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Diary of a Hedgehog: Biggs' Final Words on the Markets by Barton Biggs

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The Elderly Kid Goes to a Tech Conference

February 23, 2012

Last week I attended a technology and Internet conference in San Francisco put on by a famous investment banking firm. Why did I go? Because I’m a dilettante in tech, although I have a big position in the sector and hoped—expected—to learn something. What I learned is that I’m not just a dilettante; I’m a hopeless, ignorant dilettante. Decorative but insignificant! Unfortunately, there were no moments of rare and precious content.

Also, I was anxious to take the temperature of the new tech crowd and the milieu it swims in. Had they studied the carcasses of the likes of Wang, Digital Equipment, and Nortel and learned anything? Did they know that the history of the high-growth span of even the great tech companies was 4.5 years or about the same as that of an NFL running back? Finally, I wanted to see the powerful and gifted corporate rainmakers up front, close, and personal; at least that was my illusion. Up close and personal? There were over 1,000 analysts and investors at this conference even though there’s another major tech gathering in three weeks.

The demography and mood of the tech crowd is important to me. Their interpretations and pronouncements dominate the action. My impression was that they’re true believers. They’re young, skinny, and all seem to have large, grape-shaped heads perched on long necks. They sit all day expressionless, fiercely concentrating, clutching their laptops or iPads, eyes focused on the ...

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