Friday, January 29, 2010

HOW TO: Maximize your chances of surviving a free fall from a plane

Ok, it's probably never going to happen to you, but this well written and funny article from Popular Mechanics should be seen anyway.

Hey, you buy Lotto tickets, right? Your odds of being in a free fall from a plane are probably better than that.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hoax? Or a major issue?

Darko sent me a link to a blog post about a serious PokerStars error. Supposedly, a tourney was canceled because there were 5 Aces in the hand in a Hold'em game! Check out the link for the screenshot.

I tend to think this is a Photoshop job because if the software couldn't keep track of which cards had already been dealt, we'd see consistent errors in the billions of hands that have been dealt out since the PokerStars launch. But this is the first time I've heard of an issue like this. I would think this would be major online news if this was true.


New blogger!

One of my poker buddies, Jeff, has started a new blog. Let's show him some courtesy because blogging should be encouraged!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HOW TO: Play in every poker room in America

So you wanna go on a quest to play in every poker room in America? Well, I don't blame you. I've been doing it now for almost two years and I've been justly rewarded with wonderful experiences and memories. For those of you wanting to have the same experience of spending all of your free time on the back roads of this great land's gambling meccas, I've compiled a few tips that I'd like to share borne out of my experience.

1. Decide up front if you want to see *all* poker rooms or just the best poker rooms - This is a major consideration for a quest of this type. If you decide you want to spend your vacation time seeing every poker room in existence, you will find that most of the legal poker rooms in the country are small (1-4 tables) and rarely have games going except during peak hours. Unless you are very dedicated, you might be disappointed to find you've just driven 3 hours in the rain in Iowa to see an empty poker room.

2. Define for yourself what a 'poker room' really means to you - This seems like an easy task, but there are a huge number of 'poker rooms' in Montana, Washington State and California which are nothing more than one or two tables in the back of a bar somewhere. The tables are legal, but games don't always run. In addition, the bars rarely open until 6PM or later, which will put a crimp in your driving schedule, and the games rarely get off except on weekends, maybe. To wait in a rinky-dink town all day for a game that might not go off is not everyone's idea of a vacation.

3. Plan your driving schedule to maximize casino time - The previous two tips are dancing around the subject about whether you'd rather spend more time visiting poker rooms, and possibly not playing, for the purpose of saying you saw the place, or reducing the number of spots you visit but having more playing time. Once you've made this decision, you need to map out the places you want to visit and plan your driving route accordingly. I use two online tools for this purpose - ThePokerAtlas.Com and Maps.Google.Com. The Poker Atlas is a fantastic site without which you will find it very hard to complete your quest. It has a listing, mostly current and up to date, of every single poker room in the U.S. along with addresses, phone numbers and even maps and reviews. You can click on a state to get the entire state's poker rooms on a single map. This is invaluable when figuring out how to efficiently plan your driving. Google Maps is useful for not only mapping the route you'll take, but being able to save the spots in the My Maps feature. Also, you can estimate your driving time on each leg pretty accurately and even drag the route to other roads to see the difference in driving time, in case you want to make a detour.

4. Try to spend some time seeing some of the local sites - Poker isn't everything (shocking, I know). Each state you'll spend time in has hundreds of years of history waiting to be explored. Even little towns in the middle of nowhere have interesting stories to tell. Use Wikipedia.Org to research the different towns you're staying in and to find museums or attractions to visit. Also, the town's official website (most towns have one), will have even more information about town history and things to see you might not have ever thought of. When I was in Yuma, AZ, I went to see the Arizona Territorial State Prison, which was fantastic and not something I would ever have thought to do had I not done my research.

5. Compile a packet of information and bring it with you - This packet should include the names and addresses of every casino, along with phone numbers, and all the other destinations you want to visit. Not everywhere you visit will have internet access, so bringing a written copy of your itinerary is crucial.

6. Double check all of your information! - Call each casino and confirm they're still in operation, they have a poker room and what the hours are (a lot of casinos and poker rooms aren't 24 hours!). When you arrive at a casino and start playing, ask the locals if there are any poker rooms they know about that you don't. Sometimes a new poker room will open up that isn't listed on The Poker Atlas.

7. Always chat up the locals - About things to do in town, where to eat and where to play. They live there and they know about stuff that isn't listed in the guidebooks. Plus, they have great stories and will usually be interested in hearing about your own quest to play poker around the country. It makes a great conversation starter.

8. Bring a GPS unit - I can't stress this enough. A dashboard GPS for your car is essential to your success. You'll be able to input your destination and get accurate directions no matter where you are. In addition, the GPS can help locate the nearest gas station, the nearest place to get a bite to eat and the nearest hotel, in case you had to change your schedule mid-trip and didn't book ahead.

9. Use Hotels.Com to book all of your hotels - Hotels.Com has a couple of great things going for it for this type of journey. First, they have a fairly comprehensive listing of hotels for any area of the country. Second, they list the cancellation policy of each hotel in plain language. ALWAYS book hotels that allow you to cancel without charge up to 24 hours before. An amateur will book a hotel for a few dollars cheaper but it will be non-refundable. Poker trips are fluid. You can always cancel 24 hours in advance and re-book at the lower price if you are sure of your plans as the trip is drawing near. Also, hotel prices change almost daily. If you book a refundable hotel and you see the price drop, you can cancel and rebook at the lower price very easily. Lastly, Hotels.Com will give you a free hotel night (up to $400 value) for every 10 nights you book with them for a room of $40 or more. So if you keep your nightly bookings above $40, you're essentially getting anywhere from a 10% to a 50% discount on your bookings! Example: you book 10 nights at $40 each and then go away for a day at a $400 spa you get for free. You've spent $400 for $800 worth of rooms, a 50% discount!

10. Use CarRentals.Com to look at car prices, but don't book through them! - CarRentals.Com is the best comparison site I've seen for cars and routinely offers me the lowest fares because they don't stick only to the major vendors. But once you get the price, go to an online coupon site like RetailMeNot.Com or CurrentCodes.Com and grab a discount coupon you can use on the vendor's site! Then book from the vendor directly. Again, check the prices often and don't get a non-refundable deal because you'll be able to cancel and rebook if the price drops. Another reason I like CarRentals.Com, they allow you to search for cars where the drop off point is different from the pickup point. A lot of your poker trips will be flying into one airport and out of another just because poker rooms are very spread out in most states!

11. Keep a toiletry/drug bag for all trips - One of the best tips I was ever told and now I'm religious about it. Get a toiletry bag and fill it with every accessory you're ever going to need when you travel (travel sizes only, or else you won't be able to carry it onto a plane). Disposable razors, shaving cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, etc... Also include cold medications, pain relievers, Maalox and whatever other treatment you might conceivably ever need. Now never use what's in that bag except for when you're going on a trip. When you're packing, simply throw the one bag on top of your clothes and you're ready to go. You will occasionally have to refill the bag with things, but for the most part you won't be without what you need. When you pack things individually I find that I tend to forget *something* which means I inevitably have to buy a replacement when I get to where I'm going!

12. Keep a separate travel bag with extra chargers for all of your electronics - Same concept as 11, except this is for the electrics. In my own bag I have an iPod synch cable/charger, an extra set of headphones, a laptop charger, international plug converters and a car charger for my phone. In addition, I HIGHLY recommend this product, which is a compact 3 outlet power strip which also has two USB ports on the side for charging USB devices (like my iPhone). The best part about it is that you can rotate the strip in an direction when you plug it in, a lifesaver for those times when the outlet is in a strange location, as it usually is in hotels.

13. Get cruise control on your car - Don't leave the lot without a rental car with cruise control. You will be driving hundreds of miles on long empty highways and cruise control is crucial to allowing you to maintain a fast, safe speed. Rather than varying between 5 MPH under the limit and 10 MPH over the limit, set your cruise control to 5-9 MPH over the speed limit and watch the miles fly by with little effort. Very efficient.

14. Use Yapta.Com to check on flights - Yapta is a cool site which has very standard flight comparisons, but has the awesome added feature of letting you track the price! Once you've identified a flight, it will send you an email when the price changes. Once you book, if the price drops below what you paid for it, it will send you instructions on how to receive a refund/credit from the airline! Great stuff.

That's about all I have, that I can remember. If you have any good travel tips for me that are applicable, please comment and share!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Still freaky

I've been working in Manhattan now for close to 15 years. And no matter how long I've been here and how much I've seen and experienced, one thing will always continue to give me the willies:

The sound of 65 stories of skyscraper above your head groaning and creaking as it sways in the wind while you're at your desk.

There's no sound in the world like it. You can hear the strain of the steel infrastructure in the walls as the high winds move the top of your office building (70 Pine street in my case) 5-10 feet side to side. As you sit in one of the tallest buildings in the world, graphically imagining how a building built in 1932, 40 years before you were born, could possibly crash thousands of tons of steel and concrete on your head, you get very little work done.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A word about bonuses

It's bonus season on Wall Street and the paper's are going nuts with the news that even though the economy is in the crapper, bankers are receiving "obscene" bonuses (their quotes). I'm here to tell you all to calm down while I explain why banker's bonuses are so large and why they will, and should, stay that way.

These "bonuses" (my quotes) that you hear about in relation to Wall Street are not the same as the bonuses that you and I might receive in our regular jobs. If you work in a hardware store and do an exceptional job all year, your boss might give you a few hundred dollars as a reward for working so hard. Or you might get treated to a nice dinner. Or you might get some form of profit sharing from the company as an incentive to work hard.

Wall Street bonuses are not the same as these type of bonuses. Instead, Wall Street bonuses are VARIABLE DELAYED INCENTIVE COMPENSATION. Let's break that down:

VARIABLE - Varying. Different. Not always the same.
DELAYED - Not right now. Later.
INCENTIVE - A stimulus to promote a certain type of behavior.
COMPENSATION - The important part. What you get paid to do work.

On the surface, this sounds like a Main Street bonus, but the word 'Compensation' is the give-away. The Wall Street bonus is PART OF THE NORMAL PAY. I repeat, PART OF THE NORMAL PAY.

You and I get paid a certain amount of money and that will remain the same throughout the whole year no matter how well we perform. If we do extra well, our bosses may deign to gift us a bonus. Wall Street bankers get paid a fraction of what they're worth throughout the year and are paid the majority of their income (the 'obscene bonus') at the end of the year as part of their normal pay. So, for instance, a Managing Director who is the head of a trading desk might make $400,000/year as their base salary while receiving $5 million as a 'bonus' at the end of the year. That end of year lump sum will go up or down depending on how their trading desk performed, but the total compensation will usually fall somewhere in the range of normal compensation for the banking industry. Lest you think $5.5 million is a lot, a trading desk doing good business can easily make $50 million in profit for the bank. If you are the head of the trading desk and your efforts generate $50 million in profit, would you stay at the bank that paid you $2 million? Heck no! You'd find out what the market could bear for your services and go to the bank that paid you that amount! And a business would be foolish not to pay for someone who could make that much.

If Wall Street bonuses are regulated and/or capped, the only effect will be that the base salary of these bankers will jump greatly to match the market rate for these profit centers. And 'profit centers' are what they are. As soon as they stop making money on a regular basis, they get fired. No two ways about it. I remember when I was working at JPMorgan that a trader got canned after losing a lot of money in a bad quarter and his boss told him, "the company would have been better off if you had just stayed home the last three months". There's a limited number of seats on the trading floor and if you can't make money, and a lot of it, they'll find someone who can.

Keep in mind, that these large bonus numbers only apply to the elite traders and desks who have been proven money makers. Desks which lose money usually have their personnel fired and/or their bonuses cut drastically. And the middle tier of traders and the bottom tier of everyone else (technology workers, research analysts, custodial staff, etc...), get paid MUCH less than the top traders. Which is why the top trading positions are so coveted, of course.

So don't be too upset that some Wall Street workers are being paid this much money. They earned it. Wall Street as a whole, on the other hand, that's a different story.

My 20 yr. H.S. reunion

This past weekend was the G.W. Hewlett High School, class of 1990, 20th year reunion. As Adam Sandler once said, "I did not attend this event". I really should have changed my schedule around to accommodate this but I let life get in the way of nostalgia. It's a shame, because I'm looking at the flood of pictures from attendees and it looked like such a great time. It would have been nice to have a beer or two with the crew and talk about old times. Some would say that putting on rose tinted glasses to look at one's past is a false feeling, but I truly believe that the class of 1990 was different. We were a small class (about 230), and at the time that I graduated, everyone knew everyone else. Maybe not like best friend's, but we all knew each other's names and at least something about each other's lives. We'd been together since 6th grade, some of us earlier and we lived in each other's neighborhoods. I have such vivid memories of everyone in the pictures I saw that it's almost criminal not to acknowledge the influence that we all had in each other's lives. But we did. It was a pretty tight knit group of us, and by the time we were seniors and had started to broaden our horizons in life, the usual labels and cliques that divided us during school started to fall apart. Nerds, jocks, beauty queens and drama kings all had something to share together. And they did again on Saturday.

At this point in the post, I was going to post the most personal memories I had of as many of my high school classmates as I could remember. But halfway into the first memory, I thought that it might be too personal, not for me but for the people I'm talking about. Maybe not everyone has the desire to see themselves in such a light, even though we're talking about events that happened 20+ years ago! So if you were G.W.H.S. class of 1990, and you want to know what memory I have of you, send me a note and I'll tell you. I can promise you that not a single memory puts anyone in a bad light (well, sometimes me).

I really loved my years in high school, though I wish I could go back and do it over again. What a difference that would make, no? But then again, it wouldn't be high school if we all could bring adult experiences to bear on those formative years.

To recap: You guys are great and I suck for not coming. Peace out.

I love this chart

Crayola's Law: "The number of colors doubles every 28 years"

Attribution: I took this from this link.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dead Pool - Dead in the water

After an initial flurry of interest in the 2010 dead pool, no one stepped up to the plate to actually sign up (except Jordan, god bless him). It's too bad, because I thought it would have been a fun thing to do.

I did get a few people who seemed pretty peeved at me for even advancing the concept, too. To those people I say this; Lighten Up. Participating in a dead pool is a morbid activity, for sure, but it's hardly evil. Yes, there is something unsavory about wagering on people to die, but it's going to happen to them whether you do it or not. Why not make a market out of it and maybe have some fun? Unless you're one of those people who feel that having people think about something can actually cause that thing to happen. You know the type. They sit at the edge of their seats during football games and get mad at you if you "jinx" it with something you've said. There's a word for people who think that their words and thoughts can change reality; insane.

Also, there are tons of celebrity websites that make their living reporting on every detail of celebrity deaths, far more intrusively to the families than a dead pool ever would. How is that any better?

As I said to Christine in Arizona, "It's not like I'm praying for anyone to die, just betting on it."


I was screwing around last night on a $1.10 MTT Hold'em tourney on Ultimate Bet and I won it! 272 players and a $56.98 payout for first place. Nothing to it except tight play and smart laydowns/betting. I maximized when I had it and gave it up when I didn't. The final table became something of a shovefest with the guy I took out in 2nd amassing a 6-1 chip lead when I slid into heads up play. But he faithfully doubled me up with A6 and KQ twice when he held junk. He finally pushed it in with 88 against my AJ and I flopped a Jack for the win. It helps to win your coinflips.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dead Pool - Anyone out there?

So is anyone doing the 2010 Dead Pool? Anyone?

Next Friday is the deadline to forward me your list and the moolah. See the link on the right hand side of the blog for the rules.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Well, that's new

I proposed to Ali in Paris. Stroke of midnight, New Year's Eve, in the bright shining light of the Eiffel Tower, amidst a million screaming Parisians and tourists. It sounds very cliche but the effect is undeniably magical when you actually do it.

I was going to write a beautiful soliloquy, with flowery language describing the depths of my love and the strength of my soul, but when I read it I didn't want to make people sick. Way too personal and flowery. So I'm just going to say that I'm in love and happy.

It's about time.

P.S. She said Yes! I know you were wondering...