Sloe Times

A journal of my adventures in learning and growing personally and professionally

Thursday, June 30, 2005



The best blogs I've read have generally been focused on a given topic or theme. To that end I have usually tried to identify the theme I wanted for my blog and stick to it. First it was poker and now it's REI. The problem is that there's a ton of other junk I think about and want to record for posterity or whatever and it has nothing to do with my theme (or is at best distantly related). I can not bring myself to spawn another blog for these other things. While some other notables *cough* Pauly *cough* have multiple blogs for probably this very reason, I just can't do it. So rather than get wrapped around the axel about it I'll follow in the footsteps of my uber posting idol and periodically just brain dump what's on my mind generally unrelated to my primary theme.

On Poker
You know a sure fire way to make yourself want to do something that you haven't had any urge to do lately? Tell everyone you're never going to do it again. Talk about an itch needing to be scratched but I've probably played more poker in the last two weeks and had more thoughts on it than in the last 3 or 4 months. Go figure. So I'm applying the SSH approach to the $0.50/$1 tables at party and have so far booked solid winning sessions. Still taking my lumps with some bad beats but for the most part exercising some patience and play that I haven't used in a long, long, time. Up to about $75 from $14, yay me.

Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of poker content on pay per view? First was Helmuth with his online poker video, and next up was lederer's similarly themed program. I guess it sort of makes sense that it would show up, but it's still a little stunning to actually see that type of content while scrolling through the PPV listings.

Paradise is kicking off their $1 million freeroll starting on 7/1 going through 8/26. This seems like a good way to get involved in playing some MTT if you're willing to move your play over to Paradise for a couple of months. Like all good drug dealers, the first shot is free, but after that you have to earn points by playing raked games to get another shot at the freeroll. The structure for winning a seat is interesting. If you play in the 4pm daily only the top 10 (out of a possible 4000) win a seat. If you instead you play at 9pm, the top 20 win a seat. The best odds of all are available if you play at 1am, in which the top 30 win a seat. I think I figured up that by August 26th 3400 people would have won a seat to the tournament and sure enough if you look at the fine print you see that Paradise will probably be offering up to 600 seats through alternate tournaments or intra-casino promotions. The business of an online casino/poker room is pretty facinating and this is no exception.

On Gaming
MMORPGs are the future of gaming and perhaps more. I say this because the global communities have no other way to get together in real time in a large scale combining both visual and audio senses. This medium provides not just the tools to communicate but also the structure and setting to 'do' things as a community. The problem with the genre as I see it is that the things that made their ancestors great (MUD, MUSH, etc) appear to be lost in the race for great graphics and mass produced generic content. I appriciate that these games can not be all things to all people which leaves plenty of room for alternate and competing products but there are some very basic design fundamentals that seem to get lost in whatever becomes the final product.

As a player you want an invironment just interesting enough to explore. Once you've become comfortable with getting around you then want a way to extend it and make it your own. As a business you want a product that will draw in consumers and keep them engaged so that you have a steady stream of revenue. Despite what you might see on the various forums for MMORPGs, these two perspectives are not at odds with one another and there is a way to have everyone win.

From the player perspective the aspects that give them what they want is the ability to customize and be unique (or not as they choose). The environment should be open ended enough to allow them to explore and become familiar with the mechanics of the game and 'taste' the possibilities of what can be if they make the investment to continue on after the initial 30 days. The best way for a game to achieve this is to provide the customer an opportunity to become part of the game and develop a sense of ownership and impact to the game world. This can be done a number of ways through player housing, crafting, guild formations, town/city development, and the opportuntiy to become a part of the games history as well as impact its direction.

Bah, enough on this for now since if I can keep my attention on it, this may become a business case for creating a new game.

If you want your own Solaris capable system and some support to go with it SUN has a deal for you. Buy the support and they'll give you a system for free. Very tempting offer and an interesting way to finance an AMD Opteron workstation. If you subscribe to SUN support for 3 years at about $30/mnth they'll send you a nice new shiny 64-bit workstation with Solaris 10 on it. As a technologist this does have a certain amount of appeal but I'm still on the fence if I want to do it. I believe the same system bought outright would be about $850 (from SUN) so to get it via the support subscription the system would cost $1080... or I guess you could flip it around to say that the system cost you $850 and 3 years of support only cost you $230. Check it out if you're interested here at SUN's website.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Dumping the anchor

A lot of the advise/information that I've been reading online points out something pretty obvious about people who 'decide' they're going to invest in real estate. By and large, a majority of the people who become interested never follow through. To a point I think I probably belong(ed) to that group because I've been kicking the ideas and concepts around for more than a few years and never really acted on it before this point and I had to wonder what the heck was holding me back? Knowing what was holding me back then lead to the next question, how can I get rid of this boat anchor?

I think the biggest obstacle holding me back in the past was not being prepared to invest the time to really study and commit to really doing something. Somehow good intentions just wasn't getting it done, go figure. The next thing is being unable to quantify the risks involved. Paralyzed by fear? There are probably still a number of risks I'm not seeing, but for the risks that I can identify I can start figuring out ways to mitigate them. Plus talking about them and planning to deal with them often identifies new issues to be aware of. I think the biggest risk/fear for me is the potential financial impact to my family if things don't work out like I plan. Taking risks is so easy when you're not responsible for anyone else but yourself. So the key here has been acknowledging the risks and planning accordingly.

The other thing holding me back is that there always seems to be something else that needs to have money applied to it and it draws away from my savings. I always seemed to be in the same place that I was the year before when I "made the decision" to start learning and investing in RE. The reality isn't quite that bleak, but with no tangible results it may as well be. So what's different this time? Well I'm armed with a budget that is helping keep spending under control, that's been a huge help where before we seemed to spend until the ATM machine said there was nothing left. Into the budget we built in a savings plan to put away cash for investing purposes.

There's a concept that we use when planning performance planning and reviews at work. Commonly it is referred to as setting S.M.A.R.T. goals which means
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Acceptable to you
  • Realistic
  • Time limited
In my planning for this I trying to apply these guides to the steps I'm planning. Maybe it's not a one size fits all concept, but logically it looks like will apply just fine in this case.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Mentor, what is it good for?

While I've been concidering my learning path and activities I think I've come to the conclusion that I won't look for a mentor. Not that they might not be helpful or anything like that. I think that I wouldn't be able to effectively make use of their advice since it would be very easy to use them as a crutch. Not to mention it still seems very strange to just ask someone to share their experience without having anything to really offer in return. Maybe I'll change my mind in the future, but for now I'm gonna focus on some of the things I talked about in my last post and focusing on my personal finances to se if there's any more I can squeeze into the seed money I'm likely to need.


Starting to break it down

Applying some problem solving stratagies to this, and extrapolating from my reading I'm starting to identify an approach for my learning as well as some near term tasks that I need to start moving on. The ability to effectively evaluate a property seems like a very daunting task with many different areas of knowledge that have to come together to be able to do it successfully. The concern here is to be able to confidently identify investment opportunities that are financially worse than they appear. Speaking of finacials the near term tasks I've identified for myself are to take the microscope to my financial situation which means tightening up the budget a little and continuing to put the seed money away.

Evaluating property seems to break down into four main areas:
  1. Housing Market
  2. Physical Property
  3. Financial Potential
  4. Legal State of the Property

I think evaluating the market should be pretty easy from looking at the classifieds in the paper as well as data from the MLS realators use. The agents I used to purchase my current home provide a nice benefit to me in that I can search and monitor the MLS for any properties that match what I think I'm looking for. The other side of that is figuring out what neighborhood(s) are good candidates for investing in and that's going to just require some driving or walking around that I'm not quite prepared to do yet.

Physical property inspection seems pretty daunting. I mean it can't be trivial or a whole career for home inspectors wouldn't exist. I've noticed that Chicago (lucky me) has a school with courses for home inspectors that could even lead to certification. I'm thinking this may be useful, but obviously I have to weigh that against whatever the cost is to hire someone who already is certified and has experience.

The financial opportunity a property presents has lots of twists in turns in it starting with the type of property, the financing scheme, etc. Lots of twists and turns here that can probably be broken down into a matrix when I get that far. Beyond though, I'm sure there are other things to concider that I haven't figured out yet so this is an area for extended study.

Finally, the legal side of things seems to boil down into two questions. What can I find out myself? What aspects of REI do/should I need a RE lawyer for? Again, I don't have enough information here to really expand on what I don't know here so an area for extended study.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Cart before the horse?

When learning something new it helps to have the ability to get your hands dirty and develop some experience and lessons learned. What I can't seem to wrap my head around at the moment is how to do this with real estate. I guess I have some ideas, but this seems to be one of those things I'm feeling more uncomfortable about than I should. Maybe I should try and find a good mentor that I can learn the ropes from first. Of course, not real sure where to find one of those so until I figure that out I'm on my own. So back to the first issue, how do you 'dabble' without getting in too deep to avoid permanent scaring, or staying too shallow to make the experience irrelevant?

I'm continuing to read "The Beginners Guide to Real Estate Investing" and have to admit that some of what the author is suggesting seems... suspicious. Maybe it's the paranoid eye after reading some of the material from John T. Reed (not necessarily a bad thing), but some of the strategies that are being suggested for financing home purchases seem dodgy at best. Almost makes you wonder if you have to be shady to get the "great deals" that may be out there. I think the answer is no, but I have nothing to base that on.

The idea I have in mind about how to get started can be summed up in learn how to evaluate properties. I think even that breaks down into at least two halves that are obviously complementary. The first half is evaluate condition (new, fixer-upper, etc) and value of a property. The second half of that is evaluate the investment opportunity or answer the question, "Can I make money on this thing?"

From a buy and hold perspective the last question depends on the result of the first since obviously you need to make enough rent to break even or better on the cost. Then again, for short periods of time I guess even a small loss is sustainable. On a short term hold or flip maybe the monthly income matters less since the thinking would be to rehab and sell for the new higher value.

The only thing I know for sure now is that I have a lot more questions than I have answers so I'll continue to read and keep working on a plan of attack.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


Math is hard, lets go shopping

And that phrase molded the warped minds of little girls everywhere. At least until the consumer groups in the 80s made Mattel change the talking teen Barbi. Funny as that is, most young people (and I was in this group) didn't know anything about managing my finances when I got out on my own. As long as there will still checks there was still money right? Well, I learned my lesson pretty quickly after they quit accepting my checks anywhere and a few years after that finally had the mess cleaned up. Now days I still have my share of consumer/credit card debt to work down but I recall spending a lot of time cleaning up my credit report to buy my home. To that end, here's a great link for picking up your credit report for free from the big 3 every year.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Yay Blogger!

A huge thanks to Robin at Blogger who restored my nuked blog. I'll get the couple of old posts moved over later, happy! happy! joy! joy!


More thoughts on Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Having slept on it, I thought I would expand on my thoughts regarding "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert T. Kiyosaki. Like I said yesterday it wasn't exactly what I expected but after some more analysis this doesn't appear to be a bad thing. It seems to me that the purpose of the book is to be an attitude adjustment and to plant the seeds of options and success in your mind.

What would make me happy? Reading a book like this definitely sets the mind in motion about how nice it would be to be rich and all the fun you could have in the care free world of not working for a paycheck. Splashing a dose of reality on there I have to consider that despite how easy someone elses story makes it sound, there has to be a practical application of knowledge and a plan. So the question doesn't have an answer yet but when it does I figure I'll have a goal and can start shaping a plan to meet it. So if I had to say how the book applied to me and achieving my dream... well that may be going to far since I haven't really figured out 100% what it is I'm trying to achieve. Anyway these are the things I got out of it:

  1. Pay attention to the flow of my money

  2. I need to learn how to find and evaluate investment opportunities

  3. I need to learn the fundamentals and the impact of investing on taxes

  4. I need to learn about protecting my family and my investments

Oddly enough the one thing that seemed to be missing from the book that to me would be critical is at least a short discussion around planning and it's ability to help take the dream of being rich and make it a reality. I found a site that is pretty negative on the book (more on that in a minute) with a large number of supporting feedback from folks who were skeptical or jumped without looking where they were going to land. I suspect that a lot of that sentiment comes from the lack of a planning topic. I'd have to say that if there were a serious flaw in the book that this is probably it. Perhaps though that is intentional (though it shouldn't need to be) since the author does have a number of other books I'm sure he wants you to buy. Heck even worst case at least little bit at the end saying something to the effect of "To learn how to put these ideas into action, read my book(s)...." *shrug*

While looking for sources of information on the internet I found this Rich Dad, Poor Dad review by John T. Reed that would seem to suggest that not only is the book crap, but that it is dangerous. It's a pretty long critique but I got through it and came away with the feeling that he (Reed) took exception with the author (Kiyosaki) and his simplifying of investing topics. He also identifies or calls into question a number of specific items in the book (some of which I don't remember and I just read it) that honestly don't seem core to the point as I see it. I'd like to think I'm a "sift the wheat from the chaff" type so when I read books for education I probably apply a filter to what I'm reading looking for the pieces of information that I can use or that are interesting enough to want to look into deeper. You would think that Reed was out to kick Kiyosaki just for the pure joy of it, to each their own I suppose. I did spend quite a bit of time reading other things written by Mr. Reed on his site and in general can appreciate his perspective and advise as well. He definitely seems more geared towards a more experienced audience so it will probably be a bit before I get back to looking into his stuff again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


To guru or not to guru

I'm figuring that most people that were not born to a mentor, probably looked to a proclaimed (self or otherwise) guru when they thought they wanted to get out of working for someone else and captain their own lives towards freedom and wealth. I'm not really any different, having spent my youth at or below the poverty line and having no one around that was doing any better to learn from leaves little room to do anything but follow the same path. I don't know about you, but I hated being "poor" and not having the things I wanted. So, I did what any young, self-motivated person would do in that situation, I got out by learning something new. As it turned out I was pretty good at making those computer things do stuff people wanted and hit the job market about mid internet bubble and with a little luck and some skill managed to not get mangled when the bubble burst. However, I also did not strike it big while the iron was hot so to speak.

Now I'm in another fine mess. Making a decent wage and a half-step past living paycheck to paycheck. As I'm getting older I'm finding the desire to get away from the traditional paycheck stronger and the need to be more in control of my destiny much more desireable. So, like everyone else I revert to type and pick up some books and hit the internet to start trying to figure out if investing in real estate is the right thing for me and my family.

That last statement there is pretty damn important for something like this. I've learned one thing being married for as long as I have, and that's that no major finacial decisions can be made with including the wife. Even if the only thing she can contribute to the endevor is support, that's the bare minimum needed to make sure that it can happen and that I don't have to listen for months about how I shouldn't have spent the money on whatever big ticket thing I just bought is.

So the first step is edumacating myself enough so that I can then explain it to someone else. I've learned over the years that for me, if I can explain something to someone else and keep all the facts straight I know it well enough to be confident that I'll be able to use that knowledge in the real world. This brings me back to the question at had, do I look into the various gurus that are pushing books, courses, etc onto the market? Perhaps having this direct educational effort shave some time off the reading and researching that I would do on my own.

The trouble with that seems to be that most of the 'big name' gurus today are frauds (depending on who you read/ask). At the moment, I've compromised just to at least get things moving in the right direction. I've bough a few books and I'm reading around on the net and slowly working down the self education route. I'm on the fence about attending any sort of seminar and just need more data before I try to commit one way or the other. On the one hand my experience with seminars in the technical field have usually been positive learning experiences. On the other hand a lot of data I'm reading about RE seminars seems to indicate they are just additional tools to pry money from your wallet.

Like I said, I picked up a couple of books for $25 at the bookstore. The first is "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" by Robert T. Kiyosaki and the other is "The Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing" by Gary W. Eldred.

I was able to pretty quickly read through the Rich Dad, Poor Dad book (about 200 pages) and it's not exactly what I expected for something that always seems to be on the 'popular' shelf at the bookstore. It's more story than it is guide, but honestly it never said it was a guide, how-to, or cookbook for becoming rich. It did however get me to thinking about what I'm doing with the money I do make now and planted the seed that there are other wise I could be earning a dollar. There's apparently a couple of other books that make up the "Rich Dad Trio" I may give them a look see at the bookstore and see if there's some more specific advice on planning or what things a beginner should know.

I'm only about a dozen pages into The Beginner's Guide (which seems to be around 300 pages of denser material) so I don't have much to say about that yet. I should be through it by this weekend so I'll keep track of my thoughts on it and write something up then. In general, I'm pretty excited, but that's easy to be when something is new and different. Lets see how I feel about it in 30 days.


Be careful what you wish for

To say I'm in shock would be a major understatement. So here I am dinking with my blogger dashboard and trying to work out a new theme/style for my blog and after dinking with it a bit I go to delete my test blog that I had been noodling on. No biggie, I go back to the dashboard to go into my blog and start making changes and it's gone. G O N E ! It's heart wrenching to even think about a year of effort to be blown away so easily. I mean hell, I wanted to start the blog off in a new direction, but this is not what I had in mind. :( I wonder if the blogger folks can restore it. *fingers crossed* I'm off to see if they have backups.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


The Last Poker Post

A little over a year ago I got interested enough in playing poker to actually make an effort to improve my game. I'll admit to at one time dreaming of playing at the big tournaments and having stacks of chips in front of me so big they'd have to stop play to reinforce the table at my seat. Time, perspective, and reality have brought me to the place I'm at today, which is oddly enough far from a poker table, and no itch to find one. Don't get me wrong I learned a lot in a years time about the game, have a library of material online and off that I don't regret accumulating and at one point played some of the best poker of my life. While I would say I dropped out of the poker blogging community some time ago, I'd like to officially bid it farewell and leave a sliver of advice to anyone who might still be listening.

To avoid sounding too much like a professional, or giving the impression that I'm anything more than just a guy who can shuffle some cards and almost do one decent chip trick I'll stick with the practical advice that anyone can benefit from. Without further delay, here are my three suggestions to playing better poker.

Commit to Improving - Playing poker is like doing anything else that requires skill. If you want to really improve spend as much time doing it as you can. Work, school, family, and other hobbies all compete for your precious time so you need to prioritize if you're serious about becoming good. If you try to squeeze it in for an hour or two once a week, you're not going to have enough table time to know what you need to improve. On the same token don't spend all your up front time reading poker material. Save that stuff for when you're traveling or just unable to get to a poker table. I'm not saying that reading isn't part of learning, but experience is the best teacher and provides the context that you should be reading for. By and large, poker books are generally boring reads and better consumed in relevant chunks. Want to tweak your game pre-flop, just read stuff related to that and get back to the tables so you can start figuring out what works and what doesn't. Again, if you want to get better you have to commit to playing regularly.

Invest Wisely - There are a ton of books and tools out there that are "guaranteed" to help you with your game. New or not to playing poker, and especially playing poker online my advice here is that you don't spend more than $80 on software or books before you've spent much time playing. If you've never played before, I wouldn't deposit any money into a poker room either. All of the major poker rooms allow you to sign up and play for free using play money. Granted the betting in play tables leaves a lot to be desired, but if you've never played a game before, doing this will at least give you the basics of play. At the point that you're ready to try using some real money, I think I would suggest Paradise Poker. The only reason I do this is because in my opinion they are a reputable site and they have micro-limit (1 cent/2 cent blinds) tables well suited for novice players that gives you more relevant betting experience against what will probably be similar caliber players. If you absolutely have to buy books and tools before you start playing, I recommend Poker Tracker and either "The Theory of Poker" or if you have some experience playing I've always been partial to "Super System" because of the way the material is presented. However, before you buy any books, do yourself a favor and take advantage of the wealth of information that's available in various forums (2+2), blogs (Party Poker Blogs and The Cards Speak for starters), and miscellaneous websites. You'd be a fool not to take advantage of all of that collective knowledge.

Consider a support group - Seriously. I have no regrets for putting this blog together and getting involved with the poker blogging community. A nicer bunch of folks there never was. Always there to cheer your wins, and empathise with your losses. Fortunately for you, you're not the first intrepid explorer in the realm of poker and there's no reason to take the trip alone. Having folks to share experiences with makes the learning process so much easier. Not to mention providing a healthy dose of encouragement, competition, and camaraderie that will make what will periodically be a very frustrating endeavor a little less so. Start a blog? Sure, why not. If nothing else, by recording your activities you can enhance that analysis and maybe get some feedback on your evaluation of your play and that paths your taking to learning.

If your curious as to what I'm up to now I'm filling the brief minutes between work, school, family, and sleep with learning about real estate investing. Poker was definitely not my ticket to the carefree and workless lifestyle that I aspire to so I'm pursuing a more traditional method of generating income without having to work for someone else. I'll probably retool the blog a little bit and definitely start posting more frequently since there's a lot of good information I'm finding that if nothing else I want to record for myself if not to share with anyone else. Heck, maybe there will be an idea or two for you rich poker pros that don't know what to do with all their money. While I will certainly keep reading many of you, this is definitely my last poker post and I hope that it's useful to someone.


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