Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Apple is really cool

My secret shame

I am a hardware luddite, and have basically zero interest in gadgets for gadgets sake. Only in February this year did I upgrade from my Nokia 6600. I am also terrible at assembling things. Once I bought a plastic peg basket consisting of three separate parts, two sides and a flexible body bit you snapped in to the sides. Despite the apparent simplicity I somehow managed to fail while attempting its assembly. Got it the second time though. In my high school woodshop class, my final project got an A for the idea and a C for the execution ... it's just not my forte.

My new macbook finally arrived. When I am looking for hardware, I try to do the bare minimum to ensure what that I buy will do what I actually need, and that's it. I only really upgraded as I needed some specific hardware for some graphics stuff.

So for a one paragraph review, and as someone who doesn't really care about hardware, it is amazing. It is light, quiet and incredibly fast. The retina display is markedly better than anything I have seen, it is more or less impossible to not notice the difference, despite how little one thinks they care about such matters.


One of the things that has engaged my time the last month or so was visiting my parents and cleaning out a lot of my old junk, which has lain dormant at their house for who knows how many years. Although it pained me greatly at the time, I threw out the following machines:

These are all UNIX workstations. If you don't know what that is don't worry, they are all horribly obsolete and all of the companies that made them are either bust, bought out or have abandoned the ideas behind them. 

The second one from the bottom of that stack is a HP Visualize C200 running HP-UX. It's huge and clocks in at 17 kg, all for a 200 MHz cpu. As a ballpark reference the A5 cpu in the iPhone can run at 800 - 1000 Mhz. The blue machines come from SGI, and behind them are 2 CRT monitors also from SGI which weigh about 20kg each. All up it's probably over 100 kg of hardware.

Having spent so much time with these machines, this macbook sitting next to me is seems other worldly. It is orders of magnitude faster than all of those machines combined. Due to the larger screen, it is bigger than my current laptop yet lighter, and height wise it's about half the width of my thumb. I can't help but be impressed by it's engineering, how did they get so much stuff in something so small and light?   

Apple is cool for other reasons

I spent some time the last few days seeing just how much of an outlier Apple really is relative to other companies. It can be a little hard to get your head around why that may be, but this is how I think of it, and why I think they will continue to be successful for the foreseeable future.

Take the microcosm of a free to air TV station as an example. In a nutshell, a production company will make a show and license it to the station for a fee. The station will show it for free and sell advertising to companies wanting to reach the viewers who watch it.

Now instead, imagine that the production company bought the equipment to make the show from the station, paid the station to broadcast its show, and gives the station a cut of any revenue it generates. That revenue is generated from consumers who also bought their TV from station. Throw some advertisers giving the station money in the mix there as well. Actual TV is not yet where it could be, but for software and music, that's how it works for Apple. I can't help but find it kinda cool. TV and movies are there in some form, but so far only nerds and youngish people watch that stuff on their computer.

This also says nothing about Apple's control over supply of the components used to make their hardware, as well as their patents. There's a reason why the trackpad on every other brand of laptop sucks. The success could easily breed complacency, but that hasn't happened yet. They make good products that do what they say on the box, which is something that seems simple but so many other companies fail at. 

No company is infallible, but they have a very strong position and have made a great success out of a new way to do things. I don't know of any other company that has been so successful while bringing about such a huge change (and it is a huge change). Amazon and Google have done a lot too, but I think Apple has gone further. I would love to hear of any others.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Multidimensional Scaling and Company Similarity

Background and idea

Often we are looking at a particular sector, and want to get a quick overview of a group of companies relative to one another. I thought I might apply Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) to various financial ratios and see if it gave us anything useful.

The premise is that companies in similar industries should all have a degree of sameness, so MDS might be useful to highlight the companies that stand out from the crowd, perhaps in some literal sense ...


I mostly use the data functions from quantmod to retrieve the financial statements from Google Finance. As always with free data, the quality is variable, but good enough for our purpose today. We need to do a bit of dancing to get the market price at the time the results were released, and this uses data from Yahoo Finance. It was a little bit more work to implement, but worth it so we can include P/E in the comparison.

I looked at two groups of companies, tech stocks and financials/banks.

For the tech stocks I used ROE, EPS, P/E, Operating Margin, Current Ratio, Gearing, Asset Turnover and Debt Ratio. For the financials, I used ROE, EPS, P/E, Gearing and Debt Ratio, mainly because the data available did not have the line items required to calculate the other ratios. 

The data from Google gives the last four periods, with the most recent coming first. It also gives Annual and Quarterly data and the charts below use the annual results. Annual Period 1 means the most recent results. Due to the scaling function, the actual scales on the graphs are not particularly meaningful, so I took them out. 


These are the charts for the most recent results (so end of year 2011). Overall, I am quite pleased with the results. We can see how most of the companies cluster together, while a few seem to be quite different. This shows at a glance the companies that might be worthy of further investigation. 

Tech Stocks



Code is up here MDS Company Similarity with R, it should hopefully be documented enough for others to mess around with. Any questions, comments or suggestions are very much appreciated as always.

As an aside, this is the first R program I wrote devoid of any for loops. I finally feel I am coming to grips with the language.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Particle swarm and Perlin noise

It has been a little too quiet here for my liking. For better or worse I have just been caught up with real life matters, mostly boring stuff like studying and moving and helping people move, so not even any juicy gossip to share.

Actually last weekend my credit card number somehow got stolen, which meant the new laptop I had on order has been postponed while I wait for my new card. I had been planning to do a bunch more stuff once it arrived as my current one is showing its age a bit, but I ordered it in June and there was a 4 week wait till it shipped, then the card thing happened the day before it was going to ship! But that's about it.

I did manage to get this done over the weekend, it's 150k particles traversing a vector field generated from Perlin Noise. When the new machine arrives I want to delve into GPU programming and 1 million particles is the goal.

Anyway, it's a bit cold and wet here right now, hope you're somewhere sunny and warm.

Music is Olson by Boards of Canada.