Getting the News Doesn’t Have to Be Time Consuming.. Thanks to Twitter

April 30, 2009

Ah, twitter. Boy do I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter.  With services such as Facebook playing a large role in keeping my personal relationships strong, incorporating twitter into the mix for that purpose is a little bit overwhelming to me.  That’s probably why I just about completely abandoned it for months shortly after signing up, before being lured back slowly as I found out I could stalk follow some of my favorite celebrities on it.  As embarrassing as it is to admit it, it’s true.  I know I’m not alone on that one.. there is probably a celeb well versed in “twittering” out there that you’re a fan of. The appeal of being able to connect at a seemingly more personal level with @mrskutcher, @aplusk, @the_real_shaq, @johncmayer, @theellenshow, @mchammer – just to name a few – was great enough to pique my interest.  But my attention quickly shifted from living vicariously through celebrities to finding twitter to be a useful tool in keeping in touch with current events while finding myself with little or no time to check my regular news sites or RSS feeds.

I work a 9-5 software job.  Being in front of the computer all day, it is very tempting.. not to mention easy to get lost in cyberspace – between Google Reader (where I currently subscribe to 100+ feeds, yikes!), Facebook, there is already enough content right there that if surfing the internet was a legitimate 9-5 job, I’d be set.  Outside of work I have several miscellaneous hobbies, workout regularly, like to watch tv, and lead a fairly active social life.  Balancing all of that takes coordination, especially if I want to keep it a priority of mine to be aware of what’s happening in the world.

I’ve recently found Twitter to be a good tool to help me out when I don’t have much time to read all my blogs, peruse CNN, quickly get the top stories of the day, and even check in with the few friends I have connected with on Twitter.  It requires minimal internet browsing time, and it is also easily accessible on my phone when I have a minute or two downtime.  Here’s how:

1.  I follow my favorite blogs on Twitter. Many of the authors of these blogs will “tweet” their new entries, along with a one line summary so if it is something I feel absolutely compelled to read at that moment, I can click on it and read it right away.  That way I don’t have to spend a ton of time reading through my RSS feeds (I constantly have 1000+ unread articles…) to find that one article… when there is also a good chance it may have at that point gotten lost in all the other unread articles and I would have skimmed right past it without really reading it.  So now I’ve spent just 5 minutes reading a really great article vs. spending an hour browsing through articles and still only reading 1 great article.

2. I follow those who post breaking news as they’re happening. One can generally pretty successfully convey what’s going on in 140 words.  @BreakingNews is probably the one I follow most closely, and by the end of the day, I can usually find myself with adequate knowledge of the days headlines and developments as they come.  @CNN also has an informative twitter feed, with articles linked to each headline so you can read more details if you so please.  For those who enjoy keeping up with celebrity gossip (I know you’re out there), there is @perezhilton.  And for you sports fanatics (I wouldn’t leave you out), there’s @ESPN.  See?  There’s something for everyone!  There are even those that post full recipes in 140 words or less.  Surprisingly, I can make sense of them.. but I still prefer reading full recipes.  Anyway, I digress.

3. I check a Twitter “tag cloud” throughout the day. What exactly do I mean by this?  Well, TwitScoop does this nifty thing where it creates a “Tag Cloud” of the buzzwords that are hot right at that moment.  TweetDeck makes it super easy for me to take advantage of this to instantly get the big scoop right at that moment.  Here’s an example of a few snapshots from April 3rd:

At 11AM I noticed “Binghamton” nice and big in the cloud and saw some shocking and interesting “Trending Topics” below.

BinghamtonCurious, I clicked on “Binghamton” and via TwitScoop I was instantly led to a page full of tweets from twitterers expressing their shock and grief over the tragic Binghamton shooting.  No longer do I have to remember to check CNN/MSNBC for the top headlines (I’m usually too preoccupied to remember), but a quick glance at TweetDeck gets me up to speed in 5 minutes, with no “overhead” time of browsing through a news site. Neat!
A couple hours later, just before 1PM I notice that the buzz around the NY shooting had quieted down a bit and “plaxico” to be a hot buzzword.


I am not typically up to date with football happenings… and admittedly know very very little about the New York Giants so I had no idea what “plaxico” meant, but was curious since it appeared to be a hot topic at the moment.  One click later, I found out that Plaxico Burress is a football player on the NY Giants and he has been released.  Awesome – I now appear to be a little in the know when it comes to sports news :)

Lastly, at maybe 3PM I saw words “joe” and “joey” becoming hot at the moment.  That seemed incredibly random to me, so of course I was curious.  And that… is how I found out that Donnie Wahlberg is now on twitter.


At that moment, apparently NKOTB fans everywhere had rallied together and decided to @DonnieWahlberg and plead him to convince Joey McIntyre to get on Twitter in response to @DonnieWalberg’s tweet: “joe mac is interested in twitter…. he aint sold yet though. what do you all say??????”.  Isn’t twitter fascinating?

4. Of course, I follow my friends on Twitter. I think this is the most obvious use of Twitter, and also one of the more discussed topics so I’ll just list it as is, because it’s something that I do.

I am not necessarily suggesting that Twitter can replace any or all of these services… and for that, it may still be too overwhelming for some.  However, I’ve found it particularly useful to keep up with current events while spending minimal time looking for it.  I also do enjoy the interactions that are generated through twitter – I can see how it works in many ways and is different than those generated through other social networks.  I have not fully immersed myself in the “Twitterverse” yet, but I’ve tried to find different ways to us Twitter productively and would encourage those who are skeptical to give it a shot. Happy Twittering!

– debs.

“Everything is amazing right now, and nobodys happy”

April 29, 2009

Understanding Options For Newbs Part I: What is an option?

April 27, 2009

This is the first post in a series where I’ll be explaining stock Options: what they are, how they work, and how to understand them well enough so you can try your hand at buying and selling them. And hopefully turning a profit. ;)

An option contract, better known colloquially as just “an option,” is technically just the right to purchase or sell shares of a stock at a given price – the option’s strike price, which I’ll elaborate on further down. But here’s an example: Let’s say you want to buy a call option for, say, Under Armour, Inc. (yeah, the sports clothing company, did you know they were publicly traded? Don’t lie!), which is priced at $21.39 per share as I write this (closing price on April 23, 2009). The call option gives you the owner the right to purchase shares at the option’s strike price. If you buy that call with a strike price of 20.00, which is valued at $2.00 right now, what you’ve effectively done is buy the rights to purchase 100 shares at $20.00 per share. So the strike price is the price that you can actually buy/sell shares at.

Here’s what an options chart looks like (I know, it can be damn intimidating at first, but take a breath and chill out for a second. I’m going to walk you through this over the course of this Options Series):

In this chart, the “Strike” column shows each option’s strike price. The actual value of the option is the “Last” column, which is the price that that stock option was last traded at. The “Chg” column is how much the value of the option has changed that day, by percentage. Don’t worry about the rest of the columns for now, we’ll get there in a future installment.

By now you might be asking yourself, “Where the hell did these 100 shares come from!? I just wanted to buy ONE option!” Here’s the deal: each option contract is actually a contract to purchase 100 options. In other words, you’re purchasing the ability to have 100 options of buying shares of a stock at that strike price, but you don’t have to buy those shares. It’s an option, not an obligation. If you do buy those shares, that’s called “exercising an option.”

This 100-shares-per-contract concept is the hardest thing to wrap your head around at first, in my experience. In the options chart you just see the regular strike price. Brokerages advertise their commission fees as $7-12 per single transaction PLUS $0.70-1.25 per one contract. They never talk about these things in plural, but that option that costs $2.00 (remember, this is not the strike price) is actually costing you $200! That’s $2×100 for you math whizzes out there. ;)

Oh by the way, options are always traded by the hundreds, so you can’t decide to buy one share and have 99 options left. It just doesn’t work that way.

On the other side of the ticker, a put option is one in which the strike price is the price at which you have the right to sell 100 shares. So if you buy the Under Armour put option with the strike price at 20.00, and then the actual stock price dips to $19.00/share, then that put is very valuable. The option owner can theoretically buy 100 shares at $19 each and then turn around and sell them at $20 each for a profit of 100 big smackers! Of course, there are quite a few details I’m leaving out here that make exercising your option potentially unprofitable (or less profitable than just selling the option).

In fact, only about 30% of options get exercised before their expiration dates. Oh right, those options you just sank $200 into will be rendered worthless in a few short weeks. This is reflected in the above options chart in the upper right hand corner where it says, “Expire at close.” This will also be covered in a future installment. Did I mention stock options are quite complex? I mean, you have to sign extra forms just to be able to trade them(!) because you can lose a lot of money very quickly if you don’t know understand what’s going on.

If the market were cut and dry then any time you could turn a profit by exercising your options you would invariably do just that, right? But the market is more like a crazy twelve-headed beast of Greek mythical proportions that you have to figure out, disfigured face by disfigured face, until you think you’re ready to tackle the she-witch.

So what have we learned today? Well, we learned that an option contract translates to the ability to purchase 100 shares of a stock at the option’s strike price. A call option gives you the ability to purchase 100 shares at the option’s strike price, and a put option lets you sell 100 shares at that option’s strike price. Dems da basics! Please make sure you understand this well because everything that comes after this is based on the fundamental understanding of what an options contract is. If you’ve got questions, I’ll see ya in the comments section.

*If you’re curious, Under Armour’s stock symbol is UA. Creative huh? Personally, I was surprised that that wasn’t already taken by a huge company like United Airlines or something.

Travel now, work later

April 27, 2009

A debate that often comes up within my circle is the use of vacation days. For the intrepid careerist, the thought of appearing lazy so early in their career is a sacrifice they are not willing to take. Or to others, the ability to pay out vacation time is even more enticing. If you’re the type of person that thinks that a weekend trip to Santa Barbara or Las Vegas is enough, then you are in an ideal situation where this advice doesn’t apply. But if a two week jaunt across the globe seems short, travel now before it’s too late!

For the past decade, people have become fixated on retirement. The idea was that people would invest wisely in their Roth IRAs and 401Ks, retire in their mid-40s, and spend the rest of their lives finally doing what they wanted to do.

Let’s look at this best case scenario. You’re in your latter years, fortunate to have enough money to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the Amazon River. But your significant other can’t leave their job for too long and your kids only have two weeks vacation for winter break. So you end up taking a two week package tour that stops by the river, and your dream is disappointingly realized when you look out the window of a luxury ferry while your kids eat cheeseburgers and drink shirley temples. Travel will only become more difficult as you become older and have more familial responsibilities or people you have to cater to.

Now for the second scenario. I went to a business lunch with some of my colleagues and we were discussing an executive who had gone on vacation. He was in his late 50s, and had not taken a vacation in over five years. He was taking ten vacation days to go to Europe, but even this was deemed a career risk. The reason? He was afraid that someone else would fill in to complete some of his tasks, and he would be viewed as expendable. You may be busy now, but assuming you climb the job ladder, your work will only become increasingly important.

Go to Japan and attend an entire Nihon Sumo Kyokai Grans Sumo tournament. Follow a leg of the European tour of one of your favorite bands. Complete the Tour de France with a group of friends in September. Train in Muay Thai kickboxing in Thailand. There isn’t a better time than now.

Cava di Isolla, a beach on Ischia

Cava di Isolla, a beach on Ischia

UCSD Libraries 6th Annual Summer Reading Contest

April 24, 2009

Sun God

For those of you in the San Diego area who have a love for reading I present to you UCSD’s 6th Annual Summer Reading Contest. It’s a good way to be part of a community of readers both online and in real life if you like (they have a luncheon at the end of every contest).

The contest is all about submitting reviews for books you’ve read as long as the UCSD libraries own a copy of it. And if being part of yet another online social group weren’t incentive enough for you, they give you gifts prizes for submitting reviews. There are a variety of contest-wide prizes like Most Humorous Review, and then individual prizes for submitting one, five, ten(?) reviews.

If you don’t want to go in alone or don’t think you’ll have the motivation to keep up, you can join as a team! Grab a few of your friends that like to read (or you think should read more) and sign up together. You’ll all win prizes even if only one person reads/reviews!

The contest starts on May 1st and runs through July 31st, so go sign up!

– RT

The More You Know… about BEER!

April 24, 2009

Russian River Blind Pig IPA

Blind Pig IPA by Russian River Brewing Co.

Santa Rosa, CA (Sonoma County)

500 mL

6.10% ABV

Blind Pig IPA

Blind Pig IPA

Bottle Description:

Ask for a “blind pig” in a saloon during prohibition and you might just get a beer…During prohibition, using the term “blind pig” discretely meant many different things. Sometimes it was the secret code given to a bartender to receive a beer. In other places, it meant that you paid a small fee to see a “blind pig” and along with the viewing you’d get a beer, or something else. And what type of glassware would your “blind pig” be served in? An unmarked mason jar of course. In those days, a mason jar was known as a pig, and an unmarked mason jar was known as a Blind Pig.

Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome The Roaring twentySomethings’ New Sommelier: Ant

April 24, 2009

OK, OK, so maybe we don’t really have an official sommelier, but The Roaring twentySomethings is happy to welcome guest blogger Ant into our fold. Ant works for Alesmith Brewing Company, recently named Small Brewing Company of the Year at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival, and he’s working his way up the beer judging ladder on the side. Yes, there’s an official Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). He’s been homebrewing his own beer for about five 2+ years now, and I dare say he’s pretty damn good at it! So Ant will be reviewing various beers for us and posting his expert notes and thoughts on them in a segment we like to call:

The More You Know… about BEER!