Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Intellectual Nostalgia

Going Private discusses the "shallowness" of our understanding in the information-age. Specifically, GP contextualizes this discussion with reference to an article by Carol V. Hamilton, and augments this with numerous quotes from the movie "Being There" which as described by Hamilton centers around "a character named Chance the Gardener, whose entire existence has been restricted to watching television shows and tending a walled garden, [and who] is suddenly thrust into the outside world."

While Hamilton compares Chance to current and past political leaders, GP wonders if Chance's shallowness is not a "defense mechanism" that we all use: "
What reader hasn't at some time related to Chance's defense mechanism, feigning understanding in a meeting, nodding despite confusion, in the face of the fear of being discovered as shallow or unprepared. " She also wonders: "If such a flat character can, in fact, meet with nearly unbridled success and fortune, what value is merit?"

The problem here is that GP is making the same mistake that many Ayn Rand devotees make: When you get to write the story, you can make any lesson you want sound convincing. Would a character like Chance really have such success in the world, or would he actually flounder foolishly without an appropriate context? Would Rand's characters really be able to create capitalistic utopias, or are there more complex forces at work that can be conveniently ignored by the selective storytelling that an author of fiction naturally employs?

GP is also concerned by the "tendencies, recent in my view, to penalize those who can perceive the complex and therefore profit by it....To the extent these actors are successful in the market and attract resources with which to augment their influence in the pricing of assets, the banality of flat surfaces (oil company greed and conspiracy being responsible for price fluctuations in gasoline for instance) might be repelled. But what if these same actors who bring rationality into the equation are routinely vilified and attacked by a society that casts confused and envious eyes in their three dimensional direction?"

Is the envy and vilification of those who are more successful than us really a new phenomenon, or are we merely more well-informed about our place in the socioeconomic pyramid? I think that GP is more correct when she says that "
shallowness has always been the opiate of the masses, but that its delivery is no longer an endeavor confined to wealthy and influential institutions, or the higher "estates of the realm." " -- When the privileged parties have a vested interest in the status quo are able to manipulate the naturally shallow worldviews of those who are unable to dig deeper (because of lack of education, lack of time, or for whatever cause), we get heroic kings rather than villainous robber-barons.

I doubt that, on average, our perceptions of the world "as it is" are any more or less accurate than they have been historically. The information age has merely moved the paintbrush of the spin-artist from the hands of the privileged few to the hands of the often-envious many. We should
not see those who are successful in the world as either villains or heroes, but rather recognize that our system of economic and financial incentives rewards certain behaviors. Some are better at figuring out those behaviors than others, or better positioned (through birth, education, or luck) to perform the associated wealth-generating or wealth-aggregating tasks.

[Edited to reduce sexism]

Monday, May 28, 2007

Math update

I almost forgot -- I've found a substitute for the math training software I was going to write. sells software that helps you learn the Trachtenberg system of mental math. The story of the system's development is pretty amazing -- Trachtenberg developed the system as a way to keep from going crazy in Nazi concentration camps.
The software is reasonably well written, and I've already learned how to rapidly add huge numbers with it. The rules for rapid mental multiplication are somewhat more complicated, but if Trachtenberg was able to teach it to below-average nine-year-olds, I think I'll be able to figure it out.

Lessons Learned

1. Trading slow-moving, illiquid markets (like commodity currencies on Memorial day) is really boring.
2. If you're messing around with a mini account, it's not a good idea to trade currencies whose spread is nearly 5% of your total account size, no matter how good the trade may first appear.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Goal Review

Back on March 11, I listed seven goals for myself. With less than 90 days left until I leave my job, let's see how I'm doing.

1 - Learn basic accounting - this was already complete on the 11th
2 - Learn basic corp fi - I'm putting this aside for now, since it's requiring too much time for too little immediate return. I'll get the majority of this in classes anyways. OTOH, I did buy a set of Economic lectures from The Teaching Company, and I've been watching those daily for the past week.
3 - Write chess training software. This was going so well until my GUI developer went AWOL. I've got code for the actual chess drills, and I've even got a sourceforge project set up where the code is available, but there's no one who knows how to write GUIs. This is put on indefinite hold.
4 - Write math training software. I've made a little progress on this, and it's about to be come a much higher priority.
5 - Write an FX trading strategy. After doing a lot of reading on trading, I'm ready to make this one a higher priority now as well.
6 - Get in shape. This one has been going very well. I've been keeping to my exercise schedule, even when I'm traveling.
7 - Read aggressively. This has also been going great. My list of completed books includes:
Elder, Trading for a Living
Lefver, Reminiscences of a Stock Operator
Schwager, Stock Market Wizards
Schwager, The New Market Wizards
Paulos, A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market
Maiello, Buy the Rumor, Sell the Fact
Slater, Soros: An Unauthorized Biography
The Way of the Turtle (I forget the author)
Natenberg, some intro to options book that was really basic

Next on the list are Kiev, Trading to Win and Natenberg, Option Volatility and Pricing: Advanced Trading Strategies and Techniques

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gearingg up for Kellogg

Maybe it's just the caffeine from the Diet Cherry Coke I've been drinking, but every time I go on the Kellogg website I get overly excited. Today I looked at the details of the accelerated course/waiver forms. I'm going to try to get in to Turbo Finance, Turbo Accounting, and hopefully the accelerated Decision Sciences course.

I've also been getting pretty excited about the KWEST trips. These are week-long, typically international trips that kick off the start of Kellogg. My top choices are going to be skiing in Chile or Argentina, with the more exotic destinations (Vietnam? Ecuador?) as my secondary picks.

I've also met some other fun Bay Area Kellogg admits in the past few weeks. It seems like we're having a party nearly every weekend.

Work is transitioning nicely--I've got minimal work to do during the week, which leaves me time to mess around with some projects that I'm trying to code, including software to support some chess drills from the book "Rapid Chess Improvement" and some mental math drills from a book I used to study for the GMAT.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

And...we're back!

Wow, it's been a while since I posted. Well, that's because I've been busy busy busy! Projects include:
1. Learn basic accounting: Done! I finished all of Essentials of Accounting including all the tests!
2. Learn basic corp fi: in progress, somewhat slow going
3. Write chess training software: in progress, I've even recruited two other people to help me and we've launched a project on SourceForge
4. Write mental math training software based on the book Rapid Math Tricks: In progress, I've implemented the framework plus two drills
5. Write a systematic FX prop trading strategy: Okay, a little more difficult than the others :-) But I've got a basic concept in mind and I've started writing the framework. This probably ties with the Corp Fi for being least complete.
6. Get in shape: In progress, I've started a regular workout at the YMCA and I'm seeing a personal trainer once per week. An hour with the trainer is about equivalent to 3 hours at the Y. I also got beaten at my first-ever racquetball tournament, which wasn't so bad--the worst part was that my opponent was twice my age!
7. Read aggressively: I finished Silent Investor, Silent Loser which probably contained some real gems but the writing was so terrible that they were completely obscured. I'm going through the Soros biography now, which is much more entertaining and readable. I'm also reading and Barrons regularly. I looked into reading Risk as well, but at over $1000/year, the subscription cost is somewhat out of my price range right now. I ought to subscribe to the Economist.
After a significant amount of research, I have decided that in terms of career path, I'm most interested in the trading side of S&T.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Quick Update

Dinged by Chicago!
Admitted to Kellogg!
Totally the opposite of what I expected.

Still waiting on any word at all from S&H, but not overly hopeful since I didn't get an interview request yet.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Conflicting Reports

I have foolishly started reading the BusinessWeek MBA forums. According to some poster's research based on second-hand accounts from last year, if you have not received an interview from HBS or Stanford yet, you never will and you are a worthless human being. Others report hearsay from admissions officers that things are truly random and interviews are conducted up until the last few days before the deadline and P.S. we love you all.

Accounts from primary sources are distinctively lacking.

For the record, Stanford and HBS remain incommunicado.