Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

It’s that time of year again…

March 18th, 2010 No comments

… where I’m up to my eyeballs in CFA material. Fortunately I’m giving the last exam, Level 3 (if I pass, that is!). It’s odd that how no matter what my situation is, I always find myself crunched as exam day draws closer. Last year I was working and preparing for the CFA. This year, I’m not working, yet still I’m at about the same place (in terms of how much progress I’m made almost two months before the exam) I was last year. I had told myself that I’ll start in November this time. Then we went to India, so I told myself I’ll start as soon as we’re back in January. Somehow January turned into March, the same time I started studying last year. Oh well, the good news is that since I have more time to prepare, I’m not spending all weekend in the library. Of course, as exam day approaches, that’ll likely change.

With about half of the material covered, I should probably hit the books rather than blog. More updates later…


Categories: Life Tags:

Photography findings

February 2nd, 2010 4 comments

I’ve had a lot more time to spend on photography these days. Given our recent trips to Alaska, India, and Singapore, I’ve also had the opportunity to take some pretty interesting pictures. The natural question, then, is what do I do with the two thousand pictures from these trips?

I’ve found three products that I’m pretty happy with: one for photo processing, one for Internet display, and one for making photo books.

Since I got the Nikon D200 last year, I’ve been shooting in RAW format. For those that don’t know, RAW format saves a lot more information about the picture than JPEG. RAW saves exactly what your camera sees whereas JPEG processes what your camera sees and compresses the file, resulting in the loss of a great deal of information. The additional detail RAW captures can be very valuable when you need to adjust exposure and make other fixes. The downside is that RAW files are much bigger (which is easily mitigated by ever-cheaper memory cards), and that you need special software to process RAW files (you can’t just plug in your camera and view them). I started using Adobe Lightroom, and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed (though I haven’t really used a lot else, so I don’t have much to compare to). Though the Lightroom interface leaves something to be asked for (it’s pretty unexciting and a bit complicated), it handles the task of image processing very well. The organizational capabilities are excelled, with the use of collections and keyword and attribute filtering to make it easy to find and work with photos. The editing features are also quite powerful, allowing from basic things like cropping and fixing red eyes to exposure correction and color manipulation. I’ve just started – it’ll take a while to really master all that it can do. Once I’ve got my photos into Lightroom, cleaned up (correct exposure problems, crop, straighten, etc), and converted to JPEG.

Once I was done processing our pics from Alaska I decided that I’d make my first photo book. I looked at a few options online and was able to see an actual, physical example of one service (a fellow student in a photo processing class had one) – My Publisher. I was pretty impressed with the print quality and the paper quality of My Publisher and so I gave it a shot. The software is pretty easy to use (though it certainly has some frustrating features – the inability to sort imported images so you can place them chronologically, and the changing of fonts when you add pages. I didn’t realize the second issue until my photo books actually came – with some pages in a different font! However, their customer service and support have been stellar! The product itself has been reasonable. I ordered photo books of Alaska and Singapore, and both arrived about a week after ordering. The quality came out okay – some pics looked stunning, and some showed imperfections (which I couldn’t see in the RAW files, suggesting that it was a printing issue). That said, I would like to try another service just to compare (you don’t really know if something is good or bad until you have something to compare it to). Overall, I would recommend the books, especially with the discounted pricing from Costco.

Finally, I recently opened a SmugMugaccount. I’ve had friends that have used it for years and raved about it, but I never got around to it. I decided it’s time to finally give it a try. Reading many online reviews, SmugMug beats the competition hands down. Their photo display is simple yet beautiful. There are no ads alongside your pics, and there isn’t a lot of loss of detail in the uploading and compression process. Viewers can even buy pictures from there if they’d like. Now the service isn’t free, which can be a turn off to many in the age of Shutterfly, Picasa, and many other free services. But given the ability to customize and the display of pictures, I think the price is reasonable. Customization can be done either way – either using their pre-built templates for the not so tech savvy or creative, or total customization (which, to be honest can be quite difficult) if you are technically inclined. Oh yes, the other great feature: security. You can either leave albums public, hidden (which means they’re public, but a link isn’t displayed – so the only way people can see an album is if you send them the link), or password protected (which, as the name suggests, can only be seen if you’ve given someone the password). If you’d like to see a real example, just wander over to the Galleries section of my website.

So, all things considered, I’m glad to have added some more structure to my photo workflow. I need to spend a lot more time with Lightroom to better understand all it can do for my pictures, as well as get several years of photos imported and cataloged (the latter, catalogging, is likely to never happen). I would also like to get more photo books made from past photos like our trips to Jamaica or Mauritius. So much to do, so little time!

Categories: Life, Photography Tags:

Lens Dilemma

November 15th, 2009 1 comment

With the holidays just around the corner, we’ve got some travelling and family visits coming up. Along with lots of hugs, laughter, conversation, and everything else that comes with visiting family, there’ll be lots of picture taking. Besides family moments, I’m hoping to capture scenic shots too. To make the most of this time, I’ve spent the last week or so painfully contemplating lenses and my “kit”.

Right now I only have two lenses: the Nikon f/1.8 50mm and the Tamron f/2.8 28-75mm. Both are good lenses. The Nikon does great in low light but doesn’t have zoom. The Tamron does well in low light as well and zooms, but leaves me asking for more at both the wide end and the long end. While visiting Alaska earlier this year, I used the Nikon f/3.5-5.6 18-200mm, which I thought was okay, but not stellar. The range on the 18-200 is certainly great – it’s very versatile, allowing for landscape and good reach without having to change lenses. As I reviewed my Alaska pictures I realized they’re good, but not great. I’d love a lens with more sharpness.

So, the first lens I thought about was the Nikon f/2.8 70-200mm. This lens is a legend – everyone that’s used it says great things. It’s a must have for all serious photographers, and is so high in demand it’s very hard to find. It’s a big lens so I wanted to get a feel for its size and weight when on my D200, but I couldn’t find a single lens for sale anywhere in the Chicago area. Though not New York, Chicago is a big city and if I can’t find it here, I’ll be hard pressed to find it anywhere in the Midwest! I did end up finding the Tamron version of the same lens. It’s an inch shorter and about a pound lighter than the Nikon, but since I can’t get my hands on a Nikon, it’s the best alternative to put on the camera to get a feel for. The lens is certainly big – it’s manageable without the hood, but once the hood goes on (which I would always do), the lens is very big. It’d be a little hard to wield in tight places and would require me to get a new bag too. The focusing on the lens is very fast and it feels great in my hands.

Even though the 70-200 is a beast, I really wanted to get one to try it. It has so many rave reviews and I figure that I won’t get the chance every day to take it travelling. There are only two setbacks: 1) it’s hard to find, and, when found online, a new one will cost about $2,000 (there’s the new VRII version that’ll be out in a few weeks for $2,400), and 2) this lens won’t give me the complete range I’m looking for – I’ll still have to augment with another lens for the wide end. The first issue is the price – I’d love to give it a shot, but $2,400 is certainly out of my budget, and $2,000 is quite a stretch too. It seems as if a well-cared for used lens can be had for about $1,500ish online, which is better. While playing with the Tamron “equivalent”, I asked the price on that – $650. That’s quite a difference! I read review and people are saying that the Tamron is almost optically equivalent to the Nikon. It’s missing the solid build quality and the VR. As much as I’d love to get the Nikon, I certainly took the new one off the table and placed a used one just behind a new Tamron (heck, the used Nikon is still more than twice the price of a new Tamron).

Don’t forget, this lens is bigger so I’d need a new bag. There are some nice ones from Thinktank, but that’ll cost me another $200.

Now, I need something for the wide end. I thought I’d start with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8that I’ve heard good things about. A quick price check: about $1,800! Heck, I was struggling with one Nikon 70-200mm, now I’d have to spend near the same amount for another lens. Regardless, I decided that I don’t need the Nikon 24-70 since that overlaps much of the range my existing Tamron has. Besides, based on my use of the 18-200 in Alaska, I’d like something a little wider then 24mm – maybe 17mm to 20mm? I looked at some shots at 10mm and think that’d be a bit much for me. So, which lens did I look at next? The Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8. This lens is more manageable in size than the 24-70 and gives me more of the range I’m looking for. This, along with my existing Tamron and some version of the 70-200 would give me everything I need. A quick price check for the 17-35: also about $1,800! Wow! Next stop: maybe I don’t need a zoom at the wide end. Maybe a prime would work and would cost a lot less. How about the Nikon 20mm f/2.8? Price check: about $550. This is much more affordable than the wide zooms, so maybe this would work? Let’s look at the options:

  1. New Nikon 70-200 + Nikon 20 + new bag = $2,000 + $550 + $200 = $2,750 (about $3K with tax)
  2. Used Nikon 70-200 + Nikon 20 + new bag = $1,550 + $550 + $200 = $2,300 (about $2.5K with tax)
  3. New Tamron 70-200 + Nikon 20 + new bag = $650 + $550 + $200 = $1,300 (about $1.5K with tax)

At the end of the day, any of these combinations will result in my having to switch lenses quite a bit. Basically any time I want to shoot a landscape or a large group of people without having to cross the street I’ll have to take off the 70-200 and put on the prime. With a small lens that may be easy, but to do that with the beast that the 70-200 is seems like it may be tough. Professional photographers that use the 70-200 will likely have a second body mated to a wide lens so the don’t have to switch lenses, but rather just switch cameras. I’m certainly not there. Besides, even then, my wide would be a prime, giving me very little flexibility in framing the picture in terms of focal length. Call me lazy, but I strongly prefer having the ability to zoom so I don’t have to walk back and forth to frame a picture.

So, after hours of analysis and wishing and wanting, I think I’m going to come back to the same place I was 5-6 months ago: the Nikon 18-200. It may not take “great” pictures, but the versatility and cost (about $850, new) make it a winner. There’s something to be said for the ability to switch from 200mm to 18mm while walking down the street without having to switch lenses. Yes, I wish I had a 70-200, but without shelling out for that and the 17-35, there are just too many issues against it. If only money were an unlimited resource!!

So, I’ll order the 18-200 and hopefully have it before Thanksgiving – just in the nick of time!

Categories: Photography Tags: , ,

Figuring out what’s next

October 19th, 2009 No comments

I’ve spent the last two weeks doing a lot of thinking; thinking about what the future holds. Without going into a lot of unnecessary detail, I’ll say that my employer notified us two weeks ago that they no longer want to actively manage equities within the asset management division. Our cash and positions were transferred to an external money manager to run a passive, index-based strategy. (In laymen terms, they decided that they didn’t want to pay us to invest in stocks anymore, and gave our money to someone else to effectively buy something that looks like the S&P 500). Needless to say, our entire department (portfolio managers, analysts, traders, and admin support) was eliminated.

The news came as quite a shock – none of us saw it coming. In hindsight it seems as if the decision was based on a few factors, one of which was management’s unfamiliarity with equity management overall as well as what our group specifically was doing. More frustrating is the fact that our quantitative portfolio was doing very well. However we were such a small piece of my employer’s equity pie (though the $200 million we managed is no small number) that we weren’t able to have as much of an impact on the overall portfolio as we would have liked. Anyway, having been through something similar much earlier in my career (Aaron, this went down much like what happened to us in summer 2001 – same surprise, same effect), I took the news better than most on the team. A lot were distraught, wondering what will happen next. I took the news in good stride and determined that rather than a door closing, this was actually the chance for new doors to open. Regardless of how upbeat I was, this was indeed sad news – for me personally, I loved what I did. For other members of the team, that same passion was combined with over 20 years of service to the same employer. Clearly, when you’re let go all of a sudden after working at the same place for 20 years, you’d be absolutely dumbfounded and wondering what to do when you get up the next morning.

I’ve spent most of the last two weeks since we were informed of our fates thinking about where to go from here. I continue to have the same perspective I had on day zero – this may actually be an opportunity to open some exciting doors. However, just like everything else in life, this is good and bad. One one hand there are many doors I could open – I’m grateful that I have choices; on the other hand, the many choices make it very difficult to decide what to do next. The most obvious option is to find another opportunity in quantitative equity management. My education coupled with background in software and experience in running a quantitative equity portfolio make me a good fit for such a position. The problem is that there aren’t very many such positions in the Chicago area right now. Another option would be to move into a quantitative equity research role – I can continue to use my skills and stay on top of the markets and quantitative equity. The clear downside here is that doing research alone means I wouldn’t be managing money. A third option is to try to do something independent – start my own fund. Though exciting, this option poses its own set of complications and questions.

So, I continue to contemplate what’s next. This decision, like that of getting married or having children, is one that obviously shouldn’t be rushed into. Swift decisions made with brief consideration lead to mediocre careers. A little more time thinking, doing homework, and strategizing can make all the difference between mediocre and something much, much more.

Categories: Life, Work Tags:

Blind Summer

September 23rd, 2009 No comments

I haven’t posted for almost a month now due to visual impairment. That’s right, I couldn’t see well enough to post. In late August, after considering it for several years, I finally decided to have laser eye surgery to correct my vision (I’ve been wearing glasses or contacts for the last 16 years).

For those who don’t know much about laser eye surgery, at the highest level it comes in two flavors: LASIK and PRK. Both procedures involve operating on the cornea, just under the surface skin of the eye (called the epithelium). The difference between the two procedures is that in LASIK the surgeon cuts a flap in the epithelium, lifts the flap back, operates on the eye, and then finally puts the flap back down in its original place. PRK, on the other hand, involves using chemicals to dissolve away the skin (yes, that’s right – skin dissolving chemicals – scary stuff!). The surgeon then operates on the eye. As you can imagine, PRK now has an exposed “wound” (imagine your skin from any other part of your body missing), so the surgeon puts in a “bandage contact lens” that stays on for a week or two while the eye heals.

From a patient’s perspective, LASIK is a much easier procedure to have. It takes just as long as PRK, but after the procedure you go home, take a nap, and then wake up with 20/20 vision (hopefully). You can return to work the next day and go about your regular business (though you do have to be careful that you don’t dislodge the flap but aggressively rubbing your eyes). PRK on the other hand is a longer procedure – the eyes take a while to heal as the skin regenerates – typically 3 to 6 months. In the mean time, you’ll feel pain and discomfort, and won’t be able to see very well at all for the first few days. I was told that if I have PRK done on a Thursday, I wouldn’t be able to get back to work until Monday.

Despite the significantly more intrusive nature of PRK, I ended up having that done. The reason is because apparently my epithelium is thinner than average. It’s too thin that there’s not enough to cut a flap into, so the only option was PRK. I had the procedure on a Thursday and went back to work the following week. I wasn’t really able to see the computer screen with much clarity until about this week (hence the absence of posting). Don’t get me wrong, I was able to work, but it involved a lot of squinting and getting really close to the monitor. My advice for anyone considering PRK – don’t buy the whole “have it on Thursday, get to work the following Monday” story – it’ll take at least 2-3 weeks for your vision to get to a usable state.

There are many more details to laser vision correction like custom wavefront vs. regular, and why PRK results in great vision the day of surgery, declining vision in the weeks following surgery, then finally good vision in the months follow surgery. I won’t go into them here since they’re likely irrelevant to most readers. But if you’re interested, shoot me an email and I’ll gladly share.

In the mean time, my vision is still not 20/20 – it’s about 20/25. Computer monitors and reading is still a bit blurry, but it’s getting better. Hopefully I’ll now be able to post more frequently as well as finally process and upload some pictures I’ve taken over the summer (I still haven’t uploaded the Alaska album!).

Categories: Life Tags: