Sep 23 2008

Eyes Wide Open

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Palo Alto after 20 hours of travel from Hampshire, England.  Amy and I took our Q3 vacation in the English countryside at the Hampshire Four Seasons where we had a glorious week off of the grid.  I find myself really wanting to be tired, but I am so far beyond tired that I’m wide awake well past midnight California time.

Our Q3 vacation was dynamite.  I would have never thought to choose the English countryside, but Amy loves horses and our Q3 vacation is near her birthday, so we go wherever she wants to go.  The weather cooperated in some sort of pleasant karmic-recovery from our abysmal Alaska weather (yes, I know they are uncorrelated events, but one can fantasize), my runs along with Basingstoke Canal were awesome, and the food surpassed expectations.

We were off the grid – mostly.  I had a few work related things that reared their head during the week – none required a lot of time but each harshed my mellow a little bit.  I was typically agitated for the first few days, which is a sign that I really needed a total disconnect to recharge my batteries.  After four days of sleeping more than 12 hours a night, I started to calm down.  The daily runs, swims, tennis, massages, books, and adult activities helped.

During our Q-vacations, I turn off my computer and cell phone.  My assistant Kelly reads my email and calls me if there is something I have to pay attention to.  However, we do watch TV – mostly movies – as we lay in bed before we fall asleep.

This week, the best movie on TV was CNBC Europe as our bed time correlated to the last hour of the market in the US.  I never watch CNN / CNBC / MSNBC / Bloomberg / local news so it’s a rare treat to watch a chunk of it.  Last week was a doozy.  If we hadn’t turned the TV on at all and just checked the Dow Jones index on Friday when we left for Europe and Sunday a week later when we reconnected, we would have noticed a measly 30 point drop in the Dow.  Instead, we got to watch talking head after talking head analyze, speculate, prognosticate, fluctuate, pontificate – basically everything except masturbate – while chart after chart appeared with radically spikey looking graphs that changed every few seconds.

In the midst of this noise, we watched a few movies (I finally saw Ironman – yes – the first half was much better than the second half) and I reread Nassim Nicholas Taleb’ brilliant book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.  I reached a very simple conclusion – everything that I was watching being discussed on CNBC was probably incorrect and, more importantly, likely irrelevant.  The actual events that occurred would take me less than five minutes to read the following week when I skim BusinessWeek in the bathroom.  The commentary was just noise.

But I knew this already so this wasn’t my key insight.  Over the weekend, we ended up watching Davis Cup Tennis (Andy Murray is going to give Nadal and Federer some trouble) while avoiding the endless Ryder Cup coverage.  I tried to understand cricket (still no luck), watched some rugby (or is that Australian football?), and watched the soccer highlights (why suffer through a game when you can watch the highlights.)

And now for the insight.  During the week, we have CNBC.  Over the weekend, we have ESPN.  They are exactly the same – just with different uniforms and commentators.  As Taleb would suggest, the only way to keep your eyes wide open about what is going on is to turn off the TV and stop reading the newspapers.

I just yawned, so it must be time to end this "welcome back" post, close my eyes, and dream of fields of golden retriever puppies.  I wonder if that’s what Hank Paulson is doing.