Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Yabba Dhabi Doo

From the press this week, news that investment funds in the United Arab Emirates have taken MAJOR equity holdings in two of the largest global companies: Citigroup ($7.5 billion / 5%) and Sony ("substantial). This atop several other recent SWF investments in AMD (8%), Apollo Management (9%), and Airbus.

Worldwide, something north of $2.5 trillion sits in sovereign wealth funds. Abu Dhabi's fund is purported to be the largest, at $625 billion, but by no means are the Oily Arabs the only ones throwing their government cash around private markets. The second largest fund is purported to be Norway's at $330 billion. And in asia, Singapore has well over $200 billion in various funds. Even communist China owns stocks -- Blackstone Group is now 10% held by the Chinese government. France and Germany don't have specific funds ... that would create perhaps too much trancparency for them. Make no mistake - they're deeply invested in companies in their own countries. Airbus, for example, would not even exist did it not receive a steady "reverse dividend" from it's shareholders, the European governments.

While dollar markets are deep and wide enough to absorb these purchases without lurching overall, outsized SWF investments in other national markets have caused significant trauma ... and they've only begun to dip their toes in the water. Just wait 'till one of 'em tries to get a seat on the board of an American company or otherwise flex their ownership muscle.

Ya can't blame 'em really. All these emerging market countries are flush with cash (mostly in Dollars) from exports, primarily those of commodities, and those primarily of oil. Holding all that money in treasuries which (of late) don't even keep up with the rate of Dollar depreciation, just doesn't make sense. Think about it in domestic terms -- if Congress found out they could add a new massive revenue stream from investments, how long would they be able to keep from doing that? The money'd be spent before the investments had even been made. They might even lower taxes if faced with enough pressure.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Corporate Newspeak

I feel it necessary to do my little part to bust the current ridiculous TV writers' strike.

Here, from the front lines of corporate America's battlefields, are some phrase-isms which are too bizarre to be made up. Unfortunately, they call to mind Orwell's Newspeak and clearly achieve the same goal of dumbing down the populace.

Cover off on: (v) To get someone (else) to resolve or get someone to respond to
Usage: "It's great that you've been able to cover off on that issue so quickly."

Ask: (n) a question
Usage: "Good feedback on your ask when you covered off on it."

E: (n) an e-mail
Usage: "Please shoot me an E with your ask."

Shoot: (v) to send or submit. Also: get
Usage: "As soon as you get me your E, I'll shoot it back."

Learning (n) lesson
Usage: "In summary, here are the learnings from this week's sessions."

Out of Pocket (n) incommunicato
Usage: "I'm flying to New York in the morning, so I'll be out of pocket most of the day."

Dilbert (n) a conformist employee of a corporation
Usage: "Stay tuned, ye writer-less producers. I'll continue to report back with new jewels on this blog whenever my fellow Dilberts drop these non-speak jewels"

Hollywood writers' strike

The US is without question an information economy in the sense that intellectual property is one of the few areas where we have an unquestionable competitive advantage. US companies know that information and innovation are the only areas in which they can continue to compete with low-cost emerging markets. Correspondingly, they nearly worship the fertile minds who can create it from thin air. If you want job security today, don't join a union - go innovate. Then sell yourself to the highest bidder, be it your current employer or someone new.

Then repeat.
Then repeat again.

It's how the entire corporate world gets along ... and I very seldom hear execs complaining about exploitation -- they know they're getting paid exactly what they're worth because they constantly test it by keeping themselves on the market. And believe me, the bar on creativity in the corporate world is low. These Dilberts get highly bankrolled for some pretty mediocre brainstorms.

Software and media are the two industries with perhaps the greatest reliance on creativity. Why then, in the latter hotbed of ideas, do the writers feel so impotent that they have to resort to the childish collective bargaining tactics invented by braun-over-brains steelworkers a hundred and some years ago (and not innovated since). If they each would simply take responsibility for extracting their full value, and if they were ballsy enough to go out there and compete, the good ones would undoubtedly rise to the top. The not-good would appropriately go do something else they're better at.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Death to the Silo

I feel the need to explain myself before I share my next suggestion. Not a day ago, I posted a blog about creating duplication in government to spur competition. Now I'm about to suggest the opposite in the corporate world. Am I becoming one of those pseudo-intellectuals who get along simply simply by taking contrarian viewpoints on everything? Hopefully not. Bear with me ... read on and I promise to explain myself before this blog comes to an end ... so here goes!

The silo business model is endangered. Many of their activities are duplicative and ineffective by virtue of being underresourced. Single corporate-level activities can take some of these things over, reducing costs while increasing effectiveness, standardization, and homogeneity. There is ample room for increased standardization within business lines as well. Ops and functions like Compliance can be more cost-effectively centralized, allowing for greater oversight, staff mobility, better MIS. This "reverse hourglass" leaves only the marketers, RMs, and product specialists divided.

Obvious issue #1 is how various businesses share nicely. Do you split based on backlog of work? On cost per widget? On profitability of work? On growth potential? On executive fiat? On risk?
Answer is yes. Via some heirarchical and adjustable algorithm. What yo do NOT do is let the businesses fight politically for attention. You must assert the independence of the management of these ops and functional groups. You must put the right people in charge of those groups, not discount managers. Then you must empower (and indeed incentivize) them to determine the best allocation rules. To do so is simple: internal pricing. Clearly outline enterprise-level policy to the business lines (for example, "you must have accounting which conforms with corporate norms, GAAP, and is detailed and timely enough to enable seamless integration with the enterprise-level systems and reports."). Then, allow them to bid for the attention of the ops groups .... OR go outside the firm if there are no good options inside. True, this puts a new burden on the organization to determine, communicate, and police the enterprise-level policy. That's money well spent. The idea, however, of insourcing these tasks into their marketing silo (which is largely what has happened to date) puts them under the thumb of managers who are lacking in operational expertice, and moreover, perversely incentivized toward cutting so many corners they end up with round desks.

Obvious issue #2 is how a single group can be both standard enough to find efficiencies ... and yet expert enough at each product/service to handle it without killing the efficiencies.
Answer is that this is exactly what the middle managers are well-paid to figure out. That's not a punt on my part. It's simply a reminder of the "ideal state" of corporate organization. Managers need to assess staff capabilities and match that against work to be done in the most efficient, highest quality, and least risky manner possible. The silo approach forces these groups to work extremely lean. They are unable to take advantage of economies of scale, especially in terms of managerial mindshare. On the other hand, a single manager (or team of) who is able to able to lift his eyes up a level from the daily fire-fights and focus on that balance of efficiency vs. risk vs. quality would have no trouble finding the right balance. This would then dictate the balance between standardization and specificity. These managers can structure their teams however they want. I'd recommend they look into the idea of competing teams, all complying with department-level policy requirements. Someday I'll post a blog on how decentalization and standards play nicely together. For now, let it suffice for me to say that the establishment of high-level standards (or said differently "requirements") is an enabler of decentralization.

At the beginning of this blog, I promised to redeem myself from my apparent inconsistency of view. My juxtaposition is, in fact, intentional ... and that intention is to highlight several necessary underpinnings of both my arguments. Competition, Decentralization, and Specialization. Basic tenets of pure capitalism.

Intra-govt competition

States' rights are a good thing. Its one of those rare cases where parts of the US governmental behemouth actually engage in competition. I dig it so much so that I might suggest taking it further. Let states in on the work currently reserved for the federal government. The Feds say that only THEY have the expertice and resources to handle those things (airport regulation, for example). Okay, prove it with some good ole competition from the states. Let's see who really comes up with the best, most workable and most efficient ideas.

To borrow a Huckabee quote, "states should be the laboratories of good government"

Which, of course, he paraphrased from Reagan. The original was, "I will ... restore to States and local governments their roles as dynamic laboratories of change in a creative society."

Oh, what if, the Feds will say ... what if the states actually come up with some good stuff? What if people notice and start moving powers from the national to the state level? How would they keep up? Fear not, Feds, I will give you the secret ... Create competition within yourself. Create competing agencies within the Fed which must fund themselves by competing for work. Intentionally or not, many larger corporations (and small businesses such as real estate brokers) do this profitably.

How could a libertarian such as myself suggest MORE governmental agencies? Go ahead, call me a Dubya in Reagan clothing for doubling the size of government. Then watch as competition pushes productivity from its current Soviet levels to something more resembling what we stand for.

Who to fight the expense of overlap? Should the best eventually run the other one out of business?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

NCAA Football

Colorado has finally found the nadir of their despair and is now on the uptick. Top 10 by '09.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A blog only a software shop could love

Here's perhaps the most basic goal in designing software: nailing down ALL the requirements. If this is done right the first time, writing the SW is cake. In fact, it could probably be automated. That's the concept behind, for example UML.

Here's the rub: no person or organization ever thinks of (or has time to document) ALL the requirements. We're just not prescient and omniscient enough.

Here's one stab at a solution: creating long lists of "Use Cases" and then break these down into individual business requirements, then translate these into functional specifications, which are re-translated into technical specs, which are then coded.

Problem is, use cases are the business equivalent of a Roomba, wandering randomly around the room with no aim or accountability.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Will Tomorrow Bring: Car In-dash Computers

I almost feel foolish making this prediction, since it seems so obvious. It has even been "prototyped" (read: proto-hyped) for years. Hell, they even put an iMac into a VeeDub on Pimp My Ride 2 years ago.

Nevertheless... by the time you sell your current car, you might find a REAL, fully-functioning PC instead of a CD player just above your A/C controls. There will be growing pains; mark my words some hapless car company will try to build something proprietary and locked-down. They will fail, and the industry will learn how it's gotta be. OR they can just read on .... It's gotta:

  • Be Open
  • Be price-competitive. They charge $1500 for a nav system; there's no reason they can't install a whole laptop for that price.
  • Be Powerful. Well, as powerful as your average laptop today. 1.xxGhz and 50GB should do.
  • Have a proven and extensible OS: either Linux, Windows, MacOS, or Symbian.
  • Be able to use multiple interface modalities, available transparently to all applications in all contexts. Users should be able to switch at will among the modalities:
    • Voice enabled
    • Voice-to-text interpreter
    • Text-to-voice reader
    • Touch screen
    • Joystick slash trackball slash navigation nob
    • Hide-away wireless keyboard
    • PC remote control (think firefly)
  • Have webcams built in (interior-facing for communications apps, exterior facing to record the driver's-eye-view, rear-facing for backing up)
  • Have (or connect to the vehicle's) front and rear bumper proximity sensors
  • Have GPS built-in
  • Have multiple connection modalities built-in. It should be able to switch among them automatically and transparently to the user:
    • Wi-Fi
    • Bluetooth
    • GRPS and EDGE, capable of using any of the major US providers
  • Also have the ability to act as a wireless access point for those in the car with their own laptops
  • Have USB connection points (used to connect iPods, cameras, etc ... and also to charge cellphones, etc)
  • Have a solid-state hard drive
  • Be aware of who is driving the car. Specifically. Some manufacturers do this via weight on the seat, others via a chip in the key (where everyone has their own key). An RF chip-embedded card in everyone's wallet would fit the bill, as would voice or fingerprint recognition. Alternatively, it could ID your cell phone using Bluetooth.
  • Be able to support multiple applications simultaneously on multiple screens, networked throughout the vehicle. If this causes difficulty, the alternative can be to run multiple, low-spec computers in the back seat, networked to a more powerful "server" up front.

Users would be able to install any of the standard applications available for the chosen OS. Minimally, they'd want:

  • Web Browser
  • Email (web mail, Notes, Outlook, etc)
  • Music Player (iTunes, internet radio, podcasts, satellite radio, etc)
  • Games
  • Video Player (DVD, mpeg, streaming internet video, Sirius satellite TV)

Above and beyond that, based on this platform, there will be a new market for apps. The obvious killers would be:

  • Google Navigation: [[ See earlier blog post ]]
  • CarLog: Accessing the vehicle's internal computer to present:
      • Stats (hours and miles driven, average mpg, average mph, location history, etc). These stats would be available for each driver as well as the car, the trip, past trips, etc. To allay Big Brother fears, each user should be able to reset, erase or disable the collection of his own data.
      • Performance mode: 0-60 timer, current hp output (all with history)
      • Maintenance Management: Alerting the user when scheduled maintenance is due. To the extent possible, this should be adjusted based on self-awareness sensors which would look at the current condition of the oil (using specific weight measurements or translucency), tires (using tread-depth sensors), air conditioning (using chemical composition measurement), battery (using resiliency and peak charge measurement), range (using gas levels), etc.
      • As an option, users could volunteer to put this data in a "black box" which would disable their ability to clear data and would regularly upload it (securely) to an independent, trusted site. They could then selectively choose to release the data (as people do with medical records). For example, an insurance company might offer lower rates based on your good driving record as recorded by the app (miles driven, frequency of tailgating (speed-calibrated), % of time speeding, % of time parking in a high risk area, % of time driving below 32 deg, % of time driving at night). One might even use this in a court case. Naturally, protection would have to be placed on the data to prevent hacking ... and also subpoena-ing. An arguement could be made that the 5th Ammendment might apply to disclosure of this info.
  • GreaseMonkey CarDoc: This would access the car's internal computer to read in any error codes and offer a "help" function which presents:
      • A full description of the error as well as common causes
      • A step-by-step diagnosis and resolution path. There should be pictures and animations.
      • Phone numbers presented for the manufacturer's care line (OnStar, etc) and the closest dealer (using the GPS, a specific POI db, as well as Bluetooth capabilities). Additionally, it could upload exact location and relevant error info to the dealer to expedite the call.
  • Interact!: A communication tool which gives a single user interface for the user's existing e-Mail, Fax, SMS, IM, and Voicemail. Based on the current context (user in car or away, car moving or not, interaction is urgent or low-pri, etc), the application would manage these "interactions" differently. For example, when an email comes in, the app would follow a decision tree to determine what to do:
        • Is the car moving?
        • What is the communication modality? Phone? Email? SMS?
        • Is it for the driver or someone else? If it's the driver, the notification needs to be audible ... and/or delayed
        • Is someone on the phone currently? If so, the notification might be a chime or just delayed
        • Is the email urgent or from a high-priority sender? If yes, perhaps the system asks if it should read the message aloud immediately rather than just playing a tone
        • etc.
      • This, of course, requires:
        • User-awareness (can select from a list of people in the car based on above-mentioned ID strategy)
        • DEEP Bluetooth integration
        • Blackberry integration
        • Corporate and POP3/IMAP email integration
        • Its own address book and calendar, but also integration with major existing applications (Outlook, etc)
      • The ability to access all functions and user data via the car's computer as well as any internet browser ... and perhaps even any Symbian or Blackberry device
      • Interaction Tracker: tracking and displaying statistics on interactions with each contact (date and time of each call, email, etc)
      • The ability for users to indicate how frequently they'd like to interact with any given contact. The system would have a countdown timer which would alert the user if they've neglected the person for too long. Every time an interaction takes place, the timer is reset.
      • TopicTagger: automatic tagging of each interaction with topical keywords. These would be derived, for example, from the subject line of emails, or from the most commonly used word in emails/text messages/phone calls (yes, it would be able to recognize spoken words). the user could, of course, add their own tags via any of the input modalities.
      • Calendar-based alerts. The lead time (time between alert and appointment/event) would be automatically determined based on the user's physical distance from the stated meeting site.
      • Public Safety Emergency Alerts (specific either to the current location or current people in the vehicle)
  • CrazyDriver: using the forward- and rearward-facing cams, would give the driver the ability to hit a button which saves the last minute of video in a package for either later viewing or transmission to law enforcement.. Ideally, it would have the ability to recognize license plate numbers automatically and tag videos
  • NewsReader: Either as a component of the media player, or separately, a tool which downloads news feeds (RSS, etc) and auto-selects those most likely to interest the driver and passengers. Then reads the article aloud, giving the driver the ability to vocally skip, tag for later revew, and rate the article
  • InstaFeedback: This app would use GPS to realize when users park the car near a store/restaurant/hotel/etc. When they return to the car (computer is turned back on), they are prompted with a short-list of nearby locations to rate. In as little as 2 "clicks", they pick the place, and enter a rating (0-5 stars). If the want, they can enter comments (voice or text) as well.
  • RadarNet: Controversial, but inevitable ... the ability to link to the car's radar/laser detector to identify speed traps. Then, the ability to network with other cars ahead and behind to propigate the news about where smokeys are.
  • Blog-on-the-go: Ability to post voice/text blogs. Ability to combine with the vehicle's cams and saved pix. Text, of course, should be create-able via keyboard or voice recognition.
  • Doberman: Uses cams to take a snapshot of whoever starts the car. These snapshots are stored for a few weeks and regularly uploaded to a web site. On one hand, this could be used to watch one's kids. On the other, it could be used to positively ID a thief or carjacker. Using the outward-pointed cams and a proximity or contact detector, vandals might also be spotted.

    In terms of marketing, it seems natural that there are two initial adopters: high-end luxury sedan segment (think Maybach and 7-series) and technophile twentysomething dorky trendy segment (V-dub, Prius, Scion, etc). From there, it should quickly propigate down the price point spectrum to fam-wagons (Suburbans, minivans). From there, market permeation can flow based on demand, freeing the developers create enhanced software (backed up by enhanced HW) for several niche markets, such as:

    • Long-Haul Trucking / Commercial Vehicles
      • Fleet Manager giving home office info about the fleet (location, rig stats, drive time, etc)
      • Enhacements to navigation looking for truck stops and also determining the best route based on tolls, road grade (to minimize fuel consumption), weather, and a list of pickups/drop offs
      • Clearinghouse of possible jobs
      • Enhancements to GreaseMonkey for big rigs
    • Bus/Van/Shuttle ... perhaps even Airlines
      • Fleet Manager
      • Bluetooth auto-pay functionality. Each passenger's fare would be computed once they exit the vehicle based on their wait (compared to average), the distance travelled, the popularity of their route (if they pick their suburban house as the drop-off, this would be more expensive than a local park-n-ride even if the distances were similar). This could be adjusted based on the number of passengers in the current vehicle who pick the same drop-off, encouraging people to group themselves prior to boarding based on destination area.
      • Interactive real-time info on waiting passengers' locations
      • Ability for passengers to input their desitnation once onboard via preset preferences, terminals, voice, or SMS. Based on this, and the locations of waiting passengers, traffic, etc, the correct route would be contstantly re-calculated and each person's wait time could be indicated. An enhancement to this would be to track each passenger's wait time (both before pickup and en-route) and constantly recompute route to minimize the average wait time for all passengers. The current (or recent average) wait times could be indicated online and at the bus stops so people could decide which mode of transport will be most efficient for them. They could choose to wait for the bus, pick a different bus company, take a taxi, walk to the subway, etc.
      • Feedback to dispatch, who would have heatmaps, stats, etc available. Possibility of automating dispatch entirely
      • Enhancements to entertainment systems to provide each passenger with the ability to access the internet, games, and entertainment. An enhancement would be to have automatica Bluetooth links between each passenger's cell phone and their computer terminal so they could access a public-transport-specific version of Interact!
    • Military
      • Much lower-cost Aegis connection (and higher functionality, with more feedback to central)
      • Real-time battle info
      • Contact lists / chain-of-command charts
      • Live translation
    • Car rental
      • Fleet Manager adjusted specifically for rental car needs
      • Sightseeing manager enhancements
      • Ability to create and publish vacation logs (voice, typing, video, pictures) on the go
      • Ability to adjust rental contract online (change dropoff, extend contract, change insurance, etc) without having to spend interminable minutes on the phone waiting for a customer service rep. If a small thermal printer were added to the car, it could actually produce its own receipts, saving rental companies from the need to have an employee check-in each car upon return.
    • Emergency Servies / Law Enforcement
      • Enhanced Emergency dispatch
      • Online medical info including individuals' medical records
      • Online criminal info for police
      • Online building plans for fire dept

    Monday, October 08, 2007

    C'mon Google - Navigate!

    I'm desperately hoping for Google to either come out with their own car navigation device or to simply supply the software for an existing gizmo.

    The GoogleNavigation I dream of would look like this:

    • Google Earth, integrated of course with GPS. Their existing real-time traffic, directions, satellite view, POI layering would be in full force.
    • The full system should be acessible via the contraption or a web browser, including all my routes, favorites, and user data
    • Traffic would be enhanced to be predictive (based, of course on a time-weighted historical profile)
    • Users would be able to access (via built-in broadband connection or Bluetooth link) additional POI databases from third-parties. Hopefully, the likes of Magellan would step up to leverage their existing data assets. I'd also want to see something from Menupages, Yelp, Michelin, and Fodors, presenting not just names and numbers, but pictures, menus, and rating/reviews.
    • The interface would have to be simplified and adapted to touch/voice/text input. Users should be able to toggle between them at will.
    • Also, the system would collect my feedback and use this in subsequent routes. For example, if there's a road I hate, I should be able, with two or three steps max, to tell the system to avoid it in the future.
    • Taking the feedback app further - if I search for Korean restaurants and eventually choose one for it to navigate me to, when I get back in the car, the screen should be preset with a feedback option. With one touch, I should be able to give the place a rating (1-10). With a second touch, I should be able to input verbal or text comments. Similarly, if I simply park near a store/restaurant/etc and then return to the car, the system should prompt me with a short-list of nearby places I might have visited. With one touch I should be able to select where I went. With a second touch, I would enter a rating ... If this data could be uploaded back to said third-party POI databases, think of the follow-on possibilities in terms of a new levels of accuracy in feedback and advertizing.
    • The system would have a Pricefinder function. I would indicate a specific good (gas, t-bone steak, North Face backpack, etc). It would find the lowest price for a the good within X
      miles of my current position. This might be weighted by availability and breadth of selection. Perhaps store rating as well. A variation on this would be a constantly-recomputing gas price calculator, which would always determine the best option for filling up after considering prices in the area, as well as gas consumption to get to each station. Sometimes it would make sense to stop at a nearby cheapie place, even if I still have half a tank.
    • The POI search function would be enhanced to include an "along my current route" option. The idea is that, if I'm headed from Manhattan to Boston and want a burger, I'd rather drive 15 miles down the road to a Drive-Thru just off the highway than drive 5 miles perpendicular to my main route on local roads to a small village's Main Street cafe. Ditto gas.
    • The routing option would be expanded to include "use scenic/historic routes"
    • The routing component would enable users to VERY quickly create multiple-waypoint trips. In fact, it would facilitate the planning of trips by considering routing, waypoints, traffic, etc to suggest the best route, as well as "must see" waypoints nearby.
      • Scenario: I'm at home in, say, Berkley, CA. I have a 10:00 meeting in the financial district of SF, a customer to see in Burlingame, a store to visit in Nob Hill, a friend to hang with in Santa Cruz, a fiance to pick up in Oakland, and then a golf weekend in Carmel.
      • Behavior: I input these waypoints and constraints. The system analyzes various routing options for timing and efficiency. It considers wait time as well as traffic levels. It also looks at miles travelled, comparing with existing gas, to determine where I'll be when I need gas (and automatically building those stops into the route). It further looks at restaurants along the route (my favorites first, then the highly rated ones). If it finds that I'll be passing by one around mealtime, it would suggest a stop and recompute the route. It might even suggest a re-organization of my itenerary to take advantage of a particularly great place. The system presents routing options ranked in descending order of recommendation.

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Quotes: Pseudo-Battles

    "If people could only agree to skip the real battles and move straight on to the reenactments, all our troubles as a species would be over. Just imagine: Hamas and Fatah meeting annually in Gaza to fire blanks at each other. Sunni and Shiite Iraqis gathering in Baghdad to blow up pedal cars."


    China. Sheesh. UN. Double sheesh.

    Let's see by a show of hands how many people are surprised that the UN was unable to do anything effective in response to the unabashedly criminal behavior or Burma/Myanmar's rulers last week.

    Don't all jump up at once ....

    Hmm ... well, how about this: by a show of hands, how many people are surprised that China blocked the security council vote to tighten sanctions on said junta?

    (sound of crickets)

    If Japan and China want to be world-class countries, with world-class power, they need to start stepping up and taking their share of responsibility for international issues. And they should not use this as an excuse to form satellites and spheres of influence. That's yesterday's tactic.

    Sunday, September 30, 2007

    What Will Tomorrow Bring: Inflation

    The US Fed cut rates last week, citing the recessionary risks of credit losses stemming from mortgage/ARM losses. They seem to have fallen off the wagon. Nearly three decades of global economic stability have depended on US economic stability. And that has depended on the principle of low inflation. Below I'll look at positive AND negative pressures on the price level. The net qualitative assessment of my (admittedly quasi-scientific) analysis is that inflation will increase in the next 12 months. The message is that it's a good time to hedge against inflation.

    The price inflation data is just getting less and less deniable. I put forth the following observations:

    • The housing price increase is a bubble .... and that bubble will break. However, the bubble masks some degree of real (and permanent) price inflation. Thus, even as the bubble is "deflated" prices are very unlikely to drop back below historic lows for any significant period of time. In fact, they are likely not to return even to historic averages. This is a global effect.
    • Recent articles have begun to raise evidence that, from mortgage costs to rental costs to maintenance and taxes there is a significant and lasting increase. BLS puts this above 4% for the 12 months to 7/2007
    • Energy prices are, of course, at the forefront over many peoples' minds, and with good reason. BLS puts energy-inflation at 21% for this year (seasonally adjusted). Petro-inflation has approached 40%. Again, the impact is global on the consumption side. An interesting add-on effect further exacerbating the inflation problem is this: oil exporting countries are awash with so-called petro-dollars and are buying up everything in sight ... at any price, since that is way down their list of priorities.
    • Medical costs (to the consumer) are running at 6%. Managed healthcare has placed downward pressure on medical costs, both via pressure on providers to reduce rates, as well as by ourtright refusal to pay for certain treatments, but the net effect is in favor of increased prices.
    • Our current weak-dollar policy will increasingly encourage foreign purchases of (greater quantities of) US goods as they become relatively cheap in comparison to other global alternatives. This increased foreign demand will push up the price of these goods ... and also the price (exchange rate) of the Dollar. The global impact of this is less clear. The US's price increase may have offsetting effects in countries which compete with us to export goods.
    • The growing wealth and mobility of billions in the third world is largely stashed into savings. However, the long term influence on global price levels cannot be denied. It may well balloon into the biggest factor in price calculations someday soon.
    • Smaller anecdotal observations include:
        • Increase in private jet travel over scheduled service
        • Luxury goods inflation is running at 6%

    The devil's defense counsel might retort with the following DEflationary pressures:
    • House price decline leads to lower consumer confidence and fewer home-equity loans
    • Increased mortgage interest rates lead fewer people to borrow, thus de-leveraging the economy and
    • Innovation-driven decreases in prices, especially for electronics. While this initially requires big spending (thus an influence for +inflation in the short to medium term) it eventually leading to better, cheaper, more mass-produced, and eventually commoditized products (thus pushing for -inflation in the medium to long term). This is vividly on display in the BLS CPI reports, which have consistently reported declines in computer prices of late. Their current number for 2007 is -12%.
        • BUT ... the increase in the speed of obsolescence of most goods forces consumers to replace their goods (especially electronics) more frequently, increasing spending (as well as monetary velocity). On the corporate level, the focus is on the increased depreciation rates. This causes the PV of purchases to decrease and the net tax liability (ceterus paribus) to decrease, leaving additional funds for futher investment.
    • Similar effects are attributed to increased productivity

    Outside the pure "price" picture, of course the second major component of the overall inflation equation is the interest rate. This factor, at different time horizons, has different (even contradicting) effects on economic growth, as well as price inflation. For example:
    • CD, money market, and other deposit interest rates are being bid up as various lenders look for additional funds to back-fill their balance sheets as their loan write-offs bloom. Please, someone, remind these guys of the S&L debacle of the early nineties.
    • The Fed's rate cut has a multitude of effects. I'm currently reading Greenspan's book in which he professes not to fully understand all the ramifications. Among the clear ones, however:
        • Short-term, credit card interest rates go down, encouraging consumers to increase spending
        • Short-term, banks can grant loans at lower rates as they pass the lower interbank borrowing rates along to their customers.
        • To the extent banks get away with NOT passing these along, assuming their transaction volumes do not decrease, their earnings increase.
        • Longer-term, as both banks and companies post higher earnings:
            • They are able to invest more, a growth (and inflation) increaser
                • however, there is a a law of diminishing returns when it comes to the marginal dollar invested
            • Their stock prices increase, thus increasing the wealth of investors, who in turn may increase spending based on their self-assessment of long term net worth

    Further Reading:
    THE source: http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpid0707.pdf

    Thursday, September 27, 2007

    Follow-up: Power

    Skip the blog and head straight for the interesting comments on nuke power ... and especially how to deal with the waste and security concerns:

    And then check out Wikipedia for some interesting energy production estimates from IEA:

    Don't You DARE ...

    ... Claim to be Canadian when backpacking abroad! Ever!

    What a chickenshit move to deny one's own citizenship. Move up there if you like it so much. They're quite good at dealing with "take care of me" liberals like you. The US economy can just replace you with three Mexicans and a Pakistani and STILL have money left over.

    OK, maybe thats a little harsh.

    My main objection to the practice is this: when Americans travel abroad, we become the face of the nation to hundred of people wherever we go. The US has an image problem right now and you, the broke college kid travelling Europe on 5 (ok 100) Euros a day, are one of our best remedies. Go out there and do what you do best: be yourself. Go laugh and have fun. Walk with self-confidence. Try the language ... and the food ... and then make a point to reach out and talk to locals about both things wherever you go. Swap email addresses with someone on the train ... and someone else in a bar. Show pictures of your girlfriend and roommates. Talk about basketball. You (and, more importantly, THEY) will be amazed at how much common ground there is in the foundations of the human experience.

    Ahem, well one change: be more humble. Give thanks and compliments liberally. Give opinions conservatively. Reserve judgement. Agree that the US has issues and follow up that we're constantly working on them.

    It seems that most people abroad have three simultaneous yet conflicting images in their head when they think of Americans:

    • Gee-Dubya: The warmongering cowboy cariacature propigated in the irri-tainment media
    • Brangelina: The idealistic image of the young and attractive, carefree, optimistic, and friendly, wealthy (and yes, perhaps materialistic and naive) "normal Americans" as propigated by Hollywood.
    • Rosie O'Donnell: Fat, self-centered, and obnoxious
    So when they see an actual living American in their midst, they test these stereotypes against your actions. By being yourself - adventurous, interesting, fun, educated - you open the door to a fourth option ... one locals can't help but like.

    What Will Tomorrow Bring: Wireless Power

    Very cool.

    Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    What Will Tomorrow Bring: UN Relocation?

    I'm working a block from the Waldorf Astoria in NYC this week, which has given me the opportunity to see the unbridled circus which surrounds the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. The UN was generously donated a prime plot of land on the east side of Manhattan for their headquarters in the 50's. Since then, they've graced the US with petulance. First let me say that I agree with the concept of the UN, but not with its practice.

    Of late, they've grown increasingly irritating to the whole country over their insistence on purview in international affairs, promptly followed up by their reluctance or inability to get ANYthing done in that sphere. The Reagan (and Clinton) effect on world opinion of the US has, I fear, completely worn off, leaving the UN an anti-US mouthpiece for gripes from all corners of the globe. Leaders such as AchMADeenJIHAD are so visibly gauled to even have to set foot in this capitalist hellhole that I'm surprised they make the trip.

    For New Yorkers, the UN has been an unequivocal pain in the butt for New York since arriving. Motorcades messing up traffic; Dignitaries from all over ("that's a country??") requiring NYPD overtime to escort;. lawless consolidates with unpaid parking tickets. And General Assembly week. Ugh, the traffic nightmares.

    So, since they irritate us and we irritate them, and they irritate us, I'm quite sure we will start to see a movement within the Secretariat to move the HQ elsewhere. With the $4 billion they might make from the sale of prime Manhattan real estate, they could buy quite the retreat in Geneva.

    Tuesday, September 25, 2007


    The future of energy is resolving itself to a new level of clarity. We certainly need to work on the "zoom" to see exactly the mechanisms that will get us to the future, but the horizon is now visible.

    To state the obvious, the energy of the future is electricity. Other mechanisms will also coexist (see below), but not predominantly. Everything from power plants to factories to cars to home heat will become electric. Because of this demand will skyrocket from the current 500 exajoules of primary energy per year to perhaps 2000 EJ by this time next century. So-called "energy intensity" (energy production/economic output) will continue to decline in industrialized countries, but overall demand will continue to increase. In the 3rd world, unfortunately, both will rocket skyward for a half century. Conservation will slow the growth perhaps but even the most asceticly stringent views could not suggest that we will reduce overall demand as billion after billion people move from subsistence to industry.

    For the next 20 to 40 years, new energy generation will be nuclear. It's there, it's safe, it's cheap. This will give breathing room for R&D to successfully develop methods of harvesting energy from a very broad range of geological sources (see below). Somewhere around 2050, we'll wake up to find that geo sources account for more than 50% of total generation. At that point, the only talk about carbon- or nuclear-sourced generation will be how fast these dinosaurs can be killed with economic efficiency.

    The bigger story is energy sourced from the earth and the sky. In a sense, this is the next evolution in conservation, since currently the universe wastes (well, expends anyway) inconceivable amounts of energy. Our long-term focus will be on harnessing these joules. Or would that be jewels? To quote Wikipedia (whence all good info eventually alights) the amount of solar energy intercepted by Earth every minute is greater than the energy produced by fossil fuels each year. The earth's core alone generates an incredible 140,000,000 EJ a year. It is estimated that this could easily translate into potential of 5,000 harnessed EJ of geothermal energy per year using currently-existing technologies.

    Let me put this overall theory into pictures. As these are simply theories, the numbers are indicative.

    Power Sources (first tab) ... and estimates (second tab):

    Further reading:

    and, as always: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    What Will Tomorrow Bring: Riding Light

    Yes, folks - photon-jet propulsion will allow us to take our grandkids on vacations to "a galaxy far, far away"

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    ARMs of mass destruction

    I've been saying it for years, but realized I haven't officially recorded here my opinion on adjustable rate mortgages.

    So here it is: ARMs were, are, and always will be evil. As in IED evil. Ticking timebombs.

    I don't blame FIs for offering them - I blame borrowers for accepting them. Most families are on a fixed (or predictably steadily increasing) income. They put together a family budget which matches income to expenses. Why, then, enter into an extremely long-term contract (30 years) committing yourself to an unpredictable stream of housing payments? There is the very real risk that your family's biggest expense will increase without a corresponding increase in income. Therefore, the only available adjustment is to your other expenses (ie: your consumption level), which has a very direct impact on your overall standard of living, present and future. The fact that real estate is so illiquid makes the bind that much tighter; there's no short-term exit strategy should your non-housing expenses go up (or income go down) unexpectedly. You would, at that point, be faced with the choice of default (and loss of assets, including the house) or refinance at a higher rate, which again directly impacts your future standard of living.

    Maybe it's just me, but the more I can lock down (stabilize) my expenses, the better I sleep at night.

    Euro / Dollar Rates

    News every day this week was that the Euro is at an all-time high against the dollar. Primarily, I chalk this short-term move up to the simple and obvious interest rate differential, since the Fed cut Fed Funds and Discount rates on Tuesday. Asia followed suit Wednesday. London has announced increased liquidity availability Thursday. That leaves the ECB as the sucker-bank willing to pay the highest rates.

    But the Euro's been bumping its head on records for months now. Part of the blame, of course, falls to the US. Instability, volitility, inflation fears (more on that later), recession fears, budget fears, and the overall US move away from Rubin's "strong Dollar" policy has put them on their heels, but I would think that they could have softened by now if they desired to do so. Question, then, is why they're pursuing the strong Euro.

    • Is the ECB trying to avoid inflation in the high-growth zones in Scandinavia and Ireland?
    • On a related note, does it have to do more with the steep yield curve and implication of higher future inflation?
    • Are they so focused on becoming a reserve currency that they prefer interest rate stability to economic competitiveness and consequent GDP growth?
    • Are they simply proving again that they are slow and inept? Just now buying into the "strong currency" concept which appears to have benefitted the US through the 90's?

    Unfortunately for Europe (and Canada and others BTW) there is a heavy cost to the "strong" theory.

    The full answer .... I leave to you!

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    Good ole Jolly ole Scientific Method

    Decision-making in business needs a ton of help. This field, fertile for improvement, may very well give us a decade of productivity gains ... if we can get it right.

    The tools are 99% there to have data-based, risk-based, results-based, analysis-based decisions instead of the current brainstorm and committee approach employed today. They're new, so I forgive execs for not using them ... but the grace period will be up shortly. Once the first domino falls, we're likely to see a tidal wave of change in corporate decision-making models. We see hints of juvenile attempts at this in the hedge fund industry. These hints are actually just an outgrowth of the whole risk-math fad that blazed through banking in the nineties.

    Here's a novel thought for you: The Scientific Method. Yes, the one from 8th grade. Need a refresher? Okay, just this once:

    1/State the problem

    2/Record Background Research

    3/Construct a Hypothesis

    4/Do the Experiment to test the Hypothesis

    5/Draw a conclusion

    In a corporate environment, this could be soft-sold using concepts already familiar: "Hypothessis" can be re-named "top-down analysis." The difference is recognizing that this is only one step in a longer process. Conclusions cannot be drawn from top-down analysis ... no, not even in whatever case you've just imagined.

    "Do the Experiment" can be re-named "bottom-up analysis." The hypothesis must be tested against actual data, using actual logic and generating actual statistical results.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007


    Here are two communication tips I constantly give myself:

    1/ The first response to "what should we do?" should usually be "What's YOUR opinion?"
    2/ To improve communication, use your listener's exact terminology and phraseology in your response.

    Friday, August 24, 2007

    The Annual Car Orgy

    If ever you want a tiny firsthand glance at how ridiculous humans can get when they're endowed with inconceivable wealth ...

    ... go to Carmel, California in the middle of August. There, if you're lucky, you will find Pebble Beach Concours car show. There is no better or bigger display of car fanaticism on the planet, especially the kind of fanaticism that's expressed by the expenditure of absolutely senseless amounts of money (because they CAN) on pure toys. This stuff has no practical use whatsoever, and that's kind of the point. The median income of attendees is WELL into six-figures. Everyone owns multiple cars ... and houses ... and boats ... and probably a plane. Don't quote me on that, but you get the point.

    Because of the demographic of the show, every "luxury" vendor (cars and otherwise) is there. So, aside from the ridiculous pumpkin-and-sage pants everyone wears there, what was all the rage among these famously fickle folks?

    At the very top segment, the key is uniqueness. Cars are at a point where there's little additional benefit to more size and more power. And I'd say design is a huge driver right now; pure beauty also seems to have fallen off peoples' top-10 list. It's got to have an "interesting" or "evocative" design. Evoking what ? ... I don't think anybody knows. Bottom line, it's got to be attention-grabbing. To do that, it's got to be unique.

    The breathtaking development of "mass affluence" over the past 30 years drives this. Over that period, the % of people below poverty line hasn't changed much, but people have moved in droves from upper-middle class to multi-millionaires. So, now the rich and very-rich are feeling a little bit ordinary. They are therefore driven to buy stuff that makes them feel different, unique. Thus "limited" everything is popular. Aston Martin's DB9 and Vanquish are just not special enough anymore ... you have to have the Zagato DB9 (of which only 99 were ever built). Ford build 4000 of their awesome "GTs" and then stopped even though they had a remaining waitlist of 1000 customers. Ferrari made only 400 uber-exclusive Enzos. They didn't even open an order book or place the cars in dealerships; rather, they sent invitations to certain existing customers. But that, too, just wasn't exclusive enough for some. Maserati (owned by Ferrari) was thus commissioned to use the Enzo platform to design a new, even more uber car, called the MC12. The factory made 50, with all purchasers hand-chosen beforehand ... Even THAT wasn't exclusive enough for James Glickenhaus. In an audacious attempt to buy his way out of an extreme case of inferiority complex, he acquired an Enzo in the secondary market (at more than double the original price) and tore the body off. He then had the world's top automotive design shop Pininfarina create a new, entirely custom body. From scratch. The car is called the P4/5 and "was commissioned as a modern homage to great Ferrari racing cars."

    BTW, that's pronounced oh-mazh ... Dah-ling.

    What else went over well at the show:

    • There's lots of enviro-talk:

      • Tesla - a new all-electric car based on a Lotus platform which has roughly Ferrari-level performance and costs under $150,000. 245 miles on a charge.

      • Priuses are also very popular there as a statement

    • Fractional car club membership ... like NetJets for Ferraris. NetJets, incidentally is even more popular this year.

    • Customized ... everything. One billionaire bought a Ferrari Enzo (the most extraordinary sports car ever) for $1.5m, tore off the body, and had Pininfarina build an entirely custom body for him. Shaq bought a Lamborghini Gallardo and had it extended 8 inches to give him better leg room.

    • 50's and 60's American muscle cars. Not the fastest, not the prettiest, not the anything-est anymore, but these cars get the highest prices at auction right now. Why? Every 60-year-old self-made millionaire out there is trying to regain his youth by buying "that car" they wanted but couldn't afford when they were 16. All these cars have to be customized with special wheels, special interiors, and especially special paint jobs. It's a Cali thing.

    • Ferrari 612 Scaglietti - Ferrari's largest, most "user friendly" car ever, typically Ferrari with hand-sewn engangered-wildebeast leather or whatever, but also full of German-sedan style creature comforts and gizmos like full automatic transmission, GPS, iPod connection, in-dash tire pressure display. The car, of course has a 6 liter V12 engine which must get like 15mpg, but it's not the fastest Ferrari due to size. Basically, people own this car for the status of the brand, not for the car itself. It is no sports car.

    Tuesday, August 14, 2007

    FOLLOW UP: Apathy

    “Apathy is the penultimate stage of decadence … civilizations proceed from bondage to faith to courage to liberty to abundance to selfishness to apathy to dependency back to bondage.” – Arnold Toynbee

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    United States of Iraq

    It is a matter of inevitability that Iraq will become a federation of 3 states: shia, sunni, and kurd. Oil revenues should be pooled. National military and (minimal) federal govt costs should be deducted. Then the balance should be split equally. They will all think this is unfair. They are all perpetual whiners.

    Friday, June 01, 2007

    Follow Up: Sarkoszy

    Sarkoszy is my man. Lets only hope he can stick to his guns and past philosophies on free markets once P-M (which he will certainly win). Beyrou is another carreer politician Chirac.

    Monday, May 14, 2007

    Talk amongst yourselves ...

    To what extent is Kosovo, run by un/EU a model for future supra-nationalist governance?

    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    What Will Tomorrow Bring: Melting Borders

    Mutual fund which is geographically-neutral, measuring instead based on other metrics than country of origin

    Core Marketing Strategies

    The Ad men are gonna kill me. These guys make a very nice living by convincing corps that their marketing strategy has got to change. Different segment focus, different ad campaign, new product ... Change is the big trick in Advertizing ... which leads me to my point. Any given industry has structural attributes which dictate how revenues are generated. To increase revenue, a core marketing strategy simply needs to work on these drivers. The drivers don't change ... meaning the core marketing strategy doesn't have to either.

    For example:
    Consulting: increase change
    Banking: increase transaction velocity

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Silversun Pickups’ Lazy Eye melts in my mouth

    I like to ridicule those who describe art, wine, coffee, or music in arcane stretches of unimaginable imagery and allusion. As if one could write a metaphor for a taste. WTF do "smoked exotic sandalwoods" taste like anyway, and why would you want that in your wine? In truth, only they themselves can really get meaning out of their descriptions. Yet they insist on publishing them for all of us to read and feel intellectually and perceptually inadequate about. Assholes all of them.

    But in this case, I’m the asshole because the words I'onna use to describe this song are as arcane as the best the Stone has to offer. But in this rare case, they are the only and the perfect ones to describe the feeling (and that’s exactly and all it is).

    Butter. Smeared across hot raisin bread. The initial Smashing Pumpkins-knockoff riff just keeps ticking rhythmically along throughout the entire song, mostly just below the cloudcover, but at lucky moments popping up above so it can be noticed. Nice to know you can count on it to always be there no matter what else is going on. It’s so sweet. So simple. So innocent -- from way back in our boyhoods, but also from way back in rock history. Pre-teen and pre-Pumpkins in fact. The simplest rock, played by the truest garage bands. Old college bands like Ween and Breeders and the like. No engineering needed or allowed here. Yet they make that plasticy hollow cheap-amp guitar sound swing and nearly twang.

    The rhythms are what makes it so young. The nervous energy of youth uncontainable despite it’s owner’s best efforts. Quick and repetitive and simple and feel-good and unabashedly obvious like a habitually bouncing knee under the dinner table. Ripped baggy jeans, skater shoes, ballcap, and a cracking voice when he ventures to open his unsure mouth. Careening through everything at top speed because he KNOWS that whatever comes next will be even cooler.

    And then the song picks up and screams out, takes risks, and flourishes, just like the boy in those daring moments of blind courage in the face of fears and uncertainty. Drink what the senior hands you. Talk to that girl. Kiss her among your fumbles. Drive home drunk and get away with it. And then call your buddies the next day to talk about how you shouldn’t have gotten away with it. Those moments with friends which he will someday realize defined his personality for the rest of his life. The lyrics, in that Ween-dead-ringer voice, fit the metaphor “I’ve been waiting all my life…but it’s not quite right …I’ve been waiting for this silence all night long … it’s just a matter of time…”

    Yet again resurfaces the nervous, repetitive rhythm which drives the song on steadily, which is your teenage life’s steady heartbeat through all the fits and starts, ups and downs, excitements and boredoms, adventures and mishaps, growths and losses, contests and comparisons. That repeating phrase “everyone is…” but am I ? Do I rate? What question could be more age-appropriate to ask? Do you suppose those Silversun dudes meant any of this? Whether they did or didn’t I’m sure they relate.

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007

    Confidence, Success, Privledge, and Subsidy

    Why is it that successful people are successful? What separates Gates, Buffett and Bezos from anyone else? Books have been written, studies have been done. Here's my theory:

    #1 - they had the requisites (more about this later)
    #2 - they had extremely unusual levels of natural self-confidence in certain areas spurred by an irrational belief in something
    #3 - they had a void somewhere deep down inside they could never quite fill up. It feels like hunger they can't satisfy. They run from it and try to hide it, but they desperately fear that everyone can see it. They believe that pursuing their "cause" is the only way to relieve the gnawing self-doubt and gain acceptance in the world.
    #4 - whereas they have a strong desire to be accepted, they have a low desire for social interaction (this, incidentally, causes many of them to have family/relationship/friendship problems)
    # 5 - they had a certain stroke of luck. Often, that luck was being born of privledge, but there are other lucky turns of events which can give people the opportunity to shine.

    Tuesday, March 27, 2007

    What will Tomorrow Bring: HIZ, The One Minute Al-Quaeda Manager, Disenfranchized Americans

    A gay/metro men’s store chain called HIZ which basically sells a complete host of women's clothes and accessories rebranded and adjusted to be more manly.

    New book: “The one minute Al-quaeda manager” which looks for business lessons from the organic organizations of paramilitary and terrorist organizations

    A disenfranchized generation of Americans who are currently in HS/College learning about how shitty government is. Unfortuately, they'll associate it all with Republicans and they'll be too young to really understand what it was like in the Reagan era.

    Talk amongst yourselves ....

    Colombia is the new Israel

    Open letter to all airlines

    Want to enhance customer satisfaction without spending a dime? Have FAR fewer announcements. Keep those nasal whiny stewardesses away from the mic unless you can do something to make the PA system less tinny and grating on the ears. Teach them how not to show us with their voices just how much they hate and are bored by their jobs. Do NOT let them say they appreciate correct change. The arrogant bitches are not above making change any more than the guy who sells me my coffee with a smile from his stand on Park Ave. If there's a delay, of course I want regular updates every 10 minutes. No more, no less. But trying to sell me your fucking co-branded credit card while I'm strapped to this beast is cruelty to humans and should be punished.

    Oh, and while we're on the topic of seatbelts ... that seatbelt sign… pilots forget it’s on for hours … or, giving them slightly more credit, perhaps they just abuse it in an attempt to err on the side of caution. Unfortunately in the latter case they sabotage themselves by numbing the flying public to the sign and forcing us to go against it based on our own judgment alone without the benefit of weather radar or forecasts. Automate it so the pilots don’t need to have any angst or responsibility for the safety of their ambulant passengers. If my laptop can tell it’s being jostled, so can a plane. Each 5 seconds, the plane would assign a volatility factor. It would then monitor a moving average of that factor over the past 5 minutes or so. If it got above a certain threshold number, “fasten seatbelts.” Once the turbulence stopped and the average drifted back down below a separate, lower threshold, “go to the john.” Add predictive analysis to this if you want, bringing in feeds from the weather computer to anticipate areas of chop. This might even allow you the ability to give a more nuanced indication to your customers of what to expect: Monitor the average over the past 5 minutes plus the predicted values over the next 2 minutes. Inform your passengers of various levels of predicted severity: red means nobody up, not even the crew, orange means crew and a “strong call of nature” are permissible, yellow means you can it in your seat with the belt off and get up for the bathroom or to retrieve something from luggage, and green means no holds barred.

    Oh, and hurry up with that Clearstream lane!!

    Oh, and most DEFINITELY hurry up with the next SST. It takes me as long to get LAX to JFK as it took JFK, himself, fifty God-damn years ago.

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    FOLLOW UP: Irri-tainment

    Here's the latest in a devleoping thought stream on the linkage of entertainment, individualism, and information.

    Why DO we get hooked by the sensationalism of irri-tainment? Why the focus on pop culture? On Celebrity? Yuck.

    I suppose number one we’re curious beings, thankfully, or we’d not have evolved as we have. And number two we're social beings. So we’re not just interested in news which has a direct (or potential) impact on us personally – we’re also fascinated by anything impacting our larger community, since historically those of us on this planet today are descendants of humans who succeeded at leveraging their communities to achieve more than they could have achieved alone. Recognizing that of our achievement, perhaps 40% is not due to ourselves, but our communities, we are vitally interested in the long-term viability thereof. We valued them for the protection, achievement, nurturing, and information that they afforded us. We equally value their guidance and self-governing powers. In today’s world, however, we are individually richer and more comfortable than ever before. We thus feel less need for community.

    Moreover, we are for the first time faced with more information than we can process. In fact, whereas historically, paying attention to something necessarily implied that you reacted to it, we’re now so busy just in-processing info that we never get around to reacting to the majority of it, especially when the needed reaction benefits the overall community more than it individually benefits us (such as helping a neighbor repair his damaged house). Plus, we’re newly able to cast our social nets without respect to geography due to communication and transportation technologies. We are thus testing the very outer limits of our ability to socialize, to “belong” and contribute to reliable and useful communities. Often we fail and community suffers. Because these things are new, we’ve not evolved with the ability to properly filter – to train our attention solely on that which is relevant to us, to more precisely and also selectively define the communities to which we choose to belong such that our own socialization capabilities are not stretched too thin or otherwise rendered ineffective. Necessarily, as community members fall down on their contributions individually, the overall community becomes less useful to each member and consequently loosens, compounding the problem of community viability. We thus forge ahead constantly absorbing as much information as we find ourselves physically capable at every moment, too quickly to associate much of any emotion to it beyond overall fear, and thus diminishing the memory’s later recall-ability. We hear and remember facts without learning lessons. As an aside, this carries the effect of leading us to repeat our mistakes. Should we take time out to truly cogitate over some new fact, we are promptly interrupted with a new one. Our brains have evolved to value new facts over old, and thus it dutifully drops the ball of cogitation on the earlier fact in order to in-process the newer. The former never gets revisited and thus the time spent cogitating is wasted, a lesson not entirely lost on our brains.

    Our brains have also, however, evolved to connect with and care about those we see commonly. We build/perceive community and begin to show an interest in things impacting those people. Perversely, our physical world has become so horrendously anonymous that this natural inclination is left numb and unnecessary. What are the chances of the dude at Best Buy remembering you (much less anything personal about you) 6 months later when you go in to buy a TV? Whereas this used to be a big-city-only phenomenon, and one moreso observed in the likes of Moscow than the US, it is today pervasive in every anonymous suburban paradise. Californians, in fact, once citizens of the Wild West, now exhibit only the thinnest veil of interest in ANYone outside their immediate household. Yet their community-building synapses continue to fire desperately. More often than not, this urge settles upon those we see most frequently who, ironically, are usually far far away, yet brought close by the wonders of tele-media. Put explicitly, our brains begin automatically to create community with news anchors, politicians, and actors. Celebrities.

    Once brought “in” to our community, any news about or words from these people catches our attention and begins to take up space in our memory and our cognition. We begin an unrequited one-way relationship of caring for these people who have no direct impact on our lives to the preclusion, at the most extreme, of those proximal who could requite or otherwise provide us some benefit. Whereas it is possible to gain insights from such one-way relationships, they indeed comprise false communities and are a net drain on our lives.

    To be considered, therefore, is whether one should consciously focus on building community with those around each of us rather than these faux-amis. With the powers of telecommunication and transportation, we might be successful not at delimiting geographically but based on true benefit. For example, is it more valuable to me to try for a communal bond with the Best Buy guys or with peers in my industry who live across the country? In either case, to the extent that all members of the community truly commit to actively contribute to the community, the two options both have potential value to me. However, vocational commonality may indeed be more valuable to me than mere geographic and thus the latter would be a better choice. On the other hand, because we have not fully neutralized the impact of distance on community, the latter community will also cost us more in terms of effort.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    FOLLOW UP: Woe-is-Europe

    Europe continues to be subpar. More than ever since the US stopped funding the continent (Marshall followed by Cold War support) young Europeans are unsure of attaining even their parents’ levels of affluence. It is unclear whether this slow bleeding over decades has taken its toll on the “family money” of the continent, but most likely so. Only through prescience or a complete flight from European investments could they have preserved. Too much, far too much bureaucracy. Far far far too much focus on sensationalism, on news-tainment or the one I like better recently irri-tainment (media so in-your-face and horridly insipid that you can’t stop watching it) especially of the European scandal-tainment variety so well perfected by the Italians to avoid looking at their real problems of impotence, lack of innovation, inability to compete with anglo business models. Meanwhile the Vikings continue to perk in spite of their oppressive socialist staightjacket. One must ask ones self: just how damn productive, innovative, and rich could they have been (or could they become) were this mantle lifted? After all, the apparent source of all the global flows of productivity is in the vicinity of the north pole. People appear to get less productive the further they are from that groundswell. Yet the US is not more than a decade from the European curse. Given an increased (even just maintained) focus on lack of personal responsibility, on socialistic regulation, we’ll be right behind them in the donkey-train leading down to economic stagnation.

    Saturday, March 10, 2007

    Measures of Management

    As a line worker, your contribution is easily measured. Assemblies per hour. Forms moved from "inbox" to "outbox." Daily trading P&L. As a manager, however, your contribution is nebulous. Imortant, contributory, difficult, yes. But easy to measure, generally no. Yet managers are perhaps the biggest fans of productivity metrics. Reporting. Dashboards. These are the same people who have to sit their own staff down periodically and explain why their bonus isn't what the other guy's is. Unfortunately, when measuring themselves (or the managers reporting to them), the de-facto metric is simply calories burned. How many hours they were active for the business and how hyper they were during those hours. How many people they talked to, conference calls and meetings they popped into, and emails they read. How many fires they fought. How many tasks they assigned. All of this measures activity, but managers are compensated more than line workers, not just because they work harder. They are compensated for their rare ability to make good decisions. In my days as a manager, I've always measured my contribution in the number and dificulty of good decisions made per day. Retrospectively bad decisions should count for zero, but those decisions that were neutral to good should be multiplied by their difficulty factor, which in tern is a combination of several components including % of necessary information available, amount of analysis done, parties to be satisfied, and value at risk. The result of this calculation gives us a "business contribution factor." Sum this BCF across time and you get a standardized measure across all managers of the organization which is comparable. Moreover, plot it over time for all your managers and you can build yourself a "manager of managers" dashboard to monitor how each is doing. As managers develop, their BCF should appreciate just like a good equity.

    Tuesday, February 27, 2007

    What would Reagan say to the people of America Today?

    He's already said it. Let's listen in as he speaks to us via actual quotes from twenty, thirty years ago ...

    "Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement ...
    My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes ... How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin ... "

    "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem ... I don't believe in a government that protects us from ourselves ... Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty ...
    Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free ... Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors ... "

    "History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap ... Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong ... If it's to be a bloodbath, let it be now. Appeasement is not the answer ... We can not play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent ... I am totally unwilling to see this country fail in its obligation to itself and to the other free peoples of the world ... We have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again ... When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world on the direct orders of a hostile regime, we will respond so long as I'm in this Oval Office ... [They] counted on America to be passive. [They] counted wrong ... "

    "There are no easy answers but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right ... You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness ... All great change in America begins at the dinner table ... We have found, in our country, that when people have the right to make decisions as close to home as possible, they usually make the right decisions. ... We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions ... I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there's purpose and worth to each and every life ... "

    If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism ... Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts. My dream is that you will travel the road ahead with liberty's lamp guiding your steps and opportunity's arm steadying your way ... My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all. And so, good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. "

    Tuesday, February 06, 2007

    Friday, January 26, 2007


    I've long felt that one of the major risks to this world's future is laziness. Laziness fuelled by hedonism. I guess I'm old enough to start harkening back to simpler better days. On one hand, I think the present is incredible. Wonderful. Spectacular. I wouldn't want to live in the past, even if I could. However, I do have concerns about people today. So many ills today sseem to stem from peoples' bad decisions, mis-education, lack of interest and intellectual curiosity. There seems to be a romanticisation of laziness, stupidness, uninformedness, populism, sensationalism, entertainment-ism. And this last one is either the consequence or cause of the deeper issue. TV and even newspapers no longer just present pure news. It's gotta be news-tainment. Evidently under the premise that no one would watch just news anymore. If so, that's sad. Is it true? If so, why? Have the media outlets morphed public behavior to cause this, or did they simply react? Will people truly not watch the morning news just to get informed, rather than the talk-show format spoon-feeding of tidbits of news hidden inside huge lumps of sugary sensationalized, nearly fictionalized human-interest drivel. The kind of crap that is, and should be forgotten by the next day. The kind of thing which can be traced to absolutely no subsequent change in our world or our lives. Truly a waste of time. So much goes on in this world today - there's actually too much information to digest. Yet instead of going after at least the most important pieces, we numb our minds with this drivel. Thereby sorely uninformed, we can only outsource our thinking and decision making. we form our opinions not on facts and analysis, bur on the opinions of others - either based on the consensus views of those close to us (whether or not they have any greater qualification than ourselves) or on the words of some celebrity we choose. And here again media steps right up to serve us talking heads we recognize. Doesn't matter whether they're informed or intelligent or logical. Just matters that we "like" them and that they're famous. Rather than choosing our thought-leaders based on skill, we substitute celebrity. They must be smart, if they're so well known, right? That's asinine. It's laziness. The idea that either we have no impact and thus should just disengage ... or that issues are too complicated and there's too much information for us to digest, and thus we should just follow others. This creates a huge vaccuum, and invites popularity-seekers to step up and "lead" by drowning us with their self-edifying blather based not on facts or analysis either, but just one their "opinions" and "beliefs" and what they've heard. These talking heads are no more qualified than anyone else. We could all form uninformed opinions and then go prostelize. and there's a component of this that sources from the vast growth in individualism in the last 100 years. I theorize that, once people's basic needs no longer took all their time to satisfy, they lost the desire to have the security of being part of something larger, be it a community, a society, a nation, a religion, a party, a famliy, a team, an army. And so sinc ewe had no desire to belong, we had no motivation to fit in - to comply with the rules and standards and expectations of the group. Individualism, in itself, is a good thing. People should be free to discover and pursue their own interests as long as it doesn't negatively impact others. But when individualism leads the individual to act only out of self-interest irrespective of the impact on any greater group or future period, only stopping when physically checked, they become deleterious to their own world unawares.

    So, what do we do about it, smarty pants? What's the right answer?

    That's a good one. And it'll have to wait till next time.

    Saturday, January 06, 2007

    What will Tomorrow Bring: Sarkoszy

    Pro-American, Pro-Business, and a damn fine first name. We need Sarkoszy in charge of France!