Saturday, December 6, 2014

Demographics and GDP Growth

I think this rather alarmist article on the risk to American and global GDP from declining birth rates and the shift in population mix towards older demographics is a great example of a major trope in the American media. This is specifically in regards to focusing on total GDP growth as the end all goal of the economy rather than the much more relevant to your daily life GDP-per-capita growth.

To really think about total GDP can be so deceptive, imagine that you have an economy with 100 people where everyone makes $50k/year (e.g. a total economy with a GDP of $5MM/year). Imagine that that suddenly, you add 20 new people to your economy and the average income drops to $45k/year. Now your GDP has grown from $5MM before to $5.4MM (an 8% growth rate!), but average incomes have actually fallen by 10%. If all you care about is GDP, then you'd see this as a great win, but the average person is now worse off than before and the economy is moving people in the wrong direction.

Obviously the real world is even more complicated than this simple example. And to further muddy the waters, the actual number we really care about is not per-capita income per se, but rather the very hard to quantify quality of life. For instance, quality of life could even increase even while individual incomes are declining (if for instance cost of goods was falling faster or that income was being earned in a shorter period of time). The rise of the internet for example has brought consumers many benefits (think Facebook, email, YouTube, blogging, etc) that are largely free to consumers, thus boosting the individual's quality of life without any actual additional income needed. So focusing on per-capita GDP has it's shortfalls, however the focus on GDP as a whole I think is missing a very important part of the goal of our economy and gets people worried about some sometimes absurd things (like a fall in the size of the population).

Take for instance the case of Japan and its so called lost decades since the beginning of 1990's. Japan of course has been facing its own demographic changes including a much lower birth rate, very little immigration, and a heavy shift in population towards older age groups. As a result of these changes and the bursting of an asset bubble in the late 1980's, the economy has been stagnant more or less ever since. In fact, in this light Japan is simply several decades ahead of the US with more or less the same forces at work. But when you look at the per-capita GDP's, Japan has actually done rather well over this time and has seen about as much growth as the US since then.

So all of this means that I think our fears the slowing birth rates will lead to slowing growth in individual's quality of life is rather overblown. Furthermore, a shift in population from younger wage earners to older retirees, doesn't necessarily mean quality of life will decline, even if total labor income declines. This is because many in this future cohort of retirees have been saving for decades through social security, retirement accounts, and pensions to ensure they can continue consuming after leaving the labor force. So assuming that a broad swath of the population retires and gradually begins dipping into their saving to pay for consumption, then total consumption will actually fall less than the supply of labor due to this shift. To some extent the economy will certainly attempt to compensate by shifting production to economies with a higher supply of labor (this could be a big win for Africa in the coming decades), but this kind of production has already largely left the US long ago and for the remaining services wages will thus be forced to rise. Thus those who are younger and still in their high production years, they may actually see big increases in total income, likely far exceeding the increase in cost of living.

In addition, retirees on fixed incomes will be seeking to continue maximizing their quality of life at the lowest cost possible, creating strong demand for cheaper alternatives to today's labor heavy service industries. This could be a big win for various automation technologies that are currently not very economical when compared to today's super cheap and heavily supplied labor pool. Think self driving cars, automated espresso stands, and self check out kiosks at retail establishments everywhere. In fact, a temporary drop in the relative size of the labor pool in developed countries could be just what is needed to help shift the economy to invest in a new layer of labor free infrastructure and lay the ground work for the economy to move labor into higher marginal productivity roles in future growth spurts.

The article makes this point in a much more indirect fashion: "Business investment has been lower than usual in recent years, but that may be a consequence of the 'demographic premium' that's about to go into reverse. In recent decades, high support ratios plus rapid globalization created a huge increase in the effective worldwide supply of labor. You'd expect a glut of cheap labor to suppress investment. This is now about to flip. Because of the age transition, the global supply of labor will grow more slowly. This should support the demand for investment."

In the end, changing demographics will certainly represent big opportunities for entrepreneurs in the right place. Many people have focused on the opportunities in health care or retirement communities (which will surely see growth in demand). To me however, the real big winners will be the the people who are positioned to replace high-labor low-capital services with equivalent low-labor high-capital services. They will be able to take advantage of pricing pressure that will be faced by competing firms who stick with labor-intensive practices in an environment of dwindling labor supply and rapidly rising wages.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Is Automation Making Us Dumb?

Source article: Automation Makes Us Dumb

I rather disagree with this column. While on the surface the core claim is more or less accurate (that any new tool that is adopted by humans generally leads for us to become less skilled at completing that task without said tool), this is offset by new skills that we gain through 1.) the skills associated with using the tool to complete the task even more effectively than before and 2.) other tasks that one is able to endeavor on with the freed up time, mental capacity, and energy from utilizing the new tool to complete a once more manual practice. To focus on the skills lost is totally missing the point. It's not like people and society as a whole are substantially worse off since we have become less skilled at translating words to morse code, or reading and writing binary, or navigating a ship via sextant. Instead the new tools have made these tasks unnecessary or irrelevant allowing us to focus on other challenges.

Besides the above focusing on the glass becoming half empty, the author also focuses a common, but misguided, fear. This is the fear of what will we do if our tools suddenly stop working. While it is super common to fear the loss of control in this situation, the fact is that these tools rarely spontaneously stop working and I would argue a better solution is to actually build better procedures for what to do in this rare event. In this article, the author repeatedly harps on the concern of what happens if our flight control systems suddenly stop working, will the pilot be able to step in and save everyone?

While this is certainly a terrifying thought to consider that our pilots are slowing losing the skill to fly planes without the support of a computer system, the reality is that this is a very very rare event and the number of crashes and fatalities per passenger-mile traveled has never been lower. Instead, the automation of a once very manual process has removed hundreds of opportunities for human error making a very complex and seemingly dangerous process of launching hundreds of passengers and their luggage into the air atop a giant tank of explosive jet fuel, into a very straight forward, safe, efficient and convenient process that helps moves millions of people around the world every day. While once we were at the whim of the mental and physical state of our pilot (did he have a bit too much to drink last night? did she just have a fight with her spouse? are the pilot and copilot getting on each other's nerves? is he staying focused? does she have a headache? did he forget something? did he lose focus? did she follow all the steps?), we now have a computer program that can fly our planes without any of these issues. With each flight and each update the system becomes more robust and more effective. While we may never fully eliminate the possibility of a computer error happening, overall we are vastly safer than before.

Essentially what I am saying here boils down to a concept called expected value. In probability theory, expected value takes the value of various potential outcomes and discounts it by the probability of that outcome occurring. For instance, if you have an opportunity where there is a 20% chance you will win $10 or a 80% chance you will win $0, the expected value of this opportunity is $2 (20% * $10 + 80% * $0). This way you know that all things considered, you'd expect to make $2 off this opportunity on average if you ran it over and over again. With expected value you could directly compare this to another opportunity (say where you could win $6 with a 50% probability, or $0 with 50% probability) and decide that this new opportunity is a better deal with an expected value of $3 (50% * $6 + 50% * $0). This concept is widely used in many fields including economics, finance and statistics, but humans often have a hard time internalizing it, especially when we are dealing outcomes that have very low probabilities and very extreme values (eg winning the lotto, or dying in a plane crash).

People love playing the lottery because who doesn't want to have a billion dollars? People love to fantasize of what they would do with all that money, how they would change their lives, and how they wouldn't fall into the same trap that almost every lotto winner has fallen into and blow it all in a few years and end up right back where they started. However, there are countless articles that have been written on the mathematics at play. Basically, yes you could win this big prize, but when you weigh in the chances of this actually happening, your expected value on this lotto ticket is often mere pennies. This makes intuitive sense when you step back for a second, because governments all over this country are running lotteries as a way of fund raising, and this only works if they expect to collect more money than they pay out of average. So essentially when you play the lottery, you are agreeing to pay a voluntary tax to the government, yet millions of people do this all the time often in part because they can't fully grok their expected value of each ticket.

Another area where I often feel people muddy the concept of expected value is in the area of GMO food and the impact it is having on society. In many cases, people have are opposed to this concept of "GMO food" because it hasn't been proven to be safe. What they are really saying however is they are concerned about a very small possibility that a very terrible thing could happen (like we given everyone cancer). This gets much more nebulous of course because it is involving probabilities that we aren't really able to accurately quantify, but we have a pretty good idea that this outcome has a pretty small probability because we humans have been consuming these GMO foods for years or even decades with no clear negative outcome yet. What has happened with high frequency however is that these new GMO foods have allowed us to produce more food at lower cost than ever before, allowing us to go further to combat global hunger than ever before and helping raise the standards of living of billions people around the world. In addition, we know that many GMO foods have allowed our farmers to produce their foods more efficiently with less manual work, fewer chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides (which we do know are often extremely bad for people), resulting is lower impact on the environment, fewer acres farmed, and more natural habitat retained. We know that these new GMO crops are often better at resisting extreme weather events (like droughts, unexpected freezes, and floods) and diseases leading to more consistent food output and fewer famines. Overall, I would argue the expected value of these GMO crops is clearly much higher than what came before. However many people fixate on that long tail risk of very low probability outcomes distorting their expectation of the risk associated with these new crops.

Overall with all of these things, I think we need to focus our decisions on what is leading us to an overall higher expected value of outcome for society as a whole, while simultaneous building a safety net of procedures and policies to cover ourselves in the event of a low probability adverse outcome and push our systems to constantly drive down both the probability of those adverse outcomes and the magnitude of impact in the even they occur. In this way we can continue to move society forward and balance our fears of something very bad happening. Regardless, I don't think the claims of this author that our society would be better off by resisting automation holds water and we should still continue to strive to replace dangerous manual tasks (like driving a car) with safer and more consistent automated systems where ever possible.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Do We Need Credit Reform?

The New York Times piece “A Line of Defense Against the Theft of Personal Data” is an attempt at a helpful piece to inform readers of steps they can take to protect themselves in a time of rampant ID theft. Reading it however, I can’t help but be shocked (and maybe a little angry) that this is the world we are living in. Yes, its terrible that certain retailers allowed there systems to be so easily breached and the thieves should be thoroughly punished for their actions, but to me the real crime here is that consumers are left in such a defenseless position to begin with. Given how critical personal credit has become a part of American society, I just cannot believe that we don’t have more simple protections in place.

Where to start? Well a few simple wins could include the following:

Access: To begin with, there should be a simple, free, and always available way to log in and see your credit score, recent credit information requests, and open lines of debt, and creditor comments. These for profit companies are profiting off the data they are collection on consumers and we should have a basic right to directly track and monitor this data. The fact that this information was a black box 20 years ago perhaps made sense given the economics of managing this kind of data, but in this day and age there is no reason that it would be prohibitively expensive to implement this when every retailer, bank and government agency does this already.

Ownership: We should recognize that individuals own their own personal information and they should have a right to remove their own personal information from at credit agency at their own discretion. This helps shift the power dynamic of the agencies relationship with consumers and encourages the agencies to consider the impact of their decisions on one of their key customer groups. Obviously the downside of a consumer removing their personal information from all agencies is that creditors will be unlikely to give out credit, but if the consumer can choose which agency to work with they gain an element of power that they lack currently.

Control: Consumers should be able to opt in to manually approve who is given access to their credit information as well as being able to easily freeze and unfreeze access requests broadly. When a consumer is not actively seeking credit, they should have the ability to lock down their account and rest assured that no identity thief will be able to use their data.

Validation: Consumers should be offered a service to approve all new credit accounts before they are granted. For example, if someone requests for a new Visa account to be opened using my personal information, the credit agency should send me a request for approval for the new credit account, and if I fail to approve the request Visa should not be able to grant the new account. This way you can always ensure that no credit accounts will be opened without your explicit approval.

These are just a couple ideas, but with a few simple changes the risk of having one’s personal data stole can be dramatically reduced. It’s simply unacceptable that we live in a world where people can be ruined by having their identity stolen when this is something we could easily fix. Hopefully someday we’ll do the American thing and put people in control of their own lives again.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Thoughts on the News Industry

I think everyone pretty much agrees that the economics of news making has been going through a long evolution. Several decades ago the newspaper was a lucrative industry that sat at the intersection of two very strong and largely unsated needs: the need of the consumer to get information about the world around them and the need of aspiring companies to educate those consumers on the goods and services they offered. Further through the economics of news acquisition, printing, distribution, and advertiser relationships, the newspaper industry enjoyed a series of simultaneous barriers to entry while these investments drove growing economies of scale. This allowed the a large breadth of local newspapers to flourish without really competing directly and growing profitability across the board.

While for many years the newspaper industry looked nervously to the growing threat of TV news, it was the internet of course that turned the entire business upside down. Suddenly print content became easy to produce and distribute digitally with past investments in print facilities and distribution networks becoming irrelevant almost overnight. The elimination of these barriers meant that just about anyone could produce written content that would be accessible to the masses without acquiring printing facilities and delivery networks and distribution centers and this led to a mass influx of writing and content creation by old and new players. At the same time, the inherent locality of information consumed on a physical medium was eliminated and a consumer could easily browse content from the New York Times, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post, and countless other organizations as easily as the local paper, turning the once largely complementary news players in direct competitors.

This of course led to the general commodification of news as these players competed for the audience’s attention. Since the incremental cost of serving another customer a given article was virtually zero and a fact-based account of the same event from two different news orgs lacked significant differentiation, newspapers were incentivized to price at zero and consumers quickly began to expect free access to the news since why would you pay one company to read about the latest declaration from the White House, when there were countless other sites carrying the exact same story.

At the same time that the ability of newspapers to charge for their content was decimated, their leverage on advertisers was almost completely eliminated. First the internet as a medium for exchange proved vastly superior to the long-standing newspaper classified business and you saw the eliminations of personal ads, real estate listings, ads for consumers reselling stuff including collectibles, cars, and whatnot which all found new homes in focused online sites. While in the past the newspaper had essentially sold these small advertisers access to their consumers, access to consumers was now cheap and plentiful and these classified ad based businesses moved relentlessly into this brave new world.

For more established businesses focused on brand and promotional advertising, they were slower to abandon the newspapers because they still needed a way of capturing the consumers attention and while internet alluded to exciting new ways to capture attention, they were unproven and the infrastructure to execute a campaign was lacking. Then slowly came new tools including display ads with online portals like Yahoo and MSN, Google search and the novel adwords business, the rise of social networks and the ability to execute campaigns through Facebook and Twitter, video ads on YouTube and the like, and finally distributed ad networks across a multitude of sites and blogs and content creators allowing ad networks to follow their targeted consumers from site to site. As consumer identification, tracking and ad serving gets even more sophisticated, big business will become even less dependant on any given source for capturing the consumers attention and newspapers will become just another source of content, competing directly with amateur videos, social conversation, and countless other distractions for the consumer’s attention and advertiser’s dollar.

The evolution of the industry started slow and came in fits and starts, but by the late 2000’s the entire business model of the traditional newspaper had been decimated with news organizations left with little of value to offer either consumers or advertisers. The results were to be expected. Massive drops in subscribers. Massive drops in advertising revenue. Layoffs. The shuttering of newspapers. News organizations desperately experimenting with new business models. Opportunistic billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos acquiring storied brands for a pittance.

However, despite all this change, the tone of discussion in the past few years has begun to shift. The dire accounts of an industry’s death began to wane, and a new optimism began to flourish. Growth areas began to be identified, several large newspaper brands successfully implemented paywalls and began acquiring a growing subscriber base. Digital ad revenues began growing and offsetting the continued decline of print. And finally a handful of brands like the New York Times and the Guardian have begun to look ascendant again. What has changed?

Well the first thing to think about is how newspapers began to combat the commodification of the news. Almost anyone can accurately report what new statement was made by Obama in the White House press conference, or what were the earning results were announced by a major corporation, or the details of a major crimes, so as a result the internet is flooded with articles that are nearly identical in content. This essentially eliminates any leverage the news organization has to charge for this content because the consumer has plenty of substitutes. But not all news reporting fits into the vein.

Analysis and Opinion: While almost anyone can recount facts in an article, it is much more challenging to provide compelling analysis of those facts and extract meaning from the information provided. Effective analysis requires deep knowledge of a topic, the ability to identify the larger forces at work in a situation, and the ability to articulate these ideas clearly and concisely. As consumers have faced a deluge of free information from the internet they increasingly see value in someone who can compile all this information for them and just tell them what it means. Based on this, it’s not surprising that The Economist, for instance, which is entirely focused on analysis and opinion has enjoyed consistent worldwide growth throughout the entire time period where traditional newspapers have struggled.

In addition, this emphasis on analysis has helped lead to the rise of the celebrity journalist. The nature of analysis is incredibly personal to the thought process and views of the author and consumers are quite aware of this. As a result people like Nate Silver, Cliff Mass, David Brooks, Kara Swisher, Tyler Cowen, Ezra Kline, and others have become news brands in their own right and command increasing influence both with their audiences and with the news organizations that support them.

Credibility: One consequence of the lowering of the barriers of entry for news production is that anyone can easily get into the game and they don’t always hold their work to the same standards that consumers might expect. In an effort to capture a bit of the consumers attention, some news sites will resort to tactics like playing to the consumer’s fears and ignorance, playing to their personal biases, or just plain lying. Without context, a consumer has a very difficult time assessing whether a given article is correct, contains bias, or is otherwise dependable. As a result of this confusion, hardly a day goes by without spotting numerous posts on my FB feed by unsuspecting people who not only read and believed a less than credible news account, but further shared the account with their friends.

With the big news brands however, the consumer can at least rest assured that they have a pretty good idea of what exactly they are reading. With the New York Times for instance, they can have faith that the paper has probably fact checked the article, that more than one person at the paper has signed off on that authenticity of what is being reported, and that while there may be a slight liberal bias in the reporting, it will generally report what actually happened. Similarly the WSJ, the Guardian, and other brands offer the same stamp of credibility. Interestingly a few brands such as Forbes and Seeking Alpha have not guarded their reputation for credibility attempting instead to become open platforms in a grab for long tail content creation and I am interested to see how they manage this loss of credibility in the future.

Investigative Reporting/Original Content: Investigative reporting has always been a mainstay of big newspapers and I suspect this will become even more so in the future. While almost anyone can reiterate their thoughts on the news that has been posted broadly online, not anyone can marshal the resources to do a long term investigation on a novel subject. Researching stories deeply often involves weeks or months of time, travel to various locations, the ability to gain access to key players, and a network of sources to help reporters identify where a new story may lie. All of this takes economic support from a news organization until the time in which the reporting will hopefully pay off. Similar to the dynamics of the research of new pharmaceuticals, many of these investigations may not pay off at all, so a news organization becomes essentially an insurance pool for this research with highly successful blockbuster reports helping fund the cost of failed or less popular ventures. All of this helps build a base of differentiation for the newspapers reporting that is not easily duplicated by other competitors.

Filtering/Curation: While there is nearly unlimited information available in the wild internet, it takes time and energy to search and browse this content and often time is wasted consuming trivial content that doesn’t offer the consumer much benefit. This has led many consumers to place increasing value in curation, as individuals take on the role of sampling content on behalf of the consumer and helping them identify what is most important. For instance I often turn to The Browser and RealClearMarkets as aggregators that I count on to surface quality journalism for me rather than diving deep into Google News. Big news organizations are defacto curators, leveraging the limited display space on their site to merchandize the most compelling content they offer and focus the consumers attention on what matters. In this way the big news brands become dependable as a place where a consumer can turn and get the most important information currently available without expending too much energy on search and browsing.

All of these trends are ways in which the big news paper brands are starting to shift leverage in their direction. As they gain leverage as a source for compelling analysis and opinion, home to the most thoughtful writers, defend and build their reputation for credibility, invest in novel investigation and reporting, and ultimately become the defacto source a consumer can turn to find the signal in the noise, they are creating a product that consumers are willing to pay for. And now that the big news organizations have made the jump to limiting their content to paying subscribers they are gaining the resources to further invest in their organization leading to greater and greater differentiation from the broader news market. To compound this, as the audience at brands such as the NYT and WSJ reach even greater levels, they are able to offer a compelling value proposition to advertisers above and beyond what they can get from broadly advertising on the internet.

So where is this all heading? To me the obvious trajectory of the industry now is for more and more influence to coalesce around a handful of super properties that eventually build a wall of differentiation around their content with comprehensive coverage, depth and analysis, and a reputation for credibility. While consumers may be willing to pay for access to a handful of content providers, they are unlikely to pay for dozens or more of new sources. As consumers decide which new source to subscribe to, they are most likely to pick the ones who offer the most compelling content and the best value, suggesting a natural filtering to the best brands. Certainly for national, global, business, tech, health, science, sports, lifestyle and politics coverage among others, the scale benefits of a massive news brand with the resources to dive deep are apparent. To the degree that there is differentiation, I would suspect it comes more in properties specializing one of the specific genres of news rather than in affiliations with specific geographic locations.

It is less clear to me how local news coverage will pan out since the scale benefits of a massive news brand don’t work as directly. Effective coverage of local news requires people on the ground in each market with a specialized understanding of that market, while the demand for that coverage is limited to a relatively small subset of consumers. However my anecdotal evidence in Seattle has been of a level of superior local coverage through passionate neighborhood blogs while the city papers continue to expend resources on non-local coverage they lack a competitive advantage in resulting wide ranging and largely mediocre coverage across the board. Interestingly, the local TV news stations seem to be less beholden to the idea that they have to offer a comprehensive source of news and have generally been more adept at pivoting into the new online news environment and focusing heavily on local news and conversation.

I do see one big opportunity to disrupt this trajectory however through the creation of a collective subscription service for news consumption a la Netflix. Assuming this third party site could focus on helping the consumer to organize and consume media from a wide range of sources, a subscription to this kind of platform could offer a superior news consumption experience. Further this kind of system would help a consumer to effectively sample from a wider range of news organizations than he would be willing to maintain subscriptions to directly, thus helping foster a more diverse and less concentrated news ecosystem than would otherwise result.

Also much coverage of the news industry seems to focus on the growing sophistication of the advertising products that news organizations are offering their advertisers, in an ongoing attempt for these organizations to re-create the dynamic of times past. While I applaud this innovation generally, I am not sure I am fully convinced that owning the relationship of advertisers is the future of news organizations. I could foresee a future where news organizations cease expelling resources on this side of the business and contract it out to other specialized organizations who focus exclusively on ad monetization and manage this business across a wide range of properties. This would greatly simplify the news business and allow them to focus on their one key competitive advantage which is building compelling content to attract a growing share of the worlds attention.

Regardless of this, the one thing that is clear is that the news industry, like most every other industry, is going through significant change and there is no indication that this is going to slow down anytime soon. However, there is much about this change to be optimistic about and I look forward to seeing how things play out.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Idle thoughts on personal development

I’ve been thinking a lot about what are the stages of development through which people move during their time on earth and what does it mean to develop as a person. Where are we going and what are we working towards? As I see it there are basically 7 stages through which a person can move during their life and the time spent in each stage has changed through history as the world itself has evolved. In my view the stages are as follows:
The Animal -> The Laborer -> The Engineer -> The Salesman -> The Leader -> The Philosopher -> The Transcended

0. The Animal - I call this stage zero, because by definition I see this as pre-human. This is basically a state in which the entity does not have any conscious understanding of the world in which it lives and instead acts based on unconscious instincts built up through the power of evolution and countless generations before who lived or died by their actions. As a result of these instinctual directives, the actions of an Animal are generally beneficial and through effort the Animal can prosper.

1. The Laborer - I view this as the first truly human stage and is defined by a conscious understanding of the world in which an entity lives. A Laborer is able to observe the world in which it resides and come to see the forces that are at work in the world. Through recognizing the power of these forces a Laborer can consciously align its efforts with these forces and use this leverage to improve it’s life.

2. The Engineer - This stage is the next step beyond just recognizing the world around one, but actually understanding why the world functions the way it does and what steps can be taken to change the world. Essentially this is the state of understanding where one is able to use their labors to change the world to make it a better place.

3. The Salesman - This is the stage where one uses the power of persuasion to align other individuals labors towards ones own goals to make the world a better place. This allows one to affect far greater change than can be accomplished individually and begin to gain benefits from the powers that come from cooperation such as specialization and trade and the sharing of knowledge.

4. The Leader - This is the stage where one builds an organization of individuals with a shared vision of what constitutes a better world and these individuals willing coordinate their efforts to help make this vision a reality.

5. The Philosopher - This is the stage where an individual redefines what constitutes a better world and helps others to see the value of this new vision.

6. The Transcended - This is the state where an individual transcends from the constraints of the world and one’s quality of life becomes independent from the world around it.

Interestingly I think you can also see a corollary of these stages a person travels through in their lifecycle with the Animal stage generally tying to pre-birth, the Laborer representing the stage of an infant who gradually learns how various actions result in various outcomes, the Engineer stage representing childhood and adolescence and increasingly sophisticated understanding of the world through education, the Salesman stage being that of a young adult starting a new career and seeking a spouse, the Leader stage coming in middle age as one moves into management and building a family, the Philosopher stage in retirement a time of thought and reflection and the dispensing of much advice, and finally transcension in death.

From an economic perspective, there also seems to be a pattern of increasing gains in both income and general quality of life through each progressive stage of development. And many people spend much of their life trying to move up the economic scale by basically shifting from one stage to the next through their career development.

What does it all mean though? I am not really sure. On one hand it seems to plot a route through life that makes sense and seems worthy of following, but on the other hand each step appears to be a milestone on the route to the eventual end which seems scary and perhaps worth putting off. I do though have many questions: Are some stages better than others? Is there a benefit from moving through some stages faster? Should one try to rush through the early stages and idle in the later ones, or vice versa? If each stage is indeed better than the ones before it and as a result a state of transcension is *best*, can one achieve a state of transcension through means other than death? All questions which I have no idea how to answer, but are interesting to consider.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Top Movies of 2013

So it's that time of the year again and after watching 60 new movies from 2013, I have compiled by top movies of the year list.

This process is always extremely difficult because movies are great in so many different ways and through a complex interaction of the movie itself, the situation I found myself in while watching, the people I was with, the mood I was in, and countless other factors some movies were able to make a connection while others fell flat and lifeless. I don't doubt for a moment that the list below is biased by my own experiences, yet at the same time a quality film is one that is primed to make a connection and often can burn through whatever else is going on in your life. Regardless, these are the movies I liked and the ones that I felt are deserving of recognition.

Before getting to the list, I should call out that, as with every year, there were many movies that I simply wasn't able to see in a timely manner and as such their lack of presence on this list is through no fault of their own. A few notable misses that I am aware of include Mud, Spectacular Now, Dallas Buyers Club, Philomenia, Nebraska, Una Noche and The Past. I also viewed many summer blockbusters this year which while hard to compare to the films below are quite enjoyable themselves. Two notable callouts that I felt were especially enjoyable was Star Trek: Into Darkness and Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Finally, among the many films I see not all are gems and each year a small handful are just painful to watch. This year the worst of the worst that I saw was Jack the Giant Slayer which was a take on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale with triple threat of a boring story line, horrid acting, and some of the worst special effects I've seen since the 90s. I literally have no idea how they managed to spend $200MM on this film.

Now on to the movies, here are my top 20 films in descending order:

20. Spring Breakers 6/10

19. Bling Ring 6/10

18. I Declare War 6/10

17. This is the End 6/10

16. All is Lost 6/10

15. Enough Said 7/10

14. Short Term 12 7/10

13. C.O.G. 7/10

12. Kings of Summer 8/10

11. Blue Jasmine 8/10

10. Stuck in Love 8/10

09. Captain Phillips 8/10

08. The Way Way Back 8/10

07. Saving Mr. Banks 8/10

06. The Place Beyond the Pines 8/10

05. The Wolf of Wall Street 8/10

04. Gravity 8/10

03. 12 Years a Slave 9/10

02. American Hustle 9/10

01. Her 9/10

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Albums of 2013

Top 10:

01. The Naked and Famous - In Rolling Waves (video)

02. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe (video)

03. Bear Mountain - XO (video)

04. Active Child - Rapor (EP) (audio)

05. One Republic - Native (video)

06. Capital Cities - In a Tidal Wave of Mystery (audio)

07. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (video)

08. Disclosure - Settle (video)

09. Bastille - Bad Blood (audio)

10. Haerts - Hemiplegia (EP) (audio)

And 10 More:

11. Rudimental - Home
12. Empire of the Sun - Ice on the Dune
13. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
14. Phantogram - Phantogram (EP)
15. Phoenix - Bankrupt!
16. MS MR - Secondhand Rapture
17. Sky Ferreira - Ghost (EP)
18. Icona Pop - Iconic (EP)
19. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
20. Fitz and the Tantrums - More than just a Dream