Hear Ye! Since 1998.
8
Jun 19
Sat

Weekly Wrapup – Issue #5


Notes

Tech. WWDC was this week. My takeaways: (1) Apple announced iPadOS, which is essentially a fork of iOS. They’re going the opposite of the way that Windows went, which was to have one unified OS that runs on all device types. (2) The following are getting updates, as usual (noting items that caught my attention): tvOS (new undersea screensavers), watchOS 6, iOS 13 (grant one-time location permissions, Notes app updates, Sign in with Apple, multi-AirPod music sharing), macOS Catalina (iTunes is being replaced by Music, Podcasts, and TV apps, use an iPad as a secondary display or drawing tablet, new Find My app, screen time for desktop). (3) There’s a new Mac Pro and accompanying Pro Display XDR monitor. Seemingly targeted at video editors, the rig is beefy and expensive. Prices start at $6k for the computer (with a 1400W PSU!), $5k for the display (32″ 6K display at a really bright 1600 nits, 4 USB-C ports on the back). The display doesn’t come with a stand. Apple will sell you a stand for $1k.

Sports. At 1-3, the Warriors are in trouble. Maybe they needed Durant after all.

Movie. Always Be My Maybe is pretty enjoyable for a rom com. It’s on Netflix.

TV. Game of Thrones finished a few weeks ago, but the New Yorker published an entertaining interview with Emilia Clarke.

In other news… (1) The DOJ will investigate Apple and Google and the FTC will investigate Amazon and Facebook regarding antitrust. (2) The tariff war continues, with China announcing plans for an “unreliable entities list” in response to the U.S. denying access to American technology for Chinese companies, throwing supply chains into disarray. (3) China has threatened to disrupt the supply of rare earth elements. China produces more than 90% of the world’s supply and plays a huge role in processing them. (4) Peleton filed confidentially to go public.

Getting Personal

Nothing much to report – things have been busy.

Addendum

Eleven people died this climbing season, the most in recent years.

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19
May 19
Sun

Weekly Wrapup #4

Notes

Politics. Australia’s federal election was held this weekend and, in a shocking result, the Liberal party won re-election and Scott Morrison will continue as Prime Minister. Bookies and pundits alike were predicting a sure Labor victory, but a mixture of complacency, faulty polling, and policy miscalculations appear to have undone Labor leader Bill Shorten. Pocketbooks won out over climate change. (For my non-Australian readers, Labor is left leaning, and Liberals are right leaning.)

+ I don’t closely follow Aussie politics these days, but a Whatsapp group I’m on with a few Aussie mates felt reminiscent in tone of the conversations I was having locally after Trump’s 2016 victory.

+ To the glee of many, former PM Tony Abbott lost his seat to former Olympic medallist, Zali Steggall. Abbott had held the seat for over two decades.

+ Also, Engadine Maccas 1997.

Law. Lots of media attention this week over states passing draconian and extreme anti-abortion laws. In Alabama, a bill was signed into law by its female governor which will outlaw abortion procedures from the moment of conception with no exceptions for rape or incest. The penalty is up to 99 years imprisonment – in other words, a life sentence. Even Trump thinks that goes too far.

+ Under existing precedent, the law is obviously unconstitutional, but the Alabama legislature has made clear that it was designed as a vehicle to press the issue with the Supreme Court in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. And they have also made it clear that they don’t really care about the collateral damage that occurs to women in the meantime.

+ The NY Times has a compelling feature about the impact of laws like this on women.

Finance. (1) Uber IPOed. It ended the week below its IPO price with a market cap of about $70bn. One problem was that, in raising billions of dollars in years past, the investors who would normally be investing in the IPO already were shareholders. But folks, it’s early days.

(2) The worst of the 2008/09 financial crisis is now 10 years in the past. That means some metrics on fund returns now look a lot better than they did a couple months ago:

The standard long-term metric used by financial-services companies on your quarterly statements is 10 years. But “recall that before stocks began rising with the start of the long bull market on March 9, 2009, they had fallen sharply.” The S&P 500 plummeted more than 50 percent in the previous two years. But — poof! Thanks to “the arbitrary logic of the calendar,” those miserable bear market figures are no longer incorporated in the 10-year returns. Don’t be misled by great-looking numbers that can provide an incomplete picture.

Startups. A classic article on finding product-market fit.

In other news… (1) Game of Thrones is ending tonight, and based on leaked reports, this earlier comment from showrunner Dan Weiss is looking quaint: “I’m hoping for the Breaking Bad [finale] argument where it’s like, ‘Is that an A or an A+?'”. Uh, yeah. (2) Big Bang Theory wrapped up its run earlier in the week with a touching finale. (3) The Warriors are going to roll through to their fifth straight NBA championship finals. (4) Architect I. M. Pei died. (5) Grumpy Cat died.

Getting Personal

It’s an uncharacteristically rainy and cold May in the Bay Area…

Susanne and I are finally getting around to putting an estate plan in place with an estate attorney. She asked for recommendations from work and received a dozen. After getting quotes and speaking with a few of those attorneys, we settled on one we really liked and who offered us a flat fee billing model.

Estate planning is more than putting a will in place. To execute a will, it needs to go through a probate process, which is expensive and public. To avoid this, assets get placed in a trust, which allows them to be distributed more efficiently and privately. In addition, there are advanced health care directives, HIPAA consents, guardianship nominations, and powers of attorney to consider.

Addendum

In case you haven’t been watching what has been happening to Bitcoin recently…

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12
May 19
Sun

Weekly Wrapup #3


Notes

Health. No one enjoys visits to the dentists, but it turns out it’s not just the fear of physical pain anymore. Some dentists are carrying out unnecessary and invasive procedures to line their own pockets:

Lund extracted the wisdom tooth with no complications, and Mitchell began seeing him regularly. He never had any pain or new complaints, but Lund encouraged many additional treatments nonetheless. A typical person might get one or two root canals in a lifetime. In the space of seven years, Lund gave Mitchell nine root canals and just as many crowns. Mitchell’s insurance covered only a small portion of each procedure, so he paid a total of about $50,000 out of pocket.

As if there wasn’t enough that was wrong with the American healthcare system…

Tech. Chris Hughes, one of Facebook’s numerous wealthy co-founders, penned a long article in the NYT arguing that Facebook should be broken up. One opinion from a friend in a Whatsapp group: “I reckon this will happen, feels inevitable”.

+ There’s certainly a swelling trend towards recognizing the dark side of social media’s impact on society. Perhaps the best place to look is how Silicon Valley workers think about tech and raising their kids. All I know is that our parents didn’t need to deal with this when we were kids – it’s all new ground. (That said, as someone fortunate to have a modem with BBS access in the early 90s, and net access in the mid-90s, I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have been happy to find out that my teenage-self had access to stuff like the Anarchist Cookbook and rotten.com…)

Books. I’ve never read Danielle Steele’s novels, but apparently she has written 179 of them, including one that topped the NY Times bestseller list for a record 381 weeks. How the Hell Has Danielle Steele Managed to Write 179 Books? I’ve read a total of zero books this year. There are two waiting on my nightstand, but I just haven’t been able to make time for it.

Deals. Did you know that Amazon sends out free samples? You don’t even have to be a Prime member. Register here.

In other news… (1) Warriors take out the Rockets in a great series. (2) Uber started trading on Friday. (3) Tariff Man strikes again. (4) The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend that Attorney General William Barr be held in contempt of Congress.

Getting Personal

Firstly, happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there!

The weather has finally turned warm in the Bay Area and we felt it was time to replace our trusty 6 year old Weber Q 220 BBQ. We got a lot of mileage out of it, but it has a lot of wear and tear – the igniter is broken and a number of burner holes are now clogged.

After a lot of research and YouTube videos, I settled on the Weber Genesis II E-310 3-burner liquid propane grill. There are several important things in a gas grill, and the Weber has them all: a burner design that gives good heat distribution, thick steel for heat retention, easy to clean (the whole catchment tray is removable), lockable wheels for mobility, and a 10-year warranty. Ace Hardware is also running a promotion that provided free delivery and assembly.

Addendum

Game of Thrones is trending… down

Bonus link: r/freefolk (currently the home of memes pillorying Season 8)

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4
May 19
Sat

Weekly Wrapup #2

Notes

Finance. (1) Unemployment is now at 3.6%, its lowest since 1969. And I didn’t know this was a statistic that people tracked, but the Asian population has an unemployment rate of 2.2%. GDP grew 3.2% in Q1. The Fed held interest rates steady. The Nasdaq closed at a record high.

+ So where’s all this wealth generation going? Not to wages, which only rose 3.2% despite the tight labor market. Rejoice if you’re an asset owner.

+ Meanwhile in China, red flags for the stockmarket (but that’s not the first time we’ve heard that in this cycle…)

+ To me, articles like this are a red flag: U.S. Expansion May Be Nowhere Near an End.

(2) You may have read recently that millennials are having less sex than previous generations. According to Quartz, one hypothesis is that it’s because the tail end of this generation is more risk averse because they don’t need to leave the house to entertain themselves. And relationships are risky. “Some commentators and economists speculate that millennials are more risk averse than previous generations. This is hard to generalize. But one thing sets millennials apart from previous generations is that they benefit from a higher risk-free return from not leaving the house.”

Real Estate. Here are 8 French chateaus that are cheaper than an average Sydney home (A$1m or US$700k).

+ But, look at what’s currently happening in one Sydney suburb… (HT: Kev)

Internet. A story about hiring a hitman on the dark web (Wired).

Deals. (1) From May 5 to May 11, Staples is selling Visa Gift Cards for no activation fee. Buy them with a Chase Ink card and get 5x points. A $200 card nets you $10 in points (or $15 if redeemed for travel).

(2) Until May 14, if you buy 2 $100 Visa Gift Cards (which will cost about $212 including activation fees), you’ll get $15 back. The Chase Freedom card is offering 5x points on grocery stores this quarter, so the net result is $200 in gift cards for $197 plus 1000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (which can be converted to $10 in cash or redeemed for travel). To get this offer you’ll need to add the offer to you Safeway account via the Safeway mobile app.

In other news… (1) Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy A-G that oversaw most of the Mueller investigation, had enough and resigned. (2) Japan’s Emperor Akihito abdicated from the throne and his country went on a 10-day Golden Week holiday. (3) Venezuela continues to be a basketcase. (4) Uber IPOs next week. (5) Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) died.

Getting Personal

I work from home a lot these days. That means a lot of conference calls. I hate fiddling around with tangled earphone cords and having them get in the way of the keyboard, and laptop speakers are too tinny, so my favorite device is the Jabra Speak 510 speakerphone. It connects to devices via bluetooth and USB – I just always have it plugged into my laptop. It’s got great volume, noise canceling, and a mute button.

My second favorite device are Airpods. They’re perfect when I need to walk around and not worry about cords getting in the way. Because I mainly use them for calls and not music, the open air design that lets ambient noise through is perfect – especially when I’m outside and need to be aware of my surroundings. I tried the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds, but they really weren’t comfortable and they blocked out too much outside noise.

Addendum

Hagoromo is now being sold by this Korean company

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3
May 19
Fri

Newsletter

You’ll see from the post below that I’m trying out publishing a newsletter. Subscribe today!
 

Subscribe to Weekly Wrapup

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28
Apr 19
Sun

Weekly Wrapup #1

This newsletter is an attempt at spending 30-60 minutes each weekend writing down some thoughts on the week. I’m under no illusion that I’m disciplined enough to write each and every week, but one can try… You’re receiving this first issue because you’re one of my guinea pigs for this experiment.


Notes

Business & Tech.

(1) The IPO train chugs on: Slack filed for a direct listing IPO this week. Last year they made a $140.1m loss on $400.6m revenue. But of course what Wall Street really cares about is that it did $220.5m of revenue in the year before, which is over 80% y/y growth.

(2) Musk made bold claims again about when full self-driving would be available at Tesla’s Autonomy Day. I tend to believe what he says, except if it involves a timeframe.

(3) The S&P 500 and Nasdaq indices hit all time highs this week.

Movies. Avengers: Endgame is epic, and it’s worth seeing it in the cinemas with a full crowd. By the end of this weekend, it’ll also have had the biggest opening weekend in history (first film to open at over $1 billion worldwide!). My life is now such that the only time I could see it this week was on Saturday at 7.50am (that’s right – ante merīdiem)… and the theatre was 75% full. Some might only see it as a “comic book movie,” but successfully executing the 3 phases of the MCU Master Plan was a truly impressive human achievement.

TV. Speaking of epic, a huge battle episode for Game of Thrones is coming up tonight!

Law. The 6th Circuit has ruled that police who chalk tires (to see how long a car is parked somewhere) without a warrant are acting unconstitutionally. Police should just take a photo of the car instead.

Deals. It’s monopoly season at Safeway and it looks like this year they are giving away a lot of instant win donuts – we’ve got about a dozen of them so far. A couple years ago it was free salt and aspirin.

In other news…

(1) Biden announced he’s running for President. The Dems better whittle down the field fast, or it’s going to be a shitshow.

(2) A shooting at a synagogue in San Diego killed 1 and injured 3.

On Hear Ye!

Getting Personal

I get more annoyed than I perhaps should when people write “nice to ‘meet’ you” and “nice to e-meet you” in emails when they get introduced to someone. Just own it and say “nice to meet you”. It’s 2019, people – we meet online all the time. It’s also grammatically sound.

Addendum

Solar power generated (kW/h)

Spring is here and our solar panels are now generating enough juice to offset 150% of our daily electricity usage. The excess goes into charging our electric vehicle.

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20
Apr 19
Sat

It’s IPO Season

Strap in for thousands of investors and employees to get liquid in the coming months. Lyft, Zoom and Pinterest are among the first out of the gate, and it’s clear to me that the market really only cares about two things:

  1. Top line growth: Revenue growth of 50%++ is really going to juice up the valuation. You get huge multiples because at these growth rates, investors expect these companies to quickly “grow into” their valuations. (Facebook IPOed at $104bn in 2012 on 2011 revenue of $3.7bn for a 28x revenue multiple. In 2016, it recorded $23.8bn in revenue, and $46.4bn in 2018.)
  2. Profitability: Obviously this isn’t a requisite, but if a company is continually making a loss, it raises the longer term question of whether the business model is fundamentally flawed – do the unit economics work? You’ll tend to get a lot of short interest if there is a crowd who doesn’t believe the business is actually able to make more money than it spends. Of course, it’s important to understand what is driving expenses. In most cases, it’s heavy investment to drive growth (but if it’s all going into sales, are they spending $1 to buy $0.95?). Free cash flow might be a better metric for seeing if the business model is sustainable, but you have to also be wary about other expenses like servicing debt (although debt financing is relatively rare in this place). Also, when a company IPOs, that event may trigger a bunch of employee equity to vest, which is recorded in the financials as an expense, and that can impact the headline numbers.

If you can make a profit and demonstrate tremendous growth, you end up with a company like Zoom, which is the only company on the list that is profitable, yet has eye-watering 100% y/y growth… and look what happened to it on the first day of trading.

Here are the stats for the recent IPOs:

  • Lyft (2012 / 4.9bn funding @ 24bn IPO val, 16.7bn val today / 2018 2.2bn rev on 911m loss, 2017 1.1bn rev on 688m loss) — I don’t really know what to make of this business and whether it truly can become profitable while sustaining a decent growth rate. The dip in value over the last few weeks shows a lot of skepticism in the market as well.
  • Zoom (2011 / 160m funding @ 9bn IPO val, 16bn val today / 2018 330m rev on 7.6m profit, 2017 120m rev on 3.8m loss, 2016 60m rev on 14m loss) — the most successful business in this post, in my opinion. Viral business model, clear consumer and enterprise strategies, what’s there not to like? Anecdotally, I see Zoom being used for work much more commonly than alternatives like Webex and Uberconference (although the latter has a great UI).
  • Pinterest (2009 / 1.5bn funding @ 10bn IPO val, 12.7bn val today / 2018 756m rev on 63m loss, 2017 472m rev on 130m loss, 2016 299m rev on 182m loss)

Upcoming IPOs

The tech companies below are anticipated to IPO in the coming year. Without doing much research on them (and only cursory searches to find the publicly reported financial data below), I’ve ranked them in order of what I personally think are the most promising based on what I know of their business model.

  • Airbnb (2008 / 4.4bn funding @ 31bn val / reported 2017 2.6bn rev on 93m profit) — an extraordinary business (I used to work there as a contractor so I admittedly have a bit of bias here). I turned down an attractive offer to join them as an FTE – something I did knowing I’d regret – but it was to do something that I also knew I’d deeply regret if I didn’t.
  • Slack (2009 / 1.2bn funding @ 7.1bn val / reported 2017 221m rev on ?) — I like this company so much that I bought some stock on the secondary market a couple of years ago
  • Uber (2009 / ~25bn funding @ 76bn val / 2017 net 7.8bn on 4bn op loss, 2018 net 11.2bn on 3bn op loss) — everyone knows about Uber. It’s got the biggest numbers out of them all, and there’s so much hype about them that, at least in the short term, the stock is going to pop once it starts trading. See also comments on Lyft above.
  • Peleton (2012 / 995m @ 4.15bn val / reported 2018 800m rev run rate & profitable, 2017 <400m rev) — in the longer term, Peleton needs to successfully expand beyond bikes to other products, like its new treadmill. It reminds me a little bit of fitness consumable makers GoPro and Fitbit, except that Peleton also has a great subscription business.
  • CloudFlare (2009 / $332m funding @ 3.2bn val / financials unknown)
  • We Company (2010 / 12.8bn funding @ 47bn val, 12/2018 annualized rev $2.5bn) — no idea if this is a sustainable model or what happens if the bottom falls out of the property market again, but through great marketing and positioning, it looks like they’ve beat incumbent players like Regus (now IWG) at their own game
  • Robinhood (2013 / 539m funding @ 5.6bn val / financials unknown) — massive user growth, but an opaque business model
  • Fastly (2011 / 219m funding @ ? val / 2018 145m on 29m loss, 2017 105m on 31m loss)
  • Asana (2008 / 213m @ 1.5bn val, 2018 100m ARR)
  • Postmates (2011 / 681m funding @ 1.85bn val / financials unknown)

Bay Area Impact

The NY Times wrote a provocative article entitled “When Uber and Airbnb Go Public, San Francisco Will Drown in Millionaires“. The basic premise is that, flush with cash, a bunch of professionals in their 20s and 30s will push up the pricing of everything in the city – most of all real estate. In an area where all-cash purchases of housing are common, adding thousands of millionaires to the pool doesn’t sound like it will help with affordability. No one knows what will really happen, but there are several different theories.

(1) Increased post-IPO demand for properties will lift pricing, as the cashed up millennials will be able to muscle out the competition by making all cash bids above asking.

(2) Sellers are holding onto inventory now, waiting for the demand to come later. A spike in supply at that time could actually mean that prices don’t move as much as they might.

(3) If you make enough money, it may make sense to move completely out of state. I know people who have moved (whether it’s actually moved, or moved for 181+ days) to no income tax states like Washington and Nevada to save the 10%+ income tax that California levies. (California taxes capital gains at regular income, with no special treatment for long term capital gains.)

(4) Buyers in the market today may move forward their plans to buy, to avoid getting caught in the post-IPO rush.

(5) Remember that there’s a 6 month lock-up period after most IPOs, so there’s a little bit of a lag. (The exception is direct listings, like what Spotify did and what Slack is reported to be considering.)

(6) The real estate market this year seems to have plateaued over the last 12 months or so.

(7) Macro factors are always at the back of my mind. The expansion cycle we’re in has been one of the longest in history, and it’s been fueled by historically low interest rates. However, all the value has been accruing in assets – not wage growth, which is why inflation appears stubbornly low. (Trump’s fiscal stimulus isn’t helping.) I haven’t looked at the figures, but I’m sure a tremendous amount of debt has built up in the system (money is cheap, and somewhat perversely, there are a ton of negative interest rate bonds that have been issued). That’s a powder keg waiting to blow. And when it blows, everything heads towards zero* – quickly. I have more thoughts on this, but that’s for another post.

*The great thing about buying a house using all cash, is that you’re not saddled with a big mortgage – so if there’s a downturn, you’re not going to be a forced seller of assets to meet debt repayments. Assuming you aren’t levered somewhere else, right?

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Weekly Wrap Up

TV: The TV season is changing over. Of the shows I watched, Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery wrapped up this week and The Orville has its season finale next week. Big Bang Theory would normally be ending around now, but it’s the end of the series and they’ve scheduled their final one-hour episode in mid-May. And of course, Game of Thrones is back! As is another season of The Amazing Race.

+ GoT Season 8. From a little over 2 million viewers for its series premiere, to over 12 million for the Season 7 finale (at the time of airing), the world’s most expensive TV show ($850m to make!) starts its final run. Apparently there is a 40 minute battle scene in an upcoming episode…

+ TAR is getting tired as a format, but my wife and I continue to watch it out of tradition.

+ Discovery flourished this season. As a die hard Trekkie, I found Season 1 really tough to digest given that it was meant to be canonical (why have we not heard about the mycelial network or Discovery or Spock’s sister before?). But Season 2 papered over the cracks in the timeline enough to satisfy me. I also found the idea of bringing in some key characters only for a season interesting (like Anson Mount’s Pike and Ethan Peck’s Spock). Now it looks like the Discovery is 930 years in the future. I have been waiting for a new Trek franchise to be set further in the future for a couple decades now, so this is an exciting turn.

+ Trek seems to be getting a lot of spinoffs. There’s Picard’s new series, Georgiou’s new Section 31 series, and now talk about a Pike spinoff. Oh, and there’s Short Treks.

Music: This is the best cover of Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing like, ever. 

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28
Jan 19
Mon

Hear Ye! is 21

Ok, so I obviously did no posting last year, and I failed in my attempt to fit in a redesign of this site. Life had other plans. Maybe this year?

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12
Jan 19
Sat

Cities over the last 365 days (2018)

Here’s the annual list. At at mere ~37k air miles traveled, it’s my least amount of travel in a decade (due to one very good reason!). 2019 is looking better, with 38k miles already booked in Q1.

Sydney, Australia
London, UK †
Oxford, UK
Chicago, IL
Vancouver, Canada
Shanghai, China
Charleston, SC †
Kiawah Island, SC

All places had overnight visits, unless marked with †.

* Multiple entries, non-consecutive days.
† Daytrip only.
‡ New country or territory.

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9
Sep 18
Sun

What it’s like to run a High-Roller Suite in Vegas 

A Bloomberg article, Secrets of Las Vegas’s Exclusive High-Roller Cosmopolitan Suite, shares some interesting stories about high-roller suites and the guests that use them. Nothing terribly surprising, but still a fun read.

Among high-rollers, superstitions can quickly escalate from the demanding to the absurd. Some millionaires will sleep on the couch because they believe a bed with a headboard will beckon bad fortune. Others crowd themselves with citrus—often with holes poked to “unleash the luck”—scattering pierced oranges and lemons around the suite, letting them rot during longer stays. Also lucky for clients from the Far East: filling water basins to the brim. That’s how one high-roller flooded his bathtub … and the suite underneath.

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How the Court Got So Supreme

An interesting article about the institution at the top of the judicial branch of government, the SCOTUS:

Neil Gorsuch moved into Scalia’s chambers, though those who knew him said if Kennedy were to step down, Gorsuch would prefer his former boss’s more commodious chambers; Gorsuch had clerked for Kennedy. (In a gesture to Scalia’s family and as a totem of his philosophical allegiance with Scalia, Gorsuch allowed Leroy, the mounted head of the 900-pound elk Scalia had shot, to remain. Scalia’s widow didn’t want it. Nor did his children. Gorsuch did insist on moving Leroy out of his personal office; now he stares down at the clerks in their work space.)

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25
Aug 18
Sat

Million dollar artworks, sold in $20 lots

Masterworks is a like investing in a fine art work fund, but for individual artworks. I can see the appeal to some. From CNN:

Masterworks is one of a handful of new investment platforms hoping to widen access to the elite world of art collecting. The firm will purchase paintings at auction before transferring ownership to shareholders. It then takes a management fee — covering costs like storage, transportation and insurance — as well as a percentage of any profit made when the artworks are sold.

Fees are a roughly flat 10% management fee for the first 5 years, plus 20% carry. So basically a 2 and 20 model.

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28
Jan 18
Sun

Hear Ye! 20th Anniversary

Twenty years!

Coming soon: A 20th Anniversary redesign of this site, and most frequent posting (I promise).

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10
Jan 18
Wed

Cities over the last 365 days (2017)

Here’s the annual list – pretty spotty during the middle of the year, but a solid Q3 picked up the slack:

Sydney, Australia*
Dallas, TX*
Reykjavik, Iceland‡
London, UK*
Abu Dhabi, UAE†
Dubai, UAE
Oxford, UK
Abingdon, UK
San Diego, CA†
Salt Lake City, UT†
Nashville, TN
Hopkinsville, KY†
Birmingham, AL†
New Orleans, LA
Montgomery, AL†
Savannah, GA
Charleston, SC
Charlotte, NC†
New York, NY†
Delhi, India†
Thimphu, Bhutan*‡
Gangtey, Bhutan
Punakha, Bhutan
Paro, Bhutan
Singapore†
Auckland, NZ†
Tahiti, French Polynesia‡
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Honolulu, HI
Boston, MA
Palm Springs, CA
Copenhagen, Denmark

All places had overnight visits, unless marked with †.

* Multiple entries, non-consecutive days.
† Daytrip only.
‡ New country or territory.

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2
Oct 17
Mon

Star Trek: Discovery

It’s been over a decade since Star Trek: Enterprise, the last series of the Trek franchise, has graced our television screens. I grew up in the 1990s, which was the heyday for Trek. The 90s had 3 series running almost concurrently (TNG, DS9 & Voyager) and featured 4 films (Star Treks VI to IX). Back then, I binged watched seasons with a friend during sleepovers. (Binge watching then meant going to Blockbuster and renting a stack of VHS tapes.) I spent countless hours with high school friends discussing all the ideas, themes, and concepts that Trek introduced us to – astronomy, astrophysics and other sciences, “what if” questions about the universe, ethical issues, so so on. The sorts of stuff that most teenagers pseudo-philosophically discuss, but through a geek’s sci-fi lens. I also used to attend Trek conventions and had a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of Trek trivia (like, memorizing Starfleet ship registration numbers). At the turn of the century, the output of the Star Trek universe slowed down, and that obscure knowledge started to mothball in the recesses of my brain.

When news broke of Star Trek Discovery, I was excited that my sci-fi franchise of choice was going to be back on the small screen with new content.

Television has evolved a lot since the 90s. We’re in the so-called Golden Age of television, and the episodic nature of TNG has long since been replaced by grand story arcs, sophisticated treatment of themes, and great acting. I wanted to see what Trek might look like given the advances in television story telling over the last half of my life.

After watching the first two episodes of Discovery, I am disappointed. Like Enterprise, Discovery is a prequel, and the problem with prequels is that they are constricted by events that have already happened in the future, so to speak. The new Star Trek movies try to avoid that by splitting the timeline and creating an offshoot universe. But Star Trek is about the future, and I do miss forging even further ahead in the future and exploring more uncharted territory.

With Discovery, what we get instead is an opening few episodes where we are introduced to the start of hostilities between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. Perhaps the writers will eventually make this a compelling story-line, but it’s not one that they have managed to grab my interest with. In the future Trek story-line, there is peace between the two civilizations, and how that came to be was an interesting concept.

It also doesn’t help that all the episodes so far are lacking in personality. The characters and acting feel wooden. I just don’t care about any of them, and none of them stand out.

The focal character is, for the first time, not the captain of a starship or space station, but it remains to be seen if something interesting comes from this shift in perspective. Michael Burnham’s initial personal theme of an internal conflict between emotion versus logic, child versus parent, has been done before: Spock, Data, 7. Simply reversing the dynamic by thrusting a human child into having a Vulcan upbringing feels like a gimmick.

The Klingons are also somewhat boring. Their dialogue is slow and stilted, and even the font selection for the subtitles (ALL CAPS, SERIF, BIG) felt like a crutch to supplement the acting.

Even the theme song played during the opening credits is bland and meek. The only memorable part of it is when its closing bars throw back to the original Alexander Courage theme.

The story itself feels jumpy and contrived, unfolding unnaturally as you try to make sense of where it’s trying to go. A Klingon from nowhere shows up, recruits another houseless Klingon to be a “torchbearer” because he can hold his hand in fire for a while, and suddenly they reunite the Klingon empire. They blow up a bunch of Federation ships and then warp out of there. What?

As critical as I’ve been so far, it’s Star Trek, so I’m going to keep watching. But I do hope it starts to kick into gear.

  11:46pm  •  Star Trek  •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment  • 
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