February 18, 2011

(I wrote a 365-word post for the3six5.com, a collective diary. Actually, I wrote two. This is the other one.)

Always stare straight at the camera. If your eyes are moving around, you look like you have something to hide.

I was on TV today for a five-minute interview on one of the business channels. The first time I was on TV, no one told me to stare at the camera, and I looked terrible. Now I know the drill. I was talking about derivatives regulation, right after a story about an options trader who made $8 million betting on Weight Watchers.

The topic was actually interesting, at least to finance nerds. If companies have to put up cash to cover potential losses on their derivatives transactions, will they have less money to build factories and hire workers? That was the point of a recent report arguing that derivatives regulation will increase unemployment. But there’s a flaw in that argument. If companies don’t have to put up cash, they are still on the hook for their derivatives, so that will reduce their access to credit. In a perfect market, you get the same result either way.

But that’s hard to fit into a sound bite, which makes the whole exercise seem slightly absurd. Did I really help anyone understand the issue? Or was I just a prop for the news show? And was it worth driving an hour each way?

Usually people like me justify things like this by pointing to option value: it’s always good to be nice to the media and to keep your name in circulation because it could be useful later. But when does it end? I just accepted a great job as a professor at the best law school within an hour of my house. When do you stop buying options and decide you’re happy with things the way they are?

But my daughter sure was excited. As I was taking her to school, she said, “Tell Mommy when you will be on TV so she knows when to turn on the TV and watch you!” And I got to wear the pink tie she gave me for Christmas (along with a bottle of lotion and a cloth to wipe my iPad.) So it wasn’t a complete loss.

The Problem of Email

Matt Richtel of the New York Times points out a web site that challenges you to do nothing for two minutes. The point is to force you not to use your mouse or keyboard for two minutes.

I am always looking for ways to make my life both more productive and less stressful at the same time, and since I spend most of my working day at the computer, much of that effort has to do with how I use the computer (and iPad and phone, these days). But the issue isn’t whether or not you use the keyboard and mouse; the issue is what you use them for. I think there’s nothing wrong with using your mouse to scroll through an article you are reading — that’s how you learn things, and I find reading relaxing, even at a computer. The challenge is suppressing all the other ways your computer can bother you, or all the impulses to do something else, of which checking your email is probably number one.

I’ve tried a lot of tricks over the years. The problem is finding something effective that you can actually stick to. My current number one trick, which has worked well for several weeks now, is that I only check email between 10 and 6, Monday through Saturday, and when I’m not actively checking and responding to email, I close the window. It doesn’t work perfectly — I still check too often during the day — but it works pretty well. Basically, if it’s before 10 or after 6, I just pretend the email doesn’t exist.

First Day of School

Tomorrow is the first day of Yale Law School’s spring semester, and hence my last first day of school (although actually I probably won’t go to any classes until Tuesday). While most of me will be glad to be done with school — it’s expensive, for one, and it takes up time that I could use doing other things — I’m also sad about it.

Law school has been nice, an opportunity to do things like read books (I even like reading cases) and learn about new things and meet nice new people (who are mainly ten to twenty years younger than I am), without the responsibility and pressure of a real job. But more than that, school has been very, very good to me. I recognized as early as high school that what I was best at was going to school (and I vague recall my friend Jed, on the first day of senior year, saying “It’s the last first day of school!”), and except perhaps for the years researching and writing my dissertation, that has proven true over the years.

In the long run, what I’ve learned is that being good at school is not that important in the real world. In the business world, for example, academic and intellectual skills are far less important than the ability to pick up a phone, call someone you hardly know who doesn’t owe you anything, and get him to do something for you — and that’s something they don’t teach in any school. In the academic world, even, the skills you need to take classes are far less important than the ability to identify promising research areas and convince other people (particularly funders) that they are promising areas of research. And of course, in life as a whole, being able to get along with other people and enjoy your time with your family and friends is more important than just about anything. But that’s made law school even more enjoyable in some ways, because it’s this little cocoon where I can forget how complicated life can be outside the classroom.

Most of my classmates can’t wait to be done and off to their exciting new jobs (mainly as clerks to federal judges or associates at big, fancy law firms). But I can wait a few more months.

Beach Day!

When I was younger, I wanted to go on vacations to places that were historically, culturally, or naturally interesting — you know, places like Paris, Berlin, Yellowstone, etc. Now that I’m over forty and have a family, though, I just want to relax. And especially now that I live in New England, in the winter I just want to go someplace warm.

To that end, we just spend an idyllic week in Miami Beach at the Loews Hotel. I was last at the Loews in September 2000 for one of Ariba’s major user conferences, when we were still the hottest thing on the Internet. I think we had something like 3,500 people at that conference (not all in the Loews, of course). I don’t recall anything about South Beach from that trip, and I suspect I spent all of my time inside or walking to and from the convention center.

This time, though, we sat by the pool in the sun, or lay on the beach in the sun, and ordered overpriced but passable hotel food from the roving waiters. My daughter floated in the pool, or looked for shells, or built sand castles, or pretended to be a mouse in the back of the cabana, or listened to us reading Magic Tree House and Bean and Ivy stories, or did all the other things four-year-old girls do. I had a caipirinha on the beach, like I did in Rio de Janeiro on the last day of a business trip three years ago. I went the whole week without caffeine and four days without email. (I needed email to reschedule an exam when my flight back was canceled due to a huge snowstorm in Connecticut.) I give it three stars.

Living It Up

After taking hundreds of business trips, I have a pretty clear idea of what matters to me in a hotel. Most people would probably say cleanliness is the most important thing, but I disagree. Number one is a comfortable bed. Number two is the heating/cooling system: it has to be able to keep the room at the right temperature, without making noises that will wake me up. If I can have those two things, I can sleep well, which is pretty much all that matters. (Number three, if there is a number three, is a hot, reasonably high-pressure shower. I can live without just about anything else.)

This past week we went to New York to visit my father (and my sister’s family, who were also visiting), and we decided to stay in a hotel. We booked a room in the Hampton Inn (in Elmsford), which is generally my favorite chain (cheap, everything free, newly remodeled, predictable). But we had a terrible time sleeping, because the heater didn’t have a constant fan setting, meaning that it kicked on periodically, and it also blew out extremely hot, dry air when it was on. So we checked out after the first night and switched to . . . the Ritz-Carlton (in White Plains).

Continue reading “Living It Up”

Apple Life at Seven Months

One of the momentous events in the way I live and work happened this past spring when I joined the Appleverse,* buying an iPad and a MacBook Air (13.3″, with an SSD) within a month. At the time, I was lukewarm about Apple’s app-based approach to computing — not because I didn’t think it would work, but because I didn’t think it was the best thing for the world.

Seven months on, I love my Mac (and am trying to convince my wife to buy one, too), but I still have mixed feelings about the iPad. I bought it so I could watch Gossip Girl on the Washington Metro, and for that use case it’s just about perfect. But overall it feels like a massive exercise in tradeoffs.

Continue reading “Apple Life at Seven Months”