Thursday, December 10, 2009

(Basic) CMS Question

Hi there - posting this question for web guys who know a thing or two about the architecture of Content Management Systems.

Here is what we have to do - we're going to be giving a number of videos with a bunch of different tags (male, football, age range, etc.). When a user signs into our site, we have to match that user's demographic (which we will separate out into tags, so that users will also be tagged) to potential videos' tags so that we can display an appropriate video.

On top of that, we want to rotate videos - if a user's tags matches him/her to 10 potential videos, we want to make sure we're showing him/her something new each time - so we have to keep track of which videos have already viewed (or haven't been viewed).

So yeah, any advice for the best way to design/build this sort of CMS would be great. Thanks all.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Global Warming, Climategate, and Sanity

In the couple weeks since the climate emails leaked, the responses have been fast and furious. Skeptics have pointed to the emails as the smoking gun, the proof of the conspiracy behind global warming. And climate change believers have brushed the emails off as merely the manipulation of a few data points.

(Disclaimer - I like to think of myself as neither a skeptic nor a believer, but simply a logical person. Read on and decide for yourself.)

And by all means, I think this sort of distortion of data and corruption of science is wrong. But what's disappointing, to me, is that emails haven't caused anyone of importance to say the obvious: Climate science is not a science.

Climate science is a manufactured concept to motivate the masses to action because the short-sightedness and selfishness of man keeps him (and her) from realizing the following logical progression:
  1. Humans have done tangible harm to local environments and continue to do so.
  2. We've seen the repercussions of these harms - to name a few: drastically lowered fertility of Midwest soils, mercury poisoning in fish, polluted rivers and ground water supplies, and, most importantly, the fact that our kids will almost certainly never taste the deliciousness of blue fin tuna due to overfishing aka commercial raping of the oceans.
  3. These harms eventually directly impact humans by decreasing the Earth's capability to provide for human survival (each of the above do this to some extent).
  4. There is a link between scale of destruction and magnitude of harms - if the destruction of the environment continues, there will inevitably be global consequences.
  5. And, most importantly - Keeping these bad things from happening requires a reduction in standard of living and a lowering of economic efficiency.
Climate change/CO2 levels is simply the most global and lowest hanging fruit, so it's getting the most attention. There are many more issues that need attention, of course.

Unfortunately, humans are oftentimes too selfish, passive, and short-term thinking to take pro-active action on environmental issues (see: extinction of the American Buffalo, South American rain forest destruction, etc.) and issues in general (national debt, health care, social security, etc.). So those trying to avoid long term, global environmental damage are forced, by an unmotivated public and an opposition so attached to their creature comforts that they cannot accept "better safe than sorry" as a sufficient reason to take action, to wrap their clause in a cloak of science.

So to those who oppose action on environmental issues: It's going to hurt the economy. It's also the right thing to do. Please grow up.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Supernova Application

Yes, I know this blog has been quiet. And this isn't really even a post. I apologize.

However, one of my favorite Wharton profs, Professor Kevin Werbach, just offered free admission and demo space at Supernova (in SF, Dec 1-3), and I figured I'd throw our name in hat.

Athleague is a web start up aimed at amateur sports league and club organization. Our product allows league organizers to seamlessly administrate their sports league (or leagues), with features including online sign ups and payment, scheduling, ref tracking, and real time communication. It's being used at numerous college intramural programs throughout the country, including the Kansas University (20,000 intramural athletes, all organizing their sports life through Athleague), and Boston College (8,000 intramural athletes).

We're branching out from the college intramural space to attack a number of other verticals in the amateur sports space and are currently working with a Fortune 500 sports apparel company to deliver an integrated web experience for amateur athletes never before seen on the web.

Our investors include Jeff Fluhr (Founder/CEO StubHub), Sanjay Mehrotra (Founder/President SanDisk), Alex Doll (Founder/CFO PGP), and Anu Nigam (Founder Hi5). Our board includes Lee Hower (Partner at Point Judith Capital, early employee at, and founding member of LinkedIn). And our engineers are the best of the best - MIT alums, one of whom was a member of the 8 man IdeaLab team that made Picasa.

We're an exciting young start up in a hot space on the internet - using web tools to actively enhance your real, non-web life. Our functionality gives us key insights into the intersection between online and offline user behavior, allowing for new and original marketing opportunities. Hope to see you at SuperNova!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Looking for Web Developers

Athleague is looking for PHP/MySQL developers to add to our team, both in full time or part time capacities. We prefer the Boston area, but most of all we're just looking for quality.

You can email me at rmishra [at] - we'll shell out a $500 for a referral that turns into a full time hire. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Iranian Student Quote

Let me tell you something. For about three decades our nation has been humiliated and insulted by this regime. Now Iranians are united again one more time after 1979 Revolution. We are a peaceful nation. We don’t hate anybody. We want to be an active member of the international community. We don’t want to be isolated. Is this much of a demand for a country with more than 2,500 years of civilization? We don’t deny the Holocaust. We do accept Israel’s rights. And actually, we want — we want severe reform on this structure. This structure is not going to be tolerated by the majority of Iranians. We need severe reform, as much as possible.
- Mohammad, an Iranian Student in Tehran. Quote from a CNN interview with him - full article here. Worth a read.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thoughts on Iran

With the incredible events going on in Iran, I couldn't keep this blog silent. A few thoughts, though I'm woefully incapable of adding anything meaningful (and certainly not unique) to the conversation.

First... incredible, amazing, stunning - words don't do the people of Iran justice. The courage they're showing by stepping out on the streets every day, in the face of arrest, beatings, and death, is truly indescribable. If, by any chance, you've remained out of the loop as to what is going on in Iran, this video will catch you up: (WARNING - this is a very graphic clip of a woman who was killed during one of the demonstrations today). Many have lost their lives, and I fear many more will as well.

On the domestic front, the response to the events have been somewhat disheartening. Obama has, in my mind, played it perfectly, minus his comment about the similarity of Ahmadinejad's and Mousavi's policies. His point was accurate - on the question of nuclear development, the two do have similar stances - but his words were too open ended (they should have left no doubt he meant only in regard to nuclear issues), and the setting of expectations that he wanted to achieve was outweighed by the negative impact of his comment.

More importantly, the Republican (specifically, the neocon) response has been absurd and saddening in that we can't stand as one behind our President, who is clearly doing the right thing. Conservatives from John McCain to the folks at the Weekly Standard have lambasted Obama for not supporting the reformers more explicitly. Why they don't see that this is a dumb strategy that plays right into Ahmadinejad's hands (for heaven's sakes, there are reports that Iranian State TV is playing an Obama clip and then translating it as something like "Obama supports the protests") is beyond me. To maximize the legitimacy of the reform movement, the US needs to have as little a role in it as possible. We're not going to give military support (yet), so vocal support will only serve to embolden the Ayatollah and Iran's establishment.

Past that, it's anyone's guess as to how this is going to play out. I certainly have no clue, but I'll offer a guess - basically, if Mousavi and his legions of supporters can keep the military out of the conflict, I think they have a very good chance of prevailing. At that point, it becomes the Basij (the Ayatollah's millitia) against the protesters. Though the movement is nonviolent, that's a numbers game that the Basij will lose, in that public opinion domestically and worldwide will turn against the Ayatollah to the point where the oppression will have to be stopped (hopefully).

The question is how does a nonviolent movement navigate the endgame of a revolution - it's complex indeed, but part of the answer lies with the military, I think. If the hearts of the soldiers can be turned against the Basij to the point where they are willing to protect the defenseless protesters, the regime can be ousted, perhaps without too much bloodshed.

It's a thought, a hope. We'll see what happens. If anything, one glimmer of hope strikes me from all of this - that the Iranians will provide the blueprint for a new kind of Revolution - a nonviolent revolution. Armed not with guns but the teachings of Gandhi and MLK, change-seekers around the world may have a new rallying cry.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Meditations on Meditations

So I came across a great blog post today - a written account of someone's mind while meditating. If you've ever tried, you know the utter frustration/hilarity of meditation. One person's account of his deviating mind during such a session:

Perhaps the funniest sequence of thoughts:
I have missed my old girlfriend.

I have remembered why I broke up with my old girlfriend.

[...] I can’t date anyone who isn’t a meditator.

Good luck killing the Buddha :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Follow up on last post

Real quick - came across this today:

Apparently we're considering a soda tax. Funny we were just talking about it, and glad that last post generated some interest. I'll try to make the blogging more consistent...

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Musing on Business and Government

Ok, so this is really just a late at night, random musing. Here goes. I'm thinking about some of the inherent clashes between business and government, and how they rear their head in every day life. Specifically, I went to a movie tonight and saw a pretty good Coke commercial - a thirsty boy wandering through dry streets where everything looks like a coke until, finally, he finds a store and buys one.

Coke. Warm and fuzzy polar bear, bringing warm and fuzzy thoughts. Sponsors of all things athletic. All in all, a very positive brand.

And they're killing people. Definitely giving them diabetes, probably, in part, causing the rampant heart disease and cancer in our country. Makes sense, as our bodies weren't really designed for intense sugar shocks and so don't handle a lifetime of them terribly well. This line of thinking applies to McDonald's and countless other products of brands we "cherish" in our society, not even necessarily food/drink-related (haha, this is not a nutrition/organic rant, though I certainly feel the pull to go that way. :) 

I'm also not trying to argue that they should mend their ways. That would be anti-capitalistic, socialist, and a whole lot more labels that we Americans seem to find unsavory (although, is it so bad to strive for a society where corporations think about the bigger picture?). 

No, my sights are merely set on justice. If someone wants to kill themselves with soda or cigarettes, they should be able to. The difference between those two things is that cigarettes have a warning label, and soda doesn't. There is a cost to Coke's product that isn't covered in the price tag, a risk that a Coke consumer takes, willingly or unwillingly. If people knew, really knew, how bad soda is for you, they wouldn't drink it nearly as often as they do. As it stands today, it usually takes a loved one getting diabetes to remind us of this fact.

So how to right this wrong? Throw a warning label on, right?

And that's how I got to musing on business and government. As I'm sure you've realized, the government isn't throwing a label on soda anytime soon. The killer profits these companies make go not only towards making warm and fuzzy commercials (so we think they're warm and fuzzy companies), but also to lobbying the hell out of the government and making sure, among other things, labels don't get put on soda.

But the problem runs deeper. If there is a cost that's not on the price tag, who's paying it? Well, the consumer for one - they have to live with these diseases. But who pays for their treatment? Sure, insurance companies and the private sector, to some degree, but with corn subsidies making soda is cheaper than water, the diseases from drinking (way) too much soda are disproportionately skewed to those with lower incomes, who probably don't have insurance and might end up hitting the emergency room or other public health facilities. Yes, there is some assuming and hand waving going on, but it's not a stretch to say that, in the long run, we, the people, end up paying the health costs for some consumers of these companies' products.

So what can we do? Ideally, we'd say we need better leaders, people who ensure the lobbyists don't get in the way of the government serving the people. But let's be honest - that's not reality, and companies with power are always going to lobby and do shady things.

So, after kicking around a couple approaches in my head (morality, government theory, haha neither of which I know much of), I think I want to approach this from a standpoint of economics - essentially, how would we change the current incentive structure to straighten out this situation. Today, the sole interest of the company is to make money and continue making money, driving it to lobby to keep their cash flows unaffected (at the expense of the health and pockets of the nation). We can change this one of two ways - we can either add a monetary incentive for the soda company to consider these societal costs (i.e. give them a subsidy for putting the warning label on their product and perhaps for diversifying to more healthy options) or change the structure of business such that there is a way to incorporate the considering of societal costs into the overall running of the business (an extreme example - the government will shut you down if your product screws people).

To compound issues, down each path lies an unspeakable evil (as we see it) - socialism in the former sense (govt controlling the business landscape) and nationalization in the latter (direct govt control of business). Despite my sarcasm, those who blanket condemn socialism and nationalization of business do have one point (albeit overused) - the consolidation of power that results leaves the system open for corruption - absolute power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In this case, the corruption could just move to those people who decide what harms society (for example, what is "healthy").

And yet the status quo is clearly flawed. What to do? Is today's situation merely the least of all evils? What type of system can we design to rid us of the Coke and McDonald's problem?

I haven't the foggiest, but the one thing that stands out to me is the importance of transparency and information. Perhaps all we can do is strive for a system where things are in the open as much as possible, and where the availability (and, for lack of a better word, in-your-face-ness) of information takes precedence over corporate concerns.

A system that encourages warning labels on Coke cans (and Big Macs:)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Thoughts from Coachella

So I just got back from Coachella and figured I'd share some thoughts and bands that appealed to me. Plus, enough of you asked that I figured it'd be easier to write it down once. If nothing else, be sure to read about and listen to the last 3 bands on this post. Without further ado...

First off, some bands that stuck out to me...

The Ting Tings - UK rock band. They put on a great show and are a solid band. Lead singer Katie White really stole the show and worked the crowd. That's Not My Name is their hit song, and it's quite good, as are they.

MIA - put on a great show, as usual. Also notable for an interesting introduction featuring a montage of people holding up signs saying "MIA supports terrorism" and such, a reference to MIA's Sri Lankan roots. Her background really come through in her work. For good measure (and in honor of the holiday) a link to that one song she does...

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - a close friend called them the best female-led rock group today, and they lived up to that assessment. Katie O (their lead) was charming and spunky, in-your-face yet the girl next door. (Yes, I have a bit of a crush on her. Judging by the Borat-themed "Hot!" some dude next to yelled, I'm not the only one.) My favorite song is Heads Will Roll, but others might disagree.

Paul McCartney - showed up, started with some solid solo tunes, rocked out the last half of the set with classic Beatles, including Blackbird, Let It Be, Drive My Car, A Day in the Life, Something (played acoustic on a ukulele given to him by George), and Hey Jude. People sang, danced, and cried over his awesomeness. There was much peace and love.

The Killers - amazing band and an even more amazing set. Being the headline on Saturday night, they were the biggest act and didn't disappoint. I managed to get less than 50 feet from the front, and it was an experience to remember. From the opener (Human) all the way to the encore, it was difficult to tell whether we were, in fact, humans or dancers (yes, I know that was an awful pun). Seriously, though, it was one of the best music experiences of my life, and I'd strongly recommend seeing them if you have the chance.

Finally, the 3 bands I most want to shout from the rooftops about...

Tinawiren - first off, they have one of the most amazing and inspirational stories out there. In short, they are Tuareg (a nomadic people from western Africa), and their music speaks to the Tuareg movement for indepenence from Mali. Their sound is melodic rather than harmonic (a bit like Indian music) and their music is in French and Tamashek, so it's tougher than Western music to embrace immediately. Once you do, though, you're in for a treat. Their story, music, and spirit combined in a way that I can't quite put into words. Check them out.

Fleet Foxes - as they are a folksy band (they describe themselves as "baroque harmonic pop jams"), I wasn't expecting anything mindblowing from them going in. To be sure, I love their songs and think they have one of the most unique sounds out there - simple yet sufficiently complex music with very tight vocal harmonies (a bit like Simon and Garfunkel, actually). And to this end, they delivered with songs like White Winter Hymnal. What blew me away, though, was their (potential) diversity of sound. Much of their current stuff is like White Winter Hymnal, slow and great sounding, but they really rocked out on a few tunes, and they did it in their own way. Ultimately, they are able to maintain their sound regardless of the genre of music they're doing (sort of like how Coldplay or U2 have that same it in all their songs - slow, fast, rock anthem, or love ballad). They're already a great band, but if they explore with their music and push the envelope, I think they could be huge.

K'Naan - I'll go with what my buddy said about this guy - "It would have been worth the 500 mile drive to see just him." Like Tinawiren, K'Naan's story is ridiculously awesome and inspirational. Born in Somalia, he braved Mogadishu before making it to America and then Canada, where he taught himself English and eventually got into hip hop and spoken word.

I really can't say enough about this guy. First and foremost, he is pure genius. His lyrics are in the vein of Tupac and Lupe - meaningful and often poignant, and his wordplay and flow are out of this world. I'll post more of his spoken word when I can, but he did a couple peices at Coachella. I couldn't find my favorite of the two, but here is one (it's the lyrics to Somalia, which is also one of his songs). Secondly, he's extremely gifted musically - he can sing and rap, and he even rocks out on songs like If Rap Gets Jealous and Bang Bang. Third, he's on a mission. He has seen things most of us can hardly imagine, and he wants to share them with the world. He is extremely intelligent and socially conscious, and he knows how to use his music to convey a point and open eyes, both emotionally and rationally. He could really do some great things...

Oh, and I couldn't forget - one of his best songs: Wavin' Flag. Enjoy.

A closing thought (or rather, incoherent rambling) for me was the role of music in defining and shaping cultural memes. Music has always brought people together (and it was great seeing this in its literal form this past weekend, with 18,000 camping out at the 3 day festival, not to mention those who came to the festival just during the days), but it's mostly stayed out of politics and society in the mainstream as of today.

I wonder if that's about to change. Music can be a glue in the building of social movements and has done so in the past (the 60s being the most salient example). As society continues to open its eyes to the major issues our planet is facing (sustainability, war, etc.), music may well play a powerful role in speeding that process along. For example, it's impossible to listen to K'Naan and not be moved to think more deeply about what's going on in Somalia. If other artists start to take it on themselves to give voice to the unheard or to society's overlooked ills, it will be interesting to see what comes of it...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In defense of pirates

Wanted to pass along a great article I came across about the Somali pirates that are heavily in the news. People tend to to antagonize the pirates (and I'm in no way condoning hijacking ships, taking hostages, etc.), but it's important to see things from their point of view...

Blog back online

Due to some domain issues I overlooked, my blog has been offline recently. However, it's back now, both at and Posts are on their way - enjoy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Start your own Athleague Network

We're proud to announce that Athleague has now opened it's doors so that anyone can start their own Athleague network to run a sports league or team, or even organize a pick up game. You'll have your own URL and be Master of your (Athleague) Domain! (Yeah, we love Seinfeld. What can you say.)

You can sign up at by clicking Start a Network, or you can just click here. Be sure to designate the network as "Private" unless you're starting one for an intramural program at a university.

So sign up, explore, and let us know what you think. We're going to be adding tons of functionality over the next few months. For example, right now, you'll have to organize a team to get a pick up game together (have the members join the team and then plan the pick up game as an event), but we're working on making pick up games independent.

And we really want to hear from you. Be sure to give us feedback and let us know what you think. The changes you want to see will be the changes we make. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why Yahoo! Sucks

I'm looking for the full text of Obama's inauguration speech (to reference a line out of it), so I google it. The top link is a Yahoo news story that claims to have the full text. I click on it, and it's a dead link. Ok, I guess that happens from time to time.

Then, beneath the Yahoo 404 message, it offers Yahoo search results for my google search phrase (obama inauguration speech full text). Again, the top link is a Yahoo news story claiming to have the full text (though a different URL than the Google result). Again, it's a dead link.

So... this Yahoo news page is down (and has been for a while, I think), but even Yahoo's own search results haven't updated and continue to send me to a bad page. Perhaps this isn't so bad, but for some reason I don't seem to ever have ran into this problem with Google...

PS - random issue encountered while typing this post: Do you capitalize the "G" in Google when you're using it as a verb? As a noun, I see the need for capitalization. As an adjective as well. But for a verb, I'm thinking no... (wow, I must be tired...)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quick thoughts on Slumdog Millionaire

Wow. Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Oscars tonight, including Best Picture.

I think it's a great development for movies as a whole, even though I'm not entirely sure it was literally the Best Picture. As films go, I thought Dark Knight and Wall-E were better, and I haven't even see Benjamin Button, Milk, and a few others yet.

But, at a larger level, I think it deserved the award (and all the others it got) because it pushed the envelope and hopefully has ushered in a new era in film-making. It proved that America has an appetite and curiosity for cultures other than it's own. While other movies have been based in foreign countries, Slumdog truly broke ground by focusing so intimately on a way of life that is so different from that which we have here in America. And what's more is that Americans were genuinely interested. The movie became a hit not because it was that well made (some plot elements were sketchy) or had fantastic acting (I'm sure I wasn't the only one to get some cheesy Hindi movie vibes) but because it brought to life a culture and people in a way that fascinated viewers but also allowed them to relate to it at some level.

Aside from the pride of seeing a movie from the land of my birth attract such a wide following and critical acclaim, Slumdog appealed to me most for this very reason. Each culture is to be celebrated, and I really hope Slumdog's success encourages a more international and eclectic side of Hollywood. Perhaps it's naive or premature, but I honestly believe the movie could mark a turning point in the types of movies that get green lit, and we could see an increased number of foreign culture-focused films come out of Tinseltown.

The American people, it seems, are perhaps not as shallow and self-centered as pop culture might have you believe...

(As always with this blog, and especially now that I'm venturing to realms about which I honestly have no clue, you probably want to take the above with a huge grain of salt. I watch about 5 movies a year. It just strikes me as ridiculous/awesome that a movie so about India won so many Oscars and has gotten so much national attention. Americans seem to be fascinated with Indian people (makes sense, we're sort of awesome), but I think/hope it also reflects a larger fascination with the world as a whole...)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why we don't stand a chance (a food post)

I thought I'd break up the depressing economic/political commentary with a random moment of insight (or madness) about food. I ventured to the kitchen for a snack recently and, lo and behold, there was a box of Wheat Thins on the counter. Despite knowing to avoid packaged food and yearning for some delicious Indian food (dahl and chaval (lentil soup and rice)), I couldn't help myself, and snagged a couple while checking out the box.

A few things popped out. The marketing on the package screamed "HEALTHY" - they were trying to do everything they could to convince the consumer that this product did the body good. The Wheat Thins bragged about having "low fat" and was covered in little wheat symbols and such. Of course, quick turn to the nutrition facts showed that, despite it's relatively low fat, it had huge amounts of sodium (11% of your daily value in one serving).

As a side note, to channel a little Michael Pollan, that's the secret of packaged food - it hits you with abnormally high concentrations of fats, sodium, and/or sugar (those far, far higher than any food found in nature). That's it. Nearly every single packaged food is basically a carrier for one or more of those macronutrients. It doesn't matter how "healthy" the product says it is, or whatever cool marketing it has on it. Just fat, sugar, and/or sodium (or maybe one of those cancer-causing fake sugars).

But it just tastes good. Or, rather, the instant it hits your tongue, the chemicals that go surging through your brain feel awesome for a split second. Because in reality, it doesn't taste good at all - go try and taste whatever packaged food is lying in your kitchen. Try to savor the thing the entire time it's in your mouth. It's impossible - at some point, the "food" becomes a sort of cardboard-textured mess. Compare this to fruit or veggies, or any home-cooked meal - stuff that has flavor, texture, and true taste. There really is no comparison - seriously, try the experiment.

And this is why we don't stand a chance. I know this (and I've probably pissed off friends and family by belaboring the point since reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma last summer), and I still couldn't help myself.

The companies that make our food have intimate knowledge of our evolutionary response system, and leverage it to make food that they know will release a flood of "reward" chemicals in our brain and keep us coming back for more. To top it off, their food can brag about things like "low fat," "low sugar," "antioxidants," and "omega 3 fatty acids" while the spinach (very low fat), banana (very low, and natural, sugar), pomegranate (full of antioxidants), and avocado (deliciously filled with omega 3s) must remain silent, unable to make a case for being purchased.

And they wonder why we're the most unhealthy nation on the planet...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Market Reaction

Just a quick note, but, wow, the market really hated Geithner's financial rescue plan. I really liked what Obama had to say yesterday about the stimulus (we should be investing in projects that will save us money and reap rewards down the road), but I have to side with the market on this one - Geithner's plan doesn't cut it.

Bottom line is that most US banks today are probably insolvent. I think he failed to articulate a clear strategy to turn this around (though the public-private partnership to public toxic assets might be a start), and he completely missed the notion of holding people responsible and investigating the fraud that occurred. And the latter point is important not because of vengeance but rather trust - ultimately, his plan does not address the root of the problem, which is a completely lack of faith in US markets.

Also, here is a very interesting article in the Times chronicling what apparently was the internal debate on the stimulus. I'm disappointed to see the exec compensation limitations largely left out...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Changes (and hey Stu)

After my last post, a good friend from college, Stu Stein, sent me a great one line email:
Dude, come back to your Whartonian roots. You've been spending too much time in Berkeley.
I reread my last post and laughed to myself. He's probably right. (Although, in my defense, Berkeley is great.)

Really, I'm not sure what to say. Times change, people change. For starters, I'm not sure I ever was much of a "Whartonian" in the first place - those of you who were there probably remember my rants on Wharton's culture or my stubborn desire to only wear sweats to class (mostly for comfort, but also as a metaphorical finger to all the kids who took themselves way too seriously:).

But Stu is right about one thing: I've shed much of my ideological support for capitalism.

Don't get me wrong - I am an entrepreneur, first and foremost (at least as professions go). And entrepreneurship needs capitalism, at some level.

But, ultimately, there needs to be a better check on two innate human flaws - short term thinking and greed. For all its merits, capitalism often encourages the former and always relies on the latter. Now, this is often a good thing, as pointed out by Milton Friedman in this must-watch for capitalism haters.

His point is simple - greed will exist regardless of the system in place, and capitalism is the best way to harness this greed to produce positive outcomes for society. However, he discounts one aspect of the situation, on which I'll base my argument against capitalism as we practice it: culture.

Basically, our culture in American has spiraled out of control. While greed is a fine driver for enterprise, when left unchecked, it can have disastrous consequences. And we encourage it, deifying the rich and famous, so much so that much of our population, particularly those at the top, the ones throwing around the kind of money and making the kind of decisions that can bring our economy to its knees, base their self-worth on their bank accounts.

Wow, this totally turned into a rant on materialism. Didn't intend for that to happen. But what are you going to do - it's true, and it's the root of our country's problem. Maybe I've changed and now I can see it, maybe it's always been there. Who knows.

And then the more important question - what do we do? How do you change culture? Because as long as we glorify extravagance and excessive opulence, our problems will continue, in one form or another. Clearly you can't solve the problem in one fell swoop, but if we had a society that shamed the bankers, regulators, and other perpetrators of the fraud and greed that led us here - truly put them to public shame - we'd be in better shape. If we didn't feel the need to buy another car, house, or flat screen TVs so intensely that we were willing to take out debt to do so, we probably wouldn't be here.

In short, we need a cultural force more powerful than capitalism to keep capitalism in check. Religion is the only one that comes to mind. But, of course, that brings us Nietzsche, and I'll leave you with his most famous words...
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?
ps - for the record, I'm very agnostic and identify more with a godless religion (Buddhism) than any other. but the quote certainly frames our society from an interesting perspective.
pps - hey stu. having fun selling out in new york? :P

Friday, January 30, 2009

How do we keep this from happening again?

It's becoming increasingly clear that the banking sector, in particular, has messed up a lot of stuff. Yesterday, Senator Claire McCaskill introduced legislation to keep Wall Street salaries from being no higher than what the President makes ($400,000). While that's a good start, there is a deeper issue at play here: the long term effects of the crisis on business decisions.

Over the course of this crisis, it's become clear that poor, greedy decisions on the part of few have had dire consequences for the rest of the economy. Agents and tellers loaned money to people that weren't likely to pay it back, brokers mislabeled the risk of the packages of these loans, and executives and accountants hid (and continue to hide) the true nature of the losses their companies suffered.

Quite simply, these people screwed up, and now it is much worse than it otherwise would have been, for all of us. And yet, these same people, who - more than anyone else - caused this mess, are not only getting off scot-free, but they're also getting bonuses or, even if they lose their jobs, fat severance packages.

Yes, this is bad, and we're all getting pissed off, but the bigger issue that's been bothering me lately is the precedent that our actions will set for future executives and decision-makers. If we are too lax, we run the risk of encouraging corporate irresponsibility; if we're too harsh, we violate civil rights.

The problem is indeed quite complex. My knee-jerk reaction, and what I consider to be the most "fair" solution, is to have the people who are at fault pay for this, literally. I mean, we know who they are, we have a documented history of what they've done. At best, we could go through and "assign" an amount for each person to pay back - lowly loans salesmen would foot a small amount, complicit money managers a little more, and executives would be forced to pay back a significant portion of their salaries and bonuses that let them pocket the false wealth that they created.

Of course, such an action is impossible - it violates a number of civil liberties and sets a potentially dangerous precedent for government interference in the market (though it's the former that is probably the overriding reason at this point).

How about something a little more realistic? If we focus on the executives, we could make an example out of the heads of the companies, deterring future executives from allowing these practices to exist within their organization. This would be a powerful deterrent, but again the approach runs the risk of infringing on civil liberties.

But if we don't do something (and something significant), we'll create a larger problem for ourselves. There needs to be some sort of justice, to punish these men and women and ensure future citizens know that corruption, greed, and incompetence at these levels (which have the ability to bring our economy to its knees) will not be tolerated.

Yes, our crisis has been of many causes, many of which are above my head. But there is a clear line that has been crossed, and we must ensure the line is not crossed again (or at least give people a reason not to cross it).

It'll be interesting to see how the government handles this. And, as a side note, it'd be great if Obama said tomorrow that he'd be forgoing his $400,000 salary and encourage others within the government to do so as well if they have the means...

(Too bad none of this will likely happen, and the criminals who played a part is causing this crisis will probably go unpunished...)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Black Swan

Or, rather, a black Cardinal. To fill you in, the Atlanta Falcons are playing the Arizona Cardinals in the wild card around of the playoffs. All week, the pundits gave the Cardinals very little chance. According to them, the Cardinals just didn't have the talent - specifically in both aspects of the run game - to keep up with the Falcons. Though there was only a 2 point line, most "experts" picked the Falcons, and even more agreed that the Cardinals would have a tough time running the ball or stopping the run.

The second quarter just started, but so far, in case you haven't noticed, the Falcons are playing outside their mind. Specifically, the Cardinals are running the ball at will, with Edgerrin James tearing it up. On the flip side, the Falcons are having very little success running the football, and the Cardinals' defense is simply stuffing them.

How could so many people, who supposedly know so much, be so wrong about the way that this match up (especially the running match up) would play out?

Cool sports example of the type of prediction bias (or, rather, our inability to make even reasonably accurate predictions) that Taleb makes a focus in Black Swan. Very interesting to see it so plainly in something I follow.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Facebook publishing error

And now a completely mundane post/question. I have my blog synced with my Facebook account, so blog posts get imported as Notes on Facebook. However, new versions of posts don't get updated - basically, if I post once, then edit and re-post, Facebook still shows the old version. I usually hit post without any sort of editing (as I did with my last post) and sometimes add information later, so this error is sort of annoying. Anyone know how to fix it (or if I'm doing something wrong)?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hello 2009

I've forgotten about this blog a bit recently, but reconnecting with an old friend yesterday made me remember that you never know who is reading. I met up with a high school classmate of mine who moved back to Germany after sophomore year, and he mentioned that he's perused my blog once or twice over the years.

So anyway, in honor of that and the new year, I decided to chronicle some of the obscure thoughts and random reflections floating around my head as we journey into 2009. For starters, I don't think I've entered a new year in a world as scary/crazy as today's. A global economy in crisis, heightened tensions in the Middle East and South Asia, rampant corruption as our nation further swamps itself in debt, unemployed friends and family. The list really doesn't end.

And yet, personally, I'm not feeling the same sense of dread that has accompanied my musings the past few months. I can tell my outlook has been buoyed by a myriad of factors - the sounds of the Beatles (Love, their remastered/remixed album has been a recent favorite), the Who, Ratatat, and others (not to mention a rousing car ride rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody this afternoon); the thoughts of Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Black Swan; the return of old friends to the Bay Area for the holidays (and an amazing trip to Miami to see a bunch of family); and, perhaps above all, the best sandwich I've ever had to top off a great New Year's Day brunch (the Chicken Apple with avocado at the Brickhouse in SF at 3rd and Brennan).

Or perhaps, as our new President might say - hope springs eternal.

And that said, I'm still pretty pessimistic in terms of what's going to happen (I guess I'm just more ok with it now - it'll be quite a ride no matter what). Keeping in mind that I'm an idiot and don't know anything (and that, as Taleb says, we suck at this sort of stuff), I'm going to throw a few predictions out there.

I think we're going to see a few "Black Swans" in 2009 - things no one saw coming. Ultimately, who really knows, and it's these events that will likely shape this year the most. But I wouldn't be surprised by a few things. Economically, I think the carnage will continue - unemployment might hit 8% (or even 10%). I could see the Dow dropping below 5,000, and it's possible the currency manipulation that has gone on in Asian countries could produce some negative consequences.

Generally speaking, I wonder if 2009 will be the year we're forced to reap what we sowed with our national debt. For years now, debt growth has outpaced GDP growth - we're not producing more, but we're consuming more. This inherently unsustainable house of cards will come down one of two ways - card by card (preferable) or in one fell swoop. The geopolitical unstability that will result from the latter scares the hell out of me.

Geopolitically, though I definitely share some WW3 fears, I think we'll be ok - Obama should pull us through. What really worries me is that, domestically, Obama won't be the savior we all see him as - or, rather, that external circumstances will cause him to underachieve. Right now, I feel the hope of Obama is holding us together, to some extent. Some people are bound to be underwhelmed by his presidency, but if he loses some critical mass of this support - if enough people lose hope, so to speak - we could be in trouble. I fear there could be a level of the bottom falling out (economically, politically, etc.) that will get really, really ugly.

As for me, the new year comes with renewed optimism on my current venture, Athleague, as well as other things I have brewing. Not sure where the year will take me, but it'll certainly be fun. Haven't thought resolutions through, but this could be a quick list: start taking yoga classes (Stanford, 8am, thursdays, if anyone is interested) and be sure to meditate 4 times a week, stop late night fast food runs (fruit from a grocery store is such a better idea:), and probably a few others (perhaps I'll dedicated a post to resolutions in the coming days).

Most importantly, I'd like to wish you, family, friend, or random denizen of these crazy interwebs, all the best in the new year. Enjoy the highs and learn from the lows, and if things get darker (as they very well may), just breathe. Thanks for reading, and good luck.