May 30, 2007

The world bank now devotes more of its effort to bolstering borrowing governments, rather than wringing concessions from them. It wants governments, in effect, to set themselves conditions that the bank's money and monitoring can help them to meet. It seeks a melding of minds, not a locking of horns.

The Economist should have used this image of Mr Zoellick.

May 28, 2007

Boom-bust cycles in finance will always be with us. Leon Fraser, an American banker, speaking after the great crash of 1929: “Better to have loaned and lost than never to have loaned at all.”

So far, so ghoulish. Deutsche Bank is experimenting with markets in “event-loss swaps”—natural-disaster versions of the debt market's credit-default swaps. But insurance products, unlike mortgages, are not standardised. There's collective agreement that the capital markets have been slow to deliver to the insurance industry.

But there is a fighting spirit in the research departments, just as there is on the trading floors. Candace Browning, head of global research at Merrill Lynch, displayed it in March with a letter to clients complaining bitterly that research was being Napsterised.

May 27, 2007

Economist: Whereas most Italians say the main purpose of marriage is to have children, 70% of Americans want their spouse to make them happy.

Vendy: Counting on someone else to make you happy sounds like a great way to be unhappy.

May 26, 2007

Wednesday, delivered my second Toastmasters speech. I posed a couple questions to the audiance, as advised by Lillian. I also adopted a Mission Impossible theme. Here is my cute handout.

Thursday, completed the corporate challenge in 27 minutes and 53 seconds. I'm pretty impressed with my time, given that I had to run around walkers during the first 10 minutes of the race. Seeing Max elbow people out of his way was a definite inspiration. One section of the 3.5 mile race was on lower Wacker, which was humid and depressing. I slowed down a lot until Jeff passed by and delivered a nice cheer. Aiming for under 27 next year!

Saturday, played two games of pool with CJ and lost both. Must remember to stablize my left hand and limit the points of contact on my right hand. Think straight! We made two stops afterwards: Anthony's for homemade mango Italian ice + Ethel's for humongous chocolate-dipped strawberry.

May 21, 2007

At John Hay High School in Cleveland earlier this month, Hillary Clinton put on a perfectly choreographed performance—speaking without notes, displaying a remarkable knowledge of the school's achievements, and bringing a touch of glamour to a dull Ohio afternoon with her pearls and perfectly coiffed blonde hair. She is a consummate networker (meet her briefly at one of the global confabs that she likes to attend and you may well receive a hand-written note saying how interesting it was to talk to you.) Mrs Clinton has also produced the eminently sensible idea of turning her husband, one of the world's most popular politicians, into a roaming ambassador for America.

Michael Bloomberg openly wonders whether a short, Jewish, divorced billionaire could ever be president. Selfishly, The Economist would like to see a genuine social and economic liberal in the race.

During the second Republican debate, Ron Paul, a feisty libertarian from Texas, suggested that Middle Eastern terrorists attacked America “because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for ten years.” Rudy Giuliani fired back: “That's an extraordinary statement...that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.” Meanwhile Fox News, which broadcast the debate, continued its tradition of balancing good-looking conservative pundits with liberals who look either weird or bearded.

With a fervour that smacks of desperation, Pauline Marois is being acclaimed by the members as the answer to all that ails the Parti Québécois.

May 19, 2007

Found my religion at the Chicago Marathon Super Clinic. This must be what Milan Kundera meant when he said that happiness is the longing for repetition. For the first time in my life, I can envision doing something for the rest of my life. Through all of life's changes, the runner within remains.

May 18, 2007

Investors need to distinguish between short- and long-term means. The first may bolster the case of bullish analysts, but depend on “it's different this time” arguments. Longer-term ratios are more intellectually robust, but investors can go broke waiting for them to revert. Sometimes, means can be very mean.

On May 15th, and in a new age of optimism, Warren Buffett and Carl Icahn detailed large separate stakes in railway companies. Judged against the long boom-and-bust history of the railways, it is not clear how long the good times will last. Demand for freight shipped to and from China may extend the cycle. That would need to happen for a great deal of extra debt to make sense in such a volatile industry.

May 17, 2007

Because they have no electoral legitimacy, China's Communist leaders need to deliver the economic goods even more than most congressmen do.

The rise of the bilateral trade imbalance reflects changing supply patterns in Asia: America now imports more stuff that has passed through China—and correspondingly fewer goods from South Korea and Taiwan.

A stronger, more flexible yuan makes sense for China, because it would help shift spending towards imports and would give Beijing's policymakers greater control over interest rates, making it easier to prevent the economy from overheating. But the effect on America would be small.

China is already America's fastest-growing export market. China's intellectual-property violations cost American firms far less than many would have you believe: pirated DVDs may sell for peanuts in the markets of Shanghai, but if Hollywood tried to sell the genuine articles at full price, it would quickly discover that most Chinese could not afford them.

Why are Americans so upset with China in the first place? The answer is that China is a scapegoat for broader economic anxieties to do with stagnant wages, rising income-inequality and dwindling health and pension benefits.

May 15, 2007

Tuesday, attended an event organized by the Forte Foundation and met six persuasive women from the Chicago GSB and Kellogg.

- One girl suggested keeping a project journal as a source of ideas for application essays. She believes that it is advantageous to accumulate more experience prior to MBA, so that when people talk about different situations, you would have a better point of reference because you have been there.

- Another described the challenge of balancing various goals (e.g. studying vs job hunting vs networking) and the importance of knowing which is the most important to you.

- They all emphasized knowing why MBA and why now before applying.

I also learnt that UChicago has a cool program called LEAD. I previously did not consider Kellogg because it is known as a marketing school, but it might be cool to hang out with marketing people for a couple years.

May 14, 2007

One-on-one session with Lillian to work on my second Toastmasters speech. I originally intended to begin with a rhetorical question, but she suggested posing a real question and waiting for feedback from the audiance to engage them right away.

Ken Tam's last week, so we did sushi lunch one last time. We interviewed on the same day (Feb 2005) and started on the same day (June 2005). He is finishing masters in financial maths at UChicago and starting at Citadel next week. Normally, departures make me restless, but I'm experiencing a unwonted bout of satisfaction right now and totally grateful for the many opportunities at work.

May 13, 2007

Since Rach is gone, I can't be bothered to arrange food in plates.

Oriental pork chop + carrot + onion.

Lemongrass chicken + red pepper + baby corn.

BBQ chicken + asparagus + garlic.

May 12, 2007

Morning, 10 mile run with Jeff. Since the wind was blowing south like crazy, we headed north to get the difficult part over with first. Attempted to say hi to Leanne who sprinted right past us.

Afternoon, saw the amazing one-armed monkey athlete again at Lincoln Park Zoo with CJ. Followed by yummy parsley falafel sandwich at an insouciant middle eastern cafe while discussing the versatility of chick peas. Followed by Operation Petticoat. CJ is in love with Cary Grant but I thought Tony Curtis was brilliant.

Evening, met up with Bilal and his brother-in-law's consin (I think) at La Passage and had four vodka diet cokes (I think).

May 11, 2007

Thursday, Audre treated me to lunch at Townhouse. We both ordered the warm mushroom bread salad. I love arugula! I told her about my DiSC profile because it never ceases to amaze me how true it is.

Apparently, Ameriprise uses a similar technique to train their advisors e.g. when delivering reports, different clients prefer different kinds of explanations. Also, they are told that not everyone can be an advisor to everyone else e.g. a high D client might drive a high S advisor crazy.

Friday, did Looptopia with Yiding, Rachael, Katie & her friends. Seeing corporate office windows as a stage was a truly outré experience. At the Goodman Theatre, we became engaged in 365 days/365 plays. At the cultural center, we observed an amazing movement performance. Afterwards, Rachael and I lied down on the marble floor and gazed at the Tiffany vaulted ceiling as if it were the starlit sky.

May 10, 2007

If recognizing my immaturity is a sign of growth, then I am definitely growing.

Tuesday evening, I attended my first advanced beginner tennis class. There were eight students in this class, half of them cannot hit the ball consistently and the instructor paid more attention to them than me.

Afterwards, I walked over to the office and asked to be placed in the low intermediate class. The head coach said no and gave me two reasons.

1. If you want the instructor's attention, ask for it.

2. Stop focusing on others and concentrate on yourself.

What he said shocked me because it was so obvious. Taking initiative and not comparing myself with others are two principles that I regard highly, yet I cannot seem to put them into practice.

Wednesday evening, after prep talking myself into taking initiative and not comparing myself with others, I attended another session of the advanced beginner class. There were four students in total; the girls are on the same level as me and the guy is much, much better. After the lesson, the instructor stayed to play doubles with us.

Life is funny.

For many years, anecdotes have abounded about the ways in which mobile phones promote more efficient markets and encourage economic activity. One particularly popular tale is that of the fisherman who is able to call several nearby markets from his boat to establish where his catch will fetch the highest price.

Taiwan: Frank Hsieh won the nomination after a decisive victory in a ballot on May 6th among members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Australia's boom could prove a winner's curse, unless politicians resolve the conflict between handing out sweeteners and investing for the future.

Mercer Management Consulting, Mercer Oliver Wyman, and Mercer Delta Organizational Consulting come together under Oliver Wyman.

May 9, 2007

Another group session with Lillian. Tamara & Kamilla shared public speaking experiences where a member of the audiance responded negatively and it turned out to be the same guy. Small actuarial world!

Lillian suggested passing notecards to the audiance to solicit feedback from those that do not wish to speak up publicly. I think that's a great idea and will try it when I present in Denver.

Reading the Competent Communicator manual from Toastmasters. It suggests always being on the lookout for good talking points. Since I'm going skydiving with Jeff in June, my next speech will be about skydiving.

One really fun thing that we do at Toastmasters meetings is Table Topics. Basically, someone picks a topic and another person talks about it for one to two minutes without prior preparation. My first ever Table Topic was race car. I mumbled something about Monaco. The second time I was asked who should play me in a movie about my life.

The answer? Natalie Portman.

The reason? Please consider the next figure.

Sarkozy defeated Royal by 53-47%.

May 8, 2007

Bay scallops + red pepper + black olive.

Aprium (3/4 apricot + 1/4 plum) + grape.

May 6, 2007

It's been an active week. Played tennis with Ash Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Kicked off marathon training with Jeff Saturday morning and enjoyed 8 mlies of serenity along lakeshore trail south.

Not all happy cities resemble one another, but each unhappy city is at least partly unhappy for a single reason: misgovernment.

Several decades ago, Barbie's creator, Ruth Handler, saw a Swiss doll called Lilli, voluptuous and wearing heels. What she did not know was that Lilli was based on a prostitute in a German adult cartoon aimed at men.

Airline advertisements, such as Continental's “We really move our tails for you”, seem impossibly lewd to modern eyes, but Asian airlines still highlight the demure charms of their cabin crew.

Vendy recommends Singapore Airlines.

May 5, 2007

Exploring high protein breakfast options.

Tofu scramble with teriyaki sauce.

Tuna cake with corn bread crumbs.

May 4, 2007

Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

It was May when I finally asked him up for dinner at my third-floor apartment. He came bearing what looked like four plump green pine cones. Artichokes, he said with relish.

May 3, 2007

New Whole Food Market in the South Loop & the largest in Chicago. Another reason to look forward to summer.

Goats Do Roam and its growing herd of namesake labels—now including Goats Do Roam in Villages and Goat-Roti—are still the most fun.

Making coffee is now an international competitive sport, and Intelligentsia’s Matt Riddle is America’s reigning champ.

Fantasizing: Latte Art
Listening: Lily Allen

May 2, 2007

Often, takeovers have been triggered by the weakness of the target, rather than the potential strength of the marriage. Then there is that dream of every ambitious chief executive—world domination. If hedge funds are beginning to shake up the banking industry, it is a fair bet that buy-out firms will not be too far behind.

Companies are borrowing money to buy back shares. This gearing up of the balance sheet is occurring when profit margins are at their highest level since the 1950s. It looks like hubris.

Three approaches to impotence: Freud, feminism and pharmacology. Is impotence the result of Oedipal guilt? Is it fair to blame a pushy woman for her husband's impotence? In what sense can a little blue pill “treat” the “disease” of impotence? Women used to fake orgasms; Viagra and other pills now give men pretty much the same means to simulate sexual satisfaction that they do not feel but feel obliged to indicate.

May 1, 2007

Friday, interview lunch at Lloyd's. The waiter helpfully suggested sasame crusted yellow fin tuna, which was much better than everything else that I have tried there. I brought up International Women's Day. Mark brought up strippers. Daren looked on with curiosity.

Saturday afternoon, followed up with Audre to discuss my mutual fund options, as well as her presentation to Young Women's Leadership Council regarding helping young women develop financial skills. Did you know that, in American families, more women than men handle the finances? In the evening, saw CJ dance.

Sunday, first tennis game with Ash, a new tennis buddy that I found on Craiglist. In the evening, met up with Yiding at Chinatown and stocked up on frozen dim sum.

April 26, 2007

Tuesday, drinks at Rivers to celebrate the upcoming birthdays of Ravi and Saba. Wednesday, What Will it Take? townhall organized by young women's leadership council. (Big success!) Thursday, made an event of Rachel's last day at Frontera Grill.

Germany's bosses and unions have held wage increases below inflation for several years. That discipline may help German businesses to withstand the euro's rise better than others in the zone.

Sarko versus Ségo: Lies during the campaign come at the price of immobility in government.

Susan Athey: first woman to win the John Bates Clark Medal

April 22, 2007

New York Minute
Guy: Do you like high debt equity ratio?
Vendy: Okay ...
Guy: Date a graduating MBA student!

New York is a city that I hope to revisit often. It offers countless treasures like Freemans, where Jeremy and I treated ourselves to perfect buckwheat blueberry pancakes, and burger joint, which allows one to dine in le parker meridien for 6.50. The city also exhibits amazing changes; there is now a mac store on 125th and gigantic signs for Haier, a Chinese white goods firm.

Other interesting experiences follow. In no particular order.

1. Running the 6 mile loop in Central Park on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. The Great Hill is a nice change from the flat Chicago shoreline.

2. White cranberry infused aquavit. Herring sampler. Thoughtful server.

3. People watching from Whole Food Market on Houston & Bowery while popping SweetRiot.

4. Detailed analysis of Paris Hilton's sex tape.

5. Watching soccer at the Giant's stadium. Steven got frustrated on a number of occasions.

6. Elliot's rendition of "I'll never hear the bells if you leave me", after too many blackberry margaritas and mojitos at Rocking Horse Cafe.

7. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and not finding the High Street stop.

8. A scene from In the Heights where all the lights go out and all the cell phones go on. The show definitely had my heart pumping, but the pinnacle of the evening was telling our pedicabbie to hurry up while he rushed through rush hour traffic. To me, Times Square has always represented the aftermath of urbanization. But for that instant, it was a beautiful blur.

9. Walking around FAO Schwarz with Mark, who couldn't solve a puzzle and therefore bought it to help him write a MatLab program.

10. Tried pinotage (pinot noir + hermitage) for the first time with Alex/Xiao Xiao who apparently randomly flies into New York from London.

Still, I'm happy to find myself on a flight back to Chicago. I miss the space on sidewalks. I miss the extra bits of sky. I miss the haystacks (a Monet series at the Art Institute).

Fun fact: The M15 bus route is the busiest in the country, carrying 60,000 customers a day and operating every 90 seconds during the rush hour.

April 20, 2007

Along with their do-it-yourself spirit, Canada's pension plans are bulking up on infrastructure assets worldwide, both directly and through private-equity intermediaries. Much of the infrastructure investment has taken place outside Canada because governments in places like Britain and Australia have got the regulatory mix right, whereas the government of Canada has not.

Mr Bookstaber rushes to the defence of the hedge funds: Those who see them as part of the problem are like that mob in an episode of “The Simpsons” that reacts to a meteorite hitting the town by calling for the observatory to be burned down.

April 19, 2007

Credit derivatives are like good things to the Catholic Church. If you have too much of them, they're a sin.

etf's: good for hunting game, but good for suicide too.

For a joint venture to be successful, you have to plan for it to die.

Mr Putin is not Stalin. Nobody was killed at the protests.

April 17, 2007

No, I'm not trying to bring up children; I'm trying to bring up myself. In certain areas of life, I am tempted to walk away at the first sign of trouble. I stop communicating or I intentionally spew forth negative energy to the effect of "Whatever! I don't care!" What's worse is that I beat myself up for trying or blame someone else for making me care in the first place. It's okay to try. It's okay to care. Trying and caring are self-edifying experiences that deem whatever results that precipitate meaningful.

Sunday: Planted perennials with CJ
Monday: Wore bib while digging into Linguini Provencal at Nick's

April 16, 2007

Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out. It hit both boys and girls—the very brightest girls especially.

Dweck’s research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern—they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down.

When students are offered a choice between learning a new puzzle strategy for the second test or finding out how they did compared with other students on the first test, those praised for intelligence choose to find out their class rank, rather than use the time to prepare.

When students transition into more demanding environment, those who equated their earlier success with their innate ability surmise that their grades will never recover because the likely key to their recovery—increasing effort—they view as just further proof of their failure.

We put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments. We expect so much of them, but we hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise.

To be effective, researchers have found, praise needs to be specific. A child deprived of the opportunity to discuss mistakes can’t learn from them.

How to talk to kids
“I like how you keep trying.”
"The brain is a muscle; giving it a harder workout makes you smarter."

April 14, 2007

Super relaxing Saturday that began with a visit to Red 7. I love the slanted cut from 6 weeks ago but when the front section lengthens, it looks too funky for work. While blowdrying my hair, Laura explained how to decipher insecurity from hairstyles.

Afterwards, I randomly decided to go to All About Dance. Fun class but we did ab work to warm up and I was still sore from yesterday. A definite sign that I need to shape up.

Met up with Audre and Joe to discuss my asset allocation.

April 12, 2007

Tuesday, Issues and Research committee met up to prepare for the presentation to the full council.

Wednesday, my first speech at Toastmasters. The audience, including Rachel who attended as my cheerleader, was extremely supportive and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, an interesting evening that began at Rumba with a uber minty mojito and pivot turn cha cha cha.

April 11, 2007

Belinda is leaving politics. For now.

April 9, 2007

IBM and the other multinationals are becoming increasingly nervous about the fifth-biggest Indian outsourcer, HCL Technologies. It is leaving the world's 200 biggest firms to the likes of IBM, and instead going after the next 800, which HCL's boss, Vineet Nayar, says tend to feel a bit neglected by the big traditional outsourcers. Largely unnoticed, HCL has won several contracts worth $300m-700m for infrastructure management and business transformation. In a recent deal with Cisco, HCL will take on risk from the American hardware company, using a contract that forsakes a fixed fee in favour of sharing revenue. According to IDC, a technology-research firm, HCL “may very well be one of the contenders to lead the IT services world of the very near future”.

Both authors recall professionals they respect telling them that the best doctors are those who can put themselves in their patients' shoes. This allows them to approach openly the question of when to give up on aggressive treatment and let the patient's failing health progress peacefully. Deaths can often be made easier than they would have been if too much medical ambition had been involved.

April 8, 2007

Friday, my second attempt at First Friday, the monthly social hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art. Spoke with lots of random people.

Person 1: I like your pashmina.
Vendy: It's a silk scarf with a design by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Person 1: Who is that?
Vendy: Where are you from???

Person 2: You appear to be a creative individual but your job involves spreadsheets.
Vendy: Eh???

Saturday, after a game of tennis, Rachel and I cooked lemongrass soba with eggplant and garlic, green beans with sliced shitake, as well as scallop and shrimp in rose sauce. Evening at Salud with Leanne & Munira. Nice lounge with a nice tree.

April 7, 2007

Mr Abe has caught himself up in an uncalled-for furore by refusing to admit that the Japanese imperial army coerced Korean, Chinese and other women to work in brothels in the second world war. This managed to offend even Japan's staunch ally, the United States. Yet the Chinese government, usually quick to take historical offence, has studiously ignored the fuss.

The Chinese believe that they have an understanding from him that he will not go to the Yasukuni shrine while he is prime minister. Afterwards, says one Chinese policymaker, he can even go and live at Yasukuni, for all the Chinese will care.

Now there is talk of an official visit to Japan later this year by the Chinese navy, with the prospect (hard, until recently, to imagine) of the five-starred red flag flying in Tokyo Bay.

April 6, 2007

Public insurers can also typically write longer contracts than their private counterparts dare to offer. Such contracts deprive insurers of the opportunity to recalibrate risks. And yet some customer needs remain unmet. Foremost among these is worry about dramatic falls in currencies. Although derivatives can hedge such risks several years ahead, they cannot offer the long-term cover many investors require. Several learned this to their cost when Argentina's currency was devalued in 2002. The policies they thought would cover their losses proved useless. Whether you are insuring against a breakdown of the social fabric or a breakdown in your car, you should always read the fine print.

April 5, 2007

Up at 7 am this morning to run 7 miles and got soaked just south of Oak Street. The wave came out of nowhere and the trail was literally covered by water. Baptism by Lake Michigan, eh?

Divine Chocolate, founded in Britain in 1998, counts cocoa farmers as its biggest group of shareholders.

Chinese counterfeiters make cars in very small volumes, so there are no economies of scale. That they can sell these cars for half the price of the originals suggests that something odd is going on. They either do not know their own costs (a distinct possibility), have revolutionised carmaking (highly unlikely) or are being subsidised in some way.

Merrill's FX clone specifically weights its portfolios on the basis of currency managers' bets. And because central banks and tourists will always be around and currency markets are very liquid, this may be one area where additional capital will not automatically drive down returns.

April 4, 2007

Australia: More spending on infrastructure and education could have relieved bottlenecks, and a bigger budget surplus would have shielded the economy against a future downturn in prices.

Toronto: The official intention of the new tax is to remove the cost of waste services from the city's overburdened property-tax base while, at the same time, creating new incentives for reduction and recycling.

Chicago: One of Chicago's proudest feats was the creation of financial futures markets, which prompted far-flung firms and farmers to adjust their behaviour to the slightest twitch in the price of pork futures or Canadian dollars. Surely the system would work for Chicago commuters as well.

April 2, 2007

Got up at 6 am, took note of gray skies, wanted to fall back into bed, but forced self to lace up and run. Half way through my 6 mile route, the sun jumped out of bed and greeted me.

Variation on the loan-to-own strategy now popular among hedge funds: credit is extended in the hope that it can be converted to equity when the company fails to recover, allowing the lender-turned-owner to restructure the firm thoroughly.

Although there were keen imperialists in the Japanese leadership, the underlying motive was consistent with a longer-term desire to prevent instability in either of Japan's main neighbours from damaging Japan itself, or of tempting in another imperialist who might prove hostile to Japan.

April 1, 2007

Saturday morning, got up at 6 am to run 6 miles. Then caught up with Katie and Rachelle at Orange for brunch. The frushi, fruit rolled in coconut rice, was fabulous. We agreed that being "against violence aginst women" sounds strange and that "against violence towards women" would be a better alternative. Rachelle mentioned that she is taking tennis lessons. TennisBuddyCount++

Saturday afternoon, met up with Sara and her friends at Fireside Inn to celebrate her birthday. Met a guy who just finished the Austin marathon. I deeply respect anyone that can run for hours along the lakeshore in deep winter. Think ice. Think wind. Think scary. Finally met Kulwant, who prevented Sara from playing tennis with me and Rachel last week by being three hours late. TennisBuddyCount++

Sunday evening, attended the second First Sunday event at the Pick Me Up Cafe to discuss the 7 habits of highly effective people. Rachael, who is studying public administration, shared a tip on providing feedback: if it's positive, be specific to encourage sustained effort; if it's negative, be general so that the person can discover what works best for him or her.

Admiring: The Janes

Photo: Taken in Signature Lounge atop John Hancock Tower, Chicago