Cambridge Days Excursions Elsewhere

Hassling the Hoff

Look, I’m sure there’s a funny way to set this up, a way to craft a clever tale which reserves the punchline for the very end, and transforms this little narrative into a ripping yarn.

But since this post is overdue enough as-is, let’s just out with the truth, shall we?

Last week, I went to a David Hasselhoff concert in Germany.

No, I mean, seriously, I went running to a David Hasselhoff concert. Last week. In Berlin. Germany.

And now that that’s out of the way, let me try to set it all up:

Az, Em, and I have been bouncing from place to place the last coupla weeks. The ladies went from Indianapolis straight to LA; I returned for a few crazy days back in Cambridge (typically hectic workweek, with a jet-lag twist) then jetted off to Berlin for a week for the Google European Sales Conference.

Suffice to say my corporate overlords are just as post-ironic as any hipster out there; somebody high up thought it would be funny to fly David Hasselhoff over to sing to our company party for a few hours.

I was actually a few blocks away when The Hoff started his set – I’d snuck out to sightsee and visit the Reichstag, since it was around the corner – but I went running once I realized what was going on. Alas, that means I wasn’t standing close enough to be in the video. But I was there, man.

Anyhow, we’re still moving around. Right now, the three of us are together in Palo Alto, as I’m spending the week at the Googleplex. The ladies joined me at work for breakfast this morning at the No-Name-Café. Emmie had some whole-wheat pancake, organic peach, and scrambled eggs, while I had a blueberry smoothie, kombucha tea, scrambled eggs, and part of Azure’s breakfast burrito. Good times.

Cambridge Days

May Bumps, May Balls, and Magdalene MBAs

Last night I was happily back at Magdalene, even though the season of Formal Halls is over. This was a pizza-and-chips affair, instead, with the other Magdalenes who are in the Judge. It’s a small group – there’s four of us MBAs in college this year, a couple of MPhils, and our strategy prof, herself a Fellow at Magdalene.

Nice thing was, the college Master showed up, too. As you might expect from somebody who’s also the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, he’s a very cultured dude. (If genteel cocktail-party talk were an Olympic event, I be he could lead the field for Britain.) He’s also good-natured, and a super-approachable guy; that’s something I learned after he took a dozen of us MBAs into the Fitz, and gave us a quick lecture on how finance, marketing, and management issues affect the Arts today.

Anyhow. Cambridge is suddenly bursting with festivities, and it’s belatedly sinking in that The End, as I’ve always been warned, Is Nigh. I feel like I’ve been running this whole academic year, praying I can make it into the home stretch, and just now realized that it’s all already behind me.
It’s fitting, then, that our night sky has been rocked by professional fireworks days in a row – the May Balls are happening (in June, as always) and will be for the whole of next week. (I’m at Queen’s from Monday night to Tuesday morning, meself.)

rowers lining up for May Bumps

Simultaneously, there’s the May Bumps, a week-long rowing competition which is arguably the heart of Cambridge sport. That’ll be a blog entry unto itself; suffice to say that some students are walking around wreathed with willow branches, most the rest have Pimm’s in hand.

Oh, and the sun is out, gloriously. 84 degrees, no joke.

Cambridge Days

Of Pimm’s, Punts, and Pembroke.

There’s a correlation between sunny weather and Pimm’s consumption, in these parts. Or maybe it’s causality.

I’d never heard of Pimm’s before landing in Cambridge. And based on my fall and winter, here, I’d similarly presumed that the locals didn’t understand what good, sunny weather was.

Turns out the sun does sometimes shine in the British Isles (every second Saturday in June, 11am to 3pm, weather permitting) and so it was that last weekend, Azure, Alanna, and I found ourselves reaching for the sunscreen. And then the Pimm’s.  It’s a gin-based liquer, which is mixed with lemonade and mint and cucumber and various fruit slices. It’s quintessentially English, I’m told, supposedly a standard hydration method at cricket matches and polo fields, and I readily admit: it’s good.

More elegant than a mint julep, and less labor-intensive than a Mojito, Pimm’s No. 1 definitely ranks as one of the best summertime refreshments I’ve had the pleasure to quaff. (Especially when the alternative is warm beer.)

And while I joke about the sun, the weather has truly turned toward the beautiful, I think, and it’s been a blast. We’ve been cycling/punting/strolling to the outskirts of town, almost daily, then coming home in the evenings to watch the frogs in our neighbor’s garden, or spy on the hedgehog in our own.

Plus, there’s been a swirl of events – this week, the Queen visited the Fitzwilliam Museum, across the street from the Judge, which interrupted a class or two. The same night, Azure and I attended formal hall at Pembroke with two other MBAs; it was in the middle of exams, so it turned out that we four were the only diners, apart from High Table.

That particular dinner will stand as one of the most memorable events from my time at Cambridge: the three long tables of Pembroke’s hall all barren, except for one, with a single candlestick and four plates at the end. All the routine, of course, stayed unbroken; there was still a ringing gong and grace in Latin, the standing, and bowing… whether for four or four hundred, certain things never change, here.

Oh, and yeah, it was ‘Mexican Theme Night’, so then they served us fajitas. Hah!

And school? (School?) Ah, school is still in session, but barely – my classroom time all but finished, concluding with a case study on Ben & Jerrys’ strategic alliances in Japan. My attention has already turned to the individual project over summer; more on that, later. (There are projects, and then there are, well, other big things…)

We had a slew of great speakers in the last few weeks – Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters, got my vote for being the best of ’em. He managed to mention RSS, the ‘blogosphere’, and Gawker in a single sentence, which scored big points in my book. Honorable mention goes to Lois Jacobs, president of Jack Morton, which has got to be the highest-profile company whose name I’d never heard – they quietly produce ‘experiental marketing events’. Sounds cute and fuzzy until you find out they’re the crew which produced and managed the opening ceremony at Athens 2004, the Hong Kong handover in ’97, and a buncha other ceremonial stuff you’d never think was ‘outsourced’. Suffice to say, Ms. Jacobs’ Powerpoint presentation was slick; by the end, I was bracing myself for a pyrotechnically-enhanced finale.

Maybe that’s a feature in the next version of MS Office?

Cambridge Days

Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, film vs. Infocom

So Azure and I saw Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy last week.  Wasn’t perfect, but at least I can review it in a fitting fashion, like so:

“Mostly Harmless.“   *

…and glean some satisfaction in that. And, I suppose, there’s some reassurance in knowing that this film adaptation won’t be regarded as the definitive Hitchhiker’s. Because in my book, that honor is reserved for the Infocom game. What else?

Cambridge Days

April

Seems England can’t completely shake off winter, much as I can’t free myself from this here particularly nasty cold. Brutal, really. Cambridge was grey and drizzly all of last week; meanwhile, I shuffled across the cobbled streets doubled-over and coughing like a pauper with the consumption.

Well, not quite that bad.

And in fairness, there have been intermittent bursts of Spring, about.  The oft-truant sun briefly swung our way a few weeks ago – staying just long enough to push up daffodils and scatter cherry-blossoms all across Cambridge. Our friendly garden hedgehog returned right about then, and has since proceeded to enjoy his evening ruckus in our shrubs. And now there’s another woodland creature hanging about our place: an impressively plump Toad who crawls into our conservatory, since it’s warm there. After relocating him back to the garden, we’ll spot him from time to time; he sits under the fern, mostly.

pink flowers in cambridge

That’s mostly it. School’s out – April is the month of our ‘Major Consulting Project’. Half the MBA class flew the coop to places like Singapore, Norway, and Venezuela to work for various multinationals. My team of four hasn’t left town, not much, but our full-time gig is with Apple EMEA, digging into their Xserve strategy, which suits me fine.

Now, if somebody would kindly pass the mentholated cough drops…

Cambridge Days

James Bond, Napoleon, and Organizational Management

Unintended consequence of the Cambridge MBA: Bond movies won’t be the same, anymore.

Actually, 007 hasn’t mixed the martinis quite right for some time now. IMHO, the franchise slipped from ‘tired’ to ‘exhausted’ with The World Is Not Enough. But that’s beside the point.

No, what happened is this: I hung out with Britian’s previous ’M’ (James Bond’s boss, remember?) for the better part of an hour, chatting about his old job and present-day geopolitics. The requisite dash of intrigue was provided early on, when our MBA class was told to show up for a guest lecture – but wasn’t told who’d be speaking, for ‘security reasons’.

The former ’M’ has a name, of course: Sir Richard Dearlove. (And, in reality, apparently the title was ‘C’, not ’M’.) Sir Richard spoke about leadership and organizational management – from the perspective of somebody who’s managed and led a very unique organization. The core topics he discussed – training, development, managing culture – are standard fare in B-schools; I suppose the trick lies in adjusting those ideas to fit your own corporation, or Secret Intelligence Service, what have you.

Anyhow, the regular guest-speaker rigamarole followed the lecture: mingling, chatting, and a few glasses of hey-not-bad-given-that-it’s-free wine on the 2nd floor of the Judge. And that’s where I wound up having a real, actual conversation with Sir Richard and four or five others; much of it centered on the Middle East. To craft an SAT analogy out of the whole experience, I suppose it was like talking about meditation with the Dalai Lama – the key relationship being that the other guy is operating with some insight that’s very much unavailable to you. Or so you’d imagine.

Of course, if you read the Judge Institute’s press release, it’s also clear that this went down in early February. So, yes, I’m behind on the blogging…

Speaking of managing organizational behavior: ever wonder why those useless buttons are on the sleeves of men’s suits? You know, the ones sewn by the cuff, without a buttonhole, even?

This cropped up in Strategy, of all classes. Turns out the sartorial invention is credited to Napoleon, who’d observed his lieutenants nastily wipe their snotty noses with their jacket sleeves. Disliking this vulgar habit, Napoleon immediately mandated that sharp copper buttons be sewn along the sleeves of his uniforms – serving as a visible (and tactile) reminder not to rub your jacket across your face.

Design is not what it looks like, it’s how it works.

Cambridge Days

Punch-drunk microeconomics, and the price inelasticity of fruitcake

The week before last was exams – a one-two punch of Corporate Finance and Organizational Behavior. I was swaying on my feet the moment I stumbled out of Cambridge’s Small Exam Hall, but then Az and I went and saw ‘Million Dollar Baby’, which pretty much knocked me out for the whole weekend. (Okay, boxing metaphor is corny, but damn if it isn’t apt.)

I’ve barely recovered. Lent term began promptly on Monday morning, which means I’m now fully back in business (school), and once again filling my cranium with executive-class knowledge.

Take, for example, this gem that cropped up during an Operations Management discussion: “The Price Inelasticity of Fruitcake” – i.e., as the price of fruitcake goes up, the demand for fruitcake doesn’t really drop. This atypical behavior occurs because fruitcakes aren’t bought for personal consumption – rather, they’re used solely as gift-items for unfortunate relatives.

Ergo, since the only way a buyer can measure the worth of a fruitcake is by looking at the price tag, bumping up the MSRP actually manages to increase the perceived value of said fruitcake. This, in turn, boosts demand for fruitcake-gift-object, and all in such a way as to offset any drop in demand due to some buyers being priced out of the fruitcake market, etc. etc.

I trust this explains why I haven’t blogged much, lately.

iMac at the Wren Library (not JBS)