Friday, July 21, 2006

Report: Formula Nine

Imagine: You are nine years old. You are in Las Vegas with your dad and his old friend Macgellan. They take you to a kart race track, jam a crash helmet on your head, put you in a kart and say, “Go fast!” For the next ten minutes you are on the gas, flying around the track and really mixing it up with a pack of twenty-somethings who have been racing karts for years. You don’t finish first, but you don’t finish last either. When the race is over, several of the older drivers pat you on the helmet, give you a high five and say, “Pretty good, kid!” Way to go, Jake! Formula Nine! (Thanks to Jonathan Coulton for the perfect, charming little soundtrack song! I love your stuff!)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Musing: €urosophy

Euro2Despite the fact that I have arranged multiple means of “electronic” access to funds -- including debit cards, credit cards, online banking, PayPal and ATMs (which are now quite ubiquitous around the world) -- I have decided to carry a modest amount of cash on the Voyage. After all, you just never know when a little cash will facilitate the speedy resolution of certain... er... “circumstances.” After some research and deliberation, I have elected to carry about half the amount in euros. Among my reasons: 1) using euros will enable me to appear a little less “American” whenever that may be prudent, 2) the €500 note -- equal to more than $600 -- allows me to “pack more punch” into a much smaller wad of bills and 3) the euro has clearly become a robust, valuable, worldwide alternative to the “almighty dollar.” It is this third reason in particular which got me musing: “How did I miss the euro?”

You see, when the euro was proposed as the “single currency” of the fledgling European Union, I was convinced it wouldn’t happen. There was just no way so many sovereign nations would subordinate their monetary policy to a central bank. Even if the euro was created, I figured it would be a flop. Who outside the Eurozone would want the thing? Let’s face it, the dollar was pretty well entrenched as the international currency of choice. Well, it turns out I was wrong. The euro is now the official currency for 12 nations (and counting) -- more than 300 million people -- and it has been heartily accepted by much if the world. What did I miss? The answer, I think, is that my US myopia blinded me to just how much the rest of the world wanted an alternative to the US dollar and the US hegemony it represents. If you give people something they want, they’ll buy it -- even if it isn’t perfect. The world wanted an alternative to US currency, and the world has been buying euros. So simple. I missed it.

Euro1(PS -- First, I think it was an excellent strategy for the EU to issue the “jumbo” €200 and €500 denomination notes which offer such “efficient” alternatives -- and competition -- to the $100 note. Let’s face it, if the €500 is good for Macgellan to carry, it is also good for every smuggler, drug-dealer and “under-the-mattress-stasher” in the world. Thus, for many people, the euro is not just an alternative to the dollar, it is a “better” product. [For an “interesting” dialogue about the impact of “jumbo” euro notes on the more than $250 billion worth of $100 bills held abroad, click here.] Second, although I have bought some euros and do a little bit of currency hedging with them, I am still not convinced of their long-term viability. I just cannot make myself believe that all of the member nations will indefinitely adhere to the EU’s strict monetary policies. Sooner or later, some of them will need to solve their massive internal debt problems by doing what all governments -- including the US -- have always done: inflate their currency. When the bills come due, I think the euro -- perhaps the entire EU -- will be in jeopardy. But who knows? I’ve been wrong before.)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Report: Joe Stratocaster

I was just wrapping up my day and getting ready for dinner when the sound of some scorching hot electric guitar licks and riffs came through my open window. At first I thought one of my neighbors must have been sharing his favorite Jimi Hendrix with us, but I quickly got the sense that the music was live. I stuck my head out the window overlooking the alley and realized that the sound was coming from the back of the Pig ‘N Whistle Bar & Grill three doors down. Figuring there must be a band playing a Saturday night gig at the Pig, I grabbed my camera and went to check it out. What I found was a guy -- by himself -- sitting on an overturned plastic bucket outside the kitchen door, absolutely wailing on a beautiful Stratocaster. I listened in awe for a few minutes until he stopped playing and looked up at me. I knew this was something special to share, so I said: “I want to put you in my next podcast. If you give me three minutes of your best stuff, I’ll give you ten bucks cash money, I’ll put you on the web and I’ll burn you a DVD of your jam.” His reply was simply, “That sounds like a deal.” So, I fired up the camera and he scorched the guitar. While the music in this Macgellan Report may not be everyone’s “cup of tea”, I’m pretty sure you will all appreciate the mastery... and I’m almost certain you will find the ending a bit of a mystery.