Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cathy Young cannot be serious

Cathy Young is a Contributing Editor at Reason Magazine and a columnist for the Boston Globe. She specializes in what might be called "enlightened center" articles. She takes a particular, controversial, issue - say, atheism - and says that both sides are wrong. On the one hand, blah, blah, blah. But on the other hand, blah, blah, blah. If everyone respects everyone else and is as reasonable as is she, everything will be ok. You can check out some of her recent work here.

Now, since Young is (seemingly) intelligent and writes fairly well, her strategy is pretty effective, if overly formulaic. And occasionally, she advocates on behalf of very interesting, very unpopular causes - such as fathers' rights (see here and here) - which, in my mind, reflects well upon her.

But, as might be expected of someone who so obviously strives to present a balanced view of every issue, Young sometimes presents or interprets evidence in questionable ways in order to make her point. A perfect case in point is the absolute laugher that appears in Young's recent article on criticism of Islam. Young, of course, believes that reasonable criticism of Islam is justified, but going overboard is uncalled for. And, as usual, liberals and conservatives are both wrong. Liberals are too hesitant to criticize Islam, and conservatives too eager.

Young's problem is that in order to paint conservatives as too extreme in their denunciations of Islam or Muslims, she must demonstrate that they are overreacting to the danger that Muslims represent. In attempting to do so, she says this :

In the United States, where the social and economic structures are far more flexible and more conducive to the integration of immigrants than in most of Europe, Muslim radicalism has not been a serious problem.
Sure, Muslim radicalism hasn't been a serious problem in America. Wait, wasn't there that one problem a few years back? I can't seem to remember exactly what it was. Something about some buildings somewhere in the Wall Street area. Whatever it was, I guess it must not have been too serious; either that, or it had nothing to do with Muslim radicalism.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Superman" Sucks. (No worries, I can't possibly spoil this movie).

I know that I must weigh my words carefully in this venue. There are, literally, throngs of people who hang on my every word and await my guidance as a night watchman awaits the dawn, a night watchman the dawn. Careers hang in the balance as I make my opinions known. Yet, in the end, I have absolutely no hesitation as I tell you -


Seriously. Think Judge Dredd. Heaven's Gate. Waterworld. Ishtar. Grease 2. I shudder as I contemplate just how difficult it will be to describe how much this movie sucks. No joke, I feel like I need to say the Yom Kippur hineni prayer before I begin. For the unitiated, that's a prayer sung by the cantor ("here I am, unworthy in deeds...") in which he expresses his unworthiness to stand before God and intercede on behalf of the congregation; the cantor humbly begs that God allow him to fulfill his task and not punish the congregation on account of his shortcomings. I ask for no less from the Almighty in this particular instance.

I guess I need to start somewhere, so here goes:

(1) One nit-picky point from the opening. Of course, had the movie been good, or even decent, or even watchable, I wouldn't mention it - nor, likely, would I remember it. But, given how much the movie sucked, this item presciently foreshadows the disaster ahead.

The format of the opening credits is just retarded. They attempt to wow you with these special effects (more on special effects later, by the way); the names of all the directors, producers, and other idiots come out at you in 3-D. It is somewhat cool - once. After about five minutes of the same ridiculous graphic, it seems not so much cool as gimmicky and stale. Much like the rest of the film proves to be.

(2) The dialogue in the movie stands out for its consistent ridiculousness. At one "dramatic" point (and this movie tries sooo hard, and so terribly, to be dramatic), when Lois is first alone with Superman after his unannounced 5-year absence, she hugs him and says, slowly, "I forgot how warm you are." And then they fly off silently.

I forgot how warm you are?! What is he, a pair of fucking flannel pajamas? I forgot how warm you are?! The line elicited at least 5 snorts from the general vicinity in which I was sitting.

You know, I usually don't like when critics pick out one line from a book or movie and tear it apart. I mean, every work has some line that can be criticized. How does a reader know if one line accurately reflects an entire work? But what can I tell you - in this case, that one line perfectly and fully reflects the bizarre, stilted, downright scripted interaction between the characters.

One other line comes to mind. After Superman recovers from his injuries towards the very end of the movie, he comes to visit Lois (who is living with some other dude) and thanks her. Lois asks, "Will I see you around?" To which, Superman replies, slowly, dramatically, "I'm always around," and flies away. More snorts.

(3) While we're talking about the ending, it might make sense to note here that the ending juuuuust doeeeeeesn't eeeennnd. The movie lasts two-and-a-half hours that feel like five.

It is a close call, but the last 30 minutes of the movie seem slightly more interminable than the first 30 minutes. Nothing happens during either of these two parts of the movie (and only minimally more during the middle hour and a half).

(4) The evil plot Superman must contend with just doesn't make sense; honestly, I don't even know if I can describe what the basic plot is. Lex Luther is trying to...what exactly? To build a continent out of alien crystals that will crowd out other continents by submerging them beneath rising oceans, so that people will be forced to purchase real estate on Luther's privately owned landmass? Whaaaaaat? I swear, it's like a group of Hollywood/NYTimes liberals attempted to package all of the worlds worst dangers - global warming, Israeli occupation, resource-hungry American neo-colonialists, and lack of affordable housing in Manahttan - into one terrifying plot. Superman, save us!

(5) And speaking of Lex Luther's asinine plot, can someone PLEASE explain to me what is so cool about the formation of crystal edifices? As best I can tell, the entire special effects portion of the movie's $260 million budget - that's $260 million, the most expensive movie budget in history - was earmarked for scenes featuring the emergence of stalactites and stalagmites from a crystal pilfered from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Seriously, does it really cost $260 million to make scenes that look pretty much like this:

Wouldn't it just have been easier - and, say, oh, a hundred million dollars cheaper - to just shoot on location in any of the thousands of sites worldwide that actually look (and much more realistically) like the environment these idiot spent millions to create? And, to return to a theme mentioned earlier, does nobody realize that what is sort-of cool the first time gets really, really old by the fifth? I mean, is there some closet constituency of geology enthusiasts among the comic-book-geek crowd that the studio is trying to attract?

And these crystal structures, by the way, are the same pieces of real estate that Lex intends to sell to vacationers and others looking for a place to live. Once again - whaaaat?

Aright, I can't write anymore about this movie.

I'll close with this. "Superman Returns" is so bereft of redeeming features that I feel almost compelled to recommend seeing it; it's not every day that you can personally witness a quarter-billion dollars being flushed down the toilet.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Another Qualified Tutor

See, you got to wonder what these people are thinking. If you're seeking a job in education, literacy would seem to be an essential asset. Right? I mean, look at this:

I am a teacher with duel certifications in elementary education and special education.

Great, just what we need - retards running around with swords.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Update on Omnivision

This stock is always interesting. Margin buyers beware.

Ok, you might recall that I predicted last week that Omnivision Technologies (OVTI) would slightly exceed estimates for the quarter just past and would increase guidance significantly for the current quarter. I'm happy to report that this is, more or less, what happened during their earnings call this past Friday (June 16).

(For last quarter, revenues beat Street estimates by 5.5%, and earnings exceeded Street estimates by about 2.5%. For the current quarter, OVTI estimated that it would beat Street estimates of revenues by 4-11%, and beat Street estimates of earnings by 4-13%. [And if, as it has the last few quarters, OVTI performs better than it says it will in its estimates, the upside will be even higher]).

Moreover, the normally cautious CEO forecast "a return to solid sequential growth in the July quarter, throughout the second half of calendar 2006 and beyond."

Sounds great, right? Think again. I am unhappy to report that the stock has lost a whopping18.6% of its value since the earnings call (Update: but recovered a small bit on Wednesday).

So what's going on? Well, I'll try to make this factual, though it will be quite obvious where I stand on this matter.

The morning after earnings, two analysts - one from Neeedham, one from Baird - published concerns about margin erosion/falling prices, a supposed glut of handsets in Taiwan, and over-concentration of business in China - all of which, in their view, augured poorly for the company and its stock. These same two analysts, interestingly enough, did not downgrade their rating on the company and in fact raised their guidance based on the upbeat forecast given during the earnings call. Making matters even stranger is the fact that the first 2 of these 3 issues were specifically dealt with in great detail during the earnings, and management explained exactly why they should not be cause for concern. The third issue was brought up as an analyst (seemingly) innocuously asked how much of the company's business for the quarter had been in China. It was not at all clear where he was going with the question and what he thought of the answer - did the 28% (as compared to 20% the previous quarter) in China concern him or please him? Well, he didn't ask a follow-up question, so - conveniently enough - management was not given an opportunity to respond to the matter.

Now, that same Friday morning, Morgan Keegan and Merriman came out positively. In their view, the earnings call went very well and, to put is simply, the future looks bright. (Indeed, anyone who listened to the conference call cannot help but note that virtually every questioner congratulated management on a succesfull quarter and, often, on the promising guidance as well). Over the weekend, JPMorgan reiterated its positive rating on the company and, given the precipitous dop in price, named it one its top 3 recommendations in the sector. JPM also wrote about a response from OVTI management saying, essentially, that the theories leading to the negative evaluations were based on false assumptions. Earlier today, AMTech research put out a note consistent with JPM's. Here are excerpts from the JPM and AMT notes.


We conducted a one-on-one post earnings conference call with theOVTI CFO, post
• Unsurprisingly, the company is disappointed by the market reaction to its F4Q results and guidance. OVTI believes it is winning market share in all handset segments, though particularly strong in budget (VGA) and high-end (2MPx). Handset inventory issues in Asia, if they are happening, are not related to the cameraphone subset of the market, in their view. On the contrary, OVTI believes the camera-phone products may be causing slower sell through of standard (non-camera) handsets. In other words, ovti believes the market is misreading their situation, confusing it withother handset component suppliers in Asia.
• OVTI stated on the conference call that 28% of sales are into China. However the company cannot determine which handsetsthe product is incorporated into, nor where the product finally gets shipped. Hence, it is not appropriate to conclude that its business is increasingly focused on emerging markets (market sees related risks to gross margins).


OVTI: OmniVision: Concerns of China exposure overblown and misunderstood -

(21.85)Amtech says discussions with various clients have led them to believe that investors perceive that OVTI has too much China exposure. The firm does not believe this to be the case. They note OVTI ships its die into module makers who in turn ship to their end customer, a cell phone OEM/ODM. They also sayOVTI counts the module maker as its customer. If the module makers happen to be in China, it counts the revenue from China. However, they say this module maker could be shipping the finished module to some other country for final cell phone assembly. They note that in the April 2006 quarter business from Hong Kong has ramped down as Taiwan and China have picked up. They do not view the low-cost handset issues in emerging countries as having any bearing on OVTI since most of the low-cost GSM handsets do not have cameras in them.

So, according to management, all of the issues raised are actually non-issues. If the analyst had simply asked the company what the implications were of OVTI's increasing business in China, the company would have given its perfectly plausible answer. In plain English - just because OVTI is physically shipping components to China (so that OVTI's customers, technically, are Chinese) does not mean that the phones being built are being sold in the Chinese market (whose consumers tend toward cheaper, lower margin phones). So Nokia, for example, might pay a Chinese manufacturer to assemble even its most expensive phones, in China, before they are sold anywhere in the world - in the US, Europe, etc. In such a case, OVTI's customer is the Chinese manufacturer, even though the phone will not be sold in China. And, as OVTI stated, according to their data, it is precisely because of the success of camera phones that there is an inventory glut in parts of Asia. The glut is of low-end, non-camera phones, which nobody wants to buy. And insofar as falling prices and margins, the company acknowledged that margins had fallen slightly during the quarter due to their growing share of the low-end market, but they assured the market that they will remain between 35-40% for the next couple of quarters and will tend to increase as handset makers shift towards OVTI's next generation of (more advanced, more expensive) chips.

Aright, I'm sick of writing. Maybe I'll add a bit more soon. Bottom line: I stand by my earlier evaluation and prediction. I would strongly recommend buying more here (with a stop no greater than 10%).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More Grammar Fun (by request)

yip, it's true. someone actually requested more posts on grammar. what can i say? this is a service-oriented business. so here we go.

1) yet another flawed comparison in the NYT :
But unlike Europe, McDonald's revival in the United States came in recent months partly because of the enormous success of the Dollar Menu, where all items, like double cheeseburgers and fried chicken sandwiches, cost $1.

Hmm. So what's causing Europe's revival in the United States? Or is it the Europe revival in the US? Why can't these writers freaking get it right?! And while we're discussing this sentence, what the heck is the "where" doing there? Is "the Dollar Menu" a small French village known for discount eateries?

2) Ok, this one isn't the fault of the Times. The paper is just quoting Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talking about the arrest for DUI of former Duke basketball player JJ Redick. But it's still amusing.
"J. J. knows he made a mistake and regrets it," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. "As his friend and his coach, he has my total support."

Ok, Redick is talented, but how is he his own friend and coach? And what's the connection between Redick being his own friend/coach and the support of Krzyzewski?

Aright, once I'm doing this, I might as well go all out. Here are a couple of signs that have made me laugh:

a) On the entrance to the Young Israel of Sunny Isles in Florida:
"Please close door when exiting." Ouch.

b) Surgeon General's Warning:
"Pregnant women should not drink alcohol because of the risk of birth defects."
Ok. So why should pregnant women drink alcohol?

c) Sign in UPENN Library:
"15 minutes before closing, an alarm will sound, and the lights will temporarily go out. Wait until the lights come back on and leave the building."

Sad to say, but I've been in the library quite a few times at closing; and I have witnessed the lights go out and come back on. I am still (eagerly) waiting to see the lights leave the building. Maybe this will be the year (fingers crossed).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I'm sorry, what was your name again?

Just in, from the "Holy crap, i can't believe this is real" department:

Americans paying $3 per gallon at the pump have it relatively cheap when compared with prices globally, say oil and gas company executives who defend their record profits as essential to maintaining supplies.

In parts of Europe and elsewhere in the West, gasoline prices are more like $5 per gallon to $7 per gallon, said the chairman of ConocoPhillips Co., James J. Mulva.
Mulva! Mulva? Poor guy. Just think about it. Nice little Jimmy Mulva. Probably grew up in the South somewhere, maybe in a single-parent household. Ever since his first sex-ed class in junior high, he's dealt with the taunting. It bothered him at first, but he hung tough. Sticks and's the "inside" that really matters...he tried out alll the hollow platitudes. None of them really helped. In the end, he just accepted it and waited for people to grow up.

Eventually, they did. And the memories started to fade. Like a recovering alcoholic emerging from years of hazy stupor, Jimmy Mulva finally reclaimed his life. He strung together months, then years - and finally decades - without any reminder of his schoolboy shame, or the shame at having been so ashamed, which lasted almost as long. Indeed, Jimmy Mulva even made something of himself, working his way up through the oil industry. It became clear that he would one day be a CEO. It was just a matter of time.

And that's how things looked until March 18, 1993, when the window into little Jimmy Mulva's tortured past was wrenched open. Just picture the scene in Jimmy Mulva's office that Friday morning. "Hey Agnes, could you have those reports by lunch today, please?" "Yeah, sure, Mr., uh, Mr. Mulva...phhhhphhh...whatever you say." Strange, thinks Jimmy Mulva, wonder what's gotten into Anges.

And this scene is repeated again. And again. And again. By Jimmy's superiors. By his associates. Even the mailroom clerks can't conceal a smile as they hand Jimmy his mail. Indeed, Jimmy is almost certain that he hears the pizza delivery boy call him "Bovary" under his breath.

And that's when Jimmy realizes that his past is the past no longer. No, worse. It's still his past, but now it is his present as well. And all the old feelings storm back into his head. Jimmy Mulva, butt of jokes. Jimmy Mulva, the freak. Jimmy Mulva, loser. This time, however, the recovery is somewhat easier. Adults, after all, (often) tire of low-brow comedy more quickly than do young children. And in time, little Jimmy Mulva puts the flareup behind him once.

Until this one sadistic grad student dug it all up once more...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Really Geeky Grammar Point (and Zarqawi Dead!!!)

Ok, I don't know why I'm writing this. Probly I'm just pissed that this douchebag writes for the NYT and I don't. But shouldn't we expect better from America's preeminent newspaper? Amidst his review of the Motorola Q cell phone, David Pogue makes the following incisive comparision:
Unfortunately, this software's designers must believe that you bill by the hour; getting anything done on this phone requires more steps than the Empire State Building.

Hmm. How might we address the problem here? Oh, I know. "Unfortunately, this sentence's writer must believe that you don't speak English very well; understanding the comparison he makes in his sentece requires more information than a phone book." Huh? My comparison doesn't make sense? Well, of course it doesn't, because I didn't clarify what I was talking about. And that is a good description of (one of) Pogue's problems as well.

Does he mean - (1) that getting anything done on the phone requires a greater number of steps (meaning "elements of a proces") than the number of steps (meaning "incrementally elevated units of a staircase") the builders of the Empire State Building needed when they were building it? [or perhaps even with regard to the Building, he is referring to the number of steps (i.e. process steps) that it took to build it?] (2) that getting anything done on the phone requires a consumer to endure more steps (meaning "elements of a proces") than the number of steps (meaning "incremental elevated units of a staircase") endured by one who climbs up the stairwell of the Empire State Building?

And if (2) is the intended meaning, as I believe it is, what verb is supposed to be modifying the latter part of the sentence - "requires"? But that doesn't make sense. It's not the building that requires the steps; it's the one who goes up the steps who is required to traverse the steps. Basically, the whole comparison is a huge freaking mess. Maaaan, how do these idiots keep their jobs? For those interested in more material on incomplete or unclear comparisons, I recommend this
little quiz.

(I dedicate this post to Ethan Keller and the noble editors of Kedma, whose understanding of "copy-editing" is reminiscent of the rental place's understanding of "reservations" in "The Alternate Side" episode of Seinfeld [Episode 28: Season 3, Episode 11]).

Zarqawi dead?!! God bless our men and women in uniform!!!!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Introduction to "Stunt Doubles"

For those of you who did not go to college with me, the concept of a "stunt double" (who doesn't perform stunts) may sound foreign. But please do not be alarmed; it is easy to understand. The basic idea is to do the following: 1) Identify two or more (unrelated) people who look alike; 2) Display pictures of those people; 3) Convince others that you have in fact come up with a "stunt double" and are not retarded.

I should note that the subjects of a "stunt double" claim may be famous people or not-famous people, or a combination of famous and not-famous people. Today, I will present our first example, involving two famous people: comedian Louis CK (ok, perhaps "famous" is pushing it a bit) and financial analyst/columnist Jim Cramer.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


For only $50/hour, you can have this genius tutor your kid:

I want to help your child succeede in school.

Uh, yeah, me too. Maybe you can help my kid learn how to use Spellcheck?

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