YOLOing, Holes, and Facebook

martin_shkreli

Millennials Just Want to YOLO

It is a month old but still one of the most amazing articles on millennials. Ok fine, to be fair, it is a particular group of millennials who bet all their money in the stock market and discuss their trades on Reddit and revere Martin Shkreli. I will just link to the article here [via MarketWatch] and copy in some of its glorious quotes:

“Y-O-F**KING-LO,” the teen wrote, flashing his trading statement. “900 to 55K in 12 days!”

On Reddit, he’s known as “World Chaos,” a Florida high schooler who earlier this year multiplied his money by betting against the S&P 500. His real name is Jeffrey Rozanski, and the 18-year-old’s appetite for risk would make many seasoned market players facepalm.

And:

That was peak “WallStreetBets,” the Reddit forum where “YOLO” is the war cry, Martin Shkreli is a role model, and irreverent traders trawl for tickets to quick wealth. It has become what one member calls “the beating heart of millennial day traders.”

And:

The latest obsession on WallStreetBets is UWTI an exchange-traded note that has become a favorite of younger investors — thanks, in part, to the Reddit forum. It is a near-perfect embodiment of the YOLO spirit: Highly volatile, it uses a combination of derivatives and debt to amplify bets on oil, creating opportunities for quick profits.

And:

“This subreddit, they love Martin Shkreli,” said Asad Butt [hahahaha], a 25-year-old Pennsylvania trader who posts frequently to WallStreetBets. “He is living their dream. He got rich. He might have lied and cheated along the way, but [on the forum] that’s encouraged.”

“People want yachts,” Butt said. “They want to be rich. The joke is we are all aspiring millionaires. Shkreli actually did it. He’s a hero.”

Are you not entertained? At this point, you might as well just read the article since you’re reading half of it anyway, but I’ll throw in some more quotes:

Talk of “YOLOing” — going all in on a huge bet — is frequent, if not constant.

And:

“If you find anything volatile and high risk, that’s where you’ll see people flocking,” Rogozinski said. “Are we encouraging risky behavior? Yes.”

And:

“UWTI for LIFE baby!!” a subscriber named DrFreshh wrote in December. “History tells you all the patterns. It’s a big time win! Been researching for 20 hours straight (except for the occasional cigarettes). This is it boys and girls! Life savings on the line, we have hit the gold mine. Ask me anything and I can tell you why its bullish like none other, or the yacht is on me.”

When asked how many shares he intended to trade, DrFreshh responded, “100,000. 200,000. that’s pennies. This is an opportunity of a lifetime! I’m gonna invest like its get rich or die tryin.”

And:

Teen trader Rozanski, meanwhile, admitted that his big win was “pretty much dumb luck.” He thought about buying a Ford Mustang with his haul, he said, but decided to keep the money to fund future investments, celebrating modestly: His mom took him out to see “The Big Short,” and he bought a new computer with two monitors.

“So I can trade better,” he explained.

I think people should be free to do what they want with their money, but at the same time, YOLOing all your money seems like a bad idea. Having a yacht is nice, but so is having more than zero dollars.

Usually I would make the standard boring disclaimer that nothing on this blog is ever financial advice, etc., but here is some actual financial advice—do not be like the people mentioned in that article.

Crawlspace for Sensitive Dragons

Occasionally I read Quora for amusement. This answer by Antonio Kowatsch seemed pretty usual for a Quora answer, until I got to the comments. First, here is the question and answer:

What are some examples of bad design?

I really don’t know if this has been mentioned already but in Hong Kong there are many Skyscrapers with holes. Quite literally holes. There is a reason for the unusual design: These holes are supposed to provide a safe passage for Dragons. (This is not a joke) Since they don’t really serve an actual purpose they are literally a waste of space, which happens to be an already scarce resource in Hong Kong. This definitely classifies as a design flaw.

Here are a couple of these so called Dragon gates/holes:

holes_in_buildings

And then bam, people in the comments start defending the superstition that is feng shui and accusing Kowatsch of cultural disrespect. I want to give a little bit of a preface first before showing the comments:

  • I wouldn’t bother criticizing the comments section of a YouTube video or CNN article or Facebook post, but for some reason I have higher standards for Quora comments. Maybe the mistake is just that, and I should be ignoring these comments.
  • To the extent that “political correctness” is a real issue, I think these comments help demonstrate it. I’ve posted before about why some people are overly sensitive, and I can relate to the frustration that Kowatsch feels in his addendum. The process now is basically, someone gets offended (or tries to speak up for someone else theoretically getting offended), and instead of engaging in a rational debate, they say they are offended, shutting down any further discussion.
  • Oversensitivity is at least laudable in spirit when trying to defend a group of people. But in this case, the original poster pointed out a particular the way buildings were built that was based on superstition. Criticizing ideas, especially superstition, does not equal criticizing people.
  • Besides the accusations of cultural insensitivity, there are also people who say things like the holes are good because they allow wind through. But when it comes to physics, you need to actually do the physics, not just invent stories. The classic example is that in projectile motion, even Aristotle wrote that an object would keep moving in the launch direction until it ran out of impetus and then drop straight down. Makes sense. Except things actually move in parabolic arcs.

Here is the addendum, still by Kowatsch:

EDIT: OK, I didn’t think that so many people would argue that those “holes” are actually practical. But here I am. Exorcising this mental colic once and for all. People have left all kinds of baloney comments saying that they were “practical” because the wind could pass through them. Long story short; it’s bollocks and it does make me somewhat furious, I admit it. You may not know it but I studied physics and those holes don’t stabilize the buildings, but rather destabilize them. You know what would happen if really strong winds would act on those buildings? They would fold in half (horizontally) . Everyone who knows a little bit about statics & building physics would know that the load transfer in those buildings is suboptimal to say the least.

So here you go with some comments:

So you don´t like Feng Shui and the part about the dragon, too bad. But please understand: this is just your opinion, at the best an argument to building efficiently, but does not take into account the customs and traditions of the people living there. On the other side: there is a reason why those wholes [sic] are in those buildings: developers sell these flats like sliced bread. So a lot of HK people seem to have a different opinion from yours.

And:

Now, lets ignore all these engineering issues. Those holes make those buildings ‘special’ and ‘interesting’. It has cultural values and gives a uniqueness which other cities don’t usually have.

It is not a bad design according to me.

And:

According to this logic, anything that’s not a perfect rectangle box is a bad design.

What if they’re not trying to optimize for living space but to create a coherent skyline with cultural flair? Dragon legends are cultural – just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it bad design. Unless you think HK people actually believe in dragons.

And:

This concept is very much similar to Indian Vastu. First let me talk about the science. When you are designing a tall building (I am an Architect myself), wind load becomes a crucial element in structural loading. So these holes or punctures in the surface let wind flow through them easily. Hence better stability.

And:

The holes are an adaptation of the skyscraper to the culture of Hong Kong, making the buildings acceptable to the people of the island.  To mock them as a design flaw as you do shows a lack of cultural sensitivity and tolerance.

And:

Ask the residents of the buildings how well the Feng Shui is working for them, then one can say if the holes are bad designs or not.

And:

Your answer is culturally biased. Xenophobic even.

Yep. When you disagree, call the other person culturally biased.

This section might just be overreacting to idiots in a comment section, but I see this same sentiment in many other places.

Now economically, in terms of whether real estate companies should construct buildings like this, that is completely up to them. If there is demand for buildings with holes in them, then by all means, make some supply. And if they are so aesthetically intriguing that they generate a lot of tourism, then sure, I’m in full support of holes. However, when someone talks about the relation of these holes to mythical dragons and feng shui, that is not xenophobia—that is stating a fact.

In related news, here is yet another “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus” article, by Bloomberg and Koch via the WSJ.

Facebook Bias, cont’d

Last time I talked about the Gizmodo story on Facebook employees allegedly manipulating the “trending” stories section to suppress conservative viewpoints. Since then, many more articles have popped up about it, and it seems like people really care about this topic. So let’s double down with another section.

I made the following points in the previous post:

  1. Facebook is a company, not a government organization. It does not have an obligation to be politically balanced.
  2. As a company, Facebook’s main goal is to generate profits, and if it does so better by instilling a liberal bias, then so what? In the scale of moral quandaries, this is pretty benign compared to what other companies do.
  3. Facebook is a social media site, not a news agency. And neither has an obligation to be politically balanced.
  4. There is some argument that the news media already has a liberal bias. If so, how is Facebook’s liberal bias different from that of other forms of media?
  5. Liberals tend to post more political things on Facebook than conservatives. So even if nobody working at Facebook is tweaking knobs, you should see more liberal posts than conservative ones, and liberal posts should trend more often.

One important thing I failed to mention was people perceived Facebook to be balanced (even though I claim it never was), and that this perception of balance is crucial. When people go to Fox News or The Huffington Post, they have expectations of political bias, but when they go to Facebook, they expect none (even though my points #4 and #5 argue you should). Thus, learning that Facebook is biased can be jarring.

As you can see, I am pretty calm about this, mainly because learning about this bias does not affect me. My Facebook circle is generally young, highly educated, and often academic, all three being strong indicators of being liberal. As a result, 95% of the posts I see are liberal anyway and I already don’t expect any semblance of political balance whatsoever when I login.

That said, I can see why some people would be taken aback. Facebook’s algorithms are still a complete mystery to me (probably rightfully so), and I feel there is not much transparency about what is going on behind the scenes. I don’t want to live in a house where I can see all the wires running through the walls, but understanding what happens when I plug something into an electric outlet provides some peace of mind.

Also, even if Facebook is right in claiming that no one is outright manipulating the trending section, it is almost certain that the reviewers are biasing the news subconsciously. Then again, what would that imply? Would you have to rely on algorithms to avoid this? But what if the algorithms too are biased? A NYT piece has more to say about Facebook and biased algorithms.

Here is Tom Stocky of Facebook, in a Facebook post:

My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously, and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.

Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.

The comments section of this post are so hilariously critical of Facebook, but as I said earlier in this blog post, “I wouldn’t bother criticizing the comments section of a YouTube video or CNN article or Facebook post.”

Facebook also released a 28-page document which is the detailed instructions manual to review trending topics. It is basically exactly what you would expect, though I do like the redacted lines.

Here is a Vox article that ties the bias to the echo chamber effect of social media, claiming “Facebook’s most biased curator is you.” The Atlantic opens with, “Facebook Doesn’t Have to Be Fair.” And here is Marginal Revolution on how the bias is probably demand driven.

I generally agree with these three articles. It is easy to call out “bias,” but what does that word mean in this situation? And even if it is biased, would it be wrong? I claim neither answer is obvious.

Misc

The New Yorker on the popularity of Donald Trump in China:

In many respects, ordinary people in China, or the “old hundred names,” as they are called—a colloquial catchall for those commoners who didn’t make it into the history books—are not unlike the largest segment of Trump supporters: of limited education, dispossessed, and frequently overlooked because of their distance from power. Abstract principles, which Hillary Clinton has been known to proclaim in China—of human rights and women’s rights—seem less relevant than the practical economic challenges facing the average citizen. “Trump is an exceedingly smart man who has had remarkable success in making hotels and towers and TV shows,” a Chinese blogger posted on a Web forum devoted to American politics. When someone else asked about Trump’s trade policies, many of which are hostile to China, the same blogger responded dismissively that Trump is “a businessman first and foremost” and “will do what is in both countries’ economic interest”—giving voice to the sentiment, perennially popular in China, that pragmatism inevitably reigns in the end.

The Washington Post on a debate by economists on the utility of Econ 101:

Even more problematic, some of the empirical research most celebrated by critics of economics 101 contradicts itself about the basic structure of the labor market. The famous “Mariel boatlift paper” finds that a large increase in immigrant workers doesn’t lower the wages of native workers. The famous “New Jersey-Pennsylvania minimum wage paper” finds that an increase in the minimum wage doesn’t reduce employment. If labor supply increases and wages stay constant — the Mariel paper — then the labor demand curve must be flat. But if the minimum wage increases and employment stays constant — New Jersey-Pennsylvania — then the labor demand curve must be vertical. Reconciling these studies is, again, way beyond the scope of an intro course.

Scientific American on why people edit Wikipedia articles for free:

Instead of public recognition, Gallus credits the success of this experiment primarily to the effect of identification with a community. That is, the symbolic recognition of receiving Edelweiss with Star made editors feel like they were part of an exclusive group. Although contributions that editors make to Wikipedia pages are public, no one gets direct credit for authorship. In the study, only about 6% of recipients publicly displayed their award on their user pages, so we can interpret this as an indication that Wikipedia editors responded well to private recognition rather than celebrity.

CNET Roadshow on the owner of a Tesla and Tesla blaming each other for crash:

While running errands, the owner claimed he parked his Model S behind a trailer. After a minute of standing near the car and talking to a fan of the brand, the owner went inside a nearby business. Five minutes later, he came out to a car with a crushed windshield and A-pillars.

After bringing the issue to Tesla’s attention, the automaker claimed it was not Tesla’s fault. Rather, the owner was “not being properly attentive” when using the car’s Summon feature, which can autonomously park the vehicle using its built-in sensors. The owner claimed he never engaged Summon.

Slate on the realism of virtual reality:

I couldn’t move. And I wasn’t laughing anymore.

Rationally, I knew that I was in a tiny, makeshift room in a convention center, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers watching me wobble and shake. I knew I was standing on a carpeted and fully corporeal floor, my arms held out for balance, and that I only had to walk about six feet in a straight line to finish. But it didn’t matter. The moment I moved to take my first step off the building and saw nothing but a wire separating me from a 1,300-foot fall to the ground below, some primal, reptilian part of my brain started screaming: YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.

The Guardian on a woman fired for not wearing heels:

Nicola Thorp, 27, from Hackney in east London, arrived on her first day at PwC in December in flat shoes but says she was told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

Thorp, who was employed as a temporary worker by PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico, said she was laughed at when she said the demand was discriminatory and sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a pair of heels.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s