Twofish's Blog

September 22, 2006

Comments on blog by Mike Boyer

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 12:04 pm

Actually I’m 90% sure that what Boyer reported was probably not what Li Wufeng meant.  When he made that quote, he was obviously referred to the State Council Information Office and not the Chiense government as a whole.  The heavy lifting is done by the Ministry of Information Infrastructure.

At this point, I tend to get very frustrated that reporters just don’t post the full transcripts of their interviews (since this obviously wasn’t a off-the-record interview).  If they did point the transcript then this would be full of interesting useful details, that would help people like me figure out who to lobby to get wikipedia unblocked in the PRC.

But this is important information.  The important thing about bureaucracies is that they are made up of people.  Once you have a name and a face to someone in a bureaucracy, you can use all sorts of things like google to figure out what is going on.

September 21, 2006

Beautiful Evidence – Edward Tufte and Resumes

Filed under: Career — twofish @ 5:55 am

Got a whole bunch of books coming in from Amazon.  One of them that just arrived is Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence, which has a long section about how Powerpoint is evil.  I’m actually pretty interested in that section since the arguments about how Powerpoint encourages sloppy thinking also seems to apply to resumes.  I’ve been thinking about rewriting my resume to use sentences and paragraphs.  Yes, it will make it harder for to skim through, but I think I really do want to work at a company which appreciates sentences and paragraphs.

Speaking of resumes, I’m starting my slow transition between jobs.  I *really* don’t want to leave my current job, but I’m concluded that I’ll gradually go insane if I stay here as the difference between what I’m doing and where I imagine I could be starts to diverge more and more.  I’m trying to make the transition slow and gradual so that it can be stopped early.  For the meeting at NYC, I’ll just be meeting with people for lunch and attending seminars, and that doesn’t mean I’m looking for a job.

However, afterwards, I’ll have to start contacting head hunters.  At that point things get somewhat more serious.  In the case of seminars, conferences, and lunches, I’ll be trying to offer the other party something useful for their time in meeting me.  Even if I there isn’t a job prospect, I’m hoping that what I’m doing with Shanghai warrants and Levy processes is useful enough to be worth someone’s time, and I’ll be structuring things so that I’ll learn something even in the absence of a job.

With headhunters it’s a bit different, since I’ll be burning their time for nothing if a job doesn’t come through.  Once I start getting serious offers, I’ll be wasting everyone’s time if I don’t take them seriously, and at that point it will cause huge disruptions if I get cold feet or if my current employer suddenly starts making counteroffers.  I’m trying to pace things slowly enough so that when I jump, it will be with no qualms and that there will be plenty of times and opportunities to have some necessary conversations if the other side wants it.

Looking forward to TCFA

Filed under: china, quantitative finance, quantlib — twofish @ 5:29 am

Looking forward to the Chinese Financial Association meeting in Boston, and then the trip to NYC.  Right now I’m trying to put together an iternary.  My paper didn’t make the final cut, but I sent them a suggestion that next year that they ought to have a poster session.

It looks like it will be another few months before I can get a paper out.  I’ve taken a look at the Carr-Wu paper, and the basic problem is that they require an OTM option and at ATM option to do their analysis, and I only have two OTM options.  I’m going to see if I can salvage anything, but it looks like I’m going to have to do some pretty deep quant work to get out anything useful at all from the Shanghai warrants.  Not that this is a bad thing or anything.
At some point next week, I’m going to put in an FFT into QuantLib since I’ll need that to do anything with Levy processes.

September 19, 2006

Arrggghhhh!!!! Financial Times article

Filed under: china — twofish @ 1:20 pm

The life of a newspaper reporter is very difficult in that you have to summarize very complex situations into a very short space, but sometimes they just get it wrong.  This FT piece is an example where the article is highly misleading.  It’s not what you don’t know that is a problem, it’s what you think you know that isn’t.  This article does the traditional shorthand by spliting people into reformers and anti-market hardliners, but that isn’t the split at all.  There aren’t two “teams” in the Chinese government.  There are about twenty teams each with their own agendas, and each with their particular approach to a specific issue.  What the constellation of forces are in each issue is different and complex.  But the FT article would have been much better if it just said that X met Y to talk about Z, without trying to summarize about what “team” they are on, because the way the article describing this gets you further from the complex situation on the ground rather than closer to it.

The issues of trade protectionism, foreign ownership of banks, rebalancing the economy, market mechanism for allocating resources, RMB appreciation are interrelated, but they are separate from each other, and where someone falls on this issue depends on a lot of complex factors and people don’t fall into two groups.

September 18, 2006

Bought plane tickets….

Filed under: Career, mental health, new york city, quantitative finance, quantlib — twofish @ 5:34 am

I’ll be at MIT for the Chinese Financial Association conference on 10/6-10/7 and then I’ll stay a few days for the ISEAD Financial Engineering Applications.  This will get me until Wednesday when I’ll travel down to NYC.

I’m putting together an itinerary of conferences and a list of people to meet.

I’m psychologically preparing myself to leave Austin.  Rationally, I know that I don’t have a future here, but emotionally, it will be hard to leave.  I’m going to spend the next two weeks seeing if there is any chance that I can stay.

The thing that worried me was that the stress of NYC or Houston would be bad for my mental health, and that I’d end up miserable.  But it was the Nightline interview that convinced me that nothing that could happen to me out of Austin could be as bad as if I stayed.  If I go to NYC, I might completely burn out, but at least I’ll learn something new.  If I stay here, then over time, the difference between what I’m doing and what I think I should be doing is just going to get worse and worse.

Staying in Austin seems “safe” but rationally, that apparent safety is an illusion.  I need to really ask myself, looking forward ten to twenty years, is there really a future in the work I’m doing?  Rationally, I don’t see that there is.  Twenty years from now, C++ programmer is going to be like unionized auto worker.

No one true way – Back to Hayek

Filed under: china, hayek, wikipedia — twofish @ 2:06 am

The thing that I like about Wikipedia, and some of the discussions that are involved in dealing with the Chinese government is that there doesn’t seem to be any effort to find a “one true way.”  Everyone involved in the discussion probably has some slightly different view on what to do and how to do it, and we are all sharing information and trusting each other to do what is right based on the information that we have.  Some of these ways just contradict each other.  Jimbo Wales doesn’t think that a censored wiki encyclopedia is a good thing.  Other people in the discussion disagree with him, but everyone has the resources that they need in order to do what they need, and there does seem to be a desire to “let a hundred flowers bloom” to see what works.

This is important because once you believe that there is “one true way” then you develop mechanisms to enforce that one true way, and then you are as Hayek puts it  on the road to serfdom.  What you need to develop are some very basic rules so that people can minimally cooperate with each other.

Wikipedia, China, and the Media

Filed under: china, wikipedia — twofish @ 1:57 am

There have been reports about Wikipedia and China in the media recently, and a lot of the stories are missing some crucial facts.  I have some first hand information with regard to the topic, and this is what I think I know.  (If you want to know how I know this, e-mail me and ask.)

a) Jimbo Wales and the Wikimedia Foundation are pretty firm in their instance that WMF not officially sponsor a site that is censored by the Chinese government, and everyone that I know of is pretty ok with this position.  *However*, there are a number of wikipedians in the PRC who are interested in starting their own wiki sites that are subject to PRC governmental restructions, and everyone that I know of is of they opinion that they have every right to do so.  A lot of the discussion has been how to coordinate these wikis.

b) Everyone involved is interested in getting some dialogue going with the PRC government and to find out what is going on.  So far there hasn’t been any contact between the PRC government and anyone involved in Wikipedia, and no one knows even who to talk to.

c) Something that is very important to me is the fact that everyone has their own opinions about what to do, and everyone’s opinions is different from everyone elses.  Jimbo Wales has his ideas.  I have mine.  Everyone that has been involved in the discussion has theirs.  We are all sharing information and ideas, and no one is trying to find the “one true way” of handling this issue.

d) Personally, I’m trying to do what I little can do help with establishing some sort of communcation with Beijing.  The other thing that I’m really, really, really trying to do is to prevent these sorts of discussions from becoming some secret cabal, which is why I’m blogging about this, and trying to keep as much of this as I can in the open.

e) From where I stand the problem with Beijing is less the censorship and more the secrecy.  I’d really like to know what Beijing is doing, why they are doing it, so that I can figure out what my role is in all of this.  Fair is fair, and so if I think the transparency is a value that I’d like to hold Beijing to, I don’t want a situation in which Wikimedia becomes opaque.

Notes on Citizendium and the expert problem

Filed under: wikipedia — twofish @ 12:04 am

Some notes as to why I don’t think it will work…. As usual with these articles, they are intended as constructive criticism, and feel free to prove me wrong by making it work 🙂 🙂 🙂

The problem is that most experts would much rather work with the Wikipedia system in which identities are unknown than with a known identity for many of the same reasons that Superman spends much of his days as Clark Kent. It’s hard for me an expert editing wikipedia or any online encyclopedia with their real identity, because the risks are far too great, and the benefits are non-existent.

The big problem is that experts are human, and can say some really stupid things. In fact, an expert being human *will* eventually say or do something really stupid and reputation destroying. In the world of academic publishing, what happens is that drafts are reviewed very carefully (often in a non-for attribution basis) before they are actually published, so that any stupid things said are removed before publication with the intention of catching errors at that stage before someone puts their name and reputation on a paper.

The problem with this is that it moves the drafting process out of public view, and gives the false impression that papers with people’s names on it come fully formed, and missing the whole messy process of drafting a paper. The thing about paper drafting and idea formation is that it is a largely anonymous process, people trade drafts and comments orally or unsigned so that if someone says or does something stupid and they will say or do something stupid eventually, it’s untraceable back to them.

The review process is similarly anonymous. Experts are again human and it is harder to give honest feedback if the feedback is traceable. In peer review, the reviewers are anonymous so that the reviewers don’t know who the author of the paper is, and the authors don’t know who the reviewers are.

So at the two important stages of academic writing involving editing, the drafting and the review stage, the experts are anonymous, and it’s hard for me to imagine how to make it work if the process isn’t anonymous, nor do I see any benefit in people to participate in the system.

There are some other reasons that people don’t want to share too much about themselves…

First there is the privacy issue. I have a life outside of being an astrophysics Ph.D. and I have areas of expertise that I do not want linked to my astrophysics Ph.D. identity. For example, it is possible that I’ve become an expert in child custody law, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, or prostitution in Nevada (none of which are the case ). If I did, for example, develop this sort of expertise of various life experiences, I don’t want my identity of expertise to be linked to each other or to my expertise in astrophysics.

Finally, because wikipedia is new, you will get more cooperation from experts if you let them be anonymous. It was about two or three years on wikipedia before I felt comfortable mentioning *anything* about myself, and it’s only been slowly that I’ve come out of my shell, and learned some tricks for managing identity. One trick is that I don’t mention my name or wikipedia ID in my blog. It will take you about an hour to find it, but not mentioning means that you will have to do some legwork to stitch together my various identities, and its not going to come out of a google search. Someone with a huge amount of reputation (say a Nobel prize winner in physics) is unlikely to participate in anything where they have to put up their identity up front, but they wouldn’t necessarily be adverse to anonymously editing things.

The other problem is that experts *HATE* the academic system and the bureaucracy, and Larry Sanger mentions that the system for naming experts is going to avoid the bureaucracy and politics of academy. He doesn’t mention how. At this point I’ll have to argue from Hayek (which Jimbo Wales and I are both fans of) and argue that any sort of expert rating system is going to lead to bureaucratic dysfunction, and that a lot of the bad things you see in academia is not a function of the details of the system, but rather fundamentally arise from the fact you have any sort of selection.

The only reason experts to participate the in current system is because of money and power.  You just have to publish and get a good professional reputation to get money and power in academia.  The trouble is that because the thing is driven by money and power (neither of which are infinite) you end up with a lot of bureaucratic silliness.  Take away the money and power factor, then the bureaucratic silliness disappears, but so does any reason to participate in the system.

Again, if you disagree, just do it, and prove me wrong.

This brings up a final point. There is a lot of talk about how there is a lack of expertise in wikipedia. This raises the question, how do we know?

September 17, 2006

The cult of the expert

Filed under: wikipedia — twofish @ 3:48 am

I’ve seen a lot of things that criticize wikipedia for not having a set of experts running things, and I think a lot of the criticism is misplaced.

First of all, the same sorts of mechanisms that keep “non-experts” out are the same sorts of mechanisms that keep “experts” out.  I happen to have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and if I want to edit a wikipedia article, I just do it.  If I have to write a resume, and prove that I’m an expert with something other than my edits, it’s just a waste of my time.

Second, expertise is *extremely* situational.  I have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, but an eager high school student that finished reading an article in Scientific American on something that isn’t something I’m actively researching, just plain knows more about the subject than I do.  This is an important fact.  It so happens that I know an Nobel laureate, and I’ve been in situations where I’ve explained something to him because it was in a field that was in my area of expertise (numerical hydrodynamics) that wasn’t in his.  And if you had an undergraduate or first year graduate student in the room who just finished reading some articles in the Astrophysical Journal, that person has more expertise in the area than either of us, and we’ll both be listening to them.

September 16, 2006

New York City is insane

Filed under: new york city, stress — twofish @ 3:36 pm

One of the things that I’m trying to think about it that if I want a job in quantitative finance, I have to pretty much move from Austin to NYC.  The trouble with NYC is that it is just crazy.  Not that there is anything wrong with being crazy.

But what you have is a city filled with the worlds most hypercompetitive, type-A, achievement oriented people and you put them into a gigantic cauldron.  The waiter at the restaurant in Chinatown had his family raised a few tens of thousands of dollars to people in the Chinese underworld to be put into a container, where he spent two weeks in a freighter evading customs and coast guard, so that they can work under slave-labor sweatshop conditions and make more money than anyone back home can imagine.

Someone like this is not going to be a laid back personality content with their fate in the world.  And the entire city of New York is filled with basically that same personality type.

The thing that I’m trying to figure out is do I want this.  There is a part of me that is driven and hypercompetitive.  This part of me requires a lot of very, very careful management, because it can be very self-destructive.  The big risk that I’m worried about is what will happen to be if you put me in a room with other hypercompetitive borderline insane people.  On the one had, I’d much rather work in a city like San Franscisco and Austin that isn’t quite as driven or as crazy, but on the other hand, this desire is self-contradictory because you just don’t become the worlds financial capital if you are not borderline insane.

What is amusing is that I’m basically in the same career path/situation as the waiter in the Chinese restaurant that gets smuggled from Fuzhou.  A Wall Street trading floor is just another sweat shop, and I have this suspicion that if you put a Wall Street headhunter versus a Chinese underworld snakehead, that you’ll find that they are basically the same people.

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