Good books about babies

As a few friends are now following us into parenthood, I thought it might be helpful to put down on paper some of the things we found most useful. In that spirit, here’s part 1: baby books that we liked. Many thanks to Nancy Kurylowicz, who first pointed us towards many of these books.

Pregnancy & First Months

More movies online! Via the USA

My local video stores all closed two years ago, and we switched largely to iTunes rentals, plus the occasional Bay St. video or Film Buff for obscure films. I was initially quite unhappy with the selection on iTunes Canada – we watch a lot of obscure, old and foreign films, but most of the video-on-demand services are mainly good for post-2005 North American films. So, I’ve just done a quick scan of the alternatives.

The verdict: iTunes Canada is considerably better than it used to be, and iTunes US is a little better – but not massively better. Using both iTunes US and Amazon Instant Video is probably the best bet.

Here’s the math. We’ve got a list of 81 movies we’d like to see. This list already excludes many easy-to-find titles that we’ve already rented from iTunes Canada, but still has a number of popular movies. Many films on the list are from the Onion A.V. Club’s Best of 2000s and orphans lists, the American Film Institute’s Top 100, and good films I’ve previously seen and would like to watch with my wife. You can think of my list as an “obscurity-ometer” – the more you can hit off, the better for viewing obscure films.

Continue reading “More movies online! Via the USA”

Summer break mix

coverA more electronic-heavy mix, to celebrate the start of my summer break!

There’s not much more to say, except maybe that track #7 is supposed to be a metaphor about the music industry, not just raw sex.

Download here, for a few weeks only. I was hoping to post this as an iTunes Store playlist so you could buy the tracks… but apparently that feature has recently been removed.

[ Postscript: Mixcloud now lets me do something reasonable. ]

  1. tv on the radio. love dog. rock, from dear science…, 2008.
  2. broken social scene. all to all. rock, from forgiveness rock record, 2010.
  3. basti grub & mike trend. afrika am strand [short version]. acid jazz, from future sounds of jazz vol. 12, 2012.
  4. múm. the ballad of the broken string. ambient, from yesterday was dramatic – today is ok, 2000.
  5. afx. reunion 2. electronic/experimental, from chosen lords, 2006.
  6. the long lost. woebegone [flying lotus’ like woe remix]. electro / dubstep, from ninja tune xx compilation, 2010.
  7. the roots feat. cody chestnutt. the seed (2.0). hip hop / soul, from collateral soundtrack, 2004.
  8. roots manuva. chin high [manuvadelic version]. hip hop, from you don’t know: ninja cuts compilation, 2008.
  9. black sun empire. don’t you. drum & bass, from driving insane, 2004.
  10. burial. street halo. techno, from fourtet – fabriclive 59 compilation, 2011.
  11. trentemøller. nightwalker. downtempo, from the last resort, 2006.
  12. patrick watson. lighthouse. rock, from adventures in your own backyard, 2012.
  13. portishead. deep water. jazz, from third, 2008.
  14. sarah harmer. new enemy. folk, from all of our names, 2004.
  15. feist. so sorry. pop, from the reminder, 2007.
  16. thom yorke. and it rained all night. rock, from the eraser, 2007.
  17. prefuse 73. choking you. glitch, from one word extinguisher, 2003.
  18. ingfried hoffman. midnight bossa nova. jazz, from mojo club dancefloor jazz vol. 9, 2000 (original: 1969).

Passive portfolio 2012

I have little new to add about my investment portfolio; mostly, this is just an update on the fine, fine results of the past year – a +12% year!

Past editions: 2009, 2010, 2011

I’ve made only a few tweaks to my portfolio targets this year:

  • Switched to a 75/20/5 portfolio split on equities/bonds/cash, from 80/15/5.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but wanted to wait for a good stocks year before doing it.
  • Dropped XRB (real return bonds) from the target portfolio. I’ve been a little baffled by the ETF’s good performance for the past several years; it didn’t make sense to me, and while I’d added XRB to my target portfolio, I hadn’t actually gone through and purchased yet. I finally figured out the reason: XRB holds mostly long duration bonds, with an average duration of 20.4 years. It’s the inflation-protected equivalent of XLB (long bonds, avg. 22.6 years), not the twin of XBB (mixed bonds, avg 9.7 years). That explains the good recent performance – long bond prices have been on a tear as interest rates plummeted and settled at zero. But their future performance doesn’t look good at all; it’s a terrible time to enter an XLB or XRB position. If there was a Canadian real return bond ETF with a shorter duration, I’d consider it, but there isn’t.
  • Adjusted target weights due to Vanguard changes regarding South Korea (a.k.a. jokingly as “Samsung”). Vanguard is in the process of migrating its funds to a different set of target indices, and the new indices classify South Korea as a “developed” economy rather than an “emerging” economy. My target weights for VEA and VWO have to change as a result.
  • Adjusted target weights for shifting national market cap shifts. This raises the US market exposure in particular. I use Vanguard data on the components of their VT fund to decide the appropriate weights for VTI/VEA/VWO; I’m essentially trying to manually match the contents of VT excluding Canada.

Here’s a table comparing last year’s portfolio target with my current target:

(last year)
   U.S.A. VTI 28.7% 28.7%
   Europe / Pacific VEA 26.4% 24.2%
   Emerging VWO 8.9% 7.1%
   Canada XIC 16.0% 15.0%
Subtotal 80% 75%
Fixed income
   Broad bonds VAB/XBB 11.3% 20.0%
   Real return bonds XRB  3.8%
Subtotal 15% 20%
Cash 5% 5%


Let’s close with a quick review of the performance of this portfolio over the past several years. The table below shows the annual returns of each component of the portfolio, giving the “sequence of returns” for each piece.

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
   U.S.A. VTI -9% -23% 11% 11% 6% 16%
   Europe / Pacific VEA -6% -27% 10% 3% -8% 18%
   Emerging VWO 17% -42% 52% 13% -15% 19%
   Canada XIC 9% -33% 34% 17% -9% 7%
Subtotal -2.2% -27.8% 18.9% 9.9% -3.3% 15.2%
Fixed income
   Mixed bonds XBB/VAB  3% 6% 5% 6% 9% 3%
Subtotal 3.0% 6.1% 5.1% 6.0% 9.1% 3.0%
Cash 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Total -1.1% -19.7% 15.2% 8.6% -0.7% 12.0%

Same assumptions as usual:

  • Expressed in Canadian dollar terms (i.e., including all currency shift effects and using no currency hedging)
  • Rebalanced annually

Cumulative returns:

  • From Jan. 2007 to Dec. 2012: 10.7%
  • From Jan. 2008 to Dec. 2012: 11.9%
  • From Jan. 2009 to Dec. 2012: 39.3%
  • From Jan. 2010 to Dec. 2012: 20.9%
  • From Jan. 2011 to Dec. 2012: 11.3%

I started investing in late 2008, so I usually look at the Jan. 2009 – Dec 2012 return – but it’s always good to remember that this gives a very rosy view compared to other starting dates.

Closing Thoughts

Despite all of the European fear and the “fiscal cliff” in the US at year end, it’s been a very good year. This year finally demonstrated the value in a globally balanced portfolio, as Canada’s markets stagnated. And the portfolio’s already up another 3% since Jan. 1st…