Friday, January 12, 2018

Book Review - Parcells : A Football Life

  With some free time on my hands after my work contract ended and the football playoffs under way I bought a copy of ‘Parcells: A Football Life’ for $6.99 at Books-A-Million and read it this past week. As a lifelong New York Giants fan, Bill Parcells has a fond place in my memories as the coach that established the Giants as a perennial playoff team with two Super Bowl Championships after years of losing and sometimes embarrassing football. The low point of my Giant memories was the ‘Pisarcik Bowl’ where instead of taking a knee with 30 seconds left and a 17-12 lead over the hated Philadelphia Eagles, the Giants called a handoff to Larry Czonka that was fumbled by quarterback Joe Pisarcik and returned for a touchdown by the Eagles to help the Giants once again steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

  The Giants turnaround started when Pay Perkins was hired as coach and led the Giants to their first playoff appearance in 18 years behind the amazing Lawrence Taylor but Perkins left one season after that playoff appearance to replace Bear Bryant at Alabama and Parcells took over the coaching duties. Parcells almost was fired after going 3-12-1 in his first season but the Giants made the playoffs the next three years culminating in winning Super Bowl 21. After two seasons of missing the playoffs, the Giants made the playoffs in the next two seasons including the incredible 1990 Super Bowl season which included comeback wins over the two time defending champion 49ers in the NFC Championship game and the high-octane Buffalo Bills offense behind backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler.

The low point my Giants fandom...

  With his second Super Bowl in tow, Parcells left the Giants and spend the next 20 years as a turnaround artist that couldn’t stay long term with a team much like Yankee legend Billy Martin. Parcells stayed with the Patriots for four years, the Jets for three years, and the Cowboys for four years. Parcells took all the teams he coached to the playoffs and the Patriots to the Super Bowl. His accomplishments have been overshadowed by his long time defensive coordinator Bill Belichick who won five Super Bowls (and counting) with the Patriots.

...and the high point!

  Being a winning coach of a New York franchise made Parcells a larger than life figure, While Belichick has yet to write an autobiography or memoir, Parcells has written three (1987’s Parcells: Autobiography of the Biggest Giant of Them All, 2000’s The Final Season: My Last Year as Head Coach in the NFL, and 2014’s Parcells : A Football Life as well as a 1995 motivational primer ‘Finding a Way to Win’. Unlike the first two memoirs the 2014 book is more detailed and telling since Parcells was 73 when the book was published and had no designs on yet another coaching job. There is a lot of detail of Parcell’s childhood and many insights into his personal life that I had never heard. During his disastrous first season as Giants coach both his parents died. Parcells also talks candidly about his being an absentee father that missed almost all his three daughter’s events (including graduations) and was cheating on his wife during his entire coaching career. There is an entire chapter of how his ex-wife and current girlfriend carefully avoided each other at the funeral of Parcells’ brother.

  I don’t find Parcells’ personal life especially interesting – I was more interested his football career which the book covers in great detail from his college coaching career (including his stint at Army where he befriends legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight) to his pro assistant jobs and ascension to the Giants throne and beyond.

  Parcells is portrayed as a Lombardi-like figure that is super tough on his players that consistently attest to how Parcells made them better than any other coach no matter how much they disliked his harassing manner and the work they had to put in. Parcells came in for a lot of criticism after the first Super Bowl for cashing by writing his autobiography and then hunting for a coaching job that would give him general manager authority over the team’s personnel. This isn’t addressed directly but Parcells’ insecurity about his job after his poor first season when the press got wind of Giants general manager George Young recruiting his replacement is prominently featured and looks to have had an educational and scarring effect since for the next 10 years Parcells only took jobs that allowed him control over the football operations. Both the Jets and Patriot jobs became unattractive once new ownership came in and brought Parcells insecurities back to the forefront.

   After Parcells left the Jets it was a surprise to many (me included) when he went to work for the Cowboys and their very hands on owner Jerry Jones. It seems the two were kindred spirits in need of each other. Jones needed someone to show him how to run his football team and Parcells needed a job and both men were able to give up some of their control in order to work together. Parcells characterization of Terrell Owens as having an ego like a bucket with a hole in it that could never be filled was especially revealing and it now makes perfect sense that Parcells would try to command Owens' respect by referring to him as 'the player' instead of using his name.

  Eventually the Parcells-Jones partnership ran its course with two playoff appearances in four years and Parcells went to the Miami Dolphins as the director of football operations in a coda to his career. Once again the team was sold after he came on board and he left shortly thereafter. The book closes with Parcells’ induction to the football hall of fame and his settling down to his retirement with a brief flirtation to coach the New Orleans Saints during Sean Payton’s year-long ‘Bountygate’ suspension.

  I found this book to be revealing and thought-provoking. It is remarkable how many great leaders are driven by insecurities and Parcells seems to be part of that group. Once he was almost fired by the Giants in his first season as a head coach he was incapable of being in a football situation where he was not the dominant voice (except partially during his with the Cowboys). Parcells consistently brought players and coaches from the Giants to the Patriots, the Patriots to the Jets, and the Jets to the Cowboys to carry over his methodology but the results diminished at each stop (Super Bowl wins with the Giants, Super Bowl appearance with the Patriots, AFC Championship appearance with the Jets, playoff appearances with the Cowboys). It would have been interesting to see if Parcells could have developed Tony Romo into a championship quarterback but I think that as time rolled on the Parcells philosophy of building a football teal with athletic linebackers, massive linemen, and smashmouth running became harder and harder to win with due to rule changes that rewarded passing offenses. Parcells massive coaching tree of assistants who get their own head coaching jobs meant more competition for the same type of players. Eventually the league incorporates every different philosophy, distilling and integrating the best parts into the best parts of other philosophies that stood the test of time. It happened to the West Coast offense of Bill Walsh (who managed to get out ahead of the curve), Jimmy Johnson’s undersized but super quick defense, and Parcell’s smash mouth style. The only coach that has proven immune to the passage of time is Belichick with the final judgement still to be passed if he decides to ever change teams of carry on without Tom Brady.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Requiem For A Goose

Mr. (Goosey) Goose 1999-2018. The picture on the left is from when I first met him on July 20, 2014 and the one on the right when I last saw him on December 31, 2017.

  A few years back there were a few days during each year that I would take a few days off from work and stay home with Daisy and Baxter while Kathy would drive Ben and his belongings to his school in Idaho. Normally my dog walking routine is pretty structured but during these stay home days I would walk Daisy and Baxter through the alleys to sniff different areas while I would check out the backyards in the neighborhood. I would also take them 4 blocks north to Riverside Cemetery. The cemetery is on a huge stretch of property with a river in the back with lots of trees and right by the entrance is a large pond with geese, ducks, and a single swan. Daisy and Baxter loved meandering along the paths and I liked checking out all the different birds that would congregate at the pond.

  On July 20th, 2014 I took the beagles to the cemetery and there was a big group of people at one end. I recognized one member of the group as Levi, a high school friend of Matt’s. I stopped to say hi and Levi told me that his family was there to bring their pet goose to the pond to live. The goose had lived his entire life (13 or 14 years) at the acreage where Levi’s family lived with his mother but when the goose’s mother died he was very lonely so they were going to bring him to the cemetery where would be plenty of geese and people to hang out with. The goose’s name was Mr. Goose and while Levi and his family were gathered to say good bye to him and make sure he would be OK at the pond.

  I had been posting pictures of Daisy and Baxter, and the rest of the animals on Facebook since early 2011. I originally posted puppy pictures but Kathy’s family wanted to see how the beagles were getting on each week so I made taking and posting the pictures part of my weekly routines. Now that I actually knew one of the geese at the pond I talked Kathy into taking the beagles there on our Sunday morning walks and took pictures of Mr. Goose and the rest of the birds each week. Kathy would bring some bread to feed the animals and I would take pictures.

Mr. Goose was pretty sociable with the non-Canadian geese. Here are his crowds from 2015 and 2017.

  At the beginning of Mr. Goose’s stay in the cemetery pond we would find him apart from all the other birds but with a couple of months he gravitated towards the two other non-Canadian geese – a grey goose and a brown goose with an orange bulb on his beak. There are a number of people that stop by the pond to leave buckets of corn or feed bread to the birds. The winters could be rough but the cemetery staff always had a patch of the pond heated enough for some swimming room and there seemed to be enough food to go around if not enough to keep them from turning their nose at the bread Kathy would bring on Sundays. Mr. Goose seemed much older than the rest of the crew and preferred to stay out of the water but he was a personable sort that come up to you and squawk in order to get some bread and attention.

  We used to take our kids to the duck pond for some exercise and cheap entertainment but you notice more things when you go every single week for a few years. For the first couple of years there were three white ducks and a wood duck with a fluffy head as regulars along with the geese, swan, and the rest of the wood ducks. One year one of the white ducks was gone and the next year the fluffy headed duck was gone as well. The grey goose disappeared but was replaced by two more white geese that looked like streamlined versions of Mr. Goose. The grey goose disappeared one spring and then this past summer all the wood ducks and white ducks disappeared all in one weekend. The pond looked pretty bare without any wood ducks but within two weeks an entire new group of wood ducks had made their way to the pond. And every spring this Canadian goose with a crooked neck shows up with a group of baby geese that we would see grow bigger and bigger every year.


The birds at the duck pond come and go. The fluffy headed duck, brown and white duck, and the 3 white ducks were my favorites to look at but all disappeared in the past couple of years....

  And through this all was Mr. Goose who was slowing down with age and swung one leg awkwardly when he walked but had also become a local celebrity. He made the front page of the Marshalltown paper in 2015 (where I found his name was Mr. Goosey Goose) with the news that Levi’s mom is writing a children’s book about his life and times. Mr. Goose was also in the paper this year. One of Mr. Goose’s white goose pals had passed away from cancer and Mr. Goose was so despondent the cemetery was looking for a companion for Mr. Goose.

  This past week has been bitterly cold with the temperatures barely getting to zero. On Sunday, Kathy and I didn’t even walk to the pond – we drove Daisy and Baxter the four blocks. The pond was almost completely frozen. I took some pictures and Mr. Goose looked miserable. He was huddled in a ball and had that unkempt manner that has become all too familiar to me in seeing more pets than I care to remember in their last days. I thought he was dead but he perked up when Kathy threw some bread his way and grabbed as much as he could reach without getting up. Kathy and I both remarked how off Mr. Goose looked and hoped that it was just the cold weather and he would perk up soon.

  I got the news from Levi via Facebook that Mr. Goose has passed away on Tuesday. The cemetery called Levi’s mom and he has already had his funeral. It is sad to know I’ll never see Mr. Goose at the cemetery again but I was happy to have made his acquaintance. The only problem I had with Mr. Goose is the same problem I have with most animals I get to know – they just don’t live long enough. I’ve been through this with more animals than I care to think about and it is never fun to watch what are pretty innocent creatures get frail and die. I’m reminded of this daily when I see an older picture of Daisy and Baxter with their dark brown and black fur and compare to their ever-whitening faces. I guess the best we can do for the animals we care about is to try to make their lives as great as possible. That is certainly the kind of life Mr. Goose had by being brought to the Cemetery’s pond after his mom passed away. He had companionship and plenty of people came by to feed him. I’m not sure a goose or any other animal can have it better.

Rest In Peace Mr. Goose. I hope you enjoyed your life and have an even better afterlife.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Out on the Streets Again

  When I was laid off in February from my previous job as a consultant that was hired out to different companies I was lucky in that I immediately hired myself out to the same company that I was hired out to by my old company and didn’t miss a day of work. The arrangement I had with the company was that I would be contracted out until the end of the year and possibly more. In addition, my old employer found themselves unable to support the software I maintained that interfaced with a government entity and hired me to continue maintaining the software on a part-time basis.

  I had never worked for myself full time before and I found that I am not the greatest guy to work for. I took eight days off all year which included three half days off to go to the dentist, two days I had previously committed to playing in the Twin Ports chess tournament, and four days visiting relatives in South Carolina and seeing Ben graduate in Idaho. I did take holidays and weekends off but that was only because the company I was working for was closed because I might have been greedy enough to work eight days a week if I could have. Even when I was ‘off’ I was still working at least a half hour a day checking the program I was supporting as part of my part time duties which included weekends and holidays.

  Long before I started contracting with the company it had been purchased by a bigger company based in Minnesota. I have been through having the company I was working for being bought by a bigger company twice before and I kind of knew the script. Slowly but surely the kind of jobs that are found in every company are eliminated in the company that has been bought. Then a lot of people at the company being bought find new jobs and aren’t replaced. This time around wasn’t any different. Naturally there is a push to move the computer systems over to the buying company which in my experience takes a lot longer than anyone expects and that was no different in this case either. I was expecting to be told that my contract would be ending at the end of September when the company officially changed names. That didn’t happen but I was told in November that none of the contractors’ deals were going to be extended at the end of the year.

  The way my supervisor told me the news I think he was expecting me to be upset which I wasn’t. We had an arrangement until the end of the year and they lived up to their end of the bargain. I was told that it would be understood if I got a new job and left early. To me that wasn’t an option since I also had made a commitment that I intended to live up to. I have been working pretty hard this year and also made a lot of money and I intend to take a few weeks off to relax. I haven’t had a week off with nothing to do since I moved to Iowa in 1994 and spent 6 weeks looking for a job.

  I have a number of projects I’m planning on tackling during my time off. Whether I’ll get to them or not is an entirely different question since I started getting calls from recruiters about jobs before I let my availability be known. One call came from a recruiter who was looking for an EDI programmer. He wrote to me with the job specs and I said I was interested so we set up a phone meeting. The recruiter’s first question was how excited was I about the job opportunity and his second was how much money I wanted since I told him my excitement at the job opportunity was going to be dependent on his much the job paid. The recruiter spent most of his time gauging how negotiable the salary number I gave him was. He first told me that I was at the high end of the clients range and would I be interested if the offer came in for a little less. I said maybe if the benefits were right and then he went a little lower and a little lower until I said that I wouldn’t be interested for that number. Having settled that we ended our conversation but the recruiter called me the next day. He wanted to talk to me right away so I called him back. The recruiter told me that he was worried I would just want to work for his client for a short time until I got a better job. I asked him if he had my resume and we both knew he did. I pointed out that I had worked 13 years at one place and 7 years at another and asked if he thought I had never had chances to move on from either job. This got the recruiter on the defensive and he said of course he knew all that which didn’t explain why he called in the first place. Maybe he was trying to see if I was desperate for a job so he could lower the offer but I’ll probably never know as I haven’t heard from him since.

  I had another call from a different recruiter a few days later. This person wanted me to submit me for a job at the State of Iowa. I sent him my resume and he said he submitted it and then wanted me to send the State of Iowa a form saying that his company was my representative. I sent the form in, the recruiter confirmed it, and I haven’t heard from him either.

  Both of these ‘opportunities’ were cold-calls from recruiters looking for low-hanging fruit which is how most of the recruiters I’ve ever worked with operate. If they can’t place someone in a day or so they lose interest and don’t follow up. They are generally pointless exercises that I don’t bother with but I went along with it because I figured I needed the experience dealing with these types again. In 1994 the job market was pretty tight and I was jumpy about getting a job but in 2018 there seems to be a lot of demand for programmers so it is just a matter of finding the right place to work and I can even be a bit choosy to start with, choosy meaning looking closer to Marshalltown than the 60 mile drive to Des Moines I’ve done for 19 of the past 23 years.

I got the title for this post from this song by the inimitable band 'The Selecter' which was a favorite of mine almost 40 years ago when I DJ'd at a college radio station.

I also saw this band at the late Hurrah club in New York City over half a lifetime ago - here is a live version of the same song!

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Tale of Two Apples

  When I last wrote about my adventures using my self-directed 401K to buy stocks and write covered calls against them it was the end of September and my purchases of Exxon (XOM) and Apple (AAPL) were stuck in limbo as their stock prices had dipped so far below the purchase price and option stock price that I felt compelled to sell an option for Exxon with an expiration date four months into the future to generate cash flow while my 100 shares of Apple was showing a loss of over $400 despite my having collected over $400 in selling options on the stock over a 5 week period.

  In the intervening three months the stock market has risen upwards. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained 10% and most of my favorite stocks have gone along for the ride. Exxon burst past my option strike price of $82.50 in October and flirted with $84 days before the dividend date of November 10th. I was expecting my January 2018 option to be called in order for the buyer to collect the dividend but to my surprise the option was not exercised and I received a bonus of $154 on December 10th. With a month to go before the option expires, Exxon is in a band between $82 and $84 and it seems to be a close call as to whether the option gets exercised. Whether it gets called or not I only consider this a minor win since being stuck with the stock for an extra 4 months my ROI is 9% on an annualized basis which is good but not great and could be considered downright poor considering the length of time I had to hold the stock.

  
6/19/2017Buy 200 XOM @83.005-16605.95
6/19/2017Sell 2 XOM Option @82.5 (2.06)
Expiring 8/18/2017
405.65
8/2/2017Buy 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.05)
Expiring 8/18/2017
-10.08
8/18/2017Sell 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.85)
Expiring 10/20/2017
+163.66
8/10/2017.77 dividend payable 9/11/2017+154.00
8/28/2017Buy 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.10)
Expiring 10/20/2017
-20.08
9/5/2017Sell 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.80)
Expiring 1/1/2018
+153.65
11/10/2017.77 dividend payable 12/11/2017+154.00
Total (If option is exercised)+889.605.36%

  I has a much happier time with Apple. A week after my post the stock crept over $155 and I took the opportunity to collect $170 by selling another option to sell the stock for $162.50 on November 3rd. I could have done much better by waiting a week or two since Apple continued to gain momentum throughout the month and broke over $168 on October 30th. I knew that AAPL’s dividend date was on November 3rd and the risk of the stock sliding back under $162.50 was minimal so I bought my option back on October 30th at a high price and sold the same option only expiring on November 17th, picking up $60 in the exchange. The new option was exercised a week early on the dividend date of November 10th so I was happy to have an extra $60 in return for a weeks worth of patience and overall the investment gained $750 over three months for an annual return of 19.45% which I consider very good.
  
8/15/2017Buy 100 AAPL @161.7053-16175.48
8/15/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.88)
Expiring 8/18/2017
+83.00
8/17/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.10)
Expiring 8/18/2017
-10.04
8/17/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.84)
Expiring 8/25/2017
+79.00
8/257/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.04)
Expiring 8/25/2017
-4.04
8/25/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.90)
Expiring 9/1/2017
+85.00
8/30/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (1.86)
Expiring 9/1/2017
-191.64
8/30/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (3.65)
Expiring 9/15/2017
+359.35
9/14/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.03)
Expiring 9/15/2017
-3.04
9/15/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.70)
Expiring 9/22/2017
+65.00
9/20/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.10)
Expiring 9/15/2017
-10.04
10/3/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (1.75)
Expiring 11/3/2017
+169.35
10/30/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (6.05)
Expiring 11/3/2017
-610.64
10/30/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (6.75)
Expiring 11/17/2017
+669.34
11/10/2017Sell 100 AAPL @162.50
(option was exercised)
+16244.67
Total+749.794.64%

  A few days before the Apple option was due to be exercised my 401k had become cash rich because my favorite stock Intel (INTC) had jumped from a multi-year high of $40 a share to over $47 a share from October 20th to November 3rd. I decided to cash out much of my Intel holdings because while I like the company and believe I understand the company I think that the price has grown too much too fast and I’d rather not be left holding the bag when their price once again drops because all stocks rise and fall. I kept my profit in the form of Intel stock but had the initial capital and went looking for new covered call option opportunities.

  My first purchase was with Apple which is becoming one of my new favorite option stocks because of its volatility and the seemingly eternal optimism of its stockholders. On November 7th I bought 100 shares of APPL near its all-time high of 174.70 and sold the option to sell the stock for 172.50 on November 10th for $258. My thought was that I would make $30+ for a three day investment and if the stock dropped below 172.50 I would collect a $63 dividend on the 10th. The stock stayed well over 172.50 and on the 9th I traded options, buying back my November 10th option and selling the same option for November 17th. The trade netted me an extra $64 and as a bonus the option was not exercised on the 10th which gave me $63 in dividends for a total of $159 in profit if the option was exercised the next Friday.

  IF. Unfortunately, Apple took a tumble the next week and dropped past $172.50 on its way to $169.64 a share by November 17th. I bought back my option for $4. I could have sold a new option for $50 for the next week but since I had at this point collected almost $400 on this particular stock purchase I decided to gamble a little and sold an option expiring in 2 weeks on December 1st but at a strike price of $175 instead of $172.50. I collected $70 for the option and there was the promise of another $250 if the option was exercised. Apple rose over $175 on the 27th and 28th before dropping below $170 once again on November 30th and December 1st. I bought back my option for $10 on the 30th and when AAPL jumped over $171 on the 1st I sold another option to sell the stock for $175 in two more weeks (on the 15th) and collected another $120.

  In the succeeding two weeks Apple’s share price never got to $174 a share much less the 175 strike price. I bought my option back on the 14th for $10 and got $79 for the option to sell the stock at $175 on December 22nd. This week Apple set a new all-time high stock price and climbed over $177 on Monday before settling in between $174.50 and $175.50 on Tuesday and Wednesday. At this point it is a coin flip as to whether my option will get called or not. If the option does get called I will have collected a profit of over 3.7% on my 45 day investment which works out to over 30% annually. If the price stays below 175 and I still own the stock come Monday I think I will start selling the option at a strike price of $177.50. While the stock may crash in the next week or so I consider this a big win so far.
  
11/7/2017Buy 100 AAPL @174.655-17470.45
11/7/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @172.5 (2.65)
Expiring 11/10/2017
+258.35
11/9/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @172.5 (2.25)
Expiring 11/10/2017
-230.64
11/9/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @172.5 (3.00)
Expiring 11/17/2017
+294.65
11/10/2017.63 dividend payable 11/16/2017+63.00
11/17/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @172.5 (.04)
Expiring 11/17/2017
-4.04
11/17/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @175 (.80)
Expiring 12/1/2017
+75.00
11/29/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @175 (.10)
Expiring 12/1/2017
-10.04
11/30/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @175 (1.25)
Expiring 12/15/2017
+119.35
12/14/2017Buy 1 AAPL Option @175 (.10)
Expiring 12/15/2017
-10.04
12/14/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @175 (.84)
Expiring 12/22/2017
+79.00
Total (If option is exercised)+658.893.77%

  I made two other option plays with my Intel capital as well as the cash I am accumulating from the covered call options. Both were incredibly successful thanks to an email from a blog reader suggesting that I could increase my profit by playing this option game with stocks on the low end of their yearly cycle and selling the option at a strike price close to or over the purchase price instead of looking for a small profit by selling the covered calls below the current selling price. The idea made sense to me. Buying quality stocks at yearly lows is normally a good policy anyway and collecting option money and profiting by a stock price increase is a win-win while getting stuck holding a quality stock purchased at a low price isn't an awful situation. AT&T (T) seemed like a likely candidate for me. It is a mainstay of my FMF (Found Money Fund) and has increased their now 50 cent a share dividend for 34 consecutive years. The stock was also near its 52 week low due to the uncertainty over whether the government will challenge or stop its purchase of Time-Warner. On November 9th I bought 200 shares of T for 33.87 and collected $157 for the option to sell the stock at $34 a share on December 15th. After bouncing between $33 and $34 for most of November, AT&T went over $36 a share on November 29th and over $38 a share on December 12th. My option was exercised and I sold the stock on December 15th for $34 as agreed upon for a total profit of $172.20 for a 36 day investment which works out to a return of 2.5% and 25.75% annually. Yes, I could have made more money by holding the stock and not selling the option but that was not apparent on November 9th and I am happy to have made a great return with little risk of a big loss.
  
11/9/2017Buy 200 T @33.877-6780.35
11/9/2017Sell 2 T Option @34 (.82)
Expiring 12/15/2017
+157.66
12/15/2017Sell 200 T @34
(option was exercised)
+6794.89
Total+172.202.54%

  My other play in November was with another FMF standout, Phillip Morris (PM). PM is the foreign tobacco and cigarette arm of Marlboro and has provided a steadily increasing dividend for the last 10 years since it spun-off from its parent company Altria. PM was over $120 a share earlier this year but a strong dollar had depressed its earnings and was sitting at a 6 month low of 103 when I made move on November 10th, buying 100 shares at 103 and collecting $95 for the option to sell the stock at the same $103 a week later on November 17th. This ride was similar to my apple adventure. PM bounced between 101 and 103 a share for the next week and on the 17th I was able to buy back my option for $9. I immediately sold an option to sell the shares for $104 expiring 2 weeks later on December 1st for $70. I was leaving some money on the table in the expectation that if PM went over $104 a share I would collect a better profit when the option was exercised. PM never got to 104 and on November 28th I was able to buy back my option for $10 and sell another $104 option expiring on December 15th for an additional $81. On December 4th PM went over 104 and didn’t look back. It hit $110 on December 15th and my option was exercised, leaving me with a $316 profit which works out to 3% (32% annually) over 35 days. Again I could have made more by holding the stock once again I am happy to take a outstanding return with for a low risk.
  
11/10/2017Buy 100 PM @103.005-10305.45
11/10/2017Sell 1 PM Option @103 (1.00)
Expiring 11/17/2017
+94.95
11/17/2017Buy 1 PM Option @103 (.09)
Expiring 11/17/2017
-9.04
11/17/2017Sell 1 PM Option @104 (.75)
Expiring 12/1/2017
+70.00
11/28/2017Buy 1 PM Option @104 (.10)
Expiring 12/1/2017
-10.04
11/28/2017Sell 1 PM Option @104 (.86)
Expiring 12/15/2017
+81.00
12/15/2017Sell 100 PM @104
(option was exercised)
+10394.80
Total+316.223.07%

  As pleased as I am with my recent option results, I can't help but think that the stock market is so high right now that it is primed for a big fall. When? No one knows and certainly not me. That is why I continue to stick with solid companies that have a decades-long history of paying and raising dividends. Even when I get stuck with XOM and APPL like I did in September I am stuck with a top quality stock that makes money and pays dividends. The higher this market goes the more inclined I am to keep my option plays of a shorter term so I can hopefully get out before the bubble breaks but in the meantime I am riding the ups and downs like a surfer and enjoying the ride.

Friday, December 15, 2017

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 8 Episodes 1-8

   WARNING : THE WALKING DEAD SEASON #8 EPISODES 1-8 SPOILERS BELOW!!!

Season 8 of The Walking Dead featured the 'All Out War'

  AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ just completed the first half of its season 8 ‘All Out War’ story arc in which our intrepid zombie apocalypse survivors of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom seek to fight off the oppressive regime of the band of Saviors and their leader Negan who receive ‘tribute’ from all the nearby communities in return for not killing them.

  This show is still the top rated cable show but its viewership has plummeted to six year lows and barely half of the season 5 average of 14 million viewers a week. I think the reason for the drop is that instead of following our cast of a dozen or so apocalypse survivors for the first five and a half seasons there are at least 3 dozen characters to follow. We still have our core group but now there are four to six people each at the Kingdom, the Hilltop, the Saviors compound, as well as the newly discovered communities by the ocean side and the trash heap. So many groups to keep track of and visit leaves less time for the viewers to stay connected to the main characters. Season 7 focused on a character or two in each episode but left the main characters unseen for weeks at a time. Season 8 has tried to patch in snippets of each group of each episode. It is great to see stalwarts like Rick, Carol, and Maggie in each episode but in most episodes it seemed they were guest stars giving cameos instead of the main characters we should be following all the time.

  The season started with a great premise as Rick Grimes and company use information given to them by Dwight the Savior traitor to lead thousands of zombies to the Saviors ‘Sanctuary’ compound during a meeting between Negan and his lieutenants in an attempt to starve out Negan and the Saviors. Escape seems impossible with a well-positioned group of snipers ready to foil any attempt to leave the compound. Meanwhile Rick has sent teams to destroy Negan’s satellite operations while all the leaders are trapped at the Sanctuary.

RIP Shiva the CGI tiger..

  The raids work although there is a heavy toll of redshirts from the Kingdom along with the death of minor character Aaron’s husband Eric who is left by a tree to bleed out and seemingly reanimated as a zombie. The main objective of not allowing reinforcements to free the Sanctuary from the zombie horde has been met. This storyline took the first five episodes of the season and contained intense side plots. One outpost has seen two dozen Saviors surrender, leaving Hilltop leader Maggie to decide whether to execute them or imprison them which requires using resources to feed and guard them as well as the knowledge that an escape attempt or riot could erupt at any time. At the Sanctuary, Father Gabriel and Negan are trapped in a trailer in the compound and must work together to fight their way through the surrounding zombies while inside the Sanctuary his lieutenants have to deal with a worker uprising without their leader. I found Episode 3 especially intense as King Ezekiel deals with the killing of his entire army by the saviors, having to escape from his now zombified-army, and if that wasn’t bad enough the king loses his beloved CGI tiger Shiva who manages to be devoured by a half dozen slow moving zombies while protecting her master.

If James Tiberius Kirk was in the zombie apocalypse this is what he would be like.

  The first five episodes had a lot of what I like about this show - zombies and more zombies.After a great first five episodes of the season the show seemed to go off the rails with many of the main characters leaving their lane in a rush to the ‘grand’ season finale. In episode six, Rick Grimes heads to the dump to once again enlist the help of Jadis and the monosyllabic trash people. These are the same trash people that sold out our group of survivors to Negan just last season which in show time was a few weeks ago. Naturally the trash people take Rick prisoner which did have a redeeming quality in giving us another Star Trek like fight between Rick and a helmeted zombie> Rick’s Captain Kirk like victory convinces the trash people to join his side at least temporarily. Meanwhile the plan to starve out the Saviors is working too well for Darryl who decides to ram a truck through the Sanctuary walls to let the zombies eat their way to victory. This idea meets with the approval of the snipers surrounding the Sanctuary.

  Daryl’s truck breaches the Sanctuary walls and the zombies flood in but when Rick arrives at the end of the seventh episode the zombies, Negan, and the Saviors are gone. What happened? How did the Saviors escape? We never find out but we do see despite having their vehicles blown up and there outposts destroyed there are enough Saviors to outnumber the communities of the Hilltop, the Kingdom, and Alexandria. The confrontation between Simon’s group of saviors and the Hilltop on a barricaded road is especially odd. After hearing for at least two episodes how Negan wants Hilltop leader Maggie must be captured along with Rick and King Ezekiel so they can be killed and have their zombie selves posted on spikes at the Sanctuary, Simon allows Maggie to take her crew back to the Hilltop after killing the obligatory redshirt. It was the equal of the many times one of our crew of survivors or snipers had the drop on Negan but failed to pull the trigger. Naturally Maggie heads back to the Hilltop after promising to be the Saviors minions but immediately kills one of the Savior prisoners and prepares for a last stand.

  There are some vague references by the Saviors how Eugene came up with the plan to drive the zombie hoard away from the Sanctuary but that doesn’t explain what happened to the snipers. It also doesn’t explain how Eugene has morphed from a fairly useless science teacher who can barely fix a radio into MacGyver. Another unexplainable occurrence happened in the season finale. Rick, Carol, and Jerry are driving when their car is rammed violently and we cut to commercial. Jerry ends up captured by Simon and shows up at the confrontation with the Hilltop people, Carol ends up at the Kingdom, and Rick at Alexandra for a showdown with Negan. How did they survive the car crash and end up in such disparate locations? The only explanation is that it was required to advance the plot. The confrontation between Rick and Negan featured both men taking turns hitting each other with Lucille the barbed-wire baseball bat and again in the name of plot advancement both men were able to walk away from the fight.

In a massive break from the comics, Carl has seemingly met his end...

  I don’t mind all the silliness of the plot consistencies or lack thereof - after all this is a zombie apocalypse show. What I want is to see the small band of apocalypse survivors fighting zombies and other groups to survive. There were plenty of zombies this season but there is no longer a small band of survivors – there are so many characters the show keeps track of that only one or two get any meaningful screen time in any given episode. That is my biggest problem with the show at present – the show needs a purge and get the group on the road instead of the current civilization building arc. There will be one less character after the mid season finale revelation that original cast member Carl (Rick Grimes’ son) has been bitten by a zombie and presumably will pass away in the second half premiere. While I hate to see Carl go the development gives me hope for the future of the show as it is a major break from the comics (where Carl is still around years after the ‘All-Out War’). Other characters have met an early end but other characters can have their roles replaces – not the main protagonist’s son. I suspect the falling ratings may prod the showrunners to ditch the comic arc and get our zombie survivors back to what made the show so attractive which is the constant quest to new locations and survive zombie attacks.

Coming in February..Hopefully a return to a tighter cast.