Jay the Home Improvement Guy

Today we had some plumbers come to the house to start a job we had taken bids for back in the fall. They have their work cut out for them, replacing the copper gas lines under our pier and beam home with the more up-to-date variety. By way of aside, we will be without hot water for a couple days due to the need to shut off the gas during this operation. Well, about an hour after they arrived, we discovered a major leak under the sink in Abigail’s bathroom, which had unfortunately soaked the cabinet in which the plumbing was housed to the point of damaging it. Then in almost the same moment, the toilet in that same bath (and the only toilet in the house Jay has not replaced since we moved in) decided to give up the ghost. We joked to the poor plumbers that we suspected they might be quietly going around the house sabotaging things!

Well, anyway, as I write this, my manly man is replacing that dead toilet. Just lugging the heavy thing outside to dispose of it is a chore in and of itself. He hopes to finish installing the new toilet this evening, and at least begin work on the faucet which had also deteriorated to the point of needing replacement (hence the leak). Before we lived here, Jay had never learned to deal with plumbing issues or do a number of things that he has in these past seven months managed to get himself up to speed on. All of us around here are reaping the benefits of his hard work, and the house’s condition is improving, little by little.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say – after all, I’m the one doing the delicate typing while he splashes around in the toilet muck – but I feel such a sense of satisfaction every time we accomplish something which improves and beautifies our home. It is very hard work, but so rewarding. And I am very, very proud of my favorite home improvement guy.

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A Fun Weekend

By way of checking in with our faithful readers, since I have not been much of a blogger lately – I want to say that I enjoyed such a nice Mother’s Day weekend. Jay tells me that Mother’s Day Weekend is a contradiction, but I like to think of the day stretching out over both Saturday and Sunday. He certainly helped to make it a lovely couple of days for me.

Saturday morning our entire family had a wonderful, if a bit wet and messy outing to Dirty Dawgs, where our faithful canine “enjoyed” a very thorough bath. If you have never been to Dirty Dawgz, I highly recommend it. It’s like a self-service car wash, only with dogs! Saves you the mess and hassle of having all your own products and tools for the job at home, if you don’t have a great place to bathe your doggie there. But it’s much cheaper than sending doggie to the groomer’s. I wish I had a picture of all of us to show you, but we did not bring the camera along. Suffice to say that Sid smells and looks much better than before we went!

Saturday afternoon, Jay made lunch, and fed everyone, including me, and then watched the three boys so Abigail and I could attend Aunt Jamison’s first baby shower. It was a great time, and such fun to help celebrate the impending arrival of Baby Isaac. I was so sorry to have forgotten my camera for this event as well, but Aunt J has some pictures up on her blog.

That evening, Jay again stayed home, saw to supper himself, and watched children so that I could take Abigail and Nicolas down to the Majestic Theater to enjoy Cousin Ellie’s first ballet recital, in which she danced the part of a butterfly. She performed beautifully, and finally, I brought my camera along to commemorate the occasion! Here is the aforementioned little butterfly, along with two of her admirers:

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The official Mother’s Day began with a cute little redheaded boy peeking at me from the side of my bed, smiling sweetly and saying “Happy Mother’s Day” while handing me a card he made himself in school, and which he had been secretly hiding in high anticipation of the day on Sunday. It should be noted that this presentation was all the more cherished because the little boy, who is a very early riser, obediently waited until after 7am to appear in our bedroom!!

After church, all four children went to sleep and then I actually got to take a nap too. Those of you who know me well are aware that I seldom nap – when children are resting, I usually opt for working on things that are harder to accomplish with several little people to keep after. So this nap was a rare treat for me! How refreshing!

Sunday evening our whole family went out to Texas de Brazil and enjoyed a sumptuous feast to celebrate Mother’s Day – and Grammy and Grandy joined us for the fun! We don’t often eat out as a family and to visit such a nice restaurant with four little ones made us a tad nervous, but they all behaved so beautifully (so did Grammy and Grandy, I am happy to report!), and really relished the new experience. You can visit the entire album of photos from that evening, but I will leave you with this shot of all of us afterward standing by the “bath” as Josiah called it.

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Thanks again to my sweet husband for helping me to enjoy such a full weekend of special activities. And, a Happy Belated Mother’s Day to my two wonderful Moms, and all the other Mommies reading this!

From slave to master

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17

And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Deuteronomy 5:21

I was at a luncheon a couple months ago with Jim Jordan and seem to recall he made reference to the change made to the tenth commandment between Exodus and Deuteronomy. As you can see from the verses, the wife is moved from a position of being inside the house, one of the possessions of the man that are part of the household, to being outside/above the house, which would put her in a position of mastery over the house and its possessions.

Here’s an idea regarding this change in the command. When the ten commandments were first given, Israel had just left Egypt, the house of slavery (Exodus 5:2). The second telling of the ten commandments takes place right before Israel enters to possess the land (Deuteronomy 5:33) at the end of Moses’ life. I’m wondering if the tenth command mirrors this change in Israel’s status as they move from slaves in Egypt to a position of mastery in the promised land. I’m sure it has significance beyond this reference to the history of redemption, but it seems to tie in with Israel’s changing status.

Tools of the trade(r): Amibroker

If you are designing a trading system, it is crucial that you adequately test your ideas. Now, backtesting trading systems is fraught with danger. Curve fitting, systems that can’t actually be traded in real life, ignoring frictional costs, you name it, I’ve done it. But that is another topic for another post. Even though there are problems to be avoided, you’ll still need to backtest.

Platforms to backtest come in many shapes and sizes, but most of them have a common characteristic: they are insanely expensive. In spite of the cost, most have huge gaps in their capabilities. In particular, many are deficient at the portfolio level and instead assume you are trading a few specific equities rather than screening the broader market day by day.

Amibroker overcomes all these issues for the technical trader (not so much for the fundamental trader). It is both feature rich and affordable. I have spent quite literally thousands of hours developing my trading style and specific system, and most of that time was logged on Amibroker. If you want to focus on individual charts, it is feature rich. If you want to do portfolio testing, it is feature rich. I have encountered very few goods or services in my life of any sort that were such a remarkable value.

Now, I will hasten to add that Amibroker does have some flaws. However, the rich scripting language (AFL) has allowed me to overcome pretty much all the problems I’ve encountered in the generic features. For instance, I’m not a fan of the default stops (loss, profit, time, etc.), but have implemented my own using AFL. You can even turn off the default backtester itself and programmatically control the individual buy/sell decisions. Thus, I was able to create a system that includes both shorts and longs with separate max open positions for each. So the flaws, though real, tend to be surmountable and do not detract from the value of Amibroker.

DIY Tips Learned the Hard Way 2

When you set a toilet in place, if it has a bit of a rock to it, no amount of tightening the bolts will stabilize it.

First, make sure it really is in place and you’ve mashed down the wax ring so that the toilet is fully on the floor. If it continues to rock, you probably have tile that is a bit uneven or some other anomaly with your floor. Here’s what you do. Go raid your kid’s piggy bank and get some pennies. Use the pennies as shims around the edge of the toilet to stabilize it, making sure the weight is distributed across several pennies.

When you caulk around the bottom of the toilet at the end of the job, it will both hide the pennies and ensure they stay in place. Assuming you use white caulk instead of clear. Which you should, for this very reason.

Devour widow’s houses

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Luke 20:45-47

Last week we received our house tax appraisal for 2007. The value of our home had been raised well above what we recently paid for it. Perhaps some folks would find it gratifying to know that the state government agrees with their assessment of the potential value of the house. I found it extremely frustrating that my annual “rent” payment to the government (you know, the money I pay Texas so it grants me permission to continue dwelling in my home for another year) was going up so much.

A couple days later I headed downtown to protest the appraisal. Given that we had just bought the house and I had all the paperwork with me, it proved quite straight forward to get the appraisal lowered to the amount we had paid for the house.

While I was sitting in the cubicle talking to the appraiser, I overheard a portion of a conversation in the cubicle next to me. From what I heard, I surmised the woman was 1) quite elderly; 2) likely a widow; and 3) living on social security. And she was basically saying that the new appraisal on her home might force her out of it. And the response from the scribe appraiser was, so sorry, but we don’t make the rules.

How have we come to this, where injustice is such a part of our lives that we have institutionalized the devouring of widow’s homes?

DIY Tips Learned the Hard Way 1

Don’t skimp on plumber’s putty. It’s just not worth it. Sure, as you tighten things down, a bunch will squeeze out that you’ll have to clean up. But that’s 10 seconds of work. Reinstalling everything 4 months after you originally installed it is much more irritating.

Tools of the trade(r): Stockfetcher

One of the many tools I rely on as a trader is Stockfetcher, which I’ve used on a daily basis for several years now. It is a wonderful stock screener, the likes of which I’ve not found elsewhere though there are many other screeners available (many of which are free).

I use Stockfetcher to: 1) execute my system on a daily basis; 2) explore the universe of stocks and chart patterns for new ideas; 3) provide initial testing on those new ideas.

The scripts used to screen for stocks are fairly easy to learn and are remarkably powerful. The only deficiency in the scripting logic is the lack of an OR statement (this is by design intent according to the site owners), and even this small drawback is easily overcome with a clever use of the COUNT command.

At $9 a month, I’m not aware of a better value for those wanting to implement a mechanical trading system that uses EOD data (End of Day… in other words, the day’s Open, High, Low, Close, and Volume).

And now a bit of explanation for those wondering what a stock screener (or scanner as they are sometimes called) is or does. Simply put, a stock screener evaluates data from the universe of stocks (around 8000 of them on the major markets) and spits out a list of stocks that meet specified criteria at that moment. Additionally, it might provide data about the list of stocks produced. In the case of Stockfetcher, that data can be user defined.

Thus, to run my system, I use Stockfetcher to run 8 different screens each night and return a list of stocks for each screen with an associated score that I use to sort the stocks picked from the different screens. I then take the top 6 that were picked by my 4 long screens and the top 9 that were picked by my 4 short screens. But the whole ranking and picking moves us to another tool for another entry.

Not metaphorical messiness

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Proverbs 14:4

I find this verse very encouraging as a parent. So much is said about the blessings of children in the Bible, yet being a parent sometimes feels overwhelming. Tricia “sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks” (Proverbs 31:17), yet it is difficult to keep up with a full household day in and day out.

But God wants us to know that wisdom counts the cost, and that messiness is in some cases the cost of abundance! Not metaphorical messiness… real messiness.

Notice the proverb assumes we value cleanliness, and does not directly challenge that value. Messiness isn’t wise in and of itself. In fact, I believe it could easily be argued that in many cases messiness is unwise because it makes the household harder to run.

But assuming that you value neatness and organization in your home, this proverb challenges us to count the cost and realize that neatness is not a virtue above all others, and must be set aside at times. So I encourage all the homemakers reading this to take heart and be of good cheer. Cleanliness is not, in and of itself, next to Godliness.