Citizen Journalism, social networking and reputation

Wed Nov 11, 2009 by brett

Bill Thompson has posted a thoughtful article over at the BBC about the changes that social networking is making to our standards of social interaction. He discusses his own tweeting and live-blogging at conferences, and then talks about the news updates that were tweeted by Tearah Moore during the Fort Hood incident.

Obviously these are two examples that illustrate both the good and bad sides of citizen journalism. The good being closer interaction with the audience, potentially closer exposure to events as they are unfolding and the speed at which events are reported. The bad being that there is no controls over the quality of the information being reported - it may be true, it may not. Also, citizen journalists may unwittingly or deliberately trample over the rights of the people being reported on.

I think that reputation is the panacea for the problems described above. Journalists have a reputation to consider when they are reporting. This keeps them focused on reporting the facts and ethically constrained (obviously something has gone horribly wrong at Fox News). As online reputation becomes more of a consideration for Joe or Jill Plumber, hopefully it will mean they too will be more concerned with “getting it right”, as far as their tweets, blog posts, and Facebook updates go.

Great Paraprosdokians, Batman!

Tue Nov 10, 2009 by brett

I saw this thread on Reddit and thought I’d make a list of my favourite Paraprosdokian expressions.

  • “If we hit that bullseye the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards.”
  • “I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.”
  • “I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.”

  • “It’s all just water under the fridge”

  • “It isn’t rocket surgery”

  • “That train has sailed.”

  • “If I wanted your opinion, I’d give it to you.”

  • “Who do you think I am, Alfred Einstein?”

  • “If I gave a shit, you’d be the first person I’d give it to.”

  • “Whatever doesn’t kill you just postpones the inevitable.”

  • “Don’t put all your chickens in one biscuit.”

  • “power corrupts, Powerpoint corrupts absolutely.”

  • “Most accidents happen in the household. And most households happen through accidents.”

  • “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one.”

  • “People who sit on glass toilets shouldn’t shit bricks.”

  • “Well, onward and awkward.”

  • “I resemble that remark!”

  • “Don’t jump to contusions.”

  • “Now the tide has turned the table onto the other foot.”

  • “He passed with flyin’ fucking carpets.”

  • Mock my words!

Buying in London

Mon Nov 9, 2009 by brett

We are keen to buy a flat in London. It’s amazing how expensive the places over here are though! It’s quite depressing the compromises that we are forced to make. The cheapest place in Covent Garden we could buy is listed at £300,000 for a 24 square meter studio.

I figure we have two main strategies:

  1. Buy a tiny place in a great area. Live like cockroaches for a few years and pay it down. Rent out the place to short-term let people at an exorbitant price.
  2. Buy a larger place in a suburb further out from zone one. Live a slightly less urban life for a few years. Rent out the place to longer-term tenants.

Needless to say, my money’s on option 1! I figure we can grab a shoebox in a great area - I’d love to say Soho or Covent Garden, but even the shoeboxes in those locations tend to run to a minimum of £400k. OK, so we’re looking at a smallish pad in Angel or Regents Park… the thing is; in London if you live in an OK ‘burb in Zone 1, you can spend most of your time out of the flat because there’s plenty to do in the local area. We rent a separate office for the company, so we have somewhere to go and sit and work during the day. I definitely want to practice the Hi-Tech Nomad lifestyle, which is out-and-about rather than stuck in suburbia.

Funding a start-up company

Sun Nov 8, 2009 by brett

I’ve been doing a lot of research into running a start-up recently, and a name that always pops up is Paul Graham. He runs the Y Combinator, an early-stage venture funding company, and has written an extremely informative article on funding your start-up. I love the analogy he gives about how the different stages of financing your company works like gears on a bike; you should get just enough funding that enables you to drive your company to the next stage. This makes a lot of sense to me. Inc magazine also had an interview with him which I enjoyed.

dhclient and resolv.conf

Tue Sep 15, 2009 by brett

For some reason, when I get onto a client’s network and run /sbin/dhclient on my hacked-together-linux notebook, dhclient gets an IP address via DHCP, but doesn’t update my /etc/resolv.conf with the local name servers, so names don’t get resolved using DNS.

I haven’t figured out a fix for this yet, but a temporary work-around is to have a look at the lease in the /var/state/dhcp/dhclient.leases file. You should see a line like “option domain-name-servers;”. Just put that IP address in the /etc/resolv.conf file (ie “nameserver”).

How the Market Cap of Financial Firms has changed

Mon Sep 14, 2009 by brett

The New York Times has a great interactive graphic on How the Giants of Finance Shrunk, then Grew, Under the Financial Crisis. It’s really interesting seeing how, if the Market Capitalization of each firm is represented as an area, the each firm shrinks massively during the financial crisis, and now how the firms are rebounding.

Financial models need more complexity?

Mon Sep 14, 2009 by brett

A post over at the New York Times is arguing that one of the main causes of the financial crisis was inadequate quantitative models - models that tended to understate risk because they failed to provide a realistic model of the way the world works - neither incorporating risks such as a failure of liquidity, nor the complexities of human behaviour.

I certainly agree that the current stable of models which are in widespread use are inadequate given that the competitive market has made the spreads on trades so tight that there is no longer any buffer to cover the many short-falls in the models. Back when vanilla options were an exotic trade, the trader would incorporate plenty of fat in their options trades. Intense competition, a market that has steadily grown over the past 20 years (notwithstanding small glitches), and increased familiarity with the trades has served to camouflage the risks the traders were running in their options books.

Quantitative Finance is a very young science. I remember back in the early 90’s; the Black-Scholes model was the height of financial sophistication. I did not start working with finite difference methods for valuing American Equity Options until 1994. It was after Barings collapsed in 1995 that regulators started forcing banks to calculate VaR figures and allocate capital based on their calculated risk numbers. How far we have come in the last 20 years!

Of course, nearly all the models created in the early periods of finance have been based on the assumption that returns are normally distributed. Unfortunately this assumption does not correspond to observed reality. Attempts that DO try to create models that reflect the observed distribution lead to models that incorporate jumps, or contain stochastic volatility. Once we lose the normal distribution of returns assumption, we also have problems with correlation as an adequate measure of the relationship between the market factors. Suddenly we are in a whole world of quantitative pain.

There are also the practicalities of having neither the sheer computational power nor the software to incorporate the latest financial models. For some reason, the models currently in widespread use are not the most sophisticated models, but those that strain the limits of computation, software and trader/quant understanding.

It’s interesting to contemplate how hard finance will be with far more complex models. We are currently farming out our risk calculations onto large grids of computers. Advances in leveraging graphics cards to create cheap super-computers are arriving just in time, and are a hot topic in finance. The traders are demanding real-time risk figures (and so they should), and yet it is already hard to reliably provide these numbers with the simple models in vogue. It will be much, much harder as models increase in complexity.

Converting WMA files to MP3

Fri Sep 4, 2009 by brett

I recently needed to convert a bunch of WMA files to MP3 on my macbook. The easiest way to do it was to open up a terminal window, change directory to the directory with the files, and then use mplayer to convert each file to a WAV, and then sox to convert the file to an MP3. The command line I used is described below:

  2. for i in *.wma ; do
  3. MN=`basename "$i" .wma`.mp3
  4. mplayer -vo null -vc null -af resample=44100 -ao pcm:waveheader "$i"
  5. sox audiodump.wav "${MN}"
  6. rm audiodump.wav
  7. done

I probably can just output straight to MP3 from mplayer, but I couldn’t be bothered reading through the mplayer man page to work out how to do it!

Eclipse Phase RPG

Wed Sep 2, 2009 by brett

I just read this awesome thread over at about character creation in the new RPG Eclipse Phase. Man, this RPG sounds awesome! As ExNihilo mentions in the thread:

The fact that a question like “Can my character upload his
living consciousness into a distributed network-swarm of
microscopic robots?” results in actual debate is enough to
convince me that I’ll like this game regardless of what the
answer itself turns out to be.

Some character ideas referenced on the thread:

  • Alícia Seiroco, whose cortical stack is home to not just one, but two separate personalities, each with their own distinct mannerisms, skills, and memories, incorporating dangerous and forbidden nanotechnological augmentation.
  • Aineko is an AGI who started out life a few decades before the fall as an open source robotic pet owned by an eccentric futurist. Aineko was able to bootstrap himself into full intelligence about 10 years before the fall, although he never told his owner. Since he wasn’t officially a citizen at the time of the fall, he had few assets to fall back on when his owner died (gruesomely, of course) and had to flee as an infomorph. Forced to kick the habit of pretending to be a cat all day, he’s discovered an aptitude for programming an nanotech design.
  • Leonidas: Re-Instantiated Scum. Your number one, take no shit, biggest gun in the room is the Plasma Rifle. Leo needs it, he needs it like a baby needs its mother’s milk. It’s Expensive (ie, costs 20 CP), and can only fire twice before needing to cool down. You know what we call weapons that can fire more than twice without needing to cool down? UNDERPOWERED. But the cooldown thing is a worry: Leo doesn’t want to be caught defenseless. So let’s go right ahead and sling an underbarrel seeker micromissile launcher on that puppy. It’s only moderate cost (1 CP), and 20 High Explosive Armor Piercing micromissiles for it are only 2 more CP. It can only hold 6 micromissiles at a time. Naturally, it’s smart-linked (ie, it integrates with Leo’s mesh and gives him an accuracy bonus by displaying a targeting reticule in his vision. 1 more CP for that).


Testing when developing software

Wed Aug 26, 2009 by brett

Alecco Locco has summarized the SQLite presentation entitled A Lesson In Low-Defect Software at this URL: SQLite: A Lesson In Low-Defect Software. Now, I’m a big fan of SQLite, and this summary has pointed out a few things that I need to improve in my own development process - namely, more comments (apparently SQLite has a comment:code ratio of 2:1), and automated full coverage testing.