Great Documentary on the Financial Crisis

My VP at work is an ex-Goldman Sachs investment banker and recommended this Frontline series on the recent financial crisis.  I have watched most of the parts that have come out and it is extremely good.  It is available to stream for free on the Frontline website.  Each part is an hour, and parts one and two have currently come out and are available on PBS’ Frontline site.  Parts three and four are scheduled to be released on May 1st.  I highly recommend that anyone interested in finance watch this, especially those of you who are still students and want to work on Wall Street.  At least when I was going through the interview process a few years ago, questions on the financial crisis were common.

I am a big fan of the documentary Inside Job, which explains the financial crisis in a simple and easy to understand way.  However, it is still fairly high level and glosses over a lot of the details.  Furthermore, it took a very anti-finance view and was quite biased in some of the reporting.  I’m not saying the reporting was wrong, but some of it was designed to make the people who work in finance look bad as a generalization (when only a small portion of those people had anything to do with the financial crisis) and much of it belittled finance as a whole.  When operating correctly within the right safeguards, the financial system is an extremely vital driver of economic growth.  This Frontline documentary does a great job of getting into the details, having secured a lot of interviews with the people most directly involved.  It also takes much more of a “reporting” point of view rather than the more inflammatory “crusading” point of view that Inside Job took.

I no longer work in finance, but my own personal view is that the government gave the financial industry some medicine that cured the symptoms of the financial crisis but did nothing for the underlying disease.  True, regulations have tightened and we probably are sufficiently safeguarded against any meltdown of significant size for the foreseeable future.  But, as many of the documentaries point out, the cause of the problem is still out there.  The leadership of the finance industry is still comprised of the same type of people: greedy, irresponsible, and worst of all immoral.  They don’t seem to care when they rip off some pension fund in Mississippi so long as they make a massive windfall.  The worst part is that they still have the ear of the government and the industry is so powerful as a whole, with incredible lobbying power.   The intersection of finance and politics is a continuous conflict of interest time bomb, especially as people in the industry go and become regulators.  It is a fuck show, and I don’t foresee any real changes.  The government would have to fundamentally change the institutional culture on Wall Street at the top levels, and those guys making the real money are so out of touch with reality anyway that its just not going  to happen.  After all, according to Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman, they are “doing God’s work.”

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Product Review: The New iPad

The new iPad: I’ve seen a lot of reviews that talk about the features it has and the battery life and all that stuff, but I haven’t really read anything about how people actually use it and how useful it actually is.  Having had significant time with it now, here are my thoughts in case people are thinking about purchasing it:

Overview:

I bought the iPad as a replacement for my netbook.  I love computers and technology, and I have built computers since high school.  I’m a nerd, but I’m not going to compare specs or anything in this review because 1) no one cares about them and 2) all the apps and programs written for the iPad only had the iPad’s specs in mind, so it doesn’t matter anyway.  As far as technology needs go, I believe people need two devices.  One is a powerful computer (in my case, a desktop I built) that is fast, has a lot of memory, and has a lot of storage space.  This is where you store all your pictures, music, and movies, play PC games if you are into that, and what you use for all your productivity needs.  For most people, this is a decent laptop.  The other device is a rather underpowered machine such as netbook which is small and portable enough for you to travel with and do basic things like browse the internet, send emails, and watch a movie.  I bought the iPad to function as my second, portable device, and I haven’t opened my netbook since.

It really is amazing how much technology increases by leaps and bounds.  The picture below to the left is a computer I built back in 2008.  Today, there isn’t all that much that very powerful desktop computer can do that the iPad can’t (in theory).

On the flipside, however, I have found that while there isn’t that much that the iPad can’t do, it’s still very cumbersome to do many of the things standard things.  It’ s certainly not a substitute for a real computer.

Pros:

  • The screen truly is beautiful.  I’ve never used previous iPads, but I know I can’t look at them after being too used to the best.  See pictures below.
  • Pictures were taken, incidentally, by a pretty awesome feature that just takes a picture of the current screen by holding the power button and pressing the “lock screen” button.  Great way to show what some app or something looks like.
  • It’s extremely portable and has a long battery life (~7 hours or so from my use).  I foresee this device making plane rides so much more enjoyable, as my netbook dies after one 90 min movie.  This is one of the device’s main draws in my mind.
  • Air Video.  This single amazing app was the one reason I bought the iPad.  I have probably over a terabyte (1000 gigabytes) of high-definition video on my computer.  If I didn’t have a way to watch that on the iPad, I wouldn’t have bought it.  Obviously, with the limited storage space you can’t just move these videos onto the iPad.  Fortunately with Air Video, you can simply stream any video from your main computer onto your iPad through your home wireless connection.  Your powerful home computer converts any video file format on the fly without delay, and the quality is acceptable.  If you want to keep a video on your iPad (I believe Apple only allows mp4 videos) for when you aren’t on your home wireless network, Air Video will convert any video to mp4 format.  Amazing app, and it’s free.
  • Powerful app store.  It’s really got great content, and there are a generation of young programmers who will only enrich it further.  Some shoutouts to Jetpac for an amazing travel sharing app, to AllRecipes for recipes, and to Time Out New York for some good content.  Most great apps are free.  Khan Academy is also awesome, providing free videos to help you learn about almost any topic you can imagine.
  • Kindle looks great due to the screen.  Text is crisp, sharp, and easy to read, and settings are easily available to control the brightness and to shift to white text against a black background if reading in darkness.

Cons:

  • It’s a pure content consumption device.  The keyboard and the device’s somewhat awkward size means that you will never want to type a long email or anything on it.  Forget about working in Excel or PowerPoint.  Keep your laptop around for a while; this is not a laptop replacement when you need to get things accomplished.
  • Apple is unbelievably frustrating in how much of a closed system it is.  I’m neither an Apple fanboy or an Apple hater, but I must say this is unbelievably annoying.  Here is a list of what you can’t do:
    • Can’t use Google Talk (G Chat) in browser form, and there isn’t an app (VTok and other stuff exist, but it’d be nice to just get G Chat as is).
    • Can’t use Grooveshark, because it’s Flash-based.
    • Can’t use many streaming services, because they are Flash-based.  This is an area where Apple has really hurt consumers; yes they don’t like Flash and yes HTML5 is probably a superior standard, but that won’t be mainstream for a few years and in the meantime Apple’s consumers are really getting screwed.
    • Web browsing is only allowed on Safari; other browsers aren’t in the app store.  This sucks because Safari crashes on certain sites (TechCrunch).  (EDIT: “Jonathon” has left a comment that there are indeed other browsers available.  He pointed to Dolphin and Atomic; I will try those out.)
    • After awhile, YouTube videos on Safari just say “this video is unavailable.”  Then you have to use the YouTube app that is forced upon you by Apple by default (comes with the iPad).  Sometimes I just want to watch the videos without leaving my browser.
    • Can’t delete Apple’s default bundled apps.  This pisses me off; I like to have a very clean desktop/home screen and I can only move these apps I never use to another screen at the back.  I can’t just delete them.
    • Videos have to be in Apple’s mp4 format.  I mean, Jesus Christ.  Not everyone is tech savvy enough to know how to convert.
    • A lot of these restrictions are just ways to force you to buy already compatible content in the iTunes store.  Smart?  Maybe for now, but this is not good for consumers.  Information wants to be free and clever people can get any content on the device (see Air Video in pros).
  • The iPad can do only one thing at a time.  If you are watching a YouTube video through the app and you go to Safari, the video automatically stops.  If you are browsing in Safari and have a music video playing but go to another tab, the music video automatically stops.  The only exception I’ve noticed to this is playing music through the Music app (comes default) does not stop when doing something else.  I must say, it’s a bit of an adjustment when computers have been able to do multiple things simultaneously forever to be limited to one thing at a time.
  • There is no comfortable way to hold it.  It’s very awkward to hold in lying down, which is how I mostly use it to watch movies, read, or browse the internet.  It’s too heavy and thin to hold comfortably with one hand.  I wish someone would develop a case for it that comes with rubber grips or a tasteful handle or something that lets someone comfortably hold it one handed.
  • Mobile sites are still mobile sites.  Although the Safari lets you access most regular versions of sites, the internet still knows that you are browsing on what is considered a mobile device.  That means you can’t access normal versions of sites like Hulu; many sites that are free for computer browsers are behind paywalls for mobile devices.

Conclusion

The iPad is a beautiful device with somewhat limited functionality.  It’s certainly not a replacement for a real computer.  Obviously any product has a value proposition that’s worth something different to different people.  I would say that if you don’t need something that’s ultra-portable and are getting by fine with your normal laptop, it’s probably not worth paying well over $500 (tax) minimum for the device when better ones are on the horizon.  However, if you are looking for a portable device to browse the web and use some cool apps, it certainly fulfills that role very well.  This is especially true if you have a long commute or you travel a lot, at which point it’s easily worth it.

I do have some thoughts on what version of the device you should buy.  I bought the 32 GB one at $600, and I think that’s definitely the sweet spot.  Apps don’t take up much room, but the music, photos, and movies that you absolutely want on there will probably take up some space.  16 GB is cutting it a little close while 64 GB is overkill on a device that is meant to primarily access web-based content.  Any of the 4G versions are a complete waste of money.  Not only is the device itself significantly more expensive, but there is no way a monthly data fee is worth it.  Free WiFi is prevalent enough in the world that you’ll be ok.  When you are caught without it, well, that’s why you pay the $30 extra for your smartphone every month, right?  TechCrunch posted some numbers that 96% of web usage on the iPad is from WiFi anyway, so it seems the vast majority of people do not use 4G anyway.  Unless you are super rich and don’t care about money, I just don’t see how it’s worth it.

Pictures:

Nostalgia: 2008 Capital One Bowl

I had a lot to drink on Thursday night, and as is the case nowadays whenever that happens I have difficulty sleeping.  I fall asleep fine, but wake up super early (3:30 AM in this case) without being able to fall back asleep.  So what did I do?  Watched the 2008 Capital One Bowl, of course, where Lloyd Carr went out in style by beating Urban Meyer and Heisman winner Tim Tebow.

So much has changed in the time since this game.  I can’t help but note some of these:

  • Rich Rodriguez would assume coaching duties the next day after the game.  He was interviewed during the game and I remember myself and my friends thinking it was the start of a bright, new era in Michigan football.  How wrong we were.
  • Greg Mattison pacing the sidelines on the Florida bench like the aggressive man-bear he is.  To think that only a few short years later, he would be turning one of the worst defenses in the nation into one of the best here at Michigan.  It’s amazing how paths cross and people you thought about in passing from the past become prominent in the future.
  • A young Cam Newton on the sidelines as the potential heir to Tim Tebow.  Amazing how a player can go from a complete unknown to ridiculous super-stardom in the span of a single season.  As good as he was at Auburn, he would have been even more scary in Meyer’s offense.
  • Justin Boren aka Benedict Arnold v2.0 lining up on our offensive line next to Jake Long.  Boren probably isn’t even fit to shine Long’s shoes, much less be in the same locker room.  I wonder if he would have amounted to anything (other then getting fat) had he stayed at Michigan.
  • Speaking of Michigan’s offense, it amazes me the sheer amount of offensive weapons we had on that team.  A very physical line anchored by Long and Kraus.  Mike Hart at runningback, Chad Henne at quarterback.  Two exceptional receivers in Manningham and Arrington (who made some insane catches this game) to go along with a very decent third option in Matthews.  So unfortunate that this offense was plagued by injuries throughout the season.
  • With the proliferation of dual-threat quarterbacks, I had forgotten how valuable and how insanely good a truly great pocket passer is.  Henne played the best game of career with both his arm and his overall poise and command of the offense, seemingly checking into better plays every chance he had.  I love Denard as much as anyone, but I don’t think we’ll ever see a dual-threat quarterback make the same throws or manage the game the same way as the Hennes and Lucks of the world.  Dual-threat quarterbacks simply have a different skillset and are probably developed/coached in a different way.  I don’t think Tebow or Vince Young, probably the two best dual-threat quarterbacks in recent history, could have ever made some of the throws Henne made in this game.

Watch and enjoy the game; it was the end of an era for Michigan football, the end of the old school pounding offenses and conservative philosophies.  I think this is for the better, as Michigan adjusts more to the modern game.  Hoke has already demonstrated a more aggressive, game theory approach and I think his offensive and defensive schemes are much less vanilla.   Time will tell if his era will be as dominant as the one established by Schembechler and ended in style by Carr.

A Solution to the Divisional System

First of all, a thank you to everyone who read and commented on my first post.  I had no idea that this blog would have any kind of following or that there would be so many great, insightful comments.  There was so much great content in those comments (which I highly recommend you read) that I decided to do another post in response to them.  It seems that a lot of people recognize that divisions are not optimal, but they still think divisions are a “necessary evil” or bring good in other ways.  I don’t think that’s true, and I will list out my ideal solution below.  That solution is based on the following premises:

  1. For me, the primary goal of college sports is not to maximize profits.  It is to win games and to find out who is the best team.  This is in direct contrast to professional sports, where the teams are run like companies and their jobs are to maximize profits.  Maximizing profits and winning are not mutually exclusive at all (winning probably helps), but the goal is fundamentally different.  If you go into college football with a profit maximization mindset, you’ve lost the essence of college football.  The system should be what’s most fair to the players/teams first, not what makes the most money.
  2. Having stated the first premise, this would mean that the goal of any conference championship game that exists is to determine the best team in the conference.
  3. If a conference championship game needs to exist, then the two best teams should play in it.
  4. The system of divisions can prevent the two best teams in a conference from playing each other in a championship game.  This is simply a fact; it happened last year with LSU and Alabama.
  5. It is very difficult to objectively determine the best team in a conference every year*.  No system will ever be perfect.  However, this does not mean we should accept an obviously flawed system (divisions) if there is a better solution available.

If you disagree with these premises, then we probably just have to agree to disagree.  I probably won’t convince you of anything, and you probably won’t convince me of anything.  That’s totally cool and the goal of this blog is just to have a discussion around something we all love.  I would certainly love to hear which part you disagree with and why.

With divisions, a team could potentially beat every team in its division but lose every non-divisional conference game and still get a shot to play in the championship game.  This means that a 5-3 B10 record team could get a chance to play in the championship because they were perfect against their division, while a 7-1 B10 record team doesn’t because they lost one game within their division.  Again, this is a very flawed system because the 7-1 team is presumably better than the 5-3 team, especially since they played much of the same competition.

So, here is my proposed solution:

I don’t get what was wrong with the old system, before Nebraska joined the Big Ten and it moved to divisions?  Big Ten teams were able to play most of the other teams in the conference, and at the end of the day the team with the best record in the Big Ten would be the champion.  This system ensures that all conference games are equally important, not just the games within your own division.  It is pretty straightforward and less arbitrary than a divisional system.  I don’t think it’s always necessary or beneficial to have a conference championship game (outside of the revenue part, which I addressed in the premises).

However, the change I would make to the old system is that I would add a conference championship game in certain situations.  If a team went 8-0 in the conference and the next closest teams only went 6-2, then saying that the 8-0 team is the best team and deserves the championship is probably correct within a reasonable margin of error.  However, when there are two teams with a 7-1 record, then there needs to be a championship game to sort things out on the field.  I think another way of determining it (who won head-to-head if they played, point differential, etc.) is much more arbitrary.  Just let them settle it on the field.

The tricky thing is if three teams go 7-1.  Then there has to be an arbitrary way of sorting out which teams are the two “best” teams that deserve to make it into the championship game.  However, this situation is much more unlikely to occur in comparison to the two best teams in the conference being in the same division, which GUARANTEES that the second best team will not play in the championship game.  Yes, some of my solution involves arbitrary selection processes, but it’s much less likely to occur than the flaws of the divisional system.

*As a small example, consider 2011’s Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa teams in a vacuum.  Michigan demolished Minnesota while losing to Iowa (somewhat convincingly in my opinion), while Minnesota beat Iowa.  The transitive property, A > B and B > C so A > C, does not work in college football.  Who is to say which of the three is the best team?  Obviously this is a flawed example, but you get my point.  If Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa were all 7-1 and all other Big Ten teams had worse records, the only way of picking a champion MUST be arbitrary.  There is always an element of arbitrariness in years where there are several top teams with the same record.  This isn’t going away, ever.  That doesn’t mean we should be happy with our current system if we can find a system that is less flawed.

Thanks for reading.

Why Divisions within Conferences are a Terrible Idea

Never mind all the faults of the BCS system; the organization of conferences into divisions needs to change first.  The goal of this post is to demonstrate exactly what the title says.  Let’s just examine this issue theoretically at first.  Say you have a 12 team conference, which is divided into two divisions of 6 teams.  The winner of each division (e.g. the team with the best record against its divisional opponents) will play each other to determine the best team in the conference.

It’s possible that the top 2 teams in the conference are in one division; let’s assume this happens.  This means that in the regular season, the best team will likely beat the second best team.  Then, when it comes time to play for the conference championship, the best team will play (at most) the third best team for the trophy!  This is because since the two best teams are in the same division, the winner of the other division can, at best, be the third best team in the conference.  Am I the only one that thinks this is completely asinine?  Isn’t the point of a conference championship game to allow the two best teams to play for the championship?

In a given year, it’s theoretically possible that the 6 best teams in the conference are in one division, with the 6 worst teams in the other.  This would mean that the best team in the conference would play the 7th best team (!) for the conference championship.  Obviously this is highly unlikely to occur, but this wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for divisions.

Unfortunately, this issue isn’t theoretical at all.  It happened just last year in the SEC.

Morris Claiborne, pictured above, was the best member of a secondary unit that will probably put an absurd 5-6 guys in the NFL before all is done.  His top ranked LSU Tigers beat Trent Richardson’s Crimson Tide (pictured below) in the regular season.

Because LSU and Alabama are both in the SEC West, however, Alabama didn’t get to face LSU again in the SEC Championship game.  Instead, LSU beat a clearly outmatched Georgia team 42-10 (I know it was close for a while, but Georgia had nothing on LSU).

Alabama and LSU were the two best teams in America last season.  There is (somewhat) objective proof, since they played each other in the national championship game.  They were certainly the two best teams in the SEC.  Both teams have truckloads of NFL bound talent, and both teams increase their talent levels by very unethically toying with kids’ scholarships.  In short, both teams were stacked and both absolutely demolished the rest of their SEC foes in blowout fashion.  Each teams’ average margin of victory against SEC competition was roughly 25 points.  May I remind you again that the SEC is the toughest conference in America.  In any rational person’s view, Alabama and LSU were 100% the two best teams in their conference.

Why, then, did Alabama not get a chance to play for the conference championship game?  The foolish organization of divisions.  Alabama would go on to win the national championship, but it didn’t even have a shot to play for its own conference championship.  That, to me, is asinine.

The reason this bothers me so much on a personal level (other than being utterly stupid and irrational) is that with the recent addition of Nebraska, the Big Ten has moved to a divisional system: the much lamented “Leaders” and “Legends” divisions.  I don’t want the possibility of my Wolverines to be the second best team in the conference and not get a shot in the conference championship game due to a foolish system.

Genesis

I am a recent graduate of the University of Michigan with an extreme passion for Michigan  football and college football in general.  I wanted an outlet to express my thoughts, so I started this blog.  There are, of course, many great blogs on Michigan football out there.  MGoBlog, Touch the Banner, Tremendous, the list goes on.  It’s safe to say that Michigan probably has the greatest representation out there in the college football blogosphere, and all these sites produce top quality content by people closer to the game then myself.  It’s not my intention to compete with any of them; rather, my blog is just a way to get out a logical, rational fan’s thoughts on the game in general.

Of course, I have strong interests outside of college football.  I will likely often post things that I find interesting or insightful.  These will probably include product reviews (I have a weakness for truly great, quality products made with passion), thoughts on business and technology, philosophical musings on life, ethics, and other random things.