Feed on

Today I heard about The Hunt For Gollum, a freely distributed fan-made sidequel to The Fellowship of the Ring, the first Lord of the Rings movie. The Hunt For Gollum deals with Aragorn’s quest to find Gollum and is definitely worth a watch if you’re a LOTR fan, it’s only 40 minutes long and pretty well made considering this film was reportedly made on a budget of less than £3,000. You can find the movie over here, or watch the included YouTube version.

This year Carmen and I went on a holiday to Lanzarote, the easternmost island of the Canary Islands. It’s a relatively small island located in the Atlantic Ocean, just a bit more than 100 kilometers west of Africa.

We left home very early in the morning on Wednesday July 15th and arrived at the hotel around noon. One of my first impressions of Lanzarote was that it’s very lifeless, there’s very little vegetation, and I didn’t really like the architecture of the houses I saw on our way to the hotel. All the houses on Lanzarote are white, which is a huge contrast to volcanic landscape. They really stick out in a very harsh way instead of blending in with the environment.

We staid for one week at H10 Rubicon Palace, a nice 4-star hotel in the Playa Blanca area in the south of the island. We had to wait an hour or two before we could enter our room as it still had to be cleaned, so after checking in we had a quick look around and went to the pool bar to get a drink and grab something to eat. My first impressions of the hotel were pretty good, although it’s pretty huge and took some time to figure out were everything was located. The hotel had a nice garden, a total of six pools, lots of facilities, and friendly people. There was some noticeable wear and tear, like some broken tiles or walls that could use some paint, but overall it’s a pretty good place for its price class.

An hour or two later we picked up our key at the reception desk  and went to unpack our bags.  The room was pretty nice, it was spacious and had a large balcony with lateral sea view. Afterwards we went to the main restaurant to eat dinner, they always served all-you-can-eat buffets. Each time they served different things and there was always a very wide variety of meat, fish, pasta, vegetables, fruit, and more. For dessert there were usually about six different pies and various ice cream flavors as well. IMO the food at Rubicon Palace was better than what they served at Garden Resort Calabria last year.

The resort has six adult swimming pools and some shallow pools for little children. We spend most of our time at the main pool which was pretty huge, but mostly there weren’t too many people in the pool because the water wasn’t too warm. We didn’t have a lot of luck with the weather during our stay, for half a week it was rather cloudy and very windy. I knew there was a lot of wind on Lanzarote, but one day the wind was so strong that even some pool chairs ended up in the pool!

The Canary Islands are sometimes described as the isles of eternal spring but we were only blessed with good weather during about half of our stay on the island. I believe it was usually around 25°C, when the sun was shining it felt hot but when it was cloudy it sometimes got a bit too cold due to the wind. Therefore not too many people dared to take a swim in the pools. One of the smaller pools was supposedly heated, but I couldn’t really tell the difference with the other pools. One more thing about the pools, there are no freshwater sources on Lanzarote so the water in the pools is treated seawater. You have to make sure you don’t get any in your mouth because the water has a very disgusting taste.

H10 Rubicon Palace is located next to the sea and it’s a bummer there’s no nice beach attached to the resort.  The coastline is pretty rock with lots of height differences and there’s a very nice view from the hotel, it is overlooked by a dormant volcano and when the weather is clear you can easily see Fuerteventura and Lobos in the south. There was a tiny sandy beach a quarter of a kilometer from the hotel, but the first beach worthy that name was a 1.5km walk away from us. Fortunately, there is a pleasant kilometers long promenade next to the hotel that takes you all the way to the small town of Playa Blanca. We went to this village once, it was a nice walk but there wasn’t really much special to see or to do there.

To get the opportunity to see most of the main attractions on Lanzarote we did the grand tour of the island on Tuesday. A bus picked us up at the hotel at around 8.40 a.m. and one of our first stops was in Timanfaya, a volcanic national park, at the dromedary station. There we had the opportunity to take a ride on a dromedary. There are about 200 dromedaries on Lanzarote, in the past they were used in agriculture but these days they are mainly a tourist attraction. The ride through the volcanic landscape was fun but not really comfortable.

The next stop was at a wine cellar in La Geria where we could taste some wine. Vines are cultivated in a very unique way in La Geria because of the hostile environment and extremely low rainfall. There are thousands of small pits in which vines are grown in volcanic soil, which enables the plants to receive water from night time humidity. Each of these pits has a low, curved wall to protect the vines from the wind. No machines can be used due to this unique cultivation method so the production of wine in La Geria is very labor intensive.

After tasting some of the sweet Moscatel wine we went to the highest mountain of the island (about 670m high IIRC) where we were literally in the clouds. We didn’t have a nice view of the valley, but it was a pretty unique experience to see the clouds moving around you. Just below the peak of the mountain is a bar where we had a drink and bought a snack. Afterwards we went through the Valley of 1000 Palms and crossed some small villages.

One of the must-sees  is Jameos del Agua in the north of Lanzarote, it’s part of a volcanic cave system and was shaped by the island’s famous artist César Manrique. The caves are several kilometers long and in earlier centuries they were used by inhabitants to protect themselves from pirates. These days a small part of the caves are open to the public, after climbing down a stone stair you come across a cave with a natural salt water lake. It’s home to a species of tiny blind albino crabs. A bit further is a collapsed cave which Manrique turned into a spectacular looking oase with a crystal clear blue pool and a tall palm tree. Swimming is forbidden though, it was allowed in the past but no longer allowed due to the high number of visitors. One of the other caves is host to an auditorium where music concerts are held, and there’s also a museum about volcanism.

Jameos del Agua

After our visit to Jameos del Agua we crossed the island again and stopped in Mancha Blanca for dinner. A buffet was served for us but unfortunately there wasn’t really a lot of choice. This town has a church which was built in honour of the Virgin Mary, as locals believe a large statue of the Madonna saved the village from the lava flow of a 19th century volcanic eruption.

After dinner we went to the Timanfaya National Park, this area of the island is just a few hundred years old as it was mainly shaped by violent eruptions in the 18th century. The icon of the national park is the El Diablo statue by César Manrique, as all hell broke loose in this region. The national park is a very dead area, it has a moon-like landscape with very little vegetation and no wildlife save some birds.

The first stop in the park was at the restaurant, where you can see several demonstrations of the hot underground temperatures, we were told temperatures of up to 600°C can be found at a depth of little more than 15 meters. First you literally get to feel the heat as one of the employees hands over some soil which he just dug up at a depth of just 30 centimeters, most people dropped the volcanic gravel pretty quick as it had a temperature of around 60°C. Next they showed how easy it is to make a fire but the most impressive demonstration is when they pour a bucket of water into one of the steel pipes, the water blasts back out two seconds later as an impressive geyser! Another impressive attraction is the volcanic BBQ in the restaurant, it uses nothing more than the volcanic heat to grill meat and fish.

Next we received a half hour long bus tour of the park during which we got a  very close look at the volcanic landscape, the lava rivers, a collapsed lava tunnel, craters and more. It was pretty impressive, even though we were never allowed to leave the bus.

The final stop of the tour was El Golfo, this is a small green crater lake surrounded by cliffs. It gets its remarkable color from algae. Half an hour later we were back at the hotel, we took a quick dive into the pool and started packing our bags as we had to leave on Wednesday. Overall we had a nice stay and I can definitely recommend a visit to Lanzarote.

Just watched the latest episode of Weeds, what a lovely show 🙂 Another series I’ve picked up is Supernatural, I didn’t really expect much of this TV show but after watching the first episode I was hooked and worked my way through the first season pretty quick.

Reuters reports “socks” fell to their lowest level in 10 weeks on fear that the corporate earnings season will be weak and that the Obama administration may be plotting to provide a second stimulus to pump even more money in the economy, as those green shoots appear to be rotting.

“It’s clear that over the last three plus weeks that investors are becoming concerned that the recovery in the economy will not come as soon as expected and will not be as strong as expected,” said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors in Albany, New York.

“When there’s talk about another stimulus plan that adds fuel to that fire, it intensifies the concerns about the timing and strength of the recovery.”

Asians are buying more gold, first China and now word has come out of South-Korea that the Bank of Korea will likely buy gold for the first time in 11 years. According to official figures, the Bank of Korea had just 14.3 tons of gold as of late May this year.

Chang Min, the head of the Korea Institute of Finance’s macroeconomic research division who worked at the central bank until late last year, said, “The central bank has long considered several alternatives such as buying gold to diversify its foreign exchange reserve portfolio, which is heavily focused on dollars. It needs to secure more gold to diversify its investment.”

The Austrian economists from the Ludwig von Mises Institute point out the U.S. money supply figures are being manipulated. The Fed claims the money supply is $1.6 trillion but Howard S. Katz shows the actual number is $2.34 trillion.

In pursuit of the answer to how the monetary base got to be bigger than the money supply itself, I called the St. Louis Federal Reserve, and they were good enough to send me the following reply:

Half of all transaction deposits do not appear in M1 [the money supply] due to retail deposit sweeping. Adding these back into M1 causes M1 to be larger than the monetary base. (In retail deposit sweeping, banks reclassify checkable deposits as savings deposits so as to reduce statutory reserve requirements. Within certain legal bounds, such behavior is acceptable to the Fed. Bank customers are unaware that such reclassification is occurring.)

Plus the FOMC has increased the Fed balance sheet to levels never before seen. Banks are holding deposits at the Fed and not making a great deal of new loans (they are making some, but it is a recession after all). If the banks made new loans, that would generate more deposits to be included in M1.

Talking about manipulation, Joe Saluzzi from Themis Trading said on Bloomberg last week that as much as 70 percent of stock trading volume is fictious, it’s done by high frequency program trading computers.

High-frequency trading was in the news today by the way, as one of Goldman Sachs’ trading algorithms was stolen by an ex-employee. The Wall Street king claims the stolen code generates the firm “many millions of dollars” each year by doing “sophisticated, high-speed and high-volume trades on various stock and commodities markets”. The bank claims that in the wrong hands, the code could be used to manipulate markets in unfair ways 😉 Full story at Bloomberg.

At a court appearance July 4 in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti told a federal judge that Aleynikov’s alleged theft — the largest breach at Goldman Sachs — poses a risk to U.S. markets. Aleynikov transferred the code, worth millions of dollars, to a computer server in Germany, and others may have had access to it, Facciponti said, adding that New York-based Goldman Sachs may be harmed if the software is disseminated.

“The bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways,” Facciponti said, according to a recording of the hearing made public yesterday. “The copy in Germany is still out there, and we at this time do not know who else has access to it.”

And an interesting commentary over at Zero Hedge:

Markets are a zero sum game – somebody wins and somebody loses. Where do you think these “many millions of dollars” are coming from? They are coming from you – the average retail investor and the large institutional investor. These programs are taking advantage of real order flow and are siphoning off small profits throughout the day that belong in the pockets of the retail investor and the traditional money manager.

Mortage insurer PMI Group doesn’t believe the housing market will hit a bottom anytime soon. The company predicts prices may fall in more than half of the largest U.S. cities through Q1 2011.

“The housing market has been hit by a demand shock of high unemployment and a supply shock of distressed foreclosure sales,” LaVaughn Henry, senior economist at PMI, the fourth- largest U.S. mortgage insurer, said in an interview.

And to end today’s roundup of some interesting reports, here’s the news that the U.S. CFTC is making plans to clamp down on speculation in energy and commodity markets:

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler said in a statement on Tuesday that the agency will hold hearings in the next few weeks to seek comments from consumers and market players on whether to set position limits on all commodity futures contracts.

“Our first hearing will focus on whether federal speculative limits should be set by the CFTC to all commodities of finite supply, in particular energy commodities such as crude oil, heating oil, natural gas, gasoline and other energy products,” said Gensler, who took office on May 26.

The last couple of days have been pretty hot and it’s about to get even hotter, so far this summer is lining up to be pretty good. Here’s another edition of daily economics with an overview of some interesting articles and videos I spotted today (or in the last couple of days).

InflationUS presents Hyperinflation Nation. This half hour long documentary is about the dangers of hyperinflation, it’s an interesting compilation of video clips filled with lots of information. It’s hard to imagine hyperinflation taking place in the developed world, but some contrarian voices believe the gigantic amount of money printing may trigger such a doom scenario.

Bread and circuses: Madoff sentenced to 150 years in prison.

“In today’s regulatory environment, it’s virtually impossible to violate rules.” – Bernard Madoff, Oct. 20, 2007

Meanwhile, politicians are spending hundreds of billions in every major currency and passing bills over 1,000 pages long without even reading them. The latest example is the climate bill that was passed by U.S. Congress on Friday, a 300 page amendment was added to this already 900 pages long bill the night before the vote. I wonder whether there’s anyone who voted on this bill that had fully read it and understood what’s in it.

Swine flu isn’t that hot anymore as it was a couple of weeks ago, but according to the CDC infections have topped 1 million in the U.S. alone. Though, that’s still a lot less than the number of people that get infected by a regular flu every year.

On the positive side, reports by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank claim there is plenty of unused, fertile land available to grow more crops. The reports estimate 1.6 billion hectares could be added to the current 1.4 billion hectares of crop land in the world, with over half of the available land found in Africa and Latin America.

Is Google going too far? An article by MediaPost reports the search giant is experimenting with tying FICO scores to searchers, to offer advertisers the ability to target a specific type of consumer:

The strategy will enable the search engine to help advertisers target a specific type of consumer through display and text ads, according to Masha Korsunsky, Google’s senior industry marketing manager, financial services.

The project is one of two initiatives that Google recently explored to help advertisers reach “credit-worthy consumers” online. For both projects, Google partnered with Compete and the research firm’s 2 million U.S. consumers who opt into these types of projects.

“Let’s say we have an advertiser who wants to reach consumers with a high FICO score who applied for mortgages in the first quarter,” Korsunsky says. “We can provide the advertiser with a list of Web sites on our Google content network that index against this segment.”

Former ABN Amro banker found dead with gunshot wounds. Motives of the crime are unknown, but this case reminds me of the German pensioners who kidnapped and tortured their financial advisor after having lost their savings.

The VIX index (aka fear index) has fallen to 25.35 for the first time since the collapse of Lehman send a shockwave through the financial world.

Is China not as healthy as most believe? Telegraph writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard claims China’s banks are an accident waiting to happen.

Another interesting tale is that the audit of the Royal Canadian Mint has been completed. Media report 17,500 troy ounces of gold appear to have been stolen. At current market prices this stash of precious metals is worth around $16.3 million.

An interesting piece about Goldman Sachs appeared in the latest edition of Rolling Stone magazine. Writer Matt Taibbi claims the Wall Street giant played/plays a big role in at least five bubbles: The Great Depression, the Dot Com bubble, housing bubble, oil/commodities bubble, and the bailout (tax money funded) bubble. Taibbi believes the next bubble will be global warming, he says Goldman envisions the paper-shuffling carbon market will be worth a whopping $1 trillion a year.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »