“Contrarian” Investing

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“In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – Famous quote misattributed to George Orwell. True attribution unknown.

A quick definition of Contrarian Investing is “an investment strategy that is characterized by purchasing and selling in contrast to the prevailing sentiment of the time”
( http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/contrarian.asp )

Pretty simple. But more valuable than ever in a time where real news is labelled “fake”, and vice versa. A time where everyone around seems to be living in various bubbles. Echo chambers that feed into their confirmation biases. Willful ignorance. Information overload. Any number of reasons.

I get it. The world is a complicated and messy place, and investing properly means seeing connections between so many disparate pieces of information, much of which might be incorrect, or downright fabricated. The problem is further complicated by a secondary effect, which is the actions of other players (both human, and “headline scanning” high-frequency trade machines), acting upon their perception of reality.

The thing is though, when “everybody knows” something, it often turns out to be false. Especially in the investing world, even a definitive truth leads to distortion. If a stock, fund, or other asset is clearly incorrectly valued, and that fact becomes widely known, the buying or selling frenzy that ensues will revalue it grossly beyond where it makes any kind of rational sense.

I look for these things. It does require work. But it’s like anything. You don’t buy a big ticket item without doing research. Once you own it, you still need to pay attention to it, giving it proper care and maintenance. Car analogies abound.

The best investments, IMHO, are the ones you’ve been paying attention to for a long time, that suddenly enter the spotlight in a nonsensical way. They’re like finding a precious antique at a garage sale.

But this means you have to know something about antiques. Genuine interest must come first. Thankfully, there are so many different things to invest in, it stands to reason that there’s something for everyone. I’ve even encountered people who beat the odds consistently, by knowing about coffee. Coffee futures on commodity exchanges, stocks in large coffee retailers, etc. Go figure.

Me? Well, here’s what part of my desktop looks like:

measures

I have the same set of stats on my desktop at home and at work, and those are all updated once per minute. They tell me the price of Canadian crude oil (Western Canada Select), the currency exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollar, and both the North American spot price of gold, and how much a physical ounce costs to buy/sell in down town Vancouver.

Clearly I’m interested in precious metals, oil, and currency. It could just as easily be tech sector, real estate, or whatever. But I can’t help it. I know people who live and work in northern Alberta, and I love gold, ok? 😛

So I’ve been watching, and I noticed, especially towards the end of 2016, that across the board, precious metals mining stocks have been severely undervalued. I read news about them, look at their financial reports, and developed a growing sense of this. I figured that even by conservative estimates, the majority of the sector is at least 30% lower than it should be. These companies have real assets, real profits, and pay real dividends on stock, so it’s not like the “fantasy” investing that pervades the unicorn stocks in the tech sector, where companies are deemed to be worth billions because of “eyeballs”, or whatever.

That’s why my first investment, when I finally got a hold of a self-directed account for TFSA (Canadian Tax Free Savings Account) investing, was a precious metals miner fund. Exactly one month after my date of purchase, it was up 22.4%. Did I expect that? Not exactly. Is it volatile? Of course it is. I expect that at some point very soon, it’ll go down by a shocking amount. I think, though, that within the next year or two, I’ll see a point where it’s up 35%, and maybe I’ll sell, depending on the situation as I see it.

Another thing I’m looking at is the Euro. Based on a barrage of news, from everywhere, I see it crashing hard soon. It could be a year or two, or it might not be until 2020. I don’t day trade. I look at what could be deemed “intermediate term”, because my predictions always seem to have a general degree of accuracy over that time range. I don’t have a crystal ball to know what anything in the world will look like when I’m ready to retire, and I don’t know what crazy thing is going to happen within the next 48 hours.

I think the Euro is going to trend downward, and some day I’ll wake up and it’ll suddenly crash by a double digit percentage. So how do you bet against something? You short it. See this: http://www.investopedia.com/university/shortselling/

Of course, I’m nowhere near a sophisticated enough of an investor to do this on my own, but I’m looking at a couple managed funds that do this. This will probably be something I buy next.

General thoughts… Investing properly like this requires constant learning. You can’t be afraid of math, and you have to be interested in news about the things you’re looking to invest in. Thankfully, this learning has been an organic process for me. When I look at performance charts, I’ll see options to show things like Bollinger Bands. I had no idea what those were a few years ago, but as is often the case, Investopedia came to the rescue.
( http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bollingerbands.asp )
I remember enough highschool math to remind me about moving averages, and standard deviations, so I felt comfortable with what those additional lines on the graph tell me. As a general rule, if I can’t understand a metric, I don’t pay attention to it. I’ve only got my toes wet in the ocean of technical analysis. I leave the finer details that might matter to day traders and fund managers to those people.

Ok, this is turning into a bloody book (as usual). I’ll stop for today with a “to be continued”…

R.I.P. What.CD outtakes

Other things I’ve posted, and some additional thoughts:

I found my favourite Japanese band Veltpunch via What.cd. There was one album. When their second album came out, and it didn’t appear on What, I ordered it online from a Japanese site (paying a small fortune), ripped it (to What’s extremely exacting standards), scanned all the liner notes, the CD tray card, and the CD itself, packaged it up, and threw it into the best music library in the world, with a full detailed write-up on it.

I did the exact same thing for the next 3 CDs. So 4 of the 5 Veltpunch albums that were on What.cd were my shares. I also did this with a couple dozen other incredibly rare discs I don’t think anyone would ever be able to find anywhere else. Some of them, I worked hard to track down and buy, because somebody on What requested them, but I also wanted them badly enough, and was willing to put in all this work to contribute to a place so extreme in its dedication to excellence, even I had a tough time meeting their standards (and had at least a couple of my early uploads turfed because I missed something).

People don’t know. What wasn’t just a pirate site. It was where you went to learn. It was the source of truth about everything to do with music. I’ve learned so much more about music and audio in the last 8 years or so, just because of that place. Nothing else on the internet comes even remotely close.

I’m still in denial. This can’t be it…so many millions of hours of work…

There it is, still in the top left of my firefox “new tab” top sites. Not because it’s pinned, but because it’s how I start and end my day, pretty much every day…

Björgmundur Spjallþráð's photo.

Also, there were the donations. I had bitcoins, so I’d donate something every once in a while. It probably averaged out to about $100 a year, about $800 in total, if I had to estimate. Nowhere near what What was worth to me. How much would that have been? $20, $30, $40 a month? Probably.

Then of course, there’s this:
img_20161119_2309199
I can’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling. It’s not like somebody died. It’s like part of me died. I don’t know how else to put it.

R.I.P. What.CD

What.cd is no more. This article says much of what I could say about it:

http://qz.com/840661/what-cd-is-gone-a-eulogy-for-the-greatest-music-collection-in-the-world/

I feel like a limb has just been chopped off. It’s been less than a day since I found out, and already I’ve had at least half a dozen instances of wanting to know something, thinking “well, I’ll just check what.cd”, and realizing I can’t do that.

Every time, over most of the last decade, that anyone has ever asked me a music question that’s so random and obscure that I don’t already know the answer, I’ve always simply said “I dunno, but give me 2 minutes”, and I’ve found a solid, reliable answer on what.cd

It cannot be overstated. The rest of the internet, the rest of humanity’s collected knowledge about recorded music anywhere else outside of what.cd is inferior by orders of magnitude. Wikipedia is laughably incomplete, and full of wild inaccuracies. Discogs.com is typically a little over half-complete for any given artist, and lacking in the kind of background information that provides any useful context to what you find. Everything else is horrendous, especially when it comes to music that pre-dates the 1960s, music outside the western world, and anything extremely obscure, underground, or ridiculously rare.

It was to the point where, if something wasn’t already on what.cd, or at least being discussed there, it was probably fake.

So, for me, it wasn’t about piracy. Sure, I downloaded a ton of stuff from there. At last check, about 700 FLAC torrents. A tiny drop in the bucket of records, tapes, CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, and digital downloads I’ve purchased. Most of it is things that simply cannot be bought, or so obscure and so long out-of-print that you can only find a used copy somewhere for several hundred dollars.

It was about knowledge. It was things like:

I want to re-buy an old favourite album that I only have on cassette. Which CD or vinyl pressing, over the years has the best sound quality? What.cd would always have a discussion with people comparing (with spectrum graphs, and DR analysis results) different remasters, and declaring a winner…usually indicating that a recent remaster had succumbed to the “loudness war”, and had all the life sucked out of it.

I once borrowed a version of a CD that had bonus tracks on it that the item on amazon.com is missing, but I want to buy it for myself. Where did that CD come from?

Every CD I ever ripped, for my own use, to put on my player, I always ran through what.cd/logchecker.php, even if I had no intention of torrenting it. It was the only real way to ensure that the rip was “100% perfect”. If it met what.cd’s unique set of arduously determined, and strongly justified conditions, it was even above and beyond my own requirements. I hope somebody has that source code, and it resurfaces.

Guides. Vinyl ripping guides, file conversion guides, audio engineering and analysis guides. “How to get into [obscure band]” discussions. The “name that tune” sub-forum. The “is this fake?” sub-forum. If it wasn’t on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums, it was at what.cd.

Then, of course, there were the “strings to pull”. An off-hand comment in the discussions under any given release, saying “this album isn’t as good as…”, or “these guys remind me of a watered-down [better band]”.

This was coming from people who were members there. Being a member there meant something different. You couldn’t last there (or even become a member there) unless you were a certain type of person. Sure, it was elitist, but it needed to be, in order to maintain a level of integrity unsurpassed anywhere else regarding music. You had to pass a live test to get in there, and it was HARD. Study guides were available, and although I did need to brush up for a few hours first, I know many people needed to do some serious learning for days or weeks before they were ready. Accounts were dropped for any kind of bad behaviour there, warnings were issued for breaking rules, torrents were (usually within minutes) reported for not meeting a standard. I had two of my early torrents dropped for missing something, and I was warned a couple times (eg. for providing a fact without citing appropriate sources), and I wouldn’t dream of complaining, because it was fully justified.

I just don’t know that something like what.cd will ever exist again. The millions upon millions of hours, from extremely dedicated people, required to make what.cd what it was…I don’t even know if the members there will be willing to go through another decade of that kind of thing again somewhere else. I know I’m simply too demoralized right now to even contemplate it.

But maybe, my wild hope is that all those terabytes of site data (none of the actual torrents, because that’s only a tiny part of what made that place valuable) survived somewhere, and will be made available somehow. Kinda like:

You’re in Russia and more than a million works of art
Are whisked out to the woods
When the Nazis find the whole place dark
They’ll think God’s left the museum for good

Right now though, the song in my head is not that one, but Don McLean’s American Pie.

If you read all this, thanks. I just needed to get all this off my chest. I’ll end with a composite screenshot of just one tiny piece of the site. The top half (not including the exhaustive user discussion section) of one of millions of pages just like it…

oxygene_what-cd

See also: https://umdesch4.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/r-i-p-what-cd-outtakes/

 

Sigur Rós – Popplagið mixdown

On June 30th, 2006, Sigur Rós performed Popplagið, from the album () at Klambratún Park, Reykjavik, Iceland. It was a landmark performance, broadcast live around the country on RÚV and captured in its entirety on the bonus DVD of the documentary Heima. Despite having seen them perform this song myself a few times, and listening to/watching every performance of it I can find, this is still my favourite, and also one of my favourite concert performances of all time. I watch that disc on my home theater whenever I get a chance, at house-shaking volume. I decided I wanted to carry the audio of it with me, but I haven’t been happy with any of the stereo mixes of it I’ve found. So I decided to make my own “headphone mix” from the 5.1 surround audio on the DVD itself.

I ripped the DTS stream, originally 32-bit, 48 kHz, to a monstrous set of raw .wav files, pulled the whole mess into Adobe Audition, and went to work. I didn’t want to mess with things too much, so there’s no effects added, EQing, or anything like that. The only real serious change I did was throwing a tiny amount of compression on the center channel. There were some volume changes at various points in the center channel audio that I feel are “inauthentic” and probably done manually after the fact for the DVD. It doesn’t jive with the original TV broadcast, and doesn’t jive with my experience of their other live performances. I felt like this was a justified attempt at an “undo” on my part.

The rest was just mixing. I took a surround submix from the left and right surround channels that I was going to play with the stereo imaging on, but it was just too good to mess with. All I did with that was offset it in the final mix by 100 ms, just to recreate a feeling of “big space” when you listen to it in headphones. I also nudged it up a barely perceptible 2 dB, relative to everything else in the full mix. Similarly, I jacked the LFE up a surprising 4 dB before I felt like the bass had enough warmth and thump to sound right in the various pairs of headphones I was auditioning this with.

Really, that’s about it. The mix I ended up with matches my personal preference reasonably well. There are some things that I can’t “fix” without a lot of work. Everything I did was “fire and forget” settings that apply to the entire duration of the track. Some time, if I ever get several hours, I might try to do something about the extreme limiting on the main left+right mix that really squashes things in the last few minutes. That kind of thing is extremely difficult to fix though. I can clearly see that this was done in mastering, and is a sad waste of 32 bits. The resulting mix has a dynamic range that is just shy of 80 dB, when technically it could, and should be nearly double that. Also, I might do a more tailored volume adjustment on the center channel, instead of the blanket compression I did. It makes Jónsi‘s voice a little loud when he first comes in. Then again, I love the way it all sounds anyway, so maybe not!

At the end of it all, I feel like this mix isn’t perfect yet, but is vastly superior to any other stereo mix I’ve yet heard, so I’m happy to share it. All technicality aside, this right here is the prime example of why I say music is my religion. Grab your best headphones, crank this, and be transported:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0rPp4_Z9UenOFBfY05JeXlDWFk

 

Style – Telephone

Let me tell you what loving a song is about…

Once upon a time, back in 1985, I recorded a lot of things off the radio. Much of it was from 94.3 CKMF FM in Montreal. They had a countdown, top 10 at 10 kind of thing I recorded, and for a couple of weeks, there was this incredibly cool song that floated around on it.

I have cassette recordings of it, but it took me many, many years to track down the source.

So there was this band, called Style, from Sweden. They released a single that made a bit of a splash back then called Telefon. Here’s what the dance mix of it sounded like:

I guess somebody at Sire records in the US pulled some strings, and got them to do an English language version of it.  That’s what I got to hear, record, and ponder over for decades. Then I started looking for it.

Now, there are a couple bad rips of it floating around, but a couple years ago, there was nothing, so I did some research, and some shopping. I sourced a couple copies of the original 12″, one from Brazil, and one from Holland. My reasoning was that I could eventually do a vinyl transfer on both of them, and if there were any glaring imperfections, I could crop together the best bits of each, and make something listenable out of it.

IMG_20160905_1707223.jpg

That’s exactly what I just did tonight. It took me most of the last 2.5 hours to do this. I ended up taking the majority of the audio from one copy, and replacing two sections of it with heavy pops from the second copy (painstakingly, with single-sample level cuts). Then I ran a bunch of basic utility cleanup on it, some gentle paragraphic EQing, and slight multi-band compression on the final result to make it sound “good” to my ears.

Here’s the result:

Soundcloud, for average people: https://soundcloud.com/umdesch4/style-telephone-english-version-12-umdesch4-remaster

Chirbit, for Apple people: http://chirb.it/C8AILH

Amazing 32-bit, 48 kHz lossless FLAC, for audiophiles: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0rPp4_Z9UenY1dBNU9RVU9XdkE/view?usp=sharing

Enjoy!
umdesch4

David Bowie Multitrack Files

This might serve as therapy for others like me, so I’m sharing it, at the risk of potential copyright infringement. Of course, I don’t “own” any of it, but hopefully it will stick around for long enough to make a difference.

Here’s one set of multitracks I have (as .mogg files). I also have stems for a few of the same songs as separate files, from elsewhere, but the quality isn’t as good. These are the ones I’ve been playing with the most over the last 3-4 years:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ywp4vpw3gdod4su/Bowie%20Multitracks.zip?dl=0

All you need to explore and play with these properly is Audacity, which is thankfully freeware for Windows/Mac/Linux. You can get it from:

http://audacityteam.org/download/

Here are some tips for working with this stuff…

First, once the software is installed, it should open mogg files by default. All you should need to do is double-click on them. You will then be presented with a screen somewhat like this:

Audacity_mogg

It’s pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few things worth knowing, even if you generally know your way around audio editors.

The biggest one is that for whatever reason, the mogg file format doesn’t save pan assignments for the tracks, so before you hit play, you have to do it for each track, every time you load the file. Most of the time, you can tell that the tracks are supposed to be hard-panned left/right pairs, just by looking at them. Basslines and other little things are sometimes just single tracks, so I usually go back to the original song, and listen to see if that part is off-center, and try to match it. If you look at the screenshot above, you can see the pan assignments are set for these tracks using the L/R sliders along the far left edge of each track.

Usually, the tracks are pre-balanced so leaving the volume settings will get you close to the original levels of the song. I sometimes bump up the volume of specific things, using the +/- sliders right above the pan assignment slider.

Then it’s just a matter of using mute/solo buttons on combinations of tracks until you find something you like. I typically start by clicking the mute button on all the tracks, and then bringing them in a track (or usually a stereo pair of tracks) at a time. Of course, none of the tracks have any kind of actual names, so it’s all a bit of a fun mystery to solve. Generally though, drums are at the top, bass after that, guitars and other stuff next, and vocals all near the bottom.

I sometimes get fancier, like I did with Ziggy Stardust, and extract the tracks to individual files so I can import them into more professional software, and mess around with them in more detail, etc.

Here what that ended up sounding like: https://soundcloud.com/umdesch4/david-bowie-ziggy-stardustumdesch4-bass-player-mix

So that, in a nutshell, is it. Be careful if you’ve never done this before…and by that I mean keep a clock handy, because hours can just disappear.

And if you enjoy this far too much, like I do, then let me know, because I have over 1000 mogg files from other bands and artists too. But obviously, right now, it’s all about Bowie, and will probably be for quite a while…at least for me.

Cheers,
umdesch4