Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Free WiFi at SNA

Woohoo! Free Internet connection at John Wayne Airport. Using Speedtest.net and connecting at 54 Mbps, I got a download speed of ~2 Mbps (connection from SBC). Not too fast but can't complain if it's free.

I do have one complaint though. To "pay" for the connection, JWA inserts a banner with ads in my browser window. Normally that's not a big deal but my netbook only has a 1024x600 screen so this eats up more valuable screen space. I wonder what happens when you connect with an iPhone or iPad.

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BTW, I got frisked when going through security earlier. I think the guy was being trained or something since there were two other people watching him and he seemed very hesitant. Having gone through airport security countless times, I had nothing on me so it was all good. The girl behind me was weird though. She was dressed like a flight attendant but forgot to show her ID (she just walked up to the metal detector) so she got yelled at by the TSA guy. Then she didn't take her computer out of the bag and got flagged again. Maybe she's new too.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

American Express Daily Wish

I get a lot of junk mail, even from "real" companies. I usually delete them but I saw something from American Express that mentions Cathay Pacific. The link took me to the Daily Wish website where they sell a limited quantity of merchandise but you have to use your AmEx card. Anyway, I was clicking around and saw this:



At first I thought it said $20,000 which is a 20% discount, meh... then I looked again closely and it says $2,000! Wow... $2,000 for first class round trip tickets from LAX/SFO/JFK to HKG. I'd totally pay that, even for business class. The only problem is that there are only two tickets. At $25,000+, there's probably not that much demand so they may as well give some away. I usually go to either Chengdu or Beijing and economy tickets cost from $1,000 to $1,500. Even if I get these tickets, I would still have to pay for the HKG to PEK/CTU tickets but I think it's worth it. It's about 28 hours for a round trip flight from LAX to HKG and I can never sleep in economy class seats.

I just need to be the first online and click fast!

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The rules say these are regular first class tickets which means you can change the date/flight for free as long as you travel before Dec 31, 2010. You can also apply your miles to AAdvantage. For first class, you get 2x the mileage so this flight will get you ~30,000 miles or a free domestic/Canada round trip ticket on AA.

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Too bad it's not first class on an Emirates Airlines A380. There you get to take a shower. What a waste of fuel; they have to carry all that water on-board... unless they're recycling the water, in which case I want to shower first.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup Instant Replay

I've mostly stopped watching World Cup games. I'm probably more of a fan than the average American since I played a bit in junior high school. I was actually on the school soccer team even though I don't know how to play that well. Anyway, I'm very disappointed in the officiating; combined with the irritating drone of the vuvuzelas, it's ruining the experience. I expect to see Argentina and Brazil in the finals. If that happens, I'll probably watch the game but not much until then.

I don't understand why FIFA doesn't institute instant replay for goals. There has been several goals that were ruled incorrectly (both ways). Since soccer is such a low scoring game (except for Portugal vs. North Korea), scoring the first goal totally changes the game flow and strategy. Both games today were affected by bad officiating. England had a clear goal taken away, and Argentina was allowed a goal even though they were way offside. The final margin of victory was greater than the errors but it's hard to quantify whether they affected the outcome of the game in other ways.

Friday, June 25, 2010

n = n - 1

Today was the last day of work for a co-worker and a good friend. She worked for me for ~6 months during the past 4 years but now is leaving the exciting field of finance to go back to school for interior design. Sigh... one less person to eat lunch with. :(

==========

Also, several people "disappeared" from the corporate directory which means they either quit or were fired. Since no one received any "farewell" email, I'm pretty certain they were fired. Does wonders for morale...

YouTube Tag Suggestions

To avoid having my account suspended, I usually don't label the KBS World shows I upload nor allow comments. I'm not even sure this works but it seems to be the advice found on YouTube. In addition, YouTube checks all audio/video against a digital fingerprint database. Last night, I uploaded episode 148 of Happy Together, a Korean variety show, and YouTube suggested the following tags (so people can search for videos more easily).
Suggestions:
+boy band
+asian drama
+combat sports
+rnb
+female vocalist
+television
+diva
+pop
+dance contest
+talk show
+pop music
+television show
+soap opera
+asian pop
+subtitled
+asian pop music
+korean pop
+martial arts
+asian television
+taekwondo
+korean music
+television series
+african american
+interviews

I didn't put in any tags obviously and none of the videos in this account has any tags. Hmm, how did they come up with this list of tags? The only data comes from the uploaded video so there must be more content matching/analysis going on in the background.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wrong Shoes

I just realized that I wore my dad's shoes to work today. I usually wear my white RBK shoes; all day today I've noticed they they look a bit odd. Just now I took them off in my office and saw they were "Court Classic" brands. Hmm, I didn't know we had the same shoe size.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

19 Inches!

It's worse than we thought...

video
Preview clip for episode 31 of Invincible Youth airing next week on KBS World

==========

Ha ha, I just noticed her shirt says "HELVETICA" as in the font. Cool.

Chinese Apple Store

Since just about everything Apple sells is made in China by subcontractors such as Foxconn, you would think prices would be cheaper over there. When I ordered my 30GB iPod online from Apple, it was shipped FedEx to me from Shanghai.

Apple Store US

Apple Store China

No iPad or iPhone4 on the Chinese website yet.

Comparing prices, most items are more expensive in China. I'm not sure why that is. Local taxes on vendors? Inefficient distribution channels?

16GB iPod nano (I just bought one from Costco for $150)
Apple Store US = $179 or RMB 1,210 (6.8143 exchange rate)
Apple Store China = RMB 1,448 (~20% markup)

New Mac mini
Apple Store US = $699 or RMB 4,763
Apple Store China = 5,688 (~20% markup)

Quad-core iMac
Apple Store US = $1,9999 or RMB 13,622
Apple Store China = RMB 15,998 (17.4% markup)

I don't get it. I know that in Japan, most stuff goes through multiple layers of distribution so Sony electronics sold at stores right outside the Japanese factory (back when they still made stuff in Japan) is more expensive than in the US. However, I'm comparing Apple online stores so the "other" costs should be similar.

Nissan Leaf

I saw an ad for the Nissan Leaf, which is a compact electric car. The list price is currently ~$33,000 or about what I paid for the 350Z. It looks interesting, and since I only drive less than 20 miles to work each way, the 100 mile range should be sufficient. Top speed is supposed to be ~90 mph so I can still take the freeway to work.


Yawn... looks like a Nissan Versa.

The only concern is cost. Since moving to the new house, my electricity bill has been much higher than before. Partially it's because the house is bigger (with two refrigerators) but also I pay more per kWh due to the screwy baseline usage rules. On last month's bill, my baseline was 267 kWh. Here is the pricing based on usage tiers:

Tier 1 (within baseline) = $0.13/kWh
Tier 2 (up to 30% over baseline) = $0.15/kWh
Tier 3 (31% to 100% over baseline) = $0.24/kWh
Tier 4 (looks like 101% to 200% over) = $0.27/kWh
Tier 5 (looks like 201% to 300% over) = $0.31/kWh

The huge jump is from tier 2 to tier 3. Our usage was 503 kWh so we get slammed with paying almost double. The stupid thing is that my tiny one bedroom apartment was allocated almost 600 kWh for baseline.

Anyway... back to the electric car. The specs say the batteries are rated at 24 kWh. Assume that you get the full 100 miles in the specs, then the "fuel" cost for me at tier 4 prices is $0.27/kWh x 24 kWh / 100 miles or ~$0.065/mile. Assuming $3 per gallon and 20 mpg, I currently pay $0.15/mile.

More numbers. If I charge it every day, I'll probably be in tier 5 pricing so the cost is probably closer to $0.07/mile. Since the Leaf is a small car, a comparable gasoline car can probably get 30 mpg so fuel costs are ~$0.10/mile. With charger, the Leaf comes out to ~$35,000 not counting government subsidies (which I probably won't qualify for). The same comparable compact gasoline car probably goes for 1/2 that. Assuming a useful life of 175k miles (nice round number), the depreciation on the Leaf is $0.20/mile while only $0.10/mile for a Sentra/Corolla/Civic. Total cost: $0.27/mile for the electric car and $0.20/mile for gasoline. Of course, gas prices can increase significantly if Obama gets his Cap and TaxTrade deal. Even if the operating costs are similar, I can't be sure I'm being "environmental" since California has lots of coal and natural gas generating plants, which just shifts the pollution somewhere else upstream. I can always install rooftop solar panels like Sunny & Steve which will increase my total cost to $0.40/mile.

All that and I still can't make it to Vegas... heck, probably can't even make it to Barstow. I think I'll pass for now.

==========

The electric car is much more efficient though. One gallon of fuel contains ~33.4 kWh of energy. At 30 mpg, one gallon of gasoline will move a car 30 miles whereas the Leaf only needs 24 kWh to go 100 miles. Probably a lot of the energy is lost as heat in a gasoline engine. It also show how energy-dense gasoline is compared to Li-ion batteries.

Monday, June 21, 2010

MIT OCW

Boy, I'm such a nerd. I just watched a 45+ minute video on YouTube. It was lecture 2 of MIT 3.091 - Introduction to Solid State Chemistry. The lecturer was pretty good. I think it's the equivalent of Chemistry 11A at UCLA, which I took 24 years ago. I actually took Chemistry 11AH, the "honors" version. There were fewer people in the class so the grading curve was harder... for the next class, I chickened out and took regular Chemistry 11B (no "H") with hundreds of other people.

Undergrad was a blur for me. I ended up with a 3.35 GPA in Electrical Engineering at UCLA but I really can't tell you what I learned. However, watching the video, everything seems kinda familiar. Granted it's basic chemistry but it seems so easy the 2nd time around, even if it's a lecture at MIT. I should go watch some material science lectures (I took one class, MSE 14, at UCLA)... I'm usually pretty clueless during PMI meetings when they start talking about crystalline structure and compounds.

MIT OpenCourseWare website

Ooh, lots and lots of Material Science courses.

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There are a lot of interesting courses listed under management from Sloan (MBA school at MIT) but no videos are uploaded to iTunesU or YouTube yet. :(

Sunday, June 20, 2010

$5000/Squirrel

Well, I'm glad they're taking care of critical issues with my tax dollars.

ABC News
Arizona Spends $1.25M to Save 250 Squirrels
Rope Bridges Expected to Save Five Squirrels a Year From Being Road Kill

Arizona is spending $1.25 million to build bridges for endangered squirrels over a mountain road so they don't become roadkill and then monitor their health.

The money is being spent, officials said, because cars kill about five of these squirrels each year.

...

The Federal Highway Administration grant will be used to build rope bridges over the lone road through the squirrels' habitat, according to Arizona Department of Transportation Community Relations Director Timothy Tait. The DOT plans to install 41 of the "canopy tunnel crossings" at a cost of $400,000.

Another $160,000 will be spent on cameras to monitor the bridges, and the rest of the money will fund a project to monitor the rodents.

That works out to about $5,000 per squirrel.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Orange Caramel

Sometimes K-pop groups split off a subgroup and release a single. Usually larger groups do this since they have so many members (Super Junior has 13 members). This is Orange Caramel, a subgroup of After School which now has 8 members. These three are the newest additions to the main group.


Magic Girl - Orange Caramel (Raina, Nana, Lizzy)


After School (w/o Lizzy)

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Photo of Orange Caramel with Park Kahi (from her Twitter page)

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Good Rain Knows [2009]

Leon told me about a Korean movie that was filmed in Chengdu. I found the entire movie, with English subtitles, on YouTube. Here's part 1:



I recognize the airport exit and the taxi line having been there several times during the past two years. From 2:48 to 3:14 is a short driving scene. It's exactly how I remember my first car ride in Chengdu, "Holy crap, we're gonna die!"

<$1/day

There’ll be some people who will want to demagogue that politically, but that’s less than $1 a day,” The Politico quoted Lieberman saying at a press conference yesterday. “Is the American household willing to pay less than $1 so we don’t have to buy oil from foreign countries, so we can create millions of new jobs, so we can clean up our environment? I think the answer is going to be yes.

Yeah, a dollar a day sounds insignificant but I'm already paying >$250/day in taxes. Show me that you can properly manage that money first, before asking me for another $1.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Car Inspection

I'm talking to my friend in Beijing on Skype. She just bought a car and took delivery this morning. Even though it's a brand new car, they still need to bring it to some kind of government office (DMV?) to have the car inspected. I think she said they check the lights, tires, brakes, etc. The entire process takes 20 minutes but since there are multiple stations, it takes forever... they've been there since 9am (or about 4 hours ago) and they still need to wait for one (or more) inspection(s). I can understand if they want to do safety inspections on used cars but why new ones? Is the QC so bad in China? She did say that imported cars are exempt from inspection, only domestic cars are inspected.



Call me cynical but I think the main reason for the "inspections" is to create more opportunities for "red envelope" gifts. You would think that car manufacturers and dealers would inspect the cars themselves before it left the lot. One good thing: they get to choose their own license plate number at no extra charge. In Shanghai, license plates are auctioned off so plates with the number "8" usually sell for a lot of RMBs.

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She said two guys just got into an accident at the inspection place. They were both driving big shiny new BMWs and were trying to squeeze their way into the line of waiting cars. There wasn't enough space so they hit each other. I see Chinese drivers play "chicken" all the time when driving; I guess they both lost this time. They're both the arrogant and boorish 大男人 types so they're standing there yelling at each other.

For some reason, they're both clutching man purses in my mental image of the situation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Solar Charger Update

I went to Best Buy last night and bought this:



It's a power adapter that takes either 12-24VDC or 120VAC and outputs 5VDC via an USB port. I got it to play with the Brunton solar charger Leon gave me. It puts out 12VDC whereas almost everything I have with a battery charges using USB (iPod, BlackBerry, GPS). Since the solar charger only outputs 800mA at 15VDC, I was worried if there was enough power to charge USB devices after going through the adapter I bought.

During lunch, I unfolded the solar array on my dashboard, attached all the wiring plus adapters, and plugged in my iPod nano. The display on the iPod showed that it was charging. The battery was about 3/4 full anyway; after an hour, I checked back and it was fully charged. Pretty cool! The solar array did get hot sitting in the car and left a plasticky smell... no harm done.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Vuvuzela Hell

I was going to blog about this when the earthquake hit. Anyway, vuvuzelas are these plastic horns that are blown during South African soccer matches. I've watched a few matches on TV and the horns generate a huge wall of noise that sounds like an angry swarm of bees. It is really irritating and must be horrible to be at the games. News articles say that it gets up to 127 decibels inside the stadium... that's crazy! Can you say "permanent hearing damage"?

BBC News article and video

I think if I watch another match, I'll mute the sound and turn on the close caption instead.

Earthquake!



Magnitude 5.9 5.7 earthquake about 10 minutes ago. It wasn't as bad as the Mexicali earthquake a few months ago but still shook the house for about 10 seconds.

Korean TV with Chinese Subtitles

Of course, English subtitles are preferable but I find I can understand about 3/4 of what they're talking about. Without subtitles, I can't understand anything. :(


Come To Play with Wonder Girls and Super Junior

Too bad most of the subtitles are in Simplified Chinese. I do a bit better with Traditional Chinese characters.

New 8eight Song


이별이 온다 (The End is Coming) - 8eight
MV with English translation


이별이 온다 (The End is Coming) - 8eight
Live performance on Music Bank

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kia Hamster Commercial

I saw this commercial on KBS World.



Kia posted this on YouTube themselve so I guess it's safe from deletion. I used to have several hamsters so this was especially funny for me.

800Flowers in a Box

My sister and Rebecca sent my mom some flowers for her birthday (today). Since they went on a trip yesterday, and I never go through the front door, the flowers were sitting in a box outside since yesterday. Good thing they called, otherwise it will probably sit there for a week.


The box was delivered by UPS (I think). The flower and vase were packed inside.


Since the box was on our front doorstep for a day (or two), I was afraid that the flowers inside would be dead. Not to fear... since each stem was packed with a little plastic thingy filled with water.


Just because they were still alive doesn't mean they were in good shape. Orchids are pretty delicate and a lot of flowers/buds were detached from the stem through shipping. They're supposed to (I think) look like the stem on the left but some were almost bare twigs.


I wasn't sure what it was supposed to look like so I laid out all the "material" first. There seemed to be a lot of stems for the small vase. I also didn't know what to do with the four large green leaves.


After some debate (with myself), I decided to make an unidirectional arrangement, i.e. with a "front" and a "back" view. I put the green leaves on one side of the vase and started inserting the orchid stems at random. The ones with missing flowers were good for the back but it got crowded in the front.


I think there were supposed to be 30 stems but I ran out of room. I put the remaining 4 into another vase (actually a water bottle).


In the process of arranging the flowers, I managed to knock off some more of the flowers... but you couldn't tell from the arrangement since it's so dense. This reminds me of graduation leis.


I moved the main arrangement into the living room. Hopefully it will last until my mom gets back from their trip.

I went online to the 800Flowers site to see what this was supposed to look like and found this:



I'm not sure how they got the arrangement to be more "open" instead of all jammed up. Maybe I was supposed to remove some of the flowers from the lower part of each stem. They also didn't ship me any "long" stems; every stem was about the same length (short) which further crowded the flowers. I don't think anyone could have duplicated the pictured arrangement from what was shipped. Oh well...

I'm actually a bit disappointed in 800Flowers for shipping flowers in a box. I guess it's cheaper to centralize operations but you leave the final arrangement to the lame skills of the consumer. I think I did an okay job but I could have easily screwed it up more and blame 800Flowers for the poor results. Having a fresh arrangement delivered by a local florist is much better and didn't used to cost any more.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

K-pop Female Idol Tractor Driver



Goo Hara of KARA is one of the girls from Invincible Youth. She came to LA to perform at the 2010 KMF in May. On an earlier episode of IY, she won the farm equipment driving contest and said that she would take the driving test for farm equipment. In Korea, you have to be 20 to get a driver's license; Hara took the tests and got both driving licenses.



At about 20 seconds into the video, there's a segment where she drives a tractor. They also showed that she went by herself and practiced tractor driving before the test. Heh, if the singing and dancing gig doesn't work out (KARA is pretty popular in Korea though), she can always work on a farm. :)

Digital Fingerprint

Due to some lawsuits by content copyright holders, YouTube (Google) checks for copyrighted audio/video each time you upload something. I think the process (Audio ID and Video ID) uses a digital fingerprint, which is a highly compressed/lossy version of the copyrighted data, and each upload is compared to a database of digital fingerprints. The technology is pretty cool and fairly robust, as I found out.

I uploaded an episode of Let's Go Dream Team (season 2 episode 29) from KBS World. The entire show was a little over an hour so I split it into 6 parts for YouTube upload. The original file was ~728MB (640x480, 1500kbps MPEG4 video, 128kbps AAC audio) so each segment was ~120MB. All of them uploaded okay except part 2, which triggered a copyright content match, and was blocked by YouTube. The first thing I tried was to split the 10 minute file into 2 minute segments to see where the digital fingerprint was being compared... however, all 5 uploads triggered the content block. Next I tried the following on the first 2 minute segment: Gaussian blur, remove chroma (black and white), logo removal (major blurring) on different parts of the frame, remove audio, various encoding codecs, and resizing/adding borders to no avail. I finally chose a 2x2 mosaic filter which probably altered the file so much that it fooled the fingerprint process.


Part 1


Part 2

The mosaic filter basically shrinks the video 2x to 320x240. It also shows 4 consecutive video frames, i.e. the 4 pictures are not exactly the same), which is probably what throws off the video fingerprint.

This episode is a competition between a female Dream Team (mostly idol singers) versus female KBS announcers. Out of the 12, I think Oh Jeongyeon (announcer) is the prettiest.



She was also a MC on Star Golden Bell for awhile until she got married to a Korean basketball player.

World Cup

I saw a bit of the South Korea vs. Greece match this morning, before dropping off my parents for their Yellowstone trip. I did get to see the 2nd goal by Park Ji-sung though. Korea ended up winning by a score of 2-0, the first win out of three matches so far. Right now Argentina is playing Nigeria and already up 1-0 after about 8 minutes.

The US vs. England game is up next. Hopefully it will be a close game and not a blowout by England.


Shim Mina from the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Racist" Greeting Card

This has to be one of the most stupidest things I've ever heard.

ABC7.com
NAACP calls Hallmark graduation card racist

A graduation card sold at local stores has been pulled from shelves after a civil rights group raised concerns about the content. The group claims the card's micro-speaker plays a greeting that's racist.

It is a graduation greeting from Hallmark that says, "Hey world, we are officially putting you on notice."

Members of the Los Angeles NAACP did take notice. As characters known as "Hoops" and "Yoyo" banter on, African American leaders hear offensive language.

"And you black holes, you are so ominous. Watch your back," the card vocalizes.

"That was very demeaning to African American women. When it made reference to African American women as whores and at the end, it says 'watch your back,'" said Leon Jenkins of the Los Angeles NAACP.

Here's the video clip:



There must be no more "racism" left in Los Angeles for the LA NAACP to call this out. I haven't heard much from them lately... I guess they're short on money and need a "controversy" for fund-raising. Otherwise they must be the most stupidest people on earth. Think about this logically... why would Hallmark put out a "racist" graduation greeting card? The card has been on the market for three years already. If it did say black "hoes" (is that the correct plural form?), I'm sure it would have been flagged a long time ago.

IIRC, only African Americans use ho = whore. If so, is the card "racist" then? Why do black people get to use the n-word when it's taboo for the rest of us? Good thing I studied engineering and finance instead of astronomy. I've always been fascinated by astrophysics and black hoes holes.

Chinese Holiday Schedule

I'm talking to my friend in Beijing. Next Wednesday (6/16) is a holiday (dragon boat festival 端午節) in China. About a month ago, the government announced that the official holiday schedule would be from 6/14 to 6/16. However, to make up for the two extra days off, everyone has to work this Saturday and Sunday. I hear that this happens every year for each major holiday, i.e. the government decides the national work schedule at the last minute.

I guess it's good that they're trying to give everyone a three day holiday but it shows the control-freak tendency of the CCP. The holiday is supposed to be the 5th day of the 5th lunar month but they can easily "celebrate" the holiday on a specific Monday or Friday. This way, people can have a three day weekend that's actually on a weekend. Also, why can't they decide this a year in advance to give people more warning? It's not like we don't know the lunar calendar dates. Are there political implications to when to take holidays?

One consequence of this capricious holiday schedule is that people can't plan ahead for events; maybe this is seen as a feature and not a bug by the CCP. My friend is supposed to attend a wedding tomorrow that was scheduled way in advance. However, now that tomorrow (Saturday) is an official work day, a lot of people are backing out of the wedding since they can't or don't want to take a day off from work. How lame is that? Also, some people work really hard for five days straight and need the two days off to rest. Now they have to work seven days in a row, though the following week is only a two day work week. We know that the government officials don't really work that hard so they probably never considered this.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Recent KBS World Uploads

KBS World airs different schedules for North America, Europe, and Asia. At another blog site, they upload subtitled KBS shows to other file sharing services but not YT. I know this person is in Vietnam and for some reason, their schedule is now a full week ahead of KBS America. Even before I get to see this week's episode (delayed 3-4 weeks after airing in Korea), they already have the next episode uploaded. Strange.


Star Golden Bell episode 283


Let's Go Dream Team Season 2 episode 28


Invincible Youth episode 27


Happy Together Season 3 episode 145

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Student Loan Debt

New York Times
Like many middle-class families, Cortney Munna and her mother began the college selection process with a grim determination. They would do whatever they could to get Cortney into the best possible college, and they maintained a blind faith that the investment would be worth it.

Today, however, Ms. Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University, has nearly $100,000 in student loan debt from her four years in college, and affording the full monthly payments would be a struggle. For much of the time since her 2005 graduation, she’s been enrolled in night school, which allows her to defer loan payments.

...

The balance on Cortney Munna’s loans is about $97,000, including all of her federal loans and her private debt from Sallie Mae and Citibank. What are her options for digging out?

Her mother can’t help without selling her bed and breakfast, and then she’d have no home. She could take her daughter in, but there aren’t good ways for her to earn a living in Alexandria Bay, in upstate New York.

Cortney could move someplace cheaper than her current home city of San Francisco, but she worries about her job prospects, even with her N.Y.U. diploma.

She recently received a raise and now makes $22 an hour working for a photographer. It’s the highest salary she’s earned since graduating with an interdisciplinary degree in religious and women’s studies. After taxes, she takes home about $2,300 a month. Rent runs $750, and the full monthly payments on her student loans would be about $700 if they weren’t being deferred, which would not leave a lot left over.

There was a follow-up article where she tried to respond comments on the first article.
First and foremost, I openly acknowledge my responsibility for my current situation, as well as the naïveté in my estimation of the return on investment of a “high quality” education and a liberal arts degree. My only explanation is that once I was in school, I didn’t think much about tuition beyond filling out the paperwork, and I did what I always had done: focused on my education.

I accept that this was negligent on my part, but unfortunately, I was too young to know better. I also willingly admit that I am responsible for repaying the money I borrowed. I have been doing this, to the best of my ability, over the course of the last five years and have every intention of continuing to do so.

...

Beyond my education itself, I learned how to survive in New York City. To describe my degree as “women’s studies and religious studies” doesn’t really do it justice. I’m an alumna of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. I created my own interdisciplinary program in collaboration with an adviser. It involved courses from a variety of departments, including religious studies, gender studies, sociology, psychology plus several interdisciplinary and writing seminars. I had to defend my concentration in front of a panel of professors before graduating.

Some thoughts. First, I have zero sympathy for her. She bought something that she could not afford on credit. Why did she buy a "luxury" education when she could have gone to SUNY or chose something cheaper? At least she acknowledges that it's her responsibility to pay back the loans, not like the lowlifes not paying their mortgages.

As I was reading the original article, I kept thinking, "What was her major?" Near the end of the article, it said "interdisciplinary degree in religious and women’s studies." Nice. At the risk of sounding a bit arrogant, that is not a real degree and definitely not worth whatever she paid ($160k?). I could have picked an mick (Mickey Mouse) major instead of Electrical Engineering and screwed around a lot more in college but I was worried about getting a job after graduation. Maybe she really enjoyed her time in NYC and believe she received a valuable education but all that is irrelevant if her skills are not worth anything in the marketplace. What she should have done is to pick a "vocational" major and take all those fun classes on the side, instead of making those useless classes her major.

Finally, since I'm a finance guy, let's look at the numbers. It says she makes $22/hour living in San Francisco, which must be like living in heaven for a women's study graduate. Anyway, her rent is $750/month (does she have a roommate?) and the proposed student loan repayment is $700/month. Is that affordable?

$22/hour is equal to ~$45k per year. Assuming she takes all the standard deductions, her AGI is $45,320 - $5,700 - $3,650 - $8,400 (student loan) = $27,570. That works out to a federal tax of $3,719. CA state tax is $45,320 - $3,637 = $41,683 or $1,773 - $108 = $1,665. Add 6.2% for Social Security, 1.45% for Medicare, and 1.1% for CA SDI = $3,965. Whew... all those taxes leaves ~$36k or $3,000/month. I don't know how they get $2,300/month after tax in the article. $22/hour x 40 hours/week x 52/12 = ~$3,800 gross. There is no way she's paying 40% in taxes.

Anyway, if we subtract rent and student loan payment, that leaves her with ~$1,500/month. Adding approximate expenses from when I was living alone in an apartment:
- Cell phone = $60
- Broadband = $50
- Utilities = $60
- SF MUNI pass = $80 (assuming no car)
- Food = $600 ($20/day average)
- Personal $400 ($100/week.... I didn't spend that much)

That leaves ~$250/month leftover. Of course, one potentially big item is health care... not sure if she has insurance through work. If she has to buy her own insurance, the remaining $250/month may or may not be enough. However, it does look like she can continue to live in SF while paying off her student loans so I'm not sure what all the whining is about. As time passes, hopefully she will get raises or find a better paying job (not sure what without more education) so her financial situation should get better.

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Hmm, I just did her taxes and budget as part of the blog post. I should get back to work.

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Even if she was making $2,300 after tax, that would leave $850/month which is still doable but she would need to get rid of the cell phone, not buy new clothes, and eat in. She can also get food here but that would probably be embarrassing for a NYU grad with a fancy liberal arts degree.

"It's pretty nice"

Steve Jobs, talking about Foxconn's factories.

BBC News
Hon Hai Precision is the world's largest maker of consumer electronics, and employs 800,000 workers worldwide, mostly in China.

Foxconn makes a range of products for manufacturers including Apple, Dell and Nokia.

The deaths have shone a spotlight on working conditions at the factory, where workers - often from rural China - work up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

But Mr Jobs defended the conditions.

"You go in this place and it's a factory but, my gosh, they've got restaurants and movie theatres and hospitals and swimming pools. For a factory, it's pretty nice," he said.

Of course it's a sweatshop. That's why Apple (and everyone else) contract manufactures at Foxconn. TANSTAAFL... there are reasons why it's cheaper to make stuff in China and it has nothing to do with productivity.

Steve Jobs is a smart guy so he's obviously lying through his teeth.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Roewe 350

A friend in Beijing just bought a car. I've never heard of the Roewe (荣威) brand before; it appears to be a subsidiary of SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp) that was purchased from MG Rover in the UK. The model she bought is the Roewe 350 which is a small 4-door sedan. I didn't ask how much she paid for it but the website shows a MSRP of RMB90k-RMB125k (~US$13200-US$18400).



Specifications
1.5L engine (80kW or ~107hp)
2650mm wheelbase
MSRP for middle model with automatic transmission ~US$17000

Compared to a Honda Civic LX
1.8L engine (140hp)
2700mm wheelbase
MSRP for automatic transmission ~US$18000

Compared to a Toyota Corolla LE
1.8L engine (132hp)
2600mm wheelbase
MSRP for automatic transmission ~US$17000

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are probably the best selling small sedans in North America (world?) and both have excellent quality and reputation. Ignoring any quality issues with Chinese-made cars, the Roewe 350 is priced in the same ballpark as the two Japanese cars which means it's super expensive for the average Chinese car buyer. If you compare the relative cost of living vs. wages in China, everything is somewhat comparable with the US (i.e., housing and food) except for cars and other large ticket consumer product.

Mortgage Thiefs

These people are crooks. I guess there's no more shame or personal responsibility in this country anymore. They should have their credit scores knocked down to zero and have to pay for everything with cash.

NY Times
For Alex Pemberton and Susan Reboyras, foreclosure is becoming a way of life — something they did not want but are in no hurry to get out of.

Foreclosure has allowed them to stabilize the family business. Go to Outback occasionally for a steak. Take their gas-guzzling airboat out for the weekend. Visit the Hard Rock Casino.

“Instead of the house dragging us down, it’s become a life raft,” said Mr. Pemberton, who stopped paying the mortgage on their house here last summer. “It’s really been a blessing.”

A growing number of the people whose homes are in foreclosure are refusing to slink away in shame. They are fashioning a sort of homemade mortgage modification, one that brings their payments all the way down to zero. They use the money they save to get back on their feet or just get by.

This type of modification does not beg for a lender’s permission but is delivered as an ultimatum: Force me out if you can. Any moral qualms are overshadowed by a conviction that the banks created the crisis by snookering homeowners with loans that got them in over their heads.

“I tried to explain my situation to the lender, but they wouldn’t help,” said Mr. Pemberton’s mother, Wendy Pemberton, herself in foreclosure on a small house a few blocks away from her son’s. She stopped paying her mortgage two years ago after a bout with lung cancer. “They’re all crooks.”

I see where he got his morals from... the mom has been stealing from the bank for two years now. How ironic that she considers the lender as crooks when she's the one not paying her mortgage. They both refinanced their house to get cash out in the past too. I hate freeloaders.
One reason the house is worth so much less than the debt is because of the real estate crash. But the couple also refinanced at the height of the market, taking out cash to buy a truck they used as a contest prize for their hired animal trappers.

It was a stupid move by their lender, according to Mr. Pemberton. “They went outside their own guidelines on debt to income,” he said. “And when they did, they put themselves in jeopardy.”

His mother, Wendy Pemberton, who has been cutting hair at the same barber shop for 30 years, has been in default since spring 2008. Mrs. Pemberton, 68, refinanced several times during the boom but says she benefited only once, when she got enough money for a new roof. The other times, she said, unscrupulous salesmen promised her lower rates but simply charged her high fees.

Dangers of Free Stuff in China

The Standard
More than 100 people were injured when the more than 2,000 mostly teenagers, who had been queuing for free tickets to a classical and pop concert, stormed the South Korean Pavilion.

The show, scheduled for 7pm at the Expo Cultural and Performing Arts Center, featured several top Korean pop stars, including boy band Super Junior.

Videos released by mainland media showed two layers of railings being torn down as a large group of people rushed toward the center. There were also rumors of a girl dying after she fell from a height.

However, a spokesman for the expo insisted no one died. He also played down the chaos.




Photos... looks pretty chaotic to me.

I Need To Get A Government Job