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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hulk Mad, Hulk want Crunch Credit

So I was sitting on my couch, innocently reading this week's New Yorker when I was viciously attacked by yet another article on credit. How many f*@%ing "credit crunch" pieces am I going to need to read? Well, Aaron, I'm glad you asked that. A quick google news search returns a healthy 40,000 articles matching "credit crunch", not a single one of them pertaining to the more palatable subjects involving the words "extra" or "captain". Anyways, there's a lot of shit written about this credit crunch we're all apparently in. The problem is, as consumers, we aren't in a credit crunch. We're swimming in a proverbial sea of credit card offers. Even as everyone and their destitute cousin are defaulting on their mortgages, we can all still convince someone to extend a few thousand dollars of credit. And yes, if you have poor credit already, it's tough to get a card, but you can. That's the problem. It's not in the bankruptcy laws, and it's not the fiscal irresponsibility of the general public, it's the fact that it is still profitable for a credit card company even when people default. Actually, thanks to Bush, it's even more profitable now because traditional bankruptcy (involving complete absolution of debt) is 40% more difficult to file.

I'd like to look at how our country has handled two other evils, drugs and file sharing. In both instances it is illegal to engage in that particular evil. However, in each case, in order to curtail their use, the government has focused on stopping the supply. Why? Because there are fewer distributors than users, and if there is no crack, no one can smoke it. Okay, there's some solid logic. We don't make life tougher for the millions of users, we make life tougher for the thousands of dealers and the people hosting the files (a la napster, P2P is another issue.)So, cut off the supply, good idea. And how do they handle the consumer credit crisis? Obviously they punish the consumer, make it difficult for him to forgo his debts and once he does sort everything out, make it difficult for him to get credit at a reasonable rate for the rest of his life. Like many Nash equilibria, that strategy is not pareto optimal. The credit card company doesn't get its money and the consumer is effed. Wouldn't it be nice to make it all work out. In an ideal world couldn't I just borrow money from the guy next to me and pay him back? Why can't real life be just a bit more like that? Why can't we prevent these credit card companies from making predatory offers of 0% balance transfers and low initial financing rates? Why isn't there a law on the number of credit cards one can use? There are laws on how much corporations can borrow, why not extend those to consumers? Why can I get a new credit card and transfer my delinquent balance from the old card to the new one? Much like crack to a crackhead, people are going to always want stuff, and they will buy stuff as long as they have a capability to get it. So cut off the enablers, cut off the credit card companies. Don't make it tougher to get out of debt, make it tougher to get into debt.

Many people would argue that competition in the consumer credit market reveals the optimal interest rate for consumer credit, which limits the use of the instrument, much as it does in any other market. However the consumer situation is not parallel to most markets. If the only way IBM will finance a new project is to issue bonds with a 20% yield, they simply won't do the project. If the only way Joe Johnson will get his new tv is to put it on a card that charges him 0% interest for the first three months, he'll do it in a heartbeat. Then when the interest rate is around 20% three months later, he'll switch cards and do it again. Eventually he will overload himself and the 20% will kick in and Joe is stuck with a bunch of new stuff including a healthy amount of debt. So why don't we just change that new bankruptcy law and enact some consumer protection measures? Make it difficult to get into debt by either making it less profitable for the credit card companies to extend predatory credit or by passing laws against such practices. It's a fairly simple solution that we've employed elsewhere. And if that fails we can always just root out consumerism in America.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Save While You Google

A crew of amazing nerd/geniuses at Heap Media calculated that if Google were to use a black background instead of a white one on their page, they would save 750 mega watts/hour per year. So here, I present you, BLACKLE, a sort-of uglier but enviro-friendlier Google. It has all the same functions, it's just darker.

P.S. I considered ending this post with a racial slur and I'm glad I did not. I am a better person for this.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

apple iphone vs. my nokia 6030


Everyone knows that Apple's new iPhone is changing the way we look at phones; reshaping the telecommunications industry; bridging the gap between computers, the internet, and consumer electronics; and ushering in the age of the personal space travel. What no one knows is how the iPhone stacks up to my venerable Nokia 6030, aka "the Brick". It's time to settle this matter once and for all. Let's see how this pans out.

The iPhone uses state of the art multi-touch technology to allow users to manipulate a screen without the use of buttons. The iPhone also runs Mac OS X and uses Safari to browse the internet. The Nokia uses buttons. It has no operating system because it is a phone, not a machine from the future. The internet comes to the iPhone by way of the old EDGE network, which is slower than 3G, but the internet comes to the Nokia by way of black magic, although it actually does work. Technically. Winner: iPhone

The iPhone can display photos and play videos and music. It also has full access to Google Maps, email, and Skynet (which will shortly become self-aware and destroy humanity unless the Terminator goes back in time to save John Connor). But all of that sucks in comparison to Tetris, which runs on my Nokia, but not on the Apple. Winner: Nokia


An iPhone will set you back $500-600 or so. My Nokia cost about $15 with service. I can also throw my Nokia against a wall and it will still function. Will an iPhone? Will anyone even risk trying it? Also, for those of you who tend to get drunk and lose your cellphones (ie: female Facebook users), it's better to lose a Nokia. Winner: Nokia

-Scoring Chicks
Adding a girl's digits into your iPhone instantly labels you as a huge dork...but a rich dork. Entering that number into your beat-up Nokia just makes you look cheap. Plus, you can play "New Slang" for your future lover from your iPhone to show her how sensitive you are. Better yet, just cue up Garden State. Winner: iPhone

-Picking Up Guys
Any girl looking to pick up a cute guy will certainly benefit from having an iPhone, as most men will be drawn towards it like The Exterminators towards Zardoz and will inevitably be impressed by a female's ability to use it. Winner: iPhone

So which phone wins this scientific head-to-head contest? Clearly, the iPhone has some advantages, such as full access to the internet, navigation capabilities, and all of the features of an iPod. Everything is interwoven fairly seamlessly by way of the most user-friendly operating system on the planet and innovative touch screen technology. Yet for $485-585 less, you can get an indestructible phone that can a) make phone calls, and b) play Tetris. So although the iPhone has a lot to offer, in the end, the Nokia emerges as the clear winner.

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Monday, July 2, 2007

hong kong, 10 years after

June 1st marked the 10-year anniversary of the transference of Hong Kong's sovereignty from Great Britain to the People's Republic of China. In the 1990s, Hong Kong residents and the international community alike imagined that the 1997 handover to communist-led China would mark the end of Hong Kong's civil liberties, rule of law, and robust, open economy. In principle, Hong Kong was to become a Special Autonomous Region, but if the realities of autonomy in Hong Kong were to be anything like the Tibetan experience, Hong Kong, "Asia's World City," was doomed to devolve into a puppet of the Beijing government. Or so the world thought.

In fact, the mainland government has done a fairly commendable job of maintaining Hong Kong's outstanding institutions and economic independence. For the most part, Beijing has shied away from meddling in Hong Kong's judicial processes and has not bothered the openly critical Hong Kong press. The mainland government has not interfered in Hong Kong's economic policies either. And, in spite of financial setbacks stemming from the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, the American dotcom bust in 2000, and the SARS outbreak of 2003, Hong Kong's real GDP grew at a brisk 6.9% in 2006 while maintaining impressively low inflation. And although Shanghai's rapid growth since the early 90s may eventually allow mainland China to compete with Hong Kong as the business and financial capital of Asia, for the time being, Hong Kong is still Asia's number one city.

Except for one small problem. Hong Kongers can't vote for their government. Even though Beijing promised representative democracy to Hong Kong residents on numerous occasions, the PRC has taken drastic and generally shady measures to ensure that pro-Beijing politicians make up the majority of Hong Kong's government. Indeed, Hong Kong citizens only elect half of the tiny Legislative Council that runs the territory and have no say in the selection of the Chief Executive (basically the governor of the territory) who is essentially hand-picked by Beijing.

As such, thousands of Hong Kongers filled the streets yesterday to speak with their feet. According to The Guardian, at least 6,000 people "marched through the city centre chanting, 'One man, one vote', and carrying banners proclaiming, 'Democracy is not a gift from Beijing'." Indeed, "polls suggest the vast majority of Hong Kong people would like full democracy immediately." But of course, Beijing is afraid of democracy anywhere under its flag, especially since Hong Kong will fully merge with the PRC in 2047. Democracy in Hong Kong will either compel the mainland towards political reformation, or force Beijing to reconsider its future relationship with Hong Kong. Hu Jintao's government has never seemed too keen on the idea of democratization or political reform. Yet The Economist notes that, "in recent months [Hu] has tolerated an unusually open debate about the country's political options". In reality, this is nothing more than showmanship meant to coincide with both the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover and the ongoing build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Hong Kong is one of the world's most intriguing, most cosmopolitan cities, and it is a terrible shame that the Beijing government denies its people democracy. Whether full democracy will ever materialize for Hong Kong remains uncertain. In Wong Kar Wai's 2004 film 2046 (the last year of Hong Kong's autonomy), a train departs for the year 2046 where "nothing ever changes" but "nobody really knows if that's true because nobody's ever come back." Time will tell whether Wong is right.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

run he's fuzzy ... get outta here

The Escanaba Daily Press is reporting that Matthew Moneymaker and the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) are planning their next expedition to find the big, fuzzy, out-of-focus monster known as Bigfoot, or sometimes Sasquatch, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The search will focus in the UP's Marquette County, throwing a wrench in the general consensus that Bigfoot is roaming the Rocky Mountains somewhere. Quite the contrary, BFRO's website has a comprehensive list of the groups past 30 expeditions, which apparently include Oklahoma, West Virginia and Hilton Head. (There's also a place to sign-up for the group's next trip to Ontario. Pad your amateur naturalist resume!)

Being a Michigan native, I must admit, Bigfoot hiding out in the Upper Peninsula makes perfect sense. In fact, I honestly wouldn't even be surprised if Bigfoot was a Yooper. I think last deer season I saw him at a bingo hall in Houghton.

via CNN

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

talk crop

Indoor farming is an idea that has been around for a long time. It is done on a small scale in greenhouses all around the world, and many foods that we consume on a daily basis are grown via larger scale, hot house farming. Indoor methods such as hot house farming allow all kinds of produce to be grown year-round in a controlled environment, virtually eliminating the threat of pests and weather to the crop yield and removing the need for soil by using a method known as hydroponics to grow things. Hot house farming can be done anywhere, bringing agriculture to the most arid of climates. While hot house farming solves the problems associated with outdoor farming, it doesn't do much to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transport of produce. This is where the idea of urban vertical farming comes in.

Dr. Dickson Despommier, Ph.D a professor of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences and Microbiology at Columbia created The Vertical Farm Project. As a microbiologist and someone concerned with sustainability, he is a man after my own heart. The central idea of The Vertical Farm Project is to integrate vertical farms into the skylines of heavily populated cities thereby reducing the need to import produce and even small livestock such as chickens and pigs. The farms would be completely sustainable of course, using solar panels, recycling water, not using chemicals that can leach into the environment and kill fish and dolphins and baby eagles. Despommier's plan is quite impressive, and he seems to solve a lot of environmental problems associated with traditional farming techniques--especially the one about clearcutting rainforests to make farmland to grow crops to feed the projected 9 billion people that will be on Earth in 2050.

This plan could not come at a better time when it seems like world leaders are grasping at straws to do anything to reduce greenhouse gasses and couteract global warming. I can't think of a better way than letting forests grow where they once existed forever before we humans cleared them for crops.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

aw frenchie, you scared?

French officials are no longer allowed to carry Blackberries, according to a report in French papers last Wednesday, because they fear spies. (And not spam?)

The US, UK, Austria, New Zealand and Australian governments have all aproved the Blackberry network for sensitive material. But the US and UK based servers worry the Frogs. They don't want their secret widdle emails to leak. (Aw...)

Reseach in Motion (RIM), the Canadian Blackberry manufacturer denied the possibility of data interception. And a number of French officals are floating the ban anyhow. Figures.

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i'm rich! duh i use facebook.

A recent 6 month research project conducted at UC Berkeley by PhD student Danah Boyd reveals that Facebook users are of a higher socioeconmic class than MySpace users. Boyd defines class not just by how much money someone makes, but also by their ambitions, how much education they have recieved, race, religion, and geographic location. Initially I was intrigued by such a sweeping generalization, but upon deeper analysis, I realized that Boyd is totally wrong in her findings. Not to say they are completely devoid of merit, but Danah's conclusions are forgetting one very important aspect of Facebook's history--it was started at Harvard in 2004 and remained a social network that only college students and alumni and highschoolers could be a part of until September 2006. MySpace; on the other hand, is a social network that has never discriminated against users who weren't associated with an educational institution (that's why when I was 18, 36 year old men were messaging me). So, the very history of both MySpace and Facebook accounts for this observed difference in class of people who use the online social networks. I am not sure why something so evident to me, a recent college graduate, escaped dear Danah Boyd.
She also claims that Facebook users are for the most part white and degree seeking, while the MySpace user demographic contains more latinos and hispanics and "the kids who are socially ostracised at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers." Again, these findings can be explained by who could join Facebook in the past as well as nationwide statistics on races and classes of people who attend college.
I use both MySpace and Facebook, and for different reasons. Facebook is what I use to talk to friends and when I am feeling a bit voyeuristic. MySpace is what I use when I want to check out new bands or friend a 45 year old.

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