Friday, March 31, 2006

Talking to the IRS

My refund did not show up in my account for the second week running, so the Santa Barbara Bank & Trust (how did they score this gig). So I called up the IRS and talked to operator #5201945 (or so she said). And they're telling me they never received my check for capital gains. And it's not reflected in either of my checking accounts. Hmmm.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Who is this man?

At Bank of America's site, today, counting my scant nickels, when whom should I chance to espy but the fellow up top, kicking it with a cup of joe and a laptop. Which struck me as ironic, given his striking resemblance to this dude below, a certain David E. Shaw, founder and grand poo-bah of D.E. Shaw, one of the oldest quant shops on Wall Street. Ironic, you say, why so? Perhaps because Shaw, back in '97, had established an alliance with BofA, allowing it to play derivative games much like the ones played by John Meriweather's Long-Term Capital Management. When LTCM gave new meaning to the term systemic risk on August of '98, Shaw sustained similar losses, ultimately resulting in a $372 million write-off that nearly scuttled the BofA - Nationsbank merger. Substantial bloodletting ensued at Shaw, rumored to have reached 25% of staff in a single day, 90% overall.

Shaw has bounced back just fine, and is not poor. He continues to be able to hire smart people, and even bought FAO Schwarz, the ultimate toybox. But I didn't expect to see him poster-childing for BofA.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pro forma post

Well, it's the end of another day and I've got nothing really to write about, only a perverse feeling that I've got to churn something out.

Highlights of the day include:

  • Staring at my screen trying to decide whether to call or email these hedge fund dudes I went to college with.
  • Settling on the email method
  • Obsessively editing the email to make sure it hits the right notes
  • Sending it
It's striking how agonizing it can be to initiate discourse with people you don't know.

But hell, it's spring. Lunch on the piazza.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Poop in tub

Graham put soy nut butter in his hair on Sunday. Globs. So we stuck him in the tub, despite his screams. He calmed down with the new froggy toy that makes a little ribbit. Then he pooped. Super, we thought. Took him out. Doused him in disinfectant. As it were.

So the next night his hair was still dirty. I run another tub. He poops again, gloriously unaware.
This time we clean the tub, run another bath and stick him back in. Wash hair, to the tune of more screaming.

The soy nut butter is gone. For the moment, at least.

Monday, March 27, 2006


With the knowledge that my cozy little world and minimal commute will be all ripped up in a couple of month's time because my current client has shockingly decided it has spent enough ($1.5 million) money on us. Can I sell something else right there in town? There are leads, but it'll be a stretch.

So now I have to call people I don't know on the phone and sell them whatever they want. Or find them on the streets.

In other news, the one they call Squakin apparently is on track for some nuptials. We'll be meeting his lady friend in a couple of weeks at my greatiest 40th birthday party ever. It's gonna be grand.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Update from the brackets

I mused a few days ago about how validating it was to have my tournament picks ranking way up in the 90th-plus percentiles. Let me add that, now that my picking accuracy has plummeted to the 58th percentile, I no longer regard it as particularly significant.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Progress update

At the office in New York. Where a few months ago there were workmen and the world's most awe-inspiring crane throwing up the bare bones of a building, today stands a glass-sheithed 35-odd storied skyscraper. There is glass up to the 30th floor, and on the 16th, eye level to me, a guy is sweeping up. Is this a normal progression? Will he sweep his way along behind the upward progress of the building, or did he just spill his french fries? It's pretty late for a construction worker to have been eating lunch.

Meanwhile, along the building's exterior, construction elevators and their counterweights alternate with mesmerizing regularity, as if there were some swank club up there.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Story time

Graham was in fine form tonight, having had no nap. I began the reading with the 10o Trucks book, which I sometimes avoid because it takes too much time to read. We have to declare our favorite trucks on each page. At any rate he makes me do that.

But it had been a while since we had read this book, and yet Graham started off knowing all the names of the trucks. I was impressed. But after 6 or 7 trucks on the first page his memory waned, and he got frustrated with himself, flailing about and hitting his head on the wall. The wall didn't phase him.

And so we see that, at 2 and a half, his memory is prodigious, but imperfect, and it vexes him.

Parking ticket on a Bentley

That's what I saw on the way into the office. I can just see the person, handing the ticket to a personal assistant, if even bothering to do that.

Perhaps these cars don't have a place for change. Surely this suggests an enhancement: built in change dispensers. Maybe in the trunk with the tools.

Anyhow, I keyed it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Diving in

Let it be known that, after leading my client's NCAA
tourney pool through the weekend, the second round
pushed me back into 2nd place in a field of 13, behind
my colleague Nathan.* Among the total pool of millions
of tourney players and high rollers, my percentile
ranking ranged from 96th to a current low of 84th.

What's pathetic is that, for someone who's never been
in a tournament pool before, who doesn't gamble and
really only pays attention to how UNC does at any
degree of detail (knowing starters' names, for
instance), and at a high level Duke and the rest of
the ACC, or at least the core ACC, how excited I would
be about all of this. I think it's the statistics that
turn me on, the objective measures of how many people
I seem to be outsmarting, even though I know there's a
very strong component of randomness to the whole
proceedings. And the numbers are the purest of
ephemera. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

*Today is his birthday

Monday, March 20, 2006

Uchitelle on JOLTS report

Louis Uchitelle's Times article reads job gains figures as reflecting not tons of hiring but risk aversion: people are not leaving jobs at normal rate. Skill illiquidity? Surely, it gives rise to ossification, and a lack of cross-fertilization.

And it correlates to lack of ideas out there. There's nothing making people want to go and do things. The big idea now is Hedge Funds and Private Equity, balance sheet crap, not new products. There are diversification and risk dispersion benefits to be had, perhaps: thus far we've rode out GE downgrades, Katrina et al., Refco, etc. But as companies go private to skirt SOX, opacity rises, and things become more insiderish than ever.

People should have ideas.
Here's a few from within the Grouse ecosystem

Mind Alliance
Memory Miner
MTV Ukraine
Rick's Picks

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bitter sweet

So the Tar Heels got beat. It was never reasonable to expect them to do what they did this season anyway. It was almost worth it just to see the expression on the faces of those guys from George Mason as they figured out that they had pulled it off. I don't smile like that very often. And at least this makes it more probable that we'll get more good years out of Hansbrough.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Shoulder season and the living is easy

These intraseasonal moments rule from the point of view of beverage management. By God, you can leave your soda on the back porch and not worry about it freezing, and yet, it stays cold, so you don't have to plan vigilantly to pre-cool everything as you do in summer and winter is well, when the bevs are all toasty inside. Except in the wintry morning, when your cold-assed house with masonry frame walls has cooled the bevs in the pantry.

This may be less of an issue in middle america, where the houses are big enough for monster fridges and people don't pack em full of umpteen types of olives and mustards and whatnot. It's all so complicated.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Child risk management

On the way to school saw Steve Schultz in the rust Volvo Wagon, then Amy White in the fetching gunmetal Honda Odyssey. Both of them live within a stone's throw of me, less than half . And I know Lisa Levine was out there somewhere, from across the street, and I know the only reason we can't carpool is this thing about booster seats. Ya gotta have em, but nobody keeps spares around.

So what, really, is the greater risk? All these unnecessary cars on the road, or kids riding around without booster seats? Seems like the former is pretty bad, particularly in a town where there's a lot of pedestrians who are bound to get hit during rush hour as everybody sneaks through these beat-up residentail streets to get kids to school. Think of all the costs associated with the potholes, the freakin crossing guards at every corner.

They should have pools of municipal booster seats that the school dispenses and collects. Even better, all kids should carry knapsacks with detachable booster seats.

Then we could get them cars off the roads.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Single point of contact government

I tallied up my total tax burden today and, while in percentage terms it's not that horrific, it's still a fair number of dollars, a reasonable chunk of the cost of an full-time employee. Which got me to thinking. Wouldn't it be cool if you could have a dedicated government rep, and client services person who just did your bidding with the various agencies? Looked after your interests, and went to bat for you.

I could just see it. I call up and my rep says: "United States Government, oh, hello Clark, what can I do you for today."
And I'd be like: "Can you blindfold and whip some A-rabs for me down in Gitmo?"
Him: "Right away, no problem."
And then I'd be, like: "Hey, can you build me a chunk of highway out in Missouri?"
Him: "As good as done."

And so on. Twould be fabulous.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The man who swung both ways

Will Blythe's celebrated new book on the UNC-Duke rivalry, whatever it's called, contains a chapter about my dad, "The man who loved both UNC and Duke." Starts on page 294. For those of you familiar with my dad, you will see that Blythe did not fake anything. It is clearly based on either an actual interview, or legend. True to form, my dad recites poems, flits across many topics, curses, offends people at nearby tables, and even raps. He impresses Blythe with his shade of blue agnosticism, which is earnest and not entirely derived from beer revenues. Though Duke both in BA and JD, he criticizes young Dukies for "all coming from New Jersey and frowning a lot." I think all the young Jerseyites are just sad from yearning for the great Garden State.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Give em holes!

I'm sure many have thought this, but I'll just put two cents in. Some data points from the Philadelphia Zoo raise this question: why are there always lines for women's rooms but not for men's rooms?

Obviously, the ladies are in there using up lots of toilet paper cleaning up every drop, but we can't reform that. Clearly they should have more holes and square footage for the femme rooms in most public places. Yes, it feels great to be a guy and sail right through, but at the end of the day we pay the price by having to stand around waiting. And if there are free snacks (and there usually aren't) and you've quit smoking (as most of us have), there's no useful purpose to the time spent waiting for your wife to get out of the bathroom. OK. Sitting on a bench and resting has its virtues.

Monday, March 13, 2006

New frontiers in psychopharmacology

Recent clinical trials have shown that so-called "talk" couples therapy, for years the method of choice for helping challenged couples work through their issues and diminish instances of household corporal abuse, has been shown to be inefficacious in resolving these problems. As in so many other areas of psychological inquiry, chemico-neurological imbalances have been demonstrated irrefutably to determine spousal behavior.

A next generation set of drugs has just entered the marketplace, and it will transform marriage counselling as we know it. New pills by Warner-Lambert and Burroughs Welcome have proven to smooth over even the roughest marital patches, and some couples have reputedly taken to alternating them seasonally just for kicks.

Next up for the pharma industry: career counselling

Friday, March 10, 2006

Let them eat lingonberries?

Bored and hot in a windowless building where the heat is still on when it's 70 outside , I turn to random blogs for inspiration, and quickly find it. Some Swedish public health loon, with a passion for Swedish risk management. He he goes:

The difficult question is: Why did Sweden?s immense resources for prevention not identify that Swedes spent a lot of time on Tsunami prone beaches? Is this too much to ask for? No not in a country that has reduced domestic risks to extremely low levels.

What would he have the Swedish government do, refuse further visas when the concentration of Swedes on the beach was too high? Launch public health campaigns against visiting disaster-prone areas? Let them just stay home and watch hockey on the settee and eat cinnamon buns, that's what I say

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Top this

Met a guy at a conference a year and a half ago. Sharp guy. Socialite type. Kept in touch a little. But he's been too busy to get together for coffee.

Today an email: "Graham, we need to get together my friend ... looking for a job and need one
pdq ... Here's my resume. Thoughts?"

So I look at his resume. And find such chestnuts as this: "Co-award-winning luxury gift bag creation; brands sponsorship including Davidoff, Cliquot, Christiania, Holly Kristen Couture, Maybach. "

Now, in certain circles, it's hard to compete with "Co-award-winning luxury gift bag creation." Just gotta find em. Am thinking.

Codicil. This came in on spam: "If you want personlized 401k rate of return graphics that drive new sales and retain existing clients this is for you." Stick that in your luxury bag.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Stopped into the Princeton library at lunch today to pick up... you guessed it, a book. Walked into the lobby cafe and marvelled to see that every single person in there was a woman. Except for the kids. Striking. Though, it's true, they serve tabbouleh and salads and the like, so there's little surprise.

My book was out, but I went to the general area to see if any of the adjacent books might be of interest. They weren't. Then I thought of another one, so I went to one of the computers and logged in. But where's the catalog icon? Not on the desktop, which would be a logical place. It's swell for my tax dollars to support internet access for cardholders, but I just wanted to look something up. Coulda launched a browser and gotten to the catalog over the internet, yeah, but that's a lot of work. The damned server was right through the wall.

Meanwhile, looked around at the mid-day library clientele. A bunch of sour folks, largely, radiating pride that the public domain afforded them such luxury.

Didn't get a book.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Purest Alpha

Here's one that came over the wires about a hedge fund scam in Chicago:

The three men promoted what they said was a risk-free investment that could yield profits of 10% per week. After giving the men US$25 million—US$23 million from a hedge fund Ms. Vaughn started in 2003 called Directors Performance Fund LLC, and US$2 million of her own money—that money was transferred several times and Ms. Vaughn eventually lost control of it
Never mind the monumental stupidity of the woman who got took. The SEC is prosecuting here as well as the guys. Think about the audacity of the guys that took her. Can you imagine sitting around thinking: "Lets find somebody stupid enough to believe in these returns", and then actually pulling it off, finding the sucker? That's top-notch suavity.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar pans

Rachel Weisz should not have won best supporting actress for The Constant Gardener. No way. Amy Adams from Junebug actually acted. Weisz just traipsed and flounced, for the most part, through a crappy movie.

John Stewart flirted with danger all night. You could sense the crowd willing him out of his acerbic shell to a wuzzah wuzzah. Haven't had time to read the reviews, but I doubt he's establishing a dynasty there. He's got an East Coast groove.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cameron crazy

I found it very moving to watch Duke's seniors speak to their Cameron constituency last night. Such a fine bunch of young men, part of such an illustrious program, having such a challenging week.

And they played so well, fundamentally. If only they had scored more points, or had caused us to score fewer, they might have won.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The fish place is gone

Just when you think that Princeton's Forrestal Village couldn't sink any further, the fish place at the food court closes. That was a good place. Probably spoiled by spoilage of real fish and inability to forecast demand. Should have hired consultants, clearly.

Princeton continues to hollow out, gradually, imperceptibly. A Bloomberg building is also vacant. Is this some creeping harbinger of the economy at large, or just a local thing?

One thing's for sure. There ain't no great or compelling ideas out there, and however you slice it, much focus is on defense, defense against invasion, hedging against bubbles, etc. Not only does nobody know what the next big thing will be, nobody's even trying.

Edward Altman of NYU said that debt markets forecast about a 30% probably of a GM default this year, much higher as you look out a few years. The distressed investment community is girding itself up for a troth. But that ain't much a new new thing.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Amongst the uber

Today took us 38 floors above Central Park, 11 floors above where I used to webmaster for what would become Eurasianet, to a snooty hedge fund which branched out from Goldman, where all the women are lanky and everyone is kind of an ass. And they demand from us something they didn't say they needed, and huff and puff a little because we're not something that the publicly available evidence wouldn't suggest that we are.

It's a class of people who, because they sort of rule the world, enjoy acting like they rule the world.

Nothing quite makes you feel so Jersey, in senses both good and bad. Like the popular kids in high school movies, you both hate them and want them to have you over for wine coolers and bong hits, to show that you've arrived.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Inspires confidence, #2

From Investment News interview with Lori Ensinger of Columbia Management Group. First off, they say she's 44, but she looks like she's 53 but then tried to remove 9 years surgically. Failed.

Q: How have you been able to generate consistent returns?
A: Diane and I have been doing this for 23 years... We have developed a process that we adhere to rigorously.

Q: How did you arrive at that process?
A: I tend to dabble in behavioral finance. I'm by no means an expert at it...
Umm. Don't "rigorously" and "dabble" kind of cancel each other out? And then she gets behavioral finance wrong.