31 December 2005

Waking Life

Every year for Christmas my dad's wife's family has a big gift exchange; everyone brings one gift worth roughly $10 and ends up with someone else's.  Last year I contributed a DVD copy of the movie Waking Life.  My dad ended up with it and promised to watch it sometime, but I knew he'd never get around to it.  I then put off buying it all year since I knew he'd gladly give it back next time I was home, which he did.  (This year I took DVDs of The Ref and Trading Places, which passed through my dad's hands but I "stole" and ended up with.)

Waking Life is the perfect movie to own on DVD: it never gets old.  It was made by shooting live action and animating over the footage in many styles, some vivid, some surreal, some sketchy.  The story follows a mostly silent protagonist around a dreamy world full of interesting people and Austin scenery.  The philosophical musings are sometimes sophomoric, but they're often insightful and at worst provocative.  The music is both energetic and edgy.  But the real star is the animation, which is expressive, beautiful, clever, jolting.  It enhances every scene with an appropriate atmosphere.  Waking Life is a world I like to return to.

28 December 2005

Pass that Chronic—What?—cles of Narnia!

One of the highlights of O's holiday party was "Lazy Sunday" on SNL.  It's the funniest rap since Chris Parnell's love song to Kirsten Dunst back in '02.

Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = crazy delicious!

20 December 2005

Best comic strip ever

Stop reading this lame-ass blog and go to the Perry Bible Fellowship right now.  Start at the bottom with Stiff Breeze and work your way up to Christmas Cards.  Trust me, you'll love it.  My favorite one is Shotgun Settle.

14 December 2005


I just finished a free two-week trial of Netflix.  I didn't expect to keep it after the two weeks, but unlimited DVDs for ten bucks a month?  I may have to resume service when I get back from the holiday break.

The first DVD I got through Netflix was Elephant, directed by Gus Van Sant.  It's a look at a fictional Columbine-like high-school shooting, but it doesn't attempt to analyze what happens or take any sort of political stand.  It simply follows a handful of thoroughly ordinary high-school students on a day that becomes extraordinary, sometimes looking at the same scene from different points of view.  After the shooting started I kept hoping there'd be one student or teacher with a hidden handgun to end the violence quickly, but of course everyone was disarmed and an easy victim.  But that's not the point of the movie, and it was easy to enjoy it for what it was.  Certainly not a movie for everyone—it requires lots of patience and has no resolution to speak of—but I found it fascinating and disturbingly powerful.  Quoting allmovie.com: "Van Sant has said that the title of the film references the classic 'elephant in the room'—the thing affecting everybody that nobody wants to talk about."

The "elephant in the room" for my sweetheart O and me is the kids issue.  She's sure she wants children and I'm not.  We do talk about it sometimes, but it's difficult because we love each other and it's hard to face the fact that we might not end up together because of one disagreement.  Most issues are relatively easy to compromise on, but you can't have half a kid.  And I don't want to be a father unless I really want to be a father; it wouldn't be fair to the children.  So there's no question of loving her enough to decide that, hey, maybe I'll just have kids for her.  All I can do is keep talking about it and keep my mind open.

05 December 2005

Experts are clueless

Yet another example that individual judgement is often clouded by emotion and gut feelings:  No member of the panel of football experts at Yahoo! Sports's NFL Pickem has been able to outperform the picks of Yahoo! Sports users at large.  In other words, if you were placing straight bets on NFL games you'd do better if you went with the majority of Yahoo! Sports users instead of following an expert on the panel.  A book on my to-read-when-I-get-around-to-it list explores this concept; it's called The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations by James Surowiecki.  For a similar reason I tend to consult Rotten Tomatoes before I read individual movie reviews.

04 December 2005

Dare to be stupid

A recent article entitled "Investors May Let Emotions Drive Decisions" includes the following quote: "Medical study confirms brain impairment HELPS improve investment returns."  I'll take that as more evidence that stock-picking is a losing game and that broad-market index funds are the way to go.

02 December 2005

In the stocks

Lately I've been reading a lot about investing.  It's not as if I have a ton of money sitting around, but I figure I might as well do the research now rather than later and find a good investment strategy I can stick with.  Stocks for the Long Run by Jeremy J. Siegel has taught me that the risk inherent in investing in stocks is vastly reduced when you keep them at least twenty years; A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel has convinced me that low-cost index funds are likely to outperform actively-managed stock funds with less risk.  Modern Portfolio Theory and Investment Analysis by Edwin J. Elton et al. presents a fascinating quantitative theory for increasing return and decreasing risk by intelligently diversifying among investment classes, but the theory isn't simple to apply in practice.  One thing I don't want to do is try to pick individual stocks; it's just too risky.  I used to own shares of IBM when I worked there but I sold them as soon as the employee purchase plan allowed me to.

Here's my situation:  I'm 29 years old with no debt, a small income and a fairly high tolerance for risk.  My goal is long-term wealth accumulation.  Outside of a small emergency account with living expenses for six months, my current allocation is

63.2% total U.S. stock index (VTSMX)
  8.3% mid/small-cap U.S. stocks (VEXMX)
14.5% international stocks (VGTSX)
  9.0% intermediate-term corporate bonds (USIBX)
  2.9% real estate (VGSIX)
  2.1% gold (USAGX)

Right now I'm overweighted in mid/small-cap stocks as I slowly move funds from USAA to Vanguard.  My ideal allocation is roughly

65% total U.S. stock index
  3% mid/small-cap U.S. stocks
16% international stocks
  5% long-term corporate bonds
  5% intermediate-term corporate bonds
  3% real estate
  3% gold

Is this about right?  I wonder whether it makes sense to have any bond funds at all at my age—maybe I should just stick to stocks.  Opinions?