Sharing news and commentary about education, careers, investing, and life.

Sharing news and commentary about education, careers, investing, and life.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Everything Investing: 2008's Possible Improbables

Interesting post over at The Big Picture on 2008's Possible Improbables.

The list below:

Kass' 20 Surprises for 2008

1. The Housing Depression of 2007 morphs into the Retail Spending Depression of 2008.

2. Corporate profits drop by 10% in 2008.

3. The S&P 500 Index falls by 5%-10% in 2008.

4. Volatility pushes even higher. Daily moves of 1%-2% become commonplace.

5. The Federal Reserve eases monetary policy in 2008, with nearly every meeting accompanied by a 25 bp cut.

6. Growth in the Western European economies deteriorates.

7. The Chinese juggernaut continues apace. Chinese stock market doubles again in 2008.

8. The Japanese market puts on a surprising resurgence.

9. The housing bust accelerates. High profile bankruptcies in 2008 include Countrywide Financial (CFC), Beazer Homes (BZH), Hovnanian (HOV), Standard Pacific (SPF), WCI Communities (WCI) and Radian Group (RDN).

10. Financial stocks fail to recover.

11. Research in Motion (RIMM), Apple Computer (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) move into bubble status and their shares double in 2008.

12. Yahoo! (YHOO) and eBay merge. So do Amazon (AMZN)and Overstock.com (OSTK).

13. General Electric (GE) will sell NBC Universal to Time Warner (TWX), which will not sell or spin off AOL.

14. U.S. dollar's value falls by over 10% in 2008; Gold rises to over $1,000/oz.

15. The price of crude oil eclipses $135/barrel.

16. Acts of cyberterrorism occur that compromises the security of a major government. Financial markets will be exposed to hackers.

17. The Hedge fund community are disintermediated in 2008. Outflows accelerate.

18. There are several Enron-like accounting scandals in 2008.

19. Democrats Clinton/Kerrey and Republicans McCain/Crist represent their parties in the Presidential/Vice Presidential contest in November. Democrats grab the White House.

20. Sovereign Wealth Funds become targets of American politicians.

Who is Ivar Kreuger?

Better yet, what can you learn from this article? Another interesting read from The Economist.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Knot in your iPod?

If so, this will make you feel better.

And here is the direct link.

And the solution? Bluetooth headphones. The problem? High prices!

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Presenting Tyler Cowen...

... or more like this great post today. You may not agree with him, but he'll definitely get you thinking about the key issues. Speaking of The Key Issues, venture over to that website I created back in college. There are some interesting papers/posts there that have "survived" the test of time.

Book Review: "The Opposable Mind"

I stumbled across The Opposable Mind when I was in a book store looking through business magazines. I had not consistently read HBR but in the latest issue I perused through their "recommended" books... and ran across The Opposable Mind!

Anyways, the book is incredibly underrated and I am somewhat surprised it hasn't "caught on" - it's full of interesting insights into why some successful people are able to attain their success and then even tells the reader how to do so. The basic concept behind the book is that these successful people have the unique ability to hold two very distinct thoughts in their head at the same time and then are able to find a unique solution that most people are not able "to see".

I assure you that the book is a very powerful and interesting read and as further proof I proclaim it one of the best 2 or 3 books I have read in 2007 (out of roughly 80-100 books I read this past year). Indeed, I made my parents order the book so that they would read it as soon as possible.

P.S. As an aside, I mentioned HBR because it is another publication I have stumbled across that I will begin consistently reading - it is full of helpful and interesting business ideas.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

What are New Year's Resolutions?

Here are seven theories on New Year's Resolutions. My take, though this may be the easy way out, is that it's a mix of most of the presented theories. Perhaps resolutions are a dash of signaling with a hint of aspiration but an underlying tone of cheap talk...

Thoughts?

Oh and the linked to post comes from Justin Wolfers, the economist who earlier this year published a paper on racial bias in NBA refereeing (among other things).

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Top Students Clamor at Ivy Gates

“I have been president for seven years,” Dr. Hennessy wrote in the September/October issue of Stanford Magazine, “and it is still one of the most difficult parts of the job to explain to parents with gifted children why a son or daughter was denied admission. And at the same time I must come to terms with the fact that we are denying Stanford the benefit of talent that could contribute to the University.”

The caveats in Dr. Hennessy’s thoughtful essay, though, underscored why selective colleges have never linked enrollments to demographic ups and downs. If elite colleges began wholesale expansions, their leaders suggest, the experience of attending them might start to resemble the jostling clamor of some public universities.

Read more by clicking here.

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The Concert/Major Sport Event Selling Out Issue

If you've ever wondered why the concert or sporting event you've always wanted to go sells out after a few minutes... here's the real reason. Money quote:

What high tech wonder-tools does RMG use to defeat Ticketmaster's captchas, the annoying jumble of characters used to prove your humanity? Is it Optical Character Recognition? Something even more futuristic, maybe web 3.0-ish? Nah. Cipriano Garibay, president of RMG Technologies, boasts: "We pay guys in India $2 an hour to type the answers."

A federal judge granted Ticketmaster an injunction against RMG, but nobody knows how many evil ticket-gulping bots exist. Not that we like Ticketmaster and their 30% markups, but next time a concert or playoff game sells out in less than five minutes, we know where to direct our anger.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Standardized Testing (Part 8,903)

The never ending debate on standardized testing got some attention over on the Freakonomics blog, but this time it was very interesting.

Here's their intro and make sure to click through to read the answers:

So what should be done? We gathered a group of testing afficionados — W. James Popham, Robert Zemsky, Thomas Toch, Monty Neill, and Gaston Caperton — and put to them the following questions:

Should there be less standardized testing in the current school system, or more? Should all schools, including colleges, institute exit exams?

Here are their responses. Many thanks to all of them for their participation. I have to admit, I never saw the parallel between tests and French fries before, but now that I’ve seen it, I won’t soon forget it.

UPDATE: Here's a new analysis from the Freakonomics blog.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Physics Can Be Cool...

...don't believe me? Check out this article from the NY Times for more. But first, here's a telling excerpt:

Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.

In his lectures at ocw.mit.edu, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off.

The Cultural Elite

Here's something to think about... According to researchers at Oxford University, there is no such thing as the cultural elite. But here's how they divided people into four groups:

Univores like only popular culture — soap operas, say, or action movies. Omnivores are equally well-versed in “La Traviata” and “Gossip Girl.” Paucivores absorb very little culture, and inactives apparently are entirely numb to their cultural surroundings.

So, of course, the question is: which one are you?

All I Want For Christmas...

... for this blog is to be on Google's Blogs of Note. For context, read here.

Any ideas on how to get into the Blogs of Note? By this I mean how to get their attention...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On Charity and Giving

I subscribed to the Freakonomics blog RSS because, though not consistent, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt often post interesting ideas. Here's their latest post and a piece from the post that I had not thought about previously:

5. Friends and I often have discussions about the ancient religious command to tithe, or give at least 10 percent of your income. One thing I find interesting about such discussions is a point that never comes up: that when tithing was first instituted, there was nothing remotely like the current tax system, whereby 30 or 40 or even 50 percent of your money was already being “donated.”

Closed For The Holidays?

This blog will be on a short break for the Christmas holiday with an anticipated full return on Thursday, December 27th. Then, of course, there's the anticipated short break on December 31st and January 1st with regular posts resuming on January 2nd.

Interestingly enough, this is all subject to change... but at most there will be 4 or 5 days of non-posting. Just a heads up to those that read on Facebook, RSS, or any other method.

And of course... Happy Holidays to all our clients, family, and friends!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Predictions For The Rich

Here's The Wealth Report's take on the rich in 2008. Two quotes that caught my attention from the related print column in the Wall Street Journal:

"I think there is increased anxiety among the wealthy," says Peter White, a New York-based counselor to rich families. "But I also think there is a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of things, that what they do in their individual lives can have broader implications."

Here's the second quote:

Experience and access are quickly becoming new status symbols for the wealthy. The most prized experiences have an educational or altruistic bent, which help deflect populist criticism. Rather than buying another house or Swiss watch, the rich are trekking with penguins at the South Pole, having lunch with Nelson Mandela in South Africa or visiting a village in Bhutan to help build a school.

The final frontier in conspicuous consumption: space. In the end it's all about quality dinner conversation (my emphasis), and a rare trip aboard the space station will always outshine stories of another yachting trip to Greece.

Online Courses and Learning (No Excuse To Be Bored)

For those of you that may (unfortunately) be bored over the holiday break, check out this link with a list of the top free online courses. You might be thinking that you *just* finished classes or don't want to do any coursework, but really these courses are test free and a great way to expand your range of knowledge so be sure to at least browse through some of the offerings. In particular, we have pointed faithful readers in this direction before, so this should not be new to regular readers.

And for those that aren't aware, be sure to also check out iTunes U via iTunes store. There are many free audio/video classes and podcasts.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Book Review: "The No Asshole Rule"

When I first got this as a gift on Saturday from my pal Elizabeth, I chuckled because of the very out there title. But, of course, I was also immediately intrigued and started reading on my flight back the next day.

The No Asshole Rule is a great book for anyone that has ever dealt with jerks in the workplace or life. This means that it's great for anyone, really, though it does have more of a businessplace bent than a general life perspective.

The book is engaging, of course, and came about from a Harvard Business Review piece that Bob Sutton had done a few years ago. This is simply a more detailed look at how to deal with jerks though it is sometimes confusing whether Bob is advocating no toleration vs. learning how to tolerate them. My take is that we shouldn't tolerate jerks, and thus should do everything to get rid of them (here he offers many suggestions), but that if you HAVE to deal with them (because of monetary, job, etc circumstances) then you should follow the advice he provides in later chapters.

Anyways, the book is an 8 of 10 and is an easy read. It should only take 3, 4 hours to tear through and you won't regret some of the advice you'll encounter.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How To Think, The Black Swan, and Being Cheap

Great stuff on how to think, via Ben Casnocha.

And while we're throwing links out, here's a chapter by chapter book review of The Black Swan which is a book I've read but never got around to formally book reviewing on our blog.

Lastly, here's a good bit from Chris Yeh on being cheap. Looks like Orion has a bright future! (Slightly kidding!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The results of thinking in terms of 'and' rather than 'or' have been breathtaking" from The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin. I am in the middle of this book and will have a detailed book review up in the next week or two; so far it is excellent.

Also, I am in the middle of The No Asshole Rule; it is also excellent and (by the way) a great birthday gift from my friend Elizabeth. A book review will also be up shortly!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Congratulations Grads!

One of the co-founders (Orion King) graduated Saturday with Highest Honors in Mechanical Engineering and Physics from Georgia Tech. I'd also like to congratulate Jonathan Sharma (AE) and Austin Cobert (ME), two good friends that also graduated from Georgia Tech. It'll be interesting to see the successes my friends will be having in the coming years!

Due to the travels down to Atlanta, I'm copping out of a full post by sending you to the always entertaining Casnocha blog. Check out this linkfest. I'll likely cover one or two of the topics there in posts this week, so look for that.

Friday, December 14, 2007

India's cooling IT industry

The following is an article from The Economist [get the original story here]. What are your thoughts?

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Gravity's pull
Dec 13th 2007 | BANGALORE
From The Economist print edition

Is India's computer-services industry heading for a fall?

MOST foreigners visit Mysore to see its many palaces, testaments to bygone royal splendour. But the city, south of Bangalore, is also a good place to observe monuments to India's modern might. One of its suburbs contains a lush campus with a collection of futuristic buildings: the Global Education Centre, one of the world's largest corporate-training facilities, operated by Infosys, a leading Indian information-technology (IT) services firm.

Visiting the centre, you would think that for India's IT businesses, the sky is the limit. Rarely has an industry grown so rapidly for so long. It has boasted annual growth rates of nearly 30% in the past ten years, with revenues now nearing $50 billion, about 5.4% of India's GDP. But some in India are starting to worry that the industry is heading for a fall. At the very least, analysts say, the industry's leading firms—Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys and Wipro, to name only the three largest—need to do more to adapt their business models as the industry matures.

The “IT” in India's IT industry has always been something of a misnomer. True, most of its more than 1.6m employees sit in front of computers, writing software for Western firms, remotely maintaining their computers and electronically handling some of their operations. But the business is mostly about people and processes. The very essence of India's IT firms is their ability to marshal huge local workforces to supply high-quality services.

One of their biggest innovations has been to borrow ideas from manufacturing and apply them to services, by building a sophisticated human supply-chain, for instance. They have also focused on certification and continuous improvement—a result of having to be, at least initially, better than their Western rivals in order to win business, says Girish Paranjpe, the boss of Wipro's consulting arm. Today more Indian than American firms meet the highest internationally recognised standards for software development.

All this has enabled Indian firms to take advantage of a rare, if not unique, set of market conditions. On the demand side, Western companies needed to cut costs, but their computer systems still required a lot of human labour. On the supply side, there was an army of well trained, English-speaking engineers demanding only a fraction of a Western salary. Fast fibre-optic links brought both sides together and a favourable exchange rate made this global connection even more attractive: customers paid in dollars, and employees were paid in rupees. The result was a “low-risk, high-margin business”, says Kiran Karnik, the outgoing president of Nasscom, the industry's trade group. To increase sales, firms could hire more people without caring too much about productivity, with the result that growth in revenue correlated closely with growth in headcount.

So why the concern? Indian IT faces a host of threats, says Sudin Apte of Forrester Research, a consultancy, who argues that the industry needs to reinvent itself. The most immediate difficulty is the rapid appreciation of the rupee against the dollar in recent months (see article). Since its low in mid-2006, it has gained 16%. This has made a liability out of what had been a big asset for Indian IT firms—making most of their sales in America. The strong rupee has also thrown other structural problems into relief. These fall into three categories.

What goes up...

First come the familiar problems. One is India's clogged and insufficient infrastructure: workers in Bangalore can spend four hours a day in traffic. Then there are the tax breaks that subsidise the industry, some of which expire in 2009. There is also a growing talent shortage. Indian engineering schools award around 200,000 diplomas each year, and produce around 250,000 graduates, but only half are employable by the IT industry. Employees have learnt to switch jobs for better pay, and salaries are going up by 10-15% a year. For senior staff, they will soon reach Western levels.

Second, competitors are starting to emerge. IT industries in other parts of the world, such as Central Europe, may never match India's in size, but they can still pick off valuable contracts. Meanwhile, foreign IT firms have been beefing up their Indian subsidiaries. In 2002 the six biggest—including Accenture, IBM and HP—had fewer than 10,000 employees in total in the country. Their combined Indian workforce now exceeds 150,000. This enables them to rival the Indian firms in scale and cost, while exploiting their stronger brands and international scope.

The third category concerns future threats. In the short term a slowdown in IT spending looms as America's economy weakens. In the longer term Indian firms must keep abreast of technological changes. Many of the services they now provide will eventually be automated; this is already starting to happen, for example, in software testing. Western firms, meanwhile, increasingly want Indian providers to do more than just keep systems running; they want help in developing new solutions to business problems—something few Indian firms are set up to do.

The question is whether the industry's business model can cope with these threats even as the potential for growth in its established markets declines. According to calculations by CLSA, a French-Asian investment bank, Indian IT firms will soon have a share of nearly 20% of their addressable market's value and almost 40% of its volume. They will also struggle to make their existing business more efficient: most fat has already been cut.

Many think that Indian IT firms need to move into new, higher-margin services and to cut the link between revenues and headcount, for instance by offering more consulting, developing more intellectual property and making acquisitions abroad. To be fair, the leading firms are already doing this. Infosys now generates nearly a quarter of its revenues from consulting, says its new boss, S. Gopalakrishnan; and Wipro recently paid $600m for Infocrossing, an American firm, the largest in a series of acquisitions by Indian firms.

But is the industry moving fast enough? Nasscom's Mr Karnik says no, but he thinks there is still time to change things. Partha Iyengar of Gartner, another consultancy, sees more urgency. He expects slower growth and lower margins if the big firms are not making most of their money in consulting and other high-margin areas within three or four years. This will be hard, he says: today's focus on people, processes and profits may keep many firms from reaching the next level. But, he says, India's IT firms have shown before that they can change if they really need to.

Even if the heavyweights stumble, smaller firms are ready to take up the baton. For example, MindTree Consulting was founded 1999 in anticipation of the very threats that have now materialised. However potent these threats prove, they have already demonstrated that for all the talk of the world being flat, economic gravity still applies.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On Maturity (via Ben Casnocha)

Here's a smart bit on maturity via Ben Casnocha.

The most intriguing piece and then my thoughts:

Note that someone can be mature but also lighthearted, funny, laid-back, etc. In other words, mature is not synonymous with uptight.

While we've all met exceptions, in general emotional maturity and age are highly correlated. The younger you are, the less emotionally mature. Intellectual maturity seems less correlated with age. While it's hard for me to think of an adult who regresses on the emotional maturity scale, it's easy to think of adults who have become so set in their beliefs that they become less intellectually mature. They are less interested in tracking truth than confirming long-standing beliefs. Their total knowledge might be more than a young person, but how they deploy that knowledge is less sound.

This theory is not road-tested, so I'm interested in your comments and revisions. How do you think about "mature"? Do you think about it in these two categories? Do you, like me, have a gut feeling on someone's emotional maturity soon after meeting him or her?

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My thoughts:

I fully agree that mature does not necessarily mean uptight, though I'd add that it often does. I've fallen trap to this myself from time to time and it takes a lot of effort to "loosen up" sometimes.

And I'd never thought about mature in intellectual and emotional terms, because I feel you can't break it down into two pieces. Rather, I feel it's this all encompassing term that attempts to define a personality trait/characteristic that isn't actually definable. So I think it's a great attempt to try and define maturity, but you just can't do it. In fact, I see maturity as one of those "it" traits/characteristics; you know if someone has got it, but it's tough to define what "it" is... so to Ben's last question, yes, I have a gut feeling on someone's overall maturity.

Augusta Views: Tools of the Trade

I got my "doctor instruments" today! I now have a purple stethoscope, that fancy light thing to look in ears & eyes, and various blood pressure cuffs! It's official. I'm a doctor.

This raises an interesting question, though. What defines a profession? I hardly think that it's the uniform & instruments that make one a doctor, but what is it? My Essentials of Clinical Medicine course taught me that a profession is characterized by an "imperative to serve others," which I take to mean an obligation to serve others.

Is this true for all professions? For medicine, I believe that it's a nice generalization, but I'm hesitant to characterize all walks of life in this way. Yet as I'm sitting here thinking about it, I can't come up with a job that doesn't serve others in some way!

What are your thoughts? In your profession, or the one you hope for in the future, what defines the role you play? I'm really interested in following up with a post on professionalism sometime soon & your comments will help me round out the discussion. So thanks in advance!

With that, I'll leave you for a couple of weeks. I'm going home for the holidays & I make a point to "disappear" whilst I'm there! Not being joined at the hip to my cell phone and laptop allows me to spend quality time with my friends & family and just relax. I highly recommend it!

Look for my next post in the new year! Happy Holidays!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Corks!

Ever wondered about corks on wine bottles? Specifically, why are wine bottles closed with corks and are they the "best" means to seal off a good bottle of wine? Well, if you've ever thought about corks (or if you're not curious) then click through here to read an informative interview conducted by the folks at Knowledge at Wharton.

Another recent and random piece from the same source covers the topic of wisdom of crowds. Here is the link to the excerpt covering the very topic of wisdom of crowds/community.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: "Rigged"

Fantastic! I enjoyed this book from the start and it was thoroughly entertaining. The book Rigged is from the same author who wrote Bringing Down the House, that excellent blackjack thriller about some MIT students that struck it rich.

Well, the basis of this story revolves around oil and two main characters whose plot lines start out separately, slowly intertwine, and then culminates in an interesting ending. The first character is David, a recent Harvard Business School graduate who started in banking but then got a job offer from his hero to work at the NYMEX. The second character is Khaled, a highly educated young man with great connections in the Middle East.

The really interesting part to me was that this book is based on a true story. The author's introduction, and then the main character's note at the end, really drive home the point that the insanity and intensity of this story really did occur... which makes me thankful for the relative peace and quiet I've been enjoying since college graduation!

Well, if I had to rate this book, I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10. It's that good and the blend of wits, adventure, and business give it a nice edge.

Oh, and I promised my next book review would be on the Rolling Stones Interviews, but that book has been one I've been purposely reading slowly so that I can take its wisdom in at the right pace.

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Geography Game (Travelpod)

Think you know your geography? Then check out this quick, fun game... it's a great way to kill a few minutes, if you've got some time to spare.

I got to level 10 the only time I tried out the game, so I'm kind of disappointed I didn't make it all the way to 12!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tyler Cowen Interview

Great stuff from Tyler Cowen right here. Money quote that I think applies to any job:

It's true that scientists get paid, but typically they don't get paid more, or much more, for discovering something that will make them famous. They do it because they love science, or because they want the recognition or because they just stumble upon it. Einstein was never a wealthy man but he worked very hard. So blogging is a new form of an old idea: that people do great things for free. Adam Smith didn't get paid much for writing Wealth of Nations, even though it's a long book that required a lot of work. He had an inner drive to get his ideas out there.

FWIW, I've been focusing my reading time more on interviews. I picked up this book that I'll be book reviewing later this week. Early reaction: so far, so good!

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Thinking Of Getting A Giftcard?

Before you go and buy someone a giftcard, read this piece. It covers gift card reselling markets, deadweight losses of giftcards, and much more.

And for those of you beginning finals week in college/high school/wherever, good luck!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Perspective on Gasoline

Thanks to Greg Mankiw, check this out. The original post is here.

And as a hint, this post is a pseudo prologue to the book review that will be showing up later this week! I finished the book on Saturday and it is, to say the least, quite a read.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Leaving India in 2 weeks!!

So I got fantastic news just 2 days ago - instead of leaving India sometime in mid-January, I am being released in just 2 weeks. Which means I can actually spend Christmas and New Year's with family in the UK. Which means I can be back in the US sooner, which is INCREDIBLE. I am so excited about this recent turn of events, and - as I’m sure you have gathered from my previous posts - I am more than ready to get out of India as soon as humanly possible.

Furthermore, details have been finalized, and I am definitely going to Boston and nowhere else [there have been a LOT of people moved around suddenly at the last minute with no advance notice]. I am one of the few lucky ones who are going to their first choice of US location, and I’m very ready to begin my new life in New England.

See you soon! =)

What's In A Name?

I've been amazed at how accessible Carl Bialik is (I've emailed him and had a response in less than an hour) but I'm more impressed by his articles in the Wall Street Journal. Here's a great one looking at names and birth order. It's short, so check it out for some interesting perspectives.

Admissions, Applications (Sales Pitch and Early Action)

No surprise that the NY Times Education section focuses so much on the undergraduate college applications process, but they're really been hammering the point home recently. If you care to read about how prospective undergrads are "creating and managing their brands" then click here; if you're interested in the death of early admissions/action, then follow this link. Both articles are short and interesting, if not a bit repetitive compared to what the NY Times Education section has been publishing recently.

Oh and good news seems to be rolling in fast - lots of friends are getting into graduate schools, so congratulations to all of them! Until Monday...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Economics, College Football, and CK Tutors

This was a great piece on the young hotshots in economics. I particularly recommend the short piece on Roland Fryer - what an article!

And to point you around to other interesting reads, check out this piece on fixing the college BCS system (or mess, as some might call it). Some interesting concepts are thrown around.

Finally, swing by our website soon because we're doing a mini-overhaul in the next few days.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Augusta Views: Reflections on Anatomy

This past Monday, my lab group did our last dissection together in Gross Anatomy, and I found myself less ecstatic than I expected to be at that moment.

A little background: I've spent the semester declaring my undying hatred for the entire subject of Gross Anatomy. This is the first (maybe second) time in my life that I have truly despised an academic course. Thus, you can see how I'm a bit perplexed. The other course that I detested with all my might was Comparative Vertebrate Morphology in undergrad. Thinking back, I actually enjoyed the subject matter, but could not resolve my immense frustration with the way it was delivered & tested. To some extent, I believe that my issues with Anatomy were the same. It's not that I didn't like learning about the human body and how all the parts fit together. (After all, I am in medical school, so I should have some interest in the matter or else I've got a problem!) No, instead I think that I was again frustrated with the manner in which the material was taught.

So why wasn't I jumping for joy on Monday morning? Why did I linger a little wondering if there was any more to be done?

The answer, I feel, is a good learning opportunity for all those who have found themselves positively miserable with a class.

I had learned to appreciate the subject and that the way it's taught is the only way to teach it properly. I came to understand the excitement of searching for a particular structure and then finding it (hopefully) intact! I realized that actually seeing the muscles and tugging them to see their action helped me to remember their origins and insertions. Knowing the physical location of a nerve aided my understanding of the clinical significance of its injury. It's really elegant, the human body. Everything comes together so neatly and without excess or unnecessary bits. (Yeah, okay, the coccygeus muscle doesn't actually wag our nonexistent tail like it "should," but it's still pretty helpful as part of the pelvic wall.)

On to the lesson! Just because a course starts out as painful and seemingly without redeeming characteristics, doesn't mean that it should be written off and/or ignored. Too often, such classes turn out to be interesting & enlightening, not to mention important for one's education! I made the mistake of skipping Comparative Vertebrate Morphology 98% percent of the time, and my grade suffered severely for it. Not only that, I missed out on potentially exciting new knowledge, which is the true tragedy. Contrastingly, I stuck with Anatomy (not always by choice, but still), learned quite a bit, and even managed a couple of A's!

Don't wait to be pleasantly surprised that you've come to like a class you hated. Start looking for the good things in every learning opportunity life offers. That's all class is, by the way, an opportunity to increase your knowledge (and subsequently wisdom), so take it! And believe me, if I can come through Gross Anatomy with a positive attitude, Algebra can be tackled. It has no olfactory involvement!

Now that I feel sufficiently like a motivational poster, I'll be done! Not that there's anything wrong with motivational posters or anything...

Cheers,
Becca

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

People Skills and Business Conversation

Last night I got home late from a business related dinner that lasted 3 hours... and didn't feel like it took even half an hour. It was a success and I had conversations going the whole time. The reason I bring this experience up is because of three things I noticed/realized while at the dinner:

- A decent chunk of corporate spend is on "you pat my back, I'll pat your back" type of expenses. In this case, what I noticed was one company buying awards and dinner for another in return for business and acknowledgement. This isn't just a "returning the favor, we're so grateful" practice nor is it unique to the situation I witnessed.

- At a typical business dinner, forget trying to discuss literature, politics, world events, etc. The best conversations where when I joked about how being James Bond is a bigger honor than stepping on the moon. My point was there have been only a handful of actors who have played James Bond versus the 20+ astronauts who have stepped on the moon. Surprisingly, this comment that I made in jest ended up turning into an interesting and lively 20 minute discussion on everything James Bond.

- Football is a male's best friend. Golf comes in close second. And when I mentioned that my cousin recently made the European PGA Tour, everyone went bonkers. I was a smash hit (well, just at that moment). But the best part is now everyone will at least remember me for that; making these types of connections (and even having people remember who you are) is an important part of business/networking.

So if you're ever at business dinners, make sure you talk about golf, football, and movies; don't forget to bring the awards/gifts!

P.S. I am grossly oversimplifying how the business world works, but it was funny and somewhat surreal to be a part of what people view as "typical business".

If You Had To Pick One Person...

About 6 weeks ago we blogged about who you would invest in and there was only one comment. Now, looking through the Google Analytics service we utilize, I can see that we have over 10 unique visitors per day. If you're new to the blog (or even reading through Facebook notes) I'd really be interested to see your reactions to the aforementioned post. Please let us know what you think!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Book Review: "The Golden Compass"

Continuing with the "my brother recommended" books, I was recently given The Golden Compass and the rest of the series as a "you gotta read this" from my brother. I was also skeptical about the books but after I started The Golden Compass I was quickly impressed by the depth and quality of the story.

The Golden Compass is interesting because the book throws you right into "the action" and you, as the reader, have to start figuring out what's going on. Of course, Philip Pullman is a great author and the book isn't slowed down like another series starter I know of (cough cough Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone). This book (and the series) have been recommended by many and said to become the next great classic after Lord of the Rings - with all the publicity and the upcoming movie, I can see why there's so much appeal here. Anyways, for the amount of plot background that would interest you but not ruin the book, check out the website I link to below.

By the way, aside from strongly recommending the book (I've only read the first so far but I'm sure the next two will be just as good) I also recommend you check out the movie website here. FWIW, the movie comes out very soon on December 7th!

Monday, December 3, 2007

It All Blends Together

I recently watched Ratatouille once more and it was an excellent movie (with movie review to follow later this week). But the reason I mention it here is because I quoted a line from the movie... without knowing it was from the movie... to my best friend. Orion and I were speaking on the phone, doing our usual strategy/brainstorming talk, and I quoted him this line during our conversation:

"I hate false modesty. It's just another form of lying."

Of course, Orion being Orion meant that he didn't quite accept what I said as immediate fact. Indeed, he challenged the line itself, saying it was only true to a certain extent... but my point in bringing all of this up is how movies and books and other material starts to blend in to your thinking (influencing your perspective).

See, I've been thinking about this a lot ever since an acquiantance of mine asked me about how many books I read per week. The answer is about two per week, with a lot of daily news and blog reading, and he challenged me by saying, "Isn't that sort of inefficient? How do you remember everything you read?" and at the time I was somewhat stumped. But I have the answer now... and it is that I don't remember everything I read. In fact, it's far from it since I probably remember maybe 15-25% of what I read... but that's exactly the point!

I subject myself to so many random thoughts and perspectives from books, blogs, news, and movies so that I can store the key bits of information away for later use. The most recent example of this that I can remember is quoting a line from Ratatouille without even remembering where it was from... and yet, in quoting the line during the conversation, I added a timely perspective that set off a whole other conversation and in doing so subtly reminded the person I was having a conversation with that I have many perspectives from which to draw from; this helps when the person you're talking with also happens to be the co-founder of the company that you try to use to influence education in a positive manner! To that point, subjecting yourself to so many different opinions and perspectives helps throughout your entire life by allowing you to capitalize on other people's experiences and knowledge.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Wikipedia Article, College Knowledge, Chris Yeh

I'm calling out this blog post to Adam Jaffe because he's the Wikipedia master (or, well, I know he's one of my friends that reads on Wikipedia a lot). How do you get an article you write to "stick" on Wikipedia? I tried writing an article about College Knowledge as a test for writing a bio on Chris Yeh... and it got rejected as spam! I just took what we wrote on our About page and then linked to it so that it would have a source. Thoughts/advice anyone?

Preparing for reverse culture shock

Rizzo here from India. This week we're discussing culture shock, and how sometimes it's harder to adjust to one's home country upon returning, than it is when landing in a new country and experiencing a different culture for the first time.

To be completely honest, I'm quite terrified of returning to the States, and rightly so I feel. I remember having to adjust to the Indian way of life when I got here over four months ago. The two main obstacles we had to overcome were:
  • the concept of cyclical time [polychronism] and
  • the idea that attention can be focused on multiple people and multiple tasks at the same time with no loss in productivity or efficiency. It's not quite multitasking - it's actually more like multitasking on crack [polychronicity].
Both of these are very closely related and go hand-in-hand.

An example for each one. People here are always late to meetings, although it's better than what I expected it to be. If you're Indian and reading this, you've most likely heard of Desi Standard Time [DST] or Indian Standard Time [IST]. Neither of these are actual time zones, but they do summarize quite nicely the subcontinental approach to managing time, which is polychronistic in nature. A deadline is not a hard, set-in-stone point in time by which something must be accomplished [as is the case in the US], but a general time frame. The task or objective can be completed before, at, or shortly after that deadline. This took some getting used to at first.

As for polychronicity, let me tell you something about India that you should know if you ever come to the subcontinent. And if you've been to India and tried to stand in a line, you already understand what I'm about to say. Aside from the more progressive and metropolitan areas of the country [Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore], the idea of a "queue" simply does not exist. When we first got here, all we saw at the little food shops was total chaos. One guy behind the counter pulling out pastries, warming up dishes in the microwave, grabbing drinks out of the cooler, taking money, doling out change, serving prepared orders - all while dozens of people are barking orders at him and thrusting hundred-rupee bills in his face. And trying to be "civilized" about it [from our then-naïve American perspective] got us nowhere, as we would constantly be pushed, shoved and ignored out of the way. Slowly, though, we saw order in the chaos, and we could see that the one guy behind the counter could do what no pimply-faced, gangly teenager working the register at McDonald's could ever do - process multiple requests at the same time with a very high, if not nearly perfect, accuracy rate.

These are the two big things - polychronism and polychronicity. By contrast, US culture is monochronistic and monochronic. But there are a lot of smaller nuances in culture that will be hard to get used to. Another example: when we go out to dinner, we usually go to decent, sit-down-and-order-then-eat-then-pay-the-bill types of places. In other words, not street vendors [even after more than four months here, we're not touching that stuff. No way we want to get sicker than some of us already are]. And even when it's a group of 3 people, the waiters have no idea who ordered what. With maybe one or two exceptions, I haven't had a meal with friends where everyone got everything they ordered without the waiters asking, "Who had the butter chicken?" What's even better is when they'll put a dish down in front of who they think ordered it, and 19 times out of 20 they're wrong. Anyways, with these kinds of situations, although we've gotten a lot better about it, we tend to get quite upset and raise our voices. I know that speaking for myself, I've done exactly that a number of times. After all, when you pay good money for good food and solid service, you expect that.

Which brings me to my qualms about returning to the States. First off, fortunately, I don't think I have to worry about polychronism, because I've worked enough in business and gotten upset enough here about time management that I'm fairly sure I'll make the transition back to monochronism with no problems.

HOWEVER, when it comes to incompetent waiters at restaurants, I am concerned that I'll be at some place like Chili's [not necessarily high-end and classy, but at the same time a decent establishment] with my family and the waiter or waitress will mess up our orders, and instead of being civil about it I'll start yelling at him/her and make a scene - all without realizing it.

And as for polychronicity, I am quite sure that when I go to a fast-food restaurant and there's a long line, instead of waiting in line like one should in the States, I will pull out a 10 dollar bill, walk to the front of the line, wave the bill in that same pimply-faced, gangly teenager's face and bark my order at him - all while completely ignoring [and thus insulting] the fine fellow who was about to place his order right before I showed up out of nowhere and opened my big yap. That's bound to cause a fuss.

And all of the concerns I've just mentioned don't even take into account the fact that driving in India is akin to playing Chicken on I-75 in Atlanta going against rush hour traffic [in other words, driving straight at cars that are coming at you around 80 miles per hour]. It's not the fact that India's roads are like Britain's [read: BACKWARDS] and that sitting in the passenger seat here is like sitting behind the wheel back home. No. That's not what scares me. It's the WAY in which people drive that has me frightened about my own driving abilities. I've posted a video on YouTube to give you an idea of how crazy it is to be in the passenger seat on the road here, much less be behind the wheel, and my concern is that when I get back to the States I will have an equal disregard for lane markers and dividers, and that overtaking a large bus around a hairpin turn at 30 miles per hour won't sound as ridiculous as it did to me six months ago. Which means I basically have to ban myself from driving for at least a month or so until I get the hang of it again.

So as you can see, I have a lot of concerns about coming back to the States that I need to start preparing for and dealing with now.

Although, admittedly, they most certainly don't overshadow my excitement about returning home in 6 weeks.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Chris Yeh posted on my blog!

OK, I thought this was so cool:

Chris Yeh said...
I haven't been blogging as much (been pretty busy), but I'm glad that you like the thoughts I share with Ben!

So most of you probably don't know who Chris Yeh is... and that's important for understanding why this was so cool. Dude is like entrepreneur extraordinaire and a great thinker; I can't figure out for the life of me why someone hasn't added a Wikipedia post on him yet.

Anyways, I make an offhand comment about him on my last post and he writes a comment on our blog! At first I thought "Is Chris Yeh God? How did he find us?" but then I realized he probably does what I do... set up a Google Alert with his name, puts the setting to daily, and then reads what people write about him (in case it's slanderous). I could be wrong, but that's my theory on how he found us.

So my question to our readers: do you use Google Alerts? They're very useful for keeping track of any topics you're interested in, so I encourage you to go set them up at google.com/alerts or by clicking here.

P.S. Oh and here's to Chris posting more and more often. Here's his great blog.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Augusta Views: On Music

I'll be honest. I want to write a post on music, but I can't decide what to write about. Should I offer some evidence in the debate of how music enhances education? Perhaps I could explore the claims that music contributes to health? Or is it really the impact of music on my daily life that I wish to discuss? Is it the amazing way in which music expresses the inexpressible or the way it shapes the world that I'm interested in?

The truth is that I'd love to write about all of the above topics related to music. I'm constantly fascinated by its effects, the list of which is endless. I know how to spell "ambassadors" because of a song. I understand something about the impact of Buddy Holly's death through the lyrics of "American Pie." I have felt less alone in my struggles by hearing other people sing about going through similar trials. Sometimes it's just a melody and its ability to convey so much that has me in awe. And I could go on and on about how it feels to play music, whether alone or as a part of a group.

I guess that's my point. Music is incredible! What else can have so broad an impact? I know it's an invaluable part of my life, one that I didn't realize that I was missing until it made its way back into my routine.

I apologize for my abstract ramblings. Perhaps I'd do better to put my thoughts to music, but that'll have to wait until I have an instrument in my possession again! In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Short Leash vs. Long Leash

I don't always agree with Ben, but this post on short leash vs. long leash parents was fantastic. And I 90% agree with him, except I think there are always exceptions to the rule that he doesn't "allow for" in his post. Perhaps I misinterpreted what he meant... but regardless, go check out the post!

As a side note, I've actually noticed the more interesting of Ben's posts usually start as discussions via Chris Yeh, a friend of Ben. I'm making a note to read Chris Yeh as well.

Book Review: "Ender's Game"

A fantastic book! I was recommended Ender's Game by my little brother, who usually reads these types of books, and it actually was a great recommendation (goes to teach you that even things you may not like can end up surprising you).

Ender's Game is set in the future (Wikipedia tells me it's the year 2135) and is about a genius boy named Ender Wiggin who has been chosen to go to Battleschool. Battleschool is where chosen children go to train for the upcoming invasion of the Buggers, an alien race that everyone on earth has battled previously.

I could go on about the story, but part of the fun was not knowing a) anything about the book and thus b) not knowing what to expect. If you don't traditionally like sci-fi (and I didn't, before this book) you should still give this a shot; Ender's Game will not disappoint, is very cheap, and is a very quick read. Enjoy!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: "Eat, Pray, Love"

The book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert has gotten a lot of praise and reached NY Times Best Seller status. Usually I don't check out many best sellers, but since the book was sitting around my parent's home over Thanksgiving break, I figured I might as well give the book a shot.

Eat, Pray, Love is divided into three sections: Italy, India, and Indonesia (specifically Bali). The story begins with a bit of background on the author's life and then quickly jumps into the Italy portion of the story. The relevant bit of background: she's depressed, her marriage has fallen apart, and she's always wanted to learn Italian.

Well, the Italian part is interesting but certainly not the best part of her story. After traveling around Italy, and eating too much in Rome, she travels to India to work and pray in an ashram. From here, the story takes many interesting spiritual and religious turns and you quickly find out why the book became a best seller. Nothing she tells you is new, sure, but it's the way she tells you about religion, praying, meditation, and other aspects of life that hooks the reader deeper and deeper into the novel.

I wish I could say more, but then I'd start ruining the novel. My best advice is to pick up a copy of the book (or borrow it from a friend) and have a quick read. Then go back through the book and take more time reading through the novel. There's plenty of depth here for multiple reads. Put simply, this is a good book that entertains and also makes you think.

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For more, check out Elizabeth Gilbert's official website.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Have You Seen Goog-411?

If you haven't, read here for more information. I tried out the service the other day and I was pleasantly surprised. Add to the fact that I didn't need to pay extra for it (unlike the regular 411) and I am a fan! Google is doing some non-core amazing things, thanks to their advertising/search engine money making machine.

I'll be back tomorrow with some book reviews, thanks to the multiple books I read over the Thanksgiving break. What a great way to recharge the ol' batteries!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving from India!

Today is Saturday, November 24, and I celebrated Thanksgiving 2007 in India. Two days ago we commemorated our most wonderful of American holidays with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob, and rack of lamb.

"Now Rizwan," you might be saying. "Just hang on a second there. How did you get all of those things in India? Surely you can't just get turkey of all things in the Motherland!"

Well, let me tell you about this little shindig we had Thursday night. First of all, the food was all prepared by one of the best chefs in Bangalore. Although the chef's attempt at pumpkin pie was less than sub-par, the rest of the food was superb. And as for the turkeys: imported from Delhi, and I’m sure that even then they were imported from overseas. The turkeys alone cost Rs 250 per kilogram, or approximately $13.75 per pound. They ordered 20 kilograms, which is a grand total of Rs 5000, or about $125. That’s quite a bit of money for just turkey, especially in India.

But the fact that we had this fantastic food in India is not even the best part. The kicker was that we had all of this for free. Our Human Resources department put the entire program together, which was really fantastic. [Considering how incompetent and useless the department has been over the past four months, this seemed to be a reconciliatory move on their part, and it was much appreciated.]

Certainly a memorable way to celebrate Turkey Day in India!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Great News In My Family!

My cousin Pablo Larrazabal (24) recently made it into the European PGA Tour - he's the talk of the town (or, well, the family) and it's simply great news. I've had trouble digging up articles in English (since he's from Spain all the coverage I've found has been in Spanish) but here were the final standings for the Q-School and you can see him on the list.

A cool quote about the European PGA Tour, more of which you can read here:

"It is beyond dispute that the European Tour is the second most important tour in men's golf, behind the PGA Tour and well ahead of all the others."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Becker on Wealth, Education, Etc.

Becker had a great post on billionaires that you can read here. My favorite quote:

Still, there is pressure in most countries to tax heavily the very wealthy. One possible reason to do so would be to prevent their children and other descendants from having large advantages over descendants from financially modest families. But to help in equalizing opportunities, taxes should be on inheritances, not as in the US and many other countries, on estates. Even inheritance taxes, however, do not reduce the advantages from growing up in very wealthy environments, nor do they affect the huge head start from being raised in educated households that are not wealthy. From the perspective of getting a better education and higher earning power, having educated parents is considerably more advantageous than having very wealthy parents.

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We'll be off for most, if not all, of Thanksgiving. At the latest we'll be back blogging next week - until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

Pressure to "Succeed"

I've talked about my ups and downs with Penelope's blogging before, but this post really struck home when I read it over the weekend. The reason it made me think so much is I have a friend who recently (I suspect) took the wrong job because of some reasons Penelope lays out in the post. While this friend isn't particularly close, it really made me think that in a year or two this particular friend is going to be quite unhappy in the job they're planning to accept.

I know that paragraph was pretty vague, but I have to protect identities, especially on a blog. Do you ever feel the pressure to do what your parents want? If you're working full time, do you like your job and/or find it fulfilling?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

India: how I'll miss thee.

I have two months to go before I leave India, hopefully for good, and I've been reflecting today on my time here so far. And all this time I should have been studying for that exam I have tomorrow. Oh well.

One thing is for sure: I will not miss this country. Everything, every place, and everyone has its ups and downs, its pros and cons. Today we're talking about India, the Motherland, the Bharat, Hindustan. The land of my ancestors, the land I never knew until 4 months ago, and the land to which I will most likely never return.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not writing this with a bitter tongue. There are a number of good things to say about India, and I'll mention those in just a bit. But to help you understand where I'm coming from and why I feel the way I do, allow me to quickly recap the past four months:
  1. I am constantly harassed by 10-year-olds holding their baby siblings asking for money.

  2. There's nothing like seeing grown men, little children and sometimes the occasional woman all urinating or defecating in public. Really.

  3. Severe lack of communication, both within my company and without, makes for a very difficult and uncertain life.

  4. No order at all. The word "line" - which is very commonly known here as a "queue" [ahh, the remnants of British colonialism still manifest themselves in the most subtle of ways] - is absolutely ignored. Try to behave civilly when placing a food order and you will undoubtedly be shoved, pushed and ignored out of the way.

  5. India claims that officially, English is its business medium. All transactions must be conducted in the colonizers' native tongue [as I like to call it], and my company specifically mandates that at all times English will be spoken on campus and in all business dealings. Unfortunately, in order for this to truly work at the global level, the Indian education system [see my previous post], particularly with respect to how English is taught, needs a critical overhaul, because in its current state, the English spoken by native Indians around me is shoddy at best and abysmal at worst.
Now, onto the good stuff. The exchange rate is incredibly favorable to us while we're here in India, although when we leave this country the rate will hurt [after all, remember we're getting paid while we're here]. The current [and fairly stable] exchange rate is Rs 40 to USD 1, which effectively means that every day I can have breakfast, lunch and dinner for about USD 5, and that's in the moderately pricey range of the spectrum.

Better examples come from the clothing industry. Tailors abound in India, even in dinky little Mysore where I've been for the past 4 months. I found one tailor here in particular who has been tremendously helpful - very well-educated, actually used to work for my company himself for a short bit before he and his brother decided to open up their own clothing and tailoring shop. Now he's very successful and enjoys what he does.

But I digress. If you've ever been to Tommy Hilfiger in the summer months and come across their white linen pants, which retail for about USD 70, you are about to appreciate what I have to say. Remember that the Tommy pants are pre-made somewhere on the other side of the world, and the price you pay goes not towards the stitching but to the corporation. Sometimes it's worth it to do that, but sometimes you can get fantastic deals if you're in, say, a country like India. I've had FOUR pairs of such pants made - not off the rack but tailored to my body - at about USD 25 for each pair. And when I say tailored I do mean tailored. I mean the tailor takes about 7 different measurements around my lower half, then cuts the requisite amount of linen material, then tells me to come back in a few days when he will have them ready. And every one of them fits me exceptionally well. In fact as I type this post I'm wearing my black pair.

In short, clothing here is fantastic. So is any kind of travel, compared to the US. Flying from Bangalore to Delhi and back again [about a 3-hour flight each way] set me back Rs 8000, or approximately USD 200. Try finding that kind of deal in the States.

And if you think I'm having a financial blast here, imagine how my UK counterparts feel. The exchange rate for them is approximately Rs 80 to the British pound, so their quid stretches even further than the dollar!

However, even with all of these great things here, I know deep down that this is not home, nor will it ever be. No matter how much I love the fantastic deals and the cheap food and inexpensive travel, I will never get used to the extreme poverty, the terrible infrastructure [driving on even nicely paved roads here is akin to rollerblading on gravel] and the cultural nuances that truly make me appreciate how good we have it in the States. I will cherish this six-month experience for the rest of my life, but I don't think I could do it all over again if I was given the option.

Soon, in two months' time, I will be saying NAMASTE to India and HELLO to the US. Until then, I'm counting down.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Everything Investing: Moats

Well, it's not quite that easy to invest like Mark, but follow through this link to get to the excellent speech. While we disagree with a few of Mark's points, this one certainly rang true:


The way I see it, there are really only four sources of economic moats that are hard to duplicate, and thus, long-lasting. One source would be economies of scale and scope. Wal-Mart is an example of this, as is Cintas in the uniform rental business or Procter & Gamble or Home Depot or Lowe's. Another source is the network effect, a la eBay or Mastercard or Visa or American Express. A third would be intellectual property rights such as patents, trademarks, regulatory approvals, or customer goodwill. Disney, Nike, or Genentech would be good examples here. A fourth and final type of moat would be high customer switching costs. Paychex and Microsoft are great examples of companies that benefit from high customer switching costs.


That passage is an excellent example of the types of companies you should be looking to invest in and yet something is missing: the fact that you need to identify these companies, and their moats, before others if you plan on making an excellent investment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Augusta Views: Medical School Bytes

As I'm currently studying for a massive test next week, I think it's a great time to share some of the more interesting tidbits that I've learned thus far.

The first one is interactive: lay your hand on a flat surface & lift your thumb upwards and away from your other fingers. Do you see the dimple that appears just above the wrist? This region is referred to as the anatomical snuffbox. Apparently, some early anatomists saw it as a convenient place to put a little whatever and snuff it out! It's important clinically, too. The radial artery lies in the floor of the snuffbox & is vulnerable to injury there.

In your kidneys, there is a structure called the proximal convoluted tubule. Actually, there are a few million of them. They're small, but very busy! Together, the proximal convoluted tubules resorb 3 pounds of salt each day! Next time you're in the grocery store, check out the salt. 3 pounds is a LOT of salt.

Anatomists love giving names to regions. A favorite of mine is the Danger Triangle of the Face. It sounds so dastardly! If you were to draw a triangle with a corner between your eyes and one at each corner of your nose, you'd have the danger triangle. It gets its name because there are veins in that area which drain into the cavernous sinus in the cranial vault and thus provide a route for infections to spread. This relationship is why you aren't supposed to pop zits inside the danger triangle. It's extremely unlikely that an infected pustule will pack enough punch to create a problem, but it's definitely possible. (My dad always told me about this, but I didn't believe him and continued to squeeze away. Now I avoid the danger triangle, just in case!)

Lastly, we recently learned that they have developed a procedure for a "no scar" appendectomy. Instead of making a small incision in the abdomen to go grab it out, surgeons can now feed all their fancy laproscopic equipment down the esophagus and into the stomach to access the infected appendix. It's really quite remarkable, but a necessary consequence is that they drag the thing out through your mouth! Protective tube or no, I think I'd rather have the inch-long scar than have to think about my appendix having ever been in my mouth! Still cool, though.

There are PLENTY more interesting facts that I've learned in the first 3 months of medical school, but most of them are either awesome in an incredibly nerdy way or not exactly G-rated! Thus, I decided not to share.

Until next week,
Becca

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Book Review: "Let My People Go Surfing"

CK Book Reviews: We read 'em so you can pick 'em...

In Let My People Go Surfing, by Yvon Chouinard, each reader gets a sense of what it really means to strike out on one's own. The book is a poignant portrait of his life, from humble (very humble) roots to his ongoing success as a "reluctant" businessman. It's a quick read and I was amazed at how Yvon just did whatever made him happy (and yet was ultimately "successful" as measured by his and other people's standards). The reason I'm doing this book review now is that a conversation I had in Baltimore/Philadelphia over this weekend made me think about what we're trying to do here at College Knowledge, and so this book I recently read popped back up in my head.

Oh and for those that didn't know, Yvon is the founder of Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and supplies company. They are a values led company, which to me is incredibly exciting (think Clif Bar, something we've talked about here) and something to strive towards.

Even if you're not an entrepreneur (or ever plan on being one) the book is an entertaining, interesting read. It's definitely worth a look.


Well, the book itself makes a very interesting read mostly because Yvon's voice really comes through and you can tell he's being honest throughout the book. In fact, the quote that sticks out to me is the same quoted in the Amazon book review: The Lee Iacoccas, Donald Trumps, and Jack Welches of the business world are heroes to no one except other businessmen with similar values. I wanted to be a fur trapper when I grew up.


The book is quick, easy to understand and follow, and certainly provides a new perspective on business and even life. Is it as good as Raising the Bar? No... but it's an entertaining read that only takes a few hours to get through. Go check it out, but after reading Raising the Bar.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Everything Investing: Volatility Inspired Opportunity

Now this is something we've been onto for some time regarding our investing style. It's good to see there are people out there who can keep a level head when everyone else is panicking. One more distinction we'd like to add: not every market drop is a prime opportunity to invest. Sometimes a company's fundamentals really are deteriorating, in which case a plummeting stock price would not present a prime investing opportunity. In those situations, it's like trying to catch a falling knife.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Comments on the Indian education system.

This post is from our newest guest blogger, Rizwan. He will be posting regularly on Saturdays from now on... Enjoy!
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I’ve become disillusioned with the manner in which classes are conducted here in India. Granted, I’ve never sat in on an engineering or computer science class at an Indian college or university, but it's safe to say that an instructor here at the company is a product of his/her intellectual and academic atmosphere.

My mates and I are sitting in class and an instructor is teaching us on subject ABC. Behind the instructor is a projected PowerPoint slide with 5 or 6 bullet-pointed sentences. Across the top of the slide is a big question: "Why ABC?" And each sentence on the slide is one facet to answering this question. Clearly then, the answers to the question are right there in front of us.

The instructor asks, "So why ABC?"

And then waits.

And waits some more.

He wants an answer!

Sir, I want to say. The answers are right there. We can see them.

But I remain silent.

The instructor continues waiting. No one answers - it seems an exercise in futility, as we would simply be reading the answers off the slide.

Enduring silence.

Finally the instructor speaks. Turning around to glance at the slide, he simply ticks off the answers on the slide, which were there in front of us the entire time.

The ludicrous and gratuitous simplicity of the situation begs the question: why does the instructor ask us such simple questions with very obvious answers? If he is testing our ability to think critically, then there is no need to do so with the answers right there in front of us.

This is the way in which classes are taught everyday at my company. And again, while I haven't been to an Indian university, the instructors at the front of the class and my Indian counterparts all around me - indeed, all of us - are products of their academic and intellectual environments. Therefore I feel it's safe to assume that this is how classes are taught at Indian universities as well. If you ask simple questions that require no thought or foresight at all to answer, then you are robbing your students of two things:
  1. The spirit of inquiry and the thirst for knowledge, which have guided and advanced our species over the past 3000 years, and

  2. The ability to think critically, which as a software engineer working for a global IT services company is crucial to say the least.
The other concern I have with instructors here is their lack of focus on the entire class. We’re sitting in a classroom that has 4 rows of tables and chairs, split down the middle of the room to create a sort of aisle from the front of the room to the back. It just so happens that whenever real, substantial questions are asked, answers tend to come from my side of the classroom. I’ve been watching my instructors and they all exhibit the same behavioral patterns. This one in particular, standing in front of us right now, is looking almost exclusively at my half the classroom, thereby effectively ignoring 50% of his listening constituency. Moreover, he directs all of his questions and remarks to those who have already answered one of his previous questions and/or those who make sustained direct eye contact with him lasting more than 5 seconds.

Sir, I want to say. You need to focus on the rest of your audience too. They’re just as important. Pay them some attention as well - it will enrich their learning experience.

When it comes to Indian methods of teaching, the word ineffective automatically comes to mind, but it doesn't do justice to the system. It barely scratches the surface.

Stifling.

Hmm. That's a little better.

Not conducive to the pursuit of knowledge.

I like that one best.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Augusta Views: Splurgerific!

Today there are countless things to spend your money on! How should you choose? For advice about investing & such, check out CK's Everything Investing series on the blog. This isn't that kind of post!

I am a firm believer that there are some things in life that are always worth the money. Here's a few of the things that I'll splurge on & why I think they're worth it:
  • Shoes- it's all about comfort! Don't believe me? Try it! (Cue the obligatory clever reference to walking a mile in one's shoes...)
  • Sudafed & Tylenol (v. store brand)- I enjoy the coating & despise the lack thereof enough to spend the extra $1.50!
  • My favorite candy- those green frogs with marshmallow on the bottom; they're rare enough to remain a novelty even though I buy them every time!
  • Presents for others- if it's a really great gift, I can't resist!
  • Dessert- particularly at fancy restaurants, but even in general, it's hard to beat a delicious ending!
  • High-quality socks- my lovely roommate Sarah once said if she were a millionaire she'd buy enough socks to have a new pair for every day! I completely agree! (I got these fantastic ones from Timberland...)
  • Fresh flowers- flowers are simply amazing to me & having fresh, beautiful ones to come home to just makes me so happy!
See a pattern? These are things from which I derive such pleasure and happiness that the money becomes no object. Of course, your list would different greatly from mine, particularly if you aren't such a nerd when it comes to socks! The moral of the story, however, is that there are things in life that, for whatever reason, are worth the money to each of us. I'd love to hear from y'all: What do you deem to be splurgerific?

And if you say a great real estate investment, you've missed the point. Go talk to CK! ;-)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Innovation (and Innovative Management)

Another great article from McKinsey on innovation (and more precisely innovative management). Check it out here and following is a telling excerpt:

Throughout history, technological innovation has always preceded organizational and management innovation. Think back to the end of the 17th century, when muskets started to be introduced into European warfare. At the time, battle formations were very deep, very square, with the archers in the middle of the formation shooting over the heads of the archers in front of them.

Eventually, those formations changed in size and scope to better reflect the capabilities of muskets. But it took almost 100 years for this to happen. Why? Because a couple of generations of generals had to die off before military planners were able to use this new weapon in a productive way.

It won’t take 100 years this time.

Strategy, Life, Etc.

Today I read a fantastic interview covering strategy (in the McKinsey Quarterly) that actually not only applies to business but also to life. An excerpt:

The Quarterly: Shifting gears a bit, Richard, can you tell us about your research on diversification and focus?

Richard Rumelt: Well, my first research on corporate strategy showed that somewhat diversified but relatively focused companies tend to outperform highly diversified companies. And that finding has held up fairly consistently over the decades. Financial theory would say that companies diversify to reduce risk, but in the business world diversification is done not to hedge risk but to sustain top-line growth. The riskiest companies—the start-ups and early-stage companies—are intensely focused. Companies begin thinking about diversification only when their growth has plateaued and opportunities for expansion in the original business have been depleted. Suddenly, they have more cash flow than they know what to do with.

The Quarterly: Why are the highly diversified companies less profitable?

Richard Rumelt: It seems that the more complex an organization gets, the more likely it is that inefficient and unproductive businesses accumulate in the nooks and crannies and back alleys—and sometimes right up there in center aisle. These businesses are subsidized by their cousin, brother, and sister businesses that are doing well, and they stick around for too long because there’s a bias against shutting things down. Often we’ll find that these are pet projects of senior management and cutting them would cause a huge ego blow. It’s extremely unrewarding to a person’s career to weed the garden inside a company. It is much easier and more popular politically to grow the company than it is to go around and disrupt everybody’s neighborhood.

One of the things we see happening in private equity is highly incentivized people assuming this very unpleasant task of taking a company private, weeding its garden, and then taking it public again. It hasn’t happened with highly diversified companies yet, but we see that, essentially, something like that is happening as relatively complex organizations are cycling through private equity.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What I'm Reading...

... or better yet, what I consistently read is such:

- The Wall Street Journal (daily)
- The Economist (every Friday it arrives, I finish it by the weekend)
- National Geographic (monthly)
- GQ (not my subscription, but it's entertainment)

Then I read (or used to read) 2-3 books a week. For the past month, it's been an average of 1-2 books per week.

It's not so important what I read (or what you read), but rather that I read a variety of newspapers, magazines, and books consistently. I also suggest reading blogs from time to time, for interesting, more up to date information and perspectives. If you expose yourself to a lot of knowledge and perspectives, you're able to make more informed decisions and capitalize on the experiences of others.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Movie Review: "An Inconvenient Truth"

This documentary was an excellent movie and something I'd rate 8 out of 10 stars. I didn't want to see the movie when it came out for two reasons: I didn't have the time and I didn't want to get caught up in the "hoopla". Now that it's been months since the movie came out, I decided it needed to jump to the top of my Netflix queue.

The movie starts off with a bit of over-the-top drama from Al Gore but then segways nicely into a lecture he's giving on a variety of global warming topics: historical facts about the world, graphs and charts on global warming in the present day, the effects we're having on the earth, etc. I think he does a pretty good job overall of raising awareness about the topic... but even though he starts to get into solutions, I think he could have done more in this department. Granted I had high expectations going into this movie because of all the awards and praise he's won thanks to the film.

So what's the final verdict? It's definitely a movie worth checking out, particularly if you like documentaries. I can certainly see why it won 2 academy awards. Overall, the movie does a good job of blending his lectures with some personal stories and though the political jokes get a bit cheesy, it's a quality film.

Book Review (Addition): "The Little Book That Makes You Rich"

Remember the most recent book review we did on The Little Book That Makes You Rich? If not, click here for a refresher. Anyways, we just stumbled across an excellent chapter by chapter quick summary of the book. This is an excellent way of getting about 70% of the benefit of reading the book for about 5% of the time it'll take for you to read the book.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Augusta Views: On Teachers & Politics

This article from yesterday's edition of Today's Links prompted me to investigate a topic that my grandfather and I have discussed on a few occasions: Are college professors as a group predominantly liberal? And, more pertinently, how (if at all) does it impact those being taught?

I never believed him when he told me that there had been surveys which confirmed that the majority of college faculty members characterized themselves as "liberal" versus "conservative." Apparently, there have been. This article from The Washington Post is a bit old, but it proves me wrong all the same. I particularly like this quote:

"It's hard to see that these liberal views cut very deeply into the education of students. In fact, a number of studies show the core values that students bring into the university are not very much altered by being in college."

I would be interested to know how the conservative K-12 teachers figure into this picture. It makes since that college-aged students are less influenced by their professors' political opinions, but does that hold true for younger learners? According to some (again, borrowing a link from yesterday, I apologize), Gen Y is "inherently conservative." Is this because we were taught in grade school by conservative teachers?

I don't know that I can really draw any conclusions on the matter, but it's intriguing. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today's Links (Wednesday, 10-31-07): All Around The World

Happy Halloween!

- Ben's take on the impact of growing up in one place all your life vs. moving around a lot.

- How Penelope feels about Gen Y.

- Why Google still rules.

- In case you missed it, the Mythbusters answered questions on the Freakonomics blog. We saw them when they came to Georgia Tech and they were just as engaging.

- Chris questioning the world's work ethic. We disagree.

- Not all Democrats are poor...

- Sham Gad with some more interesting insights on the markets.

- A perspective on conservative teachers... check out the article.

- Does it take a near death experience to reinvent ourselves? Irving's post on the matter.

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We wish we could bring Today's Links to you everyday, but the work involved is just too much (imagine all the articles sorted through and read!) We hope you enjoy Today's Links as it is published, which should be about once or twice a week on random days.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Movie Review: "March of the Penguins", "Little Miss Sunshine", "The Departed", "Thank You For Smoking"

I find movies interesting because they cause varying reactions in people I (used) to think I understood. The first movie I saw recently was "March of the Penguins" and it was quite riveting. Though I tuned out halfway through the first time I saw it, the second time I was able to stay awake and give the movie the attention it deserves. I now see why it was so critically acclaimed, though Morgan Freeman's voice over didn't have quite the impact on the documentary that I thought it would. Regardless, the cinematography was wonderful and you could see the efforts taken to film the documentary.

The second movie I saw recently was "Little Miss Sunshine" and this movie had come highly recommended from peers and elders alike. To me it was not quite the funny movie I was expecting (and told it was) but rather an often time sad story that wasn't uplifting or even consistently entertaining. You'd have to see the movie for yourself, but it certainly didn't appeal to me in any way save for the occasional funny moment.

The third movie I saw recently is The Departed. Talk about an allstar cast! Now I don't want to spoil the movie by talking about the plot, but I enjoyed the film (though there are some strong scenes) except for the ending, which to me was disappointing. However, I can see why it won Best Picture in 2006.

The fourth movie is Thank You For Smoking, which I thought was a great satire. I had no expectations going into the movie, and didn't know about the plot beforehand, which made the movie even better. It's a (fictional) story about a national smoking spokesman and how he convinces people that smoking is not bad for you.

You'll be seeing more movie reviews in the blog, thanks to my new Netflix subscription. (Why did I chose Netflix? Because the plan I selected was a dollar cheaper than Blockbuster and there are no Blockbusters near my house).

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