Tuesday, October 24, 2006

littleMAN onlineSTORE betaLAUNCH

I think Tracy's online store finally ready! Well, at least for beta testing to friends and family. Click here to access the store and receive 20% off your entire order. Let me know what you guys think even if you don't buy anything!

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Second Amendment

I was walking to work this morning thinking about the Tienamen Square incident and thinking how strange it was that everything just kind of went back to normal after that. It was as though the government basically said, "OK, everyone run along and go home now" and then proceeded to spray the crowd with bullets for good measure to make sure everyone obeyed. How the heck did the government stay in power? How did people just stand for that? Why didn't it spark mass protests and riots and civil unrest until either the government was toppled (Batista in Cuba) or forced to reform (Johnson in the 60s)?

Unfortuantely, I think the answer is guns. As much as I deplore guns and applaud gun control measure such as the Brady Bill, I think the Founding Fathers were wise to include the Second Amendment. It's the ultimate check and ballance against the government.

Stuff from Last Weekend

I never got around to writing up all of the adventures I had last weekend as I had promised so let me try to catch up:

There's a new club on the Bund in Shanghai called "Attica". I got invited to the "soft opening" last Friday night. The location and decor were absolutely beautiful. I have no idea how that place is going to make any money. The capacity of the club must be over 2,000 people and I wonder how many people in Shanghai can afford $15 drinks. Then again, the night I was there, most of the crowd looked like they had just flown in from St. Tropez. I don't think I've seen so few Chinese people in one place since my time in Abbeville, Alabama earlier this year. And apparently, if you just sit down at a table marked "RESERVED" and one of your friends proceeds to cop huge attitude, the waiters will leave you alone.

If you know the right place to go, getting custom-tailored clothing in China is cheaper than getting your shirts laundered 3 times at the Marriott. Here's a pointer: if you're coming to Shanghai and want to have a suit made, I'd bring some classy buttons from the US.

On Saturday afternoon, Tracy and I went to a newly-opened traditional Chinese massage place and each got 2 hour massages. Total cost for both of us: $22.

Unless you're really REALLY into Sim City, go ahead and skip the Urban Planning museum. While it's cool to think that the government has master-planned the future development of Shanghai 10 years in advance, one trip to Pudong very quickly deflates that myth. In the mid-90s, Pudong was a huge rice patty across the river from the historic Bund. One would think that with so much undeveloped land so close to so many people, the government could have done something really cool like developing mixed-use buildings set along pedestrian walkways and loads of public transportation. Today, it's nothing but urban sprawl. They should have turned the entire development over to Disney or Intrawest.

One of the most popular (and certainly most crowded) places in town is an area restored to 17th-century Chinese charm known as the Yu Gardens. It's an area of about 3 city blocks filled with souvenir stores and restaurants. It's packed with tourists and shovey Chinese people hawking loogies everywhere. For clarity, the area just OUTSIDE of the Yu Gardens is crowded. To get into the actual Yu Gardens, you need to pay 40 RMB (about $5). The $5 is a big enough deterrent to change the density of "annoying person spitting and shoving you per 100 square feet" from about 87 down to 0.04.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Chinese Mario Andrette

I love Type II errors. As a stat major in college, the difference between Type I errors (false positive) and Type II errors (false negative) was drilled into my head. I think I learn more from analyzing Type II errors than Type I. Additionally, I love making Type II errors because they can be summarized as, "Thought I was wrong, but it turns out I was right!"

Anyhow, at the end of my weekend in Xi'an, I met the Chinese Mario Andrette. Turns out he's working as a taxicab driver in Xi'an. We flagged him down at the South Gate of the old Xi'an city walls and wanted him to take us to the hotel to pick up our bags. We were originally going to switch cabs at that point but this guy was so awesome we asked him to wait for us which he was more than happy to do (airport is an hour away from town and a BIG fare for them). In the trip from the city walls to the hotel and then on to the airport, ONE car passed us the ENTIRE trip. What was most impressive about this feat is that the guy never accelerated nor braked hard. I don't think he ever got the car over about 65 miles per hour. He was just very skilled at sneaking the car into the smallest nook and cranny to get buy everybody. At one point, two lanes were merging at a freeway turning circle. He slowed down to yield to the other car. I thought something must be wrong and certainly it was. He looked ahead and noticed a traffic jam so he put the car into reverse and backed it up about 10 feet back into the turning circle and took a different turn!

So what does this have to do with Type II errors? Well, you know every time you drive and get into a hairy situation like trying to pass a big rig and think to youself, "No, I'm not going to make it. I better not do that." This taxi driver demonstrated to me that it turns out more often than not, you do make it!

Weekend in Xi'an

Spent this past weekend in Xi'an checking out the Terracotta Warriors and the various other sites of Xi'an, the ancient capital of China. China is making a LOT of investments on tourism in preparation for the Beijing '08 Olympics. Almost everything in Xi'an was either ancient (City Walls, Bell Tower, etc.) or brand-spanking new (airport). The best example of this contrast was the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a Buddhist temple originally built in 652. Just outside of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a modern shopping mall with Vegas-style fountains which looks to have been built in the last 2 years or so. Outside of the Terracotta Warriors complex is another shopping mall of over 500 storefronts which is scheduled to be opened next year. I haven't been to Beijing since early 2003 and the infamous "Ritchie Oriol Peking Duck" incident but I can only image what sort of construction is going on there.

Viewing the Terracotta Warriors and learning more about Emperor Qin got me thinking about timeframe and big projects. It took Emperor Qin 9 years to unify China. In doing so, he unified the writing system, units of measure, and rule of law among other things. That's pretty fast, if you ask me. Think back to 1997. How much have you accomplished in 9 years?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lost in Translation or Who is this Lunatic?!?!?

I was at a Huntsman customer conference this past week and had the misfortune of listening to the idiotic ramblings of Professor Larry Lang. Or rather, I was listening to the horrible translation of Professor Larry Lang. While most of the audience understood Mandarin, the conference attracted attendees from all over Asia and many did not. The fine folks at Huntsman provided headsets connected wirelessly to translators sitting in the back of the room. Anyhow, either the translators were REALLY bad or Larry Lang is a raving lunatic who's alleged PhD in Finance from Wharton should be revoked. At a minimum, he should be put on a long sabbatical from his professorship at Chinese University in Hong Kong lest some student actually listen to his lunacy and believe him. From what I was able to gather, "Professor" Lang was actually advocating a fixed exchange rate between the Chinese Yuan and the U.S. Dollar! His rational for this was that the Chinese government wasn't savvy enough to have a floating currency and that George Soros would come in and break the Chinese currency. He also had some strange conspiracy theories about the U.S. wanting to somehow cheat the Chinese by manipulating exchange rates. I forget his exact words but it was something like, "Look what happened to the Japanese! They bought Rockerfeller Center and the Americans got all mad and made them float their currency and a few weeks later Japan had to sell it back for a huge loss!" I was speachless.

Someone from the audience asked him about the long term risks of a pegged currency. He replied, "Good question but if you want to talk about risks, think about what a floating exchange rate would mean. Today the RMB is up 5%, tomorrow it's down 2%, the next day it's back up 3%. That's risk! Next question."

I don't really understand Macro Economics as well as say Bayesian Statistics and Markov Chains (which just sound fancy but are quite simple). However, I know enough Macro to know that fixed exchange rates are next to impossible to do successfully. Pegging a currency is like keeping up with the Joneses. Unless you have the exact same financial situation and utility functions (akin to going to full dollarization as Panama has), it's better to let your currency float. Then again, I actually believe in nonsense such as market efficiency and free markets.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The On Deck Circle

It was an absolutely beautiful weekend in Shanghai with highs in the mid 70s and lows in the mid 60s. I don't have the time to blog about everything now, but here are some of the highlights from the weekend that I'll write about in the next few days:

  • The hottest club in town
  • Shopping for custom tailored clothes
  • Best $11 I spent this weekend
  • Urban planning museum
  • Best $5 I spent this weekend

  • Thursday, October 12, 2006

    More Thoughts on the Nobel Prize

    So do you think the other Nobel Prize winners make fun of the guy/gal who wins the one for Literature? I mean seriously! The Medicine, Chemistry, and Physics winners struggle in labs for years. The Econ winners sit around all day long thinking really hard about explaining how people think and act (Come to think of it, the Econ winner is strange. Sometimes it leans toward Mathematics and other times Sociology, two very different disciplines). The Peace winners more than likely have risked their lives countless times and been imprisioned and tortured and stuff. And these winners get equal billing with someone who hangs out all day long at a Starbucks all day long sucking down frappaccinos while typing away on his PowerBook? What's up with that?

    I Stink

    Quite seriously, I do! Yesterday, I got this strange bug bite on my thigh just above my knee which I'm apparently very allergic to. The welt has swollen to about the size of my knee cap, coincidentally. The antihistimine medication they have here in China is called Tiger Balm. You can find it in just about any Chinatown in the US. The stuff works great and has this nice numbing feature to it. The only problem is it stinks. I smell like I've been rolling around in a eucalyptus grove, sucking on Halls menthol lozenges, smoking a pack of Salems or Kools, and rubbing Vick's Vapor Rub all over myself. I wonder what the heck my American colleagues were thinking this morning during our breakfast meeting.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Serious (and Short) North Korea Questions

    Can someone briefly explain to me why North Korea want to have one-on-one talks with the US? From everything I've read, it seems like they just want the US to give them money to stop trying to make a nuclear bomb.

    While we're on the subject, why is it so hard to make nuclear bombs? The US had them over 60 years ago! What's wrong with these two-bit third-world dictators anyhow?

    The Solution to Globalization

    It was recently a "Golden Week" here in China which is one of two week-long holidays created about 7 years ago by the government to spur domestic spending. Seems a problem China has is that consumer spending isn't high enough to fuel the growth rate the government would like to sustain. I heard one account that consumer spending went up 14% during that week. It's a rather strange holiday system as it's technically only 3 working days off but almost every business shuts down for 5 days, forcing workers to use up their flex time.

    I've got another solution for the Chinese government to consider: they should buy the US! A good old fashioned LBO of the US and it's consumer-oriented economy would provide more than enough markets for Chinese goods. Given the Chinese peg to the US dollar and the huge trade deficit, it's in essence what's going on anyways.

    It's rather ironic that China is looking for markets to sell their goods. I remember in 8th grade World History the factoid that back in the 1800s, the British were salivating that if every person in China lengthened their shirt by just 1 inch, it would keep every British tailor employed for the rest of his life.

    Interesting Factoid of the Day

    I read this factoid on Yahoo news today and thought it was very interesting:
    When historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the American frontier "closed" in 1893, he was using the Census Bureau definition of "frontier" as areas having no more than six people per square mile. By that same density definition, the number of such counties actually has been increasing: from 388 in 1980 to 397 in 1990 to 402 in 2000. Kansas has more "frontier" land now than it did in 1890.

    Seems more and more people are saying, "We're not in Kansas anymore."

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Street Jousting or Jackass Number Shanghai

    I had lunch today on what is known locally as "Food Street". It's two blocks full of restaurants and street vendors selling food. I'll write more on the comparative safety of the food later. For now, I'd like to focus on what appears to be the most powerful force known to man (or at least to the people who wield this awesome force). I'm referring to none other than the annoying horn. Seems people on bicycles and scooters think that just because they have an annoying horn, mere mortals and pedestrians should automatically jump out of the way and let them through. Well, I wanted to see what would happen if one of these pedestrians (me) finally had enough and refused to yield. Like Mookey from Do The Right Thing, I wanted to through the proverbial trash can through the window of Sal's Famous pizzeria. So, when the next guy on a scooter came honking along, I proceeded to plant myself and stand my ground as he came barreling down the path at the breakneck speed of approximately 1.5 miles per hour. We were locked in a game of chicken only he probably wasn't aware of it because to my surprise, he didn't stop! Instead, he came crashing into my elbow, almost knocked himself over, and just kept motoring along as though nothing had happened, bumping into other people along the way. Guess that answers that question.

    Carrot and Sticks

    I read an Oddly Enough Reuters article a few weeks ago that the biggest complaint residents in Shanghai have about the city is the number of people walk around in pajamas. Funny, I would have listed the spitting or the shoving well above the pajamas, but that's just me. Anyhow, walking to work today I saw an old guy in pajamas and about a block later a street vendor selling packages of pajamas. It got me thinking about the U.S. illegal drug policy and how governments can most effectively affect markets.

    Basically, I think governments can best influence markets by providing carrots to demand and sticks to supply. You can't really roll out a bunch of tanks and force people to stop wearing pajamas or using drugs. Well, maybe the Chinese governement can, but I digress. Instead, you can have a bunch of public service announcements extolling the virtues of not wearing pajamas or just saying no. At the same time, the government can crack down on pajama stores and drug dealers. In this case, demand is dispursed while supply is concentrated. Sticks seem to be less effective on dispursed entities than concentrated ones and carrots to concentrated entities smacks of special interest groups and unfair rewards.

    What about the cases where demand is centralized and supply dispursed? Is there something wrong with punishing a few people just because they want something government is trying to discourage? Are there effective ways to increase supply or do you just create markets without customers?

    Thoughts? Comments?

    0 to $1.65 Billion in 20 Months

    What were you doing in February 2005? I was spending most of my free time looking for a house and planning my wedding. Since then, I've accomplished both of those goals along with landing my job doing turnaround work for Carl Ichan. I've been at the new job for just under 11 months now and have some pretty neat accomplishments under my belt including turning around a textile mill in Alabama in under 4 months and taking over daily managment of a sourcing operation in Shanghai. However, all of that pales in comparison to the founders of YouTube. Man, that's impressive.

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    So Close, Yet So Far

    I’m on an ANA flight from SFO to Shanghai via Tokyo. While the Business Class seat does have a pretty good recline, it’s still not fully horizontal. It’s going to be a rough week for my jetlag….

    Now That’s What I Call An Informative Clerk!

    My wife was feeling a bit under the weather on Sunday morning so we stopped by the Safeway near the Mission District in San Francisco to pick up some over the counter medication. Drowsy and generally out of it, my wife asked a clerk, “Where do I go to get some drugs?” The guy paused for a second and replied, “The pharmacy is against the back wall in the middle of the store. If you’re looking for the other kind, just go out back behind the parking lot, turn right, and go about 4 blocks up the street.”

    Nobel Proposal for Cal Fundraising

    Cal has 7 Nobel Laureates currently on staff including recently awarded astronomer George Smoot. There are so many Nobel Laureates and so few parking spots that prime on campus parking spots are designated “NL PERMIT ONLY”, reserved for Nobel Laureates. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Smoot this past weekend while I was on campus for my 10 year reunion. It got me thinking about a great fundraising opportunity. Cal should sponsor an annual black tie Nobel Prize Extravaganza to honor all of the Nobel Laureates associated with Cal. According to wikipedia, there are 61 Nobel Laureates associated with Berkeley, although some are deceased. The dinner should be limited to 10 times the number of Nobel Laureates including the Laureates themselves and one significant other. Each Laureate would then be seated at a different table with 8 benefactors who make a minimum contribution of $250 per plate. Of course, the idea is that people will donate significantly more than the suggested $250 per person. Also, a tiered incentive structure could be established. For example, $1,000 would get you a poster-sized photo of all of the Laureates with their autographs. I think most of the Laureates would be willing to attend a nice dinner in their honor once a year. Who (aside from Sean Penn) wouldn’t attend an event organized by your peers in appreciation and honor of your contributions to society? If anyone in the Cal Development Office wants to work on this with me, please drop me a line.

    Highlights from My 10 Year Reunion

    I was in the Bay Area attending my 10 year college reunion this past weekend. In keeping with the namesake of the blog, here are some completely random thoughts:
  • One of my fraternity brothers is graduating this December after 17 consecutive years at Cal.
  • I should really rephrase that to read, “claims to be graduating”.
  • I have another fraternity brother who has been at Cal for 16 consecutive years and doesn’t appear to be close to graduating.
  • Telegraph Avenue is definitely starting to gentrify. There’s even a fancy Adidas store now.
  • Happily, my favorite restaurant, Steve’s Korean BBQ, is alive and well. They raised their prices once while I was at Cal. The prices haven’t gone up since. The portion sizes haven’t decreased any, either.
  • Has anyone calculated Coach Tedford’s impact on the local Berkeley economy? I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure is over $10 million annually (10,000 extra fans per game x $100 on admission, food, drinks, and merchandise x 5 games per season = $5 million). This figure doesn’t include hotel accommodations for out of town fans. There were thousands of Oregon fans in town this past Saturday

  • Shady Rental Car Tactics

    What’s up with rental car places always trying to rip you off with the stupid insurance scams? Let’s see, $29.99 a day for the car and $15 a day in optional insurance payments?!?!? If you pay with a platinum credit card, why aren’t they obligated to tell you that you’re giving them money for NOTHING since platinum credit cards have automatic rental car insurance coverage? Shouldn’t that tell you something if your credit card company is willing to just throw it in for free? The woman at the Alamo counter at SFO this past weekend had the gall to ask, “So did you want the premium insurance or are you OK with just the basic?” Of course, this was a trick question since the right answer is to decline all coverage including the basic package. Once, an agent asked me, “Do you want to purchase supplemental insurance coverage?” I replied, “No, just give me the car.” I was in a hurry and didn’t bother looking at the contract until I had pulled out of the parking lot. The agent had taken my reply to mean, “Please take that answer out of context and charge me an extra $10 for car liability coverage.” I complained to the site manager when I returned the car. He told me it was a simple misunderstanding and unfortunately, there was nothing he could do since I had purchased potential liability protection and piece of mind which technically I did receive. I asked him how commonly this “misunderstanding” occurred and how much spiff payment the agents get per unnoticed “misunderstanding”. He promptly refunded me my money and told me to have a good day.

    Hello, Fat Lady!

    Now that the Dodgers and Yankees are both out of the postseason, guess I can get back to blogging.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Tracy-Looking Criminal Beware!

    Attention Tracy-looking criminal: the CIA is on to you!

    Tracy and I were at JFK yesterday when some guy approached her in the airport security line. He flashed a pretty fake looking badge and said he was with the CIA and asked if she would follow him for additional screening. Another guy showed me his ID, politely told me that they were only interested in talking to her, and then proceeded to question me! I must admit I was a bit skeptical at the whole scenario until I noticed 8 or so plain-clothes people converge upon us. They were all dressed differently (some in suits, some casually, one or two "homeboy" style) but all had one thing in common: as they approached, they all produced a badge dangling from their neck. They asked us for two forms of picture ID which coincidently we had and where we were going and so on and so forth. They told me that Tracy matched the desciption of a criminal they were after and had a warrant out for her arrest. Of course, this got me wondering exactly what sort of heinous acts a petite Tiawanese woman could committ in the first place?

    Anyhow, they also asked me where I worked and where I lived to which I always pause and think, "Well, that's sort of a long story. In fact, I've set up this blog so to help answer that exact question...."

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Tips for Restaurant Owners

    If there are two qualities my mother imbued me with it is a love of food and the ability to point out what people are doing wrong. I thought I'd share some of that magic gratis. Without further adieu here are my suggestions for restaurant owners:

  • Charge less for entrees, make portion sizes smaller, and make it up in desserts. I can't tell you the last time I had any room in my stomach for dessert after the appetizer and entree. Everyone knows desserts are highest margin items. Build it into your pricing model.
  • Speed up the appetizers and spare the bread. Who wants bread anyways? I go out to restaurants to eat FOOD not fill up on bread and butter.
  • Continuing with that theme, take my appetizer order when I leave my name for the table. Doing this simple task accomplishes two things: first, it insures I'll spend money on appetizers and second, it reduces the amount of time I tie up a table.
  • Clean the freakin' bathrooms every once in a while.
  • Tell me how much the specials are. How come no one ever mentions how much they cost? I'm much more likely to order the sea bass in the red wine reduction sauce if I know it's not going to be $49.95. What sort of license to steal is the special anyhow?
  • Don't offer seafood on Mondays. Everyone knows fishermen aren't working on Sundays. They're too busy watching the Sea Hawks or the Patriots or something. And even if it is fresh, most people will just assume that it isn't.

  • That's enough for now. I'll post more as I notice them. Feel free to leave your own comments as well.

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    Macking on Cupcakes

    So I was walking around Greenwich Village with the wife on Saturday night when we stumbled across a little park filled with middle-aged women sitting around eating cupcakes. While odd, the weather was beautiful this weekend so I just figured it was somebody's birthday or something. Then, kitty-corner to the park was a LONG line outside of a storefront. It reminded me of the "secret" hot bars in Los Angeles which frequently have non-descript facades. Turns out it was Magnolias!

    We decided to go stand in the long line since, well, we really didn't have anything else to do. 15 minutes later, we were inside picking out our cupcakes and other sweets. I was skeptical at first that it was all just hype (the crowd control guy at the front door told us there is a line out the door every hour of every day), but I gotta say, that was a darn good cupcake. The frosting was sweet but not too sweet. The cupcake itself had this crunchy crust at the top but was moist on the inside. All for $1.50 each.

    Just to complete the experience, we decided to go up to 68th and Broadway to watch the Chronicles of Narnia but it turns out that movie isn't playing there anymore.

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