Friday, May 28, 2010

Haiku: the flash crash

The Flash Crash

Plunge down then snap back

twenty minutes of turmoil

appropriate name.

Libertarians have a sense of humor

I can poke fun at myself. Courtesy of (Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is height a natural advantage: Part II - Disadvantages

On Friday I posted my list of advantages of being tall. Today I tackle the disadvantages:

  • Grocery bills are more expensive. Hey, it takes more fuel to power a bigger machine.
  • I read that, as a result of more hormones throughout adolescence, tall people are more prone to hormonal cancers, e.g. breast and prostate.
  • Riding on an airplane sucks if you don’t get an aisle or the bulkhead. Or first class. But what kind of an economizing individual wouldn’t fly coach?
  • Can’t be a fighter pilot or a sub commander. Don’t you remember how cool Tom Cruise was in Top Gun or Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide? Now multiply that by a factor of 10 because I was just a kid. Yea, so that explains why my dream in 7th -9th grade was to be the CO of a submarine. That is, until I passed by the maximum height for those professions. So being tall limits your professions, e.g. I can also not be a horse jockey.
  • Throughout middle and high school, excessive goofiness is a side effect. It takes way too long for someone to be able to recalibrate after gaining inches a year. I was into college before I became comfortable with repetitive motions in precision sports, i.e. darts.
  • *tied to the ability to reach the top shelves à I can reach the top shelves, which means that any little old lady in the grocery will ask me “dearest child, will you help an old woman who can’t reach the oats?” Or any time I am sitting in my rocking chair reading and looking comfortable my girlfriend will need anything that is on the top shelf.
  • Knees, ankles, and other joints start deteriorating faster.
  • In most beds my legs hang off and I wake up in the middle of the night with icy cold feet.
  • *tied to height being an ice breaker à I am perpetually asked: “How tall are you?” and “Do you play basketball?”
  • You have to buy XL clothing for the length and if the arms or pant legs shrink even the tiniest bit then you have to buy new ones. This isn’t exactly true. I had a great grey sweater that I loved and despite the fact that the arms shrunk to ¾ length I continued to wear it for years.
  • You are a lightning rod to men with a Napoleon complex. I’ve never been challenged to a fight because of this, but I’ve been the victim of insults and social slights because of it.
  • Low entrances suck. You would think after years and years you would learn, but there is something in the human psyche that assumes all doors should be taller than we are. That’s not the case, because some architects suffer from the syndrome alluded to in the previous bullet.
  • *tied to height being a natural advantage in most physical sportsà it is a natural disadvantage in games such as hide-and-seek.
  • Your legs burn really bad when you dance.
  • I didn’t know until recently that people just stand in the shower and let the water hit their head and run down. I never knew that because I have never had a shower head that was above my own head to make this comfortable.
These reasons are more slight inconveniences in being tall more so than they are actual disadvantages, which lends support to my conclusion that being tall is a natural advantage.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Haiku - Financial Regulation

#finreg's reverse course:
sacrifice sound policies
for interest groups.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Is height a natural advantage? Part 1 - Benefits

I've spent most of my life being tall. I'm 24 now and a full grown 6'6", although my family continually insists that I have "grown" since the last time they saw me. I wonder when that will stop. Probably after I get married.

True story: the summer between 7th and 8th grade I grew 7 inches (we have documentation) which was a very trying time for me with the constant growing pains and having to eat and sleep so much to facilitate the growth. I ended up playing Goldeneye with my friend who had foot surgery all summer. One of the best times of my life.

Anyway, I sat down yesterday to think of all the benefits and disadvantages of being tall. I wrote them down and they formed enough material for a two part entry. Today's entry details all of the advantages that I wrote down. Anything with a (*) has a reciprocal that will be on Monday's post, e.g. tall people always get shotgun even without calling it but that also means that small and compact cars are off limits. That constrains my choices on what I'll buy during my mid-life crisis. As a libertarian, I hate having my choices constrained. It means I'll probably end up being stuck with a choice between buying a new SUV or a new truck - how exotic.

Despite a long list of things that are sucky about being tall, (I hope it doesn't mean I'm a negative person) I believe being tall is absolutely an advantage in life. In fact, did you know that of the last 31 presidential elections, the taller candidate has won 26 times? Well, here is the list of advantages that I came up with, which is by no means exhaustive:
  • (Most) girls like tall guys.
  • Always able to view concerts and sporting events no matter where I stand.
  • Similarly, family and friends are able to find me very easily in crowded public places.
  • *Height is an icebreaker. Shorter people will never understand how often tall people are asked: "how tall are you?" Shameless: I even know how bad it is but I saw a guy that made me feel short so I felt compelled to ask him the question. He was 7'3".
  • I ride the Metro to work every day and I noticed that I am able to make uncommon hand placements easily, which reduces the chances that I'll get nasty germs spread by short people like children.
  • The longer strides save time. Add it up over a lifetime and I probably get a few more hours less in transit and more with the people I love because I can walk faster.
  • *I can reach the top shelves without climbing on counters or getting a stepping stool. This reduces the danger of me having a serious household accident.
  • Tall people can carry extra weight easier. For example, yesterday, a coworker was shocked after he learned that I weigh 50 pounds more than he thought I did.
  • Tall people exude more presence and are more confident when they enter a room.
  • *Height is a natural advantage in most physical sports.
  • Tall people are often been perceived as older and more experienced than their relatively shorter peers.
  • Most importantly, studies have shown that tall people earn more money, have more successful careers, have higher IQs, and live longer lives. I believe all of these factors are highly correlated with their parents income, because these children are more likely to receive the better nutrition necessary to grow as well as all of the other support they need to excel.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Practicing good inbox maintenance

People are always on the lookout for tips on “how to be successful”. In my experience, there is one small and often overlooked factor that determines if someone is or will be successful in the days of electronic communication: inbox maintenance. I loosely define “inbox” as any of the forms that people can task others with: in-person or by phone, fax (does anybody really use this anymore?), or e-mail. I believe that the people who are the most attentive and prompt in providing responses to these requests are often the most successful. These are the people who don’t shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t want to respond to that” or “I’ll do it later” because it happens to be tedious or difficult or, sometimes, too simple a question. They are the workers who man up and power through it anyway.

As an example, the best professor I ever had and the one who was most esteemed in academic circles had the best work habits I’ve ever known. If you emailed this professor during normal working hours he would provide a written response within a half hour. Without fail. I have implemented his example in my career.

It’s not without limits. Nobody can be at their desk auto-refreshing their email inboxes every second of the day. We have bosses. We have meetings to attend. We have competing needs for our attention. Everyone understands that sometimes these things take time. But my point is not about one time. It is about the people who make good inbox maintenance a habit; day-in and day-out they are solid performers who you can count on to answer your question or follow-up.

And everyone understands that things get lost in the shuffle, too. But the people I’m talking about are those who are effective prioritizers and they only lose the least important correspondences.

Look around. See if you can observe what I’m saying. Are the people in your office who put forth the effort to respond to their clients and coworkers promptly, those people that practice good inbox maintenance, the same as the colleagues that you hold in the highest regard?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Haiku - Deflation

Deflation is bad.
Makes real debt burderns larger.
Less loans made = low growth.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ben Casnocha: 50 Ways to Expose Yourself to Randomness

I thought this blog post by Ben Casnocha was so great that I had to reprint it here in its entirety:

Cal Newport's three step way to become interesting:
1. Do fewer structured activities.

2. Spend more time exploring, thinking, and exposing yourself to potentially interesting things.

3. If something catches your attention, use the abundant free time generated by rule 1 to quickly follow up.
Below are 50 ideas for step 2. They are all direct quotes from
Tom Peters. I bolded the numbers of the best.
1. Go to the nearest magazine shop. Now. Spend 20 minutes. Pick up 20 — twenty! — magazines. None should be ones you normally read. Spend the better part of a day perusing them. Tear stuff out. Make notes. Create files. Goal: Stretch! Repeat . . . monthly . . . or at least bi-monthly.
2. Go to the Web. Now. Relax. Follow your bliss! Visit at least 15 sites you haven’t visited before. Follow any chain that is even a little intriguing. Bookmark a few of the best. Repeat . . . at least once a week.
3. Take off this Wednesday afternoon. Wander the closest mall . . . for two hours. Note the stuff you like. (And hate.) Products, merchandising, whatever. Repeat . . . bimonthly.
4. Buy a packet of 3 x 5-inch notecards. Carry them around with you. Always. Record cool stuff. Awful stuff. Daily. Review your card pack every Sunday. (Obsess on this!)
5. Going the same place for vacation next year? Why not someplace new? Why not one of those university-sponsored 12-day trips to explore some weird phenomenon?
6. Project stuck in a rut? Look through your Rolodex. Who’s the oddest duck in there? Call her/him. Invite her/him to lunch. Pick her/his brain for a couple of hours about your project.
7. Create a new habit: Visit your Rolodex. Once a month. Pick a name of someone interesting you’ve lost touch with. Take her/him to lunch . . . next week.
8. New habit: You’re in a meeting. Someone you don’t know makes an interesting contribution. Invite him/her to lunch . . . in the next two weeks.
9. You run across somebody interesting. As a matter of course, ask her (him) what’s the best thing she/he’s read in the last 90 days. Order it from . . . this afternoon.
10. Take tomorrow afternoon off. Rain or shine. Wander a corner of the city you’ve never explored before.
11. Go to the local Rite Aid. Buy a $2 notebook. Title it Observations I. Start recording. Now. Anything and everything. (Now = Now.)
12. Going out this Saturday night? Go some place new.
13. Having a dinner party next Sunday? Invite somebody — interesting — you’ve never invited before. (Odds are, he/she won’t accept. So what? Go for it. It’s just like selling encyclopedias. No ring doorbell = No sale.)
14. Go past a kiosk advertising local Community College courses for this fall. (Or one of the Learning Annex catalogues.) Grab a copy. Look it over this evening. Pick a couple of interesting courses and topics you’ve always wanted to know more about. Call the professor (with a little detective work, you can find her). If you’re intrigued, sign up and . . . at least . . . go to the orientation session.
15. Read a provocative article in a business journal. Triggers a thought? E-mail the author. So what if you never hear back? (The odds are actually pretty high that you will. Trust me.)
16. At church this Sunday, the pastor announces a new fund drive. Sure you’re busy. (Who isn’t?) Go to the organizing meeting after services. Sign up!
17. You’re working with your 13-year-old on his science project. You find you’re having fun. Go to school with him tomorrow . . . and volunteer to talk to the class about the topic.
18. A crummy little assignment comes along. But it would give you a chance to work with a group of people you’ve never worked with before. Take the assignment.
19. You’re really pissed off at what’s going on in your kid’s school. So run for the school board.
20. You aren’t really interested in changing jobs. But there’s a neat job fair in the next town this weekend. Go.
21. An old college pal of yours invites you to go on a long weekend by the lake. You never do things like that. Go.
22. A really cool job opening overseas comes up. It fits your skill set. You couldn’t possibly consider it. You’ve got a nine-year-old and your husband is content with his job. At least call someone . . . and find out more about it.
23. You’re on the fast track. But a fascinating job opens up . . . far away. It looks like a detour. But you could learn something really new. Really cool. Go talk to the guy/gal about it. (Now.)
24. The eighth grade teacher is looking for chaperones for the trip to the natural history museum. You’re a law firm partner, for God’s sake, making $350,000 a year. Volunteer.
25. You love taking pictures. You pick up a brochure advertising a four-day photography workshop in Maine next summer. Go to the workshop.
26. A friend of yours, a small-business owner, is go-ing to Thailand on a sourcing trip. She invites you to join her. Go.
27. There’s a great ball game on ESPN in an hour. Forget it. Go on that walk you love . . . that you haven’t taken for a year.
28. I’m not much on planning. But how about sitting down with your spouse/significant other and making a list of three or four things you’ve "been meaning to do" that are novel . . . then coming up with a scheme for doing at least one of them in the next nine months?
29. You’ve a-l-w-a-y-s wanted to go to the Yucatan. So at least call a travel agent . . . this week. (How about right now?)
30. You know "the action is at the front line." Spend a month (two days a week) on a self-styled training program that rotates you through all the front-line jobs in the hotel/distribution center/whatever.
31. Ask a first-line supervisor who the most motivated clerk in the store is. Take him/her to lunch . . . in the next three weeks.
32. You spot a Cool Article in the division newsletter. Call the person involved. Take her/him to lunch. Tomorrow. Learn more. (Repeat.) (Regularly.)
33. You and your spouse go to a great play this Saturday. On Monday, call the director and ask him/her if you can come by and chat some time in the next two weeks. (If the chat goes well, ask her/him to come in to address your 18 colleagues in the Accounting Dept. at a Brown Bag Lunch Session later this month.)
34. Institute a monthly Brown Bag Lunch Session. Encourage all your colleagues to nominate interesting people to be invited. Criterion: "I wouldn’t have expected us to invite — — ."
35. Volunteer to take charge of recruiting for the next year/six months. Seek out input/applications from places the unit has never approached before.
36. Consider a . . . four-month sabbatical.
37. Get up from your desk. Now. Take a two-hour walk on the beach. In the hills. Whatever. Repeat . . . once every couple of weeks. (Weekly?)
38. Seriously consider approaching your boss about working a day a week at home.
39. Take the door off your office.
40. You’ve got a couple of pals who are readers. Start a Reading Group that gets together every third Thursday. Include stuff that’s pretty far out. (Invite a noteworthy local author to talk to your group now and again.)
41. Join Toastmasters. (I know it’s a repeat. It’s important!)
42. Pen an article for the division newsletter.
43. In the quarterly alumni magazine, you read about a pal who’s chosen to do something offbeat with her life. Call her. Tomorrow. (Or today.)
44. Buy that surprisingly colorful outfit you saw yesterday. Wear it to work. Tomorrow.
45. Develop a set of probing questions to use at meetings. "Will this really make a difference?" "Will anybody remember what we’re doing here two years from now?" "Can we brag to our spouse/kids about this project?"
46. Assess every project you propose by the "WOW!"/ "Is it Worth Doing?" criteria.
47. Call the Principal Client for your last project. Ask her to lunch. Within the next two weeks. Conduct a no-holds-barred debriefing on how you and your team did . . . and might have done. Now.
48. Call the wisest person you know. (A fabulous professor you had 15 years ago?) Ask her/him to lunch. Ask her/him if he or she would be willing to sit with you for a couple of hours every quarter to talk about what you’ve done/where you’re going. (Try it. It can’t hurt.)
49. Become a Cub Scout/Brownie troop leader. Or direct your kid’s play at school. The idea: spend more time around children . . . they’re fascinating . . . spontaneous . . . and wise.
50. Build a great sandcastle!

Friday, May 14, 2010

What should Lebron do?

Last night, as I listened to the commentators of the Celtics-Cavs game give relentless speculation about Lebron’s post-season activities I began to develop my own theories. Lebron brought the game back to within four points in the middle of the fourth quarter with two back-to-back 3s, but the Cavs failed to capitalize on that momentum and went down. As Bill Simmons said this morning, “Mike Brown and the rest of the team gave up in the last minute. They were done and they wanted to get off the court.” The Cavs lost in 6 and now we will see who was right.

In my view, the question of what Lebron will do really comes down to his values. If he needs the validation that he is a great player by having the largest contract in the league, then he will seek the team that offers him the most dollar signs. And I think that this is what the people who propose that he will go to the Knicks or Nets are really counting on. They are making an assumption that Lebron will follow the money trail. I think this is flawed for multiple reasons: 1.) he knows he is the best player in the league by winning back-to-back MVP trophies, 2.) he already has more money than anyone but Mike Tyson could spend through his endorsements, and 3.) I hold a different assumption. I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that he values what he does on the court more than the stuff that he gets off the court for his work. I bet that when you're at the summit of your profession, especially for a sizable length of time, and there is no one around you then you start to measure yourself in historical terms. Lebron doesn't want to be like Karl Malone or Charles Barkley. It's not enough to win solo trophies year after year. After all, if you are chasing the greatest ever: MJ is remembered for his six NBA TEAM championships, not for his five MVP titles.

So if Lebron values his basketball legacy the most then he should take a pay cut in order for his team to have the best chance to build quality players around him a la Tom Brady. If the best player in the league did this early enough into the post-post-season, it would send a signal to the best free agent pool ever that he was serious about building talent around him in order to make the championship run. I mean think about it: as ESPN reports: Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tyson Chandler, Richard Jefferson, Joe Johnson, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Redd can all become free agents in 2010. With the right mix of star power a real dream team could be born in the league, not just a collection of star-power for international competition. If Lebron has advisors with his best interests at heart I think he will probably come to a similar conclusion.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Haiku - EU Rescue Package

As everyone knows by now, the EU finance ministers, in an effort to avert a crisis, announced last night that they were putting together a TARP-like €750 billion ($955 billion) bailout package for their member countries facing debt problems. Story here from the WSJ: "The plan would consist of €440 billion of loans from euro-zone governments, €60 billion from an EU emergency fund and €250 billion from the International Monetary Fund." After the announcement, markets around the world ran up 3-5% on bolstered confidence that the contagion would not spread.
One billion dollars,
are you sure that is enough?
will it save the day?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chart - Greek Ruins

Too funny. Hat tip to The Big Picture.

Great prose

Ben Casnocha is a great thinker and, surprisingly, only 22 years old. File this under sentences to ponder:
4. Sometimes when I am riding in a car as a
passenger I feel a bit chilly so I turn off the fan. In response, my friend who is driving will infer I am uncomfortable and take an action that he intends to help me. For example, if I turn off the fan and put on a sweatshirt he will assume I am chilly and, despite neither of us having talked about it, he will go turn on the heat. Yet when I turned off fan and put on sweatshirt I did so assuming all else would remain the same. I assumed static conditions. When the driver acted in response, it actually became too warm. In a system with multiple nodes anything you do will be interpreted and responded to by others. For every action there's a reaction. That's why it's so important to communicate your thoughts and narrate your actions. Otherwise, you end up in a car that's too hot.
Great stuff. Corollary: despite being single throughout college I always used to jokingly tell my friends that the cornerstone to a great relationship is communication. Coming from someone who seemingly lacked any experience in adult relationships whatsoever, they thought it was funny. Though I was probably being more sincere than I seemed at the time.

Haiku - Market in Turmoil on May 6

What the f!@# happened?
Fine one minute, drop the next
All confidence gone.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Times I'm Happy

Venn diagrams are in, so I decided to try my hand at them. (Click to enlarge)
As you can see, of the time that I spend on the Metro, 0% of that is shared with the time that I am happy. In statistics, they call it mutually exclusive: events that cannot occur at the same time. By virtue of being on the worst public transportation system in the world you cannot be happy. And you can be happy as long as you're not on the red line, or any line or bus that makes up DC Metro.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Yesterday's tweeting activity

I was dumbfounded yesterday when the Dow was up 145 points after the bailout of Greece by the IMF and a consortium of European countries was announced. In response, yesterday evening I posted:
When will markets realize that already indebted euro countries are piling more
leverage on their house of cards to save it one more day?

Well, I received a startingly quick answer. Today, in fact, is when the markets are becoming aware of the tenuous position that the Euro-zone have placed themselves in. With the Dow and the S&P 500 off roughly 2% as of this writing (11 AM) and the euro plunging below $1.31, Bloomberg reports that debt contagion concern is to blame.