Category: culture & society

Snow on You Crazy Diamond

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Just messing around on this beautiful, snowy day here in Sweden. The weather, music, and mood all came together. Plus a new tripod (thanks, Hugo).

Click that first picture or here to see the snow falling outside our window. I’m glad I decided to stop to smell the flowers (thanks, Cici), and to watch, listen, and feel the snow and wind, and to hear, for the first time, a new rendition of an all-time favorite song. That’s what sealed the deal, the Floyd cover (thanks, Christy).

More pics after the jump.  The first one (below) is from Monday (2/22), the second one is from Thursday (2/25) and the third one is from Tuesday (2/23). The tulip pics and video (above) are from Saturday (2/20). The video cover shot is from Sunday (2/21).

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Stockholm and Riga Trip and Pics

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Back our 3-year anniversary trip to Riga, Latvia, via Stockholm, Sweden. Great trip, great weather, great food, people!

It was a nice surprise to be in Riga for the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Chain, a protest where 2 million people held hands over 600 kilometers (373 miles) spanning three countries (Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Lithuanian SSR). Imagine that! I had know idea.

By the way, while we’re on the topic of protests and before I forget, here’s Larry Flint’s (yes, that Larry Flint) call for mass protest on HuffPo: “Common Sense 2009.”  What will cause the sheeple to reject the lies, reject their selfishness (and the selfishness of the politicians and mega corporations), and standup for each other (“we, not me”)?  Apparently a lot, since it’s not happened yet.  Sigh.  Now back to regularly scheduled blog post.

More about the Baltic Chain and its 20th anniversary:

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Jeff Bezos’ & Amazon’s Big “Tell”

(Why do I single out Bezos here?  Because responsibility goes to the top and Bezos is the Founder, Chairman, CEO, and President of Amazon.)

2009-7-23 UPDATE: See bottom of this post.

I wasn’t going to comment on the recnt (and ironic) Jeff Bezos debacle, but yesterday a commenter on Cringly’s blog said: “Amazon has destroyed their business in one careless stroke. Once you lose the public trust, you never get it back.”

Although I think “destroyed” and “never” are too strong words, I share the sentiment, especially the part about violating trust (for example, violate my trust once and you’re out, with little chance of reinstatement).

Why is “destroyed” too strong a word?

Because, probably enough of Amazon’s customers don’t know or care about Bezos’ Orwellian, jack-booted thug maneuver or are not thoughtful enough to understand why it’s such a big deal.

Most of the people who do care might somehow punish Amazon a little, such as by going on a temporary buyer’s strike or writing a negative blog post (like this one), but they will probably come back to big bro Bezos and his website that knows more about you than you may know yourself.  The more you use Amazon, the more it learns about you, of course.  It’s the same, with Google, NetFlix, your credit/debit card purchases, mobile phone and location data, RFID chipped cards and passports, but all that’s another story. Reminds me, though, see this interesting Wired UK article: “The new hidden persuaders.”

So, why is this debacle so interesting?

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New Plan Ties College Loan Payments to Income

This is an important article for anyone who has student loan debt. The more your debt, and lower your imcome, the more important the article.

The new repayment option — the Income Based Repayment (IBR) plan — went into effect on July 1, 2009. It limits what borrowers have to pay to “15% of the difference between their gross income and 150% of federal poverty guidelines.”

What exactly that means, is up to your lender to determine, as I understand it. But it does appear that payments can be as low as $0.00. That’s bad, because interest accrues and is added to the outstanding balance, but it’s good because after borrowers “make payments on loans” for 25 years, the balance is forgiven.  (But what does “make payments on loans” mean?  What if those “payments” are $0.00?)

Bottom line is that everyone who feels burdened by their student loans should read this article, and its links, and figure out if this new plan is something for them. If it is, take action.

Problem is, how to figure all this stuff out? It may be so important, and complicated, that some people might want/need professional advice. That’s actually something I’ve long been interested in, but it’s been low on the priority list compared with my other projects. I would love to hear from any of you with the relevant knowledge, experience, and drive to setup a web- and phone-based business providing student loan consulting (in partnership with me). I’ve already got a good domain name: StudentLoanConsulting.com. I guess I could always sell or license that name as well. If you’re interested in any of this, just contact me.

Now on to the article:

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Unity of Greater New Orleans

Unity of Greater New Orleans is a group of amazing people working to end homelessness (in New Orleans).

We all want to help reduce homelessness everywhere, so this is just one charity of interest in that department, but it’s a good one.  We have to help each other, one person at a time.

Read the following article and let me know what you think: New Orleans Times-Picayune: “Squatters hidden in N.O.’s abandoned houses often need more help than other homeless people”: http://bit.ly/TT3V1 (Google Doc) or http://bit.ly/gh72s (PDF).

So did you read that article? That’s why I just made a donation to them through the Network For Good. Here’s the link to Unity of Greater New Orleans’s donation page in case you’re inspired, too. Either way, maybe re-share this post? Thanks.

PS: Pics and video from my latest trip to New Orleans, in April 2009.

Barack Obama:
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

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Miss. and La. Road Trip Pics: 1st Set: Leave DC, Drive, Arrive, First Day/Night in NOLA

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(click for full-size version)

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UPDATE #1: Here’s a master page of New Orleans pics and videos: www.buzzpal.com/no.

UPDATE #2: Here’s the rest of the pics, all on one page.

Here’s the first batch of pics from my 9-day road trip down to Pearl River, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Why/how’d I go on this trip?

To help my friend Alan move all his stuff down to his and his wife Amy’s organic blueberry farm, Pearl River Blues. Plus I absolutely love great road trips, and what could be better, especially if you love music, than a road trip to Mississippi and New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, funk, and blues?

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“The Financial Crisis in Terms I Can Understand”

Not sure who wrote this (if you know, please put the credit in the comments), but I like it. Received it today from a friend in London.

Related

“The Financial Crisis in Terms I Can Understand”

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Berlin. In order to increase sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers – most of whom are unemployed alcoholics – to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans).

Word gets around and as a result increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi’s bar.

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Life Is Beautiful

Rob and Hugo
Rob and Hugo

Fourteen months have gone by since I wrote the following letter, on December 21, 2008, the day after my wife Susanne’s godfather, Hugo, died, at his home in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I’ve wanted to share it for a long time as a memorial to Hugo and to remind myself, and maybe help others remind themselves, that life is beautiful, that we need to cherish it, be kind, pay it forward, live in the present, and generally try to do no harm and leave this earth better than we found it.

The reason I publish this letter today is two fold:

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First Post From the USA and First Post From the New MacBook

Just time for a quickie:

  1. NYT: Bailout Plan: $2.5 Trillion and a Strong U.S. Hand
  2. NYT Graphic: The Government’s $8.8 Trillion Bailout Tab
  3. Nouriel Roubini: Treasury’s Financial Stability Plan: Will It Work?
  4. Nouriel Roubini: It Is Time to Nationalize Insolvent Banking Systems
  5. Video and My Comments: Obama and Henrietta Hughes at Town Hall Meeting

UPDATE: Two additional articles:

  1. NYT: Stopping a Financial Crisis, the Swedish Way
    (September 2008)
  2. Matthew Richardson and Nouriel Roubini: Nationalize the Banks! We’re all Swedes Now (current)

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Gearing up for Obama-Rama-Palooza in DC

Yesterday, sitting here in Sweden and emailing my friends back home in Washington, DC, is when the adrenaline-pumping excitement really hit me (for the second time — this was the first).

We are at:

  1. The end of a dark era that spread fear, turned “us” against “them,” and “we” into “me.”
  2. And the beginning of a new era!

While I know it won’t be easy, I believe Obama and his team represent the best — by far — that we could hope for right now.  It’s a tough job, and I know it’s not possible to please everyone inside America, let alone also outside America, but I believe he can/will do better than any of the others could have.

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New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Gothenburg, Sweden

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This was one of the best displays I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen a bunch of good ones on the National Mall in Washington, DC on July 4th. These Swedish guys rocked it! See this video of the grand finale (click “watch in high quality” mode, expand to full-screen mode, and turn up the sound).

The last pic is from our balcony about 8 minutes after midnight, after a 15-minute barrage of fireworks from everywhere (all over the city). The fireworks were going all night up to the midnight finale (video clip shot from our balcony).

The four  bonus pics after that are from our New Year’s Day walk.

Overall, it was a great New Year’s Eve with Annica and Henrik and a great New Year’s Day with Birgitta and Roy!  Happy New Year to you!

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Käringön Island (Sweden) Christmas Party

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Another great Jul Bord at Peterson’s Krog. There were about 21 of us this year, with 19 of us closing the place down. I don’t know what time we went to bed (around 3:30 or so, I think).  Jorgen didn’t teach any new words this year, but Anna taught us how to say “marsipan gris” (“marzipan pig”) in Danish.

-Skål!

PS: I was kind of hurting this morning, but thankfully Martin hooked me up with one of his Hustlers. Not the Larry Flint kind of Hustler, but some crazy energy drink they got here. BTW, Maria is somehow related to Larry Flint, so maybe he did hook us up with these power drinks, I have no idea. I’m just glad I was able to start my day with a Hustler and some Advil Liqui-Gels, washed down with some cold San Pellegrino. Ah!

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How to Export Your AOL Address Book

2010-1-8 UPDATE: Good news!  According to one of our commenters, AOL has added an “Import/Export” option under the “Tools” menu when you log in at AOL.com.  Just log in and select Export from the Tools menu.  Then select your file type, such as CSV, and download.  Done!  Check it out and let us know how it worked for you.

2009-5-14 UPDATE: Gmail just made it super easy to switch to Gmail and import your mail, contacts, everything!  See this post on the Gmail blog and this post on TechCrunch.

(Skip down a few paragraphs to get to how to export AOL contacts.)

I hesitate to post this, as it both dates me and exposes me as someone who (still) has an AOL email address (also I rip into AOL pretty harshly).  In my defense, I’ve had (and used) many other email accounts for many years, and I registered the AOL email addresses way back in 1993, the year the Mosaic web browser came out and when:

  • computers ran at 0.01 GHz, not 3 GHz
  • there was no such thing as Internet search engines, social networks, or blogs, let alone Google, Facebook or WordPress
  • there was no broadband Internet access
  • people used pagers instead of cell phones, and
  • kids still got their p0rn from magazines (I hear)

Man, talk about the stone ages (see Wikipedia’s History of the Internet page).  It was nice, actually, but that’s another post.

Before we get into the tirade, it might be good to review the ad hominem fallacy fallacy.  Also, a disclaimer: This is just an opinion piece, and my opinion is that AOL sucks.  Your opinion may differ.

Back to AOL, which does indeed suck…

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Thanksgiving at Per’s Wine Cellar

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Thanksgiving came early to Sweden, and a dozen of us celebrated at Per’s wine cellar (that’s Per with the cast on, which he had to get after our pool and game night a few weeks back.  Per’s parents belong to a club and they let us use it Saturday night – thank you!  The dinner party lasted from 7:00 Saturday night until 2:00 Sunday morning.  Good times!

Unrelated trivia: Bill Gates was the best man earlier the same day at a wedding in the church you see, which is basically across the street from our wine cellar.  Also attending the wedding, I hear, was Elton John, Ulf Ekberg (Ace of Base), and the Prince of Monaco.  Mick Jagger was a no show.  The reception was a few blocks away.  Article here.

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Market Update: Good News/Bad News

Just time for a quick post before a busy afternoon of prep work for our Thanksgiving dinner party tomorrow night (we’re in Sweden, so the Saturday before the official Thanksgiving Day is when we do it).

Ok, the post got a little long when I used Fred Wilson’s tweets  (links below) to launch into some of my investment philosophy.  I like Fred a lot, and his tweets and blog, it’s just that I’ve been watching him buy Google from above $400 down into the $200s.  It’s been painful, but he will eventually catch that oh so sweet bottom!  More below.

Bonus! At the end I tagged on two great pieces by Michael Lewis, the author of Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street.

First, some market stats:

  • Thursday: Summary and volume leaders. Look at that volume! Over 10 billion shares on the NYSE and 3 billion on the Naz. That is people saying “I can’t take the pain any longer, get me out, I don’t care about the price, just make the pain stop!” Margin calls, mutual and hedge fund redemptions, portfolio insurance (see The Anatomy of a Crash), and delta hedging by put sellers, like Warren Buffett, have forced a lot of sales, of course. Call it a perfect storm, a rare glimpse at the naked and ugly side of human emotions, greed into panic. The story never changes, just the names, faces, and dates.  Of course, great opportunities also come at times of extreme emotions.  That will be the same this time, as well.

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U.S. Homeownership and Stock Market Participation Rates

Just a quick post of some interesting date from the U.S. Census Bureau. As shown on the chart above (click for larger image), the percentage of Americans who own their own homes is declining. No surprise there, but it does beg a few questions, such as:

What (and when) was the peak and how far (and how long) will the rate fall?

To consider these questions, I hopped over to this page at U.S. Census Bureau website,  downloaded this spreadsheet and quickly crunched a few numbers in this spreadsheet.

What I found was that…

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Barack Obama Wins, We Win! Acceptance Speech Video and Transcript


(Note: the screenshot above is from this morning. Since then, the Obama margin has increased. See The New York Times interactive election map and Big Board for the latest. You can toggle the map to any of the past four presidential elections. There are also links to speeches, polls, and more.)

My hope in USA is restored; we are not scared anymore. Fear, bullying and “me, me, me” loses. Courage, cooperation, and “we, we, we” wins. Thank you is all I can say. Thank you, Barack Obama. Thank you, world! Be the change!

Video of Obama’s acceptance speech:

Did it bring tears to your eyes the way it did mine?
Yes, we can! That message is global; it’s for all of us.

Here is my uncut reaction video and below is the transcript of Obama’s speech. Here is how Washington DC votedUpdate: Fast forward to my January 2009 blog post: Gearing up for Obama-Rama-Palooza in DC.

Update: See the comments at the bottom of this post.  So far…

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