Friday, May 13, 2011

Swaptions are Sexy

James Somers makes trading sound like the most compelling human activity ever invented. It is, if you've got the right personality for it. For the rest of us, sex and/or good conversation might take the prize

This place, on the other hand, feels like something closer to an active battleship.

I'm starting to think it has something to do with the computers. From far away each station looks like one of those extravagantly immersive arcade games -- like something you get into rather than sit down at. That's probably why I keep calling them "stations."

My friend's has six distinct screens. They're arranged as a row of two above a row of four in a bowed-out fan pattern that looks basically like a robotic sail. I'm told that this array is driven by three machines, each with a preposterous eight CPU cores. Maybe he needs them -- at the moment he has forty-four windows open. These include a Bloomberg terminal with prices, news, charts, and analytics that all update or redraw themselves more than once per second; several small forms for buying and selling different kinds of securities; some PDFs ridden with legalese; e-mails with long, redundant subject lines and laconic bodies; a bare bones programming IDE; a dashboard that shows his "book," or set of open market positions, with stats regarding risk and the like; some very intimidating spreadsheets; chat rooms, IM conversations, and the occasional video conference; a custom program to query internal databases; and miscellaneous browser windows. It all runs snappily.

Beneath the screens he has something called a turret, which is like a regular human telephone except that it has sixty active lines and a button density close to what you see on studio sound boards. Among other things it includes the option to broadcast its user's voice over the room's loudspeaker; this feature has apparently been used of late (though not by my friend) to share Rebecca Black's "Friday" with the entire floor.

The all-in costs for a setup like this -- hardware, software, and data subscriptions -- come to about $200,000 per year.

No comments: