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The Intellectual Prisoner

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Shlok Vaidya  -  
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From the Washington Post’s “Join Wall Street, Save the World” –

The 25-year-old certainly had other career options. An MIT computer science graduate, he could be writing software for the next tech giant. Or he might have gone into academia in computing or applied math or even biology. He could literally be working to cure cancer.

Instead, he goes to work each morning for a high-frequency trading firm. It’s a hedge fund on steroids. He writes software that turns a lot of money into even more money. For his labors, he reaps an uptown salary — and over time his earning potential is unbounded. It’s all part of the plan.

Why this compulsion? It’s not for fast cars or fancy houses. Trigg makes money just to give it away. His logic is simple: The more he makes, the more good he can do.

He’s figured out just how to take measure of his contribution. His outlet of choice is the Against Malaria Foundation, considered one of the world’s most effective charities. It estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. A quantitative analyst at Trigg’s hedge fund can earn well more than $100,000 a year. By giving away half of a high finance salary, Trigg says, he can save many more lives than he could on an academic’s salary.

The synopsis of the article: Go work with the morally fucked, and, as long as you give plenty away to charity, you’re a great human being . That model is worth emulating, it says, turning to us expectantly, shamingly, “Isn’t it amazing that quant donates 50% of his salary?”

We’re expected to fawn over these people. “Oh look, this giving dude and his wife moved back in with his parents so they could give away that much more.”

“That’s so admirable,” we’re supposed to say.

But it’s not admirable.

In fact, it’s pathetic. It’s the sign of a prisoner. An intellectual prisoner. The kind of person who is pretty smart – in the sense they can do stupid shit for Wall Street money – but can’t conceive of applying their ‘smarts’ towards changing the world.

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Fiction: Distinguished Warfare Medal Citation

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Shlok Vaidya  -  
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For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Element Leader, Bravo Squadron, 4th Delta Wing, on October 4, 2013.

Airman Ridgeway’s element was conducting a routine patrolling mission through the financial system near FINRA’s primary servers when they discovered shellcode decrypting itself and probing a backdoor to the securities trading authentication subsystem. Upon finding indications of a botnet brewing, Airman Ridgeway led his anti-penetration specialists towards the nearby IP block. Upon arriving, he discovered a senior executive had been phished and was allowing infiltration of the system. The black hats quickly shifted their attention to Airman Ridgeway’s team. Remaining calm under attack, he ordered his element to reinforce the shielding on their own servers while he captured logs to transmit to command.

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Review: Detroit – An American Autopsy

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Shlok Vaidya  -  
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Detroit: An American Autopsy

“And it is awful here, there is no other way to say it. But I believe that Detroit is America’s city. IT was the vanguard of our way up, just as it is the vanguard of our way down. And one hopes, the vanguard of our way up again. Detroit is Pax Americana. The birthplace of mass production, the automobile, the cement road, the refrigerator, frozen peas, high-paid blue-collar jobs, home ownership and credit on a mass scale. America’s way of life was built here.”

I’ve read and written a lot about how America is dying. Regulatory capture, Wall Street, global arbitrage and deviant entrepreneurs collaborated to massacre the middle class.

But I always came at it from the perspective that the country is mid-collapse. That we still have time. That we can still swing the wheel and, for the most part, make it through. Sure, we’ll pay $8 for a gallon of gas, we’ll overpay for armies of contractors we don’t need, but we will make it through. We’re America after all.

Charlie LeDuff convinced me we may be too late. The book is aptly titled, Detroit: An American Autopsy. What if the land of the free, of prosperity, of two cars and a picket fence succumbed to the corrupt, the incompetent, the immoral?

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Idea: Save the Information in Nonprofits, Save the World.

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Shlok Vaidya  -  
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MIT

A nonprofit called Common Crawl is now using its own Web crawler and making a giant copy of the Web that it makes accessible to anyone. The organization offers up over five billion Web pages, available for free so that researchers and entrepreneurs can try things otherwise possible only for those with access to resources on the scale of Google’s.

This is the absolute right approach. You can’t trust these behemoth corporations to give us a level playing field. You have to make it. And we’re at a point where it needs to be done in an intentional and aggressive way. Otherwise we stand to lose control of the decentralized global platform that underpins life today.

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Urban Combat Wallets

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Shlok Vaidya  -  
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For some reason Kickstarter is filled to the brim with RFID blocking, anodized metal, disciplined wallets. This would be cooler if they:

  • Didn’t look like variants of a 1980’s vision of a future wallet.
  • Spoofed RFID identities.
  • Better yet, skimmer-detecting. Read More