Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Monotony Collapses Time. Novelty Unfolds It"

Psychologists have done experiments which show that packing more events into your life stretches out your experience of time (see this podcast).

In one experiment a psychologist locked himself up for two months in complete isolation. When he was pulled out he had only one month of entries in his journal.

In effect he had lost a month. Time as he experienced it halved.

Collecting as many memories as possible is not too bad a goal. One day does not become indistinguishable from the next; years don't have rhetorical postscripts about where they went.

I wonder how much time is expanded by taking vacations; living in new places and doing new things? Is there a limit to expansion?

Learning how to retell memories well and remembering to jot them down may be good habits also. Then again I am not a fan of sentimentality. Maximising 'future memory' is the way to go.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


While doing my best to fight Irish stereotypes - i.e. not drinking on St. Patrick's day - I listened to this incredible documentary (I still have the MP3 if anyone wants to listen) about the suffregette movement in the UK (and Ireland) one hundred years ago.

Women fighting for the vote and their civil rights; bombs planted in cabinet ministers houses; torture of suffragettes in prisons by the authorities - all relayed by nice old women on recordings made in the 70s.

I had no idea how gritty and tough the fight for women's suffrage was!

Interestingly, after the vote was won by women the point was made in the documentary that there was still a lot inequality left to tackle.

The same point was made at the end of Ken Burns' documentary on the civil war - changing the law is easier (a four year war which killed hundreds of thousands) than changing people's mindsets.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stomach Churning Poetry

People write songs and poems about feeling in love, it's the feeling that makes hearts tick and pencils scribble. Crazy things happen when someone falls for a boy or a girl - novels and movies are written about the ensuing twists and turns.

What I do every day is about a feeling, unfortunately not love, it's the feeling you get when you are about to make a big decision, that feeling in your stomach when you can't really think straight you just feel a little off colour (or maybe extremely ill if it's a humungous decision).

The bigger the decision the bigger the stakes the more stomach churning the quandry.

Here's an example of a not so risky proposition and something rather more risky (albeit slightly artificial).

Heads I give you a Snickers bar, tails I give you nothing (and you give me nothing either). Good deal eh? (if you are allergic to nuts you can eat around them!) Half the time you will end up with a nice Snickers, half the time nothing happens.

That's a no brainer, not stomach churning at all.

Well what about this for size? Heads I give you a Snickers plus ten thousand bucks; tails you give me ten thousand bucks!

The stakes are waaaaay higher now and if you happened to agree to partake in the game, your palms will probably feel a little sweaty, heart pumping.

Chances are you wouldn't take part in the game, even though it's slightly biased in your favour. In fact it's biased exactly the same way as the first game - that delicious snickers bar - however a chance of losing the 10,000 bucks wouldn't make you sleep well at night.

And that feeling my pals is the nervousness, stomach churningness that is risk. That's what I think about most days and that's what I help describe for hedge funds, pension funds and their investors.

If only I was paid to write poetry and sing songs about risk to said investors instead of spreadsheets and reports.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Finite Games

At the end of the Super Bowl last weekend there was an odd moment a minute from time.

A New York Giants player found himself rushing towards the goal line and couldn't stop himself from scoring a touchdown. You may think that would be the dream of every American - to score a touchdown and help win the biggest prize in American sport.

The problem was by scoring the New England Patriots then had a slim chance of scoring down the other end in the remaining time. The correct strategy was to not score but keep the ball and wait until the last moment to score a field goal.

The problem of not wanting to score (at least for a period) is a quirk that happens toward the end of games. The same happens in soccer now and again - a team will rather keep the ball than score.

It happens elsewhere also, every relationship or 'game' we have is finite, there's always an end game and it's always plays out differently to what's gone one before.