Thursday, March 31, 2005

Morgan Stanley is falling apart

Phil Purcell is not very inspirational [NYT]

A long-simmering dispute over the direction of Morgan Stanley erupted in a public brawl yesterday, as two senior executives resigned in a shake-up intended to reassert Mr. Purcell's control.


Failure of leadership [Bloomberg]
Topping the possible list of buyers for Morgan Stanley, Mr. Schutz says, are Bank of America and HSBC Holdings [WSJ]

Founder of Hollywood Video May Sell Entire Stake in Chain

Founder of Hollywood Video May Sell Entire Stake in Chain

The exodus of Morgan Stanley talent continued yesterday

Miramax duo form new media posse

Three U.S. private equity firms have agreed to invest $350 million in Lenovo Group Ltd. (0992.HK), the top Chinese computer maker that is buying IBM's (NYSE:IBM - news) personal computer business

How do French women manage to enjoy chocolate, wine, cheese and bread without gaining weight?

Buckets of Blood in Three Designer Colors

Inside a Condo, a Not-So-Civil War

In the Competition for DVD Rentals by Mail, Two Empires Strike Back

Some Pay for a TV Service That They Didn't Choose

$1 Billion Deal Turns MetLife Into Condos

As Gambling Grows, States Depend on Their Cut

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Taking a Year Off

I really wanted to attend this Stanford session tonight:

Join fellow alumni for a discussion with Elizabeth Sayner, '96, as she describes how she took a high-flying Wall Street and dot-com career that spanned Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo and translated it into the opportunity to move to Florence, Italy, and cook, travel, cycle and live the Italian life of leisure. She returned to the U.S. replenished, and pursued her passion for architecture, fashion and design as a brand strategist at Rockwell Group (the architecture, branding and design firm founded by David Rockwell, who is behind successes such as Nobu, W Hotels, and "Hairspray").

Her life sounds so exciting...

Oh well, I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles. And its not as though I can't keep her story in mind for the future, right?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Out to Hunt the Big Corporate Game

Carlyle Group raises $10bn fund -- on hunt for big game [WSJ]

The Washington, D.C.-based fund that invests in corporate buyouts today will take the wraps off its newest funds, having raised $7.85 billion for making U.S. investments and an additional $2.2 billion for European purchases, according to Carlyle officials. The U.S. fund is the largest buyout fund ever raised.

And Carlyle will be able to borrow about $45 billion against that $10 billion. That total is more than the combined market capitalizations of Nike Inc. and Ford Motor Co., with plenty of change to spare.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Seen and Heard

WSJ reports on Gates acting as the "god" of the Microsoft empire

It's a twice-yearly ritual that can influence the future of Microsoft and the tech industry. A Think Week thought can give the green light to a new technology that millions of people will use or send Microsoft into new markets... Mr. Gates is well aware of the potential impact of his comments and doesn't take writing them lightly. "If I write a comment that says, 'We should do this,' things will be re-orged, engineers will move," he says. "It's not like I can just read this paper and say, 'Hey, cool, looks good.' They'll assign 20 people to it then."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hedge Funds Galore

Hedge funds are everywhere! [NYT]

The number of hedge fund firms has also grown - to 3,307 last year, up 74 percent from 1,903 in 1999. During the same period, the number of funds created - a manager can start more than one fund at a time - has surged 209 percent, with 1,406 funds introduced in 2004, according to Hedge Fund Research, based in Chicago.

Hedge Fund Firms Eye Going Public [Reuters]

The hedge fund industry, long reserved for the super rich, may soon become accessible to the less affluent as several of the closely held firms are mulling plans to go public, industry executives and lawyers say.

West Palm hedge fund operators' assets to remain frozen [West Palm Beach Post]

The Securities and Exchange Commission has won a court order that keeps frozen the assets of the three principals of a defunct West Palm Beach hedge fund firm that allegedly defrauded investors of at least $115 million.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Takeout Junkie

I am a serious takeout junkie... I used to spend a lot of time cooking long, elaborate dishes like risotto (well, I do need to work out my arms), chicken stock from scratch, cupcakes, etc. etc. (Okay, maybe cupcakes are not long and elaborate, but frankly following the recipe from the Magnolia Bakery cookbook was exhausting!!!)

Well, since I lack a dishwasher, doing all that freaking cleaning up and scrubbing just got annoying! So for the last 9 months, the nearest I have gone to my stove is to boil water. Oh and I cooked an egg once, too.

So, if you look inside my refrigerator you will see all sorts of takeout containers, some of which (scarily enough) will be a month old.

Do you think it would be interesting to see a photo of fridge at various times during the month?

Okay, maybe not.. maybe this is falling into the too-much-information ("TMI") category.

Hehe.

We've taken to marking all the containers with a grease pen, so at least I will know the rice I'm eating is a week old (hmm, does anyone know what the long-term health consequences of eating old rice are??)..

BTW, if you have any suggestions for good places to order from in the East Village, please share!! Thanks. (I get so tired of ordering from the same places!)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Rebates - I hate them!

I hate rebates!! Why, why, why do I always get sucked in?!?

So last January, I had to buy a hard drive since I wanted to back up all the oh-so-important documents on my computer hard drive. Since my computer is super sketchy and unstable (I "upgraded" it myself about a year ago), and often makes weird whirring noises, I think its pretty important to have another copy of all my documents -- old bills, some receipts, you know, boring financial junk.

Soo.. I searched and search for the perfect hard drive deal and Seagate had the Barracuda 160 GB ATA hard drive for $89.99 minus $40 mail-in rebate. I bought the drive from Outpost.com (I had a good experience, but the online reviews are pretty negative) and submitted all the stuff right away (UPC code, rebate form, blah blah blah).

So I got an email about a week after I mailed the goods, things were looking okay.. and then last Friday, I get a postcard saying that Seagate had "invalidated" my claim!!!!

WTF?!

I did everything right. I followed all the rules. Why am I getting screwed???

Rebates suck.. companies just use them as bait-and-switch tactics to get you to buy overpriced goods and then deny you your rebate submission. UGH!

So anyway, from now on, no more buying things that require rebates. I am still waiting for a $50 rebate from Radio Shack for a HTIB, but after that NO MORE!!

[Addendum: I resubmitted my rebate to Seagate -- or actually to the rebate processing company -- hopefully they will accept it this time. Although I still can't figure out why they rejected my application. Thumbs down on Seagate!]

Monday, March 21, 2005

My poor little kitty

I'm worried something is wrong with my cat. She has been going to the bathroom a lot, and I'm not sure if something is wrong. What if she has kidney failure? I honestly can't tell if she has been peeing more - since her pee gets absorbed into the litter. And she is always looking for water, but my cat's always done that.

Ack!

I am going to go on a this week to California and then to Chicago for several days. Is it okay to leave my kitty at home alone? I bought an extra litter box for her to go in, and she won't be alone that long. But, I'm still worried.

What's the longest amount of time its okay to leave a pet home alone?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Blogging Software

I remember now why I decided not to stay in CS and be a programmer!!

I've been trying to set up a dedicated blog, so I signed up with the host Parcom.net,, since they were recommended by someone at Kane's company. I was planning to use Wordpress, since its open source and a lot of bloggers out there go on about how great it is.

So of course, I didn't read the fine print, and basically you can't generate permalinks without the Apache function mod_rewrite. Apache is run on linux. Parcom does all Windows 2003 servers. Oops.

Blah, so I spent many hours trying to figure out why I couldn't get permalinks to work, including changing this option or that option and searching through the Wordpress support forum (this forum is sort of sparse, in my opinion). I mean, the people on the support forum seemed nice and everything, but I didn't see a good solution for an IIS platform other than installing some functions, which would then involve my webhost and it just gets all complicated. Blah!

So finally, I just gave up and downloaded Movable Type. They do have a free license, and since my blog is going to be non-commercial, its not a big deal.

(There's a whole debate on static versus dynamically generated pages... personally I can't decide which one is better. MT and Blogger are static and Wordpress is dynamic. While its true that doing static pages results in a huge server load every single time you create an entry, at least you do it once, and its over. With dynamically generated pages, you have to query the server and generate the page every single time you go to a page. So if people keep going to the same page, the same effort gets done over and over. So, I dunno. But with MT you probably waste a lot of space since you store the data in the database and you also have statically created pages.)

Anyway, this is probably more than you want to know, and honestly, its really more than I want to know!

So I installed Movable Type yesterday, and the installation was actually really easy. I was sort of excited to have a working blog -- seeing the "input file not specified" error over and over with Wordpress got sort of frustrating.

But, now comes the issue of templates. With Wordpress 1.5, they have an awesome system for generating templates. They have "skins", so basically you just download/upload a theme that you like (that someone made), and just activate it. That's it!

With Movable Type, nothing easy like that exists. There are like 20 files that you have to deal with to generate the index pages, generate the archives, etc. etc. And you have to go in and edit the files manually. Its horrible! I mean, its not that hard, but honestly, I didn't want to spend that much time messing around with this. So now I have this boring template, and I have to change it! But its so hard and now I have to learn CSS and I'm just wondering, what is the point???

Maybe I should switch webhosts. Sigh. I think I'd rather use Wordpress. The system is so easy and user-friendly. No waiting for rebuilds, and you can preview things pretty much instantly. I really like that about it.

--
BTW, the reason I chose Parcom in the end was low commitment. Their starter plan is $3.75/month and you can pay in 3-month increments. And they have a 45-day money-back guarantee and a "family-friendly" culture. So, I think that's good. One annoying thing is that you have to generate three separate user id's to use the stuff in their system. One ID to get into your account, another to generate support tickets and another to get into the forums. Of course, my id's ended up being all different, so its just too many things to remember. Why can't it be seamless?

With the other hosting plans, you either had to sign up for a year of service, something I'm not ready to commit to just yet, or they have "rude" customer service. I think nice customer service is important. I mean, why be rude to your customers? Maybe they are stupid, but they are paying the bills (ultimately). That sort of makes me wonder, does the management treat the employees poorly? Why are the employees so mean? So... I am still unsure about which host, etc. etc.

This is waaay too much work.

Maybe I should just stick with Blogger.

Flickr Has Been Acquired

This just in, Flickr has been acquired by Yahoo!.

I am sort of disappointed in the news. I visited the Ludicorp corporate website a couple of weeks ago, and they had a statement on their philosophy on their about page:
... a business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.
Hmmm so if the goal of the activity isn't to cash out and make mad profits, why did they sell out to Yahoo!?

Maybe their business just wasn't sustainable on its own?

I do agree that a killer app that combines social networking, blogging and photo sharing will absolutely be successful. To that end 360.yahoo.com is probably going to hit the jackpot.

As my misery this past weekend shows, normal everyday people really don't want to deal with web servers and mod_rewrite.. or css or any of that crap! Ack!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Go low vanilla

Vanilla prices fall by half!
If you bake at all, you will totally appreciate this! By half!!! I guess a huge crop has come to market (versus the natural disasters that caused the vanilla crop to be chopped in recent years), so all you bakers, go stock up! Or even if you don't bake, you can make vanilla sugar (a la Nigella Lawson) by sticking vanilla in a jar of sugar. Yummy yummy.

Or you can make your own vanilla extract by sticking a couple vanilla sticks into a jar of vodka (per the Barefoot Contessa).

Niiice... vanilla..

Friday, March 18, 2005

Pilates Kick

Is your Pilates instructor qualified? [WSJ]
Pilates, one of the fastest-growing fitness activities in
the country, is facing a problem: The number of people signing up for
classes is outstripping the pool of people qualified to teach
them.


TiVo and Comcast reportedly in talks to develop a a
partnership [WSJ]
TiVo is negotiating an agreement under which the company would develop a version of its service -- which helps viewers easily record television programs onto a disk drive -- that Comcast would offer as an option to its cable subscribers, according to people familiar with the matter.
Seems to me, this is really the only way that TiVo is going to survive. With the cable and satellite companies in a ferocious battle for subscribers, they're giving away digital video recorders (DVR's) for free. How is TiVo going to survive as a standalone solution? It looks like TiVo is trying to figure it out -- having partnered with DirecTV in the past.

And they did.. they signed a deal! Will this really be good for TiVo in the end?

Ode to Roger Lowenstein

Lowenstein is an incredibly talented writer who's constantly picking topics that I find terribly interesting. Is it just a coincidence? In the span of 1 month, I think I purchased 2 different books by him without realizing they were all by the same author.

Lowenstein is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who's written:

All-You-Can-Rent

I signed up for Blockbuster DVD Rentals.. Actually, first I signed up for Wal-Mart rentals, since they gave a 30-day free trial. After that finished, Got Apex was showing the $9.99/month Blockbuster deal (for 3 DVD's out at a time) so I felt like I should sign up for that while I could.

(Sorry Wal-Mart. I do feel bad. I am planning to return to your service at some point and paying for at least a month, if not more of service. You did nothing wrong! Except... maybe your DVD's skipped little too much. And you do take longer to deliver than Blockbuster.. however, how many movies do I really need to watch a month???)

Anyway, I have been watching/consuming a significantly higher amount of movies since I started subscribing. I've watched Garden State, Ray, Open Water (NOT recommended), Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (not recommended), 50 First Dates, Day Without a Mexican (not recommended), Ghost in the Shell 2, and on and on.

I am sort of getting tired of doing all this watching. But, I don't feel like cancelling the service yet. I guess that's how they make money huh?

But you know, I think the market might be underestimating Blockbuster.. the stock is near a 52-week and 5-year low. Are prospects that crappy? Is management that not nimble?

Hmm. I guess if you were the target of big, scary cable and phone companies, you would be scared too.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Blue Smokin'

In other news, I had a fun weekend spending basically all of my money eating out. Me, Lena and Kane went to try out the BBQ restaurant, Blue Smoke, for lunch on Sunday.

The restaurant wasn't crowded at all, and me and Lena kicked things off with their homemade lemonade. I wasn't that impressed with it -- to me it tasted like another lemonade fountain drink, but, Lena told me that it was genuinely homemade by her taste.

Then we had the macaroni and cheese. Nice, cheesy and gooey, but, I think Cafeteria's mac and cheese ($5.95) beats out Blue Smoke. For lunch, I ordered a pulled pork sandwich ($10.50) which was tender and tasty. With their signature BBQ sauce, a orange vinegary sort of sauce, it was yummy. Kane had the Kansas City ribs, half rack ($14.95), which was more than enough. I think there were like 8 ribs on there or something! I thought the tender edges were pretty good, but the whole thing was a little bit too dry and stringy.

Lena ordered an oyster po' boy sandwich (~$10) with a caper tartar sauce. I had a bite and its sort of cool to eat fried oysters in a sandwich. I think if you're an oyster fan, you would enjoy it.

Blue Smoke is a much better deal than the Cue Festival they have in NYC in June, where a whole bunch of different noted BBQ restaurants come to the city. Giant lines form for ribs, pulled pork, brisket at $7 a pop. I remember we had to wait a pretty long time before we got to the food, and what we got was so little that we ended up going to several other booths before feeling satisfied. Can't get no satisfaction.

Too bad there's no Salt Lick in NYC.. but at least we have Blue Smoke.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

2 Things to be Really Excited About

1. Launch of the new PSP

Sony is releasing the miniature Playstation 2 next week! Not only will it compete with Nintendo's GameBoy, it also possesses other capabilities including: (i) the ability to play movies, play music and view photos, (ii) Wi-Fi, (iii) play awesome games, (iv) connect with your PC or other device and (v) more!

In this review from the WSJ, Mossberg complains that the PSP has no hard disk (which I agree is a annoying), the memory stick is woefully inadequate for storage (agree, agree), and its hard for users to use the extended capabilities. However, I think Mossberg writes for the normal non-early adopter gadget user.

I believe that with all the tweakers and geekers out there, they will overcome these limitations to the PSP! Sure, it won't be use to get these features to work, but... I have a suspicion that someone will figure it out, and share it with all of us!

So maybe we'll be able to surf the Internet with it, look at cute photos of our pets, transfer files from our PC, watch TV shows, etc. etc. The possibilities are endless!

2. Whole Foods is coming to Union Square this today!!

Finally... its happening.. Whole Foods is going to be convenient and accessible!! Ever since I moved from the UWS to Union Square, its been sort of a culinary nightmare. There are not really any good, affordable grocery store options in the Union Square area. There's Food Emporium, which is super duper over-priced (although you can buy affordable kitty litter there), Garden of Eden (also incredibly overpriced), Wholesome Foods (which has a sketchy past) and the Union Square Greenmarket (overpriced! overpriced!)...

Yes, I admit that Whole Foods did not earn the nickname "Whole Paycheck" for nothing. But at least I won't have to travel to Fairway to get high quality goods for a sort of reasonable price.

Yay!!

Unfortunately, the place will probably be a zoo huh? Union Square is such a central subway/transportation location... so many things go through there. Its going to be crazy! Oh, I hope there's a Jamba Juice in this Whole Foods, too!

Healthcare Madness

March madness is here. If you're like me and you don't follow basketball at all, here's a handy dandy guide to participating in the office pool. Maybe you won't win the pot, but with some luck maybe you'll have a decent showing...

So much focus is on the cost of healthcare in the U.S., one economist is a proponent of assessing the quality of care

America's fee-for-service system does not require doctors to measure. It rewards them for each instance of delivered ''care,'' Cutler notes, but not necessarily for the end result -- for ''health.''

Pay for performance, not for just performing a service! Healthcare in the U.S. is a big mess right now, how can we fix it?

''You manage what you measure.''

A program with huge benefits for society (and for patients) offered only a marginal incentive to the health plan to create it... This is why closed-loop systems -- systems in which patients made healthy don't leave -- tend to work best.

Monday, March 14, 2005

New Head of the Mouse House

Bob Iger chosen as next CEO of Disney
What a not-so-surprising choice. Iger's taken credit for Desperate Housewives and Lost even though the people that really championed those shows have been sacked. Corporate politics. Do the best survive?

Eisner always gets what he wants
On Sunday the resilient chief executive who has run Disney for nearly 21 years appeared to have the last laugh. With the naming of Disney President Robert Iger as his successor, Eisner demonstrated once again the enormous control he wields over the Magic Kingdom.


"... the Disney chairman refused to disclose just how many candidates were actually interviewed".
Rigged contest? I feel like Disney stands for childhood dreams. How can a company that almost symbolizes childhood rig a contest for the CEO?
Gold and Disney have faulted what they characterized as Eisner's autocratic and heavy-handed management style for driving out a parade of talented top executives. And they have complained that the board simply does Eisner's bidding.

If everyone else is doing it, is it okay to do it too?

Top executives of AT&T stand to receive $31 million in severance pay if its deal to be acquired by SBC Communications goes through as planned
Executives get paid handsomely for selling a company they don't even own. Why fight for longevity at a company, with uncertain rewards, when you can pursue a sale and win large earnings?
If any of the executives are hired by SBC, they will not receive the payments.
Would you rather take millions today or try to get hired?

Business school applicants exhibit sneaky behavior
...some eager business school applicants - most of them aiming at Harvard - exploited a technical glitch to get an early peek at their pending decisions online... "Our mission is to educate principled leaders who make a difference in the world," Kim B. Clark, the dean of Harvard Business School, wrote in an official statement. "To achieve that, a person must have many skills and qualities, including the highest standards of integrity, sound judgment and a strong moral compass - an intuitive sense of what is right and wrong. Those who have hacked into this Web site have failed to pass that test."
Result? Rejection! Some of the applicants feel they have been wronged and are creating T-shirts, boycotting HBS, etc. But, if they really want to be successful in business, where reputation and trust can be everything, the fact that its even a question whether or not their actions were unethical should have given them pause before they logged on and accessed their results.

What's wrong with accepting that you made a mistake? It surprises me that I haven't seen any remorse from the affected students.

You can't even argue that they were trying to fight for a larger, longer-term good...

Executives that get paid big bucks for hitting their nummies don't give the bills back when it turns out their numbers were WRONG
Executives given bonuses based on data that turn out to be wrong should return the money, at least if they are paid a significant salary, [Mr. Turner from Glass Lewis] added.

"I just think that morally, if the bonuses should never have been paid out to that group, then that group shouldn't get to keep any of it, regardless of the law," he said.
I mean, its like the executives are in charge of grading their own papers/exams at school. They grade the papers incorrectly, give themselves A+'s and reap all the benefits (lots of bennies)... when it turns out they really got F-'s, they still get to keep the money?! WTF?

Trader Joe is coming to town!

Trader Joe is coming to Union Square!!!!
Hurrary! When I first moved to NYC, I missed Trader Joe so much. Its totally awesome that its coming to the city. I hope they're able to maintain their low prices.. Trader Joe is owned by the German retail giant Aldi... whose founders are now billionaires.

Some more information on the culture and feel of Trader Joe

Exporting Entertainment

Something else interesting to consider, why is America's entertainment industry one of our largest exports?

To do big-budget movies and entertainment, you gotta have scale. With such a large population and big domestic market to sell to, movie studios can justify spending big on films and production. Being able to easily transport the product international is just icing on the cake, especially with a content-based product that is extremely cheap to distribute.

Considering this... wouldn't you argue that China should be the next big entertainment power? Or India? They both have extremely large populations, so the audience potential is there. And once they've created the film, whatever, it should be possible to export these products to other nations... interesting idea

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Max Delivery

So... Kozmo is baaack! Sort of.. Its reincarnated in this local Manhattan delivery service called MaxDelivery.

I think they could've done better naming the service; I was out to dinner (shabu shabu yum!) with some friends last night, and I could not for the life of me remember what the service was called, even though I wanted to tell them all about it.

Anyway, paying $5 for delivery seems sort of steep, but I guess in a pinch (like if you're in bed-ridden with a life threatening illness) its worth it.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Union Square Clock

Go Gothamist for figuring out the mystery of the Union Square clock!
Friends have asked me time and again what the numbers mean, and its awesome to finally have an answer

Craig Newmark is my hero

Craig Newmark is totally cool! As I'm sure that you all are aware, Craig is the creator of Craig's List, the place everyone poor people go to look for an apartment, find a job, look for someone to walk their dog, sell old furniture, etc.. I mean, they are basically free classifieds (a la su.market), but I think that Craig sets an atmosphere where its about people helping one another, instead of trying to scam each other for more dollars.

He saw a need and filled a need.

Isn't that awesome?

And he is consistently approached by people to "buy him out" or given the opportunities to make many more millions with his service, but he refuses!!

How many people of integrity and general desire to further the human good are there really? I mean, wouldn't most people if they had the chance to make more profit, do it?

(Now, we are entering the realm of economics, maximization of utility and other topics which I will avoid for now.)

Anyway... I love Craig! I wish I could be like him!

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Annoyed with Online Services (Gripe, gripe, gripe)

You know, one thing that really annoys me about a lot of online services is that they keep don't give you enough information about their purported product before they ask you to "sign up" and pull out the credit card.

For example, I have been looking at different webhosting services as well as blogging services, and a lot of them have tacky flash images floating across the screen. They don't give much information about how much the product costs, what I will get, what it will look like or anything!!!

Basically, its so hard to find a link for anything beyond "sign up here" or "free trial".

What if I just want to find out more information about the product before I share my personal information with the website?? Netflix does this, a zillion other sites as well. I think the problem is that a lot of things sold on the Internet are more like services rather than actual products.

A service being a rather intangible thing, I feel its important for the seller to clearly describe the product! I want to know what I'm buying!!!

What are some other websites/providers which do this annoying thing? Tell me about them.

On another note, Sony Imagestation is also totally annoying! I signed up for a Gold membership because the site promised me 100 free prints. After doing the math, I figured out there was more value in paying 5 more dollars for the Gold membership instead of only doing the Silver membership as I had originally intended.

Well, not only did Imagestation not give me the coupon or show any indication that I had a credit for 100 free prints, when I contacted customer service (several times via email and several times via chat), they totally did not respond!!!

Of course, the credit card charge went through immediately. Sigh. Why are there so many slimy vendors out there?

Well, Imagestation did finally come through and give me my free prints! Unfortunately, the quality of their prints is sort of lacking, since I ordered a few photos from them earlier. They waaay too yellow. Maybe I should make my images too unyellow so that they will come out right?

P.S.
BTW, I chose Imagestation for membership since I like sharing photos with people online. But, sites like Ofoto or Snapfish don't allow visitors to download original full-size images, and I know its important for my Mom and others to have the original without hassle. Getting a Silver level membership at Imagestation is $9.99 a year and you get unlimited storage of photos (for now anyway, another gripe! How can websites just change their service just like that? *snap* Its like, that's not what I bought! At least with a tangible product like a bar of soap you don't have to worry about it morphing into half its size or something.).

I just saw flickr today, and I sort of want to try it, but I'm the sort of person who signs up for everything (I have zillions of accounts all over the place, as you can imagine, its quite an effort to keep track of my personal finances), so I dunno if its a good idea. What do you think?

I also like flickr's corporate philosophy... Unfortunately, the legal purpose of a corporation is to make a profit, as shown in the documentary Corporation (a flick I dragged all my friends to see last summer). Thanks for coming, guys!

Technology, Work and Life

Doctors' Journal Says Computing Is No Panacea
"These systems force people to wrap themselves around the technology like a pretzel instead of making sure the technology is responsive to the people doing the work," said Ross J. Koppel, the principal author of the medical journal's article on the weaknesses of computerized systems for ordering drugs and tests. Dr. Koppel is a sociologist and researcher at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
How can we develop systems that integrate technology and healthcare?

Employees at Electronic Arts to receive overtime pay instead of stock options
Electronic Arts said that if workers began demanding too much, the company would be forced to find new sources of labor, possibly outside California or even across the nation's borders, where labor costs are lower. Already, more than half of Electronic Arts' 5,800 employees are outside the United States, including 1,700 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Looks like the employees are screwed long-term. One response is
The threat of sending jobs overseas is one reason that workers need to start thinking about organizing into unions, said Marcus Courtney, the founder of WashTech, a Washington State-based union that is trying to organize technology workers.
But this could be a short-term and crippling solution. As an example, see how the unionized grocery store retailers and airlines are doing. If people are demanding cheap video games and they are demanding them at low prices, how can EA afford to pay its workers what it should and still be able to sustain itself? Greed is one thing, but if all its competitors are offshoring (consider that 80% of footwear sold in the U.S. comes from China), how can EA continue? Going back to the source of the problem, its consumers and shareholders who are demanding these actions by voting with their feet. By demanding better products at cheaper prices and easily switching to other products. By demanding short-term performance and more and more profits. But a consumer is a shareholder is an employee.

An interview with one of the many Korean-Americans who makes the all-night deli a reality

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

How not to buy happiness

Came across this article on the web yesterday, entitled How Not to Buy Happiness.

I've been doing quite a bit of reading lately, particularly on the truth that increased wealth does not result in greater happiness. Study after study has shown that increases in income cause temporary spikes in joy, but long-term effects are fleeting since people will adapt to their new wealth and return to their base level of happiness.

[As an aside, the article and others also argue, that people adapt to change quite readily. After a terrible accident, one that results in loss of limbs or other major appendages, people adjust:
Within a year’s time, many quadriplegics report roughly the same mix of moods and emotions as able-bodied people do.
But, Lucy Grealy never seemed to adapt to losing 1/3 of her face to cancer. She spent her whole life doing one reconstructive surgery after another, trying to rebuild a perfect face. She never felt that she would loved for who she was (at least based on her book and others), and was always looking to be special. But, then again, one might argue, she might have been this way regardless of having cancer.]

In Martin Seligman's book, Authentic Happiness, he states:
As far as happiness and life satisfaction are concerned, however, you needn't bother to do the following:
6. Make more money (money has little or no effect once you are comfortable enough to buy this book, and more materialistic people are less happy)
7. Stay healthy (subjective health, not objective health matters)
8. Get as much education as possible (no effect)
9. Change your race or move to a sunnier climate (no effect)

Interestingly enough, the article "How Not to Buy Happiness" proposes that it is not consumption itself that has little effect on happiness, instead the author argues that conspicuous consumption does not further happiness/life satisfaction. However, inconspicuous consumption can have an effect. For example, money can be used to purchase "freedom from a long commute or a stressful job."

The author gives two examples, in example A you could own a 4,000 square foot house (um, I guess he's not living in NYC!) or in example B, you could own a 3,000 square foot house and then the residents
use the resources saved by building smaller houses to bring about some other specific change in their living conditions... the cost savings from building smaller houses are sufficient to fund not only the construction of high-speed public transit, but also to make the added flexibility of the automobile available on an as-needed basis.


It would seem that example B would be preferable to example A (at least for me!).

But, I suppose the way that society is structured, and the way we tend to think individualistically (if you're not accountable for yourself and your own affairs, who will be?), the construction of a convenient, transit system that will benefit everyone is unlikely.

Would you rather pay more taxes and hope that the persons allocating money fund projects that will benefit everyone (including yourself)? Or would you rather have a sure thing, as in keep the money that you would pay in taxes for a convenient transit system and instead be able to afford a bigger house. I guess then we're kind of going into the realm of game theory. But do people really think rationally?

In any case, I do think that its interesting to consider that we spent all this time earning money so that we can have large houses, but that results in: (1) less time with family/friends, (2) less time for exercise and (3) less time for vacation.. maybe its better to just have the smaller house..

So we can buy happiness though, by increasing convenience? Hmm, maybe I should hire that maid to clean my bathroom! But, its an economic trade-off, you are trading the economic output from doing work that you (hopefully) like and are skillful at for work someone else likes and is skillful at. That way, we can all do what we like, right??

Here's another link about how long you should wait for your dreams (using an investment banker and a simple fisherman as an example).

Monday, March 7, 2005

Autobiography of a Face

I'm currently reading Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy.

Its about her childhood struggle with cancer... after surviving years of chemotherapy and treatment (including having 1/3 of her jaw removed), she was tormented by teasing and looks for her strange appearance. One side of her face sunk in because she had no structure.

Lucy's a great writer, and the words just glide off of the page. Her story is such a touching and amazingly sad story. Unfortunately, the author met with a tragic end, she became addicted to heroin, overdosed and died.

One of her best friends wrote a book about their relationship and about Lucy, in Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. Another extremely talented writer, I read this book earlier in the year.

These books really make me realize how lucky I am in my life, despite all my griping and moaning and groaning.

Should I buy?

I saw this daybed at Crate and Barrel last weekend. I feel like I live in a cardboard box sometimes, all my furniture was bought used (used IKEA stuff!) or purchased very cheaply.

My bed is really an old mattress on top of a futon frame, I bought shelves from a friend and the only new things I bought were a dresser (IKEA) and a desk (particle wood, baby).

Soo.. I've been thinking about upgrading my furniture. I sat on this couch, it was soft and comfortable. And, it looks a lot better than my pleather two-seater which has cat scratchmarks all over it.

Aaah, decisions, decisions. Do I really need this? No. Is it too expensive? Yes ($1,000+).

How do other people afford their furniture? And what if I just feel like upgrading again later?

Satisfaction is so out of reach...

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Tax Time

Its tax time! The past two years, I waited until practically the last week to do my taxes, and I also did my taxes by hand... I just read the IRS instructions, and filled out the forms myself. It was sort of stressful, and also really, really tedious. At the last moment last year, I also ended up itemizing deductions, which isn't really that hard, but just added another level of complexity.

This year... I am saying screw the pen and paper, I am going to do it online! So, through the IRS website, you can access any number of online tax preparers. The one I chose was TurboTax, although I might use TaxCut as well to double-check.

When I was in high school, I sold tax preparation software at CompUSA for my mom's best friend's computer company. (Said company has unfortunately gone bankrupt.) I would stand in the store with a giant poster board that extolled the virtues of their software, called "U.S. Tax". I think I actually persuaded a few people in the store to sign up... sort of sketchy huh? I think cheap Taiwanese programmers probably coded it up. Is there a liability issue if it screws up?

Anyway...

Also, I bought "Its Deductible", another TurboTax product that helps you figure out the value of your donations. Since I donated a lot of stuff to Salvation Army last year, I figured it would be a more reliable way of valuing the goods instead of guessing by me.. Surprisingly, it came up with a value of $950 for my stuff! Wow!

I hate doing my taxes.. I can't wait for this to be over. Of course, I am going to get a refund from the government of several G's... stupid, stupid I know. I just gave the government an interest-free loan! Well, someone has to try to help reduce the deficit, right? Ummm, right.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Housing in NYC

What a nightmare. I was looking at apartment rental listings and apartments for sale today.. and... it is just bring me back bad flashbacks from the last few times I've had to find housing.

Bait and switch on Craig's List... sleazy brokers who add no value... Apartment prices are sky high, totally unaffordable. Finding a rental is awful. Sigh, what a nightmare!!

For example check this out:
curbed link about a real estate broker who stole a for sale by owner listing!!

Ugh!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Companies Giving and Meeting Guidance

An article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the practice of "guidance":

Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp, says that two years ago he decided the media company should no longer provide a range of likely earnings, but rather would provide business trends, because he didn't want his executives making decisions to try to match investors' short-term expectations.

"The more I began to understand the Wall Street game, the more I realized that [giving such guidance] doesn't have anything to do with building long-term value. It's a kind of ritualized Kabuki dance," he says. "Most corporations are concentrating on making their numbers, but none of it has a single thing to do with actually building a business, and a good part of it is inimical to that, because you can't run a business on quarters."


I do agree that if one-time exceptions happen all the time, doesn't that defy the meaning of an "exception"?