Monthly Archive: January 2009

Universities – why not take on debt..?

Yesterday, I blogged about how the economic crisis affects universities in a weird way.  One of the key differences is that they don’t operate on debt, as far as I know, so the credit freeze hasn’t killed it the way it has companies.  Other than hits on endowments, I’m not aware of problems in general.  “Just” general liquidity issues.  (Then again, universities are all about liquidity, so that is a HUGE problem).

Just recently, Pfizer pulled off a gigantic purchase of its competitor Wyeth, $40 billion or so of which was financed through loans from a number of banks.  This was a huge deal because it indicated that banks will loan, it just depends on the recipient.  They have confidence in Pfizer, so they went for it.

Well, universities have pretty good tax ratings and most have solid and consistent revenue streams from tuition.

So…why not take out a loan to even out the issues for the next couple of years?  Especially for small universities, where the endowment isn’t that big, why not take out $100 million in debt?  Or even $500 million?

I’m sure there are lots of reasons why a school would be reluctant and possibly even not allowed.  But I’m just wondering…

The Economic Crisis & Universities – my take on why it’s different

As with just about any financial entity in the country and possibly the world, Santa Clara University has been dealing with the ramifications of the economic crisis that the entire nation is facing right now.  Frozen credit markets, liquidity concerns, dissolution of various funds which were the basis of our wealth – they are all on our minds whether we work at a university or a for-profit corporation.

However, something struck me while walking into work today.  While there is a liquidity concern here and probably at most universities (all are at least mostly tuition-based, though the percentages vary), the fact is that we don’t utilize debt to fund our operations.  A university uses cash assets in the form of tuition income, then a percentage of the return from the endowment.  Now, if the endowment loses money – as almost all have in the last several months (Harvard’s endowment was nailed for $8 billion as of early December) – a major problem is a-brewing.  But the credit freeze itself, which has massively hit corporations doesn’t, it seem, have much of an impact on schools themselves.  We just don’t rely on debt to finance things.

NB – I’m not sure if we make much use of the commercial paper market, but I didn’t hear anything about it (and we heard a lot about a lot of things) so I’m thinking not.


Murphy’s Cousin in action

So if Murphy’s law states that “if it can go wrong, it will,” then is his cousin the one that states “if things could possibly be incredibly frustrating, they will be?”

There are a lot of conferences every year, for all kinds of fields.  In academia, there are quite a few, too, such that overlapping or back-to-back situations happen a lot.  On the other hand, for the most part, I notice that conferences of the same type don’t usually happen at the same time.  So technical conferences – how to manage a lab, stuff like that – are in early summer, then maybe late summer, then maybe in the fall.  Management conferences – the big one in Educause – is in the fall, as well.  But people who go to Educause are not usually the ones going to the technical conferences.  

However, right now I am facing a situation where the Law School Admissions Council – LSAC – has started a new, senior IT-related conference called ESCON (electronic services conference) and is actually significant subsidizing attendance.  It’s a big move on their part.  This is law school specific, though, yet it’s also leadership/management related.  Lots of admissions officers will be there, too, but part of the goal is to get the two groups together.

Now, that is from April 1-3.  Of course, as Murphy’s Cousin’s Law dictates, while usually management conferences are going to be spread out, the ACM SIGUCCS Spring Management Symposium, which is designed for those aspiring to be higher-level managers/CIOs/etc, runs from March 30-April 1.  I have applied for a grant to attend – again, very generous and I would be incredibly grateful if I were selected.  

But…c’mon.  Seriously?  One ends on April 1 and the other begins the same day?  And I don’t find out about the SIGUCCS grant until February but I book airfare for the ESCON now, which means I might leave SIGUCCS a day early, fly back to the San Francisco area, then basically meet my wife at the airport to change the contents of my luggage and jump on a plane to fly back to the eastern time zone for the ESCON.  And obviously if I get the grant I will go to both (I also have been wanting to go to the management symposium for a while now).

And yes, both are in a the eastern time zone, so I have to factor in minor jet lag, too.


la lune and the photographer

la lune and the photographer

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

My wife composed this and asked me to pose while I was standing on this rock taking all these photos (1 & 2) of the sunset at Morro Bay.

I remember that the first photo she took I had my head at this weird angle that, while natural in terms of my own comfort, looked weird. So I did this somewhat exaggerated “turkey neck” pose to get myself looking like I was gazing off into the distance. The wistful, lonely photographer. Staring at the moon at sunset. Ah, so poetic.

My wife did a great shot, perhaps the favorite one of myself. Of course, I’m not sure if it’s saying something that my favorite shot of myself is a silhouette…

I’ve been drobo-fied

A little while ago, I wrote a short article on the drobo, from Digital Robotics (as compared to all those analog ones floating around), and how I was debating switching my “redundant mass storage” options.

The short story is that so far, I’ve had a server on a local gigabit network where I have a RAID 5 array (which uses 4 drives and gives me the storage equivalent of 3 of them, and any 1 of them can die and I’m okay.  All drives have to be the same).  Anytime I want to upgrade I have to replace all 4 of them, which is a pain.  At the least, I have a lot of drives I don’t need right away (I mean, I can use an extra drive now and then but 4 all at once?).

A Drobo unit has a few advantages.  First, it gives the best of JBOD (just a bunch of discs, which appears as one big disc) with RAID 5 (some form of redundancy where one drive can fail and it’s okay).  Second, it connects directly to our computer (though there is a network interface unit that is available separately) so I don’t have to push over a network.

The problem was cost – it was $500 new, then I could get a $50 rebate.  But for $450, with the parts I have from previous computers I’ve built, I could basically spent about $450 and have 4 hard drives, whereas I would be buying the Drobo, 4 hard drives, and a Firewire 800 card for my computer.  All told about $800-900.

Eventually, though, I decided the benefits were worth it.  First, I can just slap drives in there as I want.  Yes, I decided to buy new 1TB drives, but I “only” bought three and over time as they become full, when the new…1.5, 2, or even 3TB drives become available I can stick one of those in there and I have a whole lot more storage.  I don’t have to buy all 3TB drives and then have all these extra drives lying around.  Second, even though most reports indicate that firewire 800 cards on Vista 64 bit only run at about Firewire 400 speeds, that’s still pretty fast, and fast enough for me.  Afterall, people do full video editing with Firewire 400 external hard drives.

Also, it’s one less computer under my desk, and I can take my server and actually put it in someone else’s apartment and it becomes my remote backup.  I could do this with a new local machine, too, but each time I run out of storage on the array I’d have to buy _2_ sets of new drives.  Overtime it makes sense.

FWIW, I’m already at 1.7TB of storage for just my photos.  I am well into “big storage” range.

by the pond

by the pond

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

This is one of those photos where my own opinion was undermined by peer pressure. Of course I have a preference for my own photos – they are my “creations” and I take pride in them. But sometimes I take a photo of which I am really proud, yet no one notices and I begin to question myself.

This particular image got almost no notice on flickr, and no comments. It still hasn’t been viewed by many people (26 as of this writing) and I lost confidence in it.

Well, the fact is that I’m very proud of this photo. The shallow depth of field isolates the foreground reeds (are they reeds? no idea. the are long tall bits of “nature”). The colors reflected on the pond are really what I wanted, from the blues to the greens and the cloud. And the background, with the “land” appearing again, really works, I think.

This is another image taken while hiking – this time in Colera County Park. This pond is right at the entrance and is great for photos, in black and white, too.

Credit a little less frozen for the right customers, plus TARP in action

Pfizer lines up biggest bank deal since March, tapping U.S. aid – MarketWatch

The article sums up the importance of this deal pretty well, but it’s nice to see that the paranoia about liquidity is a bit less intense for the right customer (though no, you and I are not the “right” customer just yet), and that TARP has had a positive impact for at least some lenders.  After all, when that paranoia is at the point where even the commercial paper market is compromised, how can one start thinking about lending for purposes of buying out other companies? 

The whole TARP thing is even more intriguing since many banks rejected for fear that customers would lose confidence in a bank if it accepted this “bailout” aid. 

Review: Kevin Walsh, IDIS, Leavey School of Business

At a glance

  • Workload:  Light
  • Teaching Style:  Guest lectures, some interactive sessions
  • Interest in students: Unclear
  • Relevance to outside world: High

Overall Professor Rating: 3-4 (hard to tell due to so many guest lecturers)

Overall Course Rating: 4 (but them guest lecturers are good!)

IDIS 612 is an interesting course.  It’s basically all guest lecturers, but they are good ones, as Professor Walsh knows a LOT of people in some seriously powerful positions.  I recommend the course to anyone wanting to take a qualitative and, in all honesty, easy course while taking another, much harder one in the same quarter.  You get a lot out of it, while not beating yourself up with two difficult courses.

The Review

This is the latest of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. That database can be a bit hard to wade through, and the comments are short and often just link to other threads, which are themselves pretty short and superficial. Only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.  I also just write whatever it is that I think is relevant or will be helpful to others.  That is my overall goal.

This review goes way back to Fall 2008, so just last quarter.  It’s a bit later than I had hoped to do, as is obviously the one for IDIS 696 Social Benefit Entrepreneurship, which I also took last quarter and will write in the next few days.

The facts

I took IDIS 612 in Fall 2008, Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:45-7 (this is the new first slot in Leavey’s 2-course-per-night schedule).  Professor Walsh is an adjunct with significant ties to Silicon Valley and a number of high-ranking executives, from start-up CEO’s to marketing presidents at large companies.  

Them’s the facts (slim as they are). Now read on for the review.

photophlow – great start, slowly fading…

PhotoPhlow is this great chatroom/flickr integration that makes use of the latter’s API to allow users to not just chat, but search through various parts of flickr – my photostream, all of flickr, a particular theme, etc – and share them with the group.

PhotoPhlow appeared with a big bang, with a group of users surging forward, then slowing a bit, then surging again as it gained popularity.

However, while usage is still high, it seems (there are always a decent number of people in at least the main room, and one of my groups is pretty busy), the developers have kind of let things just…sit there for some time now.  For instance, lots of people stay logged in all day long, even though they are not there.  Now, many don’t bother to put their status as “away” which is just rude unto itself, but even if one does that, the listing of people in a PhotoPhlow room doesn’t indicate that.  So you might think there are 5 people in a group room (5 is a pretty decent number), only 1 person might be there.  Not much chance for conversation.

Anyway.  Great idea, great implementation, but it’s just…”there” now.  Sitting there.  Doing nothing.  Kind of sad.  Stagnation sucks.

If you want an invite to use it, by the way, let me know and I’ll send one to you.  I think I have a few left.