Monday, August 29, 2005

The Beauty of Bodega Bay - It's not the people

Yesterday I drove up to Bodega Bay with Shab. in the Corvette. A nice car, a cute woman, a great view of the Pacific Ocean, what could make a day trip like that go wrong. Well ... I'm here to tell ya. The lady at the visitor's center was actually pretty cool. She pointed out all the sites, and suggested a nice short hike along the western edge of the city.

So that's where we went. Neither of us brought a camera, but the walk along the cliffs overhanging the Pacific Ocean was humbling, calming, and whatever other adjectives you can wrap your head around to describe viewing an ocean from several hundred feet up. When we finished the hike, we got back in the car and were planning on heading north along highway 1 to check out the local beaches.

About a half-mile away from the parking lot we just left, we saw two California Highway Patrol (CHP) cars rushing toward where we just came from. For those of you who know me and have followed my blog at for awhile, you might have an idea of who they might have been looking for.

On several occasions, Shab and I have been pulled over by police for no good reason. They'd accuse us of doing something wrong, ask for my license, registration, and proof of insurance, then let us go when they saw how squeaky clean I was, and that all of my vehicles were fully paid for. At that time I was posting the events regularly on my blog. Two weeks after my last post, an article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle with a large graphic detailing specific instructions for CHP to single out interracial couples: written in a CHP manual. Mind-boggling. I know.

One of the last hikes we took at the Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, sometime last fall, two park rangers sat in ambush behind my car to grill me about carrying a stick on a park trail. The ranger asked for my license, ran a background check and let us go. The question I ask myself to this day is how did they know to wait for me at my car? An obvious answer is that someone had to see me get out of the car, THEN call the rangers, but the fact that someone would do that ... in Oakland ... in 2004, just seems unreal.

So, when I saw the two CHP vehicles rushing to the sparsely populated trail parking lot in Bodega Bay, it seemed like a little bit of history repeating. Just one CHP car driving slowly might not have been too conspicuous. Two vehicles on a road that only leads to one place is not so inconspicuous. When the driver of the second car saw me going the other way on the two lane road, he grimaced at me. I guess he realized he was too late.

That alone was irritating enough, but after our coastal drive, we stopped at a gas station in Guernville to see if we could get some information about the forest parks. As soon as I walk in, the gas station attendant has a surprised look on her face. When I approach the register with maps to purchase, she finds some reason to leave the register. No one called her. No lights or buzzers were flashing or sounding off. She just left. So, I decided not to purchase the maps, and just look through them to find a park. At this point, I'm looking through the maps at the register, and she doesn't come back, so I returned them to the rack. Correction, she comes back into the store, just not to the register.

Now some of you may be saying, "Mo, you're reading a little too much into these events." To which, my reply is, after you've seen subtle stuff like this happen all your adult life, you begin to develop radar for it. At a post was started by a white guy who accused me of "bringing up the race card" in an interview. The interview was initiated by another white guy who wanted to learn from a black person what it was like being black in the design community because he sincerely wanted to know. So, you can imagine the how the "complainer" must have felt when the interviewer intercepted his post and explained what the interview was about.

Racism can come from a lot places. It's just not white folks. There just happen to be more of them around here than any other group. I've experienced racism on different levels from many different groups. It's ugly in all its forms. Whether it's coming from someone whose white, chinese, japanese, latino, samoan, persian, philipino, italian, black, or whatever, it's always hurtful and unproductive. It just so happens that the people I consider to be my closest friends either come from one of those cultures, or are made up of a mix of them. In the circles I hang out in, there is very little room for racial intolerance, so whenever I run into it, it's always a surprise.

For those of you paying particularly close attention, you may have noticed that I did not indicate the background of the clerk at the Bodega Bay visitors center, the CHP officers, the rangers, or the gas station attendant. The mere act of having to designate someone by race is something that feels demeaning to me. The truth of the matter is that in the case of the rangers and highway patrol, they may have simply been responding to a "valid sounding" call by a "concerned" citizen. So, to point out their race would be irrelevant. It really doesn't matter except for where we make it matter.

I guess I'm just sick of it. [[END RANT]]

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I haven't been posting because there are a few specific topics that I'd like to write about, but haven't had the time to do them justice. One has to do with the Bible and wishing, another has to do with free will. Until I can get those down, I'll talk a little about my neighbors. Apparently, they can either fight or have other very useful talents.

My house is on a corner lot. To my left is Duane, Maria, and their son Diego. Duane runs and has at least 10 years of jiujitsu training under his belt. Maria studies capoeira. Oey lives to my left. He's a tattoo artist and has a bunch of years of Wing Chung behind him. For those of you who don't know, Wing Chung is the foundation on which Bruce Lee built his own Jeet Kun Do style.

Recently, one of the guys from my Brazilian jiujitsu class, Angel, moved across the street. Myself, Angel, and Shab played some pool at The Broken Rack in Emeryville. Angel, like myself, happens to have a degree in Mechanical Engineering, so it was nice to have someone to talk geeky engineering stuff with again.

Lastly, there's Jerry Kennedy who's subletting a duplex unit across the street from me for a few months. His music is amazing. When I first saw the bio on his website comparing him to Stevie Wonder and Marving Gaye, my immediate impression was "...uhhh...sure". After hearing the music, though, I clearly understand and agreee with the analogy. The man's a musical genius. Make sure you check out his music, and if you're in the area, check out one of his shows.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Weird Dream (continued)

The day after the dream there was an article on about Google's effort to make books searchable, or more specifically, the roadblocks to that effort. Also, I saw an ad campaign for searchable videos from Yahoo!, which led me to Google's video search. Once they can tie the search to an audio recognition program, those searches will become a whole lot more useful.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Weird Dream

Towards the end of my dream I approached a jail cell with a man clothed in white standing with his head down facing slightly away from me. I knew the guy to be a little slow, so I wasn't surprised that he didn't respond to my approach. What did surprise me was the sound of footsteps walking toward me from inside the jail cell when all I could see in my dream was the man standing. When the footsteps were right in front of me I started to wake up, my body temperature shot up, and all I could think about was that this would be a really cool effect in a horror movie. I'd never had a dream where the sound was so far removed from what I was "seeing".

This happened at about 4am and I couldn't get back to sleep, but what happened next was even more unexpected. My brain started to answer questions that I had been asking myself about for years. Why has Bill Gates been investing so much time and energy into voice recognition? Because, the first company to come up with a program that can search through a directory of audio files for a specific comment would make a killing. Picture going to Yahoo and being able to search video and audio clips from all over the world over the past 100 years and being able to go to the exact point in the media where the word you searched for was spoken. TV shows, commercials, radio spots, audio books, movies, etc. That would be huge enough to occupy the mind of the world's richest man.

Likewise, searching through books could be the next really big thing on the internet (another idea that popped in my head). As smart and witty as we like to think we are with our blogs, being able to search through texts written over the last few thousand years by the world's most knowledgeable people could give us access to insight and knowledge that have been long forgotten. Picture being able to "Google" every book in for references to specific characters, equations, or concepts. I'd pay for that.

Then I started imagining answers to things that I really didn't want to know the answers to. That's when I started getting a little spooked. Whether they were right or wrong wasn't as much an issue as the mere act of imagining what the most probable deaths might be of the people I care most about. At this point, I figured I was turning into a nut-case and I began to try to turn off the faucet of ideas pouring through my head.

All of this time an image of the person those footsteps might have belonged to was frozen in my head on top of everything else that was showing up. I tried not to "focus" on it just because it was so weird. We fear what we do not understand, and that pretty much described me early this morning. I don't know what they put in the chicken from Whole Foods that I ate for dinner last night, but it's pretty potent.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

When To Sell

I just finished reading The Warren Buffet Way by Robert Hagstrom and it shoots right up into the top five of my favorite business books. In addition to clearly explaining how to succeed in the stock market, I found an answer to a question no one has ever been able to adequately answer for me buried deep within the book. The question: "When do you sell?"

Before I discuss the answer as I understood it. Let's get a little background on what the "Warren Buffet Way" is. Essentially it means buying stocks based on the value of a company and not it's stock price. In Buffet's words, "Price and Value are not the same." The "Warren Buffet Way" means valuing a company based on the skill and integrity of its managers in addition to the company's financial performance. It means buying into a business by purchasing its stock only when its value is more than what is reflected by its price in the market. The calculation of that value is explained in several places in the book, so I'll leave that one alone. Also, the book explains on a few occasions that the discrepancy between value and price usually occurs due to unusual circumstances.

Robert Hagstrom goes on to discuss how he tried to emulate Buffet's style by picking the same stocks as his hero. What he found was that where Buffet's performance was above average, his was only average. This was because when Hagstrom purchased the stocks (after Buffet did), the market price of the stocks had already appreciated, so he couldn't get the full benefit of getting in on the stock at it's lowest price.

Earlier on in the book there was a short explanation saying that selling should occur when something better comes along. That was kind of vague to me until I read about Hagstrom's personal endeavors. At that point I realized that over time, the market will eventually catch up to undervalued stocks, and at some point it will eventually price them correctly. This is what Hagstrom was finding out first-hand. What he ended up doing was learning that it was better to buy by following Buffet's advice rather than by following in his footsteps.

For me Hagstrom's realization that he was consistently getting in late illustrated the initial point about when to sell; when something better comes along. Once the market price begins to catch up to the value that was so painstakingly researched (hopefully), and assuming the stock was purchased at a price well below that value, it's time to replace it with something else. That's when it's time to sell.

Hagstrom explains that selling on a repeated basis, and turning over stocks in a portfolio, not only increases yearly transaction costs, but exposes traders to capital gains taxes. This emphasizes even more the importance of holding a stock until it's value is realized. In this way you react to the performance of the business as compared to the market, not to market fluctuations, and you avoid capital gains taxes on the appreciated value of a stock's position. One example he gives is that if a stock is purchased, then doubles, or even triples, a person would be crazy to sell if he or she knows the business is not even close to realizing the value that was hopefully calculated when the stock was first purchased.

So there you have it. Buy high value stocks at low prices when the opportunity presents itself, then sell them when the market approaches that value AND something better comes along. Easier said than done, but at least now I know.