Friday, October 23, 2009

Goldman Sachs Stole Your Flying Cars, Too

"Then finance started sucking people from all over. You'd walk around our trading floor and there were guys who were math Ph.D.s and physics Ph.D.s, and chemists, and lawyers, and doctors - there were doctors on our trading floor, who trade, you know, the health care sector. The bubble in financial assets had a derivative bubble in people. Some of these physicists should be doing physics; some of these computer scientists should be doing computer science. Doctors should be curing people! It's not a bad thing."
-'Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager', 'Conversations with HFM, December 2008 - July 2009', Fall 2008 issue of n+1 magazine.
The recent economic implosion has wreaked much visible havoc, but nobody has really looked into all the invisible damage it caused, at least not until this brave (and actually quite funny - check out the article if you have the time and a dollar) Hedge Fund Manager spoke out.

Some historical perspective might be helpful. Back in the early 90s, I saw a presentation by one Larry Smarr, then the director of NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) at the University of Illinois. He had been using supercomputers to simulate black holes colliding into each other! They had to solve 10 simultaneous differential equations, and then plot really amazing pictures. Black holes! Crashing into each other! Really amazing shit!

Clearly the combination of brain and computing power at NCSA would soon unlock the mysteries of the universe. That's not what happened, though. A small group within NCSA developed an application called a browser, which made it easier to navigate the then new World Wide Web. This application was called Mosaic, and it later became Netscape Navigator, which was a pretty good name.

In no time, the dot net bubble was upon us. Our country's (and let's face it, every country's) best and brightest (and, let's face it, not particularly best or bright) dropped whatever they were doing, whether it was curing cancer or developing cheap and clean forms of energy, and flocked to web design companies and dot coms, devoting all their mental energies to making animated gifs of construction workers, coming up with the ultimate elevator pitch, or optimizing servers to allow people to buy books or CDs (remember those?) or pet food as quickly as they could. They were all, every one of them, going to be rich. Grad school was for suckers. Physics was for losers.

In a development that shocked almost nobody, the bubble burst, and everybody went back to doing whatever it was they had done before. One or two people did get rich, and lived on Carribean Islands they bought, but mostly people just had to keep working. It was OK, though, because a couple weeks later, the finance and housing bubbles were underway.

Again, thousands of brilliant people full of potential abandoned their chances to bring about radical change in the world and maybe immortality as great scientists alongside Newton or Darwin. They applied their brilliance to something maybe, in its own way, more incredible and seemingly impossible: they repackaged incredibly shitty investments as seemingly good investments. Instead of simulating heavenly bodies with supercomputers, they ran models based on a lot of wishful thinking which had actually produced some pretty cool looking equations.

So in addition to to the financial ruin and chaos, there has been a great opportunity cost of tremendous advances that would have actually benefited mankind. We can only speculate as to the extent of the damage, but we can be pretty sure we would have had the following were it not for these bubbles:
  • Flying cars
  • Time Travel
  • Robots that do the laundry, including folding it and putting it away
  • Cure for most forms of cancer
  • Submarine cars
  • Amphibious cars
  • Submarine/amphibious/flying cars
  • Life-like sex robots that make internet porn look pretty lame
  • All-Terrain spider chairs that replace wheelchairs
  • Moon Colonies
  • Mars Colonies
  • Dogs that can talk
  • A machine that extracts fuel from excrement
  • 3D movies that don't require glasses
  • Drugs that only cause brain damage that's reversible
I'm sure there are more, but I have to stop here. It's just too painful to think about it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For those of you just joining us...

This blog was recently nominated for Linking Indiana's 'Indiana's Favorite Blog' Contest. I'd be lying if I said it was nominated by somebody other than I. It seemed harmless enough, but then doubt set in. It was like signing up to participate in the talent show at your town's Founding Fathers Fish Fry - it seems like a harmless, low-stakes thing to do, but then you're hit with the realization that tomorrow people can call you 'the guy who bombed at the fish fry'.

Anyhow, the damage having been done, welcome to those who did make their way here from that page. I should probably provide a bit of background and a sampling of past posts.

Redneck Playground Of Horror is as good a place to start as any. This is a re-telling of my family's visit to a horrifying playground in Bloomington - pregnant teens, Eminem wannabes, possible victims of Looney Tunes explosions - they're all here.

Continuing the Indiana theme, we have the Grubb Series, all about Bloomington's local curmudgeon and crusader for something or other, David Grubb.

I Sulte Presbush features some pictures of 'Grubb Coutry'

I'm Santa Claus, Dammit discusses his trial for slugging a kid who wouldn't take candy from him.

Indiana Outlaw on youTube points you to the efforts of 50YearRanger to document Grubb's legendary town hall appearances. He was bringing the crazy to town halls WAY before the health care debate.

While I've always had a great time in Ireland, my post Fun Facts About Limerick, Ireland really annoyed some irony-impaired Irish readers (others caught on that I was joking around).

The post that got the most hits ever was the post about our visit to the Creation Museum in Kentucky: Elitist Liberals Visit The Creation Museum. This one was put up on reddit by a friend (I swear it wasn't me this time) and I pulled in crazy hits, which I should have taken advantage of by selling ad space for male enhancement potions, but I didn't.

Having let it out of the bag that I'm a liberal-leaning and not at all religious person, I've pretty much sealed my fate as far as losing this LinkedIn contest thingy goes. To those who stumble upon this blog for that or any other reason, welcome, and I really really promise to get on it as far as posting more than once a month.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Balloon Boy Rhyme that I should have posted days ago

Balloon boy's dad enjoys dangerous toys
when he heard the voice of caution, always said 'fuck that noise'
He rose his children to love all the dangers
Mom and Dad sat them down, said 'take candy from strangers'

Then one morning in the sky he saw his toy pie
Thought his son was up there, and was sure to die
He called 911 but first called the paparazzi
He regretted not being his kid's safety Nazi

The balloon soon came down but the boy wasn't in it
Twitter fools twitted on, they were in it to win it
It turned out the boy was just in the garage
CNN said 'fuck this', got the hell out of dodge.

Now the dad wears a shirt saying 'Worst Father Ever'
And the fools on Twitter aren't feeling too clever.

Yeah boyyee, etc, all that, gnome sayin'.