Category Archives: Travel

The and My Future

“Why are you taking the 101? Can’t you see your iPhone 5 is lying to you? Its map was wrong in Santa Clara and it’s wrong here.”
“The 101 is the 280’s uglier sister. Clearly Steve jobs wanted us to take this route. Anyway now we can have a nice talk where you advise me on my finances.”
It’s funny how I’m the financial expert amongst my non-trading friends even though my opinions are almost certainly things no financial advisor would recommend to anyone.

When I first joined GETCO, I introduced myself to a new employee saying, “GETCO is my first job after MIT,” and the closest person I had to a boss interjected, “And your last.” At the time I sincerely believed and hoped that this would be true. In 2007, the company had 30 traders across 4 offices. Each trader did whatever they decided was optimal in a market that bloomed with opportunity: it was like the wild wild west- so much fertile terrain waiting to be conquered by a few explorers, populated only by some occasionally annoying but generally innocuous natives. I loved it. I never had someone telling me what to do, or really even anyone questioning what I was working on. I didn’t think about the future after GETCO because who would ever want to leave? The business was exploding, we were at the forefront of technology, and if you hesitated to size up your coworkers would make increasingly loud chicken sounds.

4.5 years later, after Singapore I went straight to my NYC desk to clean it out, then to Chicago to resign. I and everyone assumed I was going to stay in HFT because I’m a “world class expert in HFT,” plus headhunters were busy setting up lunches with billionaires with ambitions regarding their nonexistent/proto/growing/declining HFT operations. I was advised not to sign anything till the noncompete was up so I participated in some fantastic handshakes and told everyone I’d see them after my noncompete was over.

I’m not good at vacation so I viewed this year as a rumspringa world tour- I just got back from New Zealand and am writing this while jetlagged, thinking about how my paid vacation will be up in 2.5 weeks. This year I zoomed my head out of focus to see what everyone else is looking at. Let me tell you: Other People are looking at some pretty crazy stuff. I met Verner Vinge and Ray Kurzweil at the Singularity Summit. Compared to these impassioned singularity people, I feel like an ape for mentally shrugging when they bring up existential risk and AI. Nevertheless, my main impression is it’s cool these people are contemplating and perhaps helping decide a vision of mankind as a species. Most people never think about that kind of thing, as individuals or as a species. What is the destiny of mankind? Who even asks this question? Shouldn’t we wander blindly towards our fates like all other species? Aren’t we just dominant, blessed by god to be gods among animals? Anyway, the Singularity Summit led me to go to Rationality camp. This post was originally about Rationality Camp but I guess I’ll write about that some other time (sorry to leave you as irrational as ever, although I can tell you that I made $280+ from poker, won a prize despite not being the most rational (Dilip had the most points in the whole camp but somehow lost his prize to me. Yes! Plus I beat him at some kind of augmented reality game, which victories are documented photographically)).

This year has been upside down: I’ve been paid to not work, spent more time in CA than NYC, and I realized I’m old- I think I’ve aged relative to my non-finance peers. I’m 27 and I’ve started finding younger people annoying. Those fools have no idea how lucky they are. At my age, people are suddenly so hard to impress. If I were starting a company at age 17 people would say, “Awesome.” Now everyone’s like, “Whatever.” Too old to be effortlessly impressive, too young to shove offending kids off my subway seat, I’m at an age when I don’t really notice anyone else’s age unless they bring it up, whereas for years I was conscious of even a year’s difference. Looking back at my childhood, the hours reading in the grass, the biking with friends, my main impression is that an idyllic childhood is a colossal waste of time. Yes, even the priceless hours bonding with family had diminishing returns, and no one really needs to read the collected works of anybody- very few writers have anything to say after their first real book.

Sometimes I see flashes of myself 10 years in the future, so clear it’s almost a memory. This year I started seeing what future Nancy would be if I kept going down the trading path, and I didn’t feel excited. In fact I felt bored. Because it’s basically the same as always, except I’d need increasingly larger sums to get the same level of stimulation. For someone who lives so much in the future, I hadn’t really thought about what I’d think about the future after (if) it already happened. When I’m 40 will I see my 20’s and 30’s the way I currently see my childhood- objectively successful by most measures but privately viewed by myself as largely a waste of time?

I feel ennui regarding the kind of stuff people are supposed to do in their late 20’s, early 30s: the house and marriage stuff. My mom was in constant turmoil over the fact that she was too sick to see me “settled” in my NYC apartment. Prior to NYC, she had “settled” me into all apartments I’d ever lived in. Perhaps out of a desire to do what I thought she’d want me to do, I went out and bought my first furniture since she forced me to buy my mattress 5 years ago when I first moved to Chicago and needed a non dorm issued mattress. I ended up buying a $5000 coffee table made from a single solid cross section of a gigantic tree. Maybe I thought my mom would rest assured in my competence if I showed her this coffee table and other furnitures, that I was a grown up and finally handling this kind of stuff. I think I even bought a house plant of some kind, which never would have occurred to me to do in my youth. Mom just wanted me to be happy, which might not be what I want for myself. Now that I know what it’s like to have the perfect set of plates, I never want to own plates again. That stuff is all at my dad’s house now, completely out of place with his ornate, plasticky furniture.

I think I might’ve reassessed my trajectory sooner if it weren’t for the parents’ cancers. Cancer put me in a mental state of martial law where I was single-mindedly attacking obstacles without considering the problems of philosophy- who cares about higher ambitions when it’s life or death?

Now I feel like there’s more pressure. Maybe this is true for us as a species too- just as we’re most successful, there’s the most danger. Humans have accomplished a lot relative to other animals so the universe is ours to lose, plus we have to decide the extent of our future ambition. Similarly, as a kid the difference between working a little and a lot was the difference between an A- and an A+, whereas now there’s so much at stake- it’s now the difference between losing money and making money.

I’m acutely aware of being the writer of not only my writing but also of my own life. It’s exciting and scary and writer’s block-inducing to decide the next act. But from my life there’s just one thing I ask: don’t tell me how it ends.

Nice Places Where I Don’t Want to Live

In Europe everybody lingers at their dinner tables for hours. We witnessed a lot of charity to street artists in Europe. People who play music at your table and then shove their cups into your face seemed to get a nice return. While eating in Rome we bought a crazy dancing dog doll that sports a combination of sunglasses, Santa hat, weird old-timey love song, and dancing ears- our sole souvenir from all of Europe.

“What does it mean if people don’t value their time?”

“Maybe it means they don’t value money.”

However I know people generous with their time but not with their money. Is this evidence that valuing time != valuing money or just more human irrationality?

Pleasure travel is always weird for me because if I’m going to be in some place I often think I should really value my time so I should take a taxi to the colosseum instead of a bus to minimize filler time that I’d normally spend in the USA on my computer because we’re not here to read and write- we’re here to spend time doing travel stuff! But I don’t like to rush myself and I always think these places are always going to be here. I rarely go anywhere that I think I won’t return to.

Oh except I got rid of my NYC apartment- I’m never going back there. I hadn’t been there in a while and when I returned to the states I fled into my serene little yard. I always slept soundly in the bedroom because there’s no street noise and the room opens into the quiet yard, with its tree that drops white petals in the summer. But as I stepped out into the yard there was a gigantic dead rat! I screamed so loudly when I saw this 6 pound monster toppled over onto its side with its fleshy pink toes and tail that my neighbor knocked on the door to make sure I hadn’t been murdered. So yeah I’m never going into that yard again. I’d already been intending to move out but I felt so crawly after seeing that rat (my superintendent removed it) that I moved out 3 weeks early. I kept thinking that it probably lived in my yard and was fatly sauntering around and could’ve given me the plague and what if it’d entered the house all the times I left the door open?? Anyway, I seek a place without rats. And I’ve learned my lesson about NYC: only live in a high rise.

Iceland

The word Iceland is poetic and mysterious. All Icelandic words sound like they have magical powers, intended to be tossed off in rapid, low mutters by wizards and elves, written only in fancy script on scrolls made from the skins of sea monsters. Let’s play the language game! Guess the recipients of these Icelandic names: Grimsey, Thingveller, Eldfell, Strokkur, Vatnajokull, Gullfoss, Hagkaup, Vik.

Despite having all of Sunday free to get from the Olympic stadium to Gatwick, we almost missed our flight to Iceland. We wanted to buy sleeping bags and hiking shoes, yet ended up spending 2+ hours in some shop in Kensington. British people already have the advantage of sounding professional and smart even if they’re going on about the dumbest things, and this phenomenal Kensington shoe salesman was a case in point. After subtly criticizing our existing shoes and making Sherlock-Holmesian inferences about our lives based on our feet, he explained foot mechanics and had us submit to measurements and experiments wherein he determined my left foot is supinated, thus requiring special shoes! I declined, to his grief for my extremely rare foot problem. In contrast, Dilip almost bought orthopedics from this guy. “Dilip, do not buy those 80 Pound orthopedics from this camping store dude. We came here to get sleeping bags.”

By the time we were back at our host’s place and heading to the train, the automated tube ticket machines were closed and we faced an endless line to buy them from humans. Luckily we found 2 others going towards Gatwick so we all split a cab. We then ran from the Gatwick express to the airline. Sadly we missed the check-in by 5 minutes.

For every normal person who does not read confirmation emails from airlines: Icelandic Air does not allow online check in. There is a 90 minute window 45 minutes before the flight during which you have to be physically lined up at the desk at the airport to check in. We arrived 40 minutes before the flight and the lady hastily escaping said without eye contact, “Everything’s closed, and no more flights tonight.” My powers of seduction failed, as always when I am annoyed. My mother was always good at getting strangers to break the rules for her but, alas, I’m not as consistently immediately charming to stupid people. I blame this on having been an unfashionable nerd in a strange land from ages 10 to 13- this must’ve put in a subtle kink in my mass appeal, whereas my mother never had a moment where she wasn’t universally admired by idiots and geniuses alike.

We ran to another desk and after gasping, “Can we make a run for the flight despite being 5 minutes late for checkin?” the guy’s phone rang, he nodded, and sent us back to the desk from whence we came. We then checked in and got on the flight. My only explanation for this is that it’s the airlines modus operandi to give everyone minor freak outs before allowing them to check in anyway. Maybe it’s their way of teaching everyone the important lesson of reading emails from Iceland Air.

Before arriving in Iceland, I knew little about it. Some seductively simplistic, ultimately nonsense article by Michael Lewis about Iceland had given me nondescript expectations of a place somehow surreal. On top of that, Bjork was so annoying in Dancer in the Dark (maybe bc Gondry wasn’t directing? Gondry was MIT’s cool artist in residence who’d party at Senior House) I swore off her music forever. However Lewis was right about one thing- no one in Iceland listens to Bjork either. Anyway, this is the real deal about Iceland:

At the airport, magazines are $20. Blond, tall people are beautiful, but there are only 300K of them. All people in the service industry look like massive supermodels, with gigantic yet perfectly formed fingers and eyeballs. One Icelandic person could probably give an average person 1.6 whole-body, perfectly poreless, skin grafts (I filed this information with other creepy facts: if I want the best quality skin or probably any body part, Iceland’s the place). The people who served me food and checked out my groceries were all golden gods. On an unrelated note, I bought a lot more whale meat than needed (it’s totally tasteless and deep blood red. May be a scam- who would know?).

In Iceland, there exist several sides of several fluffy goats that are black. The big-headed ponies with stubby legs and feathered bangs stomping around in people’s yards waiting to bounce you around the mountains can also be eaten cooked with thick pony sauces in local restaurants alongside puffins and delicious baby seals. The fish, though fresh, is heavily salted and served with dark, dense bread. Random stores stock gloves made of Arctic foxes and other soft, furry animals.

Iceland lacks diversity of flora and fauna, even more so than Ireland. No native trees exist on Iceland so all the trees you see are neatly and meticulously planted by humans. There are no mosquitos! There are no roaches (except as pets??)! Iceland is one of my favorite places so long as the no-pest thing lasts. My love of nature is conditional. I like natural beauty, but nature that’s too vibrant can easily become an overabundance of annoying animals: I like space and I don’t like bugs touching me.

When you leave the giant ring road encircling Iceland, you’re at once lurching on unpaved rocks that’ll lead you to some natural wonder like a spring or waterfall. We saw stinky geysers with boiling water running in rivulets on the steaming ground under our shoes, hiked on a glacier sliced with sky blue crevices (“kull” where my toes froze in my vibrams (I never bought hiking shoes, remember!)), had our hair swept crazily by the wind on a black sand beach, walked behind an icy waterfall (“foss”), and picked up hitchhikers from a silicon mud hot spring to Reykjavik. The phone GPS was wrong regarding several locations so we did a fair bit of grinding over mountains of volcanic rocks.

After trying some airbnb’s in the rest of Europe, in Iceland we roughed it and slept in the car. I love camping in cars- that’s my level of nature loving right there. I like getting out of the house, but I don’t like getting all the way into a tent, so cars are perfect. Also, I often strategize about how to be an efficient homeless person and this was an opportunity to put some ideas to the test.

It drizzled the first day but was sunny after that. The drizzle was benign and light, somehow suiting the landscape and bringing out all the lichens’ colors. The infrastructure is amazing for such a small country- there were Subways, no garbage, and cozy streets patrolled by prim, sedate, fat-tailed cats- probably nicer than most of the places in Europe or America. For a country where in August it’s still light at 11pm and light again starting at 4am, the Hagkaup 24 hour stores are awesome. They have aisles full of everything from American cereal to knitting equipment (there were 2 aisles full of yarn). After cramped, dusty Europe, it’s a relief to find a place that’s more like America. The tiny, closed-in-the-afternoon, closed-after-7pm, charge-you-for-plastic-bags, pharmaceutical-less, 1-type-of-apple European grocery stores become tiresome so fast. Apparently everyone in Italy is so busy enjoying life, drinking wine and coffee, having long, animated conversations while smoking cigarettes and having sex that there are zero enterprising immigrants manning 24 hour pit stops. Outrageous! Italy: not for me. Iceland: 5 stars!

Olympic Fencing

Fairness does not exist. Complaining that life isn’t fair is like complaining that the sun doesn’t love you or that Raz Al Ghul’s ninja society shouldn’t engage in vigilante murder: such statements are nonsensical and semantically meaningless. Fairness is a concept that exists in the mind and not in nature. That’s why sports are awesome: they are a bastion of fairness in this cold, cruel world, an opportunity for people to compete within some evolving set of rules ideally designed to eliminate injustice and allow talent to determine the winner- unlike real life. Almost to the exclusion of every other aspect of reality, sportsmanship involves a code of the psychic concept of fairness, and sports become heartbreaking when they break this code, which may be why many prefer the underdog.

I was just in London for the Olympics and watched some foil fencing. In Iceland, I heard about the Shin epee controversy, and I thought, “Epee controversy? That sounds like an oxymoron.”

For the non-fencers out there, epee is the fencing weapon that has the least room for referee interference, involves the most bouncing and simultaneous touches, and is by far the most boring to watch. It is probably the most “fair” of all the weapons, which is part of why this controversy is so surprising and infuriating. In foil and sabre, if both fencers hit something and both lights go off, then the director has to use the rules of “right of way” to decide whose light to listen to. In foil and sabre, there are pretty subjective ranges for the different aspects of right of way, but in epee there is no concept of right of way. In contrast to foil and sabre, if both epeeists hit something and both lights go off, both of them get a point and we move on with our lives. All the epee director has to do is make sure everyone stands where they’re supposed to stand, start and stop fencing when they’re supposed to start and stop, give out cards if people punch each other or do something card-worthy, and make sure everyone listens to the machine.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the video of the Shin Heidelman epee bout or this video showing the extra second lasting for longer than 1 second. I could believe even less the news articles and ensuing aftermath. The whole event offends me on multiple levels.

First, it offends me technologically. In an extremely technologically advanced sport where stuff that happens within fractions of a second (the weapon tips have to be depressed for 15 milliseconds to register a foil touch. It used to be 2 milliseconds but a semi-recent ruling extended the time to eliminate “flicking,” requiring everyone to patch their scoring machines. In epee, touches scored up to 45 milliseconds apart can be considered “simultaneous”), not having a clock that displays this level of precision is an abomination.

If we went back and looked at videos of old fencing records we might observe many errors due to their inferior technologies, but that doesn’t make me feel better. Do people who get the wrong kidney operation due to hospital errors feel better that in the distant past a barber would’ve been butchering them using liquor as anesthetic instead? No, because why did you operate on my left kidney instead of the right?! I’m going to extend the analogy because doctors are supposed to do no harm, and in epee, by far the easiest to direct of any of the fencing weapons, the referee is supposed to ensure the fencers don’t get unfair advantages and allow the machines to do the job, not generate unfair situations.

Why was there 1 second added to the clock after time had expired? No explanation. Why was the clock measuring out more than 1 second after the extra second had been added? No explanation.

Second, the news surrounding the event offends me as a citizen of the world supposedly relying on the free press and lately unwillingly bombarded by the excreta of said press. Long ago I had stopped reading most non-science news (except hacker news and occasionally the Economist; I mainly rely on blogs of people whose judgment I trust to read, analyze, cross check, and pass on news information to me) because the news mill runs on sensationalism and does not inform me of anything. Accuracy is probably not even in the top 3 principal components of whether a news article generates money, and may even be anticorrelated because controversy and offensiveness may spawn subsequent articles that then generate more money.

With such twisted incentives, does one wonder that the articles suggest that Shin “dramatically refused” to leave the stage? The main offensive part about this is that it’s suggesting she’s the one being unsportsmanlike when in fact it is everyone else. She’s trying to follow the rules, which states she’s not allowed to leave the strip during an appeal, even though she probably wanted to so she could cry in private instead of in front of many people. Trust me, Asians do not like to show uncontrolled emotions in public. Our parents do not kiss even in the presence of their kids, and perhaps do not ever kiss: how I was even conceived may be one of the great scientific mysteries that will probably remain unknowable for all time, like the mating habits of giant squids.

Third, I’m offended as a female fencer. What do people think of the news fixation on her crying? Does crying mean you’re being a baby or unsportsmanlike? She is a professional athlete who kicks ass and I take offense to her portrayal as some crybaby girl. I would’ve cried too, inside my mask. A non-Asian man may have punched something or snapped his weapon and gotten disqualified. The situation is angering and frustrating!

Shin, I am sorry this unfair thing has happened to you. Out of benevolence towards the Olympic committee, I hope that this injustice was simply due to stupidity and incompetence rather than bias. You should have gotten a gold or a silver Olympic medal but instead you didn’t get anything other than ridicule from the news for trying to follow the rules. The FIE admitted the Olympic clock sucked and that the director was wrong but they can’t do anything about it. I don’t know what the deal is with the consolation prize for sportsmanship: is it sportsmanlike to abide by injustice?

In sports, as in life, these kinds of injustices happen all the time. In the Errigo vs. Vezzali womens foil semifinals, the director made 2 very questionable calls in favor of Errigo which put Vezzali in the situation of having only 1 more point before she would lose, at which point the director felt the heat of getting blamed for taking away Vezzali’s potentially 4th Olympic individual gold and abstained from calling the next point, which would’ve given Errigo the win. Lucky for him, his prayers for a point that wouldn’t require him to decide anything were answered, not in Vezzali’s favor. This upset resulted in an anticlimactic gold medal bout (except what were those Italians arguing about while everyone shushed them during the final point?).

Is it showing my MIT-ness that I view everything as a technological problem? When we used to not have replays, electric equipment, metal strips, etc, cheating and errors were much more rampant and less easy to argue factually. In the past, epeeists probably just hit the ground or their own foot and the ref would call it their point. Now that we have video evidence, it’s actually more painful when the injustice does occur. Maybe one day our clocks will be good enough to be able to handle these scenarios (oh wait, that’s today…) and we’ll have a impartial computerized referees that don’t make erroneous calls.