Thursday, July 31, 2014

Economy: How Mobile Internet Is Changing Our Lives

(Drivebycuriosity) - We are witness of an economical and cultural revolution: The mobilization of the Internet. Almost everywhere you can see people using smartphones, tablets and other devices which allow them permanent access to the Internet. This doesn`t happen just in the US, Europe and Japan. Falling prices for smartphones, below $100, make these Internet devices affordable for billions of people in Asia, Latin America and Africa. As a result the Internet is becoming global and accessible 24/7.

I believe that the mobilization of the Internet is changing our behavior and transforming the whole global economy. Internet access wherever you go for billions of people worldwide is already influencing shopping, banking, traveling, searching for restaurants, hotels and more.

For instance, Internet based travel networks like Airbnb - a website for people to rent out lodging - give people additional income by temporarily leasing or sharing their flats. Others can reduce costs for vacations or business travels.

Another example is Uber, a transportation network company who's mobile apps connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services. Carowners and drives can earn an additional income, others reduce their travel costs.

Soon Internet connected devices like smart watches could be used for 24/7 medical observation and health monitoring to prevent heart attacks and to discover other medical problems.

You can already read your local newspaper when traveling overseas - and on the other side you can study almost any newspaper, magazine, blog and other media from all over the world whenever you want to.  Besides the entertainment, you are getting much more information. Thus mobile Internet helps you to organize your life better.

                                                           Quality of Life

For instance Internet based map services - like Google and Apple map - support you to navigate in unknown terrain. These services reduce travel time and costs significantly. Other online services (and apps) help you to find shops, hotels, restaurants, meeting places and more. All these services raise your quality of life and they often reduce your costs and save your time.

On the other side the mobilization of the Internet creates new business opportunities as the examples of Airbnb, Uber and more show. E-commerce in general enables companies to find customers all over the word and to unlock new markets.

The mobilization of the Internet also fosters the cathing-up-process of the emerging markets. In Africa "mobile banking has given consumers cheaper access to their finances, reducing the need to travel to bank branches",  reports a study by the management consulting firm McKinsey (mckinsey).

According to this paper, "mobile app providing basic information about health and medicine, reducing the need for travel and the pressure on doctors….Farmers can access expertise and information on everything from weather, crop selection, and pest control to management and finance". The add, "Internet services  "can also improve access to markets, generating better prices for produce".

                                                             Virtuous Circle

General speaking mobile Internet increases the flow of information and reduces the cost of data. New ideas can spread faster, encouraging discoveries and inventions and boost the technological progress. Business run smoother thanks to Internet generated networks. Otherwise technological progress accelerates the mobilization of the Internet - a virtuous circle.  Thus falling information costs foster global economic growth.

And using mobile Internet is fun, which is priceless. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Movies: Lucy

(Drivebycuriosity) - Europe might have a weak economy, but the "old world" is again a power in global cinema. The action movie "Lucy", which topped the US box office revenues last weekend, is directed, written and edited by the French movie mogul Luc Besson, and produced by him and the French production company Europacorp (imdb). 

"Lucy" tells the story of a woman who gets infected by a super drug which increases her brain function capacity ten-times. Soon she transforms into a kind of goddess which telekinetic power, ability to travel over time and space and much more. She uses all her new skills to fight the Asian drug lord and his gang who had caused this transformation.

I had a lot of fun to watch this action spectacle, even that it doesn`t make sense at all. Besson, who has shown before that he is into fantastic action packed movies - as you can see in  "Nikita", "The Fifth Element", Léon: The Professional" and many more films - , delivered his magnum opus so far with this extravaganza. "Lucy" bubbles with a lot of surprising and hilarious ideas.

Scarlett Johansson as the godlike Lucy was priceless, even that in this role she was not quite as alluring as the sexual predatory alien she had played in "Under the Skin" (driveby). Morgan Freeman, as a scientist who tries to explain "Lucy`s" transformation into a superhuman, did a solid job. It also was fun to watch Korean actor Choi Min-sik, known for his role in "Old Boy", as drug lord.

But the most pleasure came from the editing. It was pure bliss when the scenes on the screen jumped to some documentary snippets about nature and the world around us - maybe from the library of National Geographic. These cuts worked amusingly as allegories and underlined the plot in a perfect way.

Besson, Johansson et. al. delivered felicitous 89 minutes of contemporary cinema entertainment.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Contemporary Art: Impressions From An Art Walk In Chelsea, New York City 2014

(Drivebycuriosity) - My wife and I are nouveau connoisseurs of contemporary art. Therefore we were very happy to join the annual Chelsea Art walk which happened last week (artwalk). On Thursday around 50 galleries opened their doors for the public; they showed their collections of contemporary paintings, sculptures, installations and offered receptions and panel discussions. Unfortunately the "Chelsea Art Walk" happened just from 5pm till 8pm. Therefore we had to pick just some pieces from the large cake.

We were impressed by Hauser & Wirth (hauserwirth). The prestigious international gallery, with home in Zürich (Switzerland), has 2 adresses in Manhattan: Uptown at 32 East 69th Street (Upper East Side) and dowtown at 511 West 18th Street (Chelsea). Last Thursday their Chelsea branch presented an exhibition of works by Sterling Rubin (including a panel discussion about the artist).

Above this paragraph you can see (from the top): SP272 (1) & SP272 (2) (Spray paint on synthetic canvas);  Hanging Figures (4838) (Fabric and fiber fill); BC (4845) A & BC (4845) B (Fabric, glue, paint, bleached canvas on panel).

                                                         Warzone Los Angeles?

Ruby owns s a huge studio in Los Angeles, which looks a bit like a warzone in Beirut, we were told. His online portraits resemble a bit Axel Rose, the frontman of Guns & Roses (wikipedia). He seems to be a rising star. According to the gallery`s prospect "Ruby`s art speak in a language inspired by sub-cultural phenomena ranging from graffiti, urban gangs, and prison systems, to craft and the history of quilt-making".

I missed provocations like Damon Hirst´s sharks in preserved in formaldehyde and Jeff Koon`s portraits of porn star Illona Staller. But anyway I like his work, especially the large wall filling paintings.

Above this paragraph: SP275 (1) & SP275 (2) (Spray paint on synthetic canvas); again SP272 (1) & SP272 (2; EXHM (4763 ) & EXHM (4764 ) & EXHM (4765 ).

Above you can see my favorite from this exhibition: Flag (4791) (Bleached and dyed canvas and elastic). I like especially the twister of colors which covers a whole wall.

                                                                    Logical Principle

We also were impressed by the RH Gallery of Contemporary Art on 437 West 16th Street New York (rhcontemporary). They offer an exhibition called "The Beauiful Changes" (through September 13, 2014).  The show spreads over four floors and contains paintings, photographs, works on paper and videos by more than a dozen of international artists.

Above this paragraph you can see "Untitled" by Koen Delaere (2014, Oil, spray paint and acrylic on canvas). According to the gallery´s prospect "paint ripples in corrugated surfaces as colors swirl within the thickly applied material".

The painting "Display Unit (centre) no. 1 by  Øystein Aasan (Oil on veneer) also caught my eyes. The artist, who lives and works in Berlin, uses the grid as an "organizational structure", says the gallery`s prospect. "To make his paintings, he first applies paint with a piece of cardboard onto square, diamond, and rectangular pieces of wood. He then lays down tape, paiting over and later removing it, creating a lattice of overlapping lines". Aasan´s paintings "are ways of working with a logical principle".

Above another painting by Øystein Aasan, called "OAA, Not Yet Titled (oil on veneer)

This study of a hazzy sommer morning in forrest looked at the first view almost like a photography. Actually it is a painting: "Untitled", by Niels Sievers, an artist who lives and works also in Berlin (oil and spray paint on canvas).

Sorry, I don´t exactly recall in which gallery I saw the painting above nor the name of the artist. All what I can say is that this work reminds me a bit of Picasso who enjoyed to portrait warped ladies.

                                                            A Mystery In The Fog

My favorite of Thursday´s art event is a painting by William Betts, called "Untitled, Swimming Pool XV" (Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 24 inches = 41 x 61 cm) at he gallery Margaret Thatcher Projects 539 West 23rd Street (thatcherprojects). I am fascinated how the pixels work together to create an image. From far we can see 2 people who might enjoy a bath in a pool.

When we come closer the picture falls apart and then we see just clusters of dots. The closer we come the less connections between the dots we can discover. Just the distance creates the impression.

Unfortunately my point-and-shoot camera doesn`t catch the pictures very acurately. The images you can see here are just proxies. You might go to the galleries by yourself and enjoy the works in the original. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

China Pessimism Bubble: The Reality Check 2014

(Drivebycuriosity) - Last week Paul Krugman was proven wrong again. A year ago the Nobel Price winner and New York Times columnist predicted that China`s economic growth will hit a wall (nytimes). Wrong. In the second Quarter of 2014 China`s economy grew 7.5%, a slight acceleration to the first quarter (plus 7.4%). Last week we learned that China´s manufacturing is speeding up again (reuters). The British bank HSBC reported that China's factory activity expanded at its fastest pace in 18 months in July (measured by their Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index which climbed to 52). Other indictors like retail sales (plus 12% year-over-year) and industrial production (plus 9%) also signal that China`s economy is still growing with a solid pace.

The fundamental data also refute Jim Chanos. The notorious short seller and hedge fund manager has been banging the China Crash drum for years. Krugman & Chanos are just a part of the huge crowd of China bears, who have been predicting China´s "hard landing" even that China´s economic growth rate has been continuously above 7%. The China pessimists focus on structural problems like too high debts and too large investments into real estate. But they ignore the robust growth and the sound fundaments behind China´s economic advance.

Today the Chinese stock market is trapped in this pessimism bubble: From its peak of around 3,400 points in summer 2009 the Shanghai Composite Index had been falling around 40% to around 2,000 points through the end of 2012. Since then the stock market gauge has been glued to the 2,000 mark. The Shanghai Composite is now valued at 7.9 times 12-month projected earnings, compared with the five-year average multiple of 11.3, writes Bloomberg (bloomberg).

I think it is just a matter of time that the China pessimism bubble has to pop and China´s stocks could start a rally again - as it did in the years 2006 and 2007 when the Shanghai Composite more than tripled.


                                                                Catching up Process

China is in the middle of long term catching up process.  The huge country has a tremendous backlog demand because income & fortune are much lower than in the western world. There are more than a billion of talented & diligent people who want to reach the US and European standards. Therefore these people are working hard and investing to be able to expand their consumer expenditures in the near future.

China is now rapidly transforming into a consumer economy like  the U.S. and other modern countries. This transformation process should foster China`s growth for years. Many peasants are moving to the huge metropolitan centers which are spread all over the huge country to lift their standard of living. This creates a fast rising affluent middle class, giving consumer spending a boost as the solid retail sales demonstrate. China´s growth should be boosted by the technological progress and advances of Internet, automatization of industrial production and 3D-printing. These developments raise efficiency and the productivity of China´s economy as success stories like Alibaba and Baidu demonstrate.

And there is more. Last year Beijing started a wide-ranging reform program to initiate a lot of economic and social changes including giving more influence to market forces and loosening government controls (driveby) The Chinese government started the orderly opening up of the finance, education, culture and health sectors. Restrictions on investing in child care and elder care, construction and design, accounting and auditing, logistics and e-commerce will also be relaxed, as will limits on market entry for manufacturing.

I believe that catching up, transformation, reforms and technological process will generate enough boost to keep China growing for years which creates a lot of investment chances on China`s stock market. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Movies: I Origins

(Drivebycuriosity) - The human eye is a very sophisticated organ. Our window to the visual world has been evolved over millions of years. And each pupil is unique like fingerprints. These are the basic ideas of the movie "I Origins" (imdb).

The title is a wordplay, meaning the origin of the "eye". The film focuses on a scientist (molecular biologist) who researches the evolution of the eye and who is also privately obsessed with eyes. That leads to a long chain of more or less surprising events (no spoilers here).

But director Mike Cahill, who also wrote the screenplay, didn`t content himself with entertaining the audience. He packed the movie with a lot of topics like fate, religion, creationism, empathy, creationism, reincarnation, parenthood, love and much more. Finally the film got too many ingredients and many ideas didn`t fit together.

But  "I Origins" was somewhat entertaining anyway, thanks to the excellent cast. Michael Pitt was very convincing as a curious and analytical working scientist. Brit Marling, as a congenial co-worker, combined her fresh look with intellectuality and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey was a real eye cookie. It also was a pleasure to watch the beautiful cinematography with nicely shot locations like New York City and India.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Culture: A Sunny Afternoon @ Pitchfork Festival, Chicago

(Drivebycuriosity) - Rock festivals are big fairs. Thousands of people gather there, have a good time while listening to the music, stroll between the shopping arcades, picnic in the grass, meet friends and more.

Last Sunday my wife and I attended the Pitchfork Festival @ Chicago`s Union Park (pitchfork). The event lasted 3 days but we had just a ticket for the Sunday show, the last day of the event. The rai·son d'être was the open air performance of Deafheaven, a black metal band from San Francisco we have seen before in small venues. The ticket was part of a generous birthday present - a trip from New York City to Chicago - my wife got for me.

We arrived there around 2pm. Unfortunately there was already a very long line that advanced torturously slowly. We missed the performance by Perfect Pussy, a hardcore band we had seen in a club the night before. Standing in the line we heard from outside the beginning of the Deafheaven concert like onlookers. But finally we managed to get in and enjoyed the finale of their concert and more.

As I described in my post about Deafheaven`s concert @ Chicago`s Bottom Lounge, which happened last Friday, their performance almost went beyond the limits of rock music (driveby). Delicately structured melodies, like baroque compositions by Händel ("Music for the Royal Fireworks") and Vivaldi ("The Four Seasons") rode on massive walls of sound which created an unique melange of grace and sheer power.

Deafheaven´s greatest asset is the voice of frontman George Clarke. The frenetic energy of his screams perfectly harmonized with the sound of the band. Clarke orchestrated the crowd before the stage like a great conductor. Frequently he let himself fall into the crowd while continuing his screams. He literally sought "das Bad in der Menge" (as we would say in German), loosely translated with "takes a bath in the crowd." The combination of band, voice and show mingled together into a very intense concert experience.

Deafheaven was a part of a very eclectic program which happened on 3 stages (Sunday alone had 17 performances). The ticket for the Sunday event cost just $60 - a very reasonable price. The Dum Dum Girls delivered a summerly pop concert which reminded a bit of the "Bangles", Slowdive performed atmospheric and sometimes powerful pop songs, Grimes, a Canadian artist with the real name Claire Boucher, tried to copy Madonna and - as the final - the rapper Kendrick Lamar celebrated himself.

We indulged in the relaxed and friendly festival atmosphere. As usual the crowd strolled from stage to stage, some were jumping and crowd surfing, others relaxing in the grass and enjoying the surprisingly good beer (provided by the local Goose Island Beer Company). The air was filled with tangy smoke - a taste of Colorado.

Thanks a lot to organizers and security people who guaranteed that the Pitchfork Festival was a peaceful and fun event.