What I'm Reading
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Tuesday, February 24. 2009
This weekend, I watched PBS Frontline's - "Inside The Financial Meltdown." (Link takes you to the full video).
Here's an excerpt from the introduction:
On Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008, the astonished leadership of the U.S. Congress was told in a private session by the chairman of the Federal Reserve that the American economy was in grave danger of a complete meltdown within a matter of days. "There was literally a pause in that room where the oxygen left," says Sen. Christopher Dodd
"I think that the secretary of the Treasury could not fully comprehend what that linkage was and the extent to which this would materialize into problems," says former Lehman board member Henry Kaufman. [...]
Paulson was thunderstruck. "This is the utter nightmare of an economic policy-maker," Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman tells FRONTLINE. "You may have just made the decision that destroyed the world. Absolutely terrifying moment."
In response, Paulson and Bernanke would propose -- and Congress would eventually pass -- a $700 billion bailout plan. FRONTLINE goes inside the deliberations surrounding the passage of the legislation and examines its unsuccessful implementation.
"Many Americans still don't understand what has happened to the economy," FRONTLINE producer/director Michael Kirk says. "How did it all go so bad so quickly? Who is responsible? How effective has the response from Washington and Wall Street been? Those are the questions at the heart of Inside the Meltdown."
I really enjoyed watching this documentary because they presented this complex problem in a very easy to understand manner. The documentary provides some incredible insight into former treasury secretary Paulson. Secretary Paulson is this wall street guy who used to work at Goldman Sachs. There's this incredible moment where he seems to put his personal agenda for vengeance ahead of the public good. He seemed intent on letting one of his former competitors in Wall Street fail, and he makes an example out of his competitor. It seems to be partially based on personal animosity towards this former adversary. This act sends shockwaves across the stock market.
I think the other remarkable thing is just how quickly these financial titan corporations fell in a matter of days. Billions of dollars of market capitalization literally evaporated over night.
The Dow Jones Industrial hovering over 13,000 seems like such a distant dream these days. We're barely holding onto Dow 7,000 right now.
Thursday, February 19. 2009
"To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I came across this article entitled, "Israel launches covert war against Iran."
Israel has launched a covert war against Iran as an alternative to direct military strikes against Tehran's nuclear programme, US intelligence sources have revealed. It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime's illicit weapons project, the experts say.
The most dramatic element of the "decapitation" programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran's atomic operations.
Despite fears in Israel and the US that Iran is approaching the point of no return in its ability to build atom bomb, Israeli officials are aware of the change in mood in Washington since President Barack Obama took office.
They privately acknowledge the new US administration is unlikely to sanction an air attack on Iran's nuclear installations and Mr Obama's offer to extend a hand of peace to Tehran puts any direct military action beyond reach for now.
The aim is to slow down or interrupt Iran's research programme, without the gamble of a direct confrontation that could lead to a wider war.
A former CIA officer on Iran told The Daily Telegraph: "Disruption is designed to slow progress on the programme, done in such a way that they don't realise what's happening. You are never going to stop it. [...]
Mossad was rumoured to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran's Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported "gas poisoning" in 2007. [...]
Mossad's covert operations cover a range of activities. The former CIA operative revealed how Israeli and US intelligence co-operated with European companies working in Iran to obtain photographs and other confidential material about Iranian nuclear and missile sites.
"It was a real company that operated from time to time in Iran and in the nature of their legitimate business came across information on various suspect Iranian facilities," he said.
Israel has also used front companies to infiltrate the Iranian purchasing network that the clerical regime uses to circumvent United Nations sanctions and obtain so-called "dual use" items – metals, valves, electronics, machinery – for its nuclear programme.
The businesses initially supply Iran with legitimate material, winning Tehran's trust, and then start to deliver faulty or defective items that "poison" the country's atomic activities.
I can't wait until 30 years from now when they declassify all of the information about this covert war. The movies about this are going to be awesome.
Wednesday, February 18. 2009
I came across this amusing article in Time Magazine entitled, "Competence: Is Your Boss Faking It?"
Bosses may be an overbearing breed, but more often than not, you've got to admire their business chops. Wouldn't you love to have that same sense of competence and confidence, that ability to assess tough problems and reach smart solutions on the fly? Guess what? So would they. If you have ever suspected that your boss isn't actually good enough at what he or she does to deserve the job in the first place, a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that you might be right. [...]
Social psychologists know that one way to be viewed as a leader in any group is simply to act like one. Speak up, speak well and offer lots of ideas, and before long, people will begin doing what you say. This works well when leaders know what they're talking about, but what if they don't? If someone acts like a boss but thinks like a boob, is that still enough to stay on top?
[Work sessions] were videotaped, and a group of independent observers performed the same evaluations, as did Anderson and Kilduff. All three sets of judges reached the same conclusions. Consistently, the group members who spoke up the most were rated the highest for such qualities as "general intelligence" and "dependable and self-disciplined." The ones who didn't speak as much tended to score higher for less desirable traits, including "conventional and uncreative." [...]
"Dominant individuals behaved in ways that made them appear competent," the researchers write, "above and beyond their actual competence." Troublingly, group members seemed only too willing to follow these underqualified bosses. An overwhelming 94% of the time, the teams used the first answer anyone shouted out — often giving only perfunctory consideration to others that were offered.
Lately I've been finding myself with a front-row seat to amateur hour performances, and I cringe when people offer up random bad answers that make no sense. Seems like the more answers you give, the more competent you appear. Kind of funny though. Imagine appearing on Jeopardy and always buzzing in right away, and quickly making up an answer. You'd have a huge negative balance, but people would rate you highly competent right?
Thursday, February 12. 2009
I cam across this article in the Times Online entitled, "Italy bans kebabs and foreign food from cities."
The tomato comes from Peru and spaghetti was probably a gift from China.
It is, though, the “foreign” kebab that is being kicked out of Italian cities as it becomes the target of a campaign against ethnic food, backed by the centre-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi.
The drive to make Italians eat Italian, which was described by the Left and leading chefs as gastronomic racism, began in the town of Lucca this week, where the council banned any new ethnic food outlets from opening within the ancient city walls.
Yesterday it spread to Lombardy and its regional capital, Milan, which is also run by the centre Right. The antiimmigrant Northern League party brought in the restrictions “to protect local specialties from the growing popularity of ethnic cuisines”.
Luca Zaia, the Minister of Agriculture and a member of the Northern League from the Veneto region, applauded the authorities in Lucca and Milan for cracking down on non-Italian food. “We stand for tradition and the safeguarding of our culture,” he said.
Mr Zaia said that those ethnic restaurants allowed to operate “whether they serve kebabs, sushi or Chinese food” should “stop importing container loads of meat and fish from who knows where” and use only Italian ingredients.
Asked if he had ever eaten a kebab, Mr Zaia said: “No – and I defy anyone to prove the contrary. I prefer the dishes of my native Veneto. I even refuse to eat pineapple.”
Mehmet Karatut, who owns one of four kebab shops in Lucca, said that he used Italian meat only.
Davide Boni, a councillor in Milan for the Northern League, which also opposes the building of mosques in Italian cities, said that kebab shop owners were prepared to work long hours, which was unfair competition.
If this move is intended as a move against immigrants, then that's kind of sad. In my opinion, one of the best ways to build bridges between ethnic communities is by sharing each other's culture through food. There's just something very unifying about sharing a meal, and discovering new ethnic dishes.
And yes, my plan for world peace would probably involve some sort of delicious international all-you-can-eat buffet.
Tuesday, February 10. 2009
Just a short post tonight as work is crazy busy these days. As of late, I find my mind preoccupied with what 2009 will bring us. I have some big expectations for this year, which I'll get into later. My brain is constantly churning away trying to figure out how I'm going to get from point A to point B in this game of life. In this state of mind, I enjoy reading quotes to get some motivation and inspiration. Tonight, I stumbled upon the writings of George Herbert who was an English Poet, Orator, and Priest.
Here's a few choice quotes from him that I thoroughly enjoyed reading:
"The best mirror is an old friend."
"Do not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along."
"He that is not handsome at 20, nor strong at 30, nor rich at 40, nor wise at 50, will never be handsome, strong, rich or wise."
"One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters."
"Storms make the oak grow deeper roots."
"The shortest answer is doing."
"War makes thieves and peace hangs them."
"There would be no great men if there were no little ones."
And yes, these quotes have been entered into the quotes database.
Thursday, February 5. 2009
Yesterday, Yahoo! announced a new search product that they will be testing called Search Pad. Here's an abstract from the Yahoo! Search Blog:
If you’ve ever used a search engine as a tool to help plan a vacation, research a purchase, or find health information on an illness, you know how difficult it is to keep track of the relevant websites and notes you find. Today, we are testing a new feature called Search Pad to help users effortlessly capture websites that they find on Yahoo! Search and organize that information to complete important tasks.
Here's a video that demonstrates the feature that they're testing.
I have to say this feature is pretty neat, and I think it'll be another key feature that could bring Google users over to Yahoo. I think the tides of the search engine wars are starting to shift especially given the latest news that Yahoo Search's market share has stabilized. This last weekend, Google also had major problems with their search; they flagged every website as being harmful. This event actually caused a lot of people to check out Yahoo! Search again.
A good portion of my team, and the legendary Ryan Grove helped build this product. Kudos to them for successfully delivering a demo ready version of this feature. (For the record, I'm not involved in this product, other than helping with occasional testing/feedback.)
Wednesday, February 4. 2009
When I went home for Christmas, I went back to my university to visit professors, friends, and old co-workers. I spent a good amount of time chatting with folks from the Department of Co-operative Education, where I worked for almost five years. As I talked to people, there seemed to be a little bit of doom and gloom in the air. I dug a little deeper, and it seemed like enrollment in co-operative education was drastically down compared to its glory days.
For those who are unfamiliar with co-operative education, it's basically a program where you spend a couple semesters working in the real world for school credit. It offers an excellent way to apply some of theory you've learned in academia, and it gives you a chance to make connections with people in industry. A computer science student (back in my day) typically spent five semesters working at a co-op job. In my experience, it was a pretty good deal because you managed to add 20 months of work experience to your resume, and you got a chance to make some money too. A study also revealed that 90% of co-op students found a job after university within 6 months of graduation. I am one of those fortunate people that falls into this category.
In the old days, the Department of Computer Science at UVIC used to have around 400 students enrolled in co-op. Competition was always extremely fierce, and demand for jobs outstripped supply. It was always nerve wracking when you were trying to find a co-op job because you didn't know if you were going to be working or going to school in the next semester. Also, if all your friends went out on a co-op work term, and you didn't, your academic schedule would become unsynchronized with theirs, and that was not fun.
Fast forward to today, and apparently enrollment is about half of what it was. Only around 200 computer science students are enrolled in the co-op program. The supply of jobs far outstrips demand. Employers are constantly complaining that students are not applying to their jobs, and this is even the case for big name employers. Students these days also seem to be very picky about what kind of work they do, whereas in my day, we were glad to get any kind of work.
Continue reading "Something's Wrong With Co-operative Education"
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"Given an infinite number of re-orgs, all problems can be solved."
--Chris Chan, hacker, diplomat, humourist, philosopher.
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