Monthly Archives: March 2009

Think Big. At Big Think

I am a big fan of TED. If you are too, you might want to check out this site that I accidently came across tonight: Big Think. I was impressed by the number of big thinkers found there as well as the topics that they are discussing. Well worth looking around.


What fat lady? The best opera divas now are anything but

The Times online has an article on the best classical divas currently performing. Besides the analysis of what makes each singer noteworthy, there are also clips of some of them performing. It’s worth a look for opera fans (and non-fans too).

And who do they think is #1? Anna Netrebko (pictured here).

Want a great dashboard on the state of the economy?

Then you want to see this one from Russell Investments. It illustrates “a few key economic and market indicators to help assess the current economic health and trend”. And it illustrates it well, shockingly so. For example, this chart:

The blue range is “typical” and under 3.5%. As you can see, the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 is anything but typical.

There are some good indicators, including a number of 3 month trends that show things moving out of the extreme areas and back towards typical. Indeed, some metrics, like credit risk and consumer spending, are in the typical range. However, economic expansion is not only out of the typical range, but it is trending away from it.

I’d keep an eye of this dashboard.

How to run better? Try caffeine

The has a good analysis of whether or not caffeine can help your performance when you run. It turns out that it is very likely it does help, although not everyone is keen on its benefits, as the article explains.

If you are thinking about using caffeine during a race, try it out on training runs before you do. You may find that you don’t like the results. If you don’t, you want to discover this before your big race, not during.

Read the article: it does a good job of providing the details on the benefits of caffeine and running.

(photo by Flip Kwaitkowski for The New York Times)

Why should you read this People article?

Because it actually uses the word zaftig. Really. See Kim Kardashian: ‘So What! I Have Cellulite!’ – Bodywatch, Kim Kardashian :

Why I think Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is Awesome!

Michelle Bachmann has been taking heat from alot of bloggers I read for being stupid and asking idiotic questions. To that, I saw: pshaw! Personally, I think the woman is a genius. I think she is creating political drama of the highest calibre.

One thing I used to love about watching great British drama with superb actors like Helen Mirren was how they would subtly convey what thoughts and emotions they experienced with small facial changes or shifts in their body even while they were saying banal things or nothing at all. Well, Congresswoman Bachmann gets that same effect with the questions she asks! Seriously, watch the expressions of the Treasury Secretary or the head of the Fed while they are being questioned by her. You can just hear the wheels turning in their heads while they try to answer her inane questions. And yet, her questions may not even be inane, but “dog whistle” comments for wingnuts watching this. Like I said, drama of the highest calibre. For proof, go see:

As Ta-Nehesi Coates might say: awesome sauce! (Ok, he thinks she is an idiot, but anyway…. :))

Obama is changing the rules. Again.

There’s been alot of commentary this week about President Obama and whether or not he is appearing too much in public. One example of this can be seen in this article.

What I believe is happening is that Obama is changing the rules with regards to how the President interacts with the citizens of the U.S. He did this as a candidate for the job, and he is carrying this through now that he is President.

Some have commented that he is continually campaigning. But this assumes you must act one way running for office and a different way afterwards. Obama is challenging that assumption.

Likewise, some media commentators are taken aback at Obama’s use of new media and alternative media to communicate his message. Again the assumption is, once you get in office, you use traditional means to communicate your message. Obama is challenging that assumption, too.

Lastly, Obama is challenging the way people expect him to behave, by frankly, being himself. Why this is a surprise to anyone is a mystery to me. Many people voted for him because they liked him. He’d be crazy to shove that aside. People may eventually turn away from him for all sorts of reasons, but it’s not likely because they don’t like the man from what they know about him.

I believe that if you want to be a successful president, you have to be very comfortable in your own skin. George W. Bush was this way, as was Clinton and Reagan. Obama is as comfortable as it gets. And what he is going to be very comfortable doing is redefining what it means to be the leader of the U.S. Expect interesting times.

Great videos that help you understand the financial industry

Can be found here. I found their explanations of CDS, shortselling (via the Uptick Rule video) and cramdowns to be compelling and easy to understand. I highly recommend you see them. Go to Marketplace on Vimeo

(Tip from

Why do people blog? Perhaps because it makes them happy

According to this article, Can Blogging Make You Happier? | World of Psychology, blogging helps you feel more connected and increases your own sense of well-being. It can also allow you to express things in a public way yet that helps get things off your chest without having to do it directly.

What goes for blogging is true for things like Facebook and even Twitter, as well as other sites (like Etsy).

Read the article, and then let me know when you set up your blog. Get happy!

(Nice photo from Joe Shlabotnik’s photostream on flickr)

Who’s involved with AIG? And for how much?

It’s all here in black and white and Powerpoint. Lots of European banks (Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank), but some Canadian ones too (Bank of Montreal). And who is Maiden Lane? Well, that is a unique organization that is not that easy to understand. This might help.

Why the Treasury needs to get tougher with AIG like it did with Bear Stearns

Over at the magazine n+1 were a couple of interviews with a hedge fund manager before and after the financial meltdown occurred. Both interviews were compelling, and worth reading.

One part that really stuck with me was an analysis of how the Bear Stearns takeover by JPMorgan occurred. I think the key parts are the ones I put in italics:

‘Well, the government had their role. The difference between what happened and a normal takeover is the Fed, because the Fed is providing JPMorgan some non-recourse financing for Bear Stearns assets. The strange thing about the deal is that Morgan is paying so little for Bear Stearns. Bear Stearns was trading at 170 dollars a share not that long ago, now the deal was 2 dollars a share. A lot of wealth was wiped out. The question is, why would anyone accept it? Just before you came in today, JPMorgan increased their offer to 10 dollars. But a 2-dollar share offer, for the most part it’s like, “This is like pennies to me. I’ll say no to this deal and maybe I’ll do better in bankruptcy.” The reason the Fed didn’t want Bear to go through bankruptcy is that there are all kinds of interconnections between Bear and other banks. There’s counterparty risk, it could lead to panic, it could lead to a whole mess in the financial market, so the Fed just wants the problem to go away, the Treasury just wants the problem to go away. But if I am a shareholder it’s not my problem. “Let’s go bankrupt, let’s see, maybe we can do better than 2 dollars!” So everyone here was puzzled that Bear would agree to that kind of a deal.

Now Bear Stearns is unusual in that a lot of the shares are owned by insiders in the company, and the theory we had at the desk here is that the Treasury Department—not the Fed, the Fed’s not so tough, but the Treasury Department went to the top guys at Bear and said: “Either a deal gets done that saves Bear and calms the financial system by the end of this weekend, or we will find some reason to put you in jail.” And I think one of the things that every officer of a public company is very sensitive to, post-Enron, is jail. There has been a criminalization of failure. And after Sarbanes-Oxley, and in the wake of prosecutions related to business failures, it was like Beria said: You show me the man, I’ll find the crime.’

First off, I don’t think the Beria analogy is a good one. If anything, I think it is more the case that any prosecutor worth their salt could go in a find all kinds of things. But I agree with the rest of it.

the question I have is: why isn’t the Treasury department getting tougher with AIG? Because they can throw people in jail. The current approach isn’t working.

It’s not over in the Madoff Affair

According to AP and, there is now a probe focusing on insiders, likely starting with his family.

My belief is that one of the motivations for Madoff’s behavoir was to shield his family from being dragged down into this. I don’t think it’s going to work, however, unless his family was totally divorced from this. Which I don’t believe to be true, but we will see.

Where are they going to go?

Amazingly, A.I.G. is planning to pay $100 Million in bonuses after huge bailout. That’s correct: bonuses. Bonuses, as in: you did a good job, here’s a bonus. And why? According to the chairman of A.I.G.:

“We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury…”

First, it shouldn’t be arbitrary at all. They should get no bonuses. None. Nothing arbitrary about that.

Second, on the issue of retention, I would ask the chairman: where are they going to go? Has he checked the industry lately? There are lots of people in the banking industry unemployed now. They would likely to be happy to settle with a salary.


How to decorate a room for very little, even in a recession

The NYTimes had a great idea. For the Home section of the paper, they…

“…. approached several New York interior designers (only a few of whom, to be fair, had ever espoused anything like that theory) on behalf of five people in and around the city who had recently lost their jobs and were beginning, by their own accounts, to go stir-crazy at home.

The designers were asked to remake a room for one of these prospective clients — whichever room bothered the client most — spending no more than $300 (just under the average weekly unemployment benefit in New York State), excluding their own labor.”

The results are impressive. Granted, you can’t buy much in the way of furnishings when you do this, but here’s what you can do, based on what these designers did:

  1. Straighten up. You need to get rid of things you don’t need first.
  2. Appreciate and rediscover and reuse the things you do have. Fix up some things that need fixing, either by cleaning them or painting them. Then highlight them.
  3. Get some good paint. For almost all these rooms, a good paint job was applied to make a big difference to the room. (Interestingly, all these designers used Benjamin Moore paint.)
  4. Treat your windows to some nice fabric. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but good window treatment can go along way after a good paint job.
  5. Buy a few additional low cost items to add some impact to the room. (IKEA is useful here, but garage sales and other ways of sourcing low cost items is just as good).

Check out the article and the multimedia: it has lots of useful advice for anyone, unemployed or not.

(Photo by Michael Falco for The New York Times)

Art is not something you should cut back on in a recession

Especially when you can get a work like this for under $50. art interiors is offering great art work at amazing prices (as always), but they are also offering other things as well. So make a sandwich instead of eating out and take the money you save and head over to art interiors and get something and find out what else they are offering.

This piece is Dreamer by Danielle Hession. Her pieces are going fast (as they should).

The financial worm is turning, based on this. From shock to fraud….

In this blog post, A.I.G.: Rage Against the Machine from The Opinionator Blog at the, I am seeing something I expect to see alot more of. People are moving away from asking, “How did this happen?”, to talking about “fraud”, “scam” and “clawback”. I think this is going to get alot more difficult for people like the head of A.I.G., Bank of America, Citibank, and others. Unless things improve very soon, which I doubt. I would not be surprised to see subpoenas and jail terms.

Recall Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert. I think we might see things turn in that direction soon.

P.S. I wrote this a few days ago. Sure enough, see this.

More reasons to be proud of Canada: it has 3 of it’s cities in the top ten liveable cities…

…in the world, according to IBM.

There are blogs about everything

For example, this blog, A Soviet Poster A Day, has…well, a example of someone of the finest Soviet posters of the 20th century along with a description of what they represent. Anyone interested in typography, poster art, or 20 century history deserves to pay a visit.

How to find something better than just a job

Peter Bregman at Harvard Business Publishing has a good article on the smart way to look for a job. It is a smart and effective approach to job searching. Better yet, it is a wise way to find something better than just another job. Find new contacts, find new (or forgotten passions), find what you really want to do. Those are some of the ideas in Need to Find a Job? Stop Looking So Hard.

It’s good to check out, even if you have a job.

Lobbying via Twitter

Recently, there has been much talk about U.S. politicians using Twitter. I assume most of them like the service.
It will be interesting to see what happens next, as organizations like the Sunlight Foundation ask people to Help Lobby Congress on things like S. 482. I can see this happening more and more. And politicians may find themselves getting alot of feedback this way. This is not a bad thing, depending on how well they are able to deal with it. And it is a good story to follow for any organization considering the use of Twitter or any other  social software or social media.

How does this current stock market state compare to others?

According to, compared to other bad bear markets, it’s pretty bad. See for yourself:

Now, my belief is that it can also turn around faster, largely due to improved technology. Supply chains can gear up faster, news spreads faster, money moves faster. But it all depends on something which may not change quickly, which is: people’s minds.

Let’s see. You might start seeing people short those betting on the Great Depression II.

Everything but the girl

I’ve been listening to EBTG since the 1980s. They’re timeless, and I never get tired of listening to them. Twenty years ago I heard her singing on a casette tape with The Style Council. In another twenty years, I hope I can still here them on whatever format music comes in. In the meantime, here is a more recent version of them singing Rollercoaster:

And here is Tracey Thorn and Style Council from the 1980s (or is it the 1940s? 🙂 )


Crowdsourcing for appliance design

Amana has an interesting experiment going on: it is allowing viewers to help them pick which design to go with first.  In exchange, they will use your selections to help determine your personality (apparently mine was too eclectic for them to decide!)

This is a simple and smart idea. They get feedback from potential buyers, potentially get some viral marketing (a link to sites like Facebook or other social networking sites would be helpful), and get to promote their ideas. Plus, they also get to see which ones are big hits and which ones are big misses. (Speaking only for myself, my most favourite was Green Tea and my least favourite was Mojo).

If you have wanted to engage your clients more, consider what Amana has done:

How colorful is your personality? / Amana’s New Color Refrigerators

The watchmen and Lincoln

Jonathan Dillon was a watchmaker fixing Lincoln’s watch at the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. He wrote an audacious and secret message inside the watch. A message just discovered now. CNN has the details.

On creating buildings and smiles with paint and steel

I have seen many public art works, but I think one of the finest is not really an art work at all. Instead, construction workers in Boston are writing the names of children on steel beams. They get the names from the children at the cancer hospital nearby, who write their names on paper for the workers to see. The Boston Globe has the story here.

One of the original sources of ebooks: Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg has been around for along time, relatively speaking. They still have lots of great books online, totally free (as in free of charge and you are free to do what you want with them), and continually being updated. The new ebook sites are all fine and good, but this classic site is full of…classics! And much more. You deserve to pop in and take a browse.

Tips for Getting over a cold

You likely know the tips for getting over a cold: Drink Plenty of Fluids, Get Plenty of Rest, and Take Medicine. What I liked about this article, Tips for Getting Over a Cold at Associated Content, is that not only did they have these tips (and some other good ones), but they explained why it is good to do these things.

Bonus: I didn’t realize pineapple juice is good dealing with a cold. See the article and you’ll know why.

Thinking about Slums: ‘Garbage’ is to ‘slums’ as ‘recycling’ is to…

The world is becoming more urban. And with this migration to the cities, will come the growth of ‘slums’.

Why do I put ‘slums’ in quotations? Because I think we need to rethink the idea of a slum, just like we have rethought the notion of garbage.

Our perception of garbage has changed alot since when I was a kid. Back then, in the town I lived in, you could take your garbage to the ocean and toss it in! Now that would be seen as worse than a crime. These days, most of the material thrown out of my house gets diverted into recyclables or compost. Less and less is ‘trash’, and eventually I would like to get that down to zero.

Likewise for ‘slums’. To change the nature of ‘slums’ and the way we think about them, we need to better understand them and recycle the good from them. This article, the world’s slums are overcrowded, unhealthy – and increasingly seen as resourceful communities that can offer lessons to modern cities, in The Boston Globe shows just some of those benefits.

And some cities are taking different approaches to these places, too (though not all). For instance:

“In Kenya, about a million people live in Kibera, outside the city center of Nairobi. Its huts are built of mud and corrugated metal, trash is everywhere underfoot, and “flying toilets” – plastic bags used for defecation and then tossed – substitute for a sanitation system. In Istanbul, by contrast, where the city government has been more sympathetic, some squatter areas have water piped into every home.”

I don’t want to romanticize slums. I wouldn’t want to live in one, and I would bet that people living in them would likely prefer to live somewhere better. (I also wouldn’t have wanted to live in parts of London during the 19th century either.) But fixating on them as something that has to be disposed of is avoiding the problems they pose. Thinking about accentuating what is good about them and eliminating what is bad about them is a more constructive approach to dealing with something that will be with us long into the 21st century and beyond.

I recommend you read the article in the Boston Globe by to Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow. It is filled with lots of good ideas and examples.

(The wonderful photo above is from godwin d’s photostream at It is a series of photos taken of slums in India during Diwali. During Diwali, Hindu households hang a colourful lantern outside their door. I highly recommend you see the rest of the photostream.)

Blogging 201 tips (as opposed to 101)

If you’ve been blogging for awhile, you have likely gotten the hang of it, but would like to move on and get even better at it. If you do, consider this article in Lifehacker: Top 10 Tools for Your Blog or Web Site. It’s a great source for people who may have been using sites like or but who would now like to see what else they can do.

It’s a collection of tips: you still will want to consider learning more about how to set up your own domain name, installing WordPress yourself, etc., to take advantage of all the tips. But even a few of them will give you a leg up.

My Tweetup With LeVar Burton

Is hanging out with the v cool @levarburton in Toronto! on TwitPic

I follow dozens of people on Twitter, including some actors like Stephen Fry and LeVar Burton. Both men are very good users of Twitter. Indeed, LeVar Burton said he was going to Toronto this week to appear on the show The Hour on CBC, and he asked his followers for some information on it. That was the weekend.

On the way home on Monday I saw a “tweet” from him saying he was going to be at a downtown bar in Toronto for a “tweetup”. I thought: what the heck, I should head over and see if he shows up and if nothing else, see what happens.

This Globe article has a good run down on what happened next. And this YouTube video has some footage of the event.

As for me, I got to shake his hand, share a few words and get my photo taken (and naturally posted it on TwitPic! 🙂 )

It was delightful to not only meet LeVar Burton, who was very cool and very gracious with all the followers who showed up, but it was also a treat to meet all these people on Twitter whose messages I have read but never had a chance to meet before.

On the benefit of minor hardship

I am sick with a late winter cold today. Lying here, trying to get better, I thought of the benefits of minor hardship.

One benefit of such hardship is regaining an appreciation of things. Lying here, instead of rushing about like I normally do, I am appreciating how good it is to rest and relax and take it easy from time to time.

I am also drinking plenty of water. Every glass tastes good, and I associate drinking water (and resting) with getting better.

As a result of this minor hardship, I am gaining a new appreciation for water and resting, simple things that are easy to overlook with all the choices we have to drink and do.

The other benefit of minor hardships is that one recovers from the quite easily. We can gain insights awithout being burdened in the long term. This too is a good thing.

That said, I have posted this when I should be resting! I’ll send this off and fill up my water glass.

Netbooks: the next big thing, now

Over at Wired is a really good rundown on netbooks: what they are, how they came about, and why they are so popular. I was just at a conference and a number of people were showing their netbook off. I expect to see more and more around.

I think this comment at the end of the article is key:

“In the process of creating a laptop to satisfy the needs of poor people, she revealed something about traditional PC users. They didn’t want more out of a laptop—they wanted less.”

Google can predict the flu (and likely lots of other things)

I heard this before, but I came across this on the very good Happenupon’s Weblog.

Based on searches people do for flu-like symptoms, Google can predict flus. Here’s a chart comparing Google’s data and that from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC):

Pretty cool. Now can they predict when this recession will be over? That would be good.

U.S. Supreme Court Ruth Ginsburg smacks down Senator Jim Bunning

As seen as, ‘one month after her surgery for pancreatic cancer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Thursday she expects to be on the Supreme Court for several more years. In an interview, she also vividly recalled why, on her second day back on the bench, she attended President Obama’s televised speech to a joint session of Congress.’

“First, I wanted people to see that the Supreme Court isn’t all male,” the lone female justice said of the evening event Feb. 24. “I also wanted them to see I was alive and well, contrary to that senator who said I’d be dead within nine months.”

Ginsburg was referring Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., comment, which he later apologized for, in which he said she would be dead from the pancreatic cancer she had within nine months. Bunning’s comment was awful. Good for Justice Ginsburg. See more here.

A fine example of an artist’s blog is…

CARNET DE DESSINS/Bénédicte’s blog. Lots of lovely drawing, sketches and other works. Go treat your eyes.

Skittles offers a cautionary tale on using social media in a radical way

Skittles is known for their unusual approach to advertising and media. I think they are quite inventive and noteworthy. However, as reported on, Skittles unusual approach with social media this week, while innovative and noteworthy, also, as a result of “Bad Jokes”, were forced to retreat from twitter to Facebook. (“Bad jokes” is Mashable’s term: as they say later, the comments were much worse than that.)

I thought this lesson had been generally learned from the previous bad experiences at Chevrolet and the Los Angeles Times, but apparently not. As Mashable says:

“It’s important to point out how nasty (insults, racial slurs) things can turn out when you give control of the content on your site to users, some of which can be completely anonymous.”

Anyone developing a social networking service like this needs to have a strategy for dealing with trolls and other antisocial behavoir on your site. Otherwise…well, you might end up with something similar happening. has a good rundown of the story at the link above.

Change your life, one (or five minutes) at a time

That’s the premise of this article in Fast Company, Made to Stick: Set Smaller Goals, Get Bigger Results.

In order to overcome problems and difficulties that you face, the article recommends setting strict, short time limits on taking action that can lead to improvement. Whether it is tackling a big cleaning job, doing expenses, or praising others, this article has recommendations on how to deal with it in short bursts.

To this I would add a few things:

  1. Be prepared to actually quit after your time limit. For example, on days when I dread going for a run, I tell myself: just go for 10 minutes, and if after 10 minutes you want to quit, then quit. 99% of the time, I will get outside and once I get going, I will keep going. But there have been times when it has been too cold, or I am too tired, and I do quit and I am ok with that. You should be too. Otherwise, you might talk yourself out of starting in the first place. Hey, sometimes you have to know when to retreat and regroup before you resume the charge.
  2. If you know the job is never going to get done in 5 minutes, do this: take the 5 minutes to list the things you have to do. Now you have a plan. Great! The first thing on your plan should be a short activity. For example, if the big job is clean out the basement (or garage, storage closet, etc.), perhaps the first task should be: take 5 minutes to throw out as much garbage as possible. I find when taking on a big job, the more you can eliminate unnecessary things, the simpler the task at hand will be, and the easier it will be for you to focus on what is next.

(Photo of man getting a free five minute massage courtesy of Rasmussen College – Green Bay’s photostream on flickr. See, you can even be more relaxed in just five minutes! 🙂 )

More praise for Canadian banks should result in more praise for Paul Martin

There’s a good Op-Ed Contribution (The Great Solvent North) in the by Theresa Tedesco, the chief business correspondent for The National Post (a Canadian newspaper) in which Canadian banks are being praised for their conservative and disciplined nature., among other things.  They do deserve praise for this.

However, this man should also be praised. Praised for such things as  keeping the Canadian banks in check when they were wanting to merge in the 1990s. I remember at the time that Canadian banks and their supporters were bemoaning that if they didn’t merge, they wouldn’t matter any more on the world banking stage. It was people like Martin who saw the risks there, and at one time, when the banks tried to do an end run around him, he slapped them down.

Now the banks are being heaped with praise. Yet if it weren’t for Martin, they might be in the same predicament that some of the other big banks they want to catch up to are now in. (Ironically, due to the decimation of the U.S. banking system, Canadian banks are now much bigger these days in comparison.) So, praise to the banks and the Canadian banking system, but praise also to the regulators and leaders like Martin who also played a big role.

There is a great Toronto Star article on Martin and what he accomplished here. It is well worth a read.

More blackberry tools

Lots of people come to this blog looking for BlackBerry tools. I feel bad, since this eclectic blog is anything but a source of software tools. But feeling bad is useless. Instead, I found this link on that IS useful. See this post: 15 Free Tools to Turn Your BlackBerry into a Communications Powerhouse for a source of useful BB tools. Let me know if you find any that are worthwhile and I will post that info here.

Warren Buffet comes clean

The venerable Mr. Buffet has taken a hit this year like everyone else, and according to this article, he  Accepts Blame and Faults Others (, as he is right to do. Warren Buffett has been a critic of financial derivatives for some time (and with good reason). Sadly, even his criticism was not enough to curtail the use of these weapons of mass financial destruction, as he used to classify them. Perhaps if he had come up with this metaphor sooner, that may have helped:

“Participants seeking to dodge troubles face the same problem as someone seeking to avoid venereal disease,” he wrote. “It’s not just whom you sleep with, but also whom they are sleeping with.”