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April 8, 2007

How I got my MBA

Thanks to FullTilt for keeping the lights on here in America in the face of the brainchild of Republican Senator Bill Frist.

November 9, 2006

Your next job interview: Raise or fold?

The Philadelpha Inquirer published an article last month about Susquehanna International Group L.L.P.'s inaugural college Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament, a way for the company to learn how would-be employees handle decision making under pressure by watching how they handle themselves at a real money poker tournament, where first place is worth $25k.

"Poker and trading have a lot of similarities, such as making good decisions under pressure," Yass [cofounder and managing director of Susquehanna] said. "It teaches you to deal with losing even when you make the right decision."

Yass said the game remained instructive, even as exchanges moved to electronic trading, where computer screens substitute for human interaction.

Besides traders, the company is hiring programmers and research analysts.

John C. Giesea, president of the New York-based Security Traders Association, said trading firms more often judged job candidates on whether they had participated in sports, or how long it took them to order lunch.

"I always felt there were a lot of comparables between trading and athletics: the ability to act under pressure; the ability to make quick, on-the-fly decisions; and the ability to admit a mistake as opposed to overlooking it and forging ahead," he said.

Susquehanna isn't alone in the realization that poker can be a good supplement to or substitute for a formal business education. Bill Gates is perhaps the most famous, but certainly not the only, member of the billionaire community to have gotten his start around the green felt, and with books like The Poker Face of Wall Street and The Poker MBA, the community is officially taking note of a phenomenon that has long been an unofficial part of business culture.

A knack for statistics and, of ultimate importance, tenacity and coolness in the face of apparent failure, valuable traits in any high-pressure endeavor, are strengthened and tested by the game, making it both a breeding ground and a good testbed for the power players of tomorrow.

Stacey Briere Gilbert, a Susquehanna options analyst and former American Stock Exchange trader, said the company was looking for job candidates who let the odds be their guide.

"Over time, you're not lucky; it's statistics that are in favor of you," she said. "Poker can teach you that you can lose a lot, but still be profitable in the long run."

November 1, 2006

Abe Lincoln Says...

“Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes.”

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Maybe our legislators in Washington should have stayed awake during history class.

and finally...

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity." -Hunter S. Thompson

October 29, 2006

Suspension

Last week for my workshop in industrial design, our assignment was to create a puzzle — essentially anything that involved interlocking pieces that were created using NYU's laser cutting service. I decided to explore structure by designing and building a suspension bridge made from KEM playing cards, which are regular, professional-grade playing cards, made of a very flexible yet durable cellulose acetate plastic. I was very happy with the result, shown below. The design easily holds loads like model cars and is a good depiction of the basic principles behind the design and engineering of the structure of suspension bridges.

Suspension bridge made of playing cards.

Next up: a cardboard chair. The experience of designing and building the bridge should definitely be a big help as the problem is much the same, of obtaining structural strength from very flexible material, although I have plans to use a completely different type of structure to obtain the necessary strength and appearance. More to come...

October 21, 2006

Online Gambling Goes Underground

This week's BusinessWeek published a good analysis of the recent online gaming legislation.

However, depending on how the bill is implemented, it may not be that much more difficult. After all, online gamblers already had to have e-wallet accounts set up in order to gamble. "Dr. Pauly," for one, is betting that the law won't stop many. "It will be a nuisance, but if one site goes down a new one will pop up," says McGuire. He compares it to the illegal poker clubs in Manhattan that are closed down by police just to reopen in a new apartment building several weeks later. The night before PartyPoker stopped accepting U.S. bets; McGuire received an e-mail about a new New York club willing to take in some of the ousted players on an invitation-only basis. "One of the poker clubs goes down, another one will come up," says McGuire. "I have no intentions of stopping."

October 20, 2006

Visa, Copyright Infringement, and the Power of Alternatives

I saw this story from the Times this morning on Digg and just now happened onto the surface of an interesting resultant discussion on Alex's blog about the relative dangers of corporate vs. governmental regulation:

Cat and I have an ongoing discussion on whether corporate vs. governmental regulation is more dangerous. She leans towards the corporate being the lesser evil, where I believe corporate regulation (that is, companies deciding policy, disregarding lobbying) is the greater evil.

Visa just announced their intention to block payments to the Russian music download site AllofMP3. AllofMP3 insists upon its legality in terms of Russian copyright law—but has promised a change in its business model, hoping for more international acceptance (of course, this will come at a price, as the downloaders are quite happy with the current system).

But is Visa's extreme measure to block payments to AllofMP3 acceptable? As a digg poster commented, Since when has it been Visa's obligation to judge business morality? While I believe that businesses should have models of moral obligation, decisions such as these should be questioned by general consumers and more closely examined by relevant subscribers. Business policies, and corporate morality policies should be easily available, and digestible to consumers, subscribers, anyone who wants them, really—public accessibility is key. Archives of past business and policy movements should be equally accessible.

My personal position is that on strict philosophical grounds, companies and governments are in the position to, and in fact are expected to, make moral judgements. Industry not dumping toxic waste into rivers or bars not serving liquor to six year olds are two relatively simplistic cases where government and corporate regulation overlap. Both may be against government regulations, but in either case, even if there weren't regulations in place, one would hope that the public as a whole would demand some level of responsibility on the part of the businesses.

The problem is when governments and corporations make seemingly moralist decisions that alienate their users, either by preventing them from doing things which they believe harmless or simply forcing them to align by association with platforms with which they disagree.

Is AllofMp3.com legal? I don't know. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know where the money goes once I send it to Russia. However, if I like cheap music and Visa is "Everywhere I Want to Be", then something doesn't add up.

This, however, is where governments and corporations differ, even if they are holding hands under the table. Visa is an independent entity, and as such is free to make reactionary, moralist decisions, even if misguided. And as soon as they alienate enough of their customers, you can bet there will be a new player on the market, with lower interest rates and better service to soak up the profits. Capitalism can be ugly at times, but in its ability to turn sheer greed into a positive impetus, it's magical.

To some extent, the same is true of government, for which we must be eternally grateful. However, there are a couple of major differences. First, it's hard to perform a wholesale change of government without bloodshed. If Sprint pisses me off, I can always switch to Cingular, but if George Bush pisses me off, the only things I can really do are complain, leave the country, or start a revolution, none of which manage to be particularly attractive or effective. There is impeachment, but historically that is roughly as common at the presidential level as revolution.

The other difference is that, truth be told, the first responsibility of an American business is to its own interests, while by the best definition we have, the first responsibility of the American government is to our interests. Now where the situation gets murky of course is that in order to protect its own interests, a company must also protect its customers interests. But that is a secondary objective, not the primary. So finally, here's the point. I don't think Visa is evil.

I think Visa is wrong.

In doing what they feel necessary to in some way save their own asses (and I don't want to hear the same people who preach how moral-less and greedy corporations are now all of a sudden decide that they are driven by some arbitrary moral agenda), be it from future regulatory action from the government, future lawsuits from the RIAA, or future backlash from customers that sincerely respect the value of copyright (doubtful), Visa has continued what could easily turn into a major miscue. Conservative policy and mediocrity are the bane of passionate users.

This isn't the first time credit processors have made a moral distinction. The vast majority of credit card issuers haven't served Internet gambling sites for almost as long as there have been Internet gambling sites. An entire industry has formed largely around this decision. Companies like FirePay and Neteller stepped in to fill the void (and make a substantial profit) almost immediately. And now, due to increased scrutiny by the U.S. government and, of comparable relevance, the fact that these two startups have grown into large, publicly traded corporations, they are on the brink of stepping down as the feeding tube for Internet gambling.

But what will happen? The gambling sites will not be starved by any stretch of the imagination. The current payment processors will either reconsider their stance or fade into the background, largely marginalized without the differential from traditional payment services (like Visa) created by the very black and white willingness and non-willingness to accept gambling transactions, and newcomers will step up to fill the void. No amount of legislation or threats of prison time or even death can keep an entire world of people from seizing an opportunity to make quick millions. Whatever the potential penalty, there will be a supplier — just not a publicly traded one.

The problem from Visa's point of view is that It's easy to fall into the trap that only a few people are hurt by any of these decisions. First, each group is much larger than one might think, and secondly, the disenfranchised groups add very quickly and tend to be vocal. It's much like the downfall of President Bush's approval rating. A chip at a time, one small group of Americans at a time, he lost support, all the while failing to realize or at least care that he was sliding down the side of a mountain from a pinnacle of popularity to the current widespread disapproval. That's what will happen to Visa if this trend continues. If Visa suddenly decided that drinking is bad and that Visa will not be accepted in establishments that serve alcohol, what do you think would happen to their membership?

This feedback loop is key to maintaining control over both government and private interests, but the public can only react to what is seen. And there are two equally important sides to this absorbtion of information — production and consumption. If either side is lacking, this massively parallel system of checks and balance breaks down. The tendency is that peoples' alarms are triggered and things change before it is too late. But admittedly, that works every time...until it doesn't.

Pay attention, and if you do nothing else — think.



The upside to all of this? I visited allofmp3.com and at first glance I have to respect the approach. The site design is adequate, but the interesting part, and the part I would like to see adopted elsewhere, is that you pay for what you get, in terms of quality. Well, lets say bitrate. You can judge the quality of the music for yourself.

For example, say I want to buy Diddy's new CD (I don't). If I just want to hear the tunes at a decent quality (128kbps), I can get the 19 songs for $2.42, or if I will tolerate still lower quality and don't care to have my own copy, I can listen for free. If on the other hand I must hear every nuance, I can pay $5.21 and get 320kbps (near CD quality). That's choice, and that's what I like to see. For comparison, in terms of data per dollar, allofmp3.com is still more expensive than a CD, with the cost of Diddy's CD extrapolated to PCM bitrates ringing in at just over $26 (based on the allofmp3.com 128kbps MP3 price), twice the cost of the physical CD on Amazon. Care to do the math on a "legitimate" online music store?

October 11, 2006

RIGHT! The McLaughlin Group on Internet Gambling

Leave it to none other than Pat Buchanan to stand alone on the McLaughlin Group in support of this anti-American legislation. With any luck, the majority of the GOP's supporters aren't as blinded by the "American Values Agenda" and will put an end to this type of madness in the coming elections as these blatantly political tactics begin to backfire. Start the countdown...

Located via billrini.com

Land of the Free?

Even as we use terrorism as a guise to impose our specific brand of freedom upon the world through the use of violence and coercion, lawmakers are using this same terrorism as a long-awaited excuse to take away that freedom here at home. The system is sick, folks, and maybe beyond repair. Perhaps the evildoers are really just like bacteria, sent to this planet, by the same God that the politicians invoke whenever they have a personal agenda to advance, to compost this rotting corpse of a free nation. I hope not.

I love this country. As a matter of fact, I really know no other. I don't want to give up and move to Canada or France or Costa Rica or Zimbabwe or India or anywhere else for that matter. I love the people of this country. I've been to virtually every corner of America and everywhere I've been, I've been greeted with kindness.

What I don't love, however, is the way the current government continues to twist September 11 like a knife in the belly of the great people of this great nation, alienating us one by one in a sick mind experiment to see how far the citizens can be pushed before we stand up. Using our respect and mourning for those that died on September 11 and those that have died in vengeance and purported vengeance since as levers to pry us into accepting the new American ideals that democracy is silent agreement and that patriotism is blind faith is a tactic that is growing very old, very fast.

When, less than one month ago, I made the short walk on the morning of September 11 down to the former site of the World Trade Center and saw that an enormous contingent of the crowd were wearing black t-shirts with very plain and clear white text stating "9-11 was an inside job" I was saddened and embarassed. Not because of the presence of the protesters — actually I was rather moved that this country still allows the peaceful dissent of the people (most of the time at least). I was sad that we are living under a "leadership" that inspires such distrust, and embarassed that this "leadership" is primarily responsible for representing us to the rest of the world.

I'm not sure how much of this dissent made it into the mainstream national media. I saw firsthand one instance where a news reporter was threatening a protester with fictitious laws in an attempt to secure a clear backdrop of the gaping hole in the nation with no protesters in sight.

At one time, I thought that every youthful generation just needed a cause, and that without Vietnam or conspicuous segregation to rebel against, my generation and those after were, at times, looking for battles to fight for rebellion's sake. Now it seems to me that the inevitability lies on the other side of the equation.

Overcomforted veteran politicians have an inherent need for a personal agenda to impose, perhaps to leave some semblance of a legacy behind, perhaps because disconnect from their constituents makes them believe they are doing the right thing, or perhaps just to vie for more money and more power.

In any case, the reason I am writing this now may seem a bit petty, and certainly relative to many of the issues we face, it is. But I feel so strongly only because the attack is so arbitrary and ultimately personal. In the past weeks the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was slipped through both houses of Congress and now sits on our President's desk awaiting signature, conveniently tucked away at the bottom of a bill that supposedly focuses on port security. It's another example of pandering to a niche constituency. Polls have shown that a substantial majority of Americans don't want a ban on Internet poker. But, capitalizing upon loopholes in the political system, the most manipulative and conniving politicians impose their ways on the masses in a carefully architected attack on our personal freedom.

Ironically enough, what this bill really does is only eliminate the purest of law abiding citizens from playing, and the most conniving and fanatical players will continue, creating more criminal minds in the process as we move to research technologies like Tor and beyond to circumvent these bans.

Without locking down the entire country behind a firewall a la China, I don't believe there's any way these laws can truly be enforced. Sure, there will be enough of a nuisance that the state of the game will be crippled, but the "problem" will never be eliminated. Why can't these people learn? The hackers will always win. And by the way, as an aside to all you geniuses in Washington — if anything that even approaches the effect of that China-style national firewall ever comes into being in this country, that will be my breaking point. I'll be the first one marching my happy, intelligent, GDP-boosting ass to Canada or beyond, and I'll be taking a whole crowd of great American citizens with me. And just remember that - you've got the tanks and the bombs and the code of law on your side, but when it really comes down to it, we've got the brains. And you know it, and it scares the shit out of you. And so you try to keep a little control over what is going on or squelch it entirely, because when you see something you don't immediately understand or agree with, that's what you do. But take it easy, because just as fast as we can build this economic engine here, we can take it elsewhere.

And this isn't just another case of angst-ridden twenty-somethings looking for something to argue. Anchor Keith Olbermann painted this picture of opportunistic manipulation very clearly one month ago. Read the quote. Watch the video. If you haven't already.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."


Why is it that my government insists on protecting me from myself, when what I really desire is protection from my government?

August 21, 2006

The Area Under the Curve

In the neverending journey towards mastery of any endeavor, there are the inevitable peaks and valleys and the much maligned plateau, where progress seems to halt regardless of effort expended. I saw this phenomenon expressed in words first in the book Mastery by George Leonard (a much recommended and very quick read).

Reviewing a plot of my bankroll over the last few weeks, I saw this effect in sharp relief. It's been a bumpy ride and I've not been losing, but not winning either, the perfect plateau. Upon seeing this (and watching my hourly win rate decline in the process as I spend time breaking even), I was at first discouraged, until I saw something I hadn't noticed before — the growing area under the curve of my bankroll.

Now granted, this doesn't pay the rent, or even buy a beer, but what it does account for is arguably something even more valuable: experience. Sometimes just not losing is winning, and this is what the integral of success with respect to time appreciates.

Interestingly enough, calculus teaches us that if in that plot, bankroll is equated to velocity or simply speed, then what really matters, the distance travelled, is precisely that of which I am speaking — the area under the curve.

So while from the first-person perspective sometimes all you can see is zero growth, what a step back can often show you is that you are building a tremendous mass in motion, travelling great distances, simply by maintaining and standing by waiting for the next golden opportunity. So when times are tough, remember the slow and steady, keep working to improve, and keep building that area under the curve — the growth will soon follow.

December 24, 2005

About Me

Me at ITP Winter Show 2005

Welcome. I have started this site for myself and others as a memoir of my trip through life and, for now, the Interactive Telecommunications Program experience and as a place to log the ideas and thoughts that otherwise seem to slip away. I look forward to comments and criticisms, helping and being helped, and whatever else comes my way. Life is good.


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