Archive for November, 2007
Being transparent and sharing information about yourself is almost always beneficial. For one, you can’t lie when all of your thoughts are out for the world to see; too many holes would show if dubious people were publicly forthcoming about their goals and actions.
My thoughts on transparency have been strengthened recently by the stonewalling tactics of others. When I witness failure (in this case, the policy of not being forthcoming), I’m often motivated to question and change the offender.
On Wednesday night, I met with a group of portfolio managers from a local investment advisory firm that manages ~$1.5 billion. They were telling me about their methods for investment, how their operation differs from the brokerage houses:
In the brokerage model, industry-specific research analysts in New York and San Francisco keep their eyes on individual industries with extreme depth and pass along their research to the brokers, who interpret the research to their clients and make investment decisions. In this model, the brokers are pretty much clueless. They just do what they’re told, recommending whatever their research department is recommending that week or month. At the firm I was meeting with, each broker is a research analyst, responsible for covering 11-26 stocks from various industries. They’ve combined the researcher and broker into one: there is no research specialization by industry.
Their approach sounds different, even novel, so one would think that their innovative model would reward clients with above-average returns, and that they would tout this fact to the public. Not so. When asked about their performance, they were silent.
I’m guessing that their lack of transparency is due to the fact that they match or underperform the returns of the broader market. They don’t want to compare themselves to others, because that’s not where they excel. They excel in other things, like taking their clients out to lunch once every three months and keeping them happy. Surely, their client retention has nothing to do with exceptional performance and everything to do with a planned propaganda campaign they call “relationship management” whose aim is to keep clients complacent with mediocre performance.
If someone isn’t being forthcoming, they’re probably hiding something.
Stonewalling is a pretty common tactic in the investment world. Nowhere is it more common than at Venture Capital funds. Michael Arrington recently posted the story of one venture capitalist, Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, who does tout his performance publicly. In the last 17 years, through 32 investments in ventures, 20% of those investments completely failed. 40% of his deals (11/32) ended with a 5x or more return on investment. Clearly, Mr. Wilson has reason to be transparent, as his performance speaks for itself. Does this mean that only the successful should be forthcoming about their performance? Hardly. I believe that anyone and everyone should be forthcoming, because it’s in this fashion that we as humans can best choose those who provide services to us. If you can’t easily compare service providers, it’s not as easy to choose the most suitable candidate. Being transparent benefits everyone, with more resources going to those who can use them most effectively, and less to those who are less suited. Those less suited – those who fail – will be reminded by their failure that they ought to go out and find something that they are good at. In this way, we each can find our niche in life.
I often tell people that if I knew that I was the best man at mowing lawns, I wouldn’t be in the asset management business. I’d be out there mowing lawns, building a business in something that I knew myself to be the best at. And I’d be happy doing it.
The rest of the world needs to do the same, find out what they’re best at, and do it. The world would surely be a much better place.
Check this quote from this month’s issue of Wired:
“Network-centric wars would be more moral, too. [...] Network-enabled armies kill more of the right people quicker. With fewer civilian casualties, warfare would be more ethical. And as a result, the US could use military might to create free societies without being accused of imperialist arrogance.”
Now, the preceding is a logical argument: targeted warfare would, theoretically, have less unintended consequences (like blowback). Less unintended consequences in warfare may be slightly more ethical, but that’s not a pretext for preemptive war, invasion, and reshaping of governments and societies.
Like the Sony PlayStation 3, Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader is $399. They’re both bound to be popular sellers this holiday season. But Amazon is making the same mistake with the Kindle as Sony initially did with the PS3 launch: it’s just too damn expensive.
At the outset, the PS3 was $599 (or $499 for one with a smaller hard drive). The competition was cheaper (XBOX 360, Wii). Sony learned quickly that this pricing structure wasn’t going to work. Anyways, consoles are always sold cheaply at a loss and offset by shares revenue from game titles. Who cares what your initial loss is at the outset, when the amount of consoles out there will drive game sales into the future?
Sony recently added a model for a more modest $399 and has seen sales skyrocket.
Amazon should do the same. If Amazon wants to drive adoption of its gadget and solidify themselves as the leader in the eBook/eMagazine market as Apple has done with music, they should make the device more accessible to consumers.
To be fair, Amazon doesn’t have much competition in the space (Sony’s Reader is the only challenger) whereas the PS3 had, arguably, two strong competitors. Also, Apple came to prominence selling iPods at a profit (like Amazon is trying to do with the Kindle) and doesn’t make most of their money selling iTunes content. Still, just because Apple’s doing it successfully with iPods doesn’t mean Amazon should use it for eBook readers. Amazon should adopt the model already in use by wireless carriers and gaming consoles – subsidizing the device and raking in money brokering content. That model skyrockets you into the lead because it makes the device more accessible. Amazon needs the network effect to work in its favor here, and this is the only way to do it.
Edit: Perhaps Amazon is really pulling a Wii! According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Kindle is sold out after 5.5 hours on sale!
I first saw the LG Shine in Las Vegas at CES, and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s as revolutionary of a design as the famed Chocolate, and it takes the shine to mirror-levels. It’s so chic, so metallic, and so beautiful. I’m so glad that AT&T is finally bringing it to our shores. It seems AT&T has gotten exclusive deals (or is first to launch) with just about every important handset of late. It’s like they’re trying to have a monopoly on sweet phones so that they can charge whatever they want for plans and people will pay it. Seems to be working.
The faltering wireless carrier Sprint, I’ve discovered today, is an oxymoron. Far from being quick and speedy as their name might suggest, they’re really quite tortoise-like.
They’re sending me a demo unit (the HTC Touch), and I was told to expect it in two business days (which, at the time, meant delivery by Friday, November 16th). I called in today to inquire about my demo unit and was told that it was “about to ship.” I asked if it was normal for Sprint to wait five days before shipping out a product. Their response (if you can call it that) is that “it takes 2-3 business days to receive your product once shipped.” I didn’t ask about UPS or Fedex or whoever, I asked about why it hasn’t left the warehouse. They didn’t want to elaborate on their slow-as-molasses order fulfillment.
Now I’m starting to understand why Sprint lost 337,000 customers last fiscal quarter.
La búsqueda de un idioma universal es antigua. La maldición bíblica de la Torre de Babel siempre nos ha asolado. Los idiomas son barreras que impiden circular las ideas, la cultura y el desarrollo.
El inglés ha tenido un período de dominación amplísimo. Primero por la fortaleza del imperio británico y después por la hegemonía estadounidense.
Frente a estas lenguas francas exportadas por una metrópoli surgieron diversas iniciativas de un idioma universal. Primero fue el esperanto y a continuación una larga lista: Ido, Occidental, Interlingua,… Ninguna con éxito. Probablemente porque nunca han tenido una base suficiente de población que haga interesante aprenderlo.
El uso del inglés está tan extendido que se puede encontrar hablantes en cualquier lugar del mundo. Un idioma que permite comunicarse a un colombiano con holandés y posibilita acceder a un gran número de fuentes de información.
El problema radica que las personas cuyo idioma materno no es el inglés pocas veces llegan a dominarlo como los angloparlantes. Por esa razón a un italiano le resulta más sencillo entender a un coreano hablando inglés que a un australiano.
Han surgido otros idiomas de comunicación independientes del inglés oficial. Ahora está de actualidad el globish. Un idioma que tiene unas 1500 palabras en inglés y se originó en los años 80 cuando Nerriere trabajaba para IBM en París junto a colegas de 40 nacionalidades distintas, alli en el medio de una reunión comenzaron a comunicarse en una forma de “inglés desnaturalizado”.
Pero no es una iniciativa nueva. En la década de los 30 del siglo pasado se creó el BASIC (British-American Scientific International Commercial English). Sus defensores argumentan que un buen manejo del inglés normal requeriría de siete años de estudio, el esperanto de siete meses y el inglés básico de siete semanas. Existe una wikipedia que utiliza dicho idioma.
En 1959 la emisora Voice of America del gobierno de los Estados Unidos de América comenzó sus transmisiones internacionales utilizando el Inglés Especial, usando un vocabulario reducido, formas gramaticales simples y una pronunciación cuidada y lenta del idioma inglés.
También existe el Inglés Simple creado por la industria aeronáutica para ser empleado en los documentos y manuales de mantenimiento. El principal objetivo es mantener los textos tan simples y legibles como sea posible.
Via El Blog Salmon.
Well, perhaps they don’t kill on the same scale as the good ole’ USA, but a few weeks ago, a Polish man was tasered to death in the Vancouver, British Columbia airport by police after spending 10 hours stuck in the airport with no-one helping him because he spoke no English.
To be sure, the police were right to defend themselves when confronted by a batshit-crazy man who throws chairs around at the airport, but they should’ve thought about how to defuse the situation instead of escalate it.
It might’ve been better if they’d gotten a translator in there to defuse the situation.
Waiting 15 minutes for a translator is an exponentially better solution when a man’s life is on the line.
Be warned, the man writhes on the ground and screams for a long time before he dies. It’s disturbing.
Upon checking in at Amazon.com to update my Wish List for the holiday gift-giving season, I came upon one of their new gimmicks to get you coming back day after day: Customers Vote. Combining Democracy with the Black Friday, Customers Vote allows you to vote for which Black Friday deals will be available next week. Ingeniously, there is a new deal each day from November 22nd to 28th (sans Sunday the 25th), and you’ve got to check in right at midnight to see A) if you’ve been selected to receive the deal in question, and B) to buy the damn thing before it’s sold out (at these ridiculous prices of 50-75% off and with only 100-1000 units available, they’ll be gone before 12:03am, guaranteed).
Deals include a Nintendo Wii ($79), a 40GB PlayStation 3 ($139), an XBOX 360 ($99), a Panasonic DSLR ($499), an HD Camcorder ($299), a RAZOR Electric Scooter ($29), a Tivo ($89) , HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players ($149), an HP Laptop ($299), an in-car GPS unit ($99), a pair of 1 carat diamond earrings ($499), and a 46″ 1080p HDTV ($719), among others.
Amazon is playing Black Friday just like Best Buy is, trying to get tons of attention and store traffic using crazy discounting. Personally, I’m glad they’re doing it. This year, after all, is without the launch of a major game console like we’ve had the past two holiday seasons with the XBOX 360 and the Wii/PS3, so these stores need something to keep the visibility up, something to keep people waiting in lines all night and getting in fights over who gets what.
Check it out at Amazon.com.
Should we refer to evolution as the theory of evolution, or the law of evolution?
Clive Thompson has penned a fantastic little article about the polemic for Wired:
Creationists and intelligent-design boosters have a guerrilla tactic to undermine textbooks that don’t jibe with their beliefs. They slap a sticker on the cover that reads, EVOLUTION IS A THEORY, NOT A FACT, REGARDING THE ORIGIN OF LIVING THINGS.
This is the central argument of evolution deniers: Evolution is an unproven “theory.” For science-savvy people, this is an incredibly annoying ploy. While it’s true that scientists refer to evolution as a theory, in science the word theory means an explanation of how the world works that has stood up to repeated, rigorous testing. It’s hardly a term of disparagement.
But for most people, theory means a haphazard guess you’ve pulled out of your, uh, hat. It’s an insult, really, a glib way to dismiss a point of view: “Ah, well, that’s just your theory.” Scientists use theory in one specific way, the public another — and opponents of evolution have expertly exploited this disconnect.
Turns out, the real culture war in science isn’t about science at all — it’s about language. And to fight this war, we need to change the way we talk about scientific knowledge.
Read on over at Wired.
“The human eye is capable of focusing on only a very small area at one time – what is called a perceptual span. When we read, we are capable of taking in only about one key word and then four characters to the left and fifteen characters to the right at any one time. We jump from one of these chunks to another, pausing – or fixating – on them long enough to make sense of each letter. The reason we can focus clearly on only that much text is that most of the sensors in our eyes – the receptors that process what we see – are clustered in a small region in the very middle of the retina called the fovea. That’s why we move our eyes when we read: we can’t pick up much information about the shape, or the color, or the structure of words unless we focus our fovea directly on them. Just try, for example, to reread this paragraph by staring straight ahead at the center of the page. It’s impossible.”
-Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, pg. 108
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, the man who bailed out Citigroup (the world’s most profitable bank) when they were in trouble in the 90′s, is now the first private jet owner to call an A380 his own personal aircraft. He already owns a Boeing 747-400, and as soon as his new A380 is outfitted to his tastes, this will be a grand replacement.
List price: more than $300 million.
Here’s Google’s open source operating system, Android, in action. Forward ahead a one minute so you can skip Mr. Brin’s intro, his sidekick Mr. Horowitz will show you the phones.
The second phone really reminds me of the iPhone, but just slightly less-polished. Perhaps with the open platform, Android will have cooler apps and will, someday, be more desirable than the mighty phone from Cupertino. Game on.
(click to enlarge)
A friend had his birthday at the Elysian Brewery in Capitol Hill last night, and I was lucky enough to be able to sample their Night Owl Pumpkin Ale. It’s brewed with 150 lbs. of pumpkin in each batch, green and roasted pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin in the mash. They spice it with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice, so it ends up tasting like pumpkin pie, rich and smooth.
1221 E. Pike St.
Seattle, WA 98112
“He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.”
“He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women’s liberation.”
Should we really be celebrating this guy? I can understand celebrating his books if you enjoy them, but due to the withering of appreciation of the serious novel and its arguable replacement by epic film, how many of us really care?
Norman Mailer was full of himself. He believed that it was his Esquire piece alone that led to John F. Kennedy’s win over Richard Nixon.
All he seemed to do was align himself with revolutionary ideas, no matter how right or wrong they were. His opinions were different, confusing, complex, and difficult to challenge because of their duality. He called technology: “insidious, debilitating and depressing,” and said that nobody in politics had an answer to “[technology's] impact on our spiritual well-being.” Seriously? To challenge technology, all that is physical manifestation of progress, only because it embodies change? Mailer’s prescription, to have politicians debate the impact of technology before allowing its use would slow innovation and adoption to a halt, and is a challenge to our individualist right to choose. People use what they want to use, it’s a question of value and utility. Mailer is too resistant to change; he blindly attaches himself to the counterculture’s alternative viewpoint without thinking about the ramifications or its correctness. He was a simple cheerleader, addicted to the attention he got when society went one way and he shimmied opposite, a perpetual dance whose aim was only to selfishly heighten Mailer’s visibility as an avant garde enfant terrible.
I will admit, just because Mailer was a wild, unapologetic counterculturist, we shouldn’t neglect to honor his contribution to written fiction and journalism.
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