Monthly Archive: March 2009

may I join you? I don’t think we’ve met. Hello, I am…

When I worked at Stanford, I can’t think of a single conference that I attended alone.  There was always one or two other Stanford colleagues there at over a dozen trips.  In addition, because of how I started at Stanford, where I got to know a lot of other people very quickly and then built upon that base over time, I often was attending those conferences with people I knew fairly well.

Now, for a number of reasons, I have gone to conferences on my own (the rest of the staff go to their conferences on their own, too, FWIW – it’s a lot to do with lack of redundancy in our small department, perhaps more so than budget issues).  The change in the dynamics when one is at a conference solo has been quite surprising.  

At just about every moment – during sessions, between sessions, at meals, at special events – I am asking people if I can join them, introducing myself, and perhaps even insinuating myself into existing groups and conversations.  Each time, I am working to remember names, jobs, schools, interests, and trying hard to make myself memorable, to offer something valuable in return, etc.  

At times, the groups that I am trying to “infiltrate” are cliques of people who have known and worked with each other through these conferences for years.  They have served as officers of the organization, presented together, etc.  They are not exclusive in the sense that they shun interactions from others (a la high school or something like that), but there is an undeniable “wall” that exists when a group of people know each other that well and you’re looking in from the outside.  It’s there, implicitly.  And it’s daunting to ignore that sensation, even if it is all in my head.  And overall, this is just simply tiring.

In reality, I am not really alone at these conferences – at each one, I have known people.  But they are often there with colleagues of their own. 

This is not one of my most articulate posts, but I am sitting here, in my hotel room, having retired earlier than I would like, having not gotten up the energy to break down the wall that I perceive in my head that holds me back from making that extra effort to say hello to people.

life in the middle seat

I’m writing this as I sit in the middle seat of a 3-seat center section of a Boeing 767-300 (at first I thought this was the new fangled 767…not the case). It’s a red-eye, so it’s all about just getting to the destination (not about chatting or anything like that), and to top off the dynamics of it all the people next to me are actually together. They just didn’t want to have an aisle and a middle seat, so it’s Allan in the middle.

Often, when one is sitting next to someone in a center seat, that person is with someone else. So when you deal with that person needing to go to the bathroom, or a little elbow fighting on the armrest, it’s annoying but you just lump that person in with other experiences you’ve had with these darn’ed “middle-seat’ers” who just aren’t sufficiently considerate. [hyperbolic, of course. But I will admit to be rather judgmental when I am on the aisle and sometimes see the person in the middle seat as just a cause for problems. Legit ones – not that they don’t need to go to the bathroom – but problems nonetheless].

Well, I’m presenting the case of the middle guy. I don’t know where to put my arms right now. The person on the left is very nice and friendly but she’s using a lot of the armrest and I have nowhere to go (typing position in helping for now). The person on the right (again, this couple is together) isn’t using the armrest at all, but I think I annoyed him earlier when I asked if I could change the direction of his air vent-tube-nozzle thing (it was blowing right at me, full force, but it also requires standing up to change it). He has been gruff since then.

I also sleep with fear that I will be “that guy” and slump over out of the vertical space of mine as defined by the confines of my seat. My headrest has “wings” but I sleep with one eye (or inner ear, cochlear balance sensor) open.

I just got back from the lavatory. I felt a bit of an urge to go earlier but waited to be absolutely sure so I only had to inconvenience one or the other of my row-mates once. Not that I would not have gone eventually out of fear of annoying them, but I have to be careful. Or at least I feel that way.

And finally the two of them do in fact talk over or in front of me, I guess, from time to time. I really feel like I’m in the middle then. It’s just awkward.

shopping cart and door

shopping cart and door

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

This is another photo taken while walking to work. One of the challenges of this effort is that I walk pretty much the same route everyday, with little variation in what I see, etc. So I don’t always get a lot of stuff to photograph.

This time, however, I had to stop by another building first, in a different area, and so walked a different route. I went by this building that is all red and yellow. It has this shopping cart behind it and the sun just was intense and coming from the side.

I don’t generally photograph head on but sometimes it works.

I leave for Thailand tomorrow so expect a LOT of photos from that trip :-).

Consumerism – not such a bad thing

As I sit here getting ready to take my economics final exam, I am struck by a comment a friend of mine made the other day about our economy and our economic situation.  Essentially, his point was that what we needed to do was save more and spend less.  In other words, that it is our consumer-based economy that inevitably led us to at least some point of weakness.  His words were not that strong but I am distilling a bit here.

However, a consumption-based economy isn’t a bad thing unto  itself.  Yes, a low savings rate must be bolstered by some kind of government-based welfare system (Social Security) which does put a strain on earnings, but consumption can help fight off disinflation (which actually is an okay thing) but also certainly helps fight deflation or the threat thereof.  Even when our rate of consumption is low, we can still fight deflation (now, massive recession on top of low consumption is a different matter).  And high consumption also means payment of taxes, which means money to the government and local municipalities, and a stabilizing effect on the economy (it prevents it from overheating or going into recession for the most part).

The problem is how we fund this consumption.  For each person, it’s about whether we are borrowing in order to consume.  Are we using all credit card debt?  Taking out lines of credit on houses for which we already still have mortgages (and whose value then suddenly drops)?  For the government, the same applies – if we have a huge debt to foreign countries by selling bonds to them to fuel our economy, then we have ourselves in a precarious situation.

Selling bonds is a common way of funding deficit spending.  Because we have a current and potentially more big stimulus packages coming up (and the future ones will be all government spending, I bet, with little to no tax cuts (which is a good thing for stimulus, actually)), that means we are selling a lot of bonds.  When we sell bonds, we go into debt.  The biggest buyer of our bonds right now is China.  China has sent a “shot across our bow” about devaluing the dollar through the Fed “printing money” by selling even more bonds.  This dilutes the market, lowers the price of the bonds, we then have to sell more bonds to get the same amount of money, etc.

So the government is fueling its consumption – which we need – through debt as well.  But it was already deep in debt.  And just like a person who consumes through debt, already being in debt to start with just makes everything worse.  

But…a consumption-based economy isn’t bad unto itself…

Japan reconsidered – Paul Krugman Blog –

Japan reconsidered – Paul Krugman Blog –

Last night, I did a presentation on part of a case I did in my macroeconomics class about the current economic crisis.  My team’s part was comparing the Great Depression and Japan’s “Lost Decade” with the current situation.  A rather big topic.  

Japan’s crisis is remarkably similar on a number of fronts to our current situation.  One notable aspect, touched slightly upon by Krugman in the linked post, is that of sluggish response.  In particular, it took the whole decade before someone said “let’s just admit the banks are in trouble and do a massive recapitalization.  That was a big move.  

Krugman is concerned that our situation might end up a lot worse than a decade that many economists consider “lost.”  That’s a bad thing to be thinking.  Someone in class last night asked me whether I thought, considering all of the new things the Fed is doing (credit easing, etc) under Bernanke and the stimulus package and possible additional efforts, we were going to get out of this.

Honestly?  If we don’t address the bank issue, I am not sure we’ll see the trough of this recession this year.  Yes, this entire year.  At best, I’m thinking mid-year before we see something.  That’s a while from now…

Cruising under the Bay Bridge

Cruising under the Bay Bridge

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

I don’t think I’ve ever blogged this photo. This was on the 2nd day I had my Nikon D300, which I still consider to be best non-FX digital SLR ever made. I honestly don’t know what they’d do in a D400, for instance, to make it better.

I was photographing a wedding that was taking place on a boat, cruising off of Alameda island. The sky was…stunning, the bridge was perfectly hiding the sun so it wasn’t going to flare and, with just a touch of correction to make the towers straight, this is what I got.

It was a beautiful day, I had the right tools in my hand, and this is one of my most favorite photos. It’s the wallpaper on the laptop I am using to type this, and on my blackberry. I opted for one of Morro Bay for my desktop machine at home. Had to mix it up a bit.

“Bring It” says the Fed

Fed assets total $1.89 trillion in latest week – MarketWatch .

This is kind of cool, because it really reveals some interesting stuff about the economic crisis and how the Fed has been trying to deal with it.  

Traditionally, the Federal Reserve Bank controls money supply in the market.  It does this by “targeting” interest rates and literally putting money in or taking money out of the market by buying or selling bonds.  When it raises interest rates, people save more and spend less, prices drop and inflation goes down.  When it lowers rates, people spend more and inflation goes up.  Throw in some changes in the supply of money and the GDP moves around in desirable ways.  

For…a very long time, what is called the “monetary base” of the Fed – the money which it controls and regulates, which it utilizes to fuel the economy – has been relatively stable.  However, because even a target 0% interest rate (it’s literally set to 0-.25% right now) has had almost no effect on spending (some thoughts on this later…) and therefore GDP won’t budge, the Fed has had to change the way it has gone about business.

First, it started bailing out AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.  This meant that they basically started owning these institutions, and now the monetary base went up.  They then started a process of injecting money into other institutions through TARP and other tools and the base got even bigger.

And, as one can see right at the beginning of the article, what was $870 billion in December 2007 is now $1.89 TRILLION.  That’s how much the Fed has in assets.  

Bernanke, the Fed Chairman, has some good stuff…somewhere, about how this dollar amount will shrink naturally as certain items fall off the balance sheet, but the monetary base for the Fed will be higher moving forward.

“I’m studying management”

When I’m interacting with classmates in my MBA program, especially when I’m meeting someone new, I am often asked “what is your concentration?”  Many people answer that they are pursuing the finance track, or economics, or perhaps operations.  I say that I am pursuing the management and leadership concentrations (they are two separate ones).

I have to admit that I always feel a bit like an underachiever when I answer that way.  Like back in my undergrad days when I said I was majoring in History.  There was always this dangling question of “oh, and what is your “real” major?”  Now it’s as if learning about management is some kind of fall-back or perhaps even illegitimate field of study for someone getting an MBA.

Part of this is because I am in fact not very good at finance or economics, though I’m deeply interested in both.  I would love to be able to gauge beta and risk and how to create arbitrage scenarios while managing a hedge fund, or spend my day (seriously – my entire day) looking at how macro-economic policies shift our currency trends and overall national conditions.  

But, those aren’t my strengths.  I’m not sure I’m a great leader or manager so maybe my strengths aren’t there, either, but “running things” is something I’ve generally been good at since I was in high school.  Allocating resources, creative problem-solving, working with others – that’s just breathing to me, most of the time.  In the end, it may turn out I’m a management asthmatic, but for now I feel it’s what I’m good at, and it’s what I am pursuing. 

But it is kind of weird to say that I’m studying how to be better at management.  Too broad or something.

Exxon Raises Spending 11% Even as Rivals Reduce Costs –

Exxon Raises Spending 11% Even as Rivals Reduce Costs –

You have to be a WSJ subscriber to get the whole article, but believe it or not, I’m happy about something Exxon is doing.  

At the very least, I think it’s somewhat safe to say that Exxon is recognizing that there is a lot of catching-up to do with small, agile companies in terms of green energy (I think that’s way too broad of a term, by the way) and technologies and is going to utilize all of those record-setting profits of the last few years (you know, when gases were at an all-time high?) to do some research.  

$29 billion has to get a company somewhere…