Railfanning Chicago

Siemens ACS-64 with Sears Tower in the background

My kids love trains and I must admit I’m a fan as well. On weekends I always try to take them to the train yard. We sit in the car and wait for the trains and locomotives to go by. It’s the main Amtrak train yard, so there are plenty of Amtrak cars and engines – long haul GE Geneses, and many shunting locomotives. Every once in a while we see coaches all the way from California, or some vintage carriages.

In the summer the boys were ecstatic because we spotted a locomotive that endured a collision. From what I could find, a truck carrying oil field pipe ran into the eastbound Empire Builder in early December, 2013 at a rural grade crossing near Motley, Minnesota, and took out locomotive #90. It was sitting on a siding for several months, awaiting repair. Kids were disappointed when it finally disappeared.

Locomotive after head-on collisionAmtrak locomotive after head-on collision, patiently awaiting repair.

Amtrak engine #90 after head-on collision, patiently awaiting repair.

This past weekend was a very exciting day. Adrian noticed a brand new, electric Amtrak locomotive being push around the yard. It was quite a surprise, considering the fact Amtrak mid-western lines are not electrified. Something didn’t quite add up. Adrian right away recognized it as Siemens ACS-64. He’s very familiar with it, since I bought him a wooden version for the National Train Day. We watched the locomotive roll right by us. Indeed it was Amtrak Cities Sprinter (ACS-64) manufactured by Siemens. I did some quick googling to discover that they get assembled in Sacramento, California and Chicago is one of the stops on their way to the East Coast. The locomotives hitch a ride on the California Zephyr to Chicago and then on the Capitol Limited from Chicago to the Wilmington, DE. ACS-64 is slowly going to replace the toasters that currently serve the electrified lines of the eastern corridor.

Needless to say, we were quite lucky that day :)

ACS-64 rolling through Chicago Amtrak train yard

ACS-64 rolling through Chicago Amtrak train yard

 

ACS-64 coupled to P42DC

ACS-64 being coupled to P42DC

 

ACS-64 with clean breakes

Siemens ACS-64 with clean brakes

 

Siemens ACS-64

Siemens ACS-64

 

Siemens ACS-64 with Sears Tower in the background

Amtrak #635 with Sears Tower in the background

TT Mobile showcase

My friends at TT are really busy trying to get the mobile clients out the door and into production. TT’s twitter account is buzzing with all kinds of photos and videos. I am really happy and proud of how far my apps have come. The end result is looking beautiful and I am sure the end-users will be delighted by both the design and functionality.

I really enjoyed working on TT Mobile, as it presented a very unique set of challenges. How to effectively push price updates over potentially slow cellular connections? How to ensure users don’t accidentally place trades (butt trading anyone)? And how to effectively integrate with the rest of TT’s eco-system? I think the team did a splendid job and the apps are rock solid. One disappointing fact is that both Android and iOS apps could have been released over a year ago, had we chosen to re-use logic. There are ways to write the code once, and use it verbatim on multiple mobile platforms (naturally the look-and-feel needs to be done separately, so that the app feels “native”). I have long argued with the executives and advocated for shared business logic, since it seemed like a no-brainer.

  • Shorter time-to-market. In today’s fast-moving world it’s imperative to be there first.
  • Lower cost of development.
  • Less bugs.
  • Parallel releases on multiple platforms.
  • Lower long-term maintenance costs.
  • Less testing effort.

Other companies are not as short-sighted and have long recognized the benefits of writing the common logic once, instead of re-implementing it for every platform. Xamarin has their cross-platform C#. Google is pushing Java with its ability to share code between Android, iOS and the web. Dropbox uses C++ for shared logic. RemObjects has their cross-platform Swift. Not to mention frameworks like Flash and Cordova. I still cannot believe that the decision makers would rather have us maintain two separate codebases, but I guess you need to be good at engineering to comprehend the benefits.   

On a positive note, I am extremely pleased with the aesthetics of TT Mobile apps; graphical design and usability are essential. Nobody wants to use an app that looks “f-ugly” or that feels cumbersome. Folks at TT spent countless hours doing usability studies and polishing the design. Trust me – a lot of love went into making of these apps. They look awesome, they are snappy and I really hope you’ll enjoy them :)

Sound Racer

In January I started my new job with Thomson Reuters. It’s in Oakbrook, so my commute is completely different than what I was used to. No more walking, no more Metra. Now it’s all about Chicago traffic.

I was a little bit nervous whether I would be able to handle it or not. This is why I decided to treat myself to a funky gadget. I purchased a Bluetooth-enabled OBD II scanner, and promptly paired it with the SoundRacer app on my Android phone. The results can be seen (and heard) in the video below:

It’s really tons of fun! The SoundRacer app reads the RPMs from the OBD II scanner, generates race car engine sounds to match, and plays them through the car speakers. It really makes you want to rev the engine! Probably not a good thing if you want to avoid speeding tickets :)

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that it’s not feasible to have it on all the time. I just want to fly, but sometimes traffic just forces me to idle. Now I’ve switched and enjoy listening to NPR and get a much needed break from electronics. It’s very refreshing :)

To my friends at TT

Hi Everyone,

I would like to thank each and every one of you, who have been calling TT a second home for all these years. We share many great memories: our outings, team lunches, water cooler talks, as well as simple, honest, everyday work. You guys have touched my life, and I will cherish these moments forever.

The greatest asset of TT has always been its people, and I have been very fortunate to have worked and learned from you. You are the reason this company is the powerhouse it is today. I am proud of our accomplishments.

While I’m moving on to the next great thing, this is a small world and I hope our paths will cross again. I’m looking forward to staying in touch. My personal e-mail is filipfracz-=at=-gmail.com. Let’s also connect on LinkedIn.
I wish you best of luck in your future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Filip Frącz
http://filipfracz.net

TT Mobile available in Google Play

TT Mobile is now available for everyone to download from Google Play. It looks awesome! Great job, team! This version also added support for trading strategies written in TT SDK running on my AlgoSE server. Below is a screenshot showing child orders of SSE’s Time Sliced order. TT’s next generation Synthetic Strategy Engine (SSE) runs on top of TT SDK and AlgoSE server. SSE strategies are written by my good friend William Baker.

Download TT Mobile today! :-)

 

TT Mobile

TT Mobile now in Google Play store

 

FICO Score 9: The New FICO

Recently, in no small part because of the National Association of REALTORS® and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, FICO announced big changes to their credit scoring model. While it remains to be seen how much of a quantitative impact the new FICO 9 formula will have, many segments of the population could see increased scores. Those who stand to benefit the most include people with medical collection accounts, repaid collections and young people with “thin files.”

The Federal Reserve Board reports that over 50 percent of all bad debt collections on credit reports are connected with medical bills. Troublingly, a high frequency of medical collection occurs via poor communication between the patient and the hospital or the patient and their insurance company. The reporting of erroneous medical debt was one of the bigger driving forces behind the coming Sept. 1 implementation of FICO 9. Under the new scoring model, the impact of overdue medical bills will be largely negated as medical debt will be differentiated from non medical debt. For borrowers with unpaid medical collections, it is anticipated that scores could jump as much as 25 points per account.

Borrowers with multiple accounts in collection stand to be big benefactors as well. Scores will no longer be penalized for previous collection agency charges once they have been repaid or settled. FICO 9 will ignore all old debts that have zero dollar balances. Those with more than one account in collection could see their scores increase as much as 50 to 75 points.

Young people aged 19 to 29 have had an uphill challenge post 2008 when it comes to opening credit lines. Enormous student loans, an aversion to credit cards, and limited credit histories have compromised many younger Americans’ ability to build their own credit. The new formula takes a more lax approach when assessing those with smaller credit histories, making loans more accessible for Millennials.

Experian, after conducting its own study on FICO 9, concluded that 59 percent of renters’ scores will increase.

While the effect of FICO 9 may not be known for some time, the new formula, especially as it pertains to medical debts, is at minimum, a small victory for consumers. Hopefully, by establishing a tangible way for borrowers to improve their scores, new incentive will be established for many to work with collection agencies in an effort to settle or pay off previous obligations.

This doesn’t mean we are returning to the pre 2008 economic climate, but it’s something.

-Noah Perkins

Noah is an alumnus of UMASS, currently making his home in San Diego. Originally from Boston, he now works as the CMS for VA Home Loan Centers, a VA sponsored lender helping veterans and active duty personnel in their search for affordable housing. To learn more about VA mortgages, visit; https://www.vahomeloancenters.org/

 

 

This is a sponsored article.

TT Mobile in Google Play

About screen with basic info about the app

Today marks an important milestone. TT’s next-generation mobile trading app for Android has been deployed to Google Play Store. It’s still in pre-release and available only to beta testers, but we are getting closer every day. It’s very stable and usable. The overall look has deviated slightly from my original design, but I like it better this way. It’s a little bit more intuitive. Below are the main functions of the app so far.

  • Watchlist of instruments
  • Instrument-centric view of orders and positions
  • Trading from order ticket
  • Trading and order management from price ladder (MD Trader)
  • Order management screen
  • Fills and Positions
  • Forever Audit Trail

The users can input trades from order ticket and MD Trader, monitor orders, have a watchlist of instruments, inspect their positions and watch the forever audit trail. Not too shabby for a mobile app! Very full featured, especially when compared to what’s out there. The team did an outstanding job. Oh, and iOS app is coming along as well.

If you have a @tradingtechnologies email address, head over to the link below and download your copy for Android.
https://play.google.com/apps/testing/com.tradingtechnologies.ntm
(pssst – can’t access the page? Make sure you’re logged in only with your TT account. Try incognito mode)

For those of you who don’t yet have access, take a look at some screenshots below.

Solution to MacBook storage problems

At Trading Technologies we recently switched to laptop-centric culture. Our desktops got lugged away and everyone can choose what kind of laptop they would like to have. I was one of the pilot MacBook Pro users and I got mine over 18 months ago. It took me a while to get used to it, but it completely changed the way I work. It’s so easy to just grab a laptop and crash a meeting room with two other devs. This makes communication so much easier. Not to mention I can now work on the train. Every company should consider this!

Unfortunately my Mac came with only 256 gigs of storage. For a developer that’s not that much. Especially that I use a lot of OSs on many VMs. I asked our IT, and they listened. It came earlier today. LaCie external SSD with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. It’s a speedy ~250MB/sec.

 

I really had a lot of fun velcroing it to my Mac. What do you think? Geeky enough for you? ;-)

Behold:

External SSD

External SSD velcroed to my MacBook Pro. Match made in heaven ;)

8 years at Trading Technologies

I just noticed it has been a whole 8 years since I started working for Trading Technologies. I was hired fresh out of college and began my journey on May 15, 2006 (well, I did some consulting on the side before coming to ChiTown).

trading_technologies

Company logo when I started

 

New TT logo

New TT logo

 

 

During my career at TT, I pretty much worked on everything the company has to offer.

I spent countless hours massaging our flagship X_TRADER product. I was a key player in bringing .NET into the program and integrating it with native C++ and MFC. This really made adding new windows easier (have you ever had to deal with Win32/MFC?!) and allowed for tight X_STUDY integration.

X_TRADER's .NET toolbar

X_TRADER’s .NET toolbar. Click for larger image

 

In order to achieve maximum performance, I completely rewrote the Time & Sales window. Both the stand-alone and one integrated into MD Trader. While working on T&S I learned a lot about grids and data virtualization.

Time & Sales window

Blazing fast Time & Sales window with the default (butt-ugly) X_TRADER color scheme

 

Every trader who’s copying/pasting links to and from Microsoft Excel goes through my Link Manager. That was a very fun project which definitely provided a ton of value for our customers. There are thousands of traders who design their strategies in Excel spreadsheets and want their numbers to be shown on grids, charts, ladders and algos. And this works both ways – I allow them to copy cells from X_TRADER and insert them into Excel. The data flows flawlessly and everything just magically works.

X_STUDY OLE linking

Look ma! I has Excel linkage! (Click for larger image)

For fun I also added preview to the Color settings window, which finally made it usable.
I wrote so many things for X_TRADER that I actually lost track. Not to mention countless prototypes to fool around with new features. Definitely good times :)

 

I am the architect and author of TT API – our high performance trading API for Windows. It was a great few years designing and implementing all the different features. I certainly learned a lot. TT API lets you trade any exchange that TT supports, including Autospreader SE and Synthetic SE engines. You can really go to town. Just check out TT API samples on GitHub.

It’s also worth mentioning that internally our Algo SE server and ADL (Algo Design Lab) are both powered by my TT API.

 

Two years ago I was selected to start on TT’s future platform. The codename for it used to be “Nextrader“, but due to trademark conflicts a new name was chosen. I coined the name and designed many low-level communication and security details (EdgeServer-to-client path, authorization, protocols, etc) which are now the foundation of the new system. I also led and directed the client-side team.  The TT platform is written from the ground up using modern technologies. It’s optimized for speed. Trust me – you will feel it :)

In addition to web-based interface, TT Platform will ship with an Android mobile app. That’s another one of my babies. I designed the flow and general layout of the main screens for both phone and tablet form factors. Our in-house designer Kevin made them look awesome. I’m sure you will love it! Working on mobile is challenging, as it forces you to think from a different perspective and face a whole new set of problems. Limited screen real-estate, battery life, disconnect scenarios, butt dialing (or shall I say: butt trading) are all issues you have to deal with. I had a blast :-)

Side menu

“Nextrader” for Android prototype. Side menu. Click for larger image. The name has since been changed to “TT Mobile”.

 

MD Trader on Android

TT Mobile for Android. MD Trader on a phone. Click for larger picture.

 

I started writing iOS version of TT Mobile with my team, but I didn’t get too far (enough to master Objective-C). I was needed on the new Algo project. Currently I am working with Andrew Gottemoller on our next-generation trading API, which we internally call TT SDK. The plan is to allow our customers to hand-craft their algos and run them in our co-lo facilities for minimum latency and maximum speed.

 

TT SDK is lean. It is fast. Linux and plain C. It is powerful, yet feels delightfully simple.  In addition to C we will eventually provide wrappers for higher-level languages. I, naturally, already have a C++14 and Mono C# version going. Stay tuned!

 

As you see, I’ve been having fun. Trading Technologies is a great company, but its most important asset are definitely the people. Everyone is smart and easy-going. I made many good friends at TT and I’m happy to see them every day.
Let’s see what the future will bring :)