Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brian Williams Declares NYT's "Discovery" of Brooklyn As Media Story Of 2010

This really was so funny that I have to throw it back into the social mediasphere one more time. Everything he says about the way the NYT (=Manhattanites) see Brooklyn is so true. All he's missing is the bearded Ruby-coding hipster riding his bicycle.

the nytpicker: NBC's Brian Williams Declares NYT's "Discovery" of Brooklyn As Media Story Of 2010. "It's Like Marrakesh," He Says.

Direct video link:

Google Beats Spell-Check for Figuring Out How a Word is Spelled

I was writing an email to my friend and entrepreneurial colleague Mike Horn over at CraftCoffee trying to help him articulate his company's vision in a way that will help potential investors see the opportunity as clearly as he does.  Somewhere along the line it became clear that the word connoisseur was going to have be used.  In writing.  Except that I had no idea how to spell it.  

Not only did I not know how to spell it, I couldn't even get close enough for the spell-checker to figure out what I was talking about.  I tried out "conneseiur" and "connesiour", but MS Word (and ironically Chrome as well, which must be using the same spell-check engine), just wanted to suggest words that started with the word "connect" (connections, Connecticut, connectible, etc.).  Quickly calculating that the ratio of vowel combinations to my knowledge of French approached infinity, I realized that this was not going to get anywhere.  So, I turned to that modern oracle of all knowledge, Google.

In the address bar of my Chrome browser (not even on the Google site!), I started typing: c-o-n-n-e-s.  The first suggestion Google gave me was "connestee falls."  But the second?  You guessed it.  Google 1, spell-check 0.  And as Google Instant likes to point out, I didn't even have to press enter.


If all is correct this post should publish at precisely 2AM EST and should not be picked up by Twitterfeed

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Verizon expected to eat up AT&T iPhone sales; iPhone expected to eat up Verizon bandwidth?

Gene Munster must have one of the more fun analyst jobs on Wall Street; as Piper Jaffrey's senior Internet research analyst he has become the go to guy for speculation on how many [name your favorite iDevice] Apple is going to sell in the next period.  He has to be one of the few research analysts that have actual consumers reading their research.  It's interesting then that he forecasts Verizon to sell only 2.5MM iPhones in 2011; that's compared to 5.2MM iPhones that AT&T sold in the third quarter 2010 alone.  

Let's take Gene's assumption that Verizon doesn't start selling the iPhone until "midway through the March quarter."  That means roughly 2/3 of the year remain, with the holiday season being the peak season anyways, so let's say they could have sold 25% more if they started selling Jan 1.  That's a run rate of barely 3M vs >20M for AT&T.  Other analysts are betting even lower.

Explanations of how these numbers are derived are vague (and being a former management consultant whose job was sometimes to size markets I know that these calculations are often more than a bit hand-wavy), but one thing I am willing to bet on: Verizon could make them higher if they wanted to - but they don't.

A lot of people forget that AT&T didn't used to have the worst service until they started carrying the iPhone and their networks became overburdened.  They've already caught up to Verizon in capital expenditures per subscriber, and yet it hasn't helped their image (and arguably their coverage) at all.  If I'm Verizon, I'm simultaneously thrilled and terrified by the prospect of millions of bandwidth guzzling iPhone users on my network.  I'm going to do everything I can do manage expectations and do a gradual iPhone ramp-up to test whether my network really is as good as I think it is before I go all out in promoting the iPhone.    Since carriers have a lot of control over what phones get sold through their network via relative levels of pricing and promotion levels, Verizon has the ability to do this.  It might seem foolish to all the iPhone lovers out there who are dying to move to Verizon, but from Verizon's perspective they are doing the right thing.  They've built their brand on "It's the network," not "It's the phone," and no device, not even the iPhone, is worth risking that.

One thing's for sure - it's a good time to be in the backhaul business!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How Google Helped Israel Put Out the Fire

Is there anything Google doesn't touch today?  According to the Hebrew version of Ha'aretz, when Bibi Netanyahu decided to seek foreign aid in putting out the largest and deadliest fire in Israel's history, his military attaché "used Google" to find Evergreen, the private company which operates the Supertanker.

The English version of the same article omitted this detail.

On a personal note, the tragedy of this fire which claimed 42 lives and destroyed over 7% of Israel's forested land in mere days, weighed heavily on me during this Hanukah.  This year, instead of the holiday being about celebrating the light of the eternal flame that our ancestors lit after vanquishing the Greeks from our lands, it was about cheering as Greek - and other - fire-fighting planes helped us extinguish flames that had gone out of control.  It was hard to miss this tragic and bittersweet irony.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Facebook Messaging: Do You Really Want to Use a Messaging System Based on a Focus Group of Teenagers?

Seems everybody is predicting that Facebook Messaging is going to revolutionize communication (,,, etc.). So I figured I'd throw my predicting hat into the ring and say, "Meh." There are three reasons for this: Facebook's choice of focus group for developing the new product; Facebook's prior design failures in building messaging systems; and the inherent conflict b/w Facebook's "social," sharing communication model and email's private, recipient-only model. And finally, for anyone who would underestimate the difficulties of making grand change to people's methods of communication, I have two words for you: Google Wave.

The product may be revolutionary if you are a modern teenager, Zuckerberg's apparent focus group for the project (if I read another article quoting Zuckerberg as saying that the idea for Messaging "came out of talking to current teenagers" ...). But for the rest of us? Do folks in the real world really want to use a product designed with the communication styles of high schoolers in mind? (and I'm not going to try to mock those communication styles since I'll probably just get it wrong, but we all went to high school once and how many of us want that experience rehashed in our inboxes every day? The occasional Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller screening should be enough to remind us that *those are not days we want to go back to*)

At the same time, every one of Facebook's attempts at a communications fool so far has been to my taste unbelievably kludgy (think about the existing Facebook Messaging and IM systems compared to their competitors, or Michael Arrington's comment that the previous iteration of Facebook Messaging was "completely unusable as a personal or business productivity tool"). Even the demos of the new Messaging demos I've seen continue much of this kludgy-ness, and my predictions of adoption by the post-high school crowd are extremely low. Do I really want all of my communication to be sorted exclusively by who it's with? And subject lines may be an unnecessary formality in rare cases, but generally they serve to let me know what the rest of the message - and the entire conversation thread - is about, and to separate conversations accordingly.

Finally, there is an inherent conflict of interest b/w the use of private messaging systems like email, in which conversations are designed to be seen only by their recipients, and the kind of public conversations that Twitter and Facebook (through wall posts) encourage. Facebook wants all your conversations to be out there in the open, wants as much public sharing as possible, and email fundamentally represents the opposite of that. Therefore it's hard to see a company like Facebook seriously committing to the development of a private messaging system of any kind, over the long term.

But then again maybe at 31 I'm just an old fogey who doesn't "get it" when it comes to "modern messaging" (as Zuckerberg puts it). I just requested my Messaging invite and may end up eating my words if it promises to be the biggest revolution in modern communication since Twitter. But somehow I doubt it. Communication paradigm shifts happen organically, not by declaration from on high. Just think back to last year when to buzz was all about Wave, another promised revolution in social communication. We all know how that went ...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Disadvantage of the Touch Screen Keyboard is Not That It Lacks Keys

After two weeks w/ the iPhone, I thought "Anyone who is worried about not having a keyboard b/c they don't think they'll be able to type just hasn't tried it before."  After 24 hours w/ the T-Mobile/Google/HTC G2 I still agree with that statement, but realized that it misses the point.  The problem w/ typing on the iPhone (or any other phone w/o a physical keyboard) isn't the typing per se ... it's that the keyboard takes up half the screen!  I was perplexed by the decision to include a physical keyboard on the G2 initially, until I started using it and reallized that for applications requiring text imput (which includes web browsing, maps, SMS, twitter, and most other social applications in addition to email) it makes the effective screen size much bigger than the iPhone - or even the mammoth 4.3" Droid X phone.

So, while for short bits of text or applications in which key input is secondary or limited to a lesser number of keys, such as dialing, I use the on screen keyboard with no problem, for longer text writing (including this and my last post), I use the slide out keyboard.  The extra weight is slightly annoying, but I'm willing to put up with it for the best of both input worlds.


Some thoughts for the future:
- I wouldn't be surprised if in the next generation or two of phones we saw phones w/ a slide-out second screen instead of a slide out keyboard, where the OS automatically moved the keyboard to the second screen in typing applications.
- In Korean this probably won't be as much of a problem due to the uniquely fast method of inputting the Hangul alphabet on a feature phone keyboard

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The Problem w/ Attacking 'Fair and Balanced'

Everybody thinks that they, personally, are fair and balanced.  People who don't are exceptionally intellectual and/or reflective.  Don't believe me?  Try telling a friend that you think that they are unfair and judgmental.  See how far you get.

Therefore it's logical that when someone hears an opinion that they agree with, they will most likely think that it to is fair and balanced, and likewise whomever said it.  Otherwise the cognitive dissonance in holding said opinion would be too great.

And herein lies the problem with the complaints that liberals make about Fox News claiming to be Fair and Balanced: they're preaching to the choir.  Only people who disagree with Fox News will disagree w/ their slogan, while people who like Fox are going to defend them.

And I say this as one who tends towards the liberal and thinks Fox News is full of sh!t.


Btw if you think the current media situation is untenable and represents the demise of democracy as we know it, you'd do well to read this: I'd say we're slightly better off now from a media perspective and that our democracy has survived just fine in the last 150 years ...

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Slightly Deeper Meditation on Forgiveness

My family's tradition in the days leading up to and including Yom Kippur is to ask one another for forgiveness for any offense or injury that may have been committed over the past year.  This comes out of the Jewish belief that the Yom Kippur prayers cover atonement with God, but reconciliation* with other people is between you and them (background on Yom Kippur is available here).  As such I recently posted to my blog/facebook/twitter status messages that I would like to "ask your forgiveness for any offense or transgression I might have committed against you in the past year."  

I thought this was a fairly widespread Jewish tradition; however I have found that most people to whom I make this request directly, Jewish or not, tend to appear perplexed, responding with laughter and some form of the line, "but what would I forgive you for?"  I realized that I have no idea where this tradition originated or if anyone outside my family practices it.  Nevertheless I believe in its importance, and this led me to do a little reflection on what exactly it means to ask for forgiveness and how such a request might be better phrased to achieve more forgiveness and less confusion.**

The goal, it would seem, is to go through all of our relationships and remove any negative thoughts, rather than allow them to fester into anything deeper or more insidious such as jealousy, resentment, or mere emotional baggage.  My former CEO and boss Sandeep Tyagi referred to this as "emotional defragmentation."  Yet when we ask for "forgiveness," the mind automatically jumps to thoughts of serious deeds or crimes committed, not of little things like the fact that we talk too much or that we are a little arrogant or that we didn't save you food at the company picnic or that we teased just a little too much.  Using the word "transgression" definitely encourages this kind of "severe crime" only thinking, which is why in the first line of this post I've changed it to "injury."  Even "injury" seems too serious to describe most of the things we might have done to the average person in our lives.

And so I find myself asking people to forgive me and having them respond with the quizzical, "but what could you have done?"   Is it because we are uncomfortable admitting to being insulted or offended by what someone else did?  Because we are afraid of the vulnerability that this might imply?  Or is it because we don't want to delve into the recesses of our own mind to think of what that person might indeed have done, or to rehash the offense or the pain we felt from it.  Is it better to let it sit as a minor issue than bring it up and come to the realization that perhaps we don't really forgive the other person?  Or that we can't agree on who was correct in such and such situation?  Does it imply that the cost of emotional defragmentation or catharsis is so great that we should only engage in it with those with whom we have truly deep and vulnerable relationships, and not with those who are merely acquaintances or social friends?  Is it because we consider "minor" offenses to be personality defects that we don't actually think the other is capable of fixing, so what would it mean to "forgive" them?  Does it imply that true forgiveness is so hard to do that we try to pretend it is not necessary, as summed up in the idiom that "To err is human, to forgive divine?"  Perhaps we don't really want to forgive, with all that it entails about self-effacement and accepting others imperfection.

I honestly don't know the answer to these questions.  I suspect that it is the latter, the difficulty of forgiving.  I suspect that we want to avoid confronting the difficulty in forgiving, the degree to which we fall short of the divine (although by definition there should be nothing shameful in this, it is still sometimes hard to admit).  Perhaps then a better way to phrase the request could be to substitute the synonym of "reconciliation" for "atonement" or "forgiveness," and to ask, "Can you reconcile with [accept] me being who I am, including those things about me that you don't like, in particular those things which caused you some annoyance or injury over the past year?"

Asking the question this way would take the question of intentionality out of the picture, and even require accepting disagreeable "personality traits" that will continue even after we have forgiven them (as opposed to something that the other person feels truly "sorry" for and therefore can be expected not to repeat).  Could such a request be made?  Could it be honored?  My rambling reflection complete (more or less), I am curious what you think.

*Yom Kippur is generally translated as the Day of Atonement, where Yom is Day and Kippur is Atonement.  However since the word atonement has heavy spiritual overtones of horrible crimes and divine sentences for grave sins committed, I prefer the more accessible terms of "making amends" or "reconciliation" to discuss interpersonal relationships or merely lesser sins.
** I intentionally write this on Yom Kippur itself, despite the lack of sharpness brought on by not eating or drinking to remedy my body's needs, in hopes that the meaning of the moment will overcome its hunger.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Per my annual tradition in the days (or in this case the hours) before Yom Kippur (literally "The Day of Atonement"), I would like to ask your forgiveness for any offense or transgression I might have committed against you in the past year (background for my non-Jewish friends:  Last year my former boss, who is Indian and not Jewish, called this "emotional defragmentation."   I thought this was a great way to express the idea behind Yom Kippur in non-denominational terms.

If telling me what you are forgiving me for - or what you would like me to apologize for - aids the catharsis, all the better.  Just please send me a personal note rather than posting on my Facebook wall!

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Liberty Walk

Great quote at the Liberty Walk, An Interfaith Rally for Religious Freedom. Where else could you find "a Born-Again Christian and a rabbinical student working together to hold a rally in favor of a Muslim community center, held in a Catholic Church?" [audience applause]

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Nerdy Investor

Am I a nerd that I'm filled with anticipation as I'm about to start reading Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor - on a Saturday?

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Why I Sold Zappos

This is a great example of how financial considerations can motivate an acquisition without being the deciding factor

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Monday, March 8, 2010

An Outlook Mystery, Solved: Why Some Emails Have Inline Attachments While Others Have an Attachment Field

For years I have been stumped by one of the small mysteries of Outlook: 99% of the time my emails would have their attachments in the attachment field.  The other 1% of the time the attachments would be inline with the text (the two possibilities are illustrated below).

I can recall one of my consulting teams back in 2005 trying to figure out why this happens, and have wondered on many occasions why this happens.  I finally came across the answer: It turns out that if the email is in HTML or plain text formal, the attachment goes in the attachment field, but if it's in RTF it goes inline.  

Go back and check every email you've ever had w/ an attachment inline and you will see that they were in RTF format.  Emails sent as replies to calendar items in outlook are RTF format btw, which explains why they have inline attachments.

Why does it matter?  If you've ever worked in a situation where you are exchanging emails with multiple attachments, each with different data, you know how easy it is for people to not find what you were pointing them to because they looked in the wrong file.  It is really useful to be able to say, "This file" and then have the file be right at the end of the line.  The only problem is that you can't control how the recipient's email program will display the attachments, as you can see below, so you can only be sure that it works if they have Outlook (see images of email sent from outlook and received in gmail below)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mixed Security Metaphors

Heard on the NYC subway system: "Backpacks and other electronic items are subject to search."

Sent from my phone. Pls excuse tpyos & brevity

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

How to Bike When It's 17 Degrees Outside

My blog description claims to cover cycling, so here goes my first post on the subject.

This morning when I left the house on my bike it was 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 Celsius).  I normally do not bike when it gets below freezing, but my love for two-wheeled transport led me to finally find a solution.  It started with wool socks and a sweater in addition to my usual coat, but the real trick was in pulling out some mountaineering gear that I had laying around from a trip up Kilimanjaro.  I put a balaclava on top of my formerly useless $3 hat from Walgreens, making a potent combination, pulled on some wool hiking socks, and put some heavy-duty North Face ski gloves on top of my regular fleece gloves.  With two hats, two pairs of gloves, a fleece scarf and wool socks, I was so toasty that I was sweating despite the chill.  The best part was that the balaclava caught my warm breath on my exhales and trapped it inside, keeping my face warm.  I don't know how well that would have worked if I had been out long enough for the moisture to start freezing, but in 30-minute max runs from point-to-point it was never an issue.  The only downside was that my visibility through the balaclava was not great, and as a result I was constantly trying to shift it around to see better.  I will probably buy a new one soon with a larger eye hole.  I was also told by a few friends that I looked like a terrorist, but that could be either a positive or negative depending on the situation.  I had one run-in with a guy in an SUV who clearly was about to yell at me for almost cutting me off, but you could see him take one look at me with my black ski-mask and black trenchcoat, think better of it, and drive off.  Clearly having people slightly afraid of you on the New York streets is not entirely a bad thing :-)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Definition of Speculation, Part II (it gets worse)

In my last post I defined speculation as "buying commodities for the capital gain from anticipated increases in their prices rather than for their use," following Kindleberger's Manias, Panics, and Crashes.

According to Hyman Minsky however, speculative is only the middle type of three types of finance: hedge, speculative, and Ponzi.  Minsky, for those unfamiliar, is the late American economist whose genius was unappreciated in his lifetime but has suddenly become quite trendy to quote in relation to the recent economic bubble and crash.

Minsky's three types of finance are defined in reference to debt that the "investor" is assumed to have taken to fund his investments.  In other words, it does not cover self-funding investments.  His model is nonetheless quite useful, as the reality is that most economic activity is funded by debt, be it mortgages, small-business loans, or larger bond floats that are done by major corporations or governments.

Hedge finance, then, is defined as purchasing an investment asset for which the anticipated operating income (rent, dividends, etc.) is sufficient to pay both the interest and principal on the debt incurred to acquire the asset.  Regardless of what happens to the value of the asset, the hedge financier is covered.  He might not make a killing, but he will not go bankrupt; he is "hedged."

Speculative finance is where the anticipated operating income is sufficient only to pay the interest, but not the principal, on the debt incurred to acquire the asset.  The speculative financier can only pay down the principal and avoid bankruptcy by borrowing more money, in the form of new loans or renegotiated terms with the original lender.  He is OK as long as the asset value appreciates and he is able to get new loans, but if the asset value depreciates (as it inevitably does when a bubble bursts), he will have a liquidity crunch and both be forced to sell at a loss and potentially face other consequences of not being able to pay back his loan.

The final type of finance, Ponzi finance, is where the anticipated operating income does not even cover the interest.  The Ponzi financier finds himself falling into ever greater indebtedness as he borrows new money to pay merely the interest on the old, and will find himself in deep trouble as soon as others realize what he is up to, unless he is so lucky that the asset value appreciates fast enough to allow him to sell and pay back all of his creditors.

According to Minsky, when the economy sours, some of the individuals and firms in the hedge category get pushed to the speculative category as their income goes down, while some of the players in the speculative category find themselves in the Ponzi category.  This is precisely what happened in 2008-9 with many of the banks who had liquidity crises as their payments from their CDOs started shrinking as defaults rose.

The original Ponzi, by the way, was not particularly successful at his eponymous scheme, only managing to keep his hustle going for a few months before it crashed.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Definition of Speculation, as Opposed to Investing (by some really smart economists)

In a book so mind-blowingly insightful that I had to stop marking because the whole page was turning red, I read the most concise, precise, comprehensive, and accurate definition for speculation: "buying commodities for the capital gain from anticipated increases in their prices rather than for their use."

As an example, buying oil or wheat to have fuel or grain is not speculation, but buying them to trade them to someone else after their value rises is.  Note that it is only speculation if the gain on the commodity is a capital one rather than an operating (or ordinary income) one.  In other words, if you are a distributor, retailer, broker, or trader of oil or wheat, you are not speculating.  The precise difference between a capital gain and an ordinary gain on a commodity can be fuzzy in some cases, but in general is quite clear.

Once speculation is defined that way, the next step is to consider the special case where the commodity is a stock. Stock is definitely a commodity: one share of a given class of stock in a given company is completely exchangeable for another share of the same class of stock in the same company. Most other securities are commodities as well.

In the case of a security, a capital gain is the result of income from selling the security at a higher price than paid for it.  Operating income is the dividends or payments from the security during the period that it is held.

This definition might miss a few cases in its simplicity, such as growth stocks that don't pay dividends, but it's pretty much spot on.

The books is Manias, Panics, and Crashes by Charles Kindleberger.  Kindleberger was a professor of economics at MIT for 30 years, and his book is widely cited by other books on market cycles such as Bull! by Maggie Mahar, which is where I read about it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Amazon Arbitrage: Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post called "Amazon Arbitrage" about how I found an item that was $70 pre-shipping on for $32 post-shipping on  Turns out the joke's on me.

I got an email this morning informing me that Amazon was "unable" to obtain the book, which was just published in June.

Apparently sales they must have not done a lot of sales because it is ranked #1,005,832 on and #137,153 on  By comparison, Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer, also by Pete Brown ranked #395,371 in the US and #11,254 in the UK.  (It is also #6 under the category of Books > Food & Drink > Drinks & Beverages > Beer, which we don't even have in the US).

Full text is below:

Dear Customer,

Greetings from

We regret to inform you that we have been unable to obtain the following item:

 Pete Brown "Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire"

This item has now been cancelled from your order #203-2653883-6631506 and we can confirm that you have not been charged for it.

We are no longer able to offer this item for sale. Our supplier has informed us that this item has been discontinued and is no longer available.

Please accept our apologies for any disappointment or inconvenience caused.

If you took advantage of a promotional offer when placing this order, this cancellation may affect your order's eligibility for that offer.  If you discover this to be the case, please contact customer service so that we may investigate.  You can send an e-mail to customer service from the following URL:

This item may be available from an Marketplace seller. The availability of the item will be indicated in a blue box that says "More Buying Choices" on the top right-hand side of the product's information page. The links in this box lead to lists of new, used, refurbished and collectable copies of that particular item. To buy the item click the yellow "Buy from Seller" button and fill in the requested information to complete your purchase.

To view the current status and the costs associated with your order, please visit Your Account (

Thank you for shopping at, we hope to see you again.

Please note: This e-mail was sent from a notification-only address that
cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.


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