Archive for March 2008

Hulu Meets Keyser Soze

March 15, 2008

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

March 13, 2008

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

March 9, 2008

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

March 3, 2008

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.

Audio Books

March 1, 2008

FreakonomicsI went over to Jackson the other day and got myself the audio book version of Freakonomics. It definitely seems to call for a good occasion as the book comes on 6 CDs and takes about 7 hours to listen to. Maybe for a plane ride…I’ll see.