Most Disingenuous

The Motley Fool: How I Lost $200,000:

When you lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, primarily because of your own stupidity, there isn’t much solace.

I was a contributor to the Motley Fool in the early days when they started on AOL. When they “professionalized” their staff, I stopped. I owe a lot to the Gardner brothers, both for what they taught me about investing and about life. But I became disenchanted with their approach during the tech bubble as it became more and more clear that valuations were out of whack. They had a great approach to evaluating businesses, but they consistently ignored value. It was the only way that one could participate in the hot market of the time- you had to ignore what you were paying in order to keep playing.Once I realized that the party was over, I sold most of my holdings and manage to preserve much of the gains I had from the period. Others, like Selena Maranjian who authored the article remained true believers and held on until the bottom. The Fool had to abandon their founding principles in the end because their real money portfolios which had outperformed the markets during the rise had returned to earth. Now they push community and most shocking to me in a way, is they now promote mutual funds. They send out emails trumpeting short term gains in selected stocks which I generally ignore.This article bugs me as Selena seems to be blaming herself for not putting value into the equation and selling during the bubble. I think it would be more honest for the Fool itself to come clean about its mistakes during it’s growth period. They lacked a sell discipline. It’s something every investor needs. Knowing when to sell is much harder than knowing when to buy. In general, one should sell when the reason for buying is no longer present. In a liquid market with relatively low transaction costs, every day that one holds an investment, it is as if one is buying it anew. At least if we ignore tax considerations which can create value in selling stocks held at a loss and penalties in stocks held at a profit.

Hello world!

Welcome to On Deciding . . . Better 3.0. This is the continuation of a weblog begun in 1998 on Dave Winer’s EditThisPage community. I migrated to a Blosxom system in 1992. It’s time to adopt yet another weblog content system, this time WordPress.

Several posts from the old weblog have been successfully imported. I hope to move over more. The Flickr links are being moved as links, not images so they’ll require some repair as I move them over.

In the Marais, Paris


I’m just back from a week’s worth of travel to Paris and Berlin. Icaptured about 500 images, so there should be a steady flow as Ipostprocess them. I shot just about exclusively with the Nikon D80 andmy 24mm f2.8. I’ve realized that with Nikon’s CRC design, I can shootcloser with the 24mm than I can with my 50, so it works well both forthese kinds of street scenes as well as my urban fragment images.This was captured after dinner in the Jewish Quarter in the Marais. Ihad a fine Shwarma platter and was experiementing with artificial lightstreet shooting.

The Nikon 12-24mm f4 Zoom


Ever since I bought the Nikon D80, I’ve been using just my legacyprimes, the 50mm f1.8 and the 24mm f2.8. It’s influenced my photographyin bringing me close to subjects and a picture plane that is generallyflat and close. I used to have the 24mm as a real wide angle lens whenshooting film. During the time I used the Olympus E-1, I had at least a28mm (equivalent) view with the 14-54mm kit lens.Since I’m going to taking a week’s vacation in Italy in a few months, Ifelt is was time to invest in a wide angle solution for the D80. Withthe cropped sensor, the only real option is the digital only 12-24mm f4lens. I bought it used from KEH gettinga fine lens at about 75% of the price of new.So now it’s time to get back in practice capturing the big view in myusual style, so I had the lens out for a few minutes at a local parkwhile out with the kids. For some reason, I like the panoramic crop withthis image, although I admit it’s nothing very special, just showing offthe edge to edge sharpness of the lens.



I was traveling last week but the yield of photographs was low due to both weather and the level of daytime activity. The only time I had avaialble with some interesting visual material was the train ride from Regensburg Germany back to the Frankfurt airport. It had snowed a wet snow the night before in Bavaria, so I spent some time capturing images from the train windows. Nothing great due to conditions, but some material nevertheless.

In an airport (San Francisco perhaps?) I bought Robert Laughlin’s “A Different Universe: Reinventing physics from the bottom down”. In it, Laughlin argues very convincingly on how central emergent phenonmena are to physics and our difficulties in understanding fundamental aspects of our world. Since I see emergence as fundamental to explaining the mind-body duality and free will in a deterministic world, I really appreciated it. It spurred me on, indirectly I guess, to Read Matthew Stewarts’s “The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the fate of G-d in the modern world”. I’m now most of the way through Stephen Toulmin’s “Cosmopolis: The hidden agenda of modernity”.

I’m having fun in mashing up these two streams: Emergence and Spinoza/Leibniz. I may revisit my Tinderbox website on some of the issues in the next few weeks or, alternatively, mix some philosophy back into the mix here.

The Jones Falls


I’ve been walking around with the 20mm f2.8 on the camera lately. The 30mm equivalent is nice, but I think the 24mm is better suited for my usual shots. In this image I appreciated the wider view, but I shot wide open, so the foreground rocks are out of focus. Had I been thinking, it would have been a stronger image.

Now that I’ve had the D80 for 6 months and I’ve printed dozens of images, I’m settling on something of a working style for now. I’m working with formal composition as always, but looking for the influence of light and depth on a larger scale than I ever have previously. I’m working with images in which an area is obscured either by focus, reflection or some physical barrier which tends to emphasize the light or depth.

At this point my first figurative street photography work doesn’t quite fit in, but hope to develop it over time. On Flickr the street images are some of the most popular and it gives me somethiing to do with the Leica that I’m less successful at with the D80.

Another area that I’ve started with but have not yet developed is photographing with flash. Since my time to shoot is limited and the light is not always with me, it seems logical that I should work on adding my own light to images. Another area for development

Why Have We Burnt Out?

Doug Miller has taken down his weblog, saying “Blogging just aint what it used to be.” Alwin Hawkins has been, in his words, “underground”. And Dave Rogers continues his ongoing conversation with the net, mostly urging us to be less influenced and spend less time involved in the blogosphere.

I’ve continued to use this space as an online journal, mostly about my photography. But I’m no longer involved in the give and take of the online community. How did this happen?

I believe it’s because we’re no longer needed. RSS feeds and social networking sites have assumed the role that the blogging community used to play.

Like many, I now use Google Reader. According to the Trends Page, I’m subscribed to about 300 feeds and have scanned about 10,000 items in the last 30 days. There are a few key aggregators that seem to pick up on most of what interests me in the Tech, Photo, Outdoor/Fitness and Medicine spheres that I want to keep up with. Of course there are the few searches a day in which I go off in search of specific information to help with a purchase or develop a technique, but these rarely result in new feeds or bookmarks.

I have more than enough to read, so it seems there’s no need for me and others to be pointing the same items as everyone else. What about personal experience? Well I can get that on message boards and reviews on sites like Amazon. These social networking sites substitute the community that networks of weblogs once provided. I get my feedback on Flickr now, where a talented group of photographers share images and discuss equipment and technique.

We early bloggers were, I think, inspired amateurs that staked out the writable web early on. But those pioneer days are gone and the infrastructure has gone up to support cities and suburbs. We’re finding comfortable places to live and looking for the next adventure.

I have no doubt that we’ll find new and exciting frontiers in the next few years. For me at the moment, it’s a rediscovery of my visual art though digital photography and the ability to publish on the web both here and at Flickr. I’ve learned to focus on the Now and relish the surprises that tomorrow will surely bring.

About James Vornov

“On Deciding . . . Better” is the online journal of James Vornov M.D., Ph.D. A board certified Neurologist and internationally recognized drug development expert, he is currently Senior Medical Director and CNS Therapeutic Area Leader for PAREXEL International, a global Contract Research Organization. He completed his Neurology training at Johns Hopkins Hospital and served on the faculty there for 10 years. In 1998 he moved from academia to the pharmaceutical industry where he worked in a broad range of CNS therapeutic indications

This site, “On Deciding . . . Better” began as one of the first weblogs hosted by Dave Winer when he opened up the web to writers with the EditThisPage community in December of 1999. While the site has served as an online technology journal, it has focused variously on decision theory, systems theory and emergent phenomena in an informal setting. Most recently, digital photogaphy equipment and technique has dominated the subject matter, reflecting personal interests.

The site is currently hosted on Mac G4 Cube using Blosxom as a content management system.

Return to Riomaggiore


I’m just back from a vacation trip to Italy. It was just my wife and myself, in part celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary coming up in October. It was a chance to use some of the many, many frequent flyer miles that I’ve accumulated in the last few years. I had the chance to spend many hours in a somewhat concentrated fashion making photographs.

We had the opportunity to reconnect with a special place that we had not seen in nearly 20 years: Riomaggiore, a village in Italy that has provided the basis for many images that my wife has in her paintings. In a way, I was there as her photographer, to document the visual so that she would have new references for new paintings.

Riomaggiore is in Liguria, on the Mediteranean coast that is the continuation of the French Riveria. In the west there is the developed “Italian Riveria”, but as one moves east, past Genoa toward La Spezia, the coast is less developed. Just before La Spezia lie five towns which until after WWII were only approachable by boat. A rail line and then a highway opened them up after the war, but they remained much as they were. Known as the “Cinque Terre”, they have been a favorite of artists and poets. At the sea, now cut off from the rest of the village by the rail line is the small harbor.

At the Airport


When I travel on business, I’m always hesitant to sit in the airport and capture images. Somehow, on vacation with my wife as cover, I felt much less inhibited about snapping away.

We drove from Baltimore to the Philadelphia Airport. The new International Terminal has nice big windows overlooking the exterior and the sky was filled with clouds. I continue to rely mostly on my 24mm f2.8 lens with the D80. As a 36mm equivalent, it’s a very flexible field of view that can be wide as here or close up, provide detail. I traveled with the 24mm on the camera, my 50mm and 12-24mm f4 DX wrapped in the backpack. No telephoto on this trip.

Since this is vacation photography, there’s an important documentary aspect, so I’ve shot many scenics and location images that reflect a more “straight” photography style than my personal work. I’m sure there will be a few personal keepers in the collection.

There are so many images that it would be impossible for me to work through them using my fine print workflow. I’ve decided to work within Aperture until I’ve digested most of the images. I’ll then circle back and reprocess the best through my current workflow, which is Capture One for RAW conversion and the Photoshop CS3 for overall and local contrast/brightness changes.