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March 28, 2004

Wilshire Landmark Concrete Pour

The Wilshire Landmark, located at the corner of Malcolm and Wilshire, poured its concrete foundation yesterday. The trucks began arriving early (about 6am), and work continued through 5pm or so. Wilshire (in the Westwood area) was reduced to two lanes for much of the day, as concrete trucks brought in their loads.

This site had some controversy, as the building exceeded current Westwood height restrictions. A press release from the builders is here and (earlier) here. The Portland Cement Association noted that there were some interesting challenges in this particular building.

Personally, I favor the continuous development of my neighborhood, and (as an engineer) enjoy large engineering projects. But I also love the late afternoon sunbeams in my home, and hope that this building does not interfere.

There were at least five cranes tending the pit.
Each crane was anchored to a large flatbed truck. These trucks were heavily braced, to keep them from tipping over.
A fleet of concrete trucks provided the working stream to the pump cranes.
The physics behind the hydraulic cranes can be found here. The concrete runs up the white tube, and down into the pit. The pump has to provide enough pressure increase to move the stuff up the arm, but the workers have more control over the concrete placement than if it was just dropped into the pit.
A view from the roof of my complex. The pit was surprisingly deep, but the building is going to be about 30 floors high, I think. A strong foundation (and lots of parking) is necessary.
At the working end of the pumps.
The next day. The properties of concrete are heavily influenced by the drying process, so it has to be monitored carefully. Some notes (about household concrete projects, I think) are here.

March 27, 2004

OneNote After Two Months

It has been almost two months since I tried to reimagine my note-taking habits, via Microsoft OneNote. The free trial is almost over, and Iím going to have to decide if I want to put up my hard-earned dough for the product. What kinds of lessons have I learned? Should I continue the grand experiment, or tuck tail and retreat to the classic pen / paper?

First, some comments about my usage. It is installed on my powerful, heavy, bulky, electricity-sucking, thermally-inefficient Sony PCG-GRT150 laptop. (If I were to ever abandon the laptop in the dead of an urban winter, vagrants would stand around warming their hands over it. For about an hour and a half.) I used it to take notes at a small industry working meeting, where several people gave small presentations. Iíve used it extensively to take notes on my own research (mostly web-based). But Iíve mostly used it to take notes for my Finance and Economics classes. I think that I would have used it for a lot more if my laptop was more portable.

I found it great for organizing research from the web. It automatically adds the website reference and date when copying text from Internet Explorer. I could bounce from one end of Google to the next, using the olí human algorithm to determine the REAL PageRank, while letting my faithful servant keep a trail of breadcrumbs back home. Cutting/pasting pictures and tables was fairly intuitive. Excel workbooks and such can be linked into it (the files are stored in the same directory as the OneNote files), so OneNote might evolve into an analysis data-organization tool for me.

Last quarter, both of my professors would post the lecture notes in PowerPoint form, before class. Many other students would take notes directly in the notes section in the PowerPoint file. In OneNote, PowerPoint slides can be pasted into a note page, by copying slides individually (in slide-sorter mode) and pasting them in order. All of the formats and such are preserved, as the slide is pasted as a picture. I pasted all of the slides on one side of note page, and took my personal notes next to each slide. I was initially very pleased with that, but the sweet juices of productivity-based pleasure have soured into a vinegar of annoyance: There isnít a good way of importing a whole presentation without the manual labor of touching each slide, and search doesnít work on the imported slides (as they are just pictures).

After cutting and pasting my way through my finance professorís 100-slide lecture on option pricing, I cast about in despair for a scripting solution. Despite all my rage, though, I was still just a rat caught in an inextensible cage. With a VBA-like environment, I could easily utilize the PowerPoint object model to import slides piece-by-piece (if needed). If OneNoteís (notional) object model supported alternate text for graphics (similar to the HTML IMG ALT tag), the slide pictures could be displayed, but the text stored internally for searches. I suppose that this feature could be included directly in the program (especially because PowerPoint presentations are probably the most common form note-taking opportunity around in the business world), but the fact of the matter was that it wasnít there, and I donít know what other potential useful ways of manipulating my notes could come along that arenít supported. (What about algorithms that organize notes, such as adding a new note page that contains a summary or something? Just another idea off of the top of my head, and implementable by a savvy user if there was a scriptable API / object model.)

Some have suggested that, even though computer note-taking (via OneNote) has some advantages, it is outweighed by the effect of distracting the student from lecture itself. While I can understand the concern, I did not really find that to be a problem. I did not spend a lot of time doing extra work (such as formatting), and my dexterous fingers can type quickly. The biggest problem was in drawings and figures: A mouse is just nowhere near a pen in terms of quickly sketching things out. (How far along is the tablet / electronic ink technology? Have MS or others come up with a user-interface that is close to the ultra-intuitive pen? Can I afford it?) In general, though, I thought that the OneNote designers did a good job at making low-friction text entry with a reasonable level of structure.

Time must be taken to ďmove inĒ. Think of it as a capital expenditure, used to reduce the operating expenses. I found the user-interface a bit cluttered with toolbar buttons, which I find useless until I know the program well. I think that I can understand why they included ďsub-pagesĒ, but I havenít found them to be too useful yet (especially as they donít have unique text in the right-side tab bar). I search a lot less than I anticipated, and draw more than I anticipated (at least, for this set of classes). The note flags should be customized for oneís own use. Iíve never shared my notes with anyone else (electronically), so I havenít tested that feature out.

But, in general, I think that it is a good thing, and I will probably buy a license. More importantly, I think that I will continue to use it to organize notes, even with my bulky laptop. Kudos to the OneNote designers, who created a pretty good product on its initial release.

March 26, 2004

Air Force Museum

I was in Dayton, Ohio, for a presentation to the Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and had a little time to explore the nearby United States Air Force Museum. This free museum had over 300 historic aircraft. The exhibits focused on military aircraft, of course. The museum also had an IMAX theatre and additional development hangar (possibly with a B-2), but I did not have enough time to explore those.
Statue outside of the museum, honoring Korean War veterans (I think).
The museum was divided into three major areas: Early years, World War II, and Modern. This was in the early years section, as might be guessed. The museum used mannequins to depict the people working around the aircraft. At first, I thought that was kind of silly, but it does give some idea about the scale of the aircraft and the way that people interact with it.
Another early year aircraft.
A mockup of the F22. This was in the modern aircraft section, as might be guessed, because the F22 is just about to enter active service.
We were allowed to walk around in the interior of a Douglas C-124C (Globemaster). That aircraft was used to transport equipment during the Korean War. I do not believe that the actual aircraft had handrails, to keep the soldiers from stumbling.
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress was a big ugly fat fellow. It's wing span was 185 ft, and it weighted 450,000 lbs loaded. This one flew missions over Vietnam.
The "Bockscar" was a very interesting aircraft in the World War 2 section. This was the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagaski (August 9, 1945). It is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

March 25, 2004

Test Strategies

The academic season ends with a bang. I finished the second quarter of MBA school last Saturday, by taking both the Economics and Finance finals. It was grueling: The day started with an Econ mini-review at 7:30am, the test itself began at 8:30am and lasted to about 11:30am. Finance began at 1:30pm, and ended at 5pm. At the end, I was exhausted mentally, and (after a long hard run around the neighborhood) physically, too. On the plus side, I think that I did fairly well.

Many people dread final exams, but it may be useful to look at them in a positive light. At Notre Dame, I remember enjoying finals week. There wasnít any set class schedules, so one could get up at any time. People seemed nervous and spent their time studying, which was interesting to observe. For that matter, students were expected to be distracted, which worked out well for me, as I was always that way. I think that I ended up eating better, sleeping better, and exercising more during those weeks than any other week.

Finals are when the rubber meets the road: Did you really pay attention in class? What is really important? Do you have the memory, training, and endurance to sit through a three-plus hour test? It is a challenge, and probably should be approached with an all-encompassing strategy. Let me suggest some tips:

  1. Keep up with the class throughout the period. Go to class. Do the homework. Engage the material, and think about it. If you know the material, you can probably make intelligent guesses on what to study for the final. And you might not need to study long for it, as you already know it. Donít try to learn a semesterís worth of content in a couple of days.
  2. Meet your physical needs. Sometimes, finals may be testing your physical endurance as much as anything else. So, prepare for that by keeping your body in tiptop condition. Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise or do some sort of physical activity, to keep the blood pumping.
  3. Try to enjoy the test. Yes, it sounds weird. But consider this: Professional athletes enjoy playing in the championship game, right? It may be the last time that you have a chance to see what is going on in the head of the professor, who is probably a world-expert in the topic. What does the professor think that you should know, coming out of the class? You will have to focus completely on the problems, which can itself be a joy in itself (a strange and perverse joy, admittedly, much like a drug addiction). Relax, keep a watch on time, and just demonstrate what you know.

March 14, 2004

Gas Price Hedging

Gas prices have been high for the last couple of weeks. Because I drive a lot, such things are significant. It would seem possible to construct a "gas price hedge" somehow, in order to reduce the risk of changing gas prices. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I have found some interesting data, and ran some studies.

The graph below shows Los Angeles gas prices, since mid-2000. The data was taken from a Department of Energy website.

There are a couple of ways of building a hedge. One way is to stocks whose returns have a high correlation with gas price changes. (The scenario becomes: If gas prices rise, then the my gas expense goes up. However, my stock portfolio will go up, too, so I come out even.) Another way is to use options to find a risk-neutral portfolio. It would work in a similar way, but options are guaranteed to have perfect correlation. I decided to start by looking a stocks, simply because I am more familiar with the format of the data and the means of purchasing stocks.

I decided to look at a couple of oil industry stocks (BP, Exxon, and Halliburton), as well as some stock indexes (S&P 500, and the Dow Jones transportation index, which may have a negative correlation). Historical data can be obtained from Yahoo Finance. I then computed returns (log-based) for each week, and computed a correlation matrix (with computed changes in gas price, from the data above).

 

Gas Change

XOM Change

HAL Change

BP Change

LUV Change

DTX Change

XOM Change

0.038

 

 

 

 

 

p val

0.594

 

 

 

 

 

HAL Change

0.112

0.379

 

 

 

 

p val

0.12

0

 

 

 

 

BP Change

-0.043

0.737

0.404

 

 

 

p val

0.553

0

0

 

 

 

LUV Change

-0.089

0.309

0.028

0.229

 

 

p val

0.217

0

0.697

0.001

 

 

DTX Change

-0.116

0.439

0.158

0.384

0.658

 

p val

0.107

0

0.028

0

0

 

SPX Change

-0.083

0.554

0.304

0.561

0.532

0.745

p val

0.252

0

0

0

0

0

The correlation matrix is somewhat surprising. Changes in gas price really don't seem to be strongly correlated with any of the stocks that I looked at. (The p-values for the correlation seem to be kind of high, too, so it could not be argued that any of the correlation coefficients are statistically significant!)

Another thought was that changes in gas price might lead or lag stock price changes. To investigate this, I computed the cross-correlation coefficients between gas price changes and BP price changes, for lags between -23 and 23 weeks (a negative lag means that the stock price rises before gas price rise, and a positive lag means that the gas price rises before the stock price).

The hypothesis is weak, at best. There was some significance at lags of -3 weeks and -5 weeks, but it was on the boarder of 90% significance. Still, it is interesting to note that BP's stock seems to go up about a month before gas prices rise (and, similarly, go down about a month before gas prices fall).

The correlation matrix, though, was an important finding. Due to the lowness of the correlations, the stocks investigated do not seem to be good candidates to hedge gas expense risk. I will have to look at options and other derivatives. (This is good, because it will give me an excuse to find about a financial instrument that I haven't had to deal with much yet.)

March 08, 2004

Presidential Election, Take 1

As the Presidential election starts to heat up, let me summarize my current position. I wonder, as November approaches, if my analysis will change.

Issues facing the US:
  1. Role of government in civil society (long-term)
  2. Islamo-fascism (medium-term). This is not the religion of Islam, but rather the Islamic face on fascism. There are other enemies to freedom in the world, but this particular set has threatened the United States over and over, and we are currently engaged in a war against it.
  3. Entitlement programs (SS, Medicare, etc) (medium-term)
  4. Tax / cost of government (short-term)
  5. Government solvency, i.e. debt (short-term)
  6. Trade (short-term)
  7. Long-term growth of civil society / science, art, philosophy, etc (long-term)
Reasons to vote for Bush:
  1. Responded to the threats of al Queda (Isalmo-fascism) with a principled long-term vision, and backed that vision with action.
  2. Destroyed Iraq dictatorship, and is moving forward with principled long-term plan for Middle East peace. US security requires Middle East peace. Middle East peace requires free nations in the region. (Free nations do not attack each other, as they are bound by ties of commerce and mutual self-interest.) Free nations in the region require democratic governments and a strong civil society. Democratic governments and strong civil societies in the Middle East require the elimination of fascist and totalitarian governments.
  3. Reclaimed the position of moral superiority for the US. Bush labeled the totalitarians and fascists appropriately ("Axis of Evil"). This moral stance led to some victories with no costs, e.g. Libya. (Why does the assertion of moral superiority bother some people? The enemies of society try to establish moral superiorityÖ Why should we let them do that, when the facts are in our favor?)
  4. There has not been a successful terrorist attack in the US since the September 11 attacks.
  5. Libertarians are an important part of the Republican constituency, and the Republican party usually gives some consideration to ideas such as the reduction of the welfare state and limiting the role of government.
  6. He appears to be a leader, in the sense that he advocates certain policies and sticks to his word. Even if I disagree with his policies, I think that I understand what those policies are. I believe that Bush would hold to those policies even if popular opinion polls disapprove.
Reasons to not vote for Bush:
  1. He has allowed the welfare state to expand (e.g. the prescription drug bill).
  2. He has demonstrated a willingness to use federal power to manipulate society (e.g. freakish proposal for a Constitutional amendment against gay marriages).
  3. He has not taken a principled stand on free trade (by maintaining existing tariffs such as the sugar tariff, and utilizing steel tariffs as a leverage).
  4. He is limiting stem-cell research, which is an important scientific advance.
  5. There has been an expansion of the police state under Bush. I do not believe that the tradeoffs between cost and security were made intelligently, which resulted in little improvements in security at high costs (e.g. airports).
Reasons to vote for Kerry:
  1. Maybe he wouldn't use government power to intervene in certain aspects of civil society (such as scientific research, maybe).
Reasons to not vote for Kerry:
  1. He does not have a firm principled stand on anything, other than the wish to become President. As one (damning) example: here
  2. He has advocated (at one time or another) restrictions of free trade (in the "outsourcing" debate).
  3. Socialists are a part of the Democratic constituency, and so the Democratic party usually gives some consideration to ideas such as the expansion of the welfare state and increasing the role of government.
  4. I do not believe that he would have taken a principled stand on the issue of Islamo-fascism after the September 11 attacks. I believe that he would have increased the role of the United Nations in the Iraq war (if he advocated it at all), which would have made it less likely that Iraq would end up a free nation. (The UN is a forum for nation-states, and is open to states of nearly any political credo. While it may be useful in that role, it is NOT a force for freedom and democracy, nor was it really intended to be.)
  5. If he loses, it will annoy people that I don't like.
Why can't there be a candidate that has the strengths of Bush without the problems? Isn't there anyone who wishes to expand freedom and individual rights within the United States, as well as outside it? I will probably vote for Bush, because he has done well over the past four (very challenging) years, and because he is taking a principled (and, in the long-run, pragmatic) course in foreign policy. Kerry would, at best, be a vote against Bush and offers very little.

March 07, 2004

Getty Center

It was a warm and sunny day today in Los Angeles, with temperatures in the 80's and a cloudless sky. (I suppose that it isn't a very unusual occurrence, as weather reports show.) We decided to enjoy the day by spending some time at the Getty Museum, which overlooks west LA. The Museum has beautiful architecture and gardens, as well as interesting artwork. I took some pictures, for your enjoyment.
We left from Santa Monica. Elizabeth's apartment, on the strand, has a good view of the Santa Monica pier and the Malibu hills.
Admission into Getty Center is free, with a $5 charge for parking. After riding a tram up to the museum, you can wander through the white marble halls or relax in a central courtyard. I assume that the architects chose to use a tram, in order help museum go-ers separate themselves from their regular worlds (i.e. their cars). The architecture is worth the trip in itself.
Elizabeth and I. Sometimes, I even open my eyes.
Another fountain in the central courtyard. There is 1.2 million square feet of the white travertine stone.
The gardens had a number of these fixtures. Someday, they will provide excellent shade.
The central garden is centered around a pool of azaleas.
Flower blossom, in the Getty garden.
The pool, looking south. The hill in the distance is the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
A stream runs down, from the entry hall, to the garden.
The tram ride down provides some good views of the mighty 405 freeway. The northbound looked okay, but the southbound side was pretty slow. (Back to reality.)

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