“When I Was Your Age…” You Young WhipperSnappers Have No Idea

Back in May, 2010, I wrote what I think is a pretty important post: the Little Guy Has Nothing to Complain About.  Tadas @ Abnormal Returns reprised that concept recently in a post titled “There Has Never Been A Better Time To Be An Individual Investor.”   The technologies, breadth of access, information and product that are available at little or no cost to today’s traders and investors is simply staggering.  Today’s young whippersnappers have no idea how it used to be back in the good old days (see, there’s some intentional irony there, because I myself, despite being only 35, am still a relative whippersnapper compared to a plethora of other old timers.)

I can remember a mere 15 years ago when I used to call in to Schwab for 15 minute delayed quotes and trading.

“Enter the symbol you are interested in”  the computerized prompt would urge me.

I’d pound out 4-6-6 for I-O-M – Iomega.  Does that one bring back memories for some of you relative dinosaurs out there?

“IOMEGA”  the computerized voice would spurt: “EIGHTEEN AND THREE EIGHTHS. UP FIVE EIGHTS.” Yes – the computer clearly screamed in all-caps.    But that data was already 20 minutes old. (ps – we used to trade in fractions, way way back in the day, kids.   A “teeny” is 1/16th, not a very small position)

Before that, I remember my first interest in the market: I’d scan Investors Business Daily’s daily earnings reports, looking for companies with increasing earnings.  I knew absolutely nothing about anything these companies did – and there was no “internet” to look things up on.   I’d have to call Schwab and harass the phone rep to give me the phone numbers for the companies, so that I could then call the companies and ask them to send me their investor packages in this thing called “the mail.”   If I was lucky, I could get 5 or six different numbers from the Schwab rep in one call before he got fed up and told me, politely, to go screw.   Then, if I was really lucky, I’d get piles of paper in the mail several days later in the form of annual reports, 10q’s, etc, and I’d be able to read through them.

But if I were to complain about that stuff, I’d be a spoiled little punk.  See, there are guys out there who had it even harder.  Case in point: Peter Brandt.

Peter Brandt may be the oldest guy I know*.  I’m fairly sure he’s the oldest blogger on the internet*.  He’s so old, he calls Warren Buffett “son.*”    Peter recently wrote a post about keeping charts manually. By hand – charting your own data:

“We used to keep charts by hand — I know it is hard to believe, but computers and charting programs have not always been around. In the 1970s when I started trading the only printed charts available were from Commodity Reserach Bureau. I would receive them once each month and update the markets I was watching by hand.”

Here’s one of his own hand-updated charts, from The Vault – 1974 copper:

Amazingly, Peter told me via email that he still does this – he prints out charts once a week and updates them by hand. I asked him why, and he replied:

“1. Old dogs die slowly.

2. It makes me think about the market in question. I can mark up where I got in, where my stops have been placed, etc. I think it brings me into more intimacy with the markets, in a non sexual sense.

3.It is too easy to knee jerk react to the flashes of a screen. I am able to pint and click my trades right off the computer screen.

Having a hard copy makes me slow down. If forces me to react to something I have already studies and marked up with my intentions rather than getting in the habit of responding to intraday noise.”

BCLund mentioned self-updated-charts a few weeks ago in a quality post containing this top notch humorous description, which is in the running for my “favorite 3 paragraphs of the year” award:

 

“When I bought my first stock in 1985 there was no such thing as real-time quotes or charting software for a retail trader.  If you wanted to get a chart on a stock you had to subscribe to a service and they would actually mail you a paper chart.

These services were so expensive that most families could only afford one chart, and once you got it, that was your chart for life.  Parents would pass the family chart down to their children, and if you wanted to trade another stock, you had to make enough money in your stock to afford another chart.

Traditionally it was the eldest son’s responsibility to update the chart by hand every night, which was a tedious job that could lead to big problems if you were not careful. One of my best friends, Eric Phillips actually spilled a Slurpee across a chart during this process, ruining it and causing his family to miss a cup-and-handle breakout in Xerox that could have moved them into a higher tax bracket.  He has never entered a 7-Eleven since.”

But BCLund is a sprite young WhipperSnapper compared to Peter Brandt.   Peter used to update his charts via candlelight, using a quill pen*.   If he was lucky, his broker would receive the orders he sent by telegram, and respond with execution reports sent by carrier pigeon. (note: Peter tells me that he never actually used carrier pigeons, but he did once enter an order via Teletype.  Teletype – kids – do you even know what that is?  No. Me neither.  Suffice to say that it probably wasn’t quite as interactive as Stocktwits)

So the next time you complain about getting outbid by a fraction of a penny by high frequency algos, remember the Dinosaurs – the Peter Brandts of the world who had the same problem, only they were trying to not get picked off by a human specialist for 3/8th of a dollar.

The next time you complain that you can’t get a 4-G connection while you’re sitting at Yankee Stadium trying to trade $LULU earnings after hours during a pitching change, imagine Peter Brandt trying to teletype his orders to a Hong Kong broker who may or may not be there to execute it.

The next time you complain about your online broker being 2 seconds late with an electronic execution report due to a deluge of internet traffic, remember Peter Brandt eagerly waiting at his homestead, hoping that the Pony Express would bring that week’s batch of execution reports (written on parchment, of course)*.

The next time you’re annoyed at potential bad data in the 100 different technical charts you can pull up in a matter of seconds, remember Peter Brandt (and BCLund) keeping their own charts – by hand.

Trust me, folks, you’ve never had it so good.

Peter Brandt: “Give Me Old Time Religion – The Way We Dinosaurs Used to Keep Charts

-KD

* not intended to be a factual statement

ps, Peter Brandt adds, in an effort to explain how old he is:

“I am on social security and medicare.  I need afternoon naps. I go to bed usually before 8 PM.  I have sons in their 40s (KD: holy crap he must be old!).  I still use paper charts — I print the charts from the computer to graph paper and then maintain the charts by hand during the week.  I use a plastic ruler for drawing boundary lines (often with a magic marker) originally made by hand by my grandfather in the 1920s. It is my prize possession.”

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