Wednesday, May 27, 2009


We watch the news from Silicon Valley and are surprised at the recent increase in unemployment and bankruptcies and the severe drop in housing. Housing prices in San Francisco, a city that had hoped to be immune from this deep recession, have dipped 41% in the past year leaving homebuyers with an average loss of $304,000. Many who bought houses in the last few years owe $300,000 or more than they can sell their houses for today.

In a recent discussion with an affluent resident of Hawaii about his trip to Southeast Asia, he marveled at how people in the country he visited were able to live on wages of $6 a day. When asked how happy the people there were he responded that in spite of their low wages they seemed surprisingly happy. It was hard for him to understand their happiness considering their monetary situation.

We went to high school in Southeast Asia and have long held the belief that happiness there is due to their different set of values; wealth and ownership are just not as highly rated. But I couldn’t resist pointing out that the $6 a day worker in South East Asia with $0 savings and no debts has a higher net worth than many highly paid workers in Silicon Valley today that bought their houses at the wrong time.

Assume the Silicon Valley worker has savings of $150,000 and a house worth $300,000 less than owed. The worker in Asia with no debt, no savings, earning $6 a day has a net worth $150,000 greater than the well paid Silicon Valley worker. It is astounding to us how quickly the wealth of so many seems to have evaporated. A little more than a year ago, we were concerned with how trivial $100,000 had become in California. Now workers, still with good jobs, are walking from their home loans because they are $100,000 underwater.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


We are inspired by elderly folks that stay in shape, like the 90 year old in San Francisco who ran 5 miles a day and an 80 year old that we recently met at KTA grocery store in Hilo who was still earning medals from his long distance running events. We have been searching for the secret recipe of exercise and diet that will confer the same remarkable health and vitality upon us. Several times in our life we have gotten the mix of exercise and diet right and it was a wonderful experience. Each time our optimal health ended with some major life change like an injury, a pregnancy, a cross country move, a new company. We are always striving to get the recipe back and recapture that wonderful feeling of health and energy. As we age, what worked in the past does not give us results as quickly.

We confess to having done some pretty radical things in pursuit of improving our health. In our thirties we became vegans to avoid growth hormones in beef, chicken and dairy. We found it greatly improved our health and energy initially, but after eight years, we started to feel a loss of vitality. We had all our mercury fillings removed and replaced them with ceramic fillings with good results particularly improvements in memory and slowing aging. We moved to a place that had the best availability of fresh organic fruit and vegetables with low cancer rates and we felt more energetic and seemed to never get sick.

During our forties, when stress from a high tech start up seemed to consume us, we went to retreats to fast, drink wheat grass juice, detoxify our bodies, and take time to consider the spiritual side of life. We went on a completely raw diet for four months learning ways to create amazing meals from nuts and vegetables. But we were always hungry and gained weight, so we stopped. We have tried a lot of other diets including Atkins, Blood type, Weight Watchers, Glycemic Index, and low fat diets. Each diet has some kernel of truth in the recipe of our health that we have found helpful and retained in our efforts to lower our weight and gain vitality.

We continue our search for the perfect recipe of diet and exercise. In the last year we have exercised to the point of not being able to do anything else during the day discovering that at our age exercise causes more exhaustion and pain than when we were young. Now we exercise less, just three times a week instead of six, and we are focusing energy on our diet and food preparation. Since moving to Hawaii, we have changed what we eat, adding fiber through locally grown fruits and vegetables and low fat protein through grass fed beef raised on the Big Island and fish caught off Hilo’s shores. We continue to marvel at Hilo’s high quality of food and the sub-tropical climate perfect for exercise; we believe this combination provides the key ingredients we need for our excellent health.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


We get a lot of emails from people eager to move to Hilo, Hawaii. They are certain that they will love the rain, the remoteness, and the rigors of tropical yard work. They are excited about living on Hawaii’s wonderful vegetables, fruit, and fish, and they dream about a more relaxed lifestyle. We advise them to come, stay a while, be with the people, get the feel of the place, take the time to make sure this will be the happy place that they are seeking.

Many people claim that you bring your happiness with you and that if you didn’t bring it along, you won’t find it where you are going. But in our many moves, we have found that each place has its own culture and its own ethics and being out of synch with those community values can destroy a lot of the happiness we brought with us.

We have found that the quality of life in each community is greatly affected by the local politics, taxes, crime, pollution, weather, and the community’s views about children, religion, money, schools, food, the earth. For example we once lived in a place where drinking while driving was common, in fact liquor stores had drive through windows so you didn’t have to get out of your car to keep drinking while driving. Not surprisingly this resulted in us having many close calls with drunk drivers while on the road and endless tragic stories of others who were not as lucky. Another time we lived on a wonderful beach in the Los Angeles area and as much fun as being on the beach every day was, the serious crimes that took place around us made it hard to be happy there.

Since then we have focused on living in places where our values were more consistent with the community and it has been wonderful. In the Silicon Valley area, where we lived for 10 years, we found it a place that highly valued technology, technical skills, safe driving, and low crime and that added greatly to our happiness. Over time Silicon Valley became more focused on getting rich then about technology, crime surged, accidents soared, and we felt out of synch with the new community ethic.

In Hilo, we like the slow pace of life, with time to talk story, where money is not as important as family, organic produce and fresh fish are valued, and being respectful of the land, history, and each other is the ethic. These things, and many others, make Hilo a Happy Place for us right now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I attended a workshop on the Federal Stimulus package in Hilo this week provided to interested community members by the County of Hawaii. I left thinking about the question Bill Kenoi, Hawaii County’s Mayor, asked about our economy, “How bad is it going to get and how long is it going to last?” He said he had asked the Experts and they shrugged and said they didn’t know.

We are always looking for correlations between leading economic indicators in hopes of gaining some insight into and tracking the current economic “situation”. Billy Kenoi’s questions got us thinking about correlating national economic indicators with local Hawaii economic data in hopes of predicting the future. We picked “visitors to Hawaii” since that seems to be a popular metric, but the State of Hawaii has a great number of other metrics that we hope to investigate later.

The external economic indicator that correlated the most with Hawaii visitors was US stock prices, specifically the S&P500 index which represents 500 large companies on US stock markets. We used percent change as the unit of measurement for graphing purposes and we used only visitors counts from the mainland US, since presumably they would be most impacted by the S&P500. Knowing that both the US stock market and visitors to Hawaii are highly seasonal, we removed seasonality from both the S&P500 index and visitors to Hawaii by comparing the percentage of change year to year between the same quarters, rather than quarter to quarter of the same year. This removed the large seasonal variations in the graph and shows more clearly the overall trends.

The graph shows a long lag time between negative changes in the S&P500 index and subsequent negative changes in visitors to Hawaii. We have heard that most people make their travel plans well in advance of their actual trip; six months is not an uncommon lead time and it can be several years for business conventions. If we assume about a three quarter lag (9 months) between reservations and travel, then there is a fairly strong relationship between change in the S&P500 and change in the number of visitors to Hawaii from the US mainland.

The S&P500 may indicate the health of major US employers, personal investment portfolios, and 401Ks, perhaps making targeted visitors feel confident enough to take a vacation to Hawaii. We are not economists, but our take on the graph is that the number of visitors to Hawaii from the mainland may continue to drop for the next two to three quarters at least. And that assumes that the recent recovery of the stock market continues.

We wondered if a similar correlation might be true for Japan. We created a graph with visitors from Japan to Hawaii and the NIKKEI-225, a common Japanese stock market index.

The Japanese version of the graph seems to show similar trends, about a three quarter lag of increasing and decreasing tourism based on increases and decreases in the NIKKEI. From this graph we think it is likely that the numbers of tourists from Japan will continue to increase.

In this time of shrinking State income and smaller Hawaii tourism advertising budgets, it makes sense to tightly target visitor populations that are more likely to come to Hawaii. Correlating Hawaii State and individual County metrics with external economic indicators that are likely to produce higher rates of increased visitors may be one way to maximize the number of visitors we get with our State Tourism advertising dollar.