Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mubarak is Out, Who's Next?

It worked!

Movements like the ones in Egypt and Tunisia fail more times than not. Typically brute force from the ruler is enough to deter them, but it was never used in Egypt. I give a huge kudos to the Egyptian military for what appears to be truly acting in the interest of the people.

And now there have been similar uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Iran, and others. Like planting many seeds in a field, only some of these can sprout into a full grown revolution.

I'm very interested to see how these revolutions turn out in both the short and long term. I fear these revolutions leaving a power vacuum that is, more often than not, filled by militant groups. I do not envy the weight on the shoulders of the youth of these countries, as they face decisions that can shape their nation, region, and ultimately the world. I wish them the best of luck and hope they make decisions for the right reasons.

My personal opinion is that a revolution in Iran would shake the current geopolitical stage to the core. Iran is a country that is arguably the most widely despised, yet most technologically advanced and quickly if not already capable of producing nuclear weapons. The previous Iranian Revolution was quite a feat and may give hints at how another revolution may take place. Should a rather bloody protest succeed (I am looking at Libya), I believe Iran will be right behind it. Will this all lead to good, bad, or the same old? Either way it is very intriguing and something I will be sure to follow very closely.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

NFL Divisional Round Playoff Predictions

Here we are, the final 8 teams in the running for the Super Bowl. Seattle is the only team that seems out of place, Atlanta is the big question mark, another Ravens-Steelers battle, and New England is being New England. Here are my thoughts:

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: 
This series is always hard fought and physical, and this one will be no different. This will be their third meeting this season after splitting the previous two games. Both teams won on the road and Pittsburgh is hosting, but I don't think that will matter much in this game. I see the Steelers really pulling away with this game in a surprisingly high scoring affair. Of course in this rivalry that means a 22-16 Steelers win. On a side note, this has a VERY good chance of being the first playoff game to use the new overtime rules!

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons:
I think this one will be another hard fought game, making for another great Saturday of football. This is truly Atlanta's, and Matt Ryan in particular, chance to prove themselves. Of course the same could be said of Aaron Rodgers and this young Packers team. The surprising performance from rookie James Starks last week killed the Eagles, and I think he will be the deciding factor again today. Packers win a tight one 31-30.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears:
This game will be closer than most expect. The Seahawks aren't that good, but neither are the Bears in my opinion. Jay Cutler has a big arm and when he is sharp he can be great, that just doesn't happen often enough for me. Hasselbeck has playoff (and Super Bowl) experience and that does matter. So does homefield advantage and so I think the Bears win this one 28-21.

NY Jets at New England Patriots:
Another third meeting of the season and another split series. The Patriots are a different team now though. They are in Super Bowl shape already and the Jets are a run of the mill playoff team. I have a hard time seeing the Jets hang in there and so I'll keep it short with a Patriots win 34-12.

I think it will be another great weekend of games. And if I am right we will have an amazing pair of games next weekend! Steelers at Patriots and Packers at Bears that is an epic weekend!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Just say noSQL

I was trying to catch up on my 1000+ news items in my Google Reader (successfully I might add, though I cheated quite a bit), when I stumbled on this great article: 7 Exciting Web Development Trends for 2011. The entire article is a good read and source of further information, but item number one really intrigued me, noSQL. The term noSQL is referring to any non-relational database and an overall shift in database management instead of one particular technology. What really caught my interest was this line from the above article:
Another big factor for me is the simplicity it brings to my schema: your data models can now become a lot more sane. I can’t wait to not muck around with my models just to make it fit into the relational model.
I have often over complicated very simple database models to meet a general level of normalcy and reap the benefits it offers, regardless of how often I took advantage of them. This solution sounded great, so I dug further.

A quick google and we find what appears to be the Ultimate Guide to the Non-Relational Universe right after the wikipedia entry. But this page gives me a headache, so I looked further into the examples listed under Taxonomy on the wikipedia page. I chose Google's BigTable under "key/value store on disk" and Apache's Cassandra under "eventually-consistent-key/value store". A few key points I gathered:

  • BigTable -  "it departs from the typical convention of a fixed number of columns, instead described by the authors as "a sparse, distributed multi-dimensional sorted map", sharing characteristics of both row-oriented and column-oriented databases." BigTable is designed to scale into the petabyte range across "hundreds or thousands of machines, and to make it easy to add more machines [to] the system and automatically start taking advantage of those resources without any reconfiguration".
  • Cassandra - "The Apache Cassandra Project develops a highly scalable second-generation distributed database, bringing together Dynamo's fully distributed design and Bigtable's ColumnFamily-based data model."

This guy doesn't like noSQL, but he writes a good article! I gathered from his article that using a noSQL approach will not have any benefit and will only add a learning curve unless you are planning to scale to Google size soon. I can fully see the validity of his point, however, I am intrigued by the players in this movement and always looking to learn the latest and greatest. Even if it doesn't take over the world, it will probably give some insight into the next big thing.

And since Facebook open-sourced Cassandra. (Yay Facebook!!) and Google provides a BigTable interface on their App Engine, I ended up focusing on these two options so that I could experiment with them. Let the fun begin!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Google Dodged a Bullet

It was reported late Friday that Groupon had rejected Google's acquisition bid of $6 billion. When I first heard word of the possible take over, I thought it was a fantastic idea! However, a lot of talking heads felt that Google was overpaying significantly for this company, largely due to the high demand for a company like Groupon and the low supply of them (though that could be changing fast).

I still thought it was a fantastic idea for Google as they would be entering a market (the local market) that is otherwise too expensive to enter for such a large, global corporation. Two things changed my mind. First, I often listen to This Week in Google netcast, where Jeff Jarvis is a regular. I find that I largely agree with Jarvis' opinions, so when he was so emphatically against the move, saying it would be "Google's Myspace", implying it would be a large financial sink hole, I started to think twice. The real kicker for me was my own bit of research. I quickly signed up for Groupon on hearing the news so that I could form an opinion and was not impressed at all.

The three deals I have received so far: Circus Arts Workshop, The Bistro at Our Town, and Spa Services. The only one I would consider was the Bistro and the others I am SO not interested in that I would consider them spam. For comparison's sake, I have been subscribed to a Groupon competitor, LivingSocial, for close to a month. In that time, I see that close to one third of the deals are for spas? The rest are for random activities (history tour, skydiving, holiday decorations, etc) and only two of them were for food, Mexican and Indian. Sorry still not that interested. This told me that there isn't really a problem with Groupon, but with the current model of these "social coupons".

As much as I hate to say it I actually think Facebook's Deals is a much better model. Its been out for a month and I haven't been bothered by it once, because I would only check in to places that I cared about getting a deal for. I was initially worried about Deals becoming spam-like, meanwhile, I've only had Groupon for three days and I feel like it's spam. Unsubscribe.

Of course this is all anecdotal and their rumored numbers are phenomenal (though they were hard to pin down, ranging from $2 billion in annual revenue from CNET to $500 million by many early on, including CNBC). Regardless they are quite successful! But I don't think the growth is sustainable, how many spa treatments can you get? (By the way, what does it say about spas' pricing model when they are willing and able to offer half price every other day?) I suppose we will find out, I'm just glad Google doesn't have to pay $6 billion to do so.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A New Age: Death of the 9 to 5

I had initially planned to write out one article describing my stance on where I believe technology and the rest of the world is heading. I then realized that would be a long and rambling article. So for everyone's benefit, I will break them down into bite sized entries, later to be compiled into one coherent article (or essay).

(A New Age: 2)

Growing up, it seemed a steady, good paying, 9 to 5 job was the definition of success. Entering the workforce in my twenties, a steady, good paying, 9 to 5 job seems like a terrible idea, if you can even find one. The term 9 to 5 is simply my way of describing an everyday job, perhaps with cubicles or angry patrons. This should cover almost all of you, and yes your job is going away.

Take a look at the unemployment rate. It's at 9.8% as of December 3, 2010. To put this in perspective, the most recent high was 8.2% in February 1992 (according to Google Public Data), the next spike was to 6.5% in January 2003, and it peaked at 10.6% in January 2010. (Notice a pattern in the months there?) As you may have heard in the news, the unemployment rate has been pesky, and just jumped 0.2% today (December 3, 2010). One reason for this is the huge extinction of jobs in the housing industry, from construction to sales. However, I think many more jobs have simply gone extinct, largely due to technology. The automation of manufacturing plants, the widespread use of the digital format, and, dare I say, robots, have simply made some jobs not necessary. In addition to this, technology appears to be advancing at an accelerating pace and will most likely displace more and more jobs.

Of course this will be partly balanced by a gain in jobs in this growing technology sector, but who will get them? I never want to undervalue lifetime experience, but frankly if I am hiring someone right now they need to be tech savvy. Business is largely measured by growth, I feel very confident in saying that without embracing technology, you will not have growth. The generation just entering the workforce has grown up using computers, the next generation will have been raised by people who grew up with computers, and so on. Again you can see how technology will begin to snowball and soon, computer literacy will be measured instead of actual literacy (for better or worse).

But here you are, on the "interwebs", reading a blog, you're obviously tech savvy so why is your 9 to 5 dying? This is due to a much larger shift in society as a whole. This is a point that I have a hard time nailing down, but observation alone shows me that the individual is rising faster than the corporation. That is not to say that the sum of "individual workers" is anywhere near the size of the corporation, just that it is growing faster. I have a personal phrase, "collaboration over corporation". Collaborative efforts, thinking open source development, is much more agile and keeps people much more motivated due to personal interest in the work. I want to be clear that I am not talking strictly about technology here. Collaborative efforts can accomplish amazing things, take a look at local charities. To put it bluntly, in collaborative efforts, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and in corporations, the opposite is often true. 

My Prediction: You may still do the same work, but I don't think you will be going to same place, or earning the same amount, or working with the same people day in and day out. The shift to technological jobs will increase the number of people who can work from a distance. Those jobs that can never be worked from a distance will soon become everyone's job. As jobs become more fluid, there will be a constant need for supplemental income. I imagine this supplemental income will come from these immobile jobs. The rest of the time our days will be filled with doing what we love, with the people we choose.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A New Age: Access to Information

(A New Age: 1)

I certainly plan to elaborate on this, but I was looking at my browser with 8 tabs open, 10 extensions installed, and about 10 bookmarks available (not counting the folders of links) and realized I have more information available to me in one click (and I'm working on that) than most of the past generations combined.

This is truly a unique time to be alive! The more information available to internet users and the more internet users there are will mean the bigger jumps in technological advancement.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Shift in the Markets?

So I have previously been quite bullish on the market for 2011. Things may be changing on me though. I never want to be too quick to jump ship and claim the sky is falling, especially after feeling so confident that the opposite was true no more than a few weeks ago.

First let me say that this could very well be profit taking in action, and rightfully so. As long as the major indices remain above their lows in August, we will bounce back. For the Dow that is at 10,000, however, this week the Dow is trading very slightly above the 11,000 mark and if it drops significantly below this mark (closed 11/17/10 at 11,007.88) I think 10,000 is not out of the question. But this is purely technical, what is really driving my decision?
  • Eurozone uncertainty - Here is a great article from Bloomberg summarizing most of the confusion going on right now. But of particular concern to me is Ireland and Greece. Ireland's debt problems have been widely publicized this week. There are some murmurs of Ireland becoming slightly more open to a bailout, though theses don't hold much water. Plus it is not that this is fantastic news, but the markets always prefer bad news to uncertainty. What is more troubling to me is Greece! In short Greece is in the process of getting bailed out right now. The next payout is due in January (or is it December?) and the Austrian PM is threatening to withhold his countries' portion. He later toned down his comments, but the socialists sweeping the local elections may not be the best sign of "austerity" measures going into place (and yes, I am rather fond of Socialism still, but I am also fond of facing the current reality). If either or both of these countries turn into bigger problems than they already are, there will be at the very least some dent to global markets.
  • Chinese inflation - So inflation in China for the year has been quite significant, particularly in food prices. I have heard from that article and elsewhere that China would most likely make a move around the 20th, with Friday the 19th being a possible target. For those unaware (really??) China is "communist" to some extent and so exercise total control over the markets (directly opposed to free markets). I consider this an interesting experiment in the effects of controlled markets, as the Chinese may move to limit prices on commodities and government subsidies and disbursement. Regardless, all of this talk is causing a big hit on commodities with cotton taking it the hardest, but oil's price having a broader effect [UPDATE: Oil is up slightly after inventory news today]. If China makes these moves, it could have far reaching global impacts due to commodity prices as well as import/exports.
  • US Debt - This may be more of a bearish concern than a realistic concern, but it still strikes me as worth mentioning. I read a recent article talking about a Crash of 2011. At first I merely brushed this off as bearish talk, but that was before my sudden change in attitude. After thinking back to it this week, I decided to do some digging. In that article he plays out a scenario in which the national debt ceiling doesn't get raised (which we will need sometime in 2011) and the US defaults or is late on its bonds interest payment. This would most certainly result in the US losing its AAA bond rating. Which sounds bad, like REALLY bad, so I did a little more digging and found that Moody's has threatened to downgrade their US Bond rating no later than February of 2010. This in addition to them upgrading China's rating and downgrading San Francisco bonds and Philadelphia bonds just today. Do these ratings really mean anything? Maybe not in fact books, but they mean something in the heads of the people who make trading decisions every day. If the US bond rating gets downgraded by one or more agencies, we could see a huge scare out of the market. Less traders, bigger losses.
  • Tech sector - This one may be more important to me than other investors, but I feel it is still important to mention. As you may or may not have heard, Cisco (CSCO) came out with stellar Q1 2011 earnings but revised Q2 2011 and overall 2011 guidance down causing, not just the stock to drop, but the entire tech sector! Now, I don't have a hand in Cisco thank god, but I do in Akami (AKAM), Google (GOOG), and Intel (INTC). Akami and Google took significant hits, while Intel actually gained due to a nice dividend raise (thank you Intel!). Then today had the NetApp debacle has the tech sector looking even lower. One good thing from all this is that the issues are largely caused by growing price competition, which means it may be time to look for some growth tech stocks. If the tech sector is indeed entering a down cycle into the holidays, it will drag the entire holiday retail sector down, something my entire "booming 2011" projection was based on.
There are four ifs, some more probable than others and some having a larger effect than others. I think it is safe to say that if all four scenarios were to take the worst-case, we would face a very serious threat to the recovery. And if all four scenarios were to take the best-case, we could be flying high! Of course it will be somewhere in between, but it will either have a negative lean, neutral, or positive lean when all is said and done. 

So when is "all said and done"? Be darned if I know, or anyone for that matter, but I have to make at least a rough estimate for adjusting my strategies appropriately. So I will say sometime during the week of November 29 we will have a much better idea of what to expect for 2011. The Ireland issues should have a plan in place by this time, a decision on Greece's payout will come sometime in December but we should get some clues by this point, China should have made a decision on inflation, and a few more tech earnings releases may go one way or another. The US debt issues, however, will still be debatable, but a tax extension decision could be made and possible spending cuts could come out.

I am not ready to turn yet, though I am laying out some possible plans in case things go south and I will stick (mostly) to my current plan (high dividend, blue chips (75%) mixed with speculatives (25%)) if things stay the course. I think it is wise to keep up with global market news, especially in today's world.

Current Holdings:
Symbol (# of shares/contracts)
Stocks - AKS (1.19), BP (1.34), C (35.74), DB (0.64), F (17.71), GE (20.02), GOOG (0.57), GRO (14.99), IDT (2.30), INTC (9.81), KFT (6.11), KRY (15.05), M (12.16), MRO (2.68), OCZ (25.61), T (7.57), USAT (152.67), WEN (9.20)

Options - AKAM (1), AKS (1), DEER (1)
I am currently working on the best way to display my portfolio in all its glorious details, stay tuned!

*Note that these are all purely opinions of a very amature investor . In no way do I endorse or work for any of the mentioned companies. I own shares of Akami (AKAM), Google (GOOG), and Intel (INTC).