Archive for May, 2006

A “creative” money-making idea?

Business & entrepreneurship, Internet

Several months ago, Amazon began a beta site called , a micro-job, micro-payment setup where people could get paid for doing tasks that are still difficult for computers to do, such as verifying titles in CD cover graphics, transcibing podcasts, and the like. Amazon’s system also allowed the public to submit small online jobs that usually paid pennies per task. Earlier this year, someone submitted a task called “Draw a Sheep”, which involved using a rudimentary MS Paint-like application to, well, draw a sheep facing left. The requester paid a whopping $0.02 per approved drawing, and yes, like many others, I took the time to draw one just for fun, thinking the task was probably just software testing for a new java applet or something.

Fast forward a couple of months, and it turns out the task’s requester was a graduate school student named Aaron Koblin, who’s at UCLA. He managed to collect 10,000 of these drawings and so paid a total of $200 (not including Amazon’s fee) for them, as part of a graduate school project. Having paid each online worker $0.02 per sheep at an average of 105 seconds to draw each sheep comes to a labor rate of $0.69/hour. It seems his graduate project was successful, having been exhibited at a local gallery, and he’s now offering to sell the public 20-block stamps of the sheep for $20, or a markup of 4900%!

To be fair, I doubt he expects to get rich from this, but his site, , is definitely well assembled, clean, and worth a visit. It’s fascinating to see all the different sheep that people managed to draw for $0.02 using a rudimentary drawing program. Actually, some of them are really good. What does it say for American productivity that people are willing to draw sheep for $0.02?

And no, the irony of the sheep theme isn’t lost on me!

When did diamond engagement rings become standard?

Business & entrepreneurship, Tips for saving money

Since I’m writing on the topic of weddings and such, I decided to look into the whole history of diamond engagement rings. This topic piqued my interest a while ago, since every (woman) friend I have who’s gotten engaged received a nice sized diamond ring with the proposal. (I didn’t, but I’ve always been an oddball when it comes to being a girl.) Two of these friends have also assured me that my husband has a duty to buy a diamond for me sometime during our marriage, a belief I find very amusing.

What’s puzzled me the most is that if you look at the list of traditional anniversary gifts, diamonds don’t appear until you’ve managed to stay married for 60 years. In the modern list, diamonds start appearing much sooner. In fact, everything appears much sooner. The consensus seems to be that the traditional anniversary gift list first appeared in 1922 when it was published by a Ms. Emily Post, the queen of etiquette. (I haven’t been able to find the origins of the modern list.)

The is a pretty fascinating one worth reading. As far as diamond engagement rings go, what happened was that around 1870, diamonds were discovered in South Africa, and De Beers Consolidated Mines managed to gain control over most of the diamond supply to the world. To create demand and perceived value in the post-Depression and post-WWII era, De Beers began a very successful marketing campaign with the famous “A Diamond is Forever” phrase that you still see and hear today in ads. De Beers managed to convince the public that diamond rings were the only correct choice for engagement rings, and, what’s more, that they should be kept as heirlooms (and hence not resold, thus preventing a secondary market from being created). They even educated jewellers to instruct would-be husbands that two to three months’ salary was the appropriate amount to spend on an engagement ring.

Neat, huh? Even as a finance person, you have to hand it to the marketing department on that one!

I still think it’s interesting that diamonds are gifts given before marriage these days instead of after 60 years of being together. They’re still pricey baubles. And I’m not sure what, if anything, it means for how society is changing. For now, I myself will be sticking to the traditional anniversary list, because I kind of like the fun and challenge of finding a gift that suits the suggestion for that year. On our first anniversary, I gave my husband a subscription to Classic Cars magazine (paper), and the next year a baseball cap to his favorite Dominican league baseball team (cotton). More fun than just buying a gift off the modern list every year, right? Oftentimes the easiest way to be frugal is just to ignore convention and follow your own beat.

My favorite post from this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance

Business & entrepreneurship

As everyone probably knows by now, this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance has been published at Frugal for Life.

There are lots of interesting articles as usual, but the one I learned the most from was Jeff Howard’s take on the , the two most popular entity types that people usually end up deciding between. I’ll be bookmarking this and re-reading his post before deciding to start my own business.

Anyone else interested in entrepreneurial law should also check out the newest edition of , which is due out in July 2006. I read the previous revision and highly recommend it, as it’s chock full of all aspects of legal advice and concrete examples, from corporate entity selection and employment law to IP protection and working with VCs.

Ritz Carlton + 1B/1BA apartment costs less than 2B/2BA apartment?

Personal finance, Tips for saving money

We have guests coming to town this week, which reminded me that there’s just something wrong about the equation above.

When we were looking at relocating to the Peninsula (San Francisco Bay Area), the company paid for an agent to take us around the area and show us some complexes. We saw some nice 2 bed/2 baths that were equivalent to what we had previously rented just outside Portland, OR for $950 a month that were going for $2800 and up. No utilities included, of course.

We were looking at 2 bedroom places because we thought guests would value the space and privacy. But at those prices, we had to be honest and realize that guests come to visit us only a handful of times a year. To put it into concrete terms, if we gave up a bed and a bath, we could pay for our guests to stay 2 days in a room at a local Ritz Carlton each month, and we’d still be better off, and they undoubtedly happier with the living situation, too. Needless to say, we decided to look elsewhere.

We ended up renting a small 2 bed/1 bath house with a nice garden in the back for $1950 instead. We use the second room as an office and physically swap out the desk for a bed on those rare occasions when guests come. If my relatives in Japan can swap out their beds every morning, this should be nothing. Of course, any of our bachelor guy friends from school still get the air mattress in the living room when they come!

So, never fall in love with the apartment (or maybe even house) without considering its price tag. There’s bound to be a better deal elsewhere if you’re flexible.

Finding my stride


(Note: Hello to everyone who’s reading this post via Darren Rowse’s Hightly Effective Blogger series on Problogger. I’ve modified the layout to a list format to make the content more readable. Thanks for visiting!)

1. Use a mix of long and short posts: I’m glad to say that since refocusing the topic of this site entirely to finance two months ago, I’ve finally hit a regular posting pace that I think I can work with: one or two posts a day, save on weekends, and if two, one that’s more lighthearted, with a more serious one related to investing once or twice a week. I find the shorter, pithier posts attract readers from and feeds, and my more in-depth posts are being picked up by Google and other search engines. While my readership still wanes a bit on the weekends, this little diversification helps me maintain traffic more than if I had chosen only one or the other to do.

2. Write ahead of time. I also take the weekends to think of topics to write about for the coming week and intersperse those with any interesting news items I find from Fatwallet, the WSJ, the Economist, or other finance-related publications on an ad-hoc basis. Writing ahead of time on the weekend also has the added benefit of allowing me to revisit and edit my posts before publishing them, something I’ve found is necessary especially when writing about more complex topics such as value investing.
Read the rest of this entry »