Saturday, October 22, 2016


I have blogged before about the difficulty I have remembering names sometimes. This is primarily, I think, a function of needing to to meet lots of people all the time, to have a broad "funnel" (as we say in sales) in one's "pipeline," though I worry at times that it is early onset Alzheimer's (which killed my maternal grandmother).

I use the frameworks I have (lists, notes, stacks of business cards, CRM, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to keep track of people as best I can, but it is hard, and there are natural limits.  First and foremost there is the Dunbar number, about which Gladwell has written, and I think he and it are right:  most people can handle a network of about 150 people, and of course they don't "know all of them well."  Second there is the tendency about which Gawande writes in Being Mortal, that people, as they age, typically don't want to meet more and more people, they want to focus on being close to family and longtime friends, the people who have been important to them in the past. I feel that, that rings true.

And yet, professionally, it is my job to expand the tent of people to whom I am providing service and adding value as best I can. And one needs to have a broad "funnel" to get clients. At the same time, I have to keep honing my ability to help people. Thankfully, at least, the process of meeting people, talking to them, and listening to them typically exposes me either to new problems or to ones I have learned about but my recollection of the specific approaches to and rules around fixing them might be fuzzy, and/or know nothing about.  So I learn more about my job, even if holding on to the specifics of each person I meet can be challenging.

Then again, nobody said it was gonna be easy.

Time to take Graham to martial arts.  Will read Buffett.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Heros and process

A week and change ago a couple of stories were juxtaposed on the pages of the Wall Street Journal which spoke volumes about what we value as a society.  On one side was yet another chapter in the continuing clusterfuck of a story around Theranos, the poster child unicorn with a Steve Jobs clone/wannabe founder, the transformational value proposition ("all your blood testing from a finger prick") the gold-plated board and advisory team (Henry Kissinger, Bill Frist, Richard Kovacevich, David Boies, Sam Nunn, George Schultz), and the most ignominious crash and burn since Enron and Arthur Anderson fell to earth at once. Theranos is the Lance Armstrong of corporations, and, as such, calls to question the general ethos of hero-worship to which we have devolved as a society, the extent to which we are dependent on larger than life figures (Obama, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett) to help us figure out how to do the right thing.

On the other page, a story about the seeming success of grid hardening, lots of money being spent over years of gruelling, slow, thankless process improvement and project management to reduce the amount of power outages caused by weather events and other disruptions. As someone who was first in Manhattan on 9/11, and then in Albany -- hundreds of miles away from an 8-month pregnant Mary -- when the power went out up and down the East Coast in August of 2003 (and yes, we all thought it was terrorism at the time), I appreciate the effort of all the slide-rule and pocket-protector types who made this happen, and totally applauded this story.  It is difficult to pay attention to this kind of work, but it is big, and we all benefit from it, and the government is the only stakeholder that can begin to make it happen.

So let's just keep this in mind, and to hell with all the charismatic shysters like Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. It don't always happen like that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mixed feelings

I have recently read stories about how Russia's farming economy has recovered and made Russia a leading exporter of grains.  After all the nastiness that has come out of Russia in recent years -- aggression in the Crimea and Ukraine, violent homophobia, corruption, the assassination of Nemtsov and the repressions of others -- it has become easy to root against Russia on all fronts, even for those of us with a long historical engagement with the region. But I find myself somehow heartened by the idea that Russia might actually have an economic 3rd act that is not related to extractive industries and general petrokleptocracy.

The fact is, Russians are not all bad, and in general people don't understand the sacrifices that the nation made in WWII. Estimates run as high as 26 million Russians dead in the war.  This out of a population of about 200 million at the beginning of the war.  Estimates run as high as 1.3 million of Russians born during the war who died before 1945. Ponder that.

These are big numbers, much bigger than any other nation in absolute terms (I'm not sure how it nets out on a percentage basis).  Gotta hop.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

His struggle is my struggle

Just came to the end of volume 5 of Knausgaard's My Struggle. Surprised though I am, I eagerly await the finishing of the translation of and then publication of volume 6.  Somewhere in there I thought I had gotten sick of it, but then was miraculously refreshed by the narrative's return to relevance.

So over the course of this year I've now spent something like 2500 pages with Karl Ove, and have gone through most of the phases of his life with him, from the early days to the death of his father, with which began the "novel," and to which we have returned at the end of this tome.  I clearly strongly identify with his simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from his alcoholic father, though in his case his dad was clearly "irredeemable," to quote one of Hillary's more ridiculous statements from the campaign trail (if she can survive that, it's pretty amazing). The guy pretty literally drank himself to death, and the hints of violence around his death are never fully resolved. Might his mom have clocked him with a frying pan?  It's not inconceivable, though it's never explicitly suggested either.

The important thing in riding shotgun with Karl Ove is seeing how he reacts.  Let's recount some of the highlights of the last volume.

  1. His dad can't be bothered to show up at his wedding
  2. He gets jealous of his brother having a lively conversation with his soon-to-be bride at a bar, so, getting progressively drunker as the evening winds on, he goes in the bathroom and repeatedly cuts into his face with a shard of glass, but his brother and fiance don't notice till later
  3. His dad dies
  4. Just then, his first novel is published, after years of excruciating self-doubt, writer's block, and self-destructive blackout drinking.  It wins a big Norwegian Critics Prize. He still kind of thinks it's a piece of shit
  5. He descends into writer's block/alcoholic stupor again for a couple of years, and somewhere in there, wasted, he has a one-night stand which later comes out, not good for his marriage, but not (yet) fatal to it
Thankfully, I worked through the alcoholic part of the equation early in life, which helped me keep away from other ladies.  But I get a lot of this cycle. I totally feel him.  And it's hard not to, because he is laying it all out there in a degree of detail that is pretty incredible in every way.

Anyhoo, time to get ready for soccer.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Division of labor

This morning there is an article in the Wall Street Journal  about the science of standing in line. I read it, thinking that it was going to give me some useful answers to that question. Instead, it provided the most basic, thumbnail-level introduction to the thinking behind, history or, and multiple applications of queuing theory, a discipline I had never heard of, presumably a subset of operations research. Really interesting stuff.

After reading the article, it occurred to me that it is much better to have been exposed to a new discipline than to have been provided with answers to a specific problem, because it opens my brain to a new way of thinking about something and gives me a greater appreciation for the overall concept of division of labor, and the value of a well-articulated division of labor across global society as a whole.

Which is to say, to the extent that we can surmount problems of time, distance and -- in non-physical or intellectual disciplines -- siloing, which is the notional equivalent of time and space, we benefit from the presence of extreme specialization.

The trick is to facilitate idea flow across disciplines, to have enough of and the right types generalists and cross-fertilizers -- to bring the ideas of specialists to bear on new problems.  This is one of the quintessential problems of management per se, to facilitate idea flow and achieve a proper balance of generalists and specialists.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Racing in

At an Al Anon meeting recently, someone shared about how his or her child (gotta keep this anonymous) of 23 had recently had a "diagnosis" which had really challenged the parent to maintain his/her composure and serenity.  That's all the detail that was shared, and that's all I need to share.

Sitting there listening, I felt a little teased, the part of me that wants to rush in and fix everything, the part that thinks that -- for some odd reason, that's what I'm supposed and expected to do -- really wanted to know what the diagnosis was for.  Cancer?  An affective disorder?  I don't know why I think it matters, but I was sitting there, yearning within me for the answer, which never came.

Which was a valuable lesson for me. Because this person didn't need for me to race in and save the day, (s)he just needed to share, to speak, to release, and move on. Stepping further back and looking at my reaction, I think it reasonable to say that my fix-it instinct derives from a deep-seeded belief that if I don't try to do something, to fix almost anything (global warming, inequality of wealth distribution, a client's lack of savings), I am somehow worth less, if not worthless.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A dream, moving forward

Just before I woke up this morning I had one of those dreams.  I had spent some outlandish amount of money, I think it was $5400, fixing something stupid, and I had basically been ripped off and was very ashamed of the mistake I had made. But it was just a dream.

On the other hand, as I push towards the last third of volume 5 of Knausgaard's My Struggle, I had found myself getting a little sick of it. Karl Ove getting drunk, having blackout after blackout, cheating on his girlfriend, basically squandering his student years in the perpetually rainy Norwegian town of Bergen. It was a little bit close to home.

But now they have moved off to Iceland for a semester, Gunvor and Karl Ove, and he has begun to actually get some writing done and have coherent thoughts. Maybe, just maybe, he will break out of this rut. I mean, obviously, he will, and will become a Eurolit sensation, and mostly justifiably.  But this tome and the one before have been at times like pulling teeth.

Hilary (no, not that one, my friend Hilary) told me that, having finished volume 5, she was planning on going back to volume 1. Which is pretty extreme.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Good salesmanship, but not quite

After grabbing lunch at Whole Foods, I stopped in to get my shoes shined. The guy had closed up shop for lunch, but I promised to buy him lunch in five minutes, and he took me up on it. So I went in, took off my shoes, handed them over, and sat down.

But who should come in but JR, from the barber shop down the hall, who stopped in and noted that he hadn't seen me in a while, which was true.  By some standards, I was and am certainly in need of a trim, and if it was hotter outside and I wasn't already running late, he would have had me dead to sights. With the cooling of the days, however, I am less susceptible to the compulsion to buzz, so I decided to hold off for a couple of weeks.

This was, after all, the same fellow who says he's using a 2 on my back and sides, but I'll be damned if it feels as short as it does after Sunny, the Asian woman around the corner, gives me a cut.  I think he actually uses a 3 or even -- dare I say it -- a 4 on my head, as a means of getting me back in there more quickly. 

So I went on my way, though I was impressed and even flattered at the personal appeal. It means something for people to want your business.

Sunday, October 02, 2016


Just got the family up to Hillsborough to walk the River Walk, which is a nice thing, though I will confess and advise my readers that the part east of downtown, by Ayr Mount, is really the prettier part, and we had to turn around before we could really take it in, sadly. It was good to get the family out, as we honestly have all too few full group excursions, something we need to work on.

On the way up we listened -- as we are oft wont to do (love that phrase) -- to NPR, Radiolab, to be precise, and it was an interesting episode. The most fascinating part was some guy who had done quantitative analysis of Agatha Christie novels, and found that there was a strange shift from her 73rd novel forward, where the frequency of vague terms like "anything," "something", "someone" increased dramatically, and that she was generally using 20% fewer words than she had before. (just Googled this, it is apparently an old show, so many may have heard it before)

I will confess that I fear this at times myself, when I find myself grasping for words -- I struggled momentarily to find the word "Alzheimer's" when recounting the story later.  Oh well. It's not like I don't try to keep the old noggin nimble. I think what I'm experiencing is likely just normal aging.

Little of which was apparent on the soccer field yesterday, though. It wasn't my best game, mind you, but I was pretty darned mobile and effective in the back keeping a couple of much younger guys under control.

So there. Time to go enjoy the waning of this lovely fall day before I have to fire up the grill.

Saturday, October 01, 2016


At Al Anon this morning, which I had missed for weeks because of soccer game conflicts and then going to the beach, I found my mind drifting to the situation with Deutsche Bank, and other financial stuff, I don't recall what it was, none of it particularly troubling, mind you, just the waxing and waning of things. This despite or perhaps because a client of mine was leading the meeting, and was in tears sharing about recent very serious health crises that have befallen her husband, also a client. So often this Saturday meeting is a safe space where my mind runs free and slowly processes things that I have been watching during the week, and/or bounces off its own walls. Much like church used to be, a place where I can do nothing but sit there quietly and try to listen and learn and relate but allow myself to drift.

I thought of how another client up in New York had posted something on Facebook last week from a Buddhist priest about the problem of monkey brain, the mind scrambling around desperately from one thing to another. What he said was this: "so long as you can focus on your breathing, inhaling, exhaling, monkey brain is fine.  Just keep coming back to your breathing." That makes sense.

Now must take Graham to martial arts. Will try to get back to reading Buffett's annual shareholder letters, a project that has fallen off a little over the last couple of months.

Summer is over, praise the Lord.

Monday, September 26, 2016

As at an abstraction

At the corner of Franklin and Columbia today, as I was waiting to turn to go get Niklaus for lunch, there was a very attractive and funky young college woman, definitely someone I would have had a crush on in college, waiting to cross the street. She was wearing leggings or yoga pants or something like that, entirely form-fitting, and I could not but admire her figure, at least in the abstract, and I realized I was taking her in somewhat as an abstraction.

This took me back some 25 years or so, to when Czeslaw Milocsz was in town, and I nailed him after taking offense at saying he looked at his young lover seated on the edge of the tub "as at an abstraction."  I recounted this here.

Now that  I am 50, I guess I kind of get it, it is certainly a more age-appropriate way to appreciate the charms of young ladies. And I guess that's more the point, aging doesn't make men blind or ignorant of certain facts. The key is not to go around trying to sleep with women 30 years younger than you, and, even more importantly, to not be successful in trying.

Big trucks

Driving on Eastern NC.  Headed to New Bern. Always astounded to see the number of massive trucks people drive, and the amount of effort they expend to control the growth of plants, especially grass, in the middle of freaking nowhere. Each, in its own way, a sad attempt to establish dominance, while secretly demonstrating the fear -- almost an admission -- that it ain't happening.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Beach

It had been a long time since we had been here. The Beach, generically. Wrightsville Beach is a place where I had never spent any time before, a fine place, somewhat less forelorn than Atlantic Beach seemed when we were up there a couple of years ago for Father's Day. Fewer derelict motels that have tried but largely failed to convert into condo complexes. Everything pretty upbeat here. Sunny, but not too sunny at the end of September (ask me about that again when I come back from the run I should have taken first thing in the morning, like those toned tri people). But in the end it is first and foremost, a beach, and, as such, a subset of The Beach.

Which Mary generally fears because of sun, her being rather fair, the children having gotten her skin rather than mine. Plus the sand, all the seafood, the heat.

But we are here, nonetheless. and here in the afternoon, after a near nap, in the cool Airbnb house with the period paneling and retro couches (Mary approves highly of the styling), looking out at the inland waterway, it is rather nice. David is napping, mom is kind of napping, protesting that she never naps, and Mary is photographing her. The kids are kind of doing homework, maybe, lying in bed under there respective blankets, with their devices.

All is good.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book on Cancer

I just pushed through Siddhartha Mukherjee's "The Emperor of All Maladies."  As my readers may have observed, although I am not afraid of attacking thick tomes, I am not by nature engaged to tackle the fatties devoted to hard science topics.  But since my new office is at the NC BioTech Center, and we are circulating amongst lots of entrepreneurs who are developing drugs and the like, I figured it behooved me to educate myself about this kinda stuff.

I was inspired in particular by a conversation with the CFO of a small, speculative firm that works in the drug discovery space, who has a platform to help other companies facilitate the development of molecules (yes, you read that correctly). He was also not native to the drug world, and allowed that transitioning into it had been a particularly steep learning curve.

So I read this book. It was not light reading. Cancer kills lots of people, and has been doing so for a long time. (Just this morning I was texting with a client whose husband was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer which had metastasized some. He was in the hospital for chemo).  The "war on cancer" has been fought on many fronts for centuries, and while there has been a lot of progress on some fronts, on others there's been much less forward motion.

Let's be honest, it was an excruciatingly difficult book for someone like myself, being averse to medical detail. Particularly the chapters about super-aggressive radical mastectomies, of which I will spare you the details.  It was rough reading. And the lack of forward motion along many research vectors was disheartening as we moved into pages 300-350.

And then, finally, some really effective drugs targeting breast cancer, lymphoma, and some specific types of leukemia!  Ahh, it is beautiful.

Mostly, I must say, the book reminded me, as if I needed reminded, of the vastness of what I don't know, and the number of workaholic geniuses out there trying to solve problems. And the complexity of funding research for diseases that occur rarely. What do you do when you need $100 million to attach a cancer of which maybe 100 a year pop up?  It's a tough sale.

So, in the end, it was a fine book. One I'm glad to be done with.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pushing through

Yesterday ended up being a great day, in an odd way, if extraordinarily bustly (140 miles in toto, after driving to a soccer game in the AM then to Raleigh and back twice in the late afternoon and evening).

Graham's birthday party came off well.  Four boys showed up, one of whom is new in Graham's orbit, and the email hadn't gone through to his dad, so Graham hand-delivered the party deets on Friday, and he showed!  Then another boy, whose parents are freaking space cadets and had forgotten about Graham's party in prior years, came after I called his house and his dad said: "Oh, it wasn't on the calendar and Jenny (not her real name) is out of town."  Plus the DVD of Monty Python's Holy Grail was scratched, but we managed through it and they saw maybe 80% of the movie anyway.

Then, in the afternoon, I was working on my presentation for today, and my computer crashed and then couldn't find a boot volume when restarting. I knew my data was backed up to the cloud, so was concerned primarily with what machine I would take to do the presentation. So I ran some diagnostics -- which kept looking bad -- then I rebooted a couple of times and, sure enough, in true Dell fashion, the computer eventually realized it wasn't actually dead. To quote Monty Python:  "I'm not quite dead yet!"

Finally, come evening time, we were out at a small party, and my phone started acting dead.  Would not come back to life. This being a 13 month old Samsung Galaxy 5, so a perfectly decent phone, which had had decent battery charge before I went into the party.  I didn't freak out or fret too much (as I am at times wont to do).  I just plugged it in when I got back in the car, saw some signs of life, then rebooted when I got home.

This morning, we woke up and found out that the cat had puked again.  I'm not thinking about that for a little while.  Gotta prep for this afternoon.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Birthday weekend

And so, Graham's birthday weekend is upon us, and with it another frenzied cleansing of the house in anticipation of a small number of adults visiting the house at drop-off and pick-up.  I mean, I guess it is worthwhile to clean the house a couple of times a year, just for good measure. But in the end it is shame-driven.

This after at work today, one of the partners in my firm was encouraging me to get upgrade from my Prius to a Tesla for appearances sake:  "you should reward yourself, it is consistent with who you are, clients like it."  But it costs a bunch of money, too.

Anyway, off to bed now. Soccer game at 9.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Never forget

I was thinking yesterday that I'm not 100% certain what it is that I'm never forgetting.  I mean, no, I will never forget standing on 5th Avenue watching the Twin Towers burn and realizing that I couldn't stand there and watch because if I did I would start smoking again. That I didn't need to watch. We didn't know, couldn't imagine that they would collapse.  When I heard it had happened I really didn't quite process it.

I will never forget the craziness of that day, or the unity of sentiment in the days following it.

Nor will I forget the opportunism and alacrity with which the Bush administration latched hold of the "Axis of Evil" construct to justify wars on multiple fronts, and the way we squandered the good will of the world just when we had an opportunity to slipstream off of it by undertaking a war for hearts and minds that might have done us some good.

Or a bunch of other stuff. Basically, September 11 was a great opportunity squandered in an orgy of revanchist and neo-authoritarian bloodlust.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Enthusiasm deficit

There is a marked enthusiasm deficit around Hillary Clinton. We find her difficult to like, so it is hard to get behind her with passion, though we all know that we hate the Donald.

What's up with that?  Undoubtedly she is held to a higher standard than men, and if she projected the kind of things that we like about women her age, grandmothers, we wouldn't find them electable.  So in a sense she is in a can't win situation.

There are few women in politics who were her age and "likeable."  Really only Ann Richards of Texas springs to mind, and she was a good deal younger than Hillary is when she rose to prominence in national politics. It is a shame that she passed away a decade ago. The interweb informs me that Richards drank and smoked a lot, and indeed passed away of esophageal cancer at a relatively young age. I'm willing to bet that trait, that she drank and partied with powerful men, taught her behavioral tricks that allowed her to cross over to likeability: a sense of humor on the rostrum, of knowing how to work a crowd and a room.

But she would probably have been undercut and hacked to death by a thousand paper cuts too had she run for President.

RBG pulls it off these days, though she has to be careful.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

What is art?

At the "Southern Accent" show which just opened at the Nasher this week (if you're in NC, go see it, great show), there was a wall of work by William Eggleston, including the one below.  Mary mentioned that Eggleston was one of the first "serious artists" to use color, as opposed to black and white.

It occurred to me that treating color photographs as art is very similar to what Iurii Lotman and the Tartu School said about poetry and prose. Poetry, according to this line of thought, is the first form of verbal art because it is so clearly differentiated from everyday speech. Prose, therefore, as art, is more complex then poetry, because it has to differentiate itself from both poetry and every speech. It must fight harder to prove that it is art, and, as such, has a tougher job.

It seemed deep at the time.

Now must go throw frisbee with Graham, then take a swim.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

In the thick of it

It has been a busy week.  The Volvo started having electrical issues -- just when I was about to put some money into fixing the interior, our cat Leon continued to puke all over stuff and had to be taken to the vet, who for $400 gave us some drugs and told us he wasn't eating, a friend of Mary's found out that -- if it wasn't bad enough that brain cancer was killing her slowly, that stage 4 lung cancer would be killing her more quickly even, thank you very much.  One client got fired/laid off, another found out she was getting audited.

Meanwhile, I have been having some lower back pain, partially tracing back to standing on the concrete floor of the Cradle all last weekend, partially from my crappy -- if stylish -- desk chair. Must get up to Carrboro to pick up my hand me down from the company that mom just shut down.

I realize I am beginning to sound all too much like Andy Rooney.  I'm just saying.

Mary just came in and told me the vet might call and tell us that Leon has pancreatitis and that "we may have to make a decision quickly," and that pretty much takes the wind out of my zen sail. Waves keep washing over me, at once cooling me and making me deucedly salty.  Now must take Graham to martial arts.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dog day of the soul

A long day stretches before me:  Graham to martial arts, soccer game at noon, MC a little at the Be Loud! afternoon show, home to rest, back to the Cradle for the evening show.  In the middle of all this laundry must get done so I'll have a clean Be Loud! t-shirt for the evening.

Tomorrow an alumni function Durham Bulls game. I sometimes wonder how I let myself get dragged into joining that board.

Last night at the show I had a number of instances of people recognizing me and saying we had met, and/or me getting peoples' names wrong. God how I hate that, but it is so hard to keep peoples' names straight.  I think I have said this before, but this is what CRM software, social networks, and friends are for, to help you fill these gaps.  Of course I know that the people didn't walk away shocked that I had forgotten their names, they are not blogging about it this morning, but still.  I suppose it rankles in particular as I am watching my mom and others age and display memory issues, and the memory of my maternal grandmother's protracted battle with Alzheimer's and my dad's struggle with oncoming dementia in the months and years leading up to his death scare me a little.

Particularly for someone like myself.  I view myself as living by my wits and intellect. Increasingly, I think I need to transition to living less by brains, more by spirit. If I can just try to do the right thing at each moment of the day, and accept that even that is a hard thing to do, that will have to be good enough.

Even in that regard, it may be a question of limiting scope. I need to try to do the right thing, but equally endeavor not to take too much on. I know darned good and well that I cannot predict interest rates, so I try not to make decisions based too much on expectations of their direction. Though I have to take them into account.

In any case, right now I need to brief myself for this afternoon's MCing and pack water bottles and sunscreen, cuz it's gonna be a hot one.