Monday, December 27, 2010


We've had a lot of rain lately, and so I've read a few books. None of them were remarkable, so I'll just list them here.

Trading For a Living by Alexander Elder is an old book offering guidance to the part-time stock trader. Unfortunately, its age renders it almost useless in the context of today's market. OK, to be fair, there are some worthwhile lessons in the book, but none that aren't in almost all modern books on trading.

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt is assigned reading in many college freshman economics courses. It is one of the seminal works in the Austrian School of Economics. This book was interesting, however I don't agree with all of the messages it offers. While it contains many layman-targeted anecdotes to describe economic theories, they suffer from gross oversimplifications to the point that makes them inconsistent with reality.

The Shibumi Strategy, by Matthew May is an interesting and short book employing a fable to convey many ideas and precepts from Zen Buddhism and Japanese philosophy and apply them to contemporary life. I learned of this new book from Bob Sutton's blog and he highly recommended it. I enjoyed this book. The stubborn rationalist in me is now wondering how and where I might attempt to apply any of its lessons. Here's the author's page for the book.

Next up: The Prince. I've never read Machiavelli's famous book. I have it, but each time I pick it up I get turned off by the ancient grammar and language. So I'll do what I did for Paradise Lost (which posed similar challenges to me). I've downloaded an audiobook version and I'll listen to it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lobotomy Bock

Lobotomy Bock is my favorite beer and I've just learned that it's recently been emasculated! It's brewed by Indian Wells Brewery, a small shop located here near Inyokern. I stop there often to buy some, since the prices are way lower there than at any store. Plus it's on my way home from many of the places I go off-road adventuring.

Yesterday I bought a 6-pack of LB at Whole Foods. It didn't taste right. Something was missing. It tasted very weak. I searched the packaging and labeling and could not find the usual 10.8% alcohol content warning. I googled to no avail. So then I emailed the brewer - and surprisingly I got a reply within a few hours.

Rick Lovett (President & Founder of Indian Wells Brewing Co.) politely answered me by saying that they have, indeed, lowered the alcohol content in Lobotomy Bock. He said they "lowered it due to a lawsuit."

I'm saddened and disappointed. The stuff I bought tastes like 3.2 beer I drank as a kid in Colorado, and which I recenty had in Utah. I don't see how they can honestly still call it a dopplebock. The next time I'm up north, I'll check to see if they still sell the full-strength brew at the brewery. If so, it will remain my favorite beer.

UPDATE: see my post on Jan 29 about finding the full strength version at the brewery.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Little Book of Economics

I just finished "The Little Book of Economics" by Grep Ip. Here's the description from Amazon:

Written for the inquisitive layman who doesn’t want to plow through academic jargon and Greek letters or pore over charts and tables, The Little Book of Economics offers indispensible insight into how the American economy works – or, doesn’t. With engaging and accessible prose, the book:
  • Provides a comprehensive understanding of each aspect of our economy from inflation and unemployment to international trade and finance
  • Serves as an insider’s guide to the people and institutions that control America’s economy such as the Federal Reserve and the federal budget
  • Explains the roots of America’s current economic crisis and the risks the country faces in its aftermath, such as stratospheric government debt, while offering advice on overcoming these threats
  • Walks readers through the basic concepts and terminology they need to understand economic news
  • Punctures myths and political spin from both the left and the right with candid and often surprising insight

While the book is interesting and easy to understand, it glosses over (ignores) a lot of details. The book focuses a lot on the economics management instruments and entities in the US. It might be informative for the average person, I don't recommend this book for anybody who knows a lot about economics.

The author's web site includes blog entries about the economy and current events. Economic dilettantes may find that interesting.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Desert Drive

Yesterday I went for a nice scenic drive. I drove BLM and SCE roads across the Mojave desert to see some peaceful landscapes. For the record, these roads all require 4WD and high clearance.

Trilobite Wilderness Area

Just south of I-15, I left Kelbaker Road to drive a BLM route that travels between the Trilobite Wilderness Area and the Clipper Mountains Wilderness Area. Here's a google map centered on the road. Here's a map where I highlited the road in red.

I only saw a couple golden eagles and one hunter in a camo suit that made him look like one of those USMC snipers you see in shows on the Military channel. Sadly, I did not see any wild herds of trilobites grazing on the scrub.

The road is also a natural gas pipeline service road. Some sections are fun and hilly, as you can see below.

Other sections are sandy.

I came across this memorial.

Skeleton Pass

I just have to drive to a place named "Skeleton Pass." I was expecting a very remote and primitive road, and that's what I found. I did not find any skeletons. Here's a google map centered on the pass. I started at the old Danby town site off Route 66 and returned north on Cadiz Road. Last year I was here visiting the Cadiz Dunes. I forgot to slow down for a big old washout and really bumped the car around. The stupid thing is: this is the exact same spot where I did the exact same thing a year ago.

Powerline Road from Pisgah to Johnson Valley

This road skirts the northwest border of 29 Palms USMC base.
This was a really fun road. There were two sections over small mountains with lots of twisty turns. I would never want to drive that in rain or fog, as I'd certainly go over the ledge road, roll the truck and die. But in sunny dry conditions, it's a lot of fun. Here's a map with the route highlited.

The northern end passes along the edge of an enormous lava field and Pisgah Crater. Several years ago I hiked out onto that lava field to find a crashed military jet.

The next shot hints at the twisty road. I couldn't get the twists into any shot. OK, I probably could if I stopped more, but it was too fun to drive and I didn't want to stop.

The sun was reflecting off the powerlines and it looked a little like Christmas tree decorations.

As expected, the landscape views were great.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

One Good Trade

I really really liked the new book, "One Good Trade," by Mike Bellafiore of SMB Capital. If you are a relatively active trader then you will probably like the book too. If you prefer investing, and not trading, then you may not enjoy it.

SMB Capital is a small proprietary (prop) trading firm in NYC. In his book, Bellafiore (Bella) tells many stories... About how he and his long time friend Steve Spencer founded SMB Capital. About the myriad of characters they've worked with and who've worked for them. About the life of a prop trader. It's interesting how he employs the simile of elite athletes in his trading business, and I think it fits pretty well.

It was fascinating. I even learned some good lessons that I can apply to my own trading. If I were younger, I would like nothing more than to be a prop trader at a firm like SMB.

Here's the SMB Capital trading blog.

Here's the SMB Capital twitter feed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Zion NP Gets a New Subway?

I stopped off at Zion NP to do some hiking for half a day, but was disappointed to find that the road construction equipment was filling all the turnouts on the east side of the tunnel - including a pair of portable traffic signals (kinda neat actually). This prevented me from parking for a hike. Instead I drove some nearby 4wd trails: Smithsonian Butte and Grafton Mesa. I met up with Gene and his friend for pizza at Zion Pizza & Noodle. They'd just had a string of unfortunate events while mountain biking in the area.

While there, I noticed a great thing. A Subway sandwich shop franchise has opened just outside the park. I've always thought that such a shop would do a lot of business, since the food is simple, tasty, predictable, and packs well for taking on a hike.

Unfortunately, that Subway has sparked a lot of controversy. It's not open because the town won't let it open. They have a town policy of blocking franchise restaurants. Some say it's to preserve the charm of the town. Some say it's to protect the businesses of the friends and family of the town council - who operate the existing little diners. There's a lot of people saying a lot of things, because the franchisees have sued the town and that has made news all over the land. Small towns across the country with similar policies are watching intently how this plays out.

I personally want a Subway shop there, and here's why. I've dined at a lot of places in Springdale over the years and they are all very overpriced. There are very few options for anyone on a tight budget, or for anyone looking for simple fare. Too many of the eateries there are full of menu options laden with too many adjectives. I'm sure they think it makes their food sound special, or worth the high prices. But sometimes I just want a simple sandwich or burger. *gets off his soap box*

Monday, November 08, 2010

Good Boss, Bad Boss

I just finished Bob Sutton's latest book, "Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn From the Worst." I liked this book and it included a few things I hope to remember. Sutton's books are entertaining and fun to read. I also enjoyed his earlier "The No Asshole Rule."

Here's Sutton's page at Stanford. If you lack spare time, then here's a related post of his on the Harvard Business Review site.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

White Rim Trail

This was the main reason for my Moab trip. I've been wanting to drive this trail for years. Unfortunately, I couldn't drive the entire trail due to a huge washout that happened a few weeks before my trip. The NPS web site shows photos of house-sized boulders that crashed down upon the switchbacks at Mineral Bottom.

I left Moab before sunrise and that gave me some nice long shadows by the time I reached some scenic parts. Below is the Colorado River.

This is an easy shelf section. It'd be scary if the road was wet and slippery.

The trail alternates between mild dirt road with embedded rocks and very rugged road almost entirely of embedded rocks. The later sections were rough enough that I had to drive very slowly (slower than walking speed). Here's an example...

I'm sure a lifted Jeep could drive faster on those sections. My Land Rover's suspension isn't as pleasant over very rugged terrain, so I have to go slow. Specifically: the suspension is soft, so therefore it bounces a lot when driving over boulders, and so I hit and scrape more boulders that way. On the flip-side, highway driving is very smooth.

This is trail #46 in Wells' book (rated moderate) and trail #2 in Massey's book (rated 4). I actually got bored on this trail. While knowing that each mile offered great views, they were all almost the same view. So I wasn't sad to turn around and head back.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Musselman Arch

This is Musselman Arch. Here's a google map centered on it. I walked across it.

It's wide enough to not be scary. Of course, I did stand by the edge and point the camera down a few times. There's a jumble of boulders below it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Long Canyon Trail

I really enjoyed the Long Canyon Trail. I drove it eastward. I met a Jeep driver at Gemini Bridges who said he drove Long Canyon going west because he thought it would be more "interesting." I agree, and next time I visit I want to drive it westward. Going east, the trail begins as a graded dirt road. Then it starts heading down canyon and soon becomes narrow and slightly steep with soft sand while the canyon walls tower on each side.

This is trail #18 in Wells' book (rated easy) and trail #6 in Massey's book (rated 3). The most famous part is the huge rock formation that the trail dirves right underneath. The road there is steep and very uneven. That's the only section where I had to raise my rover's suspension. I'd read someplace that the big rock fell from above around 1996-1997, but now I can't find that source.

After the fallen rock, the trail continues to wind down the canyon.

About half way down the canyon you are treated to a great view to the east. I got out several times to take photos.

Although it's short, this is a great trail. This BLM web page describes the Shafer Trail and Long Canyon Trail as a nice loop. That's not a bad idea for an easy half day trip out of Moab.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Schafer Switchbacks

These were a lot of fun.

If you are afraid of heights, then I strongly recommend that you not look out your car window.

They were performing some road maintenance near the bottom so I had to wait a few minutes for the tractor to get clear. The weather was great and I visited with the man holding me there. There were a few wide sections up on the switchbacks where you can pull over and take photos. This is trail #45 (rated easy) in Wells' book and trail #1 in Massey's book (rated 3).

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bartlett Overlook Trail

The Bartlett Overlook Trail is #7 in Wells' book (rated "difficult") and trail #13 in Massey's book (rated 4). It was very remote and would have been less enjoyable on a hot or windy day.

There's only one tough spot where you have to get up a large step of rocks. There's no alternate route, and it's clear that people have tried to find one. I placed a map and DVD case in the next photos to show scale. I moved a few boulders and then just drove right up and over on the right side.

I was most worried about lack of traction due to my tire tread being filled with red mud. It worked out fine though. For grins, I setup a video camera beside the step to record it and see how much my tires slipped. This way I can correlate the feeling and sound I experience while driving with the actual amount the tires slipped. Here's a screencap of that video (the video itself is boring).

The views along this trail were stunning. No singular rock formation or object to focus on. Instead, you're treated to beautiful vistas with all nature of interesting formations for the eye to focus on.

Since it rained the previous night, there were a few puddles to drive through - properly coating the rover in red mud. Lots of fun!