A Bear Fund Actually Prospering

A number of weeks ago, I noticed the triple-bullish-on-real-estate fund, shown below, was breaking out of a big base, only to reverse almost instantly. This failed bullish breakout confirmed my general suspicion that, even in this new-highs-every-day environment, real estate was at risk. Let’s face it, an industry dependent uon super-cheap money can’t thrive in […]
Slope of Hope

The next war at sea will actually be entirely under the sea?

One interesting part of Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans is the idea that the best way to attack a country by sea might be to cut its undersea communications cables:

In 2006 and 2008, accidental destruction of cables effectively shut down Internet services to several large countries or parts thereof, including, among others, Egypt, India, China, and Pakistan. Fortunately, the cables are fairly substantial: typically, a couple of inches thick and well insulated with galvanic padding. But they are quite vulnerable, especially at cable heads when they emerge from the water. In Egypt just a couple of years ago, swimmers were caught while trying to cut through a major 12,500-mile cable. Internet speeds throughout Egypt plummeted by more than 60 percent. Overall, the cable system is fairly robust in facing routine challenges— accidents, anchors dragged over them, corrosion, low-level attacks. The challenge will come as nations and transnational groups (criminal cartels, terrorists) find ways to disrupt them on a massive scale. Even with the 285 cables on the bottom of the world today and the 22 “redundant” or “dark” cables in reserve, the vulnerabilities are clear.

We have 16 $ 2.7 billion Virginia-class submarines. How could they possibly protect even a single 12,500-mile cable, though? What stops an enemy from building an underwater robot to go down and cut through these vital cables? Instead of investing in another 32 of these submarines should we be building anti-robot robots to patrol up and down the cable paths?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

How many cars were actually destroyed by flooding in Houston?

The media told us that flooding in Houston after Hurricane Harvey destroyed up to a million cars (example: WIRED). Yet I recently booked a rental car at DFW and Orbitz showed prices for cars ranging from $ 13-15 per day (compact to full size). If a million cars actually were destroyed and people in Houston do need cars to get around, how can that be consistent with the low rental prices and ample supply?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Did the government actually spend $70 million to run a bank with $34 million on deposit?

“Treasury Ends Obama-Era Retirement Savings Plan” (nytimes):

An Obama-era program that created savings accounts to help more people put away money for retirement is being shut down by the Treasury Department, which deemed the program too expensive.

The 30,000 participants in the program, known as myRA and intended for people who did not have access to workplace savings plans, were sent an email on Friday morning alerting them of the closing.

President Barack Obama ordered the creation of the so-called starter accounts three years ago, and they became available at the end of 2015. Since then, about 20,000 accounts have been opened, with participants contributing a total of $ 34 million, according to the Treasury; the median account balance was $ 500.

The program has cost $ 70 million since 2014, according to the Treasury, and would cost $ 10 million a year in the future.

So it cost $ 3,500 per customer to administer a $ 500 account? And it was going to cost $ 950 per year going forward to hold onto $ 500?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Ten Trades That Have Actually Worked

You know there is a way to generate profits by trading.
You know there is some setup, some strategy, some system that you can trade to get on the right side of the market and generate these profits.
Unfortunately, most traders never experience that reality. We know this because we’ve surveyed thousands of traders.
But… rest assured… some do make it. And they don’t make it by luck.
How do we know it’s not luck?
Because the traders that do make it continue to make it… year … after year… after year.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see the setup, the strategy, the system that these traders are using to generate big Read more […]
SMB Capital – Trading Education

What does Sheryl Sandberg actually do day-to-day at Facebook?

I’m more than halfway through Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley by Antonio Garcia Martinez. If you’re a fan of Lean In (my review) you might be interested to know what Sheryl Sandberg actually does in her role as COO. Martinez provides one concrete example:

First up in the Sheryl show was a product manager named Dan Rubinstein. Dan resembled a Woody Allen figure: short, thin, nebbish, but without the crackling anxiety. Also a former Googler, he seemed like one of those old PM hands who always made sure to take good notes and get his weekly report in on time. He fronted for User Ops, which was the user police, and the user-facing version of what I did on the ads side. Ever wonder why your feed never features any form of porn or otherwise grotesque imagery? It’s because a team in User Ops has managed to sift through the billion photos uploaded a day, and pick out a pile of offensive needles in an Internet scale haystack.

On the screen now, Dan launched a demo of a tool that was essentially that: on loading the Web app, a raft of user photos appeared, which a User Ops “analyst” could easily click to eliminate, like plucking weeds from a garden. That image would be banished forever, including versions with small color changes or cropping done by veteran spammers and sketchy ad types. As he walked the room through the demo, he would click on an image of a kitten—kittens evidently represented the porny pictures they’d normally filter—and that kitten would be gone, as well as all variants of that kitten image. Click, ban, reload, click, ban, reload. A well-oiled kitten-banning machine, ladies and gentlemen.

Suddenly Sheryl interrupted: “So, what’s with all the kittens?”

Dan, a bit startled, peered at Sheryl, clearly confused.

“Why are all the bad photos kittens?”

Dan flatly replied, “We use kittens as the bad photos in demos, because the real bad photos are . . . you know . . . kind of obscene.”

“Right,” said Sheryl, “but why kittens and not something else?”

The room was deathly silent with thirty-plus sets of twitchy eyes rising from barely concealed phones and laptops to stare at Dan and his kitten-banning machine. You could almost hear everyone mentally asking in chorus: Yeah, what is it with the kittens?

Dan looked up at the screen as if noticing the kitten pics for the first time, and then turned to Sheryl and answered, almost under his breath: “Well . . . for demo purposes we don’t show really bad photos . . . so the engineers use kittens instead. Because, you know . . . kittens and cats are like, pu—

He stopped right there, but he almost said “pussy” in front of the Queen of Lean, Sheryl Sandberg. “Got it!” she expectorated. After sucking in a lungful of air, as if loading for a verbal barrage, she continued. “If there were women on that team, they’d NEVER, EVER choose those photos as demo pics. I think you should change them immediately!” Before the salvo had even finished Dan’s head was bowed, and he was madly taking notes in a small notebook. CHANGE PUSSY PHOTOS NOW! one imagined they read. He looked like a forty-year-old scolded child.

I was dying inside. You could feel either awkwardness or repressed laughter seething from everyone in the room at this unprecedented display of management wrath and PM folly. Demoing the pussy filter to Sheryl. Epic!

Dan limped along with the rest of his demo, and then it was my turn. After that high-water mark of incompetence, it was hard to fuck things up. I glided through the slides, lingering on the money shot: a plot of the number of ads reviewed versus human man-hours. The former was up and to the right (MOAR ADS!), the latter was flat (fewer expensive humans!). All was right with the Ads Review world. I drowsed through the other presentations and bolted at the first opportunity.


More: read Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

A Rally I Actually Support

I’m going to step out for a little while, since Bernie Sanders is making his appearance in Palo Alto. I’ll be back later to do a post and report anything interesting or unusual. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of Crazy Eyes. Incredibly, they hired an Oscar-winning director for this self-aggrandizing, Steve-Jobs-imitating piece of […]
Slope of Hope

What would President Donald Trump do that would actually be so bad?

As a resident of Massachusetts I am purely a spectator of the U.S. political scene. Though I will try to get down to the local school to vote for Bernie on Tuesday, our votes generally don’t count; most candidates on our ballots are running unopposed and, for the rest, the outcome is seldom in doubt.

Tomorrow is Super Tuesday and people have been in a tizzy for months over the prospect of Donald Trump as President. My Facebook feed is about 30 percent comparisons of Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler.

Stupid Question of the Day: What could Trump actually do that would be so bad/dramatic?

Let’s assume that Trump isn’t going to start a nuclear war. He has too much property to protect, even if much may be mortgaged.

Now what? The President can travel around the country making fine speeches (if Obama) or blunt ones (if Trump), but the President doesn’t make laws, set tax rates, or determine the budget. Maybe Trump wants to build a 100′-high wall somewhere but if Congress doesn’t fund it then he will have to pay for the wall himself, just as you or I would.

President Trump would appoint federal judges. Is there any evidence that he would do a worse job at this than anyone else? His own sister is a Federal appeals court judge, nominated to that job in 1999 by President Clinton. Presumably Trump, like other Presidents, would delegate the grunt work of finding good candidates for various positions. Are we afraid that Trump will hire inferior advisors somehow? Why wouldn’t he just ask his sister for help with judges and similarly qualified people for help in other areas?

Barack Obama has said that he was going to do a bunch of stuff that never got done. He was going to close Gitmo. He was going to tax oil.  Politifact has a longish list. In retrospect it seems that it didn’t make any difference what Obama said since Congress has the real power. What’s the practical downside of President Trump for those of us who don’t watch TV and who don’t pay close attention to what the current President says?

He’s not a candidate that I have ever considering supporting, but I would like someone to explain why does the sky fall if Donald Trump is elected?

[And, separately, what if Barack Obama were to nominate Donald Trump’s sister to the Supreme Court?]


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

College snowflake safe-space studies actually useful in the business world?

“What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” gives some insight into the working lives of young people. Here are a few excerpts:

When Rozovsky and her Google colleagues encountered the concept of psychological safety in academic papers, it was as if everything suddenly fell into place. One engineer, for instance, had told researchers that his team leader was ‘‘direct and straightforward, which creates a safe space for you to take risks.’’

‘‘We had to get people to establish psychologically safe environments,’’ Rozovsky told me. But it wasn’t clear how to do that. ‘‘People here are really busy,’’ she said. ‘‘We needed clear guidelines.’’

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

And thanks to Project Aristotle, she now had a vocabulary for explaining to herself what she was feeling and why it was important. She had graphs and charts telling her that she shouldn’t just let it go. And so she typed a quick response: ‘‘Nothing like a good ‘Ouch!’ to destroy psych safety in the morning.’’ Her teammate replied: ‘‘Just testing your resilience.’’

‘‘That could have been the wrong thing to say to someone else, but he knew it was exactly what I needed to hear,’’ Rozovsky said. ‘‘With one 30-second interaction, we defused the tension.’’ She wanted to be listened to. She wanted her teammate to be sensitive to what she was feeling. ‘‘And I had research telling me that it was O.K. to follow my gut,’’ she said. ‘‘So that’s what I did. The data helped me feel safe enough to do what I thought was right.’’

If employers such as Google are interested in “safe spaces” maybe humanities majors concentrating on “safety” are not wasting their college years.

[I do wonder if the Google employees didn’t fool themselves in concluding that psychological safety led to a high-productivity team. Consider a low-productivity team. If the top managers had full information most of the people on it would be fired. Thus everyone on the team is inherently in an “unsafe” position, from a job security perspective, and sharing information can be dangerous indeed. In a high-productivity team, on the other hand, everyone will be retained and probably promoted regardless of what is said at meetings. To the extent that they did correctly identify correlation, causation may run in the opposite direction!]

Separately, the article opens a window into one of America’s most selective business schools:

Julia Rozovsky wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. She had worked at a consulting firm, but it wasn’t a good match. … She applied to business schools and was accepted by the Yale School of Management. … The members of her case-competition team [fellow students] had a variety of professional experiences: Army officer, researcher at a think tank, director of a health-education nonprofit organization and consultant to a refugee program.

In other words, the only thing missing from this business school team was a member who had experience in an operating business.

What do readers think? Are Google’s profits driven by their search monopoly and their near-monopoly on hiring capable programmers? Or by providing safe spaces?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Is Hillary Clinton’s equal showing with Bernie Sanders in Iowa actually a defeat?

Given that Bernie Sanders only recently joined the Democratic Party (previously identifying as “socialist,” not a popular brand name for most Americans) and that only about half as much money has been spent to promote Mr. Sanders compared to Ms. Clinton, does the more or less equal vote tally actually represent a defeat for Hillary Clinton?

Let’s also consider momentum. Bernie Sanders was not considered a serious candidate a year ago but now he collects roughly the same number of votes as Hillary Clinton. More voters will now take the time to learn about Sanders and some of those will become his supporters? If he adds those to the roughly 50 percent share he has already… he could actually win?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Stupid question of the day: What did Volkswagen actually do with its emissions control software?

The news media is full of sound and fury regarding something that Volkswagen did with diesel engine emissions control software, e.g., “VW Is Said to Cheat on Diesel Emissions; U.S. to Order Big Recall” (nytimes). The journalists either can’t or don’t bother to explain what Volkswagen actually did.

Readers: Can you help explain this? What does the software in question control? The Times says “The Environmental Protection Agency accused the German automaker of using software to detect when the car is undergoing its periodic state emissions testing.” What does this mean? Only when something is plugged into a connector under the hood? Then “During normal driving situations, the controls are turned off, allowing the cars to spew as much as 40 times as much pollution as allowed under the Clean Air Act, the E.P.A. said.” Can this be true? What is there in a VW that can cut or increase pollution by 40X?



Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Is the iPhone 6s Plus camera actually worse than the iPhone 6 Plus camera?

Engadget has a table comparing the latest iPhone 6s Plus with the previous generation iPhone 6 Plus. It looks at first glance as though the new camera is actually worse for most practical purposes.

  • Old: 8MP iSight, f/2.2, 1.5µm pixel size, Optical Image Stabilization [OIS]
  • New: 12MP iSight, f/2.2, 1.22µm pixel size

For low-light photography, the lack of OIS is crippling (an important reason for anyone serious about photography to get the Plus rather than the Zoolander-sized iPhone).

The official Apple page, however, makes it clear that this important feature has not been removed in the latest generation of the big phones.

I do wonder about the low-light performance of this latest-and-greatest device. The pixel size of 1.22µm compares unfavorably to 6.25µm in the Canon 5D Mark III, sort of a standard for good low-light performance. A Sony A7R II has a pixel size of about4.5µm. Apple seems to have better camera software than anyone else but they can’t rewrite the laws of physics/CMOS.

The new phones will do 4K video, but should still photographers be camping out in line for this latest Apple device?

[Gratuitous Golden Retriever image from what is now my legacy iPhone 6 Plus:

2015-08-28 18.44.16]


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog