Two good things about professional sports systems in America

As a big NBA fan, I have always been perplexed by the hatred towards the Golden State Warriors. The chief reason for it is that GSW has too many All Stars and that it is unfair to compete against them. I just find it hard to comprehend. If you look at football (I prefer football, but you may know it as soccer), GSW’s dominance is nowhere near the dominance that household names such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid has enjoyed for DECADES, if not years. Real Madrid and Barcelona together have won 58 out of 87 La Liga titles. Bayern Munich won 27 out of 56 Bundesliga titles. Together, those three clubs have won 22 of 64 Champions League titles, with Real Madrid winning a record of 13 and the last 4 out of 5. The odds of these clubs not winning their domestic leagues are just slim. Betting against them is almost as good as throwing money away.

These clubs have infinite finance and resources. They have money, brand name, legacy, scouts and infrastructure to attract any footballer in the world. It’s every player’s dream to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Even players at some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Manchester United or Liverpool want to play for the top two clubs at one point in their career. Unfortunately, there is no cap limit in football. There are some financial restrictions that forbid clubs to be in too much debt, but given these clubs outrageous abilities to generate revenue, these rules mean little to them. At one point, Real Madrid consecutively made record transfers with Figo, Zidane, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

That’s why I really love the draft pick and salary cap enforced on American sports teams. The two policies level the playing field much more than what happens in football. Draft picks allow inferior teams a chance at future stars. Salary caps ensure that teams cannot buy their way to success. Even if teams want to stack superstars, they run a risk of a hefty tax bill unless somehow they convince some of their stars to take a pay cut. Then, it becomes a management issue, not the money issue any more. If somehow a team can convince the likes of Durant to take a pay cut to help the team succeed, how can you dislike them? If that were your team, would you think that the criticism was fair?

Around 6 or 7 years ago, GSW was nowhere near a mainstream or dominant team that they are today. They used the draft picks to get the players who form the cornerstone of their success today. Curry, Thompson and Green were drafted at 7th, 11th and 35th positions respectively. Teams passed on the chances to sign them and GSW had the foresight to swoop in and take advantage. Plus, Curry signed a ridiculously cheap deal for a star of his stature. Thompson has consistently signaled that he prioritized staying and winning over money. Durant took pay cuts to play and win championships. Cousins earned only $5 million at GSW, a deal far from what he can earn given his talent. GSW is just better at the management than other teams. So don’t hate them for it. Be glad that there are draft pick and salary cap enforcements in the league.

Mattress Shopping

I have been using an air mattress for 2.5 years since I came to the US. It was a gift from two close friends who came here before me. It has done the job and been pretty convenient, especially when it came to moving. I have moved for a total of 3 times and had I had a queen-sized mattress, it would have been much trickier and more laborious.

However, I have been having trouble sleeping lately and back pain after sleep every night, something has to change. Since sleep is one of my priorities this year and moving forward, I can’t afford only 3-4 hours of sleep every night or feeling grumpy and listless the day after. So I decided to do something I hadn’t done before: mattress shopping.

Fortunately, I have a friend working as an assistant manager for a Mattress Firm store. Thanks to him, I learned quite a bit about mattresses:

  • There is quite a bit of science put into mattresses, pillows and bases. In short, a combination of an adjustable base, a reasonable pillow and mattress can help adjust the mattress to your sleeping body form, relieving the pressure, let’s say, from your back. The cooling effect can also aid your sleep
  • Unless you buy mattresses and other stuff out of the box (brand new), you are likely to have quite a considerable discount. Normally, folks can return mattresses in 120 days. When that happens, mattresses can be resold at a significant discount, even though materialistically and practically there should be no difference as the returned goods have to be checked and cleansed before any possible re-sell.
  • Build up your credit score. It enables a finance payment plan at zero interest. Some don’t have that option due to the lack of credit score or having a poor one

Personally, I rarely made any purchase of the size as I did today, but I figure if sleep is of high importance to me and I spend one third of my day on that mattress for some years to come, I’d better have something that I like and actually works. Same thing with almost everything in our life.

Education poised for disruption

The traditional education system is broken, at least in the US. The thing that we expect to help us land a well-paying job is getting ridiculously expensive. According to Forbes, student debt in the US is $1.3 trillion, behind only mortgage debt.

If we pay so much for the education, is it worth the time and money? I recently graduated with an MBA and MIS. To be frank, the MBA degree at my university offers little in value, yet it costs $10,000 per semester. The MIS is much more helpful, especially given that I didn’t have much technical background. Nonetheless, some courses are repetitive, but since they are part of the degree, I had to waste my time on them. I am pretty sure I am not the exception in this.

A college degree used to represent the credibility a student had. The more famous the school that issued the degree, the more credibility. It is still true to this day. Besides that, going to school does offer certain values in several cases. Some people learn more effectively from listening to a professor. Team work at school prepares students for team work and communication in real life.

Technology today allows all of those to take place in the digital world. Online courses are usually cheaper than in-class sessions at universities. Sites such as Lynda, Udacity or Coursera let learners absorb skills and get certified by a fraction of the tuition fees. With MOOCs, which is used to refer to those websites, students can study at their own pace and become qualified for employment without breaking their bank. That’s improvement. If employers only worry about skills, then what is the reason for going to a traditional college?

MBA applications have fallen for years in the US. Some universities even abolished their MBA. It goes to show that having an MBA and the debt that comes with it is not appealing or beneficial to students any more.

Recently, I learned about another innovation in education: schools such as Lambda. Lambda offers live online classes that are structured in specific curriculums, mostly in IT. Introduction classes are free, while advanced classes are not. The cool thing about Lambda is that students are not required to pay upfront (only for US citizens, US permanent residents and EU citizens). Students only need to pay 17% of monthly salary for two years if they get a job that offers higher than $50,000 in salary after taking graduation. The cap payment is $30,000. If you don’t get that salary or you get fired, the payment stops.

It is an innovative approach to education. It is designed to specifically help students get a better-paying job without worrying about student loans. The freedom from thinking about paying installments after graduation is huge. In the current system, if you have a significant amount of debt, your freedom is much limited. Regardless of whether you have a job or not, you still have to make payment. Student debt is not written off in bankruptcy. Everything you do in life, you have to take into account the debt you have. If you don’t like the job, you still have to suck it up and keep on going.

With Lambda, you still have to pay installments, but the total is capped. More importantly, you have more freedom. If you somehow get fired or sick and can’t work, you don’t have to make payments.

I am not affiliated with Lambda in anyway. I am excited about what the school has to offer. I wish universities would take note of this trend and rethink their approach.

Vietnam in 2018

For the past few days, I saw some positive articles on the economic performance of Vietnam. First, the GDP growth rate in 2018 is the highest in 11 years, reaching 7.08%

Source: Worldbank and Vietnam’s General Statistics Office 

Our trade surplus reached $7 billion in 2018

vietnams trade surplus reaches 72 billion usd
Source: vir.com.vn

This is Vietnam’s GDP per capita compared to neighboring countries

Keterangan Gambar (© Pemilik Gambar)
Source: seasia

Even though the GDP per capita is around $2,500, there is a wide gap in terms of income between cities in Vietnam. In big cities such as Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon) and Hanoi, the income level is much higher than the GDP per capita mark. When I was still working in the country back in 2014, my salary after tax was already around the $1,400/month. Granted, the living cost in Saigon and Hanoi is pretty expensive as well. In fact, students who study abroad usually complain about the high living cost in the two cities in Vietnam, given the low income in comparison with cities in Western countries. On the other hand, in other cities, an income of $300 – $400 can be considered very good. It goes to show the stark difference between cities in Vietnam.

The last time Vietnam’s GDP growth was below 5% was in 1999, almost 20 years ago. Hence, we have seen the growth rate in the region of 5-7% for almost two decades. Yet, I am not so confident in the future of the country. The infrastructure is abysmal. Here are a few photos of the infrastructure in Saigon and Hanoi that is terribly under-developed.

Traffic jam in Hanoi, a normal sight. Source: laodongthudo
Kẹt xe tại các đô thị lớn đang là một trong những thách thức của giao thông Việt Nam /// Ảnh: Ngọc Dương
Traffic jam in Saigon. Source: thanhnien
Flood after a heavy rain in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). Source: tuoitre
Cars were abandoned in a heavy rain in Danang, Vietnam’s 3rd largest city. Source: tuoitre

The country’s first metro project was started in 2007. 12 years later, the budget for the project increased by 300%, compared to the initial outlay. Yet, only 56% has been completed so far. The project can be halted in the near future if the bottlenecks are not settled.

At the time of approval in 2007, Metro Line 1 was projected to cost VND17.388 trillion. This ballooned to VND47 trillion over the years. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) shoulders 88.4% of the budget in the form of official development assistance loan (ODA).

Source: saigoneer

As a Saigon native, I experienced first-hand for years the terrible infrastructure of my city. The streets were built several decades ago. Back then, there were not as many inhabitants in the city as there are now. Not even close. Fast forward, many people from poorer cities flock to the city for better career opportunities and income. More cars are bought and run. More big buses are operated. More houses are built. Yet, the drainage system and the streets in the city haven’t been upgraded accordingly. It usually took me 30 mins to commute over a distance of 10km with my scooter. The only time that the city doesn’t have traffic jam is probably before 7am and after 8pm.

From Saigon to Vungtau, a distance of 120km, it takes two hours and the travel can be pretty dangerous if you ride a scooter. In China, it takes 4.5 hours to travel from Shanghai to Beijing or vice versa, a distance of more than 1,300km. The difference cannot be bigger.

If you fly domestically in Vietnam, take my word. Either go extremely late or first flight in the morning. Any flight between 7AM and 10PM is almost guaranteed to be delayed. One of the reasons for the horrible delays is that the airports cannot accommodate the number of flights and aircrafts.

A country needs a robust infrastructure to grow. Right now, Vietnam doesn’t have that. I am not confident in the possibility that it will change any time soon in the future.

Furthermore, I am not a big fan of growing by being the source of cheap labor, being the factory of the world. It’s ok in the beginning, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. Vietnam needs to look at Singapore or Nordic countries to get some inspiration and lessons for using education and services to grow the economy. Plus, the infrastructure is amazing, at least in Finland.

Tipping culture

This morning, a friend shared with me a passage from an online article, as follows:

A 2018 survey found people ages 18–27 are the most likely to shortchange the restaurant waitstaff. In fact, 10 percent admitted to routinely leaving no tip at all. Here’s a tip for all you millennials: Try leaving a few bucks on the table instead of posting pictures of your food to social media.

I found it baffling. The tipping culture in the US or Canada doesn’t really make sense to me. Wait staff enters a labor agreement with restaurant owners for a reason. They agree to the benefits and compensation offered by the owners. Without any involvement from customers. Customers have nothing to do with that. Yet, customers are forced to make up for the low wage. In some cases, tips are just expected, but in others, tips are automatically added to the bills. For the past two and a half years in the US, I could count on two hands the times when I felt satisfied with customer services at restaurants. Staff repeatedly and unnecessarily interferes in my conversation with the people I am with or rushes us out by proposing the bill when we are not done yet. Yet, tips are either expected or forced. How does that make sense?

As users, we are pissed that companies do something related to us without our consent, such as sharing our data. We are annoyed by others telling us what to do without consulting us beforehand. Then, why should the tipping “standard” be any different and acceptable? And as diners, why should we defend the owners paying low wages by arguing that it’s a standard?

I would love to pay a little bit more for the meals if it meant that wait staff got a higher wage. In that case, I wouldn’t have to tolerate the tips forced on me without my consent or the overly eager services by staff. Tipping is a standard, but it can be changed and should be. For the better.

Video: 3.8 billion years worth of innovation

In this video clip, the speaker discussed some astonishing findings regarding innovations by Mother Nature. For the last millions of years, Mother Nature has perfected some innovations that could be the inspirations for our societies such as sharks’ skin, the outer layer of fruits or a certain kind of butterfly’s wings.

In addition to great and surprising facts, I found the clip inspiring. Our technological advancements should be sufficient for us to try to replicate innovations that have stood the test of millions of years. If we could get rid of chemicals used to dye our clothes or limit food waste, they would be fantastic achievements for our human race.

100th post in 2018

I don’t remember the exact time, but somewhere in the summer, I decided to put effort into this blog and resolve to have at least 100 posts at the end of 2018. At the time, I had around 20 something posts already. Not a tall order. Not an ambitious goal. But a goal to work on, to look forward to.

Fast forward, a few days from when the sun will finally set on 2018, I achieved the goal set a few months ago. But it’s just the start of a very long road. I set my sight on publishing 200 more posts in 2019 and more in the future.

The primary metric is the number of published posts, not the number of followers or likes. The purpose of this blog is an outlet of my expression, whether it is a coding tip, a book I enjoyed, something that happened in my life or an opinion on a topic. My goal is to get out of my shell more as well as to create a rewarding long-term habit. I have enjoyed the journey of getting to 100 posts as much as the feeling coming from reaching the milestone itself. Hence, I really look forward to writing more next year and beyond.

Finally, as 2019 is just around the corner, I wish everyone a great holiday break, fully charged before taking on the new challenges in 2019. In a non-stop world we are living in, it’s more important to have a slow period of time such as this time of the year.

Podcast: Russell Brand and Candace Owens

A friend recommended to me the interview below that featured Russell Brand and Candace Owens. Even though I still have 17 minutes to go, I think I have enough to say a couple of things about it.

Extremisms

From my perspectives, the two people in the clip came from two opposite extreme positions in a variety of topics, whether it was about the role of governments, the entitlement mindset, socialism, capitalism… The issue with coming from an extreme position is that it is too generalizing and often times it is right in a few scenarios. Take socialism. Candace cited multiple times Venezuela as the proof of socialism as a failed social system. On the other hand, Nordic countries have thrived in the past decades because of governments and societies that are more socialist than capitalist. Yet, such cases are conveniently ignored when critics of socialism take a stage and voice their criticisms.

Decentralization vs Centralization

Decentralization has become increasingly popular nowadays whether you talk about governments or cryptocurrency. Fans of decentralization don’t hesitate to criticize governments and centralization. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of governments fail at their jobs and deserve criticisms. Essentially, governments are run by human-beings and we are naturally flawed. We tend to succumb to excessive greed and thirst for power. That’s why we need checks and balance.

Nonetheless, centralization has been there for centuries. And it happened that way for a reason. If it were so bad, why wouldn’t something like centralization happen earlier? We may have the technology in what powers bitcoin or cryptocurrency to actually have a shot at scaled decentralization. When that will happen remains unclear, but I am amazed at the tendency to dismantle completely centralization by some crypto fans.

I believe it is a more efficient way between the two concepts at hand (centralization vs decentralization) to distribute resources and run societies. If there were no banks, how much less efficient would our societies be? If everybody had to keep his or her record and there were no trusted intermediary, how much more time and effort would be wasted to do what we normally do with government agencies and banks.

Additionally, many are concerned about growing influence of big corporations on our societies. Yet, without governments, who would be able to keep those corporations in check?

Conclusion

The interview itself is a refreshing one that features a civilized argument littered with disagreements. A rarity nowadays.

There are points from each side that I agree and disagree with. One of the things I have learned in the past two years is to have strong opinions and loosely held views. Or in layman’s terms, I avoid extreme positions. Particularly, regarding very complex issues such as socialism, centralization vs decentralization and macro-economics, just to name a few, I believe the extreme perspectives are even less accurate or helpful. You can’t tell me a government-led society won’t work when there is Singapore. You can’t tell me socialism won’t work when there are Nordic countries.

Each country is very different. One concept that works for one country is not guaranteed to work in others. Using one particular failure/success to dismiss/over-hype that concept is, in my opinion, not right. What is failing is the execution. Not the concepts. What matters is reality. Whatever works works, regardless of what it is called.

Jose Mourinho – A case of cultural mismatch and failed leadership

Jose Mourinho has been the manager at Manchester United for the last 3 years. The team is my childhood team and I have been a fan for more than 20 years. The last domestic Premier League win we had was in 2013 and the last Champions League we had was in 2008. Since then, it has been a rough 5 years to be an MU fan, but it has reached a breaking point for me under Jose Mourinho, a case of cultural mismatch and failed leadership. It goes to show that no matter how much the talent is in question, without a cultural fit and leadership, the hiring won’t just work.

Cultural Mismatch

Manchester United had been known for attacking football and flair. We were never that good on the defensive side. Otherwise, we would have won more championships, even though the collection over the past two decades was truly remarkable. Our style was always to dominate the ball and attack to win. Mourinho’s style is completely opposite. His mantra is to not lose first and foremost. Hence, the games are dull and boring. You can see the fear in players’ eyes and behavior on the pitch. They don’t want to attack. They just want to defend and avoid mistakes. There is no creativity in Manchester United any more. Defenders don’t dare to move forward. Midfielders’ priority is to hold position and not lose the ball, instead of creating innovative passes or plays. Strikers are asked to pull back when not having the ball. As a result, when MU wins back possession, there is no one up front to threaten the opposition. 

Additionally, Manchester United was known for promoting young players. Mourinho is not a believer in that, as far as I am concerned. His preference is always established players who are usually around 30 years old and very expensive.

We were always a team of class. However, his media handling has been increasingly ridiculous; which becomes a bit shameful for the team. Even though he was harassed by some fans, as the team manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world, he shouldn’t have some of the irritating and distasteful he has. 

The hiring of Mourinho is against every thing that Manchester United stands for. I’d rather have the team stick to our traditions and lose more than win a few games by not being ourselves.

Failed leadership

I am a big believer of the idea that leadership is about taking the bullets for the team. Mourinho isn’t like that. He chastises the players publicly and throws them under the bus. Sure, some players have an attitude issue, but managing them internally and discreetly is his job. Instead, he regularly complains about the players and singles them out in the press. He lost the locker room at Real Madrid and Chelsea badly. It seems that he is losing the one at MU as well. It is, first and foremost, his fault that the team doesn’t perform well. As the team manager, it is hard to deny his accountability. 

A manager in sports should be similar to a manager in business. When the team succeeds, you bask in the glory with everyone, but the credit should go to those around you. When the team hits trouble, you are the first in line to take the bullets. That’s what I believe leadership is, no matter what other definitions of the term say. Also, the manager has to fit the culture of the team. In some cases, an outliner may bring unexpected changes, but it’s not what usually works. In that sense, Mourinho is clearly a failure stemming from cultural mismatch and poor display of leadership. He has to go and the sooner that happens, the better it is for everyone, including himself. 

Book Buyback

As I am preparing to graduate, there are a few loose ends that I need to tie up, in addition to all the final presentations and papers. One of them is books. 

Even though I rarely have to buy physical copies of the books, there are still a few that were gifted to me by friends who were exchange students or graduated before me. Looking at the pile of books in my possession last night, I was hit by the idea of selling back books to get some money. There are two obvious choices: the school’s library and Amazon. The comparison is the point of this post. Below are a couple of comparisons that I ran.

On Amazon:


On my school’s bookstore:



The difference between the two is about $14 for the same two books in used conditions. Regarding logistics, I’d have to carry books to the school’s bookstore while a label would be sent by Amazon for free mail. I am glad now that I wouldn’t leave $14 on the table. Personally, I prefer trade-in with Amazon to becoming a 3rd party on their marketplace and taking care of the logistics of selling books myself. 

If you have books from your classes that you want to get rid of, you may want to consider different buyback vendors to get the best deal for your books.