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Science & Technology Three impressions 

 

Science and Technolgy

for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Three things made an impression on me this week.

Anthropology

According to Canadian writer Heather Pringle writing in the November 2011 Scientific American, the long held view that the so called Clovis people were the first  in North America has changed.

In an excellent article she reviews new evidence much of it gathered by Canadian Scientists.  It seems that the Clovis people (so name after a site in New Mexico) were not the first to come to North America in about 13,000 BC.  It seems that that migration came starting at least in 15000 BC.

How did they come?  Modern thinking presumed that they came across a land bridge roughly between Siberia and Alaska.  This 'bridge' was formed when the tremendous buildup of ice caused sea levels to drop more than 100 feet.

New dating and information says that people came much earlier and could have come in two routes.  One is by sea moving down the coast of Alaska and British Columbia and finally reaching South America.  To see and excellent interactive graphic description of this please Click Here and then click Start and follow the route

Financial Modeling

We have written before about Financial Engineering and its effects on the economy.  Very smart people create financial models and use 'super computers' to produce massive trading on stock exchanges world-wide.  These electronic trading dynamos can and do run amuck.  If you think it's hard to predict the weather, then you have some idea of the risks associated with financial engineering and guess what?  The weather is a big factor in their models.

If you look at a graph of the stock market over time, you are looking at a thing called a time series.  Engineers study these things and try to bend and warp them.  What causes the ups and downs?  What causes 'panic selling' and binge buying?

It seems that these smart financial models have been funded by the worlds largest banks and trading institutions and they are not reliable.  In fact they are part of the cause and have to be brought to earth.

If you listen to some of the politicians, they say the problem is regulation and that we should let the 'free market' work.  That means let me profit and you lose.

The problem with that is that the market is not free and never has been.  It's a great marketing ploy, however. 

The market needs prodding and kicking once in a while.  It's almost impossible to do reliably as information about large trades in blocks by computer are mostly hidden until years later.  Insiders know some things, but not all.  Once one of the large 'players' is spooked, however, information travels fast by 'other means' and a panic can ensue.  2008 was a prime example of this.  It took massive infusion of cash by governments to stem the bleeding.

Regulation has been ineffective and the world's largest economy in the USA is not easily regulated.  It has a lot of influence on Canada.  Since 2008's disaster Republican members of the House and Senate have blocked most attempts at transparency and new regulation.  They say no.

Since there are no base market axiomsthat are consistent, teams of regulators are stretched too thin to be effective even with the present laws.  They, the regulators, are looking at things they don't understand because the financials engineers don't want them to be informed and it is all too complicated for them anyway.

The strangest thing about modern financial engineering is that the big institutions don't understand it either.  They get hurt too, but rebound because they know the system better than anyone including the engineers and regulators.

What can be done?  Very little is possible except withdrawing from the market, if you are a small investor or betting on the long haul upward of the market and its ability to rebound.

Small countries like Greece can have a failed economy and this can spread across the globe.  Natural disasters like the one in Japan and the Gulf of Mexico can cause financial Tsunamis and they did.

One thing that could make a change would be marketing related.  Change the phrase Free Markets to Risk Markets.  Invest only what you can risk in the market.  Don't be too free with your bets, because they are bets

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs died and since he was long an ill man, the media had plenty of time to write books and prepare specials about him.  My week of 24/7 with him was written some time ago and gives my impressions of him.

A few new things emerged for me at least.  One I should have known and the others I could have guessed.

1.  When Jobs came back to Apple after being isolated and pushed out, the company needed a cash infusion.  Who stepped forward?   Bill Gates of Microsoft fame put in $150,000,000.  Does that surprise you?   He did not even get preferred stock.

2.  Jobs was made more famous by his modest investment in Pixar and the resultant Toy Story Academy Award.  The real heroes in this were the people who joined forces way before Jobs came on the scene. 

 

One of the real creators of all this computer graphics stuff was Ed Catmull.  He was the creator of many, many of the key algorithms and deserves most of the credit.  He gets it from insiders in the industry, but he is unknown to the public.

He and others invented a software package called Renderman that was built and further developed over a 20 year period.  It was a good package and I worked with a company that used it extensively.  It was magic and so was Catmull

3.  Jobs had a very strong and 'pushy' personality.  When asked about what he admired most about Jobs, Gates replied.  "I wish I had his taste."  I think that if asked about what he admired least, it would have been his caustic nature.  I reread the article I wrote about him and I used the word 'taste' to describe his best trait.

His core nature was brought out well in the recent PBS documentary. (One Last Thing) in which a former Pixar Executive Alvey Ray Smith talks about a shouting match with Jobs.  (It's recalled about 31 minutes into the video)  They were face to face shouting and out of control.  Both had lost it. Smith broke away and went and wrote on the white board.  There was an unspoken law.  Nobody wrote on Steve's white board.

In the PBS special one observer notes that he changed four industries:

1.  Computers

2.  Music

3, Films

4. Phones

He sure influenced all four, but his major contribution was in product taste and music.  He changed Music forever.  He liked music better than computers and he was better at it.


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Friday, November 04, 2011