If you’ve ever built a motorcycle from scratch, you can appreciate how the process is nothing like an IKEA instruction manual. Getting the final product just the way you like it is a journey that takes time and often requires seeking out new information and components at various steps along the way. But the reward of squeezing out those extra few horsepower or getting the ride just the way you like it is very high, and well worth the extra effort over simply buying the easy option off the dealer lot.
While mechanical engineering is my background, these days I spend a lot more time playing with financial data than nuts and bolts. But the fundamental thought process is still the same. I like to think of the site and all of the underlying calculations as my own intellectual garage where I can try out new ideas, and I’m always looking for opportunities for improvement.
I don’t know about you, but in my neck of the woods the weather has been absolutely beautiful lately and unseasonably warm for a February day. The sunny days have made me start to think ahead to the garden in my back yard and how I might want to improve it this year. Some of that will require a bit of cleanup, and some is about finding new plants to complement what did well last year. I don’t naturally have a green thumb, but I’ve found that persistence is a virtue. Every year the garden is a little better than before.
In that same spirit, as part of the necessary site data cultivation effort I just finished updating the Stock Index Calculator with new data.
As a creative person inhabiting an engineer’s mind, I’m often a walking contradiction of organization. On the one hand, a messy desk does not bother me at all and I like having lots of information in front of me to draw from when I work. But on the other, eventually the collection of stuff reaches a critical mass where I can no longer find what I’m looking for, at which point I decide it’s time to clean up and organize. That tension between chaos and order is just part of how I think.
Along those lines, while I very intentionally keep Portfolio Charts simple and intuitive in the Assets, Portfolios, and Calculators I realize I’ve reached the point in the Commentary where the old system really isn’t doing the site justice and relevant posts are a bit too difficult to identify and track down. The logical next step would be to roll out a typical blog archive sorted by date or topic, but keeping with the spirit of designing the site primarily as a set of practical tools I’ve decided to build something a bit more comprehensive. As you may have already noticed up top, there’s now an entire new section called the Library.
I can’t claim to be much of a cook, and baking is one of those skills that even accomplished cooks can struggle with. But despite the heat, the effort, and the inevitable mess there’s something truly special about the smell of a freshly baked dessert as it first comes out of the oven. At that point the stress and frustration just melts away and it all seems worth it.
It took a lot of time and effort, but the Portfolios and Assets pages are now all fully updated. Get them while they’re still hot!
The New Year is officially underway. The holiday hangover is starting to wear off, resolutions have been made (and already broken), and bowl games are wrapping up. But most importantly, new 2016 data is available! I have actually been feverishly working for over a month now to prepare, and am proud to announce some exciting new updates to each and every calculator:
The magical week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a common time of relaxation and reflection. It’s maybe a little more frantic on my end as I prepare for year-end market returns and some exciting accompanying updates I have in the works, but it’s always helpful to pause and take a moment to review the year that was.
After talking to a few people about my last calculator update, I found that perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about my motivation. I also realized that I cut unnecessarily deep with the changes, which probably added to the confusion. So allow me to offer both an explanation and a few improvements.
As Portfolio Charts has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year, so has my sense of responsibility for being a good citizen in the data-sharing community. In an effort to respect the underlying data that drives the site and to support the sources that provide it, I’ve made a handful of changes to the calculators to hide the detailed annual returns for individual assets:
From the many data-packed charts to the carefully-worded posts that seek to explain complicated topics in ways everyone can understand, one of my highest-level goals of the site is to help make portfolio theory a little less confusing. But as the site grows and I receive more feedback, I occasionally discover that my earlier choice of terms actually trips people up. So when I run across a situation like my calculator naming convention not scaling properly to a larger audience, I occasionally have to backtrack for a moment to clear things up.
I remember the first time I tried raspberries as a kid. They were straight out of my grandmother’s garden, but were complete mysteries to me. All I knew was that the plants had thorns and that I should avoid them, but after one bite I wondered why they weren’t in every meal! When my entire paradigm for fruit consisted mostly of Life Saver flavors, getting new information was a revelation.
Even later in life, I think that same sense of discovery still motivates me and getting new information is always an exciting moment. Sometimes it reinforces your old ideas, and sometimes it tears them down entirely. For me, just like when I was a kid the most interesting outcome is when it opens up new possibilities you never even considered. It’s not that you were wrong, it’s just that you had no idea there was another way.
In that same spirit, today I made a bunch of data updates to the site touching almost every calculator, portfolio, and asset. Some changes are minor, others include important improvements to older data sets, and a few completely new stock indices may change the way you look at portfolio construction.