Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts on Michael Brown Shooting and Black Suffrage

Allow me to begin this post by noting that I'm not black/African-American. Instead, I'm an Asian-American who immigrated to this country more than 10 years ago. If my ethnicity automatically disqualifies me from commenting on the Michael Brown shooting event - because I'm not black and therefore cannot comprehend the underlying issues - then so be it. I understand that there are aspects of culture and history of blacks that I may never fully grasp. But I'm going to share my thoughts anyway, as a citizen of America, a bystander, and a part of today's American society.

In short, I agree with the decision by the Ferguson grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in late August 2014. That's not to say that I believe Wilson is completely innocent as there are certainly steps he could've taken to mitigate the confrontation - e.g. drawing his handgun perhaps a bit prematurely, which probably exacerbated Brown's reaction. Yet reading over the witness testimonies and information presented to the grand jury, the simple fact of the matter is that Brown not only refused an officer's orders but outright attacked him maliciously and violently. When a police officer orders you to do something, you comply regardless of the order because he or she is a representative of the rule of law. Any wrongdoing in the order can be argued afterwards.  The punishment (death) doesn't befit the crime in this case, but it's a strictly a matter of right vs. wrong. It's right to follow a police officer's orders and wrong to attack a police officer. 

In other words, if you're stupid enough to attack an armed police officer, then you have to be mindful of the possible consequences of your own ignorance and stupidity. This is irregardless of the earlier reported burglary at a nearby convenience store, which was allegedly carried out by Brown. You just don't attack someone and not expect retaliation. However, this highlights the underlying problem for a small subset of the larger black community/population: lack of respect for the rule of law. 

Rule of law is created to apply for everyone in American society, regardless of your wealth, family background, job, etc. It's the basic fabric of this country and is what makes us the beacon of democracy and freedom to the rest of the world. It sounds cliched but it's the simple truth. There is no preferential treatment or circumvention of the law - not even for the President of the United States. As the U.S. Constitution attests to, we are all under the law and no one is above it. Yet there appears to be a perception within a subset of the black community that the rule of law is rigged against them, and therefore they should fight against it. Unfortunately, this sentiment is so pervasive that one hears oftentimes in songs and stories. Song lyrics like "f*** the police" are not uncommon and one is regarded as "cool" to have defied the police or committed any crime. It's a minor but disturbing nonetheless - and perhaps explains Brown's disposition when first ordered by Wilson to walk on the sidewalk instead of the road. Brown may have been offended at being given orders, especially by a police officer and accompanied by a friend, may have wanted to show off his toughness. The fact of the matter is that he acted defiantly and took steps to express his defiance.

Going a bit further, another underlying issue is the victim mentality of the black community. And this may not be limited to a small subset of the overall population. The victim mentality is commonly understood as derived from the slavery of blacks during the early American history. Slavery oppressed blacks at the time, and its effects still reverberate in today's society. In other words, black people were screwed as slaves and continue to be screwed because they were manipulated and taken advantage throughout the process of nation building. The result is a feeling that society is indebted to blacks and should treat them as preferred citizens of this country. Arguably the best example of this is repeated calls for slavery separations - payments to current blacks for the ills of the past. And herein lies the real shame and the very reason why blacks have not moved forward much since the days of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Self-victimization undermines a sense of accountability for one's actions and ability to influence one's destiny. The perception is that society is unfair and inherently skewed to keeping black people down. The end result is predictable: if you believe the house rules are unfair, then how can you rise up through the inequality? A sense of possibility is greatly diminished and, along with that, the drive to achieve great and wonderful things in life. Furthermore, the darker side of this perception is anger towards the perceived status quo. Fighting back against the inequality would translate to lack of respect for the rule of law and, worse, acting out against the personification of it: police officers. Personally, I this is a damning sentiment and until blacks move beyond disrespecting current laws and rules in place, unfortunate incidents such as Michael Brown shootings will happen. There will be another Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in the near future.

The greater truth is that blacks are not alone in having been manipulated and used to the building of America. Many differences races and peoples have been too, such as the Irish immigrants in the factories of the Industrial Revolution and the Native Americans whose lands were confiscated and forcibly removed from their homes. The history of sacrifice is shared amongst all Americans and cannot be claimed by a single race or people. But more importantly, the key is moving beyond the tainted past and together building a better future. Or maybe taking the best of the past as constructive lessons to impart to future generations. If one believes the law is unfair and biased, then the action would be to engage the legal mechanisms to make the appropriate amendments. This means voting for the right officials into positions of power who can enact on the changes. Not through aggression towards society at large such as attacking police officers. Life is what you make of it - making the most out of opportunities around you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Predictions for AMD

AMD stock prices have fallen roughly 20% combined in the past couple of days, precipitated by the changing of guard in its top leadership. Lisa Su has replaced Rory Read as the new CEO of AMD, becoming the first female top executive in the company. The general sentiment on Wall Street appears to favor Lisa Su, but concerned about the timing of the announcement. To say the least, the change is both unexpected and abrupt, belied by the company's Q3 earnings release next Wednesday (10/15). 

Unfortunately for me, I made a significant purchase of AMD stock a couple of days ago (which means I'm effectively down 20% on my new investment). This also means that had I had this foresight, then I would have been able to acquire 20% more AMD stock had I waited 2 days. Sometimes the market gets you. Good thing I'm a value investor...

To keep this post short, I'll just share my immediate thoughts about the recent events for AMD:
  1. I remain bullish on the company and its future outlook. While the past couple of years have been tough, with the company squeezed between a rock (Intel) and a hard place (Nvidia), portfolio diversification of AMD's product lines has started paying dividends. Its new initiative in ARM chips and monopoly over current generation consoles (e.g. Xbox One PS4, Wii U) will at very least guarantee steady income for the next 5 years. That being said...
  2. ...the stock will fall some more before next week is over. I'm predicting a weaker than expected revenue growth for its Q3 earnings, which I suspect is the reason Rory Read was ousted so suddenly and unexpectedly. Expectation is for the stock to fall to around $2.20 before it climbs back up.
  3. Lenovo will begin offering much more products with AMD chipsets than previously. Despite the announcement yesterday of Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro series, which marks the first use of Intel's newest Core M line of processors, I firmly believe that new CEO Lisa Su's background as a former executive in Lenovo will influence her old company to adopt more AMD chipsets. Everyone may be praising her technical and industry background, the elephant in the room is that Lenovo is currently world's #1 computer manufacturer. Intel may boast faster chips but 90% of Lenovo's user base will neither notice the speed difference, nor particularly care if they're given an AMD-based laptop instead. AMD's chips are cheaper than Intel's so there's that to seal this deal.
Taking the 3 points above together, it seems clear to me that AMD is a severely undervalued stock at the moment and has incredible upside in the next couple of years. It has a promising product roadmap ahead that targets industries that its direct competitors in Nvidia and Intel have largely ignored. With both Nvidia and Intel firmly entrenched (and struggling) to battle it out in the ARM market with the likes of Qualcomm and MediaTrek, this is a chance for AMD to buckle down and get ahead. Needless to say, I'll be looking to further increasing my AMD stake next week.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thoughts on Apple Pay

I'm feeling very bullish on Apple these days. Despite the #bendgate controversy that began a few days ago, they've done a tremendous job with the unveiling of not only 2 versions of iPhone 6 but also the Apple Watch. I like them so much that I upped my holdings in its stock this morning.

The star of the show, in my opinion, was none of the gadgets Tim Cook revealed during the past 9.09.14 event. Sure the iPhone 6 is snazzy, loaded with the latest processors, camera technology, and even the bigger displays. It's bound to sell millions upon millions -- especially bringing back users who migrated to other platforms for bigger displays. The Apple Watch will also be a huge hit, mainly for its tight integration in Apple's ecosystem and as a fashion accessory. But both of these are just gadgets at the end of the day. The real star was: Apple Pay.

As a tech enthusiast, I've heard about mobile payments before and even have Google Wallet installed previously. But never before has a company with Apple's leverage entered such as space and it's bound to revolutionize the way we think and use mobile payments going forward. Want to know how much leverage Apple has? A good example is looking at the emails sent out by banks and credit card companies to announce their support for Apple Pay. Every single one of mine have sent me emails to profess their love and support. That is absolutely staggering. Not many companies are able to pull off Day 1 third-part support the way Apple has done it here. Rumors are transaction costs are bound to decrease as Apple Pay is supposedly more secure than other means.

More importantly however, is the ease of use. For the first time last week, I used the Starbucks app installed on my Android phone to pay for a couple cups of coffee at Starbucks. Nothing extraordinary about this event except for that it was: (1) my first time ever doing such a transaction, and (2) surprised by how easy and seamless it was. The latter in particular stood out as I returned the following day to do the same, with same results. I swear that the experience (not the coffee) was so good that I felt more attached and loyal to Starbucks. Yet Apple Pay promises to be even more seamless as you no longer would have to go through the motions of unlocking your phone screen and opening an app to pay the transaction -- if Apple's demo holds true, all you have to do is hold your finger to the fingerprint scanner for a second and pay the payment receiver with your phone. Voila! Takes about a second or two, and the transaction is completed.

Overall, I think the changes Apple Pay will usher in are two. On one hand, people will purchase more things and use their phones to pay more frequently due to how easy and seamless the process is. No longer do you have to take out your wallet (after finding it first), pick out the card you want, swipe it, enter your zip code, and (oftentimes) signing the receipt for the cashier. All you'd have to do with Apple Pay is pull out your phone, hold, tap, and done. It's that simple. The second change will be what I mentioned before -- strangely enough, I felt more attached to Starbucks despite McDonalds being my preferred coffee venue (disclaimer: coffee is a commodity to me, so the cheapest vendor gets my business). But likewise I can see myself going to shops and restaurants that accept Apple Pay more than those that do not. What you'll see then, is a domino effect of stores and restaurants scrambling after one another to install NFC-payment receivers for Apple Pay and other forms of mobile payment (e.g. Google Wallet).

Now, everything is not all rosy as Apple Pay has just been introduced and the public hasn't really been using mobile payments. But Apple does a heck of a job marketing its products and features, so I expect people to catch on quickly. The iPhone 6 will eventually give way to future generations and the same goes for Apple Watch. But Apple Pay as a platform is here to stay and it's going to be absolutely huge. I've put money in my mouth by investing significantly into Apple today, with a strong possibility to further increasing my holdings in the near future.

Oh and one more thing: Apple takes a cut out of every transaction made using Apple Pay.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Personal Life Maxims

I've been pondering on this for a while and figured I'd finally jot down (and share) on the "maxims" I strive to live by. Sometimes I fall short but try to live by the following as much as possible. In my opinion, "maxims" are the foundations or a set of rules one aspires to uphold all the time and in every situation.

In no particular order:

1. "Dance with the one who brought you."
Keyword - loyalty

This is an expression I read in Randy Pausch's famous "Last Lecture" book, and speaks beyond just the phenomenon of attending a dance (e.g. prom, gala, etc.) with a partner. It should be applied to all areas of life, including work relations, friends, and even family. While it may be tempting to jump ship for whatever benefits a new opportunity holds, it means more to stay the course and standby the people who gave you the initial opportunity. Not only is it about loyalty, but also being thankful to those who helped you in the past.

A personal example happened last year, shortly after I started work as a federal employee. Deloitte made me a generous offer that I ultimately declined. The backstory is they had tried to recruit me months prior but couldn't make an offer due to hiring freeze at the time. Overall it was an agonizing decision because it seemed like a perfect fit for my background in finance/economics but also mixed in IT project management. I pondered, spoke to my boss, and in the end decided to stay the course. The main reason was understanding the effort my boss had put it to bring me onboard, and his plans to help me develop. That's not to say I will forever remain in this position, but for now that is the case.

2. "I have no special talent; I'm only passionately curious about everything."
Keyword - humility

This is a quotation from Albert Einstein, who I presume was speaking about the perception that he was a supremely talented and a natural-born genius. The lesson to learn here is that opportunities come and go, oftentimes completely independent of our actions or abilities. Again, it's about the people who helped us get somewhere and perhaps of a higher power that granted us the opportunity. It's not about self-deprecation but acknowledging that we're not omnipotent and should never be fully comfortable with where we are. This should especially translate to our interactions with those around us, regardless of their position compared to our own. We're in this together.

My personal example is constantly reminding myself that despite of my position as a manager, I'm not much better than anyone else from the streets. I'm where I am and do what I do because of my team, boss, organization, friends, family, and God. This helps keeps things in perspective.

3. "Count your blessings."
Keyword - thankfulness

As a so-called "go-getter", I find myself sometimes unhappy because something didn't happen or work out that would have improved my life considerably or even marginally. In my striving towards things like career development and romantic relationships, I take the things and people I have for granted. I suspect I'm not the only one who does this, but it's a flawed person trait I try to right. It's almost an incessant questioning of what we lack that, if held unchecked, can cause us to be depressed when we ought to be experiencing the complete opposite.

I don't have a concrete example to share, other than being mindful of things like how I have gainful employment, live in a war-free zone, and am essentially the master of my own destiny. I'm not even hindered by any allergies or physical abnormalities. Most of the world can't even come close to that. In the end it's about finding a balance between striving towards goals yet being cognizant of the present situation, being grateful for the countless good things we have.

4. "If you have the power to make a difference, you should put it to good use."
Keyword - generosity

I like to combine this one with another lesson from Randy Pausch's book, called "enabling the dreams of others." This expression itself comes from an anime show I used to watch long ago, about young pilot trying to protect his friends during a massive war. While this sounds like the common phrase of "paying it forward" and is generally in the same spirit, in my opinion it's bigger picture. Making a difference isn't easy and the hardest part is recognizing those opportunities to make an impact, for someone or a specific cause. Oftentimes it involves going out of your way for someone else, group of people, or organization, to help them achieve their dream.

In many ways, the lesson is being unselfish and recognizing that we are altogether instead of living in our own paneled homes. So why shouldn't we help out our fellow man, woman, or child? There's again an undertone of being grateful for what we have and wanting to share our perceived successes. Another take on this is that I owe it to not myself but to others to take action, to fight off the inclination to be apathetic and defer to someone else to do something greater. We each have more power to make a difference than we first think.

5. "Cherish your loved ones."
Keyword - priority

This one is a no-brainer but it's funny how quickly we can forget about this and instead be devoted to other things like our hobbies and careers. Workaholic-ism is an openly admired trait in our society, especially for private companies where there is no extraneous benefits like overtime. But when we take a step back and think about it, no one wishes they had worked more in their deathbeds. We'd always wish that we had more time to spend with our families, friends, and other loved ones (e.g. pets). In a way, it's recognizing and remembering the fragility of life and how we may live differently if we knew today was our last. I suspect our priorities would change dramatically shift if that was the case.

6. "Understand your Detroit and accepting that you can't go."
Keyword - peace

This maxim derives from a book by Jack Welch I read and comes from the example of a GE employee that was offered a terrific position by another company, that happened to be located in Detroit rather than the city he was working in. The decision should have been a no-brainer except for the fact that the employee had a family to take care of, whom were well planted in their existing location. In the end, he chose not to take the position. The lesson is that many opportunities will come up throughout our lives, sometimes amazing opportunities that we eventually have to turn down for one reason or another. In the example given, it was family but could be almost anything. The import thing is to accept the reasons why we can't take up those opportunities and thus be willing to let them go.

This is different from Maxim #1 because the emphasis isn't so much on loyalty as on circumstances and the potential adverse impact of our actions on others around us. Ultimately it's about being at peace with our decisions and moving on, rather than frequently looking back and wondering the "what could've been". Life is too short to be burdened down with regret and if you're optimistic, then you'll realize that other amazing opportunities will come along. Maybe not today but probably tomorrow. One door closing now doesn't mean it won't be open again in the future, or another door be opened for you.

7. "Be so good they can't ignore you."
Keyword - dedication

This is word-for-word the title of a book by Cal Newport, who preached his belief there's an overglorification in our society today on pursuing our so-called passions. He argues instead that it should be the other way around: passion for our work comes second to our skills; the more we practice our skills, the more enjoyment we get from doing our work and the benefits of career progress (e.g. salary increase, position growth) follow. I found the book to be incredibly well-written and influential to challenging my former ideas about work. Aside from dedication, the other lesson here is about commitment to a specific craft and the hidden benefits that would come from that.

In this sense, this maxim applies to a lot of other areas of life and not just about careers. The obvious implication is in personal relationships, about being committed to a certain friendship, familial relations, or a special someone. This is especially true when we're first starting out on the last one. As a personal example, I've been dipping into the world of online dating the past few months and was immediately hit by the sheer number of potential partners. At first I approach each date purposely, but eventually took a more casual approach. This is something I saw in some of the dates I saw too, particularly those who admitted they had a lot of online dates. Slowly I changed and came into each date with a diminished sense of commitment, a little more impatient and more ready to jump ship at the first sign of incompatibility. The results spoke for themselves (e.g. nothing). Having realized this, I'm now trying to approach one in a more committed manner and try harder...if there aren't any potential dealbreakers.