Introducing the blog to IE business school…

Or more specifically IE business school, November intake, Section N6, people who have gotten so bored of Facebook and who want to go back to work so little that they will check this blog…

Also check out my twitter @chizwozla

The word ‘chizwozla’ came from an episode of The Simpsons when I was 10 years old and making my first email account. Now that I have 5 email addresses, a twitter, a facebook page, (previously myspace and bebo and even more previously an Angelfire blog), a fantasy football team, 2 wordpress blogs, a flipboard account, a skype account, etc etc it has come in very handy in using one, common word that is never previously taken. I’ve never had to use Roboconnor123456 or similar because I was a visionary 10 year old…

“Bullfrog?! Thats a stupid name. I would’ve called it…a chizwozla” (sic)

the word comes from the episode when they go to Australia and is a joke on the stupid names that Australian’s give animals (kangaroo, koala bear, wallaby etc) and the Australians are shocked at how stupid the name ‘bullfrog’ sounds to them – I have no deeper or less geeky explanation)

Thanks to our prof Enrique Dans for reminding me about blogging and how it can help focus or unfocus me depending on what mood I’m in. 

And best of luck to everyone in N6 who’s just starting.

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If life is so short, why am I writing a blog?

We have been around as a species for the last 0.0015 per cent of the history of life.

Thinking about that in terms of religion, we are a nonsense. That’s liberating. I’m still a bit scared of death though.

The last bastion of the value proposition of Christianity had been that we are part of God’s lesson. When we might point out to a Christ-dealer that it is hard to reconcile the vision of eternal love from above with war, death, rape, famine, suicide, disease and struggle, we are told that we are living through God’s lesson. Bad things happen to test us, to show us the way, to guide us.

But when you look at how long we weren’t here for and compare it to how long we have been here, that fish gets slippier still. The world indisputably trucked along for a hell of a time before we blinked into existence. Why would we not exist for all that time if the be all and end all was our lesson?

Perhaps it adds testing value, in the mad continuation of the shrinking logic given above, to have to learn the lesson not only painfully but quickly. It also adds doubt, in the form of dinosaur fossils and creation myths. He’s really testing us now and he seems to be getting better at it too.

It is really fundamental to our understanding and belief of why we compromise ourselves to Christianity. We make deals internally all the time. Being good for heaven, being lawful and receiving peace of mind etc. But it seems that the lesson view of God falls apart if he’s been faffing around for billions of years before we even got here. What was he doing, getting suffering just right? Perfecting misery?

To me it always feels like the magnified version of the urge to watch videos on Youtube rather than study Spanish or Economics or something else useful. And the Christian peddlers sound more and more like marketing men, stretching and shifting their narrative daily to keep the necessary from happening. It is always better to face the truth, no matter how comforting the lie. Just as it is clearly better to improve ourselves than to watch another sneezing Panda video but they’re just so damn cute.

We would all clearly benefit from facing death and existence head on in the loneliness of our insignificance. It would free all of us. It would take a structured work ethic to rid ourselves of the framework of comfort, ritual and deceit while maintaining the ground-breaking historical sociological lessons of “Do unto others…” and “Love your brother…”.

It is largely down to our generation to come up with loving and inclusive values and principles to which we adhere and places that are open, liberal and multicultural to have our gatherings. It is up to us to say to our parents that we will not support the previous organisations that blew their chance so spectacularly and consistently, despite what our grannies want at our weddings and funerals. The priest down the back of the room or in the distant wings of your family can just tut and grumble. The embarrassment should not continue on our watch.

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The fake alternative option that now doesn’t exist…

Omar Khadr, is being returned to Canada after 12 years of illegal and immoral detention in Guantanamo Bay. He is probably a dangerous man and probably holds very different views on religious freedom to me but his detention, and that of 166 others in Guantanamo, is a major problem for US (and coalition) troops on the ground right now. Their detention is a cynical calculation of where the balance is between deterrent and motivation. If there is no way to escape Guantanamo because of the US military’s lack of accountability then why wouldn’t you shoot?

If I am a young Afghan with a gun thinking about killing a US soldier who has flown around the world with his gun to shoot in my village then the choice becomes horribly stark; shoot and run or surrender and spend the rest of my days in a prison camp being subjected to torture, humiliation and solitary confinement. If Guantanamo is intended to deter violence, while troops are still on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, then it is a practical and theoretical failure.

Perhaps the US feels that it is so superior militarily that it is better to provoke this desperate confrontation and smoke out the last remaining ‘terrorists’. Many are indeed warped and bent on violence but a tragically large number are young, hopeless and brainwashed teenagers just like half the dopey 15 years olds in every American high school or Irish secondary school. Perhaps the US thinks that they will win 99 out of 100 such shoot outs and perhaps they are right, but the strategy is so callous for the families of the dead and imprisoned, and so rotten for the next soldier that has to come along offering the same deal in the next village.

It is very hard to feel sorry for a guy like Khadr who is clearly an extremist and has a radical family motivated to a violent confrontation with the West but in his last moments before shooting, with Guantanamo hanging over his head, I can at least begin to understand his last innocent choices.

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iOS6 on iPhone 4

Its been an absolute pleasure to update my iphone tonight

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Life and Death (dramatic drumroll)

I’d say that the chicken fillet roll arrived in my life in a big way in around the year 2000. It was a cold winter, probably, I don’t remember, assume that it was, and the extent of newfound school freedoms was the lunchtime walk to the petrol station for either a chicken fillet roll or pork rib roll. This has nothing to do with anything and either does my life. Welcome to philosophy 101.

Om Nom

I happened to be eating a chicken fillet roll when thinking about life after death today. Actually, I’m lying, it was a cold, plain chicken roll with ham and mixed peppers which is probably why I was feeling so morbid. If it had been spicy chicken I’d probably be writing about how fantastic sunlight is or, even better, not writing at all but frolicking in the actual sunlight. But metaphors have to be metaforced sometimes and the chicken fillet roll is nothing if not the international symbol, in Ireland, for the ‘IdontgiveafuckwhatsinitIlikethecrunchytastism’ philosophy that we all subscribe to. To hell with the cold, wet realities of plain chicken, this is new Ireland and sure we’re all going to heaven anyway.

I thought about life and death as I sat outside eating my sandwich. I thought about what happens after you die and then got onto the much more interesting question of what happens before you are born?

I’m fairly sure that nothing happens after you die. You disassemble into your constituent parts, at what speed depending on how hard you worked during your life and how expensive a coffin you could afford, and you fade away to nothingness. As an engineer, this makes sense; if you were nothing beforehand, you have to go back to nothing aferwards as energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it merely changes form. As a casual observer of chemistry, spending some of my spare time just leaning against the benchtops, admiring the beakers, I’d have to say that its definitely possible to take something large and complex, like a human body, and dissolve it into a neat assortment of coloured liquids. I’ve seen Breaking Bad and I don’t think there was much life after death in the gloop that dripped through the tub and onto the floor below.

And, I’m fairly sure that my memory isn’t so bad that I wouldn’t remember even one, single thing from my existence before I was conceived. If I go backwards, I can remember Thierry Henry, Triple Crown, 9/11, Junior Cert, Friends, Turtles, Care Bears, Milk and Furry in that order and there my memories stop. Nothing. Not even nothing. No guilty little nagging voice saying,

“What about purple or itchiness? Don’t you remember tumbling?,”

Nope. There’s nothing there. I didn’t exist. And I won’t again.

So until you can explain what you were doing before you were conceived it is at best a fun and comforting nonsense to talk about what you will be doing after you are gone. And at worst…a deadly and divisive witchhunt against your human rights but sshhhh, some people like that  sort of thing and they must be respected as equals.

I’m not sure if the chicken fillet roll brigade now think that,

“There is no life after death so let’s eat this delicious hot nonsense now.”

Or whether they simply don’t think about anything, from cholesterol all the way to life after death, and so are expecting the bones of the stories that they were told as children when they clot up and keel over.

Are they gloriously liberated by the farcical nature of our short lives or numbly ignorant of the possibility that this is all there is? Either way, you can worship at the alter of fried chicken. It is delicious. But not morally definitive.

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Apple vs Samsung

  vs   

There is a lot of misinformation surrounding the fine imposed on Samsung for infringing Apple patents but I think the case can be summed with two very important observations; the patent system is a bit broken and Apple are so far ahead of the game that it is unfair to consumers.

As a slightly relevant aside, I had a chat with some friends about both Apple and Wikileaks at the weekend and the contradiction in beliefs was stark. In short,  and I am simplifying, a large company should share its secrets and a government shouldn’t. How does this tally with the ever growing number of ties between big business and government that we see in current life?

The common issue that people have with Wikileaks is not so muchboot about the embarrassment caused to diplomats but the understandable concern for frontline troops. However, if you really delve past the personal ick that Assange might inspire and the genuine concern for soldiers in the line of fire, it seems that people especially don’t want to know the details of the illegal operations of the states that we live in. That is where the uneasy feeling of revulsion is born and all the rest is flapping at the mothlike vagaries of right and wrong.

Words like ‘redaction’, ‘journalistic integrity’, ‘national security’, ‘egotistical’, ‘subversive’ etc etc are used to dance around the issue and apply some kind of old-world logic to a very modern problem but the reality is that the diplomatic wires and records of thoughts and actions, which represent only a small fraction of the world’s geopolitical sphere of operations, are seen by many as innapropriate reminders of what is really happening and can be used to somehow point the finger of blame back at you and me.

As for governments, not so for Apple. Regardless of the fact that patents had been sought and obtained, many people believe that Samsung had every right to copy simple functions and presentation devices (not to mention iOS software code which ain’t so simple) and break the law. The selfishness of generation Y is leaking out all over the place here!

Having grown up with created, produced and marketed content freely available, we have lost the ability to distinguish between what is ours and what is somebody elses. Apple patented ideas, which went through the US patent law system, came out the other side and sold them. They did this (as of now) legally and following the same route that Samsung would have followed had they positioned themselves in that market at that point in time. Despite the adage that “Nothing is invented, everything is an inevitable consequence of history”, Apple were there, they invested best and brought to market first. The laws of the land are what they are and Samsung “wilfully” stole the content of those patents, rather than pay licence fees to Apple.

So, we are left in a strangely contradicting world where I would like patent laws to be reviewed but upheld to encourage innovators to profit while enjoying the freedom of easily accessible content and state secrets to be both exposed and protected making my life safer, more dangerous, more expensive and cheaper. We are living in weird times…

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Bankers and what might help (to Glass Steagall and back again…)

Investment bankers, traders and fund managers especially, are so badly incentivised that they couldn’t but fail.

PROBLEMS

  1. They cannot tell for sure who will be good and who will be bad so you can trick your way into a high paying contract. Skill and morals have a way of being inversely related. This, therefore, gives execs a way of disavowing responsibility for their underlings when they go bad.
  2. The boss is right when things go right and absent when things go wrong. The way around this is to tighten the responsibility of emails and conversations i.e. if you want your boss to have to have read something, send it with a particular level of importance. These emails therefore become critical and he/she can never claim to have missed it because it didn’t seem important. Similarly, for conversations. If its not in writing it never happened. This should be assumed by courts and no discussion of conversations should ever waste investigation’s time again. No point. Yourwordagainstmineism has never once produced any interesting improvement in humanity.
  3. Luck is more important than skill. If you do well in your first few trades, you manage more money and snowball. They say a manager gets promoted to their level of incompetence. The way around this is to regularly computer test the applicants for higher positions using algorithms that mimic the unpredictability of the real world thereby not gambling with real money and gaining insight into the reasoning skills of traders.
  4. Resigning is too cushy. The more power you have, the more the bank (which is based almost entirely on luck and reputation) has to lose if you publicly leave. There must be something wrong. He must have mismanaged our money. Run! Bankers pensions should be tied to external factors and kept at rates which are human.

SOLUTIONS

  1. Managers salaries should be a combination of equity and debt in the fashion of increasing the amount of equity that they are payed for every € of debt that the company is stuck with. This way, the more debt that they take on, the more that their interests become aligned with that of the companies.
  2. Keep capital preserved rather than given away in constant amounts. Give dividends as a % of earnings to benefit shareholders in the medium term because bad periods of external market forces can be weathered while good periods will see bumper dividends.
  3. Get better at valuing the decisions made during a managers time in charge rather than what benefits accrue during that time. Net interest income can flatter a manager if interest rates are currently low and so longer term maturities are being repaid at more profit with only external forces having had any effect.
  4. Question the high returning aspects of your bank/business as much as you question the poorly performing aspects. This is especially difficult and especially important. If a bank receives 90% of their questions from outside on CDSs and CDOs this is because they have already failed. Don’t miss the next failure that seems to be bucking the trend now. Performing much better than average is as much a sign of shit coming down the line as performing below average. Time should be spent in even amounts on those aspects that are performing terribly, performing brilliantly and those that are average.
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Super Mario

Image

I like Mario Draghi. He smiles. He is even playful. He confesses, like a naughty schoolboy, that he has forgotten the first part of the question because it was too long and, once it is repeated, continues to answer the question he wants anyway. He is clearly beyond competent at delivery. But what can you read from this overflowing confidence? Is it analogous to the manager who says that he is definitely, DEFINITELY not selling Ronaldo and thus, just by denying it so forcefully, is more likely to than ever?

His re-iteration of the basic role of the ECB, price stability, numerous times during his answers today shows that the message of Weidmann/Bundesbank is given as much value as the message of ‘the Euro will survive’.

He speaks plainly and this is in welcome contrast to the verbosity of previous international spokesmen of the Euro. Is it simply that he is much better than others or that the role allows an independence and detachment which frees up the delivery? I think the latter for sure.

So, how will the liquidity junkies in the markets react? 10yr bonds in Spain&Italy will stretch and 2yr bonds will contract briefly. The focus will shift to Spain&Italy’s intentions towards applying formally to the EFSF and the public’s response to being asked for a redoubling of fiscal contraction efforts against a backdrop of the worsening exports/employment/growth/personal liabilities. This will be cautious and will only move when the “modalities” of the ECB primary market purchasing become clear via the ECB committees who have now been given “clear guidance”

A likeable and cool-headed character just did nothing but his mere presence is calming.

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Co-operation

There are 5 ways in which elements of the universe, from amoebas to humans co-operate;

  1. direct reciprocity – vampire bats which go hungry beg from others and remember who was good to them.
  2. spatial selection – cooperating in groups to defeat other groups
  3. kin selection – i will jump into the river to save 2 brothers or 8 cousins and keep my genes going
  4. indirect reciprocity – i’ll scratch your back if someone scratches mine. Toyota gained an advantage in the 80s partly because of a good rep amongst suppliers.
  5. selflessness – a group that knows the others will die for them will win as a group over one that won’t

The Prisoner’s dilemma is a game theory model for exploring co-operation and defection. Two prisoners are interrogated separately from each other and offered to confess or stay quiet. If they confess and the other doesn’t they get 1yr and he gets 4yrs. If they both confess they both get 3yrs. If they both stay quiet the both get 2yrs. The better option is always to confess. Why then would we develop methods for co-operating? Because we can talk to each other.

A public goods dilemma – The tragedy of the commons. Overgrazing of a shared resource. Cow farmers sharing pastures will overgraze common land even though it is partly theirs.

The €120 environment game – give authoritative advice and allow public displays of being good e.g. gas bills comparing your consumption to your neighbours and the best neighbours. This game shows how to encourage co-operation in a public goods game where the best option is usually to defect and use the resources yourself. You start with €40 and know that other players are playing too. If you can raise €120 in the combined and secret pot after 10 rounds then everybody keeps their remaining money. If not, everybody gives everything back. If people are given extremely convincing advice about the effects or can donate in public, they will give more.

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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

“Screw your courage to the sticking place.” – Ghosh to Marion

Remarkable, visual and instructive

There are a few books that transcend stories and become a part of your instructions for life. For me, East of Eden is one. Another is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance. Also, The Days are Just Packed with Calvin and Hobbes or Winnie the Pooh have the same effect on me. Aspiration towards a perfect and principled world. It can be more difficult, but then more impressive, to carry this from the relative constraints of the childhood (imaginary friends, make believe, inherent humour, protection by parents, buckets of free time etc) into relatively infinite and independent adulthood but that is exactly what Abraham does with Marion.

Starting at the end of the book and following from the previous paragraph, Marion ends up in New York and, without spoiling it, carries many of the values that he learned in a cosseted bubble in Ethiopia into his adult life.I say cosseted bubble but in fact many outrageous and dangerous events happen in Marion’s life but, in the context of the book as instructive to my life, he is never unprotected until the death of a major character. He lives on a hospital compound in Addis Ababa and sees everything that life has at its most basic –  pain, suffering, religion, death, prostitution, violence, war, terror, dictatorship, poverty, hunger etc etc. But because of who he is, he thrives.

“A boy is never a man until his father dies, he is always a son”

Abraham Verghese – author of principles

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