29 January 2008

Bill Clinton on Kiva Microcredit

Bill Clinton talks about Kiva, a site where you can make small loans to people in poor countries. Giving a microloan to poor people may be a very effective way to get them out of poverty.

Microlending has very low default rates. According to Kiva, of every 1000 loans given, only 3 default.

28 January 2008

Conflict During Chess Game

There is a popular video on Youtube showing Nigel Short, the chess grandmaster, trying to shake hands with Ivan Cheparinov before a game of chess. However, Cheparinov refused to shake hands with Short. Short spoke to the arbiter and claimed that refusal to shake hands with your opponent results in automatic forfeiture according to FIDE rules. FIDE is the highest authority in chess, the Vatican of the chess world. Short turned out to be correct and Cheparinov lost the game. In the next game the two played, Cheparinov offered to shake hands and Short accepted. He also formally apologized.

It is believed that Short and Cheparinov were not getting along because Short said derogatory things about Topalov and Bulgarian chess players in general. He was speaking about the controversial Kramnik versus Topalov World Championship game. I don't know what Short said exactly. Cheparinov, who is Bulgarian, must have taken offense.

The Kramnik-Topalov game was mired in controversy because Topalov believed Kramnik went to the bathroom too frequently. Allegations later surfaced that Kramnik was using a computer to aid his play when he took bathroom breaks. This childish bickering reminds me of the Fischer versus Spassky match.

I admire Nigel Short because, when I was a little boy, I read just about every single chess book available at the public library and schools libraries. One of my favorite books was his. I think—but I'm not sure—that the title of this book was Chess Basics. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's the book. It was interesting to see some of Nigel's games. He often played the French Defense and he is known for his aggressive pawn storms. He is one of the best chess players in Britain.

Top Gear Crew Attacked in Redneck Territory

I have just watched one of the most frightening moments on Top Gear, a British TV show about cars that was on SBS today. Clarkson, Hammond, and May drive through Alabama with provocative text on their cars, e.g. "Nascar Sucks" and "Man Love Rules OK."

When they stop off at a petrol station, the owner calls over a bunch of redneck thugs on the back of a pickup. What I find hard to believe is how they managed to amass an army of hillbillies so fast. Are these people waiting around for a fight? Rocks were pelted and the Top Gear crew made a run for it. The camera crew was also attacked.

What the Top Gear crew did may have been very provocative and politically incorrect in that part of the country, but I would believe it is protected by the First Amendment.

26 January 2008

Anti-Gay Church to Protest Ledger Funeral

I have just read a news article on ABC that homophobe Reverend Fred Phelps plans to protest at Heath Ledger's funeral.

I can imagine how horrible this would be for those related to Ledger, but perhaps this homophobia is fully consistent with Christian teaching. The Bible does condemn homosexuality.

However, the Bible, and Jesus, also taught people to love their neighbor, and everyone is your neighbor. Therefore, Christians don't have a right to hate people as Fred Phelps certainly does. His hate crimes certainly go against Christian teaching. Fred Phelps certainly hates just about everyone, including gay people, Black people, the Irish, the Swedes, the Jews, and the list goes on. This racism and hatred certainly would go against Jesus's love-thy-neighbor principle.

Many Christians remind the public that they "hate the sin and love the sinner."

Additional Links:
Sydney Radio Interview with Anti-Gay Church Member
Brokeback Mountain: Propaganda For Perversion!

My Asset Allocation as at 1 January 2008

Above is the pie chart lifted straight out of the statement Vanguard has recently sent me. As you can see, it seems as if I have an unhealthy bias towards Australian shares. Slowly I will aim to reduce this bias.

Note: The pie chart above does not include my super fund, which is separate to my non-super mutual fund. The reason why it is difficult to change asset allocations is because outside of super there are tax constraints.

25 January 2008

The January 22 Global Crash

On January 22, the Australian stock market went down 7 per cent. Since the last major crash that happened (a 10 per cent decline in one day) happened in 1989 when I six years old, this is the first crash I have ever been aware of and the first that has affected me. Australia was not alone. Just about every stock market in the world saw huge falls.

At the end of December 2007, my net worth was $28,120, which is pretty low compared to some people. The average Australian has a net worth of $400,000, but then again the average Australia is much older than I am.

Even though the Australian stock market as measured by the ASX200 fell to 5200 on January 22, today as of lunch time, three days afterwards, it has gone back up to 5700 and it seems to be climbing to 5800. I have heard some people saying this is a great opportunity to buy because the price-to-earnings ratio has dropped to 12 now from of 15. Yesterday I received $560 from my part-time job and immediately put it in my mutual fund. I have, however, heard some people say that we haven't seen the worst yet. Financial heavyweight George Soros says this turmoil is the worst since World War 2. It's difficult to know what will happen for sure, but my portfolio is diversified, although slightly overweight in Australian shares.

Practically all of my money is in the stock market. I keep between $100 to $500 of emergency money in my bank account just in case, but the rest I put into equities. I also have a $5000 car, which counts as part of my net worth. Even though I have a Commsec account, I have forgotten both my password and my user number, and I have been too lazy to talk to the bank to reactivate it. I only ever bought ETFs on the ASX, mainly StreetTracks ETFs simply because back when I remembered my account password they were the only ETF providers in Australia. Nowadays, iShares offers ETFs and their major selling point is that they provide exposure to Asian markets. Given the exploding rate of growth in Asia and other developing economies like Latin America, Russia, etcetera, I believe I should be more exposed to emerging markets. What I have noticed, however, is that the Australian stock market seems highly correlated to the performance of emerging markets. Many commentators say that Australia's economic boom is riding on the back of China's economic boom. To give evidence for this, look at the strong correlations between prices for iShares Australian ETF and iShares Emerging Markets ETF. Given that Australia's major business is mining and resources, then it makes sense that Australia will grow proportionately with emerging markets since developing countries need resources to develop economically. So then, it may just be enough to invest in Australian shares to receive exposure to emerging markets.

I am interested in risky stocks because I am still young and can ride through volatility. I also see risky stocks as an alternative to margin lending. You can gear with stocks through margin lending, that is, borrowing to invest. If I were to get a margin loan I would have to be careful because gearing amplifies both your gains and losses, meaning you can make more but you can lose more as well. The risks apply both for residential property and gearing to invest in mutual funds. To save the hassle of margin calls, I believe the best way to expose yourself to more risk with the possibility of getting higher returns (which effectively is what gearing does) is to bias your portfolio towards riskier asset classes like emerging markets or frontier markets, or even internally geared funds. A non-leveraged investment in risky assets is more or less equivalent to leveraged investment in safe assets. If you are going to leverage, you will need to invest in safe assets anyway because you need to be sure the return on your investment will completely cover the interest repayments you pay back to the lender.

14 January 2008

I Am Legend (2007)

I Am Legend is about a survivor of an infectious disease that has wiped out what seems like the entire human population. We look at the world from the eyes of Robert Neville (Will Smith) a virologist who has to cope with loneliness as he hunts for food and works on finding a cure in his underground laboratory. The symptoms of this infectious disease is aggressive, monster-like behavior.

I Am Legend is a very anxious and suspenseful movie. This can be good or bad depending on what your preferences are. I was not happy with the number of times this film resorted to sudden bursts of sound. It may be an effective way to induce a reaction in the audience but it is cheap and manipulative. The MPAA gave this movie a PG-13, but I would caution parents about sending in little children because at times the movie is frightening. There is violence, loud gun fights, and blood. Many reviewers say the ending is poor, but I happen to think the ending is very creative and satisfying. All in all, a very good movie. An original and creative edge-of-your-seat thriller.

12 January 2008

The Golden Compass (2007)

The Golden Compass takes place in what is described as a parallel world, so the rules of nature in this world is different to our world. In this world, an organization called the Magisterium threatens to dominate and gain a monopoly on truth. After the kidnap children, a young girl named Lyra goes off into the north to rescue them.

The special effects and imagery in this movie are very attractive. The story is a very interesting one, and the protagonist Lyra is played well by Dakota Blue Richards.

Like each Lord of the Rings movie, this movie is not complete. I did not realize this until after the movie ended. To have to watch another movie or read another book is disappointing. Personally I feel that a movie should be complete from beginning to end. This saves viewers the hassle of having to find every piece.

While watching the movie, many concepts are thrown in very quickly, many of which are confusing concepts about the nature of the parallel universe, for example, the daemons, as well as subplots like the fighting bears. These many things all thrown at you quickly can lead to confusion among viewers, especially for children. It left me feeling detached from the movie.

Another criticism is the intensity of the movie. This is not a light movie as I expected. There is a lot of rough fighting, killing, and violence, and it is all performed with very loud music and sound effects. At the end of one scene involving fighting bears, a small child in the theater started screaming in fright.

11 January 2008

China to Keep Food Prices Low

China's government has announced that it will temporarily intervene in market to control rampant rise in food and fuel prices.

Retailers and producers will face heavy fines if they increase the price of basic necessities, the government says...

And the UN's food aid agency is warning that another measure taken by China - restricting the exports of rice and other staples - could have serious effects in the region...

Source: China to curb insane food prices
This news is very worrying. At first, it may sound good. Food prices are high, the poor will struggle to buy food, so the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) makes it illegal to raise prices too high.

The problem this creates is if Chinese farmers, seeing how low the price of food is in China, start to export food out to other countries where they can get higher prices. However, the CCP makes it illegal to export as well!

What I am worried about is that if there are low prices then farmers will have their profits reduced thereby giving them less incentive to provide food. They may find it more lucrative to work in a factory. Thus fewer food will be supplied. Also, because prices are lower in China than in, say, Japan, imports will halt and be diverted to where they can fetch higher prices. Thus the supply of food in China will decrease.

The low prices will mean the demand for food in China will increase. Excess demand and lack of supply of food means we will have a shortage. This can lead to starvation an turmoil in China.

A better idea for the CCP is to give food vouchers to the very poor as they do in the USA. Sometimes it may be difficult to know whether a poor person is poor enough for welfare. My suggestion is to measure the BMI. If a person is starving then he will lose weight and his BMI will decrease. I suggest that the CCP give food vouchers to people if their BMI is below 20.

10 January 2008

Hallmark Red Ad

If you buy a Red Product, a percentage of the profits go to The Global Fund, which helps treat and prevent AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in Africa. In the last year, $50 million was raised for The Global Fund.

The Red Project, a creation of U2 singer Bono, tries to use the power of commercialism to make charity sustainable.

08 January 2008

Scorched Earth 3D

Link: Scorched Earth 3D

Ever since I was young I was a fan of Scorched Earth. When I replay the game now that I am a young adult, it brings a sense of nostalgia to me. I remember playing this game with my brother and whenever my little cousin came over she played with us as well.

The aim of the game is for players to control tanks and take it in turns changing the direction, elevation, and power behind a missile shot. You can even change weapons, so instead of using a missile you can use weapons like the MIRV or strange weapons like the Funky Bomb. There is a great deal of suspense in this game as you opponents slowly figure out the right settings needed to hit you and you must kill them before they have a chance to kill you. It is a very exciting game and usually when we played as children we would make so much noise that the parents would be distracted.

Today I played Scorched Earth 3D, a remake of the old game that, as the name suggests, is in 3D now instead of being in 2D. I played against two other easy bots and I won easily. My favorite weapons were the MIRVs and the Funky Bombs, just like with the original Scorched Earth. Scorched Earth 3D looks better than the original, which is to be expected. However, I found that because the locations were much larger and because you have an extra dimension, the game was a lot less action-packed. It was more passive and slow. In the original, a Funky Bomb explosion would fill up the whole screen. In Scorched Earth 3D, a Funky Bomb would only fill up a small portion of the overall location. Navigating around the 3D environment can also be difficult. I found it easier to correct my previous shots by always using smoke tracers. I recommend players use smoke tracers because they are very cheap.

Scorched Earth 3D is a free game. Anyone can download it right now and play it.

07 January 2008

Recap of Survivor China

This post contains spoilers. Please do not read if you do not want to know who won Survivor China.

Unable to control myself, I went on Youtube and watched the rest of Survivor China. Watching Survivor China on Youtube is a challenge because you have to try your hardest not to look at the pictures while you are searching for the correct episode to watch. This is because the pictures can give away who is being evicted thereby ruining the suspense.

While I was watching Survivor I was very quiet and didn't speak to my family. I was so obsessed with watching what was going to happen. I feel really empty now that I can't watch any more Survivor and I am thinking of buying or hiring DVDs because I can't seem to find any other episodes on Youtube. I have only watched three Survivor seasons so far, Survivor Borneo, Survivor Australia, and Survivor China. China and Borneo were probably the best. Australia is forgettable, so much so that for a while I even forgot I even watched it.

Gay Mormon flight attendant Todd won Survivor China. I wasn't very happy because he was a big liar. I like watching Survivor but all the dishonesty in the game leaves me feeling dirty afterwards. It is especially hard to see players who I thought were good turn bad. It seems as if anyone who is in a losing position always appeals to honor but once the situation changes and they are in a powerful position, they try to excuse their dishonest behavior by appealing to the law of the jungle and survival of the fittest. For example, when PG was evicted she spoke about how she was honest and was focusing on the game, but if she were so honest why did she throw an immunity challenge to vote Aaron out? The same happened with James. When the double kidnapping occurred, James and Aaron had their heads on the chopping block. When Jaime and PG threw the immunity challenge, James was angry, calling these women dishonest. However, James himself was dishonest when he lied to Jean-Robert about possession of the hidden immunity idols. When the tribes merged and he was safe with two immunity idols, he felt invincible and when his arrogant side showed, I was turned off. Courtney is another example. At the beginning she was the weak player and I had sympathy for her smallness and lack of strength, which meant she performed poorly in the challenges. However, towards the end when her alliance put her in a powerful position, she became very cruel by bagging lunch lady Denise, saying that she "sucks at life" and that people shouldn't have sympathy for her. All this reminds me of the saying that only the impotent are pure.

I fear that many who watch Survivor will believe that this is the way the real world operates and that they themselves need to behave deceptively if they want to be successful. One of the biggest myths of business and life in general is that it is a zero-sum game like Poker or Survivor. It is not. In real life or in business you generate wealth for yourself. In man-made games, you fight for the wealth that already exists, that is, the prize money.

Food Force: Simple and Educational

Link: Food Force

Force force is a game made by the UN World Food Programme that gives players a taste of what it would be like to carry out a humanitarian relief program. Players fly a helicopter to find starving people, make food, buy food, drop food, drive trucks through rough terrain, and then assist the community afterwards.

The game is very simple. Even children can understand how to play it without too much hassle. It is not a serious computer competitive game like Quake or Unreal but more of an educational game. It is completely free to download although at about 200 MB be sure to have a fast Internet connection. It would be a great idea for teachers to let their students play this game for educational purposes.

05 January 2008

Survivor China: Jean-Robert Evicted

I have just watched the episode of Survivor China in which Jean-Robert was voted out. Another very exciting episode. What I love about Survivor is that it leaves you guessing until the end. I had no idea who was going to be voted out this time. I was worried that it might be James but it turned out that Todd and Amanda pulled a fast one on Jean-Robert and voted him out. Frosty seems to be part of the Todd-Amanda alliance because he voted for Jean-Robert as well.

During the start of the game, it is better to vote out the weaker players because they lose challenges and force the tribe to vote off members, thereby decreasing the tribe's size. If your tribe has fewer numbers pre-merge, you go into the merged team with a minority and in a democratic system you are picked off one by one.

But in this game at the moment the tribes have merged but the tribal lines have broken. Frosty is all over the place. The same can be said about that lunch lady and Courtney. With a merged tribe it is best to vote out the stronger players first because they have a better chance of winning immunity and are thus stronger. This is why I think James is very vulnerable, even if he has two hidden immunities. My guess is that the tribe will do what they can to get James out.

I have been watching Jean-Robert's talk just after eviction and it is really clear that this guy has no idea what he's doing. His plan was to act stupid and crazy at the beginning of the game and then improve as he went along. The only thing that did is (1) annoy people, thereby making them vote for you (e.g. Courtney), (2) make you stand out so that those from the smaller tribe will vote for you with the hope that fellow tribe members of Jean-Robert will go against him (e.g. P.G. and Erik), and (3) signal to other that you are duplicitous and untrustworthy. I think the last reason is why Todd and Amanda voted for Jean-Robert. In the video Jean-Robert seems very confident in himself.

You're Making a Killing in Darfur

The Darfur Divestment website only gives information about mutual funds in America. Since I live in Australia, I have no idea whether my mutual funds fund genocide.

Homicidal Environmentalists

I am worried about environmentalists talking about overpopulation. What I am particularly worried about is the solution some give that in order to save the environment, people must be killed.

The problem with this mass murder idea is the purpose. Many environmentalists agree that it is essential to save nature to improve human life. Killing humans then would oppose that goal of improving human life.

Another problem is the tricky question of who dies. Those who advocate mass slaughter for the sake of the environment always have a convenient excuse as to why they themselves should not be killed.

The people at Dieoff.org believe those already starving in poor countries around the world should be left to die. The problem with this idea is that those in poor countries have mild effect on the environment. If they are too poor to eat then they will be too poor to drive, to fly, to consume electricity, and so on. Australians are the highest per capita consumers of fossil fuels, so environmental destruction can most effectively be mitigated by killing Australians. But even among Australians there is variation. Poor people within Australia consume less than the rich.

03 January 2008

World Food Programme Logistics

Below is a video about the World Food Programme and its role in bringing food to the poor. It's a very good video.

02 January 2008

My Definition of Success

I've been reading Frugal's definition of success and have decided to talk about my concept of the Four Evils. For me, success isn't merely about making lots of money. What is the point of have a billion dollars if you do not have good health?

My goal in life is to minimize what I call the Four Evils. The Four Evil are the following:

1. Death,

2. Pain,

3. Uncertainty, and

4. Restriction.

I'd rather live than die. I want to avoid pain. I don't like uncertainty. For example, if I had to choose between $100 for certain or $100 with if I win a coin flip, I'd opt for the former. Restriction refers to freedom, not being stuck, e.g. in a career, in a dead-end job, with a bad spouse, and so forth.

01 January 2008

How to Force Others to Give to Charity

Kris Kringle, also known as Secret Santa, was carried out in my workplace last Christmas. You are randomly assigned someone whom you give a $10 gift to. You put the recipient's name on the gift and then put it under a Christmas tree. The recipient gets the gift but doesn't know who gave it.

A friend of mine, a finance major, would often purchase junk $2 presents like cheap mugs. Then when he received a $10 gift he would sell it on Ebay and make $8 profit from the whole thing. He claims that the way to make sure everyone is happy is to buy a $2 gift that looks like it is expensive.

If you want to do something less morally reprehensible, I suggest that instead of buying a gift you buy something that gives to charity. For example, you can buy from Oxfam Shop, UNICEF Shop, or World Vision Smiles Gifts. Buying these things automatically gives a donation to charity while at the same time giving something to someone. Whatever you receive from your Kris Kringle, you simply sell it on Ebay and then donate the money to your favorite charity. This way you force other people to give to charity.