Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Urban Renewal

There is some overdue renewal going on in Punjabi Market, Vancouver. For many years now, a substantial number of store fronts have been empty. I take it because low density neighbourhoods with single-family homes can't sustain too much commerce. So it's good that they replaced the stores with a complex of apartments and stores.

They dug up a cool looking boulder, and lying on top of it, what seems to be a tree trunk. I wonder what age would come up if they were to date it by its tree rings. I've heard that there used to be a river flowing through this area, so maybe that's how the tree got down deep in the ground. Peculiar that it is only one.

Just across the street from here (across 49th ave) there is a lot that has been empty for a decade or more. It used to be a gas station, but contaminated soil caused it to be unsuited for development.

It just occurred to me what a fantastic lawn ornament that boulder would be. Maybe I should offer to take it, surely it's cheapest for the developer to move that boulder just a 100 meters or so, as opposed to some off-site dump. But I shudder at the thought of dealing with the city if the bureaucrats ever deem the boulder to be illegal. What happened to my land, my rules? Oh wait, it's not my land, Queen Elizabeth owns it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Real Estate pricing is inherently unstable.

Real Estate in Canada has been defying common sense for quite a while now. Especially in Vancouver and Toronto the prices have gone ballistic. I think this is because Real Estate plays more and more the role of investment as opposed to the utilitarian role of shelter.

Most consumption in our economy has nicely predictable pricing, as it follows supply and demand. Higher prices will lower demand, causing lower prices. This means, it is self-regulating.

When it comes to investments, however, lower prices often repel investors, instead of attracting them. Most investors will want to ride a trend. And if the trend is down, they will jump ship. If the trend is up, they are tempted to invest more of their money in it.

When viewed as an investment, or even a simple nest-egg for retirement, Real Estate pricing is doomed to a vicious cycle. So that means that the housing market is likely to be in a boom or in a bust. And it will be relatively hard to stay in a steady-state equilibrium. Because as soon as the price swings one way, investor behaviour is going to reinforce the trend.

How can these cycles be broken? Well, for that to happen, Canadian home owners need to take a serious look at the intrinsic value of their home, instead of the speculative value. Most people do not have a good feel for intrinsic value. But it can easily be calculated based on market rents.

For a stock portfolio it is not unreasonable to expect a 6.25% yield on your investment per year. If a house is viewed as an investment, we could compare its yield to this. Ignoring property tax and maintenance for a moment: if the price is 16 times the yearly rent, it would yield the same 6.25%. So to determine the intrinsic value of your home, just multiply the market's monthly rent by 12x16 (192.) If you can rent out the apartment for $1000 per month, intrinsically, the apartment is worth $192,000. Depending on the city, or even neighbourhood, the actual market price of the apartment may be much different from this. In the United States, the extremes are San Francisco and Detroit.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Children of Orc

I have just introduced my new game to the world. It is called Children of Orc.

Children of Orc is a real-time third-person strategy game that is set on a procedurally generated hex-planet. Check out the trailer video:

To get published on Steam, it can use a little help with green light votes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Generating animated GIFs.

For future reference. This is how I record an animated GIF that can subsequently be tweeted. First I record video to an .ogg file using:

$ simplescreenrecorder
Then, I convert the .ogg file to a .gif file using ffmpeg. In this example, I skip the first 4 seconds of the input, and write as 30fps output:
$ ffmpeg -ss 4 -i in.ogg -r 30 -pix_fmt rgb24 out.gif
The resulting video will look something like this:

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Beginnings.

I was at Schiphol yesterday, and took this picture. The billboard and the airliner reminded me of June 2007 when I packed up some essentials (mainly clothing and a PS3), and was on a plane to Vancouver to start a new job with Slant Six games. I knew nobody in Vancouver, so it was quite a big step. It turned out I loved it, and since dec'13, I am a Canadian, father of two little Dutch Canadian kids. This new beginning worked out well for me.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The best day.

The best day to plant a tree was 100 years ago. The second best day is today.

(Chinese Proverb)

It's my favourite proverb. And I love trees. Especially the slow growing oak is so majestic. You don't see many oaks in Vancouver. Cherry Blossom trees are very popular though.

Unfortunately, on the avenue where I live, the old trees that line it are pretty ugly ones. So we look with envy to the cherry blossom lined streets that are so abundant everywhere in Vancouver.

On our way to school last week, I spotted a tiny little tree in the grass. Right above it was a large cherry blossom tree, in bright pink. I compared the leafs, and they were identical, so the baby tree was the same species. Vancouver has a special week going on at the moment where citizens can get trees from the city for $10,- only. Checking out the site, it seems like many are already sold out, and I did not see a cherry blossom tree listed. So instead me and my little girl scooped out the little tree from the grass and put it in our garden. The baby tree was doomed anyway by the next grass mowing that would have killed it.

So here is the mother tree standing above the baby tree:

Here is the little fella, transplanted to our front yard. Fed with fresh ground from the garden store.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Does BC Assessment use a random number generator? (not really)

A hot topic here in Vancouver are the real estate prices. Going from crazy to insane to stark raving mad. The bursting of the bubble has been prophesied many times over, yet this never materialized.

Every year, an independent organization assesses the value of each property in BC. And those assessment reports are open public information, so it makes it easy to compare the assessments of neighbours. They assess the land and its buildings separately.

When it comes to the buildings part (harder to compare than land values, of course), I am at times baffled at what the assessors come up with. They are at times so bewildering, that I would swear that they are using a random-number generator for this.

Let me introduce to you: exhibit A and B. In a very fine part of town, on the west side of Vancouver, close to a park, we find these two neighbouring houses on Yukon street: number 7830 and number 7880. One of these buildings was assessed at $43,800 and the other was assessed at a $10,000 value.

And the $10,000 one is not the one you expect! The small one on the left from 1928 has the $44K value, and the large one from 1989 has the $10K value. Say what? No one in their right mind would value the 1 storey old timer more than the 2 storey newer house. Do the assessors think that the large one is radioactive or something? It gets even more puzzling if you consider that pre-1940 houses are not eligible for demolition in Vancouver, without recycling it.

I should clarify that for both lots, the land value is assessed at millions of dollars of course, so I guess that the building-part does not really play a role. Still, there are some strange forces at play in the Vancouver housing market.

UPDATE FEB16

So the user Jim on a real estate blog solved this mystery. It has to do with the RM-9 zoning. Those lots have been rezoned for RM-9, meaning that it can be used for low rise apartments. So now the land is worth a lot more, making the current mansion on it basically worthless, or $10K as BC Assessment calls it.

The owner of the old neighbouring house has opted for a special treatment according to Section 19(8) of the Assessment Act. The neighbour's land value remains being assessed according to the old zoning, which does not permit apartments. So the land value is less, but the building value is not set to the nominal $10K at which the mansion is now assessed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dumb Luck

So yeah, investing in stocks does have quite a bit of 'luck' factor to it. There is some science (fundamental analysis, I don't believe in technical analysis, btw) to it, but still: a big chance-factor.

One nice characteristic of the stock markets is that you will always pay fair value. At any moment, it is priced according to what the market thinks of it, as a whole. This means that the process of buying a stock is very different from buying a used car. When buying a used car, the dealer can totally rip you off with a price that is too high by objective standards. When buying a stock, you will pay the price that the market says is fair.

So a funny thing happened in december 2012. I decided I should balance my portfolio with a more defensive holding, something safer than tech stocks. And since I wanted a big global evergreen company, I decided to go with Coca Cola.

Now, coca cola is traded as the 'KO' ticker on NYSE. However, I was too hasty in my research, and blindly bought the ticker 'COKE'. This is a ticker from Nasdaq, and is not 'The Coca-Cola Co' but instead, it is 'Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated.' The latter is a $1.4B company, and not the $4.4B company I intended to buy: I had bought the wrong stock!

I quickly found out that I had the bought the wrong one. But the stingy me decided not to waste two more transaction fees, and stick with it instead. Now, two years, 8 months later, I noticed something interesting:

The capital gains on the bottling company have sky-rocketed. It went up by a factor 2.3x no less! And when checking the real coca cola stock I had intended to buy: completely flat in all that time! Sure, there is a dividend discrepancy between the two, but still: no dividend is going to make up for those big capital gains.

So what to do next? Sell COKE, and buy KO? It would lock in my gains. Or keep going steady as before and do nothing? Interesting choices. I was first leaning towards doing nothing, but then noticed the huge difference in P/E. Currently, COKE is valued at a ratio that is double that of KO. So yeah.... maybe a switch is in order?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hop Marjanneke

My Dutch Canadian toddler, who speaks mostly English, is starting to sing the Dutch nursery rhyme Hop Marjanneke. It's pretty amazing how long lasting nursery rhymes tend to be. This one is from the year 1800 or so, more than two centuries old, and mocks the French occupation force from Napoleon Bonaparte's time.

And now, more than two hundred years later, a little girl in Canada is singing it. The lament of using to have a prince, but now have to deal with the bald French (referring to their lack of wigs after the French revolution in 1789.)


Image depicts Napoleon's entrance into Amsterdam.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

1978 - Brutal dictator steals the world cup.

In 1978 I saw my very first football match on television. I cannot remember whether it was in black and white or in colour, but it was a memorable experience for me as a little kid. Not in the least because my parents, always strict with bed-time, let me stay up way past my bed time. I understood that somehow, this football match was so important, my parents wanted me to see it.

It was the 1978 World Cup Final between Argentina (hosts) and the Netherlands. In the very last minute of the game, the Netherlands were oh so close to being crowned world champion. But the goal post was unforgiving. The conditions under the junta regime were atrocious. This also resonated on the field. From wikipedia: "During the game, the referees repeatedly ignored Argentine players running off side for up to 10 meters and catching the ball with their hands." The Dutch players feared for their lives, because of the hostile atmosphere in the stadium, and a military junta that demanded a win.

It will not bring back the victims from the regime, but: This Wednesday, the Netherlands can have their sporting revanche. It will be 36 years late, but it will taste so sweet. This time, General Videla will not be here to rig the results, Argentina. Hup! Holland, Hup!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vaisahki

Someone threw a party in our street today, and 50,000 people showed up. We attended last year as well, the event took place very soon after we moved into our house. The weather was awesome, and there is free food everywhere. Xander and Amy got a photo op with Justin Trudeau.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Toronto stock market adventure so far.

Three years ago I began my Toronto Stock market adventure. So it's a good time to reflect. There is some good news: I beat the TSX market index by quite a bit. The bad news is that in 3 yrs time, the index was overall just flat.

The big spike in portfolio value (blue) of feb 1 2012, was thanks to a takeover of Gennum by Semtech. The price of Gennum more than doubled that day.

A 13.8% return is modest for a 3yr investment, but it beats the lousy interest on saving accounts these days. I remember saving as a child in the Netherlands, and getting a hefty 10% annual interest from 'the Zilvervloot'. I also traded on NYSE and Nasdaq. Even though the US stocks were more profitable than my Canadian stock, I failed to match either NYSE or Nasdaq performance.

Anyway, my lessons learned so far:

  • Got burned by Arise, a solar panel company. It went bankrupt soon after I bought it. Don't get suckered into green tech: they don't all have Tesla like stock performance. They typically falter.
  • You need a lot of patience with irrational market sentiments. Why is AAPL still not valued properly? It's my biggest US holding, and I lost money on it.
  • Take over bids tend to be good news, with an instant hike in stock price. It happened to me a lot. I think a lot of Canadian industries are consolidating.
  • Often, the real money can be made on dividends, instead of stock price. It pays to concentrate on companies that pay their investors well.
  • My biggest money maker was a US stock: Stratasys, which makes 3D printers. When I bought it, it was expensive, but still it tripled in value in a short period. Market leaders in brand new industries tend to do well. (I missed out on Tesla, but that would be in the same category.)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 totals

I have published some download statistics of The Little Crane That Could. Like 2012, the year 2013 was another blast.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bitcoin, logarithmically

Some time ago, I purchased a bitcoin for a little under $300,- CAD. My reasoning went like this:

  • There is a non-zero chance of bitcoin replacing USD as default currency. Let's put it at 1 in 1000.
  • There is a hard limit of 21M bitcoins.
  • If in 2030, the world uses bitcoins, then those 21M coins will represent the entire money supply of the world's default currency.
  • My 1 bitcoin will represent 1/21Mth of the world's money in 2030, with a 1:1000 chance.
  • The world money supply divided by 21M and then divided by 1000, is still worth a lot more than the $300,- I paid for it.
In addition, I've started mining the bitcoin as well, using an ASIC miner. The bitcoin price fluctuates wildly, and it's hard to make sense of it. However, I find that treating the price logarithmically helps a lot. You can actually make out a trend, when you use that. Here is the price up to dec 11, 2013.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A spin-off.

Please let me introduce to you, a new blog thelittleengineerthatcould.blogspot.ca. It is a spin off from this blog. I decided to do this, so that game development blogs and personal items would not be mixed together anymore. If you like following my indie game development efforts, hop on over! I look forward to reading your comments.