Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Midtown freakout

I wish somebody could explain for me why when you Google Map midtown Manhattan (try 590 5th Ave, 10022) and put it on Hybrid, why the heck are the buildings all Helter-Skelter. Some going this way, others that, like they're planning on squishing each other or they just couldn't get it organized. Or maybe it's a Homeland Security dealie. You tell me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In strictest confidence

In AA today, this young girl with a horribly pretentious accent, whom we shall call "Muriel", chimed in for a repeat sharing at the end of the meeting, in response to another woman's tale of having "gone out" and drunk again. In her horribly pretentious accent, she told us that she "never wants to find myself on the streets of Paris again, wandering around my neighbor at 1 in the morning just because I'm drunk. And I never want to find myself lying on my bed at Oxford, staring at my duvet [pronounced, horribly, as "DOO-vay"], thinking "what a beautiful DOO-vay." Like, I'm sorry, how to Paris and Oxford add to the alcoholic, confessional quality here. They don't. She just wanted to make sure we knew she was drunk in some picturesque and prestigious places. I, for one, was impressed, obviously.

Monday, February 26, 2007


In my everlasting attempt to be more like the kids, I just had an AMP, by Mountain Dew. It was wierd and heavy, like the soda equivalent of Guinness Stout. Crazy kids.

Poaching nothing

The Times ran a story today about YouTube's competitors poaching "talent" such as LonelyGirl15. This is the content equivalent of chasing gains. Very few of the people who have become popular on YouTube will have the ability to create sustainable entertainment.

We have discussed on this blog the struggle that comics go through to stay fresh. It ain't easy. The best do it by having ensembles and limiting exposure: John Stewart has recently cut down on the amount of comedy he has to do each night by becoming America's most earnest book review show. Which is fabulous, by the way, a frickin coup.

But these YouTubers will, by and large, crash and burn, not because they're not talented, but because they're gimmicks. And comedy is hard work.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tongue tricks

Natalie has developed the annoying habit of sticking her tongue out and touching it with her finger or touching it to her nose as we read stories. If she's not wiggling a tooth, that is. It's all vaguely OCD, and mildly disturbing. I tell her to stop, and you know she doesn't.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Chaos within order

The rigid structure and habitualness of our lives: splitting a DVD across Friday and Saturday night, the same breakfast each Saturday and Sunday, wearing the same fleece and sweats around the house every night and all weekend, sets off and belies a chaotic inability to make big decisions, and set firm direction. Career direction, say.

The jumble of items on surfaces, chests of drawers, closets, things not thrown away, dayglo mini berets. Piles of books , magazines and newspapers.

There's a well-known "type" who hoards years worth of newspapers and other crap until it crowds him/her out of his living space. We're not headed there yet. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Finance 2.0

A Times article on the beneficial effects of activist hedge fund activities concluded by saying, "invest off of this knowledge, but know that your investment edge will disappear soon as everyone else figures out the same thing." Particularly after that article. Hedge funds, it seems, despite their vaunted secrecy, bring about greater speed of idea circulation.

Hedge fund activism, says the article, is better than pension fund or mutual fund activism. Why? Cuz hedge funds got skin in the game. Make a bad call, it's their ass. They care a lot. Activist hedge funds are lots of rational profit-seeking agents seeking transparency.

Lots of little entities facilitating the flow of information, taking power away from a set of legacy institutions. As hedge funds to i-banks and mutual funds, so blogs to networks, so distributed computing to mainframes.

Volatility goes down, and it's a smoother ride up. Except for when all the lemmings pile in together, as with the GM downgrade last spring and the associated disruptions. But that too passed.

Is capital allocated better? Who knows. But it feels OK now.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Return to the old country

Today, for the first time ever, I met a Russian graduate student (OK, spouse of) who told me that she and her husband intend to go back to Russia after her husband gets his PhD. That would have been inconceivable back in my day, when the whole game was to get a job over here and shuttle back there sporadically to see the folx. But now, things have changed. There's IKEAs over there, and mortgages too. And God knows what else, it's been too long for me.

It's good for Russia, for sure, to have the brain drain slow. It's probably good for us too, for our universities to foster deeper and multilayered ties over there. But it signals a tightening of the scientific labor markets, for now.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Purest BS

Investigating a Wall Street focussed news service called "", I came across this chestnut

"Although we do alerts on rumors - we deal with FACTS; we are not another rumor mill "

Got it. We will not report rumors, only the fact there are rumors, which is totally different. And quickly, dammit, because it's not important that you personally believe a rumor, if the idiots over there believe it, you'd better trade on it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Screen shots

I remember the first time I saw a guy carrying around printed out screenshots of Webpages. A guy was getting on an elevator at Prudential in Newark. I snickered, thinking: "he could just as easily look at that web page on a screen."

That was before I learned about meetings.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I have nothing to say

All I did was work today. Talking to a lot of salesmen about this and that. Both of them.

Lots of blockheads came in my office to talk about a project I'm not on building a system I've never really seen, though it's been our bread and butter forever.

Saw the head of the Princeton Art Department when I was picking up lunch and knew who he was, but got his name wrong. I was still one up on him.

Mary made cupcakes for Graham's school tomorrow. I will eat one before this night is done.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cohen and comedic halflife

Sasha Baron Cohen's hardcore gag at the Golden Globes, alluding to his colleague's "balls slapping against my chin" or somesuch, pretty much intimates that he has shot own comedic wad. He can't outdo Borat. He may plateau for a while, but soon he's headed down to hang out with the likes of Martin Shore and Dana Carvey.

Not that there's anything surprising in that. Comedic longevity is a tough racked. John Stewart, has aged well, particularly relative to the benchmarks of Carson and Letterman, aided by a few things:

  1. Multimedia: He can use clips easily
  2. Ensemble: Letterman and Carson have/had sidekicks but not a full crew (though they did: think of some of Chris Eliot's early work on Letterman: that guy used to be funny)
  3. 30 minutes: half an hour is easier to fill than a whole one
And with all these advantages, Stewart is still having a hard time keeping it fresh, and has declined.

Colbert will be challenged to keep it up. He does too much on his own. He's already not all that funny.

Ensemble gives legs.

30 minutes vs 60 for Carson and Letterman.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Front loading 24

Even Jack Bauer can't carry much energy through the wee hours. Just watched 12-4 am of Season 2 of 24, and boy are they dragging along. I mean, how do you follow a nucular explosion? Lock Kim in a convenience store with a deranged hispanic guy? Oh man, is that threatening.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Houses with concrete walls

Learn from our mistake. Masonry frame is not really recommended in the Northeast. You can't insulate the shit. Cold just wafts from the walls downstairs.

We insulated the 2nd floor and now it's freezing downstairs, blazing up there in the evening. We live like frickin Germans over here in our multiple sweaters and thick socks.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

My time with Anna Nicole

This afternoon's tragic events took me back to an almost forgotten chapter of my past, a little brush with grea.... whatever. It was 1988, and fresh after graduation from college, I had some NEH money to do a seminar on Ruthenian hexameter odes at the Center for Slavic Enoblement at the University of Houston, which we affectionately called UHon. Now, as everybody knows, Ruthenian hexameter odes call from sustained diligence and discipline, and make a young scholar hungry. But NEH money doesn't go far, and that was particularly true in the Reagan era, so we took to frequenting a Burger King, which we affectionately called BuKing, right next to campus.

And that's where I met Anna Nicole, who aspired at the time to become an exotic dancer, and was saving up her money for vocal chord modifications. Surprisingly, however, she shared with us not only an enthusiasm for Ruthenian hexameter, but for Carpathian belles lettres in general, as they were enjoying something of a renaissance in Houston back then. Sadly, however, her domineering boss would always slink in and break up our colloquy whenever we got all worked up.

We shall miss her.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Scenes from the Leninka

Googling myself, I found a quote I didn't even know was there (and now I can't find it) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, where I characterize the Lenin Library in Moscow as a "feast of humanity." Which is true. Funny thing is, I feel the same way about New Jersey and the metro area, when I'm out and about. I'm rather consistent in my focus decade to decade: maybe it's Balzac I want to be after all.

But back to the Leninka. A mighty shithole it is, while at the same time a real research library. You had to have some academic standing to get in there, and even then you had to stand in line for an hour or so to get in, though us foreigners got shuffled to the front of our own line, and seated in the presitigious Reading Room #1 along with Academics (a rank) and heros of the Great Patriotic War (WWII). It was cold in there, run down. Even the ferns were sad. One guy almost hacked up a lung regularly.

To smoke you went to the basement, by the bathrooms. Not a nice place. Smelly. Right across from the little buffet. There was one guy in there with thick glasses, who basically spent the whole day roaming around picking up cigarette butts so he could roll his own. Always wore the same sweater, he did. Surely a guy who had some rank back in the day and still had the piece of paper to prove it.

Ah Leninka. Ah humanity.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This just in!

NEW YORK (—Hedge fund correlation to the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index has reduced significantly since June last year, according to the latest edition of Hedge Fund Monitor, a weekly report produced by Merrill Lynch.

Thanks Mama Merrill! If by "reduced correlation" you mean "underperformance", I'm right with ya. I too should put together an "uncorrelated" fund so as to offer my investors diversification benefits.

Now. I know that no investment type or asset class should be expected to outperform indices all the time, and I don't even think hedge funds' aggregate performance in 2006 should count against them, although only regulators should be thinking about them in the aggregate. Hopefully, the less than stellar year will dial back the hysteria around them and increase the level of scrutiny investors apply to them.

But it's just a stupid and lazy argument to claim a non-correlation benefit from underperformance.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Whalley Avenue, New Haven, Fall 1985

The Minutemen came to town and played in some already more or less defunct club out on Whalley. I was working at the radio station, so I must have gotten in for free. After the opening, I decided to sidle backstage.

There was Mike Watt, writing out a set list on his bass case. Some guy with a videocamera -- not small in those days -- got in his face.... "So. The Minutemen are touring for Project Mersh, as in commercialism. What does it mean?"

Watt, looking at camera: "What does it mean? Well, we look at money like this. It's like air, you need it to breath, but what are you gonna do, keep a bunch of oxygen tanks in your garage? So what's our plan? Are we going to accumulate a lot of these vouchers? No, we're going to return them to the market in exchange for goods and services."

Mike Watt, it turns out, is not a philosopher. But nor was he kidding. Them's good words.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Key learnings

Natalie would appear to have learned that saying "I love you" a lot is a good way of paper over little transgressions. "How could they be mad at me?" Dunno if this is a common stage.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sarah Silverman's show sucks

I hate to say it. But there, I've done it.

I had hoped it would be funny, but it is not. She's one wierd chick.

44th St. between Broadway & 6th, 8:04 AM

I turn from the cash register with Bacon Egg and Cheese and coffee on a tray. Some idiot dashes into me, knocks the coffee down. Surely a hapless Ukrainian .NET jockey. If looks could kill, the way I looked at him would have killed him and his mother back in the heimat. I needed that coffee, and had 26 minutes to consume and then get twelve blocks away. I turned and walked off with my salvaged half cup, leaving him to clean up his mess.

It was a very Manhattan moment.