Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hannover to Wurzburg via Kassel

(brief refresher: I took off with my friend Kevin to Sweden and Germany to pick-up and drive my new car (Saab 9-3 convertible) not just because it was likely to be (and was) a good time, but also because it's an amazing deal - the best way to get the car you want, pay an aggressive price, AND get a free* trip from Saab for good measure. You can find out more about this program here.)

Sunday was a high mileage day (230, per Gooogle), which wasn't so bad, as most everything in Germany is closed on Sunday.

One highly enjoyable exception was the Christmas Market in Kassel. Like all of the other Christmas Markets (and we hit a bunch: Luebeck, Hamburg, Kassel, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, and Ansbach), the Kassel market was a mix of craft & Christmas vendors surrounded by food and drink vendors.

At this point, I was bratwurst fatigued, but got to sample kartoffelpuffer - a delicious fried potato pancake accompanied with applesauce.

Kev and I split the driving, with each of us keeping an average speed on the autobahn near 100mph.

We settled in Wurzburg, and arrived early enough to take in the last of their Christmas Market for the day. Young and old were out late Sunday night staying warm with copius amounts of gluhwein (and when in Rome....)

Wurzburg itself was a pleasant surprise - a scenic site on the Main river valley, with a castle and abundant wineries on the valley walls. Wurzburg also had a very neat walkable city center, and a few interesting stops, such as the Residenz of the Prince Bishop of Wurzburg.

What had attracted us to Wurzburg was the location - within striking distance of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nuremburg, and Frankfurt - but there were enough things to see and do to keep us busy.

Wurzburg is technically in northern Bavaria, but the locals consider their land to be Franconia and most definitely NOT Bavaria. Funny thing then, that the poster I saw most frequently was a celebration of Wurzburg's 200 year anniversary of joining Bavaria. When I first saw these posters, I thought they were patriotic, but after learning about Franconia, they were more like propaganda.

As you'll see in subsequent posts, Franconia, Germany is a way better place to visit than Franconia, Virginia (USA.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Whoa - very cool reading

Moon-mined Helium-3 to provide abundant energy? This is an unheralded goal (purpose?) for a NASA moon base.

Wired magazine often writes about neat-0sounding far-off technology, but 2 quotes from competitors stood out:

From a Russian scientist, a Helium-3-focused US moonbase would "enable the U.S. to establish its control of the global energy market 20 years from now and put the rest of the world on its knees as hydrocarbons run out."

A leading scientist from the Chinese space program said about moon-mined Helium-3: "Whoever first conquers the moon will benefit first."

So this possible energy solution relies on a moonbase and economical fusion, which makes it speculative, at best, but I'm guessing that 20 years from now we'd be very happy to not rely on Oil from the Middle East of Venezuela.

Also cool and worth a visit:

1-Online, streaming versions of Milton Friedman's Free to Choose TV series. I wonder if I can strip this out into a podcast video version.....

2-See where you stack up financially version others in your age group.

3-22 Ways to overclock your brain. Use it, but also take a few specific steps.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

i'll post more....

From Lubeck, we stopped in Hamburg, Germany's 2nd largest city, followed by Hannover, a disaster that I'll describe later.

(Disaster only in that we took an hour to find the hotel.)

On the way, I had the car up to 130mph on the Autobahn, and could have easily gone faster.

Tomorrow we head south to Wurzberg, and I'll write more then.


Ferry to Kiel

The ferry left off in Kiel, which we skipped for Lubeck, a small but historic town on the Baltic Sea. Lubeck couldn't have been more intersting, between the Christmas Market, the old island city, and the church bombed in 1942, with the church bells left in the floor where they fell during the bombing. While touring we stopped to sample gluhwein - a German holiday staple. I don't think they drink it for taste, but it did fortify me for the rest of the cold afternoon. Cold, though, is relative, as at 50 degrees, warmer than back home in Charlottesville

greetings from Hanover, Germany

I missed a day of posting as we spent the night w/o net connectivity on the Gothenburg-Kiel ferry, so I'll try to catch up....

Friday started with another first-class experience courtesy of Saab. Breakfast at Ronnum's Manor was almost as good as the night before's dinner. Immediately following this and check-out, was the car pick-up.

Pick-up was a fantastic experience. Of course, pickup would still have been great if I'd had to dive for the keys in a pig trough.

Anyway, Monica of Saab was thorough, and the experience was awesome. Her two instructions were to not exceed 5000 rpm for the first 50 kilometers, and not to take the car to Iraq, as this was the one country not covered by the temporary insurance. I didn't argue either point, but instead caught a moment when she let her guard down when I said there were already too many Americans in Iraq.

With the new car, Kev and I zoomed thru the rain to Gothenburg, the 2nd city of Sweden, where we sampled the town, and caught the Christmas festivities.

That night we caught the ferry from Gothenburg to Kiel (Germany), and enjoyed yet another unbelievable Swedish buffet, though I went significantly lighter on the herring this time. (Herring marinated in grog was terrible.)

The ferry was the biggest, most active boat that I've ever been on, and I enjoyed it but I basically crashed at 11pm, while Kevin gambled in the ship's casino and won 500 kronor ($50 or so.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Day 1: Sweden

Happily uneventful trip over landed us in Gothenburg around 10:30. We were met by a very friendly driver and taken directly to the Saab factory in Trollhattan, a little more than an hour away, just in time for a factory tour....100% in Swedish!

Luckily, you don't need to know much Swedish to tour a car factory. I was surprised at how calm, clean, and quiet the plant was, even with production running. Most impressive were the stamping lines (ha, ha.) I was also surprised to see all Saab makes from the same assembly line (example: 9-3 sedan followed by 9-5 wagon), where I would have guessed that one line per product would facilitate specialized production.

Unfortunately, no cameras were permitted on the tour. I didn't see anything that could remotely be considered a secret, but rules are rules.

After the factory tour and checking in at the Ronnum's Manor hotel in Vargon, we had about an hour of daylight to grab some lunch and tour Trollhattan (Sun goes down just after 3pm.) We managed to find a grocery store nearby and grab lunch (1 donut and a bottle of Pucko brand chocolate milk (not good), and hopped a bus in the rain for Trollhattan.

Trollhattan was plain, perhaps because the rain discouraged us from seeing much of it. A mild bus misadventure later (we learned you really should, at a minimum, know the name of your hotel's town), and we returned to the hotel. Or, as locals like to say "Nicole Kidman's hotel."

(Kidman stayed at this hotel for 2 months while filming here a few years ago. At least 4 different people pointed that fact out to us today - even our bus driver. Trollhattan, capital of the Scandinavian film industry, is nicknamed "Trollywood.")

The hotel is VERY nice, though I'm spooked that I have yet to show any ID or sign anything to check in, or eat dinner, or anything else.

Saab treated us to dinner, and since it was Christmas season, we were given a choice of a 3 course meal (salmon appetizer, ox entree, parfait dessert) or the Christmas buffet. While the thought of trying ox was appealing, so was the opportunity to sample many Swedish dishes, which we definitely did.

The buffet (funny that the word smorgasbord wasn't used) was huge, covering at least 3 rooms (there might have been more.) The first room was filled with dishes, almost all very Swedish, and almost all unknown to anyone who didn't know Swedish. That didn't stop either Kevin or I. As is always the case, there were more times when I was happy that I tried something, than disappointed in a new dish.

I could even figure out what some of the ingredients were in a few dishes. In general, the dishes in this room were cold, meat heavy and vegetable light, and predominantly fish. I sampled at least 2 different forms of pickled herring (never had before), 2 different salmons, and more. I also tried sillsade which I thought was a dessert because it looked like cranberry jelly, but involved herring somehow. I also learned that the first rule of Swedish cooking is "if you can eat it, you should pickle it."

After a well-filled plate and a glass of wine, compliments of Saab, I wondered whether it was even acceptable to return to the buffet. That's when found the two other buffet rooms - one hot, and one dessert.

Only because I was on an international exploration mission did I force myself to try these buffets. (And perhaps too because I'm curious and a glutton, which is a very dangerous combination.)

I was slightly less experimental at this point, but enjoyed the Swedish meatballs (or, as they call them here, meatballs), as well as a number of other dishes.

I didn't have room for dessert, but that didn't stop me. Apple cake/pie, chocolate parfait/pudding (or something like that), and a little bit of local custard with some berry sauce poured over (not good) finished the night. Somehow, I managed to resist the table full of candies, which at least looked outrageous.

I waddled back to the room where I joined a BioCatalyst teleconference, then wrote this blog before going to bed. (The bed part comes next.)

Tomorrow we'll be picked up at the hotel at 10am (following a breakfast courtesy of Saab) to pick up the car, and I can't wait. (If you want to see what the car should look like, check the bottom of this page.)

After pick up, we'll tour Gothenburg, second city of Sweden and home of Ace of Base, then board the overnight ferry to Kiel.

More details later. In the meantime, let me know if you like these posts....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ready for takeoff!

Sitting in my seat (39k) on this 747 waiting for takeoff. I'm at a window seat, with the seat next to me empty - I hope my luck holds and the seat stays unoccupied.

Flying time is very short (6.5 hrs) due to good tailwinds. We should arrive an hour early, reducing connection stress and allowing time to catch a pretzel in Frankfurt (where we connect.)

This will still get us to Gothenburg @ 10am. Amazing that with 2 flights, I can go from little Charlottesville all the way to Scandinavia.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Return of Hillarycare?

From Cato, a timely reminder of Hillary Clinton's previous take on healthcare. (Remember that she chaired a commission, along with Ira Magaziner, to remake the US healthcare system during her husband's first term?)

Here's the impartial Wikipedia description of the Clinton effort.

Cato reminds us that Hillary's plan was, in a word, communist, with firm state ownership of healthcare delivery (through comprehensive rules and price controls) and control over every aspect of care, to the point that patients could be fined for deviating from the plan.

At the time, the opposition said that the Clinton plan was akin to letting the Post Office deliver healthcare, but I think the Cato author is right - it's like putting FEMA in charge of health care delivery.

I hope that Clinton's health care ideas have moderated over time, but even if so, I would guess that this is more a factor of sagely centrist advisors than an old dog learning a new trick.
We'll see with the next Congress. In some ways, this could be a positive, as with Congress under the control of the Democrats, there's no reason not to submit the party's best health care reform ideas, thus exposing them prior to the '08 Presidential election.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Passion For Greatness

Great article reinforcing the notion that greatness in any area is driven by passion. Specifically, 5 recommendations are given to elevate your efforts:

1) Approach each critical task with an explicit goal of getting much better at it. The example, in golf, is not to just hit golf balls for an hour, but specifically focus on landing 80% of the balls within 20 feet of the pin with your 8 iron. This focused effort is what researchers call “Deliberate Practice”. Practicing with a specific goal of getting better leads to longer retention and a deeper interpretation.
2) As you do the task, focus on what’s happening and why you’re doing it the way you are. Be aware of what you are doing. When you tune out and execute on auto-pilot, your neural pathways don't form with the same energy or vigor as when you are focused and present.
3) After the task, get feedback on your performance from multiple sources/angles. Make changes in your behavior as necessary. Most people avoid criticism and don't seek feedback. Without direction and assessment, you “don’t get any better, and you stop caring.”
4) Continually build mental models of your situation – your industry, your company, your career. Enlarge the model to encompass more factors. Create pictures of “how the elements fit together and influence one another.” Grove, Gates, Rockefeller all had maps of their industries. Napoleon would identify and track the key elements from the battlefield in his mind.
5) Do those steps regularly, not sporadically. Occasional practice does not work. Consistent practice is key or entropy sets in. Hogan used to say that if he missed a day or two of range practice, he would be set back a week.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Ultimate Souvenir

Here's another article about picking up your car in Europe. (European Delivery Programs.)

I'm less than 2 weeks away from picking up a Saab in Sweden, and can confirm the savings represented in the article. (About 14% off sticker, after taxes, so the savings may be understated, and that doesn't include the $2,000 contribution by Saab to the cost of the trip, of which a small amount might stay in my pocket.)

The bonuses are that

-I'll also get to drive my car on the Autobahn, one of the things on my "100 things to do in life" list.
-I ordered a completely custom car - none of the "it's everything you want except the color" conondrums.
-I didn't have to negotiate off of sticker, which you typically have to do for a convertible, and would certainly have to do for a custom convertible.

Link to Saab European Delivery Program

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman has passed away....

"The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that's why it's so essential to preserving individual freedom." ~ Milton Friedman

"He was truly a revolutionary thinker. People do not realize how revolutionary because so many of his ideas that were thought to be crazy when he suggested them eventually came to be seen as obvious: school choice, a volunteer army, etc." -Steven Leavitt, author of Freakonomics

It's strange to realize that I'm a fan of an economist. I can't say that I'm fully cognizant on all of Friedman's points, but I truly understand, believe and agree with him on the ultimate importance and value of economic and political freedom. Friedman may be gone, but I hope his ideas live on and grow.

Investing + Moneyball + Interesting guy + W + L

I've always known that Bill Miller, manager of LMVTX, a mutual fund that has beaten the S&P500 for 15 straight years, is an interesting guy with a different and effective approach to investing. I didn't realize, though, that this alternate, eclectic, and perhaps aloof approach was pervasive among his group of managers and analysts.

Miller's results initially attracted me years ago, and I've happily automatically invested a few hundred dollars a month in LMVTX since then, but what has kept me has been Miller's discipline and principled investing viewpoint. He doesn't chase fads, but instead make bigs, long term bets on a few trends or opportunities that he believes are mispriced by the market.

Sticking to his guns (to the point of doubling down on dogs) and not following this week's hot money is very difficult to do in the investing world, but Miller has been and will continue to be an inspiration in this regard.

Miller also reinforced the notion of the value of low portfolio turnover. The average fund has 109% annual turnover, while LMVTX is about 13%. Less churning and more long term investments drive gains for investors.

Miller's group sounds very challenging and interesting. He'd be a fascinating guy to share a plane ride and a reading list with.

We've got a little bit in common: we both went to Washington and Lee and played on the baseball team (though Miller was decades ahead of me.) That's where the similarities end, though!


Monday, November 13, 2006

Detroit's inherent $2,400 per car profit deficit

A consulting group has analyzed the structural disadvantage US carmakers have competing against non-US production. (Let's ignore for a minute US-based plants of foreign companies.)

The deficit is broadly spread among labor, financing, and sales, and seems deep, indeed. It also doesn't seem like a gap that could change greatly any time soon, unless one or more of the Big 3 entered bankruptcy. (Think the UAW is going to give up 10 vacation days and break time?)

With numbers like these, why would anyone invest in a US automaker?

College sports: what a MESS!

According to this article, college athletics revenue was $4.2B, and growing at a 6% rate AND losing $3.6B a year doing it!

But the more important point raised by the article is why should college athletics benefit from the sponsoring institutions' non-profit status? Should donations for new arenas and coaches' salaries be tax deductible? Should profits from athletic departments be taxed (assuming any departments ARE making money.)

Taxing college sports makes tons of sense, but, as the article points out, it will never happen, as there are too many vested interests.

A good start, though, might be for college administrators to tax their own athletic departments. While a great many actually subsidize their athletic departments not just with student fees, but with regular operating support, this relationship should be turned on its' head - what if college administrators demanded 20% of revenues off the top, in return for use of the university name? Such a step, while Draconian, would surely get the economics of college athletics more in line, and likely properly re-orient priorities.

Monday, October 30, 2006

20 traits of "excellent" leaders

20 Things Excellent Leaders Do Consistently:

1. Read. They are committed to staying current and learning industry trends.
2. Attend workshops. Again they are committed to learning.
3. Join associations. Excellent leaders know that being a part of one or more professional associations is important. More importantly they get involved and volunteer their expertise.
4. Take time off. They make taking time off a priority.
5. Network. Excellent leaders are master networkers.
6. Believe. They believe in themselves and their abilities. Self-doubt and low self-esteem are stumbling blocks.
7. Look at the big picture. Excellent leaders have an unnatural ability for seeing the big picture. They are visionary and help others to embrace their vision.
8. Goal-orientated. However they do it - great leaders set goals in some way or another.
9. Mentor. They mentor others and have a mentor or two. Valuing both giving and receiving feedback.
10. Work with integrity. Great leaders are honest, hard-working and conduct all their business dealing with integrity.
11. Develop others. Excellent leaders make developing and challenging others a priority.
12. Care about others. True leaders genuinely care about people. They make time for them and they are passionate about helping others develop their true potential.
13. Discipline themselves. Leadership requires discipline. Excellent leaders discipline themselves in order to accomplish the tasks at hand.
14. Have fun. The best leaders are the ones who love what they do and have fun with it. Everyone wants to be around a leader who knows how to have fun but still gets the job done.
15. Willing to sacrifice. Leadership often equals sacrifice in some form or another. Great leaders are willing to sacrifice for the team - excellent leaders will never let on that they had to sacrifice for the team.
16. Speak boldly. They are not afraid to speak their mind. Yet they are able to do so with respect.
17. Willing to get their hands dirty. I love when I watch a leader jump in and get dirty. True leaders are able to put aside their role and do whatever needs to be done - even if it's not glamorous.
18. Act humbly. Excellent leaders do not flaunt their status or power. They are humble and have a commitment to serve others.
19. Think often. Leadership requires thought and planning. Excellent leaders plan time to think and to process information before making major decisions.
20. Are awesome! Excellent leaders are awesome - they are dynamic, focused and you feel better when you are around them.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Four key skills to master now.....

You probably know that I'm big into self-improvement. Here's a quick little article with a few solid tips to improve not only your at work performance, but overall life.

If you see other articles of this sort, please send them to me!

European Car Delivery

Check out this cool and economical way to buy a new car - pick it up in Europe, use it to tour, then have it shipped home, all at a lower cost than purchasing in the US!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Eagles fans

As I'm watching the Oakland game on TV with requisite shots of the crazy "Black Hole" fans, I'm reminded of this quote from Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, a request for the fans that you don’t hear in other NFL cities: “It’s also important that they’re there to watch a football game and not to be up there fighting … Cheer loudly, but please try not to kill or maim anyone.”"

I'm pretty sure that even in the Black Hole the head coach doesn't have to ask the fans not to kill anyone.

btw: the Eagles are alone at the top of the NFC East after one week, and GUARANTEED to be at least tied for first after next week. (The Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins all lost this week. Next week, the Redskins play the Cowboys (meaning one will be 0-2!) and the Eagles play the Giants. It's quite possible that the Eagles could have a 2 game lead on 2 NFC East teams next week!)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wrong Door

This article comments on the proliferation of heavy-handed unnecessary police tactics - "No-kock" warrants. It's yet another example of abuse of power - both in legal terms and firepower terms.

If you've ever watched "Dallas SWAT" on A & E, you're probably like me and wonder why heavy-handed SWAT tactics are used to serve search warrants and the like. I fully understand the value of SWAT in obvious situations (like armed hostages), but I think we (and local governments) are giving the police a free pass by letting them use obscene amounts of force at high expense to perform marginally riskier police work.

This is driven by the seductive worst-case scenario argument of "what if the suspect is armed and dangerous?" but the logical conclusion to this is fully-armored street policing of jaywalkers.

Wrong Door Abolish the NCAA?

Thought provoking post by Malcom Gladwell ("Tipping Point" and "Blink.") His underlying point is that a free and open market is best - a lesson that applies to virtually any economic situation.

Add in the fact that the NCAA is drastically authoritarian, and I wonder if we'd be better off without them.

However, there is so much $$$$ involved that I can't see a big change ever happening.

The other thought provoking part of the post: Gladwell's point about competitive balance. His 50-year data is surely likely to tilt even more towards concentrated power, given the BCS stranglehold on top post-season Abolish the NCAA?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Truly Awesome Power Of Travis Hafner - Deadspin

More Pronk worship.
The Truly Awesome Power Of Travis Hafner - Deadspin

Respect the Pronk

Here's a good argument for Travis Hafner ("Pronk,") my new favorite player. (It's a close contest as to whether I like Pronk or Ichiro more.) The fact that it lightly tweaks Big Papi at the same time is nothing but a plus :)

Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks: Respect the Pronk

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Ultimate Beer Run in the Czech Republic - New York Times

It puts a smile on my face to read travel articles about places that I've been - especially when the article confirms my experience or impressions.

I was in Prague and Pilsen about 6 weeks ago, and toured the Pilsner Urquell brewery mentioned in the article. Also, as luck would have it (I swear I didn't plan this), my hotel in Prague was a part of the Staropramen brewery.

I tried to take a tour of this brewery as well, but alas, tours weren't conducted in English on the day that I tried to attend.

The Ultimate Beer Run in the Czech Republic - New York Times

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Boston sports - I'm sick of it.

Is anybody else sick of Boston sports? Maybe it's because the Patriots AND the Sox are both enjoying a good decade, or maybe it's because of ESPN's proximity to Boston, but I'm getting sick of Boston overexposure, especially stories about how glorious Boston sports are, how sweet it was to break the Babe Ruth curse, the genius of Bill Belichek, about how perfect Fenway Park is, how passionate New England fans are, and how the Sox-Yankees rivalry is among the best in sports. Bill Simmons ("The Sports Guy,") is Public Enemy #1 is this regard, and now it's Papi vs. Larry. EVERY city can make similar analogies (Edgar Martinez vs. Dave Krieg? John Elway or Patrick Roy?), but for some reason, because it's Boston, it's elevated to an obscene level of importance.

The reality is that....

-until the first Patriot's SB win in 2002, Boston had won a lot of nothing, with 64 combined sports seasons without a win. (i.e NBA, + MLB + NFL + NHL.)

-Boston's sporting futility - particularly regarding the Sox - has more to do with ingrained racism than the Bambino. It's convenient to hide behind the Babe, but being the last MLB to grudgingly integrate, and a well-documented bias against minorities by the Yawkey ownership have been the biggest reasons for the Sox futility.

-Fenway is the LAST place in the Majors that I'd pay to see a game, and that isn't even based on the fact that the ticket prices are obscene. With seats sized to 1918-sized people, rats running at your feet, and zero amenities, like reasonable access to parking, Fenway blows. The field isn't much better. While others have a special place in their hearts for the Green Monster, I'll always think of it as the joke that made Wade Boggs a HOFer, and kept the Sox from developing any good pitchers - ever. (Seriously - name one of consequence.)

-there's absolutely nothing special about the New England sports fan - certainly when compared to New York or Philadelphia. Every northeastern city has rabid fans - check out how Buffalo goes nuts for the Bills (for example), and acidic sports talk radio.

-Sox-Yankees isn't a rivalry so much as a domination. Rivalries (like Duke-UNC or even Dodger-Giants) are never as lopsided as Sox-Yanks.

From the Wikipedia: The Yankees have the advantage in the all-time series with a record of 1,060-879 (.547) through the 2005 season. The Yankees also hold lopsided advantages in World Series Championships (26 to 6) and World Series appearances (39 to 10).

(Yes, the Sox would need to sweep the 19-game season series from the Yanks for the next 10 years to pass them in head-to-head records.)

Even during the recent period of competitiveness (since about 2000), while the Sox and Yanks have played some meaningful games, the Yanks have still won the division everytime, with the Sox as lucky wildcards. If it weren't for game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, would the Sox have ANYTHING to crow about?

(For the record, I'm not a Yankees fan.)

Thanks for hanging in while I vent. Does anybody else feel the same way? Page 2 : Larry Legend vs. Big Papi

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 The Times' Drug Problem

I love finding hard facts that prove popular opinion wrong. This article from Malcolm Gladwell is both a statement on drug pricing AND media bias (or at least poor reporting). Turns out that drug prices (essentially) aren't rising. The Times' Drug Problem

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The mess over HGH just getting started

The general public is now aware of the white elephant in the room. HGH - absolutely undetectable unless blood is drawn - is now the drug of choice for baseball players.

A couple of observations about the impact of this story:

1. I hope that this crisis shines a spotlight on pitchers' use of performance enhancers. I think (and have read it suggested elsewhere) that pitchers may have actually been the bigger users of steroids.
2. Jason Grimsley has been a fringe player thru much of his career (more or less), as have been many of the other players publicly outed (R. Franklin, M. Lawton, etc.) Is this a case that fringe players are big users since they're already ont he bubble, or does this indicate that everybody (even the fringe players) were users.
3. No one is catching another big story buried in this: latin players as abundant users. Sammy (see my prior post: ) laid out his argument, and we weren't even listening. But, considering the greater economic proposition for the latin players, I understand it (generally, the alternative to a major league job for a latin is dramtically different for a US national, thus motivating bad decisions by these players).
4. Strangely, I wonder if the one guy smiling at this episode is Barry Bonds. He stands to gain greatly if the popular opinion decides that his steroid-fueled homers do represent a record because he was hitting off steroid-fueled pitchers. - MLB - Stark: The mess over HGH just getting started

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Other buys....

I've been remiss in mentioning other recent portfolio actions. Here's aquick summary:

I bought Vertex (VRTX) on May 22 @$29.70, as the company released stunning phase II HCV results. (read about it here: DDW: Novel HCV Protease Inhibitor Promising in Early Trial - CME Teaching Brief - MedPage Today

Happily, shares 10 days later are already up 16%!

I sold half of my Microsoft stock in order to buy twice the number of Microsoft LEAPs to expire January 2008. (I sold the MSFT shares @ $23.65 (a 15% loss) and paid $5.60 per $20 LEAP, meaning that I'll (theoretically) make money if MSFT is rises >8.2% over the next 19 months. (Or, less than 5% annualized.)

In reality, I'm counting on MSFT getting some good news over the next 2 years. Perhaps a lift from the next Windows OS, perhaps a lift from Office '07, perhaps a slip by Google.

Should MSFT grow at 10% per year, I'll have about a 41% return.

However safe this bet looks, though, consider that MSFT has pretty much been flat for 4 years now.

A few other moves that don't need much comment:
-with my '05+'06 IRA contributions, I bought 2 Fidelity overseas funds (FSCOX - overseas small caps, and FSEAX - Southeast Asia).
-I halved my FNMIX (emerging markets income) holdings in favor of more broad international exposure (EFA - the global ETF), and IWB - the Russell 1000 ETF, in order to catch a rotation to large caps.

I bought: ONXX (Onyx Pharm)

I'm a big believer in targeted therapies, and Onyx is one of a handful of companies that offer one. Nexavar, developed by Onyx and marketed by Bayer, was approved in February, 2006.

But ONXX shares have been crushed, which makes the company a buy on valuation. Nexavar sold $23M in the first quarter, and per the linked article is projected to sell $144M in '06. (Which suggests an annualized pace >$200m at the end of the first 12 months - which is Avastin-like in performance.) I think this number will increase dramatically with penetration AND additional indication approvals. (I also think, based on the $23M 1Q number, that the full 2006 sales figure could be closer to $200M.)

(Nexavar sells for ~$50,000/year, so the 1Q data suggest ~2,000 customers in just 3 months. Could the combined Onyx/Bayer sales force add that many more each quarter? With ~33,000 new cases per year, with about half that number failing first line treatment. With that figure as the total potential market, how hard would it be for ONXX/Bayer to add 1,000 customers per quarter? 5,000 customers - annual revenue (pace) is $260M - not bad for the first year.)

In an odd arrangement, though, Onyx splits all Nexavar profits 50/50 with Bayer. This halves the upside, but increases the likelihood that Bayer will eventually acquire Onyx. With Nexavar expected to peak at over $1B in annual sales, the product represents $500m in 'revenue' to Onyx. Typical pharma price/sales ratios are 3-4X, while biotech tend much higher due to high growth (Genentech's P/S ratio is 12X, Celgene's is 23X.) Pick a midlling ratio (7X) and a slightly aggressive revenue rate of $400m one year from now, and Onyx could sell for >$1.4M (incl. cash), making a 75% return from today's valuation - though I think this represents the CONSERVATIVE scenario - it's more likely that in this case, Onyx management drives a better bargain, or holds on until Nexavar sales are closer to peak.

Another perspective is the earnings model. It's hard to get too particular in Onyx's case due to Nexavar launch costs, but Genentech consistently records 30% operating profit margins. At Nexavar's $1B peak, that's $150M in operating profit for Onyx. P/E multiples range are usually 15-20 for pharma, and at least twice that for biotech(Celgene: 42X), meaning that this values Nexavar at something like $4.5B at peak, using 30X OP. Discount that back 3 years at 20% per year, and today's value is ~$2.6B

The kicker here is the financial story. Onyx's market cap is ~$800m, and the company has $220M in net cash on the balance sheet. Is the rest of the company worth $580M? You bet!

Adding to the story is the current environment favoring the acquisition of biotech products by larger pharma. With success, I could see Bayer buying out Onyx for $2B this time next year.

Now for the negative: Nexavar is only approved for treatment of kidney cancer (RCC). Sutent, a direct competitor to Nexavar was launched by Pfizer in 1Q06, and a Genentech drug is used off-label for the same thing.

But while the drugs have the same therapeutic approach (starving tumors of blood), they differ in 3 important ways:
-Sutent is far more toxic than Nexavar
-Nexavar is an oral pill, while avastin is an antibody given intravenously. (Sutent is also a pill)
-Nexavar and Sutent inhibit a number of common proteins (VEGFR2+3, PDGFRB, Kit, Flt-3, and RET), but Nexavar also inhibits RAF, while Sutent inhibits 2 additional growth factors (PDGFRA and VEGFR1). Given a choice, I'd rather also inhibit RAF (and therefore the RAF/MEK/ERK pathway) versus 2 additional growth factors, but that's a strictly academic opinion from someone totally unqualified to give one. It could mean, though, that Sutent and Nexavar could be given in combination!)

While the above makes a case for better than average sales of Nexavar, one worry would be going up against the sales resources of Pfizer (though they don't have a history of selling cancer products) and Genentech.

Finally, the other reason to worry (or sit on the sidelines) is that the ASCO conference (beginning tomorrow) could completely upset the market, as additional data for all of the drugs mentioned above and more will be revealed. ONXX will be volatile for the foreseeable future, but I think a good buy, at $19.63, which is what I bought it at today.

Onyx Shares Seen Volatile Through ASCO -

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I'd be remiss after that last post if I didn't include a link to Jim Collins' excellent web page. I'm an especially big fan of his audio clip - they're in permanent rotation on my iPod.

Welcome to Jim

tompeters! management lessons

Though I'm far more partial to Jim Collins, Tom Peters has established a reputation for providing management behaviour insight. Great (free) compilations of his lessons are posted at this page that you might want to check regularly.

I'm most partial to the 'This I BelieveS" at the bootom of the page.

Any of these articles make for good plane reading, or to be pulled out and dusted off once a year as a reminder.

tompeters! management consulting leadership training development project management

Wednesday, May 17, 2006 U.S. versus U.K.

Though I'm skeptical about anything originating from Paul Krugman, I find this article from Malcom Gladwell very interesting and worth commenting.

Gladwell/Krugman use the finding that in spite of far greater spending on healthcare, Americans are on average less healthy than Britons.

The conclusion in the article is that it's because Americans are far more stressed. I won't argue with that, but am surprised that no one is using the article to argue about a different healthcare system for the US, as the UK is a single-payer (nationalized) system.

Thoughts? U.S. versus U.K.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

high drug prices?

Here's a great, great article by a great, great writer. The article makes some sense of how predatory drug prices contribute to drmatically rising health care spending. (Answer: not much, and maybe it would be better if the prescription drug spend was higher.)

The article is by the aurthor of "Blink," and "The Tipping Point." Be sure to surf the rest of his site.

gladwell dot com - high prices

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Juiced Baseball Players .com | Articles & Discussions about Steroids in Major League Baseball

Aside from those already named/slurred in the steroids discussion (Bonds, Giambi, Sheffield), I'm curious to know who else may have been juicing.

I'll nominate 2 categories of guys that a prime for suspicion, with examples:

(and prove that I'd rather think baseball on my lunch break than eat lunch)

-middle infielders with power spikes. Exhibit A: Bret Boone. Others: Robby Alomar (averaged 7 hrs/yr for first 5 years, then 18/yr for next 8.), Jose Vidro (also breaking down often), Mark Grudzielanek (slugging percentage spiked at age 29 after moving to a pitcher's park), Todd Walker (take a look at the change in slg. %age, even adjusting for his time in Colorado), Mark Loretta (First 1,643 Abs: 18 HRs. 2004, playing in San diego: 16 HRs.)

-power relievers now breaking down (steroids are thought to encourage rapid recovery): Exhibit A: Armando Benitez. Not currently a reliever, but breaking down regularly: Kelvim Escobar. Guillermo Mota (also breaking down).

(I might also nominate the category of "relievers with multiple years of 70+ appearances who don't throw sidearm," which immediately puts the Angels bullpen under suspicion, as well as Steve Kline, Uggie Urbina, and Paul Quantrill, who had a 5 year stretch where he AVERAGED 82 appearances/yr. Think back for a second to the late 80's/early 90's pre-steroid era, and try to remember how rare it was for a reliever to pitch in >40% of a team's games. Guys like Rob Murphy come to mind (a good comp for Steve Kline), yet career was toast at age 34 due to arm problems.)

I read somewhere the supposition that pitchers were actually greater consumers of steroids than hitters. (Think about how important it would be to go from throwing 91 to 96), but so far, only Ryan Franklin (of all pitchers) has been caught. Hmmm. Unfortunately, with the coming and going of pitchers, it's tough to really see which cases are examples of guys working out and finally getting it together on the mound, and which are juiced. For example: Jason Schmidt averaged 6.5K/9 in the first half of his career, and 10k/9 recently. (He also moved to San Francisco in this period. Hmmmm.)

I also keep coming back to Sammy Sosa's Congressional testimony that said (paraphrasing) "I never did any illegal drugs in America or the D.R." (Steroids are legal in the DR, or at least they were.) If I'm not making too much of this, you might therefore assume that there's a high usage rate among Latin players - both stars and regular guys. (Plus, add in the societal-economic motivation, and I think you've got a thread worth following.)

In addition to the names above, another good example might be Fernando Rodney (sorry, Big Hurtz) - look at his K/9 from 2002 to 2005.

I'm probably no better than 50/50 on these names. It's real easy to hurl these accusations at guys who's only performance enhancement was working hard in the gym.

Juiced Baseball Players .com | Articles & Discussions about Steroids in Major League Baseball

Monday, April 17, 2006

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Jane Galt Tax Plan

Thoughts on tax refrom from a great blog - Jane is sharp, witty, and a dreamer, as you can see here, here ideas have a likelihood of being adopted of less than zero.

That doesn't stop her articles from being incredibly insightful. For example, why do we continue to have a separate 7.5% FICA tax "devoted" to social security, when there social security is just a bookkeeping entry - there are no assets behind it. (In effect, why not dump the FICA tax and just raise income taxes a comensurate amount?

Jane is always worth a read.
Asymmetrical Information: The Jane Galt Tax Plan

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Internet Outsider

Internet OutsiderI'm really sirprised to be doing this, but I highly recommend Henry Blodgett's blog, "internet outsider"

It's a pretty good analysis of recent Net investing events. What caught my eye is the cogent Google bear points, though there's much more to the site than that.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Five Cheap Companies that Create Value: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

Another plug for JNJ, which I bought yesterday @ $57. (Happily, it's already up >$1.)

I also went and bought 2x Jan08 JNJ LEAPS @ $60, at a cost of $6.10 (-WJNAL).

Basically, I'm betting that JNJ will appreciate at greater than 6.6% per year for the next 2 years. If so, I win big. For instance, if JNJ hits the $76 target mentioned in my previous post, I'd nail a 167% return (vs. 33% for a regular long position (plus dividends.))

However, because LEAPs (and all options) are really just volatility plays, I'm also thinking about using this LEAP purchase to profit from the short term upward run for JNJ that I know if gonna happen sometime this year. If that's the case, I can sell the LEAP for a gain. Already since buying this morning, the JNJ LEAP has appreciated by 5% because of the ~2.5% rise in the price of JNJ.

Five Cheap Companies that Create Value: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

Monday, February 06, 2006 - Buy J&J and Avoid the Winner's Curse

Pretty convincing argument that JNJ is unervalued and an attractive investment. I've been DRiPing JNJ for about 4 years, so I'm real familiar with the numbers behind this (but needed the article to point this out to me :( )

Tough choice, though, trying to decide whether this is a buy and hold or buy and sell after a nice run. I suspect that the Guidant situation will be on everyone's mind and supress JNJ stock until Boston Scientific finally closes the Guidant deal (since JNJ could still legally make another bid.) This would suggest perhaps another 6 months - perhaps with a slight upward drift, but really a whole year necessary for full appreciation.

I'm going to buy tomorrow for my IRA - meaning that I won't be bothered by the tax implications of selling before holding the stock a full year. - Buy J&J and Avoid the Winner's Curse

The Giant Genome Fizzle -

This article presents what few in the biotech industry want to admit, and what few realize is incredibly impactful.

It turns out, that correlating a gene and a function (such as a role in a disease) is an incredbly imprecise science. (Or, perhaps, scientists behind breaking research can be sloppy, but that's another issue.)

All of those stories that say "Gene responsible for disease X is identified. We're closer than ever to a cure," are probably wrong, as few of these discoveries are standing up to scrutiny.

Now here's where it gets interesting:
There are thousands of applied and granted patents for specific genes and their functions. Some companies - like Incyte - are pretty much valued based on their gene IP.

There's been a long debate about whether genes should even be patentable (my opinion is that they shouldn't be), so taking these 2 points together says that many gene patent claims are dubious.

This is probably a great development for the biotech industry, except for the fact that several billion dollars were raised in 2000-01 to fund gene land grabs. So, some investors were creamed on fundamentally shabby business plans, but at least we've got the equipment and lab space to thank them for!

The Giant Genome Fizzle -

Thursday, January 05, 2006

If you read only one economics article this year......

Read this one - it's an excellent, even handed bull/bear argument on the state and future of our economy.

I agreed with both authors: yes, the US economy and market is amazingly resilient and a good investment, but I also see the point about the foreign markets.

3 points that really jumped out:

1) I was abosultely stunned by the convincing point made that the Bush tax cuts were instrumental in the economic recovery. There's just no disputing that 9 quarters of decline in investment were absolutely (and significantly) reversed by the passage of the Bush tax cuts. There's surely some cyclicality at work here, but the net effect is clear, correlated, and positive.

2) I was equally stunned by how large of an impact the housing boom has had on the economy, as indicated in the second chart. I had previously thought that while the housing boom was a net positive, that it was ultimately a very small contributor to the larger economy. It turns out that when GDP growth is netted against mortgage equity withdrawal, the non-housing economy was in recession for nearly three years.

3) It is strange to say it, but I didn't realize that the US economy was still the largest exporter in the world, and that US manufacturing reached an all-time high in November. I guess I let all the negative impression of our economic base provided by the mass media to displace reality. Seriously, if you picked up a dozen issues of Fortune, the NYT, and the like, you'd think that CHina was already the largest exporter, and that US manufacturing was fading.

Overall, I tend to believe that the US economy is incredibly resilient and tending towards the head of the curve, meaning that consumer adoption of mortgage financing as more than a home financing tool is probably just Americans figuring out a good deal, and taking advantage of it. After all - it appears that while we may question individual investment and spending choices (why does anyone need a monsterous SUV?), in aggregate, Americans are very efficient. - Reasons to Pout?

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous