Sour Grapes Documentary

Here’s another Netflix documentary that is fascinating.  It’s a heartwarming story of an immigrant kid (Rudy Karniawan) coming to the US and making a name for himself in the wine industry.

With the wine industry commoditized as it is, old wine vintages are certainly disappearing by being opened and drunk or forever stored away in a vault somewhere.  Nonetheless, wines are increasingly being viewed not only as investment opportunities for investors but also as a much larger mutual funds investment.  This means there’s money to be made for vintage wines and even more for the rare hard to find ones.

The documentary details Rudy’s sudden appearance in the elite wine tasting circles and his fake wine operation.  At the heart of the operation is Rudy’s ability to recreate the taste of vintage French wines from a blend of new wines blended with old commercial “table” wines.  Similarly to today’s wine operations, some vineyards harvest more grapes and/or wine that end up being sold to 3rd party winemakers who will blend and relabel the wine.  As the documentary suggests, only the most trained wine connoisseur should be able to detect the differences between a real vintage and a “reconditioned” vintage.  But to many oenophiles, they might not be able to taste subtle differences between a real and reconditioned.  To add more authenticity to the reconditioned wine, Rudy’s operation also involved the authentic creation of labels, corks, wax guards and even aging of the wine bottle exterior to mimic what a real aged bottle could potentially look like.  And with the wine market as lucrative as it is, Rudy also started selling these reconditioned wine to other collectors.  Since winemakers in the 1920s to 1950s did not adequately take notes or had inventory lost to the world wars, the authenticity of the wine sometimes were never questioned.  This lead to investors and collectors to assume authenticity and subsequently bid up the wines.  Rudy’s operation eventually started to unravel when a French winemaker started to investigate why a particular vintage was being auctioned when in fact that vintage was never made until years later.

Watching this documentary reminds me of a Hidden Brain podcast about art forgeries.  The way Rudy approached wine is very similar to how the subject of the podcast committed his forgeries too.  However, after watching the documentary, I can’t help but wonder if a similar operation is currently running in Asia.  With China’s rising wine consumption and their potential desire to also obtain rare vintages, a black market supplying reconditioned wines is potentially lucrative in China.  Could Rudy’s operation help establish a Chinese operation for his relatives?

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Depending on who you ask, I think most people will generally view the 2008 global financial crisis as being caused by the Greedy Elite Bankers thinking only of higher profits at the expense of the everyday Joe and Jane Worker that started with subprime mortgages and housing bubble crash and ended in a government bailout of the “too big to fail” global financial institutions.  It should be noted that very few (if any) major C-suite executives from the bailed out financial institutions were charged with any crime.  The biggest “punishment” were fines paid by the banks.

Netflix suggested this documentary and it is absolutely amazing to watch.  It’s about Abacus, a small Chinese family-owned Chinatown bank in New York City, serving the unbanked Chinese clientele.  The bank was indicted for fraud in selling mortgages to Fannie Mae as well as falsifying loan documents.  It took the bank 5 years and 10 million dollars to be exonerated of all the charges.  Per the documentary, this bank was the only bank to have been charged for anything related to the 2008 financial crisis.  It’s extremely eye opening to see the human side of the defendants (the bank and the family), the lawyers, and also the jurors in the trial.  It’s definitely worth watching.

Watching this, a couple things stood out about this documentary.

Firstly, it’s a bit shocking though to hear how a juror recounted that another juror “wanted to punish the bank for the 2008 financial crisis” despite the fact that jurors should only be ruling on the merits of the case and not the broader background that the case might be related to.  Fortunately, they did their job and looked at only the merits of the case.

Secondly, and perhaps through the magic of TV editing, the conversations with the District Attorney displayed a sense of hubris.  From the conversations, it felt like the DA really believed that by catching one bad apple they were going to reel in the rest of the bad apples… almost like a mafia type of bust where one person exposes the mafia’s internal misdeeds.

Thirdly, the documentary showed this interesting scene of displaying charged employees were marching down a hallway all chained up to each other.  A journalist had remarked that this would never have been done if it were a black group of employees.  Former prosecutors also remarked that this usually never happened.  And the DA had stated that it wasn’t their decision to “chain them up” in that fashion and was an “unfortunate” event.  Clearly, it was meant to humiliate because the Chinese community would never speak out about such injustice and those in charge knew it. I found it horrific yet sad that Chinese people had to undergo this sort of humiliation.

Lastly, the interactions of the Sung family over dinner and over legal pow-wow phone calls reminds me hilariously of similar Chinese interactions that I’ve experienced too.   The shade the mom throws is hilarious.

Making Obama Podcast

Yes We Can!

I don’t recall when I first heard about Obama.  I have vague recollections of his 2004 keynote Democratic National Convention speech.  However, I distinctly remember buying his book “The Audacity of Hope” and reading it on a family trip to Taiwan on the airplane.  I remember finishing the book and thinking that Obama’s message of hope, togetherness and change was a very good message for the future of politics.  At the time, I had thought the partisan bickering was pretty bad but compared to 2018, the mid-2000s is nothing!

Anyways, I heard through one of the political podcasts that I listen to that there was a new podcast by WBEZ called “Making Obama” that talked about the rise of Obama from his time as a community organizer to that 2004 keynote speech.  Hearing WBEZ’s podcast is pretty amazing.  There are quite a few things the podcast discussed that details what could only be described as the fortunate circumstances of how Obama won his state senate seat as well as the US Senate seat.

This podcast is well worth listening to.

Privacy Documentary

This fascinating Netflix documentary was created in 2013 before Snowden and is still relevant and worth watching even in 2018.  With the back drop of the EU’s recent GDPR law as well as Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, the same concerns of today are still the same concerns of the documentary in 2013.

It’s interesting to note that the documentary also pointed out that Privacy concerns were already an issue back in 2000.  It seemed like many people were concerned or started to be concerned about the data tracking and gathering by the Internet companies.  As the popularity of the Internet increases (hello dot com bubble!), citizens started to pressure their Congressional representatives to take up the Privacy issue following examples of bankrupt companies selling off user data.  The documentary posits that the post 9/11 Patriot Act squashed any effort for Internet privacy legislation.  In fact, the documentary implies that the Patriot Act implicitly allowed the tech companies to collect user data under the guise of collecting data for the government to prevent another 9/11 level attack. The documentary also points out the contradictions many tech companies (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Spotify, etc…) have publicly stated about Privacy that opposes to their actual business practices.  But after years of using these tech companies’ products, users have grown so accustomed to their daily use that Privacy seems to be just a secondary after thought until incidents like the Cambridge Analytica occurs.

If there’s anything to take away from this documentary… it’s that citizens need to really start thinking about privacy.

Hedy Lamarr

There’s a documentary on Netflix about Hedy Lamarr.  The first time I heard of her was on the recent Bill Nye Saves the World show.  The documentary goes deeper into Lamarr’s life but mainly focusing on her adult life as a movie star and inventor.  One of her biggest contributions is the invention of the “frequency hopping system.”  She hoped that this system would be able to increase the effectiveness of radio controlled torpedoes in hitting the intended targets during World War 2.

The system works using a broad spectrum of radio frequencies.  By syncing the frequencies on the torpedoes and the submarines, commands can be given to the torpedoes over the broad frequencies that allows the submarine to perform corrections as the torpedoes are enroute to an enemy ship.  An simpler analogy might be those classic music boxes.  If you can imagine the sound from the music box as a “command” and the tone/pitch of the note as the “frequency.”  So that as the tone/pitch changes, the command is sent out to the torpedo.  Unfortunately, because of bias as well as technological difficulties, Lamarr’s invention was never implemented until after the war.  Even more unfortunate, Lamarr wasn’t given credit for her work until late in her life which by then the technology had been adopted into a wide number of technologies.   As the documentary goes, her invention is to become the foundation for wifi, bluetooth, cell phone, GPS and other military technologies.

How about that!

 

Clicker Training

This Hidden Brain podcast is amazing.  The fundamental message of re-thinking how a person is trained is to essentially remove judgement from the training process.  It’s simple yet sometimes very hard to accomplish.

As the podcasts points out, some trainers have a tendency to:

  1. interject with short phrases like “good job” or “great” or “excellent”
  2. criticize if the process wasn’t done correctly
  3. be unable to breakdown the process step by step into even smaller processes
  4. become frustrated because it was natural or easy for them to pick up the steps.

 

Thinking back about how I was trained, the best kind of training I had was when I was learning to play a new piano composition.  There was no feedback/commentary yet I knew that I played it wrong because what I heard sounded wrong.  Sometimes, it sounded wrong yet the composition shows that’s how it was played.  Ultimately this feedback was neutral since a piano can’t judge you for playing a composition incorrectly.  When I trained others, I found that the best way for training was to have the trainee perform the task.  If they didn’t do it correctly, I’d show them how it was done again. If they couldn’t do the task correctly, I would try to break it the task down into smaller tasks.  This “breaking down the tasks into smaller tasks” was something that I had intrinsically understood and now after hearing this podcast I realized it was from when I was learning new piano compositions.

Understanding the psychology behind this behavior is extremely eye opening.  This understanding ties into quite a few insights about myself as well too.  Seriously… everyone should listen to the podcast.

 

New Zealand’s All Black

That Amazon and NFL documentary series All or Nothing apparently expanded to other sports.  This expansion includes college football, soccer (or globally known as football/futbol) and rugby (if you couldn’t deduce from the post title).

With rugby, the show followed the famous New Zealand All Blacks (wiki) during 2017 season.  I’m on episode 3 so far and I’m already blown away at how crazy, tough, and brutal rugby can be.  Never mind geared and padded American football players hitting each other, the rugby players are tackling each other with their own bodies with what seems like (or maybe edited to seem like) the same intensity as football players.  They still deal with the same issues of concussion and injury.

But this makes me wonder, why is it that American football with all it’s padding and gear designed to protect players still result in players with concussions?  Is there any study comparing the rate of concussion and other injuries in American football to rugby?