Wall St. Is A Gambling Proxy

In mid March, when the US became woefully aware to the stark realization of the impact of the COVID-19 virus, we saw the major US stock markets take significant tumbles. The market took some significant dips in the days around St. Patrick’s Day, however they have since rebounded relatively steadily since. And what is interesting is what could be driving this investing activity, against the advise and wisdom of many a seasoned Economist:

In a…presentation to the Economic Club of New York, on Tuesday [May 12], Stanley Druckenmiller, a former hedge-fund manager who now invests his own money, said, “The risk-reward for equity”—that is, stocks—“is maybe as bad as I’ve seen it in my career.” And yet many small investors…do not seem fazed by warnings like these.

John Cassidy, The New Yorker

Over the past few years, many brokerage firms have substantially reduced, or outright eliminated, trading fees. While this has reduced the friction for any individual investor to enter the market and invest, the COVID-19 lockdown and the lack of sports may be having an unanticipated impact on market dynamics:

“It could be that it’s just a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands,” he said. “One friend suggested to me it is replacing gambling. The casinos are closed and there are no sports to bet on.”

For some active traders, this theory does seem to apply. “I like betting on sports,” Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, told Business Insider. “Sports ended, and this was something that was still going that I could do during the day.” After the shutdowns began, Portnoy put three million dollars in an E-Trade account “to play around with.” He’s been busy sharing his exploits with his large Twitter following. (On Friday morning, he reported, “I’m up fifty grand.”)

John Cassidy, The New Yorker

The scary thing about what is happening to the Economy as a result of the tepid response by the US Government to the crisis is that few people really, truly understand the crippling effect the shut down dynamics are having on the greater US economy. With so many people’s investments and retirements tied up in the stock market, when the true scope of the damage slowly exposes itself like a slow motion car crash, you have to wonder if the damage will be accelerated by stocks crashing further and impacting individuals who entered the market to satisfy a gambling itch they could not scratch.

Escape The Room – Virtual Hogwarts Edition

“Escape the Room” games have been all the rage recently, especially in corporate circles looking for fun team building exercises. Now with the whole COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changing things, one has to wonder how the ‘escape’ trend will fair in the ‘pandemic world order’.

A librarian in Pennsylvania took matters into his own hands, using of all things Google Docs, to create a virtual Harry Potter ‘Escape the Room: Hogwarts Edition’. No confirmation if they got an approval from JK Rowling herself. :P

I went through some of the game and found it fun and entertaining. Will need to give it my full attention to see how it works through to the end. This also makes me think I may need to fire up the Harry Potter movies and/or books sometime soon as this is making me realize how much I miss the Wizarding World!

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Detail of The Madalorian’s Ship

Really awesome set of detailed drawings breaking down The Mandalorian’s Razor Crest space ship. Kotaku has reposted several of the drawings however the originals are from Max Degtyarev over on Behance.

With all the social distancing and stay at home orders happening, I have been meaning to fire up The Mandalorian and re-watch it again. May actually do that tonight.

Time Capsule of An Early 2000s Computer Store

via Vice

An untouched window into early 2000’s computing. In a lonely strip mall in Norman, OK (home of the University of Oklahoma) is a long shuttered computer store called Computer Factory Outlet. The beauty of this situation is that the store is still completely filled with untouched merchandise from the day the store closed. A beautiful time capsule of computing from the early 2000s, although I have to say that the photos sure make it feel like the store and it’s merch is from the late 1980s or 1990s. It reminds me of my trip to San Francisco in 2017 when we stopped by the Weird Stuff warehouse in Mountain View, which sadly shut down soon after we visited to make way for a new addition to the Googleplex.

via Vice
via Vice

There are some more great photos via the Tweet below.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

The Inmates ARE Running The Asylum

I would highly recommend subscribing to the Letters From An American newsletter published by Boston College History Professor Heather Cox Richardson. She publishes the newsletter on pretty much a daily basis and it provides a fantastically logical, fact based synopsis of the previous day’s events, drawing in both recent and long past history for context and comparison. The emails can be long – and admittedly I may skip one occasionally – however they are so well informed and so, perish the thought, based on fact.

So with that context, I found today’s email so troubling with the synopsis that she brought to bear. As we all know, the major issue that the USA has been grappling with has been the amount of resources and medical supplies that our healthcare system so critically needs to fight COVID-19. To that end:

A report from Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) has documented that as late as March 2, the administration was urging American businesses to take advantage of the booming market to export such supplies to other countries. If Trump had invoked the Defense Production Act, he could have kept masks, ventilators, and PPEs at home. Porter’s office examined export records to show that in February 2020, “the value of U.S. mask exports to China was 1094% higher than the 2019 monthly average.”

Even more disturbing are investigations into what is happening to the supplies hospitals and states are ordering. In the absence of federal masks, PPEs, ventilators, and so on, the president urged states to get what they needed themselves. They have bought supplies on the open market, only to have the federal government confiscate them.

Just so we’re clear here, the Federal Government of the United States has been confiscating desperately needed medical supplies that the states, which make up our country, need in order to fight and manage this virus. Let that sink in for a second. Sounds like something out of a Russian novel to me. She continues (emphasis mine):

While state and hospital officials from New Jersey, Colorado, Kentucky, and Massachusetts have all gone on record accusing federal authorities of confiscating supplies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denies it is taking shipments. Vice President Mike Pence told governors on Monday that the administration is simply redirecting supplies to areas that need them most. “We have the visibility on medical supplies that are moving into this country and available to vendors in this country,” he said.

But, as Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, who is on this story, reports, officials will not share the formula by which they are making those decisions. More and more stories are emerging that allege that the supplies are being redistributed by Jared Kushner or Trump based on political partisanship. Trump friends get supplies; others don’t. It seems likely that at least some of the confusion is simply poor management and people see a conspiracy in the chaos. But the suggestion that leading administration officials are trying to create political capital out of this crisis seems in keeping with their usual patterns.

It would also explain that bizarre exchange between Jared Kushner and a reporter, when Kushner said, “The notion of the federal stockpile is that it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.” When CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang later asked Trump what Kushner meant by “our stockpile,” Trump said it was a “gotcha” question. “You know what ‘our’ means? United States of America,” he said. “We take that – ‘our’ – and we distribute it to the states.” “[W]e need it for the federal government,” Trump said. “To keep for our country because the federal government needs it too, not just the states.” “It’s such a basic and simple question and you try and make it sound so bad,” he added. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

What exactly did Super Jared mean by “our stockpile”? That is such a revealing and insanely damaging statement. Clearly this statement exposes that Super Jared, and by default the whole of 45’s administration, appears to be operating with the per-view that they are a dictatorship (People have said for so long that 45 thinks he’s a king instead of an elected official) right out of the monarchies of the middle ages, where only those who were in ‘the King’s’ favor would receive benefits. 45 even admitted as much when he chastised the Governor of Michigan for not ‘showing appreciation’ for him and ‘the work’ the Federal Government was doing for them (which is utterly laughable, but that’s a whole other rant). The Federal Government works for the people of the country and the states. The states are semi-autonomous yet they collectively make up our whole country. So if ‘our stockpile’ is not allocated to be used by ‘our’ states, who exactly are they earmarked for?

To this administration, the number of deaths are just that…numbers. There is zero empathy coming out of the White House these days, and that is why it is so great to see true leaders like Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Mike DeWine (R- Ohio) stand up for the good of their citizens and for the good of the country.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

Income Distribution

From the firm the personal finance site HowMuch, an interesting visualization of income distribution in the United States. The data was drawn from 2018 Social Security Administration wage data.

The visualization draws upon 2018 wage data from the Social Security Administration. The circle graph represents 100% of the total wages earned in the U.S. Each slice of the circle represents the percentage of Americans whose net compensation fell within a certain interval, such as $0-$4,999 or $5,000-$9,999. The larger the slice of the circle, the higher the percentage of Americans within that net compensation range. In addition, each slice of the circle is color-coded. The shades of pink indicate lower wages, while the shades of blue and green indicate higher wages. At first glance, you can see that most of the circle is pink, corresponding with the high percentage of low-income Americans.

There are so many nuances and circumstances at the individual level that make surveys and analysis like this so difficult to interpret. In addition, it does not factor in ‘foreign’ spending or investment which is clearly a massive influence in US economics.

I’m a focus group of one however just using a basic ‘eye test’ of what you see on a day to day basis across different regions of the country compared to what is depicted in this chart, things do not seem to match up. Yet with that said, it is still a very interesting visual to further understand what is happening across the country from a wage perspective, especially considering the huge hit that the US economy is taking as a result of COVID-19.

More Digitally Enhanced Videos From The Turn of 19th Century

I am completely fascinated by the efforts of the Polish firm Neural Love to to restore old, choppy grainy movies from the 1890s-1910’s using neural network technology. The end results are just amazing, especially those that are taken in some of our major cities, such as the one below from Paris. It is especially poignant when you compare it to Claude Lelouch’s “Rendezvous” and to the fact that Notre Dame went up in flames about a year ago.

Another restored video that I find interesting is the one below of miners and laborers from the United Kingdom. This video, originally filmed around 1901, was originally part of an 2013 exhibit at London’s Tate Britain museum about L.S. Lowry’s art. The connection is that the video below as taken at Pendlebury, just outside of Manchester, and Lowry’s had moved there in 1912.

As I’ve said before, the quality of the restored videos bring out so much rich detail and they feel like they could have been taken last week with a bunch of actors playing the parts. Just a wonderfully restored lens into life 120+ years ago that make you wonder who the people in the video were and what became of their lives.

Trends Driven By COVID-19

Interesting visuals from the firm Glimse detailing several different search trend lines as a result of COVID-19 and the fact that 80% of the world is now on ‘stay at home’ instructions. From the above screen grab, it is interesting that while the interest in Skype has grown significantly, it is about a third less searched than Zoom. The old guard, standard bearer for video calls has lost some of its luster to the new hot girl.

And with everyone staying at home and social distancing, our personal hygiene and sex lives are pretty much going to shit.

Ferrari Racing Through Paris

With all the great cities around the world looking like ghost towns these days due to the CoronaVirus pandemic, thought it would be a good time to revisit arguably the first epic ‘street racer’ video of all time – Claude Lelouch’s “Rendezvous”. While the video has gained legendary status over the years, not all felt so enamored with what he did:

Due to the illegal nature that had to be undertaken in order for the movie to be filmed, the director Claude Lelouch was arrested upon the first screening

What I found great about this classic is being able to see how Paris looked in the mid 1970s – and especially the vintage 1970s cars on the streets – while at the same time being able to clearly recognize the classic sites and venues that the city has to offer. It’s only 10 minutes long and being able to ride shotgun at high speed through the relatively empty streets of Paris still gets the blood pumping.

In 2012, filmmaker Alex Roy made a short video analyzing and breaking down Lelouch’s classic video:

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

London Underground Stations

File this under “content you didn’t realize you needed”.

For some reason, I have taken my hobby of creating computer desktop wallpapers to both the next level and to the depths of London town, as I have created desktop wallpapers representing each and every station in the London Underground system. They are done in two “flavors” – one that has the Tube stop logo overlaid on top of a map of the whole system. The other has the Tube stop logo with a ‘subway tile’ background.

Why did I do this? I’m still trying to figure that out. I guess it is just a romanticism with the city of London, and it’s eponymous Tubes system. I love the simplicity of their branding and logo system. I love the complexity of their subway map, underlying the utter chaos that is the street system of London itself. I love the small, unique neighborhoods of London as much as I like the grand spaces like Piccadilly and Hyde Park.

So if you’ve ever spent time in London, and you had/have a Tube stop that you can call your own, head on over to my London Underground page, find your station, and download it and decorate your computer or your iPad or your iPhone.

Another Illustration of Why Social Distancing Is So Important

So you may have seen videos from a few weeks ago of college aged “Spring Breakers” in Florida completely ignoring the guidance to ‘social distance’

“If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying”

NOTE: To the kid’s credit, he did apologize for the tone deaf comment, however the damage was done.

To further illustrate how important it is to practice ‘social distancing’ during this time to prevent the acceleration of COVID-19, a data tracking service called Tectonix GEO (a little self-serving but that’s another story) demonstrated how one specific cluster of ‘spring breakers’ on a beach in Fort Lauderdale – where if even one of them had the virus – could/would/did exponentially spread it throughout the country.

Each little dot on this screen grab above represents a mobile device. So first thing they did was highlight a fairly small but specific set of devices located on the beach in Fort Lauderdale a couple of weeks ago. From there, using what they called a ‘spider query’, they then tracked the movement of those specific devices over the next few weeks to demonstrate how this one isolated beach gathering could rapidly and exponentially spread the virus.

That is pretty much the clearest demonstration of how important ‘social distancing’ is in combating the spread of this virus. I mean, seriously look at that map. That small cluster of phones on the beach in Florida essentially distributed out to every state east of the Mississippi and few west of there.

Now, to really make you shudder, think of this same scenario playing out repeatedly in NY or Chicago or San Francisco. In fact, we saw it play out in real time with the first really publicized case out of New Rochelle, NY. That one lawyer who had the virus, went into and out of NYC without knowing he had it, and through community spread, easily exposed upwards of 1,000 people to the virus before anyone knew.

You can watch the full demo below (only a minute long):

Twitter Tuesday – The Week In Tweets

The Vikings Were Badasses

The Draken Harald Hårfagre. via drakenhh.com

Through history and popular culture, the Vikings of the northern parts of Europe (Norway, Sweden, Finland) have always had a the reputation as hardened, sturdy folk who were able to deal with any situation head on, with the matter of fact clarity that make men and women swoon.

In my opinion, the importance of the Norse on European culture has always been underrated. They were prolific explorers and a critical piece of their traveling exploits were the amazingly sturdy, iconic boats that they built.

So as we fast forward a couple of thousand years to present day, we find the Norwegian Sigurd Aase, who in 2008, initiated a project to build a modern day version of the traditional Norse ship – the Draken Harald Hårfagre. The ship looks exactly like the traditional Norse ships, all the way down to the decorations and embellishments, and was built to as close to specification as could be.

The Vikings left almost no record of how they built their ships, or how they sailed them. Draken Harald Hårfagre is a recreation of what the Vikings would call a “Great Ship”, built with archaeological knowledge of found ships, using old boatbuilding traditions and the legends of Viking ships from the Norse sagas.

Yet, at the same time it has very modern technology built into it. Here is a video of it traversing the North Sea during a storm.

From their YouTube page:

Sometimes it is hard to imagine that this was just a couple of months ago. Draken and her crew have been through storms on the North Atlantic Ocean. What an achievement, sailing from Norway, to Shetland Islands, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland – just like the Vikings did a 1000 years ago, and into the St Lawrence Seaway, trough the locks and into the Great Lakes. She made it, it is a real modern Viking voyage.

Now, let’s think back a couple of thousand years when the ‘real’ Vikings sailed around the North sea, wearing handmade fur outerwear, navigating the seas in these boats with nothing but wooden oars. Pretty amazing. Pretty badass.