What I’ve Learned After 2 Weeks of Learning Python

Most helpful book I’ve found so far.

If you read my previous post, you know I’m brand new to coding.  I had some previous experience with HTML and CSS (which I use constantly at my current job), but I’ve never learned a tried and true programming language.

Conventional wisdom (i.e., blog posts I didn’t bookmark) states that beginners should start with Python,  so I picked up a few books and dove head first into the world of programming languages.

Two weeks later here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Coding seems so insurmountable to the noob because coding has a ton, and I mean a TON, of jargon.  Every element seemingly has a different name.  Learning jargon takes time as well, which might be another reason why coding or programming seems like magic to the technophobe.  The most intimidating factor of traveling to other countries is the language barrier.  The computer world is no different.
  • Usually the people who make the worst teachers are the ones who never struggled at learning something.  The coding world is seemingly comprised of people who never struggled at learning how to code. You might find this presumptuous, but I’m currently using two “Beginning Level Python Books” and the authors gloss over so many important factors that should be explained thoroughly to the beginner.  In one book, instead of explaining what exactly a sentry variable does for a while loop, the author simply states that sentry variables are important.  I had to figure out on my own that they, at least from what I understand,  initiate while loops because the loop picks up the variable, sees the variable as false, and starts the loop.  I could be wrong about this, but how would I know?
  • Sometimes the syntax doesn’t make logical sense, and rewiring your brain to speak the language takes time.  For example, look at the bastardized code below:
def derp():   print("hurrr derp")

this_is_terrible_coding = derp()
  • Since I’ve already established the function of derp(), I would expect derp() to be on the left side of the equal sign since I, as an English speaker, read left to right.  However, in order to assign a function to a variable, you must put the variable (what you don’t know) on the left and put what you already know on the right.  Although I know this is something extremely simple to grasp, it rubs against my preconceived notion of how to read, so it takes some time to burn that into your brain.
  • Most importantly, coding is not magic.  What do I mean by this? To those who know little about technology, a skilled programmer magically sits at his or her computer and somehow prevents a bored precocious college student from hacking into the system and destroying the fate of the free world (or at the least a company’s bottom line) or a skilled programmers spends  a few weeks creating something like “Flappy Bird” which makes the skilled programmer so much money in a few weeks that the person retires to the Hamptons.  Most people hear about these scenarios quite frequently, but most people have no understanding how these scenarios happen. However, people know the results of these scenarios are very real.  The inability to explain how these things happen coupled with the very tangible consequences gives coding or programming (or IT in general) an almost magical aura, which I think leads to a notion that someone not coding or programming from age two shouldn’t bother trying to learn because they don’t have the talent (like Muggles in Harry Potter). Of course, some people have the innate talent to learn the IT arts, but that doesn’t mean the non-techno plebeian should resign themselves to a life-time of ignorance.

Whoa.  I intended for this post to be a few paragraphs long.  What do you think?

 

 

Dr. Python or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Coding

Why is there a mouse on the cover? With apologies to Stanley Kubrick

Look at the list below.

http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/the-100-best-jobs

Glance at the list for a few seconds and you’ll notice one major thing:

  1. The best jobs are either medical or computer related.

In fact, you have to get to #15 before you find a job that’s not strictly computer science or medical related, and even that job–Market Research Analyst–relies heavily on statistics.

Our society has become so efficient that the only growing careers are the ones that sustain efficiency and medicine. For the longest time I tended to ignore this fact.  “Eventually,” I would say to myself “I’ll find something to pursue as a career that’s not technical, pays well, and is stable.”

Guess what?  Those jobs don’t exist anymore. In a year I will probably be following my girlfriend to the other side of the country to, once again, begin a new career.  I have one goal for that job search: spend very little time looking for a job.  In my most recent job search, I worked my tail off for nine months to try to find a job in library science (lololol).  Of course that didn’t work out, so when I start the whole dog-and-pony-show that is job searching again, I want to be in demand.  It’s an enormous goal.  Very few, and I mean very few, people are in demand these days.  It doesn’t happen.  Most of us have become expendable whether we like it or not.

So I decided, with the knowledge that unemployment for software developers is an incredible 2.8%, that I needed to learn how to code. I know very little about coding, but I love to learn, and I also love a challenge, so I invested $5 in the 4th Edition of O’Reilly’s Learning Python (since Python seems to be the best place to start for beginners).   We’ll see how long this lasts, but I don’t see my desire to learn dying down anytime soon.

What do you think?  Is this a good idea?  I often read comments trying to discourage noobs from learning, but I know I have the chops, it will just take time and dedication.

 

Unlocking the Power of the P/E Ratio

Ahh.  The P/E ratio.  Possibly the easiest thing to understand in the history of stocks and bonds.

It also tells you virtually nothing, but I’ll save that for later.

The P/E ratio stands for Price/Earnings or the price of one share of stock divided by per share earnings.  Some people call the wonderful ratio the “earnings multiplier” in order to make something very simple a little more confusing.

Let’s take, for example, one of my favorite stocks Amazon (AMZN) (numbers via Yahoo Finance):

amazon numbers

Amazon has an absurdly high P/E ratio (the average is 20).  So what does an outrageously high P/E ratio mean?  A high P/E ratio means that for every one dollar Amazon earns (outside the stock market) the market is willing to pay $609.80 for a share of stock.  In other words, almost everyone feels that Amazon has a potential to earn a lot more money some day in the future, but right now Amazon  earns very little compared to how much the market thinks they should earn.

Generally you want a low P/E ratio when purchasing stocks (compared to similar companies).  If a company (Tom’s Widgets for example) has a P/E ratio of 2, that means the company’s earnings per share is HALF of what the market thinks one share of the stock is worth. If the low P/E is genuine, then people are underpaying for the price of Tom’s Widgets because the price of the stock doesn’t reflect everything  Tom’s Widget owns (e.g., plants, widgets, inventory, the CEO’s Bentley, etc.).  Of course, you must approach low numbers with a sense of caution. Although a low P/E means the market undervalues the company, a low P/E could also mean the company will soon declare bankruptcy.

Like every other measure in finance, if you take the P/E ratio on its own it tells you next to nothing.  Enron once had a pretty healthy P/E of 50.  That did not end well.  Also, the trailing P/E only reflects what the company earned in the past, not what the company will earn in the future (no one knows that).  If you know for a fact what company’s will earn in the future, you really shouldn’t be reading this post.

 

And the winner is!…Not You: Cable Company Rant

A couple of days ago, it was announced that on Sunday night the Oscars would be streamed live, for the first time, on the internet.*

*I include the asterisk because we both know that the Oscars have been streaming live, illegally, for probably close to a decade.  So what the announcement actually states was that people in charge of the ceremony, and ABC, would finally earn some profit from streaming the ceremony on the internet**

**I have to include the second asterisk because cable networks and cable companies have managed to deny all common sense again by only allowing those with cable subscriptions to view the ceremony online.  Yes.  This caveat surprises no one, cable networks have (except for CBS) been making boneheaded decisions like this for years; however, this particular boneheaded decision raises many valid points.

For one, if cable companies refuse to open up the ceremony to everyone on earth, then one must conclude that revenue raised from cable subscriptions on a whole greatly outweighs the ad revenue the cable companies would earn if they opened up all of their programming to the world via the internet. I could be wrong about this, but I know how much companies love making money, and if a company could make more money via live streaming to everyone, they would. But heck, cable companies are hardly trying to test the market.  You know why?

Because they know the second they offer one big event via streaming people will flood cable company customer service centers with cancellation calls.  The traditional cable subscription is already on the razor’s edge of oblivion. However, although the cable companies seem to know this, they also seem to believe that they can delay the inevitable by refusing to innovate.  Which, let me tell you, always works out well for the company (sarcasm).  I don’t know what the catalyst will be (my guess is 90% of quality programming being created by companies like Netflix), but it will happen sooner rather than later.

And I can’t wait.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable Merger

2014-02-12 22.20.06

This is a (very horrible) picture of my TV.  Why do I show you a picture of my TV?  Because my TV is celebrating the recent Time Warner Cable and Comcast merger the best way it knows how: by not having a cable hookup.  None.  Nada.  I use it to watch DVDs and that’s about it.

I’m not the only one without cable.  Almost every single one of my friends has no cable subscription.  I can only give you one friend who subscribes to cable.  The rest?  They’re perfectly fine watching their favorite shows on the internet, whether legally or illegally.

It was just announced that Comcast is purchasing Time Warner Cable for $158.82 dollars a share.  My initial reaction?  How much revenue does Comcast gain from cable packages?  I obviously don’t know much about the two companies, but I got a feeling the majority of Comcast revenue comes from providing cable to their somewhat unhappy customers.

The current generation doesn’t purchase cable and they never will.   While that may not be evident to huge conglomerates right now, it will in ten years when subscription rates drop drastically.  If cable companies rely on cable packages for revenue and if they don’t see how the times are changing, then I think we could see a huge problem for cable companies in five or six years.  I understand that previous statement contained a lot of “ifs”, but I don’t have much faith in the 1,000 pound gorilla (now 1,500 pounds) seeing a need to change any time soon.

 

Why Should Apple Buy Back (Repurchase) Stock?

2014-02-11 21.23.17

An Apple

By now, you’ve probably seen a news article about Carl Icahn’s quest to convince the Apple board to repurchase shares outstanding of its stock.

Apparently, Icahn feels (or felt) that Apple needed slim down the $14,000,000 in cash hanging out on its balance sheet.  Most companies will do that by purchasing stock.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering: “Why in the sam-hill would a company want to repurchase its own stock?”

You know what?  That’s a very good question.  To the lay person repurchasing stock seems counter-intuitive.  Why repurchase something that you sold in the first place?  Won’t a company lose some of the money that you already have sitting in the bank?

Like I said, very good questions.

But I hope to give you some very good answers to those questions (in no particular order):

  1. Repurchasing stock increases earnings-per-share (EPS)
  2. Repurchasing stock theoretically increases the demand for the company’s shares (since there are is less shares to go around)
  3. Repurchasing stock gives companies something to do with extra cash since cash does nothing just sitting on a balance sheet (except for increasing the company’s liquidity or their ability to pay bills)*
  4. Repurchasing stock shows the public that the company’s leadership believes its stock is undervalued (since they’re buying them at a reduced price).

So basically, you have a board of directors who own a TON of stock in a company they direct.  They feel that the price of the stock is currently undervalued.  If they repurchase shares, they’re basically buying the ownership of their company back at a reduced rate.  When the the price of a company’s shares go back up, less shares outstanding makes the cost of the shares increase even more than what they would have increased before the repurchase (in theory).

So that, in a nutshell, is a very basic explanation for why a company would want to repurchase its shares.  Basically, it has to do with money (not surprisingly).

*Cash is an amazing thing for people, like me, who have never had it.  For company’s and people who have lots of cash, it’s a curse.  Why?  Because cash does absolutely nothing to make more money;  it just sits there.  For example, let’s say that you work fifty hours a week to pay rent, and you have a dead-beat roommate who doesn’t pay rent and sits all day on the couch playing video games.  For rich people and companies, cash is the roommate because it could be out finding a job and earning money.  ”BUT” I hear you say “What happens when the company hits dire straights? Don’t they need to pay their bills?”  They do, but you have other options, such as other stocks, that actually make money that you can cash out quickly when crap hits the fan.

Five Tips for Increasing Twitter Clout

New to twitter?  Here are some tips for increasing your twitter presence:

  1. Follow back those who follow you: Not following because someone
  2. Engage. Engage. Engage.:  Networking means building relationships.  Twitter allows you to build relationships with the entire world.  The best part?  Anything longer than 140 characters is not allowed.
  3. Post what your followers want to see:  I have a two personal twitter accounts.  Why two personal accounts?  Because none of my followers on my oldest twitter account give a darn about marketing, networking, or increasing their social presence.  Since I created my new twitter account, I’ve almost surpassed the number of followers it took me 3 years to build on my old account.  Sometimes building a new audience moves quicker than trying to improve the old.
  4. Always #hashtag:  People you want following you find you by searching hashtags.
  5. Tweet often, but not continuously: I don’t tweet as much as I should, but people who have 100,000K+ followers tweet all the time.  However, don’t be the person who sends out a long string of tweets that fills up a timeline, nothing leads to more unfollows.

How to Say Goodbye to Gaming (or better time management)

This is how it starts…

Name the most important commodity that you own.  Most people would say money; however, money can’t buy happiness, and you can always make more of it if you need it.

Time, on the other hand, has a limited to supply.   Worst of all, you have no idea when the supply will run out.   While you know when you’re spending money, most people waste hours and hours of time every day and have no clue.

My personal sin is playing iphone games.  I don’t game obsessively, but I’ve wasted enough time playing flickhomerun that I’m a hypocrite for even writing this post.

Gaming wastes time.  Plain and simple.  In the time that you spend gaming, you develop your skills, learn a language, develop a relationship or catch up on the latest professional development.   So why doesn’t everyone stop playing games all together?  For some reason that’s easier said then done.

I’m not a behavioral psychiatrist, but I can tell you what works for me.  Maybe you use some of these tips to help you cut out the time-vampires in your life (more…)

Tips for Increasing Blog Comments: There is Only One

meExtremely popular blogs usually have no comments.   So what stops people from taking the extra step to let you know what they think?

  1. 1.Comments take time.
  2. 2.Comments invite judgement
  3. 3.Some people have nothing to say.

 

In my opinion, there is only one sure-fire way to guarantee comments on your blog: leave comments, tons and tons of comments, on other people’s blogs.

I can honestly think of no other way.  Let me explain.

If people leave comments on your blog, they’re either leaving comments for one or two reasons: they want the exposure or they feel obligated.  If you’re at the point where people comment for exposure purposes, I wish you congratulations.  You have so many visitors you could sell them at the local Sam’s Club.

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Killer Content “I know it when I see it”

You will read hundreds and hundreds of blog posts about creating killer content.   I’m writing one of those post right now; however, I want to do something different.  I want to ask:

“What in the heck is killer content?”

Most people will tell you it’s the secret sauce between 0 readers and thousands of readers.    I would agree.  People often tell you without killer content your basically writing a diary for your self.  I also agree.  But how do you know the difference between great content and sub-par content?

In regards to killer content, I will quote Justice Potter Stewart’s famous phrase regarding pornography “I know it when I see it”.   When you see something of that nature, you know you’re not watching a Disney movie.  In fact, you know you’re not watching anything but pornography.  Likewise, great content never leaves a doubt in the mind of the reader (or watcher).   So how do you create content that leaves no doubt in the mind of your audience?

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