Saturday, December 16, 2017

Traveling: A Visit @ The Panama Canal

(Drivebycuriosity) - My Wife and I stayed five nights in Panama City, so we had to visit the Panama Canal, a must for very visitor of the city. The Miraflores locks are just 10 miles away from city center and our hotel. These locks combine the canal with the Pacific Ocean and they lift ships up from sea level or they lower them to the ocean niveau (wikipedia). 

We arrived there at about 3pm when a heavy downpour started. Massive cauliflower clouds had already warned us and finally a pitch black cloud opened her bowls. Fortunately we found shelter on the veranda of the visitor center`s cafe which is also the observation point for Miraflores spectators. The locks were empty then - no ships were in sight.

The shower lasted about 30 minutes; shortly after it had stopped, ships appeared on the horizon, approaching from the land side. First we spotted a huge container ship on the horizon behind the locks which went to another lock system. Those vessels are too big for the 1914 completed original canal and they use a third system of locks, part of the Panama Canal expansion project, which were finished in 2016 (I recommend reading the fascinating history of the canal construction. Here my review driveby ).

Minutes later more ships approached, this time heading to the Miraflores locks. The complex contains 4 chambers, two parallel, so that two big ships can pass the locks simultaneously. The ships are not allowed to run their own engines, instead the vessels are moved by strong rail-bound locomotives, called mules. Four of them are pulling the ship, two are behind the vessel, correcting the passage.

We spotted ships which exactly fitted to the dimensions of the locks.  Obviously the shipping companies had ordered vessels which are constructed exactly for the width of the Panama Canal the  locks.

Observing the Miraflores locks was quite an experience.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Books: The Newcomer - Twelve Science Fiction Short Stories

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like science fiction. Unfortunately most science fiction novels disappoint. Therefore I usually skim collections of science fiction short stories in order to find some gems. I just finished reading "The Newcomer - Twelve Science fiction Short Stories" (Scifi Anthologies Book 1) edited by Alasdair Shaw. The book appeared on my radar because the Kindle version cost just 99 cents (amazon). The anthology focuses on the central theme of an arrival by someone or something new. I enjoyed the variety of ideas, scenery & styles.

I have five favorites:
"First Bonding" by Tom Germann. The story is set in a near time future. A big software corporation (maybe a future Apple or Google) is working on something new and game changing but not legal. A glance glance onto a plausible economy of tomorrow. One of the very few scifi stories which combine economics with technological speculation.

In "The Hawk of Destiny`s Fist" by James S. Aaron a young woman got an an assignment as the new commander of a spaceship which leads to a conflict. A slick combat story. 

"Repulse" by Alasdair Shaw. Again a young woman takes command of a spaceship. A quick piece of military science fiction.

 "Ice Dream" by J J Green tells about a female scientist who tries to recover human brains which have been frozen centuries ago.

"What Make is Your Cat" by Richard Crawford is set in a futuristic London, which is partly drowned by the ocean. A man, who owns a precious cat, wants to make business with a very privileged girl, who has a much higher social status than he but shows much interest in the feline. Funny & surprising.

These stories woke my appetite and I would like read more by their authors and from the Scifi Anthologies. The rest of the collection might entertain different tastes.

Highly recommended for everyone who has a taste for science fiction.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Traveling: A Hike In Parque Natural Metropolitano, Panama City

(Drivebycuriosity) - My Wife and I continued our travel to Panama City. We wanted to enjoy Panama`s tropical nature without taking too much trouble. Therefore we took a bus which brought us to the city`s Parque Natural Metropolitano, an area with a tropical rainforest within the city limits. The park rangers charge 4 US dollar per visitor, but that`s well worth it.

There we hiked about 3 hours in the lush tropical vegetation. The walking trails went up onto a hill and we climbed about 110 meter (360 feet). The ascend in the humid climate cost us a lot of sweat but got rewarded by amazing views.

 I enjoyed the lush vegetation which looked like an untouched jungle. The higher we went the more dense got the flora and the more intense the green. Apparently the hillslopes collect more rain which fosters the plant growth.

Some of the trees looked majestic & fascinating.

Ferns and other plants were woven into emerald carpets.

                                                                  Orgy Of Green

Some flowers interrupted the orgy of green.

I suppose these are dates.

The wet environment also encourages the growth of mushrooms.

Some birds apparently use the soil for constructing their heavy looking nests

And collectives of ants were busy transporting tree leaves to their  distant burgs. We spotted a lot ant-highways with heavy traffic.

On top of hill we got an panoramic view onto Panama City.

Hiking the Parque Natural Metropolitano was a lot fo fun.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Finance: How To Become A Micro-Capitalist

(Drivebycuriosity) - It seems that capitalism is very unpopular these days. This is disappointing considering the fact that capitalism brought enormous wealth even to average people. Living standard is world wide much higher than 100 years ago (realclearmarkets The capitalism opponents also ignore that the socialist alternatives all have failed. What happened with the Sovjet Union, Cuba, Venezuela and other socialist states? Maybe people think that the capitalists are just the others, the rich, the one percent. But everyone can be a capitalist, at least a micro-capitalist by investing into the stock market.

Everybody should save some money for the future, especially for retirement. The stock market is the most rewarding way to do that. The graphic below shows that the US stock market, represented by the S&P500, grew on average annually 6.7% since 1950, even that dividends are not included (annually 2-3%). Investors who reinvested their dividends got an even higher return. The University New York calculated that since 1928 the US stock market (S&P 500) created an average return of about 10% p.a (stock market gains plus dividends reinvested investopedia). So an investment into the stock market doubled its value every eight years, thanks to the interest compound effect. That makes 4-times after 16 years and 8-times after 24 years. Even a small investment can grow into a fortune over decades, good for retirement.

Investing into the stock market is very easy. You can buy the US stock market, represented by the S&P 500 index, in one piece by purchasing index funds or ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) on the S&P 500. These funds have very low costs because they don`t need a fund manager, they don´t have research and they don´t speculate with their customer´s money. They take their expenses from their portfolios so their returns (gains & dividends) are only marginally below the return of the S&P 500 (index-funds).

These are three major S&P 500 ETFs: Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (Symbol VOO),  iShares Core S&P 500 ETF (Symbol IVV) & SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (Symbol  SPY). You can buy them like stocks and easily track them by their symbols.

I think that the stock market will continue climbing in the future and will reward investors who are patient and have a long term horizon:

1. Company profits will continue their solid growth. They restructured during the recessions of the years 2001/02 and in 2008 and reduced costs significantly in order to survive. Now they are much fitter and more efficient than before. I believe that this learning process will continue and will translate into a long term trend of rising company profits.

2. We are experiencing a new industrial revolution.  Advances in Internet, artificial intelligence (AI), mobile computing, 3-d-printing, robotics, nano- & biotechnology and other technologies are reducing costs, raising efficiency and creating new markets. These trends are fueling the growth of company earnings, the engine of the stock market.

3. We also are having solid tailwinds from the emerging markets which are even getting stronger. The catching-up process in China, India, Indonesia, Philippines and a lot other countries translates into high growth in large parts of the global economy that creates continuously rising revenues & profits for global companies like Starbucks, IBM, Caterpillar, Apple and other members of the S&P 500.

Welcome to the club!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Traveling: Impressions From Miami

(Drivebycuriosity) - My wife and I are traveling again. We started our travel in Miami, where we stayed 6 nights. The city is subtropical metropolis, a major harbor, a financial center and a tourist attraction. The city is famous for her hip life style influenced by Latin America & the nearby Caribbean.

As usual we hiked a lot and we discovered that Miami is a patchwork of very different cities. We stayed in the financial district, called Brickel (named after some of the city founders who became real estate moguls). This area looks like a tropical Manhattan with a concentration of elegant skyscrapers. Walking south we experienced a sleepy district with lush parks and mansions. Hiking north the classy city changed suddenly into a huge area of waste land filled with construction places. Further north we went through an area, which my American wife calls "low income area", for me it looked like a slum. Behind that we arrived in the Wynwood district, a bohemian neighborhood in the north of the city. Apparently relative low rents & real estate prices attracted a lot of artists and then art galleries, restaurants, bars & breweries followed. Wynwoods´s gentrification created wonders of street art (here my post  culture).

Miami proper just about 400,000 residents,  but the metropolitan area, the sprawl, is much bigger and growing explosively.  Miami and its metropolitan area grew from just over 1,000 residents to nearly 5.5 million residents in just 110 years (1896–2006 wikipedia). Today the city is still a boom town and we could spot a lot construction places all over the city, even more than in booming Manhattan.

High rises, tropical vegetation and the waterfront combine into a fascinating cityscape.

I admired the great number of modern and beautiful designed skyscrapers. Above you can see the South East Financial Center, completed in 1984, the tallest all-office building in Florida.

Above the Echo Brickel, a residential building in the fancy financial district, which offers luxury condos.

Above more of Miami`s fascinating architecture.

These colorful buildings suit well for the city`s tropical environment.

                                                        Tropical Boomtown

Above one of the mansions in the south of the city, which were build in the begin of the 20th century.

The forest of cranes - which we could spot all over the city - is a symbol of Miami`s ongoing boom.

Above the Metromover, a driverless rail bound car, which transported us for free from the Financial district to the north and vice versa.

                                                                 Mecca Of Art

The city is home to Art Basel Miami, a gigantic gigant show, which apparently is fostering the gentrification of city, shaping her into a mecca for art lovers. We visited 2 of the museums, the Institute of Contemporary Art & the  Pérez Art Museum (here my blogposts  Contemporary  Perez)

Miami is also a center of street art. My wife and I stayed there some days ago and were impressed by the onslaught of graffiti & murals. The city was preparing for Art Basel Miami in mid December. Obviously this spectacle also attracts street artists from all over the world. I haave never seen so much and so impressive street art on one place (here my post  driveby ).

                                                         Coconut Palms & Iguanas

We enjoyed the lush vegetation which benefits from the tropical climate and spotted coconut & date palms and iguanas.

A short bus ride brought us to Miami Beach -  a town on a long stripe of land very close to Miami - where we noticed the active beach life beach and even some beach romance.

And at night Miami becomes even more beautiful.

Staying there was fun. Someday day we might come back