Thursday, September 29, 2011

Update Delayed

This Sunday's update will be one day late.  See you on Monday!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stand and Deliver!

A few months ago I read about the health benefits of standing, so I started standing at my desk for an hour or so at work.  After a few weeks, I increased that to standing then sitting off and on for an hour each.  Recently, I’ve been standing for most of the day, and it feels pretty good.

On the weekends, I find myself sitting in front of a computer for a long period of time (contrast that with my work where I’m now standing in from of a computer for a long period of time).  And on the weekends, I feel a little more sluggish, like I lose a step.  There’s a good chance that this weekend funk is all in my head.  Nevertheless, I think I’m going to buy a standing desk for my apartment so that when I’m goofing off and posting video game videos to my Youtube channel I’m at least getting a tiny bit of exercise.

And I’ve found that tiny bit of exercise should not be discounted.  According to several recent studies,

If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting — in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home — you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.

Yikes.  With that in mind, I kicked my search for a standing desk into high gear.  I don’t need anything too fancy.  My work has desks that can be adjusted by the press of a button, but that’s more than I need.

It looks like Amazon has a few choices.  I’ll probably start there and go to a Home Depot or Lowe’s to see if they have any standing desks.  By the end of October, I look to have a standing desk assembled in my apartment.  I’ll report back in with my results then.

The health benefits of standing versus sitting are now reasonably documented in the annals of science.  Less clear are the benefits to mood and alertness.  But there’s at least some anecdotal evidence to support standing:

Greg Hoy, 39 years old, asked for a standing desk shortly after joining Facebook seven months ago as a design recruiter. "I don't get the 3 o'clock slump anymore," he said. "I feel active all day long."

Tiffani Jones Brown, 29, said she also requested a standing desk when she joined Facebook two months ago as a content strategist, in part to keep her energy level high. "I get really tired when I sit all day," Ms. Jones Brown said. 

I feel the same way when I sit all day.  Hopefully standing for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday cures my weekend doldrums. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Let's Play Trine

My first "real" Let's Play is up, Let's Play Trine.  Trine is an indie title released back in 2009 which I describe as a modern The Lost Vikings with more physics puzzles.  It's a pretty fun game and on the scale of don't play to play, I rate it a play.  The second video should be posted up tonight.

As it's my first Let's Play, there are still some kinks to work out.  My voice is drowned out a little bit by the music and voice acting, so I'll tone those down next time I sit down and record.  Also, it's taking a long, long time (hours) to post these videos to YouTube.  I can definitely optimize this, so I'll be looking into that as well.

YouTube Account!

It’s an exciting moment for all you Grabowski fans out there: I just started a YouTube channel.  I’ll be focusing on doing Let’s Play videos.  For you old timers, that’s where you play a video game and comment as you go along.  Then, you post it to YouTube with minimal editing!

My first video is already up, Let's Play Solitaire.  It was mostly a test to see that my video recording software works.  Later today, I’ll be posting the first of my Let’s Play Trine series.  Trine is a fun indie game that was released a couple years back.  I’ll be playing the games that I like to play, so mostly major titles with a few indie gems sprinkled in.  I’m looking forward to growing this channel!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

August Lending Club Update

Lending Club update time!  As I did in previous months, I’ll show you my investing returns in two ways.  First, what Lending Club calculates for me:

Pretty consistent with last month’s number of 15.42%.  My NAR has crept up a little bit because I’ve been investing in more notes with higher interest rates recently.  Interesting to note that I’ve had another loan fully repaid.  How do I stack up against other Lending Club lenders?

Also pretty similar with last month.  Here's an interesting article on this investor percentile comparison from Peter at Social Lending Network.  In the article, Peter makes the case that this tool should compare your portfolio against others with similar loan ages.  I agree 100%. 

As it currently stands, any new portfolio is going to have this investor percentile number inflated.  This is because it takes 120 days for a loan to go into default, so new portfolios have no chance of a default hitting their sheets.

As an investor, I like having the investor percentile tool.  But I don’t want to compare my returns to someone else’s who just set up their account and has none of the older loans that I have.  I want an apples to apples comparison.  If I can compare my portfolio to portfolios with similar loan ages, then that investor percentile number is infinitely more useful in providing an accurate read of the quality of my investing strategy.  

With that said, I’m going to keep including the investor percentile tool in future updates.  I just hope that Lending Club revises it so that it compares my portfolio to others with similar average loan ages.

Now let’s calculate my returns using the Lending Club monthly statements.

As of 8/31/2011, I have $8219.82 in my Lending Club account.  Using the XIRR function in Excel, I get a calculated NAR of

Just like last month, there is a discrepancy between my NAR and the NAR calculated by Lending Club.  And just like last month, I believe most of the discrepancy arises from my most recent deposit of $1,500 on 8/16/2011.  There’s nothing wrong with this deposit, but because I didn’t immediately invest the cash into loans, it will weigh heavily on my NAR.  If you look at my NAR using the account total for today, you find

This 14.04% is much closer to the 15.55% generated by the Lending Club website.

As I mentioned last month, I set up a recurring transfer of $1,500/month into my Lending Club account.  Even though I invested $1,500/month in July and August, I have since disabled this recurring transfer.  This is because I have had around $1,400 or so of available cash that’s just been sitting in the account.  Once I have invested this amount and my available cash is close to $0, I will start the recurring transfer back up again.

A quick note on the recurring transfer: I talked to a Lending Club representative and was told that there was still a 1.5% cash bonus for recurring transfers (as I mentioned last month).  I explained that I could not find a link to get this set up on the site.  The representative told me that she would activate it for my account.  Of course, because I have since disabled recurring transfers, I will no longer receive this bonus.

So, if you want to have this bonus activated but can’t find it on the Lending Club site, I encourage you to contact Lending Club.  I will provide an update on the cash bonus once I have re-enabled my recurring transfers.

A final note: I am bumping up my loan investments from $50/loan to $75/loan.  Keeping my monthly transfer the same at $1,500, this means I will only have to find 20 suitable loans per month instead of 30.  Loans that pass my filters are getting a little bit more uncommon (no surprise as my filters get stricter), so this will enable me to deploy the capital that I want on a monthly basis.

The information available at Michael Grabowski is for your general information only and is not intended to address your particular requirements.  This information is not any form of advice by Michael Grabowski and is not intended to be relied upon by users in making any investment decisions.  Michael Grabowski is not liable for any loss or damage which may arise directly or indirectly from use of or reliance on such information.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Prisons and Punishment: Part 2

Last week I posted about how prisons in the USA were focusing on punishment and not rehabilitation of prisoners.  This week we’ll look at a couple of programs that the American penal system could implement to improve prison conditions and recidivism rates.

Let’s look at a relatively novel idea: using cats in prison to calm inmates and maintain order.  It is an idea that is realized in Indiana State Prison.  Inmates there can request to own cats administered by the prison.  If the inmates meet certain requirements (such as a record free from animal abuse), the prison then provides them with a cat that they care and provide for.  The Assistant Superintendent of the prisons states

I know there are people out there who think the offenders shouldn’t have cats. Some people don’t want them to have TV or anything to do. But I would support this cat program at any prison. Those cats humanize the men. The cats give them unconditional love, for many of those guys, that may be the only love they have ever experienced in their lives. And the bottom line for me, is that my staff are safer because of it. Every day that none of my staff gets hurt—that’s a good day. Watching over these guys is a dangerous job. And anything that makes that job safer is good with me.

So the prisoners like the cats and so do the guards, but there are Americans out there who hate prisoners having cats.  Prison, in their minds, is to punish, punish, punish prisoners.  Having cats is absurd, never mind that everyone directly involved in the situation prefers that the prisoners can own cats.  The prisoners are happy because they get new friends that help them relax, and the guards are happy because the now calmer prisoners make their jobs safer.

I consider that a pretty tame example.  Now let’s go extreme.  In Norway, there is a prison where inmates have easy access to "knives, axes, and even chainsaws".  Why?  The prisoners there use the knives to cook in the kitchen, and the axes and chainsaws to saw logs to sell to businesses.  You see, the inmates there have real jobs with real responsibilities and live in cottages instead of jail cells.  The name of this Nordic prison is Bastoy and the warden there is Arne Kvernvik Nilsen.  His theory on prisons

Both society and the individual simply have to put aside their desire for revenge, and stop focusing on prisons as places of punishment and pain. Depriving a person of their freedom for a period of time is sufficient punishment in itself without any need whatsoever for harsh prison conditions.

Bastoy takes the opposite approach to a conventional prison where prisoners are given no responsibility, locked up, fed and treated like animals and eventually end up behaving like animals.

Here you are given personal responsibility and a job and asked to deal with all the challenges that entails. It is an arena in which the mind can heal, allowing prisoners to gain self-confidence, establish respect for themselves and in so doing respect for others too.

I’m glad to see that a focus on actually rehabilitating prisoners is being put into practice successfully: Bastoy not only has the lowest reoffending rate (recidivism is the word for those of us across the pond) in all of Europe at 16%, it is actually cheaper to run than a conventional closed prison.  This is because the prisoners of Bastoy produce their own food and fuel.  In fact, all the food at the prison including that eaten by the guards is prepared by inmates, displaying a level of trust that is nowhere to be found in America.

Compare that with this story from a few years ago in the United States.  An inmate attacked a deputy and put him in a chokehold.  Other inmates jumped up to fight off the first inmate, and are credited with saving the deputy’s life.  I’m glad the story ended this way, but I still find it sad.  That’s because it’s a newsworthy event that the other inmates saved the deputy.  It’s basically expected that they should have left the deputy to die. In contrast, in Bastoy, there has never been a violent incident.

In America, we treat our prisoners like animals and that’s what they become.  That’s a damn shame.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

August Blog Income Update

August update time!  In the month of August, my earnings were

My past earnings in graphical form:

I had a pretty big bump in earnings and I’m pleased with the upward trend.  As Dennis Gartman of the Gartman Letter would say, this graph is very clearly moving from the lower left to the upper right.

However, that truly is a pretty massive jump (percentagewise, of course) in monthly income and maintaining that income is probably not sustainable for September.  For September I would be ecstatic if I maintained $50/month and would be content if I earned $10/month, as in July.