Thursday, August 31, 2006

Saw my first first run movie

I've been meaning to see The Illusionist for a while since seeing Paul Giamatti on Charlie Rose (fast forward to 47:10 for free). Oddly enough it wasn't playing anywhere near my area, the closest theater showing it being in NYC. Since I am already there on weekdays for work/training, I saw it with a coworker after work.

The movie, starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel, is set in pre-WWI imperial Austria in a time of industrialism and civil unrest. A brilliant illusionist named Eisenheim (Norton) puts on a show that mystifies Vienna and attracts the attention of the crown prince but the heart of his fiancee Sophie, with whom he renews a youthful romance. The Chief Inspector of Vienna (Giamatti) warns Eisenheim about risking the ire of the tyrannical prince. The serious, but sympathetic admonishment falls on deaf ears because Eduard/Eisenheim embarasses the prince in his palace. In refusing to give up on his childhood love, he sets in motion a series of tragic events.

The Illusionist falls in the category of Drama, Romance, and Fantasy, bringing alive a short story by Steven Millhauser with good 'special effects'. [But don't be fooled, this isn't a movie about magic. They even stay true to the illusions performed in that historical era, in cases even completely avoiding special effects.] The role of the Chief Inspector as a storyteller and is developed in an interesting way and the plot is truly a piece of work made even better in movie form (speculation).

If you do see the movie, I'd like to know which movie, if any, it reminded you of. And about the title, I was confused for the longest time why the movie was playing so few theaters, but I just found out from a friend that today was the last day it was in limited release.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Eric Schmidt joins the Apple BOD

Reinforcement! How could I resist posting about this.

Got carried away truncating the URL.. fixed link.

Monday, August 28, 2006

120 USD for a Mont Blanc Stylus?

An eBayer won an auction for a 14K gold (plated, I suspect) stylus that looks like it fits the Palm V. The seller claimed the item is no longer available and this is partly true. You just have to buy it along with a case now and I've seen it in two separate stores. It no longer makes sense to sell stylii for the Palm V since it doesn't fit in the silos of current PDAs. The eBayer was willing to pay about $120 (but in pounds) not including shipping. I'll admit I bid for a similar item but stopped at around $45. Yes, a Mont Blanc PDA stylus is very cool, but you can now buy this in a store with a leather PDA case in platinum/gold for $200. Below is a picture just for reference (the platinum one).

SOURCE: eBay and for the pic but I doubt he'll take credit. Incidentally, he paid $5 dollars for it!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Google Software Distributed with Thinkpads

Google is partnering with Lenovo (in addition to Dell) to distribute its desktop software. Excellent, because Google's free software is actually good. Not as good as iPhoto (Picasa) + Spotlight (Google Desktop), but good.
Included software (preloaded)
Adobe Reader; Diskeeper Lite; Google: Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Picasa from Google; Multimedia Center for Think Offerings, including: InterVideo WinDVD (DVD, DVD/CD-RW & DVD-RW models), InterVideo WinDVD Creator (DVD-RW models), Sonic RecordNow & DLA (DVD/CD-RW & DVD-RW models); PC-Doctor; Symantec Client Security (with 90 days of virus definitions); ThinkPad Utilities (Power Manager and Presentation Director); ThinkVantage™ Access Connections; ThinkVantage Fingerprint Software, ThinkVantage Productivity Center with Away Manager; ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery™; ThinkVantage System Update
ThinkVantage System Migration Assistant

(license–CD not included)
IBM Lotus® SmartSuite,® IBM Lotus Notes® stand-alone client
I'm not looking to upgrade my Dell, in case you were wondering just checking out stuff for my sister. Bonus: If you missed this on slashdot, an 'inside look' into IBM's mainframe sales force.

Reference: Spec sheet for Thinkpad X60 (pdf)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Zune has built-in RDBS! See the manual

Sorry, didn't realize this got slashdotted. I guess this is what happens when you work...

Looks like Microsoft deliberated didn't request confidentiality on this FCC filing so it could get some feedback. If you didn't know, Zune is Microsoft's upcoming Digital Audio Player with video and social sharing features. It's great-looking (much like the iPod 3G) and even has a built in FM tuner with RDBS, which displays track info. Another cool feature is being able to act as a DJ and broadcast your own music over wifi to other devices. Here's the manual.

Thanks: Zune Insider Blog

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

So, as I said... that was pointless

As a followup to the Creative vs. Apple Zen interface patent (Creative pioneered the first hierarchical interface to navigate gigabytes of songs on it's iPod-preceding hard drive-based MP3 player), the two parties have announced a one-time licensing agreement and have settled all of their patent disputes.

Apple is paying Creative $100 million (or about 6% of their 2005 profit) that will ensure Creative's profitability this year along with expected holiday sales. So, how do I feel that Creative's stock price rise in one day eclipses[comes close to matching] my return on Apple stock over the last couple of weeks? Eh... I don't entirely regret my switch, but obviously I would've come out ahead if I did NOTHING. Damn you, Jehangir, you just might be right. Of course, it is after hours trading so we'll see how it goes. At least I am ensured the right to avoid capital gains this year if I hold on to Apple through the holidays (won't realize gains if I don't sell).

BTW, don't get all worried about Apple (no one's really worried), since they have billions in liquid assets (I think around 8?).

SOURCE: Red Herring via Google Finance

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I feel older and more sophisticated already

I feel older and more sophisticated already. After like 5 reminders, I finally signed up for a free trial of emusic. It's the second largest music download service after iTunes targeting (according to USA Today) 'older, sophisticated music fans' not prone to file share. You have several packages to choose from, but I picked the cheapest, or 40 songs for $10 a month. Basically, I was going to buy the Genius Loves Company album featuring Ray Charles collaborations for $9 on Amazon, but I can download it for free under a free trial.

Now, I can also put my songs on my Motorola E815.

Reference: USA Today via TUAW

Monday, August 21, 2006

Second time's a charm

Contrary to the last time I attended a work-related cocktail party, I didn't ask totally dumb questions or whip out my new iPod nano in front of an interviewer the moment it came up in the most tangential of conversation. Tonight, my training class got a chance to meet with alumni and top IT executives. After standing glassless through two toasts, I finally went over to the bar and picked up a plastic glass of white whine. The friendly bartenders introduced me to the concept of wine tasting opportunities (although I should've done my own tasting right there) after I asked about the quality of my woot wine. They also said that if I wanted tickets for Shakespeare in the Park (Merryl Streep is in it this weekend), it was necessary to get in line at 8am.

All in all, I'm having a great time in training (and the technical training hasn't even started) and meeting interesting people, although I have to find time to check and act on my emails. I don't get a personal computer for training because we have workstations... Oh, and I met my first peer advisor and he seems like a nice guy. A superb group of people overall, many with UK accents : )

Fighting a cold so I shouldn't really blog further, but I'll try harder next time.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Is Amazon Prime for you?

If you're considering Amazon Prime's promise of great prices delivered even faster, consider reading this simple analysis. Prime membership costs $80 a year, can be shared with 4 household members (spanning 4 generations, no less), and gives you an upgrade from standard free shipping (but with no minimums) to overnight for $3.99 and two-day at no extra cost.

Tuesday will be the three-month anniversary of my free trial and I'm evaluating whether I should cancel it before it automatically renews. The factors I'm considering include whether my use of the service during the trial justifies the cost, how much accelerated shipping means to me now and in the future and, unfortunately, how much I want Amazon's strategy to succeed.

You're probably thinking, that last part should definitely be struck from the thought process. Don't make this an emotional decision. Ok, you're right, I shouldn't think that way. Limiting myself to either cancelling now or letting it renew is also irrational, since I could easily subscribe the next time I need it (if ever).


I made a total of six orders on using the free two-day shipping each time. While this would've cost me about $75 without the Amazon Prime, I only benefitted (even marginally) from the expedited shipping half the time. This leaves me about $30 in savings since the priority items were books/music.

If I extrapolate my spending over the course of a year, I'd have probably spent $120 on two-day. Subtracting $80 for membership, I would save $40 each year on shipping, or $2 per item.


It's not actually fair to only consider expedited shipping or standard shipping. Say for example, I really wanted to hear an album before a long trip. I could simply purchase the music on iTunes and burn it onto a CD. Or, I could run to the store and pay a couple extra dollars. So, actual savings is the savings on shipping in excess of the bricks and mortar premium. To tip the scales against the favor of Amazon Prime, to actually get the convenience of a local retail store, next-day would cost an additional $4, effectively nullifying the savings.

So, for a casual consumer of books and music (two items or less per month), Amazon Prime is not for you.

The need for speed

A former co-worker (the only Amazon Prime subscriber I know) says the overnight is useful during the holidays. This is especially valuable for procrastinators, especially if you amortize the cost over the rest of your casual purchases.

It's important to ask whether the savings increases my spending. This might be the case for my Amazon spending, but not really for spending in general. That would, of course, explain why it can still be worthwhile for Amazon.


I guess this doesn't conclude much for most people, but if you enjoy finding packages at your doorstep or enjoy shipping them to other people and know a couple of household members who are the same (you can share the membership with 4 others), this might be a good investment. If you're looking for tangible savings, nothing's cheaper than the existing free shipping. Remember that Amazon isn't always cheapest (I always check and, but when it is at least twice a month for you, you'll probably get your money's worth. Just do it for the right reason.

Reference: Amazon's shipping rates schedule

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dynamic publishing in Blogger beta

No more publishing (for Blogger users, that is). Try switching to the beta after logging in with your Google account. It'll mean the end of publishing and waiting. Unfortunately, labels work with the new layouts, which can't yet be updated at the HTML level [YET].

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Labels are coming...

Blogger's being updated but to see the new interface immediately, you have to start a new test account. Read more about it on blogger buzz.

SOURCE: PC Magazine [via] Google Finance

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The scope has widened

It is not outside the scope of this blog to talk about Dell stuff. I have mentioned my Dell consumption in the past. First, there was my initial purchase of a Dell laptop. Then, I transformed it into a powerbook, then I talked about the wonders of the built-in battery meter.

Now, I will report that my battery has refused to take part in the mass exodus back to Japan. I checked out whether the part was part of Dell's unprecedented recall of 4.1 million batteries made by Sony (poor souls). This accounts for over 16 percent of all batteries shipped between 4/2004 and 7/2006. I'm guessing that most of these were either high capacity or super slim batteries, both not characteristic of my humble 53-Whr clunker.

Check: Identify if your battery is affected<<-digg

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Six more days

Just a bit of notice that my blogging volume will be changing. I'm not sure whether I'll be posting more or less, but I'm starting work next Friday! I think it will be great and I'll definitely be focused since they have fairly strict web usage policies.

The obligatory bad news

Now, I wouldn't want you accusing me of witholding bad news, so... I'll make it brief.

Apple's need to delay it's quarterly SEC filing (to correct past earnings to account for those options grants) resulted in a warning from NASDAQ to the effect that it could be delisted. The good news, is really that this is likely to end up in a hearing and everything will be fine (if Apple's accountants have to work all day and all night, I'm assuming).

LINK: BetaNews

The Phil Morrison Connection

categorized under it's a small world

Whether or not you think those Hi, I'm a Mac commercials were effective, you must admit that they were at least... well-directed. It's with great pleasure that I present the movie Junebug, which is directed by the same guy, Phil Morrison. It was partly to his merit that Justin Long, who plays the Mac, decided to do the commercial despite it being something of a step down from movie acting:
Seriously. I thought that. But I grew up in a house where my mom was a commercial actress; she made a living making commercials, so I recognize the value of them.
He was also a big fan of the movie and the director. What isn't a reason is his love of Macs, since he apparently never owned a computer before shooting the commercial. Also according to the story, there are many more commercials coming.

Totally related, yet not at all (had to throw this in), ad critic Seth Stevenson calls the ads "mean-spirited" and gives the commercials an average score, mostly due to the ineffective message. I'm not sure I agree that every PC user is in the target demographic, but he also liked Junebug.

SOURCE: Not strictly commercial ( [via digg]

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Was it good for you, too?"

Forgive me, for I have been unfaithful. No, this isn't about my spirituality. Rather, it's about my violation of what Amber Simmons says is important to be an engaging writer in the online world. Her article Gentle Reader, Stay Awhile. I Will Be Faithful is about how to improve your writing in a way that encourages readers to invest their time and attention, ultimately making it worthwhile for both the writer and the reader.

And, this must be true, because as good as her writing is, I only got to read it now after bookmarking it yesterday. What I'll try to do:
  • Provide more context.
  • Imagine writing for a real person who has questions and limited time/background.
  • Write a better title/intro paragraph.

And this post's headline? It's how every ALA (a list apart) article ends, leading into the comments section. Well, was it?

SOURCE: A List Apart [my cached copy here]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Exclusive question! What is Steve Jobs holding?

Steve used to use a little blue box as a remote control for advancing slides during presentations. But this year, it's different. I attribute this to the need for more than one. Anyhow, if anyone knows what Steve Jobs and his fellow presenters are holding, I'm curious to know.

I've looked for readily available presentation remotes and slide advancers, but can't seem to find a match. It also looks like a cell phone, so it could be running some sort of software and controlling something via bluetooth. Otherwise, it just might be proprietary related to the venue or custom-hacked.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Post WWDC06 keynote

Come to think of it, typically OS X stuff gets announced at WWDC and not consumer/iPod stuff. Anyhow, OS X Leopard will come in Spring '07. Tiger came out in May '05 I think, but I have a feeling that Leopard will be earlier than May.

In other news, the Mac Pro and Xserve complete the transistion to Intel. I've said before that my next PC will be a Mac, right? I'm not sure I can afford the $2499 base model, but it certainly a good value. I wouldn't mind upgrading to Leopard come Spring.

If you want to see the latest of Apple Keynotes (less Steve), check for the video [via comment by andrewcod on this digg] to be posted later.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Apple's Options Trouble: A Closer Look

Apple announced Thursday that it would have to restate past earnings since September 2002 and delay it’s FY2006 Q4 announcements. As a long-time investor in Apple Computer Inc., I was naturally concerned, especially with a drop in it’s stock price in such proximity to expected product announcements on Monday afternoon at WWDC ’06 (covered live here starting 2PM Pacific10AM PT).

What was wrong? Why was September 2002 significant? What are the possible implications? After digging around, I was able to get a clearer picture of the issue at large. I’m going to try to summarize what matters to investors and Apple enthusiasts, as well as to provide some background on the topic of options and the practice of backdating. If you don’t need the background, simply skip past the following section. What I won’t do is say what you should do with your stock (if you hold any).

What are options?

Options are contracts that allow the holder to purchase or sell an asset (in most cases, stocks) at a specified price until the contract expires. What’s relevant are call (buy) options that are issued as part of a compensation package for a companies employees. There are many reasons why you pay employees with stock options as a complement or alternative to cash. First, you may not have much cash. Startup companies usually can’t afford to acquire and retain talented people with cash, instead offering them partial ownership in the company. This offers as incentive for them to do good work and promises a big reward in the event the company goes public (is put on the market). When this happens, an employee can exercise their options to buy the stock at a price discounted relative to the current market value and then cash them in for money.

So, while Apple has large cash reserves, it’s still a good idea to offer non-cash compensation in the form because they can use these reserves and more effectively reward good employee performance. For example, what’s another couple million dollars to Steve Jobs when you promise him the gains (or losses) he effects in the company’s share price. This is an effective way to award rich executives and keep them working hard.

There is a cost, however. Companies that are already publicly traded have a limit to the number of shares it can issue, and must get approval to increase this amount. This is necessary because although it doesn’t directly cost the company anything to issue new stock, increasing the number of shares dilutes the fractional ownership of each outstanding share. [Giving these shares to employees at a discount costs, on paper, that discount. -updated 10/12/06]

Forbidden fruit

While there’s nothing wrong concerning the practice in general, manipulating the date on which options are issued constitutes fraud. According to Reuters (via the Scotsman), at least 80 companies are suspected of backdating by the SEC. In late June, Apple announced an internal investigation (via an independent party) over options issues occurring between 1997 and 2001, probably hoping to pre-empt action by the SEC. It was during this period of extraordinary growth (bolstered by sales of the original iMac) that tempted executives to risk fraud.

Apple's stock rose tremendously from 1997 until falling precipitously in 2001

But why would anyone commit fraud when they could afford to compensate executives legitimately? Because they didn’t think they could get caught.

Cheating the system

Prior to August 29, 2002, companies didn’t have to immediately report options issued to employees to the SEC. This allowed them to essentially choose whatever date the company’s stock was low and put that down on paper, thereby locking in gains since that date. After Enron and the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, companies were held to higher standards of accounting requiring them to report the “transfer of economic value” (Morningstar: Options Backdating: Will Your Stocks Pay the Price?) as an expense that factors into a company’s earnings.

If companies had to report options grants to the SEC, they would not be able to fraudulently manipulate dates. So if companies only started reporting the transactions in 2002, why does the period between 1997 and 2001 matter? How would anyone know if fraud was committed?

The evidence left behind

In an academic article written in 2005 (Does backdating explain the stock price pattern around executive stock option grants?), Randall A. Heron and Erik Lie demonstrated that one could detect whether a company employed backdating by analyzing past stock performance around the dates options were supposedly granted. If a stock skyrockets exactly after the date options grants were recorded, that was probably a fraudulent date, especially because this behavior only consistently occurred before regulation began.

The article’s abstract:

Extant studies document that stock returns are abnormally negative before executive option grants and abnormally positive afterward. We find that this return pattern is much weaker since August 29, 2002, when the SEC requirement that option grants must be reported within two business days took effect. Furthermore, in those cases in which grants are reported within one day of the grant date, the pattern has completely vanished, but it continues to exist for grants reported with longer lags, and its magnitude tends to increase with the reporting delay. We interpret these findings as evidence that most of the abnormal return pattern around option grants is attributable to backdating of option grant dates.


Summarized from the Morningstar article by Pat Dorsey, the material impact of a confirmed scandal and its fallout would include unpaid taxes, lawsuits from shareholders (of which there are two), accounting, legal and auditing costs, as well as the impact on the company due to stress on executives involved. The one that really concerns Dorsey is the concept of governance and “corporate stewardship”. Backdating seriously calls into question the character of the executives in breaching the most basic corporate responsibility to shareholders. Earnings restatements from companies mired in similar (although maybe darker) waters resulted in $750 million over a two year period. [Restatements typically factor in the opportunity cost of giving employees options versus selling them on the market. -updated 10/12/06]

What about Steve?

In the Reuters article, analysts said the recent news didn’t change their valuation of Apple shares, but declared the dismissal of Steve Jobs as the unlikely, but worst case scenario. [His position on the board of directors also means he's liable.] We know that Steve Jobs was issued options to purchase up to 10 million shares but he could have been saved by the decline of Apple shares since 2001 and cancelled the options in 2003. Instead, he was awarded actual stock (at market value).


The internal origin of the inquiry and apparent non-involvement of CEO Steve Jobs are reasons for optimism, but in my memory, the integrity of Apple’s senior management has never been this deeply called into question. Backdating was by no means uncommon, but the extent to which Apple employed the practice has yet to be uncovered by the investigators. FYI, in case you think I’m shorting the stock, I’m holding onto it until further development and definitely through Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference taking place August 7-11.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Size comparison of upcoming Creative Zen audio players

All of these three players currently have a maximum capacity of 4 GB.

The first two short ones are the Zen V Plus and Zen Neeon 2 with video playback. The nano is the tall one and doesn't. Just an interesting use of Google Sketchup that took way too much time. [This updated picture took like 5 minutes with the useful 'value control' feature in Sketchup.]

With nothing really wrong with it and a classic along-the-side button placement, will the Neeon 2 (the one in middle) be Creative's bittersweet swan song before Apple's torrent of product announcements at the next Jobs keynote?

UPDATED 7:33 PM ET: pic
UPDATED 8/4/06 3:36 PM ET: added alt property for picture with dimensions in mm


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