From the gas price in Chicago to real estate investment

This week I was in Chicago. It had been 24 years since the last time I visited the city in 1994. How time passed by! While the city may have gone through some changes, what drew my attention was the gas price.

The current gas price in Chicago was $3.37 per gallon. If compared to Hong Kong, it was not that bad. However when compared to my last visit here in 1994, it was high. In 1994, the gas price was about $1.11 per gallon. So it was like a 3 times increase! And I talked to a driver of Lyft, who was an immigrant from Brazil.  She said the current minimum wage in Chicago was $12 per hour. And the minimum wage in 1994 was $4.25. So it was almost a 3 times increase as well. Talk about inflation!

And I started thinking whether investing in real estate was a good hedge against inflation. According to the United States Census Bureau, the median and average sales prices of new homes sold in the United States in July this year are $328,700 and $394,300 respectively. During the same period in 1994, the median and average sales prices were $124,400 and $144,400. The increases are 2.64 times for the median sales price and 2.73 times for the average one. It seems like the housing has been catching up with inflation. Maybe investing in real estate is a safe choice to safeguard one against inflation.

References:

  1. Chicago gas price 1994:
  2. Chicago minimum wage: 1994 and 2018
  3. Median and Average Sales Prices of New Homes Sold in United States (historical data)

從芝加哥的汽油價格到房地產投資

時光飛逝,上一次到芝加哥已是一九九四年,時隔二十四年再訪,城市亦經歷了一些變遷,但讓我特別留意的卻是這裏的汽油價格。

芝加哥現時的汽油價格是每加侖3.37美元,如果和香港相比並不算昂貴,但相較一九九四年的1.11美元則上升三倍。我和一個來福車(Lyft)司機傾天,她是來自巴西的新移民,她告訴我現時芝加哥的最低工資是每小時12美元,而一九九四年的最低工資是4.25美元,同樣是接近三倍的升幅,通脹實在驚人。

這讓我想到投資房地產的抗通脹作用。根據美國人口普查局的統計,今年七月美國的新房銷售中位數價格和平均銷售價格分別為328,700美元和394,300美元,而一九九四年同時段的新房銷售中位數價格和平均銷售價格則為124,400美元和144,400美元,分別上漲2.64倍和2.73倍,近貼通脹數字。看來投資房地產可以是抗通脹的一個不錯的選擇。

 

First time to Guam

The past weekend I had a brief getaway with families and friends attending a wedding ceremony at the heavenly Guam, a US island to the west of Pacific Ocean, somewhere between the Philippines and Hawaii. As you can imagine, like Hawaii, Guam is known for its beautiful weather, tropical beaches and an indigenous culture.   Please do expect occasional showers, though.

guam-hotel-beautiful

As we made our booking separately and had different preferences, the gang was not staying in the same hotel.  We were staying in:

They are all nice and beautiful.

Mobility on the island is easy and convenient.  We were glad that we rented a car that made shopping easy, and allowed us to survive from the occasional yet heavy rain showers.

shopping-guam-haveaniceday

In fact, as we’d decided to rent a car before our trip, we started researching which car rental companies had their counters inside the airport. But we could not find too much information about it.  I thus purposely took some photos while I was there and would like to share them here.  They have Hertz, Budget, Avis, National, Nissan and Dollar Rent-a-Car counters plus some others located inside the terminal.

At night we saw a nice performance with brisky music played with the guitar and ukulele. I enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere and nice songs sung by a sonorous voice.

guam-music-haveaniceday


 第一次關島之旅

這個周末我和家人朋友在異國風情的關島出席了一個婚禮,有個愉快的假期。關島是個美國小島,位於西太平洋,在菲律賓和夏威夷之間。關島跟夏威夷有點像,都是陽光普照的好天氣(間中驟雨),有美麗的熱帶海灘和獨特的原住民文化。

我們一行人分開預訂住宿,因為不同個人喜好,分別住在以下酒店中︰

三間酒店都很不錯,環境舒適,服務很好。

島上的交通簡單方便。我們租了車,十分方便購物,又無懼突如其來的驟雨。

我們在出發前已決定租車,本打算預先查看哪些出租車公司在機場有服務櫃位,但在網上一直找不到有用的資料,所以到達機場時特意拍了照片,在此分享。好幾家出租車公司如赫茲Hertz、巴吉Budge、安維斯Avis、國家National、日產Nissan和達樂Dollar等等,都在機場有服務櫃位。

晚上我們看了場音樂表演,結他和烏克麗麗的輕快節奏加上雄厚柔和的歌聲,滿滿的關島風情,就此度過了一個愉悅的晚上。

 

A Day in Harvard

Finally I got a chance to visit Harvard last June.  It was an amazing day!

Did you know?

  • Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636.
  • Their motto is Veritas (Latin for “truth”)
  • They have an income of US$5 billion in Fiscal Year 2017 (with Expenses of US$4.5 billion)
  • Harvard has the largest endowment among any academic institutions (US$37.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2017)
  • Harvard has 48 Nobel Laureates, 32 heads of state, 48 Pulitzer Prize winners

I stayed at Sheraton Boston Hotel this time.


走訪哈佛大學

上年六月終於有機會參觀哈佛大學,真是聞名不如見面!

關於哈佛大學

  • 哈佛大學建於一六三六年,是美國歷史最悠久的高等學府

  • 校訓是「真理」(拉丁文︰Veritas)

  • 二零一七年度的收入為五十億美金,開支為四十五億美金

  • 哈佛的捐贈基金高達三百七十一億美元,冠絕所有高等學府

  • 哈佛畢業生有四十八個諾貝爾獎得主,三十二個國家元首和四十八個普立茲獎得主

這次我入住波士頓喜來豋酒店

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

This says a lot about people’s subjective perceptions. And it doesn’t only happen in scenic beauty, but also in music, food, smell and so on. Everyone is different and they have their own takes on good food and good music. My “sweet” is different from your “sweet” and my “soft” may be a bit “rough” to you. Is there a way to transfer subjective feelings directly to others apart from communicating in words?

I was making a presentation in US with a theme crafted with the above illustration.  In addition to using questionnaire and a rating system, I think it is important to allow the others to be immersed in the same environment in acquiring the specific information you need. My speech is to introduce a mobile app that enables users to create their own ideal soundscapes while experimenting with different sources of sound. This differs from the traditional approach of surveying the public through a soundwalk. Can a survey transfer to the mind of the soundscape designer the respondent’s specific ideas of “a good soundscape”, “vague music” and “pleasant experience”? The designers with their own personal perceptions will read the words in their own ways. After all they are reading words rather than minds.

I related the idea of soundscape designing to creating recipes and making food. I put French fries in my presentation not only to draw attention, but also to explain the idea of subjectivity. The icon of fries is a feature in the app too.

Do you think the fries connect my audience to me and the app?


情人眼裏出西施 — 主觀性對聲景評價的影響

俗語有云「情人眼裏出西施」,道出了人對美的主觀性,事實上主觀不止於視覺上對美的感受,還有聽覺、味覺、嗅覺等的好壞也極具主觀性。每個人都不一樣,對「美食」、「好聽」的音樂也有不同取態,例如不同人看待「甜」的程度不一,對於觸感的感受也不一。所以單憑言語上的溝通很難準確表達主觀感受。

最近我在美國進行了關於聲景(Soundscape)評價的匯報,用了上面的薯條圖片來說明主觀感受在聲景評價工作上的影響。聲景評價指受訪者為特定一個聲音環境評估打分,表達他們對該聲景的感受,從而了解人們如何感受聲環境,意見可用於聲景設計或城市規劃。聲景評價多使用問卷和評分,但在此之上我認為有必要讓受訪者沉浸於同一環境中,我們團隊特別為此開發了一個聲景評價軟件,讓用戶設計自己喜歡的聲景,然後在軟件中感受效果。軟件使用三維虛擬畫面和聲效,讓用戶感受像真度極高的體驗,再反映自己感受。讓用戶自訂聲景可以讓其準確表達自己的喜好,而不是使用「好的聲景」、「微弱的聲音」或「舒適的體驗」等字眼,避免了不同人對此的主觀演繹。

這跟薯條有甚麼關係呢?我在匯報中把聲景設計比喻為自訂菜單和做菜,例如薯條也有不同種類和做法,長短粗幼不一,有人愛吃鹹的、香脆的、軟熟的,或加蕃茄醬或用調味粉,每人口味各異,十分主觀,如果有人說太鹹,別人也不知道要下多少鹽才剛好,就像聲景評價的回饋般,讓聲景設計師無所適從。匯報中我就以此來解釋主觀演繹對聲景評估的影響。

我們的軟件讓用戶和聲景設計師在同一平台中溝通,用戶明白聲景設計的基礎,其設計亦準確回饋予設計師,促進更好的交流,推動有效的聲景評價。