One Year Out: Lessons from the Road (of Life)

It’s been about a year since I graduated from BC and stepped into the real world. In that time, I’ve learned a few things about success and happiness. So here are my words of wisdom, for whatever its worth:

Most people have no idea what they’re doing. They’re just good at hiding it- So don’t get intimidated by age, titles, and long monologues with big words. They’re probably just as clueless as you.

Keep in touch with as many people as you can– It’s easier said than done but a strong network is worth the effort. Even if you don’t see someone on a regular basis, try to remember one thing about that person, whether it’s family, a hobby, or their hometown. It shows that you cared enough to remember that fact.

Organization is key- Come up with a system for juggling multiple responsibilities (work, family, friends, etc.) Make calendars and to-do lists.

Never leave home without some cash in your pocket– A surprising amount of places still don’t accept credit card.

Know your limits, then push them– But not too hard. Life is a marathon and its just as important not to burn yourself out.

Attitude is the one skill you always have– From day one, bring a positive, enthusiastic attitude.

Take care of the people that take care of you– I’m talking about waiters, admins, and anyone else that provides you a service. Tip them and ask them how their day went. You never know when that goodwill will come in handy. I stayed at a hotel for several months and got to know the room service staff fairly well. One night, the kitchen mixed up my order and the delivery lady caught it right away.

Surround yourself with the right people– Because the right people will always have your back, no matter how dire the situation

Figure out what makes you happy– I don’t agree with people who say your profession must be what makes you happy. In a perfect world, yes, everyone would love their job. However, it is more important that your job allows you to do what you love.

Figure out what’s important to you– And make sure everything you do is aligned with the pursuit of those things

A Defense of Business Majors

I read a recent piece from The New York Times today questioning the rigorousness of undergraduate business degrees. Basically, the article presented evidence that business classes are soft, students don’t learn as much as those of other majors, and a traditional liberal arts education holds greater value. I also saw another article raising some of the same questions about MBA degrees. You can obviously see my interest in this debate. As a business major concentrating in finance, I feel like it is my duty to defend my degree’s honor and provide a rebuttal to these arguments.

For the past four years, I have been a student at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, which BusinessWeek recently ranked #9 in the country. The majority of my experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I have nothing but the utmost respect for my professors and fellow classmates. Yes, there were some really easy classes along the way, but I think you will find those in any major. For the most part, my professors have challenged me with the course material but they also made it relevant by tying it to current and real life events. I went from knowing nothing about business to being able to invest my own money and speak intelligently about the markets and the financial crisis. And yes, our coursework involves a lot of in class discussions and group work, but I think the point of all this is to prepare students for life in the workforce. Many of my Arts & Sciences friends tell me they wish they had more opportunities for group work in their classes. The ability to work effectively with others is a valuable and highly underrated skill in almost any career. The students that I have had to work with have been absolutely professional and accountable. I have rarely had issues with inequitable distributions of work.

I do think there are two broader issues that both the Times and Poets and Quants articles failed to address. First, it ignored the economics of higher education. College is really expensive. For all majors. Unfortunately, not all majors are created equal in terms of employability. Therefore it is not unreasonable for a student and his family to choose a major at least partly because it is perceived to have a better chance of maximizing his future income. I wonder sometimes how a teacher or social worker (both of whom I admire greatly) will ever pay off his or her student loans from a 4 year private institution on their modest salaries. This is a problem that has potentially serious economic and social consequences. I am starting to agree with Peter Thiel that there is a higher education bubble. (Note that I say the decision is based on perceived future income. As the article noted, the average starting salary of business majors is higher, but the gap narrows as time goes on. However, perception is just as important as reality when you’re a college freshmen and all you’re going to see is the six figure Wall Street salaries and bonuses, even though few students will actually get those jobs).

The second issue has to do with MBAs. I do not have an MBA so I cannot claim to be an expert on the subject. I have spoken with older folks both with and without MBAs about the issue. As a Business Analyst at Deloitte, I am also obligated to get an MBA at some point if I want to stay with the company after a few years. From what I understand, the MBA is as much about the degree itself as it is about having it on your resume. A plain Bachelor’s degree is no longer special; you need an advanced degree to differentiate yourself. For better or worse, having an MBA will help you get a raise, earn a promotion, and in general open up more career opportunities. Therefore some students may be motivated to pursue an MBA not for the learning but simply for the degree. With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder the academic environment at even the top MBA programs has broken down. The devaluation of the Bachelor’s degree and the sustainability of getting more advanced degrees is another serious question that merits more discussion.

I will concede a few points to the writer of the Times article. Business majors are notoriously bad at writing; even we know it. I have been fortunate enough to be an above average writer since elementary school and I have consciously tried to hone that skill in college by writing for the campus newspaper and my blog. BC also has a significant liberal arts core requirement which forces all students to take at least a few classes that require written papers. Still, the writing skills of many business students are woefully underdeveloped. I wouldn’t blame business schools entirely for this failure though; some of the fault has to be placed on the K-12 education system. In my opinion, a high school graduate should be able to construct a coherent essay. Yet despite all the standardized testing from No Child Left Behind, students are coming out of high school without this and other basic skills.

The article also made a point to distinguish between the top undergraduate business programs and lower tier ones. I am grateful to be attending a top notch institution such as BC and perhaps my experience has been more similar to that of the University of Virginia than some of the other schools criticized in the article. Many of my peers are heading to Wall Street, Big Four accounting firms, consultancies, or big name corporations. As the article pointed out, students from lower tier business schools are going into regional banks, insurance companies, or governments. These two groups have different needs and these differences should be reflected in their respective curricula. While I think all students should get the best education possible, the contrast does allude to the need for the right type of education.

Finally, rhetoric tradition requires me to make one completely self deprecating statement to feign modesty and exonerate myself from any shortcomings in my arguments. I have thus far defended the value of an undergraduate business education, in particular my own at BC. In fact I think non-business students should be encouraged to take a few business classes in their four years of college because a lot of concepts are important not just as a job seeker, but as a citizen. At the same time, if I had one academic regret in college, it’s that I never got a chance to double major in a field that either improved my quantitative skills, computer programming ability, or scientific knowledge. I think these skills are complementary and, to borrow one of business school’s favorite words, synergistic with any business education. It is especially for important for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to be on the cutting edge of technology and understand what’s going on. Thus I do think it is important to encourage business students to take plenty of non-business courses.

I’ve ranted on long enough. What do you think? Are undergraduate business and MBA degrees becoming a joke? Or is it part of a larger problem with education? Please comment!

Freshly Pressed

Wow, that was unexpected. After more than a month long hiatus, I tried to get back into blogging with some thoughts on lessons learned from Digg’s failure. Little did I know my ramblings would be picked up by the WordPress editorial staff and”Freshly Pressed” on the WordPress homepage. I’m still not sure what the exact criteria for getting Freshly Pressed are or how my blog post made it on there. I happened to get pressed on the same day as the blog post from that mom with the cross dressing kid. The subject of that post got onto CNN.

I didn’t get that kind of publicity, but what followed for the next 24+ hours was an explosion of activity. In one day, I got nearly 2,000 hits- about a quarter of all the hits I’d gotten in the past 2 years total. I was also flooded with comments on the post and I read every one of them because I manually moderate everything that gets posted. It was incredible that people valued my opinions and somewhat of a validation of the time I’ve spent as a blogger and amateur tech enthusiast.

So what happens from here on out? The Freshly Pressed bump is still going strong four days later with over 100 views. I don’t have any plans to monetize this right now although if I keep getting this level of traffic it may not hurt lol. What I do know is that this blog will remain a mishmash of my travels and activities, rants about my favorite sports teams and TV shows, and occasional insightful analysis into the world of technology and business.

I hope you guys continue to enjoy it and check back for updates!

People actually read this blog!

It’s been over a year since I started this blog with the intention of keeping my friends and family informed of my various travels and adventures away from home. Since then, I’ve also branched out into occasionally writing about sports, technology, or anything else that’s on my mind. So sometimes I wonder who, in addition to my family and friends, actually reads this blog. Well I took a recent look at my blog stats and it looks like I may have more influence or popularity than I initially thought. I was especially surprised when I typed in some of my recent search referrals into Google. Under the queries “lse clubs” and “lse student life,” my post on LSE Student Life shows up on page 2 of the results. And if you type in “kings lse rivalry,” you’ll see me right at the bottom of the first page!

At first I thought perhaps these topics aren’t necessarily popular ones on the web and I rank highly on Google’s algorithms by default. However, I typed “spotify p2p” in and my recent review of the music service showed up on page 3! I would expect this topic to be pretty popular, but there it was.

So what do I conclude from this little experiment? First, I’m going to assume that random people to read my blog because friends and family wouldn’t need to search for it. Since this blog isn’t password protected, I knew this was a possibility and hence I’ve always taken care not to write anything that drastically compromises my security and privacy. Second, while I’m surprised by some of my Google rankings, I’m not reading too much into it. Studies have shown that people usually only click on the top 2-3 search results and very few go beyond the first page. However, that is not to say this blog has no influence at all. Consider the LSE Student Life post. It’s not impossible to imagine a prospective LSE student doing a few searches and clicking on some links further down the page that are not related to the school itself. Also, WordPress does have its own internal blog search engine, and I actually think most of my referrals come from that. The point is, I could very well influence someone’s decision to come to LSE or to use Spotify. That’s the power of the Internet people.

Satire not too far from truth?

Below is a piece of satire I wrote for a creative writing assignment during my junior year of high school. At the time it was meant to be a movie reference filled spoof of 1984 using corporations instead of countries. Last week though, I had to read this article for my Organizational Behavior class at LSE and I was shocked to find a lot of the things I thought I completely made up without any research are actually pretty close to the truth. Scary.

2040: The Wonderful World of Disney

It was a dark, muggy evening in April, and the clocks were striking twenty two.  Wally Simmons slipped back into his apartment at Finding Nemo Village, but he wasn’t quick enough to prevent some of the suffocating heat from entering his air conditioned dwelling.

Inside, Wally took off his ridiculously oversized Goofy suit and tossed it onto his couch.  In the back of the room, his television was blaring out the Disney Channel, the only channel employees ever got.  Wally sighed before pouring himself a cup of bland, decaffeinated coffee.  Ordinarily, he would have been worrying about getting to sleep so he wouldn’t be late for work, but tonight, he was going to commit treason.  Sleep could wait.

Wally turned the TV all the way down, though no one except the executives could turn it off completely.  It would have to do.  He cuddled next to his reading lamp and opened the pamphlet O’Brien had given him today.  This pamphlet was forbidden material.  If the Mouseketeers found him, he would be dragged into Human Resources and “retrained.”  Wally shuddered, but quickly reassured himself that O’Brien was trustworthy and indeed part of the fabled Independent Film Industry.  He began reading:

Warning: What you are about to read is earth shattering and could potentially end your life.  But it’s the truth.  If you can’t handle the truth, then put this pamphlet down and burn it right away.  If you are willing to accept the information on the next few pages, you must also accept a vow to secrecy for the rest of your life.  Thank you.

Wally had already sworn his secrecy to O’Brien in the break room.  He kept reading:

Dear reader: I am delighted that you have seen the light and wish to join the Independent Film Industry (IFI). My name is Morpheus, and on these next few pages, I will show you the truth behind the deceptive lies of the society in which we live in and free your mind from the enslavement of Mickey Mouse.

Around the turn of the millennium, the world was still divided into numerous nations.  But many of the rulers of these nations were mere puppets of the real power brokers: the corporations.  As the third millennium progressed, these corporations merged, took over, or drove their competitors out of business.  In the mid 2020’s, there were three mega corporations left in the world that owned everything: Microsoft, Starbucks, and of course, Disney.  And by everything, I mean everything.  They purchased every single nation in the world, even Canada.  Today, there is no world anymore, only corporations.

Wally paused.  Nothing really new here.  Every Disney employee knew that corporations had displaced the cumbersome and corrupt bureaucracies of the past that had ruled the world.  Still, he kept reading:

We will now focus our attention on Disney, though all three corporations have analogous, if not identical features described below.  The Walt Disney Corporation was originally founded by a humble man named Walt Disney in the 1920s.  His original goal was to bring happiness to the children of the world and help make their fairy tale dreams come true.  After his death, the management of Disney fell into the hands of a group of greedy and power hungry men.  They shamelessly commercialized Disney into a multimedia empire that included TV stations, theme parks, straight-to-video sequels and tons of merchandise.  Worst of all, they perverted Disney’s most famous creation, Mickey Mouse, into a false, all powerful figure whom they hid behind to justify their own selfish actions.

Wally knew the concept of Mickey Mouse well.  The employee hallways were filled with posters of a mouse wearing white gloves, smiling at the viewer with the words “MICKEY MOUSE IS WATCHING YOU” written underneath it.  But thinking back, Wally never recalled actually seeing Mickey in person.  Sure, there were guys dressed up like Mickey, much like himself, who roamed the theme park.  There were also movies and TV specials about him.  But never had Wally actually seen the real Mickey Mouse.

You may also notice that Disney seems to be in a perpetual marketing campaign against Microsoft and Starbucks.  This again is a tactic used by Disney’s board of directors to solidify their authority.  Yes, there is constantly a marketing campaign against Microsoft and Starbucks, but in fact none of the three companies can ever be completely bankrupt or taken over.  They simply have too many assets and resources to be completely driven out of business.  The object of this conflict is not to win over Microsoft or Starbucks, but to keep the salaries of employees in check.  You see, if Disney used all its profits on a marketing war, they wouldn’t have enough money left to improve the standard of living for its workers.

So that’s why he never got a raise during evaluation time, thought Wally.  It was really getting good now.

Here’s another rhetorical question.  Have you ever seen a Microsoft or Starbucks employee?  Probably not, and that’s what management wants.  They want you to think Microsoft and Starbucks are home to some sort of savage sub-human race.  They are not.  In fact, the three companies are almost inherently identical.  Aside from their monopolistic leadership styles, workers for all three companies wear dull, uninspiring uniforms.  Yes, Starbucks sells coffee, but so does Disney in its restaurants.  Yes, Microsoft makes computers, but Disney publishes computer games based on its movies.  You see, we’re not that different all.  But Mickey Mouse and management want us to believe otherwise.  They deceive us with their propaganda and the invention of their own language:  Toonspeak.  This is the type of language that every Disney employee is taught during training.  Everything is said with a smile, and nothing is impossible.  Disney is where dreams come true.  Please, you’re making me sick.  Not everything ends happily ever after.  Movies like the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are lies.  No teenager ever has a midnight curfew, and kisses do not bring people out of comas, no matter how charming the prince is.  That is why the Independent Film Industry is dedicated to making realistic films with real characters and plausible plot lines.

Again, Wally found himself agreeing with the logic of this argument, and admired the author of this pamphlet for his brilliance.

So, right now you are probably ready to take up arms with the Independent Film Industry in its fight against Disney.  Here’s how you can help.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, will involve cutting work, stealing equipment, plagiarizing, pirating, sabotaging, hacking, and maybe even some swearing.  To complete this mission, you will have a basic filming crew, a director, and a laptop to do special effects.  I hope you remembered everything I just said because this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.  5…4…3…2…1

All of a sudden, the pamphlet went up in flames and set off the smoke detector of Wally’s apartment.  At that instant, Wally knew he had fallen into a trap.  The fire department would be arriving within minutes.  Along with them would be the Mouseketeers and a full scale search and investigation of his house.  Sooner or later, they would find the diaries he had been keeping for the past few months.  Wally decided the only thing to do was to run and perhaps make it to the outskirts of the park before they found him.  But his hopes were shattered when his landlord knocked down his door and punched him right in the abdomen.  Wally then felt himself handcuffed and knocked unconscious.

When Wally finally regained consciousness, he found himself lying on his back staring into an abyss of pure darkness.  He tried moving his limbs, but there was some kind of restraining device that prevented any movement.  “Am I dead?” he thought to himself.  “How long have I been unconscious?”  For what seemed like hours, Wally laid there in absolute silence.

“Knock knock.”

The sudden voice startled him.  He tried looking for the speaker, but his eyes could not penetrate the blanket of darkness that surrounded him.  “Who’s there?” he said in panic.  He heard laughter.

“Bond, James Bond,” followed by more laughter.  After that died down, the voice started again.  “Wally, what was Piglet doing in the bathroom?”

Wally was slightly surprised at the mention of his name.  “Who are you?”

“He was looking for Pooh!” replied the voice, followed by more laughter.

Wally mustered up some strength and asked again.  “Who are you?  And where did you learn to tell jokes?  They’re horrible.  First of all, that’s not how you tell a knock-knock joke.  You have to say ‘Bond’ and wait for the listener to ask ‘Bond who’ before saying ‘James Bond.’  And that Pooh joke is so elementary.”

“Hmm, the Force is strong with this one.”

“Who are you?” Wally persisted.

“Wally, I am your father.”





“Cut it out!  Where am I?”

“The land of Mordor.”


“I am darkness.  I am night.  I am Batman!”

“Now this is getting just stupid,” Wally said in disgust.

After a long silence, the voice finally replied, “Okay Wally, you’re right.  No more games.  Pay attention to the man behind the curtain Wally.”  Upon finishing his sentence, a man flipped on a light stepped out from behind a curtain.  Wally recognized the face in horror.


“Yes Wally.  I’m glad you recognize me.  Welcome to my real job Wally.  I don’t work in marketing, but rather in human resources!”

Wally’s heart sunk at the sound of those words.  So O’Brien was on Mickey’s side after all.  He’d fallen into a trap.

“Surprised Wally?  You shouldn’t be.”

“But you!  I trusted you!”

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.  Did you really think you could get away Wally?  You, a loyal employee for all these years must know that Mickey Mouse is all powerful.  There is nothing he or his Mouseketeers can’t see or know.  Did you really think there was an Independent Film Industry?  It was all a legend cooked up by the Mouseketeers to identify dangerous minds like yours.  There is no IFI or Morpheus.  I am Morpheus, I wrote that pamphlet.”

Wally was still stunned with disbelief.  “We have been watching you for a long time Wally, and we don’t like what you’ve been up to.  You’ve broken nearly every rule in the employee manual, and like an idiot, you kept track of it all in a little diary.”

Wally’s spirits sunk again.  So they found it, all the condemning evidence they needed stored neatly in one spiral notebook.

“Let’s take a peek at this diary of yours Wally.  See if you recognize the following passage.  ‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’”

Wally was puzzled.  The words did not ring a bell at all.

“I’m sorry, that was a trick question Wally.  It wasn’t an excerpt from your journal, but rather the opening lines of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Let’s try again.  ‘If there is any hope, it lies in the janitors.’”

This time Wally did recognize the words as his own.  “It’s true O’Brien.  Janitors make up the largest class of employees at Disney.  They clean the offices, the parks, the studios, and the hotels, so they have access to everything.  Yet they work behind the scenes so they haven’t been corrupted by your brainwashing and propaganda.  In fact, most of them are Mexican immigrants and don’t know Toonspeak.  One day, they’ll realize what a sham Mickey Mouse is, and they’ll overthrow him!”

“You’re a fool Wally.  The janitors will never rise up in rebellion.  They have no leader and no power.  For centuries, janitors have been at the bottom and the corporate ladder, and never have they overthrown a company’s leadership.  Plus, Disney is introducing a brand new Spanish language channel featuring show geared towards Latino children.  Soon Wally, every man, woman and child on this planet will speak Toonspeak.”

“No!” Wally shouted.  But O’Brien continued.

“You failed your most recent employee evaluation.  When asked if you could paint with all the colors of the wind, you said no.  When asked to sing the employee theme song, you sang ‘Hardknock Life’ instead of ‘Heigh Ho.’  How can you even call yourself a Disney employee?”

“I don’t,” Wally answered defiantly.

“Now let’s take a look at another entry Wally.  This looks good.  ‘It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?  It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss.’”

Oh no, Wally thought.  They found out about Julia too.

“‘Can you feel the love tonight?’  I hope you mean the love of Mickey Mouse.”

“Sure,” Wally answered sheepishly, but he knew he was done.  Wally had been going out secretly with a woman named Julia, the daughter of a theme park manager.

“We know about your relationship with Julia.  You know from the employee manual that dates with fellow employees are strictly forbidden, unless of course, they’re part of your act.  The Beast, for example, is encouraged to be seen in public with Belle.  But Julia is not Belle and you’re not the Beast.  Imagine how traumatized a young child would be if he or she saw Goofy with another woman.  Anyway, Julia is in another room right now, being retrained just like you.”

“I hate Mickey Mouse and everything that he stands for!” Wally shouted in rage.

“Why do you hate Mickey so much when he loves you dearly?”

“If he really loved his employees, why doesn’t he pay them better wages rather than wasting it all on a pointless war?”

“The war is not pointless Wally.  We are protecting the people of Disney!  You know what’ll happen if Starbucks takes over the world?  Everyone will be running around like hyperactive maniacs!  $5 for a cup of coffee?  Come on Wally, someone has to protect the caffeine addicts.  And don’t even get me started on Microsoft.  You know how many glitches and security holes they have in their software?  We’d be sitting ducks for hackers and viruses!”

“I think you’re exaggerating, but if Disney is prosperous as the annual reports say, why can’t they raise wages?”

“Wally my boy, you don’t realize how complicated and expensive running a company can be.  I know you character actors don’t get a lot, but it/s enough for the bear necessities.”

“Seriously, stop it with the jokes.  Mickey is an evil genius bent on taking over the world and you know it.”

“You’re wrong again Wally.  All he wants to do is make the children of the world happy.”

“By making horrible, unrealistic, merchandise driven movies for kids?”  Wally felt his blood boil.  Everything he’d kept bottled up for the past year was ready to blow up in O’Brien’s face.

“Why of course.  Would you rather have them watch R rated movies filled with sex, violence, and profanity?”

“No, but the world of Disney movies isn’t real!  There’s no such place as Wonderland!”

“Ah but there is.  There’s one right here in Disney World.  Plus there’s one out in California’s Disneyland.  And in France, Japan, and Hong Kong if I recall correctly.  So you’re wrong.  You need to change your definition of reality Wally.  There is no Toonspeak word for impossible.  In Walt Disney’s world, anything is possible.  It’s the place where dreams come true!”

“Oh yeah?  I bet you can’t fly,” snapped Wally.

“But I can, and so can you.  I just don’t have the desire to.  It requires too much energy, and I might bump my head on the ceiling.  You see Wally, I can do anything I want.  In Disney World, you can be all that you can be.”

“I thought that was the army.  If you really say you can fly, prove it.”

“Why must you be so disagreeable Wally?  I already told you, I don’t have the desire to.  But there is plenty of evidence that people can fly.  Look at Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.”

“That’s not flying, that’s falling with style.  He said it himself.”

“A matter of interpretation Wally.  What about Peter Pan?  He can fly.”

“But that’s only in Neverland.”

“This IS Neverland Wally.  Neverland is anywhere and everywhere, thanks to the power of Mickey Mouse and CGI animation.”

“I don’t believe you!”

“The evidence is everywhere Wally.  Aladdin can fly on his magic carpet.  Dumbo can fly.”
“But what about the laws of physics?  What about gravity?  It’s impossible!”

“Those laws were invented by ignorant men of the past.  These were the same people who thought the world was flat and babies came from storks.  I mean, for goodness sake, Newton formulated his theory of gravity after getting hit on the head by an apple!  Today we’d refer you to a doctor to make sure you didn’t suffer permanent brain damage.”

“That’s only because of the lawyers.”

“And because Mickey Mouse cares about the well-being of his employees.  I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse Wally.  Confess your crimes now, and we won’t send you to retraining.”


“Then I’m sorry my friend.  It’s not personal Wally, it’s strictly business.  Free will must be destroyed.”

With those words, O’Brien left the room.  The darkness around Wally evaporated and turned into the image of Lilo and Stitch.  Wally was slightly scared at first, but then he realized it was just a movie.  Wally had seen this movie before, and he had blasted it for its stereotypical portrayal of aliens and Hawaiians.  By the end of the film, Wally felt slightly annoyed.  Then O’Brien returned.

“Enjoy the movie?  I think it’s one of our better efforts.  Yes Wally, this room is in fact an IMAX theater.  We like to remind our rogue employees what Disney is all about by showing Disney movies.  The next film is about to begin.  Are you ready to confess now?”

“No way!”

“Then enjoy our next movie, Toy Story 2.”

O’Brien left again, and once again, Wally expressed his disapproval of the film that was playing.  It was a poorly made sequel meant to milk the success of the first film.  He then watched Lilo and Stitch 2, a straight to video sequel.  O’Brien returned at the end of the credits.

“I’m giving you one last chance Wally.  There are no martyrs in Disney.  Every story ends with a happy ending.  We won’t fire you.  I’ll never let you go Wally.  You’ll be an obedient employee one way or another.”

“Go to Hades O’Brien.”

“Fine.  You leave me no choice then.  I have to use the worst torture device in our arsenal:  The Disney Channel Original Movie.”

“No!” cried Wally.  Of all the garbage Disney made, this was the worst.  These were the movies that starred no name teen actors and had plot lines weaker than the New Orleans levees.  O’Brien left the room and a Disney Channel movie marathon played out over the next 8 hours.  By the end of the final movie, Wally was absolutely mindless and broken.  O’Brien returned one last time.

“How do you feel Wally?”

“Under the sea…under…the…sea!”

“Did you like the movies?”

“Darling it’s better…down where it’s wetter, TAKE IT FROM ME!”

“Good Wally.  Now it’s time to reaffirm your loyalty to Mickey and Disney.  Repeat after me: Hakuna Matata.”


“It’s a wonderful phrase.”

“It’s a wonderful phrase.”

“Hakuna Matata, it ain’t no passing craze.”

“Hakuna Matata, it ain’t no passing craze.”

“It means no worries for the rest of your days.  It’s a problem free philosophy.  Hakuna Matata.”

“…Hakuna Matata.” Wally finished with a stupid smile on his face.

“That’s right Wally.  Because your old job has been compromised, we’re assigning you to a new department.  You’ll have a desk job now in a cubicle.  Your job will be a proofwatcher.  You’ll spend your days watching and rewatching Disney movies and finding plot holes.  The tech guys in the Vault will then digitally alter the scenes and rerelease them in a ‘Collector’s Edition’ DVD.  Understood?”

“Yes sir!”

“Now, before you go, I want you to say ‘I’m the king of the world!’”

“I’m the king of the world!  Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go…”

And with that, Wally Simmons wasted the rest of his life away in his cubicle, watching old Disney movies and catching plot holes.

Sports 2.0

With the way the current economy is going, the prevalence of web 2.0 technologies, and fantasy football under way, it’s got me thinking: isn’t it time professional sports joined the bandwagon? I’m not talking about just making a Facebook or Twitter page (get on it Eagles), I’m talking about going all out and truly harnessing the power of the community to optimize every aspect of a team’s operation. Yes, I’m saying crowdsource a team’s front office.

Think about it, there are many excellent ways teams can leverage their fan base. First and foremost, teams can do a much more thorough and comprehensive job of scouting new players. If each team sets up a wiki, fans can upload their own scouting reports on potential draft picks and free agents. It would also be a great marketing asset. Who better to tell team officials what fans want than the fans themselves? What promotions should the team give out during the holidays? Should the team have theme nights? Let the fans decide. You can even involve fans in personnel and operations decisions. Let fans choose whether they want to fork over a couple of million for a star free agent or build a new training facility. It’s a great move for team owners. This way fans can’t complain when their team loses or they have to pay more for tickets because they, not Isaiah Thomas, approved of the decision.

Of course, there are obvious problems with opening things up too much. Small market teams run the risk of having their larger rivals overrunning their voting and feedback systems and screw up their decisions. Teams should probably limit participation to a core group of fans like season ticket holders. I’m also not saying teams should give up professional staff completely. You’ll still need professionals to verify scouting reports, negotiate deals, and veto bad decisions if necessary.

However, it would work great in an advisory or supplemental role. I know the fans would love it. How many times have you played Dynasty Mode in a video game and thought to yourself, “I could do so much better if I was in charge of the (insert team)?” Plus with the way some professional franchises are doing lately (Lions, Clippers come to mind) I don’t think trying something different would hurt them anymore than the current way of doing things. Now if only someone out there was crazy and daring enough to try this. Mark Cuban, get on it.

God Save the UK Border Agency

UPDATE: Just got the confirmation email! Visa approved! I still stand by everything I said below though.

Well, they’re at it again. Another government agency in charge of travel and immigration has managed to ruin another happy moment in my life. This time it’s the British who last night informed me that they have just started processing my visa (after I sent it in over 2 weeks ago). What’s more, they said it could take another 10 business days or more before they arrive at a decision. The problem? I leave next Saturday, which is less than 10 business days away. I already mentioned last time how ridiculous it is that I have to send my application to the LA office. What makes this story even better? The LA office is apparently the most backed up out of all three. The summer is supposed to be the busiest time because of all the students like me trying to get visas. However, the brilliant Brits in LA decided to shut down last week for IT upgrades. Great timing… Interestingly, the British government seems quite tech savvy. The UK consulate is on Twitter, and the office in charge of it all, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office has a Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube channel as well as their own blog.

I have to give them some credit for their effort. Their use of social media is a lot more than what I can say for the U.S. government, although Obama is trying to change that. However, they’re falling into the same trap a lot of companies are falling into with the social media hype: it’s not going to help you if your product or service sucks. In this case, the UK’s visa process is terrible. It is unnecessarily complicated and backlogged and I’m not the only one who has experienced this as evidenced by this Facebook thread. Here’s a tip: why don’t you guys try to cut back on the social media and start doing your real job? So now, I sit around for the next week stressing and wondering if I will indeed be able to go to London next Saturday.

Of course, this is really all the U.S. government’s fault. If they hadn’t continuously delayed my attempt to become a U.S. citizen, none of this would have happened. I would have been able to apply for my visa way earlier with plenty of time to spare. Maybe it’s time to dig up that old Chinese passport again.

Part 2: The other kind of immigration reform

It took a little longer than I expected, but here’s part 2 to the rant I began on immigration earlier in the week. First, though, a little aside about another faulty claim my debate team made:

I know that we said this mostly in jest, but a water free toilet is NOT a waste of money. In fact, I’ve come to believe it may be one of the most important technological breakthroughs in the 21st century. Imagine all the water we could save if every flush was waterless. If we can efficiently and cleanly remove waste without utilizing precious fresh water, we could go a long way in reducing water shortages and save the stuff for the really important things: drinking, cooking, cleaning.

Now back to the main topic of conversation. Last time I whined a lot about flaws in the system but what about solutions? Obviously I don’t have all the answers and I think it will always be an imperfect process. However, the system can be improved. For those who wonder how a massive nationwide selection process can possibly be efficient, I point to the college application process. Each year, American colleges and universities receive millions of applications from across the country and all over the world. Boston College alone got nearly 30,000 applications last year. Applicants come from a variety of backgrounds with various credentials. Yet somehow they still manage to read all these applications and make their decisions in about 4 months for just $70 per application. Compare that to an average of 9 months for $675. Yeah I think the USCIS has some work to do. Here are some specific changes I can see:

The easiest step would be to allow electronic filing the way most colleges allow. Right now, the USCIS lets you fill out your forms online but you must print it out and mail it in. It should take next to no effort on their part to allow electronic filing. Such an option would save paper and allow for easier transfers between different offices. Cloud computing is the way of the future. Why does the government continuously insist on operating in the pre-electronic era?

The government can also use its website to help applicants answer questions and track their progress. Whenever I log onto Bank of America, a chat window is always popping up for me to speak with a customer service representative. I understand this may be a little much for the government, but at least give us an email address! Right now a 1800 number and mail are the only ways to get in touch with them. Additionally, the USCIS should allow occasional online tracking to see where your application is and what the approximate time frames are. If I can track my pizza order online, why not my naturalization application? Currently the USCIS home pages says a redesign is coming soon. I hope there are substantial improvements and not just a new logo and color scheme.

Another idea would be to remedy the pathetic excuse for a test currently given to naturalization applicants. I agree new citizens should be required to have some knowledge of English and civics, but this is a joke for people like me who have grown up here. How about this: let’s create some kind of exemption for people like myself who have gone through the American education system and graduated with a high school diploma. These tests are a joke and any high school graduate should be able to pass it without trouble. That is unless the American education system isn’t preparing kids sufficiently in civics or heaven forbid English to pass these tests. Then I would say there’s a bigger problem at stake.

The actual swearing in process could be better too. The ceremony is nice and I realize you want to make it a special moment. However, given the backlog in getting ceremonies scheduled and the urgency of some people’s schedules, the government should allow an express option. Just like there’s a legal and traditional ceremony to a wedding, there should likewise be two components to the swearing in process. The legal part should be a quick, no frills process that legally makes you a citizen. The traditional ceremony, with the dressing up and music should be optional for those who want a fancy photo op. This way, people on tight schedules can become citizens without having to wait long periods of time or sit through a drawn out ceremony.

Reform on this topic should be easy to pass. We are, after all, talking about honest, legitimate immigrants who have already been screened and most likely have something valuable to contribute to society. Sadly, this type of reform will probably not happen because there is little political urgency. Legal immigrants will become citizens sooner or later. Immigrants do not have the right to vote and unlike illegal immigration, there’s little glory in taking a strong position. I only hope one day our politicians wake up and start doing the right thing.

Despite everything I’ve said in the past 2 posts, the U.S. government is not the most inefficient I have had to deal with recently. That distinction goes to the British. Since I am going to London for a full year, I have to get a student visa. The UK has three offices in the U.S. that process visa applications in New York City, Chicago, and LA. Each office handles a certain region. Guess what region PA belongs to? Not New York, not Chicago, but LA! Instead of taking a 2 hour bus ride to New York to get everything done in person, I had to mail my application to LA. As of this writing I’m still waiting for a response!

Look, I know you guys never made it out to California when you ruled the U.S., but come on! Look at a map! It makes absolutely no logical sense!

Part 1: The problem with citizenship

Okay, time for a little ranting. Both of these relate back to arguments that my team and I made in debate my senior year of high school (Resolved: government should give illegal immigrants health care).

First and most importantly, one of the bedrocks of our argument rested on the idea that citizenship was a quick, fair, and easy way to enjoy the benefits of being an American. Having now gone through the entire naturalization process, I can safely say the benefits of citizenship are true, but the adjectives in the previous statements are as far from the truth as possible. This brings me to an issue that I suddenly care a lot about: legal immigration reform.

(I won’t get into issues about visas. I think Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch wrote an excellent argument explaining the problem with the H-1B visa. Instead, I’ll focus on the long, confusing, and costly process that awaits legal immigrants once they have decided to stay in this country for good. I draw largely on my own experiences, but I’m sure others have experienced similar headaches.)

First, becoming a citizen is a costly matter. Filing to become a permanent resident (a necessary step to becoming a full citizen) currently costs $930 plus $80 for biometrics. Filing to naturalization costs $595 plus $80 for biometrics. That’s $1,685 per person. Thankfully my family is in a stable financial situation, but it’s not hard to imagine a lower income family with several members up for naturalization struggling to come up with that much cash at once. This also does not include travel expenses (only a few major cities have processing facilities) and lost wage opportunities (most business is naturally conducted during business hours). I understand employing the people and equipment to support the process requires money, but immigrant families should not have to face a financial hardship to become a citizen.

This gets into the next flaw of the naturalization process: it is extremely inflexible. Once you send in your application, you’re tied to a processing center based on your home address. This was a big problem for me because as a college student I spend most of my time away from home. Therefore, even though I live in Pennsylvania, it is much easier for me to go to appointments in Boston. The USCIS (the organization which handles the naturalization process) apparently has trouble understanding this because I communicated this to them on multiple occasions but they continuously scheduled my appointments in Philadelphia. Each time I had to reschedule and delay the process. As a result, I was unable to complete the process before France and barely made it for London. I can’t be the only one with this problem. College students frequently go to school in a different state and professionals often travel for work to different parts of the country. Tying applications to a geography is an archaic system that harkens back to an era when everything was done by paper and few people traveled. The advent of computer records should make transferring an application from one city to another as easy as the stroke of a button.

This shouldn’t be unexpected though given the USCIS’s inept use of technology. It does not allow for electronic filing and the only way to contact customer service is through a 1800 hotline. They could easily add a live chat function to answer quick questions online and utilize email to communicate important updates and deadlines. Instead, USCIS forces all communications through the mail as if we’re still using the Pony Express (maybe they’re colluding to keep the Post Office afloat). The online “Check Case Status” feature is likewise useless. It merely tells you that your application is “pending.” No crap.

The immigration test itself is a joke. The so-called interview is nothing more than an immigration officer reading your application back to you and asking you if it’s correct. The “English test” involves reading and writing a first grade sentence (mine was something along the lines of “I live in the US.”) No offense to the nice lady that administered my test, but there is something seriously wrong when I have a far greater mastery of the English language than the person administering my “English test.” That does not compare with the civics test though. You get randomly asked several questions that theoretically every American should know. These are things like “Name our current president” or “Name one of this state’s senators” or “What are the three branches of government?” At the risk of sounding arrogant again, I got a freaking 5 on the AP US History test and took AP Government in high school. I know this stuff cold. Yet sadly, many native born Americans would probably fail this test.

Last but not least, I want to talk about the swearing in process. As previously mentioned in this cyberspace, I liked my ceremony for the most part. However, I would’ve liked to have gotten the whole thing over with earlier this year so I could go to France without a visa and get my UK visa earlier. The problem was the earliest ceremony they could schedule me in was in June (while I was in France) and so I was (again) delayed until August (could’ve been sworn in with Jason Bay in July). Starting to see a trend here?

I did a lot of complaining just now, but tomorrow I will be posting Part 2 with some ideas for improvement as well as the second debate argument that needs revision. Stay tuned.

The OCC of BC Dining

BC Dining has peeved me for a while. First of all, there’s their ridiculous carry-over policy in which the meal plan only carries over from one semester to the next, not year to year. I understand it helps BC’s cash conversion cycle to have the money up front and to not have to worry about it, but it just feels like a rip-off when you don’t give people a say over how much they want to eat.

This summer though I have an even bigger problem with BC Dining. I have around $400 in Residential Dining Bucks that I have accumulated over the last two years. This is the money you use in the Chocolate Bar, vending machines, and football games. It carries over year to year and you get it all back when you graduate, but for some reason BC Dining won’t let me use it during the summer. Instead, I have had to load an extra $300 onto my Eagle Bucks to buy food (hopefully I can get by these next two weeks without adding more on).

Meanwhile, my $400 sits in BC Dining’s account somewhere and it will remain there until September next year since I’ll be abroad all year. Even if I do get it back when I graduate, that money will have depreciated from inflation. There’s more though. Because I won’t need my money until September 2010, I could have invested it in the stock market (can buy 100 shares of Citigroup), treasuries, or at the very least a savings account. However, since I earn no interest by keeping my money with BC Dining, I can’t even cover my opportunity cost of capital. I agree that it’s a fairly small amount and my returns from the market would not have been significant, but the principle still bothers me. Essentially I am losing money thanks to BC Dining.

In a separate financial matter, I want to thank Reslife for clearing out virtually my entire checking account. They finally decided to charge me for my summer housing fees (all at once). And I am going to be living in one of the most expensive cities in the world [London] next semester. Great!

And speaking of London, LSE’s tuition is about 1/2 of BC’s, yet BC makes you pay full BC tuition. Their reasoning? Faculty, administrators, and whatever else your tuition dollars go toward are fixed costs and they need to be covered regardless. I’m sorry but I have a hard time believing that. You’re telling me there’s absolutely no variable portion to BC tuition? Each student’s tuition has a 100% contribution margin? As a non-profit institution, there should be at least a few dollars in variable costs that you can shave off for abroad students.

I love BC, but sometimes you have to wonder about their financial policies.