The Parable of the Clueless Professor

Tacoma, Washington, Thursday morn, Administration Room 213. A few minutes before the first year writing seminar begins.

McKall, who started the semester with a ton of extra credit because she has a great name and personality; and she’s from Boise, Idaho, my birthplace; asks whether I like my new phone.

That’s right, last week an iPhone 6+ bounced from China; to Louisville, Kentucky; to my front door. And sure enough, the box had my name on it. That means I have to find some other way to distinguish myself from the masses.

Students smiled when I told them my daughter made fun of me for texting with one finger. “You can use both thumbs,” she said. I tell my students I like it. Too big? Be serious. I can palm a basketball and my frame of reference is my iPad. I love how compact my new pocket computer is. They also got a kick out of my temporary case, a wool sock.

Alex is to the left of me. “And you have a Garmin watch too.”

Alex started the semester with even more extra credit than McKall because she’s from California, she’s on the cross country team, and she’s a first generation college student who came to office hours last week. Her parents are from Mexico and have sacrificed mightily to provide her a better life. She hit her head on something while lifting weights right before classes began. She refuses to use her serious concussion “as an excuse” and may be too tough for her own good since she’s pushing harder than her doctors probably realize.

“Yeah, but it’s the cheapest Garmin they make, they go from $150-$450,” said the clueless professor. Alex’s audible exhale conveyed disgust. Understandably. To her that might be textbooks for a year. Statistics tell us most first generation college students drop out at some point because they can’t afford to continue. Out of touch professors can’t help.

Inadvertently losing touch with low income people is one inevitable consequence of wealth that’s rarely talked about. When I was Alex’s age, one of my college roommates and I became friends. That is until he learned my parents were paying my tuition. He was busting his hump to pay his way and he resented my privilege. Our friendship was never the same.

Should I have declined my parents’ generosity for the sake of my roommate’s friendship? Should I not wear my Garmin watch to class? Of course not, but I should be sensitive to other people’s circumstances. Thursday, a few minutes before class began, I wasn’t.

Paragraphs to Ponder

Can’t get enough of the Pimco soap opera:

“Sources also told the Journal that Gross referred to himself as “Secretariat,” the legendary racehorse. The article also said that Gross doesn’t like his traders making eye contact or speaking with him.”

Make like Gross and peruse the following list of Derby winners back to my birth year and choose a new name to use at your workplace. I’m torn between Charismatic, Majestic Prince, and Decidedly.

Kentucky Derby winners
Year Winner Jockey Trainer Owner Time*
2014 California Chrome Victor Espinoza Art Sherman Steve Coburn & Perry Martin 2:03.66
2013 Orb Joel Rosario Claude McGaughey III Stuart S. Janney III & Phipps Stable 2:02.89
2012 I’ll Have Another Mario Gutierrez Doug O’Neill J. Paul Reddam 2:01.83
2011 Animal Kingdom John Velazquez H. Graham Motion Team Valor 2:02.04
2010 Super Saver Calvin Borel Todd Pletcher WinStar Farm 2:04.45
2009 Mine That Bird Calvin Borel Bennie L. Woolley, Jr. Double Eagle Ranch et al. 2:02.66
2008 Big Brown Kent Desormeaux Richard E. Dutrow, Jr. IEAH Stables / P. Pompa 2:01.82
2007 Street Sense Calvin Borel Carl Nafzger James B. Tafel 2:02.17
2006 Barbaro Edgar Prado Michael R. Matz Lael Stables 2:01.36
2005 Giacomo Mike E. Smith John Shirreffs Jerry & Ann Moss 2:02.75
2004 Smarty Jones Stewart Elliott John Servis Someday Farm 2:04.06
2003 Funny Cide Jose Santos Barclay Tagg Sackatoga Stable 2:01.19
2002 War Emblem Victor Espinoza Bob Baffert Thoroughbred Corp. 2:01.13
2001 Monarchos Jorge F. Chavez John T. Ward, Jr. John C. Oxley 1:59.97
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus Kent Desormeaux Neil Drysdale Fusao Sekiguchi 2:01.00
1999 Charismatic Chris Antley D. Wayne Lukas Bob & Beverly Lewis 2:03.20
1998 Real Quiet Kent Desormeaux Bob Baffert Michael E. Pegram 2:02.20
1997 Silver Charm Gary Stevens Bob Baffert Bob & Beverly Lewis 2:02.40
1996 Grindstone Jerry Bailey D. Wayne Lukas Overbrook Farm 2:01.00
1995 Thunder Gulch Gary Stevens D. Wayne Lukas Michael Tabor 2:01.20
1994 Go for Gin Chris McCarron Nick Zito Condren & Cornacchia 2:03.60
1993 Sea Hero Jerry Bailey MacKenzie Miller Rokeby Stables 2:02.40
1992 Lil E. Tee Pat Day Lynn S. Whiting W. Cal Partee 2:03.00
1991 Strike the Gold Chris Antley Nick Zito BCC Stable 2:03.00
1990 Unbridled Craig Perret Carl Nafzger Frances A. Genter 2:02.00
1989 Sunday Silence Pat Valenzuela Charlie Whittingham H-G-W Partners 2:05.00
1988 Winning Colors Gary Stevens D. Wayne Lukas Eugene V. Klein 2:02.20
1987 Alysheba Chris McCarron Jack Van Berg D. & P. Scharbauer 2:03.40
1986 Ferdinand Bill Shoemaker Charlie Whittingham Elizabeth A. Keck 2:02.80
1985 Spend A Buck Angel Cordero, Jr. Cam Gambolati Dennis Diaz 2:00.20
1984 Swale Laffit Pincay, Jr. Woody Stephens Claiborne Farm 2:02.40
1983 Sunny’s Halo Eddie Delahoussaye David C. Cross, Jr. D. J. Foster Stable 2:02.20
1982 Gato Del Sol Eddie Delahoussaye Edwin J. Gregson Hancock & Peters 2:02.40
1981 Pleasant Colony Jorge Velasquez John P. Campo Buckland Farm 2:02.00
1980 Genuine Risk Jacinto Vasquez LeRoy Jolley Diana M. Firestone 2:02.00
1979 Spectacular Bid Ronnie Franklin Bud Delp Hawksworth Farm 2:02.40
1978 Affirmed Steve Cauthen Laz Barrera Harbor View Farm 2:01.20
1977 Seattle Slew Jean Cruguet William H. Turner, Jr. Karen L. Taylor 2:02.20
1976 Bold Forbes Angel Cordero, Jr. Laz Barrera E. Rodriguez Tizol 2:01.60
1975 Foolish Pleasure Jacinto Vasquez LeRoy Jolley John L. Greer 2:02.00
1974 Cannonade Angel Cordero, Jr. Woody Stephens John M. Olin 2:04.00
1973 Secretariat Ron Turcotte Lucien Laurin Meadow Stable 1:59.40
1972 Riva Ridge Ron Turcotte Lucien Laurin Meadow Stud 2:01.80
1971 Canonero II Gustavo Avila Juan Arias Edgar Caibett 2:03.20
1970 Dust Commander Mike Manganello Don Combs Robert E. Lehmann 2:03.40
1969 Majestic Prince Bill Hartack Johnny Longden Frank M. McMahon 2:01.80
1968* Forward Pass Ismael Valenzuela Henry Forrest Calumet Farm 2:02.20
1967 Proud Clarion Bobby Ussery Loyd Gentry, Jr. Darby Dan Farm 2:00.60
1966 Kauai King Don Brumfield Henry Forrest Ford Stable 2:02.00
1965 Lucky Debonair Bill Shoemaker Frank Catrone Ada L. Rice 2:01.20
1964 Northern Dancer Bill Hartack Horatio Luro Windfields Farm 2:00.00
1963 Chateaugay Braulio Baeza James P. Conway Darby Dan Farm 2:01.80
1962 Decidedly Bill Hartack Horatio Luro El Peco Ranch 2:00.40

Apple Watch and iPhones: iNitial Reaction

The Apple Watch. My favorite Apple watcher, John Gruber, said this Benjamin Clymer review of the Apple watch is the best one yet. If Gruber says it, it’s true.

Henry Blodget is smart, that’s why his ignorant comments that the Apple Watch is completely irrelevant shocked me. He’s forgotten history, in particular how unenthused nearly everyone was when the iPhone and iPad were first released.

Having said that, I will not be keeping my word because I will not be buying it this go round. I’ll wait a few iterations. I bought a new watch a year ago. My Garmin Forerunner 10 is one of my favorite possessions. It’s a brilliant watch because it only has the most essential functions I need. Meaning it’s simple to use. And it’s waterproof. And, unless I’m using the GPS feature a lot, the charge lasts several days.

The Apple watch isn’t waterproof. Deal breaker. I do not want to take my watch off every time I hit the pool or bathtub. And allegedly, you have to charge it overnight meaning I wouldn’t be able to use it to wake up. My one-third the cost Forerunner 10 has the perfect alarm—not too grating, but loud enough to always do the trick. No doubt Garmin knows what Blodget seemingly doesn’t, the Watch will get much better pretty quickly and prove brutallly tough competition. I may end up being their last customer. Maybe I should buy an extra “10” or two in case they die a sudden death.

Also, most of the Watch apps will require iPhone tethering. Really, I have to carry a new larger iPhone in order to see fitness data on my Watch? A two-part problem. 1) Getting a comfortable enough, water/sweat proof carrying case so that the phone “disappears” while running. Cyclists will most likely use a case and then just toss it in their back-middle jersey pocket. 2) The additional weight. When you pretend you’re an elite athlete, every gram or ounce counts. :)

I had a great run this morning. It was 52 degrees out and it was pitch black when I left, and 10k later, I was bathed in beautiful morning light. I took three things—shoes, socks, shorts.

The only reason to buy the first Watch is to subject acquaintances, friends, and family to status envy. That is always sufficient motivation for lots of people.

The phones. All previous sales records will be shattered. Sleepless nights for Samsung. Their worst fears are being realized as evidenced by this. I’m holding my AAPL shares and should probably use my Watch savings to buy three and a half more.

I THINK I want one. The pretend elite cyclist in me is thinking 4.7″, but the aging reader is thinking 5.5″. Maybe I’ll take a year to decide.

That collective sigh was my friends who have grown weary of my annoying quirk.

The iWeek Ahead

iMiss the days when everyone in and around Apple was afraid to death of Steve Jobs and what he would do if there was a leak. Far less was known prior to major pressers like this Tuesdays.

Predictions. More incremental improvements to the world’s best smart phone. Larger, sharper, more durable screens; faster processors; more memory, improved battery life. iPhone 6 users will soon be paying for all sorts of things by quickly swiping their phones.

An iWatch that keeps time more accurately than any previous watch ever. All of your social media on your wrist all of the time. Steadily declining marketshare for the top-selling personal fitness and health devices. Wireless charging.

Analysts will complain the products cost too much. On Friday, AAPL shareholders like me will have less money that we do right now.

People will find the money for both products. Fourth quarter 2014 and first quarter 2015 sales will set new records and exceed almost everyone’s expectations. The stock will recover and sometime soon the Good Wife and I will once again start eating at Vic’s on Saturday nights.

I’ll buy everything Tim offers for sale Tuesday. Maybe even for myself. If I go against type and follow through on that this time, my friends, a resilient bunch, will quickly find new things about me to ridicule. Like the humble blog. Their favorite line, which they find endlessly entertaining, “You have a blog?!”

The products will not improve the quality of my life. I will not free up more time or experience more joy. I will not be more insightful. I will not write or teach any better. I will not listen more patiently or find more humor in things. I will not be more kind or generous. I will not display greater appreciation for my health or the natural world.

Take this prediction to the bank. No combination of sleek and shiny iProducts will make me a better person or improve the quality of my iLife. Make like Stuart Smalley and repeat that mantra in the mirror this week and let the iHype pass over you.

Life After Work

As is often the case, I’m confused. One day last week Ron Lieber, a Times blogger, summarized research from The Journal of Consumer Research that finds older people often draw as much happiness from ordinary experiences—like a library visit or an afternoon spent gardening—as they do from extraordinary ones. Then, on the same day, with stories of extended trips to exotic locations, the Times David Wallis’s published a contradictory article titled, “Increasingly, Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road”.

Wallis writes that between 1993 and 2012, the percentage of retirees traveling abroad rose to 13 percent from 9.7 percent and about 360,000 Americans received Social Security benefits at foreign addresses in 2013, about 48 percent more than 10 years earlier. Wallis illustrates this trend through examples of people like Lynne Martin, 73, a retired publicist and the author of “Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World”:

Three years ago, Martin and her husband sold their three-bedroom house in Paso Robles, Calif., gave away most of their possessions, found a home for their Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, and now live in short-term vacation rentals they usually find through HomeAway.com. The Martins have not tapped their savings during their travels, alternating visits to expensive cities like London with more reasonable destinations like Lisbon. “We simply traded the money we were spending for overhead on a house and garden in California for a life in much smaller but comfortable HomeAway rentals in more interesting places,” Ms. Martin said by email from Paris.

Another couple in the late 60s sold their house, bought a Recreational Vehicle, and started volunteering full time for two nonprofits. So far, they’ve repaired damaged homes in 28 different states.

One of the older vagabonds, or Wallis’s term is better, itinerant baby boomers (IBB), said, “I used to dream about all the places I would go as soon as I was old enough to get away. But then. . . life happened.” That’s probably the key variable, whether older people have pent-up wanderlust.

Wallis explains that many IBB’s are traveling on the cheap, volunteering for nonprofits and organic farms in exchange for room and board or finding free places to stay through Couchsurfing.org which puts its membership of people 50 and older at about 250,000. Given the manner in which most retirees are traveling, maybe the two pieces aren’t completely antithetical after all.

The common thread is that retirees are choosing experiences over material possessions. Listen carefully everyone under 50 and you’ll hear the collective, “Ah shit, why did we accumulate all this crap?!” Personal finance researchers tell us one-third of seniors have nothing saved for retirement. It’s a good thing ordinary experiences prove so fulfilling in later life.

Both pieces were short so an important subtopic was left out, just how similarly retired partners think about how to spend the last chapters of their shared lives. I know many couples think differently about their idealized post-work lives. What to do when one person wants to see the world, and the other, the backyard?

I’m the opposite of the IBB who dreamed about all the places to go. I’ve been very, very fortunate to travel and live all over the U.S. and on three different continents. Don’t tell the Good Wife, but I’m content to walk, swim, run, cycle, and drive throughout our hood, our state, and the Western United States and Canada. She wants to travel to Spanish speaking countries so I should probably renew my passport. I will take one or two or three long distance trips for the team. But I’d be just as content taking the labradude for a walk in the woods.

 

 

 

 

 

The Five-Figure Bicycle—Who Am I To Judge

Sound like the Pope don’t I?

Yesterday, Rachel Bachman began her WSJ article “The Rise of the Five-Figure Bicycle” with a bang. “Last year,” she wrote, “Ted Perry dipped into his 401(k) to buy a $20,000 bicycle.”

The mind whirls. My first thought. As a public service, let’s plaster TP’s mug on a series of financial illiteracy posters titled “How Not to Manage Your Money for the Long Haul”. Obvious question one, why so damn much? Obvious question two, why, when Perry is 51 years old, use money designated for retirement? Not as obvious question three, why tap money that incurs a 10% federal tax penalty? Even less obvious question four, why advertise such a mind-boggling purchase to the world?

I would be too embarrassed, but maybe, like everything in life, a Perry-like purchase would make more sense in the larger context of one’s private life. With that in mind, let’s play “What if?” Imagine, if you will, the following possibilities:

• The Fed is artificially stimulating the market. Stocks are overpriced. Bonds = serious inflation risk. Cash = semi-serious inflation risk.

• A bicycle lover (BL) repeatedly finishes second to one of his* archenemies on mountain top finishes.

• Our BL receives a MacArthur Genius Grant of $625,000 for creating a comprehensive health care delivery model that addresses the medical and social service needs of high-risk patients in impoverished communities.

• While simultaneously receiving a life-threatening cancer diagnosis from his own doctor.

• Our BL never married or had children and his/her siblings and nephews and nieces are all well-to-do.

• Our BL is leaving all of his/her other assets to a long list of cash-strapped health care non-profits.

It’s conceivable, if all those stars aligned, a Perry-like purchase could make sense. The take-away? Pre-judge at your own risk.

* Had to use the male pronoun because women have way more financial sense.