Vele discusses investing in Macedonia, technology, digital photography, business and international affairs

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This is an aside or something…

Milton Friedman’s influence

I read today that Milton Friedman died. One of the truly great economic minds and the person whose writings were most influential on my decision to study economics at the University of Chicago. I used to read in great detail his seminal works and admired his ability to delve in technical economic work and consicely present the arguments for monetary policy understandable to everyday people. This was even before I started at Chicago while I prepared for economics at the Santa Monica College. New students of economics should definitely read his books such as: Capitalism and Freedom, Price Theory, and The Road to Serfdom (only intro), among others.

Kill Google’s Firefox…

I read Kill Bill’s Browser some time ago. Now, Om Malik finally catches up to it. I can only summarize my impression of these two sites and initiatives as a big “Whine!”. I’ve used Firefox many times, but stopped after MSN desktop search practically closed the game on Firefox’s advantages over IE. To me, it’s really a toss-up between IE and Firefox, just that many sites to prefer IE. (Wharton Auctions, MSFT internal sites, Active Directory domain logging, etc.). I still occasionally use Firefox for no particular reason, but is it better than IE? Not really, in my opinion.

I’m very honest in my product reviews and the last person to defend Microsoft just on ideology, but just for fun, let’s disect the 13 Good Reasons to Switch to Firefox. This is really for comical relief. First read them and then read this:

1. Since SP2, and that was last summer, IE has had pop-up blocker and pretty hefty security installed in the browser. Firefox is nothing special here.

2. I’d change this to: “Let’s gratuitously drop the porn angle because it just adds filler to our list”

3. Does Firefox have better security than any browser? I doubt it and I’ve never had a problem with IE spam/spyware taking over my PC. Again, filler reason with porn derivative Viagra.

4. Mozilla uses Google as the sugar daddy and Google doesn’t vaccinate anyone, thus making these guys Google’s lackeys.

5. Maybe some web designers are just not worth it. Every year, bazillion PC’s suffer the brunt of customers’ vulgarity because the crappy web designers use Flash to f**k up our browsing experience. Sorry, no sympathy for me. Besides with 80% plus market share on IE, who cares about the small fish ๐Ÿ™‚

6. Whatever, get some glasses. View->Text Size->Largest, whew! that cost you 2 secs of your life.

7. Bash Firefox because it will make these guys whine even more.

8. Filler! Mozilla topped IE in being a memory hogging browser with plug-ins that crash.

9. All in IE since SP2 and MSN Desktop Search. Fire-what?

10. Someone on this team has got issues: porn, viagra, 14 and 16-year olds, do I smell a Megan’s law fugitive?

11. What tech support? Not a single problem with IE, but at least I know who to call.

12. Bill’s mojo ain’t the IE, it’s Windows.

13. Sour grapes. Get over it…

Blowing my cover: Lindsay Moran as an asshole CIA agent in Macedonia

On my recent trip to Macedonia, I read this book. I wish I could say that’s it’s a fun entertaining, yet poignant book about the life of a CIA case office. The truth is it sucks so badly that I took the effort of coming up with more appropriate titles, perhaps you can help me here:

Blowing my cover: my life as an incompetent CIA spook
Misadventures in writing
My life as an un-intelligent spy wannabe
Blowing air as a writer wannabe
Misadventures in sexual frustration while pretending to do intelligence work without the intelligence
Lindsey Moran is an Asshole

Being generously respectful to Moran, I think the last title is the most appropriate for this book, and here’s why. Instead of advising people to avoid this book because it’s awful — itโ€™s true — I’ll outline why this book is a piece of crap and correct some blatant factual wrongs that a Harvard educated sexually frustrated spy wannabe wrote about while trying to build her new career in journalism.

Firstly, this book is interesting only because it is one of a few written by former CIA agents and covers some of the training aspects. It’s meagerly amusing, with so-so writing skills (I’m convinced that James, Lindsey’s husband and her love interest in the book, was on the rebound when he told her to write a book). How could he have known?

Instead of a laundry list of what’s wrongs in this book, I’ll focus only on the grossest mistakes and factual errors:

Never, never, ever call a Macedonian a Slav. Just like you wouldn’t call a Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, etc. a Slav, you should never call a Macedonian a Slav. Slavs are practically all the people of Eastern and Southern Europe with the exclusions of a few countries and the other minorities. But especially for a Macedonian, Slav is a fighting word and I guarantee you’d end up with a couple of black eyes. For calling me a Slav, Lindsey, here is a good old Fuck you too.

Anyone 5 minutes in Macedonia will quickly learn the difference along with a polite lecture. You are allowed only one such mistake if you are a newborn. After reading this, you have no quotas on the use of this term. For a CIA agent to continually use this term after spending 2-3 years in Macedonia shows not only lack of intelligence to absorb one of the most critical issues for the host country and its people, it also shows sheer incompetence.

Using Slav to describe Macedonians is like using n****r-word to describe African Americans. Use of the n-word, especially by non-black people, conveys a time of slavery and denigrates the centuries long struggle by black people for freedom and civil rights. Similarly, the Slav word denigrates Macedonian identity and the Macedonians’ centuries long struggle for independence from assimilations and denials by the neighboring countries.

Macedonia is Macedonia and not FYROM. Morons and Moran use the greek-derived derogatory FYROM frequently, which shows again poor listening skills and incompetence. US corrected the mistake of the temporary name last fall when Pres. Bush recognized Macedonia by its rightful name, for Moran and for the publishers to allow this after the fact, it is highly offensive and insults the intelligence of many people who know better and not just Macedonians. Another Fuck you, too!

Bulgarian and Macedonian are different languages. American and British English are dialects because they both are ENGLISH! A Bulgarian and Macedonian can speak their languages and have a perfectly normal conversation because they’ll understand anywhere between 60% and 95% of the words and meanings of the sentences. But, that doesn’t make the languages the same. Try telling a Serb or a Croat that their languages are Serbo-Croatian and really dialects, or tell someone that Russian and Ukrainian are dialects. I foresee a couple of black eyes in your future.

The closeness of the languages may be ok for casual conversation among friends or people on the street, but it’s unacceptable for a government official much less the presidents of Bulgaria and Macedonia without a proper interpreter because words and phrases convey specific meanings which are critical in diplomacy, something that should be plainly obvious to a CIA agent under the cover of a diplomat. While I can excuse this mistake once for a casual observer, I have no excuse for a CIA agent stationed in Macedonia for over 2 years and traveling to Bulgaria frequently. Another lack of knowledge acquisition and processing skills on the part of Lindsey Moran. It also shows uncanny lack of curiosity to learn — bad trait for a CIA officer.

Pretension to know a language and make mistakes while making cultural value judgments is inexcusable. She makes fun of a Macedonian bus company’s name “Nedezhda” because it sounds ironically as Hope. That’s plain wrong. In Macedonian “nadezh” is hope, Nadezhda or Nedezhda is a female name, more common in Eastern Macedonia. Furthermore, I’ve been to Sofia a number of times and while it’s a larger city, only slightly prettier than Skopje, it is in no way like Paris compared to Skopje. Moran wouldn’t know Paris if it bit her in the proverbial behind. Moran’s disdain for Macedonia is blatantly displayed through pettiness and useless information which only displays the shallowness of her own character.

What we find throughout the book is her boredom in Macedonia peppered with her constant need for sexual companionship leading one to conclude that Macedonia is bearing the brunt of Lindsey’s sexual frustration. Maybe Macedonians simply didn’t want to sleep with you, give it up and move on. Or maybe Lindsey is just looking for affirmation of herself in Bulgarian men. Whatever the reason, God made you that way and not Macedonia.

With so many strikes against her in this book one wonders what’s left of her when you strip her unabashed favoritism for the Albanian terrorists and the Bulgarian guys and her biased, disdainful view of Macedonia and Macedonians. A Harvard educated person graduating as a promising CIA case officer should have some capacity to observe the environment, listen well, accumulate and process information to obtain intelligence and knowledge. I’d expect it at the least from a Harvard person, but all the more from a CIA officer. Instead, we find her lacking in basic knowledge about her host country, the people of the country, its pressing and fundamental issues (identity and threats from outside), what makes people tick and dislike the Americans’ favoritism of the Albanian terrorists, and how to use the weaknesses of people to establish contacts and gain intelligence.

I define the word asshole as intelligent people who do mean, spiteful things just to hurt someone, fully aware of it knowing that with little effort they can correct themselves and do something good. For example, a guy who double parks a car next to an empty parking spot is an asshole. A person who drives on the shoulder during traffic jams just to cut in line is an asshole. For if you are unaware that you are doing something so blatantly bad, evil and spiteful, then you must be mentally retarded and you are excused, hence, you are not an asshole. Thus, the only explanation for why this book is such crap is that Lindsey Moran is an asshole.

There are many more boring escapades in her book that are too many to enumerate. Her writing is boring and unspectacular, much like a dumbed-down John Grisham novel. Her character comes through as cynical, spiteful, lacking in knowledge, arrogant, and quite shallow. She shows incompetence and lack of intelligence. Frankly, we need less people like that in the CIA today. I sincerely hope that today’s CIA officers use their humility, intelligence and understanding to learn from their environment and obtain the information to protect this country. For if she was the promise of the agency back then, we can see how easily the CIA was left not only with no intelligence but often with bad intelligence that’s paid for to useless “agents” out of taxpayer dollars and ultimately with the lives of Americans.

As an entrance exam to Lindsey’s “future” career in journalism, this book should give her failing marks. First, shame on editors who accept another “journalist” who eloquently makes up facts and distortions about their subjects. That hopefully should make the NY Times out of the question. Frankly, how much of this crap can we believe when she can’t recall some of the most important facts?

If she does end up as a journalist, I must say that I’ll be amazed at the enormous generosity of editors and journalists to accept someone like Moran. At least she won’t be in the CIA.

Lindsay Moran, good riddance!

Cross-Country drive to Seattle

After 4 weeks overseas we are finally ready to commence our cross-country drive to Seattle. Our departure point is The Hampton’s Inn — a brand new hotel in Harrison, NJ. This hotel is so new you can smell the freshness in the bed sheets and we all know how often bed sheets are washed in standard hotels.

Destination today: Chicago or rather Hammond, Indiana, a 756 mi ride over I-80.

I’m just catching my breath over the past month or so. Graduating from Wharton, visiting Macedonia for the first time in 6 years, spending a couple of nights in Manhattan for the first time since my last job 9 years ago. So many memories and yet so much excitement to begin a new life on the west coast working for a tech company.

Our cross-country drive will go the long route: NYC to Denver, Utah to see Arches, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Grand Staircase Escalante, Capitol Reef, possibly Zion and Antelope Canyon; then onto Mohave Desert via Vegas to San Diego for a quick rest, rush to SF for july 4th weekend and then speed into Seattle by the 7th or 8th of July! About 4500 miles of Interstate in a Mercedes ML 500 and Absolutely No CO2 emissions, thanks to my TerraPass.

Occassionally, I’ll try to post experiences and some comments from my trip. The next one that will follow will be about a book a read in Macedonia.

Sucky Flash Ads from Verizon DSL

I hate those Verizon DSL flash-based banner ads with the red speed boat. They hog 80% CPU and there’s no way to turn them off except for leaving the current page. I have seen them mostly on yahoo. Don’t companies get that people hate cpu-hoggin flash-based banner ads?

Wharton MBA is done!

Yes, I’m chilling today after wrapping up my last paper yesterday on NetJets. Do you know that for a mere $140k or so you can get a Marquis Card that entitles you to a 25-hours of flying time in your own personal plane? Wow, such affordability. You get a cool black card that says you are a true playa! Sign up and take 5 of your friends and family all over the country. Just wait about 10 hours for your plane to be ready. Awesome…wish I could afford it…

That’s it, man, Wharton MBA is a done deal…
Next move: visit Macedonia for a month, haven’t been there in ages (since 99).
Come back and drive cross country to Seattle the long way

Couldn’t imagine it’d take about 2 years for me to feel truly at home in Philly. It’s a nice city, not quite New York or Chicago, but very friendly. I’ll have fond memories coming back here…Ultimately, coming back to speak to an audience of Wharton students in the future would be a monumental honor.

U2 and Seattle Housing, the good, the bad and the ugly!

Saw U2 last Sunday at the Key Arena in Seattle: awesome! These guys put on a kick-ass show worth all $50MM that went into it. The good: great show, great sound, stage in oval shape made the band visible from all angles. Bono walked quite a bit around to see the entire audience, they played some Vertigo songs, but a lot of old and new ones. Beautiful! I actually knew almost all songs. I was surprised to see that many in the audience around me didn’t know many of their songs, not just older ones but the ones which didn’t always get great MTV airplay. In anycase, except for the seating, the show rocked and I’d see U2 again if possible, next time splurging on closer seats. Kings of Leon opened for them and they sounded great, cool band with southern-rock/jazz influence.

The bad: My wife and I had seats in the bleechers, separated by the mercy of, and facing the side of the stage at precisely the same location on each end. Weird, but not bad. Since my wife had seat #2, I tried switching my seat in the middle with the guy in #1. The dude flew all the way from Brazil, bought the ticket on ebay for $400 (what a shame) switched with me during the opening act. Ah, great guy, right? Wrong. Right before U2 starts, he wants his seat back, cuz he wants to take pictures and my seat sucked for him. Whatever! I went back and actually enjoyed a great show which could have been better with my wife next to me as she knows even more u2 lyrics than I do.

On the bad subject, we spent the weekend looking at houses in Seattle and the East side to buy as I start my next gig at Microsoft. A nice Coldwell agent drove us all over to see interesting 3bd places. If you’re single and don’t mind commute, there are interesting finds (no better way to describe) in Seattle, Queen Anne, Green Lake, Fremont areas. But if you have a kid, like my almost 5-yr old, then forget Seattle. The schools suck big time!

That lives us with the East side where there are no ranch houses but ramblers. I’m thinking of a marketing idea, yes, rename ramblers into ranch-style. That ought to make them a bit more palatable. Rambler sounds so, how do I put it, rambly?! like an RV sound or something, like you can lift it and move it. 99% of what we saw just wasn’t even close to our liking. The one place we actually liked, was priced to eat up our consumer surplus, ie, 20% more than the most recent equivalent sale of only last November. Either they didn’t want to sell or they really hope to cash in. In anycase, inventory is opening up and we’ll take the wait and see approach. An interest rate increase could be made up on better price easily.

The ugly: oh, yeah, the dude paying $400 for a bleecher seat on ebay (we got the $49 deal from ticketmaster). U2 allowing all sorts of cameras in the concert and not telling anyone. I was seriously bummed by this because we didn’t even bring a small camera, much less an SLR, and folks were snapping all over the place. So much for security, that’s cool that u2 allows it. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.

Why Webvan failed?

Transportation costs and a 30-minute window promise. That’s all. These guys were running a 12% of revenue transportation costs that completely replaced the equivalent costs of a supermarket store. Thus, all other costs that Webvan had: IT and warehousing were higher than for a supermarket. THere’s no way these guys could ever make a buck, much less beat the supermarket’s paltry 4% operating margins.

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