Saturday, October 31, 2015

Alternating currents

Back in 2004-7, when I was building a hedge fund practice for the consulting firm where I worked, I read books about hedge funds, amongst them Hedgehogging, by Barton Biggs, who had been at Morgan Stanley before going out and founding his own hedge fund.

More than anything, I remember how Biggs characterized his weekends.  He basically said that he read all day long to stay informed and deepen his knowledge of what he was doing, investing other peoples' money.

I must confess that that sounds pretty good to me, particularly when I spend so much of the week talking to people or trying to do so.  And I do read a lot on weekends.  Which in some ways hamstrings the growth of my business, because weekends are when people are out so much.

I remember early on in my sojourn into the world of sales, talking to another guy who sold for a financial firm.  He said that he had talked to sales recruiters who said that they liked to recruit athletes, and lacrosse players in particular, because they were impervious to pain.  Makes sense.  We also talked about how much each of us liked to be out talking to people and he was in the 7 days a week camp, whereas I am more in the 3 to 4 days a week.

Right now, I have to talk to people more often than that.  In some ways it is only natural, as I'm making up for the 9-10 months where I sequestered myself and studied for the CFP.  Then I talked to people rather infrequently.  To say nothing of the years I spent working on my dissertation.

Truth is, that was excessive in the other direction.  I like talking to people, and listening to them, because in the end people are all we have, and books are in sense a way back to people.  When I studied, I always carved out ways of engaging with people (smoking breaks, calling to raise money for this or that or recruit people to a team or reunion).

I think it's natural for me to oscillate like this, between periods of greater and lesser socializing. But I tell you, it's vital to keep reading and ingesting media other than direct conversations with folx (film, music, dance, whatever), or I shrivel up and die.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Money as the standard of standards

Being a geek and someone who roots for the underdog, I have always been intrigued by the concept of standards, which are so integral to the everyday functioning of our lives but are so hidden that people can't think about them.  Just think about the standards that are enabling this blog post:

  1. HTML -- tells the web browser how to lay things out
  2. TCP/IP -- lets the computers talk to each other
  3. UNICODE or ASCII -- I don't even know, honestly, whatever cross-platform standard there is that tells the computers to associate letters with keystrokes
I'm sure there are lots more that I don't know about.

Or think about standard screw and nut sizes or 2 by 4s and how they let us put things together and design things abstractly before actually implementing.

Listening to a lecture on money from my books-on-"tape" course on economics in the car today it defined money as a:
  1. Medium of exchange
  2. Store of value
  3. Unit of account
That simplified commerce so that people could function in their economic lives, get away from barter and or weighing and scrutinizing gold nuggets. So in a sense, money is the ur-standard on which all other standards are based.

Or maybe language is.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Drop off

I drove Natalie, her Croatian friend Dora, and her Korean friend Esther to a debate tournament at Enloe High School in Raleigh first thing Saturday morning.  Pulling into Enloe's nabe on Clarenden Crescent Drive or some other such Anglo nonsense, I took note of a range of brick ranches with baronial features which told me that probably, when this nabe was being built, back in the mid- to late-60s, it was probably considered rather prestigious.

When we got to the high school, at the first turn in, there was an Indian high schooler holding a sign with an arrow on it, dancing around a little, probably to stay warm in the morning chill.  The arrow told me to keep going to a subsequent entrance.  I had to get pretty close to it to see the arrow, because my new glasses prescription doesn't correct all that well, sadly.

At the next pull-in to the high school, it was an East Asian kid with a sign, doing a similar little jig.

When I finally pulled in to the right entrance, there was a third kid, who seemed to be of maybe mixed East Asian and Anglo parents, pointing us to where to pull up to the curb.  There was an African-American mom escorting her kid in.

And there were some goofballs from the marching band headed out onto the field to practice.

What else could I think but that I was glad to be in America.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Grace, entry #2

At AA this morning there was a discussion of grace and acceptance.  Big topics.

In the course of my profession, I talk to a lot of people, and I hear a lot of very real stuff, both on the telephone and elsewhere. In the last couple of weeks I have heard of

  • Recent diagnoses of breast and colon cancer (thankfully, not in the same person)
  • Bad news about somebody who has been fighting lymphoma
  • Someone's 6-year old getting hit by a car in a way that would have been fatal to an adult
  • A friend who has bad peripheral neuropathy, so numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Some other degenerative neurological condition (was it muscular dystrophy?)
  • Marriages falling apart for various reasons
In short, all kinds of health and life challenges.

This is, in fact, nothing but a function of being almost 50 and being in touch with a lot of people. Statistically speaking, things are going to happen, and the laws of large numbers dictate that, if you are paying attention to a bunch of people, you are going to hear about it.

Very few of these situations are ones in which the participants could have done anything to prevent them, whatever they may tell themselves. So in the end, the best tools we have at our disposal for dealing with these challenges are attitudinal, and in a sense spiritual.

There is a temptation for me to "count my blessings," to compare myself to everyone else and say "at least that's not happening to me."  But to some extent they are happening to me, just not to members of my nuclear family right now.  They are happening to me, I just don't know about them.

And we have faced our own challenges, be they Graham's autism, Natalie's accelerated puberty, my substance abuse and other mental health challenges, and Mary's stuff too (the marital equivalent of HIPAA keeps me from digging into any of that, but it's all just aging, really).

In short, if I choose to curse existence and whatever deity I choose, I get myself in trouble. If I accept that whatever's happening is just a probabilistic instantiation of stuff that's gonna happen to somebody, and stay positive about it, I'm much better off.

Friday, October 23, 2015


Left the Prius on the whole time I was playing tennis with Z this morning.  Stupid hybrid.

Later, was sitting on the couch reading a light morsel of an article by my neighbor Daniel Wallace when it occurred to me that I had really better be writing than reading, so I came upstairs to do so, when my eye espied the bass guitar that Lor gave me some months back. So I played that for a little while, before remembering that I was meant to write.

And now, here I am.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A judgment

I had breakfast with a woman a month or so back.  She is in a "business development" -- aka sales -- role for a consulting firm of sorts.  She allowed that she had not, as yet, sold anything. She also said that she could so some recruiting but -- she hastened to add -- she could not hire anybody with gaps in their resumes, because if someone can't go out and find a job, well then, they're just not any good.

And I'm thinking, but if you're in sales and have sold nothing and brought in no revenue, you arguably should not have the job that you have.

Later, she was telling me about her husband, who was retired.  He had a Phd, and not only that, had had a post-doc. Now, why the reputation of someone who has had a full career should be burnished by having had a post-doc is well beyond me.  I had one. Big deal.

People are funny.

*That would include me.  In the morning, after writing the above, it occurred to me that -- though I was harshing on this woman for being judgmental of others who had been nominally unemployed, look at me there standing in judgment over her, someone whom I had met only briefly a couple of times, someone I hardly know.  Life is complex, for sure. The real question is: what put me in a mood yesterday to get all high and mighty on her.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What the kids want

When I suggested to Graham this evening that we watch Star Trek, he insisted that he first have time to read the new Nutrition Action, so that he'd be better informed about updated details of dietary research that he could in turn lord over his peers in school.  He got his reading done, and then we did get in an episode before bedtime.  Spock said "sensor" several times, which I just love.

On Natalie's side, a big moment was the arrival of the soundtrack to Hamilton, purchased generously by Mr. Auntie Bethy.  When I told Natalie it had arrived, she belted out an enthusiastic "Yes!" which echoed to the rafters of our crib.  She has since been singing along with the soundtrack in her room quite a bit.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

East Coast driving

In driving through Virginia and then the DC area over the last few days, experienced the ebb and flow of NPR: out in the country, you can't find it because it's not there, but in DC metro, it's difficult at times to tell what is in fact NPR from things that just sound like it.  At one point in time I felt like I had come upon Israeli public radio, so long was the focus on matters from that region.

Then there was CSpan radio, which I listened to for a good while.  First off, there was an excellent interview with Mitch Daniels, current President of Purdue University, one time Governor of Indiana, before that head of the Office of Management and Budget.  Great guy.  I'm not sure I'd vote for him, since he's a Republican, but it makes me happy to know that smart policy wonks like him still exist in the Republican Party, even if he has been pushed to the right and then marginalized. I certainly enjoy listening to him, even when I don't agree with him.

Later, I heard what seemed to be Supreme Court arguments being delivered about some very abstruse point about citizenship.  At great length.  It got so wonky I got lost, but it did comfort me to know that policy was being dug into at considerable depth by some erudite sorts, and that others were assumedly driving around DC or even sitting still while listening to it, because they cared.

I also stayed with friends who work in different parts of the government and are good and earnest people, working hard to execute within their respective corners of the public sector ecosystem. Overall, it reconfirms my belief that the whole "throw the bums out" discourse which dominates both right and left is misguided. Mostly, I think, it derives from the fact that communicating the principles and practices of conscientious governance is so far removed from the short soundbite/Twitter update mindset of a populace whose attention span grows ever shorter.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Golden Skillet, US 29 South, Chatham, VA 12:30 pm

I needed some lunch, so I stopped into a comely Golden Skillet along my path to Charlottesville today.  The only place with an outlet to charge my phone was in the back, so I sat there.

A couple of booths were filled by a group of six people in their golden years, five of them women, which is no surprise, since women live longer than men.  Of the six, only one seemed to be talking much.  "It was a pound cake from a mix.  Betty Crocker.  And it was pretty good, actually."  She repeated her declarations about the cake from a box a couple of times, it seemed because the pair of ladies in the adjacent booth couldn't hear her.

But then it became apparent that she was talking more because it was her role in this group to do so. She was the perky one, the bringer of energy, the ringleader.  She showed the others some pictures on her digital camera:  "They gave it to me for my 80th birthday, that was six years ago."

It was, in short, very sweet. Nobody else had much zing left, they had been talking to each other for who knows how many decades. So she shared what she had, and that was that.

I had a delicious fish plate with cole slaw and green beans which, though clearly from a large can, were curiously not very salty.

Competing models

I went and saw Richard Ford speak last night at Flyleaf Books. I think I have blogged in the past about enjoying the Frank Bascombe series of novels, particularly Independence Day.  Really a great series of books, and I'm glad that there's a fourth so we can get to spend more time with Bascombe.

After he read, somebody asked a question of Ford about coming back to Frank, after thinking that the 3rd novel would be the last.  Ford said this, more or less:  "I feel like, through Frank Bascombe, I am able to fully express myself," and it was clear that this is a very clear goal for him.

This morning, I saw another short Gary Vanerchuk on Facebook. Vanerchuk's message is also very clear:  anybody can be a success as an entrepreneur, but only by dint of ceaseless and unyielding application.  "Since I was 14, I worked weekends, holidays, etc."  I'm not sure what he made his money in, selling wine I guess. He's a name I've heard as an entrepreneurial guru.

His energy is good and his message is kind of inspiring, but at what cost?  He also seems to be kind of a jerk.

On balance, I'd rather be Richard Ford.  But, as with so many things, I am somewhere in the middle.

Gotta hit the road now. Off to Charlottesville, than to DC, thence to Martinsburg, WV, on Friday, to see people and try to get some business flowing.  It should be a beautiful fall road trip.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


I am sometimes slightly annoyed when people overgeneralize the use of exclamation points, particularly when texting.  I don't know why.  Perhaps it is a Scrooge instinct. Mary used to say that, of all the characters in Pooh's world, she identified most with Eeyore.  Which I had never thought about.

But I am not bothered when it is my daughter doing the punctuating. With her, I see it as a lovely way to view the world, where any given instance of anything is something to be excited about! Why not?

Which, in turn, makes me think I should revisit my attitude towards exclamations in general!  Why not endorse the enthusiasm, after all?

Rob Lowe's redemption

As I mentioned recently, Mary and I have been watching Parks and Rec with Natalie.  One thing I've been digging is Rob Lowe's character Chris Treager, though perhaps not even so much the character himself as the fact that Lowe is so able to enjoy playing him.

He was always an easy guy to hate, such a pretty boy -- kinda Christian Laetner-like, and then when he got snagged for sex tapes back in the 80s, it was easy to pile onto him.  In retrospect, his transgressions (having sex with a fan above the age of consent but too young to be filmed) seem relatively minor.  Compare him to Kobe Bryant, or Bill Cosby, or Tiger Woods, or Woody Allen...

In the end, whatever, he goofed up a little while younger and got dinged for it.  Looking down his filmography, I don't see any masterpieces he's acted in, but then again I'm out of the flow of movies a little bit.

But in Parks and Rec, he's good, he's funny.  Admittedly, it is still not the most multi-faceted character of all time, but it's a sitcom, and his character is good-hearted and self-effacing.

I think I pull for him in the same way I pull for Fernando Torres of Atletico Madrid, another pretty boy who has been brought low and is fighting back.

And now, it is time for me to go and kill weeds growing up the dam behind my house. Not fun, but needs to be done.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Blast from the past

I had coffee this afternoon with a teacher from my high school, a guy I didn't know very well back in the day. As we were parting, he said that back in the day there were those who thought I was a jerk, but that I have turned out to be quite a nice guy.

Time was, I would have been bothered by the fact that people didn't used to like me. Now, I really don't care. I was insecure back then about a lot of things, with the exception of my intellect and wit, which I felt pretty good about.  So I used it as a weapon.

I try to do that less these days, and I am appreciative of the fact that, though I may be clever about some things, there are a whole lot of things I don't have experience in and know little about, and that I therefore consult with and entrust to others.  I'm cool with that.

And if people didn't used to like me, that's OK too.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

What we're watching

We are experiencing a golden era on Netflix here at the crib.  Graham and I are making our way through the original Star Trek, while Natalie and I (and sometimes Mary) are plowing through seasons 1 through 6 of Parks and Rec.  The highlight of my day is when Natalie and I sing along to the theme song of this fine show.

Nothing more to say.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

On money

I was reflecting earlier that I haven't really blogged all that much about how I feel about money, which is odd given that I'm in the business of managing other people's money, as well as my own, and therefore have to and do think about it all the time. But I haven't written so much about how I think and feel about money.

Or have I?  A quick keyword search of the blog on "money" turned up a number of posts, more, of course, than I have time to read.

In any case, money and wealth are two of the most complicated questions in our culture, and certainly in my mind.  On the one hand, as I look around this room where I sit and type, which is effectively my man-cave, even though a bunch of Mary's photo stuff is here, I can't help but love it.  Maybe 270-300 square feet which I basically have to myself.  A desk, an external monitor, a bunch of books, a 20-year old armchair (declining fast), a 25-year old futon (mostly good for storing stuff on it), some guitars.

I definitely love having the room, both as a private space for me, but also as a place where Graham and I can mush together (for how much longer????) into the armchair and watch Star Trek in the evenings.  This room is, no doubt, a great luxury, as is our house as a whole, all 2900 square feet of it.

And I wouldn't mind upgrading the futon to a more comfortable couch, one which would, ideally, be suited for napping.  Problem is, of course, that I so rarely make/find time to nap.

But do I need it?  Sometimes it feels like an albatross, a gift which keeps right on taking.  Yesterday I spent 3-4 hours just cleaning screens and windows getting ready for a party.  And you know there's more work to do (I am writing, in fact, against the deadline of cleaning toilets and a few more windows).

I am kind of infected by the perverse house pride of our generation, though I also look at nabes with smaller houses and yards and therefore better community and wish I had some of that.

In any case, the intrinsic relationship between wealth, class, and self-esteem/image is a vein I need to mine more here on the blog, because it is real.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Failure to delegate and upskill

So I had an appointment for coffee with a guy who owns a store that sells specialty retail goods, guy stuff.  High end outdoorsy stuff.  I won't be more specific than that.

We were supposed to meet at 10, when the store opened.  He had, I think, 5 employees.  A couple of guys who were basically mechanics, one guy who managed the parts department and phones, and another couple of guys who were ostensibly in sales.

But this guy did everything on the floor.  When the phone rang and there were complicated questions about products, he had to answer them.  When some clients came in to look at purchasing what might have been a $300-$400 item, it was he who had to show them how to get it ready to work, how to pack it up, etc.  His salespeople weren't even paying attention, didn't even try to learn.

At one point in time he got frustrated with a slight mess on the shop floor and he cleaned it up himself, while muttering under his breath.

It was really pretty shocking.  I stayed there for over an hour, waiting for him to break free, but he never did.  I got a lot of stuff done there on my phone, talked to a client in Europe, made a couple of appointments for next week, caught up on some reading.  But I had plenty of time to watch this guy.

Now, I had asked for the meeting, and odds were he didn't need my services.  Maybe he was trying to demonstrate that to me.  But I think not.  Mostly I think he had either hired people who were glorified bumps on logs, or he just didn't encourage them, or he didn't know how to manage.  Or he couldn't hire decent people because he didn't pay them enough.

Who knows.  It was a mess, I'll tell you that.  I'm not going to bother calling him back.