Friday, December 31, 2010

Cool timelapse

Last weekend's blizzard might have created a nightmare in New York and New Jersey, but that doesn't make this timelapse any less cool. I personally have always enjoyed blizzards, as long as I haven't had anywhere important to go or anything pressing to do. In some ways, it can be nice to have an excuse to spend some time at home and chill out. But maybe that's just the New Englander in me trying to justify the Boston winters I survived growing up, or my inner 12-year-old wishing I could still have snow days. Either way, I enjoyed this...pretty cool.


December 2010 Blizzard Timelapse from Michael Black on Vimeo.

[Paul Kedrosky]

Giving credit where it's due

On Monday I was highly critical of the NCAA and its response to the tattoo scandal at Ohio State. To the institution's credit, Ohio State stepped up and did what the NCAA was apparently unwilling to do, forcing its players to take responsibility for their actions.
Ohio State players facing five-game suspensions next season would not have traveled with the team to the Allstate Sugar Bowl if they had not pledged to return in 2011, coach Jim Tressel said on Thursday.
The five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, have been punished by the NCAA for selling championship rings and memorabilia and taking discounts from a tattoo parlor.
Tressel said he wanted to make sure that the players wouldn't "skirt the consequences" by playing in the Sugar Bowl, then declaring for the NFL draft and avoiding any punishment.
"We told them they would have to make the decision on the NFL prior to leaving for the bowl game," Tressel said at his first Sugar Bowl news conference. "It wouldn't be fair to not face the consequences down the road."...
Four sold their 2008 Big Ten championship rings for $1,000 to $1,200 apiece; Herron sold his football jersey, pants and shoes for $1,000; and [defensive end] Solomon [Thomas] and Pryor each sold his "gold pants" trinket -- given to Buckeyes players if they beat Michigan -- for several hundred dollars. Pryor also sold a 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award.
Tressel said he was disappointed not only because his players broke the rules, but also because they sold what he thought of as important keepsakes from their football careers.
Obviously I've got complex feelings about the NCAA and its policies. I don't think that they should punish players for selling jerseys (or other paraphernalia) while allowing the universities and corporate sponsors to profit from doing the same. So, in isolation, I think that any punishment of the Ohio State players for these violations is unjust. However, I am all for consistency, and the treatment of the Ohio State players in comparison to A.J. Green smacks of favoritism by the NCAA and cowering to corporate interests (despite their denials, which rely on such badly flawed logic that they're not even worth dignifying with a response here).

Luckily, Ohio State has stepped up and ensured that their players do face some punishment (as I wrote earlier this week, the NCAA's "punishment" left open the possibility that the players could escape repercussions entirely by declaring for the NFL Draft). Will Ohio State benefit from having those players around for the second half of next season, instead of not at all? Sure. But I'm not quite cynical enough to think that's the real (or at least, the only) reason they took this course of action. I think they did the right thing here, and made a statement in favor of equal punishment for equal crimes. Good for them.

[ESPN.com]

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Clip of the Week

Alright, let's keep going with the "Year in Review" stuff, shall we? For this week's Clip of the Week, we'll just let YouTube do the heavy lifting for us. They've been nice enough to post the Top 10 most-watched videos of 2010 here (along with some other stuff worth perusing if you're looking to kill time like I am).

Of the Top 10 most-watched, my favorite is OK Go's video for "This Too Shall Pass", with its awesome Rube Goldberg Machine:



But some of the best stuff isn't in the Top 10, but rather on the timeline on YouTube's Year in Review page (Tiger Woods parodies, for example). Another good year for YouTube.



[YouTube]

Oddball Interview Questions

Over the last 15 years or so, I've been involved in tons of interviews on both sides of the table--job interviews, college/grad school interviews, etc. It's certainly a lot more fun to be the interviewer than the interviewee, with one exception--interviewees are invariably overly prepared to answer the questions they expect to hear, and you therefore hear the same stuff over and over again and it's hard to distinguish between candidates.

What's the answer, then, for an interviewer? Oddball interview questions. Ask something that you absolutely know the interviewee hasn't prepared for or thought about or answered before. Their response not only gives you invaluable insight into how they think, but also lets you know how well they solve problems and operate under stress. That's important stuff.


My go-to interview question was always "what's a million divided by sixteen?", a question that I myself had been asked at an old job interview. It was especially useful for me to ask because I worked for a trading company where mental math was important. There were several ways to get to the right answer (it's simpler than you might think), and just about the only "wrong" answer was "do you want an exact answer?"--yes, of course I want an exact answer, otherwise I wouldn't ask such a specific question.

At any rate, because of my history with oddball interview questions, I was incredibly amused by this post over at glassdoor.com detailing the "Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions of 2010". There's some great stuff in there. A lot of it is garden-variety consulting interview questions, which are famous for asking almost unanswerable questions that nevertheless require some sort of answer (for example, "how many basketballs can you fit in this room", which is on the list thanks to Google), but some of them go far beyond that.

Worth a look.

[glassdoor.com]

Well, this is criminal

You'll excuse me if this post takes on a slightly more bitter tone than it otherwise might have--I'm a little tired and angry after sitting through hours of traffic in New York and New Jersey (for an idea, it took 7.5 hours to drive 210 miles from Madison, CT to the Delaware Memorial Bridge), traffic caused in part by negligent plowing on streets throughout the so-called tri-state area. Even three days after the storm, many roads were still unplowed, despite the fact that this wasn't even a particularly aggressive blizzard. What's that, you say? It was done on purpose? Oh, hell no...
Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts -- a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.
Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.
"They sent a message to the rest of the city that these particular labor issues are more important," said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Queens), who was visited yesterday by a group of guilt-ridden sanitation workers who confessed the shameless plot.
Halloran said he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department -- and two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan -- at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from constituents.
The snitches "didn't want to be identified because they were afraid of retaliation," Halloran said. "They were told [by supervisors] to take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner. They were told to make the mayor pay for the layoffs, the reductions in rank for the supervisors, shrinking the rolls of the rank-and-file."
New York's Strongest used a variety of tactics to drag out the plowing process -- and pad overtime checks -- which included keeping plows slightly higher than the roadways and skipping over streets along their routes, the sources said.
The snow-removal snitches said they were told to keep their plows off most streets and to wait for orders before attacking the accumulating piles of snow.
They said crews normally would have been more aggressive in combating a fierce, fast-moving blizzard like the one that barreled in on Sunday and blew out the next morning.
This, combined with the nearly 10,000 flight cancellations that the weekend blizzard caused, turned those highways that had in fact been plowed (like I-95) into virtual parking lots. This fact alone falls in the category of "infuriating", but really more inconvenience than anything--a union makes a statement, people suffer, there's pressure on the government/management, etc... But this part makes it criminal:
With the unplowed streets in the outer boroughs, concern is rising over health and emergency response times.
Two New Jersey deaths, a 75-year-old mother in Queens and a newborn baby are among the deaths attributed to severe delays in emergency response time due to piles of snow that have yet to be cleared.
Police tell the Asbury Park Press that a 55-year-old old man was found unresponsive in his home Monday just after he came in from shoveling his sidewalks and others in his neighborhood. The same day, a 59-year-old man was found dead not long after he went to a shed on his property to get a tractor and plow...
Tragedy struck in New York, also with the death of a newborn baby in Brooklyn. The Daily News reports the infant died after the mother was forced to wait nine hours before help could reach her in Crown Heights. The baby was pronounced dead at 6:34 p.m. Monday, and by the time emergency personnel arrived the baby was unconscious and unresponsive.
Killing babies, huh, Sanitation Department? That sounds like a great way to fight for your benefits. If Mayor Bloomberg has a spine, he will fire everyone involved without a second thought, and give those jobs to the thousands of unemployed people begging for jobs (especially the 99ers). I'm certainly not trying to espouse the miserly "be happy you have a job at all" mentality that often becomes pervasive among bad managers in recessions, but a reality check is most definitely in order.

With state and federal budgets strained beyond belief, everyone seems to recognize the fact that we have a problem, but nobody is willing to admit that they are part of the problem. New York's Sanitation Department has shown that it is so unwilling to share in the economic pain that we all feel that it would rather let people die than sacrifice its benefits. That is simply appalling. 

I retain hope that we can in fact address our budgetary crises with some modicum of rational thought and sharing of pain, but instances like this cast serious doubt on the situation (it's been a very similar response in Europe in reaction to their "austerity measures"). For now, this is just another example of a union overstating its own importance and creating a disastrous outcome as a result. But I fear that this type of action could have much more damaging implications down the road.

As a collective, we in America are great at recognizing a problem, but devastatingly weak at sharing in the solution. New York's Sanitation Department has shown just how low some people are willing to stoop in order to avoid sharing in the pain. With unemployment rates continuing to soar, it's a misguided position to say the least. Mayor Bloomberg, it's your move.

[New York Post]
[NBC New York]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hooray government accountability

This one slipped under the radar last week, probably because it's really not new or surprising for anyone. But I think it's worth noting anyhow (emphasis mine):
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cannot render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.
“Even though significant progress has been made since the enactment of key financial management reforms in the 1990s, our report on the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statement illustrates that much work remains to be done to improve federal financial management. Shortcomings in three areas again prevented us from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based financial statements,” said Gene Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the United States.
The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.
Yikes. That's downright scary. What's worse is that this is the FOURTEENTH STRAIGHT YEAR that the GAO has been unable to render an opinion--the federal government's books are literally in such disarray that they cannot be audited.

It's nice when the government steps up and says that they're going to be accountable, but when it so brutally ignores the advice coming from a watchdog agency of its own creation, it's hard to take them seriously. For 14 years across three Presidential administrations (evenly split between the two parties), our federal books have been so bad as to make them illegible--rather than making progress, it's pretty clear that we've in fact regressed. That's pathetic. We have no prayer of ever balancing our books until we have some way of reading them first.

[U.S. Government Accountability Office]  
(h/t BizzyBlog)

The Year in Photos

Since there's apparently still nothing going on in the world, and every news agency seems to be relegated to Year-in-Review columns and sure-to-be-wrong predictions for 2011, I'll play along and post one of the more fun end-of-year toys, The Year in Photos (courtesy of the Wall Street Journal).

Click Here to View Gallery
The Journal's graphic is cool in that it allows you to sort pictures by category, by date, or by region. It's a good way to waste some time, since that's really all I'm trying to do myself until the New Year comes. Here are some of my favorites from the compilation. Which ones do you like?

Bank CEOs (Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America) testify before Congress in January.
A giant sinkhole engulfed a three-story building in Guatemala City in May.
NYSE traders reacted to the United States' goal against Algeria in the World Cup in June.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quote of the Week

Man, it is a SLOW news day (and week)... so I'm just gonna go ahead and fast-forward right to the Quote of the Week. Maybe there will be some news worth writing about later today, maybe we're just done with news until 2011. I don't know.

So, enjoy your QOTW anyway, just in case... it comes courtesy of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who--like our friends at Deadspin--wasn't too happy about the NFL's decision to postpone Sunday night's Eagles-Vikings game until tonight due to the weekend blizzard (which was bad, I guess, but nowhere near the worst I've seen around here... it wasn't really that much worse than the weather I endured at the Pats-Bears game in Chicago earlier this month. But I digress).

This week's QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down."
                        - Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell

This is fantastic. I love the concept of Chinese people "marching" to a football game while doing calculus and solving world hunger.

For me, I just hope this two-day delay doesn't mean that Brett Favre decides to have another "miraculous recovery" and play tonight. That man needs to disappear. Oh, so does LeBron. That is all.


[ESPN.com]

Monday, December 27, 2010

Another item I can't ignore

Given my history of criticizing the NCAA (and its corporate enablers), I have to at least mention my extreme displeasure with the organization's handling of the tattoo scandal at Ohio State University, even if it is a couple of days late (emphasis mine).
What started out as a trip to a Columbus tattoo parlor by a couple of football players has created all sorts of mayhem for star quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Ohio State.
Pryor and four teammates were suspended Thursday by the NCAA for the first five games of next season for selling championship rings, jerseys and awards. They also received improper benefits -- from up to two years ago -- from the tattoo parlor and its owner.
The NCAA said all can still play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas on Jan. 4 in New Orleans. Ohio State's first five games next season are against Akron, Toledo, Miami, Colorado and Michigan State. Ohio State plans to appeal, hoping the number of games might be reduced.
Conveniently, all five players in question are juniors, which means they are eligible to enter this spring's NFL Draft. So, if they choose to, each of these players can escape punishment altogether. So too can Ohio State--which won't face any repercussions in its bowl game--as well as the NCAA, ESPN, and all of the relevant corporate sponsors (most notably Allstate, who proved that they're in good hands with the NCAA). Pay no attention to the rumored "violations"--we can all continue to make money off of these athletes, as planned:


This punishment, like most recent NCAA punishments, is a non-punishment. Cam Newton was bizarrely declared ineligible and then immediately reinstated, and now Ohio State players are being suspended for games they may never play. The NCAA continues to show that when enough money is on the line, there is no violation too serious to be overlooked. Properly sanctioning Newton or the Ohio State players would have meant compromising two of their crown jewel BCS bowl games, which of course would have angered ESPN and other corporate sponsors alike. We can't have that.

If you read me often, you know that I tend to sympathize with the athlete in these types of situations. But in this case, everyone shares some of the blame. The Ohio State players broke the rules, whether the rules were just or not. And the NCAA decided that they didn't care, because the money at stake was too important. Multiple wrongs do not make a right--this system is broken.

Some of these players may indeed come back to play their senior years, but the point is that they don't have to serve any suspension if they don't want to. Suspending A.J. Green but not suspending Newton or Terrelle Pryor is just inconsistent--and that, ultimately, is what I take issue with. The NCAA has gone too far down the road of treating football like a business (rather than an interscholastic pursuit), and a correction is long overdue.

[ESPN.com]

Bridgewater, NJ joins the wasteful hall of fame

Back in September I wrote a blog post about the L.A. Unified School District joining the wasteful hall of fame by opening the most expensive public school in history (complete with $1.3 million worth of murals and public art). At the time, I didn't necessarily expect there to be any other honorees--I figured the wasteful hall of fame would be a one-and-done concept for a historically ludicrous project.

I was wrong.
A Somerset County town spent more than $17,000 defending a $5 fee it charged a resident for a compact disc of a council meeting.
Tom Coulter filed a complaint with the New Jersey Government Record Council in October 2008, saying he should pay the actual cost of the CD to get the recording.
The state council this year sided with Coulter and found he should have paid about 96 cents.
Bridgewater paid more than $14,000 in legal fees defending the case. It had to pay $3,500 to Coulter for his legal fees and give him a $4.04 refund.
Coulter says the case shows a lack of common sense.
Township Attorney Alan Grant tells The Courier News of Bridgewater the legal fees would have been substantially lower had Coulter settled, as the township had offered.
Oh boy. Of course, few stories are as simple as they might seem. In a separate blog post on the same site, it becomes clear that this type of legal fight is not uncommon, because it's not really a fight over 5 dollars--rather, it's a fight over what the public does and doesn't have the right to know.
The Open Public Records Act was passed because town officials were refusing to give residents records they were entitled to. Yet still, towns set up all sorts of arbitrary impediments to quash citizen requests for public records, like inflating their fees. And it’s not the municipal clerk who ultimately pays the price for this petty obstructionism. It’s the taxpayers.
Some towns say they raise records fees to account for the added cost of labor. But since citizens already pay the salaries of municipal clerks, why must they pay yet again so these people can do their jobs by preparing a public record?
Bridgewater ended up paying more than $14,000 to defend its case and $3,500 to Coulter for his legal fees, and giving him a $4.04 refund. “In hindsight, it is a lot of money, but we had to defend the ordinance,” said the township administrator, Jim Naples. Easy for a town official to say, since he won’t be reaching into his pockets to pay the penalty — he’ll be reaching into yours.
At a time when Wikileaks is casting a broad light on the issue of what the government should and shouldn't be hiding from its citizens, this legal fight is both disheartening and disarming.

OPRA was passed because governments were taking extreme liberties by effectively classifying non-classifiable information, and yet still local governments are fighting protracted legal battles to protect their non-existent right to keep public records classified. When governments ring up legal bills like these, the result is that taxpayers are paying money for the right to give up their rights. That's a gross perversion of the public trust, and one that Bridgewater residents should be absolutely up in arms about.

When Jim Naples says "we had to defend the ordinance", he's in essence saying that he doesn't care about OPRA or the public trust. In this type of legal fight, the public loses either way--they either lose their rights under the law, or they have to pay hefty legal bills to protect them (without a choice in the matter). That's absolutely ludicrous. So congratulations, Bridgewater, New Jersey. You are a shining beacon of governmental abuse.

[NJ.com]


(For more context on the above cartoon--and on this whole issue in particular--read this piece. New Jersey residents should be absolutely rioting in the streets by now. Instead, it seems that those who challenge these abuses of power are derided for "wasting taxpayers' money" by forcing the issues into court. That's awful.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from The Crimson Cavalier!


I'm still on vacation with the family, but I should be posting regularly next week. Hope you're all having a safe and happy holiday weekend.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Clip of the Week

I'm on the move today (back up in Boston with the family for the holidays), so I won't be posting as regularly as usual. But I do have a Clip of the Week this week, which comes from this past Sunday's 60 Minutes. It's about "superior autobiographical memory"--the rare ability to remember details about every single day of one's life--and it's absolutely wild (a little long--but I promise, it's worth it).

I'll post a quick excerpt from the online story as a teaser, and then link to the video.

There has been a discovery in the field of memory recently, so new you won't find it in any textbook. It's so hard to fathom, there are some who remain unconvinced. 
For the moment, the scientists studying it are simply calling it "superior autobiographical memory." And unless you happen to know one of the handful of people discovered so far who have it, get ready to be amazed. 
Louise Owen is 37 years old and a professional violinist living in New York City. But she has another gift too, one that is far more rare. 
When correspondent Lesley Stahl mentioned a date, Jan. 2, 1990, Owen told her, "Right now, I'm remembering the jogging class that I started that morning." "And you're actually back there?" Stahl asked. 
"I can feel it. I can remember the coach saying, 'Keep going,'" Owen remembered. 
That was more than 20 years ago, when she was 16, a date Stahl picked completely at random.
That's crazy. There's a bunch of other characters in the video with similar gifts, and it's worth a watch. I've always been fascinated by the seemingly limitless potential of our brains, and the rare glimpses of that potential that people like these afford. It's pretty interesting to see them get together and share their experiences.


As usual, 60 Minutes videos don't work properly when I try to embed them, so click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Census data released

The results of the recently-completed 2010 Census were released yesterday by the Census Bureau, which (as always) has some interesting data and even more interesting implications. This table breaks out the nation's population change over the last decade by region and by state, revealing trends that are both surprising (Idaho +21.1%?) and not-so-surprising (Michigan -0.6%).


As the above table shows, the majority of U.S. population growth was concentrated in the South and West, with those regions greatly outpacing the growth rates in the Northeast and Midwest. As a result, Texas and Florida will gain 4 and 2 seats, respectively, in the House of Representatives--mostly at the expense of New York and Ohio, who will each lose 2 seats. How you feel about this unmistakable shift to the South is, most likely, largely a result of where you're from.

Other states losing seats include Louisiana, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, while states gaining seats include Washington, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. This of course reflects the broader shift from Midwest/Northeast to South/West. For better or worse, the changes of these 12 seats will undoubtedly have some impact on our Congress over the next 10 years (or beyond).

[Census.gov]

Skyrocketing medical costs, revisited

I've posted here before about skyrocketing medical costs in the United States, but this article adds a new twist to the conversation (emphasis mine).
For Mary Cotter, the first sign of concern came when her 7-year-old, Logan, appeared dizzy. His regular doctor said everything was fine, but Cotter insisted Logan be seen by a neurologist, who after an MRI found a tumor in his inner ear. An operation followed, and for the next month Cotter took Logan on a four-hour round-trip trek every day from her home in Ledyard, Conn., to a specialty hospital in Boston for radiation therapy.
The total bill for the tests, blood work, surgery and radiation came to $14,000 — not surprising in this age of sky-high medical costs. Except for one thing. Logan is a golden retriever. After another surgery for an unrelated illness, the total cost of Logan's care is approaching $20,000. Today Logan is healthy, but he has a new nickname: "20K."
It's no secret that Americans love their pets. But these days, all that love is leading to an unprecedented level of expense for millions of owners, who are only beginning to understand the pet-world concept of sticker shock. Caught up in a wave of new medical options and lured by an increasingly sophisticated cadre of veterinarians, pet owners across the country are forking over thousands — and even tens of thousands — of dollars to treat illnesses that would have gone undiagnosed or untreated just a few years ago. And then doing it again if they have to.
Of course, pet owners and most vets have the animals' best interest in mind. But that doesn't make it any easier: With health insurance covering the humans in many families, it's not unusual for pet owners to spend far more money on health care for their cats and dogs than for their sons and daughters. Even the Great Recession failed to take a bite out of Fido's health care tab. According to a report by market-research company Packaged Facts, Americans spent $20 billion on veterinary bills in 2010 — an 8.5% increase from a year earlier and more than double the amount spent just a decade ago.
Oh hey, look at that, it's a cat getting a CAT scan...


At any rate, in the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I are guilty of having added to the increase in expenditures. When our SPCA rescue kitten, Jobu, was diagnosed with a vaccine-related fibrosarcoma (a cancerous tumor on his rear left hip) last year, we were basically presented with three choices: let the cancer run its course, which would likely mean that our one-year old kitten would die within the year; amputate the affected leg, a procedure which had no guarantee of success; or surgically remove the tumor and initiate a chemotherapy treatment to treat the cancer.

We elected to try the chemotherapy, and did so in large part because we thought it might extend his life from one year to a more full twelve or thirteen (no definitive answer on that yet--he's still kicking but showing signs of kidney problems). While the cost was not negligible, it was just a small fraction of the $20,000 figure cited in the article (which is why even I am able to look at that figure and shake my head in disbelief), and we still wrestled with the somewhat ridiculous concept of feline chemotherapy.

Being the trader that I am, I of course viewed it through the economical eyes of an investor--how many years could this procedure buy us, and how much are we then spending per extra expected year of Jobu's life? By its logical extension, this approach means that if Jobu had already been 9 or 10 years old, I absolutely would have said "no way" to the chemotherapy. Hooray for mental amortization.

But many other people make vastly different decisions, choosing to spend much more money than we did on animals with many fewer years left to live. It's not too different from the situation in human health care, where an estimated 27.4% of total Medicare expenses are used to treat patients in their last year of life, much of it in the last two months. A callous and heartless trader like me would just as soon save the money and spend it on preventive care for younger people...but that's just me.


The question that this article ultimately raises for me is, what is really the best allocation of limited resources? Granted, anyone who is willing to spend $20k on an animal probably doesn't have "limited resources", but the use of $20k on one animal is probably a poor use of them no matter how you slice it.

At a time when animal shelters across the country are facing budget crises (due to decreases in both public and private funding), forcing many of them to reconsider their status as "no-kill" shelters, the question becomes that much more acute for animal lovers. How many animal lives could have been saved with that same $20k that was spent to extend the life of just one sick puppy? And would saving those lives have been a better investment than extending the one life?

They're difficult questions to answer, and they become that much more difficult when emotions become involved. People will always be willing to spend more to extend the life of someone they know personally or intimately than that of an unnamed stranger--it's a strange type of cognitive dissonance that was at the heart of the recent movie The Box (which apparently sucked, but so be it).

These are, however, questions that will need to be answered as we try to fix our national health care problems (for people, not just cats and dogs). At a certain point, we can't spend unlimited dollars--taxpayer dollars, insurance dollars, or otherwise--to extend the life of someone who is certain to die. Different people are bound to draw their cutoff line at different points, and so determining the proper cutoff is a difficult policy issue. Most of us can agree that spending $20k on a dog is absurd, but obviously at least one person disagrees. The question is, what is the right amount, and whose opinion matters most?

[Smart Money]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quote of the Week

Following in (sort of) the same vein as my last post, it's time for this week's Quote of the Week, courtesy of Larry David and the New York Times. From Mr. David's op-ed, "Thanks for the Tax Cut!", here it is:

This week's QUOTE OF THE WEEK

After years of coveting them, I’ll finally be able to afford blueberries. Did you know they have a lot of antioxidants, which prevent cancer? Cancer! This tax cut just might save my life. Who said Republicans don’t support health care?
                                    - Larry David; Creator/actor, "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

Great satire from David. He's not the only rich person to have a similar response to the tax cut extension--he's joined by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., and others, all of whom have a few bucks at stake.

[New York Times]
(h/t reader Emily)

Message to Sen. Warner: please heed your own advice

There's some strong language being thrown around Washington these days--some of it important, much of it hot air. But for a couple of reasons, this particular statement caught my attention:
With the enactment of an $858 billion tax cut and stimulus package last week, it may seem as if those calling for deficit reduction are spitting into the wind.
But don't be surprised if the Senate takes up the issue in 2011.
A bipartisan group of 18 senators have called on the Senate to tackle debt reduction by the end of next year.
"It is time for us in the Senate -- excuse the language -- to put up or shut up," said Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia on the Senate floor last week.
Warner and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia formed the group over the summer during a number of informal meetings they convened to educate themselves and colleagues about the debt.
Last week, during the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts, all 18 members gave short speeches calling for a serious debt-reduction plan and comprehensive tax reform before 2012.
I generally like Sen. Warner (I voted for him in 2008 in favor of George Allen), and I appreciate his pointed words on an important topic. But in the short-term at least, the Senator's actions are speaking louder than his words. Both he and Sen. Chambliss, while pounding the table for fiscal discipline, voted in favor of the massive tax-cut extension which will add significantly to our deficits and debt.

In fairness to Sen. Warner, I'll post an extended version of his comments here, and not just the media-friendly soundbite (it's a rough transcription, but it's the best I could find).
And while I believe as imperfect as this compromise between the president and others in terms of short-term stimulus, that we will vote on later tonight, we also have to demonstrate that this body can actually walk and chew gum. We can do short-term stimulus now but next year engage in meaningful tax reform and deficit reduction.
I don't personally buy Sen. Warner and others' distinction between "short-term" and "long-term" spending, but I'm willing to wait and see if he follows through on his rhetoric. In my mind, deficits are deficits, no matter when you spend the money--continuing to kick the can down the road will do nothing, and words cannot undo the damage of our senators' votes. Few of our senators have shown the will to do the politically unpopular--as has been done throughout Europe in the face of often violent protests--and until they do so, I remain skeptical of any tough talk.

Sen. Warner, if you really believe your words, it's time to start voting "Nay" on spending and/or tax-cut bills that come across your desk. Otherwise, the voters will simply say "Nay" to you in 2014, much as they did to many Congressmen across the country last month. It's time to put up or shut up.


[CNN Money]
[Roanoke Times]

Dear Santa letters

I came across this article last week, and I haven't written about it yet because it's not too fun to think about. But in the holiday season, I think it's always relevant to realize that the holidays can mean vastly different things to different people, depending on their circumstances. So without further ado...
With just nine days to go until Santa shimmies down those chimneys, letters to the big, jolly guy are coming in fast and furious.
But this year, mixed in with the letters asking for toys and video games are an increasing number of requests for warm coats, food and help paying the electric bill to keep the heat on.
"The common theme this year seems to be a single mom with young kids, the parent has left -- they don't know who the father is, or the father left -- and they can't pay the bills," said Pete Fontana, head of the United States Postal Service Operation Santa in New York.
It's Fontana's post office in midtown Manhattan -- right across the street from Penn Station -- where most of the letters to Santa arrive each year from around the world. He's expecting about 2 million letters this year.
Post offices in two dozen other locations across the country also accept letters. Most are addressed simply to "Santa Claus, North Pole."
Though many considered last year to be the toughest financially since the economic downturn began, Fontana said, it appears that more people are struggling this year, judging both from the letters and the decreased number of volunteers who sign up to fulfill some of the writers' wishes.
"We had one little girl write in and say all she wants is a winter coat for her mom. Nothing for herself," he said. "We had another letter for grandparents and they wanted to put a turkey with the trimmings for the holiday dinner ... but they couldn't even get their medicine." 
The USPS reads the letters as part of "Operation Santa", which you can read more about (or participate in) here.

As our unemployment remains stubbornly high, it's only natural that people should be feeling more pain this year than last year. The number of long-term unemployed in our country is distressingly high, and the longer a person remains unemployed the harder it becomes to pay the bills. This is especially true with unemployment benefits expiring for the so-called "99ers", for whom Christmas is undoubtedly a glaring reminder of what they don't have.

I'm not exactly a bleeding-heart liberal, and I don't typically support most outright welfare programs (especially not when our budgetary situation is as dire as it is now), but that doesn't make stories like these any less poignant. Christmas might not officially be the holiday where we give thanks, but it's definitely a time to be grateful for what we do have, whatever that may be.

[ABC News]
(h/t Mish Shedlock)

Monday, December 20, 2010

In case you're not doing anything tonight...

...walk outside and look up.
U.S. skywatchers who stay up late enough and have clear skies can see a total lunar eclipse, a rare event for the winter solstice.
The eclipse, caused by the moon going into the Earth's shadow, will begin at about 12:32 a.m. Tuesday in the Midwest, 1:32 a.m. on the East Coast, and 10:32 p.m. Monday on the West Coast...
The last winter solstice total lunar eclipse visible from the Midwest was in 1638 -- the next one won't be until 2094...
Once in a lifetime kind of stuff out there. Good times.

[Reuters]

Fun with Google's "Reading Level"

Google's latest little feature, the "reading level" filter that allows you to segregate your search results into "Basic", "Intermediate", and "Advanced" pages, has killed a lot of time for me. In case you want to know where my blog stacks up against some of the other news sites and blogs out there, have a look:

 
Wait a minute... Twitter has 1% "Advanced"? What can someone possibly say in 140 characters that could be considered "Advanced"? Oh... cryoballoon ablation treatment... got it.

You can always count on the New York Post...

Maybe they felt that their title of Most Ridiculous Tabloid in the country was threatened by this headline. I don't know. But this is just stunning tone-deafness, even by New York tabloid standards.


No, that's not a joke. That really is the front page of the New York Post. I mean... it's not even that good a pun. If you're going to be "controversial", at least be clever. Clowns.


[Newseum]

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas

The New York Times renewed an old debate over the weekend, citing a recent study that examined whether it is more environmentally friendly to have a real Christmas tree or a fake Christmas tree.
Sales of fake trees are expected to approach 13 million this year, a record, as quality improves and they get more convenient, with features like built-in lights and easy collapsibility. All told, well over 50 million artificial Christmas trees will grace living rooms and dens this season, according to the industry’s main trade group, compared to about 30 million real trees.
Kim Jones, who was shopping for a tree at a Target store in Brooklyn this week, was convinced that she was doing the planet a favor by buying a $200 fake balsam fir made in China instead of buying a carbon-sipping pine that had been cut down for one season’s revelry.
“I’m very environmentally conscious,” Ms. Jones said. “I’ll keep it for 10 years, and that’s 10 trees that won’t be cut down.”
But Ms. Jones and the millions of others buying fake trees might not be doing the environment any favors.
In the most definitive study of the perennial real vs. fake question, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal found that an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually. The calculations included greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources and human health impacts.
“The natural tree is a better option,” said Jean-Sebastien Trudel, founder of the firm, Ellipsos, that released the independent study last year.
Ironic, isn't it?

As usual, I think this is indicative of a broader issue. "Sustainability" has become a common buzzword lately, but it's unclear exactly what that means. Ambiguity is everywhere, and consumers and businesses are often unwilling or unable to consider all of the impacts of their choices.

One striking example is the Toyota Prius, an enduring symbol of sustainable energy usage which, because of the environmental costs of producing and disposing of its battery, is not nearly as "green" as one might think. One study even indicated that the Prius might perversely be more damaging to the environment than the Hummer, that great symbol of energy waste and excess.


Even compact fluorescent light bulbs, which are an absolute slam dunk in terms of energy usage (and materials used because of their long lives) present a huge problem in terms of disposal, because of the small amounts of toxic mercury used in the bulbs.

Furthermore, the recent push towards using ethanol instead of petroleum led to huge spikes in the price of corn, which increased food costs for everyone. How "sustainable" is any policy that makes it more difficult or expensive for the affected individuals to eat?

In the best case, this ambiguity will mean decades of confusion for consumers, governments, and businesses as they try to determine the second- and third-level impacts of their actions and policies. In the worst case, unscrupulous companies could add to the problem by taking advantage of consumers' lack of scientific knowledge to specifically portray a product as environmentally-friendly or "sustainable", when in fact is not.

I'll always remember one particular "sustainability drive" when I was in business school, where well-meaning students and administrators posted large sheets of paper throughout the halls of the school soliciting other students' "ideas for sustainability". The brainstorm was of course a "raise awareness" event whose organizers' hearts were in the right place, but I couldn't help but take out a pen and write "maybe don't waste reams of paper when trying to raise awareness of sustainability".

Sure, I was being a jerk, but I think that instance simply shows the manner and extent to which even well-intentioned companies and individuals can inadvertently cause as much or more harm than they prevent. Don't just assume that something that is portrayed as "green" or "sustainable" actually is; to the extent possible, do your own research and determine for yourself what the ultimate impact is or might be. Relying on other people to tell us what's best is, in essence, unsustainable.


[New York Times]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Update on the HBR

Earlier this week, I wrote a fairly scathing and bitter criticism of Lynn Stout's blog post over at the Harvard Business Review, entitled "How Hedge Funds Create Criminals". This sparked a comment from reader "Joe", which I believe warrants an update on the topic.

It turns out that since my original post here, Ms. Stout made some significant edits to her post, removing much of the semi-slanderous language that I found so offensive. In particular, Ms. Stout's categorical statement that "hedge funds are 'criminogenic' environments that can turn even ethical people into conscienceless sociopaths" was removed almost entirely, as was her suggestion that "a large slice of the hedge fund industry" was behaving illegally.

The new version of her article is (in my opinion) much more fair and balanced, and does a much better job of raising questions without pointing fingers. I think that's important if we're going to have honest and productive discussions as to the future of our economy and investment community.

As in the past, I stand ready to applaud those who either amend decisions that I have criticized, or behave in ways that pleasantly surprise me. If you'd like to read my entire response to the initial comment that brought the edits to my attention, you can do so here.

Thanks, Joe, for your criticism, and for alerting me to the fact that Ms. Stout had changed her story. I might regret some of the bitterness that I displayed in my original post (I was fairly angry), but I stand by my characterization of her initial story as irresponsible. Luckily, this story seems to have a happy (or at least, happier) ending.


[Harvard Business Review]

Worst bowl names in history

To welcome the official start of college football's Bowl Season (BYU-UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl--get fired up!), I decided to throw together a list of the worst bowl names in history. In case you were wondering, yes, this was absolutely inspired by my realization that the innocuously named "St. Petersburg Bowl" had been re-branded with the infinitely more ridiculous "Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl" moniker this year. Good grief.

I won't rank them in any particular order, because really, what's the point?

Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl
The bowl that started it all. In the innocent old days of 1991, when there were a mere 18 bowl games (now a ludicrous 35), most of which borrowed their names from fruits or local references, the Independence Bowl down in Shreveport, Louisiana decided to sell its naming rights to a local outdoor power equipment manufacturer. The name was the subject of frequent ridicule (and still is to this day), but it more importantly sparked a generation of ridiculous bowl game sponsorships. Such as...

Galleryfurniture.com Bowl
Oh boy. Not satisfied with the concept of creating a bowl game with no actual name outside of its corporate sponsor, the fine folks down in Houston decided to throw in the extra wrinkle of promoting the company's website, and not just the company itself. That took bowl sponsorship and naming rights to the next level, sparking copycats like this one, this one, and this one. I'm sure the Gallery Furniture folks sell some fine products, but this bowl wasn't one of them.

Champs Sports Bowl
Not necessarily ridiculous on its own, the Champs Sports Bowl receives extra credit for its naming rights bigamy. Since its founding in 1990, the game has been known as the Sunshine Classic, the Blockbuster Bowl, the Carquest Bowl, the MicronPC Bowl (and the MicronPC.com Bowl), the Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl, the Mazda Tangerine Bowl, and finally the Champs Sports Bowl. That's an impressive body of work, and the bowl is worthy of a mention on that basis alone.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Another new entrant this year, after long-time title sponsor Diamond of California--which had used the names Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl and Emerald Bowl--backed out. To be fair, I feel a little bad about harping on a company (Kraft) for trying to do the right thing by raising awareness about worldwide hunger. But the competitors in this year's inaugural Fight Hunger Bowl are Nevada and Boston College (a school for which I have no love lost), and the initial Las Vegas odds have Nevada as a sizable 9.5-point favorite.

There are probably better ways to fight hunger than to stage a game between two poorly-matched also-ran teams on a Sunday night in January when every sports fan in America will be paying attention to the NFL Playoffs, and not this game. I'll tell you what, Kraft (and the NCAA), I'll do you one better--I'll stage a hunger strike until you give me a real bowl game. Or better yet, a playoff.

(Special thanks to Wikipedia)

When yesterday's heroes become yesterday's news

If you can allow yourself to get past the partisan rhetoric that is embedded in Jon Stewart's latest rant against the Zadroga Bill (a bill that proposes to provide health benefits to 9/11 first responders), what you'll see is a fairly well-reasoned critique of government and the utter absurdity that partisan bickering (and political grandstanding) sometimes creates.

The hypocrisy of passing a massive tax cut (sorry, tax cut extension) bill while sitting on this comparatively small spending bill is baffling, even if we are willing to concede that this is indeed a matter of timing and deadlines, as Senator Thune suggests in the Stewart clip.

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Yes, Stewart is typically sympathetic to the Left at the expense of the Right (this time included), and no, I don't typically share that portion of his views. But he is also one of the more fair journalists that we currently have, which is in all honesty so pathetic that it's almost laughable--Stewart himself once responded to CNN's Tucker Carlson's criticism of his journalistic integrity by saying, "You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls".

It's a fair response, and it makes it only that much more damning that Stewart is indeed one of the few "journalists" left who seems to be willing to investigate and point out when and how the discussion in Washington has veered off the rails.

In this case, Stewart skewers a group of politicians who have spent years spewing fear-mongering rhetoric surrounding terrorism and 9/11 (don't forget the debate over the "Ground Zero Mosque", which Republicans vehemently opposed in the name of honoring the 9/11 victims), only to turn their backs on some of the most central figures of that memorable date, simply because political tides have shifted.

When you try to sit down and make sense of the entirety of the Republican or the Democratic party platforms, and reconcile the often-contradictory stances that each party ends up taking, it's hard to take either side particularly seriously. That's why I identify with neither party, and spend my days hoping and wishing that some day good governance will overtake political wrangling as the order of the day in Washington.


[Washington Post]

New York Times on Ron Paul

There's an interesting article by Floyd Norris in today's New York Times about Ron Paul and his upcoming chairmanship of the House Monetary Policy Subcommittee, which I previously wrote about here. It's an interesting and important read, and I suggest you give it a look if you have the time.

The article does a fantastic job not only of laying out the history of the Fed and its relationship with the Federal Government at large, but also of setting up the imminent debate between Ron Paul and Ben Bernanke. I personally think that this debate/showdown will be one of the most important stories to watch in 2011, as the Fed's seemingly unchecked power comes under ever further scrutiny.
A congressman from Texas, long a dissident critic of the Federal Reserve, is scheduled to become the chairman of a House panel with jurisdiction over the central bank. It promises to be a miserable time for the Fed chairman as he is peppered with hostile questions at oversight hearings and with legislation to force complete audits of Fed operations.
So it is now, with Representative Ron Paul about to take over as chairman of the Domestic Monetary Policy Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee. Mr. Paul campaigned against big banks, arguing that concentrated financial power goes hand in hand with concentrated political power.
If the Fed were abolished, he wrote last year, “the national wealth would no longer be hostage to the whims of a handful of appointed bureaucrats whose interests are equally divided between serving the banking cartel and serving the most powerful politicians in Washington.”
It is not hard to imagine Mr. Paul lecturing the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in a committee room: “You can absolutely veto everything the president does. You have the power to veto what the Congress does, and the fact is that you have done it. You are going too far.”
And so it was back in 1964, when that lecture was actually given by the then-new chairman of the House Banking Committee, a Texas congressman named Wright Patman. As Time magazine then wrote: “For three decades, Wright Patman has fumed and fussed that the Federal Reserve system is too secretive, too independent, too insensitive to the hopes of small borrowers. A sharecropper’s son, he often charges that it is a tool of Wall Street bankers.”
A joke during Mr. Patman’s tenure was that the reason he chose a bright red carpet for his office was to hide the blood stains after William McChesney Martin Jr., then the Fed chairman, emerged from private meetings.
The apparent cyclicality of American history and politics is certainly eye-opening; what's even more notable is that even when faced with certain obvious truths, we can be painlessly slow to do anything about them.

The Fed's power has grown incrementally over a period of decades, so gradually as to be imperceptible to most citizens (especially those who do not pay close attention to finance and the markets). But as is often the case, the public seems to be waking up rather suddenly to the truth of the matter--that the Fed has become significantly more powerful than the elected officials we obsess over daily, without being subject to any of the same Constitutional checks and balances.

Time will tell if the Paul/Bernanke debate creates the lasting change that I believe we need (or at least a wider conversation about the role of the Fed), or if it becomes a mere footnote in American history like the Patman/Martin battle decades ago. It is my sincere hope that the former is the case.


[New York Times]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Clip of the Week

For the second straight week, the Clip of the Week winner is a last-minute entrant. I was all set to post this video of the Metrodome roof collapsing, if only because it's some of the craziest footage I've ever seen (and it made me seriously think twice about whether it was really that good of an idea to go to the Pats-Bears game in the midst of the very same storm...but I digress).

But then I came across this video (h/t Paul Kedrosky), which I just had to post. It's part amazing sports video, part artistic marvel, and just generally an incredibly well-produced and beautiful video. Pretty cool stuff. Oh, and um... don't try this at home.

Why would you ever work for this company?

At the risk of sounding like an entrepreneurial zealot in the wake of yesterday's post, this article from the Daily Mail infuriated/baffled me, and I just had to rant about it (emphasis mine).
Staff at one of the world’s top investment banks have been issued with a 43-page dress code specifying in minute detail what they can and can’t wear – and it’s bad news for fans of tight skirts or lacy black bras.
The guidance from Swiss firm UBS warns women to wear flesh-­coloured underwear, and avoid flashy jewellery and coloured artificial nails. Men are told choose ties with patterns that ‘match the bone structure of the face’.
Under the rules for women, it states: 'You should not wear flashy jewellery or skirts that are too tight behind.
It adds: 'Women should not wear shoes that are too tight-fitting as there is nothing worse than a strained smile... (WTF?!?!??!)
For men it states: 'You should wear a straight-cut two button jacket and trousers that make up part of a classic professional suit.
'Wear only ties that match the bone structure of the face and do not wear socks with cartoon motifs. (NOOOOO DON'T TAKE AWAY MY SCOOBY DOO SOCKS!!)
'Three days of stubble is not permitted and a visit to the barber is recommended once every four weeks.'...
The move is part of a bid to improve the image of UBS, which suffered after it accepted a £37billion bailout – Europe’s biggest – in the 2008 financial crisis...
A UBS spokesman said clients and staff had reacted well to the rules, which are being applied at five offices in Switzerland.
It said in a statement: 'The reputation of UBS makes up our most precious asset.
'So adopting irreproachable behaviour implies having an impeccable presentation.'
As I was reading the article, some of the lines were so ridiculous that I had to assume it was a joke. It is a joke, right? It has to be, right??? It's not.

First of all, why would you ever work for a company that feels the need to issue a 43 PAGE DRESS CODE?? I don't care what you think the value of "image" is, image doesn't make a strong company. Strong products and services do. Dressing incompetent people in nicer clothes DOESN'T ACTUALLY MAKE THEM MORE COMPETENT. If you want to project an image of professionalism and attention to detail, hire professional people who have solid attention to detail--don't hire ignorant slobs and try to dress them in different clothing.

I understand the value of "looking nice", and I appreciate that many places have dress codes (and I abide by them when it is asked of me). Similarly, I think it's too bad that so many people these days seem to think that a t-shirt and jeans is acceptable attire for all situations. While I don't think we should all be wearing sweatshirts to the office, there's a certain point at which things get ridiculous. "Ties that match the bone structure of the face"? What does that even mean?

If UBS and other similar companies started worrying a little less about image and P.R. and a little more about actually running a solid business, maybe we might have a more robust global economy. Why are people so readily willing to sacrifice personal freedoms for a paycheck? I really don't understand it. Please, somebody tell me that this dress code is a joke and that I've been had. Please.


[Daily Mail]


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hooray!

I've been very outspoken here about my belief that the only way out of our current economic morass is by encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit that has historically made America great (and not by propping up our largest corporations and hoping that they start hiring again). In my mind, it's no coincidence that Mark Zuckerberg was named Time's Person of the Year for 2010; if we are to bounce back as an economy, we are going to need many more people with Zuckerberg's entrepreneurial spirit (if not his ethics).

So I cheered this article in the New York Times, which indicated that an increasing number of recent college graduates are turning to entrepreneurial ventures rather than traditional "real job" paths, which have largely been closed off for years now.
Five years ago, after graduating from New York University with a film degree and thousands of dollars in student loans, Scott Gerber moved back in with his parents on Staten Island. He then took out more loans to start a new-media and technology company, but he didn’t have a clear market in mind; the company went belly up in 2006...
Still in debt, Mr. Gerber considered his career options. His mother kept encouraging him to get a “real” job, the kind that comes with an office and a boss. But, using the last $700 in his bank account, he decided to start another company instead.
With the new company, called Sizzle It, Mr. Gerber vowed to find a niche, reduce overhead and generally be more frugal. The company, which specializes in short promotional videos, was profitable the first year, he says.
Mr. Gerber, now 27, isn’t a millionaire, but he’s paid off his loans and doesn’t have to live with his parents (he rents an apartment in Hoboken, N.J.). And he thinks his experience can help other young people who face a daunting unemployment rate.
In October, Mr. Gerber started the Young Entrepreneur Council “to create a shift from a résumé-driven society to one where people create their own jobs,” he says. “The jobs are going to come from the entrepreneurial level.”
The council consists of 80-plus business owners across the country, ages 17 to 33. Members include Scott Becker, 23, co-founder of Invite Media, an advertising technology firm recently acquired by a Google unit; Lauren Berger, 26, founder of the Intern Queen, a site that connects college students with internships; Aaron Patzer, the 30-year-old who sold Mint.com to Intuit for $170 million; and Josh Weinstein, 24, who started CollegeOnly.com, a social networking site that is backed by a PayPal founder.
The council, which has applied for nonprofit status, serves as a help desk and mentoring hotline for individual entrepreneurs. People can also submit questions on subjects like marketing, publicity and technology, and each month a group of council members will answer 30 to 40 of them in business publications like The Wall Street Journal and American Express Open Forum, and on dozens of small business Web sites.
Good. Too many people (myself included at one point) are daunted by the prospect of starting one's own business, overestimating the risks involved and underestimating their own abilities. A vibrant entrepreneurial community is a vital ingredient to making self-employment seem viable as a career choice. Too often, people pass up the opportunity to start their own company in search of a "safe", "real" job.

But all jobs are real (whether you're paid by a company or directly by your customers), and no jobs are safe, as the massive spate of layoffs from 2007-2009 should have taught us. I hope this trend toward entrepreneurship keeps up, because in my mind the companies that will lead us into and through the 21st century are not the names we already know, but the names we haven't yet heard of. That's capitalism at its very best.


[New York Times]