Saturday, June 24, 2017

The bubble in hand held devices

No, not those.

What I mean is the ones containing, meat, cheese, and the like.

At the airport in DC I had breakfast bao, steamed Chinese buns like the roast pork buns available at Chinese bakeries.  I used to snag them for breakfast near Penn Station back in the day, ones with traditional Chinese fillings, and they were good. These airport ones had bacon, egg and cheese, egg and spicy sausage, etc. They were fine but not exceptional. Not as good as the traditional Chinese versions, nor as good as bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll or biscuit. Admittedly, the portion size was not excessive and, in the combo of two with a perfectly decent cup of coffee, they offered reasonable value.

Then yesterday I went to Makus, a new empanada place out where 54 hits Garrett Road and 751. The empanadas were passable and looked cute, but were nothing special from a taste perspective. The rice and beans side was probably from enormous cans of beans. But basically they were nothing to write home about, much less blog...

If I didn't have a bigger point to make, that is. The food truck bubble has long since passed its apogee. Food is not better because it comes in a truck. The movement is basically a cost and regulatory arbitrage deal: you don't have to pay rent, AC, plumbing, all these costs that a brick and mortar restaurant would. The workers suffer in the heat of the truck, sweating profusely into their goatees and multiple piercings.

I think the same thing is happening with the street food scene. Empanadas can be great, as can burrito-like things from many cultures (we had good Asian quasi-burritos in New Haven in March, and the Chinese burger I had in Oxford last year was delish). But they have to be done well and distinctively. If you just wrap meat, cheese, veggies in a different shape of bread product and denote it with a foreign word, it doesn't become better ipso facto.

There will be a shake out, these places will fail if they don't get better.



nb. This is not to say that all food trucks or hand helds are bad, many are products of diligent and creative foodies. But they don't win just cuz.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Self management

In DC this morning, stayed in a very lovely AirBnB in Mt Pleasant, then had to make for Reagan National Airport, so conveniently well-served by the yellow line. Left at 7:30 to walk to Metro, but the heat was rising already so I was sweaty by the time I got to the station.  I will spare you the details about my minor technical issues with the Metro save to say that, when I bought a day pass for the Metro the day before, I asked and was told that the pass worked on both Metro and buses.  THIS IS NOT TRUE. It messed me up and cost me a little money. Nuffsaid on that.

Anyhoo, I was sweaty when I got to the Columbia Heights station, but I had built in a pretty good margin for error for my flight. Or so I thought...

Actually, I had, but managing the uncertainty of whether or not that was the case is always challenging.  On the train platform there was a mob and the train was standing there empty. Medical emergency. The train moved soon enough.

I got to the airport an hour and 40 minutes before my flight, and walked down to the gate and saw there was no line whatsoever at security. Great. Except that the woman who was letting people into the line said:  "No, you've got to go down to the other concourse, your flight's down there."  So I turned around and walked the 200 yards or so down the way. And as I did, I looked, and in the distance I saw lots of bodies in silhouette down the way and had a moment's "oh no!" flash through my brain. Not a freak out, just a little warning.

And I recognized what was happening, and just kept walking at a reasonable pace till I got down there and saw that the lines weren't really long.

I wasn't really worried about missing my plain by now, mind you.  It was more about getting food and coffee.

But the main thing is that airport experiences give me/us opportunities to observe myself in moments of potential stress and use data to manage myself. Yesterday I checked the status of parking at RDU online and realized that I was going to need to park in an offsite lot, so I left 15 minutes earlier than normal. And probably needed no more than 10 of those 15.  Last night I asked my host about typical lines at National, and he gave me a departure recommendation, then checked to see that there weren't big delays on the Metro line.

And so, by asking lots of questions and using data, I managed through nicely. And even had time to blog. And try out some of the breakfast bao (chinese rolls) here on the concourse. OK, not great. But different, and not expensive by airport standards.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The vanishing of labor?

Some years ago, it must have been five or so because he passed away in 2013, I was sitting with my dad in Hillsborough at Weaver Street and dad said: "There's going to be a huge problem because all the jobs are going to disappear as technology takes over all the simple tasks." Of course, since dad said it, I immediately thought: "that's total bullshit" and began ruminating on why it must not be so.

Over the last few days, a couple of very smart people advanced the same argument, and indeed this way of thinking has more or less entered the mainstream. One guy I was talking to speculated that idle males would become a problem in America just like it has in the Arab world, where it is often considered a key factor in facilitating the rise of first Al-Qaeda and then, presumably, ISIS

Reading the recent survey in The Economist of the evolution of the drone really does cause me to think about how the global supply chain of services is being dramatically reshaped, and predictions about driverless trucks in the not-too-distant future also make it easy to envision a world in which there is not much of a place for quasi- to semi-educated men.

Indeed, there is a parallel thread out there around the opioid epidemic and more broadly the "deaths of despair" most convincingly brought to light by the work of Angus Deaton and Ann Case of Princeton, suggesting that people are dying because they have no place in the world. And the was indeed presaged by the declining population in what was once the Soviet Union owing to alcoholism and smoking as people were flummoxed from loss of place in the world and the failure to find a viable economic model, all of which created the opening for Putin.

I am not so jaundiced about the whole thing. Yes, plenty of jobs are going to be destroyed. And yes, plenty of people, many of them men, are going to have to figure out what the hell to do with their lives to feel decent about themselves. And yes, the easiest way to do that is to give them uniforms and guns and let them go out and shoot, beat or oppress somebody. But it doesn't have to be so. People are educable, and they are not all evil, even the white guys who voted for Trump. In some ways, the opioid epidemic is bringing them to their knees and making them recognize that there is a place for government and for new paradigms that offer a hope of life.

This piece in today's Times was inspiring in particular along these lines.

Anyhoo, it's Father's Day. Time to go downstairs and start complaining about being hungry. 5 more hours to indulge my inner slacker, who has actually been grinding through an intermittently interesting book on a chapter in the history of finance.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Me, the screen, and you

Just got back from my Saturday morning meeting, prime blogging time, to find my browser clogged with tabs: hotel booking, other peoples' portfolios, calendars, all about planning for the future, near-term and short, except the New York Times, which I had opened to try to figure out what kind of crazy shit Trump had tweeted this morning. I suppose I could use Twitter or just Google "Trump tweets." I had to close all of that stuff down to get back to this screen, to be alone with my keyboard, in preparation for the Deep Thoughts with which I have tasked myself to produce, all for you, dear reader.

Busy busy week, though it may not have looked at it to see me in my office. Talked to a former employer about taking over their largish 401k, prepped for and met with a client (an '84 Tiger who lives elsewhere), finished up all of the requirements for my CFP, took Graham to the pool and got thundered out but ate a freaking burger anyway, took mom in for a doctor's visit, swam, played tennis, went running, did due diligence on vacation... frankly, I can't remember what all I did, but I know I was busy!

Somebody is trying to recruit me to run for Town Council. On the one hand, it could be very interesting. On the other, a huge potential time suck, when I have manifold other commitments.

Ah well, right now it is Saturday, and tomorrow is Fathers' Day, and I am therefore declaring it extended Fathers' Day weekend. Graham will have a badly needed haircut along with a little lunch after martial arts, just because. Last night at dinner he said that it was funner to do many things with me than with mom, which should be a lesson to her: make things funner (what a fine word it is!).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Memorial

I took Natalie to NC Girls' State at Catawba College in Salisbury today. On the way we stopped at the rest area at Exit 100 to do what one does in such places, while there we noticed it was the home of the North Carolina Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, which we duly checked out. It was a nice enough memorial, and will get nicer as the trees grow taller over time, but I had to wonder, "what the heck is it doing out here at a rest stop?" It's not really a destination kind of place.

I tried to take a picture, but my phone was being sketchy, I need to create some room on it, so it balked.

Then we proceeded on to Salisbury, the home of Cheerwine, to check it out and have lunch. Salisbury is a nice old town, the county seat of Rowan County, with a significant physical downtown. They are doing all the things municipalities do to bring people back downtown, but with limited success. There were a number of places open serving food, we ate at one of them (Sweet Meadows Cafe, I'm 90% sure we made the right choice). The place has tons of potential.

So if you're going to spend a couple of million dollars building a memorial, why not put it in a place where it might serve as a destination? Where you could have a little center that educates people about the war?  Where there could be some synergies with the local economy.

As it is, it just seems like a waste. The only people who benefit from the memorial, month in month out, are the landscapers who cut the grass and trim the hedges. Really, it's not particularly memorable.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Palliative care and medical costs

At a panel on life sciences venture capital and life sciences in the Triangle the other day, there was a guy from the venture arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield NC and some other Blue umbrella corporation. One thing he discussed was palliative care as a big opportunity for cost reduction in our healthcare system.

It is a hard thing to talk about, but we all know it's true. Healthcare is something like 18% of GDP in the US, and we've seen stats on end of life care and how expensive it is.  I could Google them now but don't have time to, I don't need to prove this point. As Boomers continue to retire and move through retirement towards death, the problem will get worse.

A big problem with end of life costs is people and family members failing to accept the writing on the wall, that death is nigh. It is normal and natural for any organism, humans especially included, to seek to perpetuate itself. As the curve of probability tilts progressively against any given human, it's hard to accept or define the point at which it's best to throw in the towel. If there is a 15% chance of two years' survival at the cost of $300,000 and a lot of pain, is it worth it?  People answer this question differently, based on where they are in life and where they are with loved ones.

My mom's husband David just went through this process, fighting cancer until he was out of treatments, then sustaining himself in a hopeless situation for a very short time, really until all of his family had been able to come and say goodbye and come to grips with the situation. Then he let go.

Around the time of the Obamacare debates there was a lot of discussion of "death panels" and government stepping in to make these decisions. In practice, as I understand it, "payers" (insurers) do have discretion to fund or not fund treatment based on a probabilistic assessment of whether the treatment is likely to work for a given patient. Also, health care is effectively rationed structurally: people living close to major medical centers are able to get the best care simply by virtue of having access to doctors who are closer to the center of information flow for their disciplines. On average, they get better care.  On average, these are more affluent people.

Anyway, back to the point about end of life spending. The better people are oriented towards death, the less pain and suffering they will, perhaps, choose to put themselves through as the probability charts bend against them late in life. In this regard, Atul Gawande's Being Mortal and other books that help us think about this issue are good, as is a family culture of staying in touch and talking throughout life (so there's less unfinished business), and, for that matter, religion can help too.

Ultimately, the problem will solve itself.  People won't spend 10% of GDP on weeks of misery in hospitals.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Count pointercount

Rarely do I see a pair of stories as emblematic of where we are these days on two facing pages of a newspaper as a pair in today's Wall Street Journal. On one side of the fold, a story about how deferred maintenance at old buildings at universities has grown into a huge problem:  one example was how the leaking roof of a building at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign threatens the integrity of federally-funded research going on inside the building. I should note that upkeep of existing buildings fairly typically coexists alongside the building of shiny new facilities that look good on brochures and help with marketing. I will also admit that the fetishization of oldness, tradition, and ivy in higher education in America probably results in the maintenance of many old buildings that could probably be torn down and replaced with modern ones that function better and more efficiently over time.

Back to my original contrast, however.  On the other side of the fold there is a story about artisanal balloons, which is to say, the amount of money people are willing to spend on their kids' birthday parties.

So there you have it. Long-term investment that could pay gains long-term suffers, while short-term flourishes. This need not be 100% an endorsement of high vs. low taxes. Money could make it into university buildings just as easily through endowments as through government funding mechanisms. But contributions to a university's general fund are much less easy to showcase than balloons. And, admittedly, it is less fun.


Also, I should note that I made my way to these two stories via a front page story detailing how many universities -- including if not especially flagship state universities (because only data for public universities was available for analysis) -- were failing to demonstrate an increase in their students' analytical abilities over 4 years. Less prestigious universities were showing more improvement in student critical thinking skills. Which could argue that we shouldn't spend so much money on universities at all, but I don't think so.

At any rate, I have now blogged for too long and need to go to work.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Moving on many fronts

Monkey brain is where I'm at all too much of the time. Here's what's on my mind now:

  • The kids are out taking standardized tests right now. Graham taking the SAT for the first time in case we can talk him into doing Duke TIP (presuming he qualifies), Natalie is taking subject tests. She is done with basic SAT/ACT tests, having done well enough. We naturally worry that Graham will fuck up and get disheartened, given some of his organizational issues.
    • Should I take them to sushi afterwards?  Esp. given that Natalie will have pizza at her birthday party this evening?
  • Booking summer travel:  we have dragged our feet, since we knew Granny was likely going to be solo this summer and should join us, but we didn't know when. No we are getting organized finally and hopefully won't have to stay in dumps.
  • Etc. etc.
I realized it's not really much of an escape to list all this stuff that is oppressing me out. And it's not necessarily very entertaining for you, dear reader.

Last night my mom and I watched Moonlight. I had no recollection that it had won best picture, I just remembered it had been nominated for something.  It was magnificent, though not light watching, and by no means easy to understand all the dialogue/dialect. But it was the fullest, richest character portrayal I have seen in a long time, rarely have I rooted for a character so hard, which probably reflects the fact that we have been subsisting on a steady diet of TV shows, if that, for some time now. Mary grew jaded on films some time ago. I don't know why, given that we have only watched maybe a thousand or so of them together in the last 22 years in the comfort of our own couch.

We have, in fact, on at least one occasion gone halfway through a movie and then realized we had seen it before. In fact, that happened to me with a Wallander novel I started reading on the flight back from Seattle last week. But I kept reading it because I had so many hours invested in it and I wasn't sure I fully remembered the ending (turned out, I pretty much did). That was downright silly.  I should have dropped that puppy like a hot potato. Such is my foolish, deeply ingrained work ethic. Even as pertaining to leisure.


Monday, May 29, 2017

I'm back

Just spent 4 excellent days out in Seattle, hanging with my boy Mark, kicking a new client relationship with another old college friend into gear, and seeing other excellent people I know from high school and grad school. But now I'm back.

I can feel my age. There is pain in my hip and, oddly, still in my groin from where I kicked too many goal kicks three weeks ago. Also in my hamstrings, and in my left hand (which I use on the fretboard, my picking hand is pain-free).

Looking out into my yard, I see two things:

1. The grass has been growing the whole time I was gone. No surprise there. Mary used to mow the lawn sometimes, but in later years has reverted to traditional gender roles, which designates this as man's work. Maybe it's time to train Graham on this. Natalie may be hard.
2. The sun is rising. On the one hand, that means the grass is drying and is probably cutable. It is also becoming a hotter chore.  It also means the lake is getting warmer by the minute, and less pleasant for swimming.

Which means it's time to get my ass in gear.  Just saw my neighbor Caroline walk by not too long ago, with her dog Pearl, a collie who is the sweetest dog in the world.  I heard a few weeks ago that Pearl had cancer, and may not be long for this neighborhood.  It will be a loss.

For now, it's time to get moving.  One thing I know is that movement eases the pain.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Magnolia

In a little patisserie in the relatively upscale Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle, having walked here from the home of my friend Mark. Despite my hosts' downplaying the relative quality of the pastries, I would have to say they are pretty good.

In fact, everything here verges on perfect, especially since it seems like I bring sunny weather to Seattle and the region generally (I've never seen it rain here, though my sample size is small). Everyone is affluent, perky, of a non-deprecated ethnicity. It is the kind of place where a young person willing to work reasonably hard, take direction, smile, and make eye contact would find it hard to fail.

And in that regard, we might as well be on another planet from Morven, NC, which I drove through a couple of weeks ago, or even my mom's hometown of Roxboro, where I canvassed last fall. We all know this. There is no simple answer.

I was at a comedy show in Chapel Hill last week where this comic, a kind of manic guy (they all were) was talking to some of the young people in the front row, high school seniors and UNC freshfolx, and he kept saying "Oh, you're from Chapel Hill, you feel safe all the time, that must be nice." It is of course hard to impart his tone here on the blog, but there's a fundamental truth to that.

And I guess I have circled back to talking about the "Bubble" we were all talking about back in the fall. I live within it. But the military mom seated across the row from me on the flight out does not. She had three kids, infant, toddler, and big girl, 5ish, who held the infant when her mom took the toddler to the bathroom. I can't imagine doing that at that age. Her husband was just being transferred from Ft. Bragg to somewhere in Alabama. I wasn't about to start talking politics with her.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

End of the season

Though hot, we closed out the season in fine form today.  Neither of our top scorers were there, including the guy that pretty much dominates for us and probably scores an absolute majority of our goals, and we still won. Despite having an average age of 45 or so on the back line, we allowed no shots on goal.

Admittedly, the other team wasn't very good. But still.

And I am in no more pain, really, than I was when we started the game. No additional injuries. Not too shabby.

Though I had no huge highlight plays, I am still playing highlight reel in my mind.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Karma

The other day I had lunch with this nice Nepalese guy I had met at an event. In paying for lunch, I forgot to use the credit card I have made, here in 2017, my business card.

Knowing that I will have a difficult time remembering this at tax time next year, I used the business card to buy my sandwich at my favorite deli (less expensive than the business lunch) today. However, I was distracted by doing so, and by the mild dishonesty baked into this maneuver, and I forgot to get my frequent eater card punched, thereby depriving myself of one-twelfth of a sandwich.

However, this lapse was made up for by Monday's lunch when, back at my favorite deli (Cheerz, at the intersection of Alexander and Miami, where they roast their own roast beef and chicken and bake their own rolls), I got the frequent eater punch of the guy in front of me, who was visiting from out of town.

And so, there is order in the universe.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dating

So Natalie went out on a date with a boy from her high school. Her experience with the young fellas has been limited to date, owing to their clear lack of good taste and perception of what should be attractive in a young lady, which she of course exemplifies. Perhaps she is too petite for them, perhaps too clever. Who knows.

At any rate she was clearly pleased to have been asked out, and rightly so. Nothing is more validating than to be shown that you are attractive by a member of your desired gender. She had to adjust the time of their outing because her beloved cousin Caroline was in town for less than 24 hours for the memorial service, but she did it, and it was fine.

We too are happy. This is something that has been missing in her life. Of course, I do feel the territorial gene welling up from inside me, She was maybe 45 minutes late getting home from her date and Mary and I kept looking out the window. This is new territory for us. I would certainly like to lay eyes on this fella and talk to him for 90-120 seconds, but mostly out of curiosity. I think. I won't force it for a little while.

I thought about this this morning as Natalie and I were making breakfast, and I was briefly moved to tears. I turned away so nobody could see, because that would be embarassing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Eulogy for David

Good morning, I’m C......T....., the son of Joan Ontjes, David’s wife.
                                                       
By 2004, plain old dating and Match.com had not produced the perfect -- let alone the right – guy for Mom. So when my sister Leslie and I heard that she had met this doctor fellow David Ontjes, whose kids we knew from junior high and high school, we were intrigued. That spring my wife Mary and I came down to NC for an event, bringing our newborn son Graham. We didn’t yet know that Graham was allergic to milk. So we left him with mom, David and a bottle and headed out for the evening. We got home around midnight and found that Graham had thrown up his milk all over David, who had nonetheless carried on dutifully dandling and rocking him around to keep him calm.

At that point in time, we knew he was a keeper.  But Mom and David weren’t even “going steady”. They had been on a number of dates, but David kept saying that he was “seeing other people.” Mom eventually said to him, “Well so am I and, if you don’t decide quickly, I may not be an option.”  A couple of days later, David invited her over for a glass of wine. Mom expected him to break up with her. When she got there, David asked her to stay for dinner, and she agreed. Light conversation continued. Finally, after dinner, David, a little nervous, got down to business, saying “I just can’t date two people at the same time. Would you like to date me exclusively?” She said yes, and 13 wonderful years began.

In 2006 they were married here at University Presbyterian. Because they were married late in life, David and mom knew that, according to standard protocol, they wouldn’t have as many anniversaries as they would like. So they crafted a system of 5 anniversaries
1.    First date
2.    Going steady
3.    First trip
4.    Engagement
5.    Wedding
And so they celebrated some 50-odd anniversaries together. And David, frugal though he may have been, even agreed to go to nice restaurants every time.

David and Mom did a lot of fun things together: they kayaked together, and they biked up and down the East Coast and in Europe. In fact, they were so photogenic a couple that their smiling faces graced the cover of the catalog for VBT Bicycling tours.

They performed together in a variety groups, including the choral group Voices, and the musical comedy company the Prime Time Players. Both of them really loved singing, so I know this brought a lot of joy to each of them. Check out the videos at the reception.

David was a wonderful presence in the lives of our children. He had great trips with them to places like Lake Matamuskeet and the Virginia Creeper trail. He genuinely loved to share entirely age-appropriate TV shows with them. David and Graham spent many happy hours together watching “Popeye” and David’s personal favorite, “Spongebob Squarepants.”

David was a fine presence at the table. He loved to make waffles and to grill, and was always a hearty consumer of whatever was served, especially dessert and chocolate. Leslie’s son Daniel marveled at the number of Dove chocolates he could snarf down. In dinner table conversations, he provided our typically liberal Chapel Hill family with a valuable conservative counterpoint. He was also fond of dredging up tales of yore of dubious veracity, like a fishing tale he retold several times over one weekend, in which the fish he caught grew in each retelling, from a guppy on Friday to a monstrous hundred-pounder by Sunday dinner.

The long and short of it is that, over these thirteen years, David grew to be a full-fledged member of our family, from a minnow to a scale-breaking prize winner.  We will all miss him dearly.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

A long, full week

It has been a long, full week. As some of you know, my mom's husband, David Ontjes, passed away. I'll post the eulogy I wrote for him as evidence that I have not fallen down entirely in my scribal duties to Being.  As if Being gave a fuck.

Since Mary has been reading the New York Times on her laptop, even on Sunday mornings, just in case He Who Must Not Be Named and his lunatic chronies in the White House have done something earth-shattering overnight, I have been reading the front page on sundays once I finish up the sports section, instead of going straight to Week in Review.

There is a lot of stuff on the front page.

This week there's an article about Google's very successful efforts to take over the education market. Part of the thrust has been to nudge students to use online sharing tools like Google docs to learn to collaborate better, as part of an overall Zeitgeist shift away from the mastery of arcane facts and methods towards learning to work as teams.  Here's what one Google exec says:  "I cannot answer for them what they are going to do with the quadratic equation. I don't know why they are learning that. And I don't know why they can't ask Google for the answer if the answer is right there."

My guess is, that if kids don't learn the quadratic equation, they ain't getting no jobs at Google. By and large. Certainly not as programmers. Fundamentally, kids need to be pushed to master challenging intellectual material both to learn to think and to master complexity. Period.

The fact that they aren't forced to memorize multiplication tables, to develop a basic proficiency with numbers, is scandalous. How are they going to be able to estimate things and, most practically, know if they are getting ripped off if they can't work with numbers in their heads?

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Morven, NC

Thursday took me down to Columbia, SC.  Google Maps said it would be 3:36 by interstate, or 3:56 by smaller roads. That was an easy choice. Somewhere along Rte 1 south of Sanford, my phone said that Rte 1 and some other backroads route would be about the same. I took the road lesser traveled, per Sergei and Larry.

Driving along state road 145 towards the South Carolina border, there was a sign on a tree, featuring a fetching, seemingly hand-painted picture of a sandwich. "Cheese Steak, 1 mile on right." It was speaking my language, though sadly I had lunch plans in Columbia with Jack Pringle so I couldn't really investigate as I would have liked to. You know what I mean.

But one mile passed, and there was no sign of a cheese steak. Then two miles. I began to think it was some sort of cruel joke, or that somehow the sign had outlived its signified. Finally after three or fout, I came into the town of Morven, NC. The old main block of downtown was more forelorn than most by a degree: every business was shut down. But then, on the right, I saw it: Mama Noi's, featuring Philly Cheese Steak, Hamburgers, Fresh Pizza, and Fresh Hot Subs. What's not to like?

And then it was over. I passed through the south end of Morven. An African-American woman was out in her yard. I waved to her. She waved back.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

All the fish in the ocean

"Foreigners complain about African migrants coming to their countries, but they have no problem coming to our waters and stealing all our fish."  Moustapha Balde, 22, Senegal in this article in the New York Times.

Basically the idea of this story is that China's fishing fleets -- deeply subsidized by the government -- are putting intense pressure on the ocean's stock of fish. This on top of the already sufficient hunger of affluent populations in "the developed world", which we already knew were doing this.

A couple of weeks back in the Economist there was this piece on pressure to fish down to the Mesopelagic layer of the ocean, where a bunch of tiny wierd-looking creatures that we've never tapped into live. They are part of the oceanic food chain, and taking them for humans will disrupt it further, but just as importantly they are part of the cycle of by which the oceans sequester carbon, so that harvesting them will further exacerbate global warming.

All of which led me to thank Mary, as I don't always do, for continuing to nudge us in the direction of a more plant-based diet. Beans, vegetables, lentils, whole grains. Ughh. It is honestly hard to get excited about it, unless I can slather it in melted cheese. But I know that it is right from a sustainability perspective.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Yield, supply chain, and hunger

On Wednesday I was at an event sponsored by the AgBioTech team at the NC BioTech Center, and there was a lot of discussion of food insecurity in the world. As agriculture vendors, the speakers were very focused on food production as the bottleneck that causes food insecurity, which in turn leads to people dying of hunger. 

But spoilage and waste are huge issues in getting food to people.  We have all seen or read about how much food gets wasted in America because of portion sizes, etc. Supply chain inefficiencies are huge issues too, check out this article on the path of an onion from grower to end user in India from The Economist. If supply chains could be made more efficient in the developing world, more food would make it from farm to mouth.

But an awful lot of jobs and ways of human interaction would be disrupted too. We have lost a lot of that in the West, and indulge in nostalgia by going to farmer's markets and buying a few choice things to get "back in touch with the land," etc. In Marxist terms, we attempt to de-reify a few commodities, and we feel good about it.

Meanwhile Amazon eats the world, and it's so hard to fight it. It's so convenient to order everything from there.

Anyway, back to the food question. At the highest level, from a capital allocation perspective, we have to ask ourselves whether, if food insecurity is the big issue, it is better to focus on production or distribution and supply chain management. A lot of which revolves around building better roads and/or rail as well as ports in the developing world.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bus routes

Because it had been raining for something vaguely like forever, I went and sat at the bus stop with Natalie and a friend this morning. There I learned that the bus often comes half an hour late and just barely gets them to school on time.

They also said that, on the first day of school, when the other girl there accidentally got on the bus headed to the middle school, that the bus driver didn't even know how to get to the correct middle school and the students had to give her directions.

An outrage! Well, actually, it's just a natural outgrowth of labor and real estate markets. It has gotten so expensive to live anywhere in Chapel Hill that no bus drivers can afford to live there. In fact, I was having breakfast with a judge the previous morning and I learned from her that there were only two Chapel Hill police officers who lived in town:  the police chief and her husband, who could afford to because she was an attorney in private practice before being elected to her judge position.

And bus drivers don't even get paid as well as cops. In fact, Chapel Hill is apparently having difficulty recruiting bus drivers.

So there you have it. Labor markets.

The situation is at least in some regards better than it was when I was in high school, when high school students could drive buses, and they were often stoned. Or, at least, that's what they told me 25 years after the fact.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

My book?

In recent week I've had encouraging feedback from interesting directions. A career counselor type suggested I should be a speaking nationally on some topic on which I had expertise, A professor at Stanford whose class I had guested in via Skype likened my perspective to that of a public intellectual and said I should have my own podcast. It's all very flattering.

But what should I focus on?  I have to spend a lot of time keeping up with client stuff, details of people's lives, and it's fulfilling in its own way. I'm reading all the time, and broadly, and that has its own joys. I like being out in the streets talking to people, to a degree, though I do get worn out by it and also by the very breadth of what I'm exposed to.

Again, where to focus to build a real brand? That's the question.