Monday, May 30, 2011

American Dream 2.0: Materialism on Steroids

After reading the article “Why We’re Hooked on Credit” (by Mike Zimerman) in the most recent edition of Men’s Health magazine, I thought it would be good to reflect on the concept of the American Dream. In particular, I want to review how our sense of the American Dream has become perverted through the rampant materialism around us. It should be considered American Dream 2.0 – something more sinister and dangerous than the previous edition.

Most of us know of the American Dream. Or at least most of us have heard of the term mentioned somewhere. The American Dream is essentially an inspiring goal for Americans and non-Americans for the past century or so. Everyone envisions owning a suburban house, two cars and, most importantly, being part of a loving family to enjoy these possessions. For many people, this is the utopia they crave for. Millions of immigrants took (and still take) the risk and traveled to the United States in order to pursue their American Dream. A captivating example is the story of Frank McCourt, as documented in his autobiographies “Angela’s Ashes” and “’Tis”. If we set aside our biased spectacles, the illegal immigrants crossing the border are pursing the same end. Otherwise, why would they leave behind their families and homes for a completely foreign land?

I can relate to this aspiration because I came to this country as an immigrant. To be more exact, my parents made the decision to come here in order to give their children a brighter future (yes, they wanted to further their careers too…). We regarded the United States as the land of opportunity, as well as a land of plenty. This is a place where there was no caste system or other kinds of artificial restrictions to impede one from becoming successful. Success is achievable as long as one has perseverance and work-ethic. I think the film “Pursuit of Happyness” exemplifies this belief – however dramatized Hollywood changed the original story.

Returning to the central thesis of this post, the reality of our notion of the American Dream has become something very different from the one described above. The previous American Dream focused on the happiness as derived from family and friends – with possessions such as houses and cars as secondary. In short, this first iteration of the American Dream emphasized the simplicity of belongings and fullness of relationships. But today we have added many items to the original list of a house and two cars, such as laptops, iPads, flat-screen TVs, and smartphones. While (thankfully) the requirements of hard-work and perseverance has not changed, this trend toward increasing the number of things necessary to fulfill the American Dream is worrying. Our happiness is slowly degenerating into an equation in which it is measured by the number of things we own. Zimmerman refers to this as “AmDream 2.0”.

What makes this trend worrisome is the growing preoccupation in people’s minds about what they do not have. We begin to feel a lack for belongings that effectively divorces us from the importance of human relationships. The goal and focus of our efforts become a preoccupation about how our possessions compare with that of friends and, shockingly, complete strangers. In effect, we create a dangerous arms race that pits everyone against everyone, the have-nots against the haves. Doesn’t this sound like something that comes out of the Communist Manifesto?

Furthermore, this mindset we foster of needing to validate our self-worth through our belongings cuts right into our self-esteem. We are no longer patriotic Americans in the land of opportunity, but as consumption-oriented humans with fevered egos. [Interestingly, in economics we almost always refer to the general public as “consumers”.] We feel that we have the right to own certain things, and in the process begin to forget that we have to earn the means from which to own. Most people do not like being reminded of the earning part and jump right into the owning – through charging their credit cards and taking on debt. This “jump” occurs because people emotionally fear the possibility they will never be able to afford certain things. Ultimately, this emotional fear (derived from seeking self-worth through belongings) can supersede the real fear of the consequences of debt. And here is a serious disconnect.

Although “Fight Club” is no longer one of my favorite movies, I remember the film for its assault on the consumption-glorifying part of our contemporary culture. In particular, I recall this line by the character Tyler Durden “You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world”. We tend to enjoy hearing these bold statements in movies but seldom reflect on their truthfulness. And I think this statement is very true – we are not our jobs, nor cars, nor clothes, nor money. Because all these things are temporal and could cease to exist at any moment. You can be laid-off, your car gets stolen, clothes dirtied, and money stolen.

The essence of the previous paragraph is that we would lead very different lives if we truly realized that things do not last forever. Our lives are limited to a few decades on this earth; in addition, the lives we lead are very fragile. Have you ever witnessed a fatal accident and wondering what if the corpse lying on the roadside had been you? If so, I think it would make one think twice before splurging on a sports car or a gigantic mansion. In the end, what matters is our relationships with one another and the unending joy that derives from this source.

[This caps the first post in a series on special topics about current issues in our society…]

ASUS Announces the....Padfone?!

If you think this is a morning of major tech announcements, then you are not disappointed. Computex 2011 is now underway and tech companies far and wide have come to show off their upcoming products. The first of such companies is Asus, the maker of the hot-selling Asus Transformer tablet.

Jumping back a week, I had previously speculated that Asus' teaser product could be its first Tegra 3/Kal-El tablet. The company had originally hinted at an August release for this tablet but, hey, the faster the better. However, it looks like the device will be...a combination of a tablet and a phone. I am slightly disappointed.)

The device, named the Padfone, is essentially a smartphone that docks into a bigger screen. The result is a tablet computer. The docking mechanism is not a "dock" per say, but more of an insert in the tablet to accommodate the smartphone. I will give major props to Asus for its idea, but will defer judgement until I see its execution plan. As the history of the Motorola Atrix attests to, a great concept will fail if not properly executed. Morotola's docking station for the Atrix would have been very popular, if not for the high price and crippled capabilities.

Actually, this device is similar to the Motorola Atrix on a conceptual level. Whereas Motorola's dock allows the smartphone to become a computer (either the laptop dock or the desktop dock), Asus' allows the smartphone to become a tablet. It is more similar to Motorola's laptop dock -- just that instead of a combination of screen + battery + keyboard, Asus simply opted for the screen + battery.

But I'd say the "transformation" into a tablet is more applicable than a computer. The reason is very simple: the divide between a computer's processing power (x86 architecture) is hundredfolds more than a smartphone's processing power (ARM architecture). Consequently, the smartphone is not able to meet the needs of most computer owners. One would need to purchase a smartphone and a computer. But there is literally not technology divide between smartphones and tablets -- manufacturers use very similar hardware (e.g. how many are using the Tegra 2 chip today?). The main problem, then, will be keeping weight and price as reasonable levels.

Nvidia Demoes Quad-core Kal-El Chip

[Those who have read my previous posts about tablets probably know already about my fascination about the Tegra 3-powered tablets. I have literally shelved plans to purchase a tablet until I see these tech beasts in action.]

As reported here by Cnet News (and pretty much all major tech news sites), Nvidia earlier today released a demonstration of their upcoming Tegra 3/Kal-El chipset. I am very impressed to say the least.

The demo shown essentially details the graphics power of the Tegra 3's processors. As the Nvidia guy narrates in the background, the (scary clown) game demonstrates the Tegra 3's ability to render dynamic lighting. While dynamic lighting is nothing new in the gaming industry, it is a new development for mobile gaming platforms -- or gaming on smartphone/tablet devices. Such a feature requires an enormous amount of processing power, as the physics calculation for lighting must be executed concurrently in real time. One can see from Nvidia's demo that, aside from the lighting effects on the ball, there are also physic calculations applied to the curtains in the game. Good stuff.

Two main question marks at this point as: (1) release date, and (2) battery life. For the first, Nvidia promises a release date of August 2011 -- a sentiment echoed by the hardware manufacturer Asus. This means it is only 2 months away! The significance of the second question is relative to one's needs for a Tegra 3-device. I anticipate a similar battery life to the current generation (Tegra 2), because cores can be idled when the additional processing power is not needed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

World of Warcraft (WoW) as a Social Network

As reported on Yahoo Games (PluggedIn Blog) earlier this week, Activision Blizzard shocked the gaming industry by announcing that it has seen a 5% reduction in number of subscriptions in the previous quarter for its massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) WoW franchise . While absolute figures look astounding (a loss of 600,000 subscribers), the fact remains that WoW still has 11.4 million subscribers paying monthly fees to play the game. But this got me thinking. Are MMORPGs viable analogies to social networking sites like Facebook and Linkedln?

On paper, the similarities between MMORPGs and social networking sites are limited to games. After all, the main purpose for individuals to join a MMORPG like World of Warcraft is --as the acronym suggests-- to play games against other human players. (I know from personal experience that playing against the computer is only fun when you're a newbie). Social networking sites, on the other hand, are predominantly for the purpose of facilitating communications between individuals. There are popular games on social networking sites, like Farmville on Facebook, but playing these games is often not a strong enough incentive to join. Another major difference is that MMORPGs charge a subscription price in one form or another: some like WoW charge fixed monthly fees, while others like Guild Wars only charges an initial purchase price.

Differences between the two aside, MMORPGs and social networking sites share a very significant element. Both are built on exponential growth models, meaning that their intrinsic value (to both the owners and the subscribers) is contingent on its popularity. The more subscribers use the social network, the more valuable it is -- and the same applies for MMORPGs. Either is useless/worthless when the population of users is minuscule. For this reason, at the onset there is an immediate need to popularize the platform and thus enlist as many users as possible. Facebook did this in the fall of 2006, when it became available to everyone with a valid email address. Activision Blizzard used the strong fan base for the Warcraft series to launch WoW, which fulfilled the dreams of many die-hard gamers by offering an immersive experience in the (fictionalized) Warcraft world.

But I am going to take the analogy one step further. Eventually, social networks and MMORPGs alike will reach a point of market saturation (where their growth in subscribers will stagnate as most of the target population has signed up). The only means of increasing the growth rate would be to innovate -- offering new products that expand on the target population's needs and desires. Again using Facebook as an example, Facebook introduced the controversial "newsfeed", "like" button, and third-party applications into its platform over the past 3 years. The counterpart for WoW has been expansion sets like the "Burning Crusade". These so-called innovations serve to maintain the subscribers' interest in the platform.

The Yahoo Games article pointed out that a likely reason for Blizzard's loss of subscribers is the slow rate of development for the WoW platform. Since its release in 2004, WoW only has three expansion thus far -- the last being "Cataclysm" in the winter of 2010. The point is that, as immersive and big as the game world is, experienced players will eventually become too familiar with it to the point of wanting to sample the competition. And boy is there competition in both platforms. For WoW, there are other MMORPGs being released or in development at the moment. We have seen examples like Star Wars Galaxies and the Lord of the Rings Online. For the social network giant Facebook, there is LinkedIn (as much as I don't like them) and rumored platforms in development by Google and Apple. As a general rule of thumb, companies (especially in the technology sector) need to constantly be innovating and releasing new products to sustain growth. Otherwise the relative ease of entry means popular platforms on day one will be forgotten within a year or two. Case in point: MySpace, Myst, and Halo (to a lesser extent).

From a valuation perspective, it would make some extent to use social network and MMORPG companies as proxies for one another. Their respective business models has notable differences --such as the subscriber fees-- but similarities are more pronounced. The problem is that there are not (yet!) single-standing MMORPG companies. As profitable as World of Warcraft is for Activision Blizzard, the company offers a variety of other game series such as Call of Duty and Guitar Hero. Conversely speaking, we may even extend the comparison to incorporate content-focused companies like Yahoo! and AOL. The latter's fortunes depend on internet traffic to their subsidiaries -- and therefore are inherently indicate a popularity-dependent business model such as social networks and MMORPGs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thoughts on Mike Brown as New Lakers Coach

[Contrary to what you may believe, I have interests outside of my job, academics, economics, and even Mandy. This post is about to show that.]

I am not a Lakers fan. Period. If I had to pick a NBA team to support, the Los Angeles Lakers would rank amongst the last teams I would pick. Why? I like to cheer for the underdog and the Lakers always seem to be the top-dog. As a fan of basketball though, I am curious about all sorts of shenanigans NBA teams, coaches, and players get themselves into. Often their decision-making skills are quite laughable (e.g. drafting Kwame Brown) and other times admirable (e.g. trading Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol). I believe the Lakers' decision to hire former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown to be of the former sort.

The immediate reason is that Mike Brown's abilities have been grossly exaggerated during his time as the head coach of the Cavaliers. The reason? Why no other than a certain superstar named Lebron James. The impact of Lebron on the entire Cavaliers team was about as important as one player can ever become for his team. Just look at how far the Cavaliers dropped this past season -- from having the NBA's best record a year ago to one of its worst. Everyone knows that Lebron can play, but his impact should not be underestimated on the coach either. I am 100% that the Lakers would not have hired Mike Brown had Brown stayed on for another year in Cleveland, to coach the Lebron-less Cavaliers.

Based on my observations (I like to watch NBA games every now and then), Mike Brown is not as competent as analysts say in, say, his defensive schemes. Solid defense requires personnel and Brown's team had it because everyone knew their roles very well. Everyone knew that Lebron is the "man" of the team; he was someone who exceeded in his weak-side defense. As good as Lebron is good on offense, his defense is better -- the past Bulls vs Heat showed just that, when Lebron guarded Derrick Rose. Both Brown and the Cavaliers relied so much on Lebron that the team imploded when Lebron supposedly "quit on his team" during last year's playoffs. Good coaches make the necessary adjustments and learn to live without its star players (just look at the Houston Rockets). Cleveland's loss reflected on just how poorly prepared Mike Brown was.

But more than his abilities, I fault the Lakers the most for the extravagant pay package they offered to Mike Brown. $18 million total for 4 years? That is a ridiculous sum, especially since Mike Brown was unemployed last year. Brown is no Phil Jackson, but is an unproven coach now that his best player is playing elsewhere. All the high pay package does is set the bar even higher for Brown to hit which, according to my prediction, he will inevitably not hit.

Barnes & Noble's New Nook: DOA

Okay, maybe I slightly exaggerate in the title (DOA stands for "dead on arrival"). The new version of Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader looks very nice! It was just announced yesterday and set to debut at a variety of retailers for $139 on June 10th.

First let's analyze the things to like about the new Nook (although I have yet to see one for myself). The biggest change is the full-screen touchscreen instead of the divided screen used in the previous iteration. Although the new screen will just be monotone, I feel like readers everywhere will prefer to focus their attention on a single screen instead of two. Engadget's hands-on commentator noted positively on the screen's quality and responsiveness (description also includes "sexy", "incredibly light and thin"). The second major change is the color of the device -- out is the cheap-looking white and in is the better looking black. It's a sensible change given the effect it has compared to the screen: the white makes the contrast of the e-ink somewhat lacking. Last but not least is the bragged about battery life of the new Nook (Nook 2?). Some thrash talking by B&N is already in order against Amazon and its Kindle apparently; the new Nook is said to have 2 months of battery life on a single charge.

The good things aside, it's time to face the reality surrounding e-ink devices. The new Nook may be the best reader when it is released, but its price point and lack of versatility will severely hinder its sales. This is what I foresee. Although e-readers are becoming more popular and e-book sales are growing by leaps and bounds, a little more research will reveal that the recent sales jump is attributable to the introduction of new tablets. Apple's iPad is (unsurprisingly) the main perpetrator thus far, but Android devices are also set to make a big splash. In the end, my prediction is the result of common sense and logical reasoning: why would the average customer fork $139 for a device limited to reading documents? (Yes it can do PDFs too but that looks like a gimmick). The market for e-readers is a niche market and I believe it is becoming quickly saturated.

Proponents of e-readers argue for the devices' eye-strain reduction capabilities when compared to the standard LCD screen. It is the biggest the draw to purchase an e-reader: the ability to read a screen as if it were paper. But the technology itself is still nascent -- namely the monotone limitation. The much-touted "Mirasol" screen technology that allows affordable color e-ink screen is still a year or two from being commercial-ready. By that time, tablets would have replaced e-readers altogether. I strongly believe the combination of superior processing power and greater flexibility of the tablet makes them the go-to option for the average consumer. Only voracious readers (5-10% of the market) would have a clear preference for the e-reader.

My points being made, the new Nook looks like a great product for Barnes & Noble. It should gain considerable traction in the marketplace before the onslaught of Android and new iOS tablets take full effect. For one, it is a much better option than the Amazon Kindle.

Google Wallet and Google Offers Arrive

[Yes, I know I have been inactive in blogging for a couple of days now. I think I am going through an existentialist phase of blogging: trying to figure out what to focus on and committing myself to posting. Regardless, that phase is no more.]

Now this is some very interesting announcement by Google. As Engadget reports, Google just introduced its Google Wallet and Google Offers services to the whole world today. In short, Google Wallet is a mobile payment service that allows (mainly Android) cell phone users to make payments through their phones. The basic concept is for the cell phone to replace the need to carry credit/debit cards -- allowing people to simply make transactions using their phones. Google Offers is, as its name implies, a "one-deal-a-day" to users who sign up.
I can see both of these services succeeding to advance Google's overall expansion strategy. It is obvious to any astute observer that Google Wallet presents the next step in the integration of Google's Android mobile operating system. Although it is only being implemented in a few cities right now (e.g. New York and San Francisco) and by a few retail partners (e.g. Walgreens, Macy's, Subway, Citibank and MasterCard), the potential to expand quickly is very much a reality. There are millions of Android users right now -- and should only take installing an application to allow this service to work. In other words, a massive user base already exists and it seems Google is simply conducting last-minute troubleshooting before a nationwide release. This is arguably a classic example of corporate synergy being maximized. Given the significant entry barrier of registering users, the only two entities capable of pulling something of this sort off are the carriers (e.g. AT&T and Verizon) or the software makers (e.g. Apple, Microsoft, RIM). Google's Android just happens to be the biggest out there right now.

As for Google Offers, it is obvious this is Google's response to their failed attempt to acquire Groupon. I expect the initial versions to be akin to the (spam) emails I already receive from large retailers: informing me about their upcoming special deals. But I do see Google eventually challenging Groupon in its local/small-business turf by expanding their operations to such an extent to allow direct engagement with local businesses. The only question is how quickly Google is able to move in this increasingly crowded market -- Groupon is already an established player and there is also small competitors. Yet again, there is much synergy of advertising Google can tap into. For example, they can offers incentives for local businesses such as discounts on using their AdWords service.

Overall, both services are leap forwards for the Mountain View (powerhouse of a tech) company. Google Wallet is the more usable of the two right now, but I do see Google Offers as having more long-term potential. We'll keep an eye on this development.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Amazon's Entrance into the Tablet Wars

Judging by the amount of quad-core tablet news I've been posting lately, you'd presume (correctly) that it is one of my main priorities right now. It's not as much as a leap in technology development rather than the fact that I do not own a tablet. And I want to own a tablet. But it's also an expensive piece of gadgetry that warrants thorough research before deciding.

Where am I going with this? Well, nothing other than pointing out another quad-core tablet on the horizon! As this post from CNET (formerly one of my favorite gadget sites) indicates, Amazon is preparing the release of two tablets in the coming months. The price points look very sweet indeed!

Based on the rumors out there, it seems Amazon is targeting different segments with its two tablets. One, codename "Coyote", will be a 7-inch tablet featuring a Tegra 2 processor (meh). The second, codename "Hollywood", will be a 10-inch tablet featuring a Tegra 3 (the oft-discussed Kal-El) processor. Their rumored prices are $349 and $449 respectively.

The Coyote sounds like and is priced attractively, but since I'm no longer considered these Tegra 2 devices, it is the Hollywood that has my attention now. I'm sure it will be a good product -- based on Amazon's reputation and how this tablet looks to be a centerpiece in their future expansion (read: world-domination) plans. The big questions are the release date, and how it will compete against the rumored Kal-El offering from Asus.

May the best product will win the honor of becoming my first tablet purchase!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Work Environment: Dealing with the Boss

[It may seem rather odd that, despite the name of this blog, there have been very few posts on life as a young professional. Well, this is about to change now.]

In the consulting company I work, I am part of a 5-8 team responsible for managing systems data for our company's operations. My boss is the leader of the team and, naturally, we all look for him for guidance. It is admittedly a relationship of both respect and fear -- the former because he is the most experienced member of our team (and for newbies like myself, a mentor) but also the latter since he is...our boss.

The relationship between a supervisor and an employee is a very interesting one in corporate America. For both individuals, there are shared objections such as helping to grow the business and hitting objectives set by the higher-ups. Yet at the same time, there are tensions given the disparity in power in the workplace. This power is very significant, as stepping stones in career growth depend on positive evaluations by the supervisor on the employee. Bonuses and promotions are not likely be the rewards if the supervisor considers the employee "unworthy". It is for this reason, the employee fears the boss. On the other side, the supervisor also has a (albeit smaller) fear of the employee -- because an employee exceeding expectations may eventually surpass the supervisor in the corporate hierarchy.

Returning to my position, I am thankful to have the boss that I have: someone who practices a very laissez-faire means of supervising his team. I normally only communicate to him when I have questions concerning the system, my future projects, or personal requests like taking a day off. It appears odd sometimes because there have been days I have not spoken a word to him. All in all, this mode of supervision befits our workload; this stems in part due to the small-projects nature of our work.

A critical function of the boss is to be able to delegate tasks or, generally speaking, maximizing the human capital that he/she manages. This is the quintessential nature of management -- the good managers are able to foster a positive work environment where everyone is able to flourish which, in turn, reflects well on the boss. At the end of the day, the boss will not longer be the boss if the employees do not perform adequately. Hitting company objectives is therefore akin to a flowing river. It starts with the employee but doesn't end with the employee's immediate superior -- it goes up the chain of command (per say).

Work aside, socializing with the boss can be a daunting task. I admit that in my own relationship (with the boss), this normally does not go beyond exchanging pleasantries or briefly sharing about significant temporal events (aka the passing of one's weekend). We have talked about basketball when college basketball was still in season -- but sadly, this is now over. Nonetheless, one cannot ignore the importance of being able to connect with the boss outside of work settings. Not only would this bolster your own relationship with the boss, but allows you to create the impression that you are well-liked and trustworthy. This is especially true if you become on good terms with your boss' boss. Then things will get really interesting.

Steve Ballmer on Windows 8

So here is the second blog-worthy tech post of the day: Steve Ballmer confirms that the next generation version of Microsoft Windows (aka Windows 8) will be arriving next year. The tech community already knew this was going to be happen, but it is good to hear the confirmation from the CEO of Microsoft himself. I personally am thrilled to hear of this announcement -- with some caveats of course.

I am thrilled to hear this because, as much as I like using my work-issued Lenovo Thinkpad, using Windows XP has not been a pleasing experience. [I fail to understand how anyone could prefer Windows XP to even Windows Vista!] As inline with standard geek practices, I plan to upgrade the hardware to something else. Now I can say for certain it will be next year, when Windows 8 arrives.

Why would I wait? For one, I have no desire to pay the extra software upgrade fee that Microsoft likes to charge. Secondly, while I do not find the Windows XP experience enjoyable, it is more than tolerable for my needs and uses. The Thinkpad did come free after all. Thirdly, I look forward to getting my hands on the next-generation hardware to be released next year. For instance, I know that AMD will be well into their "Fusion" roadmap. I am expecting at least a quad-core processor for my next laptop -- remember, x86 processors > ARM processors right now (it's not even close). A Tegra 3 is no match for even Intel's i3 line or AMD's Zacate line.

In terms of features for Windows 8, I am expecting it will be be comprised of a fully sentient AI that is capable of doing my work and my schoolwork for me. I KID, I KID! I am pretty sure that Microsoft will not disappoint. Both Google and Apple has them on their heels in terms of software development as well as marketability. I expect an updated Windows 7 --more power efficient, faster, less glitches-- to say the least.

So there you have it: another confirmation of one of my future gadget purchases. Now if only Asus announces this Kal-El powered tablet...

Economics of Oil Prices

Yesterday afternoon, I spent a few minutes explaining the movement of oil prices to a friend of mine. Lots of gestures and real-world analogies later, I think I did a sufficient job at describing the pattern of oil prices movement. I thought it would be worthwhile to explain to all you (imaginary?) readers too.

First off, when I say "oil prices", I am not talking about the price of a barrel of oil at the commodities exchanges worldwide. That would make this blog post too obtuse -- not to mention a bit beyond my knowledge. The term "oil prices" henceforth will only refer to the prices each of us see at the gas station placards. For the past month or so, this price has been steadily increasing above the $4 price mark.

Now let's delve into the economics of explaining the movement of oil prices. To do so, we will need the standard set of economic tools: the classic supply and demand curves. [The following explanation will be a bit cumbersome as I am not able to readily draw the curves myself -- thus I need to "borrow" from other sites. Hopefully my explanations make enough sense.]

We start with the equilibrium price and quantity of oil. The demand curve is reflects the market demand curve, or the desire for oil by everyone in the economy. This ranges from individuals to airline companies, trucking companies, etc. -- the bottom line is that everyone aggregately pays the same price. On the other side are the oil suppliers. Because there are many different suppliers (e.g. Arab countries, North Sea, Alaska), they also aggregately form a supply curve.
As the graph suggests, the slopes of the demand and supply curves are characterized as negative and positive respectively. This makes intuitive sense according to the overarching economic rule of scarcity, which states that the rarer a resource, the more expensive it is. For instance, a rare good like a diamond is expensive largely because it is rare and deemed valuable. The cardinal rule of scarcity is reflected in the demand curve: when an individual only has a small amount of a good, then the price paid (in economic speak, willingness to pay) is high but this prices decreases as we move further along the demand curve. There ultimately reaches a point where an individual no longer wants a good, even when the price is zero (e.g. eating the sixth Big-Max in a row).

The inverse is true for supply -- with the key difference being that suppliers are more reactive to the market price. For instance, when the sale price is low (on the left side of the graph), few suppliers would consider it worthwhile to produce and thus there is a small quantity available. But as the sale/market prices increases, more and more firms enter the market in attempts to profit. Therefore the slope of the supply curve is positive: as the price goes up, the more goods are available on the market.

The intersection point of supply and demand curve is called the equilibrium price and quantity. Here, both "demanders" (or consumers) and suppliers reach a point where both sides are satisfied. The result is zero waste. [In economic jargon, this is where the notion of efficiency kicks in. The equilibrium point is considered Pareto Efficient.]

However, there often are changes (or shocks) to either the demand curve, the supply curve, or both simultaneously. And this is where we return to our subject of oil prices. The price of oil is inherently a supplier-driven economy, as the supply available ultimately determines if we can drive our cars, or fly our airplanes. In other words, suppliers have more control. The price of oil has increased recently due to a contraction in the supply curve (Example II below).

Recent events like the attacks on Libya and other oil-producing countries likely hampered the amount of oil that can be readily brought to the market. The quantity of oil available is reduced (from Q0 to Q1). This leads to the shifting of the supply curve to the left (aka a contraction) which, as the graph shows, results in a higher equilibrium price for the oil (P0 to P1). Gas station owners understandably do not want to bear the burden of the price increase alone, and thereby raise the gas prices charged. In all, this is why we see the higher prices at the pump.

Oil prices fall when either or both of two events happen: (1) the supply curve shifts back out as supply is restored or increased; and (2) the demand also contracts (shifts left). The latter leads to a decrease in price because the point of intersection has now become less than P1 on the previous graph. Oil prices this past week has been falling slightly -- and I believe this to be the reason.

However, the above is only a general description of oil price changes as resulted from economics. In reality, there are many more factors and things can get very complex. One example is the disproportionate effect of commodity traders who trade oil futures (e.g. what it costs you to acquire oil in 6 months time). Sometimes oil prices change not because of major supply shifts, but because of the traders speculating/betting on higher future prices. Oil prices can also go up when demand shifts outward -- a common illustration is China's growing appetite for oil.

[Disclaimer: I realized toward the end that a better term to use in place of "oil prices" could have been "gas prices". Most people understand that "gas" refers to oil, or petroleum. But I am not comfortable with this description...]

ASUS Teases the Quad-Core Kal-El Tablet?

Just saw this piece of very interesting news. The hardware manufacturer Asus, now famous for its well-reviewed Asus Transformer tablet, has released a few pictures of an unannounced tablet for the upcoming Computex 2011 (read: an Expo for computing hardware). The teaser ad implied a question about whether this tablet should be considered a tablet or a phone.

There is strong indication that Asus' product will be a mixture of both. Geeks everywhere have begun salivating and speculating.

I am going to tap by optimistic side and hope this is Asus' first Tegra 3 (codename Kal-El) tablet. As previously discussed here, this processor would be the first quad-core processor to be included in mobile computing devices. Although benchmarks are somewhat disappointing (it is on-par with the Core 2 Duo), it's still a big leap forward from current generation dual-core ARM processors. I am definitely in the market for the next available quad-core tablet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Music Liners -- "Firework" by Katy Perry

[Preface: I am not a Katy Perry fan. Her music tends to be too fast-paced and "pop-ish" for my liking. But really do like this song.]

"Fireworks" is well-known for its music video. In the official music video, Katy Perry sings through four or five different scenarios of individuals overcoming their fears and showing their truth inside. These sequence are memorable because CGI-applied fireworks emit from the chest area of each said individual.

As for the song itself, it is incredibly upbeat and uplifting to hear. I read it is a less serious version of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" and I fully agree: there are no vague connotations, just a straightforward self-esteem enhancing song. It should be heard by anyone who is feeling down for whatever reason.

The specific lyrics I like are:

"If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane comes a rainbow. Maybe you're reason all the doors are closed, so you could open one that leads you to the perfect road."

The first line reflects on the fact that most difficulties are temporal and short-term. Most challenges that come our way can feel overwhelming at the time of happening; in other words, we exaggerate their affects and future implications. In reality, these challenges are negligible in the grand scheme of things (if you are a Christian, suffering is somewhat necessary to realize our dependence and need for God). But the problem is that we forget this while faced with the problem/challenge. Perry's line brings a reminder that after every hurricane -- a powerful and often destructive natural phenomenon-- comes an elegant rainbow. The rainbow represents the calm and beauty that follows destructive occurrences like hurricanes.

As for the second line, it speaks of the closed-doors we may encounter in life. Examples range from rejection from a significant other to the inability to get a job. We are often faced with such closed door analogies in life -- which can be very damaging to our self-esteem and confidence in our own abilities. But perhaps the reason for these closed doors is so we can eventually open the correct one that "leads you to the perfect road". The key is to keep trying and not give up; keep trying your hand at the different doors in front of you. It's far better to have doors to try than none at all.

Music Liners -- "Freedom is Here" by Hillsong

My affinity for music is largely in part due to the lyrics contained for specific songs. For this reason, I often hesitate when asked about my favorite music genre or a favorite artist; as there is no pattern for my music tastes. I am inclined to really like the song "Friday I'm in Love" from the punk-Gothic band The Cure to contemporary pop hits like Katy Perry's "Fireworks". Similarly, I like music in a variety of languages. If I seem to possess an overwhelming number of songs by a single artist, then nine times out of ten, it is mere coincidence.

Revelation of my music tastes aside, I thought it would be fun to blog about music lyrics that I really like. I will be adding an explanation for the reasons I like the song in discussion. This will likely become part of a series -- due to the sheer number of songs I like.


First song I like is a Christian worship song from the famed band Hillsong United. The title of the song is "Freedom is Here" which, as its title implies focuses on celebrating the freedom we can experience from God's love for us. [Hillsong is one of my favorite worship bands, so you will likely be seeing quite a few posts about their songs.]

The specific lyrics from this song I like is:

"...I will not fear, I will not hide your love. All of my life, I cannot deny your love".

These two lines are incredibly powerful --and true-- in my opinion. Part one of the first line ("I will not fear") emphasizes the feeling that derives from our awe of God. He is our God and Savior, but also our Creator who was able to speak our world into being. The love He has for us can seem frightening in this manner; especially as the love is greater than deeper than we can fathom. Part of the first line conveys a common reaction we have to this love we experience -- we can be prone to hide it or, worse, not share it with those around us. Sometimes the world feels so big and the number of Christians so small. I know at times I try to hide the fact that I am a Christian, simply because it is tempting to just conform to the environment/culture surrounding me. But this should not happen. Neither you nor I should ever hide the love God has shared with us, because it is the essence of our identity -- not our jobs, cars, houses, or other possessions.

The second line arguably speaks even truer than the first. The message conveyed in very straightforward: God's love for us is beyond time and is not something we can deny it. Even when we feel unworthy or having sinned, we can feel that God is far away because He is ashamed of us. Yet the truth is, our God is a merciful and loving God -- slow to anger and abounding in grace. As long as we acknowledge our sins and mistakes, He is willing to welcome us back and forgive those sins/mistakes. And this is for all our lives. His love is not to be denied.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Economics of Lifeguards' High Pay

Just finished skimming a report that Newport Beach (California) is amidst a controversy surrounding the pay of its lifeguards. Apparently a local newspaper researched into the pay of its lifeguards and learned that most of the full-time lifeguards earn well over $100,000 on average. There were even two instances of earning over $200,000! Maybe I should fly out to California and start training to be a lifeguard...

In all seriousness, I think people are being hysterical as usual. Or more likely, the anger is born of envy/jealousy from those who are not so well compensated. I am surprised to hear the 6-figure salaries for lifeguards but, unless there are some fishy shenanigans like Bell City, I see these figures as somewhat justified. $200,000 sounds like too much but half of that is to be expected. As in most things, this can be explained through economics.

In its most basic form, there is a demand for lifeguards at Newport Beach. Considering it is regarded as a wealthy resort, the pay appears reasonable especially if inflation is a factor. There is a positive correlation between factors such as the proximity of the beach to a major city, quality of the beach, and its fame and the number of vacationers. A rule of thumb is, the more vacationers, the more life guards required to be on the beach at any time. However, what we often do not realize is that the more vacationers, the

Lifeguarding is akin to teaching.

It Is Too Much to DREAM

I am about to make a very controversial statement: I do not support the DREAM Act that numerous immigration groups are attempting to pass. This may seem downright treasonous as I came to this country as an immigrant many years ago, and only last year received my naturalized U.S. citizenship. Perhaps that is a valid assessment -- that I am either a traitor or a hypocrite to a positive political movement. But I have my reasons.

First let's understand what the DREAM Act is. The DREAM stands for "Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors" and it is a legislative proposal first introduced a decade ago (on May 11th, 2001) to grant amnesty for certain illegal immigrants. These illegal immigrants are namely the children of illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States at ages too young for them to understand their circumstances. Proponents of the DREAM Act contend (rightfully so) that these children should not bear the burden of their parent's audacity. Most of these children end up graduating from high schools and many will proceed to attend college. The problem is, they have no legal status to stay in the United States and could be deported anytime.

The DREAM Act steps in by providing conditional permanent residency to these children of illegal immigrants, provided that they do graduate from U.S. high schools and either (1) serve in the military for at least 2 years or (2) graduate from college. The underlying premise is that these immigrants have received solid education and are in a position to enter the workforce as competent workers. Many of them are as qualified as their American-born counterparts -- in some cases even excel due to the adversity they have faced. But alas, this DREAM Act has yet to be passed; it has suffered a cycle of being introduced, argued on, then rejected. Its most recent iteration was introduced on May 11th, 2011.

So why would I be against the DREAM Act? Part of it is that it is nothing more than a wonderful dream, and another part is from my own experiences (which I think it would be better to leave for last).

I say "wonderful dream" because the political climate here in the United States simply does not allow it -- nor allow it for the foreseeable future. People are hysterical enough already about immigrants taking away jobs. Therefore, it is suicide for anyone to pin their political careers on this issue; no politician will do it. More alarmingly, the public largely have a negative opinion of illegal immigrants (e.g. that they are criminals). This is stereotypes working at their worst, which sadly makes amnesty out of the question. A reasonable analogy may be the presidential pardon Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon -- Ford was an able president and I agree with the pardon of Nixon (so we can move on), but the public disliked him for it. Ford's pardon of Nixon cost the former a possible reelection. Even President Obama seems to know his history as the author of this article decries.

Now it's time to present my own perspective. I do not support the DREAM Act because it is an unfair solution to a massive problem. Why is it "unfair"? It is unfair for legal immigrants who opted to apply for entry into the United States through the available means of doing so. My parents did it; I am certain millions others have done it too. Entry into the United States is at minimum an arduous process: one has to be qualified under the stringent standards set by USCIS, reside for a number of years, apply for green card, before finally able to apply for citizenship. The movement through each step of the process involves significant time -- plus addition complications. Passing the DREAM Act would essentially be discriminating in favor of only one group of individuals. Furthermore, the latter is a very small group when compared to the number of eligible (and desiring) legal immigrants.

The stance presented is the result of having worked for 6 months at a respectable immigration law firm. I was put into the department dealing with H1B visas, which is the first step for anyone intending to stay in the United States. An overwhelming number of our clients were individuals from India and China, who sought to work here in the United States. Despite impeccable academic backgrounds and experience, some applicants were still rejected for no other reason than the existence of a "cap" on the number of admitted individuals per year. (The rejection rate was probably much higher at other law firms -- we were amongst the best in the business.) Even for those whose applications are approved, they have to stay for 6 years (two H1Bs) before beginning the process to obtain a green card. The green card process often adds many more years, depends on the USCIS classification assigned to the nature of their work (e.g. talented scientists received theirs much quicker). Not to mention another possibility of rejections. When one finally receives a green card and waits to petition to become a U.S. citizen, fifteen years could have easily elapsed since an individual first applied for a H1B.

In hindsight, how can you grant an expedited process to one group but not to another? Out of compassion because children of illegal immigrants do not know better? That line of reasoning is flawed because it creates an incentive for more illegal immigrants to follow suit. Illegal immigrants come to this country often not for themselves, rather, it is to seek a brighter future for their children. In addition, legal immigrants also frequently face deportation. Can you imagine telling a soon-to-be-deported child of a legal immigrant, "if your parents came here illegally, you wouldn't have to be deported now"? It's a ridiculous scenario but it holds water.

Ultimately, I like the DREAM Act for the solution it offers. But I do not support it because that solution is discriminating, unfair against the bulk of the immigrant population. I hope that one day the entire immigration system can be reformed for the better. Until that day comes, I know the best solution for illegal immigrants to acquire legal status is marry an American citizen...

Example of Integrity: Family Finds $45,000 and Returns It

It's been a busy day so far at work, and I also haven't been able to find anything worthwhile to blog about. But I came across this article an hour ago, which I think is an awesome display of integrity.

The story is basically about a middle-class family finding $45,000 in cash hidden in the attic of their new home. They quickly concluded that the previous owner must have stowed away the money for his children, so they contacted the said children and forwarded them all their findings. This is quite an amazing feat. Just think for a minute -- what would you do if you were in their position? Use the money to buy new furniture, a new car perhaps?

I don't believe it would have been difficult for the family to rationalize their finding and end up keeping it. In the context provided by the article, this family just purchased the house and we can presume are cash-rich as otherwise. The husband, named Josh Ferrin, even admitted that he thought about spending it on things like fixing up his car or house renovations. But he reached a decision with his wife that the money should be returned, as it did not belong to them. As a father, he reasoned that the previous owner saved the money in order to pass on for his own children -- something he could identify with. It's also interesting on the previous owner did not think about revealing his stash of cash to other family members (before he passed away).

Josh Ferrin's actions absolutely deserve applause, perhaps even a standing ovation. I will not go as far as making ridiculous statements like "his actions have restored my faith in humanity" (like other commenters), but it both very commendable and model behavior for everyone to follow. His gesture is more impressive as he had already purchased the property, which made him effective owner of anything inside the house. The money was his to keep and spend. Yet he chose to give it back. Bravo!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: I Kissed Dating Goodbye (by Joshua Harris)

This was one those books that one would never think about reading...because it sounds silly. But it turned to be a very well-written book offering a refreshing perspective on a touchy subject. I must admit that at first it was not a voluntary read. The girl I was dating at the time recommended that I read it and, as a good boyfriend, I obliged her. We ultimately broke up but not because of the book. Instead, I think the book made the break up easier to bear.

Anyway, this is a book review and not on personal life. The book is an unique take on dating from Joshua Harris, who is currently a senior pastor at the Convenant Church in Maryland (at least that's what the book biographies). Interestingly, the book was written by Harris when he was 21; it contains many personal insights on the subject of Christian dating. The title of the book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" is actually an honest admission by the author -- he stopped dating for a number of years due to the realization that dating was distracting him from living for God. It is audacious but very authentic.

Harris writes the book through an explanatory narrative of what the current outlook on dating is, how it can be sinful, and how we can overcome it through building a new lifestyle. The target audience is clearly teenagers or those in the early twenties, but it can be helpful for Christians of all ages. It was certainly helpful to me -- so much that I brought my own copy.

Throughout the first half of the book, Harris focuses on the concept of love that people come into contact with through their everyday lives. He goes into detail about the differences between worldly love and godly love: that the latter is beyond temporary pleasures and is eternally good. One of the central ideas outlined is that "the joy of intimacy is the reward of commitment". In other words, relationships fall apart because lovers tend to jump the boat and become physically intimate (read: have sex) with one another without emotional commitment. This is very dangerous as the relationship is not one built on trust or care or faith, but on temporary pleasure. Harris argues that most relationships fall apart due to the lack of commitment.

In addition to his analysis of the culprits behind defective dating of today (e.g. culture, peer pressure), the author addresses the challenges of living a date-free life. The main challenges he writes about is patience. Or rather, it is the patience that derives from trusting God with your life and being confident that God has greater plans than we ourselves can ever imagine. I think this point is very well taken -- the lack of patience is another major contributor to failed marriages, relationships, etc. Sometimes we want to rush into things when the wiser course of action is to wait and take it slow.

Harris concludes with a set of practical rules one can follow to lead a life of purity, such as new attitudes on those of the opposite gender as well as on singlehood. Another key idea is the guarding of one's heart against impure thoughts or sinful cravings. Ultimately, marriage will happen to (almost?) everyone. It is God's reward for us living the correct manner.

Overall, I feel like this is a fantastic book for anyone (Christian or not) to read on dating. The language is easy to understand, and Harris includes a number of fascinating stories based on his own experiences. For example, he writes about a couple who did not share a first kiss until wedding day on the altar. It definitely changed my perspective on dating and what singlehood means. Now I think I shall read it again.

In parting, I want to leave a quote that spoke to me powerfully when I read it. It still does due to my interest in Mandy:

"I'll freely admit it -- I often have difficulty trusting God. When it comes to my love life, I have a nagging fear that He wants to keep me single forever. Or I fear that He lets me marry, He'll match me up with some girl to whom I won't feel attracted...
...I feat that God might forget me. Instead of trusting in His perfect timing, I often try to take things into my own hands. I grab my life's calendar from God and frantically begin to pencil in my own plans and agendas. 'God, I know You're omnipotent and all that,' I say, 'but I really think You missed the fact that this girl over here is my destiny. If I don't go after her now, my future will pass me by!' Eventually I sheepishly hand back the scheduling of my time, energy, and attention, saying, 'Of course I trust you, Lord, but I just think You could use a little help'" (81).

LinkedIn's IPO (Update)

Having blogged about Linkedln's IPO yesterday and predicted it to be a future bust, you may think I want to put my foot where I mouth (or fingers, I guess?) with the stock's performance today. For those who do not know, the share price (NYSE: LNKD) more than doubled today to $94.25 per share at the time of this blogging. That is a staggering growth rate for any company. However, I still hold true to my predictions. Linkedln will fail in the long term --contrary to what this author from PC Magazine says (why is he writing about financial news anyway?).

To elaborate on the reasons given yesterday, the fundamental explanation is that the market does not know how to price the stock of social networking sites. There simply is no historical precedent from which to compare this to -- not even the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. And without any way to gauge prices, investors go crazy in their optimism. I believe all social network sites to be fantastically valuated when their IPOs are inevitably announced; this includes Facebook and even Groupon. If anything, we can all learn from the fates of MySpace and (just came to mind) Bebo. Both companies are what we might call "epic fails".

MySpace was arguably the first of the social networking websites. Its network was not as strong as Facebook's, but it was unique when it first appeared -- and people flocked to it. I still remember when all my friends from high school had myspace accounts (I even secretly signed up for stalk a girl I fancied back then). MySpace was launched in 2002 and then rapidly grew, expanded, all the way through past its acquisition by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for $580 million in July 2005. At its height of popularity and usage, MySpace was valued at $12 billion in 2007. Today, News Corp is attempting to sell its 5-year old acquisition for reportedly $50 to $100 million. I can bet you that Murdoch wishes he had sold it back in 2007.

Similarly, Bebo was a social networking site created in 2005 as a rival to MySpace and Facebook. AOL purchased the company in 2008 for a staggering $850 million. But it would sell the company less than 2 years later for less than 2% of its cost, at $10 million. (If this is not epic fail, then I do not know what is.) Last year I interviewed with AOL for a position and vividly remember one interviewer shaking his head when I asked about the company's recent history. But judging by this Linkedln IPO, some lessons are not learned.

Look, Linkedln's future performance may prove me 100% wrong as it becomes a powerhouse of a social networking site. Its future value may justify its now insane $9 billion valuation. But these maybes are just what they are: maybes. Odds are more likely --especially upon reflecting on the failures of MySpace and Bebo-- that it will also fail. To me, the market has failed to valuate Linkedln properly and this will result in some very hurt shareholders in the future.

I will leave this post with a question and my own (biased) answer: what makes Linkedln so special to justify its $9 billion valuation? My answer is, it has pieces to justify a price tag but nowhere near $9 billion. Not even 1% of this current valuation. The first dose of reality is, when you compare Linkedln with Facebook*, you will find that Facebook is superior in every way and with the potential to steal Linkedln's market share. The second dose of reality is that Linkedln profiles are inherently not useful -- other than job seekers, there is no incentive for anyone to maintain a Linkedln profile. If you want to find out more about your new friend, Facebook provides much more useful (and more entertaining) information. All in all, the only way for Linkedln to be worth its valuation is that Facebook's future IPO is many times over its own. Not only is that scenario unlikely -- but also Linkedln better hope Zucks doesn't infringe on its territory.

*I like to compare Linkedln to Facebook in spite of being fully aware of their differences. After all, I have profiles in both sites. But I also see their inherent similarities, as is the case with every social networking website. Facebook and Linkedln depend on their ability to network one user to another -- only Linkedln has many less users than Facebook.

The Economics of Jon Bon Jovi's Success

Just finished reading a Yahoo Music article on the rock band Bon Jovi's profits compared to the more mainstream artists like Katy Perry and Kanye West. The numbers speak for themselves: $125 million over the past year, an amount only surpassed by the band U2. This $125 million income is more than the combined of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Kanye West. It's pretty amazing when you consider that Bon Jovi does not appear as often in the mainstream media as those 3 artists. The other numbers are very impressive too: $203 million gross income in ticket sales and $20 in merchandise sales, which stems from playing in 74 gigs across 15 nations. But what caught my attention wasn't just the profitability -- but the frugality taken to reach those numbers.

As the articles describes, the Bon Jovi band carries less baggage (literally and figuratively) than the other artists. The band consists of 6 musicians and their total equipment can be carried on 12 trucks -- compared to the reportedly 28 required for Lady Gaga's entourage. In addition, the band attempts to maximize the revenue stream from a single location before moving on. This means they save on the costs of setting up, breaking cost, and moving; not to mention the good this does to their energy levels. It also mentions the little things like carrying a massive screen, which allows Bon Jovi to sell more tickets (5,500 more) than normal since more fans can see the show.

Perhaps the most interesting information was about how Bon Jovi maximizes the monetary amount fans are willing to pay. In economics speak, this process is known as capturing consumer surplus. The premise is that no two fans are the same, which translates to different income levels and thus the money available to spend on Bon Jovi's show. For example, one fan makes $10,000 and another makes $100,000 a year -- the second fan can buy much more than the first. Bon Jovi band exploits this (as I am sure other bands do too) by selling specially-packaged bundles like two front-row seats including a good of special goodies like autographed lithographs. This sort of VIP treatment costs on average $2,550 -- compared to $450 for a lower-end alternative.

Generally speaking, firms want to be able to price discriminate because they want to maximize the amount of profits possible. In the absence of any laws, firms would opt to engage in first-degree price discrimination, which is when firms can target individual consumers and charge them a distinct price that captures all the consumer surplus. The assumption, of course, is that consumers are not able to trade with one another (e.g. sell tickets on Ebay). But this practice is largely illegal due to the perceived unfairness posed against consumers. Instead, firms often resort to third-degree price discrimination, which is the separation of consumers into classes and charge a separate price for each class. (Second-degree is when firms lower prices the more products a consumers buys). The result is not as efficient as the first-degree discrimination, but still better than charging a flat price.

For Bon Jovi, the article mentions that the band averages 20 different price points on any tour. This allows the band to have better returns on the simple fact that they price discriminate. This is very cool (profitable) application of economic ideas -- and perhaps a major reason why Bon Jovi earned so much.

Update About This Blog

It's been almost a week since I last announced new changes to this blog. For repeat readers, you may have already noticed certain changes. I thought it might be helpful to summarize any new trends/blogging habits and speculate about the future (everyone loves speculation!).

I noticed a change in my blogging habits, which may hold until a future announcement:
  • I have been posting about 3-4 times a day, if health (I fell sick on Tuesday night) allows. This is a colossal improvement over the 1-2 times a week before.
  • In terms of the topics I blog about, they seem to be 1-2 posts on tech news, 1 post on world news, and 1-2 on any other topic.
  • There are reasons for the above. For one, I read news during work and through the useful Chrome extension, I can directly blog about any article I come across. These news posts are short but highly subjective and prone to my opinions. The last type of posts require more thought and often are longer.
  • Still have to add images or video to my posts. Main reason is that I'd like to start off with self-taken photographs before attempting to borrow (or plagiarize) from other websites.
  • The best means to navigate this blog currently is through the tags or searchbar. I just went through and updated for old posts. The news posts are not properly tagged until the day after because the aforementioned Chrome extension does not the adding of tags directly. I will update the pages directory when I have more time.
In terms of the monetization process, astute readers may have seen the ad link on my review of the Great Expectations book (by Charles Dickens). This is conducted through Amazon Associates program -- which is very useful when referring to specific products. The commission margin is tiny (5%) but could add up if the product is pricey enough (and if readers click through and buy). It was an experiment and I will probably continue to experiment.

As for the Google AdSense, my account is currently on hold as Google proceeds to make a first payment. (Big thanks to anyone who checked out the ads!). The amount will probably come out to be $2-5, which may be small but it's an encouraging start nonetheless. I will be putting this into my "camera fund".

I have also purchased a domain name for potentially migrating this blog off blogger. It was a great deal --$2 for a one-year domain name of through We'll see what happens!

One More Reason to Want the Samsung Galaxy S II

Anyone curious about cell phones or a gadget geek should already know about the awesome cell phone that is the Samsung Galaxy S II. (If you do not, you should do yourself a massive favor and catchup on this.) I know that I am waiting patiently for it to arrive in the United States. Well, Engadget just released news that might turn that patience into impatience.

So we all know why this phone is so eagerly expected: it's ridiculously thin, amazingly fast processor, gorgeous design, and top-of-the-line display. Geeks everywhere have been proclaiming it as the mythical "iPhone-killer" they have been expecting for years -- even current iPhone users admit to this. As much as I like my current Nokia e71x, this is so much better that I might finally upgrade despite its lack of a physical keyboard (yes, I am old-school). I first owned a touchscreen phone for a month (the Nokia 5800) and I was impressed by everything except the ability to type messages quickly....and the battery life. It has been almost 2 years now and I am sure the technology has improved dramatically since then.

[For those who have read my previous post on tech gadgetry, I no longer want the Motorola Atrix nor the Nokia N8. Or at least not until either made unreasonable price drops to $100 and $150 respectively -- the N8 is contract-free. The reason is simple: the Samsung Galaxy S II just destroys both in performance. The only advantage I see is for Nokia N8's 12 megapixel camera. And even then it's no longer a significant factor.]

The biggest question mark surrounding the phone is, when is the release date? I don't it as being past this summer but Samsung has thus far refused to release any specific details. Not even a guidance. This is frustrating when too many sneak-peeks, hands-ons, and even reviews have been posted by third parties.

If it is ultimately delayed until past the summer, then I might turn to other alternatives. I hear the HTC Sensation is quite nice too...

Human Love : God's Love (Analogy)

I am by no means a theologian or even close to claiming one. But sometimes I develop ideas that may be interpreted as theology. The following is one of such ideas -- derived through my experiences of pursing Mandy. It's about the similarities between the dynamics of pursing a human interest and possibly with how God pursues us.

I shared this with a close friend last month and he said it was interesting. Just thought that I would share it with all of you (imaginary audience?) too.


First the argument I will make is this: liking someone who doesn't really like you back is analogous to...God's love for us. Although this analogy holds true only for a fraction of the whole (of course), it has some legitimacy.

The main explanation is that when we like someone (the more appropriate term may be "fall in love"), we begin to care about this other person's life so much more. This special someone, the object of our affections, often comes into our thoughts and, if our affections are sincere, the end-goal of our actions will evolve into bringing happiness to this individual. Because when this person is happy, we inevitably become happy ourselves -- happiness begets happiness, joy upon joy. For those who have experienced this feeling, it's very much like a "high" (nothing associated with drugs, but strictly a state of mind). And even if we are rejected, these sentiments can linger and sometimes manifest into something even deeper (e.g. limerence).

The reason I think these human sentiment is analogous to God's love for us is due to our ignorance and, sometimes, even rejection of His love. God's love is unconditional for us and He always cares about us, but we can forget about this fact when temporal difficulties stray into our life. We are also prone to not realizing the depth of this love -- one that is full of grace and even ready to welcome us back with open arms (e.g. story of the prodigal son). In short, God loves us and we often do not realize it. Nor perhaps realize the depth of this love.

So you may begin how the analogy is starting to shape together. Just as the human object of our affections may be ignorant or even downright reject us, we similarly do the same to God. More disturbingly, the latter occurs much more frequent than the former. Is not the most important commandment "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength?" If so, then how often do we give God this undivided attention and worshipful praise He has commanded? For myself, the truth is my thoughts are on God only in moments of prayer or in fellowship with other Christians. The fact that God still loves us despite of our ignorance/rejection speaks volumes of the power of His grace, compassion, and also of the resurrection power.

Now, I can be quite wrong in conjuring this analogy. God's love resembles little of our human affections for one another. God's love is not prone to the imperfections that sin can perpetrate. But I think it is a very interesting analogy nonetheless -- one that allows me to understand a spiritual truth through human experiences. Perhaps more importantly, it brought awareness into an area which needs to be changed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On Strauss-Kahn's Rape Allegations

The week is still young and yet multiple scandals have broken out involving some form of womanizing. One involved the Governator (Arnold Schwhowyouspellit) and his former housemaid, with whom the former fathered a child not many years ago. His wife unsurprisingly has separated from him. This morning I watched news anchors comment on Arnold's ability to have kept the secret for so long. This is true -- how was he able to maintain secrecy for so long?

Anyway, this post is not a discussion on the Governator's woes but rather about a bigger scandal: the allegations of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a current IMF director and a prominent candidate for French presidency, having attempted to rape a hotel worker in New York. He has since been arrested and imprisoned; the world is in shock from this news. How can such a prominent person be so stupid?

Conspiracy theorists have been hard at work in conjuring possibilities. The main theory is that this is a set-up by the incumbent French President, Nicholas Sakorzy, whose popularity is at the all-time low of his presidency. So it would make sense for Sakorzy to plant a scandal on his biggest challenger. But the fact that the alleged rape happened in New York drills an enormous hole into this theory -- chances of getting exposed are greater when outside your jurisdiction.

What about the theory that the woman is faking it to gain leverage and media exposure? As the TIME article points, Monsieur Dominique has apparently a history of sexual misconduct with women. A few of his former victims have come forward, with one even prepared to file charges in France. The odds seem stacked against Dominique.

Ultimately, I think that the guy is guilty. His history certainly does not help his case. It's just a matter of his arrogance catching up with him -- to attempt to rape a woman who could not be silenced.

LinkedIn Failure Imminent

I heard rumors months ago that social network companies like Linkedln (and yes, Facebook too) were planning IPO (initial public offerings) to debut onto the stock market. When I heard the rumors, my first thought was that Facebook would be the first and my second thought was that I'd never buy their stock. Looks like my first thought was misplaced as...Linkedln seems to have beaten Facebook to the punch.

LinkedIn Rockets To $4 Billion Valuation, Who's Next? -

Let's first review the reason for why companies want to conduct IPOs. IPOs, as its acronyms suggests, are a means to sell stock to public investors (e.g. investors on the open stock market). They are useful to companies because it helps tremendously to raise the capital needed for expansion, in addition to passing on the financial burden of failure onto investors. Another byproduct is that it makes the founders or major private shareholders extremely wealthy -- because their stake with a real-time value of 0 just exploded.

IPOs offer the advantages of allowing price fluctuations (mainly of going up) and of independence from a small number of investors. For publicly-owned companies, investor activism is generally much less likely than when shares are held by only a small number of investors. Investor activism still happens when you have pesky investors like Carl Icahn holding your stock; but these are "it is what it is" scenarios.

Back on the subject of Linkedln IPO. DealBook reports that the higher prices values the site at $4.3 billion -- a ridiculous sum of money for a business-minded social network with a much smaller user base than Facebook. I shudder to think what Facebook will be valued when it inevitably conducts its own IPO. All I can see is that it will be extremely overvalued.

Being a social network, Linkedln's current success in popularity is a mixed blessing. As soon as there comes along a superior alternative, it will quickly be displaced and its stock prices will free fall. And believe me, better alternatives will come along quickly. Nothing screams "compete against me" better than a massive valuation. But let's review some other reasons as to why Linkedln's failure is imminent (yay list of reasons!):

1. Tiny user base. "Tiny" is clearly an understatement here. The company boasts more than 100 million registered users, across more than 200 countries around the world. Clearly they have a strong foundation from which to build out. But expansion is limited due to the nature of the social network: it is business oriented. Furthermore, most businesses do not use Linkedln to advertise open positions because most businesses still operate with a dark-age mentality (internet as a last resort). One has a better chance of finding a job listing on Craigslist than on Linkedln. I do not see this changing much.

2. Competition. Facebook is clearly the elephant in the room here, and Zucks (Mark Zuckerberg) has shown his willingness to expand into other people's turfs (e.g. offering local deals to compete against Groupon). It only seems natural that Facebook would attempt to revise itself to target the business demographic. How so? I can easily seeing the company offering users the ability to establish a business profile independent of its social profile. When this happens, you can expect Linkedln's usage to half at least. Research studies have shown that people prefer the convenience of operating through one website, rather than two -- and Facebook already hosts a bunch of other services with theirs. Facebook > Linkedln. Everytime.

3. Lack of monetization opportunity. Whereas the beauty of Facebook (as described before) is that users voluntarily offer valuable information about individual preferences, the information posted by Linkedln users is not useful to marketers. Perhaps to job hunters/recruiters, but I cannot see Ford flocking to Linkedln for the opportunity to advertise its products through the site. This problem is compounded by Linkedln's small user base.

4. User interface stinks. I must admit that my negative opinion of Linkedln stems in part from my own experiences using it. From what I remember (this was over a year ago), a Linkedln profile offers no ability to customize and requires an enormous amount of user input before it becomes useful. Customization is very important to the long-term health of a social networking company -- MySpace offered too much, Facebook offers just the right amount. Even its touted ability to connect to other professionals (e.g. establish relationships) isn't very useful when the others professionals do not have a Linkedln profile. [And you better hope that recruiters from the desirable employers are savvy enough to check your Linkedln profile!] I just do not see revisions being made that could boost its user friendliness.

As with GM but with different reasons, I do not see myself ever owning Linkedln shares. Out of the proposed IPOs of social network sites, arguably Facebook is the only worthwhile company. Why not Groupon you ask? I may well be writing a post to discuss (or more likely...bash) soon but for now, I simply do not see Groupon as one with much growth potential. It's at its limit right now -- just like Linkedln.

Follow Up: Apple 10th Retail Anniversary

According to a new report from BGR, the planned Apple release to commemorate its 10th retail anniversary may be an integration of NFC payment systems into its iproduct line. What a bummer. I personally do not find this exciting at all...

NFC payment systems coming to Apple Store locations?

...But it does hold major implications for the future of the iplatform, as well as the future of electronic transactions. Just as its Apps Store allowed developers from anywhere to submit applications, these NFC systems would theoretically allow electronic transactions to happen anywhere.

Want to pay for a Craigslist service/product with your credit card? Sure, if the seller has an i-enabled NFC system in place.

[Correction: looks like I misread the initial report from BGR. Whatever is going to be released to celebrate will not be done "tomorrow" (my mistake), nor tomorrow (as in Thursday), but probably this weekend sometime....somewhere.]

Importance of Sleep

You've probably heard many times from many sources about the importance of sleep. On the whole, the recommended number of hours of sleep is 7-9 hours per night (8 average). Most of the working population fall short of this recommended dosage of Zzs per night for one reason or another.

For some, it is the lack of time in due to the demands of careers or academic schoolwork. When your boss is pressing you to finish a project or an exam is to be administered the next day, most people understandably sacrifice a few hours (or all the hours...) of sleep to fulfill these tasks. The general rationale is that sleep can be "made up" in the days following the deadline. I've experienced both these reasons first hand in the recent few weeks.

While for others, it is simply due to lesser distractions that capture their attention and hold it until past bedtime. This can range from surfing the internet until the wee hours of the morning to being transfixed on an interesting novel -- again, I've been guilty of both accounts. Or it could just be watching multiple television shows.

Taken the aforementioned demographics into consideration, it is pretty clear that the second demographic is just "wasting time". (I am not trying to belittle things like internet surfing, but these activities are not very important.) But I'm going to take it a step further and argue that even for the first demographic, our perception of what is important is misplaced. In other words, sleep should be higher on the hierarchy of priorities than even career advancement and academic excellent (gasp!).

Here are some reasons why:
  • Sleep deprivation leads to physiological as well as psychological changes for the worse. People tend to become moodier (aka spazz out) quicker, think and talk slower, and even doze off at inopportune times.
  • Biologically speaking (I did score a 5 on my AP Bio exam...), sleep is a time where your cells recuperate and repair any damages sustained during the waking hours. Cell division (mitosis) occurs in the process. Lack of sleep deprives your body of this time to heal and refresh itself. In the long term, cells may divide quicker and more frequent as a result -- which is a negative because they do not have infinite division cycles.
  • One cannot dream when one does not sleep. One of my favorite things about sleeping is the possibility of having fantastic dreams. Sometimes they can be weird but, for the most part, they're pleasant and help me think about something from another perspective.
In sum, I think there is a positive correlation between good sleep (hitting those magical 7-9 hours per night) and health. And what could be more important than health? Oftentimes, no amount of money nor academic degrees can undo permanent health issues caused by the lack of sleep.

I guess the reason for blogging on this topic is my first-hand experience (or reminder) of how important sleep is last night. For some reason, I had a severe headache yesterday evening and was barely able to finish dinner. I honestly believe I had fever. So I quickly showered and hopped (more like dragged my legs) to bed at around 9pm -- normally I go to sleep around 11:30pm. Woke up this morning feeling very much refreshed. I slept for about 9 hours, which is about 2 hours more than I have been sleeping for the past few weeks. The fever was gone and all tiredness had disappeared!

[Actually I think the reason for the headache was just physical tiredness: helped a friend moved this past Saturday, played 3 hours of football and basketball on Sunday, biked to work both Monday and Tuesday, and tried to workout on both days too...]

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

US Stocks Falling Left and Right Today

It has not been a good week thus far for the stock market. Stocks across the board are falling, more precipitously today than even yesterday. This is not good news for investors like myself -- although I may not an active trader.

In terms of my own holdings, I am looking at a 2% drop in portfolio value; this is thanks to the 2% average drop in the stock prices for three I own. This doesn't come as a surprise because my two major holdings (Ford and GE) are both blue-chip stocks. Blue-chip stocks tend to fluctuate in line with market movements.

What came as a surprise is the extent of the pessimism in the stock market today. Even for Wal-Mart, who reported an increased profit, stock prices have dropped. Perhaps its stock price was negatively impacted by the performance of Hewlett Packard. So how can this be? The pessimism can be attributable to the two dark clouds hovering across the financial skies.

The first dark cloud is the news of disappointing housing market performance in the United States for the past month. This is especially acute for property builders. The housing market is an important indicator for the health of the U.S. economy because so many things depend on the availability of housing. In other words, there are extensive implications for the housing market. For example, revenues for home-improvement retailers like Lowe's and Home Depot are intrinsically tied to the housing market. Less obvious positive correlations such as car sales and general consumption (food, luxury goods) also depend on the housing market.

The second dark cloud (maybe the darker) is the current quagmire of the European debt crisis. Like it or not, national economies are all interrelated in today's world and a debt crisis in the EU will spread across to the Atlantic. Greece and Portugal are the culprits for the EU debt crisis -- and attention on their ability to repay debts leads to greater scrutiny upon its neighbors like Spain. Fear is very contagious in the financial markets.

Overall, I am predicting that the pessimistic sentiment will carry through the end of this week. But it should not persist until the following week -- investors and traders tend to be myopic and will either ignore or forget the bad news when good new arrive.

Quad-Core Tablets?! Yes Please!

Looks like today is a tech day. I've been catching up (or is it getting ahead?) on tech developments and found some very interesting news. Or at least the news were significant enough to reevaluate my gadget plans for the near future.

Following up on the previous post on anticipated tech products, I think I might hold off on acquiring a tablet computer until the next-generation Nvidia Tegra processor (code named Kal-El) is released. According to the following report, this looks to be in the near future -- perhaps as early as this summer. This is consistent with the claim from the manufacturer Asus that they would release a Kal-El-based tablet beginning this August.

NVIDIA: At least 10 quad-core Tegra-based devices in the works

So how significant is the release of Kal-El (aka Tegra 3)? For starters, it will be the first quad-core ARM chip to make its debut and pack five times the power of the current Tegra 2. This is good news since there have been reports that, despite all its processing prowess, the Tegra 2 is beat in benchmarks by antiquated computer processors like Intel's Core 2 Duo. I do not not anticipate Kal-El to take a gigantic leap forward --such as being competitive with Intel's i7-- but I foresee a big improvement. Personally, a quad-core gadget has been on my wishlist for a while and I did not think it may come in the form of a tablet. It is a very pleasant surprise.

Originally (even until a few moments ago), I thought about waiting for tablets like the Asus Transformer or the freshly-reviewed Samsung Tab 10.1. But this news will likely push back my acquisition plan until Kal-El is released. In addition, Google announced its next Android revision (Ice Cream Sandwich) last week. The latter probably will come later than the release of Kal-El though.

One of the things to keep in mind is the speed of technological innovations, especially on the gadget front. The newest and greatest gadgets often look outdated a few months following its initial release. So common dictates that one should not wait. However, this changes depending on personal preferences. I realize that for me, I have no immediate need for a tablet and thus can afford to wait a couple of extra months. If the Asus Transformer drops further in price, I might just scoop it up.

Apple Launching New Product Tomorrow?

Just read this article on Boy Genius Report (BGR) about Apple possibly releasing a new product tomorrow -- which apparently marks their 10th retail anniversary (aka since it first opened Apple Stores). The article itself lays out some interesting details about security measures taken to prepare for this sort of event.

Apple planning major product launch for 10th retail anniversary?

So I guess the question is, what could this new product be? As always, let's run through the list of suspects and see...

1. iPhone 4GS -- originally billed as the iPhone 5, but the changes from the current iPhone 4 seems insufficient to warrant a numerical advancement. This revision will include the new A5 dual-core processor found on the iPad 2, along with software adjustments (new iOS?). I think this seems unlikely as the product launching tomorrow, because (1) it is scheduled for the fall release and (2) the white iPhone 4 just came out last month. Apple isn't stupid to cannibalize its sales.

2. iPad 3 -- despite the overwhelming demand, many people (including yours truly) were disappointed with the iPad 2's insufficient changes. The biggest issue was the screen; instead of upgrading to the iPhone 4-like pixel density, Apple opted to keep the original iPad screen. Poor camera resolution was another downer. Furthermore, competition has also been heating up like Asus' Transformer. Yet similar to #1 (iPhone 4GS), not much time has elapsed since the iPad 2 was released. Steve Jobs isn't the CEO if he lacked the strategic acumen.

3. next iPod -- this is definitely more plausible than the previous two but I just don't see it happening. iPod's function as discrete mp3 players has been surpassed by the current generation of smartphones, which package the mp3 player together with internet accessibility, etc. Again, too much potential for sales cannibalization for Apple to introduce a revamped iPod.

4. Software revisions (OSX Lion, and new iOS) -- Apple has been facing stiffer challenges on this front for a while, namely at the hands of Windows 7 and Android respectively. Android in particular has become Apple's Achilles heel, with increasing activations and growing popularity among users. A common complaint against iOS is its lack of customization and closed environment -- which I foresee Apple making the proper adjustments. Although this is much more likely than the previous 3, it seems a bit anti-climatic for Apple to just release software changes on its 10th retail anniversary. Keyword is retail.

5. ? -- I honestly do not have a clue.

The aforementioned speculations are just that: speculations. But unless Apple is planning a new product offering, whatever comes out tomorrow should be one of the above. I guess we will hold our collective breath and see...