R2I Living - Public Water Service from Kerala Water Authority (KWA)

Kerala is famous for its monsoons and receives on the average 140 rainy days a year. Despite this, many Keralites moving into newly-built homes will testify receiving public water service as a tedious process. At the time of hand-over, the only water available for consumption in our community was from a common RO-Plant (Reverse Osmosis) setup by the builder. The plant functioned on rainwater runoff from a few houses and was sufficient only to quench the thirst of 15 houses or so. Our community has over 100 houses making that facility sorely inadequate. While it can be argued the builder was fraudulent, this setup is fairly common in new single family homes and flat projects. The builders are able to work their way out of this mess as the bulk of these flats and houses are purchased by NRI’s (Non-Resident-Indians) and occupancy is rarely above 10% at the time of handover. At that level of occupancy, there is plenty of water to splash around, and the builders generally succeed in handing over the maintenance of the project to an owner-elected-body (Home Owner’s Association) within the first few years.

As occupancy improved, the lack of ready water surfaced as a pressing problem. Our Management Committee (MC) in the first two years attempted several avenues to resolve the water issue. To meet the immediate needs, water was purchased in bulk from private water providers in tankers (Lorries). This is a very expensive option and the estimate was that at 50% occupancy, more than 35% of our yearly budget would have to be dedicated to providing water – RO plant operation manning, electricity to run the plant, and purchasing of water from private parties. Alternatives such as bore wells and regular wells were explored but were not a solution – water from the bore well was deemed good only for non-domestic use as it was too saline – the regular well could provide only a very limited amount of water daily. Expanding the RO infrastructure to collect rainwater runoff from more houses was also considered but abandoned due to prohibitive costs. That expansion involved replacing or upgrading the RO plant the builders installed which had a capacity to serve the needs of only 20 and odd families. From these various options, rainwater harvesting hooked up with an RO-plant of sufficient capacity is usually the best alternative for most villa and flat projects in Kerala, as the monsoon ensures plenty of freshwater throughout the year.

For the longer-term, the Management Committee chalked out a plan which involved the process of procuring KWA (Kerala Water Authority) connection to every villa, possibly with the help of the builder and reserving the existing infrastructure as a backup and for non-domestic water needs. Negotiations with the builder were partly successful - they agreed to bear 50% of the costs involved in obtaining the connection. All said and told, it took two full years after maintenance-handover before the villas in our community got KWA connection. The costs came to around Rs 5K per household and included digging up the roads within our community for laying the KWA pipes. This duplicate work could have been avoided had the builder possessed the foresight and willingness to ensure KWA connections were received and had planned infrastructure accordingly during the construction phase. But, the community’s water problems were still not solved, as by KWA’s unique definition, having a connection does not translate to receiving water. For people used to the woeful service levels of Kerala public sector, this will not sound too bad. At our home, no water dripped down the KWA line for the first five months. The billing rep came by after the first three months of receiving connection and to pacify us called the KWA contractor who agreed to fix the problem. Meanwhile, a few from our community went to check the status with the KWA office and the response received was that our community was given connection mainly to avoid a backlog later on – there is a water shortage in the area and continuous water supply is two years away. They were clueless as to why certain houses received a very small amount of water certain days while others received none whatsoever. The billing rep showed up again a couple of months later and presented us our first bill – apparently, there is a minimum payment regardless of whether water is available or not (~Rs 90pm). This time, we were on his case and the guy connected us with the Assistant Executive Engineer who called the KWA contractor directly and updated him on the situation in our community. We paid the bill promptly and a few days later started receiving water three to four times a week. With our tank capacity of 2000 liters, that level of service barely sufficed.

Prospective home owners in this God’s Own Country should ensure builders provide rainwater harvesting and RO-plant infrastructure with adequate capacity prior to maintenance handover as any costs past that date will have to be borne from the HOA’s common funds as opposed to by the builder.

2012 Update: Our builder Heera and our home owner's association managed to get KWA connections to all the villas at a cost of Rs 5000 per villa. However, no water from the connection at all in our villa so far. Some villas get a very small amount of water once every few days. 

2013 Update: After multiple visits to KWA and meetings with KWA authorities, our association succeeded in getting water to our villas. Rumors are aplenty that corruption is the reason behind water playing hide and seek – KWA contractors, private water suppliers, and valve operators all stand to profit by controlling the water supply to flats and villas in the area ensuring, private water suppliers continue to get good business…

2015 Update: Our water meter broke and the billing rep determined this by comparing two consecutive readings. She wrote up a notice stating that it needs to be replaced by a KWA approved plumber after getting the meter certified. She also indicated that going through the KWA contractor in our area is the best route. Here again, rumors have it that KWA contractors are a primary source of corruption at this public utility: since there is a virtual monopoly (if you attempt to do things on your own bypassing the contractors, they will ensure that it takes multiple visits to KWA to get anything done), they can charge whatever they want. Meters go for around Rs 1000/- at private market. But, the contractor's "full-service" offering starts upwards of Rs 2000 and can go for as much as Rs 3000. We went with the contractor and his workers came by, took the notice, purchased the meter, certified it at KWA, replaced the meter at our house, and gave the KWA certification receipt back to us, all before noon same day...

Azores - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile


Azores is an archipelago of nine volcanic islands located 930 miles West of Lisbon and 2400 miles East of the coast of North America in the North Atlantic Ocean. The islands have a total land area of just over 900 square miles and a population of close to 250,000. The islands were discovered in the early 15th century and settled around 1436 on Santa Maria and then later on Sao Miguel. The main islands are Corvo, Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Pico, Sao Jorge, Sao Miguel, Santa Maria, and Terceira. Terceira became the main headquarters of the Portuguese regime in 1829 during the Portuguese Civil War – a government was set up to oppose King Miguel here in 1826 and in 1828, Maria de Gloria was proclaimed queen of Portugal.  Azores became the Portuguese Autonomous Region of the Azores in 1976.

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of Azores were overprints on stamps of Portugal issued in 1868. The original issue of Portugal (Scott #17, 1866) shows an embossed head portrait of King Luiz. The set (Scott #1 to #5) has denominations from 5 Reis to 100 Reis in different colors. The most valuable is the 10r yellow (Scott #2) which catalogs at around $13.75K Mint and around $10K for Used. Scott #1 (5r black) is also very rare and catalogs in the $3.5K range for Mint and $2.25K for Used. Other issues from the set catalog in the $250 range for Mint and a little less for Used. Overprints on a few other King Luiz issues of Portugal formed the stamp issues of Azores during the period till 1894. Some of the stamps from the period go into the 100s while certain others go for a few dollars.

Azores overprints on Portuguese stamp issues continued during the period till 1910. One significant set from the period was a set of fifteen stamps issued on June 13, 1895 that were overprints on the commemorative 7th centenary of the birth of Saint Anthony of Padua set of 1895. These stamps have eulogy in Latin printed in the back. The original set of Portugal and the overprints of Azores are both sought after and very valuable. The Portuguese set (Scott #132 to #146) catalogs in the $1.8K for Mint and $1.2K range for Used. The Azores set (Scott #78 to #92) is a little more affordable cataloging in the $1.25K range for Mint and $850 range for Used. Republica overprints were used in Azores for a short period between 1911 and 1912. Azores overprints continued through the period till 1930 when Azores issues were replaced with stamps of Portugal.


Numismatic Profile:

The first coins of Azores were provincial copper coins stuck in 1750 for use in the Azores and Madeira Islands. A second set of provincial copper coins was introduced in 1795 and they had the weights reduced by 50%. Terceira Island Copper Reis debut in 1829 and continued through 1833 for the period when Queen of Portugal, Maria II was in exile. The issues catalog upwards of $25 in VF with the higher denominations cataloging progressively higher. Portuguese Administration Provincial Coinage debut in 1843 with the introduction of Copper Reis. The first issue (KM #10) is remarkably inexpensive cataloging in the $20 range for VF. A crown countermark on existing Azores coins and other coins circulating in the islands was introduced in 1871. The countermarked versions generally catalog at a slight premium over regular issues.


Last Updated: 12/2015.

Western Australia - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile


The area of the present day Australian state of Western Australia was first settled by Europeans in 1826 when the British established a military outpost at King George Sound, near present-day Albany in 1826. In 1829, the Swan River Colony was established near present day state-capital, Perth. Western Australia achieved self-government in 1890. It became an Australian state as one of the six former British colonies that united to form the Commonwealth of Australia on January 1, 1901. Western Australia covers the Western One-Third of continental Australia and has a total land area of over 1M square miles with a population of around 2.3M. It is bordered by the Northern Territory to the North-East, South Australia to the South-East, Indian Ocean to the North and West, and the Great Australian Bight and Indian Ocean to the South.

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of Western Australia were a set of two stamps in different designs showing Black Swan, the state bird, issued between 1854 and 1857. The set (Scott #1 to #2) catalogs for around $3.75K Mint and around $775 Used. The Black Swan theme in different designs, colors, and denominations along with certain surcharge overprints formed the stamp issues of Western Australia during the period till 1902. Some of the other first sets are valued well into the 1000s while the latter sets go in the 100s. Some used sets (Scott #49 to #53, Scott #62 to #68) are relatively affordable going in the 20s. The surcharge varieties are also affordable although there are error varieties (double surcharges and such) that fetch a huge premium into the 1000s.

The first issues outside the Black Swan theme was a set of twelve stamps issued between 1902 and 1905 featuring Queen Victoria (QV) head portrait in different designs along with earlier Black Swan designs. The set (Scott #76 to #88) is sought after and catalogs in the $1K range for Mint and around $430 for Used. Western Australia continued to issue stamps till 1912 when stamps of Australia replaced Western Australian stamps.

Numismatic Profile:

Few private token coins were used in Western Australia from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Prominent ones include Copper Pennies of Alfred Davles of Fremantle, John Henderson of Fremantle, etc. The issues catalog upwards of $175 in VF.


 
Collectible Memorabilia:

Original 19th and early 20th centurymaps are a good collectible item of Western Australia. 


Last Updated: 12/2015. 

Kelly Criterion based strategies for value investing


Kelly criterion is a very simple formula that returns a percentage value for the size of bets as edge divided by odds. It essentially tells you the best bet size for you to realize maximum returns after n rounds. The original formula is suitable for betting and gambling scenarios. Variations of the criterion have been applied successfully in many areas including as a money management sytem. Below is a look at the use and limitations of the criterion for money management:

Stock Selection

Applying Kelly criterion to stock selection boils down to coming up with estimates for Payoff (P), Win% (W), and Loss% (L) in the expanded form of the Kelly criterion: 

(P*W - L)/P.

Value investors can attempt to estimate the edge using Fundamental Analysis - given that the vast majority of the money invested in the stock market goes into blind indexing schemes and unproven stock selection methods, fundamental analysis can result in an edge, as studying company reports including Annual Reports (10K) and Quarterly Reports (10Q) can unearth misconceptions in the marketplace that can result in a significant margin-of-safety. For example, say a company XYZ is trading at $30 and you have come up with an average Fair Value Estimate (FVE) of $50.  The Payoff (P) in this scenario is 50/30 = 1.67. The probability of winning (W) is an estimate that you have to come up with based on how confident you are on your fundamental analysis. In our example, if we take the estimate as 0.5, the formula becomes:

 (1.67 * 0.5 – 0.5)/1.67 = 16.67%.

The value indicates that to maximize returns after n bets, one should invest one-sixth of the money in XYZ. On the other hand, if the FVE is $25 and your confidence in the analysis is the same (0.5), the formula yields -10%. So, one should not invest in XYZ.

The main benefit of using Kelly criterion for stock selection is that it forces investors to think in terms of payoff probabilities thereby allowing them to shy away from high-risk or low-reward opportunities. One disadvantage with the criterion is that the idea with the formula is optimizing returns when doing sequential bets, as in a gambling situation. But, value investing involves selection of multiple companies at a time and as such there is a mismatch – the formula has limited scientific value for stock selection and so investors should also look at other methods to arrive at their final stock selection decision.

Diversification:

One of the classic value investor dilemmas is coming up with a number for how many stocks one should optimally own in the portfolio. Kelly criterion can be used to come up with a value for this number, if you know your average edge and odds of winning – just plug-in these values into the formula to get a percentage rate.   

Coming up with your average edge and odds of winning is easier said than done. One approach is to look at your historic trades to derive these numbers, based on your past behavior. The obvious assumption is that future behavior will parallel the average of your past behaviors. Below is a look at the steps to come up with this number:

  1. Calculate your historic payoff (P): From the list of your previous trades, sum up all dividends, interest, and total value of your stock sales. Divide this value by the sum of your cost basis of all your trades.
  2. Calculate your historic winning probability (W): From the list of your previous trades, divide the number of trades that yielded a positive return including dividends by the total number of trades.
  3. Apply the numbers to the formula (P*W - L)/P to come up with a percentage value. For example, if the criterion returns 2%, then you should take 50 different positions at 2% each.

The criterion looks at your historic performance to come up with an optimal value on how much your diversification should be. The main advantage with this formula is that you can come up with an absolute number for the number of stocks you should own. There are however many limitations to the approach:

  1. Although the criterion yields an absolute number, the fact that the size of each position should be the same is a limitation. It is highly unlikely that you have the same conviction on all your stock picks.
  2. The criterion assumes your historic behavior can be projected into the future. In the real world, this is not true – investors either get better at stock picking over a period of time or they give up and outsource money management.

The criterion can return a zero or negative value, if your historic returns have been poor. In this scenario, the criterion is useful only as a warning that a change in investment approach is necessary. 

Stock Trading:

Stock Traders are always on the look out for automated methods that generates stock selections, holding period, exit criteria, and position sizing. Kelly criterion is a useful method to determine position sizing based on your historic trading pattern. The diversification steps above can be applied to come up with the position size you should be taking. Here again, the main advantage with the criterion is that you get an absolute number. Again, the criterion has several limitations:

  1. The scientific method applies only when you do sequential bets. That is you take just one position at a time.
  2. The criterion assumes your historic trading behavior can be projected into the future. In the real world, this may not be true.

The criterion can return a zero or negative value, if you are a poor stock trader. In this case, the criterion is useful only as a warning that a change in your trading approach is necessary.

Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8

On the morning of our final day, we visited Old Cairo before boarding the afternoon flight back home. The breakfast buffet included Om Ali, a popular breakfast dish in Egypt made from flour, almonds, and other nuts. It is similar to oats but very sweet and can be eaten hot or cold. The most popular and common dish in Egypt is Kushari, regarded by many as the national dish. It is traditionally a vegetarian dish – rice, lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni topped with garlic, vinegar, and salsa – although sometimes shawarma meat is added.

Old Cairo is located east of central Cairo and encompasses Coptic Cairo with its many old churches and historical ruins of other cities before Cairo. The major sites of Coptic Cairo include the Babylon Fortress, the Coptic Museum, the Hanging Church, and the Greek Church of St. George. We first stopped by the Saints Sergius and Bacchus church and the Holy Crypt, aka Abu Serga. Dating back to the 4th century AD, it is among the oldest Coptic churches in Egypt. The church is believed to have been constructed at the site where the Holy Family rested at the end of their journey into Egypt and the Holy Crypt is believed to be at the exact location where Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus rested. It is 10m deep and is subject to flooding by the Nile. The church took its name from soldier-saints martyred during the 4th century in Syria. It was first built in the 4th century but has since been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The building is still considered a model of the early Coptic churches. The southern wall features many ancient icons and the central hall is divided into three naves by two rows of pilasters.

The Hanging Church (officially Saint Virgin Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church) is located above a gatehouse of a Babylon Fortress – its nave is suspended over the Roman Fortress columns thus accounting for the name. It is also among the oldest churches in Egypt, the first church at the site dating back to 3rd century AD. As the surface of the church location has risen by around 6m since the Roman times, the Roman Towers are mostly buried below ground making it difficult to visualize the hanging design of the church. However, there are several locations within the church that allow for glancing below and then it is obvious the structure is held on Roman Pillars. The twenty nine steps leading to the entrance of the church earned it the moniker ‘Staircase Church’. The entrance features a small sketch depicting the plight of the Holy Family into Egypt – the event is described in the Bible in the Gospel of Matthew – Joseph, his wife Mary, and infant son Jesus fled to Egypt after they learned that King Herod intended to kill the infants in the area. The church has 110 icons with the earliest from the 8th century. The ebony iconostases are inlaid with ivory with icons of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles surmounting it. Seven larger icons adore the top altar screen with Christ seated on a throne at the center – icons of Virgin Mary, Archangel Gabriel, and Saint Peter on one side and Saint John the Baptist, Archangel Michael and Saint Paul on the other. After these visits, we parted ways with our Egyptian guide and headed to the airport.

Many who visit Holy-land describe it as a life-changing experience and we join that chorus in a heartbeat. The organization and planning that went into making the whole tour go like clockwork impressed us immensely. In spite of the fast pace of the program, we nicked only the major landmarks. One could easily spend a couple of months in Holy-land, if you have the interest, time, and money.

Victoria - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile


The area of the present day Australian state of Victoria was first settled by Europeans in 1803. It was officially part of New South Wales until 1851 when the British Government separated it from New South Wales and proclaimed the new Colony of Victoria. The area experienced a gold rush almost immediately as it produced 20 million ounces of gold between 1851 and 1860. Victoria became a state of Australia in 1901, when Victoria along with five former British colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia on January 1, 1901. Melbourne was the financial center of Australia and New Zealand at the time and it was the capital of Australia between 1901 and 1927. Melbourne was the largest city in Australia until the 1970s when it was overtaken by Sydney. Victoria is bordered by New South Wales to the North, South Australia to the West, and the Bass Strait to the South separating it from Tasmania. It has a total land area of around 92,000 square miles and a population of over 5.5M.

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of Victoria were a set of four stamps issued in 1850 showing a portrait of Queen Victoria (QV). The set (Scott #1 to #4) catalogs for around $6.5K Mint and around $650 Used. There are some color varieties and a value omitted error (Scott #7b) which command higher premiums. The same design was used for a few other issues until 1851 and the first issues are all very valuable fetching well into the 100s. A new design a portrait of Queen Victoria Seated on Throne appeared in 1852. The stamp (Scott #14) catalogs for around $240 Mint and around $40 Used. The same design appeared in another set of two stamps (Scott #15 to #16) in 1850 and they also fetch into the 100s for Mint and around $30 for Used. Queen Victoria portraits in different designs formed the stamp issues of Victoria during the period till 1901. 205 different stamps were issued during the first fifty years – the lowest denominations of the later issues fetch a few dollars while the higher denominations start in the 10s. Victoria released a set of seven stamps in four different QV portrait designs between 1863 and 1867 and that set (Scott #74 to 80) is especially sought after, cataloging in the $1100 range for Mint and around $110 for Used.

The first issue outside of the QV theme was a set of two stamps issued between 1901 and 1905 showing a head portrait of King Edward VII (KEVII) in two separate designs. The high value set (Scott #206 to #208) in one-pound and two-pound denominations catalogs in the $1100 range for Mint and around $550 for Used. There is a Perf variety (11) of the set that catalogs even higher. Victoria continued to issue stamps until 1912 when they were replaced by stamps of Australia.


Numismatic Profile:

Several private token coins were used in Victoria from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Prominent ones include Copper Pennies of Adamson, Watts, McKechnie & Companay of Melbourne, John Andrew & Company of Melbourne, Jno Andrew & Company of Melbourne, Annand, Smith & Company of Melbourne, Barraclough of Richmond, William Bateman Junior & Company of Warnambool, I. Booth of Melbourne, T. Butterworth and Company of Castlemaine, R. Calder of Castlemaine, Thomas H. Cope of South Yarra, Crombie, Clapperton & Findlay of Melbourne, Crothers & Company of Stawell, Jas. Davey & Company of Sale, A. Davidson of Melbourne, etc. Valuations in VF go well into the 100s and 1000s depending on rarity.
 

Collectible Memorabilia:

Historic items connected with the gold rush are a good collectible item of Victoria.

Last Updated: 12/2015.

Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7


Mount Sinai (city of Saint Catherine) to Cairo is around 520 km by road and was the most exhausting leg of the whole trip. Wake-up call was at 4AM and by 5AM we were on our way, complete with packed breakfast. The ‘helpers’ in the bus became five for this road-trip – main guide, two helper guides, bus driver, and a gun man – the gun man, provided by the Egyptian authorities is mandatory for all tour buses. Egypt was under a transitional military rule following the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power. People seemed relieved to have seen the last of Mubarak – the guide repeatedly attributed all the problems of Egypt as the cause of the revolution.

Crossing the Suez Canal is a major landmark along the desert landscape of this road-trip. The canal is 180 km long and the tunnel across to Africa is 1.8 km. Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, is a military zone and hence cameras are not allowed. On the average, around 100 ships use this Canal daily so the odds are high for sighting a ship while using the tunnel to reach Africa. Immediately upon crossing the Suez Canal on the African side of Egypt, we stopped by a coffee shop named Sinai Rest House. The place has a smallish ‘museum’ with a number of original historic photos of the Suez Canal and an art piece inside a glass cabinet showing the canal in miniature. It is definitely worth a short-stop to see this and appreciate the engineering marvel.

Cairo, spread over 175 sq miles, is considered a mega-city with a population of around 8 million. Urban part of Cairo is over 2500 sq miles and hosts almost a fourth of Egypt’s population. Nearly all of the 80 million population of Egypt reside along the banks of River Nile, an area covering 15,000 sq miles out of Egypt’s total 387,000 sq miles. Alexandria, the 2nd largest city with a population of 4 million is a tourist attraction with many beaches and museums. Our itinerary did not include Alexandria – those keen on visiting the place are encouraged to opt for tour programs that include an overnight stay in Alexandria. Cairo is an extremely crowded city and traffic can seem a mess to the uninitiated. It is normal to see vans with open doors and donkeys used as transportation modes.

The first stop in Cairo was at the Egyptian Museum located in Tahir Square. As our itinerary for Egypt was crowded, only a couple of hours were allotted for this world famous museum. Construction near the Square slowed us down a bit too. The museum is organized chronologically starting as far back as 3000 BC. The two major attractions are King Tut’s treasures on Level 2 and the Royal Mummies Gallery. King Tut's treasures include the 11Kg gold crown, two gold-plated coffins at over 111kg each, jewelry etc. The Royal Mummies Gallery has a separate entrance fee – $20 adults and $10 kids. Royal Mummies are a major archaeological find from the 1920s. The main sections did not have mummies on display and we did not squander away our chance to see them. The gallery has two sections on either side of the main isle on Level 2. At the entrance to the first section the ticket is torn in half and one half returned. This half gets you into the section on the other side of the aisle. Given our tight schedule, we took advantage of our guide’s suggestion whereby we purchased one adult ticket and one child ticket - two of us visited one section and the other two visited the other section – while the cost is halved, the obvious tradeoff is seeing only half the gallery. Our time at the Egyptian Museum was beyond doubt a run-around – to give justification to the 120,000-odd items on offer, it is best to plan atleast a day for this museum. Lunch was at the Taj Mahal Indian restaurant (Misr Helwan Road) – decent Indian buffet food with live entertainment.

We proceeded to Giza Necropolis for the pyramids, about 14 km from the Egyptian Museum - across the Nile River and to the end of Al Ahram. The mere sighting of these mammoths from afar is a humbling experience. This universally acclaimed archaeological site consists of three pyramid complexes together known as the Great Pyramids, the famed massive sculpture known as the Great Sphinx, cemeteries, worker’s village, and an industrial complex. The Great Pyramid was completed around 2560 BC and is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one to remain largely intact. It towered as the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years until the Lincoln Cathedral of England was completed in 1300 AD. The Great Sphinx is another significant landmark of Giza Necropolis. It is the largest monolith statue in the world at 73.5 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 20.22 meters high and is believed to have been built around the same time period as the Great Pyramid by Pharaoh Khafra. The origin and purpose of the Sphinx is a matter of debate. There is an entrance fee for going inside the pyramids - $20 adults and $10 kids for the Great Pyramid and a little less for others. Stepping inside the Great Pyramid has a profound effect – more so to the tech savvy generation. The path is via the giant cut-out inside with multiple flights of steep and long stairs leading up to the upper room – it is located at roughly one-third the total height of the pyramid which is about 140 meters. The government ‘guide’ in the upper room spoke very little English but still convinced us to shell out a tip :). The necropolis area has numerous street vendors whose offers range from curios to camel rides around the area. They can also be aggressive although pricing in generally quite cheap – one or two dollars for artifacts and a wee bit more for a camel ride.

On the way back to the hotel, the tour guides offered the choice between visiting a ‘certified’ papyrus shop or a perfume shop (athar) and we chose papyrus. From the manner the guide put it, we gathered it was a government run place, but from the enthusiasm of the people employed there, it was evident the place was a private establishment. Nevertheless, we were given a good demo on papyrus making – Remove the green parts from the stem of a papyrus plant, do vertical cuts, cross-connect to make a sheet, place it under a heavy press for 5 days to get rid of the moisture, soak it in water for 5 days to do away with cellulose, dry it in the sun – the water is changed every day to get ‘white paper’ and  reused to get ‘brown paper’ – no chemicals none whatsoever is used. They also demoed the strength of papyrus – by first drenching the paper and then pressing it to remove the water and straightening the paper out. Pricing at the shop was expensive – around $15 and up depending on size and subject, after 50% "special discount" from the published prices. Overnight stay was at Horizon Pyramids Hotel (~4 KM back on Al Ahram), a good 4-star facility – good sized room, smallish pool on the front, and decent food.

Nile cruise is another popular tourist activity in Cairo. To us this is a bit overrated, given the outstanding quality of the other options available to spend time upon. Typically, Nile Cruises are a combo offering – an evening cruise from 7PM to 9PM combined with a dinner buffet and live-entertainment for roughly $30. Drinks are not included and are upwards of $6. Our buffet spread was well below par and the live entertainment even more so. Live entertainment consists of belly dancer shows, folklore music and dancers, and other shows. Given the competitive pricing, the overall experience was not disdainful and can be considered value for money.

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  2. Holyland Trip Report – Israel - Yardenit, Tiberias, Tabgha, Cappernaum, Ginosar, Sea of Galilee (Day 2).
  3. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Nazareth, Cana, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (Day 3).
  4. Holyland Trip Report - Israel - Jerusalem (Day 4).
  5. Holyland Trip Report – Israel – Jerusalem, Jericho, Dead Sea (Day 5).
  6. Holyland Trip Report – Egypt – Red Sea, Sinai (Day 6).
  7. Holyland Trip Report – Suez Canal, Cairo - Day 7.
  8. Holyland Trip Report - Old Cairo - Day 8.
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  10. Holyland Trip - Jordan - Other Sites
Last Updated: 12/2012.

Tasmania - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Tasmania, an Australian Island located 150 miles south of the continent has a total land area of over 35,000 square miles and a population of over 500,000. It is believed to have been inhabited by Tasmanian Aborigines as far back as 35,000 years ago. The name comes from the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who was the first European explorer to see the Island on 24th November 1642. The Island was named Van Diemen’s Land at the time, a reference to Anthony van Diemen who sent Tasman on his voyage of discovery. It was colonized and made part of the British Colony of New South Wales for use as a penal colony in 1803. The Island became the separate British Colony of Tasmania in 1856. The Island became the present Australian state of Tasmania in 1901 when Tasmania along with five other British Colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia.

Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of Tasmania were a set of two stamps in separate QV designs. The unwatermarked Imperforated stamps have the ‘Van Diemen’s Island’ inscription instead of ‘Tasmania’. The stamps (Scott #1 and #2) are very rare and valuable cataloging in the $8K range for Mint and the $1.8K range for Used. There are more common Used cut-to-shape varieties of these issues that catalog in the $17 range.  A Chalon Head common design QV issue followed in 1855. That set (Scott #4 to #6) is also very rare cataloging in the $11K range for Mint and $1.8K range for Used. Several varieties of the same Chalon Head design appeared during the period till 1858. A Chalon Head design with a hexagonal frame appeared during the period from 1858 to 1867. That set (Scott #14 to #16) catalogs in the $1.8K range for Mint and around $250 for Used. Other QV designs and certain overprints dominated the Tasmanian stamp issue scene during the period till 1899. Many of these early issues catalog upwards of $100 although certain lower denominations can be had for a few dollars.

Tasmania released a beautiful local scenes set between 1899 and 1900. The set (Scott #86 to #93) catalogs for around $165 Mint and around half that for Used. The designs show Lake Marion, Mount Wellington, View of Hobart, Tasman’s Arch, Spring River of Port Davey, Russell Falls, Mount Gould and Lake Saint Clair, and Dilston Falls. Tasmani continued to issue stamps till 1912 when stamps of Australia replaced Tasmanian stamps.


Numismatic Profile:

Several private token coins were used in Tasmania from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Prominent ones include Copper Pennies of Lewis Abrahams of Hobart, Joseph Brickhill of Campbelltown, E.F. Dease of Launceston, J.G. Fleming of Hobart, I. Friedmand of Hobart, O.H. Hedberg of Hobart, R. Henry of Hobart, Samuel Henry of Deloraine, G. Hutton of Hobart, William Andrew Jarvey of Hobart, R. Josephs of New Town, H. Lipscombe of Hobart, Machintosh & Degraves of Hobart, H.J.Marsh & Brother of Hobart, R. Andrew Mather of Hobart, A. Nicholas of Hobart, R.S. Waterhouse of Hobart, Thomas White and Son of Westbury, W.D. Wood of Hobart, etc. The tokens in VF fetch upwards of $25 depending on rarity. Some Silver issues (example – Macintosh & Degraves Silver Shillings of 1823) and certain Copper coins (example - A. Nicholas Copper Pennies) are very rare and sought after cataloging into the 1000s of dollars range.


Collectible Memorabilia:

Historically relevant postcards from Hobart, 18th and 19th century original antique maps, authentic aboriginal pieces, etc are good collectible items of Tasmania.


Last Updated: 12/2015.

Covered Call Strategy for a Stable Income Portfolio

Constructing a stable income portfolio can be pretty challenging in an environment of low interest rates. Options that guarantee capital preservation such as bank fixed deposits, treasury bonds and bills (assuming it is held to maturity) provide comparatively little income. Holding defensive dividend paying stocks is a strategy that many investors use. The option is somewhat risky in that capital preservation is not guaranteed and it is rare that such a portfolio can produce income over 4%. A variation on the same theme is using covered calls to produce more income while sacrificing some of the capital appreciation potential. This approach guarantees more income but capital preservation is still a problem. Capital preservation can be achieved by purchasing puts against the long positions but that will obviously reduce income.

We are in a similar dilemma currently as we attempt to diversify away from a significant stock position held in an Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP). Basically, the idea is to preserve capital while generating as much income as possible to support part of our on-going cash needs. To that end, we are in the process of building a defensive portfolio with good income generation. Below are a set of steps we are following to implement the strategy:
  1. Build a core set of 20 to 30 stable stocks that are optionable,
  2. Invest in four to six of the best value plays from this list,
  3. Write short-term (up to 90 days) covered calls – the premium should be >5% at a minimum,
  4. If the stock is called away, replace it with the best value play from the list in step 1. If the option expires worthless, rollover by writing another short-term covered call or if the value matrix has changed, close the position and write another covered call, and
  5. Revisit and update the core list in step 1 once every twelve months.
The strategy should ensure >20% annual income but will have downside risk. To minimize the risk of significant capital losses in the face of a correction, selectively buy puts against some of the positions. Below is a core list of 25 stocks (see step 1 above) that we have come up with:


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