Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Swarm: The Second Formic War (Volume 1)

I didn't realize this series of books could fit in the Endger's Game timeline. I had thought that the first Formic War was immediately followed by Ender's Game. However, there is the matter of Mazer Rackham having been traveling through space to be able to talk with Ender, so I guess it makes sense. This books feels like the previous Formic War series. There are some people that see what is going on. Those with power don't believe them and dilly dally until it starts to get too late. Most leaders are greedy and really in it for their own benefit. They feel threatened by people that are more capable precisely because they are more capable. The "heroes" are crazy smart, but suffer from self doubt and can be a little bit too humble. (And how is it, that the Aliens always happen to be near mining ships that know how to identify them?) Mazer is ignored and in trouble with the military. Young Jukes is working hard and tries to do the right thing, but not ruthless like his father. Victor can fix anything and is brave enough to go into space. His fiance enlists in the military and soon finds herself in command of their now commandeered mining ship. Everyone seems to understand the political reason for their actions - except for the politicians themselves.
The author's seemed to go all George Lucas on the story. In the afterward, they acknowledged that there was not a whole lot of detail on Mazer in Ender's Game. Thus, they got to make an entire backstory to fulfill a couple small, nearly throwaway lines. It must have been a lot of fun to write the story. In reading it, you know how the main arc will turn out, but there are still plenty of sub-plots to keep things interesting. There are obviously going to be a few more books in this series.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Algorithms in a Nutshell: A Practical Guide

A programmer wanted to prevent memory leaks, so he wrote some code to store a record of all memory allocated and freed. However, this code resulted in the programs sometimes taking forever to run. Only after some analysis, it was determined that the binary tree used for storing memory locations was unbalanced, due to the sequential nature of memory allocation in malloc. Balancing the tree reduced the horrible worst-case run times.
This story lead to the promise of a great, practical book on algorithms. Alas, after starting off well, the book soon went of the deep end. Rather than providing simple algorithms to answer real world questions, it dove into deep analysis of algorithms with multiple tables of timings. (Hint: do not use text to speech unless you want to hear endless pronunciations of large numbers.) It went to provide very detailed analysis of implementations of certain algorithms on various platforms. Alas, it only covered a limited number of specific algorithms in this detail. It also went on to cover in significant depth some algorithms with limited use cases. The detail was both too much for a general "nutshell" view of algorithms and not nearly enough for a detailed reference book.

The Rule of Three: Fight for Power

The second Rule of Three book has less direct action and more internal politics. People have now lived for some time without electricity. They need to balance their need for survival with the needs to be ethical humans. The community does not have the resources to help everyone. How can you help people in need when your resources are extremely limited? In some cases, simply communicating and given out things you are not using is the key.
What do you do when people that exhibit valuable behavior also have the tendency to stretch things and act in ways detrimental to the community? Do you keep them around? Do you give them greater freedom to act how they desire, even if it may be outside the realm you want for society?
Unfortunately some of the community begins to unravel from within. The book tends to radio key points from a long way out. As a reader, I had suspicion as to the cause of certain key events. It seems obvious why events were happening, but the characters seemed to have no clue. However, the conclusion totally took me by surprise.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't

We spend a hug amount of money and computational power on predicting weather, yet we still complain about inaccurate weather forecasts. In spite of this, weather forecasting is one of the "success stories". We have much more accurate forecasts than we did prior to the computational advances. However, beyond a week, weather forecasts fare no better than guesswork. Small changes in variables can significantly alter the long term prognosis. People can also cause kinks in the operations. Commercial weather forecasts have a tendency to overestimate precipitation. (They would rather have someone pleasantly surprised by a sunny day than have an activity ruined by rain.) There was also a case of flooding in North Dakota where an accurate river level prediction was made. However, only the average number was shared rather than the range. The river crested within the range, which happened to be just above the flooding level (and above the average level predicted.)
Baseball provides a rich source of data about many players. It also provides many opportunities for inaccurate predictions about players. Successful teams use a mixture of scouting and statistical analysis to find the best players for the money.
There are a number of biases in the data analysis and predictions we see. Bold predictions are most likely to get press coverage, but are least likely to be right. It is almost always possible to find a significant pattern in the "noise", but that doesn't do much good for predicting future signals. People also tend to be really bad at understanding what data means. Furthermore, news coverage tends to focus on the outliers, even though they tend to be the most inaccurate.
Coverage of global warming provides a cautionary example. There is scientific consensus on the negative impact of human activities on the earth's climate. However, consensus does not necessarily mean good science. Rather than being a balanced average of different opinions, a consensus tends to be dominated by the loudest or most forceful voice. For climate change, the initial view was simply that a greenhouse effect existed and that human activity contributed to increasing in gases. After this point, things got wonky. Discussion switched to global warming, with precise numbers given for warming predictions. When these tended to overstate the warming, the predictions were revised down and models were calibrated. However, the more extreme predictions were the ones that received more press coverage. This would distort the public's view of the situation and give greater credence to the opponents. The response to global warming involves politics, and politics is concerned with the short term impacts, not the long term results. Thus, the noise ends up being twisted towards short term purpose, while the signal is left in the scientific circles.
Predicting terrorism is a lot like predicting earthquakes. We know it is likely to happen, with the minor activities being more frequent than the high-body-count ones. However, we are not good at knowing the specifics. The September 11, 2001 attacks were "unknown unknowns". They were just not something we expected or thought to expect. This made prediction difficult. Terrorism does tend to follow a power-law distribution giving us an idea that a terror attack might be due, but no more than that. (Ironically, Israel seems to buck the power law trend. They permit small-scale attacks to happen, but focus efforts on limiting the more damaging large scale attacks.)
The real problem with predictions is people. The sensational tends to be more appealing than well-thought out. A single pronouncement is given more weight than one couched in uncertainty - even though the uncertain one is much more truthful. People also tend to value "loyalty", giving more credit to those that stick by their guns, even though a willingness to change predictions in face of data makes for more valuable predictions. What are we to do?

Friday, June 09, 2017

Rule of Three

Rule of Three starts with a student working on his paper at the last minute. Then all power shuts down and things go haywire. The problem appears to be more widespread than just power - all computers (or anything containing them) are shut down. An explanation is never given for why. However, the power outage is widespread. Luckily, the protagonist drives an old car, so he is still able to get home. (He is also able to drive his "crush" home to her farmhouse.) Once home, he meets up with his neighbor, a former government operative who is also a survivalist.
The boy's mom happens to be a police officer and initially works to keep things in order. They arrange for people to "buy" goods on credit from local stores (thereby forstalling the looting attempts.) However, things quickly go downhill as the outage goes on. Eventually, they focus on their neighborhood. They set up security checkpoints, build a wall and recruit the local farmer (who happens to be the father of the girl that the boy likes) to come in and help farm plots. They seem to have a viable community.
The boy eventually gets his ultralight airplane to run and explores other areas. They discover the police station has been destroyed by a rocket launcher, probably by a group that has a Cessna. They also open up a mutually beneficial alliance with another community. Later, the Cessna group destroys the other community and murders anyone they can find. From there to book works towards its violent climax, complete with airplane fights and boy falling in love with girl.
It feels very similar to other "collapse of modern culture" novels, though this is told from a high school perspective.

Monday, June 05, 2017

How Will You Measure Your Life?

In How Will You Measure Your Life, Clayton Christiensen applies his theories to personal endeavors. He and his coauthors stress that this is not a self-help or business book with prepackaged conclusions, but instead a set of theories that can be applied as appropriate to the situation. Even a great theory may not be perfectly suited for each situation. But even the imperfections can be useful in illuminating the situation.
In work, people are motivated by intrinsic factors. Compensation, titles and benefits do not necessarily motive, but the lack thereof can result in a negative experience. People often get confused, chasing after the material rewards and find themselves miserable. If a family is important, time needs to be spent with family. Sometimes career choices need to be made with the long term perspective in mind - even if they seem short term in nature. Spending time with children at the youngest age is the most important. Trying to tack it on later cannot compensate for what is missed at the end.
When deciding on a course of action, one question that should be answered is "What is needed for this to succeed?" If the success criteria are not present, it will be difficult to have a successful outcome. In relationships, people often get into the trap of doing what they think somebody else would like to have done. They may work hard for something, think that is what they would want if they were in the other person's shoes. However, that may make the other person unhappy because that is not what they really wanted. This leaves two unhappy people. It is important to really know somebody else and spend the effort in service.
The value of work is important in family life. There is danger in outsourcing too much. Dell computer is a cautionary tale of a company that gradually outsourced its consumer business to Asus. Each move up the value chain seemed like a good move. Pretty soon, however, Asus was ready to do it on its own and didn't need Dell. (Luckily, Dell had other businesses to fall back on.) In family life, we outsource the raising of children by signing them up for many activities. However, having them spend time with us doing work may be even more valuable. People need to learn how to work hard and solve challenging problems. Being in prefabricated, easy to solve situations does not help that. Bring some of the tedious chores back "in house" and requiring children to be involved may be more beneficial. Children learn things when they want to learn, not when we are ready to teach them. The best way to instill are values is to always live them.
It is also important for us to uncompromisingly live our values. Once we start to compromise on what we believe, it becomes more difficult to continue to live them at later times. It good to spend time understanding what our values our and what is needed to live them. Failures to achieve goals are good and can help us to live a better life.
This book grew out of discussions in business school classes on how to define success. As such, many of the examples have a business twist. The methodology, however, is fairly universally appropriate, even if there is no "business" in the life.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are

Everybody Lies weaves together two interweaving threads. The first is that what people type in private in a search engine tells a lot more about their true feelings than what they tell to pollsters. (People will often search for "non socially acceptable" things such as racist or sexual keywords, but would not admit that to pollsters.) The second is that analyzing big data can provide us answers that we could not find using smaller data sets. An example of a finding was on crimes caused by violent movies. Using hourly crime data and violent movie box office, it was found there was a decrease in violent crimes when a popular violent movie was playing. This may be due to the violence-inclined watching the movie instead of getting drunk and violent that evening.

Most of the work delves in to the big data analysis of the non-socially acceptable topics. People would not tell a pollster something, but they would be willing to type it into a search engine. The difference between the public postings on Facebook and the private searches on Google would be an interesting avenue of exploration. (But, alas, the book doesn't go there.) The author acknowledges that there are weaknesses in using extremely large data sets. It is very well possible to find an answer that is merely coincidence. You can almost always find the answer that you are looking for, but need to be careful to make sure it is really true. (However, I wonder if he also falls victim to this also. If something is unacceptable in an area, the people publicly supporting it may be lower, while searches may be higher. However, would the reverse also be true, with people in an area where it is acceptable to say they support it, while not actually searching for it?)

Anti-muslim behavior provides an interesting case study. After attacks in San Bernadino, anti Muslim sentiment was on the rise. Obama tried to quell this by giving a speech stressing peace. The speech went over well with the media. However, a spike in Muslim-hate searchers occurred during the speech. The one time when it went down was when he talked about Muslim athletes. People were then more interested in searching out how Muslims were similar to them. This helped provide a base for future attempts at reducing violent behavior.

The analysis of "border cases" provides some interesting insights. There is a strict test score cut off for admittance to the most prestigious high school in New York. However, people that barely make the cut off seem to get into equally prestigious colleges as those who barely make the cutoff. This seems to show the high school has very little value. (However, it could also show that admissions officers favor students from a diversity of schools and may make it more difficult for those in the best school to get into their desired college.) Similar results were shown for people who got into Penn State and Harvard. Regardless of which school they chose, they seemed to have equally successful careers. (This does leave plenty of questions. Did people that went to Penn State work harder? Does Penn State have an honors program that provides a similar environment as an ivy? Is Harvard a mediocre experience for those without wealthy connections? Would people with similar academic profiles that did not apply to either show similar results?) It does seem to show that it is the person, not the circumstances that lead to success. Or perhaps that people that try and fail have a chip on their shoulder and are likely to work harder to succeed in the long run.

The author pays a debt of gratitude to Steven Levitt and Freakanomics in inspiring him to look for quirky answers to other problems. (Though he does claim that Levitt has fallen from grace to to political incorrectness and a coding issue - I guess I missed that one.) Now big data is the force that can finally put the "science" into social science. With large data sets, we can legitimately probe human behavior in a way that natural scientists can probe nature. However, there still are challenges. In some instances, "little data" can be better used. Often the best results can be found by combining multiple sources that include big data, enriched by more traditional "little data".

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Story of Music: From Babylon to the Beatles: How Music Has Shaped Civilization

Why do we have music? What was the purpose? Music has been used through much of the history of man. Ancient paintings show indicators of musical instruments. However, we have little idea what this music was. While writing and paintings from early history can be studied, we have little idea what the actual music was. There were some early attempts to provide some guidelines for the performing of music (such as the psalms.) However, these were only very basic, and did not provide enough to fully replicate the experience of the ancient musical performances. It wasn't until the last thousand years where a form of musical notation was created. Even the early notation has only reached the modern sheet music in the last few hundred years. This finally allowed music to be shared and gave rise to classical composers. However, unlike paintings that are observed in their original form, sheet music is interpreted by the performers, and remains "living" centuries after it was created.
The Story of Music traces the history of music. Famous musicians (such as Beethoven and Bach) are given their place, as are other musicians that have made contributions to the evolution of music in other ways, such as those that helped introduce chord progressions and the differences of notes. (The perfect difference between notes was dropped in favor of equal distance between notes.) Even hundreds of years ago, there was an artificial differentiation between "popular" and "artistic" music. (Ironically some of the "popular" music such as operas are now treated as "artistic".) I wish they included music in the audiobook. Descriptions of music just don't do justice to understanding of music. (Hearing comparisons of Lizt and Danny Elfman further whet my appetite for listening to the music.)
This book would have been a great candidate for an "enhanced" audiobook that included snippets of the music discussed as it was going on. I thought that somebody might have created Spotify playlists. It turns out the author has the playlists at his website: http://www.howardgoodall.co.uk/works/tv-presenting/howard-goodalls-story-of-music/playlists-for-the-story-of-music. The playlists are thorough - perhaps a little too much - with many requiring over a day's worth of nonstop listening to get through.
Though the author does attempt to focus on the entire spectrum of music, the focus drifts towards what we would call "western classical music". Popular music outside the western canon does get mentioned, but not with the detail of influential classical music. There is a sense of nostalgia given for the days when the "artistic" music of the day was also the most popular. (However, there still seemed to be the acknowledgement that serious music was for the elite in days past, even if it did have popular appeal.)
The advent of music broadcasting and playback equipment finally made popular music something that could not be ignored. The performing artist became as important (or even more important) than the composer. Popular music changed some of the common tropes of music composition, but stayed fairly consistent. Composition as a popular art form became mostly confined to film music. Popular music had its own cross-pollination, with negro spirituals borrowing from the British working-class and then morphing into jazz, and then rock and roll. The book felt like it ended too soon, but that may be due to recency bias. I was hoping to hear more of how music is evolving today.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice

Why would you hire a milkshake? It may be because you want something to easily eat and occupy you on a morning commute. Or, you may want to "give in" to a child and spend some time together. In one case, the milkshake is a better alternative to a donut. In another, it is competing with a toy store. Both are very different reasons for hiring. Understanding the purpose that the milkshake is fulfilling helps to better serve the customers and sell more milkshakes.

Competing Against Luck primarily uses anecdotes from various organizations to show how the jobs theory can help in making decisions about innovating. Successful new products and services help perform "jobs" that people need. These jobs may not be easily apparent in standard market research. Sometimes, there may be other factors in play that were not evident when looking at the original problem. (For example, high tech solutions may help doctor's complete activities in treating their patients. However, the emotional connection is even more important, and the technology gets in the way of their role of relating to the patient.) Often, people will not know they have a need for something new and may reject the thought of it. (American Girls dolls were panned in the initial market research, but went on to become hugely successful.)

"Objective" data can be a tricky thing, especially for ongoing operations. Everyone can use data to tell their story. However, behind the data are a series of qualitative judgement. Somebody chose what data to collect and how to measure it. People often feel they are getting "the facts", but they are really just getting numbers that were generated based on a number of opinions. (The numerical "facts" do give an air of authority even though they are often no better than opinionated judgments.)

Jobs theory can be summarized as "know the deeper meaning of why something is being done." Problems can arise when companies look at the surface reason and miss out on the true actions. Railroads faltered as they thought people were hiring them because they wanted rail travel. In fact, people just wanted a mechanism to move from point A to B. When better alternatives were available, they migrated away from rail. Similarly, there are many times where people (or individuals) don't realize the true purpose for which things are done. A job to be done is typically described in nouns and verbs. It is also provided in a general sense that can be replaced by something outside the current industry. The "job to be done" can help to explore the deeper reason for why things are done throughout life - and can also help explain some of the failures and successes we see in this world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language

The pool in "Gene Pool", "Pooling resource" and similar usages is not related to a "Swimming pool" at all, but instead comes from the French word for chicken. Etymologicon has an exploitative, stream of conscious style that works perfectly for the subject matter. The author takes some words and gradually moves through their evolution, and in the process runs into some other interesting words. These are explored and then related to something else. Each individual group of words is an interesting read on its own. The masterwork, however, is being able to relate them all together. He also takes time to delve into some linguistic influenced history. (The Anglo-Saxon takeover of the Celt lands seemed to be an all-out attack - or peaceful coexistence. Indo-Europeans spread out in many directions with their language.) The history leaves some interesting names that sometimes are merely multiple versions of the same word in different languages. (Some placenames would be translated "Hill Hill Hill".) Neverland comes from Peter Pan by way of a part of Australia where the blacks and whites never had contact. The Starbucks name came from Moby Dick. Melville adopted a common name that came about from the Viking invasion before undergoing a number of spelling changes. Some words have changed their meaning over time. Gymnastics comes from the Greek meaning "to exercise naked" It has evolved into a specific type of athletic activity that is now done with clothes on.
There are many other great etymologies in this well written book. I would love for the author to write further follow ups.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership

Be true to yourself. That pretty much sums up True North. Often long lasting success depends on going off the "scripted" rise to the top and doing what fits better with your values and moral compass. Leadership does not require a position of responsibility. Instead it requires a genuine desire to help others be better. Often some of the most helpful events are the negative ones. The bad experiences help you to know who you are and grow to succeed in the future.
The book is packed with many small vignettes of people that have been deemed successful leaders. However, unlike other raw-raw business books, it also shows their failures. Even the CEO who seems to do everything right as he rises to the top can do something wrong that leads to his ouster. That doesn't make him a failure unless he chooses to let it. Chasing fame or position does not provide happiness. Material wealth may be beneficial at low levels, but after basic needs are met, more possessions can become a burden. Discovering your true north and having a good support group can help you to reach success and happiness. Having a mentor and somebody that you can share your deep feelings with is important. It is also good to have a two-way mentorship where both parties are getting something out of it.
There are also many leadership styles out there. Different styles are appropriate in different environments. Success often involves being in an environment that is conducive to your preferred style (and being willing to adapt.) Having a passion for what you are doing is also important. Having a lower level job that you really enjoy is better than a greater one that you do not like. A life outside of work is also important. However, it is also important to be the same person no matter where you are. In the end, you want to remember that the person in the leadership chair can change, but you will always have your personal legacy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Pun Also Rises

There is actually a "punning" contest where contestants battle each other to make the most (and best) puns in a given topic. Some puns may be reaching, but the ability to continue the wordplay must take a lot of work. Puns have an interesting history. Even the definition of "pun" is clouded uncertainty, with many possible origins, but none fully convincing. Puns today are often degraded as lower forms of humor. However, they were not always thought of as funny. Creating and understanding puns requires a significant understand of the nuances of language. Some puns rely on homophones, while others rely on similar sounds or different meanings of different words. Understanding of the subject matter may be required for an understanding.

The Pun Also Rises would be best described as a language history. It delves into the history of the pun (dating back to ancient times), as well as its common use today. Even as it is degraded in comedy circles, it is still extensively used elsewhere. (From songs, to newspaper headlines to boat names, puns are everywhere.) The author also has a masterstroke for using puns, filling the book with subtle wordplay that does not get in the way of the story. I found myself with new appreciating for the pun as well as the "art" of punning.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat

Taste is one of the more maligned senses. Vision and hearing are used everyday in our interactions in the world. Touch provides continuous stimulus in our daily activities. Even smell is providing constant clues about our environment. But taste? Even the Greeks thought of it as a baser sense. It seems to only occur as we are indulging ourselves in food. However, taste has evolved in humans for a purpose. The taste of items helps steer us away from things that will hurt us and towards things that can help sustain us. Human's larger and more demanding brains have allowed them to focus on more efficient ways of ingesting calories, allowing us to spend less time eating than our primate cousins. Taste also involves a cultural adaptation, with things appearing tasty in one culture, but repelling in others. (There seem to be a multitude of "rotten fish" or "Stinky cheese" dishes out there.)
Through history there have been some attempts to analyze taste, as well as bogus theories that have endured much longer than they should. (For example, the erroneous "tongue map" that placed difference taste buds in different areas of the tongue was created by an uncorrected game of "telephone".) We have a better understanding today, but there is still a ways to go. Umami has only been recently added to the list of basic tastes. Will there be other tastes added?
Artificial sweeteners are difficult because they have side effects and only work on the taste sensors. However, even if we can't taste sweetness, we are likely to be attracted to it. Hot Peppers trigger a reaction that tricks the body into thinking there is a hot temperature, even though there is not. (It still can be debilitating as is the case with pepper spray.) Repeated exposure can desensitize people to the hotness - and even help them to live longer. Tasty does contains a number of historical tidbits and interesting anecdotes as it looks into the history of taste. However, it feels incomplete. There is not much of an overall narrative tying everything together. There seems to be so much more that could be said about taste. We may just need to discover it first.

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

I had always thought of Robert Moses as the evil dictator of New York highways. I had envisioned him as somebody that wanted to destroy Manhattan and transform it into a car-friendly suburban city. He seemed to be someone who wanted cars and highways and did not care about anything else. After reading Caro's Power Broker, I found myself even more disgusted with his life. I couldn't help but feeling how much better the world would have been had this one person been knocked out of commission.

The book did provide insight into the greater complexity of Moses's life. There was still a great degree of racist, classist and "carist" behavior in his actions. However, he had to work to accumulate the power first. He worked hard and got things done. He did create a large number of parks in the city. He would use the plight of the "common tenement dweller" in order to get his parks built. (But then he would turn around and limit their access to parks, by making them remote and easily accessible only by car.) He would fight against rich landowners when he wanted a park built, but would ally with them to get park donations, and willingly move parkways to avoid their land - even at the expense of ruining viable farmland.)

He started his career as a young idealist, eager to reform the corruption in New York City politics. His civil service reforms were beaten down and he was chased out of the city. When he later returned, his focus was on accumulating power. He initially started with parks and the parkways to get people there. Building in long island he was able to be close enough to the city, but far enough away to carve out his own space. Parks were also a valuable public resource that people could not easily fight against. He became the expert and the "parks guy". He knew how to get things done. He would wine and dine those in power, give jobs and lucrative contracts to the right people, and get the press to play into his hand. Initial cost estimates would always be significantly less than the final cost, but with the project in progress, who could refuse the extra allocation to finish it? If somebody didn't want him to build somewhere, he would simply jump start the project to have it in the works before they could complain.

He had a stellar reputation with the prewar press and public and would use it to accumulate more power. He would write the laws to benefit him and his power and gradually held more and more offices in the city and state government. His parkways were an extension of his "park" responsibilities. (And to ensure there would be no rif-raf at his parks, they were built with bridges too low for buses.) Since he was an expert at parkways, bridges and other highways also became his domain. He created a public authority to manage toll bridges such as the triburough bridge. This was a stroke of genius as it allowed him access to some public funds and bonding without public scrutiny. More importantly, it provided a continuing source of revenue that allowed him to further extend his power. He had plans drawn up for other highways. He had the funds and the plans. Even if small changes would save neighborhoods, he could refuse to allow them because the cost for the city to do it on their own was beyond the ability to manage.

Moses destroyed housing in multiple ways. As a housing commissioner, he was responsible for slum clearance. However, what typically happened was that slums were merely turned over to well-connected people who made them even worse while fleecing the residents. As a highway boss, he ripped apart neighborhoods and destroyed housing by adding freeways. He also failed to provide for public transportation, thus justify construction of more freeways in a never-ending feedback loop.

Parks also did not fair well under Moses's watch. While he did build many parks, he also paved over natural areas to provide his parkways. He "improved" parks his way, which may mean more pavement and a park that is less usable for the community.

How did things go so wrong? Robert Moses had power and surrounded himself with yes men. He didn't listen to the public he was serving. In spite of being the foremost highway builder, he didn't drive himself, and would usually work in the back of his car as he was driven around. He was smart and believed he was right. He was also always on the lookout for more power. Providing contracts and construction jobs for the well connected helped him increase his power. Building infrastructure for the well-to-do helped him consolidate his power. More people in cars meant more money and power.

Today, the United States is still suffering from Moses's Power. His model of highway building helped serve as the base for the Interstate Highway system. Vast swaths of cities became inefficiently dedicated to cars. Planners attempted to reduce congestion on roads by building more roads - only to see congestion increase. Public transportation was ripped out in favor of highway building. Only after sprawling suburbs were developed were attempts made to add transit back in (in the name of reducing highway congestion!). By then it was too late. Suburbs were not developed with a transit hub and were thus not efficiently served by transit. While transit was once run profitably by private entities, it is now subsidized by the public. Highways also continue to be publicly subsidized, leaving us with huge transportation outlays, while we still suffer from congestion.

Perhaps if New York would have let Moses's civil service reforms go through, he would not have become the power hungry maniac. Perhaps if the public appropriately limited his power early on (and had him adhere to the "one-office" rules), he would have not been able to destroy so much. If he would have just listened and used his brains to support public transportation, there would have not been a need for so many highways. He could have used the ability to get things done to make the world a better place for people. Alas, he did not, and in a quest to make things better for cars, he made the New York worse for everybody.

Alas, Moses remained in his cocoon. He was able to get things done. Just not the right things. He was regularly threatening to quit his posts. It finally took a Rockefeller to have the courage to let him do it. The governor had enough power and wealth to but Moses in his place. The public had also began to see the full extent of his power and did not have the rose colored lenses they once had. Even the media began to see through the facade. However, even with his resigning his posts, he still had triborough. Here, it required some double-crossing actions to finally get him out. He was enlisted to support the merger into MTA by the promise of a "key role" in the new organization. After the election passed, his key role ended up being as a consultant with no real authority. He was finally out of power, with his last bit of destruction being the cronyism in the World's Fair. At last he was out! He still tried to piece together additional bits of power, but he was through destroying the city. If only somebody had the guts to stop him earlier.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Emperor of All Maladies

Cancer is the modern killer that seems to fit our society perfectly. It is not a single disease, but a related group of many different conditions, all of which involve cells growing out of control. Reports of cancer have occurred back in ancient times. However, it has become much more prevalent today. Most cancers require multiple mutations to occur before cells start growing "out of control". People born with a mutation will often have a head start, however, getting cancer is not a given. It occurs more often in older people because they have had a greater chance to have a mutation occur. Carcinogens help aid the mutation process, but are no guarantee of contracting cancer. Some cancers (such as prostate cancer) occur frequently in old age, yet are often not the cause of death. Others may be extremely genetically related and occur at younger ages.
The medical profession has gone through many phases in the attempt to cure cancer. The many different types of cancer have differing biologies and treatments. The understanding of cancer has changed over time. Researchers had thought they had found strong indicators and causes, but the "easy" ones were often isolated to a few small types of cancers. Initial treatment used the "all out war" approach. A cancer and any nearby tissue were removed. Toxins and radiation were used to eradicate any cells. (Alas, this would often cause harm to the person and other parts of their body.) Modern research has helped uncover gene pathways and enable more targeted approaches that only impact unique aspects of the cancer cells. Cancer, however, grows and mutates rapidly, requiring targeted approaches to adapt to the changes. Some cancers have high rates of cure success, while others are still a death sentence.
Politics often becomes involved in treatments. If a potential cure is available, why limit it to a few people in chemical trials? Why not let everyone benefit? The quest to find a great cure has lead to some not-so-great experiences. For breast cancer, a South African doctor was showing extremely high remission rates for his procedure. People demanded it and forced insurance companies to cover it. Alas, it turns out the results were fraudulent, and not independently confirmed. It did not lead to long-term success and the insurance companies were actually right to be hesitant. Even good cures more only prolong life a few months or years. Is it worth it? For some people individually, the extra time may be a great benefit. For society, however, we are still looking for the long term cure.

Mind Gut Connection

Our gut plays a significant role in our daily life. On the surface, we often disregard the influence of our stomach. However, we refer to certain decisions as being "gut reactions". We know that something outside of our conscious brain is guiding us to act. The microbiotic diversity in our digestive system is huge. Much of the diversity comes about in our first few years of life. Our individual microbiota can impact us in many ways, even down to the way we act and our moods. Alas, we often disregard the importance of our gut. We'll take antibiotics that indiscriminately kill off portions of our "colony" of organisms. We eat all sorts of "junk" that is not helpful to our gut. We attempt to treat symptoms that arise directly, rather than address the underlying causes. Modern medicine typically disregard the strong mind-gut connection and suffers the consequences.

Plenitude

Plenitude was written in 2010 in the aftermath of the great financial crisis. The change in the economy and needs for individual workers seemed like the perfect setting for the author's "plenitude" theory of eco-friendly, sustainable economy. Alas, the economy was since rebounded and people have now gone back to the "business as usual" economy. This makes the book hard to read, even if it does have some good points.
Plenitude economics involves having enough material wealth to make you happy, while spending time outside the market economy to build up skills and personal relationships. It does not necessarily mean forgoing material aspects of life, but instead providing some in areas outside the market. People will work fewer hours at their jobs, and spend more time in hobbies, unpaid work, and "domestic production" (gardening, fixing things, etc.) They will purchase higher quality goods and take care of them so that they last longer. They will exchange with their friends and neighbors. Everyone will be conscious of the environment, and treat nature as a depleatable resource rather than something that is free for the taking. The "green economy" will create many small companies with environmentally friendly jobs. Additional job growth will occur not so much by economic growth, but instead by working fewer hours. (We have already scaled down a typical work year by over a thousand hours since the industrial revolution.)
I love a lot of the theory of Plenitude. However, it came across as very Utopian. What about the free riders? Would people actually devote time to personal production if they worked less, or would the market just come in with more entertainment options? Furthermore, the projections of future after the economic downturn proved to be unfounded. The business as usual economy came back with a vengeance. Can the economy really complete a transformation on its own?

Sunday, April 09, 2017

The Soul of a New Machine

Computers at one time were complex machines that only large businesses could afford to buy. Mini-computers brought down the cost of computing and started to allow even greater numbers of companies to adopt technology. Initially these computers were doing simple "rote" tasks (such as mathematical calculations.) However, they gradually grew to take on newer and more powerful tasks. (Alas, it does seem that some of these early programs from the 1980s can still be found in the wild today!)
The Soul of a New Machine goes back to the early days of computing when Data General was one of the powerhouse companies in the mini-computer field. The company was started by engineers that left Digital to form their bigger and better company. They recruited the hot-shot engineers that lived for computing, and pretty much drove them to burn out while they were in their twenties. The corporate misadventures and drive could easily be mistaken for a late 1990s dot-com, or a modern day social media company. However, this was an early 1980s computer company. They were making hardware and low-level operating systems instead of high-level webapps and software. They were also hidden out in a suburban Boston office park, rather than a central San Francisco office building. However, the internal drive was still the same.
The interleaves the stories of the personalities with the technical details of what they were doing. (Much of the technical discussion is still at the underpinnings of modern computing. However, today, there are but a few dominant players, such as intel, with most computers being assembled by what would be considered "OEMs" in this story.) There is also a turf war over "outsourcing". However, in this case it was a separate office set up in North Carolina, rather than one overseas. Eventually, the Boston team succeeds in creating their glamorous machine. The Eagle helped to save Data General and spur the company to a billion dollars in sales. The book ends with the high note. However, data general was to hit hard times afterwards as they failed to make inroads in the micro-computer industry. They introduced a legitimate laptop in 1984 - but were ahead of the times with a 3.5 inch disk drive. The company was eventually sold to EMC, who shuttered everything other than the storage lines. The dg.com domain name was eventually sold to dollar general, pretty much ending any traces of the company. (Digital did not fare much better. They did manage to launch Altavista, one of the best early search engines. However, it fell behind google and was sold. Digital eventually ended up being owned by HP, who also sold off the domain name.)

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Pronto Bike Share

I had a free day pass to use to try Pronto bike share. I had a couple errands to do that would take me around First Hill, Westlake, downtown and the Seattle Center. It was the core service area of the bike share, so it seemed like a good opportunity.

It seemed fairly straightforward. You used a credit card to validate yourself, though the day pass code meant nothing was charged. The terminal told me what I needed to do. Though did it really need to give me 90 pages of terms and conditions? Would anybody try to read that? And if they did, good look to anybody else trying to rent a bike.

At first, it took me a little while to figure out how to find a number of a bike to unlock. My session ended up expiring before I found my first bike. I had to go back and go through things again once I figured out where the bike number was.

Getting to Westlake was painless. There was a station across the street from the building I was going to. I was able to lock up and get on my way in a hurry.

First Hill was another story. There was a station at Seattle University, but a huge gap around the medical complex. (This in spite of a large amount of bike parking in the area.) I ended up riding a bike from Westlake to what looked like a close station downtown and then walking up to First Hill. It probably saved a little time. (Though it did give me the super long disclaimer again. Any time savings would have been eaten up trying to read that.)

After walking back down the hill to King Street Station, I found plenty of bikes nearby. At least the train station was covered. I also noticed a bunch of stations along the waterfront. I pedaled quickly to get up to the Seattle Center before the 30 minutes was up. The bikes are big and heavy, but they move pretty well. They had a basket-like thing on front, but there really wasn't room to store anything.

I made it to the Seattle Center with time to spare. Alas, while there were many bike share stations along the water front, Lower Queen Anne was pretty empty. The office buildings would be great candidates for bike share stations. A bike could easily get there faster than the slow prodding buses. But, alas, it appears the stations were situated primarily in tourist areas.

I can understand why the bike share stations did not do well. The station density was just not there to make it useful for running errands. Add in the overhead of checking out and returning a bike, and simply walking was a better option in many cases. The stations seemed to be placed primarily where it was "easy" to place them, primarily in tourist areas. However, the process to take a one-off trip was clunky, and you were supposed to have your own helmet.

I'm glad the city didn't go for the electric bike system. Hills may appear to be an issue. However, the bikes did seem to be able to handle the downtown hills without much of a problem. Without an adequate density of stations, even a hill climbing bike would not be much use.

I don't feel bad that Pronto has ceased to exist. However, it would be nice if the city returned the street-side stations into bike parking instead of car parking.

The Organized Mind

Today we have easy access to orders of magnitude more information than we could process. How to best utilize the wonderful computer that is our mind? We may get hoodwinked into thinking we can multitask, but that usually just means we are doing a whole bunch of things poorly. True work happens when we can get into a flow state that is unimpeded by other thoughts. However, creative solutions often happen when we let our mind wonder off on its own. Sleep is an important part of the equation and serves as the "sorting" time where our brain processes and organizes everything. Without enough sleep, our brain will not remember or work as well as it should.

The Organized mind is primarily a science book that explains how our mind works. It also provides some useful information on how we can maximize the efficiency and use of our mind. There are also some stories shared with Levitin's other books. As a book talking about organization, it at times felt a little disorganized, but still kept interesting.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

World on Fire


The introduction discusses the author's aunt's murder in the Philippines. She was a rich Chinese woman who employed many poor Chinese. She didn't think much of the people she employed, and even had them live in relatively poor conditions. (Yet those were probably better conditions than they would otherwise live in.) The chauffeur one day just decided to slit her throat. (Would things have been different if she treated them better? Or were the relations just such a mess that it was inevitable?)

Many examples are provided of "dominant minorities" in parts of the world. The Chinese tend to dominate the economy in most of Southeast Asia. This creates tensions with the ethnic majorities (who often dominate politics.) There is often an uneasy truce with the political elite - they know they need the Chinese help to keep the economy going. However, when tensions boil over it is often the "poorer" Chinese that feel the brunt of the conflict. (They are the one that the common people most often see. They don't have the big advantages that the uber-wealthy have.)

The implementation of democracy and capitalism tends to increase the conflict. Democracy brings about political control by the ethnic majority. Capitalism and market liberalization tends to increase economic power of the economically dominant minority. The reforms typically raise the standard of living for everyone. However, the minority tends to show a greater improvement, leading to a greater differentiation. This creates more conflict that empowers "nationalist" type governments and increases the internal conflict. Countries like Singapore luck out because the majority is the economically dominant Chinese.

Dominant minorities have achieved their positions through a variety of means. In parts of Africa (such as Zimbabwe and South Africa) and Latin America, the descendants of colonists have a dominant position in society. The "whites" tend to have land and the historical advantages to dominate the economy. The "mixed-race" individuals tend to be mid-tier, while the "natives" are more likely to live in poverty. In same countries "race" can be fairly arbitrary, with the wealthy being considered "white", regardless of original race. Countries can sometimes view themselves as large "melting pots" where everybody is of a common race. And then, a charismatic politician can turn things around and convince the poor that they are the true natives that should wrest control of the land from the colonial powers. (Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe both come to mind here.)

In other countries, the dominant minority arose independently and often due to oppression. Lebanese dominate many African countries. They did not have the advantages of the colonial powers, but worked hard and rose in strength. Many of the Russian Oligarchs are Jewish. They were prevented from attending the best universities or rising up in the Communist hierarchy, and thus had to work hard and develop skills and ruthlessness that helped them succeed during the the fall of communism. Certain tribal groups control other countries, often using close knit connections to dominate.

The dominant minorities theory can even be extended to the world. The United States dominates the world economy. This leads to resentment in many parts of the world. (These same people that resent the US are also likely to emulate the US and purchase many American products.) People may benefit from the many American products. Education and access to media and markets have helped them to increase their living standards. However, this access has also helped them to see how far they have to go to be like Americans.

Is there a solution? Equality may appear to resolve these issues. However, people always seem to find some way to differentiate. As long as somebody seems to be doing better, there will be conflict. However, if people see a way that they can get there, the conflict may be resolved. Perhaps we just need to let everybody be king for a day.

Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Capitalism is part business book, part history of Whole Foods and part political philosophy. The book is written in the voice of the founder and former CEO of whole foods, John Mackey. He has experienced both the the Austin-style socialism as well as free market capitalism. He has grown to be not too fond of socialism, and instead views capitalism as the force that can provide the greatest benefit for mankind. However, modern capitalism has often strayed from its positive roots and evolved to be more crony-capitalism. Many of the complaints from the left can be better addressed by a conscious form of capitalism than by socialism.

Conscious Capitalism can not be a whitewashing of a "mainstream" capitalism. It requires different values and commitments to value all the stakeholders. Suppliers, customers, employees and the community all have a say. When everyone feels valued they work better together and can achieve better results than can be achieved with command and control. Because conscious companies work together with their employees there is no need for unions. (Mackey gave an example of store in Madison that unionized. The union made many promises. Due to rules, the company was unable to make promises or implement changes on its own. However, at the non-unionized stores, the company was able to increase benefits, leaving the Madison store behind. They eventually voted to remove the union.) Advertising is also minimized. Customers can relate to the company and share their positive experiences. This word-of-mouth advertising is stronger and less costly.

Conscious companies still value profits. However, they are a means to delighting stakeholders rather than an end goal. When times are tough conscious companies have a chance to show their true commitment to stakeholders can be shown. All parties need to work together to make the appropriate stakeholders. They all have a say in things, rather than having something dictated from above. If done well, it can pa significant dividends over the long run.

The book describes many companies (such as Southwest Airlines, REI, Costco, Trader Joe's and Tata Group) that act as conscious companies. An empirical study also showed they significantly outperformed the stock market. (However, is this really causation? Or is it that high-performing companies chose to be more conscious?) It takes work to be a conscious company. Everyone can benefit, however, people may not want to make the change. The sacrifice can be greatest for those on top who will no longer be able to enjoy some of the "perks" of the position. It also may appear to be doing poorly in the short run. The past reputation and inertia may take a while to overcome. It also does not produce the instant results that Wall Street likes to see. In the long run, however, it encapsulates many of the important principles of good leadership and society. It is one of the ways that business can save itself from the anti-business climate permeating society.

Ghost

An inner-city boy learned to run when he fled with his mom from his weapon-brandishing father. He is poor, but he aspires to be a great basketball player. He stops by a track-team practice and decides to show them what fast is. While the fast boys are racing, he runs along side to show that he is fast. The coach immediately warms to him and invites him to join the team. Over the next few weeks he goes through his ups and downs, getting into trouble (and often getting bailed out by the track coach.) Eventually he starts to enjoy track and gets close to the team and the coach. In the end, his family comes together to support him in his meet and he sees that the school "bully" runs track for another team.

The book is well paced. The main character has many flaws. I felt sympathy for him as he did things that would turn out badly. Alas, the "bad" usually ended up being not nearly as bad as it could have. It would have helped to have a few more consequences in order to have a more fulfilling reward. The book also broke with sport-book cliches and ended right before the big race took place. It felt slightly unfulfilling, but still seemed to work.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

Despite being out for only a few months, this book has already been re-issued as Weaponized Lies. (Do you think the current political climate could have anything to do with this?) The book provides readers with the tools needed to critically analyze information to discern the veracity. The nefarious could also read it as an instruction manual on how to get people to believe what you want, even when truth is against you. Many tricks rely on understanding how the mind will jump to conclusions. (Merely framing things with different language can make them appear different.) With abundant published science out there, it is easy to find some study that will validate a point. People will rarely check the actual papers, so merely quoting something will make it appear legitimate, even when it is not. Statistics and graphs can also be great tools of manipulation. Scales can be altered to make the graph tell different stories. The "best" statistic can be chosen to prove a point (a mean and median are both averages but can tell very different stories.)
The trick to understanding the "lies" is to dig a little deeper. Sometimes a story can be quickly identified as being impossible. (If something doubles every year for a few decades, it will end up in the millions or billions, even starting with a base of 1. If we are starting with a few people doing something and saying their numbers have double for a few decades, we could easily exceed the world's population.) Other times we have supporting evidence that is not really supporting. Or perhaps the "lie" may be burried a few layers deep.
The Field Guide repeats many items from the author's much more lengthy works, but does it in a concise way that helps us to understand the "truth" in the sea of manipulative information.

Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World

Wall Street discovered that computers could rapidly sniff out arbitrage opportunities to make "free money" by exploiting differences in buy and sell prices in financial instruments. Sometimes it was as simple as buying it in New York and selling in Chicago. However, as more players became involved, algorithms needed to be improved (eliminating even a few nanoseconds could save tons of money.) Even the current internet was not seen as fast enough. The expense of building a more direct fiber route between the exchanges would be worth it in the fractions of a second that could be saved. No expense would be spared in snapping up all the brightest scientists and engineers to make better algorithms. When things go right, companies can make fortunes. When things don't? Well, we can have micro-crashes and great meltdowns like the recent sub-prime crash.
Christopher Steiner originally set out to focus his book on algorithms' impact on the financial markets, but expanded it to cover other areas of our life that are being taken over by computers. Markets had for centuries relied on an open-outcry system where person-to-person contact was key to any trades. These traders were seen as essential to the well functioning system. The NASDAQ market started to sneak on to the turf with an electronic trading system. However, even it required traders to manually enter trades in a terminal. Alas, somebody eventually was able to hack the system by connecting the terminal to a computer that could analyze quotes and quickly enter optimal trades. Once the NASDAQ caught wind of this, they tried to stop it by mandating that orders must be entered on the keyboard. Not to be deterred, the company created a system of "key-pressers" to manually key in the orders (and a screen reader to read data from the screen.) The engineers had their toe-hold on wall street and would soon go to take over. This has lead to greater transparency and lower costs for retail traders. However, it has also contributed to wild price gyrations and increasing challenges for big purchasers (such as mutual funds).
Other parts of society have also seen computers make significant inroads. Even in something as seemingly lowly as customer service, companies such as e-loyalty use voice scanning algorithms to help provide a better matching customer service agent and faster resolution. Some of the examples have not aged very well since the books publication in 2012. (Gaming company Zynga's algorithms have not helped it's financial condition.) The spends some time looking at some of the key contributors in mathematics and science that have helped us reach our current state. However, the focus is on the future. The author sees a need for more scientists and engineers. Alas, due in part to the tough math requirements, many students end up in liberal arts majors. Improving high school math could help with this. (Unmentioned is the fact that much of the math work is not needed in the day to day work of many of the algorithm coders.) Medicine is seen as a field that is ripe for greater automation, but also one that will still need a human hand. Career prospects are meek for those who cannot code. Being a hacker (in the good sense) is seen as the only career path that will continue to be viable. The book doesn't explore the possibility that we can automate coding and thus spend our lives eating bon-bons while our computers serve us. That may bea good thing.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

It's All About the Bike

Bicycles have a fascinating history. In the 1890s, the bicycle was the "thing". It sparked a massive increase in mobility. Companies were springing up all over to manufacture this revolutionary transportation device. Many athletic competitions were launched using the bicycle to showcase a human's speed. Even today, it remains the most efficient means for a person to propel themselves. It helped support women's suffrage movements. It also led to the adoption of good roads. Alas, the good roads and the speed ended up being commandeered by the automobile, allowing humans to travel faster, but at a much greater expense (to society, the environment, and people themselves.)

The bicycle also played a key role in industrialization and engineering. Ball bearings helped improve the efficiency of the rotating parts. Rubber tires and tubes helped allow for a smoother ride. The double-triangle frame supported weight efficiently. The spokes on the wheel provided a stronger, comfortable wheel. Chain drives and gears transferred power with minimal loss and allowed the wheels to be reduced in size. Assembly lines and large factories were developed to help meet the demand for bicycles. Most of the modern age owes its debt to the bicycle.

The bicycle also changed culture. The ease (and low cost) of travel enable people to live further away from crowded central cities. Sporting events also sprang up around the bicycle, with both long distance and sprint races having their following. Bicycle even led to its own downfall. Cars could exceed bike speeds. The manufacturing innovations could make cars faster and cheaper. The bike companies that survived often earned most of their revenue from non-bicycle lines. Bikes eventually were reduced to "toys" and not seen as serious transportation until they have had a renaissance today.

In It's All About the Bike, a serious cyclist goes about trying to build the best transportation bike. He travels the world to get the most durable, high quality components. These will not necessarily be the most expensive components. Carbon fiber dominates the world of bike racers. However, steel is still a much better choice for a "regular" bike. (It also has the benefit of being "moldable" and repairable.) A quality hand-built wheel will last longer than a machine built one. The "best" is sought out for each component, providing the author an opportunity to describe the evolution of the component as well as visit the artisans that are doing it best. In the end, he gets his bike, and we are enriched with a history and a knowledge that high quality workmanship still exists.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Out of the ashes of the dot-com crash rose the housing bubble. Low interest rates and relaxed underwriting standards allowed anyone to buy a home. Loans were available for anybody, reagardless of their ability to pay. (In some cases, borrowers were encouraged to lie outright.) Lenders offered low teaser rates with options to limit payments further. They would gather fees when the loan was made and then securitized the loans to sell them to others. Borrowers would be expected to refinance or sell their property after the teaser rates expired. This system would work as long as home values are rising. However, once the prices start to fall (or even increase at slower rates), the house of cards would start to fall as teaser rates expired.

In the early 2000s, bankers had convinced themselves that sub-prime was where the money was. They created complex finance instruments to package them together in a seemingly "safe" manner. The highest rated securities would keep all their values if defaults continued at their "normal rates". Wall street thought they had eliminated most work. Even this risk could be eliminated by purchasing credit default instruments that would pay out if the bond payers failed. These additional layers helped to mask the true risk exposure.

While most people saw safety, a few people could see the house of cards falling. "The Big Short" focuses on these people. They saw the subprime situation as a super-complex ponzi scheme that was destined to fail. However, it was difficult to take a short position in "subprime". They would invest in Credit Default Swaps as well as short stocks of banks with heavy subprime exposure. Alas, the market for swaps were controlled by the banks that had exposure to subprime. They would continue to keep the value nearly constant, disregarding the possible exposure. Despite mounting subprime problems, the positions failed to show an increase in value until the bottom fell out of the market. However, once the bottom fell out, there was a risk that the counter parties would be able to fulfill the default swaps. Due to the complexity and massive exposure, there was a risk that the entire financial system would fail. However, the government jumped in and "saved" the financial system, allowing many to continue business as usual and continue to collect their big bonuses in spite of the fact that they nearly brought down the entire economy.

The subprime crisis hurt a lot of people. Supposedly safe mutual funds had their value greatly reduced due to exposure to "AAA" subprime instruments. Many people lost their houses and many others saw the value of their houses plummet in value. Many jobs were lost. Retirement savings were wiped out. Ironically, many of the people that caused the mess continued to do fine. They had already collected their big bonuses and had little "skin" in the game. Fund manager Michael Burry, who had correctly predicted the fall, left investing for a while after the fall. Despite predicting the crisis and making a ton of money for his investors, he was viewed as somebody "outside" and not given much credit.

With the abundant availability of information, there is little "low hanging" fruit for traders and bankers to justify their huge bonuses. Thus we end up with complex derivatives to help juice yields. We saw a near collapse of the system during the subprime collapse. Is this only a preview of the full collapse to come? At one time, gold was use to help exchange goods. The coinage had an intrinsic value. Then paper money replaced the coinage. It was valued for what it stood for. (At one time it represented a gold value. Now it is just a "Faith") Today, paper money is largely out of the picture, with most transactions merely involving numbers moving from one account to another. On top of this, there are numerous complex instruments. How stable is this system?