Through Mindful Spending, we aim to slowly harness a small portion of the world's collective purchase power to support Fair Trade companies.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Movie Recommendations, Vol. 7

Here are some films and PBS programs, we have enjoyed over the last several months:Previous Movie Recommendations can be found here.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Station Q

Based in UC Santa Barbara and led by Michael Freedman, Station Q is a MSFT funded research group focused on topological quantum computing.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nursing Shortage in the U.S.

Excellent (audio) documentary from WBUR in Boston. Unless young Americans start taking up nursing, we will have a massive crisis in the next decade or two. Thirty thousand nurses from overseas are being recruited to work in the U.S. every year. Half are from the Philippines.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Movie Recommendations, Vol. 6

Here are some films and PBS programs, we have enjoyed over the last several months:Previous Movie Recommendations can be found here:

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Philippines as an Outsourcing Center

From the Washington Post:
... The Philippines, with a large pool of English speakers and a cultural affinity with the United States, is developing as a strong second to India in the global outsourcing market.

... The Philippines earned $3.6 billion from outsourcing in 2006, up 50 percent from the previous year, and the government estimates revenue could jump to $12.2 billion by 2010 as the industry diversifies.

India, the leader in the global outsourcing market, earned $6.2 billion in the 12 months to March 2006, and this is likely to jump to $8 billion in the year to March 2007.

Even outsourcing firms based in India are moving some of their operations to the Philippines.

... "If you want to do a marketing kind of thing, India is not the place. Go to the Philippines because the cultural affinity is very, very high," Karnik said at a recent conference in Manila.

The stakes are high, with the Philippines tapping less than a fifth of the $80-billion global outsourcing market at the end of 2006. India corners at least 43 percent.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Green Building Goes Mainstream

From the Wall St. Journal (subscription required).

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Healthcare Debate: 2 Sides in a Nutshell

Great overview from Brad Delong.

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A.T. Kearney Ranks Outsourcing Hubs

The Philippines finished in the Top 4. From the Wall St. Journal (subscription required):

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Yet Another Healthcare Discussion

Led by Steve Pearlstein, over at the Washington Post. Here is Pearlstein's article on healthcare legislation.

Here is a link to last week's discussion.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

M.I.T. Panel Backs Geothermal Energy

From the M.I.T. press office:
A comprehensive new MIT-led study of the potential for geothermal energy within the United States has found that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth's hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the United States will need in the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.

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Solar Industry Continues to Gain Momentum

Great article on the challenges facing the Solar energy industry.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ebay Founders and Philanthropy

From the LA Times.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Healthcare Discussion

Led by Steve Pearlstein over at the Washington Post.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Carl Icahn on Corporate CEO's

From Business Week:
I have my anti-Darwinian metaphor: The CEO is the fraternity brother type who is great to have a drink with. He's a survivor and maybe not all that smart, but he works his way up the ladder in the corporation. And if you're a survivor you never have someone beneath you who's smarter than you. So you eventually work your way to CEO. You have someone a little dumber than you underneath, and eventually we'll have morons running everything...which we're getting closer to.
I wonder if the CEO's are also those who instinctively live by the, recently popular, 48 Laws of Power :-)

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The iPhone

I was at mac world for the 3rd straight year, and
stumbled upon an hour long demo of the new iPhone. The
user interface (UI) is amazing: it is so simple to use
and so different from what's out there.

The device is beautiful, has only ONE button, but what
sets it apart is the software and UI. Your voicemails
are actually listed out, like emails in an inbox. So
you can jump around and check them in the order you
want. Plus, you can fast forward and rewind a
voicemail using a scrollbar -- no more need to replay
a looooong voicemail, just to get that phone number at
the end. Conference calls are a snap to arrange.
Listening to a song using the built-in ipod while
waiting for a phone call? No problem, the iphone will
automatically pause the tune you are listening to, and
alert you of an incoming call, and start the tune once
you hang up.

The Safari web browser rendered pages as it would on a
normal computer. You can move around in a page, and
double-tap the screen to zoom in. The email app was
well designed, and the photo application was
impressive as well.

Set aside the fact that the thing only supports
Cingular in the US, it's still the best portable web
browser/ipod/email device/photo app out there. If
anything you can use it to browse the web, and chekc
your email via wifi. The browser is as good as what
you would get with a laptop.

Its really hard to describe the simplicity and
elegance of the user interface. But in my book, it
really is revolutionary: most competitive devices have
a built-in/permanent key board. The iphone has ONLY
ONE button -- but it is orders of magnitude simpler
and more intuitive than anything on the market. The
closest analogy I can think of is the original
macintosh, and how it simplified the pc for the
regular user. The hardware design is elegant, but the
software and user experience is what makes this an
amazing product.

I normally don't gush over new devices, but this
device took my breath away. It is awesome! I just wish
it were cheaper, and not limited to Cingular. Oh well,
I'm sure they will sell a boatload. You can feel the
pent-up demand inside mac world. When people are
crowding around a device displayed inside a glass box,
to gawk and take pictures of it, you know the product
will be a hit.

David Pogue (who writes for the nytimes and o'reilly)
has a review of the iphone. He actually used one for
an hour, and Steve Jobs was on hand to answer his

Monday, December 18, 2006

Movie Recommendations, Vol. 5

Here are some films and PBS programs, we have enjoyed over the last six months:Previous Movie Recommendations can be found here:

Monday, December 11, 2006

Craigslist and The Street

Great post from the NY Times. I guess The Street is not familiar with the Triple Bottom Line:
Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive of Craigslist, caused lots of head-scratching Thursday as he tried to explain to a bunch of Wall Street types why his company is not interested in “monetizing” his ridiculously popular Web operation. Appearing at the UBS global media conference in New York, Mr. Buckmaster took questions from the bemused audience, which apparently could not get its collective mind around the notion that Craigslist exists to help Web users find jobs, cars, apartments and dates — and not so much to make money.

Wendy Davis of MediaPost describes the presentation as a “a culture clash of near-epic proportions.” She recounts how UBS analyst Ben Schachter wanted to know how Craigslist plans to maximize revenue. It doesn’t, Mr. Buckmaster replied (perhaps wondering how Mr. Schachter could possibly not already know this). “That definitely is not part of the equation,” he said, according to MediaPost. “It’s not part of the goal.”

“I think a lot of people are catching their breath right now,” Mr. Schachter said in response.

The Tech Trader Daily blog ponders this question: “If YouTube was worth $1.65 billion, who knows what Craigslist would be worth if Jim and [site founder] Craig Newmark ever considred becoming — what’s the word? — capitalists.”

Craigslist charges money for job listings, but only in seven of the cities it serves ($75 in San Francisco; $35 in the others). And it charges for apartment listings in New York ($10 a pop). But that is just to pay expenses.

Mr. Schachter still did not seem to understand. How about running AdSense ads from Google? Craigslist has considered that, Mr. Buckmaster said. They even crunched the numbers, which were “quite staggering.” But users haven’t expressed an interest in seeing ads, so it is not going to happen.

Following the meeting, Mr. Schachter wrote a research note, flagged by Tech Trader Daily, which suggests that he still doesn’t quite get the concept of serving customers first, and worrying about revenues later, if at all (and nevermind profits). Craigslist, the analyst wrote, “does not fully monetize its traffic or services.”

Mr. Buckmaster said the company is doubling in size every year, as measured by page views and listings.

Larry Dignan, writing on Between the Lines blog at ZDNet, called Mr. Buckmaster “delightfully communist,” and described the audience as “confused capitalists wondering how a company can exist without the urge to maximize profits.”

Friday, December 08, 2006

4-Star Video

The SF Bay Guardian on the passing away of David Ayoob, the founding owner of our neighborhood video store:
The death of David Ayoob didn't get a lot of headlines. He wasn't famous in that way; he never ran for office or made speeches. But everyone on Cortland Avenue knew him, and when he died suddenly of a heart attack at 53, Bernal Heights — and the city — lost a great citizen.

Ayoob ran 4-Star Video, and he was the essence of a good small businessperson. He was active in the community and friendly to everyone and treated his employees well. (When he opened a second shop on Potrero Hill, he made two former employees partners in the business and let them run the new outlet.) His shop felt like the neighborhood — full of a diverse collection of people, with plenty of kids and dogs running around. Everyone was welcome.

As one post on a Bernal listserv put it, "With David it was never just about running a business. Bernal was his family. He was a larger-than-life character. The fabric of the neighborhood is weaker, a bit less comforting, and a lot less colorful without him." Sup. Tom Ammiano added, "He had such a wonderful heart, so generous." We'll all miss him.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The AMS on PageRanks

The American Mathematical Society has a detailed article on Page Ranks.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Job Market for India's College Graduates

Very similar to what is happening in China:
... But the chance to learn such skills is still a prerogative reserved, for the most part, for the modern equivalent of India’s upper castes — the few thousand students who graduate each year from academies like the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology. Their alumni, mostly engineers, walk the hallways of Wall Street and Silicon Valley and are stewards for some of the largest companies.

In the shadow of those marquee institutions, most of the 11 million students in India’s 18,000 colleges and universities receive starkly inferior training, heavy on obedience and light on useful job skills.

Students, executives and educators say this two-tier education system is locking millions of people into the bottom berths of the economy, depriving the country of talent and students of the chance to improve their lot. For those who succeed, what counts is the right skills.

... India is that rare country where it seems to get harder to find a job the more educated you are. In the 2001 census, college graduates had higher unemployment — 17 percent — than middle or high school graduates.

But as graduates complain about a lack of jobs, companies across India see a lack of skilled applicants. The contradiction is explained, experts say, by the poor quality of undergraduate education. India’s thousands of colleges are swallowing millions of new students every year, only to turn out degree holders whom no one wants to hire.

A study published by the software trade group last year concluded that only 10 percent of graduates with nonspecialized degrees were considered employable by leading companies, compared with 25 percent of engineers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A YouTube For Data

Swivel launches next week.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Companion Blog

I have started a companion blog, devoted to market analysis in support of Green Industries. I hope to update that blog weekly, and this blog will be updated whenever I come across interesting articles.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Release 2.0

O'Reilly Media has acquired Esther Dyson's newsletter Release 1.0:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Job Market for College Graduates in China

Has gotten a lot tougher:
A tide of more than 30,000 students with polished résumés and high hopes surged into a job fair here so eager to meet with employers that they shattered four glass doors and splayed the side walls of an escalator in what became a near riot.

As the crowd of youths swelled out of control, students and security guards said, police tried to beat back the throng but to no avail. Pushing, screaming and climbing over one another, the students charged on, heading for the booths inside the Zhongyuan International Exhibition Center, where company recruiters waited with the keys to China's new economy.

"You didn't even need to walk in the main hall, because people were sweeping you along all the time," said Hou Shuangshuang, 23, an e-commerce major with long hair who was among the students who overflowed the job fair when it opened Sunday. "At some points, your feet couldn't even touch the ground."

Hou and her classmates from Zhengzhou University, along with students from other schools in this Henan province city about 500 miles south of Beijing, provided a dramatic example of rising anxiety over employment among millions of Chinese students. After years in which graduates were ensured of a good job in the fast-growing economy, the number of degree-holders has outstripped the number of jobs, and the guarantees have evaporated.

"I don't think we have a very bright future," said Yu Honghua, 23, another e-commerce major at Zhengzhou University who shoved her way into the fair. "I saw only one company that needed students who majored in e-commerce, and they just needed one person."

... So far, the party has delivered on its part of the bargain: The economy has grown by more than 9 percent a year recently, and the main beneficiaries have been educated urbanites. Content to claim their share in the prosperity, most students have shown little interest in politics since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

But a large pool of unemployed or underemployed university graduates, some analysts have suggested, could become a new breeding ground for opposition. An educated opposition, they said, would have far more organizational and ideological ability -- and present a greater threat to the government -- than the left-behind farmers who have been the main source of unrest in recent years.

The Labor and Social Security Ministry estimated recently that as many as 4.9 million youths will graduate from universities by the end of 2007, up by nearly 20 percent over 2006. Another 49.5 million will graduate from high school, also a 20 percent increase. The sharp climb in graduation rates represents a dramatic improvement in the lives of many Chinese, made possible by the economic transformation that has taken place here over the past quarter-century.

But indications have emerged that, booming as it is, the economy may not be able to absorb that many degree-holders into the jobs for which they are being trained. "The fact is that it's very hard for college students to get the right job these days," said Zhang Xuxin, a Zhengzhou student with close-cropped hair and plastic-rimmed glasses who plans to pursue postgraduate studies next year. "You may have a job, but it's very hard to have an ideal one."

A waitress in a German restaurant near Beijing's Ritan Park, for instance, said she has been looking for work in the computer industry since graduating last summer, but in the meantime, she has to serve sausages and beer to pay the rent because nothing is available in her field.

... Tensions over employment after graduation have exploded repeatedly in recent months, betraying the pressure students say they feel. Students at Shengda Economics, Trade and Management College, affiliated with Zhengzhou University, rioted in June when they discovered that their diplomas would not be the same as those from the university itself, putting them at a disadvantage in job hunting. A similar riot erupted last month at the Ganjiang Vocational and Technical Institute in Jiangxi province south of here. The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy has recorded 10 such disturbances since summer.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Turn Around in the Philippines

Business Week has a pair of articles: links to part I and part II.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Buy Nothing Day

Is today. I wonder how this group is faring?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Low Energy Lifestyle

From the Washington Post:
A band of idealists in the mountains of North Carolina is trying to build a low-energy lifestyle. But must we all live like hippies in the woods to make a difference?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Merc on New Resource Bank

The SJ Mercury News has an article on New Resource Bank:
... Hoping to cash in on fast-growing demand for solar power, organic food and other green industries, a group of investors -- including a number of prominent Silicon Valley business leaders -- has formed what it is calling the nation's first commercial bank targeting green industries. New Resource Bank holds its grand opening today in San Francisco.

The bank is headquartered in a building on Howard Street ranked as ``gold certified'' under green building standards because of its recycled materials, non-toxic paints and energy-efficient lighting and heating systems.

... The bank is modeling itself after Silicon Valley Bank, which began with one branch in San Jose in 1983. By catering to technology and life sciences businesses -- trying to understand them and respond to their needs better than large banks did -- Silicon Valley Bank has boomed, and now has 30 locations from New York to Shanghai, with $5.4 billion in assets.

... One of the first deals by New Resource Bank is a partnership with SunPower, a San Jose company that makes solar panels. Under the terms, the bank will make 25-year loans to homeowners to install solar panels, so that the monthly payments are similar to what the customers' electricity bills had been.

So far, environmentalists also like the idea.

Eric Antebi, Sierra Club spokesman, noted that socially responsible mutual funds began about 15 years ago, followed by venture capital firms five years ago that focused on environmental technology. Banks are the next logical step, he said.

``Groups like the Sierra Club can reach people's hearts,'' Antebi said, ``but banks can reach their wallets.''

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Washington Post on Biomass

It's amazing how many articles get written up about cellulosic ethanol. The Post's article is a good place to start. First off, what are the sources or inputs for this type of fuel:
... If ambitious plans taking shape in Washington and in state capitals come to fruition, this pile of stalks and many more like it will become the oil wells of the 21st century. The idea is to run the nation's transportation system largely on alcohol produced from bulk plant material, weaning America from foreign oil and the risks that go with it, including wars, global warming and terrorism.

Farmers have pushed for years to get more people using gasoline mixed with ethanol made from corn kernels, but so far such ethanol has replaced only about 3 percent of the nation's gasoline, and by most estimates, the country would never be able to grow enough corn to replace more than 10 or 12 percent of its fuel supply.

How is the fuel produced?
... Cellulose, like starch, is made up of glucose molecules, but packed so tightly they're extremely hard to break apart. Plants use cellulose chiefly as a structural material -- it helps trees and grasses stand upright. If efficient ways were developed to break open the molecules, a wide variety of agricultural wastes or specially planted energy crops could feed the new industry.

Scientific progress has been slow, but now it seems to be accelerating. Enzymes needed for the process used to cost more than $5 per gallon of ethanol, but biotechnology companies, under government research contracts, have reduced that to 30 cents per gallon. A handful of small companies, exploiting the drop, are already making small amounts of ethanol from biomass, and claim that they are close to doing so at competitive prices. Not only are they shopping for locations for bigger plants, they are also signing contracts with farmers to supply raw material.

A remarkable variety of groups, ranging from the Natural Resources Defense Council to conservative national-security hawks, have endorsed plans for biomass ethanol. "I've never seen anything with this many interest groups lining up behind it," said Brent Erickson, a vice president at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which supports the efforts. A study by the government's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has estimated that the United States could replace more than 30 percent of its imported oil with fuel and chemicals made from biomass. Coupled with domestic oil, more corn ethanol and improved automobile efficiency, that would take the nation a long way toward energy independence.

But are there examples where ethanol has been used on a large scale?
... If the notion that a country the size of the United States could power its vehicle fleet on what amounts to moonshine seems crazy, consider this: Brazil is already well on its way to running a fleet on rum. After a 30-year campaign, Brazil has replaced 40 percent of its gasoline with alcohol produced from sugar cane. With new oil wells coming on line this year, the country is expected to declare independence from foreign oil producers.
Investment is starting to pour in, but the technology is largely unproven:
... Speculative investment capital and even money from some of the big oil companies is moving into the field. A handful of biomass-ethanol companies have built pilot plants, and some are scouting locations for bigger facilities. Politicians are trying to hurry the industry along, with Congress dangling potential loan guarantees to pioneer companies.

Yet fundamental questions about the biomass alternative have yet to be answered. The economics of making ethanol from biomass remain unproven on a commercial scale. Simply collecting all the necessary straw, cornstalks, wood chips and other waste would be a vast logistical problem, and growing energy crops would require big changes in U.S. agriculture.

Nobody is even sure how to store most types of biomass -- an elementary problem in producing a year-round fuel from a seasonal feedstock. That's the question the pile of cornstalks in Nebraska is meant to answer.

Scientists have projected that in the long run, ethanol made from biomass could be cheaper than gasoline or corn ethanol, costing as little as 60 cents a gallon to produce and selling for less than $2 a gallon at the pump. But right now it would be more expensive than gasoline, and the low prices are likely to be achieved only after large plants have been built and technical breakthroughs achieved in operating them.

Perhaps the biggest issue is this: Time and again, the country has grown interested in alternative fuels only to drop the subject as soon as oil prices fell. Will the United States be able to make a plan and stick with it for the long haul?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Jade Planet

At this year's Green Fest, I picked up a pair of Pachira boots from Jade Planet. Listed at $75, these boots made from recycled materials, were on sale for $39! Looking forward to slipping them on.

Green Fest last year was when I launched this blog. Happy 1st anniversary to FairTrader.blogspot.com !

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rush Was In Agony

Amazing quote from Rush Limbaugh following the 2006 Midterm elections (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan):
"There have been a bunch of things going on in Congress, some of this legislation coming out of there that I have just cringed at, and it has been difficult coming in here, trying to make the case for it when the people who are supposedly in favor of it can't even make the case themselves - and to have to come in here and try to do their jobs."
As Sullivan points out:
All together now: Awwww. I'm so sorry Limbaugh had to lie through his teeth to try and keep in the good graces of his Republican masters. Have you ever heard of intellectual honesty, Mr Limbaugh? You can look it up in the dictionary.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Desperate Realtors

From Nouriel Roubini:
I was this morning on CNBC's Squawk Box facing off the president of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The NAR is becoming so "desperate" that is now wasting $40 million in an advertising (call it spin) campaign - the first ever in its history - that is titled with the Orwellian slogan "It is a Great Time to Buy or Sell a Home" (sic!).

More realistically, as David Rosenberg (the sober chief US economist for Merrill Lynch) has titled one of his most recent studies of the US housing market we are now at the "D" level for the housing market where "D...is for Desperation" as he put it. Realtors and home builders must be reall desperate to waste $40m in an double-speak orwellian campaign of spin, lies and non-sense. The reality is the "It is A Lousy Time to Buy or Sell a Home". It is a lousy time to buy as prices are falling - at an annualized rate of 10% for new homes - and they will be falling another 20 to 30% in the next two-three years as the glut of housing and the bust in the housing market unravels: which fool would buy a home now when a 20% down-payment and the entire equity in such down-payment will be altogether wiped out by a fall in home prices in the next few years? Anyone buying today at the still stratospheric prices will destroy his/her home equity in short order. Since buyers are not fools - in spite of the NAR spin - they are sharply reducing home purchases unless they get huge discounts. It is also a lousy time to sell as there is a massive glut of housing - both new homes and existing homes - on sales and demand is now well below a glut that is becoming worse as the completion of high housing starts at the beginning of the year will be soon dumped in the markets. Thus, expect more "ghost towns", the expression used by SF Fed president Janet Yellen. The sellers are becoming so desperate that they are now relying on Divine Providence to help them sell their homes: as reported in dozens of press items, sales of statues of St. Joseph are skyrocketing; it is has been a long-time popular belief that burying a statue of St. Joseph in the basement of your home helps you sell your home when housing is in trouble. Those statues sales skyrocketed in the housing bust of the early 1990s and they are going through the roof again today.