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Ramblings from the Marginalized » 2008 » February

February 2008


Internet February 29th, 2008 by Stephen

A lot has been said recently about the "Record Profits" of the oil industry. Words like "Price Gauging" and "Insane Profits" fall from the lips of would be pundits all over the Internet. what I would like to do today is show you that Exxon Mobil is not the big bad profiteering company many people think they are. In fact I am going to tell you about five companies in the Tech sector with larger profit margins than Exxon Mobil.

Exxon Mobil

Gross Profit Margin1: 43.3%
EBIT Margin2: 18.7%
EBITDA Margin3: 18.5%
Pre-Tax Profit Margin4: 18.6%
52 week Range on stock price: 69.02 - 95.27
Market Cap: 481.04B

Those numbers look very, very good, don't they? With profit margins like those Exxon Mobil has been able to pull down record profits like no other public company in the world! Are those numbers insane? Should Exxon Mobil be punished for having such massive profits?

If you think Exxon Mobil should have its "insane" profits taxed by the government than you should also want these five tech companies taxed for their record profits too.

Apple Inc

Gross Profit Margin: 38.1%
EBIT Margin: 18.7%
EBITDA Margin: 17.7%
Pre-Tax Profit Margin: 18.7%
52 week Range on stock price: 83.75 - 202.96
Market Cap: 114.17B

Apple's Gross Profit Margin is a little bit lower than that of Exxon Mobil but its Pre-Tax Profit Margin is better than that of Exxon Mobil. Let's not forget that the stock price of AAPL took an amazing roller coaster ride over the past 13 months. Just before MacWorld 2007 APPL was trading in the $80 range. It passed $200 a share in 2007 before crashing down to its current $130 range today.

Google

Gross Profit Margin: 69.3%
EBIT Margin: 32.2%
EBITDA Margin: 33.9%
Pre-Tax Profit Margin: 32.2%
52 week Range on stock price: 437.00 - 747.24
Market Cap: 148.98B

Look at those number. If anyone is guilty of profiteering should it not be Google? This Internet advertising juggernaut is blowing everyone away. Or, it was, last year. Google stock peaked a few months before Apple did and recent news has not helped it one bit. Still, look at those margins!

Yahoo

Gross Profit Margin: 66.6%
EBIT Margin: 16.7%
EBITDA Margin: 21.4%
Pre-Tax Profit Margin: 16.7%
52 week Range on stock price: 18.58 - 34.08
Market Cap: 39.26B

Even though Yahoo has suffered since Google began eating their lunch (breakfast, dinner, brunch, snacks, etc...) it is still a very profitable company. Its Pre-Tax Profit Margin is not looking so hot these days and they are suffering under a number of shareholder lawsuits (some tied to their declining Microsoft's buy out offer). Yahoo also has problems with spending large amounts of money buying up web companies and then letting them die.

Intel Corp

Gross Profit Margin: 62.5%
EBIT Margin: 21.6%
EBITDA Margin: 32.8%
Pre-Tax Profit Margin: 21.5%
52 week Range on stock price: 18.05 - 27.99
Market Cap: 118.60B

Intel is old school tech. They have been a big player in the microchip industry for a long time. Fighting off competition from AMD and Texas Instruments is what this company does well. They have been around for a long time and likely will be around for even longer.

Microsoft

Gross Profit Margin: 81.4%
EBIT Margin: 39.3%
EBITDA Margin: 39.9%
Pre-Tax Profit Margin: 39.3%
52 week Range on stock price: 26.60 - 37.50
Market Cap: 259.94B

Microsoft, everyone seems to forget just how big this company is. Their Market Cap is a little over half of that of Exxon Mobil and their margins are even higher than that of Google! Even with the lukewarm reaction to the release of Windows Vista Microsoft has had no problem remaining profitable. This is due in part to the amazing Xbox line of video game consoles.

Conclusion

Now that you see the profit margins of these five tech companies compared to that of Exxon Mobil do you still think they are making insane profits? Do you think these five companies should suffer the same "windfall profit tax" that many in Congress want to befall the oil companies?

Exxon Mobil may be posting huge profits in regards to dollar amounts but, if they had the profit margins in place of any of these five tech companies they would be making even more money.

1Gross Profit Margin (Profit Margin After Cost of Goods Sold): Revenues minus cost of goods sold, divided by revenue, expressed as a percentage
2EBIT Margin: Earnings before interest and taxes, divided by revenue, expressed as a percentage.
3EBITDA Margin: Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, divided by revenues, expressed as a percentage.
4Pre-Tax Profit Margin: The pre-tax earnings from continuing operations (not including discontinued or extraordinary items) divided by revenue, expressed as a percentage.

* Disclaimer: The numbers used in this story are from the last quarter fully on record: 06/2007 and comes from data freely available via Forbes.com

Games February 20th, 2008 by Stephen

Now that the Nintendo Wii Ware program has been given a release date in the US (May 12, 2008) Nintendo is beginning to tell us about what sort of titles we will see there. Currently two titles have been announced:

Square Enix is creating FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: My Life as a King, a simulation game for all ages.

FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: My Life as a King

FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: My Life as a King

FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: My Life as a King

Looking at those screen shots I have to wonder how big the game will be (memory size) and how you are going to fit that on the little bit of space provided by the 512MB of memory inside the Wii. I know Nintendo's position has been that once you buy you can always delete and download the game again but... What about games with save game data?

Up-and-coming developer Frontier will be releasing its enchanting platform adventure LostWinds.

Development Flight Sequence

WiiScreen Close Up Toku LostWinds

WiiScreen Toku Home LostWinds

HiScreen Mines LostWinds

WiiScreen Toku Blown LostWinds

WiiScreen Toku Deo LostWinds

WiiScreen Toku Close Caves LostWinds

From the developer's page:

LostWinds™ is an enchanting adventure bursting with new gameplay ideas that embrace the innovative controller of the Wii™ - it puts “the power of the wind in the palm of your hand”.

You wield the awesome powers of Enril the wind spirit - from raging tornados to the gentlest breeze – to guide and protect Toku, a young boy who is the only one who can help you release the curse placed upon the world of Mistralis by evil Balasar. Mistralis is a stunningly presented, magical land full of wonder and intrigue that bursts to life with your every action and exploration. History of Mistralis.

The game’s novel, playful control mechanism lets you use Enril’s elemental powers to help Toku in your quest to overcome Balasar – powering his jumps and glides through Mistralis’ different regions, buffeting and smashing enemies, and solving puzzles.

LostWinds is self-published and developed by Frontier and will be available via Nintendo's WiiWareâ„¢ game download service, exact release date and pricing to be announced.




Games February 20th, 2008 by Stephen

The Nintendo Wii has been a raging success. Everyone is buying the console and if you don't get to the store when they come in you just can not buy one.

Just the other day I was taking a break at work when one of the guys i worked with started talking about the Wii. He knew I was a video game geek so he started going on and on about how some lame party he was at was saved by a girl down the hall proclaiming she had a Wii in her apartment.

After talking he got the notion that he should buy his own Wii. He said it would be there for when his nieces and nephews come over but I could see right through him. I had to break the news to him that you can't just walk into a store and buy one, you have to actively look for them and it can take weeks to buy one. Not believing me he picked up the phone and started calling around.

After 20 minutes of calls he located a GameStop store two towns over that had one in stock. He called a friend of his who worked near there and asked him to get it for him. Before the friend could get there it was already sold. Yeah, he is still without a Wii.

Nintendo has just announced dates for new additions to the Wii Menu system:

  • WiiWare (launches May 12): WiiWare is a new game download service for consumers which offers fresh game play experiences and new opportunities for creators. Creative new games will be added regularly from developers big and small.

    This one is going to be inside the Shopping Channel and will offer people the chance to buy games in the same way the virtual Console titles work. My only concern is the size of these titles. The Wii only has 512MB of internal flash memory and you can not use the SD card for running Virtual console titles. If we are lucky nintendo will note this and allow us to download WiiWare titles to the SD card.

  • Wii Fit Channel (available May 19): This channel appears on the Wii Menu when people first use Wii Fitâ„¢, which combines fun and fitness. It’s an easy way for every member of the family to keep active and play together. In a first for a Wii game, owners of Wii Fit can access the channel to perform basic daily workouts and fitness checks, even if the Wii Fit game disc is not inserted.

I have been eagerly WiiWare to become available in the US, more so than the release of Wii Fit. I have to say being able to do some minor things without the Wii fit disc being in is also pretty cool.




Internet February 19th, 2008 by Stephen

SAN FRANCISCO --(Business Wire)-- Feb. 18, 2008 The Second Life(R) experience is coming to mobile. The 3D virtual world platform, created by Linden Lab(R) will soon be available on 3G handsets via Vollee's streaming mobile games service. Beta trials for Vollee's new mobile offering for the Second Life Grid platform (an inter-connected platform which extends beyond the mainland of Second Life itself) will be open to those who pre-register by visiting http://www.vollee.com/secondlife.

Vollee's Second Life mobile service will enable access to the virtual world of Second Life for Residents to explore, interact and communicate on-line. The Second Life mobile experience reformats the online world to fit on mobile phone screens while mapping the keys on handsets to commands in-world. Existing Residents can simply log-in and people new to Second Life can also try out the online world for the first time through the mobile service. With a simple download to their 3G mobile handset, anyone can enjoy their online Second Life session while on the move.

"What we have developed is a service which, for the first time, allows you to access a rich persistent virtual 3D world the way it is supposed to be experienced on your phone," said Martin Dunsby, CEO, Vollee. "This is a true 'before and after moment' in which mobile is living up to its potential in serving as an always on, connected platform."

"For Linden Lab, this represents an intuitive way to extend the reach and accessibility of the Second Life Grid platform," said Chris Mahoney, Business Development Manager, Linden Lab. "This is a great way for Second Life Residents to stay connected to their friends, business and experiences in-world, wherever they are."

Vollee's proprietary solution is the only one on the market that can stream any high-end PC title to mobile, including popular massively multiplayer online role playing games. The company's technology takes into account the screen size, the key layout and makes sure all the fun of playing the original game remains. Vollee's interactive video streaming platform optimizes compression to minimize bandwidth requirements and also leverages the 3G mobile networks in such a way that gamers can not only navigate virtual worlds but also play fast paced, high quality video games previously impossible on mobile. A single software download to a 3G handset provides access to Vollee streamed titles, enabling gamers to find and play mobile games more easily than ever.

Vollee's Second Life mobile beta trials will begin in May 2008, but fans can pre-register beginning today by visiting http://www.vollee.com/secondlife. More information about the Second Life Grid is available at http://secondlifegrid.net.

Movies February 17th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
Freedom Writers

Freedom Writers is a non-fiction movie about a teacher who inspires her at-risk students to greatness. The Netflix jacket has a little bit more information on it but that is all that you need to know now.

Starring Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell this movie is set in the inner city. Gruwell is a new teacher full of hopes and dreams about teaching who, after the first day on the job, begins to wonder just what she has gotten herself into. Faced with a multi-ethnic gang ridden class and a host of unsupportive teachers and staff members she tries the best she can to teach.

See, it turns out that many on staff are angry about the forced integration that has come to their school. One faculty member laments that 75% of their top students have chosen to go to other schools after the inner city kids were bussed in. Gruwell refuses to give up hope.

In fact after being rebuffed in her attempts to get books and supplies for her kids she takes on part time jobs so that she can afford to buy materials for her kids herself. At one point she buys every kid in her class a new paperback book for them to read. the kids are impressed and you can hear them muttering about how they were given new books and not the usual crappy books they typically receive.

However, as Gruwell's school life improves her home life deteriorates. After only one and a half years as a teacher her husband leaves her. He can't take being the 'wife' in the marriage and tells her so. At the same time her father finally comes around and tells her how much he respects the work she is doing.

I did not grow up in the streets. in fact I grew up in mostly white bread suburban areas south of Boston. The most inner city I ever lived through while growing up was where the turf battles were between kids whose hair colors ranged from blonde to red. It was not until I joined the military that I came to have a good number of friends who did not already look like me.

Erin Gruwell put a lot on the line to make her kids care about learning and graduating from high school. She treated her kids with respect and they, over time, returned that respect.

Freedom Writers is not a short movie, it clocks in at over 2 hours in length. It is, however, a very good movie. it portrays the life of a teenager in a very realistic manner. Most of the film takes place in the classroom but what happens in that classroom is very moving.

Rent this one if you can.

Games February 17th, 2008 by Tom Vasel
Bulp!

I tend to look at older games with a bit of nostalgia, although there are some that simply make me nauseous at the very thought of them. Waterworks is one of those games; it has brought joy to many – but never to me, and I got rid of the game long ago. When I first read the rules to Bulp! (Giochix.it, 2007 - Michele Quondam), I was immediately reminded of the older game. The designer has stated that they haven't played Waterworks, but I'll tell you it's an awfully coincidental design!

Which simply means that I don't like Bulp! It's a game with too much luck and very little fun. The idea of water flowing through pipes is a good one, but it simply falls flat in play. I found that some kids enjoyed the blocking of other players, and the short length keeps the game from dragging too much. But I can't really see any strategies other than the obvious, and the game continually reminded me of another tunnel building game – Saboteur – that used a similar system but in a much better way. Bulp just feels uncreative and lackluster – there's almost zero excitement in a game that has blocking and pipe twisting.

Each player places a town card an equal distance from a central spring. A deck of pipeline cards is shuffled, and six are dealt to each player. On a player's turn, they simply draw the top card, then place one card on the table that connects to any player's pipeline. Cards must all follow the same orientation and must connect to the pipes shown on the cards.
- Some cards show a single pipe, or a curved pipe, or even a pipe that splits up in a "T" or "X" shape.
- Other cards show a "break" (with water pouring out) on them and can only be played on top of another unbroken pipe of the same shape. A player can "fix" a break by playing a solid pipe on top of the break even if another arm of the pipe is added (a "T" can be played on top of a broken straight pipe.)

On a player's turn, they may also discard a card to place a "cap" on any open outlet of their own pipeline. This capped pipe may have no more cards played on it. Either way, play passes clockwise until one player manages to touch his village card with an outlet from the pipeline. There can be no broken parts of this pipe or uncapped outlets breaking away from it to work. The game also ends when the draw pile is depleted.

At this point, players score - scoring one point for each card that they would need to play to finish their pipeline, plus one point for each broken or uncapped section of their pipe. The player with the fewest points (ties broken by cards in hand) is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: If anything, Giochix knows the best way to package a card game - with two small decks of cards fitting into a plastic insert that slides into the game box nicely. The pipe caps are simply blue plastic chips that fit in a small plastic bag, which aren't as thematic as the metal wrenches from the original Waterworks game. The cards themselves are nicely done, showing large pipes with workers and animals cavorting around them; and everything fits together to make a nicely designed pipe layout. I wonder why they didn't use square cards, so as to make it easier to figure out the starting distance; but I can't complain with how the game looks.

2.) Rules: The rules are printed in several languages on a long, folded piece of paper; the English rules are oddly wrapped around one end. They are easy to understand with pictorial diagrams on just how to place the pipe and an alternate scoring method (also known as "too convoluted to care scoring"). The game is VERY easy to teach; even young kids were able to pick up the game in a flash.

3.) Fun Factor: Some players will enjoy the fact of forming a pipe layout; and I think that I can safely say if you enjoyed Waterworks, you'll probably like this game for the same reason. There is a decent amount of interaction, as players who ignore others will quickly find themselves losing; and an unchecked player will end the game in a minute or two.

4.) What's not fun: The game is completely immersed in luck; so much so that I simply cannot see how players will enjoy it. Most of the game is spent either fixing broken pipes on your own line or thwarting an opponent. Eventually there will come a point at which one player will finally complete their pipeline; not because they used tremendous strategy, but because finally no one had the cards to stop them. There is very little variety in the game - players will simply build a pipeline straight to their town with a little maneuvering due to other players messing with them. Why do anything different?

I can't recommend Bulp!, if only for the fact that the game Waterworks is more readily available and has virtually identical game play with a few minor differences. But even beyond that, Bulp!, despite decent components, just offers no strategic or fun returns after each playing. Bulp! may work as a kid's game, since it offers enough minor choices and interaction to be enjoyable for the younger folk. It's also short and simple to setup and play. But all of that just fails miserably for me in the long run, because I found myself simply not caring if I ever finished my pipeline or not; since I had little control over the outcome. Bulp! is Waterworks without the fun. And that's if you considered Waterworks to have fun included, which I don't.

Movies February 16th, 2008 by HMTKSteve
Stardust

When this movie came in the mail (Netflix.com) I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it was over two hours long. My wife picked it out in part because of the big name actors (Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer) in the cast. tonight we watched it.

Deep in the countryside of England there lies a small town named Wall. It gets its name from a mysterious (and magical) wall that borders the village. On the other side of this wall is the magical kingdom of Stormhold. It is by order of the town council that none are allowed to pass over the one breach in the wall. A guard is forever stationed at the breach to insure none cross over.

One evening Dunstan Thorn takes it upon himself to trick the guard and pass over the breach in the wall. Thinking nothing special lies on the other side of the wall he is amazed to discover a magical land, and a girl. After a fun night young Dunstan returns to his side of the wall with naught but memories.

Nine months later a small package is left at the wall for him. It is a basket with young Tristan Thorn inside. It seems his mother is unable to keep and raise him on account of her being the slave of a witch. Dunstan takes it upon himself to raise his son, alone.

Our romantic dinner

Flash forward 18 years and we find young Tristan on the verge of becoming a man. He pines for the love of the village beauty Victoria (Sienna Miller). Being but a lowly shop boy he knows he has little chance with her. A chance made even smaller by the appearance of her prime suitor Humphrey (Henry Cavill). Determined to win her hand in marriage (if not her heart) he takes her out for a secret dinner 10 days before her birthday. While they talk a shooting star falls and he tells her that he will find the fallen star and give it to her in exchange for her hand in marriage. If he fails she will marry Humphrey, who is off to Ipswich to buy her a ring.

Unbeknownst to Tristan the star has fallen because the previous king (Peter O'Toole) of Stormhold has died and set in motion a series of events that will both determine the new ruler of Stormhold and make Tristan into a man, or have him die trying.

The Ghosts of the dead brothers

The funny thing about the royal family of Stormhold is that only one male heir can become king so all of the male heirs take it in turn to kill off all of their male siblings. In fact, Just before the king dies Septimus (Mark Strong) pushed one of his brothers off a balcony to his death. Once dead the ghosts of the brothers sort of hang out together until the next king is crowned. These apparitions act as a sort of peanut gallery trough out the movie as they can neither be seen nor heard by the living. Let me say right now that the lines the ghosts are given are classic. At times I find them saying aloud thoughts that are in my head.

What the king has done is set the ruby of Stormhold out into the stars. The next king of Stormhold will be the one who returns the ruby to it's normal form, a task that only a male member of the royal bloodline can do. Somehow the king has also managed to bring a star to Earth who lands in a crater alongside the ruby. Somewhat bewildered she picks it up and wears it.

The Witches

It is at this time that we also find out about the witches, the head witch, Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), and her two sisters plan to kill the star and eat her heart to attain youth and power once more. They did this 400 years ago when the last star fell to Earth. After drawing straws (so to speak) Lamia is warded the task of bringing the star home and is rewarded with the last bit of the last star. A morsel that rejuvenates her frail old body. Using magic has its own price as it ages her rapidly. There is one very humorous scene where she attempts some magic to fix her aging appearance and the end result is that her youthful breasts suddenly droop.

Now we have three people looking for the star or the ruby she wears. Tristan wants the star to prove his love to Victoria. Septimus and his brothers want the ruby so that they may become king. The witches want the heart of the star to regain their lost power.

The movie is an amazing ride and a joy to watch. I do not wish to spoil anything but I will tell you this. Tristan's mother is the long lost royal daughter. It's not much of a spoiler as it comes out early in the movie.

In one way this movie reminded me of The Princess Bride. The dialogue is excellent and the acting superb. On the other hand the cinematics and computer animation reminded me of the Lord of the Rings movies. Either way this movie is worth a rental.

Games February 15th, 2008 by Stephen
Super Smash Bros

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 13, 2008 - Attention all Smash fans: Put up your dukes! Just before the launch of the much-anticipated Super Smash Bros.® Brawl, Mario™ and friends are hosting four regional Wii™ tournaments. The competitions will visit Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and finally New York for a Midnight Madness Launch event at the Best Buy store at 622 Broadway in New York. All of the 256 participants at each location will receive a $10 Best Buy gift card. One lucky grand prize winner will receive a custom-designed, crystal-covered Wii, a home theater system from Best Buy and other prizes.

"Super Smash Bros. is one of the world's most popular game franchises because it draws in characters from across the Nintendo universe and beyond for some all-out fighting fun," said Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo of America's executive vice president of sales & marketing. "Super Smash Bros. Brawl has extreme appeal among our core audience, but these tournaments are a great way to get new fans involved as well - before the game is even available in stores."

Each regional tournament will provide the first 256 people in attendance the chance to "brawl" one-on-one with other contestants in a single-elimination tournament to determine a winner in each market. Regional winners will face off in a final multiplayer "brawl" at the New York City tournament.

The grand prize winner will receive a crystal-coated Wii with a design from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a home theater system from Best Buy and a copy of the game. The second-place finisher will receive one Wii system and Wii Remote, one copy of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and a $1,000 Best Buy gift card. The third-place finisher will receive a Wii and Wii Remote, a copy of the game and a $500 Best Buy gift card. The fourth-place finisher will receive a Wii, an extra Wii Remote, a copy of the game and a $250 Best Buy gift card. For more information about the tournaments, visit Nintendo.com.

The tournaments will take place at the following times and locations:

Feb. 16
Doors open at 3 p.m.
Orpheum Theater
842 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014

Feb. 23
Doors open at 2 p.m.
Ten15 Folsom
1015 Folsom St.
San Francisco, CA 94103

March 1
Doors open at 3 p.m.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Olden Hall
100 Institute Road
Worcester, MA 01609

March 8
Doors open at 5 p.m.
Best Buy (NOHO)
622 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

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