Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Stages of Relationships

Last year I remembered watching a short film produced by the (excellent) film-making crew at WongFu Productions, a trio of recent graduates from SoCal who leverage their Asian background to explore current social themes/issues. This short film was titled "Strangers Again" and explored the essence of how relationships are formed and dissolved. It starred a number of YouTube personalities like Cathy Nguyen and was a considerable hit. I saw it, liked it, and...promptly forgot about it -- the reason being that the ending, though realistic, was also depressing.

Earlier today I was having a conversation with a close friend about the stages of relationships, and this short-film I saw last year came to mind. I remember that it defined the stages of relationships in an ordinal manner and, after much searching, found it online on a Tumblr site (here). Below are the stages defined by Strangers Again:

Stage 1: Meeting
It’s so pathetic to see how guys would do just about anything for the right girl. But it’ll be paid off by the time they got her number.

Stage 2: Chase
Some say this is the best part. All he wanted was to know more about her. All he wanted to do is to hangout with her. The only person he wanted to talk to is her. She was the number one priority. And every time he saw her…butterflies. She was everything that he thought that could be perfect in a girl.

Stage 3: Honeymoon
As soon as we begin our relationship, we’ll be stepping to stage 3.. This is the time when both of us can fully express our affection to each other, and do the things we wanted to do as a couple. “It was a dream come true. The girl I wanted to be so, so badly was finaly mine”

Stage 4: Comfortable
This isn’t necessarily bad, it’s when we could truly be ourselves. But it depends on what you do with that comfort. Some uses it positively, continuing to work with their relationship and grow together. But others allow it to create distance, and take each other for granted. The bottom line is…someone stops trying.The feelings aren’t as strong as before. This could happen over a few months, or few years.. Who knows?

Stage 5: Tolerance
The girl/guy he/she was crazy about has turn into someone not special anymore. We’re just tolerating each other. Arguing is one thing of feeling dissatisfied with the relationship of the other. We tried various times to try to make changes, to fix things. But like so many couples out there, it wasn’t enough. We bacame one of those relationships where, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. And it was never a good way to describe a relationship.

Stage 6: Downhill
There’s not much time left once you’re here.. The effort you try to make things work, is just not worth it anymore. Conflicts continue, arguments don’t get solved.

Stage 7: Breaking up
The end of the line. The worst stage ever.. We don’t know when it’ll happen or how, but I hope we can leave it on good, mutual terms is that’s ever possible. And this is when the two of us will start a new path, one that leads back to when we started…strangers. The change will be so drastic, so blunt, that we probably want to get it back right away. But this doesn’t always happen, and the distance will grow. Eventually, the two of us will move on or find someone new. And even if we both get over the past and try to remain friends, things will never be the same. Our lives will continue on to different directions and becoming strangers again. And everything we shared will just become fragmented memories…

As mentioned earlier, this is realistic regardless of how much I don't like it. Most relationships do seem to fall apart and, some don't even get a chance to start. It takes almost a combination of perfect timing and perfect compatibility for a first meeting to grow into something like marriage. Personally I've experienced how difficult this can be (just look under any post with the label "Mandy"). That said, I'd like to take the above stages and tweak it to take into account relationships that work so that the end result is almost like a tree diagram:

1. Meeting
2. Chase
3. Honeymoon
4. Comfortable
5. Tolerance
6. Downhill or Uphill
7. Breakup or Marriage

The main difference is that Stage 5 "Tolerance" is the climax point of the relationship (Stage 7 is essentially the beginning of a new cycle), because this is where the decision is made. The decision can be made unilaterally or bilaterally but both answer the same question: where do we go from here? The answer to this question, then, dictates how Stages 6 and 7 play out. For example, if the decision is to break up, then Stage 6 will be "Downhill" and Stage 7 will be "Breakup".

Another way to interpret this is that Stages 1-4 is quintessentially interviews (borrowing the job application process analogy) of collecting information about the other person. This is in order to test compatibility, or "chemistry" as some like to call it. Then Stage 5 comes along and a decision has to be made -- offer to take the next step further, or slowly dissolve the relationship. Although Stages 6 and 7 could be tied together, they're different in that the former is the consequence of Stage 5 while the latter can be viewed as a new action. (Once I get my hands on Microsoft Visio, maybe I can put together a nice little decision-tree diagram).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Acer Iconia W510 Tablet

After considerable complaints, anger, and time, I finally receive the Acer Iconia tablet that I previously ordered from the Microsoft Store online. I found it sitting outside my front door on Thursday night, again without requiring any signature or other security permissions. Maybe the delivery guy just decided that the hassle wasn't worth it (as I had already file claims for missing package). Anyway, at this point I'm glad I received the tablet at last. I've decided to write a brief review of the device since there doesn't appear to be any reviews for it anywhere.

To save time and space for this review, I'm assuming that you know the basics of a tablet and, in particular, the specifications for this Acer Iconia W510. My version is the 32GB one, sans the additional keyboard attachment -- in addition to 2GB of RAM and full version of Windows 8. Other specifications can be found here and here.

Contents of the packaging box were as follows:

  • W510 tablet
  • micro-USB to USB connector
  • charging cable (proprietary) 
  • Instructions manual
  • Backup DVD

The Acer Iconia W510 (image courtesy of Engadget)

After opening the packaging, I was immediately impressed by the size, weight, and look of the tablet. The W510 is wider and narrower than a standard iPad, but also slightly lighter. The construction material is plastic, but of a studier type and dual-toned with a "white-on-metallic silver" look. It neither looked nor felt cheap -- although perhaps also not a premium feel like the iPad. With respect to weight, it was comfortable to feel on one hand at around 1.2 lbs.

Connectivity is where the Acer W510 shines: 1 micro-USB port, 1 mini-HDMI port, a proprietary charging/connector, and microsd card slot. The inclusion of the micro-USB to USB connector makes it very easy to plug any USB devices to the tablet. In addition, the microsd card slot enables one to cheaply double the system memory to 64GB with a 32GB microsd card. Internally, there is also Bluetooth and NFC (WiFi should be assumed, and here it is the N-type variety).

The Gorilla-glass covered 10.1 inch screen has a standard resolution of 1366 x 768, which I believe gives it a dpi measure of around 150 (don't quote me on this though). To the average eye, it's a good-looking screen with a high level of brightness. Compared to a third generation iPad however, it clearly is not as sharp nor high-detailed. But I think for general purposes like reading documents and surfing the internet, the W510's display is more than adequate. At very least, it doesn't appear that Acer cheapened out on the display.

For touchscreen devices like tablets, the display is more than just for looks -- it has to perform too. After considerable time spent with it, I can happily say that the touch-sensitivity is good. I didn't experience any lag or glaring inaccuracies whether selecting or swiping on the device. The only issue I saw was when drawing on it using Sketchbook Express -- I had to keep my strokes slow as otherwise there would be skipping.

The Acer W510 is powered by Intel's new Clovertrail dual-core processor (Z2760) with its complementary video graphics cores, in addition to 2GB of RAM. Although the consensus from benchmarks out there indicate sluggish performance for the Z2760, it seemed adequate for everyday tasks from my usage. I experienced minimal lag while using a variety of apps on the Windows 8 "Metro-UI", even after having 7 apps concurrently open. The only indication of the Z2760's dearth in processing power came when operating in the "desktop" mode. But even in this latter case, it was not as glaring as feared.

The power consumption of the W510 is impressive. I was easily able to hit the 9-hour estimated battery life through a combination of app usage, video-watching, and internet browsing. Although real-world's usage may be lower than 9 hours, my experience with the device means it shouldn't deviate too much. More impressive was the fast-charging times for the device -- it took about an hour to charge 50% of of the battery.

For those interested, the overall Windows Index score for the Acer W510 was 3.4 -- with the lowest denominator being the CPU measure. The graphics was around 3.5 and the hard drive was unsurprisingly an outlier: 5.9 due to the flash-based memory.

Although I use Windows everyday, using the Acer W510 was my first experience using the Windows 8 operating system. In short, it's a mixed bag. The bad news is that even for a veteran Windows user like myself, there was a considerable learning curve -- especially with the Metro-UI. For example, there are a variety of swipe-motion gestures that one has to learn to become acclimated: one has to swipe from the top of the tablet quickly to the bottom to close an app, or swiping from the left to open the so-called "app drawer" of all open apps. In addition, the absence the classic "Start" button from the desktop mode was an inexcusable mistake made by Microsoft. This made it very hard to use the desktop mode without digging through a few layers of files. Last but not least, there is clearly a lack of available apps at the moment -- the irony of posting a picture of the tablet onto my Facebook page when there is no official Facebook app available was not lost on me.

The good news is that, as previously mentioned, performance is very good when sticking to the Metro-UI "Start Menu". Apps install quickly and are quick to open. I've become a huge fan of the native Windows 8 apps like "Finance", "Travel", and "People" as the close integration into the whole OS feels very natural -- and useful. For example, articles on "Finance" are already presented in tablet-friendly format when you click on them.

Overall, I really liked the Acer Iconia W510 -- particularly for the sale price I ordered it at $399. Even for the current price of $499, it is a good buy for all the things you get: a full-fledged Windows 8 OS, lots of connectivity options, and great build quality. You even have an option to enhance the experience by purchasing a matching keyboard plus battery dock that essentially converts the tablet into a laptop (or netbook).

At the end of the day, this device is what you make of it. If you are looking for a powerful device from which to run Microsoft Excel and perform video encoding, then this is definitely not what you are looking for. It simply does not have the graphics nor processing power. But, if you are an average user curious about the Windows 8 OS and a tablet capable of running your legacy Windows software, then you can't go wrong with this tablet. It does so much for so little a price. While its performance resembles that of a netbook (the Intel Z2760 benchmarks closely against an Intel Core 2 Duo), that comparison is unfair as it is a tablet competitively priced against the Microsoft Surface and the Apple iPad. Without a doubt, I would spend $499 on the Acer W510.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Film Review: Life of Pi

I read the book "Life of Pi" a couple of years ago, and thought it was a masterful piece of writing that forces you to fundamentally redefine your perception of the world afterwards. Although the story itself is a riveting one -- a survival epic of an unlikely duo consisting of a teenager and a tiger-- the real clincher happens at the end of the book. When the protagonist Piscine Monitor Patel (or simply referred to as "Pi") is challenged on his retelling of his survival story, he recounts another story that is essentially a much more sinister version. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and, when I heard a movie was finally created for it, had to go see the movie.

(Before I go further to discuss the movie itself, I have to take note of the particularly environment I watched the movie: on a date. This lady whom I liked previously finally agreed to go out and I heard that this film was an ideal date movie. Therefore, I have to admit my attention wasn't 100% focused on the film due to necessary distractions. In addition, I saw this film in 3D rather than the conventional 2D version -- a decision I very much glad of.)

Life of Pi (in 3D)

The movie adaptation of the took stays very true to the book, which is something that came as a pleasant surprise. For those who have read the book, there are many different subplots and occurrences that make make it difficult to translate into film without at least 5-hour. While I don't doubt that many of these were omitted by the director Ang Lee (understandably to keep the film just above the 2-hour mark), I also felt the film covered all but the most marginal subplots. This is a remarkable accomplishment and it demonstrates the effort put in to create the film. Examples range from Pi's brief romance before leaving, to the catching of the tuna fish, to ultimately the encounter with the carnivorous island. Simply put, it is not often that the movie adaption of a book I read closely leaves me feeling....satisfied. I actually had to urge to re-read the book after watching the movie -- especially to check on this romance fling of Pi's. 

After praising the director, it's turn to praise the actor. The role of Pi is played by the Indian actor Suraj Sharma, of whom I have never heard before. But his acting is superb throughout the film, captured both in the physical maneuvers as well as the emotional outbursts. Aside from perhaps a few too many loud yells at the tiger, he made the character believable and definitely held my attention as best as any film previously had. To put his acting into personal context, I wouldn't hesitate to equate his performance to that of Will Smith in the movie I Am Legend -- which is a fitting analogy given the dominance of screen time both actors had for their respective films. I wouldn't be surprised in the least on seeing Mr. Sharma in future Hollywood movies.

What makes Life of Pi such as good movie -- and a fitting date movie at that-- is portrayal of universal struggles that resonate with the audience. In a way, it is too truthful in its realization of our fears such as  abandonment or death of our entire family. Aren't these the deep-seated fears each of us has? But it is above all a movie of hope in demonstrating the tenacity of human will to adapt and survive the greatest challenges we are faced with. Although the character of Pi is probably a bit more clever than the average person in his meaningful keeping of the tiger alive (for companionship), he is also makes many mistakes and we can identify with those too. I should also commend the cinematography of the film, as it shows almost the perfect hybrid of real footage and computer animation (spoiler: I'd bet the tiger is CGI). Adjectives such as "elegance" and "majestic" would describe the cinematography well -- computer animation is used a lot but never in excessive quantities nor for too long a duration.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie. My company might have helped to influence my opinion, but regardless it is remarkable movie for those not absolutely inclined in the so-called "chick flicks" nor the "action-packed". It is a film most fitting for audiences who enjoy thinking about the film long after seeing it, rather than simply providing only immediate visual stimulation. It's a shame that Life of Pi is flying so low on everyone's radar.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why Microsoft Online Store Sucks...

[Disclaimer: my UPS package was stolen a couple of hours ago, so this blog post may be laced with some emotionally-derived negativity.]

Last week on the so-called "Cyber-Monday", I found out that the online Microsoft Store offering the new Acer W510 tablet at a $100 discount -- for $399 instead of the regular $499. While I had no original plans to purchase an Intel Atom-powered tablet (due to the perceived lack of processing power), this was a tempting offer as a month ago I purchased a third-generation iPad for my father for his birthday. I say tempting because the iPad had essentially been reduced to a PDF reader instead of its expected usage as a family digital photo album. Long story short, my father attempted to load photographs onto the iPad but found using iTunes to be too cumbersome and so promptly gave up. Knowing that he is much more familiar with Microsoft Windows, this Acer tablet seemed like a good trade-off as it offers tablet-like functionalities along with a complete version of the new Windows 8 OS on the background.

So I placed an order online through the Microsoft Store and received an estimated delivery date of 12/03/2012 a day later -- a bit slower than I had hoped but not the end of the world. In hindsight it seems a bit perplexing that UPS did not operate on weekends, as noted by a disclaimer on the order page. Fast forward to today, the alleged shipment date and....no package when I came home. To my horror, the UPS shipment status stated that the package was indeed delivered in the early afternoon. I questioned my neighbors but to no avail. Thus my last resort was to report the incident to Microsoft Store for some resolution. And this is where the annoyance starts.

The only way to contact a customer service agent is via chat or by phone. I opted to do chat and was promptly served by an agent named "Barbie". The weird name aside, I explained the situation to Barbie and was only reassured that she would follow up with UPS on the missing package between 6-8 business days. Let's read that again: 6 to 8 business days! That's essentially a 2-week wait time. I protested this but to no avail. In my opinion, the whole situation could have been avoided had a signature been required to receive the package -- I had assumed this would be the case, or otherwise I would have tried to wait at home for it. It is absolutely ridiculous that a $500 package could be left at the front door without further security measures, a procedure I attribute to Microsoft Store as they handled the shipment process. Why wasn't a signature required for the package? (I do realize that UPS could have been at fault too for negligent delivery.)

This situation becomes worse when I reflect on my experience in ordering the iPad, which was purchased from the Apple Online Store. In this case, the price of the item was similar but the whole experience was completely different. Maybe it was because of the carrier (Apple uses FedEx). But I remember receiving live updates of the location of the package (as opposed to UPS, which only provided an update when the package entered the U.S.) as well as the ability to digitally sign the package. Did Microsoft cheapen out on the shipping by selecting UPS as the designated carrier? Or was it just incompetent on UPS' part.

Either way, I probably will refrain from ordering from the online Microsoft Store in the future. For all their attempt to emulate Apple, it seems they missed on the critical lesson of catering to their customers. Without customer approval, the idea of Microsoft Store is has no viable future.

Monday, October 1, 2012

"Age is what you make of it"

Do you hear the saying "life is what you make of it"? If not, then it's the ultimate expression of self-determination and freedom to choose. It's also a reminder of how much we are able to shape our own lives. For instance, though you can't choose who your biological parents are nor how you grew up, you can largely choose things like what work to engage in, where to live, who to marry, and what sort of lifestyle to lead. Ultimately, it's a statement against the philosophy of determinism -- that everything happens without the possibility of an alternative ending.

I was talking to a friend earlier, with whom the topic of getting older often comes up. My basic argument is that age isn't really as relevant as we make it to up. Sure there are physiological implications of growing older, but we gain so many experiences as we age. And when on the things that really matter like friendship and romance, you like someone for who they are as you see them -- not some idea of who they were years ago. It's probably a much easier task said than done, yet I feel like it's something we should keep it mind always. Culture plays a large role in how we approach the topic of growing old, but its influence is limited by what we make it to be.

Going along these lines, I uttered a phrase that I think is a nice quotation to summarize my attitude on age: "Age is what you make of it". It incorporates the aforementioned freedom of choice into the issue of age, to remind of the reality that we are what we make ourselves to me. Age is an oft-used excuse for things we want to do but willing to pursue. Of course I don't expect a 60-year old man to play in the NFL, but for the small things like going on a cross-country hike, this is attainable to anyone regardless of age (it might just take longer if you're older...). 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thoughts on "First Love" and "Family Strife"

[I know. I've been bad again at posting on this blog. 'Tis what it is...]

Figured I'd spend some time on sharing some thoughts I've had over the past few days on two concepts/ideas that have weighted upon me.

"First Love"
The first is the idea of a "first love", defined in romantic terminology as someone who one falls for utterly and completely. It's not a new concept but one that has been often discussed and experienced even more since the dawn of mankind. To put it simply, I think everyone at some point in their lives meets their "first love". Whether or not that special person becomes something else, something more, is entirely another question.

For those who have read other postings on this blog, you know that I have been very much obsessed with a girl named Mandy. She is incredible, gorgeous, quirky, amazing, and....doesn't like me back. I have tried again and again but to no avail. A couple of months ago I found out she would be leaving this country completely for a doctorate elsewhere, and was inevitably turned down for the last time (in a farewell dinner though, not even a date...). Amidst all the ensuing doom and gloom, I noticed something very peculiar about my thoughts and disposition toward Mandy -- I still really like her, immediately willing to forget all the past disappointment if she gives me the chance. Now this sounds utterly irrational, doesn't it?

I think the underlying reason for my irrationality is that, simply put, she is my "first love". Although it's an artificial construct molded out of feelings and sentiments, it nonetheless can captivate us to the point of not wanting to let go and move on. Oftentimes we'd rather be dwell on this one person -- than being open to our surroundings and others around us. In words, forsaking a "first love" is akin to tossing out an identity that maybe we shouldn't have -- but ultimately did-- nurture. I'm going to go a step further in my definition though. Unlike "crushes" or "fancies", a "first love" is different in that it's the first time we have been willing to bet our future on someone else -- like we would have done whatever for this person. In my own example, in hindsight the possibility of being together with Mandy probably shaped my post-college decision to move back to the same city she was living in. I suppose now it just feels incredibly disappointing to not have this aspiration work out.

"Family Strife"
The second thought is on the topic of family strife, most likely in terms of parents bickering/fighting between themselves. This one is dear to me as it addresses the situation with my own parents, who have been fighting erratically-yet-acrimoniously for the better past of the past 12 years. Personally, I feel that their points of contention are petty and both exhibit a shameful amount of pride. But their fighting being my reality, I have also striven to repair their relationship as much as I possibly could -- from washing dishes and doing other chores, to shielding my younger sibling from the blunt of their arguments. Until yesterday I thought that both parents have learned to be more respectful and caring toward one another, yet all it took was a spat over who was cooking dinner for this presumption to come crashing down.

Now I realize that this family strife will never end and, one day, will result in a divorce. There is simply too much animosity, stubbornness,  and unwillingness to turn the other cheek to save the marriage/relationship. Until it happens I will continue to pray and work toward preventing the breakup from happening but, as true now as it was 12 years ago, I am simply powerless to do anything. Perhaps the following quote from the character JD in the television show "Scrubs" best describes my sentiments on this matter:

"The mistake we make is thinking our parents will change. And maybe they did a better job than we give them credit for. And maybe there, amid all the crap they dumped on us, are some things worth keeping. Like a passion for something you never knew you had. Or the ability to constantly surround yourself with people who love you."

Reflecting in all of this, it seems this undesired strife also shaped my outlook and general disposition on my surroundings -- as a very optimistic individual, and someone easy to get along with.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Economics of the Health Care Mandate

Looks like I've been on a different planet for the past few months (not completely untrue, as I took a vacation to China recently....). I am talking about President Obama's health care reform legislation. More specifically, how a few hours ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the health care mandate portion of the legislation was constitutional. In other words, the much-polarized "Obamacare" can continue its due course to being enacted into federal law.

So what is this health care mandate thing? Admittedly I did not know too much about it -- nor of its existence in fact -- until this past hour. Out of sheet curiosity (and not wanting to sound ignorant), I read many articles on the topic. I still have much to learn, but can at least offer an explanation of it in both plain English and economic terms.

In short, the health care mandate is part of Obamacare that is essentially a tax on those who do not have health insurance. Rationale behind this mandate is spread the cost of healthcare insurance more fairly amongst the benefactors of the healhcare industry -- since the uninsured currently still receive the same pricing and benefits without actually paying the cost, e.g. emergency services at hospitals are required by law to treat the sick regardless of whether or not they have insurance. From an economic perspective, the mandate targets the so-called "tragedy of the commons" phenomenon allegedly present in the current system. Revenue generated from this tax would supposedly goes to a government-sponsored pool that, in theory, would contribute to lower health care costs in the long term. The money will probably end up in the coffers of the government health insurance policy that citizens can purchase -- as an alternative to the private options from the likes of UnitedHealth Care, etc. All would be right and well in the world, right?

The reality is much different, and probably why the topic has become so divisive for the public as well as for the Supreme Court justices. From a legal standpoint, the constitutionality of the mandate is questionable as it effectively forces everyone to purchase insurance or face being fined by the government. Not only are the powers of federal government being debated (e.g. whether or not this topic should be left to the states) but also in how the healthcare mandate is treated as an economic entity -- should it be considered a tax, or not? If it is indeed a tax, then there would further implications on the powers of Congress and the IRS. From a civil rights perspective, the point of contention is clear -- the mandate is another encroachment on the civil liberties available to Americans, since it deprives individuals of the right to choose to purchase health insurance. This question then derives further into the penalty itself being leveraged, as some economists have argued that the fine levered of $695 to $12,500 is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. To an individual who must pay $2,000 annually for health insurance, he or she might just pay the $695 fine and remain uninsured.

Personally, I think there are 3 implications of this development that must be noted (which currently are not):

  1. Not really helping those it intends to help. The true economic burden of the mandate seems to fall on the poor, since they would be the population that would be most likely not be able to afford insurance and now must pay the fine of not having it. Adding insult to injury, they still wouldn't have insurance after paying the fine. My premise is that if the vast majority of those who can afford health insurance would elect to buy it, and therefore this tax falls on those not being able to afford it -- in other words, the poor. If you think about it for a second, who is really being helped by this mandate?
  2. The Supreme Court missed out on a chance to further augment its jurisdiction. By upholding the mandate, the Supreme Court missed an opportunity to expand its powers over the legislation of this country. The issue at is hand is as much legal as economic, since the White House evoked the interstate commerce law to support the legality of this health care mandate. Furthermore, the Supreme Court could have clarified its position on how the mandate constitutes as a tax -- and in the process revising its jurisdiction on the tax laws of this country.
  3. Do we really need health insurance in the first place? For all this discussion about the merits of the health care mandate as well as insurance, I think it would be wise to take a step back and reconsider on why we need health insurance anyway. Why can we not just go to the doctors and pay every time we have a medical condition? Setting aside the argument that preventative/proative steps like regular checkups is cheaper than only going to the doctors on a last-ditched effort, this "need-based" model would eliminate the bureaucracy and additional costs of the health insurance industry. Not to mention it would make health care more market-led, such that doctors can choose where and what to practice. It can be regarded as a all-or-nothing question: we can be like Canada and Great Britain where health care is compulsory, or a true libertarian society where individual choice is first and foremost the priority.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Game Changer: Ford Fusion 2013 Sedan

It's an open secret now that I am biased when it comes to Ford Motor Company. This is because I'm a shareholder of the company and, as a result, have been following its product development and sales trends closely for the past 3 years. I've been ecstatic with the leadership of Allen Mullaly as Ford's CEO, especially with the re-dedication to the core brand and its recent lineup of product offerings.

The recent Ford Fiesta, Focus, and the TransitConnect represent the shift of Ford's strategy away from the traditional American car model -- the so-called gas-guzzlers and large-sized vehicles. In addition to the appealing looks (the Focus in particular looks great), these vehicles are very fuel-efficient. Ford also took a gamble by attempting to streamline the vehicles chassis for its models across the different geographies, whereby the Ford Focus, for example, is often referred to as the "Global Focus". From a financial perspective, the immediate advantage is lower development costs as all the geographies now share a single chassis that the company can build and market to customers.

I am also a fan of the TransitConnect and happy to see the vehicle more frequently on the roads. It seems custom-built for small businesses, a market segment seemingly under-served by the competition. The TransitConnect marked the hybrid of the truck and the mini-van -- resulting in something businesses can acquire cheaply and use for their needs. Ford essentially defined a new lucrative market for itself. But to me, the biggest star has just been announced by Ford at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show back this January. The unveiling of the Ford Fusion 2013.

Ford's Cash Cow for Years to Come...

You can read more about the different configurations here at Autoblog. The quick and dirty is that new Fusion combines the styling of the luxury brands like Audi and even Aston Martin, with the integration of new technologies -- all into a package that should cost around $25,000. It will come in a myriad of different flavors, ranging from diesel to hybrid to electric. You can see that Ford is betting big on the success of this model...

What gets me excited is the sheet positive reception garnered from this initial preview. Heck, I want to buy one too! One would assume the car is a luxury brand at first sight: the styling is aggressive, spacious, but also extremely elegant. The key selling point is mixing all these factors into an affordable package. In short, this model could be disruptive to the mid-size sedan segment as customers rich and poor alike will forgo their "natural" price points and converge on the Ford Fusion 2013. Why pay $50,000 for an Audi when you get something comparable in style for half the price? The Audi-loyalists will balk at this suggestion but I think for the general populace, my hypothesis will prove to be true.

My only gripe with the model is, paradoxically, its resemblance to the super luxury brands like Aston Martin. After the "love at first sight" moment, the Fusion 2013 seems almost trying too hard to imitate its much more expensive cousins. The net effect is a sense of "phoneyness", a visible element of forgery that makes those who value authenticity to cringe at its sight. It's akin to committing conscious deceit. Oftentimes when I see a Nissan Z, I laugh a little as the vehicle's styling resembles so closely to the Porsche that it's almost....sad. I think the owner of these vehicles are those forced to settle because they can't afford the real thing. The same, I fear will happen to this upcoming addition to the Ford lineup.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movie Quote: 500 Days of Summer

[Allow me to preface this blog post by announcing my return to the world of blogging. My most recent hiatus was long and unexpected, but I realized recently how much fun it was to blog. Blogging also helps me retain my writing skills which, in my line of work, I don't use too often.]

So.....500 Days of Summer. Most of us have seen it (I'm sure). It was a "comedy drama film" (so says Wikipedia) that was released in 2009 and took the world by storm. Okay. Maybe not by storm, but it certainty was a surprisingly popular film that many critics considered their vaulted Movie of the Year award. The plot was about the beginning and end of a relationship between 2 young professionals, starred by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Joseph plays the character of Tom, a trained architect who works as an artist at a greeting card company; Zooey plays Summer, the new executive assistant to Tom's boss. 

Long story made short: they meet, like each other but Summer is non-committal and eventually breaks up with Tom. Tom falls into a depression, made worse when he learns that Summer quickly becomes engaged to another. Her reason is quite the kicker, "[I was sure with him] what I was never sure with you". Tom goes through this rhapsody of melancholy before finally sucking it up, quitting his job at the greeting card company, and returning to pursue his passion of becoming an architect. The film ends as he sets up a date with a girl named Autumn. Deja vu time, Tom?

I'm not a fan of the plot, because I feel it's depressing and doesn't really go anywhere. Tom isn't really enlightened through his experiences with Summer. It's not terrible, but not jaw-dropping either. However, I must admit that the acting by Joseph and Zooey is superb. What I did also like though, was one scene from the film in which the male characters are asked (in a mock-interview) to describe the girl of their dreams. The responses are all pretty predictable until it comes to the character of Paul, a level-headed person who has a girlfriend named Robin. Below is his long-winded but quite remarkable answer:

"I guess I just got lucky, um.. We met in Elementary School, in 7th grade we had the same class schedule, and we just clicked. You know, technically, the girl of my dreams would probably have like, a really bodacious rack, you know  probably different hair.. and yeah, you know she'd probably be a little more into sports. But, truthfully, Robin's better. Robin's better than the girl of my dreams. She's real."

What makes his response remarkable is the simplicity-yet-truthfulness behind his answer. While everyone else names qualities they idealize about for their significant other, in the end, reality is superior to the greatest fantasy one can conjure. Paul acknowledges that Robin, his girlfriend, isn't perfect...or at least could be more perfect by having the "bodacious rack" and "different color of hair". But he also takes her as a whole package, instead of trying to break her down into parts. It's the quintessential example of synergy: to Tom, Robin is desirable and attractive because of all her qualities summed up and personified together. 

Oftentimes the reason we are drawn to others is not because of their perfection in our eyes, but by their perceived flaws that makes them more like us, more....human. It's being able to like someone in spite of their imperfections, celebrating together their successes and empathizing in their failures. Because in the end, it is the experiences we have together --and not mere physical traits-- that bond one person to another. 

Some may view Paul's response as someone who settled, but I don't believe so. We all have different preferences and personal tastes, therefore it is incredibly patronizing to downplay someone else's choice. (Yes, I know Paul is a fictional character). The truth is that we don't really know what we want in a significant other. We may have vague ideas like their looks and personality, but one cannot measure things like chemistry -- even less on their whole being. While men may claim to like women like Jessica Alba and Sofia Vergara and women for the George Cloneys and Brad Pitts of the world, we like them mainly for their physical looks. Ultimately we all know that beauty cannot transcend time. As Paul says so well, the girl of my dreams is the one who is real.