Friday, April 24, 2015

Flash crash revisited

If you try to boil water in pyrex glass container, you may well see the water's temperature go past boiling point (100c/212F), because the smoothness of the glass is not providing any starting point for the boiling to start. Then if you take a wooden spoon and drop it in to the water... the boiling starts in an explosif manner, triggered by the spoon.

Would it be right to say that the spoon caused the water to boil? Yes.

Would it be right to say that heating the water caused it to boil? Also yes!

Would it be right to say that choosing a glass container caused the water to boil explosively? Yes.

Would it be right to say that dropping the spoon in caused the water to boil explosively? Also yes!

The analogy here is that the wooden spoon is a single trader. Take lots of spoons, the first one that touches that water will cause it to boil.

Would it be right to say that there was one trader that caused the flash crash? Just as much as that first wooden spoon makes that water boil.

Should this trader be prosecuted?
Well they did burn Joan of Arc...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Unbearable truths

I found myself explaining to my daughter that people will go a long way to explain why there is value in the products they have purchased, especialy relative to products they have not aquired.

The hard reality is that to invest oneself is to blind oneself.  What happens is that because personal investments set us up to lose under certain scenarios, we will naturally think of how to avoid these scenarios. The thing is, having worked out how to minize loss, we have usually built a whole reasoning on what can happen, and what will not happen. The last thing that we want then is to be proven wrong. It is this avoidance to be proven wrong (among others) that blocks us from revisiting certain scenarios. Indirectly, what happens is that we set up a subconscious barrier as an effort not to be proven wrong.

This is very much black swan territory: events that do not happen often and surprize us in a bad way. But it is actually more than that, it is about being careful not to accept just any solution. Some solutions will kill you! You take them, you explain to yourself why you took them, and by doing so you have locked yourself into a thinking pattern that may harm you.

We cannot reject all because of their futur risks. We must accept new solutions when we can. Still, there are two ways to avoid disasters. First, listen to your gut feeling: if something feels wrong, then it might be wrong, and then better avoid it as a solution. Secondly, listen to your gut feeling: if something feels odd or out of place, then explain it. If you cannot, then one of your solutions may well be wrong and needs revisiting.

One last remark, work hard! It is the hard work that creats those "gut feelings"!