system two

system two
start-up thinking in the enterprise

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Why I read Vanity Fair

David Armano recently posted a video of Bruce Nussbaum on the future of newspapers here.

It mirrored a conversation my partner and I were having about print media. As a former deputy editor on the features section of the Daily Telegraph, she has a better view than most about what could revive the fortunes of old print media.

Our conversation revolved around why I still buy Vanity Fair.

I get my news via RSS, I haven't bought a CD in 10 years (file sharing ain’t killing music kids here) or a daily newspaper in 5 and yet I still spend (I don't even know how much - but its a lot) every month on the magazine. I'm as committed and loyal a reader as they have - but why Vanity Fair particularly?

Much of the reason lies in content. Pretty much everything it cover,s resonates with me (politics, economy, arts) - and the stuff that doesn't, I read because my loyalty has bread trust

But enjoying the content is only some of the story. If it stopped there, like music, over time I would have migrated to free – I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers creating equally compelling content I could have for nothing.

I buy it because I love the editor. Through his editorial and the content he commissions, I feel a human connection to Graydon Carter. He’s not everyone’s favourite of course. But he is mine. He is the sensible dad I never had, and the mate I always agree with. He has created a tribe out of his magazine readers. Being a part of that group defines me. I use it as social capital and it tells me who I am.

If there is a future in print media then it is this. Human, local and tribal. Focused around particular personalities with short budgets and long editorial reigns, who filter the world for their particular constituencies. Our current obsession with machine based, learning algorithms for content is yet another giant mis-allocation of capital.

In the final analysis, it might be strange to suggest it, but we humans care less about what we're reading and more about who is telling us to read it.

wagging tales....

At the moment, in the US the (sector) tail that wags the (economic) dog is the military - for good historical reasons. 50 years ago we needed tanks and planes - a lot of them - and the government didn't need a dodgy dossier to back the argument up - bombs falling out the sky were all the persuasion anyone needed to agree to fund the armaments industry.

In other words there is no inherent conspiracy to the status quo as we find it today.

Rich people simply find themselves owning weapons manufacturing facilities and they want to make themselves richer – so they push for wars so they can make more weapons - its human nature.

Presumably, if rich - powerful - people owned as many wind turbine manufacturing plants as they do bomb factories, they'd insist on green “interventions” in random parts of the world, on a decade by decade basis, in order to plaster the countryside with windmills instead of cluster bombs.

$250,000,000,000 (5% of GDP) is spent on defence in the US. In 50 years the same proportion will likely be spent on green energy, because that's where the mandate for change will be – and the world will happen to be a safer, happier place because of this – but it will be by coincidence not design.

Monday, 28 September 2009

A stupid tax....

To my mind - the lottery is a tax on the stupid.

Statistically impossible to win, there is no logic in playing an unwinnable game.

With a £1 of disposable income a week, the only sensible thing to do is put it in a savings plan. 2 people doing this from birth would accumulate somewhere in the region of £10k at the age of 30 - enough for a deposit on a modest flat in many areas of the country.

Outside of the practical benefits - regular saving teaches the lessons of thrift, prudence and the importance of being happy now (not relying on some unattainable goal to "make" you happy - American dream anyone?)

We digress.

The point is I'm wrong. Whilst marveling at my partner’s 85 year old grandmother watching the lottery, and being genuinely disappointed she hadn't won, I realised at some stage in life, a tipping point is reached and it becomes logical to play.

The utility one derives from the cumulative effect of compound interest decays with age, whilst the tiny amount of pleasure derived from the (admittedly incredibly unlikely) anticipation of success, presumably remains fairly constant

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Don't make me print...

Print media designer have no more time to capture the attention of their readers than their online cousins. But while most of us online abide by the laws laid down by the brilliant Steve Krug - too many offline designers come up with ads which demand more time (and brainpower) than most readers are prepared to invest.

Online we have 8 seconds to grab attention - do offline marketers really have any more?

Time and again I see offline creative I want to put lines through - reams of boring, unreadable, ugly text. Colourful boxes, superfluous lines, weird icons and inexplicable motifs - this isn't creative - the visual hook is where print advertising starts and ends. If you’ve forgotten to be creative and bold at the photo shoot - all the KSP's you like on a page won’t make anyone take notice of your ad.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Shock in reverse....

I enjoy Naomi Klein's books. Plato it ain’t, but Fences and Windows was a particularly interesting read – the literary equivalent of the difficult second album delivered in an understated, thoughtful and well researched way. Her example of the Zapatista rebels has lived with me for many years.

So although I buy the basic tenant of her new book, The Shock Doctrine (I bought it from Chomsky 30 years ago but it bears repeating) - she’s wrong about this particular economic shock. Or rather, she’s wrong about outcomes.

What we are witnessing in the US is the shock doctrine going awry. The angry, spasmodic, almost primal reaction to Obama, like that first tickle in your throat before a flu, just doesn’t feel right. As it loses shape, for the first time in many years, the military industrial complex appears to be genuinely rattled.

This shock, whether orchestrated by design or negligence (although of course initially welcomed by elites) has resulted in unpleasant, disappointing and unforeseen outcomes for them. Whether because of the sheer scale of the upheaval, the time since the last or because of the transformation of everyday lives by digital, social technology – things have not gone to plan.

Having weathered the storm, printed money and safeguarded the interests of the rich, the alternative political colour is meant to get all hot and bothered, question the status quo, champion the cause of the disgruntled majority and then do noting until the storm had passed.

Instead an aberration. A glitch. The most leftfield of presidents, tolerated as a token also-ran to the safe pair of Clinton hands, storms the barricades. Poor minorities deciding to vote – this will never do….

Having dropped into the white house on a black swan of genuine populist feeling, this anomaly, this messiah to the majority, now looks, frankly ridiculous to many Americans. We are living through the political equivalent of the awkward morning after a one night stand, taking a shower and finding your underwear. This guy actually wants to change stuff. Shock is meant to drain, not charge political batteries......

No Guantanamo – well ok, was bad for business anyway.

Green issues – ditto.

UK style healthcare – well, kind of but we’ll tear the guts out of it in committee.

No European Missile shield - hang on a moment!

A wide ranging review of all military spending? Are you mad? You stop that Boy and you stop America - that $623,000,000,000 a year defines us....

This is shock gone wrong. We might hope it is a precursor to a new 21st century. One molded in a more human form, around sustainable, connected, diverse, balanced lives. But we shouldn't hold our breath....

Wobbly bridges, marching bands, traffic jams and 21st centruy marxism....3

End of the first week of trails and I'm glad to say - everything seems to be going well. All trades behaving normally and my outsourced company in India (who act as my equivalent of a real hedge fund DMA system - they actually place the trades) being excellent - as usual.

Spent friday working on finalising plans to roll the first layer of the system out to 2 new markets. In theory - increases average yield from 5 to 15 points a day (whatever pips you make (or lose) - multiply that by the size of the bet - and that's how much you make (or lose) in real $$$ each day).

Each layer will trade 5 different individual markets:

3 forex (Dollar / pound, Yen / Dollar, Aust. dollar / Yen)
1 commodity (Light crude)
1 Index (Dow)

Aim is to have 5 layers in place within a year. At that rate, I should (in theory) average 125 pips a day (the more layers I put in, the safer my averages and the better my sharpe ratio).

At £100 a point at full tilt (£100k pot) - that should bring in around £3m a year for whichever charities ask for the long of course, as my thinking is right...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


I'm in Revolution Magazine this month - talking about meme's....

Monday, 14 September 2009

Wobbly bridges, marching bands, traffic jams and 21st centruy marxism....vol.2

Following on from my post a couple of months ago about my "charitable hedge fund" - I'm pleased to report we started trading yesterday.

We've begun opening positions at very low levels - and it will probably take at least 6 months to a year to build up a trading record, iron out practical issues and convince me that the theory holds weight in the real world - but we've begun - a small hop in the dark has been made.

Watch this space for more details. If anyone has a view as to which charity should benefit from the first chunk of cash if / when it comes - drop me a line.

And if anyone else was wondering - as of a couple of minutes ago - we were aroud 30 points up.....!