Monday, July 11, 2016

Investing: Humans or Machines?

I ran a test to try and compare human money manager strategy against machine money management strategy. It wasn't scientific and it had a handful of holes, but, I looked at 14-months of returns (from 02/2015 to 06/2016) for both the professional (1'ish % fee-level) human managers and Wealthfront's machines (on level 7 in terms of aggression). The comparison was of public equity portfolios only, with roughly the same "international"/US "mix." I calibrated the humans and the machine with roughly the same risk tolerance levels.

The humans handily beat (nearly double the machines' return percentage) the machines most (65%) of the time. When the machine's did win, they ok; 50% better than the humans.

I did not compare tax loss harvesting which is important. My gut tells me though, based on just looking at the numbers peripherally, that the machines win in a big way here. Harvesting algorithms are pretty good if you don't involve human discretion, _but_ they can get into nasty trouble in down markets, and this is where another interesting bit of data came out.

When you look at the overall market nastiness that occurred over the past year, the humans destroyed (sometimes as much as 5x better) the machines in particularly ugly months. The implication here is right in line with my hypothesis, as well as the marketing material human money managers spew, that humans are smarter when markets start to tank. Put another way, when markets tanked in a given month, the losses the machines took were much larger than those the humans took.

I ignored fees. You can't argue with the fee savings incurred when machines manage money. Machine money management companies like Wealthfront charge nearly a quarter on average of what you pay humans to do.

Result: you're paying humans more to protect your money in down market scenarios. If the machines can get smarter in down scenarios (seems really hard to solve this), there's no need for humans to manage money anymore.

Monday, June 27, 2016

"The Talk" With My Son

He is thirteen and thinks he's seventeen. Everything went from zero to sixty about a month ago when school let out for the summer. I feel like he was a little boy on the last day of school, then a week into summer break, he became a teenager; mostly all wonderful life progression stuff. So far. Thankfully.

Along the way things shifted from hanging with his boy buddies, to hanging with his girl buddies. He spends entire days with a handful of girls now. So, I had to pull my "talk" together in short order and deliver it toute suite.

We are a fairly liberal household. I particularly believe we, as a society, have way oversampled on violence in entertainment over sex; waaaaay oversampled. Video games are laden with gun violence, but if so much as a bare breast makes its way on screen, it's a moral panic. So, in a futile attempt to compensate, we've always been pretty open about sex, naked bodies, and the wonder of it all. Lots of embarrassment for the kids along the way to be sure, but I think we've done a decent job weaving the right amount of sexual exposure in along the way.

So my talk the other day went like this.

That Morning

A warning. I told him that I wanted to talk to him today, just the two of us. He knew what it was about; my tone and a hint made it clear. I asked him if he wanted to chat now, or sometime later; his choice. "Later. This evening." Ok.

That Day

He spent the day hanging out with three girls; the usual crew.

That Evening

Probably my biggest concern was dragging on and on. I tend to explain things in too much detail. I tend to make points over and over again. So, a big focus of mine was saying the things I wanted to say, then ejecting. I didn't want to lose the audience on a topic as important as this one.

Point 1

If there's one thing you remember from this conversation, it is this. Women/Girls bodies are theirs, and they decide what they do with them; not you. If you ever witness a woman/girl being disrespected or taken advantage of, you intervene and help her.

Point 2

Mom and dad believe you are too young at this age to be doing a ton of exploration with your body and someone else's, and in particular to be having sex. However, we also understand that you are indeed exploring and figuring things out. If you find yourself in a situation in which you are going to have sex, you must use a condom. There are two reasons for this: one, safety. There are diseases that easily transmit through sexual activity, and no-one wants those, so, protect yourself. Two, while figuring out each other's bodies is fun, a pregnancy at this age is not. Wear a condom for your sake, and hers. By now you know how mom and dad parent and who we are. If you ever have questions or a concern, you know where to find us.

Point 3

This point was tricky to convey. If you fully understand and believe Point 1 and Point 2, you're entering a whole new phase of life, and it's amazing. Women/Girls are the enlightened gender, and exploring relationships with them is one of the greatest things you'll ever experience; eye-opening and beautiful.

He said four things the entire time: "Dad, I know all of this stuff." "Dad, I know all of this stuff. I've taken Health class." "I understand." "Ok." It wasn't what he said or didn't say though that impressed me. In general, he can do a lot of eye rolling and looking away when I talk to him about things. I was fully expecting that during this talk. However, he instead looked me in the eye nearly the entire time. He wore a soft, gentle, open face while I talked to him. He didn't squirm. He was open and receiving. I was so grateful.

No, I didn't give him any condoms.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Day In Pictures: Friday

I'm a bit rusty and composition and focus plane suffered. 50mm prime lens on the Canon 5dsr. The usual suspect didn't want their picture taken.

Herlinda; house cleaner extraordinaire for fifteen years and extension of the family.

Aprilla's stare over breakfast.

Annabelle; bright and joyful breakfast server.
Daniel Feld; operator and iron man.

Dave Drach; even keel.

David Brown; conductor.

Nicole Glaros; alive and existing on another plane.

Brian Draves; methodical "lawyer."
Kevin Tapply; closer and man with the plan. 
Sonya Hausafus; storyteller.

Annie Lydens; marathoner.

Dan Andrews; commitment.

Ryan Wagner; pinball. "at home"

Jed Christiansen; underwater (Navy submariner, and lots to do). "in SF"

Steven Chau; many balls in the air. "in Seattle."

Michelle Van Veen; cohesive. Blew this shot. Focus was off for starters. Grey wall backdrop was an opportunity I missed.

DMV agent with great energy. "If I become famous, tell them you found me at the DMV!"

Evening server... wanted the shot done with "props." In this case... tempranillo before pouring.

Friday, February 19, 2016

I Helped The F.B.I. Get Into Someone's DB

It was back in 1997 at my first job out of college. I was a networking stack engineer on the Netscape Browser. At that time, the email client, news reader, and browser were essentially rolled into one (I'm sure I'm pissing some lawyer off by making that statement as they'd inevitably argued in court somewhere/sometime that they were separate; hell, I was probably a witness in a case making the argument at some point), anyway.

I got an email intro from someone on the Mail team introducing me to an FBI agent. I was a kid (24 or so) and I was intrigued. The agent was looking for some help navigating the underlying Mail db on a computer they'd recovered in a child-porn raid. While he obviously didn't disclose much, he explained to me that they'd spent years watching this guy and tracking his non-digital activity. He explained to me how he'd dedicated his career to nailing this guy, yet he'd hit a wall with the digital stuff he *knew* was there. I sympathized deeply. Child-porn? Horrible! Dedicated career to stopping this guy? How do I help?!? I was in!

They had one team working on the binary image attachments, but they were having trouble understanding and mapping Mail's underlying message/meta-data database (berkeley db) to/from them. He couldn't send me anything to actually work on (child porn stuff apparently can't move across state lines/wires... even if/when law enforcement is doing it), so it was like doing remote surgery trying to help him out. After several hours of helping, my day-job work was starting to pile up and I had to stop and ask myself how I was supposed to prioritize this apparently very high priority thing. How was I supposed to stack rank this against my companies' commercial needs? I was essentially volunteering my time. Would my company get any recognition for this? Should it? I was 24... what the hell did I know?

The agent started leaning on me more and more for more and more help. My work responsibilities started slipping so I consulted my boss. He left the ball in my court, empathizing with the situation. He wanted me getting my day-job done, but also wanted to help in what appeared to be a big deal.

I helped off and on for another couple of weeks, but at some point I realized we'd done 80% of the work that could be done without me going full-time on the project and co-locating with him so I could sit with the actual meta-data. I told him I had to get back to my day-job and that I was sorry. He expressed great appreciation for all the help, and also disclosed to me in the processes how outgunned he and his department were in this "digital age." When we broke off all the interaction it left me feeling really scared actually. There I was, a kid, coming to the realization that this thing that was supposed to protect me, my government, wasn't able to do so. It hit me like a ton of bricks. A corporate entity, me/my-company in this case, was, in his eyes, required to help them catch a horrible criminal. Leaving the project was really hard.

He left me enough bread crumbs that I was able to piece together a massive, publicized, multi-state, child-porn ring bust (biggest to-date at that time), was the one that I'd contributed to. Assuming everyone involved in that was indeed guilty, I'm proud of the work I did.

A couple of years later during some patent litigation case, I was again confronted with the fact that my government (USPTO in this case) had been leapfrogged by technology. The USPTO crumbled before my eyes as I watched patent agents fumble through software patents and a case they really didn't understand (all the way up to the presiding Judge). I left that experience faithless in the systems's ability to manage the patent concept across software.

Several months after working on the mail db project, I received a FBI mug in the mail at work. No return address, and no note inside (I later found out the FBI can't pay for assists like this with $ or gifts). It's my favorite mug. It represents so much.