Quote of the Day 2009-3-29

The fact of the matter is this: every single person who ever moves to another country – with the exception of America where you go to grow – is a failure.

-Jeremy Clarkson

If – Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

Quote of the Day 2009-3-25

The greatest advantage in life is to have your friends underestimate your virtues and your enemies overestimate your faults.

-Vito Corleone, The Godfather

Quote of the Day 2009-3-24

As far as I’m concerned, rocket scientists [math PhDs who created derivative investments] should stick to building rockets. What Wall Street has got is salesmen who produce a contract that is unique, that no one else can price, and the client doesn’t understand. No one, in effect, can check on the contracts, and this creates a flourishing environment for the three base motives that drive financial markets. PIG: panic, ignorance, and greed.

-Roger Geissler, 1995

Quote of the Day 2009-3-21

The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you and the world’s need of that work. With it, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get. Without this – with work which you despise, which bores you, and which the world does not need – this life is hell.

-W.E.B. Du Bois

Quantitative Easing: a primer

A primer on quantitative easing and what the Fed is trying to do:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8ada2ad4-f3b9-11dd-9c4b-0000779fd2ac.html

It’s a video, so here are the highlights if you can’t or don’t want to watch it:

-normally central banks set interest rates to regulate monetary policy
-interest rates cannot be below zero (it makes no sense for banks and would force people to stuff money in mattresses)
-so the Fed creates new money, increasing its own credit which is backed by the government
-it buys every asset in sight, increasing the price and yield of bonds and other assets
-this should encourage greater demand (and reduce bad assets), giving banks an incentive to lend and picking the economy out of recession

now the risks:
-the Fed could lose money on its purchases, and remember that the taxpayer is on the hook for the government’s losses
-this increases consumer prices, which could spiral into unstoppable inflation and destroy the value of the dollar
-this strategy depends entirely on market confidence, it can be counterproductive if people don’t think things are better
-must be done extremely aggressively or it won’t work, this is why it’s very risky and the central bank only does it as a last resort
-because it’s a last resort, it is necessarily rare, which means we have no empirical evidence how much is enough

I read a very interesting solution this morning to create de facto negative interest rates and spur spending. The Treasury could randomly pick a number 0-9 and say that every bill ending with that number will be worthless. That would create a massive game of hot potato as people tried to shed themselves of the dreaded bills, speeding transactions in the country. I don’t think it will happen, but it’s a fascinating idea.

Restaurant Review: Aqua

Over the weekend, I went out to dinner at Aqua in San Francisco, on California and Battery. It is a two-star Michelin restaurant, which makes it supposedly one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area (only one Bay Area restaurant made three stars, which is considered good enough to travel to San Francisco just to eat there). I ordered the special seven course meal and two extra appetizers, and forgive me but I will have to rave about this place. It was sort of like watching a mile race – the food was excellent but not enough to blow me away, just like most runners in the pack stay roughly together for the first three and a half laps. Then like a miler in the last 200 meters, Aqua picked up the pace at dessert and ran away with it, leaping it from a pretty good restaurant to one of the best ever. I was half outraged that Aqua could have had it won at the very outset but half in admiration that it could just pick it up at any point and leave everyone else in the dust when it decided it was the right time. But be warned, this was the most expensive dinner I have ever paid for, so you’re paying for quality.

Decor: 10

Like most Bay Area restaurants, Aqua has that yuppie mix of weird fancy furniture. It’s not really my style, but some of the glasswork was impressive enough for me to overlook it. I hate restaurants that try to mix in Ikea style with awkward shapes to make itself seem more important than it is, but there are two 18-foot square mirrors. That’s not something you see every day, especially in earthquake country. I’m impressed by the sheer waste that everyone in the restaurant will be killed by flying shards of broken mirror when that big earthquake hits San Francisco. If that doesn’t deserve a perfect score for decor, I don’t know what does. In all seriousness, I love the giant mirrors and consider it a minor engineering feat to build and install something like that. Bonus for the padded seats as well.

Service: 8

The service is typical of an upscale French restaurant, which I found delightful. One guy walked around carrying a platter of warmed bread, another guy with a platter of utensils to replace them for every course. We had presentations of every dish with some extra service to add sauces. However, a few mistakes were made. The waiter reached across the table to put silverware down. You may also want to note that if you get the seven course meal, dinner will not be a simple affair. I was there for three hours.

Food: 10

As I noted, the appetizers and savory courses were excellent but not significantly better than other “great” restaurants, until I hit the desserts which were magnificent. It’s a seafood restaurant, so expect some of the best ingredients you’ll see in the Bay Area, like lobster and varieties of sashimi. If you are a Japanese purist, you may be offended by the addition of spices and citrus flavors which distract from the taste of the fish. It’s a French restaurant, so it’s all about the sauces and the mix of textures, not accentuating the taste of the core food. Do not miss the dessert under any circumstances, that’s the final sprint which has you swooning as you walk out the door. It is creative and everything is hand made. To note how high quality the restaurant is and how it misses no details, the coffee is also excellent. That’s not something you see at other restaurants, even fancy ones.

Ambience: 8

This is definitely one of the best and most expensive restaurants in the Bay Area but you’ll see the crowd that comes with that. Not so many yuppies, but a lot of salt and pepper hair and self-important people. The tables were hilariously stereotypical – the wealthy Chinese family (one son, one daughter), the four Japanese businessmen, the old Jewish mothers, a rich black couple. But the atmosphere is warm and semi-intimate, sort of the way you imagine the ideal rich Western family – everyone fits in their place and never gets too close to each other. Good times.

Score: 36/40
Price: $170 per person (appetizer, drinks, seven course meal. Could be $90 per person if you get the three-course meal)
Verdict: Fully deserves its two-star rating. Keeps strong pace until dessert, where it runs away from the competition.

I will start including pictures of food and me at the restaurant from now on.

Quote of the Day 2009-3-14

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert Heinlein