Thursday, December 25, 2008

Initial Kiva loans

I forgot to mention that my primary criteria for my initial Kiva loans was to make the final contribution of $25 or $50 so that the full amount of each micro-loan would be funded so that I would be sure that the loan would proceed immediately. In reality, that is not usually necessary since many of the micro-loans have already been disbursed by the time they are posted on the Web site. Still, it is nice to see the process completed promptly and the loan cleared through the system. I did not want my money to be sitting around idle.

Once I start getting repayments, I will no longer use this as my top requirement. Hopefully I can get to the stage where every month I get enough repayments to contribute to a new micro-loan regardless of how much of the loan has been funded.

Funding micro-loans in Kiva is a great response to all of the global anger about all of these big banks that require all of these bailouts and are not lending to people who can really use the money anyway. If you want a new world order that is not controlled by big banks, Kiva is a great way to go. It is an alternative to begging or forcing big banks to give "handouts" to "poor people."

-- Jack Krupansky

Trying out for micro-lending around the world

I still have not decided what to do with my extra $20, but I did decide to go ahead and try out which lets you participate in micro-lending around the world. I actually funded my Kiva account with enough money to fund a dozen micro-loans in the $25 to $100 range. The actual micro-loans are in the $225 to $2,500 range with a number of lenders such as myself kicking in $25 or more for each loan. I figured that since there was a chance that a single loan might fail, a dozen loans would have a better chance of giving me reasonable success and personally give me a broader perspective on the failure rate as well as exposure to different parts of the world and different types of micro-entrepreneurs. Note that Kiva micro-loans do not pay us "lenders" any interest, but they do pay us back our principle, unless they fail.

I believe that the micro-entrepreneurs (borrowers) are in fact paying interest, but that the local micro-lenders keep most or all of that interest to fund their operations and expand their capital for additional loans. I do not know whether Kiva gets any of that interest. I just know that Kiva does not pay any interest to us lenders. In addition, Kiva "suggests" that you make a 10% contribution to Kiva. I decided not to make any donations at this time. I will see how things work out as the loans become due and then decide whether to make a donation.

You fund your Kiva account via PayPal and then make loans from your Kiva account. When loans get repaid you can then choose whether to use the proceeds to fund additional loans or to take your money out.

It will be interesting to see how the current economic recession impacts these micro-entrepreneurs around the world.

Note that the borrowers are very small businesses, typically individuals. The loans are to support their businesses. These are not consumer loans.

Also note that Kiva does not loan directly to the borrower. There are a number of micro-lending "banks" (Kiva calls them Field Partners) in areas around the world. Lenders like me are providing the capital (through Kiva) that these micro-lenders are then disbursing to the micro-entrepreneurs.

The micro-lenders also provide support and advice to the micro-entrepreneurs. Some also require borrowers to collaborate in groups to support each other. The goal here is to increase the likelihood that the micro-loans really will improve the business of the micro-entrepreneurs so that they do earn enough to repay the loans.

The term of a micro-loan may only be five to eight months, but sometimes a year or maybe even eighteen months. The idea is that the loan should have an immediate impact on business. The first payment may not be due for three months or so. For my initial loans a bunch have an initial payment in February or March. One does not have an initial payment until June.

I am not particularly thrilled that I earn no interest, but it is nice to be able to see the face, name, and details for each micro-loan. The theory is that this money is really making a difference in the lives of real people around the world.

It is also nice to know that these micro-loans are actually helping "the working poor" to maintain and even enhance their income, rather than simply offering them a "handout."

It turns out that many of these micro-loans have already been made by the micro-lender by the time we see them on the Kiva web site, usually within the past few weeks. The micro-lender has decided that they have enough funds on hand to go ahead with the loan and is essentially selling the loan to us micro-lenders through Kiva and then the proceeds of that sale is capital for making other loans.

Now, I still need to figure out what to do with my extra $20. It is not even enough to make the minimum Kiva loan of $25.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What to do with an extra $20

I have an extra $20 bill right now. What can I do with it? That is, what can I do with it which would make a noticeable difference in my life or anybody else's life? Sure, I could simply put it in my wallet and spend it eventually on something or put it in one of my savings accounts, but it really would make a negligible difference. Even if I donated it to some allegedly "worthy" cause, would it really make any noticeable difference six months or a year from now? Sure, maybe $20 would buy a fair amount of food for some starving people somewhere in the world, but once again, what difference would that make a year from now?

Actually, I did just remember that there is something called which lets you participate in micro-lending around the world. I keep meaning to check into it. That may be my answer. It is a way to "make a difference" that that is not necessarily just a one-time thing or recurring cost.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My guess as to what "Seven Pounds" is all about was correct -- Spoiler?

I did see Seven Pounds, the new Will Smith movie and my guess at the hidden surprise climax was correct, although there were plenty of quirky details along the way and the expected climax did play out with an interesting and unexpected twist. I won't mention any of the details or otherwise "spoil" the experience for people who are going to see the film.

Will has a very definite "plan" in the movie, but it just seems odd that anybody would concoct and execute such a plan. But at least to my mind that is easily explained by one simple revelation in the movie (not really a spoiler here) -- he is an engineer who graduated from MIT. Only an engineer would come up with such a plan as his.

Overall, the movie was okay, not great but not terrible. It is not possible to point to another movie to compare it to, partially because I do not know of one and mostly because even if I did it might spoil the surprise value.

I will offer another detail that is not really a spoiler -- the ubiquitous Blackberry is the real villian in the movie. Without the Blackberry, Will never would have made his horrible mistake. The Blackberry comes off as being pure evil, even more evil than cigarettes.

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, December 19, 2008

My guess as to what "Seven Pounds" is all about -- Spoiler??

I have seen the trailer for Seven Pounds, the new Will Smith movie, but I am just as clueless as anybody else what it is all about. I will probably go see it just out of curiosity.

As far as its meaning, it was rather clear from the trailer that it is about redemption. My guess is that Will is going to donate his vital organs to seven selected recipients, "strangers." My guess is that seven pounds is the weight of his heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, etc. that he will be donating to redeem some horrible mistake he made earlier in his life.

Even if this is the case, the remaining big question is whether he is dying of some pre-existing ailment or whether he is actually going to commit suicide to make the organs available.

If my suspicion is right, this means that they put a little too much detail in the trailer. Like the fact that there are seven strangers, the fact that he is making up for some terrible mistake, the fact that one of the strangers that he is going to "help" is blind, and the fact that his friend who is going to "help" him in his quest for redemption virtually begs to get out of the deal that he agreed to.

I will not post any details that I get from actually seeing the movie, but I may post simply whether my suspicion was correct or not.

Or, maybe the movie is all one big cynical Hollywood joke and all that happens is that Will gives each of the seven strangers one pounds of chocolate candies for Christmas!

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Working with ideas

I love working with ideas. Practicality may pay the bills, but ideas and working at the conceptual level is my real passion. Making a concept "happen" is marginally interesting, but delving into the depthc of concepts is what really interests me.

I have also always been far more interested in working on "base" technologies than specific applications of those technologies.

In truth, it feels as if I have allowed myself to get far too distracted by practical applications to the point where I am not focusing near enough energy on either my strength or my passion.

One of the things that is currently attracting me to the Semantic Web and Semantic Web technologies is that it is much more concept-oriented (literally and figuratively) and more amenable to working with ideas. Granted, the big challenge is to figure out how to make the Semantic Web more practical, but maybe that hard challenge could make it more profitable as well while also allowing me to work on core "base" technologies and how to think about ideas as well.

In any case, if working with ideas is my strength and passion, I should focus much more attention on moving in that direction.

I am much more interested in becoming more research-oriented than application-oriented. Still, I am interested in entrepreneurial opportunities, but I would much prefer focusing on transitioning concepts to the commercialization stage than in the actual commercial deployment. Classically, that has meant a focus on tools and maybe training. I have not been training-oriented, but I have leaned strongly towards being tools-oriented.

Maybe a focus on advanced tools for Knowledge Webs based on the Semantic Web could be a productive focus for me.

This still does not leave me with a crystal clear focus, but at least I feel that I do know that I need to find a way to get to a place where I can spend much more of my time working with ideas and concepts. Whether that can and will be profitable remains unclear as well.

-- Jack Krupansky

Work in Silicon Valley?

I love living in New York City (Manhattan), but there just are not very many interesting technology opportunities for somebody like me compared to the San Francisco Bay Area. I have visited Silicon Valley a few times, but I have never found it to be an appealing place to live. San Francisco proper is a lot more appealing, but still not as high-energy and diverse as New York City.

I have actually done very little work for clients here in New York City, but usually am working from home and living here because I like to live here.

Nonetheless, I am wondering whether the current economic climate may be easier to navigate if I were resident in the Bay Area. The hard part is that I do not know the answer and maybe won't unless I actually make the leap.

It is also possible that I could go bi-coastal and have an apartment or room in the Bay Area as well as New York City and commute as needed or desired. The downside would be that I would need to work more hours and/or at a higher rate to cover the extra expenses.

In any case, at least it is something to think about.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Would I buy an iPhone for $99?

I currently have no desire to get an iPhone. Would I buy one at Wal-mart for the rumored price of $99? Sure... but only for an unlocked phone without any mandatory cell service contract. Actually, I would prefer to buy an iPod touch for $99, but I expect that I will need to "dream on." I do not need or want a cell phone, but I could use a replacement for my six-year old Sony/Palm PDA.

Sure, I can spring for $99 or even $199, but adding $70 to my monthly budget is out of the question.

-- Jack Krupansky