New camera!

September 27, 2006

I bought a new camera today at the local department store. It is a 6.0 megapixel Nikon Coolpix L2. 179 euros. Click here to see the complete specs. I also picked up the 2.0 gigabyte memory card for another 60 euros, which stores 1299 pictures on it, or 1h53m of video.

The purchase is timed well for my upcoming trip to Germany this weekend! I’m going there for Oktoberfest, the legendary beer guzzling extravaganza. I’ll post some nice pictures afterwards (on Facebook).

In Milan

September 13, 2006

I am in Milan, Italy right now. It is a fairly large, bustling metropolis with a few sites to see, namely the Duomo, one of Europe’s largest cathedrals, and Da Vinci’s The Last Supper which lurks therin. I have yet to see the latter. I’m also told there are a few great art museums here which I have also not been to. All in all it’s a very business and fashion-oriented city. Not at all reflective of what most peoples’ conception of Italy would be.

Siena on the other hand was a beautiful Italian medieval town. Just gorgeous. Everything was made out of brick and stone, and everyone would go walking around at night, stopping at cafes for a cappucino, or sitting in the town square looking up at the stars. Tuscany, the province Siena is located in, was a far more picturesque view of Italy.

Further Italian sites on the to-see list: Rome, Venice, and Sicily. I’d also like to travel to Lake Como or perhaps Cinque Terre again (I might be returning there this weekend for an overnight stay this time).

School registration starts tomorrow. I’m selecting all electives for my 5 courses, as I’ll be completing the remaining business course requirements when I get back to UBC in January.

The residence I’m staying at is awesome, I’m meeting tons of diverse people. Heading over to a friend’s to play beer pong tonight. Should be fun.

World Trade Center

August 16, 2006

I saw World Trade Center this evening and I must say it was nothing special for Oliver Stone. Wallstreet was a far, far better movie. Still, WTC was a decent crack at evoking sympathy from a slightly desensitized audience. A better movie about 9/11 was United 93, which was far more moving while less ambitious even. Rottentomatoes gave WTC 72%, and I’d have to agree with that score. I’d maybe knock off 5% for a few cliche’d lines such as “Tell my wife I love her” and “How am I gonna tell [little so and so] that her father’s dead?”. I think in the end, I just plain prefer movies that don’t profess to be serious, far far too serious. Go spend your $12 on Talladega Nights: Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

By the way, Robert Johnson is awesome. Give him a serious listen if you haven’t yet, and are interested in the roots of all blues and rock over the past 50 to 60 years.

Robert Johnson (1911 – 1938)

August 7, 2006

“The most important blues musician who ever lived.”

-Eric Clapton

Summer blasts on

July 26, 2006

As we near the end of July, I am shocked at just how quickly this summer has flown by. Perhaps even as quickly as the airspeed velocity of an unlaiden European swallow, but it’s hard to tell, given that this exact rate is unbenownst to me. But regardless, the summer’s midpoint is a distant spec on the backwards horizon now, and I find myself looking forward to the next steps.

Congratulations to a good friend of mine, who recently qualified as an entrant into the World Series of Poker’s main event (which starts this weekend). This is the premier poker tournament in the world, with 8,000 entrants and a prize pool of over US$80,000,000. So there is a chance to pick up some serious loot here, not to mention enjoy an all-expenses paid week in Sin City Las Vegas.

My time at the palace (Toronto’s most prestigious bachelor pad) is drawing to an end, as my subletor is returning from afar this weekend, and giving me the boot. It was a great place to live, with an even greater view (I didn’t know Toronto was so forested until seeing it from 30 stories up). I should like to return for many a movie and party session, which I am sure will happen time and time again.

I have figured out how to go on MSN from work so now I have yet another thing to distract me from my projects. But luckily I am able to control the urges fairly well. Being a long time chatting veteran (migrating from ICQ, to AIM, to Trillian, then finally to MSN), I have learned how to life both a productive and enjoyable live whilst thwarting the beckon call of the instant gratification of impersonal online drivel.

An Inconvenient Truth

July 18, 2006

So I finally got around to seeing An Inconvenient Truth (click here for trailer) the other day. Let me just say that I was not in the least disappointed. Al Gore does an amazing job of portraying the real dangers of this global phenomenon, as backed by hard scientific evidence. “It is not a political issue, but a moral issue”. Right on Gore.

Before seeing this movie I truly did think that political agendas were behind global warming. Is that such an unreasonable conclusion given the vast media attention from both left and right of centre observers? But now I am not asking “Who is behind this”, but “what are we going to do about it?” That is the far more relevant question.

Anyway regarding the movie and how it is presented, I think that politics are for the most part left out of it. The movie focuses on explaning the causes of global warming, the outcomes, and the proof behind its existence. It also touches on ways to slow down and prevent our generation’s greatest challenge.

Yesterday’s temperatures in Toronto were at near-record breaking highs. It truly is getting warmer people, and much like the lobster that slowly boils to its death, so will we be blind-sided if we are not more prudent and realistic.

Check out Bernty’s discussion on global warming

The An Inconvenient Truth website is a user-friendly place to start caring about Global Warming

Zidane’s shame

July 9, 2006

Zidane, what were you thinking when you headbutted Materazzi during extra minutes this evening? You were at the end of your career, and yet you had to go ahead and showcase the quickness of your temper to a billion spectators all over the world. What a class-less move, for someone who would have otherwise entered into soccer history as one of the true greats alongside Pele and Ronaldo. I will still wear your jersey in pride, as I have great respect for the rest of your team, but you sir, have tainted your image forever more. (At least you still have the 66 million euros transferring fee Real Madrid paid to acquire you back in 2002).

A Modern Tragedy

July 8, 2006

Readers of Will’s Blog will recall that in April he posted an article called “Jeffy Boy Deserves to Hang”. This was his view that because of the enormity of the malfeasance of the Enron gang, death was not too severe a penalty.

Well now we read that Ken Lay has died of a heart attack at age 64. (Cynics have suggested suicide but we don’t know that).

Are there any aspiring playwrights out there? If there are, here is the script for a modern tragedy. The fall of a powerful man through lack of self-knowledge. The Greek tragedies involve the “clash of right against right”. The Greeks were fascinated with justice and liked to watch how two good causes might work out against each other. Anyway the gods were in the sky pulling the strings so it was just fate anyway.

With Shakespeare it’s a bit different. Shakespeare was involved in the human condition, without divine intervention, and his tragedies involve the fall of the powerful men because of a “tragic flaw” in their character, usually a lack of understanding of their own natures.

So playwrights, step right up and write a play about Ken Lay.

Kenneth Lay was the founder and CEO of Enron, which ultimately became the third largest capitalized U.S. corporation. It was a Texas-based energy trader but had its modest roots as a natural gas wholesaler. When Enron went down it took with it over $10 billion US in assets thus wiping out thousands of jobs, gutting pension plans and wiping out investors values. Tens of thousands of people were wounded by this corporate failure.

Was Lay guilty? He certainly was guilty of lying about what he knew. Often in securities frauds it is not the “illegal” transactions that makes the feds want your skin nailed to the barn door, but the fact that you tried to lie your way out of it. I think lawyers and analysts can argue about the legality of the Enron “off-balance sheet” transactions but it is clear that Lay lied about what he knew. Skilling and Fastow are more guilty of direct violations of corporate governance.

Ken Lay was a man of God. At the beginning of his trial he said that he believed that God controlled human events especially to the benefit of those who loved Him. Throughout Lay represented himself as a man of deep religious faith. He said that whatever had happened had been the will of God.

But unlike another wealthy man, say Warren Buffet, Lay wallowed in the excesses of wealth. He spent extravagantly on things the common man might dream of; parties, travel, high living.

In the oil business he cultivated the friendship of George H. Bush and George W. Bush. The latter as President of the United States sent him a birthday card addressed to “Kenny Boy”. This is obnoxious frat-house bullshit. But it made people wonder. Would Kenny Boy ever see the inside of a federal prison? Not with a friend who is the President. But George Bush cut Kenny Boy adrift when he became a political liability. So much for loyalty to friends at high levels of wealth and power.

Lay was self-righteous and deluded. He simply couldn’t believe that a jury would find him guilty. He himself did not appear to know that he had done anything wrong. When the guilty verdict came down reporters in the courtroom were astonished to see his reaction. His face went white. One said “This man won’t last six months to be sentenced”. He was convicted only six weeks ago. His sentence was to be in October. He might have faced up to 45 years in prison. If he went to prison he would die there.

I don’t think you can send a spoiled rich guy, used to only the best, to a federal prison to end his days. Maybe we should. But it isn’t happy to think of how Lay would have endured prison.

Lay was a crook but a self-deluded one. I personally have little sympathy for him as a criminal who ruined tens of thousands of lives. But he remains an interesting psychological case. What is interesting about Lay is that he became a man of great wealth and power and yet his view of reality was seriously skewed. And when reality crashed into him his heart quit. Well he is gone now and we are told “to speak no ill of the dead’. But I don’t think we can let him off the hook because a heart attack (or maybe his own hand) cut short his life, lived in power and wealth and ended in shame and failure.

Giving away billions

June 30, 2006

In case you haven’t heard, legendary investment philosopher and Fortune 100 CEO Warren Buffett has donated $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, doubling its net asset value (which already ranked it the world’s foremost charitable organization). The philanthropic gesture is unprecedented on many levels. I greatly enjoyed watching the video stream of the press conference and discussion session which featured Bill, Melinda, and Warren.

Everyday payment options

June 17, 2006

Most of what people write I am convinced is plagiarized, if not the actual words, then the ideas. And it is not necessarily a bad thing, because out of old ideas spring new ideas, and this is how idea diffusion generally works. If I take someone else’s idea and apply it to my post, whether consciously or not, I am tweaking that idea in some new way, as well as passing it on to other readers. Thus I am both spreading ideas, and adding something new to the pie, both positive outcomes.

In the past while I have come up with an idea that is genuinely fresh and new to me, meaning I did not consciously plagiarize this. It is concerning every day payment solutions, such as buying a newspaper, a coffee, or an MP3 player. When faced with how to make these payments, people generally turn to either their debit cards (where bank services charges can amount to $0.25), credit cards, or cash. All three have historically offered serious drawbacks. Credit cards can rake up huge, unpayable bills on which usurous interest is charged and cash is cumbersome and inconvenient.

How about a fourth alternative? It involves carrying a negative credit card balance and using it for every day payments. By loading this “extra” money onto your credit card, you need not have to worry about A) transaction charges (for payments and cash withdrawals) B) sky-rocketing credit card bills (a negative balance decreases with spending) or C) usurous interest charges. And it is convenient, because bulky cash is now no longer needed!

Go ahead, next time you get your paycheque log into online banking and dump $500 or so onto your freshly paid off credit card. Carrying a balance of -$500 frees up your daily finances so that you can spend affordably, wisely, and conveniently.