Saturday, October 31
Friday, October 30
With barely any notice, government databases - including CCTV - used by local councils to access our information for the most basic observations. This otherwise the preserve of the police who pursue terrorists or abducted children; the police follow strict guidance established British courts. Not surprisingly, they are concerned. This issue to the forefront as a mother accused, using secret video surveillance, of a false cachement to ensure her child's place in the local primary. Ultimately the charges false yet the council's position: "what, me worry?" Cameras now found in the classroom - like Stockwell Park High School, where 68 in place. Or pursuing flytippers and home recycling and other pettinesses. A person's image protected by the Data Protection Act yet local government failing to adhere to the most basic guidelines like notifying neighborhoods of surveillance. No doubt and eventually, policing supplemented, if not completely taken over, by new technology.
"There are jobs Americans aren't doing .... If you've got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I'm talking about."
--George Bush, Tipp City, OH, April 19, 2007
Thursday, October 29
A succession of warm, sunny days and cold - but not freezing - nights bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions-lots of sugar and lots of light-spur production of the brillian anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson. Because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year. Soil moisture also plays a role - a sever summer drought, for instance, may delay autumn by several weeks.
Every season hath its pleasures;
Spring may boast her flowery prime,
Yet the vineyard's ruby treasures
Brighten Autumn's sob'rer time.
Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees.
Saturday, October 24
Eric buys the hat - pictured - for Hallowe'en. It goes with a red leather jacket and he will be a 'pimp.' Kinda hard to picture, really, but why not? This morning he makes breakfast, sets off the fire alarm, placates the neighbor Don, deals with soccer issues, cleans the kitchen, sings "Delta Don What's That Flower You Got On?" plans out the week's logistics, goes to the store .. all before 12 noon. Ben arrives with iPod buds in and observes it all before joining us at the table. He's grown since the last time together, and his hair several inches shorter. He wears the teen-agers suit of jeans and sweat-shirt made cool with a blue pea-coat. He has a look going on and it works - but then, a 14 year old whatever he wears cool and big companies spend huge to capture it. I know I try.
"Saying Fox News is America's favorite news source like saying Coke is the most popular juice."
--As read on reddit.com
Arriving in Sommerville, we head for a new Japanese and discuss why, in an increasing random sample size, the mean and median return (IRR) converge. For instance, a portfolio of 100 investments should have a tighter spread. I note this reduces volatility and hence risk; Eric explains that it is directional - since the mean captures outliers one should know where such points occur - above or below the mean - since they pull the median up or down (down being bad). For instance, suppose a portfolio of 20 investments has an IRR of 20% but a large spread and the mean below the 20% IRR, one would wish to pull the mean up, closer to the median. This may be done by increasing the portfolio from 20 to, say, 100. A manager who enjoys 20% IRRs where the median and mean tighter is better than the manager who enjoys the same IRR with a greater spread, which suggest greater uncertainty in those returns. In venture capital, the typical fund holds 25 companies regardless of fund size .. so why don't manager own more investments? A reason may be the partnership's ability to find, select and execute deals .. 25 may reflect the best size for post-investment monitoring .. a partner's time valuable and she can only do so much.
Back in London, the kids begin 'half-term' and no school for the next week, lucky devils. Madeleine pre-occupied with her hamster 'Monty' who is a girl. She wanted a male hamster BTW but their balls unseemly. Eitan gears up for ManU vs. Liverpool Sunday, which he will watch with Joe (he: very excited). Now this a huge game. Tomorrow he has a swim gala which I will miss. Bunk.
Friday, October 23
So Todd I have known since 1990 from 'the mighty First Boston' when we shared hours of misery and toil in the trenches of Wall Street on the 39th floor of PAZ. Todd notes aptly that it was, indeed, "like war" and we have the hilarity to prove it - our stories from then as raw as yesterday and seem to only get better as our lives more routine. Today, Todd a practioner at a prestigeous investment firm and his office views from the top floor of Boston a testimony - there is the Charles river weaving its way into the brilliant orange/yellow/mauve sunset with the city's back-bay surrounding us. There was never a doubt that Todd would be here - from Wharton Underground (not an Ivy League, really, I tell him) to First Boston then HBS and now. It has always been up, and great for me to enjoy his ride from afar. Todd is one of those thoughtful guys whose success driven by interest - not bank. He loves describing his work and his deals come alive with humour, strategy and positioning - a good case study with equal entertainment combine to make a powerful telling. Last we saw Todd and his wife Marci in London when they celebrated his 4-0 and we had a night on the town. Good times.
One of Todd's companies Dunkin Donuts which I learn the most successful coffee chain on the East Coast. McDonald's, for instance, has one store per 25,000 people in the US which is considered "saturation"; Dunkin Donuts has one per 8,000. While there is no Dunkin Donuts in California, yet, the state the largest buyer of their coffee beans (mostly via online) in the United States - go figure. It is these out-of-store sales that make this, and similar franchises, a good investment. Sonnet and I should know since we ship Peet's from across the globe. Coffee is a drug, after all, and what a great thing to build your business around.
Tuesday, October 20
This morning I resurrect Kit Kat Cowboy and his trusty side-kick Billings Montana for Madeleine's classroom. Willie Nelson included in the deal. I in a red cowboy hat and a long straw to gnaw, haming it up for thirty minutes with my faux Western drawl. I give the little cow pokes a taste of Jesse James and a tale of High Noon - just like Gary Cooper, with Kansas City turning up in the end to stand by our hero Kit Kat. Madeleine beams. The children ask questions - "is Kit Kat Cowboy older than Elvis?" - and I leave the message that anybody in trouble need only ask for help. The lesson is in the ask'n.
Madeleine: "This is the best day of my life!"
Me: "Better than when you were born?"
Madeleine: "I cannot remember that. But I bet today is."
Monday, October 19
Sunday, October 18
Saturday, October 17
So here it is: built in 1915 for the Pan Pacific Exhibition by Bernard Maybeck - there are a number of Maybecks in the North Berkeley hills, including across the street from my parent's house. Maybeck took his inspiration from the Roman and Greeks while the sculptured frieze and allegorical figures found about represent Contemplation, Wonderment and Meditation (the plaque tells me). The lagoon BTW meant to echo classical settings in Europe, where the water provides a mirror surface to reflect the grand buildings. Rome. eucalyptus trees fringe the eastern shores lending their unique perfume. There are lots of swans, ducks and geese, which get in the way of my photo so.. I.. am.. patient.
High school friend Dan and I see each other for lunch before I head to SFO. Dan lives in Bernal Heights with wife Liz and two daughters; he did a total remake of his house .. by himself. I am way impressed by the open design and high quality spec. I wish I could do such things but never gonna happen - even after summers of house painting in college. It is all about confidence, we agree - being comfortable taking a crow bar to wood and causing destruction; having faith you can make it better. I had dinner with Dan several months ago at La Caprice in Mayfair when he was writing about Fergus Henderson, who found our favorite London restaurant St John's.
Sonnet scratches the car; Eitan from the back seat: "Are you going to tell dad?"
Tuesday, October 13
It has been a long time since I've seen the Pacific - last time driving the Great Highway north from Catherine's wedding in Pacific Palisades. Doug and I talk about the usual stuff - best breaks, sharks .. his brother lives in the Basque region nearby Biarritz which offers him all year, all-the-time surfing, lucky fellow. His an alternative life and we debate the merits of being off the grid and living .. the good life.
Everybody does it differently and for the best mostly. A beauty of California is one can do about anything and be surrounded by wonder - Napa Valley, the Sierras, the ocean and the redwoods. This is a blessed land and sometimes I think Californians not always appreciative of what they have, lost in a long commute and jammed up at the Bay Bridge or some other crossing. Since Silicon Valley a geographically spread network public transportation not a option so I feel for these dudes sitting in traffic on the 101 or 80. No fun.
London's underground might be old, over-worked and closed from midnight but it does get you around town. Anyways, the best transportation some heavy swell generated by a cyclone somewhere in the tropic, forming over warms seas and influence by El Nino and La Nina cycles. While their movements unpredictable, the thrill not - epic.
"What Jefferson was saying was, Hey! You know, we left this England place 'cause it was bogus; so if we don't get some rules ourselves - pronto - we'll just be bogus too! Get it?"
-- Jeff Spicoli
Doug also a stand-out cross-country runner and bicyclist, which he did semi-pro before assuming his career in technology. After meeting his 18-month son, who like him, has blonde hair and a winning smile, we head into the Santa Cruz mountains on bikes with the OP always in view for the perfect Norcal day. Why anywhere else? Beats me.
So Doug grew up in Walnut Creek and I recall vividly his house where we went after morning practice and ate doughnuts and watched MTV .. all day .. until afternoon practice. Repeat all summer. Unlike me, he was a natural swimmer and now comments that his skill "in the ankles," which unusual to me since I never considered my lower body other than a prop for my upper body. Doug's ankle flexibility allowed a powerful kick raising his body in the water enabling efficient forward movement. Me, I just churned in the distance lane hour upon hour upon hour. After gossiping about former team-mates and coaches and scandals and so forth we eat a burrito and then shortly I am on the 880 to Berkeley.
Sunday, October 11
No doubt the best coffee in the world.
Moe reminds me that Stanford MBA Jerry Baldwin talked to Alfred Peet about how to make coffee then went on to found Starbucks in '71 (which does not have very good coffee - but I enjoy its everywhere).
The beauty of the Walnut store is the people - way Berkeley. There is the old dude with a red bandana and "Peace Out" t-shirt; the middle-aged women with stringy grey hair reading the NYTs and wearing birkenstocks (and socks); a yuppie dad and his two kids .. and everybody taking their time despite .. coffee. Unusually people talk to each other: I overhear bandana ask a younger women about climbing North Face and she if very happy to engage him. The original Peet's about a ten minute downhill walk from where I grew up and I used to pass it every day on my way to swimming.
So I arrive in the BA yesterday afternoon following a long plane flight which is not getting shorter. My two aunts Marcia and Carla with Grace and Moe, returning from the Sierras. We have dinner together before I peel out to the Shattuck Hotel for the night since 1530 otherwise full quarters.
The Shattuck Hotel is a couple of blocks from Cal and kinda neat - the original opened in 1907 during the re-build of San Francisco following the great earthquate-fire which leveled the city - some developer thought the East Bay as good, or even a better bet given the peninsula flattened. Before that, there was a Victorian estate dating to the 1860s and owned by Francis Kittredge Shattuck.
The 'new' Shattuck Hotel opened three months ago folowing a $multi-million restoration and seems pretty buzzy for Berkeley.
Friday, October 9
Speaking of this - privilege, that is - France's Sarkozy hands his son Jean the powerful post of boss of Europe's biggest business district - La Defense in Paris. Jean being 23-years old and a third-year student. This the kind of nonsense that makes The Fonz and his party look bad. Of course any dad will do everything in his power to ensure his child succeeds but such blatant nepotism .. stunning. Bravo! Sarkozy just like everybody - for them and Paris, I hope his son not so stupid.
Sonnet: "What is it when somebody copies writing?"
Me: "Plagarism" (but excellent choice of words)
Thursday, October 8
The old age pensioners turn out in their kit and use the various shelters to bird-spot. Amateur and professional photographers here too. Pretty cool. The place exists thanks to cooperation between the politically powerful environmentalists and rich, eccentric, neighborhood wackos and the craven, profit-driven builders. Since everybody's real estate better off by such diversification, it is a win-win, dude. We come out on top, too, strolling in the late evening sunset with autumn in the air and chilly. It reminds me of years ago when I came here often enough to entertain the kids and burn time before .. bed. Now the Shakespears that much older and, yes, I am wistful.
Wednesday, October 7
When I was in Geneva, McDonald's the hang-out of us teen-agers. There was no competition either - Burger King, KFC or Wendy's not yet arrived - if they ever have or will as I have never seen them in Switzerland. McDonald's in center-town, nearby rue d'Italie where College de Candolle located so an easy stroll (during or) after school. Kids filled the restaurant Friday and Saturday evenings sometimes sitting on the floor for space, eating their french fries and smoking cigarettes (1984, after all). Today, Starbucks across the street and, from my last visit, it barely dents McDonald's traffic.
Here, in the UK, the first McDonald's opened in 1974 and continues to expand daily: today, there are over 1,200 restaurants in Britain feeding about 2.5 million people a day (source: McDonald's filings). In short, the burger more British then fish and chips. And so with some sadness I report that Ronald moving his London European HQ to .. Geneva by year-end to avoid tax. Full circle, dude. British government better wake up to this as McD's joins Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, Yahoo and Google who also now reside in Suisse. But this for another blog. For the ex-pat community, McDonald's a nice warm cozy feeling of home (even if we never actually touch their food).
Tuesday, October 6
Our first dinner-party at 45 includes Nat and Justin, Lars and Puk and Lorena - Sonnet prepares lamb shanks while I serve wine (here is your blog, Justin). We finally have an adequate dining room to entertain our friends and I look forward to the return of the .. pre-dinner cocktail. I recall my courtship of Sonnet who somehow seemed like an adult in '93 .. this meant her own place with new towels, a brass bed and afternoon sherry and maybe kalamata olives (if I was lucky). Plus she had a real job at William Sonoma and a view of Alcatraz from the near-top of Russian Hill. I went all-in. Sonnet also had the confidence to host dinners at her place including the correct cutlery and clean wine glasses. This all new to me then. Fast-forward to business school where we were one of the few engaged/married couples so most of our entertaining done at home on Riverside Drive. Sonnet's wonderful cooking skills invaluable and cemented friendships we honour today. My contribution - a proper martini which, according to my deceased mentor and colleague Dr Wayne Cannon, the only drink worth knowing. Wayne and I downed many while setting up eye-clinics in developing countries and I happily passed along his spirit to our MBA friends and those lost Californians living in the Big City. Those were good times. Today I may be a bit older and in another country, but I am happy to say that the recipe stays the same.
Madeleine: "I really don't like it when you come to wake me up."
Sunday, October 4
Concluding the No. 9 festivities, Eitan's slumber party a success and the boys up until at least Midnight when Sonnet marches upstairs to tell them to pipe down (I've already done my share of trips). In the end they crash at 2AM, or so they tell me this morning. Beforehand, it is non-stop giggling leaving me and Sonnet to wonder - what on earth so funny? Ok, I ease drop a little bit and it is all football this or school that; some kid did something silly or a girl made a face. Uproariously entertaining somehow and God bless. Madeleine, meanwhile, to bed by 10PM and I make sure she is not too glum being today's second fiddle. She is, and I assure her I have noticed what a terrific sport she has been allowing Eitan his day.
Cal is annihilated by USC 30-3 at Memorial Stadium. I cannot listen.
Saturday, October 3
Checking out the college scores on ESPN, I am momentarily stunned and elated to see Cal 24, USC 7 .. but realise this their rankings+game time not for another several hours. A fine moment spoiled.
Friday, October 2
Unlike the US, Britain is trying to bring its deficits to balance and announces government cuts of £175 billion - no small beer this. Most of the roll backs to come from the military and Super Gee argues down the Trident from four to three submarines saving us £22B right there. Why we need more than one beyond me but the military knows our protection best. Some of the savings BTW will be re-channelled to the war in Afghanistan, where it should be, as the troops suffer from lack of modern equipment and, in some cases, the right clothing and gear for the mountainous terrain. Shameful. Our new found discipline comes inside striking distance of the next national election which will happen June 2010, unless Labour calls a snap-poll which seems unlikely given their lack, ahem, of popularity. The Tories regain the plank with their no-nonsense approach to fiscal responsibility. The problem, as I see it (and in agreement with my hero Paul Krugman), that we are not at the end of the Western World's recession - we may not even be near the middle. Today, for instance, government announces that US employers fire 263,000 workers in September making unemployement 9.8%. Yet the Dow touches 10,000, Ben Bernanke suggests the recession over, and the economy recedes at a slower rate .. all positive indicators, no doubt, but I do remember the ugly '90-92 which really ended in '96 .. I was working on a number of banking m&a's and, as my old mentor Dick Bott used to say: "A bank like an oyster - as pure as the water around it" (or something like that). While the official recession may have ended by '92, it took another three or four years for the US to recover. Bank balance sheets told us this beforehand. And today, our financial institutions remain dire, despite American tax dollars, while no money lent. Bank analysts not in the business of forecasting yet any schmo can see we have a ways to go before terra firma.
Thursday, October 1
Walking to school, I ask Eitan how he feels about being nine and he shrugs non-chalantly - same as it ever was. Madeleine, on the other hand, knows all about it: "I would be bigger. And I would have more money. To buy buddies. And my work would be easier." I note some melancholy in the boy and so, when nobody around, I ask how he is feeling - it turns out, blue for no particular reason. I recall feeling the same around his age and especially by seventh-grade when I had days I could not go to school for the tears and only wanted to be with my mother. I tell Eitan we all feel sad sometimes for no reason and note that I still feel the blues in my stomach. He absorbs this a bit as we stroll to the playground. At separation, I look Eitan in the eye and tell him how proud I and Sonnet are of him and, unusually these days, I get a nod and a discrete hug before he bolts for his friends.