Trek is not about canon, it's not a religion, it is an exploration of the human. It's big enough to contain multitudes. They don't have to agree. Yes, it's a mark of incompetence and being an asshole when you decide to create Star Trek stories that disrespect or even contradict existing ones, but Star Trek can take it. The Star Trek war must be "resolved" by accepting and allowing all of these expansions of the initial concept. Star Wars used an epic introductory text referencing an entire galaxy, then only to restrict itself to the same context, the same characters, somehow always being related to each other. Trek can do better. Just think of every incarnation of Star Trek - be it canon or not, official or fan made, made by Bad Robot or by someone who understands Gene Roddenberry's vision - as a member of a Federation of Stories. Different, but united in the goal of bringing peace and knowledge to the universe.

As I see it, Star Trek is but a seed of what it could be, what is should be. When Star Trek: Next Generation - in my irrelevant opinion the best of them all - appeared, it had a different feel from original Star Trek, it had different characters, it was set in a different time. It built on the old and explored more. Let's do that! Let's explore it all! Just don't restrict it to something small and petty.

and has 0 comments

  I was watching a chess game that started with e4 and Black responded with the Modern Defense. Black challenges the center with a c-pawn push, but then delays the capture and develops the knight, prompting White to chase it across the board. By the time the knight retreats to c6, there have been only three chess games that reached the position on Lichess, but none of them continued with the move recommended by Stockfish: Bxf7+

  The only reasonable move for Black is to take the bishop with the king, and after dxc5 from White, the Black knight is trapped! Only squares not covered by the White queen are either occupied by Black pieces or leading into a direct fork at Qd5+.

  I found this interesting because the computer suggested continuations are quite unintuitive, while the things that feel natural to me (not an expert, mind you) lead to huge gains for White. Also, it's a move that has never been played AFAIK.

  So, a long overdue chess post and some PGN: 

1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c3 c5 4. Be3 Nf6 5. e5 Nd5 6. Bc4 Nb6 (6. .. Nxe3 7. fxe3 d6 (7. .. O-O) 8. exd6 exd6 9. Nf3 d5 10. Bb3 O-O 11. O-O) 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. dxc5 {Knight on b6 is now trapped. The only escape squares are covered by the White queen or leading to a fork at d5.} d6 (8. .. Nc4 9. Qd5+ Ke8 (9. .. e6 10. Qxc4 Rf8 11. h4) 10. Qxc4) (8. .. d5 9. cxb6 Bxe5 10. Nf3 Bf6 11. bxa7 Nc6) 9. cxb6 dxe5 10. Qf3+ Bf6 11. bxa7 Nc6 {It's not a huge advantage, but Black can't castle, has double pawns and the fianchetto bishop is a glorified pawn. White develops either knight and is just fine without both center pawns.} *

In my previous trading post I was recommending taking your savings and investing them in stocks. And to minimize risk and effort, just put them in a so called "index fund", which is an aggregation of top stock. History shows that this strategy outperforms the market and any bank savings interest in the long run. But why?

Common sense would say that if a strategy to beat the market exists, then everybody would do it, pulling the market to the same level. The definition of "top" is also something nebulous that doesn't mean anything unless clearly defined. So here is a video that explains some of the shortcomings of the index fund. Basically:

  • "top X" syndrome, where the items accepted as top are more discoverable, therefore performing better from sheer demand size
  • wrong criteria for stock inclusion, where fundamentals lose to market demand and trading size
  • fake diversity, where the X seems large, but most funds are based on a much smaller subset of stocks, with the rest having no impact
  • exaggerated past, where a fund may have been defined a century ago, but came in actual use a lot more recently

[youtube:95OR1ZNj3iY]

Index Funds Are The Biggest Bubble Of Our Time (Hypothesis)

Also, there is a very interesting link that shows the constantly updated index funds may have performed worse than just investing once in a fixed number of companies, even if some of them have long disappeared.

Personally, I think that the gain in time you get by investing in a fund is worth the loss of efficiency. And there might not even be a loss, since until you create a diverse enough portfolio, chances are you are going to lose money, not make any. Keeping all of your savings in a bank is stupid, I am convinced of that! But that doesn't mean you should keep them all in stock (or in any one financial instrument). At this moment don't take my word for anything, but as soon as I gain more knowledge and confidence, I will post about trading and investing. At least it keeps things interesting.