Bernie Madoff: YouTube Justice

I haven’t posted here to date on the Bernie Madoff scandal.  No sense writing a huge amount on the topic at this point – it’s been well covered elsewhere.  Let’s just summarize my feelings as:

  • We will never see an end to Ponzi schemes, because they work.
  • This exposes some of the flaws in the fund of fund approach to hedge funds.  Picking a manager is almost impossible, adding a level indirection truly is. (courtesy Dave Swensen)
  • The level of scandal for absconding with billions is historic.  The number of charity dollars, particularly from the Jewish community, is truly shocking, and likely deserves its own, new circle of hell (for those Dante fans).
  • There is no punishment that can fit this crime.  The impact will literally be felt by millions.
  • This failure will likely be used as a scapegoat and excuse to permanently damage the hedge fund industry in ways that may materially harm our markets for decades. (knee-jerk, political grandstanding regulation)
  • We still haven’t heard the worst of it.

Now, among friends, I’ve joked that while I’ve heard the expression “death by a thousand cuts”, this situation seems to be a good opportunity to actually test that theory out.  (yes, dark humor)

For my birthday, my brother actually forwarded me this Youtube video, and I couldn’t stop laughing.  So I’m posting it here, since it seems to have a shockingly low view count.

Enjoy.

Battlestar Galactica Hits My Blog Stats… Again

Can you tell that Battlestar Galactica starts its final season in just ten days?  You can if you look at my blog stats…

Blog Stats

Over 200 hits to the post “The Fifth & Last Cylon” yesterday alone.

I’m even getting referral links from O’Reilly!  Love it.

No matter how I try to diversify this blog, ever since my first Battlestar Galactica post in 2006 (which still gets comments regularly), I continue to get massive traffic at key points in each season.

The only thing I think will be greater than the excitement for the series finale is the empty realization afterward that there is, in fact, no more.

Now for the ultimate spoiler…

… I am the fifth cylon.

January 16th, 2009

New Years Resolution: Avoid Medical Myths

This is a fun post going into 2009.   Freakonomics pointed to a great piece at the British Medical Journal (part 1 & part 2) which goes through a fairly large number of medical myths that are widely believed, but that we now know to be false.

No sense going into 2009 repeating these falsehoods.  Although, despite being armed with the truth, no doubt many of your friends and family members will insist to the bitter end that “they know these to be true.”  (I watched a debate on #1 go on for over fifteen minutes this weekend between two family members.  I stayed out of it.)

In no particular order:

  1. Sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.  In fact, if anything, they have proven that if you tell parents that their kids have had sugar, they will believe that they are more hyperactive.
  2. Suicide rates are not higher over the holidays. At least, not in the United States.
  3. Poinsettias are not poisonous. Chomp all you want, you won’t be able to kill yourself this way.
  4. You do not lose most of your body heat through your head. It’s only about 10%.  Wearing a hat is not the key to being warm, although it might be the key to feeling like you are.  The wonders of placebo.
  5. Eating food late at night does not make you fat. This is one of those “logical” facts that no one bothered to check out… until they did.  And found out it wasn’t true.
  6. You do not need to drink eight (8) glasses of water a day. This one surprised me.  No evidence for this at all.
  7. We do not use only 10% of our brains. Total BS from the turn of the century (last turn, that is.)  We’ll have to come up with another excuse for why everyone isn’t brilliant.
  8. Shaving hair does not make it grow back darker and thicker. So many people swear this is true.
  9. Reading in low light does not ruin your eyes. Seems like good news for the last few Americans who read.
  10. Eating turkey does not make you sleepy. Or at least, any sleepier than any other meat.  Yes, I know this gave everyone an excuse to know what tryptophan is (or at least, pretend like they do.)

Please do not take this post as some sort of challenge to pick fights with the less enlightened out there.  Believe me, they outnumber you greatly.

Instead, feel good knowing that your knowledgebase is that much cleaner now that you’ve cleaned out some of the garbage before 2009.

Battlestar Galactica: Catch the Frak Up!

It’s late on Christmas Eve, but what better present to unwrap than 13 glorious minutes of Battlestar Galactica that summarizes the entire series in one fail swoop?

Sci Fi: Catch the Frak Up!

This type of snarky, quick-fix summary became big a few years ago as studios struggled with ways to get audiences to pick up serial dramas after the first season.  Unlike sit-coms, it really does matter if you’ve seen the earlier seasons, and they really don’t want you to opt-out of the whole series.

Whatever the reason, hat’s off to the BSG team.  I’ve seen every episode and I found this 13-minute video incredibly useful.  It reminded me of so many sub-plots and facts that I had forgotten.

Battlestar Galactica resumes on January 16th.  Be prepared and catch the frak up.

Top Five Candidates for the Fifth Cylon (Potential Spoilers)

Look, don’t read this if you are worried about spoilers.  Seriously.  Why are you even reading a post about the Fifth Cylon if you aren’t curious, right?

The number of people who read my blog always surprises me.  What surprises me even more is that almost everyone who tells me this asks when I’m going to post about Battlestar Galactica again.

Since January is around the corner, it’s about time for another post.  Here we go.

First, there is a Season Four promo up on SciFi now.  If you haven’t watched it, you have to.  Now.

SyFy Portal broke a story yesterday that basically says that they’ve known the identity of the Fifth Cylon for some time.  They don’t come right out and say it, but they give a list of the “Top Five Candidates”.  I thought I’d reproduce the list here, with my own comments on their likelihood:

  • Lee Adama. Adam’s Odds = 1%. Sorry, exactly how would Adama raise a Cylon from birth and not know it?  To justify this, pretty much everyone would have to be a Cylon in one form or another.  I like this theory even less than Zak Adama… I’m giving it 1% out of respect for those who believe, and as a hedge against the remote chance of lameness on the writers’ part.
  • Felix Gaeta. Adam’s Odds = 50%. Some potential indicators that Gaeta is the one.  First, he helped the resistance, like the other four of the final five.  Seems to have always been around the one in command – either Adama or Baltar.  Sings strange music when injured, as if he is enjoying the “humanity” of pain and emotion.  Also, killed the doctor with a pen to the neck in a fairly brutal way.
  • Laura Roslin. Adam’s Odds = 4%. Sorry, I know this is a favorite for some people.  “Imagine the drama if Adama’s love interest is a Cylon!”  Maybe if Battlestar Galactica were on Lifetime I’d buy it.  But not on SciFi.  Not with this writing crew.  I’m giving it a nudge above Lee Adama because at least it puts a Cylon at the head of everything from the start, answering the question of why she was the only surviving member of the cabinet.
  • Ellen Tigh. Adam’s Odds = 20%. Not a terrible option, given that Colonel Tigh is one of the five, and the resurrection of Ellen would be an interesting cathartic moment for Saul given the murder.  Also helps explain the visualization of Number Six as Ellen, somewhat.  Problem with this answer is, well, it’s not really that interesting.
  • Cally Tyrol. Adam’s Odds = 25%. Am I the only one who was glad to see Cally die?  Really hope it’s not this one, but it adds a very strange option to the mix, since it makes their baby a product of two Cylons.  Always nice to have a Cylon hater turn out to be one.  I personally can’t imagine this as a good choice, but so many people like it, I’m bumping the odds based on crowd-sourcing.

Of course, I still like the idea of Zak Adama as the final cylon, since his ghost has been haunting the show since the beginning.  But too many people think that it can’t be a character we haven’t seen before.

Battlestar Galactica resumes on January 16th.

Handbrake 0.9.3 is Out! A Must Have for Digital Movie Conversion.

Handbrake 0.9.3, the best application for converting DVD video to MPEG 4 just got updated.

The new version has over 600 feature changes and improvements.  Some of my favorites:

  • A new “Apple Universal” preset to ensure universal rendering of files to play on everything from an iPod Nano to the AppleTV.
  • Ability to encode ANY source file, not just a DVD.  This is huge for people converting video from other formats using other software (like Quicktime).  One step, and hopefully a lot faster.
  • Caching of video queues to disk.  Finally!  I can’t tell you how sad it is to queue up 20 movies for conversion overnight, and then discover in the morning that a crash not only happened during the second movie, but that on restart the queue is empty!  Now, at least crashes will be recoverable.

Go here to read more and download it now.

One small negative – the new version no longer bundles DVD decoding.  It seems that one of the contributors had requested the change.

No worries, however.  If you have VLC 0.9.x installed, Handbrake 0.9.3 will find it and use it’s DVD decryption library.  You can download VLC here.

The Luxury of a 1.5TB Hard Drive

I’ve had the priviledge today to upgrade my iTunes hard drive to 1.5TB, courtesy of the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 (currently $149.99 at NewEgg).  So far, no surprise issues.  And yes, the space is truly luxurious.

I’ve been busy this year converting my entire DVD library to MPEG-4, so that I can easily access the movies in iTunes and on any device around the house that is iTunes compatible (AppleTV, Mac Mini, etc).  Each movie takes between 1.0 to 4.0GB, depending on length (yes, I mean you Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended Version).

The big surprise for me was learning how many DVDs I actually owned… I would have though about 200, but it turned out to be well over 400.  Yes, that many.

So, last week, just as I was finishing the last stack, I ran out of room on the 1TB drive that I have solely dedicated to iTunes.  The 1TB drive I thought I would never ever fill.

Fortunately, my Mac Pro accommodated the rumba line of hard drive upgrades:

  • My new 1.5TB drive replaced the 1.0TB drive for iTunes.
  • The 1.0TB drive replaced the 750GB drive for Time Machine.
  • The 750GB drive replaced the 300GB drive for iPhoto.
  • The 300GB is going up on eBay sometime soon.

(In case you are wondering, the Time Machine drive is a backup for my System drive (300GB) and my iPhoto drive only.  I use a separate 2.25TB NAS for backing up the iTunes drive.)

So there you have it.  After a night of file transfers, a few alias folders reset, and telling iTunes to use the new location, I’m off an running.

438.67 GB Free.  And loving every byte of it.

Enough with the Election… Battlestar Galactica Updates

Yes, I’m tired of talking about the election and the economy.

Let’s go back to one of my favorite topics: Battlestar Galactica.

We are now exactly three months from the launch of the final ten episodes.  They will start at 10pm, Friday, January 16th, and go through until the finale on March 20th.

Additional fun to look forward to:

  • The Caprica premiere movie is in production, with teaser trailer now available.  No date announced yet, but this is the movie set before the first Cylon war, tracing the story of Admiral Adama’s father.
  • Another Battlestar Galactica movie, set between Season 2 & 3, will also debut in 2009, directed by Edward Olmos, and be told from the Cylons’ point of view.

More information here on BuddyTV.

Now, quit reading if you don’t like spoilers.

It’s hard to ignore the Caprica story line and its potential impact on the concept of the Battlestar Galactica plot.  The idea that humans developed humanoid cylons earlier in the timeline is hard to rationalize with what we know now.

We have ten episodes to find out:

  • Who is the fifth cylon?
  • Why are the final five different than the other seven?
  • What does it mean that all this has happened before, and will happen again?
  • Why did they say that Adama was a Cylon?
  • What happened to Earth?
  • Which came first, Earth or Kobol?
  • Will the non-humanoid cylons rebel against the humanoid cylons?
  • What is the fate of the human/cylon hybrid children?

Any other questions?

Personal Finance: The Best Advice is from Saturday Night Live

I have a special attachment to Saturday Night Live, since it debuted the same year I was born.  This skit is genius, and summarizes the best financial advice you are going to get this year.

You can watch it here on NBC.com

Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford

 

Scene: a typical American kitchen. A husband (Steve Martin) and wife (Amy Poehler) are puzzling over their finances.

Wife: Oh, I just can’t get these numbers to add up
Husband: Like we’re never going to get out of this hole.
Wife: Credit card debt, does it ever end?
Salesman: [entering from who-knows-where] Maybe I can help.
Husband: We sure could use it.
Wife: We’ve tried debt consolidation companies.
Husband: We’ve even taken out loans to help make payments.
Salesman: Well, you’re not the only one. Did you know that millions of Americans live with debt they can not control? That’s why I developed this unique new program for managing your debt. [Holds up book] It’s called, “Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford”
Wife: Let me see that. [Reading from book] If you don’t have any money, you should not buy anything. Hmmm … sounds interesting.
Husband: Sounds confusing.
Wife: I don’t know honey, this makes a lot of sense. There’s a whole section here on how to buy expensive things using money you’ve “saved”.
Husband: Give me that. And where do you get this “saved” money?
Salesman: I tell you where and how in Chapter 3.
Wife: OK, what if I want something but I don’t have any money?
Salesman: You don’t buy it.
Husband: Let’s say, I don’t have enough money to buy something. Should I buy it anyway?
Salesman: No.
Husband: Now I’m really confused.
Salesman: It’s a little confusing at first.
Wife: What if you have the money, can you buy something?
Salesman: Yes.
Wife: Now, take the money away. Same story?
Salesman: Nope. You shouldn’t buy stuff when you don’t have the money.
Husband: I think I’ve got it. I buy something I want, then hope that I can pay for it. Right?
Salesman: No. You make sure you have money, then you buy it.
Husband: Oh, then you buy it! But shouldn’t you buy it before you have the money?
Salesman: No.
Wife: Why not?
Salesman: It’s in the book. It’s only one page long. The advice is priceless and the book is free.
Wife: Wow. I like the sound of that.
Husband: Yeah, we can put it on our credit card.
Announcer: So, get out of debt now. Write for your free copy of “Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford”. And, if you order now, you’ll also receive, “Seriously, If You Don’t Have the Money, Don’t Buy It” along with a twelve month subscription to “Stop Buying Stuff” Magazine. Order today.

Genius.  Pure Genius.  I feel like I’ve actually had this conversation with people before.

How Apple Should Handle NBC

Just read this piece on the “he-said/she-said” debate between NBC executives and Apple executives:

Apple Refutes NBC’s Pricing Policy Claims

80/20 Apple is right here, of course.  They did not give NBC any pricing priviledges that they didn’t also give to all video content producers.  However, Apple did introduce it’s first pricing variation for HD with the AppleTV rentals earlier this year, and that’s more than it had last fall when NBC pulled its content.

I think, of course, that Apple is avoiding the most obvious solution to its problem:

  • Buy NBC off General Electric for a fair price
  • Fire at least the top 2-3 levels of executives at NBC
  • Set in place a modern digital content strategy
  • Execute non-exclusive, but solid digital content contracts with Apple
  • Take the new NBC public or sell it

As a side benefit, they could really have some fun with MSNBC.

What’s the point of Apple having a $135B market cap if they don’t use it?   My guess is that if executed properly, the above strategy could increase the value of both NBC and Apple.  Worst case, the upside on Apple is likely greater than the downside for NBC, making the “investment” worth it.