Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Future Of Cultural Diversity

The Future Of Cultural Diversity
This item is just too cool to pass up...see if you can follow the tangled trail.

One of the bloggers I follow recently got a paid gig as the official blogger for a major music group. That in itself would be cool, but here's the kicker:

Junichi is an Asian-American blogger who writes primarily about hip-hop. The group that he's been hired to blog about are The Dixie Chicks, the country-western powerhouse. His blog postings will appear on MSN.

Would this have happened before the age of blogging, participatory media, and the mash-up? Maybe. But it sure is one hell of a counter-example for those who claim that the Internet will result in every different culture retreating in on themselves.

By the way, this is probably as good a time as any for me to come out of the closet.

Most people don't know this, but I am a country music fan.

While I don't listen to the radio, much preferring the more refined comfort of books on tape (a steady mix of business books, detective novels, history, and travel writing), when I do listen to music I tend to tune into either country or heavy metal.

I've even been to a country music concert (Jo Dee Messina and David Lee Murphy--ever noticed how many country singers, like serial killers, take the three-name approach?), which was an interesting experience that deserves its own post. (Hint: If you're a tall Chinese guy with advanced degrees, you tend to stand out in a crowd of working-class fans wearing cowboy hats). This was when "Heads Carolina, Tails California" and "Dust On The Bottle" had just came out, so it was a heck of a show.

But I digress.

The Death of Distance, Part 73

The Death of Distance, Part 73
The Washington Post published another story on how US kids are turning to offshore tutors to help them with their studies.

As you know, I think this is a great example of the death of distance (FYI--I can't take credit for the phrase--though I came up with it independently, it turns out that a book of that name came out in 1997!). Of course, just because it's happening doesn't make it a great business opportunity for you, the humble reader.

The problem with offshore tutoring as a business is twofold. First, the barriers to entry are nil. The same things that make it so cheap for you to start such a business also allow anyone else to do the same. Second, this is a service business, with all the associated difficulties in scaling.

BUT...can you think of any such service that requires some special expertise, and doesn't require a linear staffing model? That might be a good opportunity.

India's Prime Minister Announces Plans For Robotic Army

And this isn't even a joke.

Actually, it might end up being a good business opportunity--outsourcing the control of robotic killing machines to Indian call centers.

Either that, or pull a "Last Starfighter" or "Ender's Game" and get people to participate in controlling the robots using a sophisticated game.

Monday, May 15, 2006

John McCain Speaks At Liberty U

John McCain Speaks At Liberty U
John McCain has taken a lot of heat for agreeing to be the commencement speaker for Jerry Falwell's Liberty U. Like many, I thought it a bit of unattractive though understandable pre-2008 campaigning--fire up the Republican base and all that.

As he has done many times in the past, however, McCain has confounded expectations.

The speech he gave is remarkable. He cautions the students to avoid the arrogance of youth, discusses the horrible cost of the Iraq war, tackles genocide in Rwanda and Darfur, reminds those on the extreme sides of the political spectrum that we should treat each other with compassion and understanding, and ends with a personal tribute to a Democratic friend.

While it is nowhere near its league, I was reminded in parts of Lincoln's Second Inaugural, one of the greatest and most compassionate speeches ever written.

If McCain can go into Liberty U and make this kind of speech, I think it's pretty clear that he is his own man, and that he will continue to adhere to his ideals though 2008 and thereafter.

Here are a few great quotes:

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

Americans should argue about this war. It has cost the lives of nearly 2500 of the best of us. It has taken innocent life. It has imposed an enormous financial burden on our economy. At a minimum, it has complicated our ability to respond to other looming threats. Should we lose this war, our defeat will further destabilize an already volatile and dangerous region, strengthen the threat of terrorism, and unleash furies that will assail us for a very long time. I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred. But if an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition, and argue for another course. It is your right and your obligation. I respect you for it. I would not respect you if you chose to ignore such an important responsibility. But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can, as God has given me light to see that duty.

Twelve years ago, we turned a blind eye to another genocide, in Rwanda. And when that reign of terror finally, mercifully exhausted itself, with over 800,000 Rwandans slaughtered, Americans, our government, and decent people everywhere in the world were shocked and ashamed of our silence and inaction, for ignoring our values, and the demands of our conscience. In shame and renewed allegiance to our ideals, we swore, not for the first time, “never again.” But never lasted only until the tragedy of Darfur.

Now, belatedly, we have recovered our moral sense of duty, and are prepared, I hope, to put an end to this genocide. Osama bin Laden and his followers, ready, as always, to sacrifice anything and anyone to their hatred of the West and our ideals, have called on Muslims to rise up against any Westerner who dares intervene to stop the genocide, even though Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, are its victims. Now that, my friends, is a difference, a cause, worth taking up arms against.

It is not a clash of civilizations. I believe, as I hope all Americans would believe, that no matter where people live, no matter their history or religious beliefs or the size of their GDP, all people share the desire to be free; to make by their own choices and industry better lives for themselves and their children. Human rights exist above the state and beyond history – they are God-given. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be wrenched.

This is a clash of ideals, a profound and terrible clash of ideals. It is a fight between right and wrong. Relativism has no place in this confrontation. We’re not defending an idea that every human being should eat corn flakes, play baseball or watch MTV. We’re not insisting that all societies be governed by a bicameral legislature and a term-limited chief executive. We are insisting that all people have a right to be free, and that right is not subject to the whims and interests and authority of another person, government or culture. Relativism, in this contest, is most certainly not a sign of our humility or ecumenism; it is a mask for arrogance and selfishness. It is, and I mean this sincerely and with all humility, not worthy of us.

We are a better people than that. We are not a perfect nation. Our history has had its moments of shame and profound regret. But what we have achieved in our brief history is irrefutable proof that a nation conceived in liberty will prove stronger, more decent and more enduring than any nation ordered to exalt the few at the expense of the many or made from a common race or culture or to preserve traditions that have no greater attribute than longevity.

As blessed as we are, no nation complacent in its greatness can long sustain it. We, too, must prove, as those who came before us proved, that a people free to act in their own interests, will perceive those interests in an enlightened way, will live as one nation, in a kinship of ideals, and make of our power and wealth a civilization for the ages, a civilization in which all people share in the promise and responsibilities of freedom.

Thanks to Ben Casnocha for marking this in his del.icio.us feed!

And for those who condemned McCain for agreeing to speak at Liberty U, but didn't bother to actually read what he had to say, shame on you.

John McCain Speaks At Liberty U

John McCain Speaks At Liberty U
John McCain has taken a lot of heat for agreeing to be the commencement speaker for Jerry Falwell's Liberty U. Like many, I thought it a bit of unattractive though understandable pre-2008 campaigning--fire up the Republican base and all that.

As he has done many times in the past, however, McCain has confounded expectations.

The speech he gave is remarkable. He cautions the students to avoid the arrogance of youth, discusses the horrible cost of the Iraq war, tackles genocide in Rwanda and Darfur, reminds those on the extreme sides of the political spectrum that we should treat each other with compassion and understanding, and ends with a personal tribute to a Democratic friend.

While it is nowhere near its league, I was reminded in parts of Lincoln's Second Inaugural, one of the greatest and most compassionate speeches ever written.

If McCain can go into Liberty U and make this kind of speech, I think it's pretty clear that he is his own man, and that he will continue to adhere to his ideals though 2008 and thereafter.

Here are a few great quotes:

We have our disagreements, we Americans. We contend regularly and enthusiastically over many questions: over the size and purposes of our government; over the social responsibilities we accept in accord with the dictates of our conscience and our faithfulness to the God we pray to; over our role in the world and how to defend our security interests and values in places where they are threatened. These are important questions; worth arguing about. We should contend over them with one another. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis, especially in times of crisis, we fight among ourselves for the things we believe in. It is not just our right, but our civic and moral obligation.

Americans should argue about this war. It has cost the lives of nearly 2500 of the best of us. It has taken innocent life. It has imposed an enormous financial burden on our economy. At a minimum, it has complicated our ability to respond to other looming threats. Should we lose this war, our defeat will further destabilize an already volatile and dangerous region, strengthen the threat of terrorism, and unleash furies that will assail us for a very long time. I believe the benefits of success will justify the costs and risks we have incurred. But if an American feels the decision was unwise, then they should state their opposition, and argue for another course. It is your right and your obligation. I respect you for it. I would not respect you if you chose to ignore such an important responsibility. But I ask that you consider the possibility that I, too, am trying to meet my responsibilities, to follow my conscience, to do my duty as best as I can, as God has given me light to see that duty.

Twelve years ago, we turned a blind eye to another genocide, in Rwanda. And when that reign of terror finally, mercifully exhausted itself, with over 800,000 Rwandans slaughtered, Americans, our government, and decent people everywhere in the world were shocked and ashamed of our silence and inaction, for ignoring our values, and the demands of our conscience. In shame and renewed allegiance to our ideals, we swore, not for the first time, “never again.” But never lasted only until the tragedy of Darfur.

Now, belatedly, we have recovered our moral sense of duty, and are prepared, I hope, to put an end to this genocide. Osama bin Laden and his followers, ready, as always, to sacrifice anything and anyone to their hatred of the West and our ideals, have called on Muslims to rise up against any Westerner who dares intervene to stop the genocide, even though Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, are its victims. Now that, my friends, is a difference, a cause, worth taking up arms against.

It is not a clash of civilizations. I believe, as I hope all Americans would believe, that no matter where people live, no matter their history or religious beliefs or the size of their GDP, all people share the desire to be free; to make by their own choices and industry better lives for themselves and their children. Human rights exist above the state and beyond history – they are God-given. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be wrenched.

This is a clash of ideals, a profound and terrible clash of ideals. It is a fight between right and wrong. Relativism has no place in this confrontation. We’re not defending an idea that every human being should eat corn flakes, play baseball or watch MTV. We’re not insisting that all societies be governed by a bicameral legislature and a term-limited chief executive. We are insisting that all people have a right to be free, and that right is not subject to the whims and interests and authority of another person, government or culture. Relativism, in this contest, is most certainly not a sign of our humility or ecumenism; it is a mask for arrogance and selfishness. It is, and I mean this sincerely and with all humility, not worthy of us.

We are a better people than that. We are not a perfect nation. Our history has had its moments of shame and profound regret. But what we have achieved in our brief history is irrefutable proof that a nation conceived in liberty will prove stronger, more decent and more enduring than any nation ordered to exalt the few at the expense of the many or made from a common race or culture or to preserve traditions that have no greater attribute than longevity.

As blessed as we are, no nation complacent in its greatness can long sustain it. We, too, must prove, as those who came before us proved, that a people free to act in their own interests, will perceive those interests in an enlightened way, will live as one nation, in a kinship of ideals, and make of our power and wealth a civilization for the ages, a civilization in which all people share in the promise and responsibilities of freedom.

Thanks to Ben Casnocha for marking this in his del.icio.us feed!

And for those who condemned McCain for agreeing to speak at Liberty U, but didn't bother to actually read what he had to say, shame on you.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Book Summary: The First National Bank of Dad

It's been a while since I last posted a book summary. This one is for "The First National Bank of Dad," by New Yorker writer David Owen.

I first encountered David Owen's take on teaching kids about money, in, of all places, an airline magazine. I tore it out and saved it for the far off day when someday I'd be a father.

Fast forward 10 years...I was taking the kids to the library, as is our habit on Saturdays, when I saw "Bank of Dad" in the staff picks section. I instantly recognized it as the book version of that tattered airline magazine article.

So I checked it out and devoured it. It's a great book, well-written, and full of good advice with lots of concrete examples. One thought that occurred to me is that there might be a business in offering family banking software, especially as a Web app. Alas, I checked out the book on Amazon, and it looks like it's not a big seller. No matter, it can still help you in the way you think about money.

***

The First National Bank of Dad
by David Owen

1. The problem with savings accounts
* Parents use them to control consumption, as opposed to promoting savings
* Interest rates are too small and long-term goals too remote to be a motivator
** "Encouraging a kid to save for college is like encouraging a 50-year-old to save for the colonization of Mars."
* The rational response by kids is to try to spend all money immediately, or hide it so it can't be "saved" (confiscated by the parents)

2. Making children become savers
* Children need selfish reasons to save
** Tangible, timely rewards
* Child-sized rates of return
** 5% per month (a doubling every 15 months)
** Switch to 3% per month after a year or two

3. How children act when it's really their money
* No pressure to spend (because it's not being confiscated)
* Strong desire to save (to take advantage of interest)
* Best of all, no need for the parent to harangue the kids to save

4. The mechanics of banking
* Set up a cash machine with 5s and 10s. Have the kids record their own withdrawals. Charge any losses against all depositors equally.
* Don't worry about lecturing the kids about the financial system. They'll figure it out.

5. Responsibility and control
* If a kid doesn't control the money, there's no reason to be careful with it. "My children are often quite irresponsible with my money, and why shouldn't they be? But they are extremely careful with their own."
* This makes the kid ask, "is this something I really want," instead of "can I talk Dad into paying for this?"
* Prior to vacation, give them spending money, but then tell them they won't get any more during the vacation.
* If you need to do something boring, give the kid some money in advance, but warn that you'll take it back if he doesn't behave. Alternately, having them select one book.
* For a dinner party, a mom gave her boys $5, but said she'd take back $1 each time they came downstairs for a non-emergency, or made enough noise to warrant a visit.

6. Allowances
* To become responsible spenders, kids need to be given opportunities to spend, to make both wise and foolish decisions, and to learn the consequences of those decisions.
* A child's financial resources should be more than enough, but not too much.
* Try asking the child what they think is appropriate. Such requests should be made in writing.
* Children should not be required to save or donate some portion of their allowance--this is something that have to decide on their own. Compulsory charity is not charity.
* Allowance should not be linked to doing chores. But you can pay for project work.
* You should pay both older and younger sibling for babysitting.
* Grownups do chores out of self-interest. See if you can appeal to your kids' self interest. This isn't always easy.
* Set up your bank to automatically pay your kids their allowance.
* If you retain control over the purchase, you should pay for it. You don't want your kids to give crummy presents, or try to get through school without needed supplies because they're cheapskates. Same for family trips and treats. Don't take your kids out for ice cream, then make them pay.
* You should pay for upgrades. If you're willing to buy him a $30 backpack, and he wants a $50 backpack, let him pay $20 and get the one he wants.
* Kids shouldn't work (unless it helps them learn). If work is so educational, why not drop out and work at McDonalds?

7. Driving
* Pay for expenses like gas if you're deriving economic benefits (e.g. someone else is driving the younger sibling around).
* Pay quarterly good driver bonuses

8. Bank accounts
* Let your kids open accounts and get debit cards. It will prepare them for later on in life.
* Encourage them to pay for textbooks, etc., and then request reimbursements. This will improve their accounting and management skills. Give them practice doing things now, so that when they have to do them later, they'll be ready.

9. eBay
* eBay is a great way for kids to get hands-on education in the principles of free-market economics.
* It also encourages a feeling of ownership, since all your kids' junk is now monetizable.

10. The Dad stock exchange
* "One of the most useful services that we can perform as parents is to provide our kids with opportunities to screw up in interesting ways that make lasting impressions but do no genuine harm. We all learn mainly by trial and error, and our most important insights often arise from our biggest mistakes."
* With investing, let kids start screwing up as early as possible, since most valuable lessons take a long time to sink in.
* The DSE trades public securities, but for 1/100th the listed price.
* Pick a small number of stocks in which to make a market, companies the kids will be familiar with (e.g. INTC, MSFT, NOKA, MCD, GAPS). Start them off with shares in all of them.
* Let them do whatever they want, including selling all shares and closing their account, or moving all their savings into it.
* Handle dividends by crediting them once per year based on annual yield.
* After they understand stocks, add in mutual funds as well.
* Don't tell them how to invest--let them learn on their own.
* Start up the DSE once kids wnat real bank accounts (thus shutting down the Bank of Dad)

11. Beyond money: True net worth
* If you had to flee your home because of a fire, and could only take what would fit in a cardboard box, what would you take? (e.g. photo albums)
* What makes you happiest? Encourage your children to think carefully and pragmatically about the real sources of their happiness.
* The basic unit of intrinsic value is the hour. Everyone, no matter how rich, has a limited number of hours.
* The most important investment you can make is to read to your children and develop their joy of reading. And this means reading aloud, and reading what they want to read, rather than imposing your own judgments.