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Comment Re:The cops that arrested him must be proud (Score 1) 1016

"Just Doing My Job" is a GREAT excuse, in the vast majority of cases, if you are a soldier, policeman, fireman, whatnot.

The idea that someone in one of those positions should, on a regular basis be ALLOWED to substitute their "judgment" for their job is absurd. Institutions like the police and army, HAVE to do their job, even (especially!) when they find that job distasteful or even mildly wrong, because if they didn't, if a private, or a beat cop, or whoever got to willy nilly substitue their judgment for that of their CO, or of the law as it stands, in ANYTHING but the most outrageous situations, those institutions would entirely cease to function, as institutions, and you would get not the rule of Law, but the rule of Thugs.

In VERY EXTREME cases, "just doing my job" doesn't cut it, post Nuremberg. But in run of the mill cases (and arresting someone for breaking the law, even a silly, or wrong (in the eyes of cop/soldier) law is very run of the mill) "just doing my job" is needful.

Comment Models had nothing to do with it (Score 2, Interesting) 561

The contribution of mathematical models to the present crisis has been vastly overblown. The breast-beating and mea culpas from the likes of Derman and Wilmott are self-flattering: after all, if you caused the problem, you must be important! In reality, the quant is at the bottom of the pecking order on most trading floors. The people who trafficked in securitized garbage did so not because they were fooled by their models, but because they were paid to. You can't tell me that the guy who lent $750,000 to a strawberry picker with $14,000 income would have thought it a good idea if he was lending his own money.

Contrast this to LCTM, which really is an example of quants gone wrong: those guys had so much faith in their models that they not only put their own money in the game, they borrowed money to invest in themselves! They were doing the same things they had done at Salomon but they failed to appreciate the importance of being able to lean on Solly's balance sheet in times of trouble.

As for Taleb ... puh-lease. The guy is a self-promoting windbag and his two most recent books are a waste of time. That's a shame, because he has written at least one interesting book I am aware of: Dynamic Hedging. Unfortuntely, the flaws that were present in embryo in that book - exaggerated self-regard, exaggerated criticism of others, deliberately cryptic statements meant to make the author seem clever - have grown like a tumour to consume 100% of his writing. All of Taleb's points have been made more clearly and more intelligently by other, better people. A recent example is Rebonato's Plight of the Fortune Tellers, but there are many others.

Comment It's the liquidity, stupid (Score 1) 561

An equilibrium price doesn't mean that everyone agrees what the price should be, just that there is a balance between those who think the price too high and those who think it too low. If you restrict the supply of a given financial instrument, you chase out people at the margin who think the price is reasonable and are left with just the irrationally exuberant. Conversely, as you flood the market with new supply you are chasing progressively more bearish investors in the quest to find a buyer. Both of these effects are liable to dynamic positive feedback: as a price rises, the exuberant feel justified in their optimism and become ever more irrational. Likewise, as a price falls, bearish investors assume that the market is in possession of some negative information hidden from them and become ever more bearish - who wants to catch a falling knife?

The "types" of companies (and governments) directly affected by this bubble are in this case extremely narrow: banks (and none) respectively. In short, it is a classic financial bubble. Naturally, trouble for the banks spells trouble for everyone else, just as a cardiac arrest spells trouble for your little pinkie. Yes, it is always possible to view such a bubble as a "monetary" effect if money is defined sufficiently broadly - securitization is money creation, of a sort. But it is not money creation in the form of bank credit or manipulated interest rates and the Austrians and their Chicago students are of no use to you here.

Comment Re:Tough call (Score 1) 278

Not to mention: third, the initial cost of an item is often proportional to the initial externalities of polution and energy consumption. I don't happen to know whether this is true of plasma and LCD TVs, but it is true in many real-life examples. For instance, most of us instinctively dislike disposable styrofoam coffee cups - we can see and feel in our hands plastic that we will immediately throw away. But one requires many hundreds of styrofoam cups to equal the energy and polution costs of one ceramic mug. True, there are costs associated with disposing of the cups, but there are also costs required to clean mugs for reuse.

Paper cups are often preferred over styrofoam on the grounds that they are biodegradeable, but the advantages of paper over reusable mugs are doubtful. Compared to styrofoam, paper requires truly exorbitant amounts of energy to manufacture.

Comment Re:Think they read them anyway? (Score 1) 581

Tell me where I'm wrong.

Your wish is my command!

First, you need to understand that it is not just the banks that are the problem; the reason banks exist is that they have customers who need their services. In order to match reality, we have to add another piece to your analogy: suppose that you have to pay $2,000 in rent at the start of the month, but don't get paid until the end. You don't have a solvency problem - you are paying your debts completely on a monthly basis, just using credit to time-shift your cashflows. But when that credit is taken away, you are thrown out on the street.

In this case, of course, you would just keep a few months rent on hand to solve the problem. But that is not how businesses function; their cash requirements are vastly greater as a fraction of their capital than yours are. A company that has an order for widgets at $1.01 may be quite profitable if the cost of production is $1.00 provided that they don't have to fund production before delivery. They are still using credit to manage their cashflows, but it would be extremely expensive to dispense with this credit by the solution of keeping the requisite cash on hand. So expensive that they would be put out of business by more efficient competitors. The trouble now is that it has become very expensive or impossible for non-bank corporations to use credit in this way.

Comment Re:Slackware (Score 1) 295

Terrible Advice. Stay entirely away from Slack, or Gentoo. Work with Red Hat, or, if you must, Debian.

The elitist will say "but you wont have the fine grained understanding of everything." But that is the point. You never will. And if you teach yourself that you have to know everything, then when you have to set up servers that are used, by organizations, in the real world, you are going to not know the tools that exist to help you. You will feel bound to "if I didnt do all of it, I can't understand it."

And either you will just do what you are told, and do a lousy job, or you will make a system that is near unuseable for general purpose.

Learn your way through Red Hat, or Debian.
The Almighty Buck

Submission + - Grants for nerds.

yfarren writes: "So I applied, and got into to law school (the only one within 100 miles of me that offers night school, so I don't have to quit my day Job). I am a professional software developer, and rather like my job. I have worked as an assistant patent agent (writing patents, until I just couldn't), and have been interested in IP law, rights of workers, and contract law (as it touches EULA's) pretty much forever.

I think the legal profession is missing people who are strongly technically inclined, and that some of the reason so much bad law is passed is simply ignorance of technology (and a lot of the reason is the power of interests, in the face of general ignorance/apathy of technology), so I would like to pursue a degree in law, that will hopefully allow me to advocate in the areas I work in currently, and understand.

My problem is that while I have a good job, I can't justify taking on 100k of debt for a degree which will only marginally improve my salary, given how I want to use it. When I look for institutions that offer assistance to aspiring lawyers, they want to help people interested in social justice, or poor housing, or legal aid to immigrants. A wide variety of kinds of aid, actually, but I haven't found any institutional help for someone who is interested in IP law. I mean there is the EFF, but they are already lawyers. NewYorkCountryLawyer is a wonderful advocate for some IP law issues, and actually is doing some of the kind of work I would be interested in, but again, he is already a lawyer.

Anyone know of institutions that would be interested in helping create lawyers, who are well versed in technology, who want to use a law degree in advocating technology issues?"

Submission + - Mercedes-Benz Refuses to Help Police Nab Suspect

An anonymous reader writes: I found myself yelling at the TV over a broadcast this morning by KNBC Los Angeles. The story is here. The article talks about how the Glendale Police Department cannot believe that Mercedes-Benz of America is refusing to comply with an order they obtain to help find the driver of a hit and run accident. What the web version of the story does not say was what the Glendale police department was asking Mercedes-Benz to do was to turn on the the car's GPS tracking system so that they could help locate the suspect. I say kudos to Mercedes-Benz of America for refusing to do so.

Submission + - The obesity epidemic fueled by fructose (

drewtheman writes: According to this interview with Dr Robert Lustig, Professor of Pediatric Endocrinology from University of California, San Francisco, the fructose, once touted as diabetic friendly because it doesn't raise your insulin directly, could be a major culprit for the obesity epidemic, high blood pressure and elevated blood levels of LDL. The fructose constitute 50% of table sugar and up to 90% of HFCS, both found in high quantity in most prepared foods. And if it was not the fat that makes you fat?

Submission + - PHP 4 End of Life Announcement (

An anonymous reader writes: PHP today announced the end of life of version 4, with support continuing until the end of the year and critical security patches continuing until August 8, 2008. There will be no more releases of version 4.4. PHP notes today is the third anniversary of the release of PHP 5 and that PHP 6 is soon on the way. PHP recommends developers spend the rest of the year updating applications to run on PHP 5, and offers a migration guide.

Submission + - PHP 4 end of life announcement

perbert writes: The PHP development team announced that support for PHP 4 will continue until the end of this year only. After 2007-12-31 there will be no more releases of PHP 4.4. Critical security fixes will be made available on a case-by-case basis until 2008-08-08. For documentation on migration for PHP 4 to PHP 5, there is a migration guide. There is additional information available in the PHP 5.0 to PHP 5.1 and PHP 5.1 to PHP 5.2 migration guides as well.

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