The reading notes record thoughts from things I read. 這網誌是我的一些閱讀後的思考和摘要記錄。My website 我的網頁: http://raympoon.playgroundhk.com

轉場

不知是否太受歡迎,這個博站被人看中,派出機械人程式不斷在各文章留言,全都是廣告。我將留言關閉,但機械人不問情由,幾個月來日日都很勤力自動送來廣告。最後一著,唯有將博站轉場。現在新文章的留言版已重新開放。如你有RSS這個連結,請你到我的網站進入新博站來更新。

 

 

Moving To The Cloud

Cloud computing is nothing mysterious.  Anything done remotely on the Internet can be considered in the cloud.  These may include accessing your bank account online, reading news from online newspaper, or using webmail.  However, cloud computing is one step further that the resources on the Internet seems to be integrated with your desktop computer.  There are many cloud drive services available that the storage space on the Internet can be construed as a hard drive on your computer, like Google drive, OneDrive and many online photo album services.  All these services are very easy to use and worry free, if your trust the security of the services.

However, for corporate users, moving to the cloud may present additional challenges.  Most of the hardware servers in the backroom are gone.  The valuable corporate data and the control are now in the cloud, or in the hand of a third party.  The emphasis of the IT administrators has changed from caring for the hardware to a relationship with the cloud service providers.  OCGIO is promoting cloud computing to departments.  She recommends some services to use the public cloud.  Her data centre also offers private cloud service.  I think some colleagues tasked with IT administration may have the experience of moving to the cloud.

CIO.com has an article written by the Chief Information Officer of a large corporation on the challenges of moving to the cloud.

1. Impact On Culture

Adopting a cloud infrastructure requires new corporate IT muscles.  Along with traditional IT activities like database administration and change management, it is now necessary to have expertise in security, virtualization, storage efficiency, and process automation.  Before making any transitions, IT departments have to be sure that their team members have the relevant skills.  There will inevitably be skeptics both inside and outside of the IT department. Some groups are wary of clouds and those services that they can’t physically interact with.

2. Support

Another challenge of moving to the cloud is providing support.  Whatever applications are deployed, there will always be a need for support even when services are deployed to the cloud.  Support can become a complex issue. The end user will phone IT, regardless of where the application resides.  IT department will have to adapt to a new support model, learn how to support multiple cloud vendors, and learn whom to call when problems arise. Cloud education is essential.

3. Partnerships Are The Key Services

As a broker of cloud services, the vendor relationship became the center of the planning for the future.  As new cloud-based solutions are developed, the administrator has to evaluate which cloud vendors have the products and expertise to make effective use of the new technologies.  Vendors are compared for stability, degree of commitment, and level of service. The relationship with the cloud services provider is key. This is a fundamental change from purchasing software. The cloud provider is a part of the daily delivery of services. Their performance is our performance.

 

石器時代食譜 Stone Age Diet

近數十年大家都留意健康,尤其是健康飲食。幾十年前發現了膽固醇,即被打成萬惡之物。近十多年有新發現,原來過量進食糖才是原兇。醫學科學仔細研究,得出的結論是現代經處理的食物都高糖高鹽,又有人工添加劑,對健康有害。最根本的問題是人類的基因沒有準備好去處理這一類食物。現代人種最後的進化在數萬年前,而現代食物只出現了數百年。人類在這麼短時間內未能進化至可以 適應這些轉變。

根據這個邏輯,有營養學家就估計如果人類回復幾萬年前的飲食習慣,就可避過很多現代的疾病。何時類人才算進化成現代智人呢?古人類學家告訴我 們,古代類人是拾荒者,以搜集食物為生。智人發展到古石器時代,使用工具狩獵,成為獵人。因飲食改變,肉食增加,使腦部更快發展,身體亦進化適應狩獵運動。自此幾萬年來,基因就根據這些轉變來進化。我們的身體構造是基於這些飲食習慣。

於是有人發起要改為進食石器時代食譜 stone age diet。石器時代沒有現代的經處理過可儲藏的食物,亦無人工添加劑。食物來源是狩獵,新鮮肉類就是飲食的中心,再配以新鮮的植物。這些食譜對現代人來說是好消息,絕對可以接受。牛扒加薯仔,燒雞配西蘭花是我們常吃的晚餐。只要材料新鮮,不加太多人工配汁,就等於石器時代人類的食譜,可以食幾萬年都沒有心臟病。這個建議和素食理論有最大衝突。問題中心在於吃不吃肉類,和它究竟是有益還是有害。

國家地理雜誌九月號報導了人類飲食的進化,其中有論述古人類飲食變化。某些類人可以進化為智人,增加了進食肉類蛋白質使腦部組織增強是一個主因。但狩獵並不是容易的事。雖然草原上有很多動物,但捕獵有很大風險,成功率並不高,間中捕獲的多是細少的動物。總而言之,在古石器時代,肉食很珍貴,供應絕對不足夠果腹。主要的食物還是來由在草原上採集的植物。飲食應是以植物為主食,輔助以肉類。不過整個飲食進化實際上是要複雜得多。 智人離開了非洲草原,在全世界生根。每一個地點的環境和食物供應都不同。在北部寒冷地帶,植物不能生長,食物只有肉類,但其愛斯基摩人和 inuit 人卻很少有心臟病。在亞洲東南部,因天氣潮濕植物豐富,食物以植物為主。而很多海岸地帶,因海產容易獲得,食物以魚類和貝殼類為主。如果要問你的基因從何如來,首先要看看你的遠祖是誰。歐洲人容易適應較多肉類的食譜,而亞洲人飲食應以植物為主,再加入少量的肉食。

food_malaysia

吃魚翅

很多朋友喜歡在吃飯前先拍攝食物然後上載至FB。最近見到一位朋友將一碗魚翅的照片上載,還讚嘆不已。另一事件是一群朋友相約聚餐,餐單有魚翅羹或海味湯的選擇。有人建議不如投票吃那一樣。結果竟然是10:1選擇魚翅。我覺得有點奇怪,因為反對吃魚翅近年很流行, 變成了群眾運動,很多人將此掛在口邊。而強迫別人不要吃魚翅幾乎達到欺凌程度。但魚翅食譜深入民間,歷來都是受歡迎的食物,被認定是美食。原來心底裡大家都仍希望在歡欣的場合可以有魚翅佐餐。

世上有多種食物,亦有人提出種種理由勸人不要吃這樣那樣。但不吃魚翅運動攪得特別有聲有色。最早發起的是動物愛護者,跟著有環保人士。有人提出政治背景。在美國,中式餐廳都以魚翅為鎮店之寶,食魚翅被看作是中國象徵。當反吃魚翅運動開展時,政治家亦利用機會鼓吹一 番,使運動升溫再國際化。但不吃魚翅的理由是否強大到值得民眾四出抗議又騷擾正當商人呢?

最常聽到的理由是鯊魚受虐待。魚翅由鯊魚身上割下。有一些漁民捕到鯊魚後,即時割下魚鰭又將受傷的鯊魚放回海中,鯊魚因此而慢慢死亡。 這種活割魚鰭 Finning 的殘忍方法已被大部分東太平洋國家列為非法。執法人員會巡邏檢查漁船和在港口檢查漁獲,檢控違法者。在南太平洋盛產鯊魚的水域,仍有一些不法漁民用這個方法取魚鰭。但鯊魚有價,大部份的鯊魚都是整條捕獲,取魚鰭後被用作肉食,其軟骨和魚肝可作藥用,鯊魚皮亦可用作皮革。它們的遭遇和其他被人類屠殺的動物無異。

shark_market

一個常聽到的訊息是鯊魚要絕種了。現今海洋濫捕的情況很嚴重,很多魚類都面臨滅絕。尤其是非常美味又受歡迎的吞拿魚。但鯊魚經常被說是快要完全消失了。究竟實際的情況是怎麼樣?世上有超過400個鯊魚品種,有201個被列入世界瀕危物種公約組織的紅色觀察名單;其中只有25個經常被捕獲的品種被列為瀕危,其他的是有危機需要觀察。

我覺得以上兩個已是非常充分的理由需要保護鯊魚。但保護鯊魚和保護其他動物一樣有各種方法。鯊魚亦和其他動物一樣可供人類使用。兩者需要取得平衡。

反對吃魚翅變身成為群眾運動後,就有很多似是而非的理由被創造出來,在互聯網上吹噓。我看過幾個説法可以仔細思考一下。

有說吃魚翅只是虛榮,因魚翅完全沒有營養、沒有味道、只是骨骼。這只是想當然的説法。魚翅是由鯊魚身體產生,是一種蛋白質,內含骨膠原,對關節有幫助。中醫藥說它有補腎、養顏、健髓的功效。就算不説醫學用途,蛋白質已是人體營養必需品。

有科學研究發現魚翅含有重金屬如水銀等。反對吃魚翅人士即時大造文章,説它對身體有害。這當然沒有錯。實情是現時全世界大部分的海洋都有重金屬污染情況,所有海産都會吸收重金屬。在食物鏈頂部的魚類含量較多。不單止鯊魚或魚翅,所有大魚以至食肉的魚類都有此問題。

另一個由環保人士提出的是生態問題。其邏輯是因吃魚翅,至鯊魚絕種。因鯊魚吃小魚,沒有了鯊魚,小魚數量不受控制,引發生態大災難。但海洋大魚種類繁多,其他大魚一樣吃小魚。就算小魚數目增加,亦不見得是災難,小魚會生活得很好。

不顧一切的反對吃魚翅,對其他人士有很壞的影響。首先是想吃魚翅的人士的自由被干擾了。他們受到不必要的壓力。這個運動在學校亦被推廣,未有充足分析能力的學生被灌輸不完整的資訊而洗腦。

受影響最大的是正當的商人和工人。經營餐廳的商人,尤其是中式餐廳,受到無理的欺凌。有些餐廳要將魚翅餐單收起來,只在有顧客要求時才供應。真正受影響的是經營魚翅買賣的商人和處理魚翅的工人。他們倚靠魚翅維生。其生計的困難是反對吃魚翅的人士沒有考慮的。

魚翅有很深厚歷史的食譜,是很有價值的飲食文化。最早的記載可以追查至宋代。明宮史有記載,明熹宗喜食以魚翅、燕窩、蛤蜊製的一品窩; 本草綱目亦載有魚翅的價值。魚翅普遍在民間入饌可以追溯至明清年間。魚翅一般是在嫁娶或壽宴等喜慶場合時奉客,成為禮節的一部分。我們經常都說要保護人類文化遺産。有千年歷史的飲食文化應要好好保護。

shark_fin

但鯊魚和其他瀕危物種是應該要受保護的。試想像這些物種所受的苦難,就是被人類濫捕和虐待。最有效的保護方法是設立禁捕區和海洋保護區。很多國家都將某些海洋物種豐富的海域定為海洋國家公園,禁止在內捕魚和進行商業活動。各種海洋生物可以此繁殖,海洋生態可以受保護。至於已被列為非法的活割魚鰭的漁船,各國可以增強執法能力,將這種方法禁絕。魚翅的供應,仍可以靠正常的捕魚活動。集中力量對付幾百條違例的漁船,總比騷擾十幾億食客為佳。

更應令人關注的是推動環保的方法。保護生物、保護環境、保護地球是祟高的理想,其起點是愛護。但現時我們見到的環保行動卻不是推動愛護而是推動仇恨。其宣傳重點是人們如何浪費、如何污染、如何不人道,目的是教唆大眾去計對他人。這些訊息亦在幼兒間傳播。兒童得到的印象是成人都在做不好的事。很多家長都曾抱怨孩子從學校回來竟然會指責成人用太多紙、用太多水、和吃魚翅。他們認定這些是成人的邪惡行 為,但卻缺乏了愛護的認知心態。我覺得這對社會風氣,兒童心理成長都有不良影響。環保教育應要從新規劃,以推動愛護為主題。

The Big Data problem

Big Data is the buzz word of the day. With the Internet extended to all facets of everybody’s everyday life, there are a lot of personal information flowing around. Many companies knew a long time ago how to make use of the personal data of their customers in aiding marketing and sales. There are many researches by sociologists, city planners and the police using big data in demographics and crowd control. The recent revelation of big data usage is the massive project of governments in keeping almost all information about everybody. All these have alerted the privacy advocates that the big data have created problems on infringement of personal privacy, and possibly secret government control on citizens. The main worry is that the government is keeping too much data centrally on everybody, and the citizens have no way to know what the government is doing with it. As such, there are bound to be conspiracy theories that the big data are used against the citizens.

In the IT field, there are much discussion about the big data problem. There is an article in the August issue of Scientific American on How to Save Big Data from Itself. It proposes a three-step plan for using the data right in the age of government overreach.

The governments claimed that, for security reasons, big data is required to search for terrorists. The threat is everywhere and searching for useful information is like finding a needle in a haystack. The haystack now being accumulated is really too large, and any searching within is closed to the citizens. The article suggested that the haystack should be scattered. That means, instead of a large centralized database of information, each agency should maintain their own information database; and that such databases should be independent from each other. Law enforcement agencies could still have access to the individual databases on legitimate grounds, but the query of information would be overseen through metadata. This is a way to safeguard massive search of information from being abused.

A major threat to big data is data leakage. All databases and transmissions must be hardened with encryption. Without adequate protection, data could be siphoned off without notice. Cybersecurity is a major concern, and hacking activities are rampant in the Internet. Data being leaked this way are likely to be used in cybercrime. Big data could create an even bigger problem owing to the extensive coverage of information of a lot of persons. From time to time, we heard horror stories of databases of large corporations being compromised, leading to loss of assets. This is a good lesson that security of databases and transmissions must be upgraded.

The third part of the plan is never stop experimenting on control. The big data scenario is new. Existing regulations and traditional controls may not be suitable to maintain a healthy environment. But there is still no definite solution to the problem. What we could do now is to experiment all kinds of control to see what works. Citizens, technology companies and other countries are now pressing the USA government to impose limits on NSA surveillance. Telecommunication companies are suing for the right to release information on the metadata about NSA’s request for data. The USA Freedom Act being debated could impose restrictions on the collection of bulk data. All these could keep the use of big data under control, but a final solution is still far away.

為何吃素

吃素的風氣在香港並不算十分流行。但在你身邊眾多的朋友當中,總會有一两個聲稱吃素。吃素的人並不只是多吃蔬菜少吃肉,而是什麽肉類都不吃。這並不是什麽秘密;因為大家一起吃飯時,總要作出少少安排,又免不了問問原因和有什麽益處。

最直接的又令人無話可說的是個人喜好,只是不喜歡肉類的味道。這可以算是偏食,但人有自由選擇食物,他人只有尊重。 心理學家認為這些喜好源自潛意識,可能在年少時受到影響而不自知。

vegi宗教信仰是一個影響飲食習慣的重要因素。很多教條規定信徒不可吃某些食物,原因可能只是傳統或只因經書的某一句;而教徒亦不問根由照做。但有些宗教禁止吃肉,卻多是有宗教理論基礎。他們都有一個共同點,就是不可殺生。生命寶貴,人類不應屠殺其他生命作為食物。尊重其他生命是很可敬的想法。但可惜吃素的人只認為動物有生命,而植物沒有。這當然是一個錯誤的理解。植物的進化歷史久遠得多, 其實是動物的祖先。但不殺生何來有食物?有些宗教追尋人類最原始的覓食方法,只食動物自然死亡後的屍體、被棄置的蛋和落下的果實,務求不會因覓食而奪去動物植物的生命。現時人類數目眾多,要靠這樣的食物供應並不足夠。只欺負我們不明白它的感官反應的植物可算是吃素的一種安 慰。

另一個和不殺生相似的是人道理由。屠殺動物作為食物是對動物不人道,其間免不了痛苦和虐待。動物受到這樣對待時的反應和人類相似;它們會掙扎、唬叫、流血,令人感到不安。我曾聽說過有人看鬥牛,見到牛被鬥死後即被支解,之後就吃素。亦有人在市場看過禽畜被生劏,或看過工業農場畜牧的情況就不再吃肉。他們因此吃素,只是不理解植物所受的迫害。很多植物被用作食物,是要將整株植物的生命毀滅。我看過一篇有關稻米種植的報導可供參考。稻米本是多年生植物;為要得到最高產量,農夫會在稻米第一年準備結子的時候將稻田的水放乾。 稻米可以感覺到危機,感覺恐懼,會於短時間內將所有精力用於產生更多種子,然後死亡。報導說這是高效率種植方法,不過稻米的感受沒有人理會。吃素的人如因此覺得不安,就不如以後不吃飯。

近代流行的議題是環保。有人聲稱因環保而吃素。這是自稱最神聖的理由,因為不是為自己,而是為別人,為後代,為世 界,為天下。起因是畜牧所需資源較多,又容易污染環境。這些理論近幾十年才出現,因為世界人口急速澎漲,食物供應預測將會供不應求。畜牧所需的飼料,其實可用作人類食物;而畜牧帶來的廢物,至今仍無法完全處理。如果人類全部吃素,食物不足問題就解決了。肉食自古以來都很珍貴,因為供應不足,一般人家都要大時大節才吃肉 。只有家境較好的才經常有肉吃。這個現象隨著城鄉關係發展而改變。城市的發展,使人口財富集中於城市。鄉郊成為城市的食物供應者。居住於城市的人,可以享受大量供應的肉食,飲食習慣因而改變。這個趨勢在可見的將來只會越來越嚴重。鄉間的人仍會不斷移居到城市,而城市的規模會變大,數目會更多。肉食需求會增加,價格會上升。在這個情況下要大家放棄吃肉,不再畜牧,是不可能的。除非是發生大災難。

其實吃素最常見的理由是健康。坊間流傳不少例子,說吃素之後健康明顯改善。但醫學界就認為吃素不是健康的保證,均衡飲食更重要。我覺得在香港這個繁榮的城市,飲食種類極為豐富。很多人都不自覺地吃得太多,又吃了很多添加劑。如果實行吃素,起碼可以避過很多不健康的食物。吃素的人很多都信心十足,認為素食可以供應身體一切所需。最重要的蛋白質都可以於豆類食物中吸收。醫學界指出素食有三大缺點需要注意。第一是蛋白質質量差。植物中只有豆類含蛋白質,但進食豆類過量其異黃酮可引發癌症。第二是維生素不全面,尤其是容易缺乏維生素D和B12。第三是缺乏鐵、鋅和鈣。這些缺點需要用補充劑來補救。

素食明顯的益處,是減除了吃太多肉的害處。但有吃素者迷信其有神奇功效,能醫百病,又因此而忽略了身體全面所需的營養。營養師的建議是,就算不吃肉,也要補充雞蛋和牛奶等 蛋白質含量高的食品,均衡營養才能使我們的身體更健康。

2009-04-11-Second-hand-vegetarian

關愛基金

數年前,政府設立關愛基金,預計要商界貢獻100億,政府配對100億。豈料風雲突變,商界竟然第一次縮沙,答應了又要再考慮,即是食言。政府騎虎難下,唯有於2011年自行注資200億。而商界只是象徵式捐款18億。

關愛基金將這一筆龐大的現金交托於金融管理局,但回報很低。幾年來收益總共只有9億,年利率低於1.5%。有見及此,政府準備在市面找尋一些健全而有較高回報的基金,將關愛基金的不動現金轉移出去投資,以收取較佳回報。

市面有一隻新發行的基金,由聲譽良好的跨國集團管理。其往績甚為吸引,而基金亦保證可以每年有10.2%的定息回報。以150億的本金計算,每年利息收入已有約15億,足以維持關愛基金的支出。如悉數投資,關愛基金就可保存本金,只靠利息提供利民措施。傳聞這一個建議已為政府接納,合約已在準備中。

但有謠言說這一隻基金未必穩健,如果倒閉,將會是最大的Ponzi局,比馬多夫案還要大。廉政公署希望調查一下,但政府的交易已準備妥當,不想再生枝節。廉政專員范羅佩芬亦不想跟進。但因有可疑的地方,政府派人去商討是否可以稍為延遲交易。基金有一位顧問,是退休高官,人稱橋王。他力陳政府誠信的重要性,失信可引致管治困難。交易於是按計劃進行。

以上只是電影Z風暴的情節。

對脂肪停戰

我早前寫了一篇博文,描述糖其實是引致肥胖的元凶。其中有一個結論,就是一卡路里的糖可能比一卡路里的脂肪更能今人致肥。很多人都接受食太多糖不好,但對脂肪仍有介心。

fat2其實人類的本性是非常渴求脂肪的。幾百萬年前,類人猿的生活範圍由樹上落到地面,食物加入了動物蛋白質和脂肪。這個變化使腦部組織加速發展,智力大大增強。有一些重要的氨基酸只能由動物蛋白質獲取,而一些維生素需溶解在油質才能被吸收。自此肉食成為人類重要食糧。但肉食來源要靠狩獵和畜牧,供應不多。直至二百年前,普通人家吃一餐豐富的肉是一件大事。近代人肉食充足,要歸功於現代工業化畜牧技術。

約於上世紀六十年代,醫學界發現很多心臟病的起因是血管被膽固醇阻塞,而膽固醇由脂肪組成。雖然大部份膽固醇是由肝臟自然產生,但醫學界仍建議市民少食脂肪。

時代雜誌6月號有一篇報導,請大家對脂肪停戰。這個戰線由美國開始,醫藥界大力推廣降膽固醇藥物和宣傳脂肪和膽固醇的關係。市面隨即推出脫脂和低脂食物。在1977年,美國參議院一個委員會發表報告 – 美國人的飲食目標,建議大家少吃肉和脂肪,多吃碳水化合物。這個智慧在1980年被制度化;美國農業部發出飲食指引,其中一條就是要盡量避開膽固醇和脂肪。其間有很多研究報告和理論得出不同的結論。但主流藥廠支持脂肪有害論,而一整代的醫生亦已是這樣被教導。

現時市面供應的包裝食物,有超過三分之一聲明是低脂;很多肉類都先被除去脂肪。據統計,近年美國人已減低進食脂肪,但患上心臟病的比例卻上升了。要找出原因,舊理論有檢討的必要。

較深入的研究說膽固醇有两類 – 低密度LDL和高密度HDL,而脂肪因含較多的飽和脂肪酸,會增加有害的LDL膽固醇。但最新的研究卻發現脂肪使两種膽固醇都增加,對血管的害處抵消了。吃多了低脂食物對健康反而有害,起源是在其代替品。脂肪會使食物有特别風味和質感。減低了脂肪,食物製造商要加入代替品如大量的糖、澱粉質、人造牛油和調味劑等等。人造牛油因含反式脂肪已被證實對身體有害,而其他的代替品都使人不自覺地食用了過量的碳水化合物。

文中亦有解釋身體消化使用碳水化合物的過程,和當食用過量時所引起的不良連鎖反應。這和我在之前的博文記錄的一樣。

fat1要解決致肥而損害健康的問題,第一點要做的是要對脂肪停戰。因為只迷信脂肪有害,很多人極力追求低脂食品或迴避肉食脂肪,但對低脂食物極放心而不加防範和節制。其結果反而是使身體內分泌機能混亂,致肥又引起各種疾病。對脂肪的恐懼應要解除。很多人因此而處處防範而引致飲食種類不平衡。文章的健康飲食建議是要適量和新鲜。任何食物過量都有害,而新鮮的蔬菜和肉食脂肪都是人體所需。

請看看時代雜誌所做的短片,簡介文章的内容。

食食下野買基金

香港對小投資者真是保護周到,當市民是白痴。以前去銀行提款,有職員會建議你將存款作投資。現時立了例,連銀行在柜位都不能講投資。銀行投資部要設在另一鋪位,要和零售服務完全分隔,出入口要分開。以為市民就此不會胡亂投資。其實日日報紙都有講投資收益,又日日都有人打電話給你推薦投資產品。不如透明一 些,使人人有充足資訊,又加緊揭露風險,更是上策。

大陸真自由,自由到無皇管。食食下野都有投資服務。下面介紹這間連鎖餐廳竟然自已發行投資產品,派息多過銀行。最勁是投資產品寫入餐牌,點點下菜都收到資訊。如有興趣,點菜時問問待應,有詳細介紹。如想買貨,餐廳會即時派出理財經理,陪你進餐之餘又做財務分析,食餐飯分分鐘幾十萬上落。

餐廳賣投資產品,聽來很不習慣。感覺上好似是騙局。但再想深一層,餐廳是正當生意,和地產鋪金鋪一樣。現時坐巴士都有宣傳勸人借錢,看任何刊物都有各種宣傳廣告。至於在餐廳傾生意更是常事,經常都見到有人在餐廳酒樓傾合約保單等。

餐廳自行發行投資產品可以嗎?據聞這連鎖餐廳規模很大、生意種類多,有自己的投資部門。如果這些投資產品是合法的話,大陸是沒有規管只可以在那裡做宣傳推廣。問題是用高回報來吸引投資,資金如何生息及其風險需要詳細解釋。看完這個案我覺得搵食真艱難,做餐廳待應都要有理財產品知識。

**********
酸湯魚連鎖店也賣理財產品     華爾街日報
總部設在北京的籮籮酸湯魚以賣貴州傳統口味菜餚為主,這家餐館從上個月開始向顧客宣傳該公司旗下的投資產品。根據餐館服務員分發的宣傳單,進店的食客還可以同時購買理財產品,其產品回報率遠高於銀行和中國股市的回報水平。
根據宣傳單,其中一款投資額為人民幣50萬元(約8萬美元)的產品年化利率為13%,其他幾種產品為8%。相比之下,中國政府設定的1年期存款利 率上限為3.3%。
上週在位於北京簋街的籮籮酸湯魚門店中,每張餐桌上都貼著宣傳單,宣傳單承諾保障投資者本金和收益的安全。
一位服務員說:我們會向感興趣的顧客介紹產品的基本信息,如果顧客真的想買理財產品,會把他們推薦給專門的理財經理。在一些餐館中,對於有這方面潛在需求的顧客,理財顧問在用餐時間可以隨叫隨到。
籮籮財富的負責人程榮稱,考慮到市場競爭激烈以及籮籮酸湯魚連鎖店的廣大客戶資源,公司決定通過酸湯魚的14家連鎖店來推銷他們的產品。
理財產品都號稱和銀行存款一樣安全,同時還不受嚴格的利率限制。基金經理通常把資金投向中國經濟中難以獲得傳統銀行貸款的領域,例如房地產公司等。股市疲軟以及房地產價格不穩定都增加了理財產品的吸引力。
撰稿:華爾街日報Grace Zhu
**********

Natural Ponzi

The Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent financial scheme meant to cheat money.  Such practice occurred since the 19th century when commerce and investment were blooming in the Victorian era.  It was made famous by Carlo Ponzi in the early 20th century who created many fake financial schemes.  When the schemes crashed, many families were ruined and 6 banks in Boston went broke.  Ponzi schemes kept coming in various forms.  The latest was the Madoff case which was the biggest Ponzi scam ever.

The scam operates in a simple way.  Someone incurred a debt.  He then borrowed from other persons to repay the interest, promising them high return.  The capital was never repaid, and continued more creditors were incurred, until there was no more new money to repay interest and the debtor absconded.  The debt was usually a form of fake investment promising high return.  How come people fall for such scheme without checking on the authenticity of the scheme?  The first factor is greed.  People want to get rich and are blinded by the high return. The second factor is the herd behaviour where other people are doing the same thing.  Ponzi scheme is so famous nowadays that people are generally more cautious about financial products promising unreasonably high return.  However, a famous person with good reputation like Madoff could easily persuade his friends to invest heavily on his non-existent investment fund.

The June issue of Scientific American carries an article by Kaushik Basu on the subject.  He is a professor of economics at Cornell University.  His research revealed that Ponzi schemes occurred naturally in our economy.  There are legal activities, genuine financial schemes, not operated by conman as a conspiracy.  But the behaviour and the risk are the same, and the resultant damages to the stake holders, investors and the economy are severe.

All financial bubbles are naturally occurring Ponzi, whether they are in housing, stocks and shares, gold, currencies.  The main characteristic of the bubble is the psychology of the investors where the expectation of sustained rise in price keeps the process going.  The bubble is formed not in response to manipulation but to natural market forces, with one person’s expectation stoking the new person’s.  When the process stops owing to some bad news, the bubble bursts and the value of investment vanished in vapour.  The Ponzi phenomenon could be seen as regular bubbles and bursts in the financial market where some people just consider them as peaks and troughs.

Some Ponzi may be hidden and not be obvious to spot.  The author quoted an example in the IT field where such professionals are expensive, some IT companies hired these experts at very low wages, but gave them company stock options as reward.  The young professionals had high hope of these options that their value could be many folds higher when the companies grew.  Under such arrangement, the company could be able to have low cost of human resources to compete with others.  To sustain such competitiveness, the company would need to hire more professionals with low wages.  Should the company not making a profit and could no longer grow, the stock options would be worthless.

Such rob Peter to pay Paul mentality also applies to national debts.  In many countries where her spending exceeds the domestic products, such as USA, government bonds are issued, borrowing money from the citizens, banks and other countries to cover the deficit.  Should there be the unfortunate circumstances that debts and interests could not be repaid when due, which happen all the time, new government bonds are issued with higher interest to attract creditors.  When the national economy failed and no one was willing to buy more government bonds, a country could default her debt.

The one thing that made the Ponzi worse is the government rescue.  There is a saying that some companies are too big to fail because their failure could cause wide spread damage to the population.  In a democratic country, the elected legislators would pressure the government to use public fund to rescue the companies.  The result is that those operated their companies like a Ponzi would never lose.  The author suggested that even if a company must be rescued, the management and the persons responsible must be punished by dismissal or be held liable for the loss.