-- Business blog now available --

A quick note to say that I've set up my Business blog, to be able to speak with a clear voice on both personal and work issues (i.e. by having separate blogs).

Thursday, 27 March 2008

How to make a small Fortune

Some people say it's by starting with a big fortune and then buying a football club or string of racehorses.

However, the folks connected with Bear Stearns must be feeling it. It puts the performance of my FTSE ISA in a good light. :-s

I've been reading some articles in The Economist which make scary reading.
  • This from 5th Nov 07:
    • "Some think that Jimmy Cayne, Bear Stearns’s boss—fingered for playing golf and bridge while two of his bank’s hedge funds imploded—will be the next to pack his briefcase."
  • This from 10th Jan 08 (when :
    • "Mr Cayne had been under huge pressure to go, thanks to $1.9 billion of mortgage write-downs—leading to the bank's first-ever quarterly loss—and accusations that he had been more interested in improving his own performance at bridge and golf than shoring up his bank's standing in the markets.
    • He will remain as non-executive chairman, continuing to command an eight-figure salary, after Alan Schwartz, a trusted lieutenant, takes over as chief executive. Mr Cayne's durability prompted one observer to dub him the “Harry Houdini of the boardroom”."
  • This from 19th Mar 08:
    • Bear's executives have lost billions.
    • At $2 a share, the 5% stake held by Jimmy Cayne, the chairman and former chief executive, worth $1.2 billion at the shares' peak last year, is now valued at $11m (less than half of what Mr Cayne recently paid—mortgage-free, naturally—for an apartment in the Plaza Hotel).
For other investors (large and small), the damage is phenomenal (same article):
  • "Lowlier workers have been hit even harder. Bear encouraged them to buy shares after it went public in 1985. Their purchases have pushed employees' combined stakes to one-third. Some have lost their main nest eggs, others the money to put children through college. Worse, half or more of the 14,000 staff are expected to lose their jobs. Counsellors are on hand. Comparisons are being made with Enron, where the employees lost $2 billion in pensions.

    The shock is fast turning to anger: that bosses left it so late to seek capital; that employees were prevented from selling shares because an earnings announcement was coming; and, above all, that JPMorgan Chase has probably got a bargain.

    Allied with big shareholders such as Joe Lewis, a Bahamas-based billionaire who spent $1 billion on Bear stock last year, some employees like to think they can muster a majority against the deal when the vote is held in six weeks. On March 18th Bear's shares closed at $6.51, reflecting the chance of a higher offer."

That's a shocking turn-around.

Jimmy Cayne will presumably get a pay-off in the tens of millions of dollars. As our friends in the US say - go figure.

The Diving Bell and the Butterly - IRL #3

Final post on this: I recently came across a headset from a company called Emotiv. It sells something called the "EPOC Neuroheadset". Apparently it reads your brainwaves and you can control video games and virtual worlds. It can represent emotions in a robot-like interface, presented via a computer screen: see where I'm going here?

I haven't heard back from them yet - I dropped them a line about how appropriate this kind of tool might be for someone with major brain damage, but another potential way to unlock The Groom's world?

Blurb from their website follows. I realise it's a bit long-winded, but explains things infinitely better than I could!:
  • "Emotiv EPOC
    • The Emotiv EPOC now makes it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player's mind. Engaging, immersive, and nuanced, Emotiv-inspired game-play will be like nothing ever seen before. Based on the latest developments in neuro-technology, Emotiv has developed a new personal interface for human computer interaction.
    • The Emotiv EPOC uses a set of sensors to tune into electric signals naturally produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expression. It connects wirelessly with all game platforms from consoles to PCs. The Emotiv neuroheadset now makes it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player's mind.
  • Technology
    • Emotiv's core technology was developed based on our research into the human brain - the central control center for all our interactions and experiences.
    • The brain is made up of approximately 100 billion nerve cells, which are called neurons. With the billions of active neurons, the brain tissue contains a myriad of active current sources that cause the local electrical potential to endlessly fluctuate with a great deal of variability.
    • Each human brain is unique, both physically and functionally. The folding of the cortex of the human brain is also highly individual, meaning the way in which the external surface of the brain is folded individualizes the potentials, regardless of how functionality is mapped in each brain. Using non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG), it is possible to observe each person's individual electrical brain activity.
    • At Emotiv, we've created a robust system and methodology for detecting and classifying both human conscious thoughts and non-conscious emotions. This revolutionary patent pending neural processing technology makes it possible for computers to interact directly with the human brain. By the detection of thoughts and feelings, our technology now makes it possible for applications to be controlled and influenced by the user's mind.
    • Detection Suites

      The Emotiv Game Developer SDK comprises of our development neuroheadset and proprietary toolkit, which incorporates our unique set of detection suites. Detection suites can be used alone or combined for an even more spectacular game play experience.

      Affectiv™ Suite
      The Affectiv suite monitors player emotional states in real-time. It provides an extra dimension in game interaction by allowing the game to respond to a player's emotions. Characters can transform in response to the player's feeling. Music, scene lighting and effects can be tailored to heighten the experience for the player in real-time. The Affectiv suite can be used to monitor player state of mind and allow developers to adjust difficulty to suit each situation.

      Cognitiv™ Suite
      The Cognitiv suite reads and interprets a player's conscious thoughts and intent. Gamers can manipulate virtual objects using only the power of their thought! For the first time, the fantasy of magic and supernatural power can be experienced.

      Expressiv™ Suite
      The Expressiv suite uses the signals measured by the neuroheadset to interpret player facial expressions in real-time. It provides a natural enhancement to game interaction by allowing game characters to come to life. When a player smiles, their avatar can mimic the expression even before they are aware of their own feelings. Artificial intelligence can now respond to players naturally, in ways only humans have been able to until now."
So, I was thinking that someone afflicted by Locked In syndrome (and others like it) could communicate with others using a tool, by being present together in a Virtual World environment. Probably expensive, but a really positive way to use this technology. :-D

See also my earlier posts - here and here.

The Diving Bell and the Butterly - IRL #2

So we arrive at the hospital and go to the High Dependency Unit. This is where the Groom was being cared for, because he lacks bodily movement and needs to be looked after round the clock.

We clean our hands with the cleaner provided, doing our bit to help with MRSA etc. :-s

There's the Groom's children, and various friends and relations from both sides. There are balloons and other accoutrements to get everyone in the spirit. The Registrar and her assistant wait patiently.

I'm in a suit for the big occasion and after while I get a little warm. The Bride is there, looking fantastic, if a little apprehensive.

The Groom is wheeled in and we make supportive noises; the ceremony begins. It's the standard marriage ceremony - most UK folk will be familiar. One of the key passages is the exchange of vows - i.e. saying "I Do".

Now, given that the Groom can't speak, can't sign anything and can't do sign language - how does he say / indicate "I do"? In this case, it was using a fascinating gadget called My Tobii.

This is a nifty, flatscreen-based device "with a difference". The difference is that around the screen are sensors which track eye movement. The device itself runs software which can be controlled by eye movements ("saccades" I believe), also with blinking.

So, the Groom was able (although with some assistance) to say "I Do"--rather like Stephen Hawking can, although Professor Hawking can move his fingers slightly, but it's the same deal.

Also, the Groom had to be based as mentally capable by one of the Hospital Consultants. What we observed was the Registrar applying the same tests which she'd use for any other wedding in this particular one.

What made the difference was technology, a tool to give a window into the Groom's life. :-D

Once the Ceremony was over, the Groom was able to trigger the My Tobii device to read out a little speech he'd prepared in the days leading up to the big day.

So, a man whose life has been drastically altered has a way of showing his inner will and love for his (now) wife, in front of the assembled throng. How he copes with the frustration of being "Locked In" is beyond me, but here's something to make us all smile.

See also my earlier post - here. Also #3 post here.

Worrying signs of how out of touch our MPs are :-(

Just reading some of the comments on Nick Robinson's admirable blog. I'm getting the distinct impression that the World of the Web, blogosphere et al--and what it has come to mean--is totally alien to our Members of Parliament.
This is beginning to feel like a struggle that Parliament is likely to lose - i.e. they've been trying to keep us in the dark, and for good reason (of their own). :-(

The format for the comments is:
  • Comment number
  • Time posted
  • Who by
I think you get the gist! ;-)

"6.Tony wrote:

Isn't it strange?

These people are concerned over their security if they reveal a few spending figures and yet the very same people are trying to force through legislation which would require everyone to carry a card with even biometric/genetic information on it!!!

As the government spying on it's citizens is now the norm they are forever telling us it shouldn't bother us if we have done nothing wrong, now we want to see how they spend OUR money suddenly it's all protect their privacy and civil liberties.

I say we shake all the MPs down and reveal every single detail about everything they have done/do, after all the decisions these people make affect wether people live or die, prosper or suffer. I say let them have it!"

Some more, to fully make the point:

" 8.
Liz Jordan wrote:

Said of the great Roman Empire before it fell: "The most important people in the empire had put aside the interests of the nation in place of their own."

Lets hope history repeats itself.

Peter Wood wrote:

NuLab is now totally reliant on the support of their massive welfare state clientele, who don't give a stuff about MP's expenses, as long as the benefits gravy train keeps rolling.

What MP's seem to have forgotten (or nervously try to ignore) is that there is still a sizable chunk of the electorate who can do basic maths and who do recognise chicanery when they see it.

The bottom line is that this is public money - yours and mine - that they're spending and they should have to properly account for every last penny of it.

Gerry Runcorn wrote:

I have some options to the MPs who don't want their expenses published.
1. The public don't want to know or care where you all live. All the voters want to know is that they are not being taken for a ride. So publish your expenses without your addresses.

2. If security is your issue, then the taxpayers could always build high
security accomodation in London for all MPs. I am sure the tax payer would not mind paying for them to have 24 hour guards when in London. You could all be bused to the commons together, save on congestion and improve your carbon footprint. This seems a saver option than MPs scattered all over London in houses that they/taxpayer has bought.

3 If the MPs still want to buy a 2nd home,with taxpayers help.
When they stop being an MP,the property and contents should be sold at auction,the taxpayers percentage of the sale of returned to the treasury.

If all else fails and they won't publish maybe we should all stand against these MPs at the next election.

Andy M wrote:

Oh dear. How ridiculous. Can't they see how bad this looks? I understand they don't want the side-benefits of being an MP to be widely known due to fears of damage to the institution of Parliament. But trying to prolong the inevitable like this is far worse. At least us taxpayers are keeping the legal teams well fed and watered-so someone's benefiting...

Hylton wrote:

Ahh, security the excuse again.

Simple, release details of the expenses but not the address to which they relate.

What is legitimate about the expectation to keep such lavish expenses secret?"

Enough said.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Pendulum's going to have to swing back


It's got to happen soon, this is all getting very silly. Excerpt from article:

"Teachers are accusing the Ministry of Defence of using "sophisticated" methods to lure youngsters, often in deprived areas, into the armed forces.

National Union of Teachers delegates in Manchester will debate a motion later calling for an end to "recruitment" in schools in England and Wales.

Teachers say pupils are not made fully aware of what they are signing up to.

The MoD says it is invited into about 1,000 schools a year, but its teams go to raise awareness not recruit.

'Informed choices'

Catherine Brennan, a teacher from Croydon, south London, who is presenting the motion, said recruiters use information which does not allow young people to make informed choices.

"They are too young to vote, too young to drink, too young to drive, but they are considered old enough to sign up for years in the armed forces without being fully aware of what they are signing themselves up for in their lives," she said.

We are talking about a much more sophisticated method of recruitment
Chris Kelly

Another teacher, Chris Kelly, from Lambeth, south London, said: "The Ministry of Defence has got a programme for distributing information to every secondary school. They run programmes across the country and send army personnel to talk to young people in schools.

"These are often in areas of high levels of unemployment."

On the other hand (thank goodness the BBC is aiming to provide balance):

"A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "We do not recruit in schools.

"The single-service schools teams visit about 1,000 schools a year between them only at the invitation of the school - with the aim of raising the general awareness of their armed forces in society, not to recruit."

Roger Leighton, head teacher of Sydney Russell School, in Dagenham Essex, said people could have a fantastic life with a career in the armed forces.

"I can't see any problem with the army coming in and recruiting in schools," he added."

Surely school should be about education and preparation for life, rather the social engineering? Bah!

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - IRL #1

I've got stuck thinking of the right words, so I'm posting this - which I hope to the first of three posts on the topic:

Caroline and I recently attended a wedding. Nothing unusual about that, but what was unusual that the Groom suffered a major stroke 6 months ago, and as a result has "locked-in syndrome"

It was a pretty emotional occasion. Imagine you've been a healthy, fit, middle-aged man - wanting to get re-married to that special person you want to spend the rest of your life with.

Out of the blue, you suffer a massive stroke, and you are henceforth denied even the ability to speak, let alone move anything apart from your eyes.

An interesting apposition then, with the film of the book "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" - some of you may have seen this, although I'm not sure whether it's come to the UK yet.

Information about Locked In syndrome:
Also, thanks to Annette Gorey I have this link to an academic paper on the subject.

Next post will be about the role of Technology in the happy day. :-)

p.s. See also my later posts - here and here.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Fed up with the UK?

I realise that it's easy to sit on the sidelines in the proverbial armchair and carp, but I'm hoping soon that a) the Electorate wakes up to what Minette says below and b) some Politicians make themselves electable to change it! :-s

The Question:
Rob Wilson (Conservative, Reading East) said record numbers of people were leaving the UK, according to the latest statistics, and asked Mr Brown:
  • "What is it about your government that makes people want to pack their bags and leave the country?".
Mr Brown said the government was pushing ahead with a "managed migration" policy.
BBC NEWS | Politics | Point-by-point: Question time

The Answer:
"It is difficult not to suspect, despite the lack of hard evidence, that so many educated people, many of them still young and keen to work, are leaving because they are giving up on this country. At least that is what many of them say. Whether on blog sites, in letters to newspapers, in casual conversation or in my own readers’ letters, I come across voices of anger and grief, particularly among the middle-aged or elderly. This country isn’t what it was, they say. What’s best about it is disappearing fast; it’s becoming unrecognisable.This country certainly has changed a great deal and fast.

Nobody can deny that in recent years society has become much less civil, much more fragmented and newly divided into alarming ghettos; a large, disordered underclass is growing of people who don’t know how to bring up their children, with disastrous results; schools and hospitals in some places are not just bad but dangerous; the streets in cities are so frightening for young people that more carry knives and use them; the old are poor and neglected; we have lost our trust in pensions and in banking.

More than anywhere else in the supposedly civilised world, we are spied on, intruded on and cross-questioned by incompetent bureaucrats who then lose our confidential details; in a country with a proud reputation for freedom, our liberties are being eroded, either by new laws or by politically correct conventions; our taxes are wasted on incompetent government and public services; uncontrolled immigration has inflamed anxieties about overcrowding, crime and public services as well as national identity; Britannia is being struck off our coinage for the usual daft reasons. And so on. At least it’s not Italy."
The forces driving the middle class into exile | Minette Marrin - Times Online

Suggestions for destinations anyone?