Showing posts from May, 2009

Madrid Blog--The Calle Serrano Look

One of the first things I noticed is the way people dress here, in this up-market part of Madrid. Spanish men, especially, stand out compared to their American counterparts. The men here seem to take particular pride in their appearance. The other day I saw a man in what had to be the height of the Madrid "pijo" (preppy) look--cantaloupe-colored cotton slacks with a Kelly-green linen blazer. Now that summer's arrived, sherbet colors abound here--lemon, lime, orange, raspberry, pink has always been popular, for men. Shirts come with loud stripes and checks, and everything is always impeccably ironed. Los Pijos also seem to love labels as much as their American preppy counterparts. As my sister-in-law put it, when Izod and Burberry came back, it wasn't a problem, because, in Spain, they never went out of style.

My father who was an American child of the fifties grew up with (and continues to wear) a vibrant color-themed wardrobe. If you saw "Wedding Crashers"…

Madrid Blog-Barbarians at the Gates

I liken the decision to live in some place where you have no cultural, family or professional ties to "dropping off the grid." This sort of move is easier to do if you are the sort of person who felt "a few degrees off the grid" in the place where you grew up. Even if you did fit in wherever it is you grew up or live today, you need not travel far to find someplace you don't.

I remember, the kind of reception I got in the 80's when I traveled with the debate team from my private preppy (we send 20 kids a year to The Ivy League!) Atlanta high school (see The John Knox Institute) to compete against other schools in places like Americus and Warner-Robbins, Georgia. This was a sardonic: "Well, ain't we privileged to have you Atlanta private school kids with us here today."

The beneficial effect of walking outside one's village, for the person capable of acquiring perspective, is the rapid realization that "who" you think you were, ba…

China caught up in a Dollar trap

If you want to get a primer from the chinese primer on imbalances read this. If you need some background on imbalances read the dummies entry here.

It describes a dollar trap. Where China is kinda stuck with its savings and it cannot fuck the dollar up or it will fuck up 70% of its own reserves. So they need to support the dollar bubble. They do so by buying US treasuries. This makes the US Treasuries market one of the most liquid on the planet. Which is a good thing, from a peace on earth standpoint, because everyone is sort of in the same boat.

However the Chinese seem to have found a protectionist way to resolve imbalances. By having state owned monopolies spending their dollars to acquire competitors abroad. Unfair competition I say!

From the FT:

Over the long term, Beijing hopes to reduce the size of its enormous reserves and cut exposure to US Treasury bonds by encouraging state-owned enterprises to use foreign exchange to acquire competitors abroad.

Got it? Can they be clearer …

Matt Asay on OpenRemote, building communities.

Matt Asay recently gave us some coverage on OpenRemote. We are approaching with a Developer Release of OR 1.0 and Matt wanted to be briefed on what this industry (automation) was about.

Matt concludes:

And, like JBoss with Java application servers, the time for OpenRemote may be ripe. Despite the morass of nonstandard technologies and bit players in the automation market, OpenRemote's open-source approach just might have a chance to unify the market. It's now possible to put a $200 computer in the wall, which suggests it just might be feasible for OpenRemote to open source a deeply proprietary and fragmented industry.

Matt wanted to know about the history of the project and how one goes about recruiting a community in the automation industry. Getting to OR 1.0 was no mean feat. Juha Lindfors (yes JMX lead from the JBoss days) is managing the project full time. A traveling dutchman is helping with business aspects. We have 3 developers in china. And a growing community of good…

Live from the Trenches of Motherhood

Ce n'est pas aujourd'hui que le ciel me tombera sur la tête...

Today, the bus monitor called me because I forgot to pick up my daughter.

It was one of those Friday half-days, which are darned hard to keep up with, what with all Spanish holidays commemorating obscure Saints and glorious Apparitions, Assumptions, Ascensions and Immaculate Conceptions of our Our Blessed Virgin...not to mention the vagaries of the French Education Nationale labor calendar, with its various strikes and half-days (to plan how they will do less work in the next calendar year). Not that I'm going to spit on Education Nationale because my husband is a product of that and my daughter has a bona-fide, CERN-trained Ph.D. particle physicist as her fourth grade teacher, who's young, cool and lets the kids call him by his first name. Plus, did I mention that French public education abroad is a real bargain compared to anything you would pay in the US. Oh, and the school year lasts through the end of J…

Madrid Blog--La Señora que Sabe

Adventures in the Workplace and with El Servicio

This one is going to make me wildly unpopular... I will preface the entry by saying that I have limited experience in management. This experience has been "when it's great, it's great," but, in those cases where you may be managing the "lesser motivated" worker, management is highly over-rated.

In my brief professional career, I worked with an outside PR agency team that was very competent. In general, they knew more about what they were doing, than I did. They made me look good. In my house, in the US, I employed a nanny for my children (live-out, hourly wages). In the seven years she worked for me, I don't think she was sick once and I can count on less than ten fingers the number of times she was late to work.

Recently, though, in Spain, I have not had such good luck in the house-hold help category. I wonder if this is not due to different cultural/personal expectations about the workplace. This is exem…

The crisis for dummies: Incentives

Incentives in the financial industries have been out of whack for a long time it seems. There is a lot of grand standing around the pay of CEOs but the rot goes much deeper. I also believe that it is in the nature of the beast by definition of managing "OPM" (Other People's Money).

Asymmetry of payouts
An investor is paid out at exit, when he gets his money back. But when the payout for the manager is yearly he has an interest in front-loading risk. What that means is that he takes on a bunch of risk that he knows will blow up but meanwhile will pay handsomely. When you think about it, the yearly yield payout is there to compensate for that future blowup. So that on a "risk-adjusted" you are making not that much. A bond may pay 20% yearly because it has such a high chance of default.

The manager knows that, buys it anyway and generates 20%/year in the first years. It looks great, you are getting 20 a year! But on a risk adjusted basis, accounting for the ra…

Madrid blog: Jamon Joselito

In case you wonder, the main reason I came to Spain is for the ham. Period.

Love actually
So a couple of weeks ago I manned up and went and got myself a leg. Out I come with a Joselito. This being the district of Salamanca, Javier, the store attendant, prepares it like it came from Prada. Check it out in the picture. Nathalie was called "a brand new leg of jabugo ham" in the street the other day by construction workers. She didn't know what to make of it, I assured her it was the ultimate in spanish piropo. The picture proves it!

Gran reserva
The way it is prepared is that the front bone plate is removed. This allows for a continuous cut. As seen in the picture.
Hams vary in quality greatly amongst themselves. This particular one was absolutely superb. I think I shed a tear when I first tried it. There was emotion in the house for about 2 weeks. We devoured it.

Crisis for Dummies: Global Imbalances.

Trade in commerce assumes we are exchanging things of equal economic value. What happens when a country consumes more than it produces?

Global imbalances
When americans consume at 103% or their own production for a sustained period of time, they need to borrow the extra 3%. Americans have pretty much eaten their savings so that extra 3% must be funded by savings from elsewhere. This is where the global kicks in. Enter China, saving countries of Europe and petro-dollars all too happy to buy treasuries to re-invest their dollar denominated debts.

The US govt has such a low cost of financing, even in this crisis, that this has worked for a long-long time. See also the entry on Securitization on how the machine kept producing debt backed products to sell to foreigners. When real products are going extinct and there is only debt, no worries! repackage that debt and sell it as a product.

Impact on economy, crisis
What it creates is a trickle of principal and interest payments that dr…

Crisis for Dummies: Fractional Reserve Banking, the money multiplier

Fractional reserve banking is not directly part of the crisis narrative but it is a constituent feature of system. It is important because it's breakdown mode is the dreaded "bank run". This is how monetary levels were supposed to be controlled.

What it is
Fractional reserve banking is the habit of NOT keeping all deposits in kind but just a fraction of them. You invest the rest make a profit and return it when you are done. If the good is fungible then you can in fact return it at any time since you can put equivalent things in place of the original, even if the original is working somewhere else. Romans would sometimes treat this then emerging banking practice as criminal, today it is enshrined in our laws and institutions. The FED maintains the system, prevents bank runs etc.

Say you deposit a art collection for safe keeping. The bank cannot engage in "fractional banking" and has to keep your good whole. But with fungible goods, such as oil, grains, gold …

TF 19: Prince, Black Mix

Download new version here.

This is my take on Kiss. A prince classic. Last time I heard this was in a club setting in Berlin at around 5AM. I think it was a JBoss World.

In the background there are bits of "Black Strategy" from DJ Dex. The original is a hot track from early 00's and I played it at around 140BPM at the end of TF3, just like in the original underground techno compilation from Detroit's UR of early 2000. For those that still have TF3 laying around and are so inclined do spot the difference between the 2 tracks at 20BPM difference (20%) they are two different tracks.

Here it is slowed down to its original tempo, playing here at 124BPM... this was a house track when you lend an ear to it.

The result is a lot more sluggish, in a good way, in a hypnotic way. The sounds from DEX take on a edgy and alien-ish dimension. They also have this uncanny ability to distort the original melody, they complement Prince in a new way.

This is a bit of a rough-cut, it …

Crisis for dummies: Credit Default Swaps

Credit Default Swaps or CDS have played an important role in the current financial crisis. Some blame them for the initial outbreak of summer 2007.

Imagine you lend $10,000 to a friend. You may want to take insurance against default of payment from this friend. For about $300 a year, someone will reimburse you the entire $10k if your friend defaults. This is a CDS, a "credit default swap", think of it as you would car insurance. In the event of a default you "swap" the liability with your counterparty. You get cash (or sometimes equivalent security), he gets the bond. CDS then are taken on bonds. You can buy a CDS on a bond from a company on a bond from a government, on an obscure tranche of a securitized loan. You can buy a CDS on pretty much anything.

Economic function
The economic function is pretty straight-forward, it moves the burden of default to a willing and able party. If loosing 10k is a devastating effect for you then you may want to swap the d…