Shared Links for Mar 9th

Shared Links for Feb 28th

Shared Links for Feb 26th

  • Zombie Bank Monster Mash – An animated monster mash, starring our bailed out financial "industry" (or is it just a lobby now?). Sadly Mark Fiore seems unwilling to implicate the current administration in the continuing mess. (tagged: cartoon zombie finance bailout banks economics politics geithner )
  • No, Wait! You Got It Backwards! – Well, so much for any hint of "change" in the administration's policies toward the banking industry. The Treasury's plans to buy convertible preferred shares in the banks is completely backwards – giving a put option to the banks, instead of getting a call option in exchange for the risky investment. Taxpayers are guaranteed to be screwed. (tagged: treasury banks bailout geithner obama economics finance )
  • The Case Against Home Ownership – An infrequently made point in the US: owning is often more expensive, and less convenient, than renting… and that's even before you account for the massive government incentives that have been put in place since WWII to encourage people to buy their own place. People frequently look at me like I'm crazy when I suggest we should just live close to where we work as a way to avoid the expenses of driving, or the inconveniences of (bad) public transit. (tagged: subsidy transportation housing economics suburbia planning taxes )
  • Copenhagen to continue Copenhagenizing – Denmark's take on "economic stimulus": massive investments in public transit and bike infrastructure. In a nation of 5 million, they're committing $16 billion over the next 10 years, which is about $1/day per person (which is less than 1/5 what the average US family spends on their automobiles) Regional rail, intra-city light rail. Bike lanes and paths. Road pricing for drivers. Etc, etc. I'm glad someone is setting a good example. It will be interesting to see how the world responds to Copenhagen later this year, when the next round of climate talks takes place. I can't think of a better city to represent my hopes for the future. (tagged: transportation politics copenhagen bicycle rail denmark stimulus )
  • NYPD fires rookie cop caught on YouTube video bashing bicyclist – Last fall a cyclist was body checked off their bike by a cop in the midst of a Times Square Critical Mass ride. Said event was recorded via cameraphone. Cop perjured himself in official report, claiming cyclist ran into him intentionally. Video viewed on YouTube 2 million times. Cop now unemployed and facing 4 years in prison for assault, falsifying documents. Sometimes we win. Makes me want to record just about everything. (tagged: bicycle police transparency youtube )

Shared Links for Feb 23rd

  • Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers – I just don't buy the lament of the newspapermen. If the papers were subsidizing the collection of "real" news with ads, how sure are we that people ever wanted news? Why exactly should we believe that there ever was some public interest at heart in journalism? I'd say it's just as likely that the fragmentation of digital media, and the trend toward tabloid fluff, is an indication that nobody (or at least, not enough people) really cared about the "serious" news in the first place. Disaggregated, opinionated, (truly) non-profit journalism will certainly be different than the muckrakers, or Big Media, but it's unclear to me that it will be worse in any way for government transparency, or democratic interchange. (tagged: technology media government transparency democracy )
  • The Crisis of Credit Visualized – Another great popularly accessible explanation of how we got into this mess, this time in cartoon form. Too bad there weren't any regulators in the story! (tagged: economy crisis financial animation mortgage subprime )
  • Bank insolvency: tips & tricks – Never, ever, feed a zombie bank. The great thing (or, one great thing) about blogs is that you can talk about serious and technical issues, using analogies to zombies. Try that in the Economist, or the WSJ. (tagged: economics finance stimulus bailout fed banks zombie )
  • Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe, and Carl Sagan – Musings from Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan's partner) on how we might apply the wonder of the cosmos, as revealed by science, toward the creation of naturalist spiritual communities. (tagged: science religion sagan atheism naturalism cosmos spirituality )
  • There's no reason for non-recourse – Options are valuable. That's why we have markets for them. The trillion dollars worth of non-recourse loans (cf pawnbroker) which the Fed is apparently about to offer up to the finance industry, will, because they are non-recourse, lead to a misvaluation of the assets being bought, even if they're being bought by private entities, because the penalty for non-repayment is simply forfeiting the asset (which might very well end up being worthless). The Fed is acting like a pawn shop, but a dumb one: what pawn shop in its right mind would let you exchange your cubic zirconia for half the value of a diamond? (tagged: finance economics crisis bailout fed geithner bernanke )

Shared Links for Feb 18th

  • Do the British love their children too? – Two girls run over while biking to their school 3 miles away. British (and probably American) "solution": re-allocate a school bus to their area (removing the bus from somewhere else). Dutch/German/Danish solution: provide better cycling infrastructure for everyone. Guess which one I think is better. (tagged: bicycle transportation infrastructure accident bike )
  • MIT open prototype initiative – A project to produce modular, open (freely available, non-proprietary) prototype designs for energy efficient buildings. MIT is so awesome. (tagged: green architecture design building )
  • LEED Platinum Prefab Home Now Available – Taking all the design work out of building zero energy homes should make it a lot easier to build them, but the contractors doing the actual construction still need to understand what they're doing, and how their application of building techniques will affect the end performance of the building (and their profits need to be tied to that performance somehow) (tagged: green architecture leed construction buildings )
  • Kidnapping Chrysler – Of course Cerberus (private equity firm that owns Chrysler, not three headed dog guarding hell) has a "fiduciary obligation" to seek a handout from the Feds. And by Jove, the Feds have a fiduciary obligation to refuse to give it to them! (tagged: bailout chrysler cerberus crisis economy gm )
  • Where data goes when it dies – Following from the Ma.gnolia implosion, Chris Messina muses on data loss and recovery… kind of an information grieving process. What are we going to do with all of this information anyway? 100 years from now, all historians will have to be AI. (tagged: data archive backups loss microformats recovery )
  • What really happened at Ma.gnolia – The social bookmarking service Ma.gnolia was, despite its surprisingly large user base, basically run like Ideotrope – one guy with a server, and some (in retrospect) pretty janky backups. A couple of weeks ago, the 500GB MySQL database file got corrupted, the backups failed, and the site imploded. Lessons to be learned indeed: number one is don't do your own IT, now that S3, EC2, the Google Apps Engine, and other such scalable enterprise systems are available. We gotta get that server retired… (tagged: backups magnolia data servers hosting )
  • Baseline Scenario for 2009-02-09 – A rundown of the current global financial situation, and governmental attempts to get things under control. These guys aren't particularly optimistic at the moment about our ability to acknowledge just how beholden our supposedly powerful and developed governments have become to the banking industry. We're acting like Indonesia or Russia with their oligarchic overlords. (tagged: finance economy economics crisis )

Shared Links for Feb 12th – Feb 15th

Shared Links for Feb 11th – Feb 12th

Shared Links for Sat, Feb 7th, 2009 through Tue, Feb 10th, 2009

  • Thefts puncture Paris bike scheme – More of Paris' Velib bicycles are being stolen or vandalized than expected. Not sure what their expectations were, but it is pretty annoying for basically every bike in the network to have been either stolen or damaged in only 18 months. The vandalism is probably impossible to stop (since it can be carried out while the bikes are locked in their stands) but the theft should be preventable with secure stands, and aggressive enforcement of responsibility for a bike while you've got it checked out (i.e. if the bike doesn't come back, your credit card is immediately charged for the total value of the bike, or possibly even more). I also can't help but wonder if the same functionality could be implemented with much, much cheaper bikes, especially in a city as flat as Paris. Singlespeeds with fenders and a basket, maybe 100 Euros each? With an RFID tag embedded – and put all the smarts in the racks. (tagged: bicycle bike cycling transportation paris velib )
  • Google Power to the People – Google developing tools to allow you to disentangle your own energy use, when the datastreams from smart meters come on line. Making this information easy to comprehend, pricing electricity to displace demand from the peak times, and allowing the largest energy users to schedule their use in an automated way could (without even changing anything physically) have a large impact on the amount of power generating capacity we (don't) need. (tagged: energy google sustainability green open data transparency )
  • WattzOn and Wesabe Join Forces – This is the post that made me wish the Elevations Credit Union was more internet savvy. I want to be able to apply all these big-brotherly tools to myself! (tagged: open data transparency energy wesabe wattzon money finance )
  • Numbrary – A library for numbers – mass quantities of publicly available data, mostly (entirely?) from the US Government. In a hopefully usable and searchable form. Many automatically generated charts and tables. (tagged: data transparency government statistics open )
  • Mayapedal – People building useful human-powered bicimaquinas, in Guatemala, where human labor is still a common prime mover: washing machines, coffee de-pulpers, corn de-grainers, grain mills, blenders, concrete microvibrators, etc. One kind of appropriate technology. There's also some YouTube videos on them, e.g.:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrqbtUKpSjo (tagged: bicycle guatemala appropriate technology human power energy )

  • Humanity In Motion – An incredible montage of what bicycles can be: safe, enjoyable, cheap, convenient, everyday transportation for young people and for old, for families, in a city largely unpolluted by the exhaust and noise of cars. (tagged: bicycle transportation amsterdam netherlands photos )

Wall Street’s Game of Risk

A relatively thoughtful piece from The New York Times Magazine on the risk metrics used by Wall Street, especially the now notorious Value at Risk (VaR).  However, it still seems like neither the author nor the risk managers they interviewed really get what Taleb is saying.  Or possibly they’re just not willing to admit the implications of what he’s saying: that market outcomes, especially when investing is focused on the short term, are dominated by so-called “rare” events.  And that the consequence (as one of the managers even says outright), is that a lot of the investment banks don’t really have a business model.

Except, of course, for the fact that they can count on the public coffers if they all arrange to go bankrupt simultaneously.  Better, in this case, to fail in a conventional way along with everyone else, and be bailed out, than to play your own game for the long term, like Warren Buffet, and either succeed unconventionally, or have to take responsibility for your own failures, which are then likely not to take place at the same time industry wide.

We’re playing the same game of fat-tails chicken with Earth’s climate, and that story will eventually have the same ending if we are unable to generalize the lessons of this relatively innocuous financial disaster.

Machine Readable Financial Reporting

The SEC will soon require machine readable reporting of all financial data, using an XML based markup language known as XRBL (the eXtensible Business Reporting Language).  Holy crap.  Yes, this could have been done a decade ago in theory, but apparently it takes some serious mess to get anyone thinking at the SEC.  Probably bad for Morningstar‘s financial-data-silo business model, but good for just about everyone else.  Will spur a lot of financial transparency, as machines can be easily utilized to find patterns and irregularities in corporate and mutual fund reports, in near real time.  I don’t think most people give this kind of development the credit it deserves.  Long term, machine readability of all law and legal requirements will change the face of regulation, democracy, and ultimately, law itself.