NBA and Stock Trading

With the 2013-2014 just concluded, and recent surge in the Philippine Stock Exchange stock market, I can’t help but compare stocks with NBA players.

stock-tradingBoth stocks and NBA players are assets, but not all assets have the same value. In the NBA, general managers gauge value of players not only in how they contribute on the court but also on how much are their contracts.

With the help of advanced analytics, players are assessed according to multiple metrics including plus/minus (did their team lose or gain leads or deficits when they’re on the floor), player efficiency rating (measure of per-minute production) and true shooting percentage (shooting efficiency which combines 2-pt and 3-pt field-goals and free-throw percentages), among others.

But other factors in trading are also as important. This includes player’s age (younger ones have potential, older ones have declining productivity and injuries may take longer time to heal, and peak ones are likely at their most efficient stage of their careers), how much they are paid, how well they make teammates better, how long are their contracts and less significant ones such as trade kickers.

nba_tradesFor stock market, we look at the fundamental and technical analysis for every stock, how is the industry performing, competition and whether it has growth prospects or has saturated in the market. Of course, there is no one factor that determines the value of stock, but various signals and trends that point to certain direction.

If the market is up today, should I sell for profit or wait for tomorrow if it’s going to go further up? If the market is down, should I buy or wait for tomorrow when I expect the share price hits rock-bottom? In the business of NBA basketball trade, should we trade an expiring contract or risk losing without a compensation if a player leaves for free agency or gets injured?

Indeed, as “trade” is the common term between NBA trade and stock trading, another thing common between the two is “uncertainty.”

 

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Things I Learned When Traveling by European Railways

I observed that when traveling by train in many other European cities, it is important to be aware of certain things that may easily be overlooked or ignored by many.

Departure and Arrival signs are usually displayed separately. When looking for your next trip displayed on large screens in train stations, be quick to ensure that you’re looking at the correct display. Arrival displays are often separated from departures and destinations can actually be origin stations. For those who don’t read Italian, French or German, no worries. English translation of these signs are most likely available.

Look for train numbers. Using train numbers found on tickets as reference when looking up for departing trains is more accurate than destinations. It is possible that the destination is the last stop of the train and not those in between. For example, a train from Milano may display Salerno as last stop but not stations in between such as Firenze or Roma. So train number becomes a more reliable point of reference.

Validate tickets. Ticket validation is needed when usage is limited for a particular time. Most of tickets do not need to be validated especially those that are valid for specific times and trains, but those that have no fixed travel times may require such validation. One example is Roma’s Leonardo Express which connects Roma Termini railway station and Fiumicino airport. You can buy it at the platform or at the vending machines inside the railway station and can be used anytime. But remember that before using it, validate these tickets at the small green machines found in Termini’s track 24 where you can ride the train to the airport.

Be on time. It’s a given that trains arrive and depart promptly. But I noticed that stopovers allow only a few minutes for arriving passengers to disembark and departing passengers to get on board. That means even before a train arrives from its previous stopover, locate the gate and train number so you’ll be able to position yourself and your luggage closer to the train, especially on large train stations like Zurich Hauptbahnhof or Roma Termini.

frankfurt_railway
Frankfurt railway station.

Reserve seats for peak hour trips. We experienced booking first class seats from Munich to Salzburg but ended up sitting on our luggage in front of staff desk since our seats since all seats were reserved and taken by other passengers. Booking tickets entitles passengers the right to board the carriage, as explained by a RailJet ticket checker, but not necessarily the seats, if other passengers have reserved them. Upon realizing the importance of seat reservation, which cost 4 euro per passenger, we booked the remaining legs of our ride in Austria’s RailJet. It turned out that there were plenty of seats available and seat reservation was unnecessary. Therefore, I think the rule of thumb is to reserve seats during peak hours, and during travel seasons.

Orientation on seats. When reserving seats, you can choose what seat layout you can choose, especially those with company. You can sit together, face each other or have the option of table in between, depending on carriage and availability. One thing that I found hard to predict is the direction of the seats. Train seats of opposing direction is available on every carriage, and trains can travel forward and backward so I guess people who are not comfortable facing backwards may need to talk to a customer support at railway stations to ensure they get the right seat orientation.

Placement of large luggage. Just like in the airplane, there are also spaces available at overhead compartment for smaller hand-carry bags. But since there is no check in luggage when taking the railway, you’ll also have to bring your large bags with you on the cabin. In between every opposing seats is a space for your large luggage, so they’ll be within your reach. If these spaces are filled up, there are compartments at the end of the train.

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Why Research Beats Instincts When Traveling

Milan’s Centrale railway station is a bit different to the ones we previously experienced in Zurich, Innsbruck and Salzburg a few days ago. The station is huge but crowded, expanding vertically to accommodate passengers and shops. While directly going to the information desk was the apparent first step on our previous stop, the combination of poor color choice and sheer size of the station made it easier for us to overlook the information counter even with its very prominent location.

In short, we went out of the station armed with little knowledge on how to find our hotel room. The information provided by Agoda was good enough, but I realized that it is different when you’re on location. The distracting presence of several exits, unfamiliar street names and station guards unwilling or unable to accommodate simple questions made the experience even more daunting. Making matters worse is the fact that the weather didn’t cooperate. It was a rainy day in the city.

milan_mapAs we only have less than 24 hours to explore Milan, critical thinking is necessary to get us out of Milan Central Station and reach the hotel as soon as possible. When it was as if we exhausted all possible means to no avail — security people refuse to talk to us, we couldn’t find a single location map, and no wi-fi signal was available, unless maybe we enter Burger King, order fries and get a patchy signal, I hatched a not-so-novel idea. Before my wife and I could engage ourselves in a blame game, I instinctively looked for a map on sale in a multi-level bookstore located inside the railway station, tried to find out hotel street in the midst of a collage of Milanese landmarks. I discovered that our hotel location isn’t far from the station, as confirmed by Agoda’s sketchy details.

Without waiting for a store keeper to tell me they have a touch-it-you-buy-it policy, I took a snap of the street detail out of that guide map. The move proved key to us finding our hotel, just five blocks away from the station, but whose location I found harder to navigate.

The experience taught me a lesson that even if you’re a seasoned traveler, you could become more self-righteous and rely on instinct rather than due diligence. In many cases you’d wish you printed out that guide map or checked your train tickets ahead of time rather than making assumptions. Preparations for travel may be time consuming and even unnecessary in some cases, but in times when all else fail, being equipped for the trip saves time and possible trouble. Indeed, in every travel experience, we’re bound to learn something.

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Honor System in Europe’s Public Transport

One of the most remarkable things I observed in Europe is the fact that public transport sector do not need plenty of enforcers to ensure the riding public gets to ride the buses, trams or subway systems.

When spending a few days in cities in Europe (or other parts of the world), one of the most handy things to avail is the day pass which allows unlimited ride on almost all public transport links. Upon arrival at the airport or central railway station, you can buy these 1-day, 2-day or similar day city transport passes. There are a variety of options such as free or discounts on entries to museums, restaurants and other offers, on top of unlimited rides. But for those who wish the cheaper option which covers free pass to public transport, the choice is yours.

With these day passes, not only you’ll get free rides, you’ll also save time looking for ticket kiosks or understanding the local language that comes with these vending machines. Besides validating the ticket before using it for the first time, you’ll only need to keep it as you board the bus, train or local tram if available.

swiss_ticket

In many European cities like Vienna, Prague or Barcelona, train stations aren’t as ‘sophisticated’ as back home in Hong Kong. Free from turnstiles and human intervention to verify if you’re a paying passenger, everyone can board the trains even without these tickets. But these stations are not intended to be free for everyone to use; carriage maintenance, station power supply and staff wages need to be paid so collecting money from passengers is a neccesity.

The only difference between these ‘open’ stations and Hong Kong’s can’t-get-in-without-a-card MTR network is that they use honor system. Honor system enables passengers to board ticket under the assumption that they have the right to do so; they can show a proof they have paid before getting into the carriage — a 1-day card or a monthly pass, for example.

For freeloaders, getting into public transport is a choice that comes with a big risk. While they’ll save a few euros everytime they ride without bothering to pass through the vending machine and get a ticket, or secure a long-term pass upon presentation of their residence ID, inspectors who come and check tickets randomly can be their nightmare. Without a ticket or pass to show, fare skipping passengers are subject to huge fines — sometimes worth more than a year’s worth of free rides, plus a possible criminal record for repeat offenders. And while nobody seems to be looking while you sneak into a tram without paying, surveillance cameras may have monitored you, preparing to surprise you on your next offense.

A successful implementation of honor system in a city indicates a mature society. I think it will also teach newcomers to be more responsible, honest citizens and undestand the difference between a right and a privilege, in the context of public services. With less investment on infrastructure or personnel to check paying passengers, more funding can be allocated on other purposes like track upgrade and maintenance or other city facilities, for transport systems managed by the government. This is okay especially if the government is willing to subsidize operations. In case the economy falters, and the local government runs into budget deficit, operating a public transport system that relies on honor system may incur heavy losses.

Other cities do not adopt this honor system scheme. Milan requires railway passengers to use tickets before entering trains. While Budapest subway stations do not have turnstiles, I observed that staff are deployed on entrances to check individual tickets, thereby creating backlog during busy hours. In the case of Hong Kong’s MTR, more security cameras or ultra-efficient gates do not seem to deter fare-dodging passengers; incidents of people leaping off the turnstiles or crawling under them get occasional mention at the local papers.

 

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Getting Schengen Visa in Hong Kong

Innsbruck, Austria – I am fond of traveling and one of my most favorite places to go in Europe. 

But since I carry a Philippine passport, I don’t have a visa-free access to most of Europe. Azerbaijan and Georgia in Eastern Europe and Kosovo in the former republic of Yugoslavia are the exception but getting to these places most likely require transit from countries that require a visa, and that there’s no direct flight from Hong Kong that I know of.

In short, going to Europe requires a visa. The most popular option is to get a Schengen visa since it provides hassle-free access to multiple countries. Most of these countries have a consular presence in Hong Kong so applying for relevant tourist visa doesn’t require me to move out of the city.

My first visit in Europe was in 2006 where my Schengen visa was assisted by my friend Girlie who lived in Austria. Naturally, Austria became the first entry point of my visits to Europe. At the time requirements were more stringent since I didn’t have a hotel booking and stayed at my friend’s apartment. But it was approved anyway, and my second visit to Europe the following year also used the same route to apply for visa, with similar results.

My third visit to Europe in 2010 marked my first as a married man. This time, we applied for a Schengen visa at Spanish consulate in Wan Chai. It was also the first time I booked hotel accommodation to support my application. I guess with Philippines’s link in history with Spain, our visa fee of 60 euros (HK$635) was waived.

Our fourth visit to Central Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) used Munich as gateway from Hong Kong, via Beijing. However, it was only until that time I was aware that you need to apply for a visa on the country you’ll spend the longest, and if such cannot be determined, application must be lodged at the country of first entry. I applied for a visa in Germany, where an officer told me they won’t grant me the visa since we will hardly stay in Germany  (we stayed only for four hours max, at Munich and Berlin’s Tegel Airport). So I changed my itinerary to spend time the most in Prague. Therefore, I had to go to Czech Republic’s consulate to apply for  our Schengen visa.

This year, my fifth in Europe, we decided to embark on a ten-day, six-city journey which starts in Frankfurt and end in Rome. The original plan was to stay in Germany for four days and divide the rest of our travel among Zurich, Milan, Florence and Rome. But for the second time in as many years, Germany’s visa staff seemed to make it hard for me to apply for Schengen visa. Even if I had confirmed hotel booking at Agoda, the woman in the front desk told me she cannot accept a booking from a third-party website and instead demanded an official letter from the hotel, something that I can do but won’t guarantee response given the limited amount of time left. I thought bookings from hotel aggregator sites like booking.com, agoda.com or expedia.com are good enough. Apparently in this case it’s not.

schengen_visa

I had no other choice but to change the itinerary and studied the European map for hours, considering the train fare, hotel costs and time allocation before I decided to pay Austria another visit. This time, Salzburg and Innsbruck will be part of the route, and I subsequently dropped Frankfurt and Stuttgart along the way. After six years, I returned to Austrian consulate in Central and met Mr Wong, the visa officer who handled my application in 2006 and 2007 application. As with past experience, my Schengen visa application at Austrian consulate was approved for the third time.

So in my five Schengen visa applications in Hong Kong, as a Philippine passport holder, it appears that Spain (visa fee waived) is the best place to apply. This is followed closely by Austria, thanks to the very accommodating consular staff like Mr Wong, and Czech Republic whose female staff is also very helpful and the only disadvantage is that it receives application only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thank you Austria, Spain and Czech Republic consulates for helping me fulfill my dream to travel to Europe.

Germany, on the other hand, seems to be the consulate I’d like to avoid due to a couple of failed attempts. It would have been acceptable if I didn’t present enough documentation, but staff offered rather arbitrary and unreasonable demands.

 

 

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Birthday Google Doodle

Google Birthday Doodle

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Why Time Flies Faster When You Get Older

As I grow older, the concept of time moving faster becomes more evident every single day. Friends say, ang bilis ng panahon, parang kailan lang, etc.

Why is it so?

1. Routine makes time go faster. When we’re new to a place, or first day at work, time seems to move rather slowly, just like any other memorable time (your wedding, first visit to a place you dreamed of going to). But when it becomes a routine, we become more comfortable but also makes time seem to pass by faster.

time-warp2. You get preoccupied with more things. This is my theory. When we’re younger, we have smaller circle of friends, fewer birthday parties to attend to, and fewer commitments to pay attention to. As we grow older we have more responsibilities, and fulfilling them becomes more challenging. With finite amount of time, and more things to squeeze, we think of time flying as we’re very much preoccupied with a variety of things.

3. Relative time alive. When we celebrated our second birthday, the past year is 50% of our entire life. But when we’re a hundred, our first year is just 1% of it which makes us think that time moves much faster because we have plenty of years (and experiences) back we can compare with.

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Kiddie Memories of Second Grade

Facebook not only brings people closer — finding long-lost friends and acquainting new ones — it also rekindles old memories, as old photos emerge.

grade_2

Like this photo of birthday party of Rey Amador Bargamento, a classmate in second grade of Mrs Florita Papin’s Grade 2 Zinnia. From left: Leah Mae Bargamento (Rey’s sister), Michael Almario, April Labagala, Ramir Bargamento (Rey’s brother), Elisa Yana, Rizza Rizada, Rey Amador Bargamento, Genielyn Lirazan, Hazel Magpuyo, Felicisimo Celebrar Jr, Christopher Bermudez, me, Ana Victoria Melgarejo and Michael Monteverde.

Birthday parties didn’t have the fancy decorations (it was held at Rey’s home), elaborate costumes (no masks, hats or special motif) or Bozo the clown to entertain us. We were a behaved bunch, especially under Mrs Papin’s watchful eyes.

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Why Mintal is My Ultimate Home

Today, my folks in the Philippines celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Not only from my college alma mater, but also from the very place I was raised — Mintal, Davao City. It’s already a given that we love Davao Cityclean, ready to extend help and relatively more orderly than many other places in the country. Mintal, as one of the 180 barangays in the city, share the credit the Davao City has earned.

When I was younger and asked where I live, I kind of anticipate the word “mental hospital” once I reply with the name of my barrio. But that’s okay, it does not matter. What’s in a name anyway?

It may be out of one’s apparent loyalty to his roots to choose the place of his origin as the ultimate definition of home, but Mintal offers more than just lip service.

1. Mintal is an education hub. From pre-school to primary school to high school and college, you don’t have to leave Mintal to pursue studies. And the ones found in Mintal are not your ordinary educational institutions. University of the Philippines, Philippine Science High School, TESDA training center and University of Southeastern Philippines are located within or close to the barangay. Not to mention the award-winning programs the barrio has implemented.

2. Basic government services are available. Unlike many other political barangays in the city, Mintal is blessed to have its own police station, fire station, a post office, public market and public library. That makes one think taxes paid to the government are visibly put in use in the name of public service.

3. Mintal respects freedom of religion. While Gaudi’s work in Barcelona awed me, I’ve never been to a place where edifices of different denominations stand one next to the other: Immaculate Conception Parish where I heard mass and served as lector and altar boy in the 90s, Iglesia Ni Criso and Church of Latter Day Saints. There may be difference in teachings, but these churches coexist in harmony.

Ohta_Monument4. Mintal used to be home to a significant number of Japanese people in the past. Evidenced by that unusual structure we used to climb at in fourth grade, there is Japanese presence in Mintal and surrounding areas that it’s being considered a heritage site. A new monument has been erected as further reminder of the friendship of Japanese and Filipinos. As a former scholar of Relief Association of Southeast Asia, I am grateful to benefit the generosity accorded by these generous Japanese people.

5. Talomo river. Although Mintal is a landlocked barrio and going to the beach without leaving its borders is impossible, the presence of Talomo river served as poor man’s version of what outdoor water activity is about. When I was a kid, my father used to bring me here for a quick dip.

6. The hanging bridge. Before reaching high school, one of the attractions I used to hangout with classmates was the hanging bridge located a further away from the old Napocor (now National Grid). While not so spectacular, its old dilapidated structure presents extra thrill to the newbies.

7. It is safe. Mintal is also home to the Philippine Public Safety College — one we often call Napolcom — and training ground for aspiring police officers. We didn’t have alarm clocks at home since we have two effective ones in place: the 5:30am bell at Immaculate Conception parish and the morning jogging drills by trainees of PPSC. Also, Camp San Gabriel located near the present-day University of the Philippines – Mindanao was a thriving community of Philippine Marines, at least until they got reassigned elsewhere. Their presence helped mitigate fears especially in the 80s when the problem of insurgency was a common topic at coffeehouses.

8. Memories. Choosing Mintal as a sentimental favorite is an understatement. My family is there, and Mintal is a place where memories of the past still remains. School fights and embarrassing moments at Mintal Elementary School, Christmas caroling with Rodel Garsuta, John Elmer Capricho and Dennis Danofra, Legion of Mary and KOTAS days at ICP, and countless memorable episodes at Holy Cross of Mintal.

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My First Long-Haul Flight From HK to Moscow

I’ve always wished to travel to Russia. One of the intriguing reasons to pay a visit is my fascination with the largest country in the world even during the height of Cold War. I used to read books on geography and marvel at the great Soviet landscape, but even more intrigued by its people. I followed historic events like Gagarin and Laika’s space milestones and controversies and highlights such as the 1972 basketball game between Soviet Union and USA and the vindictive Miracle on Ice in 1980 Moscow Olympics.

My interest was rekindled when in 2006, I made my first trip to Europe. I was excited yet nervous in my first attempt to get a Schengen visa. Girlie Presto, a college friend based in Austria was instrumental in making the trip happen. She found time to assist in preparing documents to ensure I get the desired entry pass to this culturally rich continent. I booked my Aeroflot flight for Vienna via Moscow. As you know, Aeroflot is Russia’s flag carrier and as such, it is customary to make stopovers at airline hubs. Now this is my chance to set foot in Russia, even as a transit passenger.

Before my trip to Austria, I had strange feelings not on the destination but in the brief stopover. For those not familiar with Russian mindset, it can be intimidating. And I am one of those who harbor the feeling. I started to learn Russian phrases.

dobrae ootro
preevyet
spaseeba

February 2006, I stepped into Aeroflot and took off in the middle of the day. In the cabin, passengers were a mixed bunch of Chinese, Middle Eastern and Caucasians I presumed to be Russians. Since this was my first long haul flight, it felt uncomfortable longer than my earlier flights. The previous longest one was in October 2005, when I  visited former flatmate Jun Angulo in Tokyo. That duration of flight was just about ideal to sit down in the economy class without starting to feel uneasy and bored. At least the cabin attendants at Aeroflot were nice and accommodating, occasionally asking if passengers need extra blanket or a cup of tea. While staring at the on-board flight tracking system, I asked one middle aged stewardess if we were in the vicinity of the Volga region.

“Are we now passing by Samara?,” with my finger pointing downwards. In halting English, the lady managed a wry smile and gestured otherwise, as if to say “what the hell is this person talking about.”

About nine and half hours later, I was in Moscow’s old Sheremetyevo Airport experiencing the longest daylight hours ever. As I later learned, the outdoor temperatures were in minus 20s as I keenly observe people starting to put on their thick fur jackets while preparing to disembark. The runway was filled with snow and I wonder if it was hazardous for flights at such conditions.

The airport was dark, with dimly lit interiors and limited seats available for transit passengers among the first things I noticed. But to feel that way was better than preoccupied with thoughts about getting questioned by transit official who insist on speaking the local language. I had about an hour or so to wait for the shorter onward flight so once I figured out my assigned terminal number (after another round of screening by airport staff) I walked around a plethora of fellow transit passengers: Japanese tourists taking a much-needed toothbrush break before flying to Cairo, a young child asleep at the lap of his mother, and a talkative Indian fellow whom I befriended. I found out that the half-open dining places weren’t worth the visit.

moscow_duty_free

“Where are you going?” he asked. “I am going to Vienna to visit a friend,” I replied.

“I find it unusual for someone like you to take vacation on your own,” sounding skeptical. “What about you,” I retorted.

“I am on my way to Yerevan to take up medicine,” he answered. “Oh, Armenia.. I find it unusual for an Indian guy whose country has a plenty of nice universities to go somewhere that’s not well-known for medical education.” At least I am not aware.

When it was time to board the smaller aircraft, people started to form a short line. Yet I felt a bit discriminated that while folks have smoothly got into the cabin, I was stopped for another round of review of my Schengen qualifications. The airline officer stared at me for two seconds and gestured for me to move along as he handed me back my passport.

Thanks Sheremetyevo airport. It may not be very memorable, but nonetheless I managed to fulfill that wish to land in Russia.

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