A good carpenter knows his tools. A good trader …
Charting software is incredibly sophisticated. Over the years traders have asked for more and more features – and the charting software programmers have gladly obliged. The end result is software that is far from “lightweight” and needs careful nursing to run optimally. Here are 8 tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years. They are based on my experience with TradeStation but apply to other packages too.
1. Get the fastest Internet connection possible
Your biggest bottleneck is not your computer processor speed, RAM, hard disk drive, operating system, etc. – it’s your Internet connection speed. Let me try and explain. Indicators are very simple – just a calculation loop that is repeated at the close of a bar normally. And computers are very good at doing repetitive calculations very fast.
A current computer is probably running something like an Intel Core i3 at 3GHz. This processor will execute 50,000+ MIPS or million instructions per second. That’s 50 billion instructions per second. Now it takes a few instructions for the processor to execute a full calculation, so 50 billion instructions is roughly 5 billion CALCULATIONS per second.
Now let’s compare that to your typical Internet connection speed. Let’s assume you have ADSL and you’re getting a download speed of 4 Mbps – that’s 4 million bits per second or 0.5 million bytes per second. So your processor is capable of running 5 billion calculations per second but your Internet connection is only delivering 0.5 million bytes of data per second. Your computer processor is capable of running 10,000 times faster than your Internet connection!
Now I’m not a computer engineer and some of my assumptions might be out – but I’m sure you get the picture. Ever wondered why Goldman Sachs wants to co-locate it’s computers next to the exchange’s computers? Now you know. The days of upgrading your RAM, computer processor and graphics card are over – they’re moving at warp speed compared to your geriatric Internet.
One day I’ll rant about Internet connection speeds and why America is woeful by international standards and why Korea, Hong Kong, France, etc. have already overtaken the US. And why does no one see this as a vital national resource and source of competitive advantage? It’s beyond me – but for now, take my advice and get the fastest Internet possible.
Here’s my latest research on Internet connection speed.
2. Re-load your cached data regularly
This is one of most useful fixes I know of – particularly for heavy users of Tick charts, like me. Slow chart loading can be the result of a corrupted cache. Plus for some reason when I change location/time zone my cache causes problems. Here’s the fix for TradeStation:
- Shut down TradeStation
- Find the cache folder at C:\Program Files (x86)\TradeStation 9.0\Program\Cache
- Re-name the cache folder to something like Cache_Old
- Re-start TradeStation and open some of your charts
This will force TradeStation to access the historic data on their servers and re-build your data cache. Try to do this out of hours, not during the trading day, as the data downloading will be slow. Try it – it works like a treat every time.
(HT to Dennis W. who suggested re-naming the cache rather than just deleting it.)
3. Re-install Windows semi-annually
Windows performance degrades over time (note: this is less so with the Apple Mac OS). If you’ve ever done an operating system re-install you’ll know how much of a difference this makes. Yes, there are all kinds of system “tweaking” and registry cleaning applications out there – but I’ve never stuck with any of them. They promise a lot but don’t deliver.
However, scrubbing the hard drive and re-installing your operating system and applications makes a huge difference and has never failed to radically improve computer performance. It’s a pain in the neck and one of the reasons I try and keep as many applications “in the cloud”. But it also forces you to re-evaluate which applications you actually use and plan for hard drive crashes, etc.
This is a neat trick from David C. for re-installing Windows:
- Partition your hard drive, keep C: for programs and D: for data
- Install Windows, programs, drivers, etc. on the C: drive
- De-frag your C: drive (to compress and optimize it)
- Create an image of your C: drive on a CD-ROM
Now use the CD-ROM to restore the image of your operating system and programs on the C: drive – and your data will be unaffected and safely stored on the D: drive. Alternatively use a dedicated computer to run your charting software.
4. Replace your computer at least every 2 years
You can’t expect a 5 year old computer to handle modern charting software. Although there is a movement towards “lightweight” software and online applications – the charting software developers don’t seem to be joining in. Their software releases continue to add features and capabilities and are bulking up, instead of slimming down and running faster.
As a result you’ll need to keep up with more RAM and faster processors. The good news is the incremental cost of doing this is coming down. I’d recommend turning over your computer at least every 2 years – sell the old one on eBay and upgrade or use a 24 month lease agreement.
5. Rationalise and standardise your charts regularly
We all do it – try out different indicators, look at different markets, add complexity to our analysis. But “analysis paralysis” can be deadly – day trading decision making needs to be fast and having conflicting indicators or markets will just tie you up in knots.
My suggestion is to regularly go through your charts and delete the ones that are not essential – do you really need that chart of the Japanese Yen versus Swedish Krona?
Then create a standard indicator group that you use for all charts and all time frames. It should have the minimum number of indicators with all the settings just as you like them. Then apply it to all your charts – you’ll become quicker at reading your charts and you’ll see tradable patterns repeating. For me, the ultimate is just having a 500, 1500 and 4500 tick chart open – and nothing else. One day…
6. Use the latest version of your charting software
Sometimes I like being on the “bleeding edge”. Other times it’s bitten me on the behind. I don’t recommend upgrading to the latest versions of your charting software straight away, but keep close behind. I can only ever remember “rolling back” my charting software version once – but once was enough.
I don’t want to be discovering problems but rather, waiting for others to do the hard work and gracefully coming in behind them. Sounds callous but ultimately do you want to trade or do you want to troubleshoot hardware/software problems?
7. Read the manual and search the forums
It’s terribly unfashionable to read manuals these days – it should all just work and be totally intuitive, right? Wrong. Charting software is some of the most complex out there and literally takes years to master, particularly if you write your own code.
But getting answers is a lot quicker these days. Manuals usually come in PDF or online format and are searchable. Forums are an amazing resource – and one of the keys in deciding which charting software to use – make sure you’ve bookmarked yours. Plus Google searches work for almost anything. If you’re having a problem or curious about how something works in the charting software, I guarantee there’s a forum thread or article written about it.
Real-time if you notice your data not updating or one of your charts doesn’t look right – check the forums first. The exchange might have done something, other traders might have identified the problem too – you’re not alone out there. Plus a Google search using the “Past 24 hours” or “Past week” sub-menus will pull up information written recently.
(Note: TradeStation Network Status has never worked for me in showing problems real-time. It invariably shows all green lights and everything is working fine. Not.)
8. Backup your indicator code and chart setup weekly
You’ve heard this before from me – backup, backup, backup. Think it can’t happen to you? Your hard drive fails or you get burgled. Save yourself the stress and plan for disaster.
As far as your charting platform is concerned the most important thing to backup is your indicator code, passwords and chart setups. Most charting platforms have automated backup capabilities – for TradeStation I use a weekly backup (Monday 4am) of all my indicator and system code, charts and chart settings, hotkeys, etc.
So there you go. Eight suggestions for getting the most out of your charting software.