Mathias Brandewinder on .NET, F#, VSTO and Excel development, and quantitative analysis / machine learning.
by Mathias 24. July 2010 17:35

When I moved to California a few years back, I soon realized that to get anything done in the Silicon Valley, you pretty much have to have a car. So, I purchased my first car. Fast forward today: I live in San Francisco now, and noticed that I am driving less and less. Bicycle is very convenient in my neighborhood, and I don’t have to commute to work on a daily basis. Which got me thinking – do I really need a car? Public transportation only is not an option, because coverage is too spotty, but what about using a car sharing service?

The 2 major services available in my area are ZipCar and CityCarShare; their pricing system is largely similar: they both:

  • charge by the hour of usage,
  • charge a higher cost over the week-end,
  • offer a discount for full-day rental,
  • have a pay-as-you-go option, and better rates with minimum commitment plans.

Both include gas, with one difference: ZipCar charges by the hour, whereas CityCarShare has a hybrid pricing, with a lower per-hour cost, and a per-mile cost.

By contrast, when you own a car, you

  • pay a large upfront investment (buying the car),
  • recoup some of the upfront cost if you resell eventually.
  • pay regular fixed costs (insurance, registration taxes, garage),
  • pay by the mile (gas),
  • pay some additional costs, like maintenance, which are somewhat linked to mileage.

In addition to that, you bear the risk that your car gets damaged or totaled in an accident.


by Mathias 5. July 2010 16:16

In our last post, we saw how to use F# to read historical stock quotes from Yahoo. Today we’ll take the raw response, which is a big block of text, and break it up into a list of individual quotes.

Breaking up the response into lines

The function we wrote last time, GetResponse, receives one chunk of text from the web service, formatted like this:

Date,Open,High,Low,Close,Volume,Adj Close

What we need to do now is break up this into individual lines of text, and parse them to read individual quotes. The first part is straightforward: the function BreakIntoLines calls String.Split(), using char(10), the code for line break, as a delimiter, and returns an Array of strings.

let BreakIntoLines (response:string) =

Note the type annotation on the function argument: without context, F# cannot infer the type of “response”, and we need to specify that this function expects a string argument.

Parsing valid lines into Quote records

The second part is a bit more complex. We need to break each line into 7 components (date, open, etc…), deal with lines that are not valid, like the header, and store the result in an appropriate structure.

We will store individual quotes into records. A Record is a data type somewhat similar to the C# struct. It has named fields, which makes it more expressive than Tuples, and is less involved than a class. Here is the declaration for our Quote record – concise, and pretty self-explanatory:

type Quote={


by Mathias 21. June 2010 13:12

Lately I have spent time on a pet project, which requires access to historical financial data. Mads Kristensen has a nice post where he shows how to read  stock quotes from Yahoo finance using C#, which was very helpful to get started. I figured it would be interesting to try out a conversion to F# and see what the result looked like.

Mads focus is on getting quasi real-time updates of a quote; my interest is in an easier problem: retrieving historical data. Fortunately, Yahoo provides a free service for that, too. Given a quote symbol and two dates, it returns a comma-separated file list of all the values for the quote between these 2 dates.

So what do we need to do? Given a valid symbol and 2 dates, we want to create the WebRequest to send to Yahoo, retrieve the response, break it into lines, and parse each line into a quote, which will be added to a list. The core of the resulting program will be the ReadQuotes function, which will look like this:

let ReadQuotes symbol date1 date2 = 
  CreateRequest symbol date1 date2 
  |> GetResponse 
  |> BreakIntoLines
  |> CreateQuotes symbol

Creating the WebRequest

The web request required to obtain historical data from Yahoo follows this pattern:


  • S is the symbol (ex: MSFT)
  • A, B, C are the start month, day and year, the month being coded in base 0 (i.e. January is 0)
  • D, E, F are the end month, day and year, the month being coded in base 0 (i.e. January is 0)

For instance, replacing S with MSFT, A with 0, B with 1, C with 2010, D with 1, E with 15, F with 2010, will return all the available quotes for Microsoft between January 1 and February 15, 2010.

Let’s start by creating a Console application, by selecting new F# project > F# Application, and typing in the following code:

open System;
open System.Net
open System.IO
open System.Text

let RetrieveDateInfo (date:DateTime) =
  (date.Day, date.Month-1, date.Year)

let CreateRequest symbol startDate endDate =

  let startDay, startMonth, startYear = RetrieveDateInfo startDate
  let endDay, endMonth, endYear = RetrieveDateInfo endDate

  let query = String.Format("&a={0}&b={1}&c={2}&d={3}&e={4}&f={5}&g=d&ignore=.csv", startMonth, startDay, startYear, endMonth, endDay, endYear)
  let url = "" + symbol + query


by Mathias 13. December 2008 19:24

Dilbert is one of my favorite comic strips ever. Besides being consistently very funny, it is also surprisingly insightful. Today's strip is an excellent illustrations of why diversification alone is not necessarily sufficient to reduce risk: one has to account for correlation between the assets.
by Mathias 2. April 2008 11:35 has an interesting piece on a recent study of the risk attitude of chimpanzees and bonobos. The experiment was conducted the following way:

The apes had to choose between two upside-down bowls. One was the "safe" bowl, which always covered four grape halves.The other was the "risky" bowl, which covered anything between one and seven grape halves. More...


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