Editor’s note: Although we have confirmed that Ravi Desai worked at Quantum, we can not vouch for the contents of these “Diary” entries. For the complete explanation, see this “Press Box” column.
When Alan Greenspan publicly ruminated over irrational exuberance, I wondered what he meant. I assumed that life was peachy enough to make his worries irrational; in fact, that day I had an exceptionally long conversation with a potential hire who wanted his salary tripled. I refused, on the grounds of insufficient exuberance. He still took the job, at something like a 20 percent raise.
He may have known something I didn’t realize until today. Although housing prices in Silicon Valley are exceedingly silly (“2BR, 2ba, fenced yard” $700K or better), they’ve been diminishing over the past few weeks. This is a leading indicator of something, although I am not sure what. My instinct is that it indicates the basic characteristics of a bubble economy. On the other hand, I realize I am the beneficiary of whatever bubble economy might exist. This makes me willing to read a newspaper named after a city I have no desire to live in.
Of course, I mean the New York Times. It provides an absolutely delicious morning read. For 20 minutes between 6 and 7, I get all the news of Africa–a central obsession–I need, as well as every other piece of information I could care about. Whatever I don’t learn from the Times, I get from NPR on the car radio. Sometimes I get what I know I don’t need: “Snake Mating Weekend in Upper Michigan,” enhanced by hissing sounds, narrated by some local-affiliate reporter angling for a Crossfire gig, for example.
This morning, though, I read the Times and derive a sense of worried optimism. For the most part it is driven by the punchy tone of the stories rather than their actual content. I actually start believing we will have a peaceful solution with Iraq. I start accepting that the biggest issue facing American medicine is the ethical problems associated with doctors e-mailing their patients.
Worried optimism is also my reaction to housing ads in Silicon Valley, and drives my desire not to buy at these prices. Although we can’t read the ads in the Times, we read them in community newspapers. We have talked about buying a house for months now. Every time we have the discussion we decide that spending the amount of money it would take to buy something in Palo Alto is a terrible use of cash. We also can’t skip over the fact we want to live in Palo Alto, since it’s pretty and has great restaurants and we already live there. I talk to a friend in the afternoon and we chat about offers he has made for houses elsewhere in Silicon Valley. His wife is irked that they have been unable to close on a deal despite having offered 10 percent over the asking price on every house their kids grinned at.
The rest of the day consists of several short phone calls between many long meetings. The phone calls are much more productive than the meetings. During the first few calls, I arrange three follow-ups, speak at length to the chairman of another company, and manage to munch on a snack while I listen on the phone to an old friend. He works in the Internet industry and decides Comdex went fabulously. The basis for this seems to be that he was offered several jobs on the floor of the show. One of his conversations apparently amounted to, “Hello, I really care about the Web.” “Do you wanna work for us?”
Fond as I am of my friend, I decide there is some arcane tie between housing prices in Silicon Valley and the ready availability of technology job offers. This reminds me of the ‘80s. The reason a handful of people bought exceedingly silly products in that decade (Apple’s Lisa, for example) was that they had way too much money, and no real way to use it. You couldn’t even get Cuban cigars then. Some of the trends they established at the time crashed and burned; today, I don’t know a single Lisa owner, current or former.
Karaoke, on the other hand, has survived through the years. I decide Desai-san doesn’t sound that bad.