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December 6th, 2007 by Joel
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Five Birds, One Stone – How Iraq Saves the World

July 17th, 2007 by Joel
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Violence flares, various parties battle for political control, and with a one-way ticket to the U.S. in hand, Al Qaeda waits patiently in the screening lines of Baghdad airport. A scary scenario? Hold on to your seat, but this isn’t what happens if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, it’s happening right now.

However, there are some results of a U.S. draw-down we can confidently predict: increased dialogue in the region (similar to welfare reform in the 90′s), increased focus on developing alternative energy (in conjunction with the increased oil prices), greater wealth for the poor people in oil-rich nations (in conjunction with the increased oil prices), a dramatic cut in U.S. casualties in Iraq (duh) and a drastically improved budgetary picture (duh).

iraqi skies

As Iraq spirals deeper into chaos, at what point will the crazy man quit doing the same thing and expect to get a different result? With elections drawing near, the U.S. congress will finally recognize the need to reign Bush’s policy in. With the start of a significant withdrawal, don’t be surprised to increasingly see headlines reading: peace & stability, prosperity, clean-energy and balanced-budget. Stories that are in high demand and short supply these days.

Then again, WWIII might be just around the corner.

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The Zen of Jott.com | Anti-Clutter Tool

May 11th, 2007 by Joel
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Tracking my hours has never been this easy…

All it took was signing up on this free website and programming their number into my cell phone. It’s called Jott.com and it’s what keeps my head clutter-free and in a (more) Zen state of mind.
Brain Synapse - Mind Writing Notes
In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  • Go to their website and sign up for free (you’ll need to provide your mobile phone number and an email address).
  • Save the number they provide in your mobile phone address book.
  • Call that number anytime, say something, and like magic, they’ll convert what you’ve said into text and deliver it to the email address you provided during sign-up (in case your voice comes across garbled, the email provides a link to your account where you can listen to the recorded audio message you left).
  • Daily, I use it to track billable hours, leave notes and send myself reminders. There are some more advanced features, but the basic function alone is truly a saving grace. I can’t remember the last time I found a web application so useful.

    So there’s my sales pitch. Hope it comes in handy.

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    How U.S. Schools Sparked the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

    March 16th, 2007 by Joel
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    I’m illiterate, but should an English teacher really fail me? A growing number of Americans say no…

    home-demo…At least when it’s the banks doing the grading. An informed public keeps the wheels of democracy and capitalism greased. However, financial illiteracy still plagues many in the “middle class.”

    Underlining the need for reform in schools, disgruntled and desperate borrowers are turning to the courts for help in an effort which should serve as a warning; and if in doubt, just look south of the border where a wave of socialist reformers have recently been swept into power:

    “Across the nation, anger and litigation are growing against the tactics of subprime lenders, who offer easy credit for homes that are turning out to be too expensive for millions of Americans now that mortgage rates are going up.”

    The King of Consumption or the Queen of Denial
    The recent run up in asset values was largely influenced by the easy money atmosphere which prevailed following the economic downturn in 2001. It’s really just a result of basic supply and demand:

    1. Cheap money and loose lending standards flood the housing market with buyers (many of whom were never truly fiscally viable)
    2. Multiple bidders compete for limited goods (homes) and prices rise
    3. Builders struggle to keep pace, resulting in a supply glut once rates rise and standards tighten

    A simple analysis by anyone looking at the loan types these “boom” buyers used, could’ve concluded with confidence just when all this trouble would begin.The Residential Mortgage Market and Its Economic Context in 2007

    Some of the most popular loans during this period were ARM’s. Such mortgages typically have rate adjustments (per terms of the note) based on some index plus prime after a fixed period of time (frequently 2 to 3 years). 2007 is the year during which many homeowners will feel that pinch according to various reports.

    Coming to Terms
    You could argue that many believed rates would stay low, but this is major folly at best. The simple fact that interest rates were at all-time lows should have given many pause. It wasn’t just laymen who fell into this trap; as the WSJ noted in an article last year; Lenders Try to Keep Mortgage Boom Alive:

    “More than $300 billion of ARMs issued to borrowers with good credit will begin resetting over the next two years, according to Lehman Brothers Mortgage Research, with $718 billion more of these loans resetting in 2008 and 2009. An additional $507 billion of ARMs issued to borrowers with poor credit will reset over the next four years.”

    Money Tree
    This over-exuberance may just be a cultural thing, but the best way for government to impact culture is through our public school system, not with laws and regulations limiting democracy and capitalism.

    Back in 2005, it could be argued, that even Greenspan got in on the irrational exuberance:

    “Lenders are now able to quite efficiently judge the risk posed by individual applicants and to price that risk appropriately,” he argued at the height of the housing boom.

    While Mr. Greenspan may have been right about the ability of lenders, I guess that when a final decision is left to human beings, reason and reality aren’t always the best of friends. It must be said, when enough demand exists for something, you can be sure that some go-getter will be right there looking to make a quick buck; even to the detriment of others.

    Strong Minds Break Chains
    If you take the loan of your own volition, sign up for the class, the lender has the right and the responsibility to hold you accountable for your financial literacy, or lack thereof. Even with these challenges, we should not be deterred – Demand for things that society agrees are “unhealthy” can be minimized, but only to the extent we successfully use our resources to educate the public. In the end, it’s the responsibility of the individual to make the right choice – it’s society ‘s responsibility to provide access to the tools for making that choice.

    “Yet without a well-informed public, our liberty itself is in peril.”
    – Thomas Jefferson

    Related Resources
    - Real Estate Finance In-Depth, a retrospective (.pdf)
    - Annenberg Institute for School Reform
    - TIME.com: How to Bring Schools Out of the 20th Century
    - Federal Reserve | Personal Financial Education
    - The Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition
    - State of the Nation’s Housing 2006 | Harvard JCHS
    - Residential Mortgage Market in 2007 | MBA
    - The Fed’s Consumer Handbook on ARMs

    [UPDATE - 3.22.07]
    Debating government intervention on Kudlow & Company tonight was Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton. The falseness of his heart was abundantly clear; if not outright frightening – especially given the position he held…I suspect this may have had something to do with Hillary’s comments on the mortgage market.

    Watch the debate between the Dynamic Duo.

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    Improve Your Memory

    January 6th, 2007 by Joel
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    Compassion is key…
    homer-simpson-brain
    Poor memory has plagued me at times in numerous relationships – at other times, a sharp memory has been a great asset. Recently, the former has been the case. This got me to thinking…”What factor has been the main contributor to these differences? What can I do to improve my memory?”

    The importance of finding an answer to this question has increased due to the current circumstances in my life. I have been fortunate enough to meet a number of new people due to current job conditions and my social scene. Here’s what I came up with:

    Cultivating compassionate thought is the missing ingredient
    When we are fully compassionate we let go of our own concerns and fears, allowing ourselves to more deeply experience life in the shoes of the other person (the truest way to practice the golden rule). This has a much greater impact on our mind than does passive listening/conversing. In turn, the memories become more vivid and have staying power.

    On the practical side, there are many books on techniques that can be used to accomplish this:

    Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends & Influence People” is one of my favorites. A summary of the book is available if you’re too busy to be bothered, although I recommend reading the entire thing.

    The purpose for writing about this has been two fold:
    1) It serves as a helpful reminder, a sort-of journal, and way to turn these recent insights into more concrete examples by putting them in writing.
    &
    2) Perhaps it will test my assumption, provide me with feedback and lead to a better understanding.

    I hope to follow up on this article by discussing more ways to:
    “Be More Compassionate.”

    UPDATE [02.05.2007]
    Fresh evidence: Loneliness link with Alzheimer’s | BBC News

    “We need to be aware that loneliness doesn’t just have an emotional impact but a physical impact,” said Professor Robert Wilson.

    Where memory is maintained, Compassionate relationships have trumped Loneliness. Where it fails, there’s some work to do. My experience tells me that this correlation exists, this article tells me that it’s probably a safe bet.

    Don’t wish for an absence of enemies, only for the compassion that compels them to be friends.

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    Kiwi

    December 30th, 2006 by Joel
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    I like.

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    Gates Foundation: Lessons From Education Entrepreneurs

    December 20th, 2006 by Joel
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    Valuable insights are gained by Bill and Melinda Gates since embarking on a philanthropic mission via their foundation. They recently discussed this on PBS’ Newshour
    Warren Buffet with Bill and Melinda Gates
    The Interview
    Judy Woodruff posed challenging questions to the couple entrusted with billions in other peoples money:

    “There’s been some improvement, but in terms of academic achievement, improved only slightly, and in math, it appears to have gone down. What lesson is there from that?”

    From the mouth of Melinda:

    “It would be great to work in just new schools or new models of schools, but we’re realizing that you have to work at the district and the state level. You have to have policy changes that support these 1,800 schools that we’re working in.”

    “It would be nice if the curriculum that was there really worked, but, as you start to look at it, we’re realizing that the gains we’re making are in reading and in English[...]But you’re absolutely right: Math and science, there needs to be a curriculum change, and sometimes even teacher training to make sure that we’re teaching the right things to students.”

    Bill provides an interesting insight, linking the foundation’s dual causes of promoting global health and modernizing the education systems:

    “The impact of improving health is that the population growth goes down, and so you can educate more kids, feed more kids. It’s paradoxical that, when you have better health, families choose to have less children, because they’ve been having enough children so that they can be sure that a few of them will survive and take care of them. So as health improves, then all the other problems are dramatically easier to tackle.”

    Listen to or read the full transcript of the interview.

    Some Thoughts
    A sure-fire attention killer is learning math for math’s sake; this was true for me in most subjects. As for todays youth, I’d bet that things haven’t changed much. I was lucky enough to be shown the “light”…the practical application of this knowledge opened a new world of possibilities. My motivation came as the result of finding more effective strategies to get what I wanted.

    What Motivates a 10 Year-Old
    G.I. Joe and He-Man
    Those blue and white ticker tapes run across the TV every night my father (a banker) gets home – I eventually had to ask him, “What could possibly be so interesting about this that you watch it like it’s your religion?” I was facinated by the idea that people were earning money not by “going to work,” but just putting the money they earned into pieces of paper (You mean there’s a way to get EVERY Star Wars action figure besides mowing lawns!). As time passed, this led to discussions of financial statements, the various ratios derived from them that investors use value companies and the function of interest rates.

    More Recently
    I’ve been facinated by the analytics used in search engine rankings (although I have yet to actually delve into the topic, the interest is there…now, if only the time was).

    So, what’s motivated you to learn what would otherwise be a dull topic?

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    Google Docs and Spreadsheets | Publish Dynamic Content For Free

    November 29th, 2006 by Joel
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    Google opens up a trove of data for users to harness and build into their own websites…

    The Basic Idea:
    Allow users to create and publish spreadsheets with dynamically updating data online to their own websites. The method used to cull the data is quite easy -a little too easy if you have a desire to publish complex data results- and has the potential to make any Joe Shmoe an instant RSS expert (Not sure about this, but typically, RSS feeds allow for very little customization by the end user; this is unlike Google’s new dynamic cell formulas).
    Here are the formulas users will apply in Google Spreadsheets:

    GoogleLookup function
    Syntax: =GoogleLookup(“entity”, “attribute”)

    GoogleFinance function
    Syntax: =GoogleFinance(“symbol”, “attribute”)

    In The Past:
    Only VB programmers and businesses wealthy enough to subscribe to Bloomberg and Reuters data services have been able to harness the vast amounts of dynamic data available over the internet. Today, they still are pretty much the only ones who can do this – Although, Google Spreadsheets has integrated these very interesting functions which at least takes a step in that direction.

    The following is a live example embedded into this post:
    (This was super easy)

    Publishing your own dynamic spreadsheet:

      1) If you haven’t already, sign up for a Google account. Play around with the above formulas until you’re happy with what the spreadsheet looks like (you’ll see the data dynamically populate the cell once you enter a “proper” attribute, entity and/or symbol – this wan’t so easy for me while messing with different LookUp function).

      2) Click the “Publish” tab on the top right. Change the “Automatically update every 5 minutes?” option to YES. Now click on the “Re-Publish” button to save your settings.

      3) Look further down in this section and click on “More publishing options”

      4) For “File format” choose: HTML to embed in a webpage – adjust the other settings as desired.

      5) Now, simply Generate URL and copy the HTML into your webpage (note: WordPress users should go into their options and revert from the RTF editor to avoid any problems).

    Get examples & read more about these functions here:

  • How can I use spreadsheets to answer some of my many questions about the world?
  • How can I get financial market information updated automatically to my spreadsheets?
  • Google Docs & Spreadsheets API Documentation on Google Code
  • Publish spreadsheets as web pages
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    Richard Dawkins Vs. Jerry Fallwell

    November 26th, 2006 by Joel
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    Dawkins in Lynchburg VA (part 2) The God Delusion

    Moderation is not the word in this video, but it makes for good viewing. My two cents: There are no bad religions, just bad people.

    If you want to skip to the good stuff, things begin to get interesting with the question asked just before the 42 minute mark…enjoy!

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    Atari Flashback Steals PS3 and Wii Market

    November 15th, 2006 by Joel
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    Unlikely headline, but still a very exciting alternative…

    Classic Atari Ad

    A CLASSIC REWIND

    Some Features:

    1. Two-thirds the size of the original Atari 2600 console released in 1977
    2. Two joysticks – and if you still have some of that vintage gear laying around, you’ll be happy to hear this: “Original Legacy Atari paddle controllers are compatible with Arcade Pong”
    3. 40 games pre-installed (Note: I was disappointed to find one of my all-time favorites is missing, Pole Position.)
  • Check out the online manual for a full listing of the games among other tidbits of retro Atari wisdom.
  • More Information:
    Manufacturer Site | Atari® Flashback™ 2 Classic Game Console

    Purchase Page | the Atari Flashback 2.0 from Amazon.com – $30 (Nota Bena: There’s a rumor going around that Target will have the system for $20 on black Friday.)

    I Reminisce:
    Growing up in the Eighties just wouldn’t have been the same without this classic time-waster – A special shout out to my older brothers, who will probably appreciate this more than I can, for introducing me to the video game revolution way back when.

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