Happy Trails

Lahini is leaving New York, and our hearts break at the prospect of not having her around all the time. You win this time, Silicon Valley.

For a nice kick in the pants, take a look at Merlin Mann’s blog – he posted two recent videos that are super entertaining and insightful.

Merlin Labs! – 5 Surprising House Hacks! from Merlin Mann on Vimeo.

Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now) from Merlin Mann on Vimeo.

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Off to Work!

Here are some badgers.

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Bobby McFerrin, if God had a Voice.

Instead of writing a huge paragraph gushing over how incredible Bobby McFerrin is (I’ve been on a bender for him lately), here are some videos.

First, his amazing technique.

Now, his amazing understanding of people’s relationship with music.

He can also make the musical equivalent of sex, with a little help of course.

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Comic Con 2009

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Comic Con was a bucket of fun. I was expecting to have a good time but I wasn’t expecting to reconnect with an old friend and get to know so many cool people.

Jowene Wong is the coolest girl in the universe. I said it. It’s true.

I met a guy in line named Guy. He was wearing a JPL t-shirt and he looked like Garth from Wayne’s world. His knowledge of Star Trek: TOS was unparalleled.

I hung out with a young lady named Taylor who was dressed as Raven from Teen Titans. Never before have I met the perfect balance of geekiness and beauty.

Kevin Smith was hilarious, John Lassitar gave a great show, and of course… Pikachu.

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See all of my pictures here.

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We Do These Things Because They Are Hard

“We choose to go to the moon by the end of this decade, and do the other things – not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

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Paul Newman

They don’t make actors like him anymore. Sorry the quality is so bad on the video, but it’s a great scene, especially the way Paul Newman says “retards” with that growl of his.

The movie is called Slapshot. It’s not high brow or anything, but it’s very entertaining and it’s certainly one of the best sports movies ever made.

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Goldman Sachs

Let’s get the corporate nonsense out of the way first. I do not in any way speak for or act as a representative of Goldman Sachs Co. or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates. The views expressed here are completely and independently my own. Everything I say about the GS is just speculation, based upon information that is in the public domain.

Goldman Sachs has been painting the headlines lately, mainly as a result of an unexpectedly strong second quarter earnings announcement. According to the Paper of Record,  GS made Q2 profits of $3.44B. The compensation pool set aside from Q2 earnings alone amounts to about $225,000 per employee. The annual compensation pool will likely come out about $750,000 per employee when all the accounting dust settles.

Please resist the urge to yell profanities at this point. The Internets are populated by an opinionated sort of folk, and I just wanted to respond to some of the things I see written a lot.

Goldman took bailout money, and now they are shitting on the proletariat with their huge wall street bonuses! They robbed us blind!

Goldman Sachs did indeed receive TARP funds, which were recently paid back in full with interest and dividends on the preferred stock that the government owned. The story here should be that the taxpayers won. In fact, Tim Geitner prevented GS from paying back the money even earlier because he thought it would make the other banks look bad. If the complaint is that the US government should not be in the business of loaning money to banks in the first place, I don’t think the heads of Goldman would even care to protest. Goldman took TARP funds because it was forced to. They were fully capable of raising necessary capital from private investors this whole time. They borrowed $5B from Warren Buffet and raised an additional $5B in newly issued equity during the midst of the financial crisis.

But what about the money they received as a result of the AIG bailout?

The answer in two parts:

1. The whole point of the AIG bailout was to make sure that it could repay all of its creditors, GS included. Failing to do so would have forced it into bankruptcy, effectively ending half of the life, medical and disaster insurance policies for people in the United States. It was always in taxpayers’ interests to make sure AIG could honor its debts and wind down its business slowly.

2. Even if AIG had gone under, it would have not made any difference to Goldman. The firm undertook great expense to protect itself from that very outcome. Lucas van Praag puts it very clearly in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal. This is one of those issues that makes a good soundbite but doesn’t hold water under scrutiny.

Goldman Sachs is evil, and it secretly runs everything and is responsible for all the bad stuff that has ever happened.

No. Well… ok. GS is just as evil as Morgan Stanley/Microsoft/GM/GE/Apple/AT&T/whatever. Their goal in life is to make as much money as inhumanly possible and to drive their stock price through the roof.

GS does have/had alumni in high places, notably, Hank Paulson, Jon Corzine, Robert Rubin, the list goes on – I’m sure you can find an extensive one on Wikipedia, so I understand where the ‘secretly runs everything’ notion comes from. I don’t have any evidence for or against that; there may be secret agreements and backroom dealings going on, but I personally doubt it. These men are all rich to the point where it doesn’t matter anymore. They have more money than they can reasonably spend in their lifetimes and they are not in range of people like Bill Gates or Larry Ellison, so it’s not a glory thing. There was a recent Rolling Stone article about how GS has been responsible for every bad thing that happened since the Great Depression. It’s an interesting read, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth your time.

Goldman is certainly bound to be connected to every major financial and economic event, good or bad, due to its size and market penetration, but you run into a kind of chicken and egg discussion. Some people will assert that GS looks to create abnormal market conditions that it can abuse to make large profits for itself at the expense of everyone else. I don’t doubt that this occurs on occasion, but the magnitudes are small, the timescales are counted in minutes if not seconds, and frankly, everyone does it. The more realistic scenario is that GS is very good at assessing a situation, optimizing for it, and executing. I am not arguing that what they do is always moral, (a common practice is to find something with an inflated price, go with the flow and pump it sky high, then short the hell out of it) and it might exacerbate existing problems, but no one in the firm is waking with the intention of drowning babies with puppy blood to reduce the supply of babies and cause a run on blood banks, all the while shorting blood banks and holding a large reserve of babies.

This has been my third major blog post, and a huge one. Someone post a comment, dammit.

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