Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Feature

This week's Friday Feature is something white people like, and the theme is shorts on social interaction.

Youtube's trends managers discusses his thoughts on why videos go viral.

An author with a name eerily similar to a famous Playmate tells you what you don't know about marriage.

And the founder of Rhapsody reminds us of the absurdity of the MPAA's copyright claims.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Financial Media Coverage 2

A month ago, I wrote an entry about the failure of my favorite CNBC show to recognize that Apple probably wasn't in for a (short-term) pullback. A month is a reasonable time frame to follow up on people's buy/sell calls, so let's see how things turned out:

I'm sorry, you were saying?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Buyer's Remorse

Apple unveiled its newest iPad yesterday, yet in under 24 hours, I've already developed buyer's remorse. I don't have the iPad yet - I pre-ordered for delivery next Friday - but I'm already leaning more toward returning the iPad than keeping it. This is just the latest edition of purchasing indecision for me: in college, it took me 2 1/2 years and 13 jackets before I settled on one.

This iPad situation is different, however, because the machine has everything I wanted: a crazy high resolution display that looks as good as print, 4G LTE data connectivity, and a 10 hour battery life. The entry level version replaces the old model at the same $499 price point. Why then am I agonizing over buying it?

For the past 8 years, my computer usage profile has simply been a full-featured 15" laptop. In 2009, I added an iPhone, and in 2011, I received a decent laptop/desktop setup at work, but in the end, whether I'm in bed or on the couch or at the airport, I'm using my 15" laptop. My desire to purchase an iPad was motivated, in part, by being unable to replace my 4 1/2-year-old laptop while Intel continually delays the release of Ivy Bridge, their new processor and platform, but also because I thought it would be nice to be able to make digital annotations on the academic papers I read. Unlike making annotations on printed papers, I wouldn't have to keep track of the physical copies, and the digital annotations would even be searchable. The rest of the iPad's capabilities are nice if somewhat redundant in my usage profile, so when the new iPad was announced, I immediately placed my pre-order.

Later in the day, someone threw out the suggestion that with an iPad, I could replace my laptop with a cheaper, more powerful desktop. I haven't owned one in many years, but my work setup was growing on me, so I started to seriously consider the notion. Then this morning, everything fell apart.

I was sitting on my couch with CNBC on the TV, watching The Daily Show on Hulu, when I remembered that Hulu doesn't allow mobile devices to access its content without first subscribing to Hulu Plus. I could avoid Hulu by just downloading the shows, but I'd still have to transfer them from the downloading computer to my iPad, a nontrivial inconvenience. Furthermore, I was simultaneously chatting with friends and reading news articles, a level of multitasking that cannot be done on any device short of a laptop. And so I came to the harsh realization that iPad + desktop was a non-starter.

What about iPad + laptop? Surely that's a reasonable setup, and indeed, that was my intent all along, to buy an iPad upon release and replace my laptop upon Ivy Bridge's release. But then I started thinking to myself, is $500 really a good use of money for a half-internet device to read papers on? Aggravating my reluctance was an alluring pair of Harry's of London brown wingtips on Gilt for $199, down from $575 MSRP. I didn't end up buying the wingtips, but they did make me reconsider what might be my optimal purchasing strategy.

It seems inevitable that I will return my iPad and just buy a replacement laptop, but saving the $500 may not be as meaningful as staving off possession bloat. I would like to link this to some part of the economics literature dealing with consumer choice, but honestly, I'm so neurotic when it comes to these things that I surely do not show up in any general model and only might be interesting as a case study. I can offer one useful thought: as the economy recovers and we have more discretionary income to spend, perhaps we should be asking ourselves not what to buy but whether to buy at all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Super Size Me" Revisited

I am a fan of McDonald's. That's a tenuous statement to make in today's health-crazed America, but there's something compelling about free-market capitalism and food. The stock has certainly rewarded shareholders, up 30% in the last year and 125% in the last five. One thing people don't seem to know is that McDonald's has been made-to-order for a decade. That's right, no more heat lamps. But that's not what this post is about.

In his famous 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, director and star Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonald's for 30 days. He ate McDonald's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Super Sized his meals when offered the option by the cashier. The result? Spurlock gained 25 pounds and experienced serious health degradation; it took him 14 months to lose the weight. The consequence? McDonald's eliminated the Super Size option and introduced legitimately healthy menu items.

But McDonald's is not to blame for the outcome of Super Size Me -- Spurlock consumed about 5,000 calories per day and didn't exercise which, regardless of what you're eating, will noticeably damage your health. In fact, independent film producer Soso Whaley managed to lose weight eating only McDonald's over 60 and 90 day periods because she adhered to a reduced-calorie diet and exercised.

So what does this all mean? It means that McDonald's, like anything you eat, is fine in moderation. Personally, I eat at McDonald's a couple times a month, always on the go, usually just ordering a small chicken sandwich and hamburger. Last night, however, I decided to see what would happen if I bought the McDonald's dollar equivalent of a cheap meal: fish nuggets, two chicken sandwiches, and two hamburgers. The monetary total was only $6.42 including tax, but the calorie count was more expensive, coming in around 1,600 calories. Everything tasted fine, but the sheer quantity of food was difficult to finish. The real concern was that, after passing out a couple hours after, I was woken up at 5:30am by a toilet run. If you didn't know better, you might have thought I was visiting the rainforest.

My point is that if a regular patron of McDonald's can have such a strong digestive reaction to the same food he always orders simply because it's a double serving, McDonald's still has a long way to go to improve their food. Until then, I think I'll stick to the stock and my usual small order every couple weeks.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sleep Disorders

A friend of mine turned me onto the possibility that my historically inconsistent sleep schedule might be due not entirely to behavioral factors but a sleep disorder. Her initial suggestion was delayed sleep phase disorder, but that's simply a shift in one's daily schedule. I tried to remember how I've been sleeping for the past few days, and this is what I came up with:


Sleep: 5am


Wake: 9am
Nap: 2-4pm
Sleep: 1:30am


Wake: 5:30pm
Sleep: 4am


Wake: 7am
Nap: 2pm-5:30pm
Sleep: 12:30am


Wake: 8am
Nap: 1-2am
Sleep: None

Friday (Today)

Wake: None

I haven't taken any drugs and I only had a few beers on Monday night, so the cursory impression is that something is seriously wrong. With that in mind, I'll be keeping a log of my sleep during this month, and hopefully by April I'll have enough data to schedule a doctor's visit. Most related conditions stem from a hormonal imbalance, which I suppose isn't the worst thing in the world.

If you are also suffering from sleep-related problems, check out these resources from the CDC and WebMD, and consider seeing a professional.