Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The Washington Post is running a mega-series of articles on What Went Wrong .
Shorter version: Belief in free money + general cluelessness + regulators asleep at the switch = how could things go wrong?
(via The Big Picture)
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
The QRF team is composed of 12 Marines and a medic. It is on call at all times. Its members don't shower and when they sleep, they sleep in their clothes. They are in continuous radio contact and when a call comes in, the goal is to be saddled up and ready to roll in less than three minutes. They are the firemen of the Marine Corps. Like firemen, when they roll it means the shit has hit the fan...
[Jeff] Mahaffey has been a Sergeant for a little more than a year. He carries himself with a cool and ageless confidence--one that suggests he was specially cut out for the type of work that men do in foreign lands. He's easy and well spoken in conversation, with a lively wit. He's also quick to laugh. His only regret stemming from the incident on the 21st is that his team didn't arrive a little bit sooner (the casualty was evacuated to Al Asad airbase and was only shot in the arm--he's expected to make a full recovery).
Sergeant Mahaffey is 22 years old.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
My father would check his watch, shaking the covered snapshot as if the photograph were a thermometer. Then at the right moment, with a surgeon’s delicate hands, he would separate the negative in a single motion and reveal — well, who knew what.
Because that was part of the beauty of the Polaroid.
Mystery clung to each impending image as it took shape, the camera conjuring up pictures of what was right before one’s eyes, right before one’s eyes. The miracle of photography, which Polaroids instantly exposed, never lost its primitive magic. And what resulted, as so many sentimentalists today lament, was a memory coming into focus on a small rectangle of film.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
“If the president-elect were not a ‘University of Chicago Democrat,’ then the natural response would be to just try to turn back the clock to what was there before,” he says.
“Because Obama comes out of a framework where the market is not the enemy, there’s a possibility we can create new institutions to guard against excess without going back to what was wrong in the old regime.”
Goolsbee supports bigger capital requirements for banks and other institutions that can borrow from the Federal Reserve, and wants expanded monitoring of hedge fund firms and ratings companies. Derivatives may need to be traded through clearinghouses, like those used in Chicago wheat pits, which act as counterparties for each trade and can suspend traders with insufficient collateral.
“Getting us out of the hole we’re in, promoting oversight and making investments so the economy can grow doesn’t make you anti- market,”
It's good to see so many of the brilliant people at the University quoted all together. The diversity of viewpoints and strong arguments is refreshing to see in print, but a matter of course for the institution.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
They have a rollicking interview up with Gary Shteyngart, fueled by apparently massive amounts of vodka:
MDM: In the day of Gleason, Hemingway, Bogart and the Rat Pack, they were very upfront about their drinking and carousing. These days artists, especially actors, won’t admit to anything. Except for maybe Colin Farrell.
GS: Yeah, he’s good. I had my book party, it was sponsored by a rich Russian oligarch and Imperial Vodka. Everyone was smashed. The woman who threw the party got up and said, “I’m sick of this shit where we’re all kissing each others asses all the time. I want to start a literary brawl, Norman Mailer style. Steyngart is my
friend, but he writes immigrant porn. Let’s just kick his ass.”
MDM: Bravo. There used to be fantastic rivalries between writers in the old days. Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson. Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Hemingway and Faulkner. Capote and everyone.
GS: Yes! But now, nothing.
MDM: My Russian brother-in-law tells me some Russians like to spike their vodka ith a good jolt of hair spray. Is this true?
GS: Ah, yes, the old hairspray maneuver. You know who drinks like crazy? My favorite people, the Georgians. They drink from these big ram horns and each person has to toast every other person at the table. There’s the tamada, the toastmaker, he’s like the air traffic controller. A toast comes in, and he stops it and makes sure everyone is okay with it, then another comes in — it’s a fascinating job. A good tamada is like an MC, he gets hired to work parties and weddings. Their wine is like Thunderbird, really strong. It’s not for a connoisseur, it wouldn’t pass muster. When I was in the nation of Georgia, I met some guys in the government. Some mid-level ministers. We went to their dacha, this gigantic compound. They wanted me to get involved in a scheme to steal $600 million dollars from American charities.
MDM: Did they now?
GS: Yes. We drank about ten wine horns, in between vodka shots. And vodka and wine—not such a great combination.
MDM: Odd you would say that. Vodka and red wine, what we call a Brutal Hammer, is our staff cocktail.
GS: That doesn’t surprise me. Their toasts were so heartfelt. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking, they may be doing this because they think I can help them rip off $600 million from American charities. They were drinking to everything. They were drinking to my family. They asked for the names of everyone in my family and they would create these elaborate toasts to people they’d never met. They knew I was flying back through Austria, so they raised a toast to the Austrian pilot who would fly the plane. Such sweet people. And as the evening progressed I started thinking, maybe I can help them steal $600 million.
MDM: It started making sense?
GS: It started making great sense.
MDM: They’re quite ambitious.
GS: They don’t think small in Georgia.
Also, a perspectives on the value of prosthetics vis a vis peglegs, shampoo vs. hairspray as a drink additive, and the government program to encourage Russians to drink more beer. One of the most cheerful interviews I've read this year.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
It was trees all the way, properly decorated ones, with tinsel and glass balls and a star on the top. We lobbied and we lobbied hard, and we would not give up. My parents would not countenance it. They had not had Christmas trees when they were children; instead, they had parents who disapproved of Christmas trees. You couldn't, my mother told us, be Jewish and have a Christmas tree.
I was a precocious child, and I had read widely, and I struck. "But it's not Christian," I said.
"I think you'll find it is, dear," said my mother. "That's why they call them Christmas trees, after all."
"They are actually," I told her, proudly, and precociously, "a pagan relic. The trees. The thing of people bringing trees into houses at the winter solstice and decorating them has nothing at all to do with Christianity. It's from pagan times."
I'm not sure why it was better to be a pagan relic, but I hoped it was, and it seemed to shake my mother's certainty. Like my teacher, she knew better than to argue
theology with an eight-year-old.
Whether it was, as I thought at the time, my precocious argument or (more probably in retrospect), my sisters' huge, pleading eyes and trembling lower lips, I do not know, but my father went to the local market and picked out a Christmas tree for us and brought it home. We decorated 'it, and were content. Having won the Christmas tree battle, we had, somehow, won the Christmas war.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
It literally hurts to lose the electronic lobe of your brain. It gave me a massive tension headache and a sleepless night last night.
If I've lost contact with you, drop me a line again. Things will be returning to normal presently.
Monday, December 15, 2008
1. The aptly named Studley tool chest, designed and built by a 19th century organ repairman of the same name. Currently part of the Smithsonian collection.
2. Absinthe delivery apparatus, including this lovely spoon.
3. MAKE magazine's Christmas for Steampunks guide, featuring these inexpensive but elegant looking brass instruments.
This combination of facts about his life present you with a moral truth: great good does not erase great harm, nor do our mistakes in life cancel out our virtues. It's an unexpected finding, this ambivalence; we would hope that good or evil deeds might take root and bear further fruit, that the people we meet in this life could be easily sorted, that we ourselves could wake to find our consciences as clean as we found them, that the meaning of actions does not change in memory. This is not the case. We are all of us, many people within.
Who do you meet, in the 1,000,000+ words of Gajdusek's journals? Who do you meet on the street every day? How do you know?
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The robbers may not have been as suave as celluloid jewels thieves with the charm of David Niven — a.k.a. the debonair phantom bandit, Sir Charles Litton — but the meticulous planning, swift execution and creative style raised suspicion that the Harry Winston heist was the handiwork of a loose global network of battle-hardened, ex-soldiers and their relatives from the former Yugoslavia.
Investigators, marveling at the gang’s ingenuity, have dubbed this unlikely network the Pink Panthers. The parallels between film and reality are perhaps best summed up in zee accent and words of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, himself from the original 1963 “The Pink Panther.”
“In a strange way,” he said of his nemesis, the phantom bandit, “I admire him for he has a unique flair for the dramatic.”
Take, for example, the current plan to blow up the American auto industry as a way to punish unions.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
As one contemplates the life and work of Georges Simenon, the question inevitably arises: Was he human? In his energies, creative and erotic, he was certainly extraordinary. He wrote some 400 novels, under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as countless short stories and film scripts, and toward the end of his life, having supposedly given up writing, he dictated thousands of pages of memoirs. He could knock off a novel in a week or 10 days of manic typing — he never revised, as the work sometimes shows — and in Paris in the 1920s he is said to have broken off an affair with Josephine Baker, the expatriate American chanteuse and star of La Revue Nègre, because in the year he was with her, he was so distracted by his passion for her that he had managed to write only three or four books.
He put himself in the way of many such distractions. In 1976, when he was in his 70s, he told his friend Federico Fellini in an interview in L’Express that over the course of his life he had slept with 10,000 women. True, he was an early starter. He lost his virginity at the age of 12 to a girl three years his senior, who got him to change schools so that they could continue to see each other and then promptly threw him over for another sweetheart. Young Georges had received his first lesson in the school of hard knocks.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Until the causes of the meltdown are fixed, anything done to repair the damage is no better than pissing in the wind. The successor management teams at each of the big financial firms needs to live in dire and holy fear of a perp walk into federal custody. Anything less isn't going to provide an adequate counterbalance to the forces of unbridled greed that rule the street.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Examples: Fire the help, downgrade to first class, sell their extra houses for half price, find out "where coupons come from"
Others, perhaps better grounded, look at the upside:
“I may be the only one who’s thrilled by this recession,” says the wife of one London private-equity manager who took his lumps this fall. “It just means we’ll have to get possibly another job. But the bottom line is that it is just money. When you realize that you have enough—your health and a roof and good food and your family—you have to just feel lucky.”
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Hat tip to Bruce.
Joshua Davis once gave the coolest design lecture I ever attended. He talked about putting red food coloring in his eyes (result: cool looking eyes, mild discomfort, tears that looked bloody and a red tint to his vision for a few hours) and the process of doing his art (experiment a lot, use math, make interesting failures, build on what works). Then, he invited us to play, too. Play is the opposite of poverty.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
My view is that Money and Credit is very readable--compulsively readable, in fact: I have just spent two and a half hours telling myself "it's OK; I will just read one more page...". But it is only readable in a rhetorical-excess-train-wreck mode, for it is also totally bats--- insane.
I recommend starting at page 416: read through the defenses of the gold standard as the only monetary system consistent with representative government, the attacks on Keynes, the attacks on the New Deal, the attacks on the United Nations, the blaming of all unemployment on labor unions--or on governments--the attacks on private-sector fractional-reserve banking, and stop with the attacks on all other believers in the gold standard not named "von Mises", not dedicated to the root-and-branch elimination of all forms of private fractional-reserve banking, and infected by the errors of the nineteenth-century British Banking School:Ludwig von Mises, Money and Credit: p. 416 ff: [T]he gold standard appears as an indispensible element of the body of constitutional guarantees that make the system of representative government function.... What the foes of the gold standard are asking for is... to intensify very considerably the already-prevailing upward trend of prices and wages.... Such a policy of radical inflationism is, of course, extremely popular.... How pale is the art of sorcerers, witches, and conjurors when compared with that of the government's treasury department! The government, professors tell us, 'can raise all the money it needs by printing it'. Taxes for revenue, announced a chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, are 'obsolete'. How wonderful!... eventually... the cleverly-concocted plans of inflation collapse. Whatever compliant government economists may have said, inflationism is not a monetary policy that can be considered as an alternative to a sound-money policy....
...and so on and so forth. It's a hoot.
- Capital, especially debt capital is more scarce due to both increased risk awareness/decreased bank capacity and a desire to delever in general
- Near term "bad times", resulting in premiums for assets that pay out now. Asset return expectations will continue to increase (asset spot prices will continue to fall) until a new equilibrium is established
- Widespread cost reduction efforts will inhibit sales growth through the medium term. New projects will be postponed, scaled back or abandoned.
This article makes the very good point that VC firms should expect this general trend to impact their investments and portfolio companies in the following ways:
- Longer times to exits. Right now, the M&A, IPO and debt windows are firmly shut.
- Slower portfolio company growth, due to the aforementioned cost reduction efforts, and due to a general flight to companies with strong track records.
- Higher reserve requirements, as new investors decide to conserve their own existing portfolios, and higher proportions of follow-on investing rounds fall to existing investors.
- Flat valuations for follow-on rounds, at best, due to exit delays, development/sales slowdowns and capital scarcity.
What does all of this mean? It means that capital efficiency is extremely important, and that a move to profitability needs to be achieved as early as possible. From the investor perspective, the VC's aren't going to be able to save all of the firms currently in their portfolios, so it's important that they don't advocate anything stupid, like putting the entire salesforce on 100% commission, or cutting future development dollars (because that downstream development contains all of the exit value for years 6-10).
Another article on VC trends.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
In the glut of paper I could find no unifying or fundamental principle except a certain belief that money was good for rich people and bad for poor people. It was the only point on which all the authorities agreed, and no matter where the words were coming from (a report on federal housing, an essay on the payment of Social Security, articles on the sorrow of the slums or the wonder of the U.S. Navy) the authors invariably found the same abiding lesson in the tale—money ennobles rich people, making them strong as well as wise; money corrupts poor people, making them stupid as well as weak.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Regulators therefore need to help people manage complexity and resist temptation. A potential response to complexity would be to require simplicity - for example, by allowing only the standard 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. This would be a big mistake. Eliminating complexity would stifle innovation. A TiVo is a more complicated product than a VCR, but it is also better.
A superior approach is to improve disclosure. One reason a TiVo is better than a VCR is that it is easier to use. Regulators can reduce the chances of a future meltdown by making it easier to understand financial products. Aggressive steps should be taken to improve disclosure - for example, with mortgages, fine-print disclosure should be supplemented by machine-readable files enabling third-party websites to translate hidden details of the terms. Mandatory transparency for investment banks and hedge funds would also help.
Monday, November 24, 2008
- Women undressing behind screens
- Ocean liners
- Characters named Vane, Vail, Vance
- Marcel waves
- "Ecstatic amorality without comeuppance ('Jewel Robbery')"
- Older character actors
- Actors with voices
- Dry wit
(via James Wolcott)
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
It took two generations of the best and the brightest who were mathematically quick and decided to address themselves to the issues of capital markets. They made it possible to create the greatest mountain of leverage that the world has ever seen. In my own way, I do track it back to the construction of the architecture of modern finance theory, all the way back to Harry Markowitz writing a thesis at the University of Chicago which Milton Friedman didn’t think was economics. He was later convinced to allow Markowitz to get his doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1950. Then we go on through the evolution of modern finance and the work that led to the Nobel prizes, Miller, Modigliani, Scholes and Merton. The core of this grand project was to reconstruct financial economics as a branch of physics. If we could treat the agents, the atoms of the markets, people buying and selling, as if they were molecules, we could apply the same differential equations to finance that describe the behavior of molecules. What that entails is to take as the raw material, time series data, prices and returns, and look at them as the observables generated by processes which are stationary. By this I mean that the distribution of observables, the distribution of prices, is stable over time. So you can look at the statistical attributes like volatility and correlation amongst them, above all liquidity, as stable and mathematically describable. So consequently, you could construct ways to hedge any position by means of a “replicating portfolio” whose statistics would offset the securities you started with. There is a really important book written by a professor at the University of Edinburgh named Donald MacKenzie. He is a sociologist of economics and he went into the field, onto the floor in Chicago and the trading rooms, to do his research. He interviewed everybody and wrote a great book called An Engine Not a Camera. It is an analytical history of the evolution of modern finance theory. Where the title comes from is that modern finance theory was not a camera to capture how the markets worked, but rather an engine to transform them.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
And here, in a low volume clip, he talks about his hedge fund, Universa, which has had a very good year:
That the world was under serious threat due to anthropogenic global warming, andThat the answer wasn't to live simply, but rather to use better technology to help us make better choices and conduct our lives in a better way
There is no global warming, or if there is, it's natural
These two ideas are incredibly inspiring, and have served as a powerful antidote against the Three Stupidities of Global Warming:
The only answer to global warming is to live in log cabins, unplug your fridge and never get on another airplane Global warming is inevitable, so let's go buy some more Hummers and pass the
spotted owl omelette, wouldya?
The Stupidities are, at root, counsels of despair. They rely on denialism, or hold humanity to an impossible standard (witness the goofball commenters to my post about entertaining your children with a single bucket of water on a hot day who immediately leapt in to characterize this as a sin against the very planet, since water is precious and shouldn't be wasted by splashing around in the summer), or throw up their hands and give up.
The Last Viridian Email offers up both a summation of the movement and a suggestion for prioritizing one's stuff into four important categories:
- Beautiful things.
- Emotionally important things.
- Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
- Everything else.
"Everything else" will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year -- this very likely belongs in "everything else."
You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers' marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe -- along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.
Then remove them from your time and space.
Also, get a multitool, so as to be as useful and personally effective as possible.
The Last Viridian Note
By Bruce Sterling
Recent events have clearly established that the character of the times has changed. The Viridian Design Movement was founded in distant 1999. After the years transpiring – various disasters, wars, financial collapses and a major change in political tone – the world has become a different place.
It remains only to close the Viridian episode gracefully, and to conclude with a few meditative suggestions.
As I explained in the first Viridian speech, any design movement – social movements of any kind, really – should be designed with an explicit expiration date. The year 2012 would have been the extreme to which Viridian could have persisted. Since the course of history has grown quite jittery, this longer term was spared us.
Some Viridian principles can be lightly re-phrased, buffed-up and likely made of practical use in days to come. Others are period notions to be gently tossed into the cultural compost. I could try to describe which are which – but that's a proper job for someone younger.
I'm following current events with keen interest. There's never been a better time for major political and financial interventions in the green space. However, Viridian List is about design interventions, it was not about politics or finance, so a decent reticence is in order at this juncture.
I would like to cordially thank Viridian readers and contributors and advisors for their patience and their generous help over nine years. I hope you feel you derived some benefit from it. I did my best with the effort, I learned a lot by it, and I'm pleased with how it turned out.
I can't say what Viridian may have done for you; that's up to you to judge. Since this is last Viridian note, however, I'd like to describe what Viridian did for me.
Since the halcyon days of 1999 my life has changed radically.
Rather than "thinking globally and acting locally," as in the old futurist theme, I now live and think glocally. I once had a stable, settled life within a single city, state and nation. Nowadays, I divide my time between three different polities: the United States, the European Union and the Balkans. With various junkets elsewhere.
The 400-year-old Westphalian System doesn't approve of my lifestyle, although it's increasingly common, especially among people half my age. It's stressful to live glocally. Not that I myself feel stressed by this. As long as I've got broadband, I'm perfectly at ease with the fact that my position on the planet's surface is arbitrary. It's the nation-state system that is visibly stressed by these changes – it's freaking out over currency flows, migration through airports, offshoring, and similar phenomena.
I know that, by the cultural standards of the 20th century, my newfangled glocal lifestyle ought to bother me. I ought to feel deracinated, and I should suffer from culture shock, and I should stoically endure the mournful silence and exile of a writer torn from the kindly matrix of his national culture. A traditional story.
However, I've been at this life for years now; I really tried; the traditional regret is just not happening. Clearly the existence of the net has obliterated many former operational difficulties.
Furthermore, my sensibility no longer operates in that 20th-century framework. That's become an archaic way to feel, and I just can't get there from here.
Living on the entire planet at once is no longer a major challenge. It's got its practical drawbacks, but I'm much more perturbed about contemporary indignities such as airport terrorspaces, ATM surchanges and the open banditry of cellphone roaming. This is what's troublesome. The rest of it, I'm rather at ease about. Unless I'm physically restrained by some bureaucracy, I don't think I'm going to stop this glocally nomadic life. I live on the Earth. The Earth is a planet. This fact is okay. I am living in truth.
Another major change came through my consumption habits. It pains me to see certain people still trying to live in hairshirt-green fashion – purportedly mindful, and thrifty and modest. I used to tolerate this eccentricity, but now that panicked bankers and venture capitalists are also trying to cling like leeches to every last shred of their wealth, I can finally see it as actively pernicious.
Hairshirt-green is the simple-minded inverse of 20th-century consumerism. Like the New Age mystic echo of Judaeo-Christianity, hairshirt-green simply changes the polarity of the dominant culture, without truly challenging it in any effective way. It doesn't do or say anything conceptually novel – nor is it practical, or a working path to a better life.
My personal relations to goods and services – especially goods – have been revolutionized since 1999. Let me try your patience by describing this change in some detail, because it really is a different mode of being in the world.
My design book SHAPING THINGS, which is very Viridian without coughing up that fact in a hairball, talks a lot about material objects as frozen social relationships within space and time. This conceptual approach may sound peculiar and alien, but it can be re-phrased in a simpler way.
What is "sustainability?" Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.
In earlier, less technically advanced eras, this approach would have been far-fetched. Material goods were inherently difficult to produce, find, and ship. They were rare and precious. They were closely associated with social prestige. Without important material signifiers such as wedding china, family silver, portraits, a coach-house, a trousseau and so forth, you were advertising your lack of substance to your neighbors. If you failed to surround yourself with a thick material barrier, you were inviting social abuse and possible police suspicion. So it made pragmatic sense to cling to heirlooms, renew all major purchases promptly, and visibly keep up with the Joneses.
That era is dying. It's not only dying, but the assumptions behind that form of material culture are very dangerous. These objects can no longer protect you from want, from humiliation – in fact they are causes of humiliation, as anyone with a McMansion crammed with Chinese-made goods and an unsellable SUV has now learned at great cost.
Furthermore, many of these objects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.
It's not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.
Do not "economize." Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane. Even its champions are terrified by it now. It's melting the North Pole. So "economization" is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.
The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don't seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It's in your time most, it's in your space most. It is "where it is at," and it is "what is going on."
It takes a while to get this through your head, because it's the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed – (assuming you have a regular bed, which in point of fact I do not). You're spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it. Replace it.
Sell – even give away– anything you never use. Fancy ball gowns, tuxedos, beautiful shoes wrapped in bubblepak that you never wear, useless Christmas gifts from well-meaning relatives, junk that you inherited. Sell that stuff. Take the money, get a real bed. Get radically improved everyday things.
The same goes for a working chair. Notice it. Take action. Bad chairs can seriously injure you from repetitive stresses. Get a decent ergonomic chair. Someone may accuse you of "indulging yourself" because you possess a chair that functions properly. This guy is a reactionary. He is useless to futurity. Listen carefully to whatever else he says, and do the opposite. You will benefit greatly.
Expensive clothing is generally designed to make you look like an aristocrat who can afford couture. Unless you are a celebrity on professional display, forget this consumer theatricality. You should buy relatively-expensive clothing that is ergonomic, high-performance and sturdy.
Anything placed next to your skin for long periods is of high priority. Shoes are notorious sources of pain and stress and subjected to great mechanical wear. You really need to work on selecting these – yes, on "shopping for shoes." You should spend more time on shoes than you do on cars, unless you're in a car during pretty much every waking moment. In which case, God help you.
I strongly recommend that you carry a multitool. There are dozens of species of these remarkable devices now, and for good reason. Do not show them off in a beltpack, because this marks you as a poorly-socialized geek. Keep your multitool hidden in the same discreet way that you would any other set of keys.
That's because a multitool IS a set of keys. It's a set of possible creative interventions in your immediate material environment. That is why you want a multitool. They are empowering.
A multitool changes your perceptions of the world. Since you lack your previous untooled learned-helplessness, you will slowly find yourself becoming more capable and more observant. If you have pocket-scissors, you will notice loose threads; if you have a small knife you will notice bad packaging; if you have a file you will notice flashing, metallic burrs, and bad joinery. If you have tweezers you can help injured children, while if you have a pen, you will take notes. Tools in your space, saving your time. A multitool is a design education.
As a further important development, you will become known to your friends and colleagues as someone who is capable, useful and resourceful, rather than someone who is helpless, frustrated and visibly lacking in options. You should aspire to this better condition.
Do not lug around an enormous toolchest or a full set of post-earthquake gear unless you are Stewart Brand. Furthermore, unless you are a professional emergency worker, you can abstain from post-apocalyptic "bug-out bags" and omnicompetent heaps of survivalist rations. Do not stock the fort with tiresome, life-consuming, freeze-dried everything, unless you can clearly sense the visible approach of some massive, non-theoretical civil disorder. The clearest way to know that one of these is coming is that the rich people have left your area. If that's the case, then, sure, go befriend the police and prepare to knuckle down.
Now to confront the possessions you already have. This will require serious design work, and this will be painful. It is a good idea to get a friend or several friends to help you.
You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.
1. Beautiful things.
2. Emotionally important things.
3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
4. Everything else
"Everything else" will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year – this very likely belongs in "everything else."
You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers' marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.
Then remove them from your time and space. "Everything else" should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.
It may belong to you, but it does not belong with you. You weren't born with it. You won't be buried with it. It needs to be out of the space-time vicinity. You are not its archivist or quartermaster. Stop serving that unpaid role.
Beautiful things are important. If they're truly beautiful, they should be so beautiful that you are showing them to people. They should be on display: you should be sharing their beauty with others. Your pride in these things should enhance your life, your sense of taste and perhaps your social standing.
They're not really that beautiful? Then they're not really beautiful. Take a picture of them, tag them, remove them elsewhere.
Emotionally important things. All of us have sentimental keepsakes that we can't bear to part with. We also have many other objects which simply provoke a panicky sense of potential loss – they don't help us to establish who we are, or to become the person we want to be. They subject us to emotional blackmail.
Is this keepsake so very important that you would want to share its story with your friends, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you just using this clutter as emotional insulation, so as to protect yourself from knowing yourself better?
Think about that. Take a picture. You might want to write the story down. Then – yes – away with it.
You are not "losing things" by these acts of material hygiene. You are gaining time, health, light and space. Also, the basic quality of your daily life will certainly soar. Because the benefits of good design will accrue to you where they matter – in the everyday.
Not in Oz or in some museum vitrine. In the every day. For sustainability, it is every day that matters. Not green Manhattan Projects, green moon shots, green New Years' resolutions, or wild scifi speculations. Those are for dabblers and amateurs. The sustainable is about the every day.
Now for category three, tools and appliances. They're not beautiful and you are not emotionally attached to them. So they should be held to keen technical standards.
Is your home a museum? Do you have curatorial skills? If not, then entropy is attacking everything in there. Stuff breaks, ages, rusts, wears out, decays. Entropy is an inherent property of time and space. Understand this fact. Expect this. The laws of physics are all right, they should not provoke anguished spasms of denial.
You will be told that you should "make do" with broken or semi-broken tools, devices and appliances. Unless you are in prison or genuinely crushed by poverty, do not do this. This advice is wicked.
This material culture of today is not sustainable. Most of the things you own are almost certainly made to 20th century standards, which are very bad. If we stick with the malignant possessions we already have, through some hairshirt notion of thrift, then we are going to be baling seawater. This will not do.
You should be planning, expecting, desiring to live among material surroundings created, manufactured, distributed, through radically different methods from today's. It is your moral duty to aid this transformative process. This means you should encourage the best industrial design.
Get excellent tools and appliances. Not a hundred bad, cheap, easy ones. Get the genuinely good ones. Work at it. Pay some attention here, do not neglect the issue by imagining yourself to be serenely "non-materialistic." There is nothing more "materialistic" than doing the same household job five times because your tools suck. Do not allow yourself to be trapped in time-sucking black holes of mechanical dysfunction. That is not civilized.
Now for a brief homily on tools and appliances of especial Viridian interest: the experimental ones. The world is full of complicated, time-sucking, partially-functional beta-rollout gizmos. Some are fun to mess with; fun in life is important. Others are whimsical; whimsy is okay. Eagerly collecting semifunctional gadgets because they are shiny-shiny, this activity is not the worst thing in the world. However, it can become a vice. If you are going to wrangle with unstable, poorly-defined, avant-garde tech objects, then you really need to wrangle them. Get good at doing it.
Good experiments are well-designed experiments. Real experiments need a theory. They need something to prove or disprove. Experiments need to be slotted into some larger context of research, and their results need to be communicated to other practitioners. That's what makes them true "experiments" instead of private fetishes.
If you're buying weird tech gizmos, you need to know what you are trying to prove by that. You also need to tell other people useful things about it. If you are truly experimenting, then you are doing something praiseworthy. You may be wasting some space and time, but you'll be saving space and time for others less adventurous. Good.
If you're becoming a techie magpie packrat who never leaves your couch – that's not good. Forget the shiny gadget. You need to look in the shiny mirror.
So. This approach seems to be working for me. More or less. I'm not urging you to do any of this right away. Do not jump up from the screen right now and go reform your entire material circumstances. That resolve will not last. Because it's not sustainable.
Instead, I am urging you to think hard about it. Tuck it into the back of your mind. Contemplate it. The day is going to come, it will come, when you suddenly find your comfortable habits disrupted.
That could be a new job, a transfer to a new city, a marriage, the birth or departure of a child. It could be a death in the family: we are mortal, they happen. Moments like these are part of the human condition. Suddenly you will find yourself facing a yawning door and a whole bunch of empty boxes. That is the moment in which you should launch this sudden, much-considered coup. Seize that moment on the barricades, liberate yourself, and establish a new and sustainable constitution.
But – you may well ask – what if I backslide into the ancien regime? Well, there is a form of hygiene workable here as well. Every time you move some new object into your time and space – buy it, receive it as a gift, inherit it, whatever – remove some equivalent object.
That discipline is not as hard as it sounds. As the design of your immediate surroundings improves, it'll become obvious to you that more and more of these time-sucking barnacles are just not up to your standards. They're ugly, or they're broken, or they're obsolete, or they are visible emblems of nasty, uncivilized material processes.
Their blissful absence from your life makes new time and space for something better for you – and for the changed world you want to live to see.
So: that summarizes it. Forgive the Pope-Emperor this last comprehensive sermon; it is what I learned by doing all this, and you won't be troubled henceforth.
Now. If you've read this far, you're a diehard. So you may be interested in my next, post-Viridian, project. And yes, of course I have one. It's not so direct, confrontational and strident as the Viridian Movement; instead, it suits a guy of my increasingly scholastic and professorial temperament.
Viridian "imaginary products" were always a major theme of ours, and, since I'm both a science fiction writer and a design critic, I want to do some innovative work in this space – yes, the realm of imaginary products. Conceptual designs; imaginary designs; critical designs; fantastic and impossible designs.
This new effort of mine is a scholarly work exploring material culture, use-value, ethics, and the relationship between materiality and the imagination. However, since nobody's easily interested in that huge, grandiose topic, I'm disguising it as a nifty and attractive gadget book. I plan to call it "The User's Guide to Imaginary Gadgets."
My first step in composing this new book is to methodically survey the space of all possible imaginary gadgets. It's rather like the exploratory work of "Dead Media Project."
I'm not yet sure what form this new research effort will take. There will likely be a mailing list. I may be turning my Wired blog into something of a gadget site. There might be a wiki or a social network, depending on who wants to help me, and what they want out of that effort. Still: "design fiction," "critical design," "futurist scenario design," and the personal, individual, pocket-and-purse sized approach to postindustriality: this is something I need to know a lot more about.
If you want to play, send email.
Bruce Sterling bruces [at] well.com
Originally distributed to the Viridian email list and at the Viridian Design web site.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
by Kaylin Haught
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
One gallon of diesel pulls one ton of cargo 59 miles by truck, 202 miles by train and 514 miles by canal barge, Ms. Mantello said. A single barge can carry 3,000 tons, enough to replace 100 trucks.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I see Superman in this series as an Enlightenment figure, a Renaissance idea of the ideal man, perfect in mind, body and intention.
A key text in all of this is Pico’s ‘Oration On The Dignity of Man’ (15c), generally regarded as the ‘manifesto’ of Renaissance thought, in which Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola laid out the fundamentals of what we tend to refer to as ’Humanist’ thinking.
At its most basic, the ‘Oratorio’ is telling us that human beings have the unique ability, even the responsibility, to live up to their ‘ideals’. It would be unusual for a dog to aspire to be a horse, a bird to bark like a dog, or a horse to want to wear a diving suit and explore the Barrier Reef, but people have a particular gift for and inclination towards imitation, mimicry and self-transformation. We fly by watching birds and then making metal carriers that can outdo birds, we travel underwater by imitating fish, we constantly look to role models and behavioral templates for guidance, even when those role models are fictional TV or, comic, novel or movie heroes, just like the soft, quick, shapeshifty little things we are. We can alter the clothes we wear, the temperature around us, and change even our own bodies, in order to colonize or occupy previously hostile environments. We are, in short, a distinctively malleable and adaptable bunch.
So, Pico is saying, if we live by imitation, does it not make sense that we might choose to imitate the angels, the gods, the very highest form of being that we can imagine ? Instead of indulging the most brutish, vicious, greedy and ignorant aspects of the human experience, we can, with a little applied effort, elevate the better part of our natures and work to express those elements through our behavior. To do so would probably make us all feel a whole lot better too. Doing good deeds and making other people happy makes you feel totally brilliant, let’s face it.
So we can choose to the astronaut or the gangster. The superhero or the super villain. The angel or the devil. It’s entirely up to us, particularly in the privileged West, how we choose to imagine ourselves and conduct our lives.
We live in the stories we tell ourselves. It’s really simple.
Monday, October 27, 2008
"When I cast an early vote [Wednesday] at Palo Pinto County Courthouse, my vote was switched from Democrat to Republican right in front of my face - twice!" reported Lona Jones, a Precinct 1 county resident.
Intending to vote straight party on the Democratic ticket, Jones said she was surprised Wednesday when the electronic voting machine "on the left as you face the machines" in the courthouse basement asked her if she wanted to cast her vote for a straight Republican ticket.
Thinking she had pushed the wrong button the first time the machine "came up Republican," Jones said she repeated her intended straight-party vote.
"The second time I was sure to just touch the Democratic button," she said, further reporting that the machine responded to her selection, "'Do you want to change your Republican straight ticket vote to a Democratic vote?' I pressed, 'Yes,' then it came back up and it was a total Republican ticket again."
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace
An interview with David Lipsky, who wrote the piece, with ruminations on the writer:
There's no way of knowing what his legacy is but I know he changed prose. And prose gets changed not that often in a century. Hemingway changed prose, so did Salinger and Nabokov. David changed it too. He did an amazing thing. One the things that writing and speech can do is express what we're thinking one thought at a time. But we think a thousand things at a time, and David found a way to get all that across in a way that's incredibly true and incredibly entertaining at the same time...He ended a piece for our magazine with the words "Try to stay awake." That open-eyeness is the giant thing he leaves behind.
Also included are a couple of reprints of his Rolling Stone articles:
The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub: Seven Days in the Life of the Late, Great John McCain from the 2000 campaign.
The View From Mrs. Thompson's, reflections on 9/11 as perceived from a Midwestern living room.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
S&P employees, on the other hand, were passing around text messages like this:
Rahul Dilip Shah: btw: that deal is ridiculous
Shannon Mooney: I know right... model def does not capture half of the risk
Rahul Dilip Shah: we should not be rating it
Shannon Mooney: we rate every deal
Shannon Mooney: it could be structured by cows and we would rate it
(via Calculated Risk)
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
“Fear and greed, fear and greed, the Street always goes back and forth,” he says. “And we’re as close to fear as we’ve been in the past twenty years.”
He stares at the screens again: An absolute shit show.
“Just look at the Forbes’ list of billionaires—they’re all screwed,” says another partner.
“Lakshmi’s net worth, cut in half. Rupert, cut in half. Cooperman from Goldman—”
“I was surprised Cooperman was on that list,” notes my
From crisis comes opportunity, but the opportunities right now are heinous. So they’re waiting—waiting for stupid prices, prices where a company’s stock can trade for the cash it has on hand, prices that don’t make sense in any economic environment.
The talking heads of CNBC prattle on in the background, interspersed with video of exhausted senators walking around the halls of the Capitol. “We should take pictures of the politicians who voted against the bailout and stick them on the Internet,” declares a partner. “If they get killed, so what? Work it out.”
He picks up a dainty silver die, with the sides marked buy, sell, and hold, and throws it on the desk. Then he picks it up, gingerly. “We got buy,” he says, putting it down, with a frown.
On the other hand, Andrew Lahde got an attack of sanity after an 837% return he obtained by betting against subprime mortgages. He's leaving the business for happier pursuits, and would also like to recommend that the government legalize hemp and marijuana. Hear, hear.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Bruce makes it through airport security with the most rudimentary measures and a reporter from the Atlantic.
“Counterterrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” he said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist
The laundromat that brought down the IRA.
The (ever-growing) maxims of security from the folks at Argonne
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Also, in this PBS interview, he discusses the potential for a boom that extends beyond what people call clean tech or green tech:
they refer to interesting little markets like hybrids and batteries and solar cells and wind farms and corn ethanol and biodiesel, but that's not where the real opportunity is.
Those are nice markets, nice investments, people make money at it, but the real big opportunities are changing the infrastructure of society. We are talking about things like the $200 billion engines market for automobiles and trucks, things like lighting, billions of dollars spent on lighting. We can completely change that. Cement. Huge multi-hundred billion dollar market that needs to change. Glass. Then there's replacing all of the oil in the world. Hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars worth of fuel that needs to be replaced. And there's gasoline, there's diesel, there's jet
And then there's electric power generation. Not the kind you get from a PV cell, that's a good market, but the stuff you can actually store and ship and the utilities meet it at the prices at which utilities can buy power.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Spooky, for real.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
And here they are...the new portfolio companies in the sovereign wealth fund of the United States:
Pascal had supposed that the persuasiveness of his argument to any rational thinker would result in submission to the long-standing authority of the Catholic church. But the problem is that the argument is no more, and no less, compelling coming from a 17th-century Catholic philosopher defending traditional faith than coming from a couple of rough and unwashed rednecks in Louisiana in defense of a strain of enthusiastic neo-Protestantism that Pascal himself would have deemed diabolical.
The Yoke-Up version of the wager brings to light something that Pascal's does not. To accept the wager, to go for it 'just in case', is not, or not only, to submit to God's will. It is also to submit to the will of the person who presents to you the wager, and not just as concerns God's existence, but also as concerns all sorts of tangential cultural matters that God, if he exists, would have to find perfectly irrelevant.
The only way to adequately convince the illiterate truckdriver and his angry 'ex-gay' spouse that one has accepted their message would be, one supposes, not just to declare, "Yes, I believe!", but also to come to care about things like engine repair, to understand certain sports metaphors, to inhabit a world of small and local concerns that can only make sense if one is already a certain kind of working-class white American. In this particular case, one would likely also have to show signs of the ravages of life prior to being born again, perhaps some tribal or Celtic tattoos hidden under the undershirt, teeth worn down to stubs by meth, a threadbare collection of garments announcing that one has 'no fear'.
As Pascal might have said, these are attributes of a Christian that do not depend on will, or even intellect.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
1. In which one can see Mr. Gaiman's house, writing cottage, pumpkin patch and blackberry bramble. It is an absolutely satisfying environment for a writer of strange fiction, as if fed by the compost of imagination and old stories.
2. In which he discusses the impact of the strange onto everyday life:
GR: So many of your books walk the boundary between the real and the supernatural. Have you ever had a supernatural experience?
NG: You don't get explanations in real life. You just get moments that are absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd. Like everybody in the world, I've had moments that are absolutely, utterly, inexplicably odd. I actually wrote about one of them in my latest book, Fragile Things. There's a true-life ghost story about running into a gypsy woman dressed as if she was from a previous century outside my front door. And maybe she was. There's a wonderful author named Robert Aickman who wrote what he described as "strange stories." They were more or less ghost stories, but they always lacked explanation.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Hold on to your hats. The next wave is going to be a big one. I don't believe that this is the best message for the portfolio companies from a strategic standpoint (extreme cost cutting will wreck the long-term value of a lot of these companies). Instead, this is a strongly worded warning that the VCs are going to cut the portfolios themselves, and demand a clear path to positive cash flow.
The other impact of the credit freeze: the theta for the VCs just got a whole lot shorter, and with the decline of the LBO, the exits are closed for the time being.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
She concluded that leadership would have passed not to men named Abraham or Teddy but to those named Lee, Felix or Frank. "We would have had a King named Spot, how cool is that?" Smolenyak muses of the son who would've fallen between King Bushrod, the first, and Bushrod II. And term limits? Not so much: King Larry would have been in power from 1935 to 1997, she says.King Spot I. I like the ring of that.
This morning, Secretary Paulson edged closer to direct investment in the troubled banks. This semi-nationalization idea just got introduced over in the UK, and seems to have worked elsewhere (e.g., Sweden) as a cure for banking crises.
Brad DeLong has the score on the Paulson Plan (buy distressed assets at market value--OK), the Elmendorf-Brown plan (recap/semi-nationalization--better) and the McCain plan (buy bad stuff at face value--weird and counterproductive).
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
To give an extended example, a homeowner could borrow up to 95% (~20:1 leverage) of the value of the home, using a stack of two mortgages. These mortgages were then packed up into a CDO (a stack of bonds with hundreds of mortgages as collateral), with the debt portion of the structure standing on top of a 3% "equity" slice (~33:1 leverage). To get the highest value out of the bonds, the originator "wrapped" some of the bonds with an insurance policy or credit default swap, provided by counterparties who collateralized their end of the swap with as little as 3% of the notional value of the swap (33:1 leverage again). The largest investment banks who held a lot of these securities were leveraged at anything up to about 33:1.
Now, imagine that one of two things happen: 1) interest rates on floating rate mortgages increase by 200bp (say from 4 to 6%) within a year, because times are good and demand increases or 2) the value of the homes decreases by >5%, because times are bad and demand is slack. Your equity in a 95% leveraged house is now negative. As a result, some percentage of you have just defaulted; if that percentage is >3%, the CDO is underwater. The string of credit is jerked back, magnified at each step, until you arrive at the current credit freeze.
As a practical matter, what's a reasonably safe amount of leverage? My guess is it's somewhere in the range of 5:1 or 10:1. Using fancy mathematical models, you will get answers like the 33:1 structures of the paragraph above; these models need to go in the garbage at this point. This economy is going to continue to delever over the next 19 months, and it's going to hurt.