Stanford GSB Update – After 1st Quarter of MBA Program

Stanford has been amazing – the people are spectacular.  The access to local VCs has been great – and we’re already fully into recruiting & interviews for summer internships.  The campus itself is really pleasant – I get to bike to class each day, the weather is almost always sunny and fresh feeling.

I got a deepdive in Finance this past quarter, so I can now understand the WSJ when I read it.  I am about to dive into another quarter of classes, but this time, they will be almost exclusively quantitative (modeling, stats, microecon, mngrl accounting, and corporate finance).  Between the courseload and spending time with classmates, the school absorbs practically all of my time – my life is once again managed by an Outlook calendar that finds lunches regularly double and triple booked.  We call it ‘drinking from a firehose’.   It’s crazy to have so many interesting lectures, seminars, and activities to spend time with.

Anyways, I’m getting to spend time with a lot of high-achieving and well-meaning people who want to build companies (either Internet businesses or clean energy companies) – and those are the two things I’m most interested in.  All in all, it’s been every bit the experience I had hoped it would be.

Fortunately, Joan has been a great companion – getting to spend time with her helps keep me balanced and after Q2, everything is supposed to ease up a great deal – giving us more time to work on projects, meet people outside the school, etc.

SmartMoney, Fortune, Forbes, etc – Compilation of Reviews

I have some expiring AA miles that I wanted to cash in and found that I could use Points.com to pick up some magazine subscriptions.  While I’m at business school at Stanford GSB, I want to have some quality business / finance / investment magazines that I can use to keep current.

In deciding which ones to purchase, I collected these reviews from the public reviews on Amazon.com.  I hope you find this compilation useful – and there is plenty more like this at Amazon, if you’re interested.

**Please note, I don’t personally know much about the bias, content, or relative quality of any of these magazines.  All of the info below is simply what I collected from the customer reviews done by others.  I hope it’s useful as a collection of others’ opinions, but I certainly don’t have the expertise to make any concrete judgments about any of them myself.** I did, however, buy three of them and I will know more soon 🙂

SmartMoney – Personal Finance, WSJ – 4/5 – http://www.smartmoney.com/
Among the features I look forward to every month:

– Ten Things: a “watch out” list of 10 things that you should know about the different professionals you interact with (your dentist, your accountant, a real estate broker, etc.). Always an eye-opener.
– Stock Screen: Paul Sturm is a knowledgeable, value-oriented journalist who puts together a list each month of 8-10 stocks that make it through a rigid screen of several characteristics. Each month, he features a different screen and he uses a good mix of quantitative characteristics and common sense to generate the list.
– Feature articles that profile common people and the serious personal finance problems they have endured (e.g., collecting on insurance, fighting the IRS, traveling overseas).

SmartMoney is frequently compared to Money magazine, but Money is often more narrowly focused on investing and it sometimes dumbs down its articles. I also read BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune regularly. While they all have their place, none provides the depth and common sense focus of SmartMoney when it comes to personal finance. I have photocopied and saved countless articles and I sometimes refer to them years later. … my advice is to get a subscription now – it’s definitely worth it.

Smart Money is a solid magazine about business and finance and I have been reading it on and off again for the past five years. This magazine is a little bit big business and a little bit personal finance, combining together the features of a business magazine with that of an investment publication.

One of the main things I like about Smart Money is the fact that it includes so many different articles each month. There are only a few regular departments in this magazine. The majority of the pages include featured articles and short articles that change from month to month. These articles can cover a wide range of topics from ways to cut your electric bill to the latest regulations in the insurance industry.

Smart Money is an intelligent magazine and its articles are often a little more advanced than those of other financial publications. They don’t reach a level that is too advanced to make them incapable of understanding, and that is good. But they are certainly intended for the savvier investor who already knows the ropes and wants some more specific, intermediate to advanced advice on personal finance and corporate happenings.

has some intermediate technical analysis, covers a great range of financial issues including new stock pics (performance of which which they track over time), mutual funds, financial managers/discount and full service broker comparisons, bonds, tax and retirement issues, travel, just the right amount (minimal) of tech product reviews, and a monthly car review/comparison.

I appreciate the focus on bargain hunting, both in stocks and the other areas mentioned above. These guys are not stock pumpers, but value seekers!

I like this magazine because it has a lot of short, concise and easy to read articles. I am no financial genius but I do like to read about what is going on

Forbes – Conservative Concise – 3/5 – http://www.forbes.com/
Cancelled my subscription (mostly due to the fact that I got utterly tired of their absurd right-wing slant)
I always look most forward to receiving my next issue of Forbes. Why? Several reasons:

– The articles are generally shorter and more “to the point” than Fortune. Forbes is also not as beholden as BusinessWeek is to cover the hot news stories.
– This magazine is the best of the three for discovering new investment ideas and it is generally more investor focused than either Fortune or BW.
– The editorials throughout the magazine are usually thought-provoking and I guarantee you will develop your own favorite columnists whom you will look forward to reading in each issue
– Forbes has a politically conservative and pro-business slant (with Steve Forbes as Editor-in-Chief, that should be no surprise).
– Forbes offers two supplemental issues, which are quarterly. Forbes ASAP is entirely focused on technology and many articles are actually thought pieces written by influential executives, investors, and technology visionaries. Forbes FYI features lighter articles which are thematically aimed at the upper class. You will probably find some of the stories (and the ads) irrelevant to your life (we’re not all millionaires yet, are we?). But it’s an amusing magazine and it’s a good break for me from the stream of more business-oriented stuff I read.

If you like CNN, you might as well stick with Fortune. But if you are more of a Fox News viewer, then you’ll like Forbes much better.

If you are sensative about your politics then this magazine will have a profound effect upon you. Liberal? You’ll hate it – and miss its more subtle and profound insights into raw capitalism. Conservative? You’ll love it – and miss its more subtle and profound insights into raw capitalism.

Forbes must be read with an open mind. It is unabashedly capitalist, boldly conservative, and stunningly pro-business. But it’s editorial arguments (the various editorals are its best feature) are always intelligently written and very effectively made. Regardless of your personal views you will find the opinions compelling. This magazine will make you think and, as a result, you’ll get more than your money’s worth from your subscription.

Forbes has some problems:
1. each issue features yet more conservative opinions promoting trickle down theory. If you want to read articles written by Steve Forbes complaining about having to pay taxes, this is for you!
2. after the Steve Forbes commentary, you find yet another billionaire or celebrity salary ranking. If you like to brown nose rich people, this is for you!

Fortune – Liberal Executive Profiles – 4/5 – http://www.exitocoastal.net/fortune.html
What does Fortune bring to the table that still makes it so vital? Several things:
– The most in-depth feature stories among the three magazines. They are thoroughly researched and Fortune works hard to interpret the facts and draw conclusions, as opposed to just aggregating and reporting information.
– More than either of the other two, Fortune will profile prominent executives, giving you a unique window into their philosophy and how they rose to prominence.
– The investing section near the back is always decent and there’s a reasonably good focus on technology, both devices and companies.

Why is it my least favorite?
– Fortune clearly has a liberal bias, with frequent articles on employee rights, racial or gender-oriented issues, philanthropic causes such as AIDS, and the general plight of the poor, the elderly, or working mothers. Nothing wrong with that, and some of these articles are eye-opening. But I mainly read business magazines with an eye toward investing, so these types of articles fall outside that scope.
– Yeah, there are too many ads and special advertising sections. It is a necessary part of the world of magazines (or else you’d be paying triple the price for a subscription). But it’s still annoying.

Although they seem to be substitutes for each other, Fortune, Forbes, and BusinessWeek each provide something different enough that I see the value in subscribing to all three (and I have been doing so for a decade). If you’re looking to go beyond the weekly headlines and want business-oriented articles that don’t always have an investment angle, then Fortune seems to be the best bet.

There is some good reading to be found here from time to time, with Fortune writers presenting some good articles on a diverse range of topics from taxation, to employee benefits, to political regulation of business. But in other ways, Fortune’s primary focus makes it the type of magazine that few can relate. Most of what you read in Fortune is aimed at CEO’s and other high- ranking corporate officers. Articles that discuss how a CEO successfully contained costs and helped increase shareholder value make for some ok reading, but they are not the type of articles that most readers can relate to.

Fortune is very much a corporate publication, and while it does present a few articles on personal finance, it would be better if it contained more. Also, it would be nice if there was a more personal dimension to this magazine. Along with more articles on personal finance and investing, I would like it better if it included stories of actual families illustrating what they have done to achieve their personal goals.

Fortune is like the fashion magzine in the business world, and Businessweek is more news centric. Fortune always has at least 5 or 6 very interesting featured articles about people, companies, or the economy.They are always insigtful, personal (as if the writer is talking to a friend), well researched, and perfectly structured. These long essays is the core of Fortune, but the rest of the magzine, columes, personal finances and so on, aren’t as good. 50% of the magazine seems to be ads, and the contents are not as tightly connected together in a clear manner as the Economist or Businessweek. That’s why I think it’s like a fashion magzine.

Money – Personal Finance Info For Beginners – 3/5
I subscribe to several financial magazines, of which “Money” is one. I think that “Money” is an excellent publication for neophyte investors, as it does provide generally sound information and advice. It is very good at explaining terminology in plain English, which is to be applauded, but investors with more knowledge of investments and financial planning would probably be better off with another magazine, like “Kiplinger’s”, for instance.

“Money” covers primarily investments in mutual funds, bonds, and stocks, although real estate and retirement planning are also dealt with regularly. I like the investment index feature in the back of the issue: it is honestly the only part of the magazine I routinely use anymore, although I do skim the articles, and read one or two per issue. My chief complaint with the magazine is how formulaic the articles are. It seems like every month there is an article called “The Best Places To Put Your Money Now”, for instance. Timeliness is a good thing, but the magazine endorses long term investing (as do I) so the last thing I want to be doing is thinking about where to move my money to this month.

Beginning investors: this is an excellent magazine for you, and I say that without reservation. Overall though, “Money” is not bad, but if you are already fairly knowledgeable about financial management you can do much better.
Money is a decent magazine. I subscribed to it for a year and learned some interesting things. It is good for beginning finance, but I also believe it can be a little dangerous. See my pros and cons.

Pros:
1. Good at outlining sound, traditional, general financial advice from issue to issue. Nearly every issue covers basic information on 401(k)’s, IRAs, home ownership, education, etc. They do an especially good job at providing narrative to help explain some of the more technical issues. Instead of writing a technical treatise on 401(k)’s, for example, they will instead describe the experiences of actual families with different needs and problems. This is probably Money’s greatest strength, even if the stories can sometimes be a little sappy.
2. They do a good job outlining major new trends in investing, taxes, etc. with a healthy dose of buyer beware.

Cons:
1. I believe mass market magazines are a HORRIBLE place to find stock tips. Please be very, very careful when reading their stock tips. I could write an essay here, but I hope that financial neophytes take all Money’s stock advice with a heavy ladle of salt. I don’t think Money is doing anything unscrupulous, I just think a monthly magazine is a poor forum for this kind of information.
2. I wish they would stay out of the consumer product reviews. I would rather read a couple more articles on finances than wade through a special section on automobiles, electronics, etc. Money should be about money. Sure, making good purchasing decisions is a part of a healthy financial lifestyle, but I personally believe their reviews sections are very thin and are just there to get people to buy the magazine off the newstand. No one should use Money, for example, to figure out which car to buy. I hope they don’t.

Harvard Business Review – 4.8/5
HBR transcends the purely academic and provides concrete advice on a wide range of critical areas, including leadership, strategy, management, decision making, delegation, organizational behavior, and communications. While the articles often address management theory, they always address the real-world practice of management. HBR is written for practitioners. The writing style is clear, concise, and compelling – just what busy execs need. If you are too busy or don’t know if you are interested in a full article, each article is summarized at the end. And no, you don’t need an MBA to understand the articles and take action.

Yes, a HBR subscription is expensive compared to other periodicals, but HBR is worth every penny. Set yourself above the competition and read the HBR.

I will go through the typical set-up of each issue: The front page contains a table of content, which is handy when you are looking for a particular article. There is an introduction by the editor. There is a Forethought-section is “a survey of ideas, trends, people, and practices on the business horizon.” It reports on research and studies that are currently ongoing, not just at Harvard Business School. There is a Harvard Business Review case study followed by advice from experts in the field on that particular case study. There is an autobiographical articles based on experiences from (typically) a business leader under the title First Person. This is followed by an article called ‘HBR at Large’ on issues that are not necessarily related to management issues. This section is followed by at least four new articles on management issues. Most articles are based on research by academics in fields ranging from human resource management, accounting to strategy and technology. Most of these articles present materials that later form the foundation for books. At the end of each Harvard Business Review, there is a short summary of each article. There is an article based on experiences at various organizations, which are described in ‘Best Practice’. There is an article for the manager’s ‘Tool Kit’. Finally, there is at least one proper book review. This book review is normally by someone related in the field, so there is some good critics on that particular book.

HBR is the most intelligently written executive-grade business magazine available. Forbes and Fortune would be the next runners up, but way in the distance. It takes a mag directed to people with chief positions and the aspiring chiefs to have an executive summary at the end of every magazine!

The September 2006 issue before me is not as tightly themed as some, yet its diverse offering is as rich as ever. Articles include

* Ten Ways to Create Shareholder Value
* Rethinking Political Correctness
* With Friends Like These: The Art of Managing Complementors
* How to Keep A Players Productive
* Curveball: Strategies to Fool the Competition

Then there are the regular departments:

* HBR Case Study: Indispensable
* Managing Yourself: the Decision to Trust
* Tool Kit: The New Science of Sales Force Productivity
* Best Practice: When Your Contract Manufacturer Becomes Your Competitor

Each month’s articles are treated to an executive summary at the back of the Review.

HBR gives its readers a mix of sociological, economic, psychological, and statistical takes on business at a level that can reasonably be called authoritative.

Why’d The Economy Crash, Our Savings Plunge, and the Huge Investment Banks Disappear?

Portfolio.com put together a tremendous insider story about the underpinnings of the economic mess we’re in:  excessive leverage on securities made of rolled up subprime mortgages, by speculators who bought despite home price-to-income ratios skyrocketing, and investors that saw this coming and made a killing shorting bonds made of this junk.

Who saw this coming?  Certain brilliant skeptics that had been a part of the inner workings of this complex web of financial engineering.

I’m only beginning to learn how this complex and disconcerting web became a monster.  This Conde Naste article does an excellent job of painting the horrifying picture.  Excellent work by Michael Lewis in producing this piece.  I’ve copied excerpts of this article below:

“In retrospect, pretty much all of the riskiest subprime-backed bonds were worth betting against; they would all one day be worth zero. But at the time Eisman began to do it, in the fall of 2006, that wasn’t clear. He and his team set out to find the smelliest pile of loans they could so that they could make side bets against them with Goldman Sachs or Deutsche Bank. What they were doing, oddly enough, was the analysis of subprime lending that should have been done before the loans were made: Which poor Americans were likely to jump which way with their finances? How much did home prices need to fall for these loans to blow up?”

“The smart trade, Lippman argued, was to sell short not New Century’s stock but its bonds that were backed by the subprime loans it had made. Eisman hadn’t known this was even possible—because until recently, it hadn’t been. But Lippman, along with traders at other Wall Street investment banks, had created a way to short the subprime bond market with precision.”

“Here’s where financial technology became suddenly, urgently relevant. The typical mortgage bond was still structured in much the same way it had been when I worked at Salomon Brothers. The loans went into a trust that was designed to pay off its investors not all at once but according to their rankings. The investors in the top tranche, rated AAA, received the first payment from the trust and, because their investment was the least risky, received the lowest interest rate on their money. The investors who held the trusts’ BBB tranche got the last payments—and bore the brunt of the first defaults. Because they were taking the most risk, they received the highest return. Eisman wanted to bet that some subprime borrowers would default, causing the trust to suffer losses. The way to express this view was to short the BBB tranche. The trouble was that the BBB tranche was only a tiny slice of the deal.”

“But the scarcity of truly crappy subprime-mortgage bonds no longer mattered. The big Wall Street firms had just made it possible to short even the tiniest and most obscure subprime-mortgage-backed bond by creating, in effect, a market of side bets. Instead of shorting the actual BBB bond, you could now enter into an agreement for a credit-default swap with Deutsche Bank or Goldman Sachs. It cost money to make this side bet, but nothing like what it cost to short the stocks, and the upside was far greater.”

“The arrangement bore the same relation to actual finance as fantasy football bears to the N.F.L. Eisman was perplexed in particular about why Wall Street firms would be coming to him and asking him to sell short. “What Lippman did, to his credit, was he came around several times to me and said, ‘Short this market,’ ” Eisman says. “In my entire life, I never saw a sell-side guy come in and say, ‘Short my market.’””

“And short Eisman did—then he tried to get his mind around what he’d just done so he could do it better. He’d call over to a big firm and ask for a list of mortgage bonds from all over the country. The juiciest shorts—the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default—had several characteristics. They’d be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking home­owners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.”

“More generally, the subprime market tapped a tranche of the American public that did not typically have anything to do with Wall Street. Lenders were making loans to people who, based on their credit ratings, were less creditworthy than 71 percent of the population.”

“All that was required for the BBB bonds to go to zero was for the default rate on the underlying loans to reach 14 percent. Eisman thought that, in certain sections of the country, it would go far, far higher.”

“A full nine months earlier, Daniel and ­Moses had flown to Orlando for an industry conference. It had a grand title—the American Securitization Forum—but it was essentially a trade show for the ­subprime-mortgage business: the people who originated subprime mortgages, the Wall Street firms that packaged and sold subprime mortgages, the fund managers who invested in nothing but subprime-mortgage-backed bonds, the agencies that rated subprime-­mortgage bonds, the lawyers who did whatever the lawyers did. Daniel and Moses thought they were paying a courtesy call on a cottage industry, but the cottage had become a castle. “There were like 6,000 people there,” Daniel says. “There were so many people being fed by this industry. The entire fixed-income department of each brokerage firm is built on this. Everyone there was the long side of the trade. The wrong side of the trade. And then there was us.”

“You have to understand this,” he says. “This was the engine of doom.” Then he draws a picture of several towers of debt. The first tower is made of the original subprime loans that had been piled together. At the top of this tower is the AAA tranche, just below it the AA tranche, and so on down to the riskiest, the BBB tranche—the bonds Eisman had shorted. But Wall Street had used these BBB tranches—the worst of the worst—to build yet another tower of bonds: a “particularly egregious” C.D.O. The reason they did this was that the rating agencies, presented with the pile of bonds backed by dubious loans, would pronounce most of them AAA. These bonds could then be sold to investors—pension funds, insurance companies—who were allowed to invest only in highly rated securities. “I cannot fucking believe this is allowed—I must have said that a thousand times in the past two years,” Eisman says.”

“On July 19, 2007, the same day that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the U.S. Senate that he anticipated as much as $100 billion in losses in the subprime-mortgage market…Steve Eisman had become a poorly kept secret. Five hundred people called in to hear what he had to say, and another 500 logged on afterward to listen to a recording of it. He explained the strange alchemy of the C.D.O. and said that he expected losses of up to $300 billion from this sliver of the market alone. To evaluate the situation, he urged his audience to “just throw your model in the garbage can. The models are all backward-looking.  The models don’t have any idea of what this world has become…. For the first time in their lives, people in the asset-backed-securitization world are actually having to think.” He explained that the rating agencies were morally bankrupt and living in fear of becoming actually bankrupt.”

“Not so for hedge fund managers who had seen it coming. “As we sat there, we were weirdly calm,” Moses says. “We felt insulated from the whole market reality. It was an out-of-body experience. We just sat and watched the people pass and talked about what might happen next. How many of these people were going to lose their jobs. Who was going to rent these buildings after all the Wall Street firms collapsed.” Eisman was appalled. “Look,” he said. “I’m short. I don’t want the country to go into a depression. I just want it to fucking deleverage.” He had tried a thousand times in a thousand ways to explain how screwed up the business was, and no one wanted to hear it. “That Wall Street has gone down because of this is justice,” he says. “They fucked people. They built a castle to rip people off. Not once in all these years have I come across a person inside a big Wall Street firm who was having a crisis of conscience.””

I, personally, don’t know nearly enough yet to know exactly what I think about all of this.  I believe that the majority of the junior analysts at these firms knew little of what they were doing.  I also know that a lot of the leaders of these organizations made an absolute killing off of the crisis that they helped create.  I am interested in seeing how this plays out.

Customized News Innovation, Feed Filtration, Relevance…

The problem many people face is that there are so many sources of information that we’re trying to keep track of, we’ve become buried. Information overload is a real problem for many web users, and one way to cope with it is to filter your RSS feeds so you only see what you want to see.  There are many ways to filter news feeds from your favorite sources, including passively by relying on meme trackers like Techmeme or social news services such as Google Reader’s shared items.

My biggest problem is that each of my feeds is a single, sequential series of posts that is organized by time, NOT by importance or relevance to me.  With a super-bright friend, I’ve been working on some interesting new ideas in feed filtration.  Imagine a website that had the most interesting and relevant information for YOU.  A sort of fully customized TechMeme…a YouMeme.

Poking around, I’ve found several interesting attempts at solving this challenge:

Feedhub.com –  learns from your behavior to suggest posts to you – so far, the user interface and service looks pretty sweet.  It gave me my own feed, based on my OPML, which I added to Google Reader, and it will look at my history and give me feeds back.  TBD.

** FeedZero.com –  It uses Bayesian filtering to present you with a list of filtered feed items – all you need to do is subscribe to a bunch of feeds, mark which ones you like and don’t like (similar to classifying items as spam or not spam in an email client) and it’ll learn your preferences.  It has just gone into testing so any feedback would be appreciated – http://www.feedzero.com.  I loaded up my OPML here and it does some interesting things.

The interface is sometimes clumsy in operation but clever in its layout.  Seems fairly effective at choosing stories I’ll like.  This bayesian method must be interesting.  So far, so good.  Despite the somewhat clumsy interface, the news it is filtering for me is good.  Great case in point, after only one day (yesterday) of reading posts and saying ‘yes / no’ to certain ones, it loaded up several articles.  The 3rd one, which impressed me the most, was a post about the sale of the domain name, solarenergy.com.  It knows I like domain names, it knows I like solar energy, and it spooled up THAT article, out of several hundred it could have shown me.  It’s also doing well on other themes too – it’s awesome enough to have this sort of service that I find myself reading MORE news overall, because of the consistently high relevance of the stories to ME.

There are a LOT of other services that are doing something in this sphere:  AidRSS, FeedRinse, FilterMyRSS, BlastFeed, etc, but for me, the two above look the most interesting.

TBD if the end result of all of this is (a) to build my own company that does this, or (b) that FeedZero or some other service is useful enough that it is unwise and unnecessary to dive in myself.

Corn, Corn, Corn..

Ever wondered what’s in a twinkie? Wondered how they produce that wonderful food called ‘Cheeto’?

Well, I recently began listening to a shocking book about the food we eat and it’s uncomfortably monoculture origins. The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the life of commodity corn and the crazy ways in which it finds it’s way into food.

I never really thought about it, but here’s basically what I got from the first section of the book. We take Petroleum & turn it into Ammonium Nitrate (chemical fertilizer). Then, we put this on large monoculture farms to produce corn that is not edible by humans, but rather, commodity corn. We then turn this corn into (a) feed for cattle, a species that is not predisposed to survive on grains, but rather, needs grass. Thus, we have to give pharmaceuticals to the cows to keep them alive long enough to fatten them up. They produce all kinds of methane and other gross stuff while living a sad life in the feedlot, and producing the delicious meats that I love so much.

Or, (b), we turn that corn back into ethanol.

Or, (c), we turn the corn into High Fructose Corn Syrup, Xanthan Gum, Corn Starch, and all sorts of other items you read on the back of your Twinkie label and some 50% of the food in the average supermarket. Pollan even details the outrageously high % of corn that makes up an average McDonalds meal, etc (something like 30% into your French Fries! (corn oil), >50% into your Chicken McNugget…corn even goes into the Salad Dressing & Milkshake (HFCS), the burger (poor, poor cows), the ketchup and mayo, etc. I used figure that french fries come from potatoes – which IS true – but I never really thought I was getting my daily dose of corn in them as well. I also used to buy cans of corn, because I thought it was a healthy vegetable. Nevermind that!

I’m no production efficiency guru or anything, but it sure does seem backwards to take oil and pump it into our food system, only to produce an oil substitute and less healthy foods. Then again, I love those foods. So does the generation of children in N. America that are developing early onset diabetes and are likely to be the first generation to actually have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Health care system, you reading this book?

Anyways, it’s an important, seminal work on the evolution of food in the developed world and gives a plain-english yet scientific explanation of what’s going on with our food. Check it out…

Not Everyone Believes In Climate Change…

It’s mostly just scientists and climatologists.

So lots of people have come around on this ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ thing. Very good development, indeed. Is it too late to apologize for kyoto et al? Well, as the gas pumps illustrate, the sweet crude is now up over 130 buck$. Ouch. And still climbing? Will it ever stop?

(image source)

Why is this happening? Well, as legendary OK/TX oil & natural gas man T. Boone Pickens describes in the video below, it’s quite simple.

The cost/barrel is rising because demand for oil is now greater than supply. Crazy right?

Sounds like a joke. But, Pickens explains, we’re no longer in a situation where OPEC is manipulating production, but rather, the global demand for oil has now recently outpaced production capacity. See the video here????????.

Well, to see more about that there oil production capacity, check out the graph below. As you can see, the experts predict that we are about to reach the world production peak and then start falling. This is serious stuff! Notice that not long ago, the US produced over 1/2 the world’s petroleum. Yikes. Unfortunately, the global production curve is heading in the same direction that the US production curve followed some years ago.

Let’s see. What might happen at that point? Well, world supply is expected to actually start decreasing and here we’ve got a 6+ billion world population headed north of 9 billion…3 billion of them all looking to go from relatively impoverished to developed/industrialized nations. Less oil, more people, higher rate of consumption per capita…well, you get the idea.

How bout getting after ‘dem there renewables, eh? Wind turbine, anyone? Electric cars? Policy makers who can push forward a real energy policy that focuses on driving forward higher efficiency vehicles, construction standards, and alternate forms of transportation?

Anyone up for more aggressive subsidies for scientific research on (1) wind power (2) solar power (3) batteries and other means to save/transport power (4) electric vehicles.

US Vehicle MilesUpdate: Some good news in the graph to the left. Vehicle miles on highways in US. Notice the flattening? Sweetness! (Img S0urce).

Fortunately, there are a lot of really smart people out there working very hard on solving this problem. As oil prices continue to climb, more and more smart people will find their way into this field. It’s just disappointing that news media & the general public isn’t quite there yet. Ya’ll policy makers, come on now, you can help out, too!

While we’re putting together a wishlist, can we please drop the ‘corny’ joke of the oil alternative that comes from the same stuff that we use to make tortillas? I mean, I get it. Corn can make fuel. But really? We’re using up government subsidies, plant fertilizers (which come from oil), water, and our most valuable food-producing topsoil in order to entice a Food plant (corn) to convert sunlight into an edible substance. And then we’re going to turn that food into gasoline to feed our cars? All the while, corn (the food, not the ethanol) prices and just about every other commodity price has skyrocketed in the last few months. I mean, okay, as a stopgap it sure is a nice party trick that we can turn corn into fuel. And that’s cool, it really is. But if we’re really going to put our political might and economic prowess behind a plan to offset the impending global energy ‘whoops, why didn’t we fully see this coming, type of nightmare’….wouldn’t we put that effort & global fortitude into something more sustainable and rational than turning water and oil into corn and then turning it into a gas substitute? Again, I also understand that the corn fuel can be produced domestically and that is a plus. But to the detriment of figuring out other, more effective solutions. Shouldn’t we at least VERY aggressively push the electric car agenda, or the wind turbine agenda??? Shucks.

Oh yeah, and while we’re at it…we gotta take a look at the water scarcity issue. Say, oh, maybe in about 2014, I’d be willing to wild-guess that water’s going to be as big a societal concern as our oil and global climate volatility. Ya know, cause pollution won’t ever harm the global oil supply. But water, now that’s another thing. Just ask the guys in Yemen and Saudi what happens when population growth causes water demand to exceed supply.

I guess that begs an interesting question. Would you prefer to be the country with 5% of the world’s population that consumers 1/4 of its oil, importing $600 billion of it annually, but with a reasonably large amount of available water? Or a much smaller country with lots of oil but almost no water at all? Ya know, you can use oil to desalinate water. But then again, in 2012, we’ll be needing that oil for our plastic bags and as a supplement to our 80% corn ethanol driven high efficiency suvs, right?

The good news is, we’re still early on in this craziness and we’ve got some time to turn it around. Everyone voting in this year’s election?

(Disclaimer: I do not work in any of these fields and I am not even close to being an expert in any of them; I am an uninformed guy watching from afar. Please feel free to enhance, challenge, or re-frame the argument as you see fit in the comments below.)

Important, Smart Movie About Dignity in the 1935 South – The Great Debaters

“Keep the slave physically strong, but psychology weak and dependent on the slave master – keep the body, but take the mind. I…am here to help you find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.” I was born in the early 80s, so maybe I am naive and this stuff is new to me…but this movie overwhelmed my senses and gave me a new understanding of a very important issue.

“We do what we must, so that we can do what we want.” This ritualized lesson from father-to-son is emblematic of this movie’s message about how a young negro student needed to behave in order to excel during an oh-so-recent era, the 1930s.

So I happened upon a really important movie this week – “The Great Debaters”. It should be required reading. Oprah, I implore you, take one additional step to aid in our society’s moral maturation: buy a copy for every elementary school teacher in America and get Obama to champion it as required viewing for every Civil Rights history class in our country.

Here’s why it’s awesome:

(1) The man behind the plan: Denzel Washington (who starred in and directed this movie) is the inspirational leader of the debate team at an all-negro college in Texas during the 1930s. Also, it features an intense & exceptional actor, ??????Forrest Whitaker (wikipedia), who won practically every award possible for his performance in Last King of Scotland (wikipedia), another important exceptional movie.

Kudos to Oprah for producing and funding this tremendous timepiece:

(2) It was fast-paced, emotionally jarring, and informative.(3) The brilliant screenplay features enough quotables to make Kofi Annan jealous (famous quotes by the former UN leader).This movie teaches us that it’s cool to be intelligent. The young actors in this film are tremendous as well, and here you can get a feel for the young team. Special note: the youngest star, Denzel Whitaker, is not related to either one of his elder namesakes…This video shows the maturity and passion that the actors had for this movie:

Go see it. It’s worth you’re while. And Oprah, I’m serious about sending it out to history teachers and having every kid in America really understand the story this movie tells.

Petroleum Musings…by Mike Dorsey

I just thought of something…

If oil and plastic and rubber all come from non-renewable hydrocarbons that date back 300k years, and we are extracting them from every place we can find them, aren’t I glad that they pump other liquids back into the ground, so that the pressure of gravity on earth doesn’t cause all those empty caverns to collapse!

The future seems bright for entrepreneurs…

Well, if you’re thinking you want to be self-employed one day, take heart from this post: The Future Of Web Startups. This article articulates something that I’ve been thinking about for a while…with enough desire to go it alone, a few months of living expenses saved up, and some intestinal fortitude, just about anyone can build a business these days. With the proliferation of business opportunities in this “digital era”, people can start a business without building a warehouse, hiring scientists, or developing a supply chain, etc.

girl becoming entrepreneurWhen starting a startup was expensive, you had to get the permission of investors to do it. Now the only threshold you have to get over is whether you have the courage to…If startups are easy to start…founders can start them younger, when it’s rational to take more risk, and can start more startups total in their careers. When founders can do lots of startups, they can start to look at the world in the same portfolio-optimizing way as investors.

By hiring a few programmers, picking up a web template, and doing a few weeks of testing, entrepreneurs can now test entire business plans in a matter of weeks…The rapid testing and iterative improvements that are possible now make product development move very quickly and so young folks can start businesses quickly and without much cash…

We often tell startups to release a minimal version one as soon as possible, then let the needs of their users tell them what to do next….Instead of going to venture capitalists with a business plan and trying to convince them to fund it, you can get a product launched on a few tens of thousands of dollars of seed money from us or your uncle, and approach them with a working company instead of a plan for one.

Although written from the perspective of a VC, this article is definitely consistent with my experiences. Anyone else seen these trends lately? Disagree?

Top 16 Movies That Teach Us Something About The World

Electric Car1. Who Killed the Electric Car? – We should be driving them, but corporate capitalism has prevented it.
2. Why We Fight – Military Industrial Complex, we really ought to examine our nation’s decisions.
3. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – How the pursuit of profits mixed with loose morals led to a corporate scandal of epic proportions.
4. Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism – Woah, yikes. I knew it was bad, but…Newscorp is in your brain!
5. The Last King of Scotland – Idi Amin, the Ugandan Dicator, seen from within.
6. Uncovered: The War on Iraq – Ugh. Not good at all.
7. Tsotsi – A wakeup call about what it must be like to be a poor kid in South Africa
8. Thank You For Smoking – Hilarious movie about a smoking lobbyist and his gun-running and drinking compatriots. Apparently, smoking is bad for you, too.Earth
9. An Inconvenient Truth – It’s not ‘warming’, but rather ‘climate change’, and it’s definitely happening. Take a restroom or phone break while Gore waxes his political agenda.
10. Hotel Rwanda – Unusual courage, great story from the forgotten continent.
11. Gandhi – Incredible illustration of a world leader – but why was he played by a British man? Isn’t that sick? But to his credit, this was a fine movie.
12. Lagaan – Insight into Indian culture and colonial animosity, plus learn the game of cricket!
13. Babel – Communication, communication, communication…from North Africa to Japan to California…If everyone would just calm down and understand the other…
14. Crash – Why is everyone so hard on each other? It’s incredible how intertwined we are.
15. The Fog of War – Memoirs of Kennedy’s top brass and a chief architect of Vietnam.
16. The Future of Food – Crop seeds can be patented? Monsantos is Monsterous…Watch out for mutated food.

Update: A fellow Austin College alum pointed out that my blithe mention of mutated food wasn’t a fair representation of the facts. As James writes:

These cries against GMOs are no different than the church fighting the copernican revolution, or the scopes monkee trial, or any other development.
If you wanna bash Monsanto, bash them for focussing so much of their development on pesticides, or bash them for their economic policy. But realize that when you bash them because you don’t like GMOs, you’re just revealing that you don’t know much about GMOs.

He’s right. I don’t know too much about GMOs, but the movie was a decent introduction and as James rightly points out, the emphasis of the movie is on the impact of GMOs on farming practices (specifically their pesticides) and then the movie gives a ‘Michael Moore-esque’ intimation of the threat of GMOs – an interesting thing to learn more about, for sure…

So that’s it. If you’re like me and you want to learn something while watching movies – these are the top flicks that teach us something of consequence about the world.

What other good ones am I leaving out? Which of these movies do you dislike or disagree with? What else should I see to learn something new?

Recalling Cairo, Ulaan Baatur & Latinoamerica

In my college years, I went after travel with vigor and enthusiasm. I variously found, stumpled upon, applied for, and was given the opportunity to study and travel to many countries. Towards the end of high school, during study abroad programs supported by my alma mater, Austin College, during summer research programs, and then subsequently, a graduate program, I spent some two full years abroad, spanning an eight year period.

Enjoying these experiences during the end of the dot com bubble, the dark years of ’02 and ’03, and studying in developing countries freshly adorned with internet cafes, I could make websites! With the beautiful synergies created by digital camera proliferation + html + ubiquitous email and internet access, I could become an amateur publisher of online content about those countries – and that’s exactly what I did. I was just another example of the type of phenomenon that was possible for the first time in history, a concept that The Long Tail and The World Is Flat eloquently teach about – and are books that I highly recommend listening to.

So anyways, I put my scarcely-adequate web coding abilities to the task to communicate with my friends and family back at home, and created a couple of my very own 90s-looking websites. I did the first one using an old AOL hosting package, a dell laptop, and some text-only html editing editor. You can see a photo of us preparing to devour cooked scorpion in the streets of Beijing – salty, but good!

This page, Mike Dorsey International Studies & Travels might be a good starting point. It talks about the 3-months I spent in Asia, the semesters I spent in France and then Argentina, some other <2 mo trips I took, and chronicles a few of the interesting things I was exposed to.

I built the second – using the now-swallowed-by-Lycos – Tripod, which tells about my Rotary-funded year in Cairo, where I was an ‘Ambassadorial Scholar’ and really busted it to complete a Master’s Degree and learned a LOT. Some of my experiences there are highlighted here: Mike Dorsey’s Homepage.

Finally, I should mention that I can’t get in and access either of these old sites anymore, anmike dorsey egyptd so in many cases, the content is a haltering and incomplete picture of those places and overly emphasizes my travels, relative to the awesome people and places that define the majority of my life, in and around Dallas, TX. Finally, my apologies for the annoying ads everywhere on those two sites! Bagh! But, at least the existence of those ads does mean that AOL & Lycos are likely to allow those sites to continue to exist in their current form, because every once in a while, someone comes along and clicks on one of their dirty links and makes just enough money to justify continuing to host those files for me and everyone else who made websites in this way.

Living it up in Big D

So I’m loving my life here in Dallas. As an Internet Entrepreneur who works at home, I enjoy a lot of freedom to spend my evenings and weekends taking advantage of some good stuff Dallas has to offer.

Since I’m making a concerted effort to hit up all the good, cheap concerts, plays, arts galleries, and sporting events that this city has to offer, I’ve shared my Dallas Events Calendar. If you’re new to this site and don’t know much about me, then you can find a little info about Mike Dorsey here. (forgive me for repetitively saying my name, but I’m trying to get search engine placement for my name 🙂

New beginnings…

So here I am, with this new site. Testing plugins – just added the ‘tag’ cluster to get the ball rolling.

I wont often post sport or entertainment news here, especially while the mavs are down. But I couldn’t help but give my respect to ‘young’ Lebron, who put together a sleek 48, 9, and 8 tonight, scoring his team’s last 25 pts, and leading it to a double-overtime win against a formidable, veteran foe late in the playoffs. Kudos, sire.