Wednesday, April 17, 2013


December 31, 2012
The "Free Lunch" Weight Loss Plan v.019

On the 5th of December, I set what I think is a new all-time personal best of 44 minutes and 57 seconds to climb 200 flights of stairs.

The stars aligned. I got a good night's sleep (which is rare since I am an insomniac most nights). The sun was out. I mowed the backyard and weeded the front yard to some degree. I was therefore in good spirits. I worked out to the second episode of the first season of Alias. It was apparently motivating enough to knock exactly 4 minutes off my best time. It took me just 40 minutes and 57 seconds to climb 200 flights today.

It is not a coincidence that the time ended in 57 seconds again. Call it a 3 second safety buffer. I started off at a 50 feet per minute pace. At first I thought I could get down under 45 minutes (with the intent of slowing down at some point). That's how long the episode was (no commercials, Comcast On Demand). 44 minutes started looking doable. I then started shooting for 43 minutes. Hope rose that I could do it under 42 minutes. And lastly, I really pushed near the end to make it just under 41 minutes. My pace varied from 47 feet per minute to 53 feet per minute (the final push at the end). I averaged 48.8 feet per minute.

Under 40 minutes was right out. First, I weigh about 6 pounds more than the last time I made a serious attempt. Second, I was alone in the house (my girlfriend had errands to run). Third, there is no phone in the room with the stair climber (to call an ambulance in theory, lol). Fourth, I don't have health insurance at the moment.

I managed to give myself a temporary dehydration headache. I drank a 12 ounce glass of Gatorade before I started. I drank another 12 ounces as I was climbing. I followed it up with yet another 12 ounces after I was done. That was definitely not enough liquids. Once I realized that I was on a record pace, I didn't want to stop to get more fluids though.

I felt like Ted Stryker attempting to land a plane. Let's just say that I don't think I'll ever get over Macho Grande. ;)


Alongside the path of the Niesenbahn is the longest stairway in the world with 11,674 steps. It is open only once a year to the public for a stair run.

Holy mother of...

Spring has finally sprung. It hasn't shown up in my weight yet, but I've been exercising a lot more over the past week. The day before yesterday I watched the first episode of the first season of Alias while working out (at a much slower pace). There are a LOT more episodes to go! It is very likely that I'll be climbing well more than the minimum 20 flights per day in the coming months. Once again, 20 flights remains my minimum though. It keeps me in the game and allows me to climb as many as I like whenever I like. Over the past few months, I've only been doing the minimum. It was clearly enough exercise if today is any indicator.

There was very little pain (other than the slight dehydration headache which was entirely preventable). My legs are not sore right now. The limiting factor was my cardiovascular system. It was the air I could breathe in and how fast my heart was beating that mostly decided my speed. I'm definitely not a believer in the no pain, no gain theories, especially when it comes to exercise. All it takes is modest and consistent exercise each and every day to make a huge impact overall. Baby steps! 20 flights a day seemed like a chore when I started. Now they seem trivial. It takes just 4 minutes now (or 5 minutes if I'm feeling especially lazy).

Give it a try. You might like it. Walk up the street once a day. Climb some stairs. Just do something that you think you can do each and every day for the rest of your life, even if it seems trivial. You will not regret it. I sure haven't. Anything is better than nothing.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Perfect Store(m)

The following chart shows inflation adjusted department store sales per capita.

Click to enlarge.

I've added a few ugly polynomial trend lines for your consideration. For a variety of reasons, here we go again.

Since the data was so ugly, I chose not to wait for March's official CPI but instead used's estimate of -0.1% found here. Close enough for government work!

This one's going to need a sound effect. Normally I'd jump at the opportunity to reuse a clown horn. MaxedOutMama once suggested a foghorn (see comments). I just don't think either of them will do the chart justice this time. It needs something that conveys even less prosperity and even more despair.

April 13, 2013
In the end, J.C. Penney’s board moved quickly with CEO move

A strong believer in Johnson’s vision, retail analyst Robin Lewis, said Thursday that his 17-month reign was “the most colossal, dramatic, tragic, transparent, rapid and microscopically tracked meltdown in the history of retailing.”

That about sums up Penney’s 111th year in business.

Here comes some bonus sarcasm. Brace for it.

The new CEO will no doubt do much better. All he has to do is navigate the near depression level economy while simultaneously fending off the rise of, Costco, and Sam's Club. How hard can that be?

Source Data:
U.S. Census: Retail Trade
St. Louis Fed: CPI
St. Louis Fed: Population

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Exponential Trend Failure of the Day

Click to enlarge.

First it Giveth

"First it giveth, then it taketh away."

Hell hath no fury like a momentum investor scorned. And one thing is fairly clear, those who bought gold at the recent peak in 2011 are seriously scorned at this point. At the very least, gold is generating fewer prophets. Pun intended.

On the one hand, I would not rule out a return to the red trend line. The odds seem very low, but anything can happen. You certainly won't see me short gold. Let's just say that I will make no attempt to profit off of its potential demise. "Not my style." (That last quote is an ongoing inside joke. See the comments found here. As of today, SHLD is down 44% since MAB and I were heckled in 2008 for heckling Sears. Sears is the gift that just keeps on giving.)

On the other hand, you won't see me bet on a return to that long-term trend either. I think gold is still extremely expensive relative to toilet paper and aluminum. I have no desire to own gold or silver again at anywhere near these prices. There's ample downside risk left in both of them in the coming years. I've charted many serious exponential trend failures on this blog over the years and very few of them, if any, have actually unfailed. Not all have crashed though, so keep that in mind. For example, the recurring employment exponential failure hasn't crashed so much as stagnated. Gold could do the same or even better. Who knows?

As a side note, the modern miracle metal known as aluminum is considerably cheaper than it was 5 years ago. That has to be adding at least some extra downside pressure to the price of gold. I once again ask, where are the aluminum speculators? Perhaps aluminum is shiny but not all that sexy? Aluminum also pokes a sizable hole in the seemingly never-ending impending hyperinflation theories that some sites love to offer (especially to paid subscribers).

I'm not trying to suggest that we can't hyperinflate. We can and eventually probably will. Eventually could be a very, very long time though. I'm not at all convinced that we will do it in my lifetime. I am factoring in my 48 years of age. Your results may vary (especially if considerably younger). If the economy gets bad enough, then I might have to take on more risk to lower my longevity. You know, like mountain climbing while wearing nothing but a swimsuit. But one way or another, I intend to have my nest egg last the rest of my life! Gallows humor! ;)

The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves. - Alan Greenspan, 1966

I absolutely believe that. Pick your poison. I continue to sit in long-term TIPS (with intent to hold to maturity), long-term I-Bonds, long-term EE-Bonds, and short-term cash. I'm not expecting miracles. If I am financially ruined (possible), then I won't be ruined alone. There will be many, many others joining me. With rates this low, one might even say that I am slowly being financially ruined (and new investors definitely are). It is manageable though. Fortunately, I locked in rates when Jeremy Siegel warned me to stay away. I refer to him now as Wrong Way Siegel, partly in reference to Wrongway Feldman of Gilligan's Island fame. Why would anyone listen to his interest rate theories at this point? Year after year, just how much more wrong could he be?

If by some chance real yields do rise significantly, then I predict his precious stock market ("Stocks for the Long Run") will get seriously kicked in the you know what again. He won't see that coming either. As seen in the this chart, real yields last rose significantly during the deflationary great recession. Even buried cash had a positive real yield as prices fell. That's why TIPS yields rose. It wasn't because the magical economy fairy cast a wondrous spell and prosperity had been fully restored. The 1980s and 1990s are over. Those rules no longer apply.

This is not investment advice. It is filled with opinions though. Opinions and 50 cents would get you a cup of coffee. Not now of course. There has been some inflation over the years. In recent days, not so much.

So what's behind the drastic price cut?

"The firm could be betting on widening income inequality," Stock said.

What does Starbucks know that we don't do? Sigh.

Source Data:
Yahoo Finance: Historical GLD Prices

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Economic Recovery in One Chart (Musical Tribute)

The following chart shows real wage and salary disbursements per capita (February 2013 dollars).

Click to enlarge.

We've recovered to February of 1999. No joke! Time to party again!

Source Data:
St. Louis Fed: Custom Chart

Wrong Way Siegel Strikes Again v.2

It's been a year since I made the wrong way claim. Let's see how Siegel is doing.

March 27, 2012
Wrong Way Siegel Strikes Again

Fed to Raise Rates `Well Before 2014' Siegel Says

They say that a picture's worth a thousand words. The following chart is no exception.

Click to enlarge.

Step right up ladies and gentlemen. Gasp in horror at the rising interest rates! For the love of all that is holy, avert your children's eyes!

In all seriousness, we're pretty darned close to the long-term trend line now. It's coming down to meet us.

Goshinpai naku.
Oyasumi nasai.

Source Data:
St. Louis Fed: Effective Federal Funds Rate

Monday, April 8, 2013


I'm now in 5th place on Rocksmith's Scale Runner mini-game (PS3 version). My absence here has not gone unrewarded.

I ran scales for two hours on the couch yesterday while watching War of the Worlds (again). I also made two attempts to get a better score within the game. The first attempt earlier in the day was a dud. I played well but just couldn't find the speed. The second attempt paid off. Hit 272 notes in a row on two different scales, 271 on another, 270 notes on six more, and 268 on the remaining two. As seen in the link below, 268 notes in 100 seconds was my top speed just a few weeks ago.

Overall, that's nearly 8 hours of guitar practice in one day. Needless to say, my fingers sure are numb!

I don't know what my ultimate top speed will be, but I really don't think that I've peaked yet. If I can go just a fraction of one percent faster (while speeding up my slower scales, which will definitely happen with more practice), then I'll be a contender for the top spot.

See Also:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

40.9 Million Missing Jobs (Musical Tribute)

Click to enlarge.

If the exponential trend failure in that chart hasn't made you gasp in horror then please feel free to examine the following short-term chart closely. There's hope for a good scream yet!

Click to enlarge.

What does this mean?

First, as I have been saying for more than a year, we aren't going to make it back to the long-term (1939 to present) median growth trend this time. And why not? It's an "unexpectedly" weak recovery of course. Duh!

Second, it is definitely time for a musical tribute in honor of yet another economic nail potentially being hammered into the labor market's long-term coffin. The odds of us reversing the downward trend established over the last few years is infinitesimally small in my opinion. The new downward trend is not our friend. Few seem to even notice it, much less talk about it. It was nothing but rationalization after rationalization on CNBC today.

Run to the hills!
Run for your lives!

That's about the most advice I would ever dare to offer on this site. I am as bearish on our economy right now as I have ever been. The second chart reminds me in no small part of what the economy looked like when I started this blog back in the fall of 2007 (right down to, in my opinion, the unsustainable stock market euphoria over unsustainable corporate profits).

The bond market sure hasn't bought the rose-colored glasses theory though. Just look at those low yields. As a side note, if this latest employment report is any indicator then so much for the supposed bond bubble popping any time soon. And how about all those hyperinflation predictions? Good luck on those theories too. Probably not gonna happen, at least in the short-term. In the long-term, we're all dead of course.

And on that note, they can pry the long-term TIPS, I-Bonds, and EE-Bonds from my cold dead fingers. Who are they? They are the bond vigilantes of course. They can't ever seem to BUY enough, much to the ongoing dismay of Jeremy Siegel.

As economic growth recovers and real rates rise, the price of Tips will fall leaving Tips investors with large losses in the face of accelerating inflation. - Jeremy Siegel, February 2, 2011

What a frickin' joke that was... every part of it. The 20-Year TIPS yielded 1.82% that day. Today it yields just -0.03%. Yes, that truly is a negative sign in front of it. So much for the recovering economic growth fueling rising real rates theory.

All these questionable recovering prosperity theories need to be taken out behind the woodshed. It pains me to say it, but they need to rest in peace. Sigh.

Source Data:
St. Louis Fed: All Employees: Total nonfarm

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Garbage In, Garbage Out

The following chart shows real annualized total public construction spending on sewage and waste disposal per capita (February 2013 dollars).

Click to enlarge.

I know this sounds crazy, but ever since yesterday on the road, I've been seeing this shape. Shaving cream, pillows. Dammit! I know this. I know what this is! This means something. This is important. - Roy Neary, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977

See Also:
Wikipedia: Garbage in, garbage out

Source Data:
St. Louis Fed: Custom Chart

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The "Free Lunch" Weight Loss Plan v.022

I continue to climb at least 20 extra flights of stairs each and every day.

Click to enlarge.

It doesn't look that great but... I gained weight last March too. I guess that's just par for the [seasonally adjusted] course.

Click to enlarge.

I'm down 7 pounds since this time last year. The long-term trend works for me. I originally expected it to take "3-4 years to get down to my goal". Still seems plenty doable. No pain. No gain. (Not sure that's how they intended me to view it, lol.)

I mowed the yard yesterday (first time this season). I also did some weeding today. The seasonal effects should now start working in my favor. June is when the effects really kick in though (if the last two years are any indicator).

I'm also zipping through the 20 flights of stairs. Some days I use the physical stairs (2 sessions of 10 flights each) and some I just go 4 minutes continuously on the stair-stepper (50 feet per minute). It also keeps me in good enough shape so that I can climb [nearly] as many stairs as I like without giving it a second thought. :)

I'm very much looking forward to hiking season this year. It has nothing to do with weight loss. That will just be a bonus.

See Also:
The "Free Lunch" Weight Loss Plan v.000

ZIRP-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (Musical Tribute)

The following chart shows the average daily movement in the federal funds rate over the previous decade.

Click to enlarge.

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

This is when the programmers central bankers declare that they officially hate their end users savers and plan to never fix the problems in their code monetary system. Instead, users savers are forced to adapt to working around these "features."

Source Data:
St. Louis Fed: Effective Federal Funds Rate