Audi S5 in the wild

Posted April 9, 2008 by interestingtimez
Categories: Random

I spotted a brand new S5 in the wild today – didn’t even know they were already selling those. Looks quite nice – what do you think?


Optimizing Government Rebates

Posted April 8, 2008 by interestingtimez
Categories: Economics, Politics

The government has decided to put out a stimulus package and give people “tax rebates” in the hopes people will spend the money and jump-start the economy. An individual can get around $600 in rebates in the form of a government check that can be deposited into a bank account and then spent as you wish, or not spent at all or spent on paying back loans. And here’s the sticking point. With so many people out there struggling to pay their monthly loan or mortgage bills and other obligations, it seems likely a good percentage of the rebate checks will end up being used to pay off debt. This, of course, was not the government’s intention. The money was intended to provide a stimulus to the economy and to be spent out in the market for goods and services.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely of MIT, whose book I have cited previously, wondered about this too, and has some great points. He mentions the government’s use of the word “rebate” and notes how when something is called “rebate” people are much less likely to spend it than when it is referred to as, say, a “bonus.” The reason is that a rebate is something you overpaid and you should have never spent to begin with, while a bonus is something extra you get, that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. While technically this shouldn’t make a difference as it’s the same amount of money either way, people look at it in different ways and are more likely to spend “bonus” money and keep “rebate” money. But Ariely is modest and doesn’t purport to know everything. Instead of outright saying the government should have sent people debit cards of the Visa or Mastercard variety (and with “spend the government’s money” printed on them) instead of a check, which, given what we know about people’s behavior, would likely lead to a much more effective stimulus than a “rebate” check, he suggest to test different “methods of delivery” so we can determine which is the most effective one. It’s the kind of thing a company that can’t afford to waste money would do. Or anyone else who wants to get the most bang for the buck for that matter. Then again, it has never been the government’s strength to put forward the most effective solutions.

But let’s get back to the debit card idea. I think it’s a great suggestion – the government could even put an expiration date on the card, some nice text that makes spending even more likely (as suggested above) and could thereby ensure that the economy gets to see the money in the right way and at the right time.

Celebrity Sighting

Posted April 3, 2008 by interestingtimez
Categories: Random

Just like LA has its movie stars we do get our fair share of celebrities here in the valley. Now mind you, these are not your typical celebrities – they are usually much wealthier than your average movie star and much less well known. In fact, most of these folks are so unknown they can walk around and no one will recognize them. Others are recognized more easily. Steve Jobs is one of those. I just saw him today sitting at Fraiche Yogurt. Fraiche Yogurt, btw, is one of those new frozen (and also fresh, non-frozen) yogurt places that offer yogurt that’s less sweet, a little tart, organic, and overall just a lot better than your average frozen yogurt. It’s a little pricey – starting at $4 for a small cup and $1 extra for each topping (like a few crumbles of granola) but I guess Steve has no problem shelling out a few bucks, or a few million bucks for that matter.

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Hulu Meets Keyser Soze

Posted March 15, 2008 by interestingtimez
Categories: Random

I have had a beta account on Hulu for a while and have been using it to watch movies and TV-shows off and on. It is by far the best site for long-form video out there. The movie selection is still small but includes a few great flicks like “The Usual Suspects,” an awesome movie that I can highly recommend you check out if you haven’t seen it. There are also plenty of TV shows available on Hulu, including many currently on TV like The Office, House, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, or the Simpsons. For those nostalgic moments Hulu offers plenty of old shows. Too bad they don’t have Magnum P.I. – my favorite show when I was in grade school.

Episodes are usually made available on Hulu after the shows air, and include a few 30 second ads. At this point there is only one 30 second ad at a time and while the ads seem to appear somewhat frequently, they pass quickly and don’t interrupt the shows too much. One request I have, other than the addition of more movies and shows, is that I’d like to be able to crank the sound up a bit more – if you’re watching on your laptop and don’t have extra speakers it’s not very loud – but apart from that I can’t complain too much.

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Economic Apocalypse Now

Posted March 13, 2008 by interestingtimez
Categories: Economics

The NYT writes

…Almost everything seems to be going wrong for the American economy at once. People are buying less, but most things are costing more. Mortgage rates are rising, the dollar is falling and prices of key commodities like oil are leaping from one record high to the next.

On Thursday, the dollar plumbed new lows against the Japanese yen and several other major currencies; the price of an ounce of gold jumped above $1,000 for the first time; and lenders raised home loan rates once again. Government figures showed retail sales fell in February as consumers cut back on cars, furniture and electronics.

Stocks fell sharply after the retail sales report was released early in the day, and a large investment fund said it was nearing collapse. The volatility that has defined the market lately continued unabated…

Newspapers are fond of gloomy sounding titles these days, so I had to best them. But yes, Gold just pierced the $1,000 barrier and the dollar has slid to a record low of $1.56 against the Euro. Now, $1.56 is REALLY low. Back in the early 90s the dollar was low too – down to an equivalent of about $1.40 per Euro. Yet, that was a time when the U.S. was just coming out of a recession, not sliding into one, oil was at just over $10 a barrel, and the stock market was entering its fastest and steepest run-up in history. Just for price comparison purposes, the “true” value of the dollar, meaning the value that would buy you an equivalent basket of goods and services here and in Europe is about $1.10-1.15 per Euro, so the dollar is almost 40% away from where it should be. That’s all relative of course, and depends on your interests. Some people would argue with where it “should” be.

Greg Mankiw noted that real interest rates just turned negative recently, a phenomenon that typically drives people to move their assets into more inflation-proof goods or commodities (hence the run-up in gold) and leads capital to seek out markets with better returns (i.e., people sell dollar denominated assets and buy stocks and bonds denominated in other currencies). That again puts pressure on the dollar, which, in turn stokes the flames of inflation, thereby creating a vicious cycle. So what’s the Fed to do? Fight inflation or try to jump-start the economy?

Charts below courtesy of the Financial Times (a year ago would have been a good time to buy gold…).

SIEPR Economic Summit

Posted March 9, 2008 by interestingtimez
Categories: Economics, Politics, Random

I was over at the SIEPR Economic Summit on Friday and ran into Craig Newmark (Craigslist, there as panelist) and Meg Whitman (former CEO, eBay, just attending) right after I walked in the door. Also there were: Larry Summers (ex-Harvard president and Clinton-era Secretary of the Treasury), Steven Chu (Nobel prize, Physics, Berkeley), and Henry Paulsen (current Secretary of the Treasury), among many other interesting folks. The most attended afternoon session was the one entitled “How’s Bernanke doing?” With all the negative news on the economy shaking up the headlines these days, this was, of course, not surprising.

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Democratic Debate – Hillary and Obama face off again

Posted March 3, 2008 by interestingtimez
Categories: Random

SNL is back after the writer’s strike with this pretty funny skit on the Democratic presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t let me embed this (grrr…) so please follow the link.