Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Comments in News Stories

I mostly do my reading on an electronic device - be it a laptop or a tablet or a phone. I still subscribe to a few magazines but often find that I don't have time to really peruse them because I am too busy using one of the other devices!

The other day while reading an actual magazine in paper form. It was a mildly controversial story - and what isn't controversial these days! I reached the end of the story, formed an opinion on the subject of the story and instinctively tried to look for reader comments. Obviously there are no reader comments in paper magazines other that letters to the editors. This got me wondering on the practice of allowing reader comments in online news media.

Different media outlets allow comments in different ways. Some websites allow comments in certain stories only while others allow comments in all. I think most people look at these comments to seek reassurance that their views are indeed shared by others. Also, often a liberal website have comments that are preponderantly liberal and a conservative site has overwhelmingly conservative commentary.

This seems to reinforce that we are creatures of habit and seek our comfort zones. We prefer to be lulled into points of views that agree with are belief.

But a broader implication, something I am trying to put my finger on is how comments affect what we read or choose to consume. Sometimes I see myself scan the headline, read some comments and then read the story. Just like I read reviews for a product before buying it from and online retailer, I am - in a way - trying to see if a news story is worth reading. I wonder if doing so is preventing me from consuming a wider cross section of information based on feedback. It appears that I am consuming the feedback before consuming the message itself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

iPhone and Life

The iPhone has changed my morning routine. It usually rests on my dresser getting charged throughout the night. The first thing I do every morning is to roll off the bed and walk bleary eyed to the dresser to check my emails.

The sad thing though is that I don't get too many interesting emails. It is either notifications from various merchants about sales, or forwarded junk. And nestled among them may be be a personal email or two.

My job fortunately or unfortunately is such that I don't need to constantly check my emails. If something momentous is happening, I get called. But otherwise, typically, I first check my email when I get to work. That was when I normally checked my personal email too. But that has changed with the iPhone.

I had a mild epiphany when I realized this is what is meant by sticky technology. Over the years many of us may have been guilty of buying gadgets that we soon set aside. The iPhone it appears is the exact opposite. It never lets you set it aside. You use it as a still camera, a video camera, an email device, a map device, for restaurant reviews, as a flashlight, to play games, to ignore the world...the list is endless and probably enumerated better elsewhere. True many of the apps are crap, but it is your fault that you downloaded them isn't it? And deleting them is easy too.

There are those who bemoan the closed proprietary nature of the iPhone ecosystem, but for most of us - including computer geeks (self described or actual) - we are just glad to have a device that works. We don't want to be bothered learning the ins and outs and all the "secrets". We want to surf the web, access audio and video content, read, browse and do other simple things. We feel rewarded when we can to these things without compromise and feel it is money well spent even though this device may be capable of doing other great things from measuring your blood pressure to probably launching a moon shot for all I know.

Competitors to this device should take note of that. Do the simple things unfailingly and competently first. If you can't, you don't have a hope to succeed. It is almost a metaphor for living a successful life...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The end or the beginning...or more of the same?

The Arab world - at least parts of it - is in flames. Over the last few months, the people of Tunisia and Egypt have overthrown long ruling heads of state. This unrest has spread to other countries in the region including Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and others.

What is unclear however is what happens after. In Egypt, Mubarak has fled. However a case of limbo seems to remain. The military are in control, but neither secular nor Islamist parties have succeeded in taking power. It remains to be seen if elections will be held as promised and who will come to power.

While this feeble mind would like to express hope, it tends to demur...cynically perhaps. Too often revolution has produced misery rather than opportunity. Will a more religious form of governance take root? What are the implications if this were to happen? Apart from this however, it is uplifting to see people come out to attempt to change their lot. Over the next few years the machination behind the uprising may come to light. However, for many ordinary people, it appears that they were biding their time to rise against ruling despots and did so in a selfless and patriotic manner. One hopes that their sacrifice does not result in another quasi despotic or myopically religious state.

What one sees in the people is a sense of fed-upness at cynical attempts to garner favors by invoking the patriotic or the religious or the "foreign power" card. It appears that people just want to be left alone and given freedom to pursue their dreams without an overbearing nanny state that decides their every move and punishes harshly if they stray.

Is that too much to ask for?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New Computing Devices

I wonder if the iPad is a new paradigm in computing - a true internet appliance - an essentially sealed box.

As with all things Apple, it has beautiful design and a cult like following that seems to overlook the flaws in the device which would not be forgivable if the same flaws existed in a device made by - say Microsoft for instance.

There are many things interesting about this device, not least the apparent unobtrusiveness of the operating system. The OS is passe as it were. No one cares about it any more. I felt that acutely when I upgraded my pc to Windows 7 and enjoyed the OS feel for all of 5 minutes before launching the browser. Apple seems to have recognized this. People want the device to start up and load the apps they want to use as fast as possible. They don't want to defer to a pompous OS as it creaks itself to an on position.

In a perverse way Apple has bested the initial OS and app launch designs first introduced by the makers of PDAs' - remember the Palm Pilots anyone? The design is not groundbreaking in any way but the look and feel and handling definitely is. It is unsurpassed.
Now comes the billion dollar question. What does Microsoft have in response? One hopes it is a completely new and tiny OS that runs on devices like this rather than Windows light. As it is Android and devices that use it like the Adam tablet ( are already in the wings.

It will be a very interesting era in computing to have a match with three heavyweights competing.

Apple has done a great job but customers benefit from competition.

Friday, January 22, 2010


So things have moved on since 2009......or have they?
  1. The Fed interest rate is still at 0%.
  2. Somalian pirates still make cameo appearances.
  3. The DJIA (~ 10,200), NASDAQ (2,200) and S&P 500 (1,092) have improved some, though are still prone to wild swings.
  4. Gas at $2.50
  5. The Madoff scandal has been replaced by Tiger Woods. Madoff has been consigned to a US federal prison where some reports seem to indicate that other inmates are awed by him.
  6. Obama's first year has passed and even to his most ardent supporter it has been a mixed bag.
  7. Teddy Kennedy died and the Republican challenger who won the election to fill his seat has upset the Democratic 60% filibuster proof majority.
  8. Sadly though:
    Money, job and home value worries. No change.
    Uncertainty about the economy - will it get worse or will it get better? No change.
    Ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. No change.
  9. Health care reform still in limbo though insurers are breathing freer because there is almost no likelihood that the public option is still in play.
  10. Toyota is making the news for all the wrong reasons. Unintended acceleration has caused several deaths and they don't seem to have a definitive fix.
  11. Earthquake in Haiti has destroyed a third of that country and killed untold thousands of people.

One wonders when we will get past the excesses of the past years, wrap up the wars we are fighting and devote more energy to whom we admit into this country.

One hopes that the two parties both Republican and Democrat move past divisive politics and politicians. One hopes that in the coming year they don't just act like sheep but show some spine and have opinions that may differ from their party's leadership.

One wishes Mr. Obama well but hopes that he focuses on things that are closer to Americans' hearts like jobs and health care and not continue doling out largesse on projects while important have receded from our collective consiousness due to more pressing worries.

I wonder if 2010 will be like 2009 - a drudgery of a year. One hopes not, but signs portent that it is going to be more of the same.

  • Live within your means.
  • Pay off all your debts including mortgage.
  • Save a year's worth of living expenses. This should include estimated Cobra payments, home, car, flood, umbrella insurance, car and mortgage payments, school/activity fees for children, any estimated co-payments, food and clothing allowances and up to $10K as an emergency reserve on top of the other estimates. This is a tough goal and may not be achieved in one year but we need to get realistic on what a year's living expense really means.
  • Hold on to your job in any way possible.
  • Don't cave in to impulses small ( a new cellphone) or large ( a car or a pool).
  • Stop looking at ads. You are not helping the economy by spending, you are only hurting yourself. The economy will find ways to adapt.

Happy belated new year!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Next Bubble?

Is it possible that the next stock market bubble is stock trading itself? Of late some press has been given to practices like flash trading and high frequency trading. Both these mechanisms are dependent on high tech hardware and software and are therefore only available to the larger players – for now at least.

In flash trading, the trader tries to maximize the rebates offered by exchanges by freezing his trade for a fraction of a second by offering to trade rather than responding to the trade. Additionally a flash trader may seek interest in his security from “dark-pools” or electronic exchanges outside the traditional exchanges.

High frequency trading as the name suggests involves the conducting of really fast trades using sophisticated computers and algorithms. Enormous volumes of stock are traded and even minimal swings in the values of these stocks can lead to gains. Some observers say that high frequency trades account for over half the trading volumes in markets these days. Flash trading combined with high frequency trading can lead to even greater profits. A flash trader may for instance see the interest in a stock and use this information to buy the stock to re-sell at high frequency to people who want to buy it. The spreads sometimes are less than a cent. While some have compared this to front running – the illegal practice of using advance knowledge to trade in a stock – loopholes in the regulations in some markets allow this practice.

Both these practices take advantage of the momentum in a stock’s price. Large volume trades can capitalize on even a 1c movement in stock price and eke out substantial profits. In a way this is an extension of day trading and the end goal is to make profits in fractions of a second and get in and get out of a stock making money in as short a time as possible.

In recent months these practices have led to an explosion in the volumes of shares traded. Many companies see many times the volume of the total shares listed which implies a high frequency or flash trading of the shares. These shares are held for fractions of a second only to be re-sold.

This feeble mind wonders how an ordinary investor can capitalize on high frequency trading.
Currently of course a small investor will not have access to these markets. The only way to play this is to be a high net worth individual, one who has money in the accounts of brokers who use these tactics. Chances are though that these mechanisms will be democratized over time allowing smaller players to participate or to pool their resources in order to participate….at their peril.

Obviously the accelerated trading of large volumes for profits may result in the formation of a bubble until some large companies bet too much and lose too much. On the plus side however, the government is already taking steps to investigate this.

One wonders if this is the continuation of the new paradigm for making money. It started in the dot com boom and bust and continued in the real estate bubble. Inherently these bubbles pushed the envelope on making money from nothing but trading be it in dot com stocks or derivatives and instruments tied to real estate. Flash or high frequency trading continues this by trading in micro momentum with scant regard to fundamentals or other historic measures of valuation.

This leads one to almost yearn for the quaint old days of stock swings on quarterly earnings and the maniacal focus of the top executives in meeting the quarterly figures. People complained that a quarterly focus prevented companies from strategizing long term. Now it appears that even a quarter is too far off the horizon and micro seconds are the new unit of measure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Leno and other random thoughts

There is a lot of skepticism about Jay Leno's success in the 10pm (E) time slot. I am one of the naysayers - to the skeptics. I believe he will do exceedingly well. I am also one of the people who will watch him.

When I lived in the east coast in the pre-DVR days, I found the late night shows to be on too late (is that an oxymoron?). Also given the current nature of their jokes and the fact that they are on most weekdays, I do not tend to record them on my DVR these days unless there is an expectation of a really interesting guest.

The other reason I feel/hope he will be successful is because I am a sitcom aficionado. I do not particularly care for the serious drama/programming that otherwise occupies networks in this hour. I have never cared for crime or hospital dramas and lately my interest in news magazine shows have also declined. I was never a major reality TV fan either.

As a self admitted news junkie with a ear tuned throughout the day on the financial news especially, I am pretty much worn out by news by the end of the day. I prefer my prime time TV shows to consist of blah sit coms which are good for a laugh. In this environment I believe that Leno will be a welcome change. I am betting that there are many others in this country who feel the same way too and will make his program hugely popular. So popular that they will have to raise the ad rates on it very soon.

Let us see how this prediction pans out.

Either way, whether it succeeds or fails, this is a win-win for Leno. Success of course will give him a vehicle on NBC. Failure may result in him being courted by Fox or ABC for inclusion in their late night schedule. I wonder if ABC will slot Nightline in the 10 or 10:30 pm slot to make room for Leno should that happen.

Speaking of TV shows I watched quite a bit of CNBC during the night of 9-13. I caught the tail end of Maria Bartiromo's interview with Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit and later the town hall meeting with Tim Geithner the treasury secretary. From Pandit's speaking and his body language it appeared that Citi is well capitalized for the time being. I am a little anxious about my shares of C, but I will hold on to them for a little longer. As for Geithner, many of us fail to realize the complex and stupendous tasks that faced policy makers like him and Paulson. It is very easy to criticize them in hindsight but I wonder how many of us would take decisive action like they did during the most challenging times and under intense scrutiny.

Looking at major news today (and contrasting them with the headlines during the beginning of the year),
  • Fed rate is still close to zero
  • Fighting in Israel is no longer headline grabbing and the pirates seem to have mysteriously disappeared.
  • The Dow is at 9592, the NASDAQ at 2083 and the S&P at 1043.
  • Gas is around $2.30 locally
  • There is a lot of debate on health care, some of it very ugly.
  • Money, job and home worries still persist
  • Conflicts continue in Afghanistan and less so in Iraq - at least from the US perspective.
  • Gold has topped $1000.

In the U.S. at least health care and deficits seem to be getting the most press along with a growing wariness about the war in Afghanistan and an undercurrent of a "what are we doing there" attitude. While there is consensus in capturing or killing the planners of 9-11, there seems to be a growing unease on continued guerilla warware without any clear goals.

Lastly, since I started this post off about a TV show, I wonder how many people are out there who would welcome the introduction of a digital VCR? I mean a DVR for all intents and purposes but without programming fees. The only option these days appears to build one using the Windows Media Center software. DVR programming fees - to me at least - is another source of money dripping from my pocket book and I resent the charge. If I could happily record shows on my VCR for free, I don't see why I should have to pay for that privelege on my DVR.