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Archived Posts for November 2010

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Nov 10


O. M. G.   סּ_סּ

More here.

  11:31pm  •  Sports  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Nov 10

  stuloh Information overload, the early years (Boston Globe) http://post.ly/1Gh81

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  stuloh Not Everybody Can Be Bill Gates (Slate) http://post.ly/1Ggrd

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  stuloh On the wings of angels (SF Mag) http://post.ly/1GdCD

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Nov 10

Can a driving simulator champion do the real thing?

Greger Hutu is a master of iRacing – a physically realistic driving simulator with physically accurate cars on physically accurate tracks. How would Greger perform then, if he was placed into a real race car and sent around a track which he has been around virtually hundreds of times before… but never for real? Top Gear Magazine reports:

On a normal Thursday, Greger Huttu sits in the blue glow of a computer screen, in his bedroom in the teeny town of Vaasa on the west coast of Finland. In the afternoons, he joins his fisherman father to land a catch of perch netted from Arctic waters. But not today. Instead, he’s wedged into the cockpit of a single-seater race car, in the boiling heat of Road Atlanta raceway, Georgia. He’s never driven anything like this before – his regular drive is an old Ford Sierra – yet an empty track awaits him, a full race team is at his service and he has full permission to drive as fast as he pleases.

  6:46pm  •  Sports  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Cablegate has broken

The first batch of Cablegate cables has been posted to Wikileaks. NY Times reports:

A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

Here is example of one leaked dispatch, entitled “A Caucasus Wedding” (which the Times refers to at the end of the above article). It’s fascinating:

After the fireworks, the musicians struck up the lezginka in the courtyard and a group of two girls and three boys — one no more than six years old — performed gymnastic versions of the dance. First Gadzhi joined them and then Ramzan, who danced clumsily with his gold-plated automatic
stuck down in the back of his jeans (a houseguest later pointed out that the gold housing eliminated any practical use of the gun, but smirked that Ramzan probably couldn’t fire it anyway). Both Gadzhi and Ramzan showered the dancing children with hundred dollar bills; the dancers probably picked upwards of USD 5000 off the cobblestones. Gadzhi told us later that Ramzan had brought the happy couple “a five kilo lump of gold” as his wedding present. After the dancing and a quick tour of the premises, Ramzan and his army drove off back to Chechnya. We asked why Ramzan did not spend the
night in Makhachkala, and were told, “Ramzan never spends the night anywhere.”

Here is the NY Times’ justification for publishing reports about this data. On the other hand, I think that the ethical and other grounds that Wikileaks stands on are far more questionable.

  5:37pm  •  Current Affairs  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh Former Justice John Paul Stevens Criticizes Death Penalty (NY Times) http://post.ly/1GHxX

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  stuloh A Dying Banker’s Last Financial Instructions (NY Times) http://post.ly/1GHwf

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Nov 10

  stuloh Private equity in China: Barbarians in love (Economist) http://post.ly/1Ft6k

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Nov 10

Australia vs West Indies ODI, 1996

The first match of the Ashes is in swing, so I was idly browsing through some cricket stats. Everyone knows that Don Bradman’s 99.94 test batting average was multiple standard deviations away from the next highest (less than 61). But lesser known is that Michael Bevan’s ODI average stands apart from the rest of the crowd as well – not as far away as Bradman, but there’s still an obvious gap:

Bevan was a terrific ODI batsman – he was normally a mid-order batsman, and helped to prevent the tail from folding too quickly after the top-order batsman were long gone. He had a really good strike rate as well. This reminded me of an absolute classic, nailbiter of a match I watched when I was young – back in 1996. Australia was playing the Windies at the SCG. The Windies made 173 in an innings shortened by rain. When Australia went into bat, they were immediately in trouble, collapsing to 6 for 38. On came Bevan, and two and a half hours later, Australia was 9 wickets down, 1 ball to play, with a 4 needed to win the match, and Bevan on strike.

I managed to find an old highlight clip of the match online, and this is what happened:

  11:41pm  •  Sports  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

The CEO Whisperer

Stephen Miles is a CEO coach. He works with CEOs of very large multinationals, such as Marius Kloppers (BHP), interviewing them rigorously and providing them feedback and leadership advice:

Miles may not enjoy such biographical scrutiny, but it is the method he uses with his CEO clients. "Our first encounter was three hours," says New York Life CEO Theodore Mathas, "and I think we got up to when I was in the seventh grade. He asked questions like ‘Did you get your homework done?’ and ‘Did you spend more time with your mom or your dad?’ It was a little unusual." Miles says his goal is to understand what shaped the executives as human beings. "I care less about what they think than what they have done." Says Mathas: "He made me feel comfortable, but it was clear he wasn’t there to be my friend."

A side effect of his job is that he travels a lot.

Miles seems to live for his clients, even those he sees in person only once a quarter, with phone and e-mail contact in between. "He has this capacity to stay in touch and be available, wherever he is in the world," says Foster’s Crawford. "I just hope he doesn’t get overworked."

It’s a reasonable concern. Technically, Miles lives in Atlanta with his wife, Kelly, whom he met while in college. She started her career as a case-management officer at Kingston’s Prison for Women and now works as an associate principal in Heidrick’s leadership-consulting practice. They don’t see each other very much, however. In the tradition of the famously mobile management guru Ram Charan, who for years had no fixed address, Miles spends almost all of his time on the road, half outside the U.S. He has earned top-tier status from three separate frequent-flyer programs. (Even the jet-setting corporate downsizer George Clooney played in Up in the Air can’t match that.) To sustain their marriage, it helps that the Mileses have no children and Kelly endorses her husband’s travel needs. "We build in long weekends," he says.

  9:58am  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Nov 10

  stuloh Olga Kotelko, the 91-Year-Old Track Star (NY Times) http://post.ly/1Faay

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Nov 10

  stuloh Looks like NBN's on the way... http://bit.ly/hMltli

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  stuloh Brrr...

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Nov 10

The real reason why merchants use Groupon

If you haven’t heard of Groupon, it’s a site which emails users an offer each day. The offers provide deep discounts (around 50%) on all manner of things – meals, consumer products, services, and so on – based on the premise that there’s power in group buying.

This premise would intuitively lead you to believe that Groupon can get these discounts because it’s able to buy in bulk. The upside for the merchant is they get a guaranteed chunk of revenue, and also introduce new customers to their business. However, when you think about it a bit more, you start to wonder how merchants can make any money when they discount their goods by 60%. Surely, their margins can’t be that high? And then you have to factor in Groupon’s cut – which has to be significant for it to earn its multi-billion dollar valuation.

It turns out that Groupon actually splits the sales revenue 50:50, which means that merchants cop a markdown on their goods or services of about 80%. There are very few businesses in the world – especially when it comes to consumer goods – that have that kind of margin, so the conclusion is that the merchants lose money. Why do they do it?

You see, for the merchants, it’s not about making a profit on these deals. For merchants, the value proposition is advertising. Groupon is a marketing channel for merchants, not a sales channel.

This post on NY Times’ blog does a great breakdown of all the factors weighing into whether it makes financial sense for a merchant to use Groupon:

There are eight key calculations you need to consider to determine whether this is a better advertising vehicle than something else you may already be doing:

1. Your incremental cost of sales — that is, the actual cost percentage for a new customer. If you are giving boat tours and have empty seats, your incremental costs for an additional customer are next to nothing. If you are selling clothes, your incremental costs might be 50 percent of the sale price. Food might be 40 percent. In any case, don’t include fixed costs that you would be incurring any way.

2. The amount of the average sale. If the coupon is for $75, will the customers spend more that that? I have seen more than one retailer complain that nobody spends more than the value of the coupon. That’s unlikely but I am sure it can feel that way, and that is my point: Keep track.

3. Redemption percentage. You don’t really know until the end, but from my experience and from what I have heard, 85 percent is a good guess.

4. Percentage of your coupon users who are already your customers. I’m sure this number varies tremendously depending on the size of your city, how long you have been around, and the type of business.

5. How many coupons does each customer buy? (The more they buy, the fewer people are exposed to your product or service.)

6. What percentage of coupon customers will turn into regular customers? Again, it can seem as if they are all bargain shoppers who will never return without a discount, but that’s almost impossible. Is it possible 90 percent won’t return? Sure.

7. What is the advertising value of having your business promoted to 900,000 people — that’s the number on Groupon’s Chicago list — even if they don’t buy a coupon?

8. How much does it normally cost you to acquire a customer through advertising? Everything is relative.

  8:52pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Legal industry notes

LawRiot’s notes from the 2010 National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Convention:

On Hiring, Reading Your Resume:
(1) Where you went to law school matters most
(2) Then they look to where you went for undergrad, any other grad degrees
(3) Then they look at your grades and activities (don’t bother writing Moot Court if you didn’t win any external competitions, it carries little weight without some standardized method of ranking)
(4) Then they look at experience, especially technical experience if patent-related position sought

It’s troublingly fascinating that the brand name of not only your law school, but also your undergrad school, appear to outrank how well you actually did at law school when lawyers consider who to hire.

Biglaw bonus season has started, and with Cravath having announced yesterday (and Skadden having matched today), it will be as anemic as last year. Which can only be an almighty kick in the face for those that billed in the high 2000s (or more), because profit per partner figures are expected to rise from the nadir of 2009 and bonus compensation at most biglaw firms is lock-step.

  8:08pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh Hacker’s Guide to Tea (World of Tea) http://post.ly/1EyiM

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Nov 10

Three moving capos

Trace Bundy plays a song on his acoustic guitar with three moving capos:

See also this song, where he uses 5 capos. And here’s a clip of him playing Pach’s Canon with Korean wunderkind Sungha Jung.

  10:53pm  •  Music  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

Another TSA backscatter machine story

This story’s a good one. The TSA is making US citizens pass through the backscatter machine on re-entry into their own country. Obviously the TSA didn’t think this through thoroughly enough. You can’t deny a citizen re-entry into his or her own country, which means you can’t really deny them re-entry if they don’t step through the machine. Otherwise you’re looking at false imprisonment. The most the cops can do is arrest someone for walking through without going through the machine, but that would pre-suppose that there is a law which requires people to follow the TSA’s instructions on that – and for that law to be constitutional. This led to this scenario:

This new line led to a TSA security checkpoint. You see, it is official TSA policy that people (both citizens and non-citizens alike) from international flights are screened as they enter the airport, despite the fact that they have already flown. Even before the new controversial security measures were put in place, I found this practice annoying. But now, as I looked past the 25 people waiting to get into their own country, I saw it: the dreaded Backscatter imaging machine.

Now, I’ve read a fair amount about the controversy surrounding the new TSA policies. I certainly don’t enjoy being treated like a terrorist in my own country, but I’m also not a die-hard constitutional rights advocate. However, for some reason, I was irked. Maybe it was the video of the 3-year old getting molested, maybe it was the sexual assault victim having to cry her way through getting groped, maybe it was the father watching teenage TSA officers joke about his attractive daughter. Whatever it was, this issue didn’t sit right with me. We shouldn’t be required to do this simply to get into our own country.

So, since I had nobody waiting for me at home and no connecting flight to catch, I had some free time. I decided to test my rights.

  9:58pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Nov 10

In the business news

Ireland’s debt troubles are continuing, and it hasn’t been doing the Euro any favours. Bond yields are spiking and the economy is in bad shape. It looks like they will need to get financial assistance from the IMF and EU. However, as a condition of making this aid available, Ireland’s creditors-to-be are angling to change its tax policy. Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate is one of the lowest in the EU, which has caused a whole bunch of IP-heavy companies to set up large offices there (Google, Microsoft, and some pharma). I wonder what effects this will having.

Is there another startup bubble in the Valley? "Certain areas of the Internet, there are some crazy things going on. Getting overheated. People are getting crazy, they’re showing up to their first meetings with term sheets. In the early stage market, two-, three-person teams are getting $30, $40, $50 million valuations. That’s not right." That sounds pretty crazy. There are lots of very early start-ups that seem to be managing to score $5m valuations as angels (and even some VCs) pile on, but $30-50m?

Meanwhile, the legal market in the US is still sluggish. As biglaw associates around the nation hold their breath waiting for bonuses to get announced (they’re really late this year!), things seem to be going quite healthily in Australia. And Google is hiring like crazy as well: 2,000+ job openings, including more than 50 legal job openings! I know two SLS people who were recently hired for the Brazil and Italy offices.

Twitter is try to raise funding at a $3 billion valuation. A few weeks ago, Michael Arrington wrote that, "The company is still effectively revenue-free." They have their promoted tweets… but they are hardly generating the revenue, let alone profit, that you would expect a $3bn company to generate.

  10:11pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh The ‘blazingly simple,' must-have portfolio (Globe and Mail) http://post.ly/1DrnG

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Nov 10

How they do airport security in Tel Aviv

US airport security has not been having a lot good press lately. People these days now have a choice between a TSA backscatter machine (which experts worry may be carcinogenic and which reveal more about people’s bodies than they like) and a pat down by a TSA officer (which has been described as legalized sexual assault). Israel has been grappling with terrorism for a very long time, and this article explains how incredibly efficient getting through security at Ben Gurion is:

At the check-in desk, your luggage is scanned immediately in a purpose-built area. Sela plays devil’s advocate — what if you have escaped the attention of the first four layers of security, and now try to pass a bag with a bomb in it?

“I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with play-doh in it and two pens stuck in the play-doh. That is ‘Bombs 101’ to a screener. I asked Ducheneau, ‘What would you do?’ And he said, ‘Evacuate the terminal.’ And I said, ‘Oh. My. God.’

“Take Pearson. Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let’s say I’m (doing an evacuation) without panic — which will never happen. But let’s say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, ‘Two days.'”

A screener at Ben-Gurion has a pair of better options.

So, can the TSA learn?

  10:17pm  •  Travel  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh Go, now: http://digs.by/9AnA0a

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  stuloh Facebook's making an announcement in about an hour. Will it be Project Titan?

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Nov 10

  stuloh Hmm, there's a woman wearing thigh-high boots hitting balls on the driving range. That's a first.

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Nov 10

  stuloh I just heard a radio ad from the California govt trying to hawk off their bonds to the general public. Now that's desperation.

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Nov 10

  stuloh 400 Bay Area attorneys here and no one has exercised an escrow source code release right.

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Nov 10

  stuloh The Return of the Risk Arbitrageur (NYT Dealbook) http://post.ly/1BR6A

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Nov 10

Hong Kong’s coked up bankers

Danwei has an article about the white-collar drug scene in Hong Kong:

“Hong Kong is like London on steroids!” he says. “Look where we are,” he adds, gesturing around the tight network of streets that make up Hong Kong’s main bar area [Lan Kwai Fong]. “This is a one-kilometer-square party zone. Everything is just more concentrated here.”

For young expats working in high-pressure and high-rolling jobs, Hong Kong has always been a party town. The majority of the foreign population is male and single, and looking for a good time before returning home to settle down.

As one long-term resident and bar and restaurant owner put it: “There are a lot of single guys here. They are often posted here by their companies, without their families and they like to party and go out chasing women.”

And just as cocaine has become the drug of choice in London and New York, it is now the preferred sharpener of Hong Kong’s expat community.

  10:20pm  •  Business & Finance  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

One very driven plaintiff

Here is a case brief for a case, Young v. Facebook, that has its origins in the following facts:

Plaintiff took offense to a certain Facebook page critical of Barack Obama and spoke out on Facebook in opposition. In response, many other Facebook users allegedly poked fun at plaintiff, sometimes using offensive Photoshopped versions of her profile picture. She felt harassed.

But maybe that harassment went both ways. Plaintiff eventually got kicked off of Facebook because she allegedly harassed other users, doing things like sending friend requests to people she did not know.

When Facebook refused to reactivate plaintiff’s account (even after she drove from her home in Maryland to Facebook’s California offices twice), she sued.

Twice. That’s over 15,000km of driving. If I had no other facts apart from the above, I would put money on the defendant winning. And of course, it did.

Most of the claims made by the plaintiff are pretty wild, but the case does have some interesting remarks which have implications for terms of use and especially those which purport to give service providers the right to terminate service for any reason (California law implies a duty of good faith and fair dealing into contracts).

  12:39pm  •  Law  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
Nov 10

  stuloh Fed to buy $600 billion of U.S. government debt over the next eight months. http://bit.ly/aZzdsE

  11:20am  •  Tweet  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 

  stuloh The Fed is announcing QE2 in two minutes. How big will it be?

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  stuloh $100 million is now burning a hole in our pocket (sort of) http://bit.ly/9IfCFO & http://tcrn.ch/a3A5XT

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Nov 10

  stuloh Life aboard the International Space Station (The Guardian) http://post.ly/192p6

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