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Opinion Editorials

Tax credit dying, let’s celebrate the good news [OPINION]

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Stop crying already!

Yes (for the umpteenth time), the $8,000 tax credit is ending this week and it’s a blessing sent from above. Why do I say this? Not just because the country has been hanging from the teet of the federal government since the great crash, but because it has allowed the lending world to become dependent and outside of the game of risk for far too long.

Without the federal goverment’s aid, it’s true that most financial institutions would have fallen in the midst of crisis. The $8k tax credit (and TARP) gave institutions a chance to catch their breath, and a much needed steady flow of loans, but it’s time for these little birdies to fly once again, and put the old saying of “lenders lend” back into practice.

As evidenced by these reports here and here, consumers are telling the entire real estate industry loudly and clearly that it ain’t about the damn tax credit, it’s about actually qualifying for an affordable loan.

Fly, baby bird…

As I said, the teet of the U.S. government is dried up and Mama Washington is putting her old bra back on, and it’s cause to celebrate! Although there may be a short lull as lenders react and learn to find food on their own, the great news is that they will, and what you’ll get once that baby bird flies is (hopefully) smarter lending, smarter incentives, a more practical housing market, and solvency in values.

I suppose now the question is, which bird leaves the nest first in search for food? Who’s going to lead in this new real estate market and who will simply die?

April 30th should be a new national holiday, an Independence Day if you will, and it will be, so long as the White House keeps their hands off of the free market…

CC Licensed image courtesy of ttstam via Flickr.com.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Jim Duncan

    April 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Exceptionally well said, Benn. Thanks for saying what I’ve been thinking. The tax credit should have never been put in place. It’s free money, borrowed from potential enemies that ultimately has artificially propped up the market and has delayed the inevitable.

    Good riddance.

    • Justin Boland

      April 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      “borrowed from potential enemies”

      Actually, the Fed just prints money. I believe in politics that’s called “acting unilaterally” — where China gets involved is the buying of US treasury bonds. Those bonds all get auctioned after the fact, though, and the fact is: the Fed just prints the money.

    • Benn Rosales

      April 29, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      Actually, Jim, it occurs to me that what is fueling the economy right now are the roughly 48% of the country NOT making mortgage payments. Many of which are employed, but feel the cribs underwater in value and waiting for the auction. There are many things that are propping up the markets and fueling some growth, hell, look at Ford, GM, the tech sector, android phones, iphones, ipads, where’s that cash and confidence coming from? heh probably the increase in income they’re capping on that should be paying the mortgage – oh yeah… there’s pandemonium happening, you just don’t see it through the good news around wallstreet right now. That’s not welfare buying those new toys… that’s the anticipation of welfare that buys consumers out of costly bad loans, and foreclosure forgiveness- talk about money being printed… we ain’t seen nothing yet, unless lenders see and understand that what we used to see as gold credit is the new subprime and fire up the lending machines…

  2. BawldGuy

    April 29, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Lenders lend.

    Good stuff, Benn.

  3. Bruce Lemieux

    April 29, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Glad the credit is coming to an end. It will be interesting to see if we see a cash-for-clunkers effect for entry level homes over the next couple of months.

  4. Erica Ramus

    April 29, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Amen. I am hosting a Broker Open tomorrow, to FEED the agents, at one of my listings. My invitation said COME CELEBRATE with us! We’re going to enjoy a nice lunch and toast to “back to normal”. Whatever that means.

  5. Bryan Faircloth

    April 30, 2010 at 8:31 am

    I wish the tax credit had ended March 30 instead of April 30. As an agent, I would have received my hard-earned and well-deserved money sooner. 🙂

  6. Joe Loomer

    April 30, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Irreverent and awesome – great post Benn. My wife has four buyers she’s working in the next week – none of whom give a toss about the tax credit – one quote? “Would have been nice to get it, but we really are more focused on the right house in the right location and school districts”

    Keep carrying the torch!

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  7. Benn Rosales

    April 30, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I’m still curious though, who will step into CountryWide’ss shoes and lead in the new real estate market of lending? Who will define the new subprime, acceptable and unacceptable, and create loan packages that fulfill demand – by all accounts and every survey and focus I’m reading, consumer demand and sentiment is behind investing in real estate…

    Are we to just leave investors in the cold now? no second home? no loans that make sense in the jumbo markets?

  8. Justin Boland

    April 30, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Re-read this today and the ending confused me:

    “April 30th should be a new national holiday, an Independence Day if you will, and it will be, so long as the White House keeps their hands off of the free market…”

    I don’t anything to debate, I just wonder where you’d draw that line. Considering that recent AP piece about how 96.5% of all the home loans in 2010 were backed by the Other Big 4 — FHA, VA, Fannie and Freddie — and considering that since the Federal Reserve stopped their MBS buying program, Fannie and Freddie are picking it up to the tune of $200 billion…are these facts that worry you in terms of the housing market? Or do you think of that as “downstream” effects that will improve once Realtors have a clear playing field again? I can see how more organic home sales would create more appetite for new MBS/ABX buying, but I’m just wondering what your stance is.

    How “free” does the market need to be?

  9. Jonathan Benya

    April 30, 2010 at 10:41 am

    May she rest in peace. As much as the bump in business is appreciated, free markets need to reign supreme in order for this economy to recover.

  10. BawldGuy

    April 30, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Hey Benn — I’ve been closing investor loans consistently, albeit sometimes with much thrashing about. My guess is that direct lenders, big ones, will lead the way with investors. That’s what I’ve been experiencing the last couple quarters.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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