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PCK - The Living Room EP
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A band I manage and work with, Planetary Circus Kingdom, just dropped their first album "The Living Room EP". Recorded, naturally, in a living room, with pretty much a phone. Listen below or check it out here!



Lung Cancer
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Throughout my life, I’ve been surrounded by smokers: My grandfather, father, and step-mother – all smokers. And guess what? They all have cancer. Growing up with the smell of tobacco lingering in my nostrils allowed me develop a keen hatred for smokers. This hatred has now evolved into addiction and dependence. I can attribute this to my social surroundings and careless nutrition habits. Part of smoking involves the act of deep breathing, and I know that helps calm me down too. I'm aware can I can do breathwork without the extra nicotine, It's also stimulating, and a way for me to take a break from people. I struggle with nicotine every day. Unfortunately, New England is an area with some of the highest lung cancer rates in the country2. However, clearly I’m not the only addict in recent memory. Cancer Facts & Figures 20101 states: “Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women.” As a potential client of the 1.3 million deaths worldwide since 20043, I felt compelled to learn more about my potential disease.

Lung cancer derives from uncontrollable cell growth in lung tissue. This growth may facilitate metastasis, which stretches beyond the lungs. Most lung cancers are carcinomas of the lung from epithelial cells. Since starting smoking, I’ve experienced numerous symptoms that lead to lung cancer: Dyspnea, hemoptysis, wheezing, chest pain, and cachexia. Though I may not have already contracted the disease, I have educated myself further on a practice beyond healthy nutrition habits that could save my life: Stop smoking cigarettes. 

Lung cancers are classified by histological type, distinguished by size and appearance of the malignant cells seen only under a microscope. These two types are non-small cell (NCSLC) and small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC). NSCLC “refers to a subset of cancer types that account for approximately 70% of lung cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma of the lung, large cell carcinoma of the lung, and adenocarcinoma of the lung7.” Conversely, SCLC is responsible for approximately 15% of bronchogenic carcinomas. However, deaths resulting from SCLC in the United States have decreased during the past few decades. “Without treatment, SCLC has the most aggressive clinical course of any type of pulmonary tumor, with median survival from diagnosis of only 2 to 4 months.  SCLC is more responsive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy; however, a cure is difficult to achieve because SCLC has a greater tendency to be widely disseminated by the time of diagnosis. It is the cancer most commonly associated with paraneoplastic syndromes, including the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion, paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration, and Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome9.”

During my research, I stumbled across a breakthrough for NSCLC. “Research at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center led by Charles E. Chalfant, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular Biology, discovered a previously unknown mechanism in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells that contributes to their ability to maintain and grow tumors. Narrowing in on this mechanism could provide a breakthrough for the development of effective therapies for NSCLC and other cancers.”10 But wait, there’s even more hope. A new inhalable dry powder treatment has displayed increasing survival rates, facilitating less radiation or surgery and preventing more toxins from polluting the body. “Current lung cancer treatments can be grueling and take a significant toll on the patient," said Raimar Löbenberg from the University of Alberta. "Our results show that this treatment method may not only increase someone's survival rate but could also potentially be less toxic to the body."11

Since cancer develops in our airways, it makes sense that this prevention of airflow would cause breathing problems. This may facilitate secretion accumulation behind the blocked airway, exposing the victim to contraction of pneumonia. In addition, numerous lung cancers are rich in blood supply. So, if these cells are sensitive, blood my come from the cancer into the airways and essentially coughed out of the mouth. Tumors like Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, hypercalcemia, or syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (SIADH) may also attract the disease. Tumors sitting on top of the lung causes altered sweat patterns and eye muscle issues because brachial plexus invasion.

I found throughout my studies that almost 90% of lung cancer developed across the world is because of smoking4. Particularly of cigarettes, because this smoke contains over 60 known carcinogens, radioisotopes resulting from radon decay, nitrosamine, and benzopyrene. Nicotine also depresses the immune system reaction to malignant growth in tissue that is exposed5. Even exposure to wood smoke destroys the lungs, increasing risk of COPD and related pulmonary problems. "When cigarette smokers are exposed to wood smoke their risk of having reduced lung function increases," explained Yohannes Tesfaigzi, Ph.D. senior scientist and director of COPD Program at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, where the research was completed. "Cigarette smokers who have both changes in sputum DNA and are exposed to wood smoke have a synergistically increased risk of having reduced lung function and other indicators of COPD such as chronic mucous hypersecretion."6 Other causes of lung cancer include passive smoking, radon gas, asbestos, viruses, and particulate matter. Clearly, exposure is what kills.

There are multiple ways to treat lung cancer. Diagnosing the disease begins with a chest radiograph. If this does not suffice, a bronchoscopy or CT scan may be needed. Treating lung cancer depends on the cell type, spread, and infected person’s performance.  Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radio therapy. There are also various nutritional recommendations depending on present symptoms and treatment is endured by the patient. These options can be reviewed at the Health Castle’s Lung Cancer Diet & Treatment website. Most side effects subside after treatment, so a person can gradually resume a normal diet upon recovery. If a healthy weight and diet are stabilized, a person may begin to pursue appropriate healthy exercise and eating habits specific to their needs.

Combating lung cancer should be apparent by this point. Preventing lung cancer is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent manifestation. Avoiding tobacco smoke of any kind must be the main foal for prevention. Even though we may never be able to escape smoke because of our social surroundings, we can avoid directly inhaling potential cancer. Long term supplement use of multi-vitamins like C, E, and folate don’t reduce risk. Conversely, this may actually increase the risk of lung cancer.

Smoke seems to be the source of lung cancer issues, even though lung cancer was around before the mass adoption of this terrible habit. Everything unhealthy results from smoke, especially the leading cause of cancer deaths in our World. Bottom line, young kids, and myself, need to stop smoking. Happiness and health are on the horizon.

Resources

1http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/TobaccoCancer/tobacco-related-cancer-fact-sheet

2http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/statistics/state.htm

3http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs297/en/

4http://www.ctsu.ox.ac.uk/~tobacco/

5http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v2/n5/full/nri803.html

6http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100715090651.htm

7http://www.virtualmedicalcentre.com/diseases.asp?did=709

8Govindan R, Page N, Morgensztern D, et al.: Changing epidemiology of small-cell lung cancer in the United States over the last 30 years: analysis of the surveillance, epidemiologic, and end results database. J Clin Oncol 24 (28): 4539-44, 2006

9http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional

10http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101203113241.htm

11http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101115142005.htm

12http://www.healthcastle.com/lung_cancer_diet.shtml

13Understanding Normal & Clinical Nutrition, 8th Edition

 

Nutrition Mini Self-Analysis
Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nutrient Intake & RDA

Overall, my nutrient intake does not meet the recommended dietary allowance for healthy people. During a minimum two out of three days; meat, beans, vegetables, and grains intake all fell below recommended consumption. In contrast to humans who intake nutrient amounts above the RDA, I may be developing health problems caused by nutrient deficiency. My nutrient stores are clearly declining, which is facilitating poor future health and deficiency symptoms. However, I am getting more than the RDA for nutrients like vitamin A, B12, C, and thiamin; all very important nutrients for which deprivation can cause both rapid and long term deficiency development. On the other hand, my daily milk and fruit intake met their respective RDA1. 

My AMDR vs. RDA

As people, we generate our energy from foods which contain carbohydrates, protein, and fat. After applying the acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges of 55%, 15%, and 30%, respectively, my recommended food energy diet of 2578 kcal/day should break down as follows2:

  • 1,417.9 kcal/day from carbohydrates
  • 386.7 kcal/day from proteins
  • 773.4 kcal/day from fat

When compared to RDA’s values for nutrients, energy recommendations are far from generous. Surplus energy is stored as body fat because it’s not readily disposed by the body. So, obesity and any associated health complications could result; even though these reserves are very important when availability of food is limited2. Regardless, this proper contribution of a healthy diet would provide the necessary energy and nutrients for my body and help battle against chronic diseases3.

Nutrient Dense Foods Consumed

Remember, the “more nutrients and the fewer kcalories, the higher the nutrient density4”. My 3 day diet did not consist of many high nutrient-dense foods. However, the foods I did consume which provided the most amount of nutrients for the lowest amount of energy included: 

  • Fruit (apples, 100% orange juice) – Provides vitamins, complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and other nutrients like iron and magnesium; naturally low in sodium and fat.  To maintain my current weight, my diet recommends I intake at least 2 cups of fruit equivalent per day.
  • Grains (cereals, whole grain breads) – Similar nutritional value as fruit. My average grain consumption nearly satisfied a recommended intake of 6.5 oz equivalent per day.
  • Vegetables (blueberries) – Among others, a key source of potassium, folic acid, vitamins A, E, and C. Only consumption via blueberry bagel. My daily vegetable intake is far below the recommended 2 cup daily equivalent5.

Short & Long Term Implications of Current Diet67

One constant I’ve realized throughout this study is that I’m destroying my body. The lack of/overindulgence in food in selected areas has been supporting my body’s deterioration process, rather than preserve it for the long term.

As a young adult, I haven’t noticed nor expect any immediate signs of disease and illness due to my unhealthy diet. However, I can physically and mentally notice how my body reacts to what I consume each day. I refuse to knowingly contribute to my life’s possible end. I must learn to maintain a proper diet for a longer duration, facilitating healthier natural habits. This takes nothing but an inner willingness to help my body. I’m afraid that if I continue to unhealthily fluctuate my various nutrient and energy consumption, increased weakness, illness, and disease exist in my future. 

Ups, Downs, & Exchange Lists8

To help adjust serving sizes, I pulled the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute9 as a valuable resource. However, the types of food I consumed did not prove too difficult for serving size calculations; especially considering my carefully logged records of food and beverage intake throughout the project. 

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about (what should be) a priority to every individual person; health. This project has developed my detailed understanding regarding numerous factors that influence my individual health. I can now appropriately adjust and prepare my diet for extraordinary future benefits. 

My only perceived “downside” would be a lack of user compatibility in mypyramidtracker.gov. It was odd to navigate and proved difficult modifying entry errors. In fact, I contacted a representative working for the service looking for help, and they advised that a site upgrade is in the near future. Regardless, the site did provide very valuable platform for generating and tracking personal health.

Future Diet Plan: Change

I have ceased all smoking abuse, and have never had a problem with over-indulging in alcohol. I have begun the pursuit of a vegetarian diet, selecting nutrient dense foods first for replenishment and healthy sources of energy. This alone will help me prevent disease and use of medications, as I am against the use of any supplements in my personal development. I would like to maintain a thin, lean look at around 160 pounds, so stabilizing daily physical activity is a must. I hope to do aerobic activity at least four times per week, while focusing on muscle development for at least three times per week. This will also allow me to reduce and work off any stress accumulated during physical activity down-time. Exercise is a major source for my personal stress relief, facilitating the control of any ensuing depression. My teeth have become a bit yellow from smoking, so I will hope to strengthen my gums and whiten my teeth.  I’ve noticed I am routinely dehydrated, so drinking more than four glasses of water per day is another must. Creativity and planning come natural to me, as I am addicted to change and mental development. I would love to indulge more in recreational living, but I have financial obligations towards school that must be remedied before I may pursue other life interests. Most importantly, I will remember to enjoy the small amount of time I have left on this Earth.

Resources

1Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition (8th Edition), p.19

2See AMDR Calculation, attached spreadsheet “AMDR”

3Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition (8th Edition), p.18

4Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition (8th Edition), p.38

5http://www.mypyramidtracker.gov

6http://www.livestrong.com/article/233925-long-short-term-benefits-of-a-healthy-diet/

7http://www.livestrong.com/article/196136-the-long-term-effects-of-an-unhealthy-diet/

8Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition (8th Edition), Exchange Lists, p.47

9http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/fd_exch.htm

10 Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition (8th Edition), Table 16-4: Strategies for Growing Old Healthfully, p.576


Tuesdays With Morrie Reflection
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reading Tuesdays with Morrie for the second time was an extraordinary experience. The book itself hadn’t changed, but I can’t say the same for my understanding of its meaning. I read the book when I was young, but as you know, with youth follows ignorance. As I’ve grown to better understand my life and surroundings, this book has become a reiteration of so much I have discovered during my existence; confirming what I’ve learned and expanding on those ideas.

Morrie stressing to Mitch the importance of creating his own culture: one of acceptance, communication, love, values, openness, and happiness is such a valuable lesson. I too believe popular culture is an influence to ignore what matters to you because of its foundation for greed, selfishness, and superficiality. Perhaps true suffering may come from complete societal acceptance, as you have now done everything in your power to artificially please the wants and needs of those who don’t matter. Mitch must realize this as he had been chasing an artificial dream when he’s knocked down chasing Andre Agassi; a symbol that what he is chasing is wrong.

I’ve avoided watching television over the past few years, as I’ve come to realize the media’s manifestation of fear they’ve instilled in so many Americans. I limit the amount of news and what type I’m exposed to, as well as any reality/drama shows. They’ve become this absurd standard of living for so many people; as if it is how normal people are supposed to live. Although I’m aware of the media’s impact on society, it’s affect on my life will be felt if I’m surrounded by it too often. I know it influences thinking and I don’t want to it to pollute my positive, loving spirit.

The Nightline interview with Morrie had a much more powerful impact on my current situation. I was reminded of so many valuable lessons I have learned throughout my life that I walked out of our room a more humble person; with a smile as big as Morrie’s during his last moments in the final interview. During the rest of this reflection, I’m going to address and react to the most important points I felt from Morrie and our discussion on death.

For whatever reason, sometimes the best solution to a problem is to not have that problem in the first place. I’ve never had anyone very close to me commit suicide, but recently one of my close friends has experienced this travesty. I agree with the idea that suicide is the easy way out. It’s possibly the most selfish act a human being can commit. So many around you are affected while you lay in what is assumed to be peace. I have trouble imagining that the same mind that took its own life is one of peace. The loving people around you should not have to suffer because your life was hard at one point in time. A person should learn to know when times hard and deal with the situation that’s driving them towards the edge. Suicide has entered my mind, sometimes for good reason and sometimes for no reason. Regardless, I know it is not an option, as I care to much about the people around me and the one life I get to live. No matter how hard I think my life may be, I know there are others in the world struggling more than I’ll ever know.

I noticed Morrie’s situation is one of anticipated death rather than sudden, as we experienced in The Perfect Storm. Morrie is given the opportunity to share what he is going through, while the men in Perfect Storm were still experiencing death when it happened. Does that mean either should/could/would have lived their lives any different? Morrie couldn’t be more right in addressing the cultural fear of death instilled in our society. He’d even made it a point to say that he “enjoyed being a baby again.” I’ve made it a point to live my life without fear of death, because I have no idea what could happen tomorrow. If I don’t take advantage of the opportunity that is my life, I don’t think I will live the fullest life possible. I’ve been to the edge of death; almost drowning while trying to water ski, yet my biggest concern after the incident was the pain in my groin from being dragged underwater at 40mph. I may die suddenly, or after I’ve lived a full life, but however I go, I am not afraid, because I am completely content with how I’ve lived, and I will be until it is my time to pass. We shouldn’t only enjoy the last moments we have on this planet, we should enjoy them all. As you said, “if it ain’t fun, it ain’t worth it.”

It was great to hear Morrie get into how to die, but in the end make it a point that he has realized he is “not just a wave, but part of the ocean” and “simple in ways like everybody else.” I had a discussion about this with a few friends while in Sydney, Australia, overlooking a scary Pacific ocean during one late night. We came to somewhat of a conclusion: The world is going to end at some point in time, whether humanity, nature, the expansion of the Sun, et al destroys it. So, it is our duty as a species to leave this planet and/or avoid our extermination. However, can we accomplish this without coming together as a race? If the ultimate goal of humanity is to survive, can we survive individually? However, in the end, some believe all we have is ourselves. So, why not live for yourself during the small period of time you have on Earth? Selfishness and greed could be the cause of our extinction. We are part of a whole, and as a whole we have to survive. As Morrie put it, what better way to create a better world by becoming more compassionate, loving, responsible, and aware of ourselves and others? I can’t think of one.

As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that death has surrounded more than it has directly affected me. No person in my immediate family has passed, yet so many of my friends and other family members have felt the direct effects of someone close to them dying. I even held a job aiding and training the elderly with rehabilitation equipment over a summer. I was continually exposed to all types of people living out the end of their lives, all dealing with their final time on this planet in so many different ways. Some were glowing, waiting for me at their door and inviting me into their homes with a cup of juice waiting on the counter. And others were miserable, sucking down cigarettes while sitting immobile on their couches watching the terrifying media 24 hours a day. 

Regardless, I had so many wonderful conversations and learning experiences with these people: Their simple desire for a heart to heart with someone who will listen and at least act like they’re not in a hurry to move on with their own life allowed me to grow. No matter how bad I may have been feeling on a day, it was incredible to know my happiness and love could bring a smile to so many. I learned so much from these people who have seen and experienced the world more than I have, and noticed some of the points Morrie addressed when speaking on when and where he will die. I think something we all fear is to be completely alone; whether imprisoned in a body or locked up in a group home or even jail cell. Human interaction and loving relationships keep us alive.

So, I understand what Morrie means when he says that he will decide that his time has come when he won’t be able to do the things that make him who he is or act with emotion. My grandfather is currently in this situation. He hates nothing more than a hospital. He wants to leave this earth in a place of comfort and with dignity when the inability to respond settles. “Go out the right way,” whatever that may mean to him.

It was wild for Morrie to address the outside imagined world when he was confined inside to his bed. When working at my job, I would continually see people trapped inside, looking out, caged like an animal. I always told myself if I were to end up in a place like that, I would end it myself. I felt like these people standing at the locked door waiting to sneak out into the sunshine had their freedom stolen from them. I never want to wish I could be somewhere, I want to be there. When I lose the ability to do what I desire within my capabilities; that may be my end.

So, am I afraid of death? No. Have I been directly affected by it? No. But, I believe I’ve experienced a close enough edge and lived in a way that allows me to love, care, and experience everything life has to offer without being afraid of what could happen. I tend to think of it this way: If I were to die tomorrow, would I be happy? Yes, I’m absolutely content with every high and low emotion I’ve encountered throughout my existence. I don’t think a life lived afraid and unhappy is a life worth living.

*2019 Edit: Oh wow, how so many things have changed...


Web 2.0: Technology, Strategy, Community Q&A
Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Question 1: Describe the “long tail” theory that was popularized by Chris Anderson in a Wired magazine article in 2004.  How does it apply to sales of iTunes songs, Amazon books, and Netflix videos? Name another business that uses the long tail as a means of generating revenue, and describe how it does so.

Cur1y J: The long tail is a phenomenon which businesses can gross more money by selling low volumes of difficult-to-find products than by selling bigger volumes of more popular items.

The majority of Netflix’s rentals are DVD’s which are not usually carried in a video store. Unlike Blockbuster, Netflix doesn’t have a store front, so they can afford to hold a large inventory of diversified DVDs. This allows people to rent less popular and obscure DVD’s. This is called the long tail. So, while Blockbuster sells high volumes of popular DVDs, Netflix can easily and beneficially manage their huge inventory by renting long tail DVDs.

Amazon has the ability to take advantage of the long tail because of being virtual and possessing a huge warehouse where they can carry more products than a typical store. Amazon uses the long tail by suggesting products relative to what the customer has purchased. So, if I were in the market for a NY Times Bestseller, such as “The Shack”, Amazon may suggest a more obscure, relevant, good-ratings book. Thus, it is attractive and I may purchase this obscure book as well as “The Shack.” In another example, any movie that may come out that is based on a book with lower sales volumes may increase that books sales volumes.

Google uses Adwords to take advantage of the long tail. Google has the ability to monetize long tail keywords. For example, while some site may be able to monetize popular keywords such as “Boston lawyers” or “Attorney’s in Boston”, Google is able to monetize less searched for terms such as “the best lawyers in Boston, MA” or “top 10 lawyers in Great Boston”. They accomplished this by developing the Adwords program and offering it to small businesses and individuals. People could bid on any keyword, and Google took notice of the amount of people bidding on these long tail keywords. In effect, this high amount of keywords allows Google to generate greater revenues.

 

Question 2: Describe two different tools or strategies for using Twitter data in a business context.  Briefly describe the technology involved that makes this possible. Name two steps Twitter should take in order for Lists to catch on as a useful feature of Twitter. Describe how  a company might make use of Twitter Lists to grow its business.

Cur1y J: Twitter was used for publicity extensively by President Obama and other 2008 U.S. Presidential Campaign candidates. Ralph Nader used Twitter to update his campaign’s ballot access teams in real-time with Twitter and Google Maps. Numerous people became aware of Twitter because of the 2008 election. Candidates could reach out to millions of people, of all different backgrounds, through the use of Twitter. Anyone interested in the campaign could follow candidates and track their happenings, as Twitter can be easily updated through SMS or even iPod Touch.

News stations use Twitter to cover various news and occurrences around the globe. For example, CBC can link their website or blog to Twitter so that when a new story is updated, it posts the update on Twitter in less than 140 characters. So now the people following CBC news don’t have to actually check website. Instead, they will see any updates or news once it is updated on CBC via Twitter, as well as any other information the user is attracted towards.

Twitter is similar to a web-based internet relay chat, or IRC client. The interface uses Ruby on Rails framework, which is an open source web application for the Ruby programming language. However, Twitter is now using an API (application programming interface), which allows other web services and applications to integrate and connect with Twitter. As used in class, hashtags (#) and @ symbols allow for easy searches and interaction.

A company could use Twitter Lists to grow its business if it has multiple faces of the business on Twitter. For example, Comcast has multiple customer service representatives on Twitter with countless amounts of employees tweeting. Even though Twitter Lists may not result in new consumers or clients, it’s still useful for reporters, investors, and employees alike. These firms could make lists of the top people within the industry as they will be useful tools for others. Also, for example, if you were a travel company, you could make a list of the most active Twitter users in each city where you are located. Thus, all of these active users and influencers will find each other and help to expand the word around your company, showing how much passion there is behind your company.

Twitter Lists seem to be, as of right now, for die-hard Twitter users, as they are clearly the early adopters of this feature. So, casual users must be reached through creating useful lists and sharing them in other channels like blogs, email, and Facebook. Lists also may decrease the amount of direct user following, as you don’t need to follow all of the user in the List, so Twitter may want to require this because discovery of great people to follow is part of the value Twitter possesses.

 

Question 3: Other than syndicating blog posts as RSS feeds, describe two ways that syndicating content can help an organization capitalize on its core competences.  Cite specific examples to make your case.   For content producers, what is the main advantage of syndicating content?  For content consumers, what is the main advantage of subscribing to it?

Cur1y J: Really Simple Syndication feeds allow people to syndicate their content so it can be found by other related content publishers. RSS uses Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is designed to draw a line between content and form, so information can be syndicated and extracted without the use of complicated code like HTML. RSS feeds have led to the huge user-content uploading.

So, a business owner could easily setup a blog to post updates about business offerings. News websites have taken massive advantage of RSS feeds. By having an RSS feed on their blog, customers can now subscribe to the RSS feed. Now, they can connect to see updates and posts in the RSS reader.  This allows for easy and recurring contact with customers that may not have came back to the website if they didn’t subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, people will come back to the website if they see any interesting posts that relate to them through the feed.

Affiliate programs are great for RSS feeds. You can create a feed for individual products by utilizing the ability to separate content from form. Other websites could now use this feed to show content on their website about your specific products. Flickr uses RSS feeds with XML tags so websites and blogs can easily post pictures on their respective sites.

Content Producers would post RSS feeds so other websites can pick up content and syndicate it in other locations on the website. Thus, more people visit the site as content is more viral. Content producers also use RSS feeds to appeal to readers and know when websites are updated. This is easier than individually checking websites to see if anything was updated.

RSS feeds are attractive to content consumers because you can easily look at your RSS reader and see every site that has been updated instead of going to each individual site and checking if they have anything new posted. It consolidates the website into one location. This saves huge amounts of time because it makes scanning for updates easier and relative to their interests.


Question 4: Cloud computing has become a buzzword for a new strategy for developing and deploying software applications. Identify any application that runs in the cloud, and describe one of its features that could not be implemented as easily in a non-cloud architecture. What are the two biggest advantages for small to medium size enterprises (SME’s) that make use of applications running in the cloud? What features of cloud computing support those advantages? What are the two biggest risks of applications running in the cloud?

Cur1y J: An application that runs in a cloud is any web application (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). These sites use numerous application plug-ins through the browser that allows for maximum user participation and accommodation. One of the features that could not be implemented as easily in a non-cloud architecture is the need to install and run the application on a customer’s computer, which relieves the pain of software maintenance and constant support.

Two of the biggest advantages for small to medium size enterprises that make use of applications running in the cloud is that cloud computing is a sort of on-demand hosting service. This is vital for e-commerce sites, increasing efficiency and lowering expenses. Another is it offers a pay-as-you-go structure, as users are only charged the amount of traffic, bandwidth, and memory used. Thus, online businesses become more efficient by only using storage and space that is needed.

A risk of running applications in the cloud is cloud computing has risks related to personal identifiable information that can be altered. People can fake identities and exploit these identities. Also, the specific location of data is unknown. So, tracking any data becomes very difficult. Any issues become very difficult to fix as users share hosting space.

Amazon created a cloud computing infrastructure (EC2), as they realized that many of the struggles they experienced while growing were also experienced by other start-ups. So, they created a service that allows companies to use their selective expertise in cloud infrastructure for their businesses.

 

Question 5: Chapter 5 in Amy Shuen’s book describes different types of innovation that result when combinations of companies and users collaborate. Identify a Web 2.0 company that provided a new platform on which an innovation ecosystem formed, and describe two ways that their platform led to the company’s success by supporting new forms of innovation.

Cur1y J: Amazon provides many new platforms, which has been vital to their success. The first platform Amazon provided was an open marketplace for sellers, charging fees and a % of their sales in exchange for service. They realized the there was a lot of competition in this market, so instead of trying to compete, the invited competitors to join their platform and thus raising profits and sales. By opening their platform, Amazon was able to build a better brand image and take advantage of the long-tail, as sellers were typically targeted towards specific niches that Amazon didn’t already service.

Amazon Affiliates is another innovation Amazon has used to their advantage to market their products.  Amazon's affiliate program immediately generated thousands of sales force individuals who were working on commission. So, these people weren’t costing Amazon any money beyond the commission these people earned. In addition, the program opened their products up for marketing to the long-tail. Multiple affiliates were involved in niche blogs and website with faithful readers. The program allowed Amazon to get their products and brand image in front of these users in a very specifically targeted and cost effective way. Also, please see the above question for another way that Amazon has buily a platform leading to their success via cloud computing.

 

Question 6: Single sign-on, or the ability to use a single username and password to access different Web sites, is becoming an increasingly popular trend, as users no longer need to create a separate login and password for each site they visit.  OpenID is one of several single sign-on providers. Other than not needing multiple usernames and passwords, describe another advantage of this approach to  the user, (b) the site using single sign on, and (c) the provider of single sign on. Give a specific example an OpenID that you have.  Who is your identity provider? Draw a diagram or describe the exchange of information that takes place between the user, the web site, the OpenID, and the identity provider, when a user logs into a Web site using an Open ID.

Cur1y J: Benefits of using Single Sign-On include:
- Reduces user password fatigue from entering different combinations on various sites. (user)
- Reduces IT costs as a result of a lower number of IT help inquiries. (site using single sign-on)
- Security on all levels of entry and exit to the systems without inconvenience of re-contacting users (site & user)
- SSO can support conventional authentication, like Windows credentials (provider)

For example, I have a site which uses single sign-on and I use single sign-on. I use Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, & MySpace as a provider. They provide a service of registering OpenID URLs and providing authentication. Below is how the exchange of information takes place between the user, web site, OpenID, and the identity provider, when a user logs into a website using OpenID:
- End user want to asset his/her identity to a site (i.e. me)
- The end user chooses a URL or XRI as their OpenID identifier
- A service provider registers OpenID URLs or XRIs and provides OpenID authentication (i.e. Facebook)
- The relying party site verifies the end-user’s identifier
- The server-agent then verifies the end-user’s identifier. This could be the end-user’s own blog.
- The end-user uses a browser to access the identity provider and relying party.


Google Memo
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

To:  Eric E. Schmidt, CEO of Google, Inc.

Re:  Google Ethics & Internationalization in China

Google, Inc. is facing a difficult dilemma. Should you lobby the Chinese government to change its censorship system? Operating within China must be considered. Should you physically enter the market, continue to rely on Google.com/cn, or abandon the Chinese market altogether? You want to protect Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” image, which could be affected due to user arrests as a result of using certain features. Recently increasing Chinese newspaper criticism and a lack of cooperation regarding firm information dissemination has lead to a question of how much Google really cares about complying with Chinese government regulations.

Good has resulted from Google’s expansion into China’s arena, as they’ve made strides in building positive relationships with the Chinese Government. However, U.S. political pressure for change in foreign countries has portrayed an image of disrespect towards varying cultures, including China. You’re global perspective mindset for global dynamic competitiveness regarding differing cultures and your specific knowledge skills should be maintained. These socioeconomic and sociopolitical differences are opportunities. 

Google has the capacity to learn from participation in China, and transfer that knowledge to operations elsewhere in the world. You are learning to cope with a different institutional, legal, and cultural environment. This is a vehicle for innovation and improvement of Google’s products in existing markets. However, this is difficult to achieve while China limits consumer access to information.

You’ve been able to increase Google’s geographic scope by penetrating China’s market (i.e. internationalization). Now, you can leverage Google’s existing resources and supplement them with China’s resources. Take note, while exercising this option, you do not want to insult incumbents and threaten profitability. But, reconfiguration of the value chain and proper leverage of resources will help protect Google while continuing penetration of the new attractive Chinese market. Leveraging existing resources gives Google something to build off of that incumbents and other possible new entrants are likely to lack.

High research and development expenditures have helped you take advantage of both economies of scale and scope, in turn affecting Google’s economic logic. Google has been able to share its resources across markets, but it is difficult to be successful in sub-geographic markets like China or United States. The abundance of differing cultures within an already foreign market significantly increases complications in that economy.

By entering the Chinese market, Google may have caused the internet to become more isolated and regulated because of the new accessibility of information that you provide. It acts as an incentive for a user to find out more about whatever they find interesting, landing ignorant or tempted Chinese consumers in handcuffs. A government must look out for its people, and given China’s current economic well-being and growth, it’s difficult to argue how Google’s presence has positively influenced the “goodness” in China’s economy. By limiting access to certain information, China is allowing the economy to remain relatively stable and continue what has been working. In China’s case, consumer ignorance is bliss, and this must be recognized and respected.

When considering international strategy, you should look for global trends. China has seen an increase in economic activity and a growing number of consumers. However, these trends involve high governance and coordination costs, which increase as diversification increases. Diversification causes Chinese businesses to adapt to the changing environment and Google’s presence, as Google has realized.  Also, you want to resolve tension between Chinese preferences and global standards. Google’s global vision tradeoff consists of a relatively low local response, but presents many opportunities to gain global efficiencies. You can build cost advantages through centralized, global scale operations. This vision requires the centralized and globally scaled resources and capabilities that Google possesses. You can easily disseminate your unique capabilities world-wide.

You are forced to count on the likelihood that Google’s services will meet the needs of Chinese consumers without fine tuning and customizing Google, in effect lowering costs. If you do not choose to follow these recommendations, you should take what Google has learned from this experience in China and apply these lessons and new knowledge in other markets. You do not want to fail due to a for-seeable external, economical, and social change. Respecting China and their practices is of the utmost importance, and lobbying for a foreign government to change so you can turn a profit is an avoidable cost, and if pursued, could lead to company disaster.


Icelandic Krona and Latvian Lat Case Uncovered Interest Arbitrage
Saturday, October 24, 2009

Executive Summary

According to all the key economic indicators both Iceland and Latvia were hit very hard by the global financial and economic crisis in 2008 and it will take several years for recovery to reach pre-crisis levels. The primary risks that faced Iceland included exchange rate exposure, financial unrest in the banking sector, and lack of foreign capital inflow (OECD). Net exports collapsed as a result of the recession, with imports falling more than 30% from 2008 to 2009. This was caused by the sharp fall in private consumption which was a result of down-sizing banks limiting the availability of consumer credit. During the crisis in 2008 the Krona rapidly depreciated, falling from 62.98 Krona per $US at the end of 2007 to 123.48 Krona per $US at the beginning of 2009 (Pacific Exchange). This caused inflation to rise quickly with the CPI increasing by 12.7% in 2008, posing another hurdle for consumer demand (IHSGlobal Insight). (See graph 1)

At the end of the second quarter 2008, Iceland's external debt was 9.553 trillion Icelandic krónur (€50 billion), more than 80% of which was held by the banking sector (Central Bank of Iceland). The current account was beginning to strengthen, but was faced with a lot of risk from the income balance. Because of the high external debt levels, $142.4 billion in 2008 which was 923.9% of Iceland’s GDP, the payments of interest and dividends had come into question. Because of the large amount of investment in the aluminum industry, the long-term capital outlook looked good. The external debt to exports ratio in 2007 was 4.33%, which was abysmal and does not look to improve through the recession (IHSGlobal Insight).  (see graph 2)

The high level of exchange rate volatility as well as the recent recession has caused the inflation rate to increase dramatically. For Iceland, it is more critical to combat inflation at this point. The trade balance and current account deficit is projected to improve as soon as the recession is over, whereas the inflation rate is more pervasive into the lives of Icelandic citizens (See Iceland currency charts). With this in mind, the Central Bank of Iceland should pursue some policy that will create stability in the housing market and stabilize the volatile Krona. One way to do this might be to join the Eurozone and adopt the Euro. These would effectively lower the inflation rate.

The collapse of Iceland’s króna is the result of a balance of payments crisis. In 2001, Icelandic bank debts rose sharply once the deregulation of banks occurred. The economic crisis unfolded when these banks became unable to refinance their debts. Foreign debt exceeded €50 billion, compared to a GDP of €8.5 billion (about €160,000 per resident). The króna became very overvalued and suffered from the effects of carry trading (Wardell).

Latvia was the fastest progressing and improving economy of all the countries to recently join the European Union. But the impact of the bursting bubble in the housing market coupled with the global recession has caused things to take a turn for the worse. The consumer price index increased by 15.4% in 2008 and the unemployment rate was 22% in 2009. After 2010, when the recovery is supposed to begin, it will be very long and slow. This is because the foreign capital investors who flocked to the country will be much more hesitant to put money into Latvia. Another key issue that faces Latvia is the current peg Latvian currency has on the Euro which artificially makes the Latvian currency very strong (IHSGlobal Insight). If the currency were to come off the peg it would devalue very quickly (See Latvia’s currency charts).

Latvia’s rescue package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund placed a heavy burden on Latvia to harshly cut spending or face default; a situation that would quickly double the recession and worsen conditions for Latvian citizens. Latvia got into its mess due to foreign direct investment into the housing bubble and high credit risk loans.  Investors felt that Latvia would be a safer investment, since joining the European Union. Capital investment will be very low during 2009 and after the recession (IHSGlobal Insight). $43.3 billion of total external debt in 2008 (128.2% of Latvia’s GDP) is a very high level, but compared to Iceland, Latvia is in a better state.   The external debt to exports ratio in 2008 is 22.6%.  This is a poor position for the future when the external debt becomes due.

Imports have fallen concurrently with exports because of the lack of consumer demand. This has allowed the current account balance to remain relatively stable. Because of a strong income balance and a low export-import ratio, Latvia’s current account posted a surplus in the beginning of 2009, the first since records began in 2000 (IHSGlobal Insight). Since the current account and trade balance are relatively stable and dependent on volume, it is not going to be a critical issue for Latvia to pursue at this point. What is more important will be to combat the high level of inflation which reached its peak in 2008. If the Bank of Latvia and the Latvian government are able to pursue the currency peg it has in place, the peg will remove much of the risk of higher inflation and currency devaluation.

Analysis

In 2001, the Central Bank was made independent, and its new focus was to target inflation.  Exchange rates were allowed to float, which resulted in a temporary devaluation (as seen in the graphs).  In May of 2007, elections were held.  One of the major concerns was a growing amount of huge fortunes gained on investments to a handful of individuals in the upper class.  Iceland had never had any problems with poverty, but there was a growing concern due to the new wealth distribution.  There were also increasing environmental concerns over the economic growth.  The two major parties vying for the government was the center-right Independence Party (which had held the previous office) and the left-green movement.  Exchange rates did not change drastically in May, however towards November 2007, the krona lost almost half of its value.  The country experienced tremendous growth before this time, but from 2003 to 2006, the current account deficit rose from 5% to 27%, and in 2008, Landsbanki, Glitner, and Kaupthing all failed contributing to the devaluation of the currency.  The country could not pay back its external debts, and as a result, the krona lost most of its value (Mandel, Serafin).

Latvia began to peg the Lat to the Euro starting on January 1, 2005.  Since then, the Euro has strengthened compared to the pound sterling and the US dollar; which is why we see a huge devaluation after 2005 in both of these currencies.  In 2001, Latvia’s GDP growth was 8%, one of the highest in Europe, which resulted in a strong currency.  In 2002, their inflation rate was only 1.4%.  In 2003, their budget deficit was only 1.8% of GDP.

In order to carry out uncovered interest arbitrage, we need to find a low interest rate environment from which to borrow money.  Then we will invest in a high interest environment such as Latvia or Iceland.  In our example, we are using 6 month interbank deposit rates found on Bloomberg on October 1, 2008.  In order to carry out this transaction, we can say that the Bank of Tokyo invests 2.65 billion Yen into the Iceland central bank at a rate of 15.975% p.a.  After 6 months, assuming the interest rate is not too volatile; a profit of 192 million Yen can be made risk-free; since the Bank of Tokyo could only achieve a 1.5% p.a. investing in the Bank of Japan.  Due to the volatile movements which made the krona a risky investment during this time, the Bank of Tokyo would have lost 242 million Yen.  However, if the Bank of Tokyo invested in a 6-month forward rate, they would be hedging themselves from the currency volatility, and would be more likely to see a profit at the end of the 6 months.  This is a covered interest arbitrage scenario, indicating the future investment instead of being exposed to the spot rate.

As noted in the diagram, these are extremely risky transactions during this time period, with the failure of large financial institutions, which may have ripple effects on the foreign exchange market.  If an American bank were to make an attempt at arbitraging the difference in interest rates, it would have backfired on them immediately.  On October 1, the KR/$ exchange rate was 109.270.  By December 3, the exchange rate ballooned to 147.709, a 35% change.  If we were governors of Central Banks, it would be very important to try to regulate these arbitrage attempts and encourage covered interest arbitrages.

Iceland’s banks financed domestic expansion with external debt from deposits outside the country and loans on the interbank lending market. Households took on massive debt and the Central Bank issued liquidity loans using uncovered bonds (or, printing money on demand), which led to excessive inflation.

In response to a rise in prices, the Central Bank held interest rates high at around 15%. Due to these high interest rates, investors held deposits of the króna, which led to the increase in Icelandic money supply of approximately 54%, compared to 5% GDP growth. Thus, an economic bubble was created because investors overestimated the true value of the króna. A heavy reliance by the banks on short-term wholesale rather than deposit financing made them sensitive to a liquidity crunch. Icelandic financers leveraged acquisitions on foreign assets and funding was mostly in foreign currencies as the balance sheets of the banks limited the capabilities of the central bank.

The Icelandic banks found it nearly impossible to roll over their loans in the interbank market, as no banks were willing to make new loans and on-time repayment was required. As a last resort, the government usually aids the Central Bank in case they can’t make payments. However, since the Icelandic banks were much larger than the economy, the government could not repay the bank debts and the banks subsequently failed. Iceland’s reserves stood at 374.8 billion. Krónur compared to 350.3 billion krónur of short-term international debt as well as approximately £6.5 billion of retail deposits in the UK towards the end of 2008 (Central Bank of Iceland).

Volatility in the financial accounts and imports should have been limited.  Iceland was importing more than they were exporting, leading to a rapid deterioration of the current account. Iceland’s government should have monitored the various subaccounts, detecting trends and movements of economic forces driving the country’s international activity and set policies accordingly. Drastic restrictions on the ability of capital to flow instantly and across borders should have been implemented. Icelandic banks should not be allowed to freely borrow in the international marketplace. Iceland needs to comply with both domestic and international law while controlling and monitoring ethical domestic policy.

Following the intense privatization of banks in the 1990’s and consolidation after the Russian crisis in 1998 a little over half of the banks in Latvia were foreign owned (mainly by Scandinavian and German banks) (IHSGlobal Insight). Two banks are state owned, but the Latvian government a small stake a little over 5% of banking assets in the country, making its stake not very large (IHSGlobal Insight). After joining the European Union in 2004 the banking sector rapidly grew (especially in the mortgage sector). These household loans were mostly Euro-denominated. In order to maintain this unhealthy lending, Latvian banks took on a lot of foreign debt. As the world-wide economy went downhill, many of the risky loans given out by Latvian banks began defaulting, and refinancing foreign debt on their books became increasingly difficult. At the end of 2008, the government had to rescue one Latvian bank (Bank of Latvia).

The banks face a high liquidity risk caused by the risk that the Latvian currency will be devalued. Also, with investor confidence down, many consumers are withdrawing deposits from banks and taking fewer loans out, making it difficult for banks to function (Bank of Latvia). This has forced the government to actively help banks through bail-outs and other measures. If the government had stepped in before the crisis and created regulation in the mortgage and housing market, this type of bubble may not have occurred. Specifically, regulation should have targeted the quality of loans through more quality credit standards. Also financial regulation on the amount of foreign debt would have helped in this situation. By preventing banks from having such an illogical liquidity structure a crisis like this could have been prevented.

 

The rating agencies began to question the activities and stability of Iceland’s banks.  This resulted in the Icelandic stock market’s drop throughout the year; but was able to recover after the government imposed reform in the banking sector (Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs).  In 2006, Standard and Poor’s ranked the krona as AA.  They changed their currency obligation outlook from stable to negative in June, and then back to stable in December.  In October 2008, the rating dropped to BBB-, below investment grade after the currency devalued.  Moody’s had an Aaa rating in 2002, which was held until 2008, at which time it dropped to Baa1.  Fitch rated Iceland as AAA in 2000, then lowered their outlook to negative in February of 2006, and down to BBB- in September of 2008 (Central Bank of Iceland). The high ratings provided by the rating agencies proved to be misleading.  A risk manager should not necessarily base their investments just on the rating agencies analysis.  They should look at external debt, current account deficits, and inflation rates to get a broader picture of the current situation.  These economic indicators might have been a preeminent sign that the rating agencies didn’t take into account.

Since 2006, Latvia’s credit ratings have dropped due to the surging real-estate, consumer prices, and soaring credit.  Also, Latvia’s GDP will shrink 12% this year (Pavilenene).  In 2006, Moody’s rated the Lat as A2 and stable (Latvenergo).  Like Iceland, a risk manager should look at the overall picture instead of just the advice from the rating agencies; such as the liquidity of the banks and the amount of foreign debt the banks were taking on to fund low credit quality euro loans, which strengthened overtime, creating more problems for Latvia.

Iceland has a long way before they restore their credibility. Icelandic people must select a viable new Prime Minister in the upcoming election, one who will relieve those in charge of the Central Bank.  Parliamentary approval is essential to Iceland’s revival. Iceland’s people and foreign investors feel betrayed. Investors believe that Iceland failed to comply with laws by making retroactive changes to its own legislation and practices governing creditor treatment. Parliament needs to treat international creditors and domestic relationships fairly.

Conversely, in order to restore its credibility, Latvia needs to stabilize its political situation. Continuing unrest by labour unions as well as a recent transition of government has caused volatility in fiscal spending. These changes have put the currency in risk of devaluation. To prevent this from happening, Latvia needs to maintain its currency peg and stay on plan to transition to the Euro. It needs to maintain the rescue packages from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. And for long-term progress and restoration, Latvia needs to focus on infrastructure spending. Without having a stable infrastructure, foreign investors will have a hard time coming back into the country and accepting its credibility.

 

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Resources

Annan, Grace, Ralf Wiegert, Andrew Birch, and Katarzyna Zatorska. "Latvia: Country Report." IHS Global Insight. 24 Oct. 2009. Web.

Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. "Background Note: Iceland." US Department of State, May 2009. Web. 24 Oct. 2009. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3396.htm>.

Carey, David. "Iceland: The Financial and Economic Crisis." Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 9 Oct. 2009. Web. <http://www.olis.oecd.org/olis/2009doc.nsf/LinkTo/NT000069D2/$FILE/JT03271463.PDF>.

Central Bank of Iceland (7 October 2008). "International reserves and foreign currency liquidity – September 2008". http://www.sedlabanki.is/?pageid=552&itemid=29d909f3-c66a-41a3-bc6c-dadb8cac486f&nextday=7&nextmonth=11.

Central Bank of Iceland (4 September 2008). "External debt". http://www.sedlabanki.is/?pageid=552&itemid=a55be3a0-9943-484e-a8de-46d23f17ba25&nextday=4&nextmonth=12.

Iceland. Central Bank of Iceland. Economic Indicators. 2009. Economic Indicators. Sedlabanki, Sept. 2009. Web. <http://www.sedlabanki.is/lisalib/getfile.aspx?itemid=7317>.

Ignjatovic, Dragana, and Venla Sipila. "Iceland: Country Report." IHS Global Insight. 24 Oct. 2009. Web.

Latvenergo. "Global Credit Research: Credit Opinion." Moody's Investors Services, 7 Sept. 2006. Web. 24 Oct. 2009. <http://www.latvenergo.lv/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/ENGLISH/ANNUAL_REPORTS/Latvenergo%20Credit%20Opinion%20Sept%202006.pdf>.

Latvia. Bank of Latvia. Bank of Latvia: Annual Report 2008. Latvijas Bank, 20 Apr. 2009. Web. <http://www.bank.lv/images/img_lb/izdevumi/latvian/year/2008/LB_Annual_Report_2008.pdf>.

Latvia. Latvijas Bank. Latvia's Balance of Payments. By Aigars Kalnins and Daiga Gaigala-Lizbovska. Bank of Latvia, Sept. 2009. Web. <http://www.bank.lv/images/img_lb/izdevumi/latvian/maksbil/2009/VMB-2009-1.pdf>.

Mandel, Michael. "Iceland Goes Bankrupt." Businessweek, 10 Oct. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2009. <http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/economicsunbound/archives/2008/10/iceland_goes_ba.html>.

Pavilenene, Danuta. "Moody's Cuts Latvian and Lithuanian Credit Ratings." The Baltic Course. The International Internet Magazine, 23 Apr. 2009. Web. 24 Oct. 2009. <http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/analytics/?doc=13045>.

"The Republic of Iceland's Sovereign Credit Rating." Central Bank of Iceland. Web. 24 Oct. 2009. <http://sedlabanki.is/?pageid=789>.

Rikarosson, Rikarour B., ed. "External Debt." Chart. Sedlabanki. Central Bank of Iceland, 3 Sept. 2009. Web. <http://www.sedlabanki.is/?pageid=552&itemid=a55be3a0-9943-484e-a8de-46d23f17ba25&nextday=4&nextmonth=12>.

Serafin, Tatiana. "Bank Failure Pummels Iceland's Billionaires." Forbes, 7 Oct. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2009. <http://easybib.com/cite/edit/83219776>.

Wardell, Jane (7 October 2008). "Iceland teeters on the brink of bankruptcy". Associated Press. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081007/ap_on_re_eu/eu_iceland_meltdown.


Tiffany & Co Memo
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To:  Michael Kowalski, CEO of Tiffany & Co

Re:  Policy Recommendation for Recession positioning and pricing strategy 

Dear Mr. Michael Kowalski,

Tiffany’s current positioning and strategic focus is one of focused differentiation. You offer a luxury product that is generally purchased by customers that can afford higher prices. Currently, Tiffany’s is having difficulty coping with the affects of a recession and maintaining its brand image. There’s been a decrease in demand for high end goods while operating in an economy where there is an increase in job losses and cuts in consumer spending. Namely, you are hurting in places where you are mature; such as the United States and Europe. The New York market alone accounts for 15% of Tiffany’s sales.

Tiffany’s must continue to focus on innovation capabilities and product improvements that has allowed you to maintain your competitive advantage and set prices at the industry average; maintaining them above competitors in this recession. You want to avoid being “stuck in the middle”. So, I recommend continuing investing heavily in quality control, design, innovation and marketing.

Tiffany’s has enormous strength in its brand, and you don’t want to jeopardize that by decreasing prices or forgetting about your loyal customer base. Teaming up with well-known designers will further reinforce your differentiation focus. Adding to this could be the development of new designs and increased distribution of, say, a certain watch line. However, you want to ensure that you don’t make your brand too accessible and hurt Tiffany’s reputation.

I recommend you implement a focused marketing campaign to build on core competencies. Tiffany’s must stick to its core customers while simultaneously reaching new business. Reaching new business is vital to your growth strategy, so you must ensure that you don’t alienate your current customer base during these vital growth stages. Since Tiffany’s is hurting in more mature countries such as the United States and Europe, expansion into developing countries like China, Asia, South America and the Middle East is recommended. Currently with 94 stores in Asia/Pacific and 24 in Europe, Tiffany’s could increase this amount by 6% over the next year; opening stores that will be exposed to volatility in the market. Also, in the event of inflation due to a weakening U.S. economy, your sizeable asset inventory would benefit from these new locations because of inflation’s affect on hard assets. In addition, your non-U.S. revenues would significantly increase if the U.S. dollar continues to weaken.

In the non-market environment, Tiffany’s wants to offset their competitive cost disadvantage and create value. Social, political, and legal environments are important considerations while expanding in to foreign markets. Entering high priced markets are ideal, and the possibility of closing stores in areas where you have matured and prices are low should be considered. Even though it may be perceived as ‘bad’ that a firm closes a store, it may actually be most beneficial to shareholders and other interested parties. 

Similar to Toys R Us, you could implement a sophisticated control system to help with inventory issues and identifying hot sellers in varying regions. Once identified, Tiffany’s should pursue joint ventures with other companies in these foreign markets for information on store locations and differing government regulatory systems. You have an advantage in the non-market environment because it’s difficult to replicate your knowledge, expertise, and skill of managers. Tiffany’s managers understand issues in the internal and external environment. So, with this effective approach and quality reputation, your non-market strategy is one of support for free trade, ethics, relationships, and the environment in these foreign countries.

From a market environment standpoint, Tiffany’s has a cost advantage abroad. As referenced above, entering open markets with large populations and high incomes are ideal. Once penetrated, you should develop relationships with local retailers concerned with jeopardizing current customers and distancing channels.

As discussed throughout this memo, redefining your arenas and reconsidering the firm’s competitive mindset are both feasible strategies for solving Tiffany’s current issues. You can avoid using price cuts and tarnishing Tiffany’s brand name if you implement these strategies. Even though I believe the implication of strategies related to creating complementors out of suppliers, buyers, and competitors, as well as shifting your strategic thinking towards revolutionary and creative ideas are vital to success, the pursuit of redefining Tiffany’s arenas is the most important alternative that best balances the varying interests in this situation.


The Matrix: A Heroic Tale
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Introduction

"The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation - initiation - return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth." - Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

The Matrix strings together aspects of the hero’s journey in order to manifest its main character. Neo (also known as Thomas Anderson), the protagonist of the film, closely follows the path of a traditional hero. The film also offers views of mythical themes and archetypes that are present in heroic mythic tales.

Neo, the One, commences the film agitated, looking for answers to an elusive feeling. He is called to a quest by Trinity, who warns Neo that he is in danger. Agents oppose him and direct him toward detachment from Neo’s illusionary vision of the Matrix. He then encounters his mentor, Morpheus, who offers him a choice of accepting the call to take his journey or return to the old world. After his acceptance, marked by taking the red pill, he becomes completely separated from the illusionary old world, as he is discarded as dead and cast out of the physical matrix reality, and is reborn into the real world. With guides by his side, he begins preparation for tests to come in the new world. The Oracle provides Neo with more direction as a mentor. He confronts the antagonist that is the Matrix in order to save Morpheus, successfully overcoming his adversaries and reaching his destiny. He returns from the experience with knowledge of his abilities and realization of Trinity’s passion. The final scene displays a challenge to the old order, as Neo states that he will remake the world and complete the Journey.

Myths function as a mirror of the soul, displaying our beliefs and fears for analysis. Numerous people can relate to The Matrix. Who hasn’t had the feeling of question regarding the world and all that we can physically experience? The Matrix is a mythological manifestation of that questioning, fears and doubts.

The Journey

From the first call to journey, Neo follows the cyclic stages of the hero’s development. From his refusal to answer the call to the acceptance of supernatural help to his crossing of the threshold into the dark world, all of the stages of the traditional journey are present.

Neo is in an environment where he is not comfortable. He needs something to change. He is going through the motions of life, subconsciously searching for more. Neo can sense there is something out there; something he can’t see, that he can sense. After initial refusal, he eventually becomes brave enough to follow his senses and answer his calling.

Neo must answer the call in order to grow and fulfill himself as a person. The call, in this case, appeared in the form of Trinity. She tells Neo that he is really searching for the Matrix. Trinity recognizes the hero within Neo, but Neo does not recognize Trinity. 

Neo originally rejects the call to take his journey. By choosing not to follow Morpheus’ directions to escape, he figuratively and physically refuses the call by dropping his cell phone, succumbing to the custody of the antagonists. This refusal could have led to his absolute imprisonment in a world where all is known, leaving his abilities unfulfilled. The antagonists plant a tracking device inside Neo as punishment for his refusal to answer the call.

Neo eventually answers the call, moving into a world of quest where infinite growth is possible. He commits himself to the journey by saying “yes” to Morpheus on the phone.  He travels to his mentor in the middle of the night and in severe weather. Danger is present in the air, presenting another reason for Neo to turn back. He is given another chance to reject his call, but accepts it upon Trinity’s influential words. She also warns him of Morpheus’ knowledge, saying that he knows more than Neo could imagine.

Neo meets his seemingly supernatural aid. Meeting his mentor helps him overcome his fear that led to his previous refusal to answer the call. The mentor knows of Neo, as Morpheus has been watching the One. Neo is only aware of his supernatural aid through word of mouth. The One is currently unaware of his destiny.  Regardless, Morpheus provides the hero with spiritual advice, offering him a road that leads to answers.  At this moment, Neo consciously chooses to embark on his adventure.

Neo proceeds to prepare himself physically and spiritually for his quest. His mentor teaches him lessons; among them to avoid temptations presented by the material world (e.g. women). These dangers would stand in his way to prevent him from completing his journey. He has now crossed the threshold, as the preparation is over and he is ready to set out on his adventure.

Neo begins to test his allies and enemies. He begins to experiment with the new world, seeing what is new, who’s on his side, and how everything works, meanwhile learning some lessons (e.g. the child with the spoon). Neo begins his journey with helpers and guides in Morpheus, Trinity, and the rest of the crew, facing challenges that the Matrix presents along the way. How he deals with these challenges indicates the depth of his inner and outer strength. All of the tests attribute to the same meaning; there are difficulties involved in achieving any goal worth having.

Now that Neo has explored his new world and uncovered some of its mysteries, he can get ready to face his adversaries (the agents) and follow his beliefs (saving his mentor Morpheus and creating peace). There is a moment of preparation before he faces his ultimate challenge. The agents challenge Neo in order to force the One to confront his fears. They draw forth aspects of Neo’s personality that is not readily perceived, allowing Neo a deeper understanding of self. The agents allow Neo to demonstrate his abilities (Neo realizes his full potential and ultimately defeats Agent Smith), and overcome his fear that his opponents have been exploiting.

Neo is rewarded for surviving his challenges. He finds true love in the form of Trinity. This love is so powerful that she is able to bring Neo back to life by declaring her love. Trinity is also a martyr. Neo does everything possible to keep her alive, whereas she accepts her potential death as a necessary part of Neo’s quest to save the world. Her willingness to sacrifice herself for Neo is not a sign of a weakness, rather a demonstration of her complete belief and commitment to a cause. She is just as determined to save humanity as Neo; her role in the journey is just different.

The One now must collect himself and start finishing his quest. This is indicated by his willingness to stand and fight against Agent Smith. At this moment, he is a changed person, beginning to believe in a cause greater than himself.

Neo must face death one last time, in a more final way, on a deeper level and bigger scale; so he is truly tested on what he has learned on his journey. Neo dies for humanity. Because of this, he holds out the promise for new life through this sacrifice. He displays the positive nature of death, as it is a catalyst for new birth through spirit and a final voyage into the unknown.

Lastly, there is a final return when Trinity acts as an elixir and revives Neo by declaring her love. Neo changes and brings back power and understanding to share with his cause. This is a moment of ultimate self-realization. He has faced and overcome death, being reborn with power that has been discovered on his journey.  This power allows him to destroy his opponents and capture control of his reality.

Themes

Man vs. Machine

Similar to the story of Grendel, The Matrix reveals that both humans and machines possess similar qualities. Humans are restlessly driven towards their beliefs, just like machines. Morpheus has full faith in the Oracle’s prophecy and in Neo. His beliefs are unquestioning, and his followers automatically follow him in his pursuit of his beliefs. Trinity’s love for Neo is consistent like machines. Her actions display her love, but her love is expressed through her actions rather than through emotion and passion. Neo expresses a robotic calm once he is transformed, similar to Beowulf’s machine-like qualities in Grendel. He and Trinity wear black, plain clothes that symbolize machine’s bleakness. They possess incredible strength and fighting skills that parallel the machines as a result of downloaded computer programs into their bodies.

In contrast, the Agents (antagonists) are creative, adaptive, and smooth. They shape-shift easily throughout different programs, listening to human speech and responding in accordance with their beliefs. Agent Smith displays human emotions of disgust and fear when he converses with Morpheus while trying to crack his brain.  He confesses himself after removing his glasses and ordering his comrades out of the room. Smith is seemingly desperate to become human.

How interdependent is man and machine? Technology threatens to become more intelligent than humans; however, technology does not need to be smarter than humans in order to enslave them. As long as humans use technology to solve human issues, humans and technology are interdependent. The machines grow and harvest humans in order to sustain their existence, as they are dependent on humans for life. Humans don’t rely on machines to survive unless they choose.  At one point in time, humans needed A.I. for something and created it in order to satisfy that need.

Choices

The Matrix offers the illusion of choice. The Matrix is a world with predetermined results, all questions already answered. In the real world, humans possess the power to alter their fate, make mistakes, and act on their beliefs. Neo chooses the real world and the choices that come along with it by swallowing the red pill earlier in the film. He learns that free will does not come easy, as the real world is dangerous and unorganized. Pleasure seemingly only exists in the Matrix as a computer program.

Cypher regrets choosing the red pill. He believes that even false pleasure is better than no pleasure, saying that “ignorance is bliss.” He sees the truth as an unnecessary nightmare. He is the classic betrayer, symbolizing Satan. Cypher wears red and has a goatee, which are representational images of Lucifer. In contrast, Neo and his supporters value reality and the ability to make choices, however unsatisfying they may be. Everyone has a responsibility to choose between the fake world and the real world.

Cypher is a classic example of a betrayer. He cooperates with the enemy in order to ensure his own false reality. However, without Cypher’s betrayal, Neo would not have transformed through resurrection.  Was this destiny? Was this the plan? If it was a plan, is there really a choice that can be made? 

Neo is an example of free will, as fate plays an important role in his quest. He relies heavily on the Oracle, as everything she says comes true in one shape or form. She guides Neo towards the right decisions, as she can see around time. If she does this correctly, Neo doesn’t have to choose and use his free will. 

Morpheus attempts to describe the Oracle as a guide, not just someone who can foresee the future. She is always right, raising questions as to how much free will Neo actually possesses. Her intelligence and swagger allows her visitors to trust in her, which may be why her prophecies are self-fulfilling. In this sense, she shares the same ultimate goal as Neo and his crew; they are trying to shape the future.

Reflections

The antagonists are constantly wearing sunglasses in the film. Sunglasses cover the eyes and reflect the image of those looking into them. When the sunglasses are removed, this indicates that the character is developing a new perspective or is vulnerable in some way. When Morpheus offers Neo a choice between the blue and red pill, they are reflected in each of Morpheus’ sunglasses, a reference to the two alternate views that Neo must choose between. When Neo enters the new world, his glasses protect him from dangers he encounters.

Mirrors offer a view of how we see ourselves in our world as well as the outside world. After Neo takes the red pill, he enters the real world, touching a mirror that infects him with a metallic substance. This suggests the dismissal of all illusions set forth by the Matrix as he enters a new world of perception. Reflective materials are consistent throughout the film (e.g. rain and building glass), shifting forms and locations, transforming its reflections.

Archetypes and Character Analysis

The Ruler/Savior/Messiah archetype exists in all cultures and beliefs, as it is the heart of philosophy of modern mankind. Neo represents this icon, imparting peace and a sense of hope for mankind. He is associated with a hidden understanding, singled out to be admired. He is different from the rest. He represents things that others are not. In this sense, Neo will use his abilities to save mankind from possible extinction. He uses his powers to heal rather than destroy. The healing, hope, and knowledge he imparts to those in the Matrix causes them to worship him, even though he claims that he didn’t save them, they saved themselves.

Neo, being the Ruler, has a counterpart in Agent Smith. Smith is the anti-hero. Like a mirror, there can be no reflection unless there is an image that first appears in the glass. Neo and Smith are light and dark. They are polar opposites. Where there is a Savior, there is a Demon. Without the existence of Neo, there would be no Smith. There can be no light without darkness.

Neo and Smith begin to mirror each other, one becoming more machine-like and the other becoming more human-like. The future of society rests on the balance of power between Neo and Smith. The film shows us that peace is greater than good and evil. Good and evil are the same, yet opposites. The only difference between Neo and Smith is their individual beliefs. 

Neo wants peace while Smith desires destruction. Smith’s desire to destroy is without reason. Smith could be viewed as a shadow Magician and shadow Ruler, as he attempts to turn all positive into negative. Neo follows his path because it is what he believes. Smith simply acts without thought or comprehension of an end result. At the end of the entire Matrix Trilogy, peace is only restored once both good and evil is destroyed. Neo understands that through his understanding, he has the ability to achieve his goal of peace, giving up his life for others; that is a true hero.

Trinity symbolizes archetypes of the Lover and Caregiver.  She helps Neo access knowledge within himself, while at the same displaying unconditional love for the One. He became the One because of her powerful love. If not for her love, Neo would have died at the hands of Agent Smith in the hallway at the end of the film. His transformation and resurrection was a direct result of her love. Upon his resurrection, his vision became clear. She is the Spirit, divine force behind the One, and their union is unbreakable.

Morpheus represents a mix of the Seeker and Sage. He searches for the One, seeking out elements to create a better life for himself and others. He wants to achieve what he believes. He becomes wise due to his experiences and uses this wisdom in an effort to save humanity. He encourages Neo to develop a clarity of vision and to act in accordance with his beliefs. He wants to “free his mind.”

Morpheus believes without question that a Messiah exists and that it is his destiny to locate this being. He inspires with his words of wisdom. He found the One and trusts in Zion’s safe future. He possesses absolute conviction about his beliefs. He spoke of a prophecy he trusts in and prepared those around him for the arrival of the One so when he came, they would be prepared to receive him. Perhaps Morpheus’ purpose is to subconsciously care for the inhabitants of Zion though a message that could potentially be false.

The Oracle represents one side of the Creator. She represents love, guidance, and compassion. Her intent seems to be to aid mankind in finding purpose in their lives, especially Neo. She is also a source of hope for Morpheus. She informed him that he would find the One, and through this belief and faith, he fulfilled that prophecy.

The Oracle could also be seen as a Sage, possessing a pronounced wisdom that helps people discover why things happen. She represents femininity through her temperate, slow manor. She is viewed in the form of a woman living in a housing project, enjoying the simplicities of life. She speaks compassionately, as she is abstract. She is mythical, with a sense of humor. She understands the importance of machines and humans living in peace, and acts in accordance with this understanding.

The Oracle is the true heroine in the film. She risks all she knows in order to preserve peace. Once it is clear to her that Neo believes in lasting peace, she gives him an opportunity to achieve this idea. She is motivated by pure love. She loves the creation that is the Matrix, as well as humans existing alongside the machines. She believes fondly in peace and guides all aspects of making peace possible. She believes in Neo and trusts in him to make a sacrifice for the greater good of society. She never truly knows the outcome of others decisions, but simply believes.

 

References

Cavagna, Carlo. "The Matrix (1999)." AboutFilm.com. 1999. AboutFilm.com. 

<http://www.aboutfilm.com/movies/m/matrix-anlys.htm>.

Gardner, John. Grendel. U.S.A.: Knopf, 1971.

The Matrix. Dir. Andy & Larry Wachowski. Perfs. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, 

Hugo Weaving. Croucho II Film Partnership, 1999.

"The Matrix." The Matrix 101. 2008. The Matrix 101. <http://www.thematrix101.com/matrix/>.

Pearson, Carol. Awakening the Heroes Within. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

"The Roots of the Matrix." 29 Jan 2008. YouTube.com. 

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AG4rlGkCRU>.


Canada & Iran Trade Transaction
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Canadian/Iranian wheat sales express a trade finance structure that begins with the Iranian buyer, who is the importer, asking the Canadian Wheat Board for an order of wheat. Once the Canadian Wheat Board accepts the contract and negotiated price have been agreed upon, the Iranian buyer will apply to an Iranian bank for a letter of credit to be issued in favor of the Canadian Wheat Board for the merchandise. Now that the Iranian bank has issued the L/C, they will send it to the Canadian Wheat Board’s bank; the Royal Bank of Canada. After the appropriate documentation has been sent to RBC, the Canadian Wheat Board will export their product, which is financed under L/C requiring a bill of lading to Iran. Next, the Canadian Wheat Board will give RBC their time draft with the required documents, including the bill of lading. RBC will present the draft and documents to the Iranian Bank, who will promise to pay the draft at maturity. Once the accepted draft is sent back from the Iranian Bank to RBC, they have the option to sell it to the open market or hold the acceptance in its own portfolio. If RBC decided to keep the accepted draft, they can pay the proceeds to the Canadian Wheat Board, less commission. 

The primary risks involved are as follows: 

  • The political situation in Iran points to the possibility of another revolution as young people rise up against the clerics who took power in 1979.  Any politically instability may disrupt payments due by Iran to international creditors.
  • Iran’s government budget will be in deficit if the price of oil dips below $US 18.00. Recently the price of oil has been between $US 15 and $US 20.  
  • Iran does not have a country rating from a recognized rating agency, therefore, the Canadian bank must rely, largely, on internal expertise to assess the political and economic risks of doing business in Iran.  
  • The Canadian bank views country credit limits as a scarce resource and any limit in excess of $Cdn 75 million must be reported, immediately to the Board of Directors.  As such, there is a question in the minds of risk managers as to how much the country limit for Iran should be, especially given the potential amount of the wheat sales.  Further, there is a question about whether the limit should permit business other than wheat transactions; for example, spare parts for the oil and gas industry.

To start, one of the documents required to support this transaction is the bills of lading. These will be issued to Canada with the common carrier that transports the merchandise. They will need the commercial invoice, which will be issued by Canada and contain a precise description of the merchandise (wheat) that will be exported. They will need the insurance documents, which have to be issued by insurance companies or their agents.  The last documentation that is required is the consular invoices, which would be issued in Canada by the consulate of Iran to provide customs information and statistics from Iran to help prevent false declaration of value. 

Difficult finance transactions should have formal written corporate policies and procedures to identify, evaluate, and control risks associated with such deals; with an emphasis on those that present elevated levels of legal or reputational risk to the institution. Given the risks of this transaction, the return on capital the Canadian Bank should require from the Iranian government should be relatively high. Assuming that the average interest rate on a similar transaction between banks is 7%, the interest rate the Canadian bank should entail from the Iranian government should be close to 10%. Iran is experiencing serious issues that need to be solved. In this case, it is important that Canadian Bank guarantees a high return from this transaction. The risk of the Iranian government to fail to pay back due to the different issues they have undergone is significant. 

Considering all these facts it could be a ”go” with the 10% interest rate taking the risk in consideration, however there is no guarantee that the 10% will be paid. Therefore, we say it’s too risky and a “no go”. If this case was today rather than 1996 it would still be a “no go” having the information today which we did not have back then. Today’s country rating for Iran clearly states that is unstable and not a suitable trading partner, also Canada couldn’t support this transaction considering the political ties with the US.


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