30 September 2015

I'd Rather Be Lucky Than Good

There's an article on SA, that starts with Abraham Wald, a Brit stat who, during WWII defied the generals. Not a team player, he. The issue was how to re-armor aircraft in order to save them and, more importantly, the flyers. The generals looked at the bullet holes, pointed, and said, "there". Wald also looked and said, "not so much".

What's of interest, beyond the article, is the comments. The gist of which is that, following Wald's thesis, stock picking is foolish, and that inordinant gains are, mostly, just plain luck. You get the market rate of return, period. Unless dumb luck smiles on you.

Which, in turn, raises a question not addressed by either the article or the comments.
Something similar occurs in the investment industry. It claims that some people are extremely skilled, since year after year they've outperformed the market. They'll identify these "investment gurus" and convince you of their abilities. But a simple thought experiment can show that it would be impossible to not have these gurus produced just by luck.

If one goes to the track, and bets on FlapperFluzzy in the seventh, at 40 to 1, and she wins, you get taxed at median income rates, not some capital gains slap on the wrist rate. You got lucky at the track. You don't get an additional tax break.

So, if luck is so much a part of inordinant investment gains, and has even less benefit than playing the ponies, why not revert to the 91% rates of Eisenhower? He of the "fear the military industrial complex"? After all, what else are they going to do with the moolah? Stuff it in a mattress?

29 September 2015

Structured Relations

The McArthur grants hit the news today. Always expecting to see my name. Alas, not this time. Again.

But there was this entry:
Christopher Re, 36, Stanford, California. Stanford University computer scientist, who has created an inference engine, DeepDive, that can analyze data in a way that is beyond the capabilities of traditional databases.

Of course, my first reaction was along the lines of the McArthur folks are pretty stupid, if they think some NoSql mumbo jumbo is stronger than the RM. So off to find DeepDive. This is what I found:
DeepDive helps bring dark data to light by creating structured data (SQL tables) from unstructured information (text documents) and integrate such data with an existing structured database. DeepDive is used to extract sophisticated relationships between entities and make inferences about facts involving those entities.

I didn't get the grant, alas. But the RM won the war. There's satisfaction in that. So, in the end, Codd and Date are right. So, may be, the NoSql folks with all jump off the Golden Gate Bridge; holding hands in failed solidarity.

27 September 2015

Limitless

No, this is not a missive about a soon to premiere TeeVee show. Hardly. No, more musings on the evident reaching of the asymptote of human understanding of the physical world. More specifically, the glass is 99.44% full, not 10% as it was in the 19th century. Don't tell the Rightists, their heads will explode.

More confirming reporting today.
Technologists now believe that new generations of chips will come more slowly, perhaps every two and a half to three years. And by the middle of the next decade, they fear, there could be a reckoning, when the laws of physics dictate that transistors, by then composed of just a handful of molecules, will not function reliably. Then Moore's Law will come to an end, unless a new technological breakthrough occurs.

Some, with whom I've roundly disagreed in various forums, have suggested (not uniquely or first by any means) that some sort of bio based artificial neuron will displace the silicon transistor. Think about this for a second. At 14nm a transistor is composed of 36, more or less, atoms
Not quite, Si is FCC so the lattice constant is greater than the close packed atomic spacing by a factor of √2; you could have up to 36 atoms spanning 14nm depending on crystallographic orientation.
here
How are organic molecules going to top (bottom?) 36 atoms? Not hardly. In any case, as we see with driverless cars and computers that beat the best human chess players, the human brain has its limitations. Even Chinese industry is replacing cheap hands with robots. Oh, where will it end?

How many atoms does a transistor need to be this side of probabilistic? Haven't found a definitive statement, but 36 doesn't leave much room for production error, etc.
In July, Intel said it would push back the introduction of 10-nanometer technology (a human hair, by comparison, is about 75,000 nanometers wide) to 2017. The delay is a break with the company's tradition of introducing a generation of chips with smaller wires and transistors one year, followed by adding new design features the next.

Some say, quoted in the Times' piece, that slowing of Moore is good for competition. On the other hand, it could also mean that the first-to-Xnm will have a solid monopoly, since being second or third will be profitless: we've still not seen the legendary 450mm wafer, since there isn't sufficient demand. Xnm will increase output for that first mover, but without a Windows/Office cycle sink, where will the demand come from? IoT, say some. Yet the Jeep remote hijacking and VW perfidy make IoT a bit more of Big Brother (or, Borg) than might have been previously obvious.

A man's got to know his limitations. And the limits of the physical world. Einstein allowed that the universe is finite but unbounded.

23 September 2015

ZPOP [update]

It's been mentioned in these endeavors a few times: 99.44% of macro-economic data is from surveys, rather than census. The sole prominent number is weekly unemployment; that should be a census of all recipients of UI. Other than that, it's sample data mostly run by various parts of the Census Bureau for BLS or whoever. I've admonished gentle reader, on occasion, to read footnotes to the unemployment report, to see:
1) there's not just one unemployment rate
2) the CI of those rates might make your head spin.

Now, comes reporting that the Atlanta Fed is proposing a new measure of unemploymentthat they're calling ZPOP. In essence: percent of prime age working population who want jobs, with jobs.

The first question which crossed my mind, naturally, when reading the reporting: is the Atlanta Fed Red or Blue?, mostly right or mostly wrong? The regional Feds aren't unbiased, non-partisan think tanks, much as most would have you believe. Here's the list of the Fed banks. Lockhart is president of Atlanta. Here's the WSJ rankings of accuracy. Click the labor tab, and Lockhart floats to second. Not bad.

In any case, the notion of focusing on "prime age" unemployment as the standard bearer makes perfect sense. Note, as has been recently mentioned, that labor force participation decline is not from geezers going out to pasture. It's from the genWhatevers living in Mom's basement because they can't get any kind of job. We can't afford it.

[update]
Upon further chewing, I've got to discuss something in the CBS News piece. The author is an academic economist (self-describes as econometrician). Here's the quote
One final note about this and other measures of resource utilization. Full employment is defined as more than full utilization of resources. Just because a worker is employed doesn't mean he or she is doing what they're best at or employed in their most productive occupation. If an unemployed engineer takes a job waiting tables to feed the family, that worker will be defined as fully employed, but that worker's potential is hardly fully utilized.
[my emphasis]

This point of view tends to be Left Wing; Right Wingnuts would rather that anyone but them live at subsistence: more of the economic pie for themselves, of course. But there's also a real world issue, which is that, over the last few decades, the more education one has the more likely you're employed in the non-productive sectors of finance or health or government. The problem with GDP is that its measurement is fungible. Not too long ago the BEA changed the playing field:
On July 31 [2013], the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis will rewrite history on a grand scale by restating the size and composition of the gross domestic product, all the way back to the first year it was recorded, 1929. The biggest change will be the reclassification--nay, the elevation--of research and development. R&D will no longer be treated as a mere expense, like the electricity bill or food for the company cafeteria. It will be categorized on the government's books as an investment, akin to constructing a factory or digging a mine. In another victory for intellectual property, original works of art such as films, music, and books will be treated for the first time as long-lived assets.

The net effect of this, of course, is to further incentivize folks into non-production employment. Not that Joey's going to read the GDP detail before declaring his college major, but the policy wonks (Left and Right) will and are certain to favor such sectors. Gramm-Leach-Bliley came about just for that reason: "we're good at finance, so let's do more!!" Let the Chinese make the stuff. The richest country on the planet in all of human history, but we don't actually make any of the widgets we buy. This makes sense? As the Bloomberg piece says,
Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation think tank, criticizes "intangible-capital fundamentalists" who, he says, unreasonably dismiss the contribution to growth of investment in tangible high-tech equipment.

The point, of course, is to reward the non-producing sectors. You know, like financial services which happily "innovated" us into the Great Recession. We really, really need more folks in finance and cartoons.

22 September 2015

I Sing the Sung Electric

This from AnandTech today:
Samsung has also reiterated their development plans for enterprise V-NAND drives, though as usual they are being a bit less precise in discussing their plans. The PM1725, Samsung's PCIe card SSD, will be utilizing 3rd gen V-NAND, combining 8 lanes to offer what is expected to be 1 million read IOPS.
[my emphasis]

Yet we continually read tales of file based APIs being the proper way to go???? It's getting to look more and more like The Dark Ages for compute/quant. Sigh.

21 September 2015

One Fact, One Place, One Time. Dr. Codd Said So.

So, the health insurance company decided that pestering clients into doing prescribed activities will lower health care costs. Naturally, if that were actually true HMOs, which originally stood for Health Maintenance Organization and has since morphed to Healthy Members Only as we all know, would have markedly lower costs. They don't, at least for some fixed definition of "average patient". Most health care costs are devoted to birthing kids and cancer. If only we could stop both from happening.

So, last year was kind of a mess, getting a physical, which they call something entirely different, and which my PCP office didn't schedule. Rush, rush at the end of December to get this done. No thanks, this year.

So, I go to the site to check what they think I haven't had done to my frail, quaking frame. Well, first I go to my usual suspect notes for the uid/pwd for the site. Hmm? Now, where did I write that down? So, I go to the login in page anyway. Type in my universal uid/pwd. Get back a message telling me it's wrong and I should "login appropriately". Well, yeah. I would if I could. The login page has no link to the Forgot uid/pwd page. There does have to be one, yes? So, I troll back to the Home of Home page, and find a link to Forgot uid/pwd. Type in my email address, which is all that's been entered so far. It says I don't exist. OK. So, I go to the Create New Account page. "You already exist. Please login appropriately". Cute.

So, there is a help email address. I send a mail to said address. Get one back saying, in essence, what site are you trying to login in to? Turns out, help has been outsourced to an outfit that doesn't know which of the 75 it gets paid to help, to help. So, I send back the insurer's site. Help Outfit sends back an email that my help needs have been forwarded to the insurer and will be fixed by someone at the insurer, real soon now. I wonder if they get paid as much as bankers do? Both just pass something through their hands as that something moves from point A to point B. That was all on Saturday. Today, the following occurred (names redacted to protect the stupid).

Hello,

We received your online request for assistance with your XXX online account. We require more information to locate your account & reset it. Please provide me with your name, address & date of birth. If you prefer, you may also call the number below for assistance M-Th 8am-6:00pm & Friday 8:00-5:00pm.

Note that all input from me was my email address. One hand thinks it exists, another doesn't. But, I send off the request.
Dear Mr. Young,
Did you have a recent change of address? I do not have this address listed in my system. I want to assist you , but I need to make sure I'm assisting the correct person, as there are multiple participants with the same name in our system.

No. I've lived in the same drafty garret for decades. And, despite Jim Anderson and Dr. Welby, Young families still persecute their sons. Don't blame me for endless doppelgangers.
You have been issued a login with a 10 character temporary password for the following website: XXX
Please login with the information below.

Username: XXX
Password: XXX
(Please remember passwords are case sensitive)

So, I do. Whilst doing so, the following arrived
Dear Mr. Young,

I found your record and added your email address to your file. That might have been why the system stated the email address was invalid. I have sent you a temporary password to access the system, it will be coming from our vendor XXX, please use it along with your username: XXX

To access the system. Once in you will be prompted to change your password. Your new password needs to be between 8-20 characters with at least one capital letter, one lower case letter and one number. Please let me know if you are having further difficulties.

Stupid kiddies. One fact, one place, one time. If only they'd remember that rather than getting hardons from writing their own oh-so-clever file-based APIs. And all those Soft Skills for Developers mavens wonder why I get so cranky. Such stupidity is clearly the result of concerted agile team building. Scrum Masters Must Die!!! Bring Me The Head of Scrum Master!!! We're Gonna Need A Bigger File!!!

19 September 2015

Addled

So much interesting news today, but I'll limit this missive to two topics driven by Apple that have been discussed here, more or less, in the past.

First, the advert world is falling!!! Now, I'm more than willing to admit that I'm mostly a Luddite with respect to smartphones: I only use it as a telephone, rather than an entertainment/distraction device. I've better ways to burn neurons in a worthless way.
Just two days after Apple enabled ad-blocking apps through its new mobile operating system, iOS 9, users are embracing the new technology after long complaining that the ads track them, slow down web browsers and are just plain annoying. In less than 48 hours, several ad-blocking apps with names like Peace, Purify and Crystal soared to the top of Apple's App Store chart.

So, of course, the advert pushers scream "bloody murder!!"
"This will be hard on small publishers," said David Jacobs, chief executive of 29th Street Publishing, which helps publishers create apps. "There are definitely some small publishers out there that make 50 percent to 75 percent of their revenue from ads, and they have margins of about 10 percent."

Such assertions are, of course, baloney. InnterTubes adverts are no different from newspaper or TeeVee adverts: a shotgun of content at a, somewhat, captive herd of prey. It's, obviously, harder to avoid adverts in the latter two venues. Hmm, may be there's a business decision to be made here. The advert pushers ignore the gorilla sitting on the coffee table: people who block ads are the sort who're infinitely not inclined to click, ever. In other words, the advert pushers are scamming their business clients with "impressions" numbers, as if such numbers actually measured anything material. Such numbers are no more material than the number of folks who read the NYT are to advert buyers there.

So, I found the PageFair report. What was amusing was the nature of the comments. In the Red Corner, advert pushers claiming that ad blocking is stealing from them, while in the Blue Corner are ad blockers who say
Secondly, this is just a BS number. It's like the RIAA claiming that every single song shared is a loss in sale. The math was bogus then, it's bogus now. I never, ever, ever, click on click-bait ads. Furthermore, someone leaching off me to sell my browsing behavior without my permission is morally bankrupt. The model needs to die.
[BT Richards]

or
This sounds to my like the world upside down. I'm responsible for these companies missing money for something I didn't ask for? Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with ads, but when someone is canvassing rubbish at my door I also slam the door in his face. So why should I accept this behavior in my browser, which has become my virtual door in the online world.
[Lestat]

The comment stream goes on and on. The Blue Corner gets it: adverts are only valuable to those that *want* to be pestered, for everybody else not so much. The Mad Men have been getting away with the "impressions" fiction forever. It's just a scam, only on the innterTubes the scam is just more obvious. Boo hoo. If the advert pushers were serious about the problem, they can implement the Nuclear Option, which is to ban users who don't *actually buy* in some specified period. Obviously, such period would have to be measured from first visit to a pushing site. So, if I visit the ABC site which adverts the SPQR widgets, if I don't buy an SPQR widget within, say, a year, I'm blacklisted from ABC. That would establish that ABC really does provide measurable value to SPQR. Over time, the number of visits to ABC will likely drop by 99.8%, but the value of those visits to advert pushers is demonstrably real.

Will advert buyers and the SPQRs of the world admit that this is the only way to price adverts rationally? Not in the lifetime of Dr. Who (all of them).

Which brings us to the second topic: the sky is falling on the iPhone, and perhaps all of Apple's insistence to sell only to the 20%.
APPLE is offering a new way for consumers to purchase iPhones, and while the company is calling the new system a "financing" plan, it is essentially a lease. The idea is to get people to constantly trade in their one- or two-year-old phones for the newest models. And Apple is employing a tactic similar to one that luxury carmakers use to get more people driving Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, Audis and Lexuses that they could otherwise not afford to buy: creating a monthly payment that is appealingly low.

Just as the house builders, then the car companies, came to understand that the sticker price is irrelevant to buying, so too now Apple. Got to get that monthly vig down below the pain threshold.
But, of course, these relatively small charges not only accumulate, they never stop, adding one more perpetual charge to consumers' monthly bills. Why not simply buy something as utilitarian as a smartphone, especially since new iterations offer only incremental changes for the average user?

(Aside: there is now the ultra low mileage lease. Cute. One might wonder how Apple will replicate that nuance?
The deal offered gives you only 10,000 miles a year, which is lower than the 12,000 miles that most leases allow - which is still far lower than the national average of 15,000 miles. Right of the bat, I am thinking, "Gee, you could really put your wiener in the wringer with this one!"
)

So, logically, the Next Step for Apple (get it?) is go ARM (not the chip) on the customers: cheap "lease" payment for the first six months, say, then a nice bump after that. "You're an upwardly mobile Yuppie, working in finance software? Well, then get the Edition. In a couple of years you'll be making more than enough to afford the upsized monthly. Just sign here."

I love it when the more money than brains crowd get clocked.
The Apple plan also seems more expensive than getting an iPhone through a cellular carrier, which will generally charge a lower down payment and build the rest of the phone's cost into the monthly payment. Now, someone on the Apple plan could essentially be paying twice -- first for the phone, and then for the portion of the phone's cost that is embedded in a monthly bill.

Apple's silly gross margin comes from somewhere. I'll leave it to gentle reader to connect the dots.

16 September 2015

Le Grand Tour

During The First Gilded Age, the newly minted adults of the 1% were sent off on The Grand Tour to prepare themselves to be Masters of The World. Now, Apple has The Double Tour, courtesy of Hermès. This should sound familiar.

In a few of these endeavor's previous essays, there was discussion about whether an Eccles' style economy could survive a New Gilded Age. The answer, of course, is no. But a New Gilded Age cares not a fig about what Eccles cares about. Until post-WWII, industrial America was built on the New England Factory Town paradigm: the many hands living at subsistence to provide bling to the wealthy few. Ford, both the man and the company, were a notable exception. He sought to maximize profit by maximizing productivity. He understood that, unlike Cadillac and Packard, this paradigm could only work if 50% or 75% could afford his cars. And he made it so; not least by paying his workers enough to buy his cars. He pissed off other car makers in the process.

Enter, stage right, The Burberry Girl. At the time, I noted that such experience was simply the wrong fit. Burberry, or any clothing company, has a near infinite total addressable market not tied to the population. How many shirts do you have? As many as like, and can afford. The same for Burberry Coats. Smartphones? If you've more than one in regular use, you're either a drug dealer or CIA spy; both?

Some take The Double Tour to be proof that the Watch Edition is going nowhere. Could be, but it's got The Burberry Girl's fingerprints all over it in any case. No chance to double up watch sales? Fine, here's some extra bling. One might consider that Apple had such a move in mind very early on, long before the failure of the Edition: the engineering of the strap connection was obviously done specifically to make such as The Double Tour possible. Hole and pin attachment of standard watch straps is fine if changing straps is only done when the strap breaks or gets so sweat laden as to be annoying.

On The Road To Bermuda

Hard to imagine, or may be not, what the Hope and Crosby comedy romp "On The Road To Bermuda" might have looked like. But we're seeing a real time version, except rather than those two old ham cut-ups making silly puns, it's China trying to broadjump from largely rural subsistence farming economy to financial manipulation expert.

It ain't working, of course. Yes, China has accumulated oodles of foreign tender, and acts as today's version of 19th century New England company towns. But the fact is: Bermuda, and the other island predators, are able to exist simply because they are tiny populations in the middle of nowhere. They are allowed to exist because international banking wants them. China is none of those. It does have that substantial manufacturing sector.

The Shanghai index jumped in a few minutes at the end of the day:
Remarkably, the Composite was down 0.6% roughly 90 minutes before the end of the session. A late spike in buying interest, however, turned the tide in a big way. While there were some headlines that could ostensibly be cited as a catalyst for the late surge (eg. PBOC Chief Economist making uplifting remarks about the economy), it was generally regarded as a government-backed move.
source: briefing.com

Doesn't Beijing know that only the USofA is allowed to act like the Banker to the Rest of the World?

15 September 2015

The Rent Is Too Damn High

Just shows how much I keep track of certain things. I caught a bit of SNL one time in the last few years, and I thought "The Rent Is Too Damn High" guy was some cast member playing a fictitious nutball. Turns out, not so much. Which brings us to today's topic, Drug Prices Are Just Too Damn High!!

Lots of folks have been making noise about drug prices, but not offering much in the way of fixes. Too much lobbying money to be lost, I expect. The Pharma Pholks justify the sky-high prices of new-ish drugs on the fact that 90% (or so; depends on whose numbers one looks at) of compounds fail to be approved. Of those, more than a few end up not making much.

Today brings an archetype of the problem. Xenoport, a small drug company, just announced the results of a Phase II trial for its psoriasis drug. (For those not following clinical trials: three phases, I being basically safety, II being a few cherry picked patients, III being large sample with a control (often placebo, but sometimes an existing therapy) to gather sufficient data to ask FDA for OK.) The main reason so many drugs don't get approved, or used if approved, is they simply aren't better (efficacy and/or side effects).

The pharma gadfly, Adam Feuerstein has a piece on the trial, and here's the punchline:
The side effects of XP23829, however, raised some alarm bells, notably diarrhea rates ranging from 22% to 40% at the highest, most effective dose. Other GI side effects noted in the study were nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Fifteen percent of psoriasis patients treated with the highest dose of XP23829 discontinued the study compared to 2% for placebo patients.

Xenoport, in its press release, said it would proceed to Phase III trials. Now you know where the money goes: pissed down a rat hole. And the CxO folks pull down six and seven figure compensation each and every year. Xenoport is down 28 percent, and change, today. Will that dissuade the Suits from spending the money? Not hardly.
XenoPort, however, said it expected to start late-stage trials next year and that it would explore partnerships to speed up the development of the oral drug globally.

There oughta be a law.

13 September 2015

A Quotidian Day

There's just too much in today's "Times" to cut&paste with commentary, so I'll just give the link, title, and pick a quote (may be two). You do the rest.

Are Western Values Losing Their Sway?
The Chinese vision is not universalist but mercantilist, and Beijing is interested less in remaking the world than in protecting itself from vulnerabilities of globalization, including the chaotic freedoms of the Internet. China, like Russia now, pushes back against Western aspirations and efforts to reshape the world in its own image.

There Is No Theory of Everything
[Frank Cioffi] hated big theories and any kind of metaphysical pretention and he would use little quotations to pick away relentlessly at grand explanations. He used the particular to scratch away at the general, like picking at a scab.

(The on-line text is materially different from my dead trees version. The first time, I think.)

Teaching Slavery to Reluctant Listeners
Twenty-four decades have passed since the Continental Congress deleted Thomas Jefferson's criticisms of slavery from his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, and college students today arrive knowing little about the way America's history of slavery has shaped their lives. Avoidance of the topic is deeply ingrained.

and
Finally, one young woman had heard enough. Born in Jamaica, S. lived in a working-­class neighborhood in Broward County. She was unquestionably the best writer in the class. S. turned around in her seat and pinned the complainers with a glare. "Stop whining and do the work -- that's why you're here."

Safety Suffers as Stock Options Propel Executive Pay Packages
Stock options have been the jet fuel propelling some of the biggest executive pay packages over the years. From an investor's point of view, these instruments are problematic because they provide an executive with little downside if the company's underlying shares fall but oodles of upside on the rise.

So, there you have it. Life is a seesaw. How you view life depends a lot on where your end of the board points.

11 September 2015

Canary Sing to Me, Part the Second

Recognizing when the Canary flies past whilst digging in the coal mine is more art than science. With Apple's announcement regarding "renting" iPhones, we see a Yellow Bird of Peril flit by. Just as auto makers are turning to 84 month notes to shift product, so too is this move by Apple. Maintaining the iPhone's silly GM leaves Apple little choice but to hide behind "monthly payment" being within the 20% household's budget. Good luck.

10 September 2015

The Best Show on the TeeVee

If you're not watching "Parts Unknown" on CNN, you're a moron. It's, hands down, the best show on the TeeVee. Bourdain's first one, on FoodTV, "Cook's Tour" was 30 minutes and OK; the snark was there from the start. It was mostly a food show.

He then moved to Travel Channel for "No Reservations", and began to find his footing. In August, 2006 there was supposed to be an episode on Beirut, but a couple of days in to the visit, Israel beat the shit out of the city, along with Bourdain and his crew. If you missed it then, Travel Channel still repeats it on occasion. You must find it. What we got was reportage, and the episode got an Emmy nomination. Should have won.

Thence on to CNN and "Parts Unknown", and the reason for this short epistle. My homepage, for the nonce, is CBS News, and it announces that heroin has invaded white America, specifically Vermont. A year late and a dollar short. Bourdain did that last year.
"Like a lot of our shows it's a stealth program -- it claims to be about one thing and it's actually about another," he says. "... In [preparing] for this show I noticed there's been this incredible explosion of heroin use in rural Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Vermont -- small, white, rural, small-town, Norman Rockwell America. No criminal gangs, no outside posses coming in, nothing like that, [but] little Timmy next door is a dope fiend now. And so is mom and grandma. On heroin, the worst drug in the world. How did that happen? So we started to look into it."

It's season 4, episode 8 "Massachusetts". Again, go find it.

09 September 2015

Crabby Appleton, Part the Second

Well, it turns out that the argument I've been making here, and many other venues, is true. Apple's iPhone, and the rest of its product list, have reached Good Enough. When was the last time a new iPhone led to a share price drop? As one of the many comments I've seen said, Apple has been selling the same iPhone since the 4S. Good enough.

A Thing Of Beauty

If you didn't watch the Serena-Venus match last night, you missed a thing of beauty. You also missed, in a subtle way perhaps, an object lesson in experience. I kind of hoped the match to be three 7-6 sets, maxing out on The Girls. A few points into the first game told me how wrong I was.

Back when I got out of school, the USofA was in the worst recession in decades, so I ended up in a job that was not, shall we say, all consuming. Which fact lent me ample time to fill. I was new to Boston, and didn't cotton to the bar scene. Taking stock, I concluded that I should fill some of this ample time with activities previously foreign. I chose karate and tai chi, in that order. One might consider these to constitute something of a schizophrenic decision. I recognized this, and attributed it to a quest for balance. Having been a bookish type up until then, well...

I studied karate with George Gonis in East Boston; he was still in the phone book last I looked. Among other things, his teacher lived in the Himalayas, which he visited every couple of years for instruction and testing. I studied long enough to have seen the result of one such trip (job in DC called after about a year in). Unusual. What was also unusual was the nature of the instruction. Of particular note was that only black belts were allowed in, or even watch, black belt classes. The only time the rest of us got to see black belts perform was at the school's tournaments, about every six months.

Even then, the 1970s, karate mostly meant tae kwon do to most folk. In other words, lots of flailing of arms and legs. As is common, tournament was by belt class and each had both forms and sparring. The lower belt forms were mostly of fixed form lasting maybe a minute, with sanchin being the main exception which had a unrelated sequence and was about twice the number of steps. The black belt forms were all of unrelated sequences, the first black being the shortest and simplest. If I recall correctly, the highest level black belts who participated were six and their form went on forever; each black belt level had only one form to learn but it was a doozey. Or so it seemed. Not like the movies.

When it came to the black belts' sparring, now that was jolting. In the movies (then and now) and those tournaments one sees today on ESPN and such, sparring is all flailing. Not in this school. (Tournament was held in a community center across the street from the dojo, i.e. a basketball court.) The opponents took defensive stance, George called 'kumite', then ... nothing. They just looked focused ahead. Another note: this was a traditional style, so gi and barefeet. Well, it wasn't nothing, if you paid attention. One would inch, usually something less, forward. Eventually one sensed a weakness and struck. It was over in much less than a blink of an eye.

George taught the new students himself for a month or two before handing us off to the instructors. One of the bits of wisdom he imparted, largely I expect because it was something newbies all want to know, "what's it like to be a black belt?" George: "A black belt is one who can kill or maim with a single blow." So, the black belt sparring demonstrated that.

So it was with Serena and Venus last night. Serena is top of the game. Venus, when she's healthy as it appeared during the Open, is a smidgen less. But just a smidgen. They were both serving at 120+. Think about that. The notion that two healthy Williams would need three 7-6 sets is foolish. They stayed even in the set until one left a tiny margin. Bam, a single blow. So, it went 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 Serena. Makes perfect sense.

Among many so-called creative professions it is often said by the old hands that as one gains experience, one simplifies. As a young practitioner, you feel the need to show off all your, more less perfected, skills. As you get more experience, you realize that there are a few base realities in your field, and getting them right is a life's work. So, you set off to do that work.

Alas, in the quant and database professions, this very important lesson has yet to be learned. I attribute this largely to academics: in order to attain a graduate degree in either field, a paper, expounding new research, must be produced. For the quants, finding new frequentist methodology got to be a pain in the ass. Some, I know not who, clever grad student decided to disinter Bayes and open up a fresh field of "new research". Bah. Equally for databases, although not so much from academics, but rather from the dropouts who can't grok algebra: NoSql and xml. Double bah.

For quants the reality is that it all comes down to squared differences.

For databases (boo!), it's orthogonality.

You thought I was going to say third normal form, didn't you? Admit it. No. The driving principle of the RM, and the SQL database when done intelligently, is to organize the datastore into orthogonal bunches. If you do that at all times, you'll end up with some normal form that'll be almost impossible to screw up as you extend and develop the application. Orthogonal data hasn't side effects in either code or data.

Independence is a wonderful thing.

06 September 2015

Will Quant For Food

You've all seen this picture (or similar), right?

source: bluefinsolutions.com

Now, one of the versions of this endeavor proclaims, "It's the distribution, stupid", which is to say that Eccles' observation of the demand for equality in wealth/income is prerequisite to survival of an industrial/automation society. The current corporate fiat of wage determination is clearly causing the recurring recessions/depressions. If the 47% don't have moolah, they can't buy the widgets being made. Then, of course, there's the Bermuda model: only make financial services for the 1%. If the rest of the West attempts to follow such a model, the only cure is pogroms.

Turns out, some smart famous people agree with me. Ah.
"I think eventually we're going to move to a society that works on different principles, where the state supports people, maybe from taxes that come from the people that own most robots," said Marcus. "They're going to have a different kind of- almost like a leisure kind of life, but I think more people have come to realize that a guaranteed minimum income from the state really is the endgame here."

That "leisure kind of life" one read about in "Popular Science" and "Popular Mechanics" in the 1950s. We'll see.

03 September 2015

Pie in the Sky

The new Intel machine, Skylake, is official. Among many, AnandTech does its usual deep dive.

What's shocking, shocking I say, is that all of the write-ups stress that Intel is positioning this tock (or is it tick?) mostly for gamers. If you've been around long enough, you'll recall that each iteration of X86 was to make Windows and Office programs run a bit faster than mud uphill in January (for those in the northern hemisphere). M$ obliged Intel by making each further iteration of Office yet more resource hungry, thus fulfilling the symbiosis contract. No more, of course. Most Office work does very fine on a 2000 Pentium.

It is a sad day for computing.