Category Archives: thoughts

Making Do With Less

Four years ago I fell into the abyss that would come to be known as the Great Recession. In a matter of weeks, jobs were lost, paychecks vanished, and my lifestyle changed. Read more…

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Fear of Falling and Being Followed

Fear of Falling--Icarus

Fear of Falling--Icarus

If I could have the superpower of my choice, I’d take the ability to fly. But based on my impulsivity, I’d probably fly too close to the sun, like the Greek god Icarus. So I’d be better off with my second choice…invisibility.

There’s something intriguing about wandering anonymously through the day, going wherever you want, doing whatever you want-no questions asked, no calls from the office.

 And this brings me to Twitter, the impossibly popular micro-blogging service that lets users stay connected through the exchange of short status messages. It’s designed to let you answer the question “What are you doing?” -and share those updates with colleagues, family and friends. Continue reading

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Numbers Game

If you want to buy or lease real estate, find a broker. But if you just want to get a full picture of the real estate in a specific geographic area, then find the census enumerator that worked the block.

Enumerators walk from property to property, block by block, verifying addresses and sorting residential from commercial properties. They count apartment units, look for hidden units and conclude, in some cases, if a seemingly uninhabitable space is really some body’s home.

It’s a necessary, though time consuming job that legions of temporary workers perform nationwide every 10 years, in advance of the Decennial Census.

The task has remained virtually unchanged since the first US census in 1790. But the tools used to perform it have changed significantly–and the history of those changes effectively mirror the history of technological change.

When the first census was taken, slightly more than a year after George Washington became the nation’s first President, US marshals supervised assistants appointed to collect the data. The enumerators had no printed data sheets to guide them and had to provide their own supplies, including paper and pencils.

More than two centuries later, enumerators are using hand-held computers (HCCs) and GPS to plot, record and update the information on every possible living space in a significantly larger United States. It’s not the most sophisticated technology: the HCCs have little computing power. They’re slow and prone to intermittent freezes. As for the GPS, enumerators concur it’s not the best geographic  positioning system on the market.

Even with its problems and glitches, the technology represents a huge advance over the days when every piece of data was collected by hand. It helps standardize the data and make it somewhat more reliable.

It’s useful…but it’s no substitute for the enumerators themselves. They still have to walk from property or property, counting, evaluating and using their intuition as much as their technology. It confirms what everyone in real estate already knows: technology is only as good as the judgment of those who use it.

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Human Unpredictability

Humans aren’t rational. So why should financial theories assume that they are? That’s the question writer Chelsea Wald posed in Crazy Money, in the Dec. 12, 2008 issue of Science. It’s a reasonable question, she explains.

Even the experts seem bewildered by the current economic crisis. Quantitative analysts (quants)–the whiz-kid financial engineers whose algorithms have dominated Wall Street trading in recent years–have watched those algorithms fail. Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan acknowledged in October that there was “a flaw in the model that I perceived … defines how the world works.” Continue reading

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Interesting Thoughts

A lot of factors affect commercial real estate. Just consider the potential impact of the ones in this video from a Sony executive conference in Rome last year–then answer, “How do I prepare for the next ten years?”

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Willing Away the Recession

Trace Trajano, a Procter and Gamble engineer and real estate investor, has a novel way of dealing with the recession. He simply refuses to accept it. “A lot of it is a mindset, so if you think there’s a recession, then there is,” he argues.

Trajano has created a website called refusetojoinrecession.com. He describes it as a place for people succeeding in spite of the economy to share “stories, techniques, tips and strategies” about investments, assets or potentially profitable businesses. Continue reading

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Is It Time to Unplug?

 Technology gives us speed, convenience and depth of information. But is faster and easier always an advantage–or does too much data offer anything more than a base for self-fulfilling expectations?

We’re inundated with bad news and even worse forecasts. Consider this uplifting assessment of the commercial real estate industry, posted recently on the Internet by Paul Craig Roberts, assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration: Continue reading

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