Saturday, December 24, 2011

End of an Era

This was coming for a while. I don't really write in this thing anymore and blogger is old news covered in a yesterday sauce.

For future updates about what I'm doing, check out the [slightly] more professional chrismonaghan.org.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dutch Professional Scope

With the usual preface about generalizations not applying to everybody, Dutch professionals consistently surprise me with their narrow scope of support. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else, where one out of every two answers is essentially "that's not my job."

I'm organizing this event for the Province of Utrecht and its partners (university, science park, businesses, municipality, etc). I was in the library and saw these wooden tripod stands that can hold nice posters. "Hmm," I thought, "These could be perfect if some participants dont have their own stands."

"Hello," I said to the library staff. "Do you know who is responsible for these? Who manages stuff here? Who can I talk to."

Blank stares.

I gave clarification, and the guy just told me to come back next week.

"Does this person have an email address?" This guy looked at me as if I was being an asshole. Wide-eyes told me telepathically: Come back next week. I haven't the slightest clue, and there's no way I'm going to spend 5 seconds figuring it out.

But I don't give up so easily.

"We have 3. That's all we have," the guy said. I saw his younger female co-worker in the background smiling at me. She was my in to getting any kind of useful information! I knew it.

"Yes, I see that. But they had to come from somewhere, no? Who knows where they came from?"

Wide-eyes.

"Do you have any email address you can give me."

"Come back next week." This time verbalized explicitly.

The younger woman came to find me with a slip of paper with an email address. "Don't tell anyone I gave you this." As if in the Netherlands you can get in trouble for giving someone useful information.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pass this Jobs Bill!



Pass this jobs bill was mentioned 12 times. When he said it towards the beginning I thought it was because it simply had no chance of passing, and it was his rhetorical way of separating himself from its failure and subsequent inaction. But by towards the end it really seemed to me that he was some annoyed father (as he always seems to be in these cases), who is saying essentially "I'm giving what all of you want. Let's just do this. It's important, and you're on record for supporting most of it! what the fuck?"

The problem is, even you take the latter perspective of Obama, and even if this part of him were genuine, the real narrative about him (in my opinion, of course), doesn't have the same kind choice.

The way I figure this dude is that he's either been convinced of the wrong thing or set out to do the wrong thing from the beginning, with the second far more likely. He surrounded himself with corrupt advisers and legislated based on political, not policy, advice.

This jobs bill will be a blip on the screen, at best, even if they do pass it. A fundamental interest in the health of the economy by this president has been absent, and conspicuously so, to say the least. A nice speech (and I think it was a very good speech. you should watch it!), and an ok-start on legislation will not change that core fact.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Euro freakout

Holy shit. This is getting really crazy.

Groupon













Groupon is interesting on a few levels.

First is its business strategy, which has allowed it to grow from 3.4 million subscribers in 2010 to 83.1 million in 2011 by flooding the market and leveraging heavily.
Maybe this will work out, or maybe it will be a disaster. But it’s worth noting that absolutely nobody thinks it’s categorically absurd to think that what a firm needs to do to maximize long-term profits is boost spending over revenues. The idea here is that there are substantial network effects in the online coupon business, such that one dominant player will earn lots of money and the minnows won’t. Under the circumstances you want to spend what it takes to become that dominant player.

The thing is, they received 950 million venture capital in January. And they're hardly alone in the market, which isn't necessarily profitable yet ;x.

On the one hand it seems as far as I can tell a pretty good deal, (indeed, if you can handle a "full inbox", as the msnbc article puts it), and objectively this is the type of thing that helps bridge supply and demand in a way that benefits everyone. These days, especially in western countries, people dont have too much extra cash to spend on things, as privately held, publicly held, and especially household debt has soared. So you create a way people can spend money and stimulate the economy (keep the businesses running, in a sense, and circulate money, giving it a multiplier effect), and people benefit by (ideally), getting things they want.

But in practice, the obvious business model here, if there indeed is one (and of course it works on a certain percentage of subscribers), is to get people to consume more than they otherwise would have, and to want things that they would not otherwise buy. You could argue from a 'pragmatist' standpoint that stimulating more consumption because we exist in a consumer-capitalist economy and it's important to save jobs and get more money into the hands of the lower classes because a better economy is more tax revenue and more job opportunities and yada yada. But of course even a consumer boom wouldn't make up for the structural problems of the accumulation of capital wealth, where it becomes minimally productive except in rare occasions of charity such as the Gates foundation, which is still perfectly debatable. If that money had been immediately taxed and redistributed back to public services, perhaps Africa would have been less benefited in the long run, but aggregate public welfare could have increased much more efficiently.

Finally, I wonder, on a meta level, to what extent discussion about groupon's feasibility as a business and its huge debt-financed growth limits people signing up for groupon. It's similar to the psychology of the adoption of physical technological innovations, like VCRs. If you see it having a future, you buy video tapes. Becoming a member of groupon has, comparatively, a very small barrier of entry, meaning it's easy and free to sign up. But the feeling that a company like Groupon has a viable future still has a certain effect on a choice to use the service (as a consumer) or for companies (the deal offerers) to choose a dominant company (groupon) over other small ones.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Transit infrastructure costs what paint does

This is obviously an overstatement; trains and traffic lights and employees and all the rest cost a significant amount of money. But it is to suggest that smart decisions of flow-management and easy fixes to an otherwise messy situation are cheap, and can be bought right around the corner.

I was biking to the train station today to see my brother off to college (Haha!), and given that the entire train station is being rebuilt and Utrecht acts as the transit hub for the rest of the country, there are construction projects going on all along the rail corridor.

Here's an area just southeast of the train station, just before an overhead rail bridge, where they used probably less than 100 euros to keep traffic moving.




Saturday, August 27, 2011

People who want to Deepthroat Apple

This article from the Huffington Post made me cringe. Granted the Huffington post kind of sucks, and this guy probably writes this salivating garbage for free, but this was especially bad news. It begins with this:
I was standing right next to Steve Jobs in 1989 and it was the closest thing I ever felt to being gay
Interesting revelation. Maybe that's because Jobs is an excellent designer with rigorous editorial taste? Nah, too simple.
Steve Jobs became the greatest artist that ever lived
Did you know Jobs denied the paternity of his first kid?
I have no judgment on this at all. Raising kids is hard.
Steve Jobs is a pescetarian. Did you know that? Well, the author didn't, and now he's in for a life change.
I think from now on I'm going to be a pescetarian, just because Steve Jobs is one.
Apparently Jobs refuses to give to charity. This is explained not because the inherent contradictions in charity or anything like that, but because Jobs makes up for it by running a company that makes cool stuff!
I actually think Jobs is probably the most charitable guy on the planet. Rather than focus on which mosquitoes to kill in Africa (Bill Gates is already focusing on that), Jobs has put his energy into massively improving quality of life with all of his inventions.
You know that Jobs screwed his business partner out of 85% of the agreed-upon revenue for making a computer game?
Again, no judgment. Young people do things.

I kept scrolling to find the part where Steve Jobs put dozens of children in a cellar to starve to death, to which the author would likely comment that sometimes kids need to be punished, and that young geniuses do silly things.

We had a lecturer about entrepreneurship who used apple to support nearly all of what he was talking about. Visibility is important for a product. See this back-lit apple on every apple computer? Visibility! He showed us Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement speech, talked about Steve Jobs as a young adult.

Look, Apple is a successful company, and the good thing about that is it challenges other companies and individuals to invent better ways to do things. It paved the way for tablet computers by creating demand, and it will likely remain successful for a while. It showed people that design and simplicity is enormously important and is traded for a lower price at the company's peril. But it's also a company that has become extremely adept at making money through dubious means. Want that computer fixed? Might as well buy a new one, since taking the keys off the keyboard will cost $800 (no exaggeration).

These men (and they're all men) who can't seem to stop talking about Apple should zip up their pants and land back on earth because they're just embarrassing themselves. When Jobs' liver consumes his soul in putrid, silent death, these people are going to have to find some other success story to fellate.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Women

I'm going to start posting in this more often. Maybe. The problem is I hate facebook but I want to "express myself." While it's important to me that the blog is read by more than myself, it's not important that it's read by many people. I haven't posted in a long time since it feels like I'm just speaking to an empty hallway, but of course this doesn't matter really and it's more of a product of my own insecurity than any measurable reality.

Anyway, women. One of my favorite types are the attractive ones who weren't beautiful a few years ago. They usually are somewhat geekish, because that was their social group before, and they're not gunning for the hottest guys in the room, because they're not so high on themselves (at least not yet ;p). They sometimes use internet lingo like ^^ or xD, and even play video games (again, peer groups for the win).

I've met a few women who fit that classification while here in Sweden. It's refreshing. Interesting, attractive women who are 'on the level'.

Not that it matters, though. People talk about commitment issues. The vast majority of the time they're talking about the inability to be intimate with someone, to let themselves open up, to sleep with just one person, to give up some of their 'sovereignty'.

Personally, I have no problem with this latter stage of commitment. I dig intimacy, having sex with just one person is perfectly fine, and living with someone can be awesome (person dependent =o). My problem is more the initial commitment. I'm attracted to many women, in theory. I'm not too picky with looks, really. Certainly I need to be sexually attracted to someone, but in my experience that grows over time, and my mind is usually a few steps ahead of myself anyway, figuring a multitude of people have at least the hypothetical capacity to fulfill that growth. That doesn't mean I'm attracted to everyone, but I somehow see many women in the context of potential future attraction given certain personalities, instead of current attraction in a vacuum.

You might be thinking that since I'm a guy, my subconscious is looking to be attracted to as many people as possible so I have as many opportunities as possible. This might be true in some respect, but I basically disprove it by not trying to fuck anybody.

Of course I miss sex, but I imagine sex in a vacuum and I don't enjoy it. I see tits bouncing, big and small, some thrusting, some emotional gratification, some societal gratification, but nothing really. The more I think about sex in a vacuum (IE, sex with attractive_person_01) the more I prefer to go home and masturbate and get the inclination over with. After all, I'm only looking to orgasm, and, to a minority extent, obtain some kind of social satisfaction that affirms my self-worth.

But let's get back to this initial commitment. In my past experience, women have come to me. I said some provocative things, and boom, I had an intelligent, attractive girl make me her conquest. We ended up together for nearly 2 years. When I was backpacking through Europe, I met a very cool girl from the US who was also backpacking through Europe. I told her, drunkenly, that she had huge breasts. This is the kind of stuff that sinks any guy, but in this case we sent messages for the rest of the summer and she quickly told me she was interested in me. Boom, together for a year, living together for half of that. This type of thing has probably spoiled me in a sense, but what I see is an uncertain time commitment that I'm just not willing to make without at least some kind of signal that we're interested in the same thing.

Take a generic example. I meet a woman in some class or program. Let's say I find her physically attractive, whatever that means at the time. I'll make conversation with her but I'll simultaneously feel badly about not making conversation with the women I don't find so attractive (how put-off would I be in the reverse? You dont want to fuck me so you dont want to talk to me?). So I'm making conversation, but for me what I'm after, in terms of knowledge, is the personality; the personality is what does it for me. But a personality takes time to figure out. If a girl seems like a genuinely fucking cool human being who I really want to be friends with, one of the last things I want to do is fuck that up with flirting and unreciprocated sexual attraction. But at the same time, I don't want to pass up what is, indeed, a rare person. So I'm either left with 1) an attraction but an unknown personality, or 2) an attraction but a known personality.

In the latter case, I've gotten into the habit of "coming clean" instead of going for it. I'll look for some signs, but if they're not there, and the person is still cool as hell, well then it just builds and builds and the only way to keep it from making me go crazy is saying "ok, this is how I feel, how can we deal with this?" It usually turns out okay, but it's not a winning strategy (it's not meant to be). In case numero uno, we get back to the initial commitment. In my experience, 9/10 women I find attractive usually suck (in my opinion, of course). They're either too obsessed with their own appearance, boring in the sense that they're following some predetermined path, boring in the sense that they have nothing real to say, boring in the sense that they don't seek adventure, unintelligent, uncreative, or too interested in socializing and mainstream culture to offer anything of true value.

The point here is opportunity cost. Usually this 'knowledge pursuit' is done within the context of a party that includes other friends. Even when it isn't, there are plenty of other things I could be doing instead, like reading, creating, working, walking around a city, or doing whatever it is I do. If I'm not just interested in the sex, then there's simply no point investing the time on bullshit and fake interest if I could be engaging and building solid friendships, moving an awesome business forward, reading a novel like Dharma Bums, or trying out something new. And if it's a woman I immediately connect with, if there's no apparent attraction from the other side, I'm stuck in a tough situation that may get worse the more I remain in it.

Women +_+

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

American political realities

I found this in an article about Obama's sinking poll numbers. This editorial by Professor Drew Western, entitled "What Happened to Obama?", nails it on the head I think.

The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his [Obama’s] deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc, and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation…

Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. [This was] a failure…as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it…

The real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit.
I'm not sure when things in the United States are going to change. One of my closest friends expects a revolution any time. My brother figures things will just hang rightward forever, with some blips of liberal shifts, just like it always has been; hold on to slavery until the last minute, hold black people down until it just boils over. Don't really fix any real financial issues until you're completely screwed. Nobody knows, and real, palpable shifts are happening in the world. But right wings are also strengthening, so right now it's between the current state of centrist Reagan wannabe Barack Obama and some crazy Rick Perry or inadequate Mitt Romney. Or some other state, between some kind of fucked up revolution counter revolution scenario, and anything not so great in between.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Matt Taibbi on Charlie Sheen

In response to a question asking why Charlie Sheen has come to be so disliked, Matti Taibbi responds:
I think that Sheen ultimately should be hated because, well, he repeatedly and violently abuses women. That story about threatening to cut off his wife’s head and then 'put it in a box and send it to your mom' was kind of a deal-breaker for me. On another level though, he’s definitely a symbol of something, can’t really put my finger on what – he’s like what America’s soul looks like with its clothes off or something. They could easily update E Pluribus Unun by replacing it with Duh…Winning and it would fit modern America just right, I think.