Monthly Archives: November 2008

Buffeting

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of LifeThe Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder

Rating: 5 of 5 stars ( Goodreads review)

To succeed in business, be patient, look for value, be honest, and have cash in hand. And don’t think about anything else. In fact, be an unrepentent monomaniac. Warren Buffett has become the worlds richest man by making investments that he gets derided for at 10-year intervals, then, when the bubble bursts, he is a saint again…. Buffett is extremely good at making money – and has a rather impressive idea about what to do with it (keep investing, give it all away to someone who is good at giving away money, such as Bill Gates.)

The biography is an impressive work in itself. 838 densely written pages about a man whose personal life has been rather unspectacular (hamburgers and Cherry Coke, poring over stock lists and annual reports). Schroeder is a business writer and financial analyst, so she has real knowledge about deals and can write with authority on complicated cases such as Salomon Brothers. I would have loved to see her write a biography on Bill Gates with the same level of business detail, though we will probably have to wait another decade or so for that to happen.

(Incidentally, I once heard Buffett speak, at the Harvard Business School in, I think, 1991. He was asked about what he thought of the derivatives market, which was beginning to take off at that point, and said that if he was alone on a deserted island with 100 people and the only sustenance was rice, he wouldn’t have put 50 of them to work peddling rice futures….)

Recommended for the budding investor – and as a backgrounder on the financial crisis. It is up to date as of April 2008, which is rather impressive in itself.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

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Ozzie and the cloud

Steven Levy, a tech writer whose every article I read if I can get my hands on it, has a fascinating Wired article about Ray Ozzie and his long march to make Microsoft survive and prosper in the cloud. Service-based computing can be a disruptive innovation for Microsoft, since customers become less reliant on a single, fat client (dominated by MS) and instead can use a  browser as their main interface.

I have used Lotus Notes since well before the company was bought by IBM, and always considered it to be a fantastic platform that is somewhat underused, chiefly because while its execution is great, the user interface is somewhat clumsy (getting better, but still) and it is hard to program for. As an infrastructure play for a large corporation, Notes is just great. As a platform for software innovation and innovative interaction, it leaves a lot to be desired. The question is – can Microsoft gain dominance in this market (Sharepoint seems to execute on that one), extend it to consumers (Vista is not a good omen here), and somehow find a business model that works? (By that I don’t mean one with it the same profitability as it has now, that just isn’t possible. But one that is somewhat profitable long-term?)

If anyone is going to be able to pull that off, it will be Ozzie. The article paints, as I see it, a very complete picture and tells me a lot more about the relationship between Microsoft and Ozzie than I knew. But that is usual with Steven Levy articles, ever since he wrote "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" back in 1984.

Highly recommended. (And since I like long and detailed articles: this one is at 6900 words or more than 40,000 characters including spaces. Just a hint to my Norwegian newspaper friends, who thinks anything more than 7000 chars won’t be read by anyone.)

Myers-Briggs and me

Typealyzer is a service that classifies your blog (and, by extension, you) into the Myers-Briggs personality classification framework. Based on Appliedabstractions.com, I am an INTJ, which is fine by me, though I thought I was more over towards ENTJ:

image

OK. Not sure I have difficulty communicating, but that may just be that I mostly sit by myself pontificating to the wall or similar-minded people who find my communicating style compatible. Anyway, what I really liked was this brain chart:

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In other words, little chance that I will survive in a world like the one described in Ben Elton’s Blind Faith….

(Hat tip to Vaughan and Kimberly for this one.)

Blowhard

Until 2003, I lived in a part of Norway that gets about 7 ft of snow every year, so after a brief period of sweaty and aching mornings I invested in a small snow-blower. Then I moved to a place about 20 ft above sea level, where snowfalls are few and far between. But my little snow blower has brought unexpected benefits.

The first winter here was bare and cold until late January, when I woke up one morning to about a foot of snow. It was before seven in the morning and the office beckoned, so I dressed warmly and got to it.

I was a little worried, though. My next-door neighbor, with whom I share the driveway, is unofficial Norwegian champion sleeper and likes to delay the vertical part of life as long as possible. I wondered how he would react to the noise from the snow-blower at a time he considered to be just after bedtime. But I had to get to work, so I pulled the cord and started.

Half an hour later I was done, garaged my little machine (which is more like a motorized broom than a real snow-blower, except in the noise-making department) and got inside for a brief thaw-out and the day’s first coffee.

Then the doorbell rang. I prepared for the worst and nervously opened the door. There stood my neighbor, in slippers and morning coat and with his hair in all directions.

He had woke up, seen the snow and resigned himself to having to get up and do something about it when he heard me start the engine. He didn’t know I had a snow blower, and explained with an ecstatic expression that little snow-blower with a missing muffler was "the most beautiful sound he had ever heard."

Whereupon he handed me a bottle of Cognac and returned to bed.

PS: We have since formalized the arrangement. I blow the driveway, and he buys one bottle of wine per snowfall, which we consume with a delightful dinner sometime in April.

The oil rule: Whoever has the oil makes the rules

Tom Friedman, in his new book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, makes a pretty powerful argument that the US’s addiction to oil helps finance fundamentalist Islam and represses democracy. The main point: Having oil means dictators can finance repressive institutions (police etc.) and bribe the populace into apathy.

Here is a graphical telling of the same story:

World oil reserves chart

Looks pretty persuasive to me. Tom Friedman argued for a "patriotic" gas tax in the US back in 2001. Seems as good an idea now as it was then. (Chart from Daily Galaxy, via Jon Udell)

Tom also says that no country with more than 50% of its income from oil is a democracy. I am not totally sure of the numbers here, but I wouldn’t call Norway undemocratic. Update, thanks to Twit from mgjosefsen: Norwegian exports of oil and natural gas was 52% of total Norwegian exports in 2005. Share of GNP was about 25 %. We seem to be an exception, in other words.

Jazzcode

 Jazzcode is a concert/presentation held by Carl Størmer and a jazz band, typically put together for each venue. Carl, who has been traveling around the world with this presentation and has written a case about Miles Davis for the Harvard Business School, explains how jazz musicians are able to come together and play without having played together or even met before,  largely because they listen to each other, have shared references, and adhere to a pretty strict pattern in how they play through a piece. Carl, very effectively, uses the metaphor of a jazz band to illustrate certain principles and requirements for collaboration in teams.

Today I had the great fortune of attending a private JazzCode concert in Oslo, the band consisting of Carl (drums), Georg "Jojje" Wadenius (guitar), Rob Waring (vibraphone) and Edvard Askeland (base). Though I suspect this concert was heavier on the music and lighter on the management thinking – half the audience was volunteers of the Oslo Jazz Festival – I can easily see how this approach can be both an entertaining and instructing part of a company retreat or meeting.

I saw the show with my father-in-law, Ludvig Mathiesen, who in addition to everything else was Norwegian Champion of Amateur Jazz in 1956, playing the piano. For me it was an introduction to jazz – and that, I suppose, is the added benefit of having JazzCode at your event: A helping of culture with the managerial pointers.

Highly recommended.