Random Notes

A few random notes:

  1. When I left my prior employer, one of the first things I did was buy a new laptop from Dell. It was much slower than I expected, and I began experimenting to see if I couldn’t speed it up. Now, here are a few tips: a) install sysinternals process explorer — it gives you much more information than task manager, and will show you what programs are hogging system resources. b) shut off or cripple the many little programs that lurk in the background, many of which occupy a decent amount of resources while waiting for program updates to be released over the internet. Do the updates manually, say, once a quarter. c) Reduce the number of programs that load at startup. d) I turned off the advanced graphics that were kind of pretty from Windows Vista. e) all of these helped, but the big bopper was removing McAfee and replacing it with ZoneAlarm Security Suite. McAfee was a real resource hog, and after removing it and installing ZoneAlarm, everything is faster. Everything. There is a limit to security systems; if they are pressed too far, they kill productivity. Productivity and security must be balanced.
  2. QBE’s gain is the Nasdaq’s loss. North Pointe, a not-all-that-well-known property-casualty insurer has sold out to QBE of Australia. Personally, I really liked NPTE’s management team, and thought they were on the right track. I appreciate insurance management teams that can focus on profitable niches, and are willing to let business go if they can’t make an underwriting profit. If QBE is smart, they will give prominent positions in their US operations to James Petcoff (the CEO) and Brian Roney (the CFO).
  3. Just as an aside, I felt like republishing this off topic post from RealMoney:

David Merkel
How to Sell More Popcorn
11/3/2006 2:07 PM EST

When I was in college, I needed to make money, so I got a job working at a convenience store. The young lady who trained me showed me how to operate the popcorn maker. After adding the oil and the popcorn, she reached for the flavoring container and dumped the lot in. Her comment, “Just watch, the extra flavoring really creates sales.” She was right. As people walked in the door, a larger number than I would have expected bought popcorn. But there was a problem. The popcorn didn’t taste good. Too much salt and fake butter flavor. It led to few, if any repeat customers.

About a month later, when I was on the night shift, I tried an experiment where I cleaned out the popcorn maker, cleared out the old popcorn, and the popped a fresh batch using a little less than the instructions would indicate, much less the young lady who trained me. The smell was there, but it wasn’t overpowering. Since popcorn wasn’t usually done on the night shift, though, it would be noticeable.

The surprise: repeat customers for popcorn in the graveyard shift because it tasted good. Word of mouth spread, so I made popcorn regularly.

I believe in UPOD (underpromise, overdeliver) as Jim Cramer often points out. It applies to investing in two ways: first, buy companies whose managements do UPOD, and not OPUD. Positive surprises drive stocks higher, negative ones drive them lower.

That said, there is a second way that UPOD plays into investing. It’s what you tell your investing clients or readers. No strategy works all the time. No strategy is perfect even in the long run. No analyst is always right. Underselling your investment abilities, and demonstrating humility, may not attract as many clients in the short run, but it keeps them in the longer run, with continued diligent work.

And with that, I have to grab lunch; writing about the popcorn has made me hungry.

Position: None

Tickers mentioned: NPTE DELL