Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hustle and Flow, again

After a couple of wacky snow-disrupted weeks, this is shaping up to be a particularly busy weekend followed by a similarly loaded week.  This evening, the Frank Porter Graham ACLU dinner  (thanks to Jane and Adam for offering to host us at their table).  Before that, Graham has asked me to go outside sledding, so he can show me how he goes over this little ski jumpish bump.  So I gotta do that.  And I gotta go exercise.

Tomorrow more, similar stuff.

Meanwhile, my task list fairly burgeons at my right elbow, including such items as "taxes", which I've done much of the high-level stuff on but haven't done the donkey work of totting up expenses. And there's some plumbing to be done too.  And I should really order myself some new shoes from Zappo's.

But things keep popping up, things that should be done nowish, intervening into the flow of things that really need to get done at some point in time.  So we return to the eternal dance of fluid prioritization which we call life.  Back to it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Getting there

This is my last post, perhaps, in my series about Coach Smith's memorial service.  It is the least flattering for me personally, but I feel it needs to be recorded for the sake of historical accuracy.

I, like many others, was operating under the assumption that it was going to be a crowded event.  For over a week beforehand, we had heard about how there would be shuttles running for the Friday Center, and my boy Crabes had even speculated that there might be televised overflow space at Carmichael.

So the day of I started calling around to figure out how to get up there.  I figured carpooling was rational, because there would be no place to park.  I ended up riding with Dan, Susanna's dad, and his son Eli.

Now, Dan has been to the Dean Dome many times before, as compared to my one time, and had a favorite place to park.  Nonetheless, as we approached while heading around on the bypass south of town, there was traffic (on top of the memorial service, there was church traffic from St Thomas More), and I had the brilliant idea of parking at my mom's house, which, as the crow flies, is very close indeed to the Dean Dome.  From walking around back there with Mary, I remembered that there is a very fine trail system, which, I reasoned, would get us through to the Dean Dome very easily.  I convinced Dan that this was a fine idea.

However, neither Dan, nor Eli, nor I am a crow.  We parked, and then we set off to the Dean Dome.  I remembered that, at the end of the cul-de-sac through the woods up behind my mom's house, that there was a trail.  On closer inspection, it wasn't there.

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. We had gotten to my mom's house at maybe 12;50, and doors were to open at 1 pm.  You must recall that we assumed it was going to be crowded and the we needed to be there to get good seats.  So I'm getting nervous, thinking "This is Dean Smith's memorial service.  It's a big deal.  And here I am messing up and making not just Dan but Eli late for this momentous, once in a lifetime event.  We're going to get horrible seats."

So, to make a long story short, we ended up cutting through somebody's back yard (and a deep pile of leaves) before we found the cul de sac that had the trail off it.  Then we had to cross a creek on some rocks and climb up a pretty steep embankment.  Oh, had I mentioned it was muddy because of all the recent snow and ice?  It was slippery, we got some mud on our jeans.

We finally made it there after navigating this truly very nice trail system that was not very linear at all.  And the punchline was...

It wasn't all that crowded. We got pretty awesome seats.  I have already told the rest.  Never again will Dan trust any great ideas that might come to me on the spur of the moment. And rightly so.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

At the Student Activity Center

So today was Dean Smith's memorial service at the Dean Dome, or as Coach Smith would have had it named:  The Student Activity Center.  He was really opposed to having it named it after him. Several people said that.

It was a long afternoon.  We left my house at around 12:30, got home 5ish, but it was worth it.

I cried a lot.  It was very moving.  Few people were as well loved as he was, and rightly so.  Really an amazing guy.  I realize that I am still processing my dad's death, and that in some sense Coach Smith, like Mary's dad George, was the steady regular guy dad figure that my own more freedom-loving dad never quite wanted to be.  Not that my dad didn't have his good points.

So what can I say.  Lots of people told beautiful stories about Coach Smith and his influence on them. I should say that I am calling him Coach Smith because Roy Williams said that he never called him Dean, always Coach or Coach Smith, even after he was invited to be on a first-name basis, long after the elder of the two retired.

Many spoke well and movingly, all of them, really.  Coach Williams himself did a good job and was very direct, expressing regret for never having told Coach Smith that he loved him, and imploring all of us to let the people around us to know we loved them.  That was well done.

Going back to my wish list from a couple of days back. There was no mention or acknowledgement of the murder of the three Islamic students two days after Coach Smith died.  I thought that was in bad taste.

There was very little allusion to the academic scandals.  All the players who took the stage represented the university well. Antawn Jamison alone didn't really sound like someone who had graduated from a top-notch university, though it was noted that he in fact had.  And he still sounded like a fine human being.

Only when Dean Smith's daughter got up, unannounced, and specifically acknowledged Chancellor Tom Ross and then attested to how much her dad believed in the mission of the university, did we start to get anywhere.  Then Robert Seymour of the Binkley Baptist Church, minister to Coach Smith and maybe to Bill Friday too, was helped to the podium by Brad Daugherty (who himself had done the university proud in his remarks).  Seymour spoke movingly, and noted that the university should never place athletics before academics.  Point blank.

Well done.


As is my habit, I began my Sunday by reading the sports page of the Sunday NY Times.  It's the only sports page I get all week, and I particularly like the lead story each week, which is typically not about a big name team or player but rather about the normal human struggles of people who love whatever game they play and/or overcome something.  This week it featured a New Zealand basketball team that plays in the Australian league.

So I read that, and was as inspired as I usually am by the tale of spunk, perseverance, and generally good human nature.  Then I started reading stories about the NBA. The interesting thing was that I don't really understand any of the stats they were quoting.  I mean, I can kind of guess, but I don't know how they are calculated, really, don't understand the inputs to them, all I know is that there were no mentions of your typical stats:  points, rebounds, assists, steals per game, shooting percentages.  None of that.  Which just goes to show how thoroughgoing has been the influence of the new metrics ushered in by the reign of Sir Billy Beane at the Oakland As, as chronicled by Lord Michael Lewis in the canonical Moneyball.

All of this is ironic, given the extent to which I used to memorize sports stats when I was younger, the extent to which I clung to an ability to remember and regurgitate numbers as a demonstration of my self-worth, my primary weapon in the games of dominance we played as young boys.  I wasn't great at sports, I didn't attract the ladies, but I could memorize and spew out some stats, that I could.

On the other hand, I did yesterday finish reading Peter Bernstein's 1992 Capital Ideas: The Improbable Origins of Modern Wall Street, which chronicles the development of the science of thinking about investing and markets, from the formation of the first indices through the development of portfolio insurance, and its (perhaps exaggerated) contribution to the 22% crash on October 19, 1987 which remains, even after the financial crisis of 2008-9, still the greatest single day event of most of our lifetimes.

This is the third of Bernstein's books that I've read, having started with his 1996 Against the Gods. still one of the better books I've ever read.  Capital Ideas is a good book, with the primary fault that it doesn't actually lay out any of the formulas whose evolution it charts (Williams's Dividend Discount Model, the Sharpe Ratio, the Treynor Ratio, the Capital Asset Pricing Model, the Black-Scholes Equation).  I suppose it presupposes that anyone geeky enough to read the book would already be familiar with them, as indeed I am, due to the CFP curriculum.  And having the equations in there would surely be boring.  But he could have at least taken the time to do a one-page explication so that readers wouldn't have to refer back to external materials and/or their own faulty memories to contextualize things properly.  I know I didn't bother.

But I still love the guy.  And I suppose I still kinda live on numbers, just a different sort of them.

Hey, here's a tie back. Michael Mauboussin of Credit Suisse Asset Management said at a conference not long ago that batting .367 today is the equivalent of batting .400 back in Ted Williams's day, due to better pitching, fielding, etc.  I.e. batting .367 is a three-standard deviation event, something like that.  And that's how it is in investing too, was his point.  Think about it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What I'd like to see

Tomorrow is the big memorial service for Dean Smith at the Dean Dome.  Here's what I'd like to see:

  1. A discussion of what Dean Smith meant to the university and the community.
  2. Discussion of the shootings of the 3 Islamic students, and how that, combined with the death of Dean, marks a watershed for Chapel Hill
  3. An active admissal of how fucked up the academic-athletic scandal has been and the extent to which it endangers the credibility of the university.
  4. Invocations of Bill Friday and a discussion of how Tom Ross getting forced out of the Chancellorship and the twin threat of Art Pope's ascension threaten UNC to its core.
  5. Some mention of Gene Nichol and the attempt to close the Poverty Center
  6. Carol Folt in the driver's seat, and Roy Williams in a supporting and subsidiary role.

I wouldn't bet on any of this, beyond the first.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Graham goes sledding

Today, for the first time in his life, Graham went out by the lake and really sledded.  Which is to say, he went up and down the hill, multiple times, with enthusiasm and glee. He didn't embrace the absolute riskiest elements, to be sure.  He controlled his speed of descent by dragging his feet, but he went from the tops of pretty steep slopes to the bottoms of them, and he was digging it.

It's hard to express how huge this is.  He's always been a little shy of speed and being out of control.  It is true that he went on a biking trip with Granny, David and Natalie last summer and had some pretty awesome downhill runs, even skinning a knee a little.  But today was nonetheless a breakthrough.

And he wants to go back out after lunch.  I had better eat and get some work done.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Teaching purpose

As I have continued to plow through the literature of self-help, motivation, and sales training, one consistent theme is that to do anything well, you've got to have a clear sense of purpose in life, and that you must perceive that what you are doing is aligned with that purpose. Otherwise, people will basically smell weakness and/or lack of commitment and won't trust you. So all the gurus tell you to figure out what your purpose and/or goal is, write it down, repeat it, visualize it, so that you can actualize it.

Problem is, life is complicated, and we only divine our purposes as we go.  But this kind of thought process could be facilitated at younger and lower levels.  So, given the centrality of purpose, why isn't it tought more?  That is, while we can't teach people what their purpose (and I can hear those of you who recently attended the special showing of The Jerk thinking;  "special purpose") is, we could be more explicit about designing curricula and methodologies around the process of working towards a purpose.

As well as on goal-setting and processes for tracking progress towards that purpose.

This would be good stuff.  Easily as important as courses that dither around making sure kids have read Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Toni Morrison -- although those courses direct kids obliquely towards the same questions.  Why not just put the questions out there, bluntly?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cleavage sells all

So this week at a local "leads group" I've attended a few times now, a woman did a slide show about her horse farm and the various riding programs it provides.  One of her young daughters was working on the farm while figuring out what to do with her life.  This daughter was blonde, slim, and -- being a member of the ruling class -- not unattractive, and she featured prominently in the slideshow. In fact, there was even a picture of her on a horse, leaning forward, wearing a tank top which, seemingly not by accident, displayed non-trivial cleavage.

I was a little surprised by this. I know that marketers always choose to feature attractive young women to sell anything, but I would not have expected to see a fairly crunchy and PC woman putting their daughter's body out there like that.  Even if she was pretty hot.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tipping points

Was talking to my friend Eric yesterday when he suggested that I read Gladwell's The Tipping Point and think about some of its implications for the way I should be trying to generate business for myself.  This is a different way of thinking for me.  As a blogger seeking to pretend to a certain Zen level of generating a General Theory of Everything which will wow and generally overawe my readers, when I have read Gladwell in the past it has, naturally, generally been in the spirit of competition.  As in, "though I'll never have hair as good as Gladwell's, my blog is nonetheless deeper than his writings, and therefore I am superior."  You can see the fruits of my sophomoric sniping during my first reading of this book by following this link.

So now I'll go back and reread Gladwell, more in the spirit Eric suggested of trying to take useful nuggets from it which will help me provide good services to clients and thereby generate more business. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, February 09, 2015

On his passage

I had wondered how it would feel when Dean Smith died, and now it has happened.  Yes, it is very sad, but at least his family has been released from the burden of watching a great man decline into dementia.  We were spared the same fate with my dad, who went much earlier in the process of decline, due no doubt to the fact that he didn't make sure that he always got the best medical care available to mankind, whereas Coach Smith was undoubtedly attended to at all times by veritable flocks of caregivers.

So He is gone now, following not so very long behind Bill Friday, and now UNC is on its own, and perhaps will be lorded over by none other than Art Pope.  God save us.

Over this past Christmas, when George Jr. was in the hospital and Mary Lee was upstairs sick with the flu, it occurred to me at some point in time during the holiday dinner process that there were no adults downstairs, it was just us kids in charge, and that we could do whatever we wanted to.  Never mind that there was we the kids averaged roughly 50 years in age. I forget which article I read recently about the things one figures out in one's 40s, first and foremost is that there are no adults.  Dean's passage brings home the fact that, even if we are still kids inside, that if we behave sensibly and decently, we can at least fool our kids and propagate the myth of adults for at least another generation.

Friday, February 06, 2015

The comfort of the Book

I just saw that I had twice alluded to the transition from a Spiderman series to a Justice League one within the space of a few weeks, which marks a new low in terms of me repeating myself.  Ah well. The ravages of age.

Now I will return to another theme I've touched upon recently, though from a different angle: I find that I am at my best when I have a book to which I return at the end of the day that I am really into, which pulls me along.  And why is that?  Precisely because the book gives me a comfortable story within which to ensconce myself, to protect myself of the uncertainty of the broader narrative of my life:  will I get that account?  Will the kids do well in life?  How long will I live?  Etc. The radical contingency of all that is unnerving.

So everybody's got their narrative fix that comforts them.  Sitcoms, TV crime shows, movies, pop songs, comedies and tragedies on stage, they all ultimately resolve in a way that is expected and comforting.  Except, of course, the ones that don't.  And I've written elsewhere about how I've gravitated over time towards happy endings because the unhappy ones upon which the most arch of avant-garde literatures focus so much of their energy do, in fact, mess with my head.

People who really have religion and/or are deeply embedded and invested in particular ideologies probably need fewer narrative prostheses because, after all, they feel they know how the big picture is going to end.  Alternately, one could say that the obsessively perseverate over the same stories (the Gospels, Socialist Realism, etc.) as a way of keeping other narratives out.

But of course this blog is quite the opposite of a well-constructed book.  It is instead something like a running Talmud on my life.

I was about to bring up the point Robert Belknap of Columbia once made about the piece-bien-faite, but then thought to see if I had mentioned it before.  Of course I had.  Not once, but thrice.

Thursday, February 05, 2015


OK, I've done it again, I've squandered an otherwise potentially useful evening on Facebook. Admittedly, I did reconnect with someone I went to high school with and then refriended in grad school and got to see that she lives in Southern California, that her daughers are the same age as my kids, and that they play a lot of soccer and go on some awesome trips. Truly, it was good to reconnect, even at that most basic of levels.  But still.

And I have done some laundry and eaten some chocolate babka and, earlier, Graham and I enjoyed an episode of Justice League Unlimited, which is head and shoulders above Ultimate Spiderman, the last thing we watched together.  Admittedly there is still a lot of reciprocal smashing of good guys and bad guys, but at least we don't have the wisecracking asides of the would-be wise guy teen superhero.

Oh man, gotta go get packed for guys weekend at the lake and get to bed.  Somehow I'm low on inspiration these days.