Monday, September 27, 2010

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps“

There are very few blockbuster movies that have come out recently that made me want to bypass my Netflix Queue for an actual trip to a movie theater. When I heard that “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” was going to be released in late September I, must admit that I was somewhat excited to see the sequel to a movie that most all Wall Streeters and wannabe Wall Streeters had memorized word for word, whether they want to admit it or not. The infamous “Greed is Good” speech and who could forget the line from Mr. Gecko about people not knowing the difference between “Preferred Stock and Livestock”?

From the very beginning of the movie, there was something very familiar and reminiscent of the original. The occasional split screen shots along with the soundtrack, which was once again done by former “Talking Heads” front man David Byrne, added a nice touch of nostalgia.

These unfortunately are where the similarities would end. While the original Wall Street had a precise and riveting story line that made you care for or hate its characters, the sequel, which could be and should be viewed as its own stand-alone movie (if only to preserve the legacy of the original) was a messy “hodge podge” of melodrama, remorse and art imitating life. Terms like “too big to fail”, “credit default swaps” and “sub –prime” are gratuitously thrown around to make the film seem more relevant than it actually is. Even the dark clandestine scenes of banks (ala Lehman Brothers) meeting with Timothy Geithner and Henry Pulson look alikes resembled more of a CNBC “American Greed” episode than it did an Oliver Stone movie.

Plot lines between Jake Moore (played by that guy from Transformers) Gordon Gecko (played by Michael Douglas) and Winnie (played by Carrie Mulligan) are off again, on again then just plain off. What I wanted to see, and what I believe the audience wanted to see was a lot more Gordon Gecko and a lot less of everyone else. Instead we got the exact opposite. A large chunk of this movie delves into the world of stocks, clean energy, derivatives and exotic investments, when all along the investment strategy on this movie is very simple, save your $9.50.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The perfect job interview

With the unemployment rate still at a staggering 9.6 %, job opportunities are scarce and the competition for the few that are out there is fierce. The “gold rush” of cushy jobs with fancy titles and fancy salaries to match that was brought upon by the housing boom has fallen just as fast as property values have. A job market that once had the interviewee sitting pretty, while he or she entertained offers of stock options, 401K's and break rooms stocked with vending machines and foosball tables is now lucky to get free parking and a thirty minute lunch.

With hundreds of applicants for every opening, how do you set yourself apart if you were one of the lucky few chosen for a face-to-face interview? Here are some tips that could help turn that “foot in the door” into something more permanent.

1. Be prepared- try to find out as much as you can about the company and the position you are being interviewed for. Research isn’t just for college term papers anymore. Gather as much information as you can about the company; make yourself familiar with their mission statement, business practices and general ethos- not only does this show effort on your part, it also shows the person doing the interviewing how important getting the job is to you. Don’t be afraid to practice the process with a friend, come up with possible scenarios and questions you think you might be asked. The better prepared you are the less chance there is of you getting thrown off guard. And always bring, at a minimum, a copy of your resume and a pen, asking the person interviewing you for either can make you look very unprepared.

2. Be on time- this might seem obvious but it is absolutely crucial that you give yourself plenty of time to get to where you need to be. If you are unfamiliar with the location of the interview check the Internet for directions or use your GPS system to make sure you know where you are going. Leave yourself plenty of time for unforeseen circumstances like traffic and other small roadside emergencies. Remember when it comes to interviews, no one has ever not gotten a job for being too early, and if you know you are going to be late, at least call and let them know why and that you are on your way. Calling in advance is all difference between “running a little late” and being just plain inconsiderate. Also turn OFF your cell phone before the interview begins, even the “Vibrate” mode can be a deafening sound when it serves as an interruption to the interviewing process.

3. Dress the part- know what the culture of the company is like and dress accordingly. If you are interviewing at a bank or a law firm then a proper business suit is a must, at least for the first interview. If you are interviewing at a place known for their casual atmosphere or a place that requires some heavy lifting outdoors then wearing a suit might make you look out of place. When in doubt, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

4. Relax and observe- Stay calm and even keeled. Play off the mood or temperament of the person interviewing you. Observe your surroundings, look for things that you might have in common with the person sitting behind the desk. A diploma from a college that you might have both attended, a sports team that you both like or pictures of vacation spots that you may have both visited. Briefly discussing topics other than the job at hand can provide levity and common ground just as long as you don’t over do it.

5. Follow up- Always follow up with a thank you note or email to everyone who interviewed you. Do this no later than 2 days after the interview. This shows gratitude for the opportunity and makes everyone else who didn’t send a “thank you” note look like an ingrate, which in turn makes you look better!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The printed word re-kindled.

As I sit here behind a computer screen, assuming the very same position that most of us take each and every day of our lives, I realize the irony in the subject matter that I am about to elaborate on. We live in a digital age that continually redefines how information is delivered to us; news that used to travel fast… now travels at the speed of light. We surround ourselves with the “necessary” gadgets of the 21st century that illuminate our faces with their back-lit screens and Qwerty keyboards. The one pure act that used to provide solace for those that still want to cling to the old-fashioned way of reading is slowly fading away into the analog days of yesteryear.

Kindles with their cute commercials and catchy tunes promising to “fly us away”. Ipads and their billboards that show folks ambiguously curled up in their Eames chair while reading Ipads in their apartment lofts. These devices promise variety, utility and if you should be so inclined, you can download a book to read as well.

Reading a book or a newspaper used to serve as a welcomed distraction from life, now the very same act has become the distraction from all the other things you could be doing other than reading. Hearing someone say, that on a cold and rainy day, all I want to do is “is stay in bed with a cup of hot chocolate and a good e-reader” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

There’s something inherently romantic about carrying around a book, with its creased cover, ear- marked pages and underlined sentences. You disappear, if not just for a brief moment in the space between its introduction page and “about the author” section, only to be interrupted by someone recognizing or asking about the very book you forgot you were even holding. Your bookmark reminds you of where you have been and how much further you still have to go.

You either labor through it begrudgingly, slowly turning one page to the next or you find one that resonates with you so deeply that you churn through each page so fast that you can feel the ink on your fingertips. A piece of you is left in every book you read, it conjures up memories in the same way that smelling something familiar does. You remember where you were in your life when you last read it. You write notes and dedications to the person you want to give the book to next. Whether you liked the book or not, once you’re done, you put it on your bookshelf which acts like a photo album of all the different journeys you’ve taken. When your friends come over, your bookshelf becomes a topic of conversation and some may even ask, if they too, could go where you’ve already been.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dating on a dime.

With people throughout all walks of life feeling the effects of the dismal economy, families and individuals alike are cutting corners wherever they can. Just about everyone these days is trying to spend less and save more. Whether that means brown bagging your lunch to work or cutting coupons, every little bit adds up. So how does one date in this economy without breaking the bank? Well, a little research and some creativity can be the difference between making you look original rather than cheap.

The idea of dating on a budget can be a difficult obstacle for guys to navigate through, considering women expect men to pick up the tab especially on a first date. In this particular case men should try to find out as much as they possibly can about the woman they are about to go out with. There are plenty of other things to do in such a big city like L.A. besides dinner and a movie, which nowadays can add up to be 2 weeks worth of groceries. Planning an activity that the both of you can enjoy like a scenic hike followed by a simple picnic lunch or early dinner can take you out of the traditional first date “20 questions” routine, which often feels like the two of you are interviewing one another for a job rather than getting to know each other.

Seeking out creative alternatives like walking through a Farmer’s Market or a local festival can alleviate some of the pressure that comes along with a first date. It can also provide common ground and can stimulate natural conversation. If anything “people watching” is always free and can sometimes be very entertaining.

“There’s no correlation between a good date and an expensive date. If she thinks there is, she is probably not the right person for you” –says Marc Katz, a Los Angeles Dating Coach.

Museums can also be a more practical way to get to know someone. The most interesting museums in L.A. like The Getty, Norton Simon and LACMA are either free or practically free to get into, and almost always have small inexpensive restaurants or coffee shops that the two of you can go to if the night is going well. And if it doesn’t workout, at least you won’t be left feeling like you just spent a small fortune on a complete stranger.
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