Financial Market Observer Effect

I was recently reading Four Pillars of Investing and one part really stuck out to me. A hedge fund manager doing back tests on data could beat the market consistently but was unable to understand why these techniques failed when tried on Wall Street.

To a physicist the answer might seem obvious. It’s known as the observer effect.

Trading is a physical action with an observable effect on the market i.e. people see the shares being traded, the stock price may change. It’s impossible to take money out or put money into the market and not create ripples hence the discrepancy between what happens in real life and back tests. Back testing is a popular method in testing investment strategies but it’s no substitute for the real thing.

Losing Weight

I managed to get to 108 Kgs (17 Stone) by  the 5th April. This was a total weight loss of 14 Kilos or for our imperial readers 31 lbs. The resting heart rate has not been going so well though, I stopped tracking it.

Losing weight and a Sub 50 Heart Rate

As usual over the Christmas I over indulged. I weighed myself and came in at 122KG (269LBS). Luckily I’m not 5′ tall or I’d look rather odd. Being almost 6′ 6″ I carry the weight not too bad, but it still annoys me. So I decided to do something about it.

At various times in my life I’ve done a fair bit of training, running (I was a lot lighter then), rowing (Concept 2 only), swimming, walking etc. Any time I’ve started training again I’ve always had a goal or target to get my fat ass moving so I had to set myself some targets. A target or goal needs to be something measurable and there needs to be a carrot to make it fun.

The most easily measurable target I can think of is weight so my carrot needs to help me reduce calorie intake so I decided to stop drinking alcohol, no more beer. At around 200 calories a pint this is a good place to reduce my calorie intake. My target weight is 108KG (238LBS), I picked this weight because it will be the lightest I’ve been in several years, it’s also approximately 17 stone and that’s a nice round (prime) number. (Apologies for using Imperial and Metric, I seem to think in both).

The other target I decided to set myself may be somewhat harder to achieve. The lowest resting heart rate I’ve ever had is 52. I think I’ve had it lower but 52 is the lowest I’ve ever recorded it at. As far as I’m aware to get it below 50 involves some effort so that’s my second target. I’m not 100% sure if I’ll be able to get it as low as this but it’s worth a shot.

I have a 3rd target that’s not really fixed but its another thing to aim for. I’m walking up Mount Snowdon in early April so I’m hoping I can lose all the weight by then because I don’t want to be carrying too much to the top.

With the targets set the next thing to do is to start working towards them.

Weight gain or weight loss although sometimes difficult to achieve is governed by a very simple rule. To lose weight you need to:

Burn more calories than you eat.

There is a little bit more to it than this i.e. if you just stop eating as much and don’t exercise you are likely to lose Fat Free Mass (FFM) and this is generally not a good thing. This is where most diets fail miserably and people end up in the yoyo diet hell that a lot of celebrities write books about or invent some new fad diet to make a buck so some other poor smuck stays in yoyo diet hell. There is no easy way to lose weight and keep it off. It’s a lifestyle change that normally involves exercise. Losing some weight in a few months or a year does not mean you found a new wonder way to lose weight. Once you’ve kept the weight off for ten years look back and look at what you did to achieve it and ask yourself if it was lifestyle or wonder diet. Don’t get me started on people that opt for surgery over self discipline.

In life self discipline is the key to mastering many thing not least of which is health. If you’re unable to master the urge to eat a chocolate or a bag of crisps then you are unlikely to succeed at keeping your weight under control. It’s my self discipline that always lets me down but I also have an extremely disciplined streak in me that saves me from slipping too far. It’s this streak that berates me when I see the cheddar in the fridge or the crisps near the checkout. It’s this self discipline that will get me into shape, without it I would remain overweight.

I own a Concept 2 rower so its the perfect tool to start on. I’ve been using the Concept 2 for over 15 years off and on so am comfortable with it. I also took the Instructor course a few years ago to make sure I was using it correctly because I was worried about injuring my back with too much rowing. It’s been a while since I’ve done any training so I intend to go easy on the rower to start and do more walking to get a base fitness level.

I intend to row three times a week for about 20-30mins duration and then to walk on Sundays for about two to three hours over the fields behind the house. I need to take it easy because my knees and back are both buggered from being in the Navy but thats another story. My knees are also why I will probably never be able to take up any high impact sport again. My knees got bad when I was significantly lighter so its not weight that caused the damage.

If anyone is actually reading this, different rules apply to different people, so don’t think that anything I do is equally applicable to you. Its probably not. I will post some more details around the training plan soon.



I love reading. When I was a kid I read mostly fiction, in particular Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Now I read almost no fiction at all compared to how much non fiction I read. Over the last few years I have noticed a trend ie

I spend as much time choosing a book as I do reading it!

I think like a lot of things in life “You Only Get Out What You Put In” or (YOGOWYPI). I prefer my own version, its shorter and has a certain ring to it “Shit in Shit Out!” (SISO) or if you want to make it sound more exotic (SHISHO).

There is a part of me that wants to read more and faster (with comprehension). In fact I went so far as to buy a book by Tony Buzan on speed reading and this turned out to be a disaster. I keep trying to convince myself that its quality that matters not quantity and that reading one book a month is more than enough if it’s a classic in the field. The feeling still doesn’t go away though, I still want to read faster.

Another thing I tell myself is that I need to be reading in a certain direction and I am not talking about left to right top to bottom I mean that I should at least try to have some theme or direction to what I’m reading. For instance: don’t read esoteric collections of books just because they’re classics. I recently read some Greek classics and when I came back to reading mathematics etc it took me a while to shift back into that mode. A part of me wants to believe that its counter productive to read with no direction and another part of me believes that the constant gear changing keeps me on my toes. The esoteric reading method I’m currently employing is driving my sensible side to distraction, for instance over the last month I have been reading  books on:

Probability Theory
Functional Programming
Stock Market

I am not saying I have finished any of these books yet but I have been reading them and this leads me to another problem. Reading non-fiction is easy but finishing a non-fiction book is very hard depending on your definition of finishing. A loose definition for reading a fictional book is that you have read and understood the plot and read at least 95% of all the content. I would say that with non-fiction if you applied a similar definition ie “read and understood 95% of the material in the book” then I think I’m failing miserably.

For instance, I’ve read Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man Month, cover to cover (twice) and I think I grasped a lot of it but I do not believe I’ve grasped  anywhere near 95% of whats in that book. The same goes for “The Intelligent Investor”, “Peopleware”, “Free To Choose”, “Daily Drucker” and the list goes on.

The other startling thing I’ve learned is that rereading a book does not necesarily mean I get a lot more out of it. Unless I’ve had a chance to study my environment for some time after I’ve read a book I don’t think it has fully sunk in. So rereading does not really benefit me that much unless I’ve had time to digest the first pass. I’m sure there’s some scientific reason for why this is. When I reread a book a year or two later I see things differently etc so can get more out of the book.

Using what I know about my reading habits it didn’t take long to decide what to do. From the following thoughts:

Assume I get 20% from a non-fictional text on each pass.

Each pass of a book cannot be within a year of the other. (I must have had time to study my environment ).

I have a limited amount of time on this earth.

It was easy for me to see that the most important rule I could possibly follow is “Shit In Shit Out!” (SISO).

In conclusion the only firm rule I have and have been able to follow to date is (SISO). I’m not saying I no longer read trash but I’m conscious of it when I’m reading it. Armed with this rule even if a small percentage of what I read sticks then I’ll be OK. I’ve been applying this rule for almost eight years now and I think it’s working. I don’t believe I will ever be a really fast reader and I do not beleive I will ever grasp 95% of any non simplistic non-fictional text in a first pass but I believe that if I apply SISO throughout my reading career I will achieve a lot. My search for other ways to improve how much I can get out of my reading goes on!

Unison Strike

It makes me sick!

I walk past the Unison building every morning and for the last few days there have been several beggars stood outside asking me for more money.

It galls me to think that the beggars posing as workers think they deserve more money. Damn few of the rest of us are getting anything. In fact we are all TAKING A PAY CUT. Thats what it means when times are tough. But Oh No, if you’re in a union, in particular if you are in the public services you can bend us all over a barrel. Didn’t anyone teach these people economics 101.

1. You force the government to give you a pay rise.
2. The government still needs to pay for hospitals, police, roads etc
3. They raise taxes and print a few billion notes to cover costs.

We’re all feeling the pinch. Petrol is up, food is up, gas is going up and the private sector is suffering. What makes these unions think they deserve the money more than anyone else. They don’t!

I sincerely hope I am not alone in thinking that Gordon Brown should tell them all to grow up. I’m sick of pampered public sector workers thinking they’re having a harder time than anyone else in the country. Their two day strike has cost some families two days more childcare. Did they think about this, I would imagine that the ones organizing the strike have and the more pain they can inflict to get what they want the better.

My personal opinion is that anyone striking for more pay in the current climate should be positively encouraged to find alternative employment elsewhere (fired).

It’s time society and government stood up to unions, that are nothing more than self interest groups and lobbyists, shafting the rest of society. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against an honest gripe and workers putting down tools, but this is taking the piss.


Love affair with Foyles bookshop

I am sure I am not the only one who loves Foyles bookshop. I don’t know what it is or why I prefer it above all others in London but I cannot get enough of it. Anyway, I had reason to write them a letter recently about a book I bought there.

The following is the letter;

Dear Foyles,

Having been lucky enough to find myself in close proximity of you for a number of years I have had the great pleasure to get to know you. It’s been a long and fruitful acquaintance that I have much enjoyed and I believe having relieved me of the best part of a small fortune I would imagine that you yourself have enjoyed the times we have spent together.
Don’t assume I am in any way disagreeable about parting with the money.
Like any worthwhile addiction there is always a price to pay.

You Mathematics department is currently babysitting me through a degree, your computing department has tutored me through four jobs and one major career change and just recently your second hand store has been furnishing my mind with classics like Sophocles, Virgil and the Essays of Charles Lamb.

Unfortunately, like a typical Sophocles play this does not end well!

I recently, (a few months ago, I read a lot of books so to me a few months is recent), was dumb enough to buy an even dumber book. This book was to help me do more of what I like to do best faster than I had ever done it before. No, I do not mean Sex, my wife informs me that I am quite fast enough in that area. Yes, it was a book on speed reading, no, this is not a joke. The offending parchment is as follows:

        Tony Buzan (author)
        Paperback  , 198 x 129mm, 96pp
Publication date:
        21 Jul 2006
        BBC Active

Having read the first chapter of this scroll I noticed something woefully wrong with it. The first test that is meant to test your reading speed and understanding is complete gibberish. I wondered at this for a while and I decided to test the first and last tests in the book. I tested this using various reading ease scores commonly available on Microsoft Word. The tests confirmed my doubts about the book. The end test is substantially easier than the first test in the book. I can only assume this is to prove that the book has worked wonders on the reader when it has done nothing of the sort. Basically I believe the book to be nothing more than a farce created to make the scribbler of said rubbish some cash by taking advantage of us bookworms.

Having never purchased such expensive toilet paper before. I decided that I should take it back and try and exchange it. Note: I am avoiding puns about used or even partially used toilet paper.

I left it in my drawer and like any avid reader, promptly forgot about it!

Just today 01 July 2008 approximately 14:15 I found the offending papyrus in my drawer and decided that I should try and exchange it for another book. There are several unblemished darlings (books) I have had my eye on that I would love to take on a date and where better to chat them up than at an old friends. So off I went to yours in the hope that I might get lucky and be bringing back a real beauty.

This was not to be!

To cut a long story longish I was met with many woeful looks from you. I was informed that there is a 14 day return policy and that without the receipt there would be no exchange. Like Ajax in a fit of rage I left the offending parchment with one of your brazen cronies ( sounds better than staff, they were actually quite nice ) on the basement floor and exited the building. In such a fit I have never been and I must surely have looked a madman as I dashed across the road like a spurned book lover.

However, unlike Ajax I am not about to throw myself on my sword after a severe bout of self pity. Instead I would like to appeal to an old lover to see sense in this matter.

Kind Regards,
Harry Jackson

I wasnt’t sure what to expect by way of  reply so when I got the following letter it amused me no end. I must say that the following reply was much more eloquent than mine.

Dear Mr Jackson,

As is the ultimate fate of all cronies, it has fallen to me to brazenly resolve the troubles of which you so eloquently speak.

Being the very crony who served you yesterday afternoon, I suspect that I am best placed to do so – and am, by the way, thankful to have been left in your mind’s eye with my personality somewhat intact.

I can assure you that there is no-one more generally suspicious and specifically outraged about the content of certain and so called Self-Help texts. Your humble author has in fact ended up offending several eavesdropping customers with irate tirades against the fake and the spurious. Yet, both sadly and happily, in a homage to freedom of expression we continue to sell all books, and allow the discerning to make up their own minds.

No more do I like the prospect of standing on protocol and informing people that “orders are, in fact, orders.” It makes me feel like everyone that celluloid and print have taught me so painstakingly to mistrust.

However, I have a natural aversion to being bereft of a job at certain key points in my life, and as thus refused your request in order to ensure my continued employment.

Happily though, there is nothing more adept at melting the heart of any customer service operative, crony, and manager thereof than a complaint that shimmers gently, winks and promptly turns in to a message of amour.

Therefore, having engaged in a lengthy discussion of over twenty temporal seconds, we have decided to stand upon our own codex and offer you the proposed exchange.

In the language of the relationship, we donate you the ubiquitously mentioned “trousers”, descend upon one knee and weepily inform you that we would like to give the whole thing another try, but that we still do not think it is the right time to move in together.

Those terms accepted, please return to the Natural History desk at your leisure, where the Unmentionable will be awaiting exchange for what will hopefully be a less distressing tome.

Kind regards,

My favourite line is “but that we still do not think it is the right time to move in together”. That had me on the floor. Needless to say I am more than pleased with the outcome. I am still very much in love with Foyles.


First Capital Connect

I use First Capital Connect (FCC) to go to work every morning and have started to notice a sickening trend. The trend is: in order to meet their performance targets passengers are being left on the platform. This trend did no start with First Capital Connect but with Thameslink who were the previous operators of the Bedford to Brighton line. The problem I am noticing though is worse now that FCC are running the line.
First Capital Connect measure their overall performance on the following:

% of planned train service that was less than 5 minutes late at final destination

This sounds like a great way to measure performance but for anyone who has read The Fifth Discipline they will immediately see the problem.

The immediate problem with the above performance measurement is that there is no mention of the customer. Taken to the extreme there is no requirements for passengers to be on the train at all for them to meet their performance targets. I know this sounds daft but think about the people under pressure to meet those targets. When a train pulls into a station 30 seconds late with a normal allocated 60 seconds allowed to get the passengers on the train then cutting the time the train actually stays at the platform by 10 seconds means the passengers have 20 seconds to get on the train. This is not too bad but during rush hour it can be a problem, especially at the likes of St. Albans where the train is particularly full.

The problem I have in Luton is that the problem becomes extreme because the train I catch can come in on any of two platforms. The platform is indicated on the board but if any of the trains are falling behind at all the platform might change.This would be no problem but to get to the other platform you need to go up a flight of stairs and across a walkway and down another set of stairs. I have had to do this three times in the past because the platform number has change three times before the train comes in. Originally I thought it might be the controllers working on the nations obesity problem but since some of them were in as bad a shape as me I decided that could not be it.

I then witnessed, one November morning, over sixty passengers changing platform due to a board change. Off they went leaving the platform to get to the other side. I waited on the original platform. I watched as the people got to the other side only to see the board change again. I felt glad I hadn’t changed. They all came back to my platform. I could see the train and I noticed that it did not look like it was coming into my platform but I decided not to go to the other side. Anyway, there was an announcement and the sixty potential passengers trudged off with a lot of swearing about how crap First Capital Connect are. I watched the train pull into the opposite platform and open its doors. I have never seen doors on any train in my four years using Luton station open and close so fast. I would not be surprised if people actually got stuck on the train. Anyway the people who had moved to the platform the train was leaving from arrived to the tune of the beeps indicating the doors were about to close. A couple of people (ie the young and fit) got on the train but the vast majority where left standing like lemons on the platform. Having been in the Navy I was convinced no civilian would ever teach me a new swear word, I was wrong.

This was when I realised just what was going on. In pursuit of the set performance targets First Capital Connect had not thought through the impact on their customers. Or if they had they had decided that performance targets are more important than customer service.

I have no idea what would be worse, late trains or being unable to catch the train you want and I imagine Luton is a particularly bad case because of the way the platforms have been laid out. All I can suggest to people in Luton is don’t trust the board and wait at the top of th stairs until just before the train arrives. This introduces its own problems but I have found it works reasonable well for me.

Hernia wound infected

I had an operation recently for an Inguinal hernia. You can
see on the right the scar.
The scar is between five and six inches long and you can see that there is an opening along the scar. The pale colour in the opening is an infection and it hurts like hell. The area around the scar is numb to the touch. It is an odd sensation to have no sense of feeling when I touch the area with my finger but for it to actually hurt when I move.Not sure if this is because the wound is quite deep or some other reason.

I have been taking Ciprofloxacin to get rid of the infection. It is working because the wound above is a lot better than it was. I am a bit worried that even though I have been on the antibiotics for about a week now the wound has not closed yet.

Scuba Diving in Key Largo

I finally got around to getting my PADI Open Water diving qualification while I was on holiday. Its something I have meant to do for a long time.
We decided to go to Key Largo to do it. Jenny made a few phone calls and to be honest the prices where all quite similar, $400 to $450 each. We eventually phoned Pleasure Diver.
Jenny asked them if they could squeeze us in the following day and they said they could, they also offered to lend us their DVD player so that we could watch the PADI DVD’s in our room. This extra effort on their part sold them to us and although we did not know it at the time we had really landed on our feet.
What we liked about Don and Janet was the fact that they had paid attention to lots of the details and that they went out of their way to help us. It was a real personal service and judging from what I have heard about larger dive outfits this is quite rare.
Everything was very relaxed and when we went out on the boat if the visibility was bad we would move somewhere else. We could have quite happily have dived in the areas and got the qualification but as far as Don and Janet was concerned getting the qualification should be fun which means you should be able to see wildlife or anything else you wanted to see while doing it.
It was also made interesting each time because instead of going through the motions and coming up we would do some exercises and then go looking at the wildlife and then do some more etc etc. This took the monotony out of the course while consolidating the pool work.
Another thing I didn’t expect was to have Chocolate Brownies waiting for us after each dive. They also laid on complimentary refreshments. After breathing all the dry air an ice cold bottle of water and a chocolate Brownie was exactly what the doctor ordered.
We both noticed that a lot of effort was put into customer service. We did not know it at the time but they had owned a B&B in Virginia which meant they really knew there stuff when it came to looking after guests and it showed in everything they did. The fact that they limit passengers to 6 on a 40 foot boat is a good indication that they know what it means to travel in comfort.
We spent 4 days there and I want to go back to dive with them again. For anyone interested in diving and thinking about the Keys then I could not recommend Pleasure Diver enough.

Does Mathematics ever get any easier

I don’t think so. Just when I think I am getting to grips with something I get a good slap around the face from out of the blue. Is it this that has kept people all through the ages fighting for some insight in the hope that they might deliver a good slap back.
It all seems so much like an enormous quagmire were an unwary step might have you screaming for help before being swallowed up in muddy oblivion. On the other hand when you hear Ian Stewart describing Mathematics in his books he seems to alternate from quagmire to utopia. I have yet to find this utopia (but I’m still looking) and as far as I am aware there are no maps for sale down the local camping store.
I just wish I had a torch or even a compass, so even though I have no idea what direction is the best to take I have an idea what direction I am heading in and can be psychologically comforted.
Mathematics is the most frustrating yet fascinating subject I have come across. I just hope I find a compass soon and I imagine I am not alone.